The Heathens: Primitive Man and His Religions

The Heathens: Primitive Man and His Religions

The Heathens: Primitive Man and His Religions

The Heathens: Primitive Man and His Religions

Excerpt

Scholars were cocking horn-rimmed spectacles at primitive religion for a long time before they saw much of its real nature. Naïve in the beginning, the anthropologist collected curios: along with fetishes, kachina dolls, and the like, they brought home stories of bloody funeral rites, or of human sacrifices, or of naughty orgies held on the disarming pretex that they did something good for the crops.

In these days, however, the science of man is less simple. The museums are pretty full, and the students are experienced enough now to grasp some of the meaning of what they have found. They have come to see the social and religious practices of an uncivilized people, not as a disorderly set of superstitious habits (which might be straightened out in a hurry by anyone with a white skin), but rather as a framework of dovetailing institutions, which are clung to for the solid reason that they comfort and strengthen their possessors. This is as profoundly true of religion as it is of government and and law: religious ideas help in the struggle for existence as verily as a bow and arrow, or a fish trap. Here we have a point of great importance both in our knowledge of supposedly primitive people and in our understanding of religion itself. That is one of the things anthropology has discovered.

Do you remember the Wild Man of Borneo? The men of Borneo are not really wild. They hunt heads, it is true, but they do it from carefulness, not wildness; it is a social . . .

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