Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 24.djvu/22

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12
THE POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY.


ligions — Zoroaster, Moses, Buddha, Mohammed, Confucius, and Christ. Moreover, we may notice, as Peschel has pointed out, the suggestive fact that it is in the wide expanses and awe-inspiring solitudes of the desert, where the imagination, while vividly excited, is yet not distracted and divided among the manifold wonders of nature — shimmering leaf and gnarled trunks, writhing mists and rattling thunder, and the weird sounds of forest or sea-beach — that suggest and develop the polytheistic gods, but can give itself up entirely to the impressions of a single Majesty and Infinity — it is, I say, amid these noble yet simple aspects of nature, that the great monotheistic religions, Judaism, Mohammedanism, and Christianity, have been originated. It was at Sinai that Moses promulgated his stern prohibitions of idolatry and polytheism. It was by a Bedouin foster-mother that Mohammed was reared, and as a shepherd and caravan-merchant, traveling across the Arabian deserts, that he passed his early life. And it was in the desert that Christ listened to the preaching of John the Baptist, and passed the forty days in which he prepared himself for his great career.

2. In the second place, we must notice, as of equal if not greater influence in giving diversity to religious faith, man's experiences with himself and with his fellows. It is an old maxim that it is “in the experiences of life that each individual finds or loses his god.” Starting on the lowest range of the soul's experience, we notice the effect of the dreams, trances, swoons, ecstasies, and other abnormal phenomena of human nature, in giving direction and variety to religious conceptions. While I regard it as a grave error to derive religion solely from these morbid phenomena, nevertheless they have undoubtedly done much in awakening the spiritual powers of man, and in giving shape to his religious instincts. Life, in its most familiar and natural phases, is a mysterious thing — a wonder which doubtless filled the primitive man with ill-understood awe, as it has made even the pride of modern science stand abashed before it. And its more eccentric and exceptional aspects would especially set men to marveling, and suggest explanations which we may to-day laugh at, but without really having penetrated into the heart of the mystery any more than our remotest ancestors. Thus, among almost all peoples the shadow has been looked upon as a second self, and as one of the causes if not the cause of life. The breath, likewise, with whose cessation life ends, has been especially identified with the soul, the principle of life, as is shown by the same or similar words employed in most languages, as their names — atman in Sanskrit; nephesh and ruach among the Hebrews; wang among the Australians; anemos and anima in Greek and Latin — indicate. As in dreams the savage seems to see his distant kinsmen, to visit remote localities, to behold again the long-dead parent or grandparent; so he comes to believe that the soul, an impalpable form within the fleshly organism, is capable of leaving the body when it pleases, of taking long journeys and flashing with incredible