If religion were simultaneously civilisation, there would be as many civilisations as there are religions. But history shows how a certain religion, being universal, may spread to various civilisations and how, on the contrary, a certain civilisation may contain adherents of various religions. The terms Christian, Moslem, Buddhist civilisation are simple expressions of current speech without importance for science — as is also the expression European civilisation (there are four civilisations in Europe).
Civilisations are not ordered according to religion, but it cannot be doubted that religion is everywhere the most important part of civilisation, since it exerts an enormous influence on abstract concepts.642 How significant it is that the Chinese (and the Japanese) are commonly reproached with a lack of capacity for abstraction! It may be related with the fact that the whole of Chinese civilisation is a-religious.
Even the lowest of religions has an abstract side, since it contains a system embracing the attitude of the natural to the supernatural world. The very recognition of a supernatural world must lead to the formation of abstract concepts. Every religion, even Shamanism, is concerned with the action of spiritual forces among material forces, and with the exercise of influence on matter in the name of spirit. This tendency may appear in caricature, as among the Shamans, the Jains and Tantrists, but some rudiment of it exists. Implicitly it also contains a conviction of the superiority of the supernatural world. Every religion wants to bring something from that world to earth, in order to perfect earthly life by instilling into it something of the other-worldly. In every religion there is an impulse towards the spiritualisation of life.
But examining this common characteristic more closely, we notice enormous differences in methods of formulation, and in consequence a very dissimilar relation between religions and civilisations. Here the inequality of religions becomes glaringly apparent. The thesis of the equality of religions was born under “enlightened absolutism”, and then became a fundamental tenet of liberalism; it has permeated almost all legislation since the middle of the nineteenth century, and to the present day constitutes one of the certainties of the average “intellectual”. It is a crowning error, and perhaps nowhere more forcibly felt than in the study of civilisation. If religions were in principle equal to each other, they would in principle influence civilisations identically; differences of quantity, not quality would arise.
The ideal of a religion calling forth the fulness of life was tha dream of Egyptian priests, and then of the strongest heads in Hellenistic civilisation. They dreamed of a synthesis of two or even of several religions, they tried an artificial religion to help in the attainment of higher levels of civilisation and to unite peoples. But the experiment of Ptolemy I of Egypt and of his son-in-law Lysimach of Thrace, then also ruling in Phrygia, failed. Tymoteus Eumolpida of Eleusis, reformer of the cults of Isida and Attis, was summoned from Greece. Serapis was transformed into Zeus and there was an attempted synthesis of Hellenistic and Asiatic beliefs, the Asiatic element being reduced where opportunity offered. The subjects of the Diadochs were said to accept this synthesis, and outwardly it was accepted, but constant additions drawn from all hands in the interest of the development of the synthesis resulted in unworthy and debasing absurdities. Ptolemy and Timoteus of Eleusis wanted to provide a ready developed civilisation with a religion “suitable” to perpetuate and elevate it — but the result was the opposite.643 They supposed that as civilisation is stronger than religion, the latter would lend itself to adjustment — which in reality does happen; but religion can never be artificially created.
Then the first Ghengis Khan, Temuchin, tried to found a political religion for the generality of his State. The title Sutu Bogdo adopted by him in 1189 means no less than incarnation of god. Nestorian and Buddhist influences mingled in this religion of the “luminous hind”. But the idea was a failure, and the universal Mongol State disintegrated later precisely for religious reasons, on account of the struggle between Islam, Mongol Yassak and Nestorianism. In the end even Kipchak (Eurasia from the Yenisei to the Don) fell because of Islamic, Mongolian “Yassak” and Nestorian rivalry.644 On this occasion religions proved stronger than civilisations.
Dreams of a synthesis of religions have not been lacking down to contemporary Hitlerism’s testing of its strength in the workshop of artificial religion. The question thus arises whether religion creates civilisation, or civilisation religion.
We have seen how certain civilisations developed Buddhism — and Islam also — entirely after their own fashion, and adapted to their needs; we have seen how Buddhism may even become polytheist, and Islam in India contribute to an increase in the number of gods; we have learned that Coptic and Abyssinian Christianity shamed the Cross. And alongside these is Catholicism, creating the splendid Latin civilisation and raising all those with which it comes in contact by its four ethical postulates for the organisation of communal life.
Religions are thus most unequal in their relation — passive and active — to civilisations. Religions close to one another theologically may be in opposite camps where civilisation is concerned, for instance Catholicism and the Byzantine schism; but, on the other hand, adherents of religions theologically foreign to each other may belong to the same civilisation. If religion were one with civilisation that katsap from Tula would of necessity be closer to us in civilisation than the Vilno Calvinist. Between Orthodox and Catholic on Polish territory the division in civilisation amounted to a precipice, but has anybody noticed a division in civilisation between the Catholic and the Evangelical in the Duchy of Cieszyn?
On the subject of religious interference in civilisation, Islam interferes more than Christianity as a whole, and incomparably more than Catholicism; but this is true only of the old school which considers that a true believer is allowed only what the Koran explicitly permits. On the other hand, a second school, asserting that everything which the Koran does not explicitly forbid is permitted, gives to communal life an almost Christian freedom, at least in principle. Such men were always in a minority in the Moslem world, but there were and are such. In either case the Moslem receives considerably more numerous religious directives in the sphere of civilisation than the Catholic.
If a test of religion were to be religious legislation in matters of health, the struggle for existence, learning, art, government, if that were to constitute the ideal of religion, then the Brahmin and the Jewish would stand highest, for both create whole civilisations on an exclusively religious basis.
There are thus sacral, semi-sacral, and non-sacral civilisations. Since “by their fruits you shall know them”, let us consider the consequences of massive interference by religion in civilisation. State institutions among Jews and Hindus came to a standstill at a very elementary level, and the two peoples have revealed a total incapacity to create States of any size. Even their material culture was acquired by Jews from the Gentiles, and among adherents of Brahmins to this day only a few in every thousand are not beggars. In their thousands of years of history the Jews have written few pages in the intellectual development of the nations, and those thanks to a retreat from sacralism “among the nations”. It is only in the last generation that Hindus have taken up educational work.
In sacral civilisations religion acts as a brake on progress. A religion which defines everything in categories of being must at the same time petrify everything, and in consequence its adherents are often helpless in face of new currents emerging in the process of time. Where everything is established a priori, where there is no doubt and no inquiry, progress is excluded and instead there is danger of stagnation. The Jews saved their civilisation thanks only to their departure from Palestine and the introduction into religion of a geographical relativity. The Hindus, on the other hand, constitute a classic example of complete helplessness.
Of the considerable civilisations, I regard two only as certainly sacral. The Tibetan is doubtful. We know that it is a theocracy, but not its departments or scale of operation. The ruling class is the clergy, but does the social organisation possess no autonomy? What kind of clan is there, and what kind of clan law do they have with their polyandry? And what of the triple law, concepts of property, and the property and inheritance law? These are unknowns, and until the gaps are filled, it is not possible to discuss this civilisation. Unfortunately, travellers and missionaries prefer to specialise in accounts of wedding and funeral rites, and in the externals of life generally, