Problem Of Monotheism And Of Ethical Conceptions Of The Deity
( Originally Published 1910 )
Thus far our attention has been confined entirely to the origin and early development of deistic ideas. We have tried to show that they have a fairly ascertainable natural history. The general point of view has been about as follows : A deity is a symbol, more or less personal in form, of a value or values which have arisen in the experience of some individual person or people. "Every religious standpoint gathers up into its concept of God the highest known values. Not only ethical and ęsthetic interests, but also more especially the enthusiasms as well as the feelings of dependence, excited in the struggle for life, urge to a deeper and deeper concentration, which disburdens itself at last in the cry of `God.'
As we have seen, there are values of all grades in experience, but the most insistent and the most permanent of them tend, quite often, to be conceived in personal terms, that is, to be associated with, or symbolized by, the expression of the will of some conscious agent.
The universe as it is presented to man, whether he be civilized or savage, has qualities as well as parts. The forces of nature affect him in various ways; he has purposes and hopes which he cannot but strive to realize; he has fears from which he cannot but flee. Thus his life is far from being a colorless affair. Moreover, every detail of his world, which he has literally built up through his varied strivings, is saturated with his own personality and with all sorts of elements derived from his human associations. He must think largely in social terms and by means of social symbols. It is thus almost inevitable that he should express his conception of the ultimate meaning of things, the significance of his life and his efforts in terms of personal and social relationships.' This tendency has been amply illustrated in the preceding chapter.
We have also seen that primitive man vaguely conceives of the world as pervaded by `force' which is constantly affecting him in vital ways and which he strives in some measure to control. Before this notion, however, can become in any sense a religious one, it must be associated with conscious personal agents. We have tried to show how this may occur, and, further, how the belief in spirit beings, likewise a theory not intrinsically religious, assists the primitive man in bringing his world, with its piecemeal conceptions of force, into some sort of personal relationship with himself. The development which is thus mediated can hardly be said to be in the direction of a scientific view of nature. Instead, it furnishes a very favorable context, through its socialized conception of the world, for the development of an appreciative rather than a descriptive attitude. As Hoffding says, "religion does not afford an understanding of existence such as the intellect demands, neither of special events, nor are its ideas conclusions for scientific thought." They are rather figures whose meaning, as far as they can have any at all, must be in their "serving as symbolical expressions for the feelings, the aspirations, and the wishes of men in their struggle for existence." "Dogma has," however, "hung its leaden weight around the neck of these symbols, dragging them down into spheres in which they are exposed both to criticism and to mockery."
The idea, then, of a deity, built up in some manner, whether in the precise way we have outlined or not, represents the extreme development of the socialized conception of the universe. It does not come from man's attempt to give a scientific description of the world, but expresses rather the keenness with which he feels his personal relation to the general order of existence. This, certainly, is the truth regarding the religious attitude, whether such relations between man and the world actually exist or not.
Since the concepts of religion symbolize values rather than describe an objective order of existence, the psychologist must be careful to avoid treating them in the same way as he would the concepts of science. All such expressions as `God," divine life," larger life," justification by faith,' current in the religious thought of many people, may be assumed to stand for some facts in the experience of the religious mind. It is for the psychologist to determine what these facts may be and to restate them, in psychological form. He cannot use them unanalyzed and in their popular sense.
He will see that the various conceptions of religion grow out of certain valuational attitudes in religious individuals. This is entirely aside from the question of their objective truth or falsity. The mere fact that they are beliefs of some people means that there is something in the experience of these people which these concepts stand for, or symbolize. But while these concepts refer to facts of experience, it is important to note that they are not facts which belong to the same species as percepts. The religionist may say that he perceives God as clearly as he does a house, but he speaks popularly and not scientifically. What he really means is that he is conscious of a certain value in his experience, a value which is as vivid to him, so he thinks, as the perception of an external object. The metaphysician and the practical religious individual may quite believe that God exists as an objective fact, and they may offer proof that is to them convincing. Psychologically, however, God is not perceived, nor can the divine mind be regarded as something in some way continuous with the experience of the psychologist through its subconscious phases. God may be an existing fact, but even the religious man would hardly claim that his deity is a phenomenon, and hence capable of statement in phenomenal terms. If there is a divine mind, its relationship to the human mind cannot be expressed in any spatial or temporal terms, nor in terms of cause, nor in any other thought category.' In other words, however the naļve mind may choose to symbolize that relationship, it is not a relation of which psychology can take any cognizance. As far as psychology is concerned, the deity may be said to be a value-attitude of a certain kind in the consciousness of some individual or individuals.
