May 3rd, 2008, 11:43 PM
WE have now to show that the moon has been in every age, and remains still, one of the principal objects of human worship. Even among certain nations credited with pure monotheism, it will be manifested that there was the practice of that primitive polytheism which adored the hosts of heaven. And, however humiliating or disappointing the disclosure may prove, it will be established that some of the foremost Christian peoples of the world maintain luniolatry to this day, notwithstanding that they have the reproving light of the latest civilization. We are so prone to talk of heathenism as abroad, that we forget or neglect the gross heathenism which abounds at home; and while we complacently speak of the march of the world's progress with which we identify ourselves, we are oblivious of the fact that much ancient falsehood survives and blends with the truth in which our superior minds, or minds with superior facilities, have been trained. How few of us reflect that the signs and symbols of rejected theories have passed into the nomenclature of received systems! Nay, we plume ourselves upon the new translation or revision as if we were the favoured recipients of some fresh revelation. Not only in the names of our days and months, but also in some of our most cherished dogmas, we are but the "liberal-conservatives" in religion, who retain the old, while we congratulate ourselves upon being the apostles of the new. That the past must always run into the present, and the present proceed from the past, we readily enough allow as a natural and necessary law; yet baptized heathenism is often heathenism still, under another name. Again, we are sometimes so short-sighted that we deny to former periods the paternity of their own more fortunate offspring, and behave like prosperous children who ungratefully ignore their poorer parents, to whom they owe their breath and being. Such treatment of history is to be emphatically deprecated, whether it arises from ignorance or ingratitude. We ought to know, if we do not, and we ought also to acknowledge, that our perfect day grew out of primeval darkness, and that the progress was a lingering dawn. This we hold to be the clearest view of the Divine causation. Our modern method in philosophy, largely owing to the Novum Organum of Bacon, is evolution, the novum organum of the nineteenth century; and this process recognises no abrupt or interruptive creations, but gradual transformations from pre-existent types, "variations under domestication," and the passing away of the old by its absorption into the new. Our religion, like our language, is a garden not only for indigenous vegetation, but also for acclimatisation, in which we improve under cultivation exotic plants whose roots are drawn from every soil on the earth. And, as Paul preached in Athens the God whom the Greeks worshipped in ignorance, so our missionaries carry back to less enlightened peoples the fruit of that life-giving tree whose germs exist among themselves, undeveloped and often unknown. No religion has fallen from heaven, like the fabled image of Athene, in full-grown beauty. All spiritual life is primordially an inspiration or intuition from the Father of spirits, whose offspring all men are, and who is not far from every one of them. This intuition prompts men to "seek the Lord, if haply they might feel after Him, and find Him." Thus prayer becomes an instinct; and to worship is as natural as to breathe. But man is a being with five senses, and as his contact with his fellow-creatures and with the whole creation is at one or other of those five points, he is necessarily sensuous. Endowed with native intelligence, the intellectus ipse of Leibnitz, he nevertheless receives his impressions on sensitive nerves, his emotions are sentiments, his words become sentences, and his stock of wisdom is his common sense. A few, very few, words express his sensations, a few more his perceptions, and so on; but he is conscious of objects at first, he deals with subjects afterwards.
Soon the sun, moon, and stars, as bright lights attract his eyes, as we have all seen an infant of a few days fix its gaze upon a candle or lamp. These heavenly orbs are found to be in motion, to be far away, to be the glory of day and night: what wonder if ideas of these images are formed in the religious mind, if the worshipper imagines the sun and moon to be reflections of the God of light, and pays homage to the creature which renders the Creator visible? Thus in the childhood of man religion grows, and with the multiplication of intellect and sensation, endless diversity of language, conception and faith is the result. Another result, of course, is the endless diversity of deities. Every race, every nation, every tribe, every household, every heart, has had its own God. And yet, with all this multiplicity in religious literature and dogma, subject and object, a unity co-exists which the student of the science notes with profound interest. All nations of men are of one blood; and all forms of God embody the one Eternal Spirit. To this unity mythology tends. As one writer says: "We must ever bear in mind that the course of mythology is from many gods toward one, that it is a synthesis, not an analysis, and that in this process the tendency is to blend in one the traits and stories of originally separate divinities." 107 The ancient Hebrew worshipped God as " the Eternal, our righteousness "; the Greek worshipped Him as wisdom and beauty; the Roman as power and government; the Persian as light and goodness; and so forth. Few hymns have surpassed the beauty of Pope's Universal Prayer. It is the Te Deum laudamus of that catholic Church which embraces God-loved humanity.
"Father of all! in every age,
In every clime, adored,
By saint, by savage, and by sage,
Jehovah, Jove, or Lord!"
The Christian, believing his to be the "One Religion," as a recent Bampton Lecturer termed it, too often forgets that his system is a recomposition of rays of a religious light which was decomposed in the prismatic minds of earlier men. And further, with a change of metaphor, if Christianity has flourished and fructified through eighteen centuries, it must not be denied that it is a graft upon an old stock which through fifteen previous centuries had borne abundant fruit. The same course must be adopted still. We find men everywhere holding some truth; we add further truth; until, as a chemist would say, we saturate the solution, which upon evaporation produces a crystallized life of entirely new colour and quality and form. Thus Professor Nilsson writes: "Every religious change in a people is, in fact, only an intermixture of religions; because the new religion, whether received by means of convincing arguments, or enforced by the eloquence of fire and sword, cannot at once tear up all the wide-spreading roots by which its forerunner has grown in the heart of the people; this must be the work of many years, perhaps of many generations." 108 We cannot better close this lengthy introduction than by reminding Christians of the saying of their Great and Good Teacher, "I am not come to destroy, but to fulfil."