WE have been inquiring into the capacities of men, and into the true aim of human life on this planet. We had to distinguish between capacities which men have in common with other mammals and capacities which deserve to be called distinctively human. We saw that, for true well-being, both the 'animal' and the distinctively human capacities should have expression; but that a man's whole life, and the life of the whole human world, should be so organized as to give the fullest possible expression to the most distinctively human, or awakened, capacities. We have considered in detail some of the main kinds of distinctively human pursuits.

Now many people would say that the most important of all these activities has yet to be considered, namely religion. This kind of activity, they would say, is the most awakened of all, and the only activity in which man proves himself more than a rather intelligent animal. They claim also that what is wrong with the world to-day is that most people have lost all true religion. Some even claim that religion alone, by which they generally mean the Christian religion, can induce men to behave considerately toward one another. Christianity, alone, they believe, can turn our world of jealous individuals and warring groups into a single world-society, knit together by love of the one God.

Others tell us that religion is man's greatest folly and disgrace. It is the expression, they say, of nothing more exalted in him than a desire for personal comfort' in eternity '. Moved by this desire, perhaps unwittingly, he persuades himself to believe all sorts of irrational doctrines which should be incredible and are unlovely and ridiculous. These beliefs prevent men from reaching full mental stature, and often lead them into terrified persecution of unbelievers. Religion, according to this view, is responsible for half the cruelty and bloodshed of the past, and to-day it is one of the greatest forces making for barbarism and checking the mental awakening of the race.

What is the truth about this long-standing bitter dispute? Many members of each party, so long as they are not enraged against the other party, are capable of proving themselves admirable human beings. Neither party is to be dismissed off-hand as unworthy of serious attention. Each one of us has to face this problem and come to some decision as best he may. We cannot simply trust to authority, whether sacerdotal or scientific. Inevitably we have to judge between authorities. In order to do so we have to take into account, so far as possible, all points of view. I shall submit a view which, though in all probability it is inadequate, should, I think, be considered.

I shall first argue that there is important truth on both sides. There is, I believe, something, which may be named by the misleading and debased word 'religion', and is the most distinctively human or awakened activity of man. But clearly there is something else, which is also called 'religion', and is his greatest folly and shame. One might almost say that 'religion' is both man's crown and his dunce's cap. It is the ring through his nose, by which he may be led hither and thither, and the mask which he wears to hide his brutishness. But also, in the other sense of the word 'religion', it is, I believe, a window through which he may see something of the superhuman, and through which he may be said, in a very special sense, to 'have access to eternity'.

The truth is that the word 'religion' means several very different kinds of activity. Some 'religion' is rather crude, but harmless. Some is both crude and extremely damaging to the individual and to the world. Some is a more awakened kind of activity, but in the main unwholesome in its effects. Some is perhaps the most alive, the most spiritually awakened kind of activity possible to members of our half-formed species. 'Religion' of this kind is, I should say, in a sense the true goal of all human living. Moreover, excellent in itself, it is also absolutely necessary for the proper organization of a man's life and the life of the world. But 'religion' of the base and damaging kind is perhaps the worst of all humanity's plagues.

Since the word 'religion' has such very different meanings, perhaps the best plan would be to discard it altogether. Unfortunately this is impossible. People will still go on talking about 'religion', and meaning different things by it. All that can be done is to distinguish clearly between the two main senses of the word, between the sham, pernicious kind of religion and the genuine, life-giving kind of religion. This can be done fairly sharply in theory; but in practice it is often very difficult to discover whether a seemingly religious person is genuinely religious or not, and whether a seemingly irreligious person is what he seems to be. For those who are most truly religious are often so nauseated by the prevailing sham religion that they are eager to be thought irreligious. Another source of confusion lies in the fact that the two utterly different activities may even be carried out by the same person, and almost at the same time.

The sham kind of religion is at bottom, I believe, always an expression of the desire to 'save one's soul', or to curry favour with God or the gods, so that one may in some sense or other secure happiness, in this life or another. The genuine kind of religion I should describe as a self-forgetful love, or admiration, or worship, of something which is felt to be very 'beautiful' or 'good', and as in some manner superhuman. Religion of this kind may be worship of a god who is thought of as distinct from man; or it may be worship of a universe which includes man but is more admirable than man, or it may be 'dumb' worship of something vividly experienced but passing all understanding.

