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CHAPTER XII.: the theological bias. - Herbert Spencer, The Study of Sociology 
The Study of Sociology (London: Henry S. King, 1873).
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the theological bias.
“What a log for hell-fire!” exclaimed a Wahhabee, on seeing a corpulent Hindu. This illustration, startling by its strength of expression, which Mr. Gifford Palgrave gives1 of the belief possessing these Mahommedan fanatics, prepares us for their general mode of thinking about God and man. Here is a sample of it:—
“When ‘Abd-el-Lateef, a Wahhabee, was preaching one day to the people of Riad, he recounted the tradition according to which Mahomet declared that his followers should divide into seventy-three sects, and that seventy-two were destined to hell-fire, and one only to Paradise. And what, O messenger of God, are the signs of that happy sect to which is ensured the exclusive possession of Paradise?’ Whereto Mahomet had replied, ‘It is those who shall be in all conformable to myself and to my companions.’ ‘And that,’ added ‘Abd-el-Lateef, lowering his voice to the deep tone of conviction, ‘that, by the mercy of God, are we, the people of Riad.’”2
For present purposes we are not so much concerned to observe the parallelism between this conception and the conceptions that have been, and are, current among sects of Christians, as to observe the effects produced by such conceptions on men’s views of those who have alien beliefs, and on their views of alien societies. What extreme misinterpretations of social facts result from the theological bias, may be seen still better in a case even more remarkable.
By Turner, by Erskine, and by the members of the United States’ Exploring Expedition, the characters of the Samoans are, as compared with the characters of the uncivilized generally, very favourably described. Though, in common with savages at large, they are said to be “indolent, covetous, fickle, and deceitful,” yet they are also said to be “kind, good-humoured,...desirous of pleasing, and very hospitable. Both sexes show great regard and love for their children;” and age is much respected. “A man cannot bear to be called stingy or disobliging.” The women “are remarkably domestic and virtuous.” Infanticide after birth is unknown in Samoa. “The treatment of the sick was...invariably humane and all that could be expected.” Observe, now, what is said of their cannibal neighbours, the Fijians. They are indifferent to human life; they live in perpetual dread of one another; and, according to Jackson, treachery is considered by them an accomplishment. “Shedding of blood is to him [the Fijian] no crime but a glory.” They kill the decrepit, maimed, and sick. While, on the one hand, infanticide covers nearer two-thirds than one-half of the births, on the other hand, “one of the first lessons taught the infant is to strike its mother:” anger and revenge are fostered. Inferiors are killed for neglecting proper salutes; slaves are buried alive with the posts on which a king’s house stands; and ten or more men are slaughtered on the decks of a newly-launched canoe, to baptize it with their blood. A chief’s wives, courtiers, and aides-de-camp, are strangled at his death—being thereby honoured. Cannibalism is so rampant that a chief, praising his deceased son, ended his eulogy by saying that he would “kill his own wives if they offended him, and eat them afterwards.” Victims were sometimes roasted alive before being devoured; and Tanoa, one of their chiefs, cut off a cousin’s arm, drank the blood, cooked the arm and ate it in presence of the owner, who was then cut to pieces. Their gods, described as having like characters, commit like acts. They live on the souls of those who are devoured by men, having first “roasted” them (the “souls” being simply material duplicates). They “are proud and revengeful, and make war, and kill and eat each other;” and among the names of honour given to them are “the adulterer,” “the woman-stealer,” “the brain-eater,” “the murderer.” Such being the account of the Samoans, and such the account of the Fijians, let us ask what the Fijians think of the Samoans. “The Feegeeans looked upon the Samoans with horror, because they had no religion, no belief in any such deities [as the Feegeean], nor any of the sanguinary rites which prevailed in other islands;”—a statement quite in harmony with that made by Jackson, who, having behaved disrespectfully to one of their gods, was angrily called by them “the white infidel.”
Any one may read while running the lesson conveyed; and, without stopping to consider much, may see its application to the beliefs and sentiments of civilized races. The ferocious Fijian doubtless thinks that to devour a human victim in the name of one of his cannibal gods, is a meritorious act; while he thinks that his Samoan neighbour, who makes no sacrifice to these cannibal gods, but is just and kind to his fellows, thereby shows that meanness goes along with his shocking irreligion. Construing the facts in this way, the Fijian can form no rational conception of Samoan society. With vices and virtues interchanged in conformity with his creed, the benefits of certain social arrangements, if he thinks about them at all, must seem evils and the evils benefits.
