« Prev Lecture I. Note H.—P. 16. Nature And Definition… Next »



In strictness these Lectures ought to have included a treatment of the general question of religion as preparatory to the consideration of the specific Christian view. Christianity involves a “Weltanschauung” and it belongs to the type “religious.” It ought therefore to be shown in what distinctively a religious “Weltanschauung” consists, and how the Christian view is related to the general conception. This, again, would involve an inquiry into the general nature of religion; in order, on this basis, to show how a “Weltanschauung” necessarily originates from it. A few notes are all that can be attempted here, in addition to what is said in the text of various portions of the Lectures, and in Appendix to Lecture III.

The main question is as to the general character, or essential nature, of religion, as a means of understanding how a “Weltanschauung” springs from it.

I. It may be remarked that this question is not answered—

1. By an abstract definition of religion. Much has been written on the definition of religion.870870For a summary view of these definitions, and examination of them, see Max Muller’s Gifford Lectures on Natural Religions (1888), and Nitzsch’s Evangelische Dogmatik, i. pp. 46–109 (1889). A prior question is, In what sense do we speak of definition? Do we mean to include in our definition of religion only the common elements in all religions; or do we propose to define by the idea of religion, as that may be deduced from the study of the laws of man’s nature, seen in their manifestation on the field of history, and most conspicuously in the higher religions? The fault of most definitions is that, aiming at a generality wide enough to embrace the most diverse manifestations of the religious consciousness,—the lowest and most debased equally with the most complex and exalted,—they necessarily leave out all that is purest and most spiritual in religion—that which expresses its truest essence. They give us, in short, a logical summum genus, which may be useful enough for some purposes, but is utterly barren and unprofitable as a key to the interpretation of any spiritual fact. On the other hand, if we take as our guide the idea of religion, we may be accused of finding only one religion which corresponds to it—the Christian; and in any case the definition will leave outside of it a vast variety of religious phenomena. What is wanted is not a 381logical definition which will apply to nothing from which its marks are absent, but such a comprehension of the inner principle and essential character of religion as will enable us to discern its presence under forms that very rudely and imperfectly express it.871871 See a good treatment of this subject in Kaftan’s Das Wesen der christ. Rel. (1881) pp. 1–5 cf. also Caird’s, Philosophy of Religion (pp. 314–317), and Note B., “On the possibility of discovering in the ‘essence of religion’ a universal religion,” in Conder’s Basis of Faith, p. 438.

2. By exclusively psychological or historical methods in the treatment of religion. These are the methods in vogue at the present day in what is designated “The Science of Religions.” I call a theory psychological which seeks to account for the ideas and beliefs which men entertain regarding their deities by tracing them to psychological causes, without raising the question of how far these ideas and beliefs have any objective truth. Psychology deals with the empirical—the given. It observes the facts of the religious consciousness—groups and classifies them—seeks to resolve the complex into the simple, the compound into the elementary—notes the laws and relations which discover themselves in the different phenomena, etc. In doing this, it performs a necessary service, but its method is liable to certain obvious drawbacks.

(l) If religion is a necessity of human nature, springing by an inner necessity from the rational and spiritual nature of man, this method can never show it. Psychology can only show what is, not what must or should be. Its function is ended when it has described and analysed facts as they are. It does not reach inner necessity. From the persistency with which religion appears and maintains itself in human nature, it may infer that there is some deep and necessary ground for it in the spirit of man, but it lies beyond the scope of its methods to show what that is. Its line is too short to reach down to these depths.

