« PreviousContinue »
and that he shall treat it as an accretion to be deducted from professed history, whenever it is recognized by the tests of being decidedly against evidence as fact, and at the same time clearly explicable as myth. It is from the ethnographic study of savage and barbaric races that the knowledge of the general laws of myth-development, required for the carrying out of this critical process, may be best or must necessarily be gained.
The two vast united provinces of Morals and Law have been as yet too imperfectly treated on a general ethnographic scheme, to warrant distinct statement of results. Yet thus much may be confidently said, that where the ground has been even superficially explored, every glimpse reveals treasures of knowledge. It is already evident that enquirers who systematically trace each department of moral and legal institutions from the savage through the barbaric and into the civilized condition of mankind, thereby introduce into the scientific investigations of these subjects an indispensable element which merely theoretical writers are apt unscrupulously to dispense with. The law or maxim which a people at some particular stage of its history might have made fresh, according to the information and circumstances of the period, is one thing. The law or maxim which did in fact become current among them by inheritance from an earlier stage, only more or less modified to make it compatible with the new conditions, is another and far different thing. Ethnography is required to bridge over the gap between the two, a very chasm where the arguments of moralists and legists are continually falling in, to crawl out maimed and helpless. Within modern grades of civilization this historical method is now becoming more and more accepted. It will not be denied that English law has acquired, by modified inheritance from past ages, a theory of primogeniture and a theory of real estate which are so far from being products of our own times that we must go back to the middle ages for anything like a satisfactory explanation of them; and as for more absolute survival, did not Jewish disabilities stand practically, and the wager of battle nominally, in our law of not many years back ? But the point to be pressed here is, that the development and survival of law are processes that did not first come into action within the range of written codes of comparatively cultured nations. Admitted that civilized law requires its key from barbaric law; it must be borne in mind that the barbarian lawgiver too was guided in judgment not so much by first principles, as by a reverent and often stupidly reverent adherence to the tradition of earlier and yet ruder ages.
Nor can these principles be set aside in the scientific study of moral sentiment and usage. When the ethical systems of mankind, from the lowest savagery upward, have been analyzed and arranged in their stages of evolution, then ethical science, no longer vitiated by too exclusive application to particular phases of morality taken unreasonably as representing morality in general, will put its methods to fair trial on the long and intricate world-history of right and wrong.
In concluding a work of which full half is occupied by evidence bearing on the philosophy of religion, it may well be asked, how does all this array of facts stand toward the theologian's special province ? That the world sorely needs new evidence and method in theology, the state of religion in our own land bears witness. Take English Protestantism as a central district of opinion, draw an ideal line through its centre, and English thought is seen to be divided as by a polarizing force extending to the utmost limits of repulsion. On one side of the dividing line stand such as keep firm hold on the results of the 16th century reformation, or seek yet more original canons from the first Christian ages; on the other side stand those who, refusing to be bound by the doctrinal judgments of past centuries, but introducing modern science and modern criticism as new factors in theological opinion, are eagerly pressing toward a reformation. Outside these narrower limits, extremer
partizans occupy more distant ground on either side. On the one hand the Anglican blends gradually into the Roman scheme, a system so interesting to the ethnologist for its maintenance of rites more naturally belonging to barbaric culture; a system so hateful to the man of science for its suppression of knowledge, and for that usurpation of intellectual authority by a sacerdotal caste which has at last reached its climax, now that an aged bishop can judge, by infallible inspiration, the results of researches whose evidence and methods are alike beyond his knowledge and his mental grasp. On the other hand, intellect, here trampled under foot of dogma, takes full revenge elsewhere, even within the domain of religion, in those theological districts where reason takes more and more the command over hereditary belief, like a mayor of the palace superseding a nominal king. In yet farther ranges of opinion, religious authority is simply deposed and banished, and the throne of absolute reason is set up without a rival even in name; in secularism the feeling and imagination which in the religious world are bound to theological belief, have to