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

§ 7.

This contradiction naturally reiterates itself in Dr. Jevons’s treatise at a hundred points: being fundamental, it strikes through the entire argument. While premising that religion is "universally human," and finally contending that man is "by nature religious," and therefore "began by a religious explanation of nature," 2 he pronounces 3 that "four-fifths of mankind, probably, believe in sympathetic magic," which, he declares, not only "does not involve in itself the idea of the supernatural," 4 but is "hostile from the

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beginning" 1 to religion, and is the "negation" thereof. 2 While affirming that the belief in the supernatural (= religion) was prior to magic, he explains 3 that it was man's "intellectual helplessness in grappling with the forces of nature which led him into the way of religion" (i.e., the way in which he began, before he had tried his intellect), and, again, that religion led certain men out of magic, though at the same time they were converted by simply seeing that magic is inefficacious.

Again, reverting for one purpose to his original doctrine of the primacy of fear, Dr. Jevons writes 4:—

Magic is, in fact, a direct relapse into the state of things in which man found himself when he was surrounded by supernatural beings, none of which was bound to him by any tie of goodwill, with none of which had he any stated relations, but all were uncertain, capricious, and caused in him unreasoning terror. This reign of terror magic tends to re-establish, and does re-establish, wherever the belief in magic prevails5

A few chapters further on, discussing fire-festivals and water rites, without asking wherein they psychologically differ from sacramental meals, he writes 6:—

If we regard those fire-festivals and water rites as pieces of sympathetic magic, they are clear instances in which man imagines himself able to constrain the gods—in this case the god of vegetation—to subserve his own ends. Now, this vain imagination is not merely non-religious, but anti-religious; and it is difficult to see how religion could have been developed out of it. It is inconsistent with the abject fear which the savage feels of the supernatural, and which is sometimes supposed to be the origin of religion; and it is inconsistent with that sense of man's dependence on a superior being which is a real element in religion.

The contradiction is absolute. For one purpose, magic is declared to restore the primary reign of terror; for another purpose it is declared to be incompatible with a reign of terror, which is now at once implied and denied to be the primary state. We are in fine told that the savage does and does not fear a "supernatural."

Another series of contradictions is set up by the theorist's determination at certain points so to define "religion" as to secure a unique status for Judaism and Christianity—a breach of scientific method on all fours with his dichotomy of religion and magic. Dealing with the Egyptian conception of a future state, and noting how the first chapter of the Book of the Dead promises a future life which simply repeats the earthly, he declares that "no higher or

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more spiritual ideal entered or could enter into the composition of the Egyptian abode of bliss, because its origin was essentially nonreligious." 1 Such being, however, the nature of the conception of the future life entertained by at least nine-tenths of the human race, savage and civilised, we are here again asked to associate the "universally human" influence with only a fraction of ostensible religious doctrine on one of the most specifically religious topics.

In the same fashion every modification of religious doctrine under the influence of political and religious thought is classed as non-religious. Thus, we are told 2 that "the eschatology of the Egyptian and Indian religions......was not generated by the religious spirit, but was due to the incorporation of early philosophical speculations into those religions."

Further (in flat defiance of Mr. Lang's doctrine as to the primary and pious character of savage Supreme Gods), Dr. Jevons lays it down that the idea of a Supreme God, at the head of a pantheon, "is scarcely a religious idea at all; it is not drawn from the spiritual depths of man's nature; it is a conception borrowed from politics"; 3 and pantheism in turn "is a metaphysical speculation, not a fact of which the religious consciousness has direct intuition." 4 The upshot is that only that idea is religious which "proceeds from an inner consciousness" of connection with or perception of deity: there must be no process of reasoning, no philosophy, no criticism. Dr. Frazer's view of religion as beginning in criticism of magic is ruled out as Dr. Frazer ruled out magic itself. And if it should be supposed that on this definition primary animism is clearly religious, Dr. Jevons has his veto ready: "In animism man projects his own personality on to external nature; in religion he is increasingly [why only increasingly?] impressed by the divine personality." 5

Now, postponing for the moment the scientific answer—the answer of elementary and ultimate psychology—to Dr. Jevons, we have only to turn to the next chapter of his own treatise to find him nullifying this stage of his definition as he has nullified every other. First we are asked 6 to "note that faith is not something peculiar or confined to religion, but is interwoven with every act of reason," and that "the period of faith does not terminate when the pupil has come to have immediate consciousness of the facts which he could not see." Next, we are assured 7 that "the religious mind believes that all facts of which we have immediate consciousness can be reconciled with one another," and that "the religious faith which

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looks forward to the synthesis of all facts in a manner satisfying to the reason......covers a much larger area than either science or moral philosophy." Either, then, the religious person becomes utterly irreligious when he thus reasons beyond the immediate "facts," so-called, of his consciousness, or Dr. Jevons’s definition of religion is once more cancelled by himself.