One of the objects of the psychology of religion is to trace the development of these religious values out of the simpler types of value-attitude, and to state in terms of the rest of experience the counterparts of such objective expressions of value as God, immortality, faith, and the divine life. In other words, if psychology is concerned with a description of the facts and laws of consciousness, and if the psychology of religion is a subdivision of this more general science, it deals simply with a certain portion of the conscious contents and activities which are the subject-matter of general psychology.
It must state in the accepted language of psychology the nature of those conscious states which are called religious.
The psychologist has given, we repeat, an individual consciousness capable of being modified by various stimuli, but it is not, as far as he is concerned, a part of a larger life, either social or divine. As far as the individual consciousness is concerned, these are simply terms which symbolize immediately experienced values of various kinds. As we have already suggested, it is the business of the psychologist to endeavor to state the objective conditions under which these value-attitudes arise. This is true, whether the value be ęsthetic or religious. It should be evident, however, that these conditions cannot be explained through the use of the value terms themselves. Thus the consciousness of ęsthetic value is not by any means accounted for by saying that the person perceives a beautiful object. So, also, the religious consciousness is not explained by the statement that the soul in some way perceives, or is cognizant of divine values.
The above considerations suggest the type of objection we should urge against such a statement as the following : "If there is a divine life over and above the separate streams of individual lives, the welling up of this larger life in the experience of the individual is precisely the point of contact between the individual person and God. The organizing centre for religious as well as social life lies beyond the boundary line of the merely individual consciousness." 1 This is a pseudo-psychological explanation of the experience of con-version. If we translate it into genuine psychological concepts, the meaning implied seems to be something like this : The significance of the experience of the moment is not comprised in its bare factual presence, that is, as it appears super- ficially. The experience of the moment comes in a certain context of habit; its present structure is strictly relative to innumerable previous experiences of the individual. No experience can be completely described by its central fact or focus. Sometimes we are more conscious of the setting of appreciation, value, worth, or significance, whatever we may call it, than at other times. In popular language we may say that there is then `the welling up of a larger life,' of a social consciousness, or of a divine consciousness; but, in the language of psychology, that which ` wells up' is an accumulation of subtle value-attitudes and habits which are definitely related to our previous experience and are developed out of it and it only.
In saying all this, the psychologist need not dogmatically assert that his description of the structure of experience, its contents and its values, is an exhaustive one. It is quite likely that every fact of consciousness means more in the ultimate constitution of things (whatever that may be) than we can ever state in our descriptions, but as far as psychology has anything to say about it, the description is complete when it has been made in terms of the experience of the individual, taken in its entirety, and not as a fact of the present moment. In the ultimate constitution of things, this may be the contact of the individual person with God. The broader relationships of the present moment may be so vivid in consciousness, their significance for the life as a whole may be so great that they may merit the objective symbol of divine or of God, but, from the point of view of science, the experience is still a `value-attitude' arising as an organic part of the stream of consciousness of the individual.
The psychology of religion should, then, investigate the concepts, emotions, and attitudes of the individual which are commonly called religious, interpreting them in relation to the other facts of consciousness. For the psychologist, God is not a postulate nor an elementary factor in the production of the religious life. He is one of the concepts of some religious lives, and as such needs explanation. (We may say the same of all the other objects with which the religious mind constructs and describes its universe of values.) So much for the general point of view. It may seem to some that it is applicable enough in the remote world of primitive religion, but that it cannot be applied either to explain the origin or to describe the present status of the loftier conceptions of God. What, then, of monotheism, and especially ethical monotheism? Are these presuppositions and those of the preceding chapter adequate for the belief in a single supreme God who demands mercy rather than sacrifice?
The questions thus raised are made the more difficult to answer because of the presuppositions one usually brings to them. To the beginnings of ethical monotheism, as they are seen in the later religion of Israel, are ascribed the full content of meaning that they have for the reflective religious consciousness of today. Consequently there seems to be an inevitable hiatus between the earlier religion of these people and their later faith. This hiatus is deepened by the assumption that, while some value-concepts may be admitted to have had a natural history, there are some others so exalted that they cannot be so explained. In fact, to attempt to trace their origin in simpler conditions is merely an attempt to deprive them of their supreme worth. Now this very feeling that some values must be put into a world of their own is, itself, one of the problems with which the psychology of the appreciative consciousness must deal. Fortunately, the beginnings of the tendency can be clearly traced in various primitive modes of thought. It may best be analyzed and illustrated in connection with our general inquiry into the origin of the monotheistic idea. It will find further illustration in our discussion of the development of the ethical attributes of the deity.
