Human All-Too-Human, Part 1

Page 21 of 70

Sorrow is knowledge: they who know the most
Must mourn the deepest o'er the fatal truth,
The Tree of Knowledge is not that of Life.

[Pg 113]

For such troubles there is no better help than to recall the stately levity of Horace, at least for the worst hours and eclipses of the soul, and to say with him:

... quid ternis minorem
consiliis animum fatigas?
cur non sub alta vel platano vel hac
pinu jacentes.[1]

But assuredly frivolity or melancholy of every degree is better than a romantic retrospection and desertion of the flag, an approach to Christianity in any form; for according to the present condition of knowledge it is absolutely impossible to approach it without hopelessly soiling our intellectual conscience and giving ourselves away to ourselves and others. Those pains may be unpleasant enough, but we cannot become leaders and educators of mankind without pain; and woe to him who would wish to attempt this and no longer have that clear conscience!


The Truth in Religion.—In the period of rationalism justice was not done to the importance of religion, of that there is no doubt, but equally there is no doubt that in the reaction that followed this rationalism justice was far overstepped; for religions were treated lovingly,[Pg 114] even amorously, and, for instance, a deeper, even the very deepest, understanding of the world was ascribed to them; which science has only to strip of its dogmatic garment in order to possess the "truth" in unmythical form. Religions should, therefore,—this was the opinion of all opposers of rationalism,—sensu allegorico, with all consideration for the understanding of the masses, give utterance to that ancient wisdom which is wisdom itself, inasmuch as all true science of later times has always led up to it instead of away from it, so that between the oldest wisdom of mankind and all later harmonies similarity of discernment and a progress of knowledge—in case one should wish to speak of such a thing—rests not upon the nature but upon the way of communicating it. This whole conception of religion and science is thoroughly erroneous, and none would still dare to profess it if Schopenhauer's eloquence had not taken it under its protection; this resonant eloquence which, however, only reached its hearers a generation later. As surely as from Schopenhauer's religious-moral interpretations of men and the world much may be gained for the understanding of the Christian and other religions, so surely also is he mistaken about the value of religion for knowledge. Therein he himself was only a too docile pupil of the scientific teachers of his time, who all worshipped romanticism and had forsworn the spirit of enlightenment; had he been born in our present age he could not possibly have talked about the sensus allegoricus of religion; he would much rather have given[Pg 115] honour to truth, as he used to do, with the words, "no religion, direct or indirect, either as dogma or as allegory, has ever contained a truth." For each has been born of fear and necessity, through the byways of reason did it slip into existence; once, perhaps, when imperilled by science, some philosophic doctrine has lied itself into its system in order that it may be found there later, but this is a theological trick of the time when a religion already doubts itself. These tricks of theology (which certainly were practised in the early days of Christianity, as the religion of a scholarly period steeped in philosophy) have led to that superstition of the sensus allegoricus, but yet more the habits of the philosophers (especially the half-natures, the poetical philosophers and the philosophising artists), to treat all the sensations which they discovered in themselves as the fundamental nature of man in general, and hence to allow their own religious feelings an important influence in the building up of their systems. As philosophers frequently philosophised under the custom of religious habits, or at least under the anciently inherited power of that "metaphysical need," they developed doctrinal opinions which really bore a great resemblance to the Jewish or Christian or Indian religious views,—a resemblance, namely, such as children usually bear to their mothers, only that in this case the fathers were not clear about that motherhood, as happens sometimes,—but in their innocence romanced about a family likeness between all religion and science. In reality, between religions and real science there[Pg 116] exists neither relationship nor friendship, nor even enmity; they live on different planets. Every philosophy which shows a religious comet's tail shining in the darkness of its last prospects makes all the science it contains suspicious; all this is presumably also religion, even though in the guise of science. Moreover, if all nations were to agree about certain religious matters, for instance the existence of a God (which, it may be remarked, is not the case with regard to this point), this would only be an argument against those affirmed matters, for instance the existence of a God; the consensus gentium and hominum in general can only take place in case of a huge folly. On the other hand, there is no consensus omnium sapientium, with regard to any single thing, with that exception mentioned in Goethe's lines:

"Alle die Weisesten aller der Zeiten
Lcheln und winken und stimmen mit ein:
Thricht, auf Bess'rung der Thoren zu harren!
Kinder der Klugheit, o habet die Narren
Eben zum Narren auch, wie sich's gehrt!"[2]

Spoken without verse and rhyme and applied to our case, the consensus sapientium consists in this: that the consensus gentium counts as a folly.

[Pg 117]


