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Religion - The Consciousness Of Value

( Originally Published 1910 )

IN the preceding chapter the religious attitude was said to be a special development of the valuating type of consciousness. If such is the case, it is evident that some preliminary inquiry into the origin and development of the value-consciousness, in general, should accompany a study of religious origins.

The appreciative or valuating attitude of mind may, with some justice, be held to be a relatively primary form of conscious process. The world does not present itself first of all to us as a mass of objective facts, with little or no relation to ourselves and the things we may be striving to do. It is rather as a world of values and interests that it is first apprehended; the world of cold fact is an abstraction from this earlier and more primitive aspect of things and events. That is to say, what we call, for want of a better term, the appreciative attitude is directly connected with man's active relation to his environment, both physical and social. The values which we recognize, the appreciations which we feel, are built up in us by the way we take hold of our world and deal with it. The things that interest us, the acts that we approve or disapprove, the ends, or goals, of action such as we come to regard as worth while, find their way into our conscious experience because we are most of the time striving to do something. It is in this way that they establish their relationship to us. At some later time these objects, acts, and ideals may become so familiar that they may be cognized, relatively at least, independently of our purposes or doings.

The world for most of us, then, whether we are civilized adults, children, or primitive savages, is a body of more or less organized interests and values, which has grown up and acquired definite form out of the instinctive and impulsive substrate of our conscious life. The method by which these attitudes of interest and appreciation have developed from this substratum of activity, and the place of these activities in rendering valuations permanent, form a problem which requires further inquiry and illustration.

We have said that acts of some sort precede a consciousness of value in a given direction, and that these acts are, to start with, mere instinctive and impulsive movements. These movements, in and of themselves, involve little or no consciousness, and a person whose behavior rests exclusively upon this plane can hardly be said to be interested in what he is doing nor to valuate or appreciate the things with which he may come in contact. What he does, he does unconsciously or with a low degree of consciousness. From this simplest type of behavior there are all gradations of removal. At the lower extreme, the stimulus of the moment gains its immediate and direct response; at the other extreme, the response to the stimulus is long deferred, and many inter-mediate acts are performed before the end can be realized. This delay in reaching the end and the consequent appearance of various preliminary activities are the elementary conditions which make a consciousness of value possible.

The mere partaking of the utilities of life, the use of clothing and shelter, of fire and weapons, whether by individuals or by social groups, does not insure the presence of such a consciousness. In a very general sense, of course, it is true that everything which attracts attention may be the subject of a value-judgment; such things may excite desire or aversion, may be felt to be either good or bad. But, we repeat, it is only as the individual begins to organize him-self about these objects of attention, only as they become the focus of his habits, can their full significance become explicit for him. The mere inability to attain immediately a wished-for goal tends to isolate it in a peculiar way and bring it to the focus of attention. The steps necessary to the attainment also tend to stand out and are recognized as having value with reference to the desired end. The fundamental point, however, is that the greater the number of things which a person does with reference to an object of attention, the more completely the significance of that object develops for him. This is true whether the acts are organically related to the object, or whether they are connected with it by mere chance association.

Let us try to determine the main conditions under which activity develops from the primitive unconscious type into all the manifold forms which prevail even in savage society. The general situation is thus described by Dewey : " With civilized man all sorts of intermediate terms come in between the stimulus and the overt act, and between the overt act and the final satisfaction. Man no longer defines his end to be the final satisfaction of hunger as such. It is so complicated and loaded with all kinds of technical activities, associations, deliberations, and social divisions of labor, that conscious attention and interest are in the process and its content. Even in the crudest agriculture, means are developed to the point where they demand attention on their own account, and control the formation and use of habits to such an extent that they are the central interests, while the food process and enjoyment as such is incidental and occasional.

The connection between primitive religious practices and these complications of direct action which cluster about the economic utilities of life has often been indicated. Thus W. R. Smith and G. A. Barton have shown rather fully that many of the rituals and practices of the primitive Semites were the development of food activities centring about the care of flocks and the culture of the date palm. Other primitive religions abound in illustrations of the same sort' The significance of these facts has, however, never been fully pointed out. It is not merely true that many religious practices take their form and content from the economic problems of a people, or, to state the matter more generally, from the situations of every kind which attract their attention; we may even say that the very religious values have thus arisen and developed. In other words, the religious consciousness itself is organically related to the development of intermediate adjustments between the stimulus to activity and the end toward which it is directed. To the question of how these have arisen we shall now turn our attention.