Speaking generally, then, each system of dogmatic theology, with the sentiments that gather round it, becomes an impediment in the way of Social Science. The sympathies drawn out towards one creed and the correlative antipathies aroused by other creeds, distort the interpretations of all the associated facts. On these institutions and their results the eyes are turned with a readiness to observe everything that is good, and on those with a readiness to observe everything that is bad. Let us glance at some of the consequent perversions of opinion.
Already we have seen, by implication, that the theological element of a creed, subordinating the ethical element completely in early stages of civilization and very considerably in later stages, maintains a standard of right and wrong, relatively good perhaps, but perhaps absolutely bad—good, that is, as measured by the requirements of the place and time, bad as measured by the requirements of an ideal society. And sanctifying, as an associated theology thus does, false conceptions of right and wrong, it falsifies the measures by which the effects of institutions are to be estimated. Obviously, the sociological conclusions must be vitiated if beneficial and detrimental effects are not respectively recognized as such. An illustration enforcing this is worth giving. Here is Mr. Palgrave’s account of Wahhabee morality, as disclosed in answers to his questions:—
“‘The first of the great sins is the giving divine honours to a creature.’
“‘Of course,’ I replied, ‘the enormity of such a sin is beyond all doubt. But if this be the first, there must be a second; what is it?’
“‘Drinking the shameful,’ in English, ‘smoking tobacco,’ was the unhesitating answer.
“‘And murder, and adultery, and false witness?’ I suggested.
“‘God is merciful and forgiving,’ rejoined my friend; ‘that is, these are merely little sins.’
“‘Hence two sins alone are great, polytheism and smoking,’ I continued, though hardly able to keep countenance any longer. And ‘Abdel-Kareem, with the most serious asseveration, replied that such was really the case.”4
Clearly a creed which makes smoking one of the blackest crimes, and has only mild reprobation for the worst acts committed by man against man, negatives anything like Social Science. Deeds and habits and laws not being judged by the degrees in which they conduce to temporal welfare, the ideas of better and worse, as applying to social arrangements, cannot exist; and such notions as progress and retrogression are excluded. But that which holds so conspicuously in this case holds more or less in all cases. At the present time as in past times, and in our own society as in other societies, public acts are judged by two tests—the test of supposed divine approbation, and the test of conduciveness to human happiness. Though, as civilization advances, there grows up the belief that the second test is equivalent to the first—though, consequently, conduciveness to human happiness comes to be more directly considered; yet the test of supposed divine approbation, as inferred from the particular creed held, continues to be very generally used. The wrongness of conduct is conceived as consisting in the implied disobedience to the supposed commands, and not as consisting in its intrinsic character as causing suffering to others or to self. Inevitably the effect on sociological thinking is, that institutions and actions are judged more by their apparent congruity or incongruity with the established cult, than by their tendencies to further or to hinder well-being.
This effect of the theological bias, manifest enough everywhere, has been forced on my attention by one whose mental attitude often supplies me with matter for speculation—an old gentleman who unites the religion of amity and the religion of enmity in startling contrast. On the one hand, getting up early to his devotions, going to church even at great risk to his feeble health, always staying for the sacrament when there is one, he displays what is ordinarily regarded as an exemplary piety. On the other hand, his thoughts ever tend in the direction of warfare: fights on sea and land furnish topics of undying interest to him; he revels in narratives of destruction; his talk is of cannon. To say that he divides his reading between the Bible and Alison, or some kindred book, is an exaggeration; but still it serves to convey an idea of his state of feeling. Now you may hear him waxing wroth over the dis-establishment of the Irish Church, which he looks upon as an act of sacrilege; and now, when the conversation turns on works of art, he names as engravings which above all others he admires, Cœur-de-Lion fighting Saladin, and Wellington at Waterloo. Or after manifesting some kindly feeling, which, to give him his due, he frequently does, he will shortly pass to some bloody encounter, the narration of which makes his voice tremulous with delight. Marvelling though I did at first over these incongruities of sentiment and belief, the explanation was reached on observing that the subordination-element of his creed was far more dominant in his consciousness than the moral element. Watching the movements of his mind made it clear that to his imagination, God was symbolized as a kind of transcendently-powerful sea-captain, and made it clear that he went to church from a feeling akin to that with which, as a middy, he went to muster. On perceiving that this, which is the sentiment common to all religions, whatever be the name or ascribed nature of the deity worshipped, was supreme in him, it ceased to be inexplicable that the sentiment to which the Christian religion specially appeals should be so readily over-ridden. It became easier to understand how, when the Hyde-Park riots took place, he could wish that we had Louis Napoleon over here to shoot down the mob, and how he could recall, with more or less of chuckling, the deeds of press-gangs in his early days.
