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The Evolution of Theology


I conceive that the origin, the growth, the decline, and the fall of
those speculations respecting the existence, the powers, and the
dispositions of beings analogous to men, but more or less devoid of
corporeal qualities, which may be broadly included under the head
of theology, are phenomena the study of which legitimately falls
within the province of the anthropologist. And it is purely as a
question of anthropology (a department of biology to which, at
various times, I have given a good deal of attention) that I propose
to treat of the evolution of theology in the following pages.
With theology as a code of dogmas which are to be believed, or
at any rate repeated, under penalty of present or future punishment,
or as a storehouse of anaesthetics for those who find the pains of
life too hard to bear, I have nothing to do; and, so far as it may be
possible, I shall avoid the expression of any opinion as to the
objective truth or falsehood of the systems of theological
speculation of which I may find occasion to speak. From my
present point of view, theology is regarded as a natural product of
the operations of the human mind, under the conditions of its
existence, just as any other branch of science, or the arts of
architecture, or music, or painting are such products. Like them,
theology has a history. Like them also, it is to be met with in
certain simple and rudimentary forms; and these can be connected
by a multitude of gradations, which exist or have existed, among
people of various ages and races, with the most highly developed
theologies of past and present times. It is not my object to interfere,
even in the slightest degree, with beliefs which anybody holds
sacred; or to alter the conviction of any one who is of opinion that,
in dealing with theology, we ought to be guided by considerations
different from those which would be thought appropriate if the
problem lay in the province of chemistry or of mineralogy. And if
people of these ways of thinking choose to read beyond the present
paragraph, the responsibility for meeting with anything they may
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