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GOOD AND EVIL AS RELIGIOUS IDEAS.
THIS WORLD OF OURS is a world of opposites.
There is light and shade, there is heat and cold, there is good and evil, there is God and the Devil.
The dualistic conception of nature has been a necessary phase in the evolution of human thought. We find the same views of good and evil spirits prevailing among all the peoples of the earth at the very beginning of that stage of their development which, in the phraseology of Tylor, is commonly called Animism. But the principle of unity dominates the development of thought. Man tries to unify his conceptions in a consistent and harmonious Monism. Accordingly, while the belief in good spirits tended towards the formation of the doctrine of Monotheism, the belief in evil spirits led naturally to the acceptance of a single supreme evil deity, conceived as embodying all that is bad, destructive, and immoral.
Monotheism and Monodiabolism, both originating simultaneously in the monistic tendencies of man's mental evolution, together constitute a Dualism which to many is still the most acceptable world-conception. Nevertheless, it is not the final goal of human philosophy. As soon as the thinkers of mankind become aware of the Dualism implied in this interpretation of the world, the tendency is again manifested towards a higher conception, which is a purely monistic view.
Will Monism eliminate the idea of the Devil in order to make God the One and All? Or will it abolish both God and the Devil, to leave room only for a world of matter in motion? Will the future of mankind be, as M. Guyau prophesies, a period in which religion will disappear and give way to irreligion?
Those who do not appreciate the mission of Dualism in the evolution of human thought, and only know its doctrines to be untenable, naturally expect that the future of mankind will be irreligious, and there are freethinkers who declare that Atheism will supersede all the different conceptions of God. But this is not probable. The monistic tendencies of the age will not destroy, but purify and elevate religion. The Animism of the savage is a necessary stage of man's mental evolution: it appears as an error to the higher-developed man of a half-civilised period; but the error contains a truth which naturally develops into a more perfect conception of the surrounding world. Similarly, the religious ideas of the present time are symbols. Taken in their literal meaning, they are untenable, but understood in their symbolical nature they are seeds from which a purer conception of the truth will grow. The tendencies of philosophic thought prevailing to-day lead to a positive conception of the world, which replaces symbols by statements of fact and brings with it not a denial of religious allegories but a deeper and more correct conception.
A state of irreligion in which mankind would adopt and publicly teach a doctrine of Atheism is an impossibility. Atheism is a negation, and negations cannot stand, for they have sense only as confronted with the positive issues which they reject. Yet our present anthropomorphic view of God, briefly called Anthropotheism, which as a rule conceives him as an infinitely big individual being, will have to yield to a higher view in which we shall understand that the idea of a personal God is a mere simile. God is much more than a person. When we speak of God as a person, we ought to be conscious of the fact that we use an allegory which, if it were taken literally, can only belittle him. The God of the future will not be personal, but superpersonal.
But how shall we reach this knowledge of the superpersonal God? Our answer is, with the help of science. Let us pursue in religion the same path that science travels, and the narrowness of sectarianism will develop into a broad cosmical religion which shall be as wide and truly catholic as is science itself.
Symbols are not lies; symbols contain truth. Allegories and parables are not falsehoods; they convey information: moreover, they can be understood by those who are not as yet prepared to receive the plain truth. Thus, when in the progress of science religious symbols are recognised and known in their symbolical nature, this knowledge will not destroy religion but will purify it and will cleanse it from mythology.
We define God as "that authoritative presence in the All, which enforces a definite moral conduct." God is that something which constitutes the harmony of the laws of nature; God is the intrinsic necessity of mathematics and logic; God above all is what experience teaches us to be the inalienable features of righteousness, justice, morality. This presence is both immanent and transcendent: it is immanent as the constituent characteristic of the law that pervades the universe; it is transcendent, for it is the condition of any possible cosmic order; and in this sense it is supercosmic and supernatural.
We do not say that God is impersonal, for the word "impersonal" implies the absence of those features which constitute personality; it implies vagueness, indefiniteness, and lack of character. God, however, as he manifests himself in the order of the universe is very definite. He is not vague but possesses quite marked qualities. He is such as he is and not different. His being is universal, but not indeterminable. His nature does not consist of indifferent generalities, but exhibits a distinct suchness. Indeed; all suchness in the world, in physical nature as well as in the domain of spirit, depends upon God as here defined, and what is the personality of man but the incarnation of that cosmic logic which we call reason? God, although not an individual being, is the prototype of personality; although not a person, thinking thoughts as we do, deliberating, weighing arguments, and coming to a decision, he is yet that which conditions personality; he possesses all those qualities which, when reflected in animated creatures, adds unto their souls the nobility of God's image, called personality. Therefore we say, God is not impersonal, but superpersonal.
