|344||THE POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY.|
obliviousness, a deity who in early times is represented as hardening men's hearts so that they may commit punishable acts, and as employing a lying spirit to deceive them, comes to be mostly thought of as an embodiment of virtues transcending the highest we can imagine.
Thus, recognizing the fact that in the primitive human mind there exists neither religious idea nor religious sentiment, we find that, in the course of social evolution and the evolution of intelligence accompanying it, there are generated both the ideas and sentiments which we distinguish as religious, and that, through a process of causation clearly traceable, they traverse those stages which have brought them, among civilized races, to their present forms.
And now what may we infer will be the evolution of religious ideas and sentiments throughout the future? On the one hand, it is irrational to suppose that the changes which have brought the religious consciousness to its present form will suddenly cease. On the other hand, it is irrational to suppose that the religious consciousness, naturally generated as we have seen, will disappear and leave an unfilled gap. Manifestly it must undergo further changes; and, however much changed, it must continue to exist. What, then, are the transformations to be expected? If we reduce the process above delineated to its lowest terms, we shall see our way to an answer.
As pointed out in "First Principles," §96, Evolution is throughout its course habitually modified by that Dissolution which eventually undoes it: the changes which become manifest being usually but the differential results of opposing tendencies toward integration and disintegration. Rightly to understand the genesis and decay of religious systems, and the probable future of those now existing, we must take this truth into account. During those earlier changes by which there is created a hierarchy of gods, demi-gods, manes-gods, and spirits of various kinds and ranks, Evolution goes on with but little qualification. The consolidated mythology produced, while growing in the mass of supernatural beings composing it, assumes increased definiteness in the arrangement of its parts and the attributes of its members. But the antagonist Dissolution eventually gains predominance. The spreading recognition of natural causation conflicts with this mythological evolution, and insensibly weakens those of its beliefs which are most at variance with advancing knowledge. Demons and the secondary divinities presiding over divisions of Nature become less thought of as the phenomena ascribed to them are more commonly observed to follow a constant order, and hence these minor components of the mythology slowly dissolve away. At the same time, with growing supremacy of the great god heading the hierarchy, there goes increasing ascription to him of actions which were before distributed among numerous supernatural beings : there is integration of power. While in proportion as there arises the consequent conception of an omnipotent and