1.4 Humanity and the Ever-Open Gateway of Religion


The above is an interim statement of how one might aspire to an integration of science and religion. Throughout this book we shall pursue this in more detail, on the one hand, with the development of a new moral value system out of science; and, on the other, with understanding what the emotional reception of that system is likely to be in our existing society. To appreciate what these latter problems would be in presenting a new synthesis, let us examine a little longer what religion, at present, means for the emotional life of society. With this we will proceed also to examine in more detail the relative claims of religion, literature, and art to provide understanding of the meaning of the human drama.

Such fuller examination is justified on the grounds that we should seek fairly to understand any established system that we would presume to replace by a different approach. For example, a new social system which dismisses religion as "the opium of the masses" is falling into a crude oversimplification in judgement of any objectively inquiring social scientist. Such crudity would be a fatal flaw in the planning of a great society. What must not be overlooked is that despite a minority of mankind finding purpose and solace in literature and the arts, and a still smaller minority in science, the broad gateway to emotional adjustment through which most of humanity has thronged over the centuries has been that of religion. This tenacity of religion, it is true, has seemed no virtue to rationalists, from Voltaire to Marx and Russell, who have compared it to an octopus insinuating its tentacles into the business of all kinds of peer institutions, economic and political.

This pervasiveness of religious systems for better or worse is comprehensible to the psychologist and has been noted by anthropologists and sociologists and social psychologists from Frazer (1890) and Durkheim (1915) to Freud (1913) and Baetke (1962). A very relevant instance in regard to the problems of our own age is the way in which political democracy (and even socialism in its birth in the Christian socialism of Kingsley and others) has become intertwined with religious values until any attempt to develop it into more rationally enlightened forms is strangled by essentially religious conservatism. There is no question that political democracy was born historically out of practical community experience, notably in the independent births in the Greek city-states and the Icelandic Althing. Though initially independent of religion, it has today two new forms, one in which it has been "captured" by the Christian-Judaic religious values and another (still independent of religion) by Marxian (and Confucian) economic values. In many other fields of human invention it could be shown that it is a natural tendency for clear cut innovations to become suffused with the emotionality and cognitive vagueness inherent in religion. Other examples are hygienic laws, e.g., prohibition of smoking and drinking, becoming involved in the relious values of Mohammedanism, and patriotic duties becoming sustained as Shintoism in Japan.

There is every hope nowadays of understanding the dynamics of this history, in as much as cultural anthropology, sociology, and psychology have turned the searchlight of at least a descriptive scientific examination upon the age-old procession of priest and congregation, religious ritual sacrifice, saint, mystic, messiah, and prophet (Archer, 1958; Baetke, 1962; Cattell, 1933a, 1938; Frazer, 1890; Freud, 1913, 1928; Graves, 1946; Joad, 1930; Mcdougall, 1934; Mead, 1952; Mowrer, 1967; Schroder, 1960; Tillich, 1955; Unamuno, 1926; Westermarck, 1932). They have given us a good descriptive taxonomy, a set of sound developmental generalizations, and some admittedly still speculative interpretive psychology. They have traced religion back to misty beginnings in animism and magic. Although the definition of religion as communication with some supernatural power has to be broad to include the diversity of social activities that may, in some generic sense, be called religious, a central "type" of behavior and belief emerges. In fact the main functions of this core institution, over and above cosmic explanation, are twofold: to satisfy the frustrated emotionality of the individual, and to aid primitive societies in gaining some degree of social integration.

All primary emotional needs from sex to hunger, and self-assertion to security are catered for in some form by religion. Psychologically, these needs can be seen to use religion as a safety valve when culture has brought maladjustment into their biological functioning. That is to say, these drives tend to become woven into the texture of religion to the extent that they are deprived or frustrated by the natural or cultural environment. It has often been said that religion is sustained by hope and fear. Hope is a feature of all approaches to understanding life and rationalists have not particularly objected to its role. But the eighteenth century encyclopedists, from Montesquieu to Diderot, Morelly and Voltaire, detested the central role of fear and awe. This component in religion upsets the sociological rationalist today, and its earlier prevalence becomes understandable only when we consider the boundless insecurity of life among primitive men. For more years than not, man has lived precariously between the incomprehensible thunders, earthquakes, and floods of nature, and the battle, murder, and insane cruelties of his fellow men. In fear he "projected" (as the clinical psychologist would explain it) gods and demons, fetishes, and the ghosts of the departed (but still threatening) ancestors of the tribe. These had to be propitiated by rituals and sacrifices and appealed to by prayers.

