Plato could already say in ancient times "that when men first had thoughts about the gods, with regard to the way they came into being, their characters, and the kind of activities in which they engaged, what they said about these things was not an acceptable account of them or what well regulated men would approve.." (Epinomis) We should have to agree and add that the subsequent 2500 years have managed, also, to obscure the origins, characters and deeds of the gods.
Many philosophers have quit concerning themselves with religion, believing that the road to wisdom is paved with logical forms. I doubt, however, that they can evade St. Thomas Aquinas' medieval injunction, to wit, "The name of being wise is reserved to him alone, whose consideration is about the end of the universe, which end is also the beginning of the universe." (Summa Contra Gentiles, I, 1)
In this book we take up the history of religion and consider the meaning of the universe. From the first, humanity had to be religious. It is still so. Further, it will be religious so long as it will exist. Religion is ultimately hope, and humans live on hope. So goes, in other words, much of my story. But to my surprise, I have discovered that there is really something to hope for. The two parts of my book, going from theomachy to theotropy, pursue a way from despair to new hope.
At all times every aspect of the human mind and behavior has been religiously affected. No bit of culture escapes religious relevance or effects. I mean this literally. Such is the cultural dimension of religion, which will be explained.
That religion penetrates the fullness of history and culture licenses us to draw upon any and all human settings for illustration and proof. Every person in every setting, no matter how secular, merits attention as religious man.
No trick is intended, no cunning definition of religion. Religion for us here is simply a belief in the existence of a metaphysical order, together with the practices relating to it.
The means that I employ to select, analyze, and report religious material will be recognized and approved by aficionados of scientific method. Not that the scientific method is used throughout; but, when I move off the frame of positivistic, empirical science, I execute the movement self consciously, so that an ordinary reader, a scientist, or a philosopher of science will be alerted and recognize in the procedure a defined and denoted mode of thought. Once again, no trick in intended; all of my cards are on the table.
What will follow, then is a narration in two parts and three themes. These themes are: religion as delusion; religion as politics; and religion as truth. Although treated vaguely in this order, they are also intermingled throughout.
Under the topic of religion as delusion are carried the most important components of human nature and the most important historical transactions. We shall name and discuss these. Psychology, anthropology, and history are the conventional disciplines most heavily brought into play.
Under the topic of religion as politics, we survey the religious aspects of collective behavior, showing religion again to be the most important part of social behavior, with the disciplines of sociology, politics, and philosophy most sharply involved. Science can explain every aspect of religion, but paradoxically, it is religion in the end that determines the metes and bounds of science.
Under the topic of religion as truth, we move into metaphysics. All that historical man has attempted to achieve with religion is adequately describable by the scientific method. Most of it is also disposed of as anthropological material, not true religion. The residuum of true religion, which is also describable by scientific method, is not only considerable but also exists in its own right, functionally and eternally. This body of religion does not logically or essentially engage in controversy with science, nor with politics.
Religion is an autonomous human activity, a fact of existence, like a rock or a sexual discharge. It may be useful, but its utility is not its justification nor even ordinarily expected of it. We call this activity "divine," meaning simply a person acting truly religiously. Appreciating the immediate challenge that will arise at any claim to the word "truth," we hasten to ask for a postponement of its trial until more can be said about "truthful" activity . Few will object if, in the meanwhile, we define truth as an open question of religion; one need not fear being forced to his knees.