(2) It is a temptation in these theories to aim at an undue simplicity. This is a fault, indeed, of most theories of religion, that they do not do justice to the multiplicity of factors involved in religion, but, haying hold on one of these factors, exalt it to exclusive importance at the expense of the rest. Religion is a highly complex thing, blending in itself a multitude of elements readily distinguishable,—hopes and fears, belief in the invisible, the feeling of dependence, the sense of moral relation, desire for fellowship, emotions of awe, love, reverence, surrender of the will, etc.,—and I suppose no definition of it has ever been constructed which did not leave out some of its extraordinarily varied manifestations. Theories, therefore, err which attempt to deduce all religious sentiments and ideas from some one principle, e.g., Hume, from man’s hopes and fears; Tylor, from the animistic tendency in human nature; Spencer, from ghost-worship; Feuerbach, from man’s egoistic wishes—“What man would have liked to be, but was not, he made his god; what he would like to have, but could not get for himself, his god was to get for him” (Strauss); others from Totemism, etc.872872Note A. to Lecture III.


(3) It is a common error of these theories to study religion chiefly as it presents itself in the lowest, poorest, crudest manifestations of the religious consciousness; and to suppose that if they can explain these, all the higher stages of religious development can be explained in the same way. This is much the same as if a botanist, wishing to exhibit the essential characteristics of plant life, were to confine his attention to the lowest order of plants, and even to the most dwarfed, stunted, and impoverished specimens of these.

(4) It is a further weakness of psychological theories that they move solely in the region of the subjective. They occupy themselves with psychological causes, and with the ideas and fancies to which these give rise; but have nothing to teach us of the object of religion—neither what the true object is, nor whether a true object is to be known at all. Their function is ended when they have described and analysed facts; they claim no right to pass judgment. They have, in other words, no objective standard of judgment. Yet the question of the object is the one of essential importance in religion, as determining whether it has any ground in objective truth, or is only, as Feuerbach would have it, a deceptive play of the human consciousness with itself.873873Cf. Max Muller, Natural Religion, p. 56.

(5) Finally, even the higher class of psychological theories form a very inadequate basis for a true conception of religion. Schleiermacher, e.g., explains religion as the immediate consciousness of the infinite in the finite, and of the eternal in the temporal; Max Muller as the perception of the infinite,874874Cf. Natural Religion, pp. 48, 188. etc. But if we ask in Kantian fashion, How is such an immediate consciousness—feeling or perception—possible? what view of man’s nature is implied in his capacity to have a consciousness, or feeling, or perception of the infinite? we are driven back on deeper ground, and come in view of a rational nature in man which transforms the whole problem.875875See Appendix to Lecture III.

The same criticisms apply in part to the historical treatment of religion. This, like the psychological, has its own part to play in the construction of a philosophy of religion; its help, indeed, is of untold value. By its aid we see not only what religion is in its actual manifestations; not only get an abundance of facts to check narrow and hasty generalisations; but we find a grand demonstration of the universality of religion. Yet the historical treatment, again, like the psychological, does not furnish us with more than the materials from which to construct a theory of religion. If the historical student, in addition to recording and classifying his facts, and observing their laws, passes judgment on them as true or false, good or evil, his inquiry is no longer historical merely, but has become theological or philosophical.