In the atmosphere of the social group we may find every essential factor for the evolution of the higher types of monotheism.' It is back to the social matrix also that we must continually go in order to interpret properly each successive step in the development of religious ideas. There is no necessary psychological continuity between the so-called stages of religious evolution, such as fetichism, polytheism, henotheism, and monotheism. If the idea of a god is the expression of certain lines of social development, if it is true that that idea represents, as it were, a moment in this social process, it is evident that its meaning must always be sought within the social plane in which it has appeared. The social life of man has developed along widely different lines, and widely differing generalizations of value have thus been produced. One might almost say, a priori, that, under favoring conditions of social organization and social interest, the notion of a single supreme being could appear upon a relatively low plane of culture, and, further, that it might eventually disappear, as it arose, through social changes which would render it meaningless. Fortunately, we do find cases where something of this sort seems to have taken place, cases which would otherwise be inexplicable. Hose and MacDougall report certain tribes in the interior of Borneo which seem to have a belief in a supreme being, while the more highly developed coastal tribes are polytheists. These investigators comment as follows : "We are disposed to regard this conception as one that, amid the perpetual flux of opinion and belief which obtains among peoples destitute of written records, may be comparatively rapidly and easily arrived at under favorable conditions, such as seem to be afforded by tribes like the Kenyahs and Kayans, warlike prosperous tribes subordinated to strong chiefs, and may then remain as a vestige only to be discerned by curious research in the minds of a few individuals, as among the Ibans, or [certain tribes of] the Australian blacks, until another turn in For-tune's wheel, perhaps the birth of some overmastering personality or a revival of national and tribal vigor, gives it a new period of life and power."
We have already mentioned the single quasi-deity of the tribes of southeast Australia observed by Howitt. As we have seen, this tribal `All-father' is, in the case of the Euahlayi tribe,' a genuine deity to whom prayers are offered, and who has a certain ethical significance through his relation to the mores of the tribe. This naive monotheism is, however, not indicative of a higher religious development than that possessed by the Central Australians, who have no deistic ideas at all. It means rather that the religious values in the two groups are expressed in different ways, values which are not appreciably higher in one case than in the other. Thus we may say that it is, at least, possible for the notion of a single supreme deity to appear at a relatively low stage of religious development.
The essential elements of a supreme being are, moreover, present in a merely tribal god. He is the symbol of the most dominating values in the tribe's experience. For practical purposes, he is a supreme being because the tribe itself is a limit to the comprehension of further values. Its vision cannot extend beyond itself or its ancestors. The truth of this is well illustrated by the Arunta, who regard it as meaningless or absurd to inquire what happened before the time of the Akheringa, their ancestors. That is, as far as the psychological attitude is concerned, the Alcheringa symbolize the infinitely remote past, the limits of all that is conceivable. To their minds the notion of a beyond is as irrational as the notion of two infinite spaces or two infinitely powerful deities would be to us. It may be regarded as generally true that, for the primitive man, his tribe, together with what affects it for good or ill, is a closed universe beyond which his thought cannot penetrate. Whatever new facts force themselves upon his attention must be related in some way in his universe of thought. Thus some of the Australians thought that the first whites they saw were reincarnations of their own dead, as did also Nassau's West Africans. Whatever the primitive man finds to be friendly to himself he conceives as in some way his kin and hence as a part of his group. Whatever has proved to be unfriendly is such because of the way in which it affects the group, and such an object or person, also, thus finds a place in the groupal horizon. That which does not affect for good or ill lies, of course, outside of the pale of his value-judgments and is for him non-existent.
Thus all the emotional and intellectual elements which go to make up the attitude toward a supreme being are present, or may be present, in the conception of a tribal god. Such a deity may easily completely fill the horizon of his worshippers. He may be psychologically identical with the one infinite God of some of the higher culture religions. It is only intellectually that he may be recognized as not all-powerful, or as one among the gods of other tribes. The tribe being the limit beyond which the valuational attitude cannot extend, we can see how even a henotheistic god may be the equivalent of a monotheistic conception. If for any reason he tribal limits are broken down, the tribal deity may be transformed, quite naturally, into one of a truly monotheistic type, provided the attitudes, of which he is the expression, are stable enough to survive the shock. The concept of a single god is then, as far as religion is concerned, not the outcome of an intellectual development primarily, or a hypothetical being constructed by a process of abstraction and observation of the uniformity of nature.
