C. J. Ducasse, A Philosophical Scrutiny of Religion, 1953.

Chapter 10

A religion was defined earlier as any set of items of faith -- together with the observances, attitudes, feelings, and conduct bound up with them -- which, in so far as dominant in the individual, tend to perform for him personally, and for society through him, certain beneficial functions thereafter described. It was acknowledged, however, that in fact the various religions of the world often fail to produce those benefits, and instead are in many cases responsible for much evil. But it was pointed out that these failures of religion in the hands of its believers do not invalidate the conception of its nature set forth in that definition, any more than do the many failures of medicine invalidate the conception of medicine as the science and art of preventing, curing, or alleviating disease.

The objectivity of view of religion at which this book aims requires that we should now consider the chief evils which the critics of religion have pointed out in its history, and that we should trace them to their sources. The debit side of religion can then be compared with its credit side as represented by the social and personal services which it is its particular business to render and which in many cases it does as certainly render as it fails to do so in various others.

But further, just as the knowledge of physiology, of drugs, and of conditions that affect health and vigor, which the physician attempts to use for beneficial purposes, can also be used destructively in warfare, or by the poisoner, or by the torturer of opponents of the regime in police states, and may then be described as inversions of medicine, so may we speak of inversions of religion when the psychological principles and [169] the magic of ritual, which it is the task of religion to apply to beneficent purposes, are applied instead to malicious ones and to procurement of sadistic or selfish satisfactions to those who so apply them. Hence some account of such inversions, which can be grouped under the elastic headings of Satanism and Witchcraft, is also called for, and will be given in the next chapter.

Two Roots of the Evils Connected with Religion

The evils which as a matter of historical fact have arisen in connection with religion and are even today widely associated with it are traceable in the main to two sources: one, the ignorance or the stupidity of men; and the other, their passions.

The priests and the lay adherents of the many religions are but men, and are possessed in various degrees of the common human frailties. The priests are doubtless mostly sincere and devoted to their calling; and the rules of life to which, as professional good men, they are obliged to conform, insulate them to some extent from certain of the temptations to which laymen are exposed. On the other hand, they are subjected, and at times succumb, to the special temptations which go with positions of authority over other men -- temptations to pride of office, to love of power, to arbitrariness, arrogance, and self-seeking. Virtue is easier to preach than to practice, and vice is detected more easily in others than in one's self.

For the lay adherents, on the other hand, counsels of virtue are easier to listen to humbly than to follow, and vices are easier to confess and do penance for than to give up. Even into the most sincere attempts of the layman to understand and apply the religious teachings he receives, the common human passions easily inject themselves, as well as the ignorance or stupidity common to men in matters foreign to their everyday experience or special occupation; and this often [170] distorts the teachings and subverts the social and personal functions which it is their task to perform.

But the teachings themselves, which are given out in the name of religion, are in many cases demonstrably erroneous or foolish. The common failure to detect this -- at least in one's own religion -- is traceable to the fact emphasized in the last chapter, that religious beliefs are matters not of evidence but essentially of pious acceptance; and that men often give such acceptance not only to beliefs which, although unevidenced, tend to function anyway beneficially, but also to beliefs labeled religious which, had they not been sneaked in and firmly implanted by early suggestion, would be critically examined and easily recognized as pernicious, and as false or at least gratuitous.

The less evidence we have in support of our beliefs, the more emotionally we cling to them, and the more intolerant we then are of contrary ones and indeed of the open-minded objectivity with which the scientific spirit approaches questions as to the truth or the value of any given belief. "Objectivism," which in matters political is nowadays reckoned by communists as a doctrinal sin, has under other names long in fact been so reckoned by religious bigots in matters of their own religion. What has been called the warfare between religion and science has actually not been essentially about specific beliefs. At the root, it has rather been a conflict between, on the one hand, the insistence of the scientific spirit upon man's right and indeed duty to examine impartially the credentials of every belief and, on the other, religion's instinctive opposition to freedom of inquiry where religious beliefs are concerned -- an opposition which is a psychological corollary of the fact that these do not have the firm status of knowledge but only the precarious status of faith. As Morris Cohen points out, "the historic opposition [of religion] to science has not been a vagary of wicked theologians but has arisen out of the very spirit which has animated most, if not [171] all, of the religions which have appeared in history . . . We inherit our traditional ritual with its implicit faith and emotional content almost with our mother's milk, and we naturally cling to it as passionately as we do to all things which have thus become part of our being, our family, our country, our language." Hence, "When religious opinion becomes formulated, it naturally expresses itself in absolute claims," and religion therefore "never preaches the duty of critical thought, of searching or investigating proposed facts." ["The Dark Side of Religion," an essay contributed by Morris Cohen to a symposium, Religion Today, ed. A. L. Swift, Jr. (New York: Whittlesey House, 1933), pp. 80, 84. The writer is indebted to this essay for a number of points and for various references in the present chapter. In that essay, at the editor's request, Cohen was presenting only the darker side of religion.]

Evils of Religious Obscurantism

One of the chief evils to be laid at the door of religion in history is that the claims to absolute truth and authority, to which Cohen refers, have often greatly obstructed the search of science for verifiable truths, and sometimes also the application of the knowledge science had won, or even of ordinary common sense, to the relief of human suffering. Such obstruction, moreover, has been not only through psychological pressure but also in many cases through force when the agents of religion happened to have it at their command.

