Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 5.djvu/548

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THE POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY.

it will perhaps surprise you to hear me discuss. I have said, at different times, that I wished to be a man of science, that I did not wish to enter here upon either philosophy or theology, and yet I am going to speak of religion. I shall continue faithful to my programme. It is as a naturalist that I shall take up the subject. As for morality, I showed the existence of the faculty; then I pointed out some general facts, reserving the special facts for the history of races. To-day, as heretofore, I shall avoid with care the dogmatic and the theologic side of the discussion.

The first fact to establish is the universality of the manifestations which belong to religion. In every country, with all peoples, in all races, we find the belief in beings superior to man, and influencing his destiny for good or evil. Everywhere we find the belief in another life succeeding to the actual life. These two notions lie at the foundation of all religions, and whoever admits them is religious. We can say, then, of man generally, that he is certainly religious.

Objections have been made to the generality of this character. Let us rapidly examine the case.

Some authors affirm that there exist atheistic people. They have cited in proof the Australians of whom I have already spoken, and the Bushmen. These are mistaken assertions; but this error may be explained. Three causes, acting together or separately, have contributed to a misunderstanding of the religious beliefs of the inferior races of humanity.

The first is the beliefs of travelers. When these travelers are missionaries, having an ardent faith but a narrow intelligence, they are easily led not to accept, as true, religious beliefs so different from their own. Often, in their eyes, these beliefs are a work of the devil; they put them aside, or do not take the trouble to discover them, and they offer us, as atheistic, people who certainly are not.

Ignorance of the language often leads to regarding a people as atheistic. A traveler encounters a savage tribe; he puts questions, well or ill, often by signs alone, on the Deity, or on the soul; the natives do not understand, and reply by some gesture of negation, and the traveler concludes that they believe neither in God nor immortality.

But, the great cause which has often led to the conclusion I am opposing, is the disdain of Europeans for savages. Generally, the European, proud of his knowledge, and overrating his superiority, judges in advance their incapacity to attain to notions a little elevated. He takes no great pains to discover what he believes does not exist. At the first failure he thinks himself right in concluding that these inferior races are incapable of attaining to the notion of God and of a future life.

Happily there are some tolerant missionaries who have studied them more closely, and laymen who have been able to see brothers in