|PAGAN AND CHRISTIAN CREEDS|
Their Origin and Meaning
|The Edward Carpenter Archive|
by Simon Dawson
We have dealt with the Genesis of Christianity; we now come to the Exodus. For that Christianity can continue to hold the field of Religion in the Western World is neither probable nor desirable. It is true, as I have remarked already, that there is a certain trouble about defining what we mean by "Christianity" similar to that about the word "Civilization." If we select out of the great mass of doctrines and rites favored by the various Christian Churches just those which commend themselves to the most modern and humane and rational human mind and choose to call that resulting (but rather small) body of belief and practice 'Christianity' we are, of course, entitled to do so, and to hope (as we do hope) that this residuum will survive and go forward into the future. But this sort of proceeding is hardly fair and certainly not logical. It enables Christianity to pose as an angel of light while at the same time keeping discreetly out of sight all its own abominations and deeds of darkness. The Church - which began its career by destroying, distorting and denying the pagan sources from which it sprang; whose bishops and other ecclesiastics assassinated each other in their theological rancour "of wild beasts," which encouraged the wicked folly of the Crusades - especially the Children's Crusades - and the shameful murders of the Manicheans, the Albigenses, and the Huguenots; which burned at the stake thousands and thousands of poor 'witches' and 'heretics'; which has hardly ever spoken a generous word in favor or defence of the animals; which in modern times has supported vivisection as against the latter, Capitalism and Commercialism as against the poorer classes of mankind; and whose priests in the forms of its various sects, Greek or Catholic, Lutheran or Protestant, have in these last days rushed forth to urge the nations to slaughter each other with every diabolical device of Science, and to glorify the war-cry of Patriotism in defiance of the principle of universal Brotherhood - such a Church can hardly claim to have established the angelic character of its mission among mankind! And if it be said - as it often is: "Oh! but you must go back to the genuine article, and the Church's real origin and one foundation in the person and teaching of Jesus Christ," then indeed you come back to the point which this book, as above, enforces: namely, that as to the person of Jesus, there is no certainty at all that he ever existed; and as to the teaching credited to him, it is certain that that comes down from a period long anterior to 'Christianity' and is part of what may justly be called a very ancient World-religion. So, as in the case of 'Civilization,' we are compelled to see that it is useless to apply the word to some ideal state of affairs or doctrine (an ideal by no means the same in all people's minds, or in all localities and times), but that the only reasonable thing to do is to apply it in each case to a historical period. In the case of Christianity the historical period has lasted nearly 2,000 years, and, as I say, we can hardly expect or wish that it should last much longer.
The very thorough and careful investigation of religious origins which has been made during late years by a great number of students and observers undoubtedly tends to show that there has been something like a great World-religion coming down the centuries from the remotest times and gradually expanding and branching as it has come - that is to say that the similarity (in essence though not always in external detail) between the creeds and rituals of widely sundered tribes and peoples is so great as to justify the view - advanced in the present volume - that these creeds and rituals are the necessary outgrowths of human psychology, slowly evolving, and that consequently they have a common origin and in their various forms a common expression. Of this great World-religion, so coming down, Christianity is undoubtedly a branch, and an important branch. But there have been important branches before; and while it may be true that Christianity emphasizes some points which may have been overlooked or neglected in the Vedic teachings or in Buddhism, or in the Persian and Egyptian and Syrian cults, or in Mahommedanism, and so forth, it is also equally true that Christianity has itself overlooked or neglected valuable points in these religions. It has, in fact, the defects of its qualities. If the World-religion is like a great tree, one cannot expect or desire that all its branches should be directed towards the same point of the compass.