At this stage I shall not discuss the question whether such admiration or worship is ever justified, whether there is in fact anything superhuman which deserves to be worshipped. At present I am only trying to distinguish between two mental activities, one of which is a sham in the sense that it pretends to be more exalted than it is, while the other, even if it is deluded, is none the less, I believe, a very clearly awakened activity, both from the point of view of the psychologist, studying human behaviour scientifically, and also in the actual 'feel' or experience of it.

When men are behaving in the sham-religious way, their main motive, witting or unwitting, is self-preservation. With a view to securing prosperity in this world or another they demand and find some simple code or set of rules which they can keep without further thought, secure in their belief that if they do as God tells them he will reward them. Some, however, of those who practise religion of the sham kind (though these might not call themselves religious) are unable to believe in immortality, and so they cannot look for happiness hereafter; but instead they hope that by keeping certain rules they will be counted among the virtuous, will prove themselves, so to speak, spiritual aristocrats, of finer temper than other men. Their motive is at bottom the same as the motive of the heaven-seekers.

Religion of the base kind is indeed a plague. It is handed on by tradition from generation to generation. It is widespread in every land. Men who suffer from it tend to become self-important, bigoted, narrow-minded, hard-hearted, careless of everything but the salvation of their own mean souls. In times when this kind of religion has a real hold over men there is small hope of remaking the world; for religious people of this sort do not at heart care about the misery of others. Sometimes they even persuade themselves that misery (in others) is after all a blessing, since it will be recompensed in heaven. This soul-saving kind of religion has perhaps not quite such a hold on men as formerly, at least in Europe. But sham religion is still one of the great forces in the world preventing men from rising to a more awakened mentality.

Since unfortunately the language of religious leaders has often lent colour to the view that religion is nothing but a way of saving oneself from some kind of damnation, many people who are at heart genuinely religious are led astray into the belief that the root of their religion is after all the desire for personal salvation. Thus in the churches, European and Asiatic, there are many genuinely religious persons in whom religion is distorted by the influence of their church. If they could escape from the outworn conventions of their church, they would become more simply and spontaneously religious.

The only genuine kind of religion is sheer admiration, intense and deeply rooted admiration, either of God or of gods or of the universe or at least of something more than human beings. Let us not even yet try to decide whether anything in the universe deserves such admiration. Let us merely try to discover what kind of activity this genuinely religious activity really is. The old word for such religious admiration is 'worship'. Unfortunately the word 'worship' is as often misused as the word 'religion'. It was once a good word; but to-day it calls up for many of us images of hymn-books and collection plates, and the whole gloomy business of soul- saving. Yet if we could strip it of these associations, 'worship' would be the right word.

When a man rises to this activity of religious admiration he is not concerned with saving himself in any sense whatever. He is not interested in himself as a particular person, either to save himself or to sacrifice himself. The only shred of selfishness which is left in him is a desire in some way to serve what he so deeply and delightedly admires; or at least to express his admiration, to make some kind of gesture of loyalty. This impulse is natural and right, but it may snare him. He may be led to care more for the satisfaction of serving than for that which he serves, more for the joy of worshipping than for that which he worships. And so, little by little, he may slide into the false religion, interesting himself less directly in his God, or the universe, or whatever it is that he worships, than in his own need to be united with the admired thing. This desire to find some kind of union with the object which is worshipped is natural and right, so long as it does not hamper the impulse of sheer worship. It is right; but it is the least important side of genuine religion. And the only satisfaction that it ought to demand is the sense of union which admiration itself affords, the sense of being one in spirit with the admired thing. It is tempting to say that the climax of worship is the glad acceptance of the fact that one's 'God' has no need whatever to be worshipped.



Few can be genuinely religious every day or for long at a time. Even on those rare occasions when we do achieve this action of spontaneous worship, the sham kind of religion inevitably steals in upon us very soon in some disguised form. For even at the best of times most of us never come more than half-awake. Many, perhaps, sleep out their whole lives without any inkling of the truly religious experience. But when a man really has the experience, he feels, with strange conviction, that in it he rises to his highest reach of vitality. Also, in this experience he seems to know something about the universe, or about 'existence', in general; but something which, if he tries to describe it, he almost certainly mis-describes. The only safe thing for him to say is that he finds himself confronted with a kind of overwhelming beauty or excellence invisible at other times. Yet even this is really not at all a safe thing to say; for it implies that the universe, or objective existence, in general, can have a character of intrinsic beauty which does not depend for its existence on our admiration. And many thinkers scoff at this idea.