However, if we are to give full and fair psychological perspective, we must recognize that religion harnessed much else besides fear and dependency. There was also joy and veneration for the all-giving sun and whatever gods might be. And it ministered to the last pitiful clinging of primitive man to his loved ones as they passed over the verge of life into what he dreamed and desperately hoped might be a land of immortality.

The more bold among the priests and shamans sought with strange rituals, magic stones, and cabalistic signs to gain some control over this strange world which they and their fellows had created by animistic projection. Prayer passed sometimes from abject supplication to attempts at cajoling and even outwitting the spirit world. This effort at more willful control became magic, which at some point in the various institutional re-shufflings generally tended to split off from religion. Probably its self-assertiveness, and its Faustian self-interest proved indigestible to the basic attitudes of a religion of fear, conservatism, and social solidarity. For thousands of years, magic (black or white) wandered in doubtful repute until, with growing power of reasoning and some initial gains in real control of the world, magic joined with craft skills and folklore recipes and became the crooked parent of science. What religion and magic-as-science have always had in common is the possession of an entertaining set of explanatory myths and a map of the universe, purporting to tell us the underlying nature of the world of appearances. But the two maps became increasingly different. Religion began to regulate social life, in the beginnings of a moral law, founded, at first, on "irrational" taboos, totem laws, and ancestor worship. For this it developed priests and "churches," offered purification from guilt, and showed well-chosen but thorny paths to heaven. Its map became more emotional than cosmic. Thus, religions have had, first, a function which may be broadly called "emotional consolation," and only secondarily a task of explaining the cosmos and creation; and it is in this role that we still have to deal with them today.

The growth from these dim and chaotic beginnings of the religious and moral systems that sustain us at the present moment is one of the most remarkable, though still poorly psychologically understood, aspects of history. Some of these developments, like Hinduism and Chinese folk religion, seem to have grown into elaborate rituals, firm moral laws, and even sacred writings without the intervention of any single, conspicuous "master founder." They bear the stamp everywhere of "trial and error" evolution, and of many cooks having contributed to the broth. Because they had their beginning in folk customs, in disconnected proverbs and aphorisms, and in practical, small-community ethics, rather than in the master system of a philosopher, they have also shown little systematic and logical "renovation" by reformers and codifiers.

Our greater historical awareness of the more dramatic and creative birth of Buddhism, Christianity, Mohammedanism, and the Mosiac code should not blind us to the fact that these are only more conspicuous variants of the inspired mutations which sparkled with lesser intensity over the whole development of religion. As the brighter stars in the sky tend to be nearer to us, so those historically closer revelations which permit the retention of records blaze with the warmth of concrete personalities, and with messages which seem correspondingly significant. And it is in their recent, historical instances (we can only guess what happened earlier), the prophets claim explicitly that they received revelations directly from divine sources. It may be descriptively useful later in our discussions consistently to refer to systems of belief resting on the above foundations as revealed religions. Such religions have their main values established by intuitions, on the part of a few leaders, who experience such intense conviction that they believe it to be of divine origin. Characteristically these beliefs are further shaped by what may be called a social verification. That is to say, by cultural variation and natural selection including the survival or non-survival of the groups which adopt the beliefs the revealed religions that survive are stamped with the hallmark of a pragmatic truth.

Certain general trends are evident in the characteristic histories of most religions. One is a transition from countless gods and demons created by the first fine, careless rapture of prolific artistic animism, as in the pantheons of Egypt, Persia, Greece, Rome, and the Nordic tribes toward an ultimate monotheistic simplification. A curious phenomenon is the coagulation of the good spirits, on the one hand, and the evil spirits, on the other prior to the final step of monotheism into God and Devil, or the Zoroastrian Mazda and Ahriman, or Bogu and Besu, and so forth. They coincide with emphasis on heaven and hell, and an appropriate Dantean adjustment of rewards and punishments to the individual's ethical responsiveness during his earthly lifetime. But finally, in the most recent stage of civilizations, the Devil is mysteriously dead, the fires of Hell go out, and the Monotheistic Deity loses his human features, to shine remotely as a Divine Being or as a philosopher's abstraction in the form of a First Cause or an Immanent Principle.

