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Thursday, November 5, 2020

Let us transport ourselves back to the times in which religious life flourished most vigorously. We will find a fundamental conviction prevalent which we no longer share and which has resulted in the closing of the door to religious life once for all so far as we are concerned: this conviction has to do with nature and intercourse with her. In those times, nothing is yet known of nature's laws. Neither for earth nor heaven is there a must. A season, sunshine, rain can come or stay away as it pleases. There is wanting, in particular, all idea of natural causation. If a man rows, it is not the oar that moves the boat, but rowing is a magical ceremony whereby a demon is constrained to move the boat. All illness, death itself, is a consequence of magical influences. In sickness and death, nothing natural is conceived. The whole idea of "natural course" is wanting. The idea dawns first upon the ancient Greeks, that is to say in a very late period of humanity, in the conception of a Moira [fate] ruling over the gods. If any person shoots off a bow, there is always an irrational strength and agency in the act. If the wells suddenly run dry, the first thought is of subterranean demons and their pranks. It must have been the dart of a god beneath whose invisible influence a human being suddenly collapses. In India, the carpenter (according to Lubbock) is in the habit of making devout offerings to his hammer and hatchet. A Brahmin treats the plume with which he writes, a soldier the weapon that he takes into the field, a mason his trowel, a labourer his plough, in the same way. All nature is, in the opinion of religious people, a total of the doings of conscious and willing beings, an immense mass of complex volitions. With all that takes place outside of us no conclusion is permissible that anything will result thus and so, must result thus and so, that we are comparatively calculable and certain in our experiences, that man is the rule, nature the rule- less. This view forms the fundamental conviction that dominates crude, religion-producing, early civilizations. We, contemporary men, feel exactly the opposite: the richer man now feels himself inwardly, the more polyphone the music and the sounding of his soul, the more powerfully does the uniformity of nature impress him. We all, with Goethe, recognize in nature the great means of repose for the soul. We listen to the pendulum stroke of this great clock with longing for rest, for absolute calm and quiescence, as if we could drink in the uniformity of nature and thereby arrive first at the enjoyment of oneself. Formerly it was the reverse: if we carry ourselves back to the periods of crude civilization, or if we contemplate contemporary savages, we will find them most strongly influenced by rule, by tradition. The individual is automatically bound to rule and tradition and moves with the uniformity of a pendulum. To him, nature—the un-comprehended, fearful, mysterious nature—must seem the domain of freedom, of volition, of a higher power, indeed as an ultra-human degree of destiny, as god. Every individual in such periods and circumstances feels that his existence, his happiness, the existence and happiness of the family, the state, the success, or failure of every undertaking, must depend upon these dispositions of nature. Certain natural events must occur at the proper time, and certain others must not occur. How can influence be exercised over this fearful unknown, how can this domain of freedom be brought under subjection? thus he asks himself; thus, he worries: Is there no means to render these powers of nature as a subject to rule and tradition as you are yourself?—The cogitation of the superstitious and magic-deluded man is upon the theme of imposing a law upon nature: and to put it briefly; religious worship is the result of such cogitation. The problem which is present to every man is closely connected with this one: how can the weaker party dictate laws to the stronger, control its acts about the weaker? At first, the most harmless form of influence is recollected, that influence which is acquired when the partiality of anyone has been won. Through beseeching and prayer, through abject humiliation, through obligations to regular gifts...