Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 24.djvu/25
RELIGION AND THE ENVIRONMENT.
Similarly, the idea of seeking proselytes to one's own religion was, at first, quite antagonistic to the instincts of faith. The favor of Brahma, the blessings of Jehovah, were privileges of the chosen people of these gods; especial boons, which were not to be rashly cheapened by admitting foreigners to them. The sudra, however, desirous of knowing and worshiping the Brahmanic deities, was never allowed to read the Yeda, or join in the most holy ceremonies.
Now, from this local character of ancient divinities it is evident what greater influence political conditions would have on religion than is possible in our day, when state and church are so independent of each other. In races, like the Aryan, where the early organization was into small communities with a patriarchal or quasi-republican government, where both the diversified face of the land and their own free spirit kept a host of small cities and states in independent existence, there the loose coalescence which comes through commerce, and identity of speech and civilization into a national life and religion, does nothing to destroy the various local gods, and we have, as in India, Greece, and Germany, a bewildering pantheon of divinities, many most similar to one another, because originally representative of aspects of the same natural objects or phenomena. Their religion was as full of variety and as lacking in centralization as their political system.
The first result on religion of advance toward national unity is, therefore, a great multiplication of deities. But soon other forces are called into play. Wherever, by conquest, intermarriage of princes, or treaties of alliance, two or more small states are thoroughly merged into a larger, there a coalescence of their gods and diminution of the number of the divinities are apt to take place. While their fetich-gods — divinities of merely local origin, mountain, earth, tree, cavern, river — would be different, the elemental gods — deities of sun, moon, sky, wind, and storm — would be common to both, and have more or less common features. They would, therefore, be readily identified, and their worship, under a name and ritual compounded, very likely, from the traditions of both tribes, would gain in popularity, while the more local gods, worshiped only by parts of the new nation, would fall into oblivion.
Again, when an ancient nation was subjugated, it was not believed to be due merely to the weakness of the people, or their inferior courage or military skill; but the people's tutelar deities were supposed to have withdrawn their protection, or to have been shown inferior in their guardian power to the gods of the victorious people. The people often, therefore, voluntarily abandoned their own deities, to secure the more effective protectorship of the victorious gods. In the wake of the great armies of Assyria and Rome, faith after faith of antiquity was left a wreck of its former self, its sacred prestige ruined, and its gods degraded into subordinates of the triumphant foreign deities.