Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Positive Religion

Not long ago a lecture was delivered in London, of which “the novelty was the maintenance of the religious sentiment on atheistical grounds.” This struck us at the time as a very surprising novelty indeed; and it was with some curiosity that we read a pamphlet published at New York, and intended to give a popular exposition of “Religious Positivism.” It is a translation or summary of the Positivist Calendar, or transitional system of Public Commemoration instituted by Auguste Comte. Its author is a Mr. Henry Edger, and it bears the modest motto, Diis extinctis Deoque, successit humanitas.

This is not the place to enter upon a discussion of the principles of M. Comte's philosophy; but when any system commences what Mr. Edger calls “a propagande,” addressed not ad clerum, but ad populum, its teaching becomes a fair subject for popular discussion. It is for this reason that we prefer the examination of Mr. Edger's pamphlet to a full inquiry into the original work of M. Comte. Small as they are, the few sheets before us develope a system which, on more accounts than one, deserves attention. The style in which it is delivered is very obscure, and the subject is in itself difficult; but we will do our best to translate it into a form intelligible to our readers in general, or, in Mr. Edger's own language, to those who are, like ourselves, in that “intermediary intellectual state" which Positivists describe as “the metaphysical transition.”

It is, as most persons are aware, one of the principal objects of Positive philosophy to discover “analogues” for all the feelings and opinions which have exercised a lasting influence on mankind. It is its business and its glory to point out in their true proportions, scientifically ascertained, the facts which our metaphysical spectacles distort. Every widely-spread conception rests on some positive truth. Discover that, and you have the benefits of existing institutions and modes of thought free from their abuses. Now, no one can shut his eyes to the fact that various conceptions of God, of prayer, of the soul, and of human society considered as a whole, have exercised the deepest influence over the fortunes of our race. Chains of reasoning sufficiently familiar have led Positivists to the conclusion that all these conceptions are fundamentally wrong, and not only false, but contradictory. Up to this point many other speculators have preceded them; but their peculiar crowning glory is that they have discovered the “analogues” of these conceptions, and can give us a religion capable of doing all that the old religions ever professed themselves able to do, and resting on foundations as impregnable by scepticism as those of mathematical science. First, then, what is man? Man is the aggregate of certain phenomena, some of which are quantitative—capable of being weighed, measured, and so forth—and others “vital”— i.e., existing only as energies and impulses. These impulses may ultimately be reduced to eighteen—ten of which are principles of action, five means of action, and three (courage, prudence, and firmness) are their ultimate result, as far as the individual is concerned—the organs by which the other fifteen act upon the material part of man, and so upon the outer world. These eighteen impulses, taken together, constitute the soul, and they are all functions of the brain. Except as a property of our organization, the soul has no existence.

Having got the “analogue” of the “theologico-metaphysical entity” called the soul, we must, in order to arrive at the “analogues” of God and of prayer, go back to the ten principles of action, or, as they are called, “affective motors.” Seven of these, viz., the nutritive, the sexual, the maternal, the military, and the industrial instincts, and the desires for power and approbation are personal; and the other three, viz., attachment, veneration, and love, are social ; and these are the “analogues” of moral good and evil. A good man is one whose three social “affective motors” are stronger than his seven personal “affective motors,” and vice versa; and the origin and essence of evil consists in the fact that the latter were originally much stronger, and are still often stronger than the former. The balance, however, has been to a certain extent redressed in modern European society, and this has been brought about by the growth of those social relations which carry a man out of himself, and thereby-strengthen his social as compared with his personal springs of action. The objects of these social affections appear upon examination to be three—viz., the Family, the State, and the human race—or rather, not only the human race, but all beings capable of becoming the objects of affection; and thus we are led to the conclusion that the triumph of good over evil would consist in “the fusion of man into Humanity,” the destruction of personality, “our great enemy, the true Satan,” and the universal devotion of every individual to the interests of all, his own share of the energies of his affective motors being only a rateable one.

We have now got the “analogues” of the soul, of good and evil, and of the opposition between the two. What is the “analogue” of God? It is, we learn, the “Supreme Being,” that to which the “affective motors” ultimately “converge,” that is to say, Humanity—the sum total of all human beings, past, present, and to come, the great leviathan of which we are all the organs, and in which—when our affective motors have put under our feet that Satan, our personality—we shall all be absorbed. Now, Prayer has always been supposed by the slaves of “theological creeds,” to be the form in which men directly address God, and the problem is to find its “analogue,” those of man and God being given. To address “Humanity” (even with the largest H), is, as Mr. Edger very justly feels, rather a waste of time; but though Humanity does not care for you, you may bring yourself to care for it, and the mental discipline which trains you to do so is the “analogue" of prayer. Prayer, therefore, consists in meditations undertaken with the express object of exciting the worshipper's affection for Humanity.