attach themselves to a positive natural philosophy, and to a positive morality which shall of its own force control the acts of men. Such, then, is the boundless divergence of opinion among educated citizens of an enlightened country, in an age scarcely approached by any former age in the possession of actual knowledge and the strenuous pursuit of truth as the guiding principle of life. Of the causes which have brought to pass so perplexed a condition of public thought, in so momentous a matter as theology, there is one, and that a weighty one, which demands mention here. It is the partial and one-sided application of the historical method of enquiry into theological doctrines, and the utter neglect of the ethnographical method which carries back the historical into remoter and more primitive regions of thought. Looking at each doctrine by itself and for itself, as in the abstract true or untrue, theologians close their eyes to the instances which history is ever holding up before them, that one phase of a religious belief is the outcome of another, that in all times religion has included within its limits a system of philosophy, expressing its more or less transcendental conceptions in doctrines which form in any age their fittest representatives, but which doctrines are liable to modification in the general course of intellectual change, whether the ancient formulas still hold their authority with altered meaning, or are themselves reformed or replaced. Christendom furnishes evidence to establish this principle, if for example we will but candidly compare the educated opinion of Rome in the 5th with that of London in the 19th century, on such subjects as the nature and functions of soul, spirit, deity, and judge by the comparison in what important respects the philosophy of religion has come to differ even among men who represent in different ages the same great principles of faith. The general study of the ethnography of religion, through all its immensity of range, seems to countenance the theory of evolution in its highest and widest sense. In the treatment of some of its topics here, I have propounded special hypotheses as to the order in which various stages of doctrine and rite have succeeded one another in the history of religion. Yet how far these particular theories may hold good, seems even to myself a minor matter. The essential part of the ethnographic method in theology lies in admitting as relevant the compared evidence of religion in all stages of culture. The action of such evidence on theology proper is in this wise, that a vast proportion of doctrines and rites known among mankind are not to be judged as direct products of the particular religious systems which give them sanction, for they are in fact more or less modified results adopted from previous systems. The theologian, as he comes to deal with each element of belief and worship, ought to ascertain its place in the general scheme of religion. Should the doctrine or rite in question appear to have been transmitted from an earlier to a later stage of religious thought, then it should be tested, like any other point of culture, as to its place in development. The question has to be raised, to which of these three categories it belongs :—is it a product of the earlier theology, yet sound enough to maintain a rightful place in the later ?is it derived from a cruder original, yet so modified as to become a proper representative of more advanced views ?—is it a survival from a lower stage of thought, imposing on the credit of the higher by virtue not of inherent truth but of ancestral belief ? These are queries the very asking of which starts trains of thought which candid minds should be encouraged to pursue, leading as they do toward the attainment of such measure of truth as the intellectual condition of our age fits us to assimilate. In the scientific study of religion, which now shows signs of becoming for many a year an engrossing subject of the world's thought, the decision must not rest with a council in which the theologian, the metaphysician, the biologist, the physicist, exclusively take part. The historian and the ethnographer must be called upon to show the hereditary standing of each opinion and practice, and their enquiry must go back as far as antiquity or savagery can show a vestige, for there seems no human thought so primitive as to have lost its bearing on our own thought, nor so ancient as to have broken its connection with our own life.
It is our happiness to live in one of those eventful periods of intellectual and moral history, when the oft-closed gates of discovery and reform stand open at their widest. How long these good days may last, we cannot tell. It may
be that the increasing power and range of the scientific method, with its stringency of argument and constant check of fact, may start the world on a more steady and continuous course of progress than it has moved on heretofore. But if history is to repeat itself according to precedent, we must look forward to stiffer duller ages of traditionalists and commentators, when the great thinkers of our time will be appealed to as authorities by men who slavishly accept their tenets, yet cannot or dare not follow their methods through better evidence to higher ends. In either case, it is for those