Leading Conceptions of the Elementary Religion  

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objection which we recently raised against animism. It also makes religion a system of hallucinations, since it reduces it to an immense metaphor with no objective value. It is true that it gives religion a point of departure in reality, to wit, in the sensa­tions which the phenomena of nature provoke in us ; but by the bewitching action of language, this sensation is soon transformed into extravagant conceptions. Religious thought does not come in contact with reality, except to cover it at once with a thick veil which conceals its real forms : this veil is the tissue of fabulous beliefs which mythology brought forth. Thus the believer, like the delirious man, lives in a world peopled with beings and things which have only a verbal existence. Max Muller himself recog­nized this, for he regarded myths as the product of a disease of the intellect. At first, he attributed them to a disease of language, but since language and the intellect are inseparable for him, what is true of the one is true of the other. " When trying to explain the inmost nature of mythology," he says, " I called it a disease of Language rather than of Thought. . . . After I had fully ex­plained in my Science of Thought that language and thought are inseparable, and that a disease of language is therefore the same thing as a disease of thought, no doubt ought to have. remained as to what I meant. To represent the supreme God as committing every kind of crime, as being deceived by men, as being angry with his wife and violent with his children, is surely a proof of a disease, of an unusual condition of thought, or, to speak more clearly, of real madness."1 And this argument is not valid merely against Max Muller and his theory, but against the very principle of naturism, in whatever way it may be applied. What­ever we may do, if religion has as its principal object the expres­sion of the forces of nature, it is impossible to see in it anything more than a system of lying fictions, whose survival is incom­prehensible.

Max Muller thought he escaped this objection, whose gravity he felt, by distinguishing radically between mythology and religion, and by putting the first outside the second. He claims the right of reserving the name of religion for only those beliefs which conform to the prescriptions of a sane moral system and a rational theology. The myths were parasitic growths which, under the influence of language, attached themselves upon these fundamental conceptions, and denatured them. Thus the belief in Zeus was religious in so far as the Greeks considered him the supreme God, father of humanity, protector of laws, avenger of crimes, etc. ; but all that which concerned

the biography of Zeus, his marriages and his adventures, was only mythology.1

But this distinction is arbitrary. It is true that mythology has an aesthetic interest as well as one for the history of religions; but it is one of the essential elements of the religious life, never­theless. If the myth were withdrawn from religion, it would be necessary to withdraw the rite also ; for the rites are generally addressed to definite personalities who have a name, a character, determined attributes and a history, and they vary according to the manner in which these personalities are conceived. The cult ren­dered to a divinity depends upon the character attributed to him ; and it is the myth which determines this character. Very frequently, the rite is nothing more than the myth put in action; the Christian communion is inseparable from the myth of the Last Supper, from which it derives all its meaning. Then if all mythology is the result of a sort of verbal delirium, the question which we raised remains intact: the existence, and especially the persistence of the cult become inexplicable. It is hard to understand how men have continued to do certain things for centuries without any object. Moreover, it is not merely the peculiar traits of the divine personalities which are determined by mythology ; the very idea that there are gods or spiritual beings set above the various departments of nature, in no matter what manner they may be represented, is essentially mythical.2 Now if all that which apper­tains to the notion of gods conceived as cosmic agents is blotted out of the religions of the past, what remains ? The idea of a divinity in itself, of a transcendental power upon which man depends and upon which he supports himself ? But that is only an abstract and philosophic conception which has been fully realized in no historical religion ; it is without interest for the science of religions.3 We must therefore avoid distinguishing between religious beliefs, keeping some because they seem to us

to be true and sane and rejecting others because they shock and disconcert us. All myths, even those which we find the most unreasonable, have been believed.1 Men have believed in them no less firmly than in their own sensations ; they have based their conduct upon them. In spite of appearances, it is therefore impossible that they should be without objective foundation.

However, it will be said that in whatever manner religions may be explained, it is certain that they are mistaken in regard to the real nature of things : science has proved it. The modes of action which they counsel or prescribe to men can therefore rarely have useful effects : it is not by lustrations that the sick are cured nor by sacrifices and chants that the crops are made to grow. Thus the objection which we have made to naturism would seem to be applicable to all possible systems of explanation.

Nevertheless, there is one which escapes it. Let us suppose that religion responds to quite another need than that of adapting ourselves to sensible objects : then it will not risk being weakened by the fact that it does not satisfy, or only badly satisfies, this need. If religious faith was not born to put man in harmony with the material world, the injuries which it has been able to do him in his struggle with the world do not touch it at its source, because it is fed from another.

If it is not for these reasons that a man comes to believe, he should continue to believe even when these reasons are contradicted by the facts. It is even conceivable that faith should be strong enough, not only to support these contradictions, but also even to deny them and to keep the believer from seeing their importance ; this is what succeeds in rendering them inoffensive for religion. When the religious sentiment is active, it will not admit that religion can be in the wrong, and it readily suggests explanations which make it appear innocent ; if the rite does not produce the desired results, this failure is imputed either to some fault of execution, or to the intervention of another, contrary deity. But for that, it is necessary that these re­ligious ideas have their source in another sentiment than that betrayed by these deceptions of experience, or else whence could come their force of resistance ?