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Evolution Of Religion

( Originally Published Early 1900's )

In the works devoted exclusively to either Science or Philosophy we find many passing criticisms similar to the following:

"The true domain of religion is the unknown. In any age or race the materials of religious belief are unexplained phenomena. The philosopher has long observed that in proportion as knowledge, science and intelligence spread among men, the strong religious spirit disappears. Some have argued that this tendency must eventually eradicate the religious sentiment from mankind since already many of the truly greatest and best men have nearly or quite renounced all attachment for, or belief in, any religious system." (pp. 197, 196 Dynamics of Sociology, published 1883.)

It is more pleasant to quote from a later work of the same author :

"Religion is reason applied to life. Those who flippantly contend that a religious condition argues feeble intellectual powers make an immense mistake. Religion has its very origin in reason. It is the product of thought; an attempt to explain the universe. In this, its primary quality, it does not differ in the least from Science and no true philosopher can doubt that these two great human movements, starting out from the same base, will eventually arrive at the same goal." (pp. 27, 28, Outlines of Sociology, published 1897.)

The above quotations prove Evolution and also Bacon's statement that "A little philosophy inclineth man's mind to atheism, but depth in philosophy bringeth men's minds about to religion."

Religion has passed through a process of gradual development similar to that of Science. Some religious people have evolved to higher planes as rapidly as some Scientists. To one who is equally versed in both, Religion and Science seem to be about on a par in development. Their status in any section indicate the capacity and intelligence of the people of that section.

It is just as unfair to judge of Religion by its development among primitive or ignorant people as it would be to judge Science by its development in the same localities. Herbert Spencer collated considerable data from observations among savage tribes which has sociological value but which does not concern the religious life today among the highest intelligences. Primitive people were, no doubt, swayed by fear of evil spirits and they revered their dead ancestors; but no theory of ghosts will account for the genuine desire to be pure in heart and upright in life.

One cannot judge of the development of Science by the noise in a boiler shop, though the workmen may be proceeding on scientific principles. Neither can one judge of Religion by the noise enjoyed in the gathering of some religionists, though they may be developing in the best way they know. Science and Religion should each be judged by its highest development.

The foreign onlooker of some assembly, the observer of some rite or ceremony, may be entirely incapable of comprehending the intentions, the emotions, the worship, the meaning of the people engaged therein. The critic might find other critics among the sect who would be far more intelligent and discerning in their judgments. There is certainly present there the universal evolutionary impulse which is the real power of healthful progress. Pressure from the environment of higher interpretations, of greater intelligence, has undoubtedly aided in many cases. Nevertheless, the inward impulse is the only hope of genuine reform or radical transformation.

The historical method of criticism has great value; but it can never penetrate the heart of man like fellow-feeling, that ability which is possessed by one who has passed through the same stage of experience in some degree. The wisest among men are those who know and can reach the heart of a child, a savage, or a fanatic. Sympathy will open hearts and assist knowledge to be assimilated.

The critic who is tolerant where he should be reverent is, of course, giving an exhibition of ignorance and making a sad mistake. It may be innocent and natural ignorance, but it is due to assumed superiority or to lack of insight or to a lack of appreciation of something worthy of a higher attitude than mere tolerance. People frequently "tolerate" what is far above them.. "A little learning is a dangerous thing."

The critic who perceives qualities above his own degree of culture or development would seem to have sufficient cause for taking the attitude of respect, reverence, or worship, or perhaps all three. If these emotions or attitudes of soul are aroused in us at the cognition of something in humanity only slightly removed from our own degree of development, surely a truly intelligent being will perceive enough of grandeur in the universe and in the potentialities of the Soul to become religious in the true sense. Great Souls and great Truths are alike potential in inspiring reverence.

The old and lifeless idea that a formulated creed is necessary to please Deity, and its adoption essential to His acceptance of human service, is giving place to healthful devotion to Truth wherever found. The belief or creed which is adopted to allay fears or to soothe the conscience does not constitute true Religion. Religion is rather the attitude, relation and conduct which a true, sincere nature is compelled to adopt because of clear perception of facts, truths, principles, and laws.

Where does the element of "Faith" find its proper place? A man has Faith in his wife, his brother, his friend. Why? Because he knows them. Or, he may have no Faith in them. Why? For the same reason; because he knows them. Se Faith and Unbelief are both based upon knowledge. Now the question arises, is Faith ever exercised in relations where we know absolutely nothing ? I think not. I think that Credulity is frequently mistaken for Faith. Some knowledge derived from personal experience must precede Faith. This personal experience may be that of another person in whom we have confidence. Faith is based upon some facts, principles or laws.

Credulity is frequently misnamed Faith. Credulity is a readiness to believe without sufficient evidence, through weakness, fear or prejudice.