That the theological bias, thus producing conformity to moral principles from motives of obedience only, and not habitually insisting on such principles because of their intrinsic value, obscures sociological truths, will now not be difficult to see. The tendency is to substitute formal recognitions of such principles for real recognitions. So long as they are not contravened directly enough to suggest disobedience, they may readily be contravened indirectly; for the reason that there has not been cultivated the habit of contemplating consequences as they work out in remote ways. Hence it happens that social arrangements essentially at variance with the ethics of the creed, give no offence to those who are profoundly offended by whatever seems at variance with its theology. Maintenance of the dogmas and forms of the religion becomes the primary, all-essential thing; and the secondary thing, often sacrificed, is the securing of those relations among men which the spirit of the religion requires. How conceptions of good and bad in social affairs are thus warped, the pending controversy about the Athanasian creed shows us. Here we have theologians who believe that our national welfare will be endangered, if there is not in all churches an enforced repetition of the dogmas that Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, are each of them almighty; that yet there are not three Almighties, but one Almighty; that one of the Almighties suffered on the cross and descended into hell to pacify another of them; and that whoever does not believe this, “without doubt shall perish everlastingly.” They say that if the State makes its priests threaten with eternal torments all who question these doctrines, things will go well; but if those priests who, in this threat, perceive the devil-worship of the savage usurping the name of Christianity, are allowed to pass it by in silence, woe to the nation! Evidently the theological bias leading to such a conviction entirely excludes Sociology, considered as a science.
Under its special forms, as well as under its general form, the theological bias brings errors into the estimates men make of societies and institutions. Sectarian antipathies, growing out of differences of doctrine, disable the members of each religious community from fairly judging other religious communities. It is always difficult, and often impossible, for the zealot to conceive that his own religious system and his own zeal on its behalf may have but a relative truth and a relative value; or to conceive that there may be relative truths and relative values in alien beliefs and the fanaticisms which maintain them. Though the adherent of each creed daily has thrust on his attention the fact that adherents of other creeds are no less confident than he is—though he can scarcely fail sometimes to reflect that these adherents of other creeds have, in nearly all cases, simply accepted the dogmas current in the places and families they were born in, and that he has done the like; yet the special theological bias which his education and surroundings have given him, makes it almost beyond imagination that these other creeds may, some of them, have justifications as good as, if not better than, his own, and that the rest, along with certain amounts of absolute worth, may have their special fitnesses to the, people holding them.
We cannot doubt, for instance, that the feeling with which Mr. Whalley or Mr. Newdegate regards Roman Catholicism, must cause extreme reluctance to admit the services which Roman Catholicism rendered to European civilization in the past; and must make almost impossible a patient hearing of anyone who thinks that it renders some services now. Whether great benefit did not arise in early times from the tendency towards unification produced within each congeries of small societies by a common creed authoritatively imposed?—whether papal power supposed to be divinely deputed, and therefore tending to subordinate the political authorities during turbulent feudal ages, did not serve to curb warfare and further civilization?—whether the strong tendency shown by early Christianity to lapse into separate local paganisms, was not beneficially checked by an ecclesiastical system having a single head supposed to be infallible?—whether morals were not improved, manners softened, slavery ameliorated, and the condition of women raised, by the influence of the Church, notwithstanding all its superstitions and bigotries?—are questions to which Dr. Cumming, or other vehement opponent of popery, could not bring a mind open to conviction. Similarly, from the Roman Catholic the meaning and worth of Protestantism are hidden. To the Ultramontane, holding that the temporal welfare no less than the eternal salvation of men depends on submission to the Church, it is incredible that Church-authority has but a transitory value, and that the denials of authority which have come along with accumulation of knowledge and change of sentiment, mark steps from a lower social régime to a higher. Naturally, the sincere Papist thinks schism a crime; and books that throw doubt on the established beliefs seem to him accursed. Nor need we wonder when from such a one there comes a saying like that of the Mayor of Bordeaux, so much applauded by the Comte de Chambord, that “the Devil was the first Protestant;” or when, along with this, there goes a vilification of Protestants too repulsive to be repeated. Clearly, with such a theological bias, fostering such ideas respecting Protestant morality, there must be extremely-false estimates of Protestant institutions, and of all the institutions associated with them.
