The Problem Of Primal Religion -- By: Kenneth M. Monroe

Journal: Bibliotheca Sacra
Volume: BSAC 088:350 (Apr 1931)
Article: The Problem Of Primal Religion
Author: Kenneth M. Monroe


The Problem Of Primal Religion

Kenneth M. Monroe

The problem of the origin of religion, and more particularly that phase of the problem pertaining to the origin of monotheism, has confronted and challenged the intellect of some of the world’s greatest scientists, philosophers and theologians. Numerous interpretations have been blended and crystallized into the prevailing manual which is presented in the majority of college and university textbooks on subjects pertaining to science, philosophy, psychology, sociology, and religion. The solution to which we refer is also propagated by the secular and religious press and proclaimed by numerous intellectuals from their pulpits in almost every country of the world.

The Anthropological Manual

The method of studying prehistoric religions naturally differs from the method applicable to a study of historic religions. In the latter case the material is abundant; in the former, exceedingly meager. However, due largely to the Comtian and Darwinian investigations and conclusions, prehistoric religion has been reconstructed to fit in with the development theory. In this reconstruction process the psychologist and the anthropologist have been working hand in hand. The former has contributed his doctrine of the psychological unity of man and the latter rebuilds for us the religion of primitive man “by a sympathetic study of the mind and the ways of modern savages and of children, and by constructive imagination on the basis of such.”1

The mile-stones in our monotheistic quest must have a beginning. It seems that at least four distinct anthropological origins have been contending for mile-stone number one. They are as follows, with no special emphasis on

the order of presentation: Mana, ghosts, totemism, and animism.

Mana is a Melanesian term which is used to designate the savage’s sense of awe in the presence of impersonal and mysterious power. This mana stage is supposed to be pre-animistic and closely related to magic. The power of a man in an adventure, the deadly work of a speeding arrow, and the cunning of an animal in the hunt, are all due to the presence of mana. The awe instilled by the presence of mana in inanimate or animate objects brought a form of worship from the heathen heart. He was in the presence of something he could not understand, and which would affect him either for good or for evil.

Herbert Spencer made popular the theory that primitive religion originated from the worship of ancestors, who appeared to their descendants in the form of ghosts. The world of the deceased was a mysterious realm quite beyond t...

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