Page:The Religion of Ancient Egypt.djvu/21

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6
LECTURE I.

lately were, numerous Christian populations which resented the slaughter of doves or pigeons as impious and sacrilegious. Yet neither Moslems nor Christians have ever worshipped dogs or pigeons.[1]

It is in the nature of things that persons living outside a religion, especially if they are not inclined to it, cannot understand it or its symbols unless their inquiries are conducted under conditions which are generally considered superfluous or wrong. Men are rarely conscious of the prejudices which really incapacitate them from forming impartial and true judgments on systems alien to their own habits of thought. And philosophers who may pride themselves on their freedom from prejudice may yet fail to understand whole classes of psychological phenomena which are the result of religious practice, and are familiar to those alone to whom such practice is habitual.

There is distinct evidence that the absurdity which the Egyptian religion presented to strangers disappeared on closer acquaintance with it. Philo, the philosophical

  1. Yet Mr. Herbert Spencer, Sociology, p. 354, after quoting a remark of Mr. McLennan that the dove is almost as great a god among the ancients as the serpent, says, "that the still extant symbolism of Christianity shows us the surviving effect of the belief in the ghostly character of the dove." N'est ce pas chercher midi à quatorze heures? Even if the schoolboy authorities on which Mr. McLellan relies were not absolutely worthless, surely the belief in the gospel narrative would be sufficient to account for the symbolism of the dove among populations who in their heathen condition had never heard of the dove as a divinity.