Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 24.djvu/29

From Wikisource
Jump to: navigation, search
This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.
19
RELIGION AND THE ENVIRONMENT.

of caste, which has played such a great rôle in Hindoo society. In the oldest hymns of the Vedas, we find no mention of it. It arose out of the bitter struggles against the non-Aryan people — the dark race, whom, at last, they succeeded in conquering. The word for caste varna means kind or color, and indicated at first the difference between the whiter conquering race and the darker-tinted race whom they subdued, and with whom they would brook no slightest intercourse nor mixture, no relation but that of a slave to his masters.

This strong antipathy of race and bitter contempt for all who could not fight, nor recite the sacred hymn, petrified into impassable barriers. Pride of birth and intolerance of spirit united to increase these hereditary disabilities, and the priestly class did not fail to fan the fire of superstition that gave them such privileges. But, much as the Brahmans, at first and probably since, have congratulated themselves on the advantages of the institution, the student of history beholds, as its product, the most bitter fruit — an intolerable rigidity, a cumbrous ceremonialism, and the alienation and degradation of the common people. It was no wonder that ere long Buddhism should arise, and in the strength of the popular disaffection sweep over all India, and if, in another century, it lost this conquest, yet should go on in triumphant march over Eastern Asia, till it came to number more souls in its ranks than any other faith.

4. We must notice the great influence of man's varied social conditions in differentiating religious belief. The level of religion with any people corresponds to the general level of social organization and refinement. “Thou art fellow with the spirit that thy mind can grasp,” is the pregnant monition of Mephistopheles in Goethe's “Faust.” The coarse, imbruted, petty-minded man can not entertain any high or pure notions of God. The negroes of the West Coast represent their deities as black and mischievous, delighting to torment men in various ways. The god of the Polynesian cannibals is believed by them to feed on the souls of the men sacrificed to him, as they themselves do on the bodies. When the negro's fetich does not bring him good fortune, the stock or stone gets a drubbing.

Among tribes that still remain in the predatory state, subsisting by hunting, and continually resorting to plunder and war, we find religion in its crudest forms. Animal-worship, great regard for omens and use of magic, and shamanistic practices of all sorts, swarm in their religions. Their rites are apt to be cruel and their sacrifices bloody, often demanding human victims. The religions of the warlike negroes of the Gold Coast, the Feejee-Islanders, and the hunting tribes of America, illustrate this.

Even where nations have risen to a high level of civilization, but have retained their military habits, as the Assyrians and the Aztecs, e. g., there the sanguinary and revolting character of their religion shows the same influence. On the other hand, where pastoral life pre-