It may seem that it is almost impossible to discover any order or method in the differentiation of simple reactions into the complicated forms of activity characteristic of all human society, whatever the stage of culture. Perhaps the most general cause of change from the simple to the complex has been the necessity of adapting means to ends. If we take this in a broad sense, it will cover a great many types of differentiation. However, there are always operative other methods of differentiation of a simpler character, which are also capable of producing important psychical results.' Thus it is possible that a large number of the complicated customs of both civilized and savage (more especially of the latter), have accumulated entirely unconsciously and may be said to be analogous to the variations which appear in physical organisms from generation to generation. Just as variations of this kind are preserved through physical heredity, in like manner slight and unconscious changes in human action may accumulate and be transmitted by imitation and social heredity. An individual or a group of individuals, more or less by chance, may do something in a different or partially different way, and it is possible that this variation may be preserved in the group without any very definite thought about it. The facts revealed by the psychology of unconscious suggestion seem to make this entirely possible. In many cases, the direct reactions of the life-process have been centres for the accumulation of the merest chance associations. Thus, a purely accidental thing, done during a hunt, might be repeated through unconscious suggestion. Moreover, if the hunt were successful, this particular act might be regarded as one of the causes of the success, so that its recurrence through habit would be reënforced by various emotional states and by the conception of the relation of means and end. Other individuals, another tribe, or the next generation, might take it up simply as the way a particular thing should be done. This is perhaps the simplest way that primitive types of reaction could become complicated. The development of memory, of the capacity to imitate, and of a nervous system liable to become fixed in habitual modes of reaction would almost inevitably result in just such a semi-mechanical accumulation of customs about the more direct activities of life. The importance of this type of variation for human progress is not at first obvious, and yet it is in accord with the course of human events as recorded by history. Thus Thomas says: "It is a notorious fact that the course of human history has been largely without prevision or direction. Things have drifted and forces have arisen. Under these conditions an unusual incident — the emergence of a great mind, or a forcible personality, or the operation of influences as subtle as those which determine fashions in dress — may establish social habits and copies which will give a distinct character to the modes of attention and the mental life of a group."

Some of the customs of the Malays may be used to illustrate the discussion which precedes and that which is to follow. They are the remnants of primitive Malay life and modes of thought which have persisted merely as customs through several overlying alien religions. We shall look at them, not as examples of religion or of magic, though they are susceptible of examination from these points of view, but simply as types of inter-mediate activities. The fishing, hunting, and mining taboos seem to be good illustrations of this simplest class. For instance, when a man is engaged in these pursuits, he may use only certain words, or he must abstain from the use of other words. Certain articles, such as umbrellas, boots, and sarongs (Malay coats), must not be worn or taken to the fishing stakes.' Similar taboos affect the mining of tin, and there are such additional prohibitions as these : raw cotton must not be brought into a mine in any shape, black coats must not be worn; so also the gourds used by the Malays as water vessels, all sorts of earthenware, glass, limes, lemons, and the outer husk of the cocoanut, are prohibited articles.' Scores of similar taboos and restrictions, affecting almost every de-tail of the life of these people, are mentioned by Skeat.

While it would be presumptuous to class them all dogmatically under the same heading, one can hardly doubt that, among the almost inconceivably large number of such regulations found among all the natural races, if not also among ourselves, many must have arisen without any prevision and have been perpetuated through association. Man is a variable quantity even without his intellect, and it is thus more than probable that innumerable variations in procedure will occur in any simple activity, and that many of these will be preserved through the influence of habit. In the cases referred to it may be that the people who first worked the mines did not use or know of the articles mentioned above. When at a later time another group of people tried its hand at mining, it probably imitated in every detail the life of its successful predecessors. (Just as imitations of the personal habits of the successful Japanese were popular in America during the war with Russia.) Or, it may be, a party of miners would be successful when it chanced not to have these articles. Such a coincidence would alone be sufficient to start a custom of the sort we have mentioned.