One of the indications of the evolution of Religion is in the increasing general discernment of the difference between Credulity and Faith. No indication of growing intelligence is more significant than this one. Faith rejects many things which Credulity passively accepts without any personal examination.

No duty is more imperative for Faith than the deter-mined rejection of unworthy "Beliefs" which have been bequeathed by ignorant ancestors. There are indications of religious people adopting scientific methods for the sake of securing the purity of Religion. There is a growing discernment of the difference between professing a formal Creed and possessing genuine Religion. There is an evolutionary process and a tendency to progress within every sect and denomination, though of much less power in some than in others.

Organizations have never accepted the greatest advances made by individual thinkers until after they have been adopted by a large number of the "unorthodox." Official-ism, whether in Science, Philosophy or Religion, has seldom furnished the great leaders for new advances. In fact, "orthodoxy" is always sensitive and antagonistic regarding new thought. And also there is something antagonistic to "orthodoxy" which generally undertakes the task of reformation, or of re-formulating old beliefs, or making radical changes. Regardless of this, however, the revolutionists are frequently acknowledged in after years to have pre-served the original spirit and intent by making needed, logical, and inevitable transformations.

Radicals are ever like Dr. Holmes' Chambered Nautilus.

"Year after year beheld the silent toil
That spread his lustrous coil ;
Still as the spiral grew,
He left the past year's dwelling for the new,
Stole with soft step its shining archway through,
Built up its idle door,
Stretched in his last-found home, and knew the old no more."

Nevertheless, it takes every addition to complete the structure, and we should not forget the past which has made the present possible.

Religious progress is not new. History reveals many very great transformations. But the idea of religious progress is certainly of recent origin. The concept is new that change, evolution, growth, development, ought to pervade the whole religious life. Few people have cheerfully and boldly entertained this idea. Changes of belief have been made under various conditions of fear, sometimes fear of bodily harm from men or spiritual injury from devils. It is a modern concept that progress must necessarily result from true Religion. One of the proofs of genuineness in a religious belief or attitude is the progress that results. The mental horizon must change when progress takes one away from the influence of some doctrines to the more satisfying interpretations of deeper knowledge.

Writers of advanced religious development, notably Henry Drummond, Lyman Abbott and Auguste Sabatier, reveal noble efforts to grasp new meanings of life, and yet a strong desire to save as much of the old as possible. This class of interpreters is very useful. They are the real leaders, for the church people will follow them. Conservatism with a reputation for radicalism is very popular and valuable. Without such leaders humanity would continue ,longer within the limitations of traditions, old creeds, sectarian boundaries. Recognized "authorities" are usually conservative.

On the other hand, iconoclastic thinkers and writers seem to think that because interpretations are incorrect the facts have been annihilated. They ignore great questions because of errors in previous answers, whereas the questions have not been settled, and cannot be, except by a fullness of knowledge.

The correct attitude lies between the two. A constant, unremitting attempt should be made to see things in all realms exactly as they are. This is a scientific principle, but it is just as much a religious one. Imagination should not dominate. Fear should be abolished. Testimony should be regarded as evidence, not as proven facts. Testimony is valuable, for it probably contains some truth. It certainly suggests previous attempts to solve the same problems that confront us. But, then, the very best and most honest people have frequently been mistaken in their cherished opinion and beliefs. Even respect for their characters, their wishes, their dying admonitions to continue in the old' forms, should not make us blind to their limitations and errors.

All testimony, written and spoken, has its value. Indeed, it is safe to assume as a general rule that each man speaks the truth from his standpoint. Therefore, it is very important to know the viewpoint of the speaker or writer. Knowledge of the person and his environment will frequently explain his mental processes and attitudes. A progressive soul will accept only revelations which represent greater advance. He cannot reiterate expressions or attempt to duplicate experiences which have lost their value.

It is the inherent right of every individual to accept or reject any proposition. This is easily demonstrated because every individual is compelled by the nature of life to make decisions. He may say and even think that he does this on the authority of another and that he therefore escapes the responsibility of the decision and its result. This is not true in practical and inevitable effect. The results of living must be met in each individual life. Sooner or later we meet the results of our thinking and acting. We reap our own sowing.

Nor is passive submission to results a responsibility which we have fixed upon us by the nature of life. It is entirely within our powers to leave old environments and to seek new ones. In the very nature of things, each individual is responsible to seek new truth and new personal adjustments. "Excuses" do not alter results.

We may say, "I was told this and I believed it " If what we were told and believed is true, very well. But, if it is false, the fact that some one said it was so, or the fact that we believed it, does not change the nature of the actual fact. We are responsible for believing and we meet the results of our own acts.

Many truths have been rejected by one generation and enthroned by 'the next. Many reputed truths have been enthroned and then rejected. Therefore, belief or unbelief does not demonstrate or even affect the truth or falsity of a proposition.

