Typos p. 358: delapidated [= dilapidated]
The new psychology and religious experience
Anthony M. Ludovici
The New English Weekly 5, 1934, pp. 356358
- p. 356 -
When Dr. Hughes says "religion" he really means Christianity. But it is important to keep the two ideas separate; for if the terms religion and Christianity are regarded as co-extensive, the task of the Christian apologist is made very much too simple.
Mankind as a whole has religious impulses and needs, which are expressed and satisfied by some locally accepted body of values and metaphysical beliefs. But only a comparatively small section of mankind has Christian means of expressing and satisfying its religious impulses and needs, while vested interests within that small section have reasons, not necessarily religious at all, for wishing to promote and defend Christianity. Thus to say that religion has weathered the storm of scientific criticism and beaten back the forces of a materialistic philosophy, and to imply that religion and Christianity are co-extensive, is about as misleading as if a Greek of A.D. 400 had said that "Religion" (i.e., the ancient Hellenic brand), had weathered the storm of Socratic and neo-Platonic philosophy.
Religion survives changes in thought and scientific knowledge, because, like horse-racing or gambling of any kind, it meets a fundamental need in the human breast. And where Christianity is the only organised resort for the people, the religious impulse will tend to be expressed in the only available form offered, i.e., Christian worship. But it is the religious need and impulse that persist and whose energy survives, and their vitality has nothing whatsoever to do with the viability or enduring power of the particular creed and form of worship whether Christian, Mahommedan or Buddhist locally organised to exploit them. To suggest by innuendo, therefore, from the persistence of the religious impulse in man, that the purely local form of exploiting it is manifesting: impressive survival power, in spite of repeated severe hostile assaults, reveals a state of confusion, whether deliberate or unconscious, which is fantastic outside a home for monomaniacs.
It is essential to be clear about this, particularly if you may be tempted to read Dr. Hughes's book; for I have rarely come across a polemical work less convincing and yet more shrewdly composed.
Nor has the absurdity of any particular form of religious exploitation much to do with the matter. Superstition among the uncultivated is clearly akin to
"The New Psychology and Religious Experience" by Thomas Hywel Hughes, M.A., D.Litt., D.D. George Allen and Unwin, Ltd. pp. 322. 10s. 6d. net.
But nowhere does Dr. Hughes distinguish between the religious impulse and the merely local form of exploiting it. The implication is that the survival of the latter proves the enduring power and validity of its claims.
Another feature of Dr. Hughes's book that will strike the careful reader is the rigorously logical claims of the author when he is attacking, his insistence upon the uttermost consistency in his opponents, and his skill in detecting the slightest flaw in their reasoning.
Is not this odd in the representative of a purely local form of religious exploitation, which withers at the first touch of logic? According to an old convention in English Law, litigants must come into court with clean hands. And if a man cannot logically defend his own position, and, in fact, renounces logic in defending it, ought he to be regarded as coming before the tribunal of Logic with clean hands?
From the start, Dr. Hughes assumes many positions which medical science alone, quite apart from an enlightened psychology, could hardly support. He still believes in the dualism of man; in the sense of sin as a divine voice reproving a man in his breast; in the view that science "deals with matter and material forces," and, therefore, creates an unsuitable atmosphere for the contemplation of religious phenomena. He believes that "the revelation of God in Christ has given us fuller knowledge of Him." He accepts Christian sex-phobia. This he reveals on pp. 125 et seq. by the trouble he takes to try to refute the claim of Leuba, Cohen, Schroeder and others that the sexual instinct is at the root of the religious impulse.
But is not the sexual instinct as good, if not better, than any other instinct as a basis for religion? Why cavil at the New Psychology for this? A psychiatrist as antiquated and yet as conscientious as Mercier said forty-four years ago that, in order to understand the connection between the sexual and religious emotion, it is only "necessary to consider the fundamental nature of both."
The very repression of sex by Christianity, which according to Dr. Hughes argues against the notion that sex is fundamental in religion, might surely be adduced as the best proof that it is thus fundamental, and that the two are as intimately connected as those puppets in the peasant barometers on the Continent, one of which recedes into the hut when the other comes forward, whether as a sign of wet or dry weather.
In any case, few positions assumed by Dr. Hughes could be logically maintained, and his rigorously logical scrutiny of his opponents' positions, therefore, strikes a distinctly odd note. What would be tolerable in a scientist's examination of a fellow-scientist's claims, is not even good taste in a Christian's examination of the New Psychology.
Nor is Dr. Hughes always as cautious as he might be. In discussing the consciousness of sin and the sense of guilt (which, according to my view, is adequately explained by the gregarious instinct), and in trying to prove that it has its origin outside natural conditions, he refers to the dog, and says: "Though it may be permissible to speak of a dog having a rudimentary conscience and as showing some evident signs of something like a sense of guilt, he has not gained this through his herd instinct. In other words, he has not found it in the society of his fellow-dogs. He has it, if at all, from his association with man. There must, then, be some other element in conscience and the sense of guilt besides the mere outgrowth of the herd instinct." (p. 204.)
We cannot now tell to what extent the dog possessed the rudiments of a conscience when he first joined man. He could hardly have left his natural gregarious state, however, without some knowledge of the rough conventions of the herd, and of the penalties incurred by a breach of them. But when he became a humble member of man's society, he obviously did encounter conventions the breaking of which involved penalties. The existence in him at present of a rudimentary conscience reared by man, does not, therefore, argue against the genesis of conscience in social conventions; it shows merely that a sense of guilt may be reared in animals by other means besides an exclusive social relationship to their own kind.
I have succeeded in inculcating the rudiments of a conscience even upon cats. Now, if this is possible as the result of taking an individualist like the cat into human society, it is surely difficult to deny that it may be done with dogs by means which are wholly analogous for those adopted by the dog-herd. No arguments in favour of a transcendental origin to conscience can, therefore, be derived from the dog's association with man; and to point, as Dr. Hughes does, to bees and buffaloes and claim that they show no trace of conscience, is to presuppose a knowledge of their lives which I doubt whether Dr. Hughes possesses. We have appreciated the rudiments of a conscience in the dog, because for thousands of years we have lived intimately with him, sharing his life as no other animal's life has ever been shared by man. What race of men, however, has ever lived as intimately with bees or buffaloes for millenniums?
This is surely an example of the pass to which Dr. Hughes is reduced in his appeal to science to defend Christianity against science.
Why not humbly accept the position that to be religiously-minded is a primitive habit of man, probably based on his Will to Power, and results from his will to explain the inexplicable of his particular period, in order to try to master it? (The fact that religions, even to-day, still try to cover what is unknown to science, and that as knowledge increases, the phenomena explained supernaturally, from the rainbow to thunder, steadily decrease, lends colour to this view.) And why not humbly accept the further position that, among religious men, one is Christian rather than Buddhist, chiefly because (a) the accident of environment has operated, and (b) to the Christian, faith has been impelled by a set of congenital or acquired psycho-physical conditions not present in all men?
The attempt on the part of the New Psychology to