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Religion And Morals - The Australians Part 1

( Originally Published 1910 )

IT would be suggestive in many ways to take up the problem of the relation of religion to morals from the view-point presented in the studies which have preceded. We shall, how-ever, discuss here only one small phase of it, illustrating the point in some detail from the moral status of one primitive race, the aborigines of Australia.

Our view of the religious consciousness, as built up through social custom and enriched through social intercourse, suggests a relationship between religion and morality that has not been sufficiently recognized in many treatments of the subject. Morality, as its etymology suggests, refers also to the customary, and on this ground we may argue with much assurance for the view that primitive morals and primitive religion are but two sides of the same thing. In every social body it is desirable, and in fact necessary to its very continuance as such, that men should observe certain rules of conduct. "That men do, however imperfectly, conform to such rules .... is the extraordinary and almost miraculous result of habit and prejudice." Religion, as a differentiated aspect of custom, has always been associated with conduct of one kind or another. It has not chosen habit as its ally, nor put itself behind a bulwark of emotional prejudice. In a broad, and not necessarily derogative sense, religion is these things. Certain habits of conduct are not, to start with, maintained by religion; they are rather religion in its most fundamental sense. Through them, as we have seen, religious valuations and the religious consciousness itself have been built up. This is the ground both of the power of religion over conduct and of the conservatism of religion. As long as society is more or less stationary, the type of conduct enjoined by religion is usually identical with that demanded by the moral consciousness. But in social bodies which have rapidly differentiated, the requirements of religion often fall far below the current social needs. It is not, however, our purpose to enter into the problem of why religion and morals may thus become dissociated, nor to trace all the subtle interconnections which persist even where there is more or less of a rupture between them. We wish, rather, to show that in primitive custom, the basis of the religious consciousness, there is a positive moral worth which may furnish the raw material for higher conceptions of conduct, and which have much significance for the natural history of morals as well as of religion.

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