No truth should be judged by the character of any per-son who may chance to claim to represent it, or perhaps by the majority of those who profess it. No great truth could have endured if judged by the lives of its professed followers. A great leader has frequently been discredited because of his friends. There are extremes of good and bad people under every standard that has ever become popular.

"Authority" has played a prominent part in the drama of Religious History. It has been "the heavy villain" of the play, to use the technical term of actors. If History and Literature be searched to this end much knowledge may be gained of the extent to which spurious claims of superior insight, power and intercessorship have been used to gain influence over the minds of men.

There can be no authority higher than Truth. No Truth can be made any more true or binding by quoting an "authority." Truth exists no matter how many doubt and disbelieve. Truth will survive all attacks and all neglect.

There are many so-called "Sacred Books." What makes a book sacred? The answer seems to be, The elements in it which are valuable to human life. The most authentic "Revelation" is the nature of man with its inherent potentialities. This Soul Life in its unfoldment has produced a continuous, progressive revelation of sacred Truth.

What is the greatest proof of "Revelation" or of "Inspiration"? Is it not the most useful knowledge, the most inspiring thought, the most uplifting influence ? Religion must continue to evolve and to supply these elements in order to satisfy the needs of human life.

Truth fills the universe. There is room for every so-called "new thought." Many "new thoughts" may be located in Plato. No truth destroys or infringes upon any other truth. Every fact and truth is limited only by every other fact and truth.

All attempts to confine Religion within the limits of one nation, one revelation, one interpretation, one creed, or one sect, have failed and will continue to fail. There can no more be a final creed than there can be a final Science, or a final Philosophy. Knowledge and Life must continually expand and progress on all lines. Making provision for this growth is one test of a Universal Religion. Judging by this test, it may be safely stated that no existing (or at present accessible) formulated Religion contains all the elements of a Universal Religion.

The existence of Religion does not depend upon unknown realms. - The realities of life are sufficient to make any person truly religious, though all that is unknown be omitted. Suppose an individual should classify what we will call his personal Science, Philosophy and Religion into these departments :



1. Things I know from personal experience.

2. Things I believe.

3. Things I imagine.

4. Things I hope are true.

5. Things I fear are true.

6. Things I accept on the testimony of others or on authority.

It is far from the purpose of this book to attempt to make this division for any human being, but only to offer it as a suggestion. After some such division, let an individual decide whether his own life does not require Religion to complete his Science and Philosophy. Let him decide whether he does not need Science with all the vast powers of modern methods and principles, in order to remove superstition and ignorance from his Religion. Then Philosophy also will assume a new aspect. It will be the master of the Sciences and the servant of Religion.


Religions are the results of man's attempts to discharge or to evade his Personal Responsibility. Therefore, it seems necessary to give some account of this element of human life. All intelligent people discover sooner or later that Personal Responsibility is an obligation which cannot be shifted or evaded, and which no power can abrogate. The intelligent man has discovered facts and laws which have necessitated formulated principles of conduct and at the same time they have encouraged aspirations.

1. Personal Responsibility is inherent in the individual constitution of man. The mere fact of life, the act of living, and the possession of various faculties, capacities and powers, all involve Responsibility. Therefore, consciousness of Responsibility is simply a response to the inherent potentialities and opportunities conferred upon man by the Causative Intelligence. The voluntary and cheerful assumption of Personal Responsibility is the evidence of discernment and intelligence. The discharge of Personal Responsibility is the method and law of life and growth.

2. Personal Responsibility is inherent in the intelligence which we acquire. In fact, every added degree of intelligence brings with it a corresponding degree of Responsibility. Personal Responsibility equals the measure of intellectual, moral and spiritual acquirements.

3. Personal Responsibility is inherent in the nature or constitution of the universe of which man is a component part. In other words, Purpose is almost, if not quite, an intrinsic quality of organism. Intelligent purpose seems to be the immediate Cause of modifications of structures and of the increasing complexity and power of organism. Thus, the Causative Intelligence has insured Responsibility in proportion to individual intelligence, capacity, ability and power.


"Anthropomorphism is the ascription of human attributes to supernatural or divine beings ; the conception or representation of God with human qualities and affections, or in a human shape."

This personification arises from the attempt to account for phenomena. It represents an apparent necessity of human minds. It is necessary to human happiness that attempts to account for things should be made. However, this problem of Causation is too vast to be grasped. Therefore, various hypotheses have been constructed.

Diversity in nature was perceived by the Greeks and Romans. Therefore, they yielded to the necessity of many Gods and Goddesses. The Hebrew nation perceived the unity of nature. Therefore, they had one God. Their remarkable self-consciousness and racial pride led them to conclude that their God cared only for their nation. Their many defeats and captivities only strengthened this belief, because their prophets accounted for these as necessary punishment or discipline.