Examples of the militant obscurantism inspired in them not only in Christendom but elsewhere by their religious beliefs are innumerable, and many of them are cited in Draper's History of the Conflict Between Religion and Science (1875) and in books by various other authors; in particular, in White's two-volume History of the Warfare of Science with Theology in Christendom (1896), which is probably the best known and one of the most elaborately documented works on the subject.

The victories of science have by this time been so complete in many of these conflicts that the vanquished opinions -- for [172] instance, that the earth is flat, that it is motionless and is the center of the universe, etc. -- which at one time were strictly enjoined supposedly as based on divine revelations, are in the present generation thoroughly dead hypotheses for the vast majority of even half-educated persons. Because of this, it is easy today to underestimate the fierceness of the persecutions religious bigotry has been and still is capable of when possessed of power. For the sake of a realistic perspective on the matter, it will therefore be well to mention here explicitly first a few of the examples of active religious obscurantism discussed by White.

He considers to begin with the violent attacks upon the evolutionary theory of the origin of the world and of the animate and inanimate things in it, which were inspired by the theological belief that the world was created some six thousand years ago out of nothing by God's hands or fiat in six days of twenty-four hours each -- a belief based on the language of the Bible, and on the belief that every word of it was dictated or inspired by God himself and is therefore literally and absolutely true. Many of the Christians who today take it for granted that the "days" of Genesis are to be interpreted in the sense of epochs and that the various evolutionary processes are the methods of creating which God chose to employ, do not realize that even so moderately liberal an interpretation -- which seems to them the obvious reconciliation of their reverence for the Bible with the facts established by science -- represents a triumph of reason over literalism. It hardly occurs to them that such an interpretation would, not so long ago, have been regarded as shockingly heretical and have been bitterly condemned by Protestants and Catholics alike. Indeed, it would still be so regarded by some even today.

On this point, White quotes St. Augustine's famous statement: "Nothing is to be accepted save on the authority of Scripture, since greater is that authority than all the powers of the human mind"; and Luther's declaration: "I hold that [173] the animals took their being at once upon the word of God, as did also the fishes in the sea." White also refers his readers to the passages where Calvin "insists that all species of animals were created in six days, each made up of an evening, and a morning, and that no new species has ever appeared since. [Andrew D. White, History of the Warfare of Science with Theology in Christendom (New York: Appleton-Century-Crofts, Inc., 1917), Vol. I, pp. 25-26. The references to St. Augustine's, Luther's, and Calvin's writings are given in the footnote on p. 28.]

The turning point in the history of the conflict between theological and scientific thought on this subject may be regarded as marked by Alfred Russel Wallace's memoir to the Linnaean Society in 1858 and the publication of Darwin's Origin of Species in 1859. The reaction of the theologians to the ideas therein set forth is exemplified by the statements of Bishop Wilberforce, that "the principle of natural selection is absolutely incompatible with the word of God," that it "contradicts the revealed relations of creation to its Creator," that it is "inconsistent with the fulness of his glory" and is "a dishonoring view of Nature." [Quoted by White, op. cit., p. 70, Wilberforce's statements are from an article in The Quarterly Review for July, 1860.]

In spite of similar bitter attacks on evolutionary theory, which raged for some time both in England and in other countries, an increasing majority of educated and thinking persons have come to believe that, as Giordano Bruno maintained, the Bible is not a treatise on matters of natural science, and that its value to mankind is found in the elevated moral and spiritual teachings which, among less edifying other things, are contained in the Old and the New Testaments.

Had Darwin lived two hundred years earlier, and fallen into the power of the Inquisition, what his fate would have been at the hands of the custodians of Jesus' message of love can be inferred from that of Giordano Bruno, who as just noted had insisted that the Scriptures were never intended to teach [174] science but morals only, and that they cannot be received as of any authority on astronomical and physical subjects. In 1600 he was burned at the stake in Rome -- "the special charge against him being that he had taught the plurality of worlds, a doctrine repugnant to the whole tenor of Scripture and inimical to revealed religion, especially as regards the plan of salvation." [J. W. Draper, History of the Conflict between Religion and Science (New York: Appleton-Century-Crofts, Inc., 1896), pp. 178-80.]

Copernicus, early in the sixteenth century, had formulated his heliocentric interpretation of the observable astronomical facts, but he prudently delayed until 1543 the publication of his book. In spite of its cautious wording, however, it was condemned by the Inquisition as heretical, and only the fact that Copernicus was then on his deathbed saved him from consequences such as befell Galileo. The telescope the latter constructed revealed to him the existence of satellites revolving in orbits around Jupiter. Also the fact until then unknown that Venus shows phases similar to those of the moon. This fact disposed of the objection which had been made to the Copemican theory, that although if it were correct such phases should exist, yet none could be observed -- an objection which until then Galileo had not known how to meet. In 1632, he therefore published his "System of the World." This resulted in his being called by the Inquisition to Rome where, after imprisonment and by threats of torture, he was finally compelled to utter the following recantation: "I, Galileo, being in my seventieth year, being a prisoner and on my knees, and before your Eminences, having before my eyes the Holy Gospel, which I touch with my hands, abjure, curse, and detest the error and the heresy of the movement of the earth." [Quoted by White, op. cit., p. 142, who gives a full account of the attacks on Galileo and his views, and of later attempts to repudiate the official condemnation of them (pp. 130-57).] The story that in the same breath he muttered: [175] "eppur si move!" -- "and yet it does move!" -- is, although fictitious, doubtless true of what he was thinking as he recited the prescribed recantation.

