The Belief In God And Immortality - PDF book by James H. Leuba

The Belief In God And Immortality

The Belief In God And Immortality

God, the soul, and immortality constitute according to general opinion, the great framework of religion. In an earlier book, I have considered the origin, nature, function, and the future of the belief in what I have called “personal” gods. 

The present volume is, in the main, a similar study of the belief in personal immortality. Chapters one to five treat the origin, the nature, and the function of that belief. They show in particular that two quite different conceptions of personal immortality have been successively elaborated; and that the modern conception is not growing from the primary belief, but an independent creation, differ- ing radically from it in point of origin, in nature, and in function. Whereas the primary belief was forced upon men irrespective of their wishes as an unavoidable interpretation of certain patent facts (chiefly, probably, the apparition of deceased persons in dreams and in visions), the modern belief was born of a desire for the realization of ideals. The first came to point to an exclusively wretched existence, and prompted men to guard against the possible danger to them arising from ghosts; the second contemplated from the first endless continuation in a state of completed or increased perfection and incited the living to ceaseless efforts in order to make themselves fit for that blessed consummation.

The motives that led to the appearance of the Primary Conception of survival are experiences having for the savage the validity of ordinary sense perception; he sees, hears, and " feels *' the presence of ghosts. His belief in them is not, therefore, the product of aversion to annihilation and of yearnings for moral self-realization; that man survives as a ghost is a fact accepted by him on the same kind of ground as the existence of natural objects. 

Quite otherwise was it with the origin of the Modern Conception; it had to be won out of the depths of man's moral experience; it is a child of craving for rationality, for justice, and for happiness. Neither the reality nor the importance of this distinction between a Primary and a Modern Conception of continuation after death has been denied, but some of my critics were of the opinion that I have emphasized unduly the difference when I have described it as *' radical ". According to them, I have not given sufficient recognition to certain motives for a belief that is common to the two forms; for instance, the desires for the continuation of a sympathetic relation with the departed and for one's own happiness in the future life. 

These critics have forgotten, it seems, that under the heading " The life of Ghosts and Their Relation to the Living; the Primary Paradise " I have described and illustrated, briefly it is true but quite definitely, the presence among some savages of these very motives, i. e., of motives of the Kmd to which the Modern belief owes its origin. I did not affirm that these two classes of motives — pseudo-perceptions or deductions from observed facts and moral yearnings — had never been present together so as to produce a composite conception. 

On the contrary, I drew attention to the paradisiacal elements in certain primitive beliefs in the hereafter. But I insisted that these two kinds of motives are entirely different in nature, that they need not be present together, and that as a matter of fact, the Primary motives gave to the early conception its dominant character. I had also to take into account a historical fact of great significance, namely, the final form assumed by the early belief in survival after death among the nations from which the western world has derived its civilization, i. e., the nations situated around the eastern end of the Mediterranean Sea, Egypt, Babylonia, Palestine, and Greece. 

At the beginning of the historical period, before the Modern Conception had taken shape, the hereafter was pictured among these nations as the abode of inactive, ineffective, and unhappy shades. With them, the living maintained no sympathetic relation whatsoever; dread or repugnance only was felt by the living for the fate in store for them. There is, thus, incontrovertible evidence that in so far as the countries in which the Modern Conception arose are concerned, the influence of desire upon the idea of the hereafter,  apparent here and there among savages, was finally eliminated; and that the conception of the future life became the expression exclusively of what I have called the Primary motives. It does not, therefore, seem an exaggeration to describe as " radical " the difference in origin and in function existing between the repulsive and depressing Primary belief and the glorious and inspiring Modern belief.

James Henry Leuba was an American psychologist best known for his contributions to the psychology of religion. His son Clarence James Leuba was also a psychologist and taught at Antioch College in Yellow Springs, Ohio.

Publication date: 1921

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