Pagan Christs, by John M. Robertson, , at sacred-texts.com
On the other hand, the promotion of material well-being is precisely what is oftenest claimed for Christianity; and the argument is presumably changed in the case of Peru and Mexico only because there it would break down. For the great fact about these heathen civilisations is that they did attain material well-being, as apart from humane feeling, in a considerable degree; though, as we have seen, they were suffering much from sacerdotalism and autocracy. If we do not say with Dr. Draper that the Spaniards destroyed a higher civilisation than their own, we may at least say that the one they destroyed was in many ways superior to that which they put in its place. What they did was completely to destroy the civilisations they found, without replacing them at all in large measure. In the matters of road-making, agriculture, and the administration of law, the new civilisation was not to be compared with the old, which, indeed, was on these points ahead of anything in Europe since the fall of the Roman Empire. 4 The Aztecs had clean streets, and lighted streets, when Europe had not. Dr. Réville,
indeed, lays undue stress on the lighting of the streets, which was not done by lamps, but by fires; 1 but even that was an improvement on the European state of things two hundred years ago. Peru to-day is in large part a desolation compared with what it was under the Incas; and under the new religion the native races seem to be positively lower than under the old. By the testimony of Catholic priests, the conquerors nearly exterminated the Aztec races, the numbers destroyed by their cruelties being reckoned at twelve millions. And on the side of morality and humanity, who shall say what the gain was in Mexico when the Christian conquerors, after execrating the practice of human sacrifice, set up their own Holy Inquisition to claim its victims for the propitiation of the three new Gods, harrying still further the people they had already decimated by atrocious tyranny and cruelty?
It is little to the purpose to urge, as was done by Joseph de Maistre, 2 that "the immense charity of the Catholic priesthood" sought to protect the natives in every way from the cruelty and avarice of the conquerors. It is in the nature of all priesthoods in close connection with the people to seek or wish its good in some way: 3 the Mexican priests, as we have seen, enjoined beneficence, and they treated their own vassals well. 4 But when the Christian apologist declares that he has "no knowledge of a single act of violence laid to the charge of the priests," save in the one case of Valverde in Peru, 5 he goes far indeed beyond his brief. There were certainly humane priests, as Las Casas and Sahagun; but what but "acts of violence" were the whole efforts of the priesthood to destroy the ancient monuments and records, to say nothing of the operations of the Inquisition? It is not, however, in mere "acts of violence" that the fatality of Christian junction with non-Christian civilisation lies: it belongs to the nature of the case; and religious principle, which encouraged the original act of conquest, is worse than powerless to avert the consequences. If the more forward races will not leave the more backward alone, and cannot blend with them in a common stock, they must do one of three things: exercise a mere supervision, good or bad, as Englishmen do in India, where they cannot breed; or crowd the weaker out, as is being done in North America and Australia; or strangle the lower civilisation
without developing the higher, as has been done in Mexico and Peru by Christians, and in Egypt by Saracens. Whether a race fusion can take place in Mexico, Peru, and Brazil remains to be seen. If it be attained, those countries will have solved a problem which in the United States, in a worse form, seems far from solution.
In that case, a relative success may finally be claimed for the Catholic as against the Protestant evolution. But it will be due to other causes than religion. It may, indeed, be charged against the Catholic Church that its unchangeable hostility to the spread of knowledge has been the means of paralysing progress in countries where, as in Mexico and Peru, it has been able to attain absolute dominion over minds and bodies. "It seems hard," says Dr. Tylor, 1 "to be always attacking the Catholic clergy; but of one thing we cannot remain in doubtthat their influence has had more to do than anything else with the doleful ignorance which reigns supreme in Mexico." But it is not Catholicism that is the explanation. "The only difference," avows Dr. Brinton, 2 "in the results of the two great divisions of the Christian world," in the matter of conquests, "seems to be that on Catholic missions has followed the debasement, on Protestant missions the destruction, of the race." It may be added that in Protestant Natal to-day there is a general determination among the white population to keep the natives uneducated, lest knowledge should give them power. In fine, the claim that there is an inherent civilising virtue in Christianity is here, as elsewhere, turned to confusion. "Christianity," as the same writer declares, 3 "has shown itself incapable of controlling its inevitable adjuncts; and it would have been better, morally and socially, for the American race never to have known Christianity at all than to have received it on the only terms on which it has been possible to offer it."