3. Our question is not answered by explaining religion out of the necessity which man feels of maintaining his personality and spiritual independence against the limitations of nature. This, as shown in Note A., is the Ritschlian position, and the passages there quoted 383illustrate how Ritschl and his followers develop a “Weltanschauung” from it. Its value lies in the recognition of the fact that religion contains not only a relation of dependence, but a practical impulse towards freedom; and in this sense the Ritschlian mode of representation has extended far beyond the limits of the school. Thus Pfleiderer (otherwise a sharp critic of Ritschl) says: “There belongs to the religious consciousness some degree of will, some free self determination. And what this aims at is simply to be made quite free from the obstructing limit and dependence which our freedom encounters in the world” (Religionsphilosophie, i. p. 323, Eng. trans.). “In the religious ‘Weltanschauung,’” says Lipsius, “there is always posited on the part of man the striving to place himself in a practical relation to this higher power on which he knows himself and his world to be dependent, in order that through this he may further his well-being against the restrictions of the outer world, and victoriously maintain his self-consciousness as a spiritual being against the finite limitations of his natural existence” (Dogmatik, p. 25). Reville says: “Religion springs from the feeling that man is in such a relation to this spirit that for his well-being, and in order to gratify a spontaneous impulse of his nature, he ought to maintain with it such relations as will afford him guarantees against the unknown of destiny” (History of Religions, p. 29, Eng. trans.).876876Kaftan, on the other hand, finds the root-motive of religion in the infinity of the “claim on life” inseparable from our nature, which this world is not able to satisfy. “Generally the claim on life (Auspruch auf Leben) lies at the foundation of religion. That this claim is not satisfied in the world, and further through the world, is the common motive of all religions” (Das Wesen, p. 67, cf. 60). But whence this “claim on life”? Why this striving after an infinite and “liberweltlichen” good? What view of man’s nature is implied in the possibility of such strivings? These are questions which Kaftan does not answer, but which a true theory of religion should answer. In its Ritschlian form, this theory is open to very serious objections. Professing to account for religion, it really inverts the right relation between God and the world, making the soul’s relation to the world the first thing, and the relation to God secondary and dependent; instead of seeking in an immediate relation to God the first and unique fact which sustains all others.877877See criticism of this theory of religion in Pfleiderer’s Die Ritschl’sche Theologie, p. 17ff., and in Stahlin’s Kant, Lotze, und Ritschl, pp. 218–250 (Eng. trans.); and A. Dorner’s Das menschliche Erkennen, p. 221. While, further, it may be conceded to Ritschl and his followers that the primary motive: in religion is practical (though not prior to the immediate impression or consciousness of the Divine in nature, in the sense of dependence, in conscience, etc.), it must he insisted on that the practical motive is such as can originate only in beings with a rational nature,—i.e. reason underlies it.878878See further, Appendix to Lecture III. On the other hand, Hegelianism would have us view religion as but a lower stage in the progress to pure philosophical thought. I have not discussed this theory in the text, as it does not represent any immediately reigning tendency. With Hegel the idea is everything. Religious truths are but rational ideas clothed in a sensuous garb. It is the part of philosophy to lift the veil, and raise the idea to the form of pure thought. Religion gives the “Vorstellung,” or figurate representation; philosophy give the rational conception, or “Begriff.” The distinction is explained by Hegel in the Introduction to his Geschichte der Philosophie, vol. i. pp. 79–97. A fuller exposition is given in his Religionsphilosophie, vol. i. pp. 20–25. From this theory the reaction was inevitable which led to the repudiation of the metaphysical in theology altogether. One of the most delicate tasks of theology is to adjust the relation between these opposite one-sidednesses. Had this been kept in view, it would have 384helped to prevent the strong division which this school makes between religious and theoretic knowledge.

II. The rational self-consciousness of man being posited as the ground-work, we may with confidence recognise the following as elements entering into the essence of religion, and connecting themselves with its development:—

1. There is first the sense of absolute dependence, justly emphasised by Schleiermacher (Der christ. Glaube, sect. 4). But this alone is not sufficient to constitute religion. Everything depends on the kind of power on which we feel ourselves dependent. Absolute dependence, e.g., on a blind power, or on an inevitable fate or destiny, would not produce in us the effects we commonly ascribe to religion. With the sense of dependence there goes an impulse to freedom. The aim of religion, it has been justly said, is to transform the relation of dependence into one of freedom. This involves, of course, the shaping of the idea of the Godhead into that of personal spirit.

2. Equally original with the feeling of dependence, accordingly, is the impulse in religion to go out of oneself in surrender to a higher object—the impulse to worship. The idea of this higher object may be at first dim and indistinct, but the mind instinctively seeks such an object, and cannot rest till it finds one adequate to its own nature. Here, again, the rational nature of man is seen at work, impelling him to seek the true infinite, and allowing him no rest till such an object is found.

