The student of history, as he looks back at the great religious movements of the world, can discern how each great wave of spiritual feeling was preceded, prepared for, and received its direction from, some philosophic current. Aristotle, e. g., did more to determine the special phase of mediæval Christendom than any of its popes. These four philosophers, Kant, Hegel, Stuart Mill, and Herbert Spencer, surpass in their influence on the religious situation any forty theologians who can be mentioned. Religion at certain epochs, such as that of the Hindoo Upanishads, the Neoplatonism of the second and third centuries, or the mediæval scholasticism, is but philosophy in priestly robe.
As religions develop, the work of conscious thought and reasoning becomes greater and greater. It is these that mold the warm and impressible wax of pious feeling into such different theologic types. It is these that draw up creeds, and that define doctrines with ever-increasing detail; that subtilize over the pre-existent state of great prophets, that invent theories of incarnation and transubstantiation, and that multiply dogmatic distinctions and schemes of salvation, until the sects become multitudinous. And, if this may be said to the discredit of metaphysic speculation, to its credit, on the other side of the account, we may put the fact that it is only through the influence of the philosophic reason that religion is exalted above dull naturalism or sensuous anthropomorphism. It is impossible, by mere observation and induction, to ascend from the imperfect creation to the perfect divine. The finite universe may suggest a being of vast power and astonishing wisdom, but it demonstrates no infinitude. All that we draw from nature and the human is of the relative and transient order, and supplies no warrant to us of any absolute and eternal. Rude and uneducated minds are always found investing Deity with physical characteristics and human imperfections. “God is a good man,” said Dogberry, and, to the sensuous thought, he is to-day but little more than the magnified image of our own humanity. It is by philosophic training alone that we learn to analyze and carry out to their rational conclusions those principles of reason which demand of us to recognize as most characteristic of God's attributes, beyond anything that either nature or the human body presents, those attributes of infinity, perfection, and absolute existence, which constitute true divinity.
5. Similarly the moral condition of a people is a most important variable in its development. Ideas of heaven and hell correspond to the moral elevation of the community. The warlike Maori imagined life after death a constant series of battles, in which the gods are always victorious. The Moslem's paradise excites our disgust by its sensualities; the Greek's, by its trivialities. It is only where the moral nature is elevated that heaven is ennobled to a place worthy the longings of a manly man.