« PreviousContinue »
often located in some distant earthly region, or less commonly in the under-world or on the sky. On the cultured side, the theory of hovering ghosts continues, but tends to subside from philosophy into folklore, the theory of re-birth is elaborated into great philosophic systems, but eventually dies out under the opposition of scientific biology, while the doctrine of a new life after death maintains its place with immense power in the human mind, although the dead have been ousted by geography from any earthly district, and the regions of heaven and hell are more and more spiritualized out of definite locality into vague expressions of future happiness and misery. Again, on the savage side we find the dominant idea to be a continuance of the soul 1 in a new existence, like the present life, or idealized and exaggerated on its model; while on the cultured side the doctrine of judgment and moral retribution prevails with paramount, though not indeed absolute sway. What, then, has been the historical course of theological opinion, to have produced in different stages of culture these contrasted phases of doctrine?
In some respects, theories deriving savage from more civilized ideas are tenable. In certain cases, to consider a particular savage doctrine of the future state as a fragmentary, or changed, or corrupted outcome of the religion of higher races, seems as easy as to reverse this view by taking savagery as representing the starting-point. It is open to anyone to suppose that the doctrine of transmigration among American savages and African barbarians may have been degraded from elaborate systems of metempsychosis established among philosophic nations like the Hindus; that the North American and South African doctrine of continued existence in a subterranean world may be derived from similar beliefs held by races at the level of the ancient Greeks; that when rude tribes in the Old or New World assign among the dead a life of happiness to some, and of misery to others, this idea may have been inherited or adopted from cultured nations holding more strongly and systematically the doctrine of retribution. In such cases the argument is to a great extent the same, whether the lower race be considered degenerate descendants of a higher nation, or whether the simpler supposition be put forward that they have adopted the ideas of some more cultured people. These views ought to have full attention, for degenerate and borrowed beliefs form no small item in the opinions of uncivilized races. Yet this kind of explanation is more adapted to meet special cases than general conditions; it is rather suited to piecemeal treatment, than to comprehensive study, of the religions of mankind. Worked out on the large scale, it would endeavour to account for the doctrines of the savage world, as being a patchwork of fragments from various religions of high nations, transported by not easily-conceived means from their distant homes and set down in remote regions of the earth. It may be safely said that no hypothesis can account for the varied doctrines current among the lower tribes, without the admission that religious ideas have been in no small measure developed and modified in the districts where they are current.
Now this theory of development, in its fullest scope, combined with an accessory theory of degeneration and adoption, seems best to meet the general facts of the case. A hypothesis which finds the origin of the doctrine of the future life in the primitive animism of the lower races, and thence traces it along the course of religious thought, in varied developments fitted to exacter knowledge and forming part of loftier creeds, may well be maintained as in reasonable accordance with the evidence. Such a theory, as has been sufficiently shown in the foregoing chapters, affords a satisfactory explanation of the occurrence, in the midst of cultured religions, of intellectually low superstitions, such as that of offerings to the dead, and various others. These, which the development theory treats naturally as survivals from a low stage of education lingering on in a higher, are by no means so readily accounted for by the degeneration theory. There are more special arguments which favour the priority of the savage to the civilized phases of the doctrine of a future life. If savages did in general receive their views of another existence from the religious systems of cultured nations, these systems can hardly have been such as recognize the dominant doctrines of heaven and hell. For, as to the locality of the future world, savage races especially favour a view little represented in civilized belief, namely, that the life to come is in some distant earthly country. Moreover, the belief in a fiery abyss or Gehenna, which excites so intensely and lays hold so firmly of the imagination of the most ignorant men, would have been especially adapted to the minds of savages, had it come down to them by tradition from an ancestral faith. Yet, in fact, the lower races so seldom recognize such an idea, that even the few cases in which it occurs lie open to suspicion of not being purely native. The proposition that the savage doctrines descend from the more civilized seems thus to involve the improbable supposition, that tribes