The truth is that 'beauty' and 'excellence' are both inappropriate words. But what other is more suitable? 'Goodness' is even worse. 'Perfection' suggests symmetry and neatness, which are certainly not intended. 'Intrinsic rightness' might serve, if it did not imply something merely moral. There is, indeed, no word to describe the quality or character which confronts us in the genuine religious experience. All that can be said about it is that it is just that unique quality or character which impels us to worship.

Anyone who has experienced this religious admiration, or impulse of praise, inevitably desires it to control his' whole life. He cannot be always seeing that unique beauty (what better word is there ?). But he wishes it to be always present at least 'in the back of his mind', influencing his behaviour, guiding him. Unfortunately, since he is only human, only a stage in advance of his sub-human ancestors, he is certain to wander from the path that he lays down for himself. But, with whatever strength he has, he will try to keep hold of his vision and to act in accordance with it.

Just how, or in what direction, his sense of the beauty inherent in all existence will influence his conduct will depend on how he interprets it. And this will depend on his own temper and circumstances. In some cases, although his religious experience is itself a genuine experience, his mind may have been so warped by circumstances that he grossly misinterprets his experience. Thus it may actually become an evil influence in his life, and through him an evil influence in the world.

But far more often religion, if it is indeed of the rare and genuine kind, makes a man a better man and a better member of the world-community than he could have been without it. Whether he interprets his experience as a vision of God, or of the world, or in some other way, it somehow quickens and intensifies all his other experiences, and especially those experiences which lie upon the limit of our powers. Thus, for instance, he comes to realize his fellow human beings more vividly, and is therefore more generous. He finds himself more able to rise above self-complacency and self-interest, and also above personal envy and hate. For always, at the back of his mind, there is a recollection, clear or vague, of the incomparably greater, more beautiful thing which he worships. I do not mean that he will always be a model of generosity and humility. If he happens to be of a rather selfish disposition, he will probably continue to have many lapses. But his recollection of the beauty that he has seen will at least be a very powerful force in his life strengthening all his most awakened capacities.

If his religion is genuine, it should have another effect also. Since the beauty that he has experienced is felt to be in some sense superhuman, he should be helped to regard all things human with a certain detachment. He should find himself able to rise above the self-complacency and self-interest even of the human race as a whole. For instance, if he interprets his religious experience as a vision of the majesty and beauty of God, he will be able to regard even the greatest calamities of mankind with a fundamental peace of mind. This, indeed, is the danger of genuine religion, that it may lead a man merely to indulge his own need to worship, and so to neglect his fellows. This is one of the many ways in which the genuine may turn into the false religion. But in the perfectly religious man, in the true saint, this absolute inner peace and worship do not weaken, but actually strengthen, the will to take part with the right against the wrong, the good against the evil. But what seems right, and what good, will of course depend on the saint's particular experience of the world. It may lead him to burn heretics so as to save the souls of others, or it may lead him to devote his life to helping the unfortunate.

Now religion of the genuine kind is the world's greatest need to-day. The old religious creeds are losing their hold upon men, and will continue to do so. It is true that millions of persons even in Europe and America still cling to the old doctrines and practices; but the number for whom Christianity is a vitalizing influence is probably small and decreasing. Also, those who in our day are still able to accept the Christian doctrines literally, and not merely as a first approximation to one aspect of the truth, are curiously simple souls, who, though genuinely religious, are somehow incapable of grasping what the peculiar spiritual problem of the modern world really is. They are relics left over from a less perplexed and a happier age. What is true of the West will perhaps in a few decades be true of the East, unless the whole tendency of Westernization ceases.

The old gods can no longer call forth in the more awakened kind of human being the old activity of religious admiration. The result is that the best minds of our age are deeply unfulfilled. They have a certain spiritual capacity which they cannot properly exercise. Therefore they are miserable, not necessarily with clear consciousness of their misery, but obscurely. Often they do not know what they lack. They may, for instance, have been so disgusted by false religion that they refuse to recognize their need as a religious need at all. And since they do not know what it is that is wrong with them, they blame their parents or society or their digestions or the universe. But what is wrong with them is simply that, though they have outgrown the old God, they cannot discover beyond him something of more compelling excellence.

