IV

К оглавлению
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 
17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30 31 32 33 
34 35 36 37 38 39 40 41 42 43 44 45 46 47 48 49 50 
51 52 53 54 55 56 57 58 59 60 61 62 63 64 65 66 67 
68 69 70 71 72 73 74 75 76 77 78 79 80 81 82 83 84 
85 86 87 88 89 90 91 

The first religious conceptions have often been attributed to feelings of weakness and dependence, of fear and anguish which seized men when they came into contact with the world. Being the victims of nightmares of which they were themselves

the creators, they believed themselves surrounded by hostile and redoubtable powers which their rites sought to appease. We have now shown that the first religions were of a wholly different origin. The famous formula Primus in orbe,deos fecit timor is in no way justified by the facts. The primitive does not regard his gods as foreigners, enemies or thoroughly and neces­sarily malevolent beings whose favours he must acquire at any price ; quite on the contrary, they are rather friends, kindred or natural protectors for him. Are these not the names he gives to the .beings of the totemic species ? The power to which the cult is addressed is not represented as soaring high above him and overwhelming him by its superiority ; on the contrary, it is very near to him and confers upon him very useful powers which he could never acquire by himself. Perhaps the deity has never been nearer to men than at this period of history, when it is present in the things filling their immediate environment and is, in part, imminent in himself. In fine, the sentiments at the root of totemism are those of happy confidence rather than of terror and compression. If we set aside the funeral rites—the sober side of every religion—we find the totemic cult celebrated in the midst of songs, dances and dramatic representations. As we shall see, cruel expiations are relatively rare; even the painful and obligatory mutilations of the initiations are not of this character. The terrible and jealous gods appear but slowly in the religious evolution. This is because primitive societies are not those huge Leviathans which overwhelm a man by the enormity of their power and place him under a severe discipline;1 he gives himself up to them spontaneously and without resistance. As the social soul is then made up of only a small number of ideas and sentiments, it easily becomes wholly incarnate in each individual consciousness. The individual carries it all inside of him ; it is a part of him and consequently, when he gives himself up to the impulses inspired by it, he does not feel that he is giving way before compulsion, but that he is going where his nature calls him.2

This way of understanding the origins of religious thought escapes the objections raised against the most accredited classical theories.

We have seen how the naturists and animists pretend to con­struct the idea of sacred beings out of the sensations evoked in us by different phenomena of the physical or biological order,

and we have shown how this enterprise is impossible and even  self-contradictory. Nothing is worth nothing. The impressions produced in us by the physical world can, by definition, contain; nothing that surpasses this world. Out of the visible, only the visible can be made ; out of that which is heard, we cannot make something not heard. Then to explain how the idea of sacredness has been able to take form under these conditions, the majority of the theorists have been obliged to admit that men have superimposed upon reality, such as it is given by • observation, an unreal world, constructed entirely out of the fantastic images which agitate his mind during a dream, or else out of the frequently monstrous aberrations produced by the mythological imagination under the bewitching but deceiving influence of language. But it remained incomprehensible that humanity should have remained obstinate in these errors through the ages, for experience should have very quickly proven them false.                                                      

But from our point of view, these difficulties disappear. Religion ceases to be an inexplicable hallucination and takes a foothold in reality. In fact, we can say that the believer is not deceived when he believes in the existence of a moral power upon which he depends and from which he receives all that is best in himself : this power exists, it is society. When the Australian is carried outside himself and feels a new life flowing within him whose intensity surprises him, he is not the dupe of an illusion ; this exaltation is real and is really the effect of forces outside of and superior to the individual. It is true that he is wrong in thinking that thiSyUicrease, oJL vitality is the work of a; power in the fotm( of some animal or plant. But this error is merely in regard to the letter of the symbol by which this being is represented to the mind and the external appearance which the imagination has given it, and not in regard to the fact of its existence. Behind these figures and metaphors, be they gross or refined, there is a concrete and living reality. Thus religion acquires a meaning and a reasonableness that the most intransigent rationalist cannot misunderstand. Its primary object is not to give men a representation of the physical world ; for if that were its essential task, we could not understand how it has been able to survive, for, on this side, it is scarcely more than a fabric of errors. Before all, it is a system of ideas with which the individuals represent to themselves the society of which they are members, and the obscure but intimate relations which they have with it. , This is its primary function ; and though metaphorical and symbolic, this representation is not unfaithful. Quite on the contrary, it translates everything essential in the relations which