What Christendom could best have done for the American civilisations, after putting down human sacrifice, was to leave them to grow, like those of China and Japan, under the influence of superior example at certain points. Progress might then conceivably have come about. 4 There is little use in speculating over the
it might-have-been; but at least we should not overlook the fact that in Peru there are distinct records of rationalism among the theocratic Incas themselves. Several of these remarkable rulers 1 are recorded to have expressed the conviction that the Sun, for ever moving in his allotted course, could not be the Supreme Deity he was said to bethat there must be another Deity who ruled him. 2 Netzahualcoyotl, we saw, thought similarly. This reminds us that in all ages and under all religions there have been Freethinkers; men who knew that the Gods were myths while the Vedic hymns were being made; Sadducees among the Jews; Mutazilites among the Mohammedans. For the history of mental evolution has not been that of a simple process from delusion to rationalism, but of a constant war between the two tendencies in the human mind; and what has happened s hitherto is just that inasmuch as the majority have thought little they have been credulous. To measure the position of any nation in this regard, we have for the most part simply to consider the status and expansive power of its priesthood. And for us to-day there is one special lesson to be drawn from the case of the unbelieving Incas, who never modified their theocratic practice as regarded the multitude, whatever they might deem among themselves. Their principle evidently was that the masses must be deluded. Well, we know that when the royal line fell, those masses were wholly unable to act for themselves, and fell abjectly under the sway of a mere handful of conquerors. Unless the masses also rationalise, they will never attain a worthy humanity. So that the Freethinkers had need be more righteous than the Scribes and Pharisees.
It is the more necessary to insist on this, the final lesson of all comparative hierology, because in the face of all the facts some students contrive, with the best intentions, to invert it. Because supernaturalism has always been associated with ethics in religious history, it is fallaciously inferred that there can be no ethic without supernaturalism; and in order to shield from rational criticism the
prevailing creed, emphasis is laid on every point at which in its evolution it has chanced to be associated with the principle of betterment. This was the point of view of one of the first scientific investigators on the comparative principle, Benjamin Constant, whose treatise De la Religion, considerée dans sa source, ses formes, ses développements, published in 1824-34, is still worth attention. Developing the principles of Fontenelle and Des Brosses, he set forth, clearly and insistently, two generations before Mr. Lang, the presence of savage survivals in the religions of civilised antiquity; 1 and while accepting Hume's demonstration of the priority of polytheism 2 he anticipated Mr. Lang's theorem about the good Supreme Being who "could not be squared," 3 even as he framed a number of the theses employed by Dr. Jevons for the vindication of religious intuitionism, such as the utility of taboo and the opposition between religion and magic. 4 Long before it was fashionable to do so, he adopted and developed Lessing's thesis of the progressive development of all religion; 5 Comte's law of the three stages he anticipated by one of four stages, which is perhaps better grounded; 6 and some of his solutions are both ingenious and just, more just than some of those of his successors who follow similar lines. Yet by reason of his desire to glorify "the religious sentiment" in the abstract and in the present time, apart from all the "forms" of religion, he repeatedly lapses into crude sophistry. After insisting that the religious sentiment is "universal" he speaks of "irreligious peoples"; 7 and wherever he has to admit that religion has wrought tyranny and evil he alleges that just there the religious sentiment has left it, that it has become merely interest, egoism, calculation. 8 On this very principle, religion is beneficent only momentarily, when it is taking shape as a reform of old religion by innovators; each innovation in turn becoming a matter of form, interest, egoism, calculation; so that "the religious sentiment," so far from being universal, turns out to be the sentiment only of innovators, freethinkers, enemies of traditionalism. After being represented as "sweet and consoling" for the mass of men, "the spirit of religion" turns out to be precisely what the mass of men never at any one moment entertain. All the while, it is pretended on à priori grounds that rationalism must always lend itself to
fatalistic submission, as if religious reform were not relative rationalism; and the colossal historical facts of religious fatalism, religious tyranny, religious cruelty, religious licence, are glosed as phenomena of irreligion.