While the idea of God has received much attention from philosophers and progressive theologians, its counterpart, the dark figure of the Evil One, has been much neglected. And yet the Devil is, after all, a very interesting personality, grotesque, romantic, humorous, pathetic, nay, even grand and tragic. And if we have to declare that the idea of God is a symbol signifying an actual presence in the world of facts, should we not expect that the idea of the Devil also represents a reality?
It is almost impossible to exhaust the subject, for it would take volumes to write an approximately complete history of demonology. Accordingly, we must confine ourselves to merely outlining some of the most salient features of the development of the belief in the Devil and the nature of the idea of evil.CHAPTER 2
FROM A SURVEYAL of the accounts gleaned from Waitz, Lubbock, and Tylor, on the primitive state of religion, the conviction impresses itself upon the student of demonology that Devil-worship naturally precedes the worship of a benign and morally good Deity. There are at least many instances in which we can observe a transition from the lower stage of Devil-worship to the higher stage of God-worship, and there seems to be no exception to the rule that fear is always the first incentive to religious worship. This is the reason why the dark figure of the Devil, that is to say, of a powerful evil deity, looms up as the most important personage in the remotest past of almost every faith. Demonolatry, or Devil-worship, is the first stage in the evolution of religion, for we fear the bad, not the good.
Mr. Herbert Spencer bases religion on the Unknown, declaring that the savage worships those powers which he does not understand. In order to give to religion a foundation which even the scientist does not dare to touch, he asserts the existence of an absolute Unknowable, and recommends it as the basis of the religion of the future. But facts do not agree with Mr. Spencer's proposition. A German proverb says:
"Was ich nicht weiss
Macht mich nicht heiss."
Or, as is sometimes said in English:
"What the eyes don't see
The heart doesn't grieve for."
What is absolutely unknowable does not concern us, and the savage does not worship the thunder because he does not know what it is, but because he knows enough about the lightning that may strike his hut to be in awe of it. He worships the thunder because he dreads it; he is afraid of it on account of its known and obvious dangers which he is unable to control.
Let us hear the men who have carefully collected and sifted the facts. Waitz, in speaking in his Anthropologie (Vol. III., pp. 182, 330, 335, 345) of the Indians, who were not as yet semi-Christianised, states that the Florida tribes are said to have solemnly worshipped the Bad Spirit, Toia, who plagued them with visions, and to have had small regard for the Good Spirit, who troubled himself little about mankind. And Martius makes this characteristic remark of the rude tribes of Brazil:
"All Indians have a lively conviction of the power of an evil principle over them; in many there dawns also a glimpse of the good; but they revere the one less than they fear the other. It might be thought that they hold the Good Being weaker in relation to the fate of man than the Evil."
Capt. John Smith, the hero of the colonisation of Virginia, in 1607, describes the worship of Okee (a word which apparently means that which is above our control) as follows:
"There is yet in Virginia no place discouered to bee so Savage in which the savages haue not a religion, Deare, and Bow and Arrowes. All thinges that were able to do them hurt beyond their prevention they adore with their kinde of divine worship; as the fire, water, lightning, thunder, our ordinance peeces, horses, &c. But their chiefe God they worship is the Diuell. Him they call Oke, and serue him more of feare than loue. They say they haue conference with him and fashion themselues as neare to his shape as they can imagine. In their Temples they haue his image euill favouredly carued and then painted and adorned with chaines, copper, and beades, and couered with a skin in such manner as the deformity may well suit with such a God." (Original ed., p. 29.)
"In some part of the Country, they haue yearely a sacrifice of children. Such a one was at Quiyoughcohanock, some 10 miles from Iames Towne, and thus performed.
"Fifteene of the properest young boyes, betweene 10 and 15 yeares of age, they painted white. Hauing brought them forth, the people spent the forenoone in dancing and singing about them with rattles.
"In the afternoone, they put those children to the roote of a tree. By them, all the men stood in a guard, every one hauing a Bastinado in his hand, made of reeds bound together. This [these] made a lane betweene them all along, through which there were appointed 5 young men to fetch these children. So every one of the fiue went through the guard, to fetch a child, each after other by turnes: the guard fearelessly beating them with their Bastina-does, and they patiently enduring and receauing all; defending the children with their naked bodies from the vnmercifull blowes they pay them soundly, though the children escape. All this while, the women weepe and crie out very passionately; prouiding mats, skinnes, mosse, and drie wood, as things fitting their childrens funerals.
"After the children were thus passed the guard, the guard tore down the tree, branches and boughs, with such violence, that they rent the body and made wreathes for their heads, or bedecked their haire with the leaues. What else was done with the children was not seene; but they were all cast on a heape in a valley, as dead: where they made a great feast for al the company.
