Your Mind and How to Use It

Chapter XV

The Religious Emotions

By “the religious emotions” is meant that class of emotional feeling arising from the faith and belief in, or consciousness of the presence of, supernatural beings, powers, entities, or forces. This form of emotion is regarded as distinct from the ethical and moral emotions, although frequently found in connection therewith. Likewise, it is independent of any special form of intellectual belief, for it is far more fundamental and often exists without creed, philosophy, or stated belief, the only manifestation in such cases being a “feeling” of the existence of supernatural beings, forces, and powers to which man has a relation and to which he owes obedience. To those who may think that this is too narrow a conception of religious emotion we refer the following definition of “religion” from the dictionaries: “The acts or feelings which result from the belief of a god, or gods, having superior control over matter, life, or destiny. Religion is subjective, designating the feelings and acts of men which relate to God; theology is objective, denoting the science which investigates the existence, laws, and attributes of God;” or (objectively) “the outer form and embodiment which the inward spirit of a true or a false devotion assumes,” (subjectively) “the feeling of veneration with which the worshiper regards the Being he adores.”

Darwin, in his “Descent of Man,” says that the feeling of religious devotion is a highly complex one, consisting of love, complete submission to an exalted and mysterious superior, a strong sense of dependence, fear, reverence, gratitude, hope for the future, and perhaps other elements. He is of the opinion that no man can experience so complex an emotion until advanced in his intellectual and moral faculties to at least a moderately high level. The authorities generally agree with Darwin, although the more recent study of the history of religion has shown that religious feeling has a far more primitive origin than that indicated by Darwin.

It is true that the lower animals are not deemed capable of anything approaching religious feeling, unless there is a feeling approaching it in the attitude of the dog and horse and other domestic animals toward their masters. But man, as soon as he is able to attribute natural phenomena to a supernatural cause and power, manifests a crude religious feeling and emotion. He begins by believing in, fearing, and worshiping natural forces and objects, such as the sun, the moon, the wind, thunder and lightning, the ocean, rivers, mountains, etc. It is claimed that there is no natural object that has not been deified and worshiped by some people at some time in the history of the race. Later, man acquired the anthropomorphic conception of deities and created many gods in his own image, endowing them with his own attributes, qualities, and characteristics. The mental characteristics and morals of a people can always be ascertained by a knowledge of the average conception of deity held by them. Polytheism, or the belief in many gods, was succeeded by monotheism, or belief in one god.

Monotheism ranges from the crudest conception of a manlike god to the highest conception of a spiritual Being transcending all human qualities, attributes, or characteristics. Man began by believing in many god _things_, then in many god _persons_, then in a one god-person, then in one God who is a spirit, then in One Universal Spirit which is God. It is a far cry from the savage, manlike god of old to the conception of the Universal Spirit of the “God-drunken philosopher,” Spinoza. The extreme of religious belief is that which holds that “there is nothing but God–all else is illusion,” of pantheistic idealism. Buddhism (at least in its original form) discarded the idea of a Supreme Being, and held that Ultimate Reality is but Universal _Law_; hence the accusation that Buddhism is an “atheistic religion,” although it is one of the world’s greatest religions, having over 400,000,000 followers.

But the _beliefs_ of the religious person may be considered as resulting from intellectual processes; his religious _feelings and emotions_ arise from another part of his mental being. It is the testimony of the authorities of all religions that religious conviction is an inner experience rather than an intellectual conception. The emotional element is always active in religious manifestations everywhere. The purely intellectual religion is naught but a philosophy. Religion without feeling and emotion is an anomaly. In all true religion there exists a feeling of inner assurance and faith, love, awe, dependence, submission, reverence, gratitude, hope, and perhaps fear. The emotional element must always be present, not necessarily in the form of emotional excess, as in the case of revival hysteria or the dance of the whirling dervishes, but at least in the form of the calm, fervent feeling of “that peace which passeth understanding.” When religion departs from the emotional phase it becomes merely a “school of philosophy,” or an “ethical culture society.”

The student must not lose sight of the uplifting influence of true religious emotion by reason of his knowledge of its lowly origin. Like the lotus, which has its roots in the slimy, filthy mud of the river, and its stem in the muddy, stagnant, and foul waters thereof, but its beautiful flower unfolded in the clear air and facing the sun, so is religious feeling responsible for some of the most beautiful and uplifting ideals and actions of the race. If its origin and history contain much that is not consistent with the highest ideals of the race to-day, it is not the fault of religion but of the race itself. Religion, like all else in the universal manifestation, is under the laws of evolution, growth, and development. What the religion of the future may be, we know not. But the prophets of the race are dreaming visions of a religion as much higher than that of to-day as the latter is higher than the crude fetichism of the savage.

The following quotation from John Fiske’s “Through Nature to God” is appropriate in this place. Fiske says: “My aim is to show that ‘that other influence,’ that inward conviction, the craving for a final cause, the theistic assumption, is itself one of the master facts of the universe, and as much entitled to respect as any fact in physical nature can possibly be. The argument flashed upon me about ten years ago while reading Herbert Spencer’s controversy with Frederic Harrison concerning the nature and reality of religion. Because Spencer derived historically the greater part of modern belief in an Unseen World from the savage’s primeval world of dreams and ghosts, some of his critics maintained that logical consistency required him to dismiss the modern belief as utterly false; otherwise he would be guilty of seeking to evolve truth from falsehood. ‘By no means,’ replied Spencer. ‘Contrariwise, the ultimate form of the religious consciousness is the final development of a consciousness which at the outset contained a germ of truth obscured by multitudinous errors.'” Fiske, in this connection, quotes the Tennysonian question:–

“‘Who forged that other influence,
That heat of inward evidence,
By which he doubts against the sense?'”

The religious emotions may be developed by allowing the mind to dwell upon the Power underlying the universe of fleeting, changing forms; by reading prose and poetry in which an appeal is made to the religious instinct; by listening to music which awakens the emotion of reverence and awe; and, finally, by meditating upon the inner spirit immanent in every living being. As an old Hindu sage once said: “There are many paths by which men arrive at a knowledge of the presence of God, but there is but one goal and destination.”

Leave a Reply