The great amount of detail in the habits which thus cluster about a simple economic activity can be best appreciated by the citing of one case in some detail. The wild pigeon among the Malays is properly snared as follows :1 First a conical hut of certain dimensions is built in a carefully selected spot in the jungle. It must be built strong, for the hunter may be visited by a tiger. "In front of the hut, that is to say, on the side away from the door, if you want to proceed in the orthodox way, you will have to clear a small rectangular space, and put up round it on three sides a low railing consisting of a single bar about eighteen inches from the ground. This is to rail off what is called `King Solomon's Palace-yard,' and will also be useful from a practical point of view, as it will serve as a perch for your decoy. " Next the active influence of evil spirits must be neutralized by a rice ceremony, . . . "first in the centre of the enclosed space, and then in each corner successively, beating each of the forked sticks at the corners with a bunch of leaves. The decoy tube is then taken and an appropriate charm recited, after which is sounded a long-drawn note in each corner, the mouth end is inserted in the hut through a hole in the thatch, while the heavy outer end is supported upon a forked upright stick. Then follows the placing of the decoy bird and the snaring of the wild birds as they alight in the enclosure."

The following charms are used (specimens) : —

"When about to start to decoy the pigeons, say:

It is not I who am setting out,
It is 'Toh Bujang Sibor (the solitary scooper) who is setting out.

Then sound the decoy tube thrice loudly, and say:

I pray that they may come in procession, come in succession, To enter into this bundle of ours."

On reaching the hut, another charm may be repeated, or one may " take the (leaves of) a branch of a tree as high as one's head, also from one which is as high as the waist, the same from one as high as the knee, and the same from a tree as high as the ankle joint. These are to be made into a bunch and used to flick the outside of the hut while saying these lines : —

`Dok Ding (stands for the) 'Do'ding Pigeon,
Which makes three with the Madukara Pigeon,
The twig breaks, the twig is pressed down,
And our immemorial customs are restored."

There are other charms to speak when scattering the rice, when sprinkling the rice paste, when sounding the call in the midst of the enclosure, when about to enter the hut, when the hunter has entered, but before he has seated himself, when he is about to sound the decoy tube, and so on, ad infinitum.

Some of the details of this process are clearly practical, as that the hut should be used before the leaves are withered, since it is of course less suspicious if fresh. So with the decoy bird. Some of the arrangements are meant to be practical, but from our point of view they are entirely aside from any such use; for example, the various charms used are thought to deceive the birds and to induce them to enter the trap. Others of the details, for example, the shape of the hut and the specifications for the enclosure without, may be simply the perpetuation of the chance ways in which the pigeons were first hunted, but now they are regarded as absolutely essential to success in the hunt.

The mere performance of these endless details serves to intensify the suspense, which naturally precedes the attainment of the goal, and serves to render the goal of more striking importance. Do we not all feel that that which we have obtained through a long succession of preliminary acts is somehow worth more than what comes more immediately and with less effort? We hold, then, in general, that on the psychical side the outcome of these almost mechanical developments of simple life-processes would be an appearance of a more pronounced valuation of them. Even if this were not the case, the presence of these clustering habits would furnish a basis for a very definite value-consciousness in case the opportunity to satisfy the impulse or to reach the goal were temporarily or permanently removed. It is probable that the resulting sense of the worth of the goal would be in direct proportion to the number of habits organized about its attainment.

Another way in which intermediate activities arise is through the conscious and hence definite attempt of individuals to secure more complete satisfaction of impulses, or a better attainment of some purpose. The development of the higher mental processes makes it possible for man to attempt new adjustments when the instinctive responses do not bring their accustomed satisfaction. Problematic situations may be reflected upon and various devices brought to bear for the attainment of results which, for the time being, are uncertain. In other cases, the aim of the adjustments will be to make more certain the satisfactions which experience proves may sometimes fail one. This capacity to reflect and to adjust means to ends is of course the basis of all invention and progress. It is to be noted, however, that the first attempts to meet the needs of a practical difficulty are necessarily extremely crude. It is more than likely that the real reason for the failure of an act to attain its satisfaction would not be correctly estimated by the primitive mind; indeed, the modern mind by no means always sees such things correctly. Hence the means selected to meet the difficulty are often, in our eyes, irrelevant to the matter in hand and, at best, somewhat roundabout. But whatever their value, they are, nevertheless, intermediate adjustments. They may take the form of tricks, of attempts to propitiate spirits such as prayers, sacrifices, and all sorts of complicated but useless ceremonials. The illustration given above of the snaring of the wild pigeon contains many in-stances of acts which have originated in this way. As it is impossible to be sure that any particular act is entirely representative of this or that type of differentiation, we had best rest with the simple hypothesis that in various ways activity tends inevitably to become complex. Further illustrations will, therefore, be deferred for the present.