The result of this lack of religion in the modern world is widespread disillusionment and world-weariness. There is a disheartening sense that after all nothing matters. It is agreed, of course, that all human beings should have the opportunity of fulfilling whatever capacities they happen to have; but since one man is as good as another, there is felt to be no reason why any one should sacrifice himself for another, still less for the social good, or for the founding of a better world. Consequently, most of us are concerned almost entirely with securing happiness for ourselves or those near and dear to us; and the policies of governments are tethered to the cynical, yet short-sighted, self-regard of the populace.

It is true that Communism in Russia, and to an increasing extent elsewhere, is a not wholly ineffective substitute for religion, since it can inspire men with a vivid desire to live and die in a cause which is felt to be more important than their own well-being or even the happiness of their contemporaries. It can make them try to devote their lives to the founding of a happier world for future generations. But this ideal is only sufficient in times of revolutionary change. When the new world has been established, or is well on the way to being established, it must find some aim more compelling than the preservation of its own happiness. Amongst the Fascists and Nazis also there must be some tincture of genuine religious feeling, though ludicrously misguided, and entangled in the ideals of barbaric tribalism and romantic ruthlessness. Indeed, as I suggested at the outset, the one disinterested motive of the Fascist would seem to be a confused protest against what he conceives to be the 'irreligion' of the Bolsheviks.

Clearly one of the most urgent tasks of to-day is to examine the genuine religious experience as calmly and precisely as possible, in order to find out what bearing, if any, it has upon our modern perplexity and our modem distresses. Even the world-economic problem, which is extremely urgent, demands the solution of the religious problem. For seemingly the economic problem will never be solved until we can outgrow our sentiments of economic individualism and nationalism; and this we shall not do until we have obtained a clear sight of something more admirable than the aims of these sentiments. Many, of course, would say that the ideal of making a unified and happier world is in itself a sufficient ideal to control our economic and nationalistic passions, and that nothing of the nature of a superhuman allegiance is needed. Not long ago I should have accepted this view. But there can be no doubt that superhuman worship has been in the past a far mightier power in men's hearts than loyalty to mankind is to-day. And there can be no doubt that, if religion in some credible and exalting form were to be discovered by the modern generation, it would sweep the world, or at any rate the Western world, far more effectively than internationalism or even Communism.

Pure humanism, or the acceptance of Man as the final object of admiration and loyalty, is after all in essence loyalty to our own nature, though perfected; and as such it is apt to seem prosaic and tiresome. Man has undoubtedly a very strong impulse to bow before a superhuman beauty; and it is when he believes himself to have glimpsed such a beauty that he is roused to live in the most alive way.

What the modern world needs, then, is indeed religion. But if, as a matter of fact, we can find no justification for worshipping anything superhuman, we must honestly do. without religion. To deceive ourselves by false though comfortable beliefs is to thwart one of our most awakened capacities, namely the capacity of dispassionate observation and understanding. If, as a matter of fact, there is nothing finer than man, let us at least try to make the best of human nature.

But is there nothing admirable in the universe except ourselves, the human race? Millions of people have answered the question by saying, 'There is God'. Millions of others as confidently declare, 'There is no God, there is nothing admirable but man'. Millions more cannot give any confident answer at all.

I shall presently try to describe briefly one kind of answer which, as it seems to me, is now very tentatively beginning to emerge here and there in the modem world. According to this view there is indeed something more than man for us to worship, yet something very different from any ordinary idea of God. I shall first try to describe how, so far as I can see, it came about that men developed the capacity for religious activity, or, as it is generally called, religious experience. In doing this I shall at the same time show how easy it is to 'explain away' the whole of religion by pointing to its psycho- logical and historical sources. Some anthropologists and historians would no doubt disagree with the sketch that I shall give; for I shall purposely put the case against religion in its most sweeping and devastating form. Later I shall try to show that though some such explanation does undermine a great deal of so-called religion, and is therefore very important, it does not really touch the central fact of worship. You can no more explain away religion by describing its sources than you can explain away a man by saying that he was once a mere fertilized germ cell.