White, after showing that "The Protestant Church was hardly less energetic against this new astronomy than the mother Church," remarks that, fortunately, "Protestantism had no such power to oppose the development of the Coper-nican ideas as the older Church had enjoyed."

That religious opposition to the heliocentric theory has not been wholly confined to Christianity is shown by the fact that Aristarchus of Samos (310-230 B.C.), who had put forward the hypothesis "that the fixed stars and the sun remain unmoved, that the earth revolves round the sun on the circumference of a circle, the sun lying at the center of the orbit," [Quoted by Sir Wm. Dampier, History of Science (New York: The Macrmllan Co., 1936), p. 48.] -- a hypothesis which Seleucus in Babylonia then accepted and developed -- was charged with impiety by the Stoic Cleanthes.

Opposition to Vaccination and Anesthetics

Many are the other items which must be entered on the debit side in the history of Christianity. Among them may be mentioned the violent attacks against inoculation for the prevention of disease, on such grounds as that diseases are sent by Providence for the punishment of sin, that the attempt to prevent them in this manner is "a diabolical operation," a "flying in the face of Providence," that smallpox is "a judgment of God on the sins of the people" and that "to avert it is to provoke him more," that inoculation is "an encroachment on the prerogatives of Jehovah, whose right it is to wound and smite," etc. Vaccination likewise was bitterly opposed as "bidding defiance to Heaven itself, even to the will of God" and on the ground that "the law of God prohibits the practice." [Statements quoted by White, op. cit., Vol. II, pp. 55-56, 58.] [176]

Regarding recourse to cocaine and other anesthetics, White records that the use of coca by the natives of Peru was condemned by the Second Council of Lima in 1567, and that a royal decree followed, declaring that "the notions entertained by the natives regarding it are an illusion of the devil." In 1591, a noblewoman was burned alive in Edinburgh for having sought relief of pain at the birth of her children. The woman to whom she applied for this, Agnes Sampson, was in the same year herself strangled for witchcraft and her body burned. [J. Ashton, The Devil in Britain and America (London: Ward & Downey, 1896), p. 289. This book, incidentally, gives on its frontispiece a "facsimile of the only known specimen of the Devil's writing!"] The later use of chloroform for the purpose of easing the pains of childbirth was opposed on the ground that to do so was "to avoid one part of the primeval curse on woman." It is interesting in this connection to note that the most successful of the arguments by which James Simpson fought for the use of anesthetics in surgery was his appeal to the precedent of induced sleep "in the first surgical operation ever performed" -- the extraction of Adam's rib by God for the creation of Eve!: "And Jehovah God caused a deep sleep to fall upon the man, and he slept; and he took one of his ribs, and closed up the flesh instead thereof." (Gen. 2:21.) [White, op. cit, Vol. II, pp. 61-63.]

Torture of the Insane and of Witches

Another black page is that of the whippings and tortures to which the insane were subjected in consequence of the belief that they were possessed by demons, who would be induced to depart if the body they had invaded was made for them too painful an abode. Still another terrible record is that of the imprisonment, torture, and execution of persons who, on evidence of a wholly imaginary type, were convicted of being witches or sorcerers. The fervor of righteousness with which [177] the sadistic persecution of these unfortunates was carried on was based on such biblical texts as: "Thou shalt not suffer a sorceress to live" (Exod. 22:18), and: "A man also or a woman that hath a familiar spirit, or that is a wizard, shall surely be put to death: they shall stone them with stones; their blood shall be upon them." (Lev. 20:27.) Dr. Emanuel Miller, author of a work on Modern Psychotherapy, remarks in his article on insanity in Chambers' Encyclopedia that "the insecurity, misery and unrest produced by wars and pestilence, 'confessions' extorted by torture, and the effect of such books as the infamous Malleus Maleficarum combined to make the lot of many insane and hysterical persons horrible in the 15th. and 16th. centuries, though it was not only at them that the procedures for detecting witches and sorcerers came to be directed."

The Malleus, published in 1484, was written by two professors of theology, Henry Kramer and James Sprenger, who were appointed by Pope Innocent VIII as Inquisitors into witchcraft and heresy. The book was translated some years ago by the Reverend Montague Summers under the title "The Hammer of Witches which destroyeth Witches and their heresy as with a two edged sword." It argues for the reality of witches, of witchcraft, and of possession by demons. It specifies the kinds of acts that are witchcraft, the methods of questioning witnesses, and various sorts of torture by means of which to get witches and sorcerers to confess. During the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries it was used by Inquisitors as handbook.