Reinach, whose studies of religious origins are always interesting and characterized by a certain Gallic grace and nettete, though with a somewhat Jewish non-perception of the mystic element in life, defines Religion as a combination of animism and scruples. This is good in a way, because it gives the two aspects of the subject: the inner, animism, consisting of the sense of contact with more or less intelligent beings moving in Nature; and the outer, consisting in scruples or taboos. The one aspect shows the feeling which inspires religion, the other, the checks and limitations which define it and give birth to ritual. But like most anthropologists he (Reinach) is a little too patronizing towards the "poor Indian with untutored mind." He is sorry for people so foolish as to be animistic in their outlook, and he is always careful to point out that the scruples and taboos were quite senseless in their origin, though occasionally (by accident) they turned out useful. Yet - as I have said before - Animism is a perfectly sensible, logical and necessary attitude of the human mind. It is a necessary attribute of man's psychical nature, by which he projects into the great World around him the image of his own mind. When that mind is in a very primitive, inchoate, and fragmentary condition, the images so projected are those of fragmentary intelligences ('spirits,' gnomes, etc. - the age of magic); when the mind rises to distinct consciousness of itself the reflections of it are anthropomorphic 'gods'; when finally it reaches the universal or cosmic state it perceives the presence of a universal Being behind all phenomena - which Being is indeed itself - "Himself to Himself." If you like you may call the whole process by the name of Animism. It is perfectly sensible throughout. The only proviso is that you should also be sensible, and distinguish the different stages in the process.
Jane Harrison makes considerable efforts to show that Religion is primarily a reflection of the social Conscience (see Themis, pp. 482-92) - that is, that the sense in Man of a "Power that makes for righteousness" outside (and also inside) him is derived from his feeling of continuity with the Tribe and his instinctive obedience to its behests, confirmed by ages of collective habit and experience. He cannot in fact sever the navel-string which connects him with his tribal Mother, even though he desires to do so. And no doubt this view of the origin of Religion is perfectly correct. But it must be pointed out that it does not by any means exclude the view that religion derives also from an Animism by which man recognizes in general Nature his foster-mother and feels himself in closest touch with her. Which may have come first, the Social affiliation or the Nature affiliation, I leave to the professors to determine. The term Animism may, as far as I can see, be quite well applied to the social affiliation, for the latter is evidently only a case in which the individual projects his own degree of consciousness into the human group around him instead of into the animals or the trees, but it is a case of which the justice is so obvious that the modern man can intellectually seize and understand it, and consequently he does not tar it with the 'animistic' brush.
And Miss Harrison, it must be noticed, does, in other passages of the same book (see Themis, pp. 68, 69), admit that Religion has its origin not only from unity with the Tribe but from the sense of affiliation to Nature - the sense of
"a world of unseen power lying behind the visible universe, a world which is the sphere, as will be seen, of magical activity and the medium of mysticism. The mystical element, the oneness and continuousness comes out very clearly in the notion of Wakonda among the Sioux Indians. . . . The Omahas regarded all animate and inanimate forms, all phenomena, as pervaded by a common life, which was continuous and similar to the will-power they were conscious of in themselves. This mysterious power in all things they called Wakonda, and through it all things were related to man, and to each other. In the idea of the continuity of life, a relation was maintained between the seen and the unseen, the dead and the living, and also between the fragment of anything and its entirety."
Thus our general position is confirmed, that Religion in its origin has been inspired by a deep instinctive conviction or actual sense of continuity with a being or beings in the world around, while it has derived its form and ritual by slow degrees from a vast number of taboos, generated in the first instance chiefly by superstitious fears, but gradually with the growth of reason and observation becoming simplified and rationalized into forms of use. On the one side there has been the positive impulse - of mere animal Desire and the animal urge of self-expression; on the other there has been the negative force of Fear based on ignorance - the latter continually carving, moulding and shaping the former. According to this an organized study and classification of taboos might yield some interesting results; because indeed it would throw light on the earliest forms of both religion and science. It would be seen that some taboos, like those of contact (say with a menstruous woman, or a mother-in-law, or a lightning-struck tree) had an obvious basis of observation, justifiable but very crude; while others, like the taboo against harming an enemy who had contracted blood-friendship with one of your own tribe, or against giving decent burial to a murderer, were equally rough and rude expressions or indications of the growing moral sentiment of mankind. All the same there would be left, in any case, a large residuum of taboos which could only be judged as senseless, and the mere rubbish of the savage mind.