The motive of pure worship has probably existed in some form ever since there were men; but in the earliest religions it was not clearly distinguished from the much commoner motive of seeking divine favours. Nearly all human beings in all ages have been brought up to respect their elders, and especially their fathers and the great men of their tribe or nation. From the beginning of mankind's career, children and young people must have felt for their fathers and for all powerful adults not only fear and envy but also sometimes genuine admiration for their strength and skill and majesty. Fathers and the great ones were mighty and vengeful, and had to be constantly, propitiated, so that they would display their more kindly and helpful qualities; but also they were admired. Thus in childhood human beings formed deep- rooted habits of seeking favours from the mighty; but also they formed habits of admiration.

No doubt the respectful behaviour of the young toward their elders was largely the result of punishment and approval. But also it seems extremely probable that the young, who were relatively weak, timid, and inexperienced, did spontaneously admire adults for their strength, courage and prowess. Hero-worship is a very common characteristic of the young, and is one of the roots of genuine religious admiration.

These habits of favour-begging and disinterested hero-worship, which were founded in childhood, persisted as capacities or needs of the grown man or woman. But the fathers and tribal chieftains who were the first objects of respect no longer seemed so very wonderful. The habits therefore were directed upon other things which appeared more worthy of fear and admiration. In early days men felt themselves to be surrounded by vindictive and benevolent powers. Religion was in the main a careful fawning upon those powers, an elaborate technique of propitiation. Sometimes what was fawned upon was some particular river or mountain or tree, or some specially important kind of animal. Sometimes men propitiated the more general spirits of rain, flood, wind, sun, fire, and so on. Sometimes it was a man's own dead father, or the dead heroes and founders of the tribe, that claimed praise and sacrifice. Those who in childhood had formed such strong habits of awe toward living fathers and chiefs must needs believe in the continued existence of these great ones; who, since they were still by habit feared and respected, were thought of as still wielding dangerous powers, though unseen.

Even in this early stage the genuine religious admiration of men seems to have moved in two very different directions, toward the non-human environment and toward the ideal of human personality. The forces of nature were, of course, personified, made human; but also they were thought of as alien, careless of man, relentless. Thus early began the two great and often opposed motives of genuine religion, on the one hand loyalty to the ideal of fully developed human nature, and on the other a more obscure, more perplexing worship of the non-human world, or of the principles which were manifested in it. In time this side of religion was to develop into the Greek respect for fate and the Christian respect for divine law.

Primitive men seem to have feared and respected something else besides natural forces and splendid persons, namely the tribe, the great many-bodied whole of which each man felt himself to be a member. Indeed, long before men had reached any clear self-consciousness, they were probably subject to the spell of the herd. And later this also appeared as something to be propitiated, something which seemed to have a sort of will of its own which one must obey both for safety's sake, and also because somehow it entered into one, took possession, dominated one's own will. To go against the tribe's will, or against the well-worn custom of the tribe, gave one a sense not merely of loneliness but of disgrace, of having offended against something holy.

Yet another thing seems to have moved early men to fear and awe, namely their own sexual power, and the mystery and magical charm of the other sex. Men, like the apes, are creatures having excess of sexual energy. The father of the family and the lords of the tribe had therefore always to be jealously guarding their women against the lusty young. Chastity in women was sanctified by tribal custom. The young men, fretted by their unsatisfied sexuality, came to see sex in everything, and came to regard sex as a specially holy and specially dangerous thing. To be a full-grown man was to have full sexual potency and sexual rights. And so the gods also must be sexual, and sex itself must somehow be a god, or even the god.

Besides man's own sexual potency, there was the strange beauty of women. This also was a supreme excellence, and must be divine. And woman as the mother, who brought new human beings into life and was the source of tenderness in every man's childhood, she also had to be worshipped.

When at last it was realized that fathers also played a part in the conceiving of babies, sex came to seem even more important than formerly, and was often regarded as the very essence of divine creativeness; so that even to make the land bear crops the sex god had to be invoked.