From this long-drawn contradiction there is only one way of escapethe recognition that the sole rational test of any religious credence or usage at any moment is its truth, relatively to the intelligence of the moment. Mechanically repeating that religion is a fundamental "sentiment," men lose sight and hold of the truth that veracity is also a sentiment, with inalienable rights. The men who, in terms of religious credences, have reformed religion in the past, have done so in the conviction that the credences they discarded were not true. To argue that, because their credences were associated for a time with moral or material improvement, we must cherish those credences even when we know them to be untrue, is to be false not only to their ideal but to the very principle of development. Such an acceptance is in itself corruption, the negation of betterment; and to turn the historic fact of the relativity of religious beliefs into a general vindication of religion is to read the law of evolution backwards. Bad or mistaken morals are relatively "fit," even as is false belief. It has been argued that cannibalism once saved the human race; and the proposition may be perfectly true; but so far from being an argument for reversion to cannibalism, it does not even cancel the fact that cannibalism has again and again gone far to destroy low civilisations.
Religious belief has been historically associated with both the progress and the paralysis of civilisation; and the just inference is that, so far from its being the principle of betterment, it is simply a form of fallacious mental activity, which may either be countervailed by truer forms or may countervail them. And the beliefs which have the worst concomitants are precisely those certified by the special pleaders as "truly" religious. The belief in immortality, so often extolled as a great source of consolation, has been the motive for the slaughter of unnumbered millions of human beings, religiously doomed to accompany others to "another world"; the conception of sacrificial salvation, another source of "blessed comfort," has incited to the slaughter of uncounted millions more, with every circumstance of heart-searing atrocity; the doctrine of sacramental communion with deity, as we have seen, has been the means of conserving and sanctifying systematic cannibalism at the hands of priesthoods, where without priesthoods it must have died out; and in every age and stage of human growth the religious
sentiment, of which the most essential and constant characteristic is to cling to "forms," is seen on the intellectual side damning new thought, strangling science, sanctifying injustice, and haloing war, as well as endorsing what measure of moral principle had been evolved in a lower stage of thought. There is never the slightest security that the spirit of justice and reason and sympathy will coincide with "the spirit of religion"; and there is no known religious system which is not habitually turned to the frustration of some of the best of the precepts it professes to inculcate. There is thus no reason to doubt that in savage as in civilised times the forces of organised religion have been arrayed against the forces of betterment, social as well as intellectual, with but a dubious record on the side of moralisation.
Certain hierologists on religious grounds make much of the fact that some of the "lowest" races appear to have the "highest" notions of a Supreme Being, as if that were not a specially plain proof of the futility of theistic notions as civilising forces. "Fijian religion," we are told, draws "an impassable line between ghosts and eternal gods." 1 And the apparent effect of that discrimination was to keep the Fijians the most revolting set of cannibals on the face of the earth, 2 habitually eating their own species because the Eternal Gods preferred so to feed; while in the mysteries of their Supreme Being there were scenes of "almost incredible indecency." Precisely where men drew the least clear distinction between ghosts and Eternal Gods, that is to say among the Tongans, cannibalism was abandoned till Fijian influence revived it; and the position of women was immensely better. 3 And all the while, the more brutal the religion, the more complacent were the worshippers. The unconscious testimony of a missionary may help to make the point clearer
and the belief in these, by the missionary's account, was associated with vice and absurdity.
As between the Samoan and the Fijian, our sole test is the critical reason. It is by the same test that we pronounce given religious doctrines incredible or inconsistent, apart from any question of their effects. Let that criticism be honestly met on its own ground, instead of by way of paralogisms concerning the utility of false beliefs in the past, and hierology will be freed from an element of disturbance and distortion, becoming as nearly as possible a department of pure history. It is the tactic of the special pleader for religion that has introduced that element: it lies with him to let it vanish. Doubtless it will reappear in sociology; but there it will be for the time a quickening force, giving vitality to a science that is slow to be vivified by actual interests.