As for the monotheism of the Hebrews, then, it seems that it is not unique, nor is its development difficult to understand on the basis of a broader knowledge of primitive religion. Semitic scholars of to-day are quite generally agreed that the religion of Yahweh had its rise in the tribal religion of the nomadic Kenites with whom the Israelites came in contact in their wanderings in the peninsula of Sinai.' He was presented to them at a crisis in their national development as their deliverer and leader. The Israelitish leaders apparently entered into a covenant with him that their people should therefore serve him for all time. We know that many Semitic groups had tribal deities, and these were, psychologically, supreme deities, as we have shown above. Thus at the very beginning there were conditions which made for a higher monotheism in the worship of Yahweh.
It will not be profitable here to enter into the details of the inevitable struggle between the cult of Yahweh and those of Israel's earlier deities. This struggle was probably less acute in the nomadic period before the invasion of Canaan, because the interests and needs of the desert found ready expression in the character and ritual of a god of the desert. Here, then, they had a naļve monotheism analogous to that of the primitive tribes mentioned above. At least we may say that in proportion as Yahweh did thus fill their religious horizon, he was, by so much, a single supreme god.
When, however, the Israelites entered Canaan and gradually took up an agricultural life, they naturally recognized the importance of other deities, especially the Baalim of the land, and there is no reason to believe that they regarded the worship of the new gods as inconsistent with their previous greater interest in Yahweh. Probably the worship of Baal was not distinguished by the people from worship of Yahweh. Their mode of life had changed and there came about as a result a weakening of the psychological monotheism of the desert. If it is true that Yahweh was originally a sort of war-god,' the various periods of conquest, first the scattering ones under Joshua and the Judges, and later the organized one of Saul and David, served to keep alive and to stir up the interest in his cult, although it probably did not raise him to where he could fill the whole religious horizon. The agricultural interests were too many and insistent, and these could only be expressed in terms of Baal worship. Yahweh was a god of the mountain, of the desert, and of war, and he could not be available for the exigencies of an agricultural life. Apparently the national disasters, through foreign invasion, which later overtook them served to arouse the old interest in the Yahweh cult, but even then only with a relatively small number, the prophets. That is to say, the disintegration of national life provoked more or less of a reflective attitude in some of the men who were witnesses to it. The tradition of the ancient victories under Yahweh would naturally suggest that his worship, which was little more than coordinate with that of the local gods of Canaan, should be revived; it would suggest that the very cause of these disasters was the neglect of the covenant with the old war-god of the desert, and that the other gods might be, after all, powerless or even non-existent. Certainly as far as mere monotheism was concerned, the prophets had all that was necessary for the construction of such a concept in the traditions of the past and in the social conditions of their present.
When the complete dissolution of their national life came about in the Assyrian and Babylonian captivity, the local deities would, of course, lose all significance for even the masses of the people, and they must have thought, as well, that Yahweh could no longer lay claim to being a real god, since his people had been reduced to such miserable straits. But it is not strange that a few of the more thoughtful should have interpreted this disaster, not in terms of Yahweh's un-reality but in terms of the broken covenant. For such as took this view, he would necessarily emerge, as the one remaining vestige of their religious life, with a character immensely enriched through the fact that he had so sternly punished the breaking of the covenant. As Budde says, the religion of Yahweh was thus detached from the idea of the continued existence and prosperity of the nation. "Israel does not need any more to be an independent people in order to be sure of Yahweh's favor and to enjoy his blessings."