Among these trends one sees also an increasingly explicit expression of moral goals, and acknowledgement of their integral connection with the religious beliefs; an increasing organization of a "church," with a roster of priests, holy days, educational appendages, monastic orders, etc; and an elaboration of rituals, prayers, sacrificial offerings, definitions of sin, and ways of redemption. Some observers have claimed to see in what is taken to be the present obolescent phase of religion certain atavistic reversions into what they describe as "heretical splinter groups," "ghetto ministers" with bizarre social interpretations (and repetitions of such primitive lapses as occurred at Munster in the Peasants' Revolt in Germany) or into mysticism and "spiritualism," or above all, into sheer confusion and doubt about moral values. Probably, fairly reliable patterns of difference could be traced regarding such elaborations, perversions, and excrescences between periods of religious vigor and religious decay.

Socially, one of the most important trends we see in the history of religion, notably since the Renaissance, has been toward increasingly clear, and legally expressed separation of the citizen's obligations to church and state. Moral awareness has drawn sharper lines between what must be rendered to God and what to Caesar. Russia, less trusting after the historical outcome of religious toleration, by the civilized Roman state, has drawn this church-state line as a veritable "cordon sanitaire," confining religious cells within the larger body of the state. Indeed, even apart from these secular religions, there has existed since the Renaissance only an uneasy truce between religious and national cultural loyalties. Indeed, over much of the world, it would defy the insight of the political scientist, of the attitude measurement of the psychologist to say whether universalistic revealed religion or the values of idealized national cultures might yet win supremacy for the ultimate loyalty of the educated man.

The tendency of intellectuals as instanced by Wells' description of Roman Catholicism as an "historical ruin" is to assume that if there is any conflict of patriotic loyalty with universalism, the latter is going to take the form of a quite new secular, rationalist universalism. But this may overlook the realities of primitive emotional mechanisms and needs in the masses. The fact is, in any case, that the national, democratic values of citizenship have in any case been permeated by the universalistic religions. The question is only whether this penetration at the practical level into unconscious civic judgments, the rituals, holidays, special congregational social activities, and voting patterns really implies any commensurate attachment to the spiritual and intellectual statements of such religions.

Only in those uncommon instances where civil, political authority and religion coincide, as in the theocracies of the Puritans, the Calvinists, the Mormons, Israel, (and, briefy, in Savonarola's Florence), has the penetration of social life by religious institutions tended to produce an appreciable domination also of the average citizen's intellectual views of the world. But otherwise, the penetration of religion into daily customs has often been a successful but empty imperialism of trivia, in which for that matter, other cultural movements have been apt to end. A true unification of religous ethical values with an intellectual view of our universe has never been a broad social and civic product. It has appeared only in elite groups as a small and isolated growth, as in Plato, the scholastic philosophers, Spinoza, and the scholarly theologians in recent centuries in Western culture.

In attempting to reach an intellectual and psychological understanding of religion, additional meaning is added, as usual, from comparisons noting the departures from whatever is central and common. It has been said by anthropologists seeking a common-core operational formula for religion that all religions have at least a priest; a book; a temple, church, or meeting place; and a set of social rituals habitually repeated[1]. However, there are many deviations, and few communicants happy in any one religion seem to realize how profoundly other religions differ. Even when one can run over a list of functional elements prayers, belief in afterlife, procedures of expiating guilt, church organizations, priests and prophets, cosmogonies, gods which are alike, there is generally something important that is very different. It is variously mentioned as the spiritual aim, the Weltanschauung, the orientation to life, and the emotional perception.

The understanding of these differences of emotional meaning which come out not only in such sharp contrasts as that of the Buddhist Nirvana and the Viking's Valhalla, but also in the philosophical forms of religion, e.g., the goals of Stoicism and Epicurianism lies, one suspects, more in innate temperament than anything else. After a lifetime of quantitative study of the dimensions of temperament, the present writer must, in this present matter, leave the reader to evaluate this emphasis on temperament as a conclusion of experience, not easily documented, at least in this limited space.