So much for the first origins of the World-religion; and I think enough has been said in the various chapters of this book to show that the same general process has obtained throughout. Man, like the animals, began with this deep, subconscious sense of unity with surrounding Nature. When this became (in Man) fairly conscious, it led to Magic and Totemism. More conscious, and it branched, on the one hand, into figures of Gods and definite forms of Creeds, on the other into elaborate Scientific Theories - the latter based on a strong intellectual belief in Unity, but fervently denying any 'anthropomorphic' or 'animistic' sense of that unity. Finally, it seems that we are now on the edge of a further stage when the theories and the creeds, scientific and religious, are on the verge of collapsing, but in such a way as to leave the sense and the perception of Unity - the real content of the whole process - not only undestroyed, but immensely heightened and illuminated. Meanwhile the taboos - of which there remain some still, both religious and scientific - have been gradually breaking up and merging themselves into a reasonable and humane order of life and philosophy.
I have said that out of this World-religion Christianity really sprang. It is evident that the time has arrived when it must either acknowledge its source and frankly endeavor to affiliate itself to the same, or failing that must perish. In the first case it will probably have to change its name; in the second the question of its name 'will interest it no more.'
With regard to the first of these alternatives, I might venture - though with indifference - to make a few suggestions. Why should we not have - instead of a Holy Roman Church - a Holy human Church, rehabilitating the ancient symbols and rituals, a Christianity (if you still desire to call it so) frankly and gladly acknowledging its own sources? This seems a reasonable and even feasible proposition. If such a church wished to celebrate a Mass or Communion or Eucharist it would have a great variety of rites and customs of that kind to select from; those that were not appropriate for use in our times or were connected with the worship of strange gods need not be rejected or condemned, but could still be commented on and explained as approaches to the same idea - the idea of dedication to the Common Life, and of reinvigoration in the partaking of it. If the Church wished to celebrate the Crucifixion or betrayal of its Founder, a hundred instances of such celebrations would be to hand, and still the thought that has underlain such celebrations since the beginning of the world could easily be disentangled and presented in concrete form anew. In the light of such teaching expressions like "I know that my Redeemer liveth" would be traced to their origin, and men would understand that notwithstanding the mass of rubbish, cant and humbug which has collected round them they really do mean something and represent the age-long instinct of Humanity feeling its way towards a more extended revelation, a new order of being, a third stage of consciousness and illumination. In such a Church or religious organization every quality of human nature would have to be represented, every practice and custom allowed for and its place accorded - the magical and astronomical meanings, the rites connected with sun-worship, or with sex, or with the worship of animals; the consecration of corn and wine and other products of the ground, initiations, sacrifices, and so forth - all (if indeed it claimed to be a World-religion) would have to be represented and recognized. For they all have their long human origin and descent in and through the pagan creeds, and they all have penetrated into and become embodied to some degree in Christianity. Christianity therefore, as I say, must either now come frankly forward and, acknowledging its parentage from the great Order of the past, seek to rehabilitate that and carry mankind one step forward in the path of evolution - or else it must perish. There is no other alternative. (Footnote 1)
Let me give an instance of how a fragment of ancient ritual which has survived from the far Past and is still celebrated, but with little intelligence or understanding, in the Catholic Church of to-day, might be adopted in such a Church as I have spoken of, interpreted, and made eloquent of meaning to modern humanity. When I was in Ceylon nearly 30 years ago I was fortunate enough to witness a night-festival in a Hindu Temple - the great festival of Taipusam, which takes place every year in January. Of course, it was full moon, and great was the blowing up of trumpets in the huge courtyard of the Temple. The moon shone down above from among the fronds of tall coco-palms, on a dense crowd of native worshipers - men and a few women - the men for the most part clad in little more than a loin-cloth, the women picturesque in their colored saris and jewelled ear and nose rings. The images of Siva and two other gods were carried in procession round and round the temple - three or four times; nautch girls danced before the images, musicians, blowing horns and huge shells, or piping on flageolets or beating tom-toms, accompanied them. The crowd carrying torches or high crates with flaming coco-nuts, walked or rather danced along on each side, elated and excited with the sense of the present divinity, yet