If, again, we return to the chapter on "Taboo, Morality, and Religion," where it is argued that religion rationalised taboo, we read that "when the taboos which receive the sanction of religion are regarded as reasonable, as being the commands of a being possessing reason, then the other taboos also may be brought to the test of reason."' 1 On the later view, this is an essentially irreligious process. It is true that Dr. Jevons hastens to say, 2 "Taboo has indeed been rationalised, but not in all cases by reason," and to urge 3 that the prophets and other religious reformers who discriminate between taboos "have usually considered themselves in so doing to be speaking, not their own words or thoughts, but those of their God"—that is, have spoken as do cannibal priests among Polynesians and the impostor priests of the Slave Coast. 4 This, however, does not save his thesis from the fatal reproach of having explicitly admitted the element of reason for a moment into the religious process. And the lapse recurs, again with a contradiction. In the closing chapter we have from Dr. Jevons successively these three propositions:—

A belief is an inference, and as such is the work of the reason. The reason endeavours to anticipate the movement of facts. 5

It is an established fact of psychology that every act, mental or physical, requires the concurrence, not only of the reason and the will, but of emotion. 6

Indeed, the reason of primitive man was ex hypothesi undeveloped; and, in any case, religious belief is not an inference reached by reason, but is the immediate consciousness of certain facts. 7

These internecine dicta are offered without apology or apparent misgiving as steps in a continuous process of argument. And just such another series occurs in the chapter in which Dr. Jevons undertakes to make out the characteristic thesis that "Mythology is not religion." In passing, and apart from the scientific rebuttal, it may be well to note that what Dr. Jevons calls "the extraordinary notion that mythology is religion," 8 has never been propounded by any writer in the only sense in which it would be either false or

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extraordinary—that is, that "mythology is the whole of religion." That it is an element in religion and an aspect or function of "the religious consciousness" is affirmed by Dr. Jevons himself in the very act of denying it. As thus:—

Mythology was primitive man's romance, as well as his history, his science, his philosophy. 1

The narratives in which primitive speculations [i.e., myths] were embodied were not merely intellectual exercises, nor the work of the abstract imagination: they reflect or express the mind of the author in its totality, for they are the work of a human being, not of a creature possessing reason and no morality, or imagination and no feeling......In the same way, then, as the moral tone and temper of the author and his age makes itself felt in these primitive speculations, so will the religious spirit of the time......Mythology is one of the spheres of human activity in which religion may manifest itself: one of the departments of human reason which religion may penetrate, suffuse, and inspire2

Mythology is primitive science [etcetera], but it is not primitive religion. It is not necessarily or usually even religious. It is not the proper [!] or even the ordinary vehicle for the religious spirit. Prayer, meditation, devotional poetry, are the chosen vehicles in thought and word; ritual in outward deed and act. Myths originate in a totally different psychological quarter: they are the work of the human reason, acting in accordance with the laws of primitive logic; or are the outcome of the imagination, playing with the freedom of the poetic fancy. In neither case are they primarily the product of religious feeling: it is not the function of feeling to draw inferences3

It is here categorically asserted, first, that myths are not the work of any one side of the human personality—neither of reason without moral feeling nor of imagination without "feeling." Finally, it is asserted that they are the work either of reason without feeling or of imagination without feeling. After the express denial that any human being can mythologise with one faculty only, and the necessary implication that religious feeling may "penetrate" the other faculties in the act of myth-making or myth-believing, we are told that myths originate in a "totally different psychological quarter" from the "religious spirit."

As to the other italicised propositions, it may suffice at this point to note (1) that it is plainly wrong to say mythology is primitive science, history, etcetera, in the sense in which it is not (i.e., is not the whole of) primitive religion; (2) that prayer and devotional poetry are normally full of myths; (3) that ritual is in many cases conceived (though clearly not originated) by the worshipper as an imitation of an episode in the history of the God (i.e., a myth); and (4) that by explicitly reducing religion to

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[paragraph continues] "feeling" Dr. Jevons, like Dr. Frazer, has eliminated every belief as such from religious consciousness. Tantum relligio! 


22:2 P. 410. Cp. pp. 7, 9.

22:3 P. 33.

22:4 P. 35.

23:1 P. 38.

23:2 P. 178. "Fundamentally irreligious" is the expression in the Index.

23:3 P. 21.

23:4 P. 177.

23:5 On p. 290 Dr. Jevons notes how the Indians of Guiana would live in terror of wizards were it not for the protection of other wizards. Here things are balanced! Is magic, then, anti-magical?

23:6 P. 233.

24:1 P. 309.

24:2 P. 331.

24:3 P. 389.

24:4 Pp. 389-390.

24:5 P. 394.

24:6 P. 406.

24:7 P. 407.

25:1 P. 92.

25:2 P. 93.

25:3 P. 94.

25:4 See refs. in Christianity and Mythology, 2nd ed. p. 84. Cp. Rev. R. Taylor, Te Ika a Maui: or, New Zealand and its Inhabitants, 1870, p. 183, as to the Maoris.

25:5 P. 403.

25:6 P. 409.

25:7 P. 410.

25:8 P. 266.

26:1 P. 263.

26:2 P. 264.

26:3 Pp. 266-7.

Next: § 8. His Contradictory Doctrine of the Conditions of the Survival of Religion