From what we know of the development of the religion of Yahweh, we may infer with Robertson Smith that the mono-theism of the Hebrews was not that of the subjective religious thought of to-day, neither was it the monotheism of meta-physics.' It is by reading modern conceptions back, that the problem of accounting for its development has seemed to some insoluble from a naturalistic point of view. We have pointed out that there is a difference between a psychological and a metaphysical monotheism. That of the Hebrews was largely the former. If and so far as Yahweh filled the mental horizon of the people, or certain ones of them, by giving them victory over their enemies, or leading them through great crises, or if he seemed completely adequate for the needs of any particular period, then, for those persons, or for those times, he was literally the only god. They might speak of the gods of Moab or of Assyria, but the recognition would be only intellectual. As far as they themselves were concerned, Yahweh was the only god. As Robertson Smith says, it was a purely practical question with them. The problem of the metaphysical existence of the other gods did not present itself. Absorbed in conflicts with other nations, they had no interest in the theoretical question as to the relation of these gods to reality. The practical point was that Yahweh proved him-self the stronger. In the terms used earlier in this chapter, he represented to them all that seemed worth while, was the symbol of their highest valuations. This was practical mono-theism, and it is the type in large measure of even later ages.
As for the problem of metaphysical monotheism, we cannot be sure that it presented itself even to the later prophet who declared that the gods of the nations had no existence beyond their imaged forms, that they were simply stocks and stones. Such a statement may have been made simply to emphasize the indefinitely greater reality that the Hebrew god was felt to represent. At any rate, even in New Testament times, and much later, these other deities were admitted to have a spiritual existence, though degraded to the level of demons.
To regard Hebrew monotheism as a metaphysical conception would be to deprive it of a large measure of its unique interest. It is a much simpler process for a speculative philosopher to arrive at such a notion than for a relatively large number of people to gain it as a guiding motif of life. The concept of an absolute unconditioned existence has been readily constructed by many of the philosophers of other religions.
The stand has been well taken by many scholars (e.g. W. R. Smith and Budde) that the point of real interest in the religion of the Hebrews is that of the personal character of Yahweh, and this brings us to a consideration of how the concept of his character developed in the Hebrew mind.
In taking up this question, we must bear in mind that, as psychologists, we are in no wise concerned with the question of whether there is a metaphysical being corresponding to the Hebrew Yahweh. In fact, we must make the inquiry as if there were no such being. We have said that the concept, God, symbolizes in social, and hence tangible terms, certain aspects of the meaning of existence, the worthfulness of human endeavor, whether it be that as understood by the savage, occupied with his fetich object, or that conceived by a civilized man of broad knowledge and deep insight. That life really has deep and abiding values will be admitted by most people. But what they shall be called, or in what terms they shall be described, is largely a matter of indifference, provided they are so conceived that they enter vitally into one's life and conduct. The whole problem is one of practice rather than of nomenclature. If there are values in life beyond barely living the present moment, how can they be brought into living relation with the things which must be done moment by moment ? For most people, the personal method of conceiving them is almost inevitable and is usually the most vital. We saw in the preceding chapter how, on primitive levels of culture, these higher values become associated with personal agency and hence with personal character.
From the point of view here developed, the whole problem of the gradual unfolding of the character of a supreme and all-wise God in human consciousness becomes the problem of the development of human character through struggle with nature, through social intercourse, and especially through reflection upon the conflicts which thus arise. Not all races have been able to reflect in any sustained or fruitful way and it is largely on this account that not all have arrived at higher deistic conceptions. In saying this we do not mean that all deities, high as well as low, are mere copies of the actual every-day characters of their worshippers. To hold that among even the lower races the gods are merely the reflection of the debased characters of the devotees is to fail to recognize that there is a reaching out, projective side to one's experience, as well as a side of realized achievement. We are always conscious of there being more than we are able, at a given time, to bring into actual being. By this we mean no metaphysical something, but merely that experience is projective, that it has a direction of movement as well as a body of accomplished fact. It is this projective aspect of experience which is developed and enriched by reflection. Out of conflict and discrepancy the question is constantly arising in the mind of a reflective man, `Whither do I tend?' This reflective enrichment of experience as a projective process (i.e. a process that is really striving and tending somewhere) reacts upon and interprets and determines present attainment.
Thus, while a god is always a reflection of the character of his worshippers, we must remember that this character is never altogether static, that it has always a something that may be termed its ideal quality. If this is true of even the savage, with his crude gods, we have adequate ground to account for the development of even the loftiest conception of a divine being.