In less striking ways, but still in ways sufficiently marked, the special theological bias warps the judgments of Conformists and Nonconformists among ourselves. A fair estimate of the advantages which our State-Church has yielded, is not to be expected from the zealous dissenter: he sees only the disadvantages. Whether voluntaryism could have done centuries ago all that it can do now?—whether a State-supported Protestantism was not once the best thing practicable?—are questions which he is unlikely to discuss without prejudice. Contrariwise, the churchman is reluctant to believe that the union of Church and State is beneficial only during a certain phase of progress. He knows that within the Establishment divisions are daily increasing, while voluntary agency is doing daily, a larger share of the work originally undertaken by the State; but he does not like to think that there is a kinship between such facts and the fact that outside the Establishment the power of Dissent is growing. That these changes are parts of a general change by which the political and religious agencies, which have been differentiating from the beginning, are being separated and specialized, is not an acceptable idea. He is averse to the conception that just as Protestantism at large was a rebellion against an Ecclesiasticism which dominated over Europe, so Dissent among ourselves is a rebellion against an Ecclesiasticism which dominates over England; and that the two are but successive stages of the same beneficial development. That is to say, his bias prevents him from contemplating the facts in a way favourable to scientific interpretations of them.
Everywhere, indeed, the special theological bias accompanying a special set of doctrines, inevitably pre-judges many sociological questions. One who holds a creed as absolutely true, and who by implication holds the multitudinous other creeds to be absolutely false in so far as they differ from his own, cannot entertain the supposition that the value of a creed is relative. That a particular religious system is, in a general sense, a natural part of the particular society in which it is found, is an entirely-alien conception; and, indeed, a repugnant one. His system of dogmatic theology he thinks good for all places and all times. He does not doubt that when planted among a horde of savages, it will be duly understood by them, duly appreciated by them, and work on them results such as those he experiences from it. Thus prepossessed, he passes over the proofs found everywhere, that a people is no more capable of suddenly receiving a higher form of religion than it is capable of suddenly receiving a higher form of government; and that inevitably with such religion, as with such government, there will go on a degradation which presently reduces it to one differing but nominally from its predecessor. In other words, his special theological bias blinds him to an important class of sociological truths.
The effects of the theological bias need no further elucidation. We will turn our attention to the distortions of judgment caused by the anti-theological bias. Not only the actions of religious dogmas, but also the reactions against them, are disturbing influences we have to beware of. Let us glance first at an instance of that indignation against the established creed, which all display more or less when they emancipate themselves from it.
“A Nepaul king, Rum Bahadur, whose beautiful queen, finding that her lovely face had been disfigured by small-pox, poisoned herself, ‘cursed his kingdom, her doctors, and the gods of Nepaul, vowing vengeance on all.’ Having ordered the doctors to be flogged, and the right ear and nose of each to be cut off, ‘he then wreaked his vengeance on the gods of Nepaul, and after abusing them in the most gross way, he accused them of having obtained from him twelve thousand goats, some hundred-weights of sweetmeats, two thousand gallons of milk, &c., under false pretences.’...He then ordered all the artillery, varying from three to twelve-pounders, to be brought in front of the palace....All the guns were then loaded to the muzzle, and down he marched to the head-quarters of the Nepaul deities....All the guns were drawn up in front of the several deities, honouring the most sacred with the heaviest metal. When the order to fire was given, many of the chiefs and soldiers ran away panic-stricken, and others hesitated to obey the sacrilegious order; and not until several gunners had been cut down, were the guns opened. Down came the gods and goddesses from their hitherto sacred positions; and after six hours’ heavy cannonading not a vestige of the deities remained.”5
This, which is one of the most remarkable pieces of iconoclasm on record, exhibits in an extreme form the reactive antagonism usually accompanying abandonment of an old belief—an antagonism that is high in proportion as the previous submission has been profound. By stabling their horses in cathedrals and treating the sacred places and symbols with intentional insult, the Puritans displayed this feeling in a marked manner; as again did the French revolutionists by pulling down sacristies and altar-tables, tearing mass-books into cartridge-papers, drinking brandy out of chalices, eating mackerel off patenas, making mock ecclesiastical processions, and holding drunken revels in churches. Though in our day the breaking of bonds less rigid, effected by struggles less violent, is followed by a less excessive opposition and hatred; yet, habitually, the throwing-off of the old form involves a replacing of the previous sympathy by more or less of antipathy: perversion of judgment caused by the antipathy taking the place of that caused by the sympathy. What before was reverenced as wholly true is now scorned as wholly false; and what was treasured as invaluable is now rejected as valueless.