The Origin of the Religious Cult.—If we go back to the times in which the religious life flourished to the greatest extent, we find a fundamental conviction, which we now no longer share, and whereby the doors leading to a religious life are closed to us once for all,—it concerns Nature and intercourse with her. In those times people knew nothing of natural laws; neither for earth nor for heaven is there a "must"; a season, the sunshine, the rain may come or may not come. In short, every idea of natural causality is lacking. When one rows, it is not the rowing that moves the boat, but rowing is only a magical ceremony by which one compels a dmon to move the boat. All maladies, even death itself, are the result of magical influences. Illness and death never happen naturally; the whole conception of "natural sequence" is lacking,—it dawned first amongst the older Greeks, that is, in a very late phase of humanity, in the conception of Moira, enthroned above the gods. When a man shoots with a bow, there is still always present an irrational hand and strength; if the wells suddenly dry up, men think first of subterranean dmons and their tricks; it must be the arrow of a god beneath whose invisible blow a man suddenly sinks down. In India (says Lubbock) a carpenter is accustomed to offer sacrifice to his hammer, his hatchet, and the rest of his tools; in the same way a Brahmin treats the pen with which he writes, a soldier the weapons he requires in the field of[Pg 118] battle, a mason his trowel, a labourer his plough. In the imagination of religious people all nature is a summary of the actions of conscious and voluntary creatures, an enormous complex of arbitrariness. No conclusion may be drawn with regard to everything that is outside of us, that anything will be so and so, must be so and so; the approximately sure, reliable are we,—man is the rule, nature is irregularity,—this theory contains the fundamental conviction which obtains in rude, religiously productive primitive civilisations. We latter-day men feel just the contrary,—the richer man now feels himself inwardly, the more polyphonous is the music and the noise of his soul the more powerfully the symmetry of nature works upon him; we all recognise with Goethe the great means in nature for the appeasing of the modern soul; we listen to the pendulum swing of this greatest of clocks with a longing for rest, for home and tranquillity, as if we could absorb this symmetry into ourselves and could only thereby arrive at the enjoyment of ourselves. Formerly it was otherwise; if we consider the rude, early condition of nations, or contemplate present-day savages' at close quarters, we find them most strongly influenced by law and by tradition: the individual is almost automatically bound to them, and moves with the uniformity of a pendulum. To him Nature—uncomprehended, terrible, mysterious Nature—must appear as the sphere of liberty, of voluntariness, of the higher power, even as a superhuman degree of existence, as God. In those times and conditions, however,[Pg 119] every individual felt that his existence, his happiness, and that of the family and the State, and the success of all undertakings, depended on those spontaneities of nature; certain natural events must appear at the right time, others be absent at the right time. How can one have any influence on these terrible unknown things, how can one bind the sphere of liberty? Thus he asks himself, thus he inquires anxiously;—is there, then, no means of making those powers as regular through tradition and law as you are yourself? The aim of those who believe in magic and miracles is to impose a law on nature,—and, briefly, the religious cult is a result of this aim. The problem which those people have set themselves is closely related to this: how can the weaker race dictate laws to the stronger, rule it, and guide its actions (in relation to the weaker)? One would first remember the most harmless sort of compulsion, that compulsion which one exercises when one has gained any one's affection. By imploring and praying, by submission, by the obligation of regular taxes and gifts, by flattering glorifications, it is also possible to exercise an influence upon the powers of nature, inasmuch as one gains the affections; love binds and becomes bound. Then one can make compacts by which one is mutually bound to a certain behaviour, where one gives pledges and exchanges vows. But far more important is a species of more forcible compulsion, by magic and witchcraft. As with the sorcerer's help man is able to injure a more powerful enemy and keep him in fear, as the love-charm works at[Pg 120] a distance, so the weaker man believes he can influence the mightier spirits of nature. The principal thing in all witchcraft is that we must get into our possession something that belongs to some one, hair, nails, food from their table, even their portrait, their name. With such apparatus we can then practise sorcery; for the fundamental rule is, to everything spiritual there belongs something corporeal; with the help of this we are able to bind the spirit, to injure it, and destroy it; the corporeal furnishes the handles with which we can grasp the spiritual. As man controls man, so he controls some natural spirit or other; for this has also its corporeal part by which it may be grasped. The tree and, compared with it, the seed from which it sprang,—this enigmatical contrast seems to prove that the same spirit embodied itself in both forms, now small, now large. A stone that begins to roll suddenly is the body in which a spirit operates; if there is an enormous rock lying on a lonely heath it seems impossible to conceive human strength sufficient to have brought it there, consequently the stone must have moved there by itself, that is, it must be possessed by a spirit. Everything that has a body is susceptible to witchcraft, therefore also the natural spirits. If a god is bound to his image we can use the most direct compulsion against him (through refusal of sacrificial food, scourging, binding in fetters, and so on). In order to obtain by force the missing favour of their god the lower classes in China wind cords round the image of the one who has left them in the lurch,[Pg 121] pull it down and drag it through the streets in the dust and the dirt: "You dog of a spirit," they say, "we gave you a magnificent temple to live in, we gilded you prettily, we fed you well, we offered you sacrifice, and yet you are so ungrateful." Similar forcible measures against pictures of the Saints and Virgin when they refused to do their duty in pestilence or drought, have been witnessed even during the present century in Catholic countries. Through all these magic relations to nature, countless ceremonies have been called into life; and at last, when the confusion has grown too great, an endeavour has been made to order and systematise them, in order that the favourable course of the whole progress of nature, i.e. of the great succession of the seasons, may seem to be guaranteed by a corresponding course of a system of procedure. The essence of the religious cult is to determine and confine nature to human advantage, to impress it with a legality, therefore, which it did not originally possess; while at the present time we wish to recognise the legality of nature in order to adapt ourselves to it. In short, then, the religious cult is based upon the representations of sorcery between man and man,—and the sorcerer is older than the priest. But it is likewise based upon other and nobler representations; it premises the sympathetic relation of man to man, the presence of goodwill, gratitude, the hearing of pleaders, of treaties between enemies, the granting of pledges, and the claim to the protection of property. In very low stages of[Pg 122] civilisation man does not stand in the relation of a helpless slave to nature, he is not necessarily its involuntary, bondsman. In the Greek grade of religion, particularly in relation to the Olympian gods, there may even be imagined a common life between two castes, a nobler and more powerful one, and one less noble; but in their origin both belong to each other somehow, and are of one kind; they need not be ashamed of each other. That is the nobility of the Greek religion.

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