The Making of Religion eBook

This eBook from the Gutenberg Project consists of approximately 351 pages of information about The Making of Religion.

XIII

MORE SAVAGE SUPREME BEINGS

If many of the lowest savages known to us entertain ideas of a Supreme Being such as we find among Fuegians, Australians, Bushmen, and Andamanese, are there examples, besides the Zulus, of tribes higher in material culture who seem to have had such notions, but to have partly forgotten or neglected them?  Miss Kingsley, a lively, observant, and unprejudiced, though rambling writer, gives this very account of the Bantu races.  Oblivion, or neglect, will show itself in leaving the Supreme Being alone, as he needs no propitiation, while devoting sacrifice and ritual to fetishes and ghosts.  That this should be done is perfectly natural if the Supreme Being (who wants no sacrifice) were the first evolved in thought, while venal fetishes and spirits came in as a result of the ghost theory.  But if, as a result of the ghost theory, the Supreme Being came last in evolution, he ought to be the most fashionable object of worship, the latest developed, the most powerful, and most to be propitiated.  He is the reverse.

To take an example:  the Dinkas of the Upper Nile (’godless,’ says Sir Samuel Baker) ’pay a very theoretical kind of homage to the all-powerful Being, dwelling in heaven, whence he sees all things.  He is called “Dendid” (great rain, that is, universal benediction?).’  He is omnipotent, but, being all beneficence, can do no evil; so, not being feared, he is not addressed in prayer.  The evil spirit, on the other hand, receives sacrifices.  The Dinkas have a strange old chant: 

  ’At the beginning, when Dendid made all things,
    He created the Sun,
  And the Sun is born, and dies, and comes again! 
    He created the Stars,
  And the Stars are born, and die, and come again! 
    He created Man,
  And Man is born, and dies, and returns no more!’

It is like the lament of Moschus.[1]

Russegger compares the Dinkas, and all the neighbouring peoples who hold the same beliefs, to modern Deists.[2] They are remote from Atheism and from cult!  Suggestions about an ancient Egyptian influence are made, but popular Egyptian religion was not monotheistic, and priestly thought could scarcely influence the ancestors of the Dinkas.  M. Lejean says these peoples are so practical and utilitarian that missionary religion takes no hold on them.  Mr. Spencer does not give the ideas of the Dinkas, but it is not easy to see how the too beneficent Dendid could be evolved out of ghost-propitiation, ‘the origin of all religions.’  Rather the Dinkas, a practical people, seem to have simply forgotten to be grateful to their Maker; or have decided, more to the credit of the clearness of their heads than the warmth of their hearts, that gratitude he does not want.  Like the French philosopher they cultivate l’independance du coeur, being in this matter strikingly unlike the Pawnees.

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The Making of Religion from Project Gutenberg. Public domain.
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