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UNSOLVED PROBLEMS 



Editorial Note — The progress of scholarship depends upon the 
interchange of ideas among those who are engaged in the work of 
research. Scholars are constantly conscious of important prob- 
lems to which insufficient attention is being given. A clear state- 
ment of a matter which demands investigation may be the means 
of stimulating profitable discussion. The editor has asked a few 
scholars to state concisely certain problems which they would like 
to see solved in their several fields. It is hoped that this depart- 
ment of the Journal of Religion may be used for the brief, informal 
discussion of questions on which, perhaps, no one is yet ready to 
write at length. 

WHY DO RELIGIONS DIE? 

A subject upon which I have long wished for further light, and one 
which seems to me to possess great theoretical and even some practical 
interest, is the question, Why religions die. Leaving out of account the 
various primitive cults with their beliefs and mythologies, we are 
acquainted with some fourteen "historical reHgions" — sixteen if we 
include the religions of the Teutons and the Celts. Of these fourteen or 
sixteen faiths, each of which once commanded the unquestioning adher- 
ence of millions, only ten today survive. Among these ten, moreover, 
two (Buddhism and Zoroastrianism) have perished from the land of their 
origin, and a third (Jainism) is with difficulty sustaining a precarious 
life, and notes with every census the steady decline of its numbers. 
Why have some of these religions died ? Why are some of them dying ? 
May religions perish of disease or only by violence? If by disease, 
what are its symptoms and its causes ? How many diseases are there 
which in the past have proved fatal to religions ? Are the symptoms 
of any of these diseases to be found in any of the present religions of the 
world ? Are they to be found in our own ? 

Plainly the solution of this problem requires the combined resources 
of the history and the psychology of religion. In one sense it is a 
historical problem. But it is a problem which no historian of religion 
can solve unless he is possessed of considerable psychological insight and 
has studied his facts from the psychological point of view. While he 

76 



UNSOLVED PROBLEMS 77 

must base his conclusions on an exact and detailed historical knowledge 
drawn from many fields, the conclusions which he reaches must be 
largely psychological in their nature, and they will be sound conclusions 
only if drawn both from exact historical investigation and also from a 
thorough understanding of the psychology of religion. 

As is indicated in what I have said, there are nine or ten historical 
fields from which the major portion of our data must come : namely from 
the death of the Egyptian religion, the Babylonian, the Greek, the 
Roman, the Teutonic, the Celt, from the disappearance of Buddhism 
from India and of Zoroastrianism from Persia, and possibly the present 
decline of Jainism and the secularization of Shinto. 

A consideration of this list enables us at once to begin a hazy and 
tentative outline for our investigation. It is plain that some religions 
die from violence while others fall prey to internal and more subtle 
evils. Some of them disappear before militant rivals through a process 
of peaceful conversion — as for example the Celtic and Teutonic religions 
and presumably several of the others. But this fact, true as it is, only 
puts our problem in a new form instead of solving it. For when one 
religion supplants another through peaceful propaganda, what are the 
characteristics of the two religions which make this process possible? 
Christianity was a much better religion than that of the Teutons or the 
Celts; but can one safely conclude that it supplanted them because it was 
better ? If so, better in what respect ? Is it always the purer, or the 
more rational religion that wins out in the struggle for existence? If 
not, what are the sources of strength and the sources of weakness ? 

But it is not always through hostile attack, whether of the sword, the 
tongue, or the pen, that religions weaken and die. Paganism died out of 
Europe and Buddhism died out of India not merely because they were 
attacked by hostile religions; for long before there was any violent 
propaganda against them they seem to have been in something approxi- 
mating a moribund condition. 

It is in these two fields, in fact, that we are likely to find our investiga- 
tions the most fruitful. This is partly because it is in the decline of 
paganism and of Indian Buddhism that we get the question of religious 
pathology most sharply separated from the factors of violence and 
hostile missionary activity, and also because nowhere else can we find 
so much data bearing on our question. Our question in fact has already 
been answered in part by writers on these fields. There are a few 
good books dealing with the history of Buddhism which throw out 
suggestions as to the causes of its decUne; and as to the death of pagan- 
ism in Europe we are even better off. Many excellent books have been 



78 THE JOURNAL OF RELIGION 

written dealing with the triumph of Christianity and the rise and fail of 
the various Oriental cults in the Roman Empire which give us a good 
start toward the answer to our question. Yet no book with which I am 
acquainted attempts to give a complete analysis of the various causes, 
internal as well as external, which brought about the decay and death of 
Indian Buddhism or of the Greek or the Roman religion. What we 
need, moreover, is a work which should not only investigate the downfall 
of one of these but should compare the Indian and the European cases, 
glean what could be found in the decline of the other religions which have 
died, and seek to get at the social and psychological factors involved. 

The intrinsic interest of such an investigation must be evident to all. 
It is conceivable, moreover, that it might bring useful practical informa- 
tion to those who care for the health and welfare of religion today. 
It is perfectly possible that such an investigation as I have suggested 
might treat us to some mild surprises. It may be that the forces most 
feared by religious people are not truly dangerous but that the most 
insidious disease germs are not greatly feared, and perhaps not recog- 
nized. At all events, a scientific autopsy carried out in the case of each 
of the dead religions could hardly fail to be of service to all those who, 
for either academic or practical reasons, are interested in knowiag wherein 
lies the strength and wherein the weakness of the various reUgions of 
our own day, Christianity among the number. 

James Bissett Pratt 
Williams College 



CRUCIAL PROBLEMS IN BIBLICAL THEOLOGY 
It may be permissible for me to take the question asked in a broad 
enough sense to include the work I would like to see done, and the books 
written, in the different parts of my own field of biblical theology. 

In the history of Old Testament religion I do not think the last 
word has been said about the beginnings of the ethical element which is 
so distiaguishing a mark of this religion. The first inclination of the 
modern school of Old Testament science to attribute the ethical interpre- 
tation of religion to Amos and his successors was natural, but is certainly 
an inadequate account of the matter. Amos would not recognize himself 
as the discoverer of the truth that God is one who requires righteousness 
of men rather than sacrifice. How far can Uterary criticism and the 
comparative study of religions carry us toward the real secret — to put 
it as Wellhausen did— of the difference between the place of Chemosh, 
the god of Moab, and that of Yahweh, the god of Israel, in the spiritual 
history of mankind ? The blending of ethics and religion which is the