Instead, then, of assuming that a metaphysical being gradually unfolds himself to mankind and little by little brushes away the false gods, we should say that man, through reflection upon the practical problems of life, especially such as grow out of the ethics of custom, has come to deeper and more vital conceptions of values. Now, if a group of people who are developing a reflective type of consciousness are already in possession of an unreflective notion of a deity, in whom, as they are taught by tradition, are embodied the values expressed in customary morality, they will interpret the results of their reflection as new revelations of the character of their god. Thus Budde says of Israel, "Whenever things went badly with the people, it was far from thinking that Yahweh had not power to help. On the contrary, its con-science awaked each time to the questions : ` Wherein have I deserved the displeasure of Yahweh? What must I do to in-sure a renewal of His favor and help ?' Thus arose a really living force, whose operation tended to the ethical develop-ment of Israel's religion." That such questions as these, reflectively raised, should be productive of the highest type of moral growth is unquestionable. There is no reason for assuming that some moral conceptions are so exalted that they cannot have had a natural history.
Thus, we would say that the character of Yahweh was built up rather than progressively revealed, for by such a statement we do account for the practical fact of the evolution of a deity, without becoming involved in the insoluble problem of how an absolutely complete and perfect metaphysical being can possibly ever reveal himself in crude and partial forms, much less have any relation to that which is finite. This view takes nothing from the practical value of God and has, in addition, the advantage of admitting to human experience a genuine and positive value rather than the pseudo or mock values, which are all that a metaphysics of `the absolute' are able to grant it.
The higher ethical conception of Yahweh seems to offer much difficulty to students of the Old Testament. Professor George Adam Smith, who may be taken as representative of a large class, argues that it can be explained only upon the basis of a direct revelation.' His points, as far as they show that a high plane of conscious moral development cannot be the direct outcome of any particular kind of political situation or of any particular kind of mores, have much weight. He fails, how-ever, to recognize the significance of reflection in the develop-ment of moral ideas. On the one side, Israel, in common with kindred tribes and, in fact, with all primitive peoples, had a morality of custom, limited, of course, but by no means of negative value. On the other side, there were the lofty conscious moral concepts of the prophets, regarded by them as having a universal validity. What is the relation, if any, of the one to the other ? G. A. Smith apparently holds that there is a fundamental difference between them such as can only be explained by the hypothesis of a special revelation.
It should be noted, however, that the Hebrew prophets were not unique in attaining to a lofty moral outlook upon life. The Greek philosophers and some of their successors attained to concepts as high, even though they were somewhat different. But the Greeks developed their concepts abstractly into a philosophy of morality, while the prophets were primarily practical religious teachers. Thus their contributions to reflective morality, were always expressed in terms of the national god, Yahweh.' It is not stranger that high-minded men should have appeared in Israel than in Greece, men who pondered upon the events of their times and drew certain conclusions regarding the worth of human life and human endeavor. The cases are not rendered different, as far as the ethical concepts are concerned, because the expression, on the one hand, was in terms of religion, and on the other, in terms of philosophy.
Shall it be maintained that some valuations of life have a natural history while some do not, that the evolution of honesty or of chastity may be traced, but that the notion of social justice, mercy, and love, as expressed in the absolute goodness of God, is so remote from complete realization in the experience of even the best of men that it must therefore have come to men out of all connection with experience, i.e. have been revealed? The assumption that there is such a fundamental difference between ethical values would be paradoxical if it were not so common. It is due in large measure to the method by which the problem is usually approached, or to the unanalyzed presuppositions which prevent a frank facing of the problem upon its own merits. For instance it is assumed that while the nature deity is merely the reflection of the vices of its worshippers, the god of righteousness is not related to any social process, and must first have been intellectually conceived as supremely good and just. But this, it is maintained, could never have been, because there was nothing in experience to furnish the basis for such a concept. This difficulty is altogether a logical one. The separation between finite and infinite goodness or love is not primarily due to an attempt to describe two types of reality. It is merely an expedient by which we emphasize to ourselves the supreme significance of our actual efforts along the line of goodness, which, as far as realization is concerned, generally seem to fall far short of intention. The very tendency to put off in a different sphere our highest valuations is merely an aspect of the valuating process itself, and is no indication of an ultimate difference in metaphysical reality. In the same way we seem best able to satisfy ourselves that this act or this person is of very great significance in our lives by saying that it, or he, is absolutely unique. Such assertions are not usually to be taken as descriptions of reality, but only as attempts to symbolize the worthfnlness which we feel inheres in the object of consideration. The same may be said of the various at-tributes with which the deity is usually clothed.