We have now therefore attained to a systematic view of the great problems which have so long vexed mankind. Here we have distinct conceptions of God and man, of good and evil, and finally of prayer, and now what is to be done with them? The Positivist answer is that they are to serve as a base for the reconstruction of human society, and especially of the ecclesiastical department of it. We have not space to go into all the reforms which are to be carried out in the course of the process, but we will try to give some account of the new Positivist church.

The “affective motors,” as we have already observed, have two other objects besides Humanity—that is to say, the Family and the Nation. The new worship therefore will have a triple division—Personal, domestic, and national; but inasmuch as an ungrateful world does not as yet fully appreciate the new church, the two first of these are alone “susceptible of an immediate development.” The personal religion of earnest Positivists is accordingly depicted in Mr. Edger's pamphlet with a good faith and intensity of feeling which are perfectly astounding. A Buddhist missionary preaching in Hyde Park on the propriety of passing our lives in self-contemplation and repeating the name of Buddha, would not be more astonishing than this pious Atheist. “It is only by the assiduous practice of personal and domestic worship that the sincere adherents of our religion can be adequately prepared to become the agents of its systematic establishment.’ These adherents are, however, the very salt of the earth:
‘The rich, when the certainty of its principle becomes manifest, will take it [Positivism] and patronize it, no doubt: that is the natural order of things. But it is the feeble and the suffering, the down-trodden and the persecuted, the half-despairing doubter, who, never losing religious aspirations amidst the dreary wastes of scepticism into which the hollowness of the conventional creeds had driven him, plants his foot with joy unutterable upon the solid rock of positive Faith; the baffled and discomfited socialist, who finds his dreams of harmony and attraction vanishing into smoke, and, as the sole result of his aberrations, discord more harsh, oppression more cruel, affections more lacerated; the social outcast, the despised, the “publicans and sinners;” —these are the true natural supporters of a movement of universal, social, and moral regeneration during that period when no others, if only from their social position, are likely to hear anything about it, or care anything about it. Not, indeed, that many even of these can be reached; for they all have prejudices, rendered inveterate by unjust suffering, which stand directly in the way of their own redemption. Such souls as these, however, Positivism, and Positivism alone, can effectually redeem, scattering their delusions, and placing them in harmony with the immutable realities of the world and of life, and at the same time realizing the noble aspirations that ever underlie their wildest aberrations, and transforming themselves from injurious perturbators into the pioneers of a better order, a purer morality, a loftier and sublimer religion than any that have yet blessed the world.’

Personal prayer consists of two great branches:
‘The Family furnishes every true believer with types and representatives of the Great Being, spontaneously apt to develop each element of altruism. The predominating type is the Mother, who must specially stimulate and exercise the organ of veneration, while the WIFE similarly cultivates attachment, and the DAUGHTER goodness and protective love.’
If a man is not blessed with these relatives, he may make shift with his sisters, or even, in case of necessity, with “male adjuncts.” In other words, the Positivist Paterfamilias is to sit down, of malice prepense, two or three times a day, to reflect upon his affection for all of his relatives. To a slave of the metaphysical transition, such a practice seems likely to end in parricide. “The private worship,” we are told, “essentially addressed to Woman, elevates the female sex into the spontaneous representative, and type of Humanity.” Woman, however, is not the only object of adoration. “The Invocation of the Memory of the Dead,” is another item in this remarkable faith. “Three times a day, morning, noon, and night, does the Positivist systematically seek to revive within his own brain the image of those among his friends and connexions taken away by death who constitute to him the best representatives of Humanity;” and in this undertaking he “does not neglect the aid furnished to him by the accumulated asthetic treasures of Humanity.” We suppose this to mean that the Positivist has his friends' busts or portraits at hand on the occasion. The Positivist worship is a sort of atheistical parody of the Roman Catholic ritual—the three observances which we have mentioned being obviously the “analogues" of the worship of the Virgin, the Invocation of the Saints, and the use of relics. But this is brought out far more clearly in the theory—for at present it can be no more—of civil worship. This is to consist principally in the administration of nine sacraments. First, the new-born infant is to be solemnly presented to Humanity. Then when the seven years' education, which is to be conferred on him by the State, begins, he is to be solemnly initiated. Choosing a profession is the sacrament of destination. Marriage is a sacrament, because its principal object is the development of the affective motors. Then there is a sort of declaration of maturity —the “analogue,” we presume, of confirmation—at forty-two. There is a sacrament of retreat from active life at sixty-three— one of transformation at death, or rather burial—and finally, “seven years after death, every such servant, as shall be adjudged to be worthy of such an apotheosis, will be religiously incorporated in the eternal subjective existence of Humanity.” Such is the new religion. Its priests are to be “emphatically educators,” consistently enough with the view that an identity of all fundamental opinions is the sine quá non of the whole scheme; and, also in perfect consistency, they are to begin by being physicians.

