Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 48.djvu/232

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THE question as to whether there are races or tribes on the earth entirely without a religion is one that demands on its threshold a definition of the word "religion." That it can not fairly be tied down to advanced forms of belief seems apparent, and hence the necessity of falling back on the original meaning of the word—i. e., that of binding fast the human mind to a sense of the obligation which it owes to supernatural powers. Civilization, education, may make this obligation clearer, and a professed revelation may bring before the mind the attributes of the powers to whom the obligation is felt to be due; but, as long as the obligation is mentally present and the force of the obligation fashions to any important extent not only personal but tribal conduct, so long in fairness we seem bound to acknowledge the religiousness of such persons or tribes, even though such religiousness may never create a theology, or a cut-and-dried system of doctrinal truths.

If this definition of religion be accepted, then it may boldly be asserted that, as far as is known, there is not a tribe on the face of the earth without a religion; indeed, it may be said that, of all human ideas that in any form influence the mind and conduct of man, there is no idea so widespread and influential as the religious idea. To us, living as we think in the light of reason or revelation, such religious ideas may appear unworthy of the name, but when we consider that the most indefinite belief may and indeed, as a rule, does lead a savage to fashion his conduct in accordance with what he believes to be the will of higher powers, as far as personal actions are concerned, he stands on exactly the same platform as the most devoted believer in natural or revealed religion.

In such cases, as far as the use of the word religion is concerned, it matters little what the mental idea of the higher power or powers believed in may be. That idea may center itself in a supreme God, or a Trinity of gods, or a multitude of gods, or in good and evil spirits, or in gods dwelling temporarily in common things, or in the spirits of dead ancestors or friends, but as long as any one of such powers demands and receives obedience, and as such obedience fashions life, the most indefinite spirit is practically as powerful as the most clearly defined god. And the same may be said with reference to forms or methods of worship. If the worship, whatever form it takes, is regarded as a necessity.