It is interesting to note that in the introduction to the 1928 edition of his translation, Summers, a man of vast erudition, refers to the Malleus, not like Dr. Miller, as infamous, but as "this venerable volume" . . . "this great work -- admirable in spite of its trifling blemishes." He regards it as based not in perverse imagination but in facts, and as a useful manual for dealing with them. He believes that all the revolutionary [178] movements in history have been inspired by the Devil and have employed witchcraft. Bromberg, in his The Mind of Man, The Story of Man's Conquest of Mental Illness, quotes Summers on this point as follows: "In fact, heresy was one huge revolutionary body exploiting its forces through a hundred different channels and having as its object chaos and destruction . . . The teachings of the Waldenses and the Albigenses, the Henricians, the Poor Men of Lyons, the Cathari, the Vaudois, the Bogomiles and the Manichees . . . were in reality the same dark fraternity just as the Third International, the Anarchists, the Nihilists and the Bolsheviks are in every sense, save the mere label, entirely identical." [Walter Bromberg, The Mind of Man (New York: Harper & Bros., 1937), p. 57. Bromberg's quotation is from Summers' Introduction to the 1928 edition (London: John Radker) of his translation of the Malleus. Summers' Introduction to the 1948 edition (London: Pushkin Press) is different and slightly more sober. The 1928 Introduction is a truly extraordinary document, of whose tenor the brief quotation in the text gives but a mild idea.] The whole of Bromberg's Chapter IV, "Witchcraft, the Mass Delusion," should be read. The details it supplies make vividly concrete the terrible situation in which persons thought to be insane, possessed, or obsessed, or to be heretics and practitioners of witchcraft, found themselves. He calls attention to the numerous confessions on the part of witches, admitting having consorted with Satan and going into elaborate details about it. He sees them as "examples of what is known nowadays as memory falsification and pathological lying," and he writes: "It is probable that many individuals convicted and burned as witches were buoyed by an intense masochism or overcome by hysteria. It is difficult otherwise to understand how so many willingly admitted consorting with the devil, with the punishment of death hanging over their heads." [Bromberg, op. cit., p. 60.]

The confessions of the witches, however, bring to mind the extraordinary, seemingly free confessions at trials in communist [179] countries made in our day by persons accused of spying or of plotting against the regime. The light thrown upon the psychology of these confessions by the accounts of the treatment which eventually brought them about, furnished by the few persons who, like Robert Vogeler, recently got away to tell the tale, illuminates also the confessions of the "witches." Besides, it must not be forgotten that most of the persons who, though accused of witchcraft, knew themselves to be guiltless of it, nevertheless believed in its reality and in that of the Devil quite as firmly as did their judges. Hence, when they had been psychologically battered into sufficient suggestibility, the ideas concerning witchcraft with which their minds had long been equipped were readily brought, out as statements of facts by means of leading questions.

Everyone has heard of the trials for witchcraft in New England, but it is safe to say that few persons that have not looked up the details of these or of like affairs elsewhere can have any but a faint idea of the madness which at times gripped whole communities -- men, women and children, and learned and ignorant alike -- where the matter of witchcraft was concerned.

The Salem witch hunt had its roots in the household of the Reverend Samuel Parris, where his daughter Betty and her cousin Abigail fell under the fascination of the strange tales and practices of Tituba, a half-Carib and half-Negro slave woman from Barbados. Other girls soon joined the circle, most notable among them twelve-year-old Ann Putnam. Eventually Betty first, then Abigail, and then the others began to act strangely, barking and running on all fours like dogs, shrieking contorted in convulsions, and so on. Much excitement naturally resulted in the village, and a physician was called to examine the girls. Unable to find anything physically wrong with them, he declared that "the evil hand is on them." Marion Starkey, whose recent book is a well-documented and highly readable account of the whole affair, remarks that "the [180] girls at this point were having a wonderful time. Their present notoriety was infinitely rewarding to childish natures beset by infantile cravings for attention. Hitherto snubbed and disregarded they were now cosseted and made of." [Marion Starkey, The Devil in Massachusetts (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, Inc., 1949), p. 30. The book contains an extensive selected bibliography. Older notable and more detailed accounts are Charles W. Upham, Salem Witchcraft (Boston: Wiggin & Lunt, 1867), and Samuel G. Drake's edition of Cotton Mather, The Wonders of the Invisible World, and of Robert Calef, More Wonders of the Invisible World, published with notes by Drake under the title The Witchcraft Delusion in New England (Roxbury: Woodward's Historical Series, 1866).]

The girls being unable to name the witches tormenting them, suspects were suggested to them. They eventually acknowledged Tituba first, then Sarah Good and Sarah Osburne, and later spontaneously named many others, as witches that were pinching, biting and otherwise tormenting them. No denials by the accused availed, for the accusers declared that they could see the "Shape" of the witch when it came and afflicted them. Evidently, no possibility existed of disproving this, and it was accepted as fact by the judges. Some of the accused confessed under torture, and it went easier with them than with those -- like George Burroughs, the respected and good Rebecca Nurse, and others -- who steadfastly refused "to belye themselves" under torture, and whose steadfastness was taken as proof that the Devil was lending them strength. They were hanged on Witches' Hill.

When a man was convicted of witchcraft, his property was automatically forfeited. Giles Cory, bent on preserving it for his heirs, refused to plead either guilty or not guilty when accused, and therefore could not be convicted. To move him to plead, he was subjected to "pressing" -- the form of torture prescribed for such cases. Stretched on his back in a field, boards were laid over him and rocks piled on them. But instead of yielding, he said only: "More rocks!" One of those present, who felt doubts as to whether this was really justice, was reassured when informed that, at the time Cory was being [181] pressed to death, poor innocent little Ann Putnam was also undergoing the torture of pressing -- by the Shape of a witch none but herself could see, and from whom she was delivered only at the last moment!