We hold, then, that the distinguishing characteristic of the religio-ethical ideas of the later Hebrew prophets is that they are the outcome of reflection upon contemporary social mores and traditional religious concepts. The difficulty with such an hypothesis, as over against the theory of revelation, is diminished if we but recognize, as we should, the positive value of this unreflective matrix of religion and customary morality with reference to the later development.' The reflective moralist does not spin a fabric out of thin air. His work is rather to meet the problems and the discrepancies which arise in the practical workings of customary morality, to determine the real worth involved and to reconstruct the situations so that this real worth may be more adequately realized. It will be important, then, for an understanding of the evolution of the higher ethical religions to note some of the specific ways in which positive elements are present in the non-reflective stages of religion. Note first of all that the concept of a deity or deities, as such, is a positive factor in the moral life. It is frequently assumed that the deities of heathendom are non-ethical, reflecting simply the everyday social customs of their worshippers. In a measure this is true, but it is also true that, in so far as social custom, with its inevitable valuations, crystallizes into a deity, that deity does exert a controlling influence of some sort upon his worshippers. Even though the modes of worship and the manner of life associated with him be from every point of view debasing, it is, nevertheless, a prescribed system of conduct. As a matter of fact, the conduct so prescribed is not of necessity debasing. It is well known that the mores of many of the natural races of the present contain much that even the reflective moralist must look upon with admiration. A deity, then, who is really worshipped, is usually connected with the customary morality of his people, and in his character and will is to be found the sanction of these mores. There is no gap between the group with a debasing worship and one which has a high standard of tribal morality and a purer ritual. In both cases there is control of action in some more or less specific direction. The real problem is, then, that of determining the conditions which have given rise to certain ethical concepts and practices rather than the spurious problem of why, at a certain stage in the evolution of religion, there was a transition from low nature gods to a lofty ethical deity who hates evil and oppression and enjoins justice and purity of heart. Even the nature deity hates evil, i.e. is angered with those who do not properly comply with his ritual and the customs associated therewith.
In the same way conscience may be assumed to be present as one of the positive factors of moral progress in the religion of custom as well as in that of reflection. Conscience, on the lowest levels of religion, is psychologically identical with the conscience of higher religions. On the negative side, wherever it is found, it is both the feeling and the intellectual recognition of uneasiness and even of sorrow which arises when one has violated an organized and admittedly valid aspect of himself. The psychical state is the same, whether this violated self be expressed altogether in the form of unreflective social customs or whether it be a subjective construction of the individual himself. In either case it is an instance of the inertia of habit. Boas tells of how an Eskimo refused to kill his aged mother at the beginning of a hard winter, an act dictated and approved by the mores of the tribes. His final action may be said to have been the resultant of a conflict between that part of himself expressed in tribal custom and that organized into parental love. In so far as the first of these aspects of himself was uppermost, he no doubt felt real qualms of conscience in refusing to kill his mother. In even the most highly developed religious types of the culture races, matters of conscience are largely matters of social custom.
The positive significance for higher religion of the content of the primitive religious consciousness is apparent in all the prophetic writings of the Hebrews. All such concepts as those of sin, holiness, faithfulness to Yahweh, have definite antecedents in the primitive Semitic social life. Take, for example, the notion of sin. It has frequently been urged that paganism and ethical monotheism here differ fundamentally. Among the primitive Semites, as with most natural races, a sin is a "blunder or dereliction, and the word is associated with others that indicate error, folly, or want of skill and insight." 1 In other words, it is definitely associated with the proper observance of social customs, and with due precautions in dealing with all persons, objects, and places suspected of being surcharged with mystic power. It is recognized that a person may unwittingly break a regulation of custom or that he may, as in the case of Uzzah, instinctively or without pre-meditation put forth his hand and receive a deadly shock from a sacred object. Sin, as thus conceived, does not necessarily involve an offence against God, nor does it involve any reference to the conscience or to the intent of the sinner. Perhaps the conception of sin as merely a misfortune, held by the primitive Semites of to-day,' is fairly representative of the earliest form in which the idea of sin appears. But sin as unintentional infraction, and hence as misfortune, is not intrinsically different from moral guilt. The difference may be expressed in terms of the personality or self involved in the two types. On the one hand, the self is objective, and its organization is identical with the organization of the mores of the group. The self of each individual in the group is so completely expressed by the customs which obtain that none can conceive of himself as acting otherwise than in conformity to these customs, unless it be unwittingly. On the other hand, if a member of such a primitive group experiences a development of personality which does not find adequate expression in the faithful observance of social custom, he will become correspondingly able to conceive of him-self as voluntarily acting along lines other than those laid down by custom. An infraction of the mores of his group will no longer be regarded as accidental, but as an incident to the attainment of some private aim. In proportion as the morality of custom is still regarded with respect, or as some-thing which has yet an important place in his life, he will then experience real moral guilt in following out his individual purpose. If abstract moral law or divine commands take the place of the law of custom, we have a relatively subjective self substituted for the objective one above considered. Here, again, there may be such complete identification of the self with the divine will that sin can be conceived only as accidental, or as a blunder. Here, also, moral guilt will be possible when the person begins to realize that he has real desires which lie counter to the divine will. The conception of sin as moral guilt is then one of the aspects of the differentiation of the self, and it may obtain in primitive as well as in ethical religions. The sense of sin, as it appeared in the prophets, was not different in kind, but only in degree, from that which might at any time have appeared in the popular religious consciousness of the times.
