The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 37
Gradations of Religion
Gradations of Religion.
What I have said thus far, however, may not be wholly clear, unless something further should be added. A profound interior impulsion to seek the complete realization in character and in society of the highest idea of human excellence constitutes, as I have endeavored to show, the true essence of religion. But the direction taken by this interior force must depend, so far as it is affected by the human will, on the degree of intelligence at any particular time developed in the human mind. If man is ignorant and uncultured, his religion will reflect the fact; his ideal will be low and imperfect, and scarcely appear to deserve the name of an ideal at all. When the savage construes religion to include the slaying of his prisoner of war at the altar of his gods, and perhaps even the eating of his flesh in a solemn sacrificial feast, the civilized mind revolts with horror from the spectacle, and exclaims that this is not religion, but pure superstition. Yet cannot we discern, even in these horrid rites, the stirrings of a feeble sense of duty, which needs but to be enlightened to echo instantaneously the protest of civilized man? Superstition itself is a conglomerate of utterly irrational notions with this germinal principle of true religion. Education and culture, long continued through many generations, will suffice to rectify the evils of superstition by fostering the development of the divine seed it contains. Through numberless stages "must ignorant and superstitious man patiently pass, before his savage religion can become civilized, emancipated, and purified. But it concerns us all to do justice even to superstition itself, and to perceive that it page 27 is only the crude, perhaps vile and disgusting, commencement of what all the world shall at last unite to reverence. The thread that shall guide us through the tangled labyrinth of historical religion, notwithstanding the frightful sights and sounds that assail us on every hand, is the clearly conceived and firmly held principle that religion is essentially Man's effort to perfect himself according to the light that is in him; and that, in proportion as his light increases, his religion becomes purer and nobler. With this principle to guide us, we shall be ourselves amazed to see how plain grows the path we are to tread.