are to be explained : for it is an eternal truth that outside of us there exists something greater than us, with which we enter into communion.

That is why we can rest assured in advance that the practices of the cult, whatever they may be, are something more than movements without importance and gestures without efficacy. By the mere fact that their apparent function is to strengthen the bonds attaching the believer to his god, they at the same time really strengthen the bonds attaching the individual to the society of which he is a member, since the god is only a figurative expression of the society. We are even able to under­stand how the fundamental truth thus contained in religion has „been able to compensate for the secondary errors which it almost necessarily implies, and how believers have consequently been restrained from tearing themselves off from it, in spite of the misunderstandings which must result from these errors. It is undeniably true that the recipes which it recommends that men use to act upon things are generally found to be ineffective. But these checks can have no profound influence, for they do not touch religion in its fundamentals.1

However, it may be objected that even according to this hypothesis, religion remains the object of a certain delirium. What other name can we give to that state when, after a collective effervescence, men believe themselves transported into an entirely different world from the one they have before their eyes ?

It is certainly true that religious life cannot attain a certain degree of intensity without implying a psychical exaltation not far removed from delirium. That is why the prophets, the founders of religions, the great saints, in a word, the men whose religious consciousness is exceptionally sensitive, very frequently give signs of an excessive nervousness that is even pathological:

these physiological defects predestined them to great religious roles. The ritual use of intoxicating liquors is to be explained in the same way.2 Of course this does not mean that an ardent religious faith is necessarily the fruit of the drunkenness and mental derangement which accompany it; but as experience soon informed people of the similarities between the mentality of a delirious person and that of a seer, they sought to open a way to the second by artificially exciting the first. But if, for this reason, it may be said that religion is not without a certain delirium, it must be added that this delirium, if it has the causes which we have attributed to it, is well-founded. The images out

of which it is made are not pure illusions like those the naturists and animists put at the basis of religion; they correspond to something in reality. Of course it is only natural that the moral forces they express should be unable to affect the human mind powerfully without pulling it outside itself and without plunging it into a state that may be called ecstatic, provided that the word be taken in its etymological sense (йсотокпу); but it does not follow that they are imaginary. Quite on the contrary, the mental agitation they cause bears witness to their reality. It is merely one more proof that a very intense social life always does a sort of violence to the organism, as well as to the individual conscious­ness, which interferes with its normal functioning. Therefore it can last only a limited length of time.1

Moreover, if we give the name delirious to every state in which the mind adds to the immediate data given by the senses and projects its own sentiments and feelings into things, then nearly every collective representation is in a sense delirious ; religious beliefs are only one particular case of a very general law. Our whole social environment seems to us to be tilled with forces which really exist only in our own minds. We know what the flag is for the soldier ; in itself, it is only a piece of cloth. Human blood is only an organic liquid, but even to-day we cannot see it flowing without feeling a violent emotion which its physico-chemical properties cannot explain. From the physical point of view, a man is nothing more than a system of cells, or from the mental point of view, than a system of representations ; in either case, he differs only in degree from animals. Yet society conceives him, and obliges us to conceive him, as invested with a character siii generis that isolates him, holds at a distance all rash encroachments and, in a word, imposes respect. This dignity which puts him into a class by himself appears to us as one of his distinctive attributes, although we can find nothing in the empirical nature of man which justifies it. A cancelled postage stamp may be worth a fortune; but surely this value is in no way implied in its natural properties. In a sense, our representation of the external world is undoubtedly a mere fabric of hallucinations, for the odours, tastes and colours that we put into bodies are not really there, or at least, they are not such as we perceive them. However, our olfactory, gustatory and visual sensations continue to correspond to certain objective states of the things represented ; they express in their way the properties, either of material particles or of ether waves, which certainly have their origin in the bodies which we perceive

as fragrant, sapid or coloured. But collective representations very frequently attribute to the things to which they are attached quali­ties which do not exist under any form or to any degree. Out of the commonest object, they can make a most powerful sacred being.