380:4 As to the excellence of the Peruvians architecture, see Markham, in Winsor, i, 246-7, and Squier, as there cited; and as to their admirable system of irrigation see pp. 252-3.
381:1 Robertson, History of America, B. vii (Works, ed. 1821, ix, 22).
381:2 Soirées de Saint Pétersbourg, ed. 1821, i, 109.
381:3 Cp. Müller, p. 144, on the efforts of missionaries in general to burke the facts as to cannibalism among the aborigines.
381:4 Prescott, p. 34.
381:5 Even this he seeks to cast doubt upon. But even Valverde might intelligibly have sought to protect the Indians, as he is said to have done, after helping to massacre them in conquest. They had become his tithe-payers.
382:1 Anahuac, p. 126. Since Dr. Tylor wrote, there has been much progress in Mexico, due to the rationalistic ideas which are there as elsewhere confronting the Church.
382:2 American Hero Myths, p. 206.
382:3 Id. p. 207.
382:4 The Mexican language, in particular, shows great capabilities. "Of all the languages spoken on the American continent, the Aztec is the most perfect and finished, approaching in this respect the tongues of Europe and Asia, and actually surpassing many of them by its elegance and expression. Although wanting the six consonants, b, d, f, r, g, s, it may still be called full and rich. Of its copiousness, the Natural History of Dr. Hermandez gives evidence, in which are described twelve hundred different species of Mexican plants, two hundred or more species of birds, and a large number of quadrupeds, reptiles, insects, and metals, each of which is given its proper name in the Mexican language. Mendieta p. 383 says that it is not excelled in beauty by the Latin, displaying even more art in its construction, and abounding in tropes and metaphors. Camargo calls it the richest of the whole land, and the purest, being mixed with no foreign barbaric element; Gomara says it is the best, most copious, and most extended in all New Spain; Davila Padilla, that it is very elegant and graceful, although it contains many metaphors which make it difficult; Loreozana, that it is very elegant, sweet, and complete; Clavigero, that it is copious, Polite, and expressive; Brasseur de Bourbourg, that from the most sublime heights it descends to common things with a sonorousness and richness of expression peculiar to itself. The missionaries found it ample for their purpose, as in it, and without the aid of foreign words, they could express all the shades of their dogmas" (Bancroft, iii, 727-8).
383:1 According to Prescott, the crania of the Incas show great superiority to those of the people, which may well be believed; but the data are called in question. See Kirk's ed, 13.18.
383:2 Réville, pp. 162-5. Cp. Markham, The Incas of Peru, 1910, pp. 97-103 (prayers to the Supreme Being), and in Winsor's History, i, 233.
384:1 Vol. i, préf. p. ii.
384:2 Vol. i. pt. ii, ch. v.
384:3 Id. pp. 15, 78-79, note.
384:4 Compare the citations from Dr. Jevons, above, pp. 6, 20-24, etc., with Constant, vol. i, pt. i, 13; pt. ii, 48-50, 71, 83.
384:5 Vol. i, pt. i, 104.
384:6 Id. 107-8.
384:7 Cp. i, pt. i, 2-6, 20; pt. 2, 45.
384:8 Cp. v, 157. where it is insisted that the spirit of dogma is directly opposed to the sentiment of religion. Elsewhere (i, pt. i, p. 99) he admits that religion has bad "tendencies."
386:1 Lang, Making of Religion, p. 218, following T. Williams, Fiji, p. 218. Cp. Ellis, Polynesian Researches, i, 333-4, as to the distinction throughout Polynesia generally.
386:2 T. Williams, as cited, pp. 204-214.
386:3 Cp. Mariner, i, 107-108; ii, 103-4; Seemann, Fiji and its Inhabitants, in Galton's Vacation Tourists, 1862, p. 280.
387:1 J. Williams, Narrative of Missionary Enterprises in the South Sea Islands, ed. 1837, pp. 540-1.