Upham records that "children were not only permitted, but induced to become witnesses against their parents, and parents against their children . . . When Martha Carrier was arrested, four of her children were also taken into custody. An indictment against one of them is among the papers. Under the terrors brought to bear upon them they were prevailed on to be confessors." And Upham quotes from the questioning in part as follows:

It was asked Sarah Carrier by the magistrates, --

How long has thou been a witch? -- Ever since I was six years old.

How old are you now? -- Near eight years old . . .

Who made you a witch? -- My mother: she made me set my hand to a book. . . .

How did you afflict folks? -- I pinched them.

And she said she had no puppets, but she went to them that she afflicted. Being asked whether she went in her body or her spirit, she said in her spirit. She said her mother carried her thither to afflict.

How did your mother carry you when she was in prison? -- She came like a black cat.

How did you know it was your mother? -- The cat told me so, that she was my mother . . . [Upham, op. cit., Vol. 2, pp. 209-10. ]

White mentions that "one poor woman was charged with 'giving a look toward the great meeting house in Salem, and immediately a demon entered the house and tore down a part of it.' This cause for the falling of a piece of poorly nailed wainscoting seemed perfectly satisfactory to Dr. Cotton Mather, as well as to the judge and jury, and she was hanged, protesting her innocence." [Ibid., Vol. 2, p. 150.]

Outbreaks of hysteria similar to that of the little girls at Salem, and likewise regarded at the time as due to witchcraft [182] or possession by demons, have not been rare. A variety of them in several countries are mentioned by White, among them the famous case of the Ursuline nuns in the convent at Loudun in France. An epidemic of convulsions, howlings of blasphemies and obscenities, etc., broke out among them, which was ascribed by some of them to their having been bewitched by a priest of the neighborhood, Urbain Grandier. "Even in the agony of torture he refused to confess the crimes that his enemies suggested, [and he was] hanged and burned." [Ibid., Vol. 2, pp. 144, 140-57.]

The modes of torture employed to prove witches or to induce them to confess were many and ingenious. Some of them are described by Theda Kenyon, who remarks that "the notorious Salem witch-trials are famous out of all proportion to their number or importance; and are chiefly notable for the comparative lack of cruelty with which they were conducted." The number of persons involved was insignificant as compared with that of the victims in Europe under the Inquisition: "In one bishopric, in a space of three months, more than six hundred 'witches' were sent to the stake; in Geneva, five hundred were condemned in the same length of time; in Como, a thousand in less than a year; twenty per cent of the population of Lindheim, Germany; thirty thousand in France, during the reign of Henri III; whereas the Parliament of Toulouse ordered four hundred of these unhappy creatures burned at one time." The same author, commenting on the psychology of those who conducted these persecutions, concludes that "nearly half a million people were tortured to satisfy the devil within their persecutors. Men have always offered altruistic reasons for the satisfaction of their own desires. Inevitably, they wrote down their own glutting cruelty against these defenseless thousands as an act 'for the good of the race,' and particularly of the victims. It was, they murmured sanctimoniously, the only way to save the souls which had been sold [183] to Satan, and safeguard those of the few who had not yet been defiled." [Theda Kenyon, Witches Still Live (New York: Ives Washbum, Inc., 1929); chap. 19, "The Persecution of the Witch," pp. 279, 281, 290.]

The persecution of witches, of course, was not alone by the Inquisition of the Church of Rome. Bromberg, in the chapter of his book already cited, notes that it was "carried along by Protestant churches in Great Britain and Germany. In Protestant Geneva 500 persons were burned in the year 1515 . . . With the advent of the Protestant Reformation, demonology experienced an increase in intensity." He mentions in support the Salem affair and "the severity of the Scottish Kirk of the 17th. century toward witches," and he describes in some detail the case of Geillis Duncane, celebrated in the annals of the Scottish courts, quoting from the book "Daemonologie," by King James I, which "illustrates the technique of sober witch-finding during the Reformation." [Bromberg, op. cit., pp. 61, 64.]

Cruel Practices Demanded by Some Religions

Cohen gives several pages to the mention of cruel practices sanctioned or enjoined by various religions. "In ancient Mexico we have the wholesale sacrifice of prisoners as a form of the national cultus. In the ancient East we have the sacrifice of children to Moloch. Even the Greeks were not entirely free from this religious custom, as the story of the sacrifice of Iphigenia by her father testifies." Other instances are the sacrifice of virgins cast in the Well of the Maidens at Chichen Itza in Yucatan, and the religious duty of widows in India to die on the funeral pyre of their deceased husbands.

Again, "the doctrine of a loving and all-merciful god professed by Christianity and Islam has not prevented either one from preaching and practicing the duty to hate and persecute [184] those who do not believe." [Cohen, op. cit., pp. 90, 91, et. seq.] Murderous intolerance of heresy is enjoined in the Bible: Jehovah commands the stoning to death of anyone "in the midst of thee, within any of thy gates . . . [who] hath gone and served other gods and worshipped them, or the sun, or the moon, or any of the host of heaven, which I have not commanded . . . thou shalt stone them to death with stones." (Deut. 17:2-5.) And farther on, "But the prophet that shall speak a word presumptuously in my name, which I have not commanded him to speak, or that shall speak in the name of other gods, that same prophet shall die." (Deut. 18:20.) In Psalm 137 where Edom is cursed, the joy of cruel revenge for captivity is extolled in the last two verses: "O daughter of Babylon, that art to be destroyed, happy shall he be, that rewardeth thee as thou hast served us. Happy shall he be that taketh and dasheth thy little ones against the rock."