One brief argument for this dependence on temperament would be that the geographical boundaries of religions tend to follow racial rather than political or historical paths[2]. (It should be added, however, that the variations of temperament we are discussing is much larger than racial variation. In any case, since even liberal thinkers are only just beginning to escape from prejudices over race, it is too slender a piece of evidence to survive tendentiousness.) The equally empirical conclusion of William James that even the differences of the philosophical systems of great intellects are most readily explained by their temperaments was equally annoying to rationalist strongholds.

Thus, both religious systems as a fabric of dogma and ritual and accompanying moral beliefs contain psychological, temperamental elements which are quite difficult to catch in the typical anthropological or sociological catalogue. Nor can we hope if our temperaments are different fully to "empathize" into the pulse beats, and the gut chemistry, of a chemically different being. Some may scoff at this in regard to fellow man but it becomes obvious if we stretch the gap to an orangutan, a stick insect, or an oyster. Nevertheless, where the poet fails, the experimental psychologist may yet succeed not in empathically apprehending, but, at any rate, in formulating the difference in a way to permit predictions[3].

However, our purpose here is not that of pursuing a taxonomy of religious mood qualities; but mainly to point out: (a) that the existence of these emotional qualities in "religious truth" is one important feature which denies any simple equation with scientific truth; but (b) that, nevertheless, the derivation of moral values from science, which we shall pursue here, recognizes the possibility, indeed, the scientific necessity, of deriving these values in part from a determination by temperament differences.

The first necessary difference in science and religion in regard to "truth" is obvious in that the scientist seeks deliberately to separate the emotional reaction from the cognitive reaction. In every science scientists try so to describe the cognitive picture that it can be intelligible (as a basis for operations) to scientists in other specialties and other cultures to the deaf and the color blind and those of totally different temperaments, and ultimately to a being from outer space.

It is a consistent corollary of this difference of emotional meaning found by the comparative psychology of religion that truth-testing in religion requires the notion of "emotional truth." Religion and science may be asking much the same questions, but they are definitely not giving the same kinds of answer. Actually, as becomes evident when we turn to art, acceptance of emotional truth is not peculiar to religion, and needs to be studied as a "method" of understanding in its own right, as in the following section. If dependence on "emotional truth" is, indeed, a feature of religion and also a fallacy then it behooves the modern world to beware of those activist religious liberals or sentimentalists who assert, first, that science and religion are seeking the same truth; and, secondly, that moral relativism is acceptable, in that all religions present answers that are somehow "different versions of the same truth." Encountering the enormous differences of values in the communicant for Buddhism, for Christianity, for Zoroastrianism, or in any other religion, they say of each: "It is true for him." The word "true" is obscure here. As far as the "cognitive map" of the universe is concerned, these "truths" disagree with each other and with the map of science. And, as far as the required moral direction of action is concerned the "emotional truth" our later arguments will be that this also is too inaccurate too haphazardly shaped by irrelevant aspect of local economies, history, etc. to constitute "truth". One must distinguish, on the one hand, between relativism, which is haphazard and denies objective truth, and on the other the existence of special moral values that are correct in relation to the racial biology and historical position of the group concerned. The latter is like the course plots of two ship captains who want to get to the same port but adopt different compass directions because they are at different starting points. The former represents an unwillingness to accept the task of getting to the same port at all; and the "tolerant" accommodating acceptance of "moral relativism" in this sense has no relation to true "positional relevance to real values" as we may call the latter.

There lived in Bloomsbury, in the present writer's student days, an old lady who assiduously attended philosophical society meetings and who would exhort us periodically to adopt her belief that "All religions are equally true, especially Theosophy." But moral relativism in practice can go beyond even this, to the view that the same person may hold different "emotionally acceptable" truths for different occasions! Thus, apropos of the strange mingling of Shintoism and Buddhism in the Japanese culture, Schoeps (1967) tells us "Many Japanese are Shintoists on happy occasions; on sad occasions, they prefer to be Buddhists." Religious preferences also appear in the life cycle of the individual; and these are not entirely to be explained merely by the greater knowledge of the older person, but have something to do with temperament expressed in the metabolic rate!















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