An Anthropological ArgumentOctober 6, 2018
A second argument, of a type somewhat akin to the last, is drawn from anthropology. It appears that in primitive societies the morality of the tribe develops on lines independent of its religion.
It is therefore supposed that morality and religion are two quite different things, which only in course of time come to be united in what is called the “ moralisation of religion. ” This argument takes it for granted—and indeed it can hardly be questioned—that the higher religions are moralised ; that they conceive God’s will as necessarily good.
As in the last chapter, we may dismiss this argument by showing that it is irrelevant. For us religion is already moralised, and we must accept it as it is and not pretend that religion as known to us is still the same thing that (on the theory) it is to the savage.
But as in the case of the anti-intellectual argument from anthropology we were not content with dismissing it as irrelevant, but found it necessary to inquire more carefully into its own statements, so here it is desirable not simply to dismiss but to examine the argument. The word “ moralisation ” is the real difficulty. If a thing has at the outset nothing to do with morality, no jugglery or alchemy will bring it into relation with the moral consciousness. You cannot arbitrarily impose a category on a thing which is unfitted to receive it. And to suggest that “ social evolution ” can confer a moral value on a type of activity which has as yet no moral bearings whatever, is calling in a deus ex machina to perform feats which involve a contradiction in terms.
The moralisation of religion—the bringing of it into conformity with our moral standards—is certainly a real thing. But it is not a single event, once for all accomplished, in which religion leaves behind its old indifference to morality and learns to take cognisance of moral values.
It is a continual process in which old standards are left behind and better ones adopted. If we look at the conduct of a class or nation or culture very different from our own, we are apt to imagine for a moment that it has no morality at all. But what we mistake for an absence of morality is really the presence of a different morality. Primitive religion does not inculcate civilised morality ; why should it ? It inculcates primitive morality ; and as the one grows the other grows too.