Gratuitous Fears; Obsolete Practices and the Relativity of Values

Other evils yet remain to be added to the debit side of religion. One of them is the fear, indeed the terror, inspired in some persons by their belief that they are essentially sinful and guilty, and therefore in dire danger of eternal damnation. This sense of sinfulness is at its worst in the many cases where it is traceable not to awareness of having committed any specific or particularly grievous sin, but to such early teachings as that of the doctrine of original sin, according to which human nature was corrupted at the root by Adam's disobedience of God in the matter of apples; again, that some men are predestined to be damned; that man is a "miserable sinner"; and so on.

Such beliefs, when planted in the fertile soil of childhood's vivid imagination, can curse a person's emotional life from [185] then to the end of his days. This seems to have been the case with Betty, the Reverend Samuel Parris' unfortunate little daughter -- with what consequences for others we have seen. The lurid colors in which revivalists and other preachers have loved to paint the awful wrath of God and the terrible torments of the eternal hell he provides for persistent sinners; the vivid pictures of the Devil as lurking in any dark corner to seize the heedless as they pass; the elaborate catalogues and technical definitions of the varieties and degrees of sins of omission and of commission, which make it difficult not to believe one's self guilty of much one had not suspected -- all this easily generates in suggestible persons exposed to it a haunting fear of the supernatural in life and a terror of death, rather than courage, sanity and inner peace.

Again, a natural consequence of the fact that religious beliefs are matters not of knowledge but of faith is that instructions contained in the sacred books of a religion as to practical matters such as food and drink, sanitation, and the like, which may have been objectively valid relative to the external circumstances existent at one time or place, and to the limits at that time of man's ability to control them, may continue to be obeyed blindly ages after those circumstances have changed or after man has learned to mold them to his will. An example of a religious dietary prohibition which has a sound basis, but which was ignorantly generalized beyond its range of validity, is the biblical injunction against eating pork; for it is unwholesome only when not cooked enough to destroy the trichinae it often contains, which now are but were not then known to be responsible for the illness eating it sometimes causes.

Similar remarks would apply to religious regulations concerning, for instance, marriage between relatives. The prohibition of marriage between brother and sister, which has a generally sound biological basis, has at times ignorantly been so extended as to forbid a man's marrying his widowed [186] sister-in-law -- a marriage which would in general be wholly free from the biological risks which on the contrary would attach to his marrying a close blood relative. Again, some beliefs which ages ago were incorporated in the scriptures of a religion have no basis other than some purely superficial resemblance. An example would be the Old Testament belief that the rabbit chews the cud as do cows and other ruminants: "And the coney, because he cheweth the cud but parteth not the hoof, he is unclean unto you. And the hare, because she cheweth the cud but parteth not the hoof, she is unclean unto you." (Lev. 11:5, 6.) "The camel and the hare, and the coney, because they chew the cud but part not the hoof, they are unclean unto you." (Deut. 14:7.)

To ascertain what causes what, and under what circumstances, always is a difficult business even when one has a firm grasp of the principles of experimentation and of statistical inquiry. The beliefs a society imbeds in its sacred books, as to what practices are socially or physically beneficial or prejudicial, hardly ever originate out of investigations conducted according to those principles. Rather, they are likely to have arisen out of inferences of the post hoc, ergo propter hoc kind, made in cases where two events which occurred accidentally in close sequence happened to be of striking or important sorts.

Obviously, practices or modes of behavior which might contribute to the social welfare in a primitive society, or in a society possessed only of certain material or technological resources, or in one living under certain special conditions, might have very different effects in a less primitive society, or in one differently equipped or situated. It is in such an anthropological sense that "values" can be said to be relative -- indeed, relative not only with respect to different societies or different epochs in a given society, but also to some extent with respect to different individuals in one society. Much of the current confusion on the subject of values, which has arisen [187] out of the investigations of anthropologists and sociologists, would be avoided if it were seen that what is commonly described as relativity of values, should in strictness be described as relativity or variability of the sources of value; and that such relativity is perfectly compatible with a categorical, universally applicable conception of the nature of value itself, as distinguished from the nature of the various things, practices, etc., which happen to have value at some places and times but not at some others, or for some persons but not for some others.

It is quite possible to hold, for instance, as do some philosophical hedonists, including the writer, that value -- or, more specifically, value positive as distinguished from negative, and intrinsic as distinguished from instrumental -- consists in pleasantness; and at the same time to recognize or rather insist on the plain fact that what is a source of pleasurable experience for one person can be the opposite for another person or for the same person at another time or in a different context. Obvious examples would be mountain climbing, engaging in scientific research, the doing of altruistic acts, reading poetry, participation in religious ceremonies, listening to classical music, playing bridge, and so on. Moreover, these and other activities differ not only in the degree of intrinsic value they have for different persons -- that is, in the immediate enjoyment or the opposite found in them by persons of different tastes, physiques, habits, etc. -- but also, of course, in their instrumental value; that is, in the intrinsic value of their consequences direct or indirect, for the variety of persons who experience those consequences. In connection with the inclination of pragmatists to emphasize considerations of utility, it is important to remember that, ultimately, whatever is useful is so only to the attaining of something useless -- but that "useless" means here, not having no value, but having intrinsic value, i.e., having value in and of itself, not merely as means to something other than itself. And further, it is only experiences themselves -- states of mind -- not the things or situations [188] experienced, which have intrinsic value, whether positive or negative.