Men made their gods in a confused and dreamlike way, so that the idea of a god was often self-contradictory and unintelligible. This did not matter. A god was not a thing to reason about, but a thing to fear and worship. His incomprehensibility made him all the more awful. There were certain persons (medicine men, wizards, priests) who were thought to have special knowledge of the gods, and special powers of interpreting their will and propitiating them. There is no need to suppose that such men were all charlatans. Many of them were probably more advanced in self-consciousness than their neighbours, and seemed to have an uncanny insight into human nature. They probably also picked up a certain amount of simple medical knowledge. These 'different' persons were apt to claim that it was dangerous for ordinary folk to try to see the gods or to understand the holy mysteries. Thus these professional wise men increased their own power.

But human beings after all are more or less intelligent animals, and they were bound to use their intelligence to some extent in contemplating their gods. Moreover, as time passed, and life became on the whole more orderly and safe, men began to feel differently about the characters that a god must have in order to be truly admirable, worshipful. And so they gradually remade their gods. Earlier, a god was little more than a glorified chieftain or hero with magical powers. He hunted, and made love, and fought with his fellow gods. But in time men were inclined to think that one god, who was the father-god of their own tribe, was the greatest god of all, and that their own tribe was his chosen people. They conceived him as their law-giver, and as being not only mighty and vengeful but also just in his dealings with his own people. For at this stage, when society was beginning to be secure, they had come to admire law and order and justice more than the .virtues of the courageous warrior.

As time passed, and the tribes had more intercourse with one another, men began to think of their own particular tribal father-god as being not merely the greatest of all gods but the one and only true God. Either they claimed that the gods of other peoples did not exist, save as illusions in men's minds; or they allowed that the other peoples were indeed worshipping the one true God, under a different name, and revealed under a different form. But the name which they themselves gave him, and the form which they themselves worshipped, they held to be God's true name and form.

Little by little the prophets and religious leaders came to endow God with new powers. In fact, they said he was not merely mighty but almighty, and also all-knowing, and the creator of all things. Men and beasts, rivers, fires and stars, behaved always according to the law of the nature which God in his wisdom had given them and ever maintained in them.

This at least was one idea that men had about their almighty God. But sometimes they said that though he was almighty he had seen fit to give men freedom to obey or disobey his law according to their own caprice. This they said because it seemed to them that they could as a matter of fact choose freely; and because they preferred to think of themselves as free men, and not slaves, even to their own nature. Moreover, they wished to satisfy their desire for vengeance by blaming and punishing those who infringed the customs of society; so they had to believe that the wrong-doers could have done otherwise.

Since it was also claimed that God was perfectly good, his worshippers were faced with the problem of showing how it could be that he had given man the power to do evil. They declared that he did so in order that some at least should attain the supreme good; and the supreme good, they said, was to will freely the right act, or to will freely and constantly what God himself willed. It was natural that they should consider this the supreme good, since for the maintenance of a healthy and harmonious society it was very desirable that individuals should freely will to behave as society needed them to behave. And by the will of God what they unwittingly meant was the sanctified custom of society, the custom which on the whole and in the long run had made for society's survival. When a prophet arose who saw that the sanctified custom of society was in some respect stupid or outworn, or simply brutish, he would claim that he saw the will of God more clearly than his fellows. Though seemingly he was opposed to the will of the herd, yet his moral originality was the product of the old herd-loyalty, combined with superior insight into the herd's needs.

Thus, little by little, men outgrew their earlier gods, which were expressions of their own primitive needs and fears, and conceived a single all-powerful divine person, who was an expression of their more developed needs and fears. The new God had in extreme degree all those powers which men had come to admire or fear in their new and more orderly world. Like some of the earlier gods, he embodied the old craving for a superhuman benevolent father, and equally the old fear of the father who, though just, was jealous. God was jealous for his dues. He exacted sacrifice and worship. Men had to conceive him in this way because they themselves had in their own nature a craving to propitiate something. In childhood they had contracted habits of feeling guilty when they disobeyed their parents. And throughout their lives they felt guilty when they infringed the law of the tribe. After sinning, a man felt like an unpunished dog, who is not happy until his misdeed is discovered and he has had his beating.

At the outset the gods were merely vengeful; but as society became more organized, vengeance was condemned, and strict, dispassionate justice became God's outstanding character. Moreover, as men began to be impressed by the relentless regularity of physical events, this regularity also was attributed to the intricate working of divine law. The theoretical capacities of man began to satisfy themselves by seeking the underlying principles of all events. The world had to be regarded as the systematic expression of God's will, because men themselves delighted in system.

