Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 37.djvu/363

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WHY SO MANY DEFINITIONS OF RELIGION?

his Theism, regards it as a "belief in some god or powers above on which we depend, and who are interested in us; together with the feelings and practices resulting from such belief." Somewhat like this, but more explicit, is Prof. Whitney's definition, "A belief in a supernatural being or beings, whose actions are seen in the works of creation, and of such relation on the part of man toward this being or beings as to prompt the believer to acts of propitiation and worship, and to the regulation of conduct." De Pressensé thinks "true religion has to do with the relation of the soul to God," and Prof. Palmer sums it all up as "the bond between the science of ethics and the science of theology."

Many more definitions might be given, but let these few suffice; for they are typical of some sixty or more that have been examined. One is at once led to ask, Why are there so many definitions of a fact that is so universally admitted to be as real as any fact in the realm of mind or heart? Although the definitions are many, they can not be said to be contradictory or antagonistic. When carefully examined, it will be found that they each describe what their respective authors, either from personal experience or observation, thought was the controlling element exhibited at the moment of religious awakening. They are many, simply because the element exhibited then is not the same with all, but varies most markedly with environment, temperament, and general intellectual advancement.

It is now admitted that the religious element, if it appears at all, is called forth while one is reflecting on his personal destiny. There is then born a conviction that our future existence is not unalterably fixed, as that of the stone and the brute, but depends largely on our will. We feel that ideals have a large part to play in determining our future condition, and we desire to select such material out of all our environment—yes, ought to select such—to weave as a woof into the web of hereditary tendency, as will make for us characters most nearly like unto the pattern given in our ideal. In brief, it may be said that the religious element of the life is called out the moment one earnestly asks the question, "What must I do to be saved"—reach my ideal? That it does ever appear at this moment seems now to be a necessary conclusion from psychical study, a most careful examination of the marked religious awakenings in our own and other religious systems, from a study of the world's great religious leaders, and last of all, by a study of the varying element in the historic changes of religious thought. More than simply an enumeration of these lines of evidence can not be here given. Admitting this to be a fact, the reason why there are so many definitions will at once be perfectly clear; for it will be found they each describe what