pleasantly free from any abject awe. The whole thing indeed reminded one of some bas-relief of a Bacchanalian procession carved on a Greek sarcophagus - and especially so in its hilarity and suggestion of friendly intimacy with the god. There were singing of hymns and the floating of the chief actors on a raft round a sacred lake. And then came the final Act. Siva, or his image, very weighty and borne on the shoulders of strong men, was carried into the first chamber or hall of the Temple and placed on an altar with a curtain hanging in front. The crowd followed with a rush; and then there was more music, recital of hymns, and reading from sacred books. From where we stood we could see the rite which was performed behind the curtain. Two five-branched candlesticks were lighted; and the manner of their lighting was as follows. Each branch ended in a little cup, and in the cups five pieces of camphor were placed, all approximately equal in size. After offerings had been made, of fruit, flowers and sandalwood, the five camphors in each candlestick were lighted. As the camphor flames burned out the music became more wild and exciting, and then at the moment of their extinction the curtains were drawn aside and the congregation outside suddenly beheld the god revealed and in a blaze of light. This burning of camphor was, like other things in the service, emblematic. The five lights represent the five senses. Just as camphor consumes itself and leaves no residue behind, so should the five senses, being offered to the god, consume themselves and disappear. When this is done, that happens in the soul which was now figured in the ritual - the God is revealed in the inner light. (Footnote 2)
We are familiar with this parting or rending of the veil. We hear of it in the Jewish Temple, and in the Greek and Egyptian Mysteries. It had a mystically religious, and also obviously sexual, signification. It occurs here and there in the Roman Catholic ritual. In Spain, some ancient Catholic ceremonials are kept up with a brilliance and splendor hardly found elsewhere in Europe. In the Cathedral, at Seville the service of the Passion, carried out on Good Friday with great solemnity and accompanied with fine music, culminates on the Saturday morning - i.e. in the interval between the Crucifixion and the Resurrection - in a spectacle similar to that described in Ceylon. A rich velvet-black curtain hangs before the High Altar. At the appropriate moment and as the very emotional strains of voices and instruments reach their climax in the "Gloria in Excelsis," the curtain with a sudden burst of sound (thunder and the ringing of all the bells) is rent asunder, and the crucified Jesus is seen hanging there revealed in a halo of glory.
There is also held at Seville Cathedral and before the High Altar every year, the very curious Dance of the Seises (sixes), performed now by 16 instead of (as of old) by 12 boys, quaintly dressed. It seems to be a survival of some very ancient ritual, probably astronomical, in which the two sets of six represent the signs of the Zodiac, and is celebrated during the festivals of Corpus Christi, the Immaculate Conception, and the Carnival.
Numerous instances might of course be adduced of how a Church aspiring to be a real Church of Humanity might adopt and re-create the rituals of the past in the light of a modern inspiration. Indeed the difficulty would be to limit the process, for every ancient ritual, we can now see, has had a meaning and a message, and it would be a real joy to disentangle these and to expose the profound solidarity of humanity and aspiration from the very dawn of civilization down to the present day. Nor would it be necessary to imagine any Act of Uniformity or dead level of ceremonial in the matter. Different groups might concentrate on different phases of religious thought and practice. The only necessity would be that they should approach the subject with a real love of Humanity in their hearts and a real desire to come into touch with the deep inner life and mystic growing-pains of the souls of men and women in all ages. In this direction M. Loisy has done noble and excellent work; but the dead weight and selfish blinkerdom of the Catholic organization has hampered him to that degree that he has been unable to get justice done to his liberalizing designs - or, perhaps, even to reveal the full extent of them. And the same difficulty will remain. On the one hand no spiritual movement which does not take up the attitude of a World-religion has now in this age, any chance of success; on the other, all the existing Churches - whether Roman Catholic, or Greek, or Protestant or Secularist - whether Christian or Jewish or Persian or Hindu - will in all probability adopt the same blind and blinkered and selfish attitude as that described above, and so disqualify themselves for the great role of world-wide emancipation, which some religion at some time will certainly have to play. It is the same difficulty which is looming large in modern World-politics, where the local selfishness and vainglorious "patriotisms" of the Nations are sadly impeding and obstructing the development of that sense of Internationalism and Brotherhood which is the clearly indicated form of the future, and which alone can give each nation deliverance from fear, and a promise of growth, and the confident assurance of power.