We have done our best to give a fair account of this extraordinary dream. It would be useless to say a word in criticism of it, but one or two observations suggest themselves which may be worth offering. Most of our readers will no doubt have read the admirable papers on Buddhism which appeared very lately in the Times, and which have just been reprinted, with the author's (Mr. Max Müller's) name, in a separate form. It is impossible not to be struck, in reading Mr. Edger's pamphlet, with the extraordinary analogy which exists between his account of M. Comte's religion and M. Müller's account of Buddhism. Existence is the Buddhist's hell, and annihilation his heaven. In just, the same spirit M. Comte looks upon personality as the origin of evil. Once make the “affective motors” direct their efforts to Humanity at large, and estrange them from the individual I, and that blessed “altruism” which is the Positivist summum bonum, ensues. The “fusion of man into humanity” is only the Positivist form of the Buddhist absorption of the good into the everlasting nothing.  This appears, perhaps, most clearly from M. Comte's use of the much abused word “subjective.” He appears to mean by it that which is the object of thought only, and which has no independent existence. Humanity, for example—the analogue of God—is “principally subjective," i.e., though eternal, its eternity, a parte post and a parte ante, consists only in the recollections and anticipations of the existing generations of men; so that to be “fused into Humanity,” is neither more nor less than to lose all individual existence—to cease to exist. In perfect conformity with this, Mr. Edger describes death as the act of “passing from an objective into a subjective state.” According to Buddhism, annihilation is a reward reserved for the supremely good, but Positivism is a sort of atheistical universalism. No matter what you may be here, you will “become subjective" before long, and the worst that can happen to you is, that you may be denied the “sacrament of incorporation,” a sort of loss one could put up with.

How any human being out of Bedlam could preach such doctrine as we have attempted to describe, is at first sight inconceivable; but when we reflect on the hold which Buddhism and the gross superstitions which are its “analogue” in the popular mind, have long exercised over a vast proportion of the human race, we shall perhaps be brought to see that a belief in life and immortality are by no means such obvious and commonplace truths as our English modes of thought and Christian education would incline us to consider them to be.

We have done our best to give a serious account of a strange subject, but we cannot take leave of Mr. Edger without observing that the hopeless folly of the substance of his scheme is only matched by the extravagant absurdity of some of its minor developments. Of all the misbegotten jargons that it was ever our misfortune to read, that which is produced by the union of M. Comte's French with English is the worst. It is irritating enough to see “actual" used for “present,” “tableau” for “table,” and “ensemble” for “sum ;” but when we come to such phrases as “the social incorporation of the modern Proletariat,” “the civic bond constituting an intermediary between the elementary domestic union and the universal relationship,” “the mediaeval evolution,” “eminently exceptional Judaism,” &c., we feel a satisfactory assurance that the new religion is as alien to the English language as it will ever be to English understandings and affections. We must also notice that in order to consolidate the new religion a new calendar has been formed, which “all true Positivists use,” and which, with a characteristically French appreciation of the dignity of France, dates from 1789. It consists of thirteen lunar months, dedicated respectively to Moses, Homer, Aristotle, Archimedes, Caesar, St. Paul, Charlemagne, Dante, Guttenberg, Shakspeare, Descartes, Frederic II., and Bichat. The odd day is dedicated to a “universal celebration of the dead;" and once in four years there is to be a “general celebration of holy women.” Every day of the year is put under the patronage of some great man—“adjuncts” being appointed to some days, to be celebrated in leap year. Some of these are irresistibly absurd. Thus the 20th Moses is dedicated to Manco-Capac, or, in leap years, to the literal King of the Cannibal Islands—Tamma-hammaka. The 26th of the same month is given to John the Baptist, and the 27th, to Haroun al Raschid; though we do not observe our old friend Sinbad. On the 18th, the faithful will have the satisfaction of worshipping “the Theocrats of Thibet;” and on the 19th, “the Theocrats of Japan.” The present paper is published, according to the new style, on 3rd Charlemagne 69, being the festival of Otho the Great, and (on leap years) of Henry the Fowler.

Saturday Review, June 20, 1857.

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