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

§ 8.

One sample more may suffice to complete the justification of our criticism that Dr. Jevons’s interesting and suggestive treatise is flawed throughout by fatal contradiction. In discussing totemism, he certifies, first, the primitive belief of men in their descent from a totem animal as established or verified for them "in their inner experience—i.e., in the filial reverence and affection which they felt towards him, 1 thus salving as truly religious the grossest possible "projection of man's own personality" on Nature, while the spontaneous animism which early man shared with animals is denied the status of "direct consciousness." Then, taking the totemist's experience, thus highly classed, he writes:—

Doubtless it was not all or most men who had this experience, or rather it was but few who attended to the feeling; but the best must have paid heed to it and have found satisfaction in dwelling on it, else the conception of the deity would never have followed on the line on which as a matter of fact it was developed2

Turning to the chapter on "The Evolution of Belief," we have this almost flatly contrary deliverance:—

The perpetuation of any variety [of belief] depends solely on the conditions under which it occurs: whatever varieties of belief are not favoured by the conditions, by their environment, will perish—the rest will survive (the surviving belief will not necessarily be that of the keenest-sighted man, but that which accords with what the average sight can see of the facts). 3

In another chapter, yet again, we have still a third view of the process of survival, and one which excludes both of the preceding. In order to credit to the "truly" religious principle the rationalisation of taboo, Dr. Jevons, as we said, claimed that the rationalisers considered themselves to be propounding "not their own words or thoughts, but those of their God"; and he thereupon notes that "this belief has been shared by the community they addressed, otherwise the common man would not have gained the courage to break an ancient taboo. Certainly no mere appeal to reason would counterbalance that inveterate terror." 4 On this view any dictum of any accredited priest would be decisive, irrespective of the average sight"; and this despite of Dr. Jevons’s refusal to recognise priestcraft as a factor in the creation of taboo in particular or religion in general.

p. 28

A theory of religion which lands its framer in such a congeries of contradictions as these, I submit, is fully convicted of vital fallacy. And certainly the fallacy is not the result either of imperfect knowledge of the ground or of speculative incompetence: it stands visibly for the misguiding force of a false preconception or prejudice. On much of Dr. Jevons’s book every student, I think, will put a very high estimate: it is studious, well-informed, original, independent in method and in doctrine, and, though deeply prejudiced, nearly always temperate even when most fallacious. In places it reaches a really high level of scholarly and critical efficiency, notably in the chapter on "The Mysteries," where the tracing of the adoption and adaptation of the primary Eleusinian cult to the purposes of Athens and the cults of Dêmêtêr and Persephonê is as satisfying as it is ingenious. Dr. Jevons is there thus successful, to my thinking, because he is on ground which he has surveyed dispassionately and scientifically, unaffected by his occultist predilections. It is when he has his eye on current religion and its line of descent that, omitting much of the due scholarly research and staking all on the vindication of his sympathies, he yields us a series of logical miscarriages fully as striking as his measure of success in his disinterested inquiry.

Howsoever this may be, his series of contradictions leaps to the eyes; and unless consistency is to be a burden only for the naturalists, unless the supernaturalist is to be let dogmatise in hierology as in religion on the basis of his mere "inner consciousness," his main argument must simply be removed from the scientific field.


27:1 P. 108. Compare this with the decision that a political mode of thought has no part in religion.

27:2 Pp. 108-109.

27:3 P. 398.

27:4 Pp. 94-95.

Next: § 9. The Continuity of Religious Phenomena