In another mood men claimed union with God. At first the union which they sought was merely the mental accord of a child with its loving parent; but in time they demanded and believed that they attained a closer union. In sexual love, and also in membership of an enthusiastic crowd, they seemed to themselves, vaguely but intoxicatingly, to become more than single individuals. They therefore longed to have this exhilarating experience in a far higher degree. They desired to be freed from the limitations of their own private personalities. Under the pressure of their herd-feeling, they craved to be at one with the soul of the tribe. They had therefore to conceive it possible to be gathered into God, who was in some obscure way the personification of the tribe. And since all things were said to be expressions of God's will, or thoughts projected from God's creative mind, the more subtle of them believed that the final bliss must be to be gathered up once more into the mind of God. Thus and in a thousand other ways men persuaded themselves to believe what would satisfy their own craving to be almighty.

In another mood it seemed to men that God must be Love. It came in time to be clear that mere justice was not enough for the well-being of society. If men were to be thoroughly at one with each other, and if society was to be completely harmonious, every person must be bound to his neighbours not merely by an externally imposed law but by the power of love in his own heart. The free mutual loyalty of friends is the best mortar to hold society together. Thus loving-kindness, brotherhood, charity, came to seem the most desirable of all characters; and the God who had been conceived as the just but relentless ruler came now to be personified as Love.



It is surely clear that every character which men have attributed to God has had one or other of two origins. Either it has been a character which for some reason men have at some time desired God to have; or it has been a character which, though not desired in him, seemed inevitable in a being whom they conceived in their own likeness. His vengefulness, for instance, was partly of this second kind. Probably it was also partly of the other kind. For men seem to have desired God to be vengeful because they themselves felt guilty.

But if man's idea of God can be explained so fully as mere 'wish-fulfilment', what reason is there to believe in God?

If this sketch of the sources of religion is true, the upshot seems to be as follows. At the beginning and at every stage we find both favour-seeking and sheer admiration. Even admiration itself developed from simple pre-human roots under the influence of intelligence and imagination. There is nothing peculiarly 'God-given' about it. In primitive man, as in our own children, admiration is first directed on human persons and also on imposing features of the non-human world. From these two roots, namely admiration of persons and awe of the world, sprang, even in the primitive ages, genuine religious activity. Through the interaction of these two motives men conceived their ideas of gods, and later of a single God who was almighty and perfect. At each stage the particular characters which they assigned to their gods, or to God, were expressions of society's needs at the time.

Now to my mind the all-important point is this. Disinterested admiration is a distinctively human activity. It involves the distinctively human power of being interested in things for their own sakes, and not merely for their utility. This objectivity of interest, as we have seen, occurs in a purely dispassionate manner in all genuinely scientific activity. I t is involved also, along with appropriate emotion, in the passion of love for another person, as also, in calm respect for another, and again in the fully awakened kind of loyalty to society. This same objectivity of interest and 'disinterested' admiration we now find to be the essence of genuine religion. But in this case the object which holds the attention, and is admired or worshipped for its own sake, is one of extreme subtlety. It has never been at all satisfactorily described. Indeed, it is almost certainly indescribable. Sceptics declare that because it is indescribable it must be a mere mental figment. But this is an error. One may admire very keenly without being able to describe at all clearly what it is that one admires. Ask a lover what it is that he admires in his beloved. He will respond either by well-worn and inadequate clichés, or by dumbness. Infinitely more difficult is it to say what we so admire when we worship. The only safe response is dumbness.

In different ages and different lands men tried to describe what it was that roused them to religious admiration, and they could only describe it in terms of the confused thought and imagery at their command. They attributed to the object of their worship the various characters which they, in their circumstances, and with their intellectual equipment, conceived that it ought to have. It must be a superhuman person, almighty, all-wise, all-loving, and so on. Each of these characters was a gratification of some human need. But to trace the stages by which men came to describe what they worshipped is not to explain away their worship as a mere disguised favour-seeking or self-gratulation. The truth seems to be that in every age some human beings have sometimes been moved to a peculiarly intense, zestful and bewildered admiration of Something which was not simply human, Something which they recognized as more admirable than any ordinary object of admiration but which they could only describe by means of falsifying metaphors.

Chapter 12

Chapter 10

Waking World Contents