We have shown that activity may become complicated, first, by chance associations, and second, by efforts to adjust means to ends. There is still a third way which is also dependent upon association. Thus, if a desired object is for the time being unattainable, the very fact of its postponement will bring it the more vividly to consciousness. If, then, anything is present, in some degree associated with the end, it also tends to become an object of attention, and upon it the pent-up impulse to act may find a vent. Thus, if a man desires to kill an enemy, and cannot at the moment find opportunity, he may vent himself on something belonging to the enemy, or he might even find a satisfaction in perpetrating on a crude image what he wishes to do eventually to the enemy himself. It may be said, in general, that when the satisfaction is in any way delayed, the inhibited impulse tends to find expression in many acts associated with the final act, or suggested by it. Such types of reaction appear strikingly in sympathetic magic, although they are common to a far wider circle of activities. Such subsidiary acts, while not causally connected with the primary object of attention, serve the apparently important purpose of suggesting it, keeping it in mind, and standing for it emotionally. Acts thus associated with an object and sharing its emotional values are easily regarded as having some actual connection with it, and hence may be taken as a part of the means of attaining that object, or even as a substitute for it. In this way all sorts of acts, imitative of the reality, originate and develop. The taking of the sacraments and baptism in the Christian churches is an excellent illustration. The Australian custom of seeking to bring injury to enemies by pointing charmed sticks at them is doubtless of the same category. The enemy is not attacked directly, but in this reduced and imitative way. Such a method of attack is devoid of the danger of a direct encounter, but has more of its emotional values. It probably originated in a rehearsal of the combat, when for any reason that combat was delayed, and since it was found to have the same or greater emotional results, it was conceived to have the same external effects as the actual combat.

The rehearsal of a prospective fight is an actual fact among primitive peoples,' and the cause of such a procedure must, first of all, be due to the tendency of the pent-up impulse to find expression in some associated or similar activity. The association in thought and the emotional similarity are all that are required to lead to the belief that they are genuinely connected in the external world.

There are naturally many variations of this type of action, but in every case they seem to depend for their significance upon associations first brought to consciousness by the necessity of deferring response to the original stimulus. The following illustrations will serve to render the point still clearer. On the west coast of Africa the negroes, "in passing through a country where leopards and lions abound, carefully pro-vide themselves with the claws, teeth, lips, and whiskers of those animals, and hang them around their necks to secure themselves against being attacked." I Here the anticipation of the conflict is manifestly the controlling factor in the determination of this supplementary act. In the following complicated fishing ceremony from West Africa, we may discern various types of intermediate acts, but those last described are certainly predominant. A concoction is first prepared, the ingredients of which have been collected with the greatest care. After this a number of different things, all of which involve much emotional stress, are to be done. Thus, "while the mess is boiling, (you must) sit by, face over the pot, in the steam rising from it, and speak into the pot, `Let me catch fish every day ! every day ! No people are to be present or to see any of these proceedings. Take the pot off the fire, not with your hands but by your feet, and set it on the ground." After the fisherman has eaten, he calls a dog to finish the refuse. "As the dog begins to eat, strike it sharply, and as the animal runs away howling, say, `So, may I strike the fish ! Then kick the pot over. . . . Leave the pot lying as it is until night; then, unseen, take it into the village street, and violently dash it to pieces on the ground, saying, `So may I kill fish !' It is expected that the villagers shall not hear the sound of the breaking of the vessel, for it must be done only when they are believed to be asleep." The performance of these somewhat difficult things in entire secrecy inevitably involves the doer in an emotional strain which intensifies his appreciation of the final act of fishing itself. Much of this ceremony seems to reflect dimly a rehearsal of the conflict, that is, it is a series of acts which arose in the first place as an outlet for a checked direct activity. The result was a series of emotional states which were associated with the ultimate practical act, and came to stand for it in consciousness. They represent to the performer the significance, or the value, of that act.