In some, this state of sentiment and belief continues. In others, the reaction is in course of time followed by a re-reaction. To carry out the Carlylean figure, the old clothes which had been outgrown and were finally torn off and thrown aside with contempt, come presently to be looked back upon with more calmness, and with recognition of the fact that they did good service in their time—nay, perhaps with the doubt whether they were not thrown off too soon. This re-reaction may be feeble or may be strong; but only when it takes place in due amount is there a possibility of balanced judgments either on religious questions or on those questions of Social Science into which the religious element enters.
Here we have to glance at the sociological errors caused by the anti-theological bias among those in whom it does not become qualified. Thinking only of what is erroneous in the rejected creed, they ignore the truth for which it stands; contemplating only its mischiefs they overlook its benefits; and doing this, they think that nothing but good would result from its general abandonment. Let us observe the tacit assumptions made in drawing this conclusion.
It is assumed, in the first place, that adequate guidance for conduct in life, private and public, could be had; and that a moral code, rationally elaborated by men as they now are, would be duly operative upon them. Neither of these propositions commends itself when we examine the evidence. We have but to observe human action as it meets us at every turn, to see that the average intelligence, incapable of guiding conduct even in simple matters, where but a very moderate reach of reason would suffice, must fail in apprehending with due clearness the natural sanctions of ethical principles. The unthinking ineptitude with which even the routine of life is carried on by the mass of men, shows clearly that they have nothing like the insight required for self-guidance in the absence of an authoritative code of conduct. Take a day’s experience, and observe the lack of thought indicated from hour to hour.
You rise in the morning, and, while dressing, take up a phial containing a tonic, of which a little has been prescribed for you; but after the first few drops have been counted, succeeding drops run down the side of the phial, for the reason that the lip is shaped without regard to the requirement. Yet millions of such phials are annually made by glass-makers, and sent out by thousands of druggists: so small being the amount of sense brought to bear on business. Now, turning to the looking-glass, you find that, if not of the best make, it fails to preserve the attitude in which you put it; or, if what is called a “box” looking-glass, you see that maintenance of its position is insured by an expensive appliance which would have been superfluous had a little reason been used. Were the adjustment such that the centre of gravity of the glass came in the line joining the points of support (which would be quite as easy an adjustment), the glass would remain steady in whatever attitude you gave it. Yet, year after year, tens of thousands of looking-glasses are made without regard to so simple a need. Presently you go down to breakfast, and taking some Harvey or other sauce with your fish, find the bottle has a defect like that which you found in the phial: it is sticky from the drops which trickle down, and occasionally stain the table-cloth. Here are other groups of traders similarly so economical of thought, that they do nothing to rectify this obvious inconvenience. Having breakfasted, you take up the paper, and, before sitting down, wish to put some coal on the fire. But the lump you seize with the tongs slips out of them, and, if large, you make several attempts before you succeed in lifting it: all because the ends of the tongs are smooth. Makers and vendors of fire-irons go on, generation after generation, without meeting this evil by simply giving to these smooth ends some projecting points, or even roughening them by a few burrs made with a chisel. Having at length grasped the lump and put it on the fire, you begin to read; but before getting through the first column you are reminded, by the changes of position which your sensations prompt, that men still fail to make easy-chairs. And yet the guiding principle is simple enough. Just that advantage secured by using a soft seat in place of a hard one—the advantage, namely, of spreading over a larger area the pressure of the weight to be borne, and so making the pressure less intense at any one point—is an advantage to be sought in the form of the chair. Ease is to be gained by making the shapes and relative inclinations of seat and back, such as will evenly distribute the weight of the trunk and limbs over the widest-possible supporting surface, and with the least straining of the parts out of their natural attitudes. And yet only now, after these thousands of years of civilization, are there being reached (and that not rationally but empirically) approximations to the structure required.
