The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 37
The Cosmopolitan Use
The Cosmopolitan Use.
The vulgar cosmopolitan use of the word religion is that which loosely classes all religions together on equal terms, without making any inquiry as to their various doctrines. This is a very common Use of the word among people who have given no particular thought to the subject, but who are free from all narrow prejudice. It is so very common that I claim it as a strictly popular use of the word; and I therefore deny that the radical who thinks Buddhism is atheistic, and yet continues to call it a religion, is guilty of any use of language which is a violation of its natural and current meaning. If questioned, most people would say without reflection that religion always implies a belief in God; yet, if convinced that Buddhism has no such belief, most people would refuse to attempt (he impossible task of extruding it from its established place among the greatest religions of the world. To speak, then, of atheistic religions as at least a sposibility, is not to tamper with words at all. The vulgar cosmopolitan usage warrants it, even on an appeal to the common people.
The scholarly cosmopolitan use of the word religion is that which carefully distinguishes between religion, as a permanent force in human history, and the religions which have been or are its various special forms. It lays down no à priori principle as to what all religion must be, but applies the term impartially to everything which proves itself to be a religion by doing religion's work in the world. It exacts no theistic or atheistic belief as a condition of admittance into the family of recognized religions; it seeks the unity of them all in something deeper than any belief; it treats them as all equally natural, all more or less imperfect, all amenable to the reason of mankind for their influence on charac- page 15 ter, life, and society. This usage of the word can alone be considered scientific, or become acceptable to the spirit of science; for it is the only usage which frankly concedes to science her right to sit in judgment on all human opinions. And it is the only usage which can justify the phrase Free Religion, by construing religion in a way which thoroughly respects and conserves freedom.
"Which of these four usages we adopt, is a matter far broader than it seems; for as we use the word, so also do we conceive and treat the thing. I would not take a narrow, provincial view of what is certainly a ubiquitous and permanent fact of human history, nor knowingly cramp myself by that uncultured dialect, that mere vulgar patois of the soul, which has no words for ideas of universal import. Let our thought and our speech be alike cosmopolitan, large, and elevated, not unworthy of the profound and sublime realities with which they deal. Let us look for the meaning of that word religion in the light of universal human experience, and find it in that which is common to men of all times and climes, of all races and all phases of theological thought. Religion means something which is common to monotheistic Judaism and tritheistic Christianity,—to polytheistic Paganism and pantheistic Brahman ism and atheistic Buddhism; and this something must be discovered in depths of human nature far beneath the region where diverging thoughts appear. Despite the vast speculative chasms which yawn between these varying religions, there must be something shared by them all alike, or they would never have been classed together by the quick judgment of mankind. Nor is this something to be sought for in common beliefs or in common moral rules; these are simply products, not the productive principle itself. It must be sought for as a creative force in man, from which have proceeded all theological beliefs, whether alike or unlike, and all moral rules, whether identical or not. Not in the branches, not even in the trunk of the tree, but rather in the common sap, the common life, the common idea and law of the page 16 whole organism, must be at last discovered that secret of unity which pervades and dominates the growth of all religions. What is it?