Yet the powers which are thus conferred, though purely ideal, act as though they were real; they determine the conduct of men with the same degree of necessity as physical forces. The Arunta who has been rubbed with his churinga feels himself stronger; he is stronger. If he has eaten the flesh of an animal which, though perfectly healthy, is forbidden to him, he will feel himself sick, and may die of it. Surely the soldier who falls while defending his flag does not believe that he sacrifices himself for a bit of cloth. This is all because social thought, owing to the imperative authority that is in it, has an efficacy that individual thought could never have ; by the power which it has over our minds, it can make us see things in whatever light it pleases; it adds to reality or deducts from it according to the circum­stances. Thus there is one division of nature where the formula of idealism is applicable almost to the letter : this is the social kingdom. Here more than anywhere else, the idea is the reality. Even in this case, of course, idealism is not true without modifica­tion. We can never escape the duality of our nature and free ourselves completely from physical necessities: in order to express our own ideas to ourselves, it is necessary, as has been shown above, that we fix them upon material things which symbolize them. But here the part of matter is reduced to a minimum. The object serving as support for the idea is not much in comparison with the ideal superstructure, beneath which it disappears, and also, it counts for nothing in the superstructure. This is what that pseudo-delirium consists in, which we find at the bottom of so many collective representations : it is only a form of this essential idealism.* So it is not properly called a delirium, for the ideas thus objectified are well founded, not in the nature of the material things upon which they settle them­selves, but in the nature of society.

We are now able to understand how the totemic principle,

and in general, every religious force, comes to be outside of the object in which it resides.1 It is because the idea of it is in no way made up of the impressions directly produced by this thing upon our senses or minds. Religious force is only the sentiment inspired by the group in its members, but projected outside of the consciousnesses that experience them, and objectified. To be objectified, they are fixed upon some object which thus becomes sacred ; but any object might fulfil this function. In principle, there are none whose nature predestines them to it to the ex­clusion of all others ; but also there are none that are necessarily impossible.2 Everything depends upon the circumstances which lead the sentiment creating religious ideas to establish itself here or there, upon this point or upon that one. Therefore, the sacred character assumed by an object is not implied in the intrinsic properties of this latter : it is added to them. The world of religious things is not one particular aspect of empirical nature; it is superimposed upon it.

This conception of the religious, finally, allows us to explain an important principle found at the bottom of a multitude of myths and rites, and which may be stated thus : when a sacred thing is subdivided, each of its parts remains equal to the thing itself. In other words, as far as religious thought is concerned, the part is equal to the whole ; it has the same powers, the same efficacy. The debris of a relic has the same virtue as a relic in good condition. The smallest drop of blood contains the same active principle as the whole thing. The soul, as we shall see, may be broken up into nearly as many pieces as there are organs or tissues in the organism ; each of these partial souls is worth a whole soul. This conception would be inexplicable if the sacredness of something were due to the constituent properties of the thing itself; for in that case, it should vary with this thing, increasing and decreasing with it. But if the virtues it is believed to possess are not intrinsic in it, and if they come from certain sentiments which it brings to mind and symbolizes, though these originate outside of it, then, since it has no need of determined dimensions to play this role of reminder, it will have the same value whether it is entire or not. Since the part makes us think of the whole, it evokes the same sentiments as the whole. A mere fragment of the flag represents the fatherland just as well as the flag itself : so it is sacred in the same way and to the same degree.3