One or two more illustrations from the Malays may yet be given. Deer-catching is one of the Malay's most delightful pastimes. When the deer have been tracked to their hiding-place, "all the young men of the village assemble, and the following ceremony is performed before they sally out on the expedition. Six or eight coils of rattan rope, about an inch in diameter, are placed on a triangle formed with three rice-pounders, and the oldest in the company, usually an experienced sportsman, places a cocoanut shell filled with burning incense in the centre, and taking the sprigs of three [particular] bushes he walks mysteriously around the coils, beating them with the sprigs, and erewhile muttering some gibberish... . During this ceremony the youths of the village look on with becoming gravity and admiration. It is believed that the absence of this ceremony would render the expedition unsuccessful; the deer would prove too strong for the ropes, and the wood demons frustrate their sport by placing insurmountable obstacles in their way." Here, again, the rehearsal of the combat has developed into a ceremony, a series of intermediate acts, which serve to heighten the hunters' consciousness of the values in the sport. There are present the feelings of suspense, the exacting preparations for the ceremony, the subordination of the young men to an older one, the mysterious and unintelligible performances, — all of which tend to make the deer-catch a matter of some moment, that is, a valuated act.

In our account of the development of custom, we must not omit the influence of the play impulse as manifested both in the workings of idle fancy and in various physical movements. On no plane of culture, whether civilized or savage, can all acts be prompted solely by serious ends. In the case of the majority of people there must be times of relaxation when impulse spontaneously overflows, sometimes in physical movements and sometimes in creations of the fancy. The universality of play is the best evidence that we are fundamentally active creatures, the best evidence that our ideas, purposes, values, appreciations are constructions from this exuberance of instinctive and impulsive modes of behavior. The play-impulse accounts for much of the complication of primitive custom, and it also contributes largely to the development and perpetuation of many customs having a serious origin. Initiation rites, marriage customs, dances, festivals, and religious ceremonies furnish abundant illustration of this fact. Thus, to take a single illustration, dances at the time of the full moon may outwardly have some religious or magical significance, but, in their beginnings, they may have been quite natural overflowings of animal spirits in mere play. Such dancing, among the Bushmen, according to Stow,' is clearly play, stimulated by the almost daylight brightness of the warm South African nights. This suggests that ritualistic dances among other peoples may have been originally a manifestation of mere playfulness. The element of play in the religion of the early Hebrews is brought out clearly in many of the denunciations of the prophets. In the case of primitive religious ceremonies, it is naturally impossible to tell just what has originated in pure sportiveness and what points back to some serious purpose. Without doubt, how-ever, playfulness has exerted an influence, even if it is not a determinable quantity. Many peculiar aspects of primitive custom, which have puzzled anthropologists, and to which they have brought far-fetched interpretations, can no doubt be explained in this way.

But the chief point here is that the play impulse is instrumental both in the origin and the continuance of many customs and ceremonials. In this impulse we may therefore find, in part, the antecedents of the general valuating consciousness.

It is not our purpose here to do more than illustrate the way in which the direct activities of the life-process have tended to differentiate about centres of attention, and to suggest that this development, on the active side, seems to mediate a more pronounced conscious valuation of the original act or thing. These preliminary activities of necessity come more vividly to consciousness than do the simpler reactions. There is no need for a conscious process as long as the response accomplishes its purpose without friction. But when there is friction, there is also reflection over the resources and an attempt to estimate their worth with reference to the desired end. By the interruption of the direct act, its goal is realized for the first time as of vital importance, and the means used to attain it gain a corresponding emotional value. In so far as they are recognized as related to an important end, they receive its valuation. It is important to note that only as these preliminary or mediating activities arise is the value of the end realized. They serve in a way to analyze the end, to bring to consciousness its implications. Hence it can be said that the value of the end is first completely realized when it is analyzed out into a set of preliminary acts through which it can be ideally represented. The valuated end does not, then, first exist and reflect its worthfulness upon the means. The means are rather vital elements in the very production of the value.