3. Another directly religious impulse is the desire that is early manifested to bring life, and the circle of interests connected with it under the immediate care and sanction of the Divine. This, which has its origin in the sense of weakness and finitude is apparent in all religions, and brings religion within the circle of men’s hopes and fears.

4. As moral ideas advance,—and we do not here discuss how this advance is possible,—the ground is prepared for yet higher ideas of God, and of His relations to the world and man. There has now entered the idea of a moral end; man also has become aware of the contradictions which beset his existence as a being at once free, and yet hemmed in and limited on every side in the attainment of his ends; not to speak of the deeper contradictions (within and without) which beset his existence through sin. It is here that the idea of religion links itself with the moral “Weltanschauung” of Ritschl, Lipsius, Pfleiderer, and others, who find the solution of these antinomies in the idea of a teleological government of the world, in which natural ends are everywhere subordinated to moral; which, again, implies the monotheistic idea of God, and faith in His moral 385government, and out of which springs the idea of a “kingdom of God” as the end of the Divine conduct of history.

It does not follow, because this conception, or rather that of the Father-God of Christ, is the only one capable of satisfying man’s religious or moral aspirations, that therefore man has been able to produce it from his own resources. Even if he were able, this alone would not satisfy the religious necessity. For religion craves not merely for the idea of God, but for personal fellowship and communion with Him, and this can only take place on the ground that God and man are in seine way brought together—in other words, on the basis of Divine Revelation or manifestation.

III. We may perhaps test the statements now made, by applying them to two cases which seem at first sight to contradict them, viz. Buddhism, and the Comtist “Religion of Humanity”; for in neither of these systems have we the recognition of a God. Are they, then, properly to be accounted religions?

1. Buddhism is a religion, but it is not so in virtue of its negation of the Divine, but in virtue of the provision it still makes for the religions nature of man. Buddhism, as it exists to-day, is anything but a system of Atheism or Agnosticism; it is a positive faith, with abundance of supernatural elements. It may have begun with simple reverence for Buddha,—itself a substitute for worship,—but the undistilled cravings of the heart for worship soon demanded more. Invention rushed in to fill the vacuum in the original creed, and the heavens which Buddha had left tenantless were repeopled with gods, saints, prospective Buddhas, and still higher imperishable essences, ending in the practical deification of Buddha himself. Buddhism has all the paraphernalia of a religion,—priests, temples, images, worship, etc.879879On Buddhism, see Monier Williams’s “Duff Lectures” (1889); and on its relation to religion, Carpenter’s Permanent Elements of Religion (1889), Lecture III.; Condor’s Basis of Faith, Note A.; Hartmann’s Religionsphilosophie, vol. ii. p. 5; Kaftan’s Das Wesen, p. 41, etc.

2. In like manner, Comte’s system has a cult, in which the sentiments and affections which naturally seek their outlet in the direction of the Divine are artificially directed to a new object, collective humanity, which man is hid adore as the “Grand Etre,” along with space as the “Grand Milieu,” and the earth as the “Grand Fetiche”! There is the smell of the lamp in all this, which betrays too obviously the character of Comtism as an artificial or “manufactured” religion; but if it receives this name, it is because there is an application of Divine attributes to objects which, however unworthy of having Divine honours paid to them, are still worshipped as substitutes for God, and so form an inverted testimony to the need which the soul feels for God.880880On Comtism as a religion, see Caird’s Social Philosophy of Comte (pp. 47–55; and chap. iv.); Carpenter’s Permanent Elements, Introduction, 25, 49; Conder’s Basis of Faith, Lecture I.; Spencer’s “Retrogressive Religion” in Nineteenth Century, July 1884. On modern substitutes for Christianity generally, see an excellent treatment in Bruce’s Miraculous Elements in the Gospels, Lecture X.

« Prev Lecture I. Note H.—P. 16. Nature And Definition… Next »
VIEWNAME is workSection