Religion as Inhibiting Initiative

We have already mentioned the charge that religious beliefs, by acting as an opiate, have deterred men from exercising the common sense and the powers they actually possessed to ameliorate certain of the conditions under which they were living. For the sake of a just perspective, we pointed out that there are many cases where even man's best efforts fail to help him, and that an opiate is then a blessing not a curse. In such cases, to condemn religious consolation, and to urge scientific research instead, is like denying morphine to a man in pain from advanced cancer on the plea that science will surely discover a cure for this disease sooner or later.

But granting all this, the fact remains that there are many other cases, in which it is quite true that religious beliefs inhibit men from using the knowledge and powers they actually possess to remedy the evils they suffer. So long, for example, as, under the teachings of their religion, men believe that kings rule by divine right, they are inhibited from exerting themselves to overthow a monarchy that happens to be tyrannical. So long as men believe that God intends that woman shall suffer in childbirth, they will, as we have seen, neglect or prevent the use of means which may be available to alleviate or eliminate the pains of parturition. So long as man believes God intends that the poor shall always be with us, he will do nothing to eliminate poverty from the social setup, even if the discoveries of scientists and the enterprise of men of vision have made production so efficient that grinding poverty need no longer be the fate of any man.

These and similar evil effects of certain religious beliefs are facts. Justice, however, requires us to point out that the inhibiting of man from attempting to improve his lot or to [189] enlarge his knowledge is not a monopoly of faith specifically religious, but is a capacity possessed likewise by political or economic or other faiths. And indeed, even by "scientific" faiths; that is, by the orthodoxies which grow up too in matters of scientific theory, and which sometimes deter run-of-the-mill scientists, or even distinguished ones, from investigating reports of certain facts the theories of the day could not account for; and cause these scientists instead to ignore those facts or to deny them a priori. Religious faith, it is quite true, has often enough blinded or reconciled men to various oppressions under which they lived. But faith in, for instance, the politico-economic ideology of communism blinds no less effectively those who have it to the heavy chains in which men actually live where that faith has possessed itself of power; and where, moreover -- no doubt with the good intentions which ever pave the way to hell -- it exercises power with a ferocity the thoroughness of which hardly finds a parallel even in the darkest pages of religious tyranny. Such tyrannies forget that Utopia, or Paradise, is not at a distant place or time, but is the social state of affairs which, irrespective of theologies or ideologies, automatically comes into existence at the very place and time where two or more men deal with one another both intelligently and in a brotherly spirit. Attainment of the ideal social end consists in employment now of means both intelligent and kind.

Religion? or Theology?

A glance at the evils which have actually been connected with religion causes one to wonder whether the conception of religion set forth in Chapter 8 -- according to which religion is an essentially beneficent kind of force -- is consistent with the historical facts. White, from whose book we have quoted at various points in what precedes, also conceives religion as essentially beneficent, and reconciles this with the record of [190] evils he cites by distinguishing between religion and theology, and by entering the evils to the debit of theology and the goods to the credit of religion.

Morris Cohen, in the essay we have cited, comments on this kind of device -- although without referring specifically to White. "In the interests of intellectual honesty," he writes, "we must . . . reject the identification of religion with the mere sentiment of benevolence or with altruistic conduct." To identify religion "with vague altruism rules out not only all the historic, tribal, and national religions, Hinduism, and most of the Old Testament, but also Christianity of the Orthodox, Catholic, and fundamentalist-Protestant type. All post-Hellenic cults have insisted on sacraments like baptism and on the acceptance of dogmas about the Trinity, the incarnation, the fall of man, the atonement, eternal hell, and the like. Worse than that! This 'liberal' or non-dogmatic view is logically bound to apply the term religious to philanthropic atheists and communists . . . And indeed there are many who do speak of communism as a religion." [ Ibid., p. 78.]

The conception of religion formulated in Chapter 8, however, is far from identifying religion with "the mere sentiment of benevolence or with altruistic conduct." Rather, it holds that to foster these is one of the functions of religion. Nor does it ignore the fact that dogmas of various sorts are a part of all religions. On the contrary, it conceives religious beliefs as implements for performance of the functions peculiar to the cultural agency termed Religion -- implements sometimes effective in various degrees, but sometimes instead stupidly subversive of those functions. Again, the conception of religion we have formulated does not exclude the possibility -- explicitly recognized by us as by Marshall -- that a person may have no religion and yet may conduct himself "religiously," that is, live -- out of the spontaneous impulses of an exceptionally fine nature, instead of out of belief of some set of religious [191] dogmas -- in the very manner which it is the proper function of religious dogmas to motivate. Our contention has been that there is a certain kind of social benefit and a certain kind of personal benefit for which a need exists, and that conferring these benefits in cases where nothing else does so is the special task which differentiates the particular kind of social agency called "religion" from those called "art," "science," "government," and so on. Whether, or how well or ill, a given religion actually performs that task in a given society or for a given individual is another question, the answer to which does not touch the contention that religion is the sort of social agency whose distinctive function is to minister to the social and the personal needs we have described. From our empirical point of view, the account which a given religion may itself give of its distinctive function -- for instance, to save men's souls from hell and win them heaven -- is itself one of the dogmas of that religion -- one of the beliefs which in it function as more or less effective or ineffective implements for performance of the social and the personal tasks we have mentioned.