It will be seen that the illustrations given are of acts which would hardly be called religious. They are merely complications of the simple life-activities, and it was noted that they served to mediate valuational states of consciousness. Religious practices, as we shall see, are of the same species as these here discussed, their distinguishing trait being that they possess a higher development of the valuational accompaniment.

Summarizing the discussion up to this point, we may say that the consciousness of value seems to be closely associated with, if not conditioned by, the development of active processes. Among these are included all complications of activity, whether due to chance variations, accumulated mechanically, or to conscious adaptations to situations of stress or conflict. It is natural that these latter should be most productive of intermediate types of action because of the great demand they make upon the instinctive and impulsive nature. Moreover, the wide variety of situations of conflict and struggle which mankind as a whole has had to face has served to develop the valuational consciousness on the broadest lines.

Among some peoples the obtaining of food is nearly always preceded by the hunt, which is a prolific source of value attitudes. If the supply of food is quite precarious and uncertain, as with the Central Australians or the primitive Semites, on account of the barrenness of the countries, the conflicts will not always be with animals, but with adverse natural conditions, such as lack of water and vegetation. Among other races the food problem is hardly present, as in the case of the negroes of the west coast of Africa, described by Ellis. Hence among them we find the objects of attention and conflict are the forces of nature, disease, dangerous rivers, lakes, marshes, the sea, the great tropical trees from which dead branches may fall, or which may fall themselves without warning upon the unwary black passing beneath. All these are serious objects of attention to the native, as is proved by his attempts to adjust himself to them. His gods are personifications of the values these situations have for him. A god of fertility would have no meaning for him, because he has not come to consciousness of the significance of fertility. A deep pool of water, however, in which a man has been drowned, a dark ravine, or a gloomy recess in the forest are all objects to him of respectful attention, because in connection with them he finds that this direct, spontaneous activity is inhibited, and that he is under the necessity of conducting himself with circumspection.

The accumulation of mediating activities about striking places and objects is one of the first steps in the development of the concept of sacred places and sacred objects. The Hudson Bay Eskimo salute dangerous rocks or capes on passing them. In this act we have a simple modification of activity, scarcely religious, and yet easily capable of becoming such, when the place toward which it is directed would become a sacred locality. The sacred places of the Central Australians are the secret repositories of their Churinga, or sacred objects, and we can scarcely doubt that their awe of these places is enhanced if not created by the ceremonies clustering about them, and that the ceremonies themselves are developments, in the ways suggested above, from some simple activities of the life-process.

If what we have to deal with were mere unconscious habit, there would seem to be small chance for the appearance of an attitude of consciousness as refined as the sense of value. But it should be noted that habits are not of necessity unconscious. The habits of adjustment developed by acute or problematic situations may have quite definite conscious accompaniments. Even if consciousness lapses, the physical adjustments form a continuous background from which it is possible for the conscious states to be easily reëxcited. It should also be borne in mind that these activities furnish an avenue for social intercourse and social expression in a way that less habitual activities do not. In this way they be-come the basis of many emotional values which have little or no connection with the original object of the acts. In other words, the mediating activities themselves may become the objects of a valuating consciousness, their original meaning being either lost or never known. Thus, as Nassau tells us, the negroes of West Africa often attend the tribal ceremonies purely for the sake of the excitement, having no knowledge whatever of the meaning of the performances. So also with the Mountain Chant of the Navaho, the ceremonies of which are ostensibly for the curing of the diseased, although the Indians really meet that they may have a jolly social time together.

In many cases the mere isolation of the overt act serves to enhance its emotional accompaniment. In this way it may occur that the value attitudes developed on lower planes of culture are generalized and given an objective significance in accord with the more advanced state of culture. It was thus that the prophets of Israel generalized their deeper religious conceptions from the primitive conceptions of worth inherited from the early Semitic peoples.

We have thus far been concerned simply to show the connection of the value-consciousness with the overt expressions of the life-process. The next problem, that of the first steps in the development of the religious attitude, is chiefly that of determining the sorts of situations which tend to intensify the sense of worth and render it of more than transient duration.



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