Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 48.djvu/99

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RECENT RECRUDESCENCE OF SUPERSTITION. 89

yawning, of wliicii the habit of covering the mouth with the hand when yawning is said to be a survival.

Delusions growing out of the dread of demons die hard, espe- cially when it is in the supposed interest of sacerdotalism to up- hold them. Every invasion of the realm of supernaturalism through the progress of science is feared and resented by ecclesi- astical organizations, lest it should prove to be an entering wedge destined to destroy the foundations upon which they rest. It is this apprehension that often leads men as a body to sustain and perpetuate beliefs which as individuals they know to be false, boldly asserting and often honestly believing that the overthrow of their own little system of faith would imperil the whole edifice of religion and society, although the existence of such solidarity is shown by all the teachings of history to be utterly illusive. Hierarchical and official Christianity to-day bears about the same relation to contemporary scientific and philosophic culture that paganism did to the best thoughts of the period when Lucretius wrote his didactic poem De Rerum Natura, or when Lucian, more than two centuries later, composed his satirical dialogues.

The Tyrolese Jesuit Tanner had brought himself into grave suspicion by advising inquisitors to proceed with caution in the prosecution and punishment of witches ; and when he died, in 1632, he was denied Christian burial, because there was found in his possession a dangerous hairy devil, which, on closer examina- tion, proved to be a flea under a magnifying glass. The Church, however, obstinately refused to recognize its error, and still holds to the legend of the "dangerous hairy devil." Recantation is fatal to the prestige of infallible authority, which is forced by its pretensions to cling to its decisions, however absurd, and to close its mind to all sources of enlightenment. It is in this necessity that the divergence of scientific from theological conceptions of the universe originates and gradually widens into an impassable gulf. A divinely inspired and therefore inerrable record can adapt itself to the progress of human thought only by forced in- terpretations and positive perversions of its original meaning. Hence the supreme importance which all systems of religion attach to hermeneutics, the science of sciences, as Origen called it, absolutely essential to the evolution of doctrinal theology. It was Samuel Werenfels who said of the Bible :

" Hic liber est, in quo quisque sua dogmata quaerit, Invenit et pariter dogmata quisque sua."

The same idea is expressed by Riickert in Die Weisheit des Brahmanen :

" Des Glaubens Bilder sind unendlich umzudeuten ; Das macht so brauchbar sie bei so verschiednen Leuten."

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