Nor was the conception of the holiness of Yahweh unrelated to the popular religion of Israel. As Robertson Smith points out, it probably first appeared in connection with certain localities which, for various reasons, were regarded with dread or circumspection, that is, as the seat of some mysterious power. At a later time these sacred or holy places were regarded as the abodes of various spirits or deities. The fear or awe due to Yahweh as a holy god was thus but an extension of a concept quite familiar to all Semitic peoples.
The relation of Yahweh to Israel is worked out by the prophets very largely in the familiar terms of the relation of father to son, or of husband to wife. The notions of marital and filial fidelity must have had some place in the ordinary thought and conscience of the times, or the figure of the prophets could not have been understood by the hearers. As Barton points out,' the family relation occupied a most important place in primitive Semitic society. The relation of the people to its gods was frequently expressed, now in forms of fatherhood, now in terms of the matrimonial relation.'
The conception of the justness of Yahweh seems to be related to the covenant idea. He had delivered Israel from Egypt and had brought them to a new land, in return for which service they agreed henceforth to serve him. The covenant with Yahweh was entirely analogous to those covenants common in ordinary social life. If the covenant is broken by one party, the other may, in all justice, be angered, and seek reparation. Thus the national misfortunes of Israel can easily be interpreted as evidences, not of Yahweh's weakness, but of his just wrath at the broken covenant. Faith-fulness to Yahweh as the sole condition of prosperity was the fundamental message of the prophets. In what this faithfulness consists is naturally regarded differently by different ages, "according to the different tasks and dangers which each brings with it," 1 and thus the reflective religious teachers of each age contributed something to the development of the character of the national god. Thus, we contend, his personality, by which he was distinguishable from other gods, was little by little built up, instead of being progressively revealed as a preėxisting and completed metaphysical substance.
If we were to follow out this inquiry, we should find that every distinguishing quality of the ethical conception of Yahweh as taught by the prophets is rooted in the framework of concepts and appreciations which had grown up in the social and religious life of primitive Israel. Neither on the side of mere monotheism nor of ethical character is there any psychological break. The transformation of the fluent psychological monotheism of popular religion into an absolute type, and the generalization of the moral values of experience and the statement of them in terms of the character of one deity is not a procedure unique in the history of reflective thought, although it may in this case have been carried further and have had more definite and practical consequences.
But why, it may be asked, did not a similar development occur among other Semitic peoples? Even though we should be unable to give satisfactory reasons for this, it does not follow that we must deny to later Israelitish religion a thoroughgoing natural history.' We do not know completely the `why' of any of the complex variations in plant and animal life, much less those which human life presents. 'Why did the Chinese develop their peculiar ethical system rather than some more fruitful type such as that worked out by the Greeks? What is the natural history of Socrates or of Plato, of Roman as over against Greek religion? In none of these cases can anything approaching a complete answer be given. In all our science, we must rest eventually upon the principle that our universe is one in which variation rather than uniformity is the rule, and further, that, if the antecedent conditions of some simpler variations seem to be more or less open to us, there is no reason for holding that the more striking variations must be put off by themselves in a separate universe. The difference between the religion of the Hebrew prophets and that of kindred Semitic peoples is simply the difference that everywhere presents itself in both animal life and in human society where related forms vary in diverse ways.
It is perhaps not necessary to say, in conclusion, that the value of the ethical monotheism of the Hebrews is not impugned by the attempt to work out its natural history. The question as to whether these concepts were valid or not can be answered only by reference to their influence upon the conduct of life, both in the time of the prophets and later.