I say that Christianity must either frankly adopt this generous attitude and confess itself a branch of the great World-religion, anxious only to do honor to its source - or else it must perish and pass away. There is no other alternative. The hour of its Exodus has come. It may be, of course, that neither the Christian Church nor any branch of it, nor any other religious organization, will step into the gap. It may be - but I do not think this is likely - that the time of rites and ceremonies and formal creeds is past, and churches of any kind will be no more needed in the world: not likely, I say, because of the still far backwardness of the human masses, and their considerable dependence yet on laws and forms and rituals. Still, if it should prove that that age of dependence is really approaching its end, that would surely be a matter for congratulation. It would mean that mankind was moving into a knowledge of the reality which has underlain these outer shows - that it was coming into the Third stage of its Consciousness. Having found this there would be no need for it to dwell any longer in the land of superstitions and formulae. It would have come to the place of which these latter are only the outlying indications.
It may, therefore, happen - and this quite independently of the growth of a World-cult such as I have described, though by no means in antagonism to it - that a religious philosophy or Theosophy might develop and spread, similar to the Gnanam of the Hindus or the Gnosis of the pre-Christian sects, which would become, first among individuals and afterwards among large bodies over the world, the religion of - or perhaps one should say the religious approach to the Third State. Books like the Upanishads of the Vedic seers, and the Bhagavat Gita, though garbled and obscured by priestly interferences and mystifications, do undoubtedly represent and give expression to the highest utterance of religious experience to be found anywhere in the world. They are indeed the manuals of human entrance into the cosmic state. But as I say, and as has happened in the case of other sacred books, a vast deal of rubbish has accreted round their essential teachings, and has to be cleared away. To go into a serious explication of the meaning of these books would be far too large an affair, and would be foreign to the purpose of the present volume; but I have in the Appendix below inserted two papers, (on "Rest" and "The Nature of the Self") containing the substance of lectures given on the above books. These papers or lectures are couched in the very simplest language, free from Sanskrit terms and the usual 'jargon of the Schools,' and may, I hope, even on that account be of use in familiarizing readers who are not specially students with the ideas and mental attitudes of the cosmic state. Non-differentiation (Advaita (Footnote 3)) is the root attitude of the mind inculcated.
We have seen that there has been an age of non-differentiation in the Past - non-differentiation from other members of the Tribe, from the Animals, from Nature and the Spirit or Spirits of nature; why should there not arise a similar sense of non-differentiation in the Future - similar but more extended more intelligent? Certainly this will arrive, in its own appointed time. There will be a surpassing of the bounds of separation and division. There will be a surpassing of all Taboos. We have seen the use and function of Taboos in the early stages of Evolution and how progress and growth have been very much a matter of their gradual extinction and assimilation into the general body of rational thought and feeling. Unreasoning and idiotic taboos still linger, but they grow weaker. A new Morality will come which will shake itself free from them. The sense of kinship with the animals (as in the old rituals) (Footnote 4) will be restored; the sense of kinship with all the races of mankind will grow and become consolidated; the sense of the defilement and impurity of the human body will (with the adoption of a generally clean and wholesome life) pass away; and the body itself will come to be regarded more as a collection of shrines in which the gods may be worshiped and less as a mere organ of trivial self-gratifications; (Footnote 5) there will be no form of Nature, or of human life or of the lesser creatures, which will be barred from the approach of Man or from the intimate and penetrating invasion of his spirit; and as in certain ceremonies and after honorable toils and labors a citizen is sometimes received into the community of his own city, so the emancipated human being on the completion of his long long pilgrimage on Earth will be presented with the Freedom of the Universe.
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