capable of keeping up traditions of Paradise, Heaven, or Hades, should nevertheless have forgotten or discarded a tradition of Hell. Still more important is the contrast between the continuance-theory and the retribution-theory of the future existence, in the sections of culture where they respectively predominate. On the one hand, the continuance-theory, with its ideas of a ghostly life like this, is directly vouched for by the evidence of the senses in dreams and visions of the dead, and may be claimed as part of the "Natural Religion," properly so called, of the lower races. On the other hand, the retribution-theory is a dogma which this evidence of apparitions could hardly set on foot, though capable of afterwards supporting it. Throughout the present study of animistic religion, it constantly comes into view that doctrines which in the lower culture are philosophical, tend in the higher to become ethical; that what among savages is a science of nature, passes among civilized nations into a moral engine. Herein lies the distinction of deepest import between the two great theories of the soul's existence after bodily death. According to a development theory of culture, the savage, unethical doctrine of continuance would be taken as the more primitive, succeeded in higher civilization by the ethical doctrine of retribution. Now this theory of the course of religion in the distant and obscure past is conformable with experience of its actual history, so far as this lies within our knowledge. Whether we compare the early Greek with the later Greek, the early Jew with the later Jew, the ruder races of the world in their older condition with the same races as affected by the three missionary religions of Buddhism, Mohammedanism, Christianity, the testimony of history vouches for the like transition towards ethical dogma.
In conclusion, though theological argument on the actual validity of doctrines relating to the future life can have no place here, it will be well not to pass by without further remark one great practical question which lies fairly within the province of Ethnography. How, in the various stages of culture, has the character and conduct of the living been affected by the thought of a life to come? If we take the savage beliefs as a starting-point, it will appear that these belong rather to speculative philosophy than to practical rule of life. The lower races hold opinions as to a future state because they think them true, but it is not surprising that men who take so little thought of a contingency three days off, should receive little practical impulse from vague anticipations of a life beyond the grave. Setting aside the consideration of possible races devoid of all thought of a future existence, there unquestionably has been and is a great mass of mankind whose lives are scarcely affected by such expectations of another life as they do hold. The doctrine of continuance, making death as it were a mere journey into a new country, can have little direct action on men's conduct, though indirectly it has indeed an enormous and disastrous influence on society, leading as it does to the slaughter of wives and slaves, and the destruction of property, for the use of the dead in the next world. If this world to come be thought a happier region, the looking forward to it makes men more willing to risk their lives in battle, promotes the habit of despatching the sick and aged into a better life, and encourages suicide when life is very hateful here. When the half-way house between continuance and retribution is reached, and the idea prevails that the manly virtues which give rank and wealth and honour here will lead hereafter to yet brighter glory; then this belief must add new force to the earthly motives which make bold warriors and mighty chiefs. But among men who expect to become hovering ghosts at death, or to depart to some gloomy land of shades, such expectation strengthens the natural horror and hatred of dissolution. They tend toward the modern African's state of mind, whose thought of death is that he shall drink no more rum, wear no more fine clothes, have no more wives. The negro of our own day would feel to the utmost the sense of those lines in the beginning of the Iliad, which describe the heroes' " souls" being cast down to Hades, but "themselves" left a prey to dogs and carrion birds.
Rising to the level of the higher races, we mark the thought of future existence taking a larger and larger place in the convictions of religion, the expectation of a judgment after death gaining in intensity and becoming, what it scarcely seems to the savage, a real motive in life. Yet this change is not to be measured as proceeding throughout in any direct proportion with the development of culture. The doctrine of the future life has hardly taken deeper and stronger root in the higher than in the middle levels of civilization.. The Osiris-mummy carried round at Egyptian feasts symbolized not dissolution, but entrance into glory, to the nation who looked for their real life not on the banks of the Nile, but in the sunset regions of the mystic Amenti. The Moslem says that men sleep in life and wake in death; the Hindu likens the body which a soul has quitted to the bed he rises from in the morning. The story of the ancient