Such are the experiences of the first hour; and so they continue all the day through. If you watch and criticize, you may see that the immense majority bring to bear, even on those actions which it is the business of their lives to carry on effectually, an extremely-small amount of faculty. Employ a workman to do something that is partly new, and not the clearest explanations and sketches will prevent him from blundering; and to any expression of surprise, he will reply that he was not brought up to such work: scarely ever betraying the slightest shame in confessing that he cannot do a thing he was not taught to do. Similarly throughout the higher grades of activity. Remember how generally improvements in manufactures come from outsiders, and you are at once shown with what mere unintelligent routine manufactures are commonly carried on. Examine into the management of mercantile concerns, and you perceive that those engaged in them mostly do nothing more than move in the ruts that have gradually been made for them by the process of trial and error during a long succession of generations. Indeed, it almost seems as though most men made it their aim to get through life with the least possible expenditure of thought.
How, then, can there be looked for such power of self-guidance as, in the absence of inherited authoritative rules, would require them to understand why, in the nature of things, these modes of action are injurious and those modes beneficial—would require them to pass beyond proximate results, and see clearly the involved remote results, as worked out on self, on others, and on society?
The incapacity need not, indeed, be inferred: it may be seen, if we do but take an action concerning which the sanctified code is silent. Listen to a conversation about gambling; and, where reprobation is expressed, note the grounds of the reprobation. That it tends towards the ruin of the gambler; that it risks the welfare of family and friends; that it alienates from business, and leads into bad company—these, and such as these, are the reasons given for condemning the practice. Rarely is there any recognition of the fundamental reason. Rarely is gambling condemned because it is a kind of action by which pleasure is obtained at the cost of pain to another. The normal obtainment of gratification, or of the money which purchases gratification, implies, firstly, that there has been put forth equivalent effort of a kind which, in some way, furthers the general good; and implies, secondly, that those from whom the money is received, get, directly or indirectly, equivalent satisfactions. But in gambling the opposite happens. Benefit received does not imply effort put forth; and the happiness of the winner involves the misery of the loser. This kind of action is therefore essentially anti-social—sears the sympathies, cultivates a hard egoism, and so produces a general deterioration of character and conduct.
Clearly, then, a visionary hope misleads those who think that in an imagined age of reason, which might forthwith replace an age of beliefs but partly rational, conduct would be correctly guided by a code directly based on considerations of utility. A utilitarian system of ethics cannot at present be rightly thought out even by the select few, and is quite beyond the mental reach of the many. The value of the inherited and theologically-enforced code is that it formulates, with some approach to truth, the accumulated results of past human experience. It has not arisen rationally but empirically. During past times mankind have eventually gone right after trying all possible ways of going wrong. The wrong-goings have been habitually checked by disaster, and pain, and death; and the right-goings have been continued because not thus checked. There has been a growth of beliefs corresponding to these good and evil results. Hence the code of conduct, embodying discoveries slowly and almost unconsciously made through a long series of generations, has transcendent authority on its side.
Nor is this all. Were it possible forthwith to replace a traditionally-established system of rules, supposed to be supernaturally warranted, by a system of rules rationally elaborated, no such rationally-elaborated system of rules would be adequately operative. To think that it would, implies the thought that men’s beliefs and actions are throughout determined by intellect; whereas they are in much larger degrees determined by feeling.
There is a wide difference between the formal assent given to a proposition that cannot be denied, and the efficient belief which produces active conformity to it. Often the most conclusive argument fails to produce a conviction capable of swaying conduct; and often mere assertion, with great emphasis and signs of confidence on the part of the utterer, will produce a fixed conviction where there is no evidence, and even in spite of adverse evidence. Especially is this so among those of little culture. Not only may we see that strength of affirmation and an authoritative manner create faith in them; but we may see that their faith sometimes actually decreases if explanation is given. The natural language of belief displayed by another, is that which generates their belief—not the logically-conclusive evidence. The dependencies of this they cannot clearly follow; and in trying to follow, they so far lose themselves that premisses and conclusion, not perceived to stand in necessary relation, are rendered less coherent than by putting them in juxtaposition and strengthening their connexion by a wave of the emotion which emphatie affirmation raises.
