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IT is a fair sign of our time that Pope's brave verses,
of which the above is one, have become a
favourite hymn in many liberal societies. They represent that dawning catholicity with which ascends the best and brightest hope of the world—the Religion of Humanity. May the tongues that sing it multiply, and the burden of it swell and roll onward, till nations hear it from afar and begin the chorus which shall celebrate the falling of the last wall imprisoning the hearts of men, and dividing the moral forces which, united, can conquer every evil of the world !
That “Jehovah, Jove, or Lord” should run together so smoothly in a verse, and cause no discord in a musical theme, is one more sign of the extent to which the religious sentiment has been able to conquer the ancient watch-words of war, and blend them into its own divine
harmonies. For those three names of deities, and many more that might he added to them, historically represent past and separate continents of thought and belief. It is a popular fallacy that the various deities of races were evoked purely by the religious sentiment, and originally represented its conceptions and emotions. Really those names were the crude generalisations of a primitive Science. They were names for natural forces and phenomena which gradually acquired personification as causal or ruling powers. They were next caught up by Philosophy and made centres of cosmogonies devised by the speculative mind. Dreaded at first, no doubt, by superstitious feeling as much as Evolution now, they gradually took their place in human belief, and religious sentiment grew around them,—even as in later times it has grown around, and may yet turn into dogmas, the once denounced theories of Newton. Widely different from each other were the ethnical dreams which deified the phenomena of nature, and equally different the philosophical schools that adopted them as their various bases: the religious sentiment, though essentially the same throughout the world, took the several shapes of the cosmogonies around which they grew, and their antagonisms are due to their non-religious accidents,-namely to their personifications, now known as deities.
The God in which most of us have been taught to believe was at first the name, afterwards the personification, of a group of natural phenomena; then it became the figurehead of an ancient cosmogony; and thence it was translated into a related theological system. Being the
most important factor of that theological system, it has naturally survived the crumbling of the rest of the system; but, however strong it may be, if that God be really a survival, one fragment of a system whose other parts have become discredited, its own disappearance is only a question of time.
The world has had a long experience in this matter. In the theology of our Hindoo ancestors there is intimation of a supreme deity anterior even to Brahm, but now Brahm himself has been so superseded that he is at most an honorary deity. Scholars have often remarked on the fact that there exists no temple to Brahm, but they have not so generally noted the parallel fact that there is no Christian Church specially dedicated to God, none to Jehovah, none, I believe, even to the Father. The later deities supersede the old: A friend of mine residing in a French town told me
The festival of the Sacrament is called there the Fête de Dieu—the Feast of God (our Corpus Christi). My friend having asked a sempstress if she could come and work on that day, the woman replied, “Ah no; it is the Feast of God, and he ought to have one day in the year for himself, poor dear !” We have in that compassionate - poor dear !" the probable explanation of the absence of any temple either in India or Europe named for the first person in the Trinity of either.
Each of them was an original tribal deity. He reflected the local environment, the ideas, the particular hopes of a people. Political changes, migrations, the union of provinces, bring together such tribal deities. They come
to a compromise sharing an equal dignity; so forming a triad, a trinity, an Olympian circle, of which each individual can be traced back to its provincial origin. But real equality is as impossible among gods us among races. The earlier, the more barbarian deity, representing a less advanced race, may preserve the most ancient and honoured title ; but the growing, the more modern world, will be represented by deities more adapted to new ideas and circumstances. This newer form may, indeed, be at first a mediator, between the old and the new, an adapter, an intercessor, but he—or she-will gradually supersede the original deity. So Vishnu and Siva superseded Brahm ; Zeus superseded Saturn, and Bacchus, Zeus; Thor superseded Odin; the Father superseded Jehovah, Jesus the Father, and in some countries Mary has almost superseded Jesus. And all this despite the utmost efforts of each tribe or race to modify and adapt its deity to the new circumstances and improved ideas.
The difficulty that proved fatal to their god in each case was precisely the difficulty which besets the like efforts now. Their god was born out of a certain set of circumstances, reflected a system of beliefs ; when these crumbled away he survived, but could not survive for
The system of belief was the habitat of its god whose limits he could not overpass.
Like Tithonos who received the gift of immortality, the primitive god received not the gift of perpetual youth : Tithonos, shrivelled with age, was at last compassionately changed to a grasshopper; and of many ancient deities all we now hear is a tithonic chirp.
The growth, maturity, old age, and dotage of the ancient gods represents the opening and closing of one great epoch of anthropomorphism, -an epoch in whose deities were reflected not only the passions and powers of men, but even, to a large extent, their physical conformation. Even after they ceased to be thought of as occasionally visible, the beautiful brow of one, the eyes of another the hair of a third, were pictured in poetry and art.
But the world entered on an age of philosophy. Thought set itself to the task of comprehending and explaining the universe, and generalising its phenomena to an order for the intellect. This new age expressed itself in a theism · which selected from the previous theisms so much as seemed to be required to account for the origin and existence of Nature. It ended, of course, in negation. Lucretius saw its weakness as clearly as Tyndall. It lay in the assumption that there had been a creation. Nobody had any right to assume that there ever was a period when nothing existed. And even if that were granted the demand for a cause was interminable : each cause when reached requiring reference to a further cause, ad infinitum.
The deity first. called up by the vain effort to reach a final cause for the universe was an anthropomorphic deity. That is, it was based upon the notion of an immense exertion of power of the kind that man puts forth in a small way, whenever he produces anything. Nor was the