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Pagan Christs, by John M. Robertson, [1911], at

§ 3.

At the close of his work, apparently forgetting the propositions of his first chapter as to the priority of the sense of obstacle in the primitive man's notion of supernatural forces, Dr. Jevons affirms that the "earliest attempt" towards harmonising the facts of the "external and inner consciousness"—by which is meant observation and reflection

took the form of ascribing the external prosperity which befell a man to the

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action of the divine love of which he was conscious within himself; and the misfortunes which befell him to the wrath of the justly offended divine will. 1

Here we have either a contradiction of the thesis before cited, or a resort to the extremely arbitrary assumption that in taking credit to himself for successful management of things, and imputing his miscarriages to a superior power, the primitive man is not trying to "harmonise the facts of his experience." Such an argument would be on every ground untenable; but it appears to be all that can stand between Dr. Jevons and self-contradiction. The way to a sound position is by settling impartially the definition of the term "religion." How Dr. Jevons misses this may be gathered from the continuation of the passage under notice:—

Man, being by nature religious, began by a religious explanation of nature. To assume, as is often done, that man had no religious consciousness 1, begin with, and that the misfortunes which befell him inspired him with fear, and fear led him to propitiate the malignant beings whom he imagined to be the causes of his suffering, fails to account for the very thing it intended to explain—namely, the existence of religion. It might account for superstitious dread of malignant beings: it does not account for the grateful worship of benignant beings, nor for the universal satisfaction which man finds in that worship.

[paragraph continues] As we have seen, Dr. Jevons himself had at the outset plainly posited what he now describes as a fallacious assumption. On his prior showing, man's experience of apparent hostility in Nature "first called forth" his belief in supernatural power. The interposed phrase, "was not created but," looks like an after attempt to reconcile the earlier proposition with the later. But there is no real reconciliation, for Dr. Jevons thus sets up only the vain suggestion that the primitive man was from the first conscious of the existence of good supernatural powers but did not think they did him any good—another collapse in countersense—or else the equally unmanageable notion that primitive man recognised helpful supernatural being-, but was not grateful to them for their help.

That the argument has not been scientifically conducted is further clear from the use now of the expression "superstitious dread" as the equivalent of "fear," while "grateful worship" stands for "satisfaction." Why "superstitious dread" and not "superstitious gratitude"? A scientific inquiry will treat the phenomena on a moral par, and will at this stage simply put aside the term "superstition." It is relevant only as imputing a superior degree of gratuitousness of belief (whether by way of fear or of satisfaction) at a comparatively

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advanced state of culture. To call a savage superstitious when he fears a God, and religious when he thanks one, is not only to warp the "science of religion" at the start, but to block even the purpose in view, for, as we have seen, Dr. Jevons is constrained by his own motive of edification to assume that the benignant God ought by rights to be sometimes feared.


8:1 Work cited, p. 410.

Next: § 4. Scientific View of the Religious Evolution