"The Werowance [chief] being demanded the meaning of this sacrifice, answered that the children were not all dead, but [only] that the Oke or Divell did sucke the blood from their left breast [of those], who chanced to be his by lot, till they were dead. But the rest were kept in the wildernesse by the yong men till nine moneths were expired, during which time they must not conuerse with any: and of these, were made their Priests and Coniurers.
"This sacrifice they held to bee so necessarie, that if they should omit it, their Oke or Divel and all their other Quiyoughco-sughes (which are their other Gods) would let them haue no Deare, Turkies, Corne, nor fish: and yet besides, hee would make great slaughter amongst them.
"To divert them from this blind idolatrie, many vsed their best indeauours, chiefly with the Werowances of Quiyoughcohanock; whose devotion, apprehension, and good disposition much exceeded any in those Countries: who though we could not as yet preuaile withall to forsake his false Gods, yet this he did beleeue, that our God as much exceeded theirs, as our Gunnes did their Bowes and Arrows; and many times did send to the President, at Iames towne, men with presents, intreating them to pray to his God for raine, for his Gods would not send him any.
"And in this lamentable ignorance doe these poore soules sacrifice themselues to the Diuell, not knowing their Creator." (Original ed., pp. 32, 33, 34.)
Similar practices prevailed among almost all the Indian tribes who inhabited the islands and the two continents of America a few centuries ago. M. Bernhard Picart's illustration, drawn according to the report of Peter Martyr, an eye-witness, proves that the tribes of Hispaniola, now commonly called Haiti, paid homage to the Supreme Being under the name of Jocanna, and their practices show that they were devil-worshippers of the worst kind. Even the most civilised Americans, the Mexicans, had not as yet outgrown this stage of religious belief. It is true that the idea of a white God of Love and Peace was not quite foreign to them, but the fear of the horrible Huitzilopochtli still prompted them to stain the altars of his temples with the blood of human victims.
Human sacrifices are frequently mentioned in the Bible. Thus the King of Moab, when pressed hard by the children of Israel, "took his eldest son that should have reigned in his stead and offered him for a burnt-offering upon the wall" (2 Kings, iv. 27). He succeeded by this terrible expedient in saving the city, for the biblical report continues: "And there was great indignation against Israel; and they [the Israelites] departed from him and returned to their own land."
The prophets were constantly preaching against the pagan practice of those Israelites who, in imitation of the religion of their neighbors, sought to "sacrifice their sons and daughters to devils," or let them "pass through the fire of Moloch to devour them"; but so near to the religious conception of the savage was even the purer faith of Israel that Jephtha still believed that God required of him "to offer his daughter up as a burnt offering." (Judges, xi. 29—40).
The most civilised nations on earth still preserve in their ancient legends traces of having at an early period of their religious development immolated human beings in propitiation of angry deities. When the glory of Athens was at its climax, Euripides dramatically represented the tragic fate of Polyxena who was sacrificed on the tomb of Achilles in order to pacify the dead hero's spirit and thereby ensure the safe return of the Greek army.
Progress in civilisation led to a modification but not to a direct abolition of human sacrifices. We find among more advanced savages, and even at the dawn of a higher civilisation, a practice whereby the victim, be it a child, a virgin, or a youth is offered up without slaughtering, and has a chance either to escape by good luck or to be rescued by some daring deed. Traces of this conception are found in the tales of Perseus and Andromeda, of Palnatoke the marksman, who, like William Tell, shot an apple from his child's head, of Susano, in Japanese folk-lore, who slew the eight-headed serpent that annually devoured one of the daughters of a poor peasant, and similar ancient legends. At the same time human victims were supplanted by animals, as is indicated by various religious legends. Thus a hind was substituted for Iphigenia and a ram for Isaac.
Human sacrifices are one of the principal characteristic traits of Devil-worship, but not the only one. There are in addition other devilish practices which are based on the idea that the Deity takes delight in witnessing tortures, and the height of abomination is reached in cannibalism, which, as anthropology teaches us, is not due to scarcity of food, but can always be traced back to some religious superstition, especially to the notion that he who partakes of the heart or brain of his adversary acquires the courage, strength, and other virtues of the slain man.
The last remnants of the idea that the wrath of the Deity must be appeased by blood, and that we acquire spiritual powers by eating the flesh and drinking the blood of the victim still linger with us to-day in the mediæva] interpretations of certain church dogmas, and will only disappear before the searching light of a fearless and consistent religious reformation. We must remember, however, that certain superstitions, at early stages of the religious development of mankind, are as unavoidable as the various errors which science and philosophy pass through in their natural evolution.
Excerpted from The History of the Devil by Paul Carus. Copyright © 2008 Dover Publications, Inc.. Excerpted by permission of Dover Publications, Inc..
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