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

p. 57

§ 14.

We may now circumspectly sum up the constructive argument, and in so doing we arrive at an inductive definition of religion.

1. Religion consists primarily in a surmise or conception, reached by way of simple animism, of the causation and control of Nature (including human life) in terms of inferred quasi-human personalities, whether or not defined as extra-Natural. On the belief proceed certain practices. Beginning on the side of fear, it necessarily expands in time, with the rise of culture, to the side of gratitude; and it expresses itself accordingly. But its magical or strategical and its simply precatory or propitiatory forms proceed on the same premisses, and are in origin contemporary and correlative, being respectively the expression of the more and the less self-confident sides of men's nature 1 in the state of ignorance.

2. The primary surmise or conception involves itself in a multitude of beliefs, of which one of the most significant is that of kinship between animal and man (making possible a religious development of totemism), and the animal descent of the latter. From animism in general and this belief in particular comes an endless diversity of mythic narratives, all of which must be regarded as part of religion.

3. On the basis of animism, and of primitive inference of causation in all coincidence, arise a multitude of special practices, as taboo, which are first and last religious, being invariably bound up with the religious ideas aforesaid.

4. In virtue of the inevitable correlation of moral with cosmological thought in early man through animism, religion thus becomes secondarily a rule for the human control of human life; and it remains structurally recognisable on this side when the primary aspect has partly faded away.

5. Alike when such a rule for life is ascribed to a mythical founder—whether God or demigod or supernormal man—or to a historical personage credited only with moral genius, the special sanctity or authority ascribed to his code partakes of the nature of religion. Thus the religious element in Positivism consists as much in the reverence given to the founder as in the elements of his teaching. [There is a varying measure of a common religious element in the kind of honour paid to Zoroaster, Buddha, Moses, Jesus, the Hebrew prophets, Apollonius of Tyana, Paul, Saint Augustine, Saint Francis, Luther, Calvin, Arminius, Jansen, Glas,

p. 58

[paragraph continues] Sandeman, Muggleton, Auguste Comte, Mrs. Eddy, and Madame Blavatsky.]

6. Philosophic, scientific, and ethical thought may be defined as specifically non-religious when, but not before, they have abandoned or repudiated the cosmological premisses of religion, found their guiding principle in tested induction, and, in the case of ethics, ceased to found the rule of life on either alleged supernatural revelation or the authority of an alleged supernormal or specially gifted teacher.

7. Even after conceptual thought has thus repudiated religion, however, what is termed "cosmic emotion" remains in the psychic line of religion.


In fine, religion is the sum (a) of men's ideas of their relation to the imagined forces of the cosmos; (b) of their relation to each other as determined by their views of that, or by teachers who authoritatively recast those views; and (c) of the practices set up by those ideas.

Under this definition there is room for every religion ever historically so-called, 1 from fetishism to pantheism, and from Buddhism to Comtism, without implicit negation of any claim made for any one religion to any moral attribute, save of course that of objective truth or credibility.


57:1 The point is not one to be settled by authority, but for a competent affirmation of this view see G. Roskoff, Das Religionswesen der rohesten Naturvölker, 1880, p. 144.

58:1 None of the current definitions, I think, is thus inclusive. Cp. the many cited by Chantepie de la Saussaye, Manual of the Science of Religion, Eng. tr. pp. 56-58, and those discussed in Christianity and Mythology, 2nd ed. pp. 42 sq., 70 sq., 74 sq. That proposed by M. Salomon Reinach: "A body (ensemble) of scruples which put obstacles to the free exercise of our faculties" (Orpheus, 6e. édit. p. 4), is obviously defective. As M. Reinach goes on to avow, he has in view only a particular kind of scruples—to wit, taboos. But this delimitation of religion, like that of Dr. Frazer, excludes the main body of credences and myths. One of the most symmetrical is that of Professor A. Réville:—"La religion est la determination de la vie humaine par le sentiment d’un lien unissant l’esprit humain à l’esprit mystérieux dont il reconnaît la domination sur le monde et sur lui-même, et auquel il aime à se sentir uni" (Prolégomènes, p. 34). But this is finally marked by theological particularism, and is thus not truly inductive. Constant's was more objective:—"Nous avons défini le sentiment religieux, le besoin que l’homme éprouve de se mettre en communication avec la nature qui l’entoure, et les forces inconnues qui lui semblent animer cette nature" (La Religion, 1824, i, pt. ii, p. 1). But Constant extends his definition in practice to simple cosmic emotion. Citing from Byron's Island the passage beginning

"How often we forget all time, when lone,"

he writes: "On nous assure que certains hommes accusent Lord Byron d’athéisme et d’impiété. Il y a plus de religion dans ces douze vers que dans les écrits passés, présents et futurs de tous ces dénonciateurs mis ensemble" (pt. i, pp. 106-7).

Next: § 1. Early Forces of Reform