Nay, it is even true that the most cultivated intelligences, capable of criticizing evidence and valuing arguments to a nicety, are not thereby made rational to the extent that they are guided by intellect apart from emotion. Continually men of the widest knowledge deliberately do things they know to be injurious; suffer the evils that transgression brings; are deterred awhile by the vivid remembrance of them; and, when the remembrance has become faint, transgress again. Often the emotional consciousness over-rides the intellectual consciousness absolutely, as hypochondriacal patients show us. A sufferer from depressed spirits may have the testimony of his physicians, verified by numerous past experiences of his own, showing that his gloomy anticipations are illusions caused by his bodily state; and yet the conclusive proofs that they are irrational do not enable him to get rid of them: he continues to feel sure that disasters are coming on him.
All which, and many kindred facts, make it certain that the operativeness of a moral code depends much more on the emotions called forth by its injunctions, than on the consciousness of the utility of obeying such injunctions. The feelings drawn out during early life towards moral principles, by witnessing the social sanction and the religious sanction they possess, influence conduct far more than the perception that conformity to such principles conduces to welfare. And in the absence of the feelings which manifestations of these sanctions arouse, the utilitarian belief is commonly inadequate to produce conformity.
It is true that the sentiments in the higher races, and especially in superior members of the higher races, are now in considerable degrees adjusted to these principles: the sympathies that have become organic in the most developed men, produce spontaneous conformity to altruistic precepts. Even for such, however, the social sanction, which is in part derived from the religious sanction, is important as strengthening the influence of these precepts. And for persons endowed with less of moral sentiment, the social and religious sanctions are still more important aids to guidance.
Thus the anti-theological bias leads to serious errors, both when it ignores the essential share hitherto taken by religious systems in giving force to certain principles of action, in part absolutely good and in part good relatively to the needs of the time, and again when it prompts the notion that these principles might now be so established on rational bases as to rule men effectually through their enlightened intellects.
These errors, however, which the anti-theological bias produces, are superficial compared with the error that remains. The antagonism to superstitious beliefs habitually leads to entire rejection of them. They are thrown aside with the assumption that along with so much that is wrong there is nothing right. Whereas the truth, recognizable only after antagonism has spent itself, is that the wrong beliefs rejected are superficial, and that a right belief hidden by them remains when they have been rejected. Those who defend, equally with those who assail, religious creeds, suppose that everything turns on the maintenance of the particular dogmas at issue; whereas the dogmas are but temporary forms of that which is permanent.
The process of Evolution which has gradually modified and advanced men’s conceptions of the Universe, will continue to modify and advance them during the future. The ideas of Cause and Origin, which have been slowly changing, will change still further. But no changes in them, even when pushed to the extreme, will expel them from consciousness; and hence there can never be an extinction of the correlative sentiments. No more in this than in other things, will Evolution alter its general direction: it will continue along the same lines as hitherto. And if we wish to see whether it tends, we have but to observe how there has been thus far a decreasing concreteness of the consciousness to which the religious sentiment is related, to infer that hereafter this concreteness will further diminish: leaving behind a substance of consciousness for which there is no adequate form, but which is none the less persistent and powerful.
Without seeming so, the development of religious sentiment has been continuous from the beginning; and its nature when a germ was the same as is its nature when fully developed. The savage first shows it in the feeling excited by a display of power in another exceeding his own power—some skill, some sagacity, in his chief, leading to a result he does not understand—something which has the element of mystery and arouses his wonder. To his unspeculative intellect there is nothing wonderful in the ordinary course of things around. The regular sequences, the constant relations, do not present themselves to him as problems needing interpretation. Only anomalies in that course of causation which he knows most intimately, namely, human will and power, excite his surprise and raise questions. And only when experiences of phenomena of other classes become multiplied enough for generalization, does the occurrence of anomalies among these also, arouse the same idea of mystery and the same sentiment of wonder: hence one kind of fetichism. Passing over intermediate stages, the truth to be noted is, that as fast as explanation of the anomalies dissipates the wonder they excited, there grows up a wonder at the uniformities: there arises the question—How come they to be uniformities? As fast as Science transfers more and more things from the category of irregularities to the category of regularities, the mystery that once attached to the superstitious explanations of them becomes a mystery attaching to the scientific explanations of them: there is a merging of many special mysteries in one general mystery. The astronomer, having shown that the motions of the Solar System imply a uniform and invariably-acting force be calls gravitation, finds himself utterly incapable of conceiving this force. Though he helps himself to think of the Sun’s action on the Earth by assuming an intervening medium, and finds he must do this if he thinks about it at all; yet the mystery re-appears when he asks what is the constitution of this medium. While compelled to use units of ether as symbols, he sees that they can be but symbols. Similarly with the physicist and the chemist. The hypothesis of atoms and molecules enables them to work out multitudinous interpretations that are verified by experiment; but the ultimate unit of matter admits of no consistent conception. Instead of the particular mysteries presented by those actions of matter they have explained, there rises into prominence the mystery which matter universally presents, and which proves to be absolute. So that, beginning with the germinal idea of mystery which the savage gets from a display of power in another transcending his own, and the germinal sentiment of awe accompanying it, the progress is towards an ultimate recognition of a mystery behind every act and appearance, and a transfer of the awe from something special and occasional to something universal and unceasing.
