The Making of Religion eBook

This eBook from the Gutenberg Project consists of approximately 426 pages of information about The Making of Religion.

[Footnote 16:  A criticism of modern explanations of the phenomena here touched upon will be found in Appendix B.]

[Footnote 17:  See Appendix B.]



To the anthropological philosopher ‘a plain man’ would naturally put the question:  ’Having got your idea of spirit or soul—­your theory of Animism—­out of the idea of ghosts, and having got your idea of ghosts out of dreams and visions, how do you get at the Idea of God?’ Now by ‘God’ the proverbial ‘plain man’ of controversy means a primal eternal Being, author of all things, the father and friend of man, the invisible, omniscient guardian of morality.

The usual though not invariable reply of the anthropologist might be given in the words of Mr. Im Thurn, author of a most interesting work on the Indians of British Guiana: 

‘From the notion of ghosts,’ says Mr. Im Thurn, ’a belief has arisen, but very gradually, in higher spirits, and eventually in a Highest Spirit, and, keeping pace with the growth of these beliefs, a habit of reverence for, and worship of spirits....  The Indians of Guiana know no God.’[1]

As another example of Mr. Im Thurn’s hypothesis that God is a late development from the idea of spirit may be cited Mr. Payne’s learned ‘History of the New World,’ a work of much research:[2]

’The lowest savages not only have no gods, but do not even recognise those lower beings usually called spirits, the conception of which has invariably preceded that of gods in the human mind.’

Mr. Payne here differs, toto caelo, from Mr. Tylor, who finds no sufficient proof for wholly non-religious savages, and from Roskoff, who has disposed of the arguments of Sir John Lubbock.  Mr. Payne, then, for ethnological purposes, defines a god as ’a benevolent spirit, permanently embodied in some tangible object, usually an image, and to whom food, drink,’ and so on, ’are regularly offered for the purpose of securing assistance in the affairs of life.’

On this theory ‘the lowest savages’ are devoid of the idea of god or of spirit.  Later they develop the idea of spirit, and when they have secured the spirit, as it were, in a tangible object, and kept it on board wages, then the spirit has attained to the dignity and the savage to the conception of a god.  But while a god of this kind is, in Mr. Payne’s opinion, relatively a late flower of culture, for the hunting races generally (with some exceptions) have no gods, yet ’the conception of a creator or maker of all things ... obviously a great spirit’ is ’one of the earliest efforts of primitive logic.’[3]

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The Making of Religion from Project Gutenberg. Public domain.
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