There may be a personal God. There is here no attempt to deny it. But it is not yet demonstrated, and until it is, the statement that there is a personal God is an hypothesis. It is also a very reasonable hypothesis. It accounts for many phenomena.

Imagination must inevitably aid the mind that attempts to gain any adequate idea of a Sufficient Cause. Imagination has aided in every great cosmical concept. While we recognize that we are endeavoring to attain a correct understanding, the imagination is a very useful servant. When we imagine that we have reached an absolute understanding, then imagination is a very poor master. Its concepts are not demonstrated facts.

It is not necessary, expedient, wise or true to claim to comprehend Infinity. The history of Science, Philosophy and Religion would seem to prove conclusively that many of our present explanations will change with greater knowledge.

However, the limits of knowledge are soon reached. Every line of investigation soon leads, not only to mystery, but to the direct perception of phenomena, activities, forces, processes, principles and laws which transcend human comprehension. What name or names shall we use to describe that which is beyond?

Whatever name is used, there is a great truth underlying the commandments of the Decalogue, "Thou shalt have no other gods before me" and "Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness of anything that is in the heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth." Stone and wooden images are not the only idols. The imaginations of individuals and nations form the crudest kind of idols.

Many religions are full of idol worship and idle worship.

Those who have claimed to be "the religious people" have frequently worshiped vain imaginations. They have presented mental images of their own construction and have condemned to an everlasting hell (of their own imagination) those who did not worship their images. Image worship, or imagination, rules far too many people today.

The command, "Thou shalt not bow down thyself to them, nor serve them," has been obeyed instinctively by many who have been denounced as unbelievers, heretics and atheists. This refusal to accept the coarse images and false representations of the idol-worshipers has frequently been caused by intellectual discernment and scientific knowledge. I believe this discernment and this knowledge to be as correct as the discernment and knowledge of those who obey "the commandments." I consider that Religion and Science are in perfect agreement regarding the principle involved, namely, that it is foolish and wrong to worship anything which seems false to us. This is the negative method of stating the principle and it is necessary because the Decalogue is a series of negative mandates. However, the principle can be stated positively and gain in power, thus :

"Thou shalt worship the Lord, thy God, and him only shalt thou serve."

The task of adequate definition of one's "God" rests upon each individual.

The interpretation of "Worship" is a matter for an individual's use of his own faculties and capacities.

As an aid in our endeavors to gain proper and lawful concepts of realities, it seems serviceable to consider that man has embryonic capabilities and possibilities which he has never fully realized or expressed ; that these sprang from an Intelligent Cause; that the adequate Cause of mental phenomena must be mental in its own nature ; that the adequate Cause of moral phenomena must be moral in its own nature.

This great principle is the reverse of anthropomorphism. It does not ascribe human qualities to God. It recognizes our own best and noblest aspirations and then searches for the Adequate Cause therefor without thereby limiting that Cause to its own concept.

The inherent potentialities and aspirations of the human Soul seem partially representative of a Supreme Character. A seed, a germ, a bulb, contains the thought of the Cause therefor. That thought is not fully expressed or manifested until the maturity of the life form.

Just as the stream cannot rise higher than its source, so human minds cannot conceive of the Cause of their own potentialities and aspirations as being any less intelligent, any less good, any less pure. The Cause must be greater than all known products. The Cause must be wiser than any individual who is not capable of comprehending such a Cause. The Cause must be purer than one who is striving after an ideal which he did not create and which he perceives imperfectly.

In the endeavor to form a mental concept of an Adequate Cause of all existing mental and moral attributes of humanity, it seems necessary and reasonable to formulate the hypothesis of an Intelligence superior to the potentialities, wisdom and purity of all known creatures. If we regard the universe as the expression of Mind, and all phenomena as manifestations of God, is it not reasonable to regard human ideals of character as divine products?

The only thing which will prevent this concept from becoming anthropomorphic is the resolute adherence to the principle that the finite cannot comprehend the Infinite and to reserve ample opportunity for higher concepts through gradual growth. While we cannot observe God as a phenomenon, while we may be wholly mistaken in our concept of the Cause World, still we are certainly justified in holding tentatively the most reasonable explanation which we are capable of formulating. If we would make attainments, if we would study the universe, we are compelled to have opinions, to assume some conclusions to be approximating the truth. It is possible to hold just as reasonable opinions as we can form and to be happy, while agreeing with ourselves and everyone else that we do not actually know very much, if anything, accurately.

We seem to have an existence. We seem to be inhabitants of a wonderful world. We think we are travelers through space on a very small planet, which is a satellite of a small sun. We think we have some knowledge of ourselves and our environment. This knowledge we classify as Science, Philosophy and Religion. If we determine never to affirm more than we actually know, will we be any the worse? Will the world suffer any loss if we admit that we do not know? All that we do know, it is our privilege and duty to teach to all who are ready for it. This is part of Religion and one cause of its evolution.

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