Introduction to the history of religions - by Crawford Howell Toy - PDF ebook

Introduction to the history of religions

Introduction to the history of religions
Introduction to the history of religions - by Crawford Howell


The object of this volume is to describe the principal customs and ideas that underlie all public religions; the details are selected from a large mass of material, which is increasing in the bulk year by year. 

References to the higher religions are introduced for the purpose of illustrating lines of progress. The analytic table of contents and the index are meant to supplement each other, the one giving the outline of the discussion, the other giving the more important particulars; the two together will facilitate the consultation of the book. 

From introduction:

1. It appears probable that primitive men endowed with their own qualities every seemingly active object in the world. The experience forced them to take note of the relations of all objects to themselves and to one another. 

The knowledge of the sequences of phenomena, so far as the latter are not regarded as acting intentionally on him, constitutes man's science and philosophy; so far as they are held to act on him intentionally, the knowledge of them constitutes his theory of religion, and his sense of relation with them is his religious sentiment. Science and religion are coeval in man's history, and both arc independently continuous and progressive. 

At first, science is in the background because most objects, since they are believed to be alive and active, are naturally supposed by man to affect him purposely; it grows slowly, keeping pace with observation, and constantly abstracting phenomena from the domain of religion.-'- Religion is man's attitude toward the universe regarded as a social and ethical force; it is the sense of social solidarity with objects regarded as Powers, and the institution of social relations with them. 

2. These Powers are thought of in general as mysterious, and as mightier than ordinary living men.- Ordinarily the feeling toward them on man's part is one of dependence — he is conscious of his 
1 That is, phenomena regarded as special acts of a superhuman Power; in the larger conception of religion all phenomena are at once natural and divine acts. 

2 In early religion they are usually ghosts, beasts, plants, or inanimate objects; rarely living men. Cf. Marett's remarks on pre-animistic religion in his Threshold of Religion. inferiority. In some forms of philosophic thought the man regards himself as part of the one universal personal Power, or as part of the impersonal Whole, and his attitude toward the Power of the Whole is like that of a member of a composite political body toward the whole body; such a position is possible, however, only in a period of very advanced culture.

 3. There being no records of initial humanity, it is hardly possible for us to know certainly what the earliest men's feeling was toward the animate and inanimate forces around them. Not im- probably it was simply fear, the result of ignorance of their nature and absence of social relations with them. But in the human communities known to us, even the lowest, the relations with extra-human beings appear to be in general of a mixed nature, some- times friendly, sometimes unfriendly, but neither pure love nor pure hatred. 

So refined a feeling as love for a deity is not found among savages. As religion springs from the human demand for safety and happiness as the gift of the extra-human Powers, hostility to them has been generally felt to be opposed to common sense. ^ Coercion there has been, as in magical procedures, or to bring a stubborn deity to terms; and occasional antagonism (for example, toward foreign gods) ; but not hatred proper as a dogma, except in the great ethical religions toward evil spirits, and in certain elaborate philosophic systems — as, for example, in the Gnostic conception of an imperfect Demiurge, or in the assumption of an original blind Chance or blind Will whose products and laws are regarded as not entitled to respect and obedience.

 4. Instead of complete friendliness and unfriendliness in early tribes we find more commonly between the two a middle ground of self -regarding equipoise. 

The savage, the half-civilized man, and the peasant often deal with superhuman Powers in a purely selfish commercial spirit, courting or neglecting them as they seem likely 1 Appeal to the Powers carries with it a certain sense of oneness with them, in which we may reasonably recognize the germ of the idea of union with God, which is the highest form of religion. 

This idea is not consciously held by the savage — it takes shape only in highly developed thought (Plato, the New Testament, Christian and other mysticism). If the impulse to religion is thought to be the love of life (so Leuba, in The Monist, July 1901), this is substantially desired for safety and happiness. to be useful or not. The Central Australian (who may be credited with a dim sense of the superhuman) conducts his ceremonies, intended to ensure a supply of food, apparently without the slightest emotion of any sort except the desire for gain.

The Italian peasant, who has vowed a wax candle to a saint in return for a favour to be shown, does not scruple to cheat the saint, after the latter has performed his part of the agreement, by offering tallow instead of wax, if he thinks he can do so with impunity. A recusant deity is sometimes neglected or even kicked by way of punishment or to force him to give the desired aid, and a god or a saint is valued and sought after in proportion to his supposed ability to be useful.

 5. And this naively utilitarian point of view is by no means confined to the lowest forms of religion; in the Old Testament, for example, the appeal to Yahveh is generally based on his assumed power to bestow temporal blessings and this is a widespread attitude at the present day in religious communities, where salvation is commonly the end had in view by the worshiper. Love toward the deity simply on account of his personal moral character, without regard to the benefit (namely happiness) to be got from him, is found, if found at all, only in highly cultivated natures, and is rare in these. And, in truth, it is difficult if not impossible to justify religion except on the ground that it brings satisfaction (that is, happiness through and in the perfection of nature) in the broadest and highest sense of that term, for otherwise it could not be regarded as a good thing.

the book details :
  • Author: Crawford Howell Toy - American Hebrew scholar, was born in Norfolk, Virginia. He graduated from the University of Virginia in 1856, and studied at the University of Berlin from 1866 to 1868
  • Publication date: 1913
  • Company: Boston; New York; Chicago; London: Ginn and Co.

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