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WHY DO RELIGIONS DIE?— A REPLY
Before we shall be able to answer the question, Why do religions die ?
we must ask for clearer definition of what a religion is and what it
means for a religion to die. Human life has persisted on the planet
because man has come to terms in some way with the reaKties of his
environing world. This complex of customs which give security to
life is at the basis of his religion. It is this social organization which
meets the life-needs, embodies life's ideals and provides the technique of
security, which endures. It is to these age-old habits and customs that
the emotional life is attached. It is this structure which offers the
resistance to new conceptual interpretations of cosmic realities and it is
this which must be changed when a new reUgion is introduced or reUgious
reformation accomplished. The religious idealist who is unable to
embody his religion in social organization in such a way as to transform
the old order remains merely a voice. The experience of Ikhnaton in
Egypt is typical. Confucius died broken-hearted; the Han dynasty
provided the social organization and Confucianism became a reality.
Meh-ti's glowing ideaUsm remains no more than a historic fragrance.
Will anyone maintain that the Christianity of the Mediterranean world
of the first three centuries was the simple religion of Jesus of Nazareth ?
Or that orthodox Zoroastrianism of the Achaemenian empire was the
high ethical monotheism of Zoroaster? Or that the Christianity of
Abyssinia is the Christianity of the Quakers of America ? The ultimate
factor is always the social order which is the bearer and embodiment of
the fundamental interests of life. On this account the question of the
life or death of a religion will always be a specific problem in a specific
environment. There is no psychic disease which infects religions.
When a social order is transformed by the impact of external forces,
by the rise of new interests, by new embodied ideas and ideals, the old
form of a religion is on the way to death if it fails to come to terms with
this new organization of life. This is the problem which faces historic
Christianity in our Western world. The "revival of Shinto" and the
"secularization of Shinto" are ways of sa)dng that the Japanese leaders
are embod3dng the traditional naturalism of old Japan and the national
hopes of new Japan in a new religion under an old name. The so-caUed
196 THE JOURNAL OF RELIGION
death of Buddhism in India is an excellent illustration of the relentless
control of a social mind set in old forms. The soul of India always xmder-
lay the agnostic ethical way of salvation of Gautama and when, after
a few centuries, the ontology of Buddhism was assimilated to the
philosophic ideaUsm of the old world-view and Buddha was represented
as an avatar of the Supreme, there was little left either for the intellec-
tuals or for the populace to differentiate Buddhism from the Hindu
systems, philosophic and sectarian. It was not so much death as
The case of an invading or missionary reUgion furnishes another
illustration. There are two possibilities — either to transform the social
order or to adopt it and give it a new name. The latter is the usual
method in historic fact. Did paganism die in northern and central
Europe or was it christened? The laments of John Chrysostom and
the advice to missionaries from Catholic leaders to embody the old
forms are revealing. Under many of the saints, under Hallowe'en,
All Souls, Easter, is the evidence of what took place. Lawson's studies
in modern Greece show that the old folk-religion still lives after all the
centuries. The case of Buddhism in Japan is clearer. The old reUgion
was not uprooted but overlaid and renamed. A modern Japanese
intellectual may turn to the sun as the material symbol of the Absolute
Buddha, Dainichi, but the non-philosophical populace still feels the
heart thrilled by devotion to the sun-goddess Amaterasu. Can a
reUgion be said to die because it is given a new name ?
When the basis of religion in Kfe and life's needs and its embodiment
in social customs are neglected it is easy to think of a religion in terms
of doctrine and cult. This presents a difficulty, for changes do take
place. Then comes the search for an "essence" or "type" or "funda-
mentals" as the meaning of the real religion. It is a fruitless quest.
Doctrines, devitalized institutions, and forms die: but the religion of
a people does not die, for our religion, the world over, is just the way
we orient ourselves to cosmic reaHties in the interests of our larger life.
A growing religion adjusts itself to the new social order and the new
world-view and the old name carries on. So Christianity and Buddhism
have, in the past, died that they might live.
The normal program for a modern religion, then, would be to discover
what cosmic realities may be depended upon, to face life's problems, to
survey human resources, to formulate ideals and then seek ways of social
organization for the co-operative realization of them: this would be our
reUgion under whatever name. Such a program is made extremely
difficult for some of the great reUgions because of their insistence upon
UNSOLVED PROBLEMS 197
eternal truths and supernaturally revealed ways of salvation which
must not change. Here they face a modern crisis in their history, for
life will not be denied — but that is another problem.
A. Eustace Haydon
University op Chicago
DOES A PHILOSOPHY OF MORALS TEND TO UNDERMINE
THE CHRISTIAN FAITH IN A PERSONAL GOD ?
The Christian religion has its center of gravity in the belief that
the highest existence is personal. That is to say, the Christian reposes
his trust in a being who has in the highest degree those powers of seK-
consciousness and self-direction which we prize the most in ourselves.
It is in the exercise of these powers that we come into inner relations
with one another and into outer relations with things. Existences which
come into conscious relations with one another we call persons. When
we call the highest existence (God) personal we mean that we may have
in the exercise of our highest powers an experience of relations with
him of the same kind as those which we have with human beings at
To the Christian, God truly exists. This is not to say that he
exists in the sense in which some object of common knowledge — say, the
sun or moon — exists or that our knowledge that he exists is the same in
kind as the knowledge that such objects exist. We mean, rather, that
the self-conscious self -direction which we ourselves exercise is of the same
kind as that which constitutes the universe of things and that the being
who exercises it exists for us in the sense in which other self-conscious
beings Uke ourselves exist, namely, that without them our lives could
not have the meaning they now have. In both instances the affirmation
of existence is an act of faith — ^we are able to live the life we now con-
sciously live by the confidence that they too exercise the same kind of
activity as ourselves. Were it not so, the world would be to us a wilder-
ness and ourselves without any reason for being here.
I call this a Christian faith because Christians, the world over and in
all times, have seen in the personality of Jesus (whatever may have
been their explanation of his career) an expression of God's own char-
acter—his good purpose toward them, his self-communicability to them,
his estimate of their worth, his direction of the powers of the universe to
their good. The whole meamng of the Christian life of service to men
and confidence in one's own ultimate well-being would be thoroughly
changed, were this faith to be lost.