Religion: Its Impulses And Its Ends -- By: James H. Leuba

Journal: Bibliotheca Sacra
Volume: BSAC 058:232 (Oct 1901)
Article: Religion: Its Impulses And Its Ends
Author: James H. Leuba


Religion: Its Impulses And Its Ends

Prof. James H. Leuba

Religious beliefs, rites, and ceremonials from the comparative and the genetic point of view, are now, and have been for years, common subjects of exposition and discussion. The thinking world has long been interested in religious ideas and in religious practices. Much less attention has been paid to the forces behind the religious manifestations, to the impulses they reveal, and to the ideals or the ends they tend to realize. Is this because whatever is worth knowing on these subjects is already known? In our opinion, the neglect of the dynamic side of religious life is to be explained chiefly by the fact that the attention of philosophers has been occupied for the most part during the past centuries with the formal elements of psychic life. Sensations, perceptions, representations, images, ideas, have been the chief objects of their concern. In religion, it is the beliefs and the doctrines, the outward performances and the ceremonials, which have attracted and kept their attention; while the efficient and the final causes of these performances, i.e., the impulses, the cravings, the desires, and the purpose or the end, have remained in the background.

That philosophic reflection should have begun upon the formal side of conscious life is quite natural. What, if not this habit of ignoring the springs of action, is to account for the opinions, now obviously untenable, of men of the learning and acumen of Max Müller and Herbert Spencer, and for the wide acceptance of their views? The former affirms that the “perception of the Infinite” is the essence

of religion; the latter finds it to consist in “the recognition of the ultimate mystery.” A perception, a recognition, the essence of religion! They failed to observe, or at least to realize, the full meaning of the fact that not the perception of the Infinite or the recognition of the mystery, but the universal and ceaseless desire to enter into relation with the one and to penetrate the other, is what leads to the making of theologies and to religious practices.1 But for the impulse and desire, perception and recognition would leave man absolutely unconcerned and unmoved.

A psychological study of religious life had better start, therefore, with the consideration of the instincts, the needs, the impulses, the desires; in short, with the dynamic factors of which the outward religious deeds are the manifestations.

The following pages are portions of an investigation into the impulses and the ends of religious life.2

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