We have already referred to medicine in order to illustrate the fact that an agency may be essentially dedicated to a beneficent task, and yet may in practice perform it very imperfectly; or even do mischief instead in many cases, because of ignorance, stupidity, or defects of character in its representatives or in the persons to whose needs it is its business to minister. Perhaps a still more telling illustration, to account for the fact that religion has done much evil notwithstanding that its distinguishing task is to do good of the specific kinds described, would be the following.

The essence of a knife obviously consists in capacity to cut. But a given object that has this capacity relatively to materials such as wood, paper, cheese, etc., may well not have it relatively to certain others, such as stone, steel, etc. Moreover, it may have that capacity in various degrees: a knife may [192] be more or less hard, and more or less sharp or dull, and thus have a broader or narrower range of effectiveness. Again, a knife may become knicked, bent, encrusted with dirt and rust-and even if these do not wholly rob it of the capacity to cut, without which it would no longer be a knife at all, they may nevertheless have objectionable effects. And further, an object which is a knife has unavoidably also a variety of capacities other than that of being used for cutting; for instance, it can be used instead as a paper weight, or as a lever, etc.

Now, what is thus true of a knife is true also, mutatis mutandis, of implements of any other kind; and a religion-comprising its beliefs and the observances, attitudes, feelings, practices and ritual connected with the beliefs -- is essentially an implement. Therefore, in spite of the beneficent nature of the specific task that is proper to the kind of implement religion is, any particular religion is subject, like a knife, to limitations, failures, subversions, and accidents of various kinds.

In considering the question raised by Cohen -- whether Communism is a religion -- there would seem to be no reason to deny it the name in spite of its atheism if, as pointed out earlier, belief in a God or gods is not of the essence of religion but is merely a feature of many religions; and if in addition one agrees that the basic beliefs of the communist ideology are matters not of scientific knowledge but only of pious faith -- a contention which has a way of making devout Communists particularly furious. That, in practice, a vast amount of gratuitous evil is inflicted on men where Communists are in power, and that this evil is inflicted with the best of intentions, does not mark off but rather assimilates Communism to some of the other historical religions that have had force at their disposal. Their spokesmen too contended in effect, like Mr. Gromyko as spokesman for his "people's democracies," that their purpose was the well-being of all the people, [193] "whether they like it or not." [Quoted by G. A. Borgese in the Unesco volume Democracy in a World of Tensions (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1951), p. 40.] As Bertrand Russell points out, what Marx did was to adapt to Socialism, as St. Augustine did to Christianity, "the Jewish pattern of history, past and future" -- a pattern which "is such as to make a powerful appeal to the oppressed and unfortunate at all times." Russell goes on to say that "to understand Marx psychologically, one should use the following dictionary: Yahweh = Dialectical Materialism; The Messiah = Marx; The Elect = The Proletariat; The Church = The Communist Party; The Second Coming = The Revolution; Hell = Punishment of the Capitalists; The Millenium = The Communist Commonwealth." And Russell adds that, in each of these equations, "the terms on the left give the emotional content of the terms on the right, and it is this emotional content, familiar to those who have had a Christian or a Jewish upbringing, that makes Marx's eschatology credible." [Bertrand Russell, A History of Western Philosophy (New York: Simon Schuster, Inc., 1945), pp. 363-64.] As someone has recently remarked, the success Communism has actually had has been as a religion, much rather than as an economic or political system.

Three remarks are now apposite in connection with the particular nature of the functions we submitted as peculiar to religion. One of these functions, it will be recalled, was education of the individual's heart, that is, the fostering in him of the noble impulses to justice and self-sacrifice. Now the first point to notice is that this function is performable by a religion not solely, nor indeed most effectively, by preaching justice and altruism -- which many religions do not do -- but also and chiefly by motivating its adherents to act in manners that are noble, i.e., that subordinate his private desires to the demands of his group. The practice of forms of action noble "i this objective sense tends to generate noble impulses and [194] feelings on the subjective side, whether or not justice and altruism be explicitly preached in abstract terms.

A second point is that this is so quite irrespective of whether the demands of the group for such subordination are based on a true conception of what makes for its welfare, or are rooted only in a belief that the gods, on whose favor that welfare is supposed to depend, prescribe the modes of conduct, the sacrifices, ceremonies, practices, etc., which the group demands the individual shall comply with irrespective of the personal cost to him. The noble impulse -- the regard for the welfare of the group -- which tends to get built up in him by such de facto compliance, is, in kind, conducive to group welfare even if the particular practices that built up that impulse happened to be of no objective value or even to some extent detrimental.

Lastly, compliance by the individual with the demands of his fellows as supposedly being the demands of the gods, brings to him automatically even in the primitive religions some peace of mind -- some feeling of confidence and security -- instead of the anxiety that goes with selfish neglect or refusal to comply. And to bring about a measure of such serenity is, we have contended, one of the functions of religion.