No one need expect, then, that the religious consciousness will die away or will change the lines of its evolution. Its specialities of form, once strongly marked and becoming less distinct during past mental progress, will continue to fade; but the substance of the consciousness will persist. That the object-matter can be replaced by another object-matter, as supposed by those who think the “Religion of Humanity” will be the religion of the future, is a belief countenanced neither by induction nor by deduction. However dominant may become the moral sentiment enlisted on behalf of Humanity, it can never exclude the sentiment, alone properly called religious, awakened by that which is behind Humanity and behind all other things. The child by wrapping its head in the bed-clothes, may, for a moment, suppress the consciousness of surrounding darkness; but the consciousness, though rendered less vivid, survives, and imagination persists in occupying itself with that which lies beyond perception. No such thing as a “Religion of Humanity” can ever do more than temporarily shut out the thought of a Power of which Humanity is but a small and fugitive product—a Power which was in course of ever-changing manifestations before Humanity was, and will continue through other manifestations when Humanity has ceased to be.
To recognitions of this order the anti-theological bias is a hindrance. Ignoring the truth for which religions stand, it under-values religious institutions in the past, thinks they are needless in the present, and expects they will leave no representatives in the future. Hence mistakes in sociological reasonings.
To the various other forms of bias, then, against which we must guard in studying the Social Science, has to be added the bias, perhaps as powerful and perverting as any, which religious beliefs and sentiments produce. This, both generally under the form of theological bigotry, and specially under the form of sectarian bigotry, affects the judgments about public affairs; and reaction against it gives the judgments an opposite warp.
The theological bias under its general form, tending to maintain a dominance of the subordination-element of religion over its ethical element—tending, therefore, to measure actions by their formal congruity with a creed rather than by their intrinsic congruity with human welfare, is unfavourable to that estimation of worth in social arrangements which is made by tracing out results. And while the general theological bias brings into Sociology an element of distortion, by using a kind of measure foreign to the science properly so called, the special theological bias brings in further distortions, arising from special measures of this kind which it uses. Institutions, old and new, home and foreign, are considered as congruous or incongruous with particular sets of dogmas, and are liked or disliked accordingly: the obvious result being that, since the sets of dogmas differ in all times and places, the sociological judgments affected by them must inevitably be wrong in all cases but one, and probably in all cases.
On the other hand, the reactive bias distorts conceptions of social phenomena by under-valuing religious systems. It generates an unwillingness to see that a religious system is a normal and essential factor in every evolving society; that the specialities of it have certain fitnesses to the social conditions; and that while its form is temporary its substance is permanent. In so far as the anti-theological bias causes an ignoring of these truths, or an inadequate appreciation of them, it causes misinterpretations.
To maintain the required equilibrium amid the conflicting sympathies and antipathies which contemplation of religious beliefs inevitably generates, is difficult. In presence of the theological thaw going on so fast on all sides, there is on the part of many a fear, and on the part of some a hope, that nothing will remain. But the hopes and the fears are alike groundless; and must be dissipated before balanced judgments in Social Science can be formed. Like the transformations that have succeeded one another hitherto, the transformation now in progress is but an advance from a lower form, no longer fit, to a higher and fitter form; and neither will this transformation, nor kindred transformations to come hereafter, destroy that which is transformed, any more than past transformations have destroyed it.
[11.]See case in Times, Dec. 11, 1872.
[1.]Journey through Central and Eastern Arabia, vol. ii. p. 370.
[2.]Ibid., vol. ii. p. 22.
[3.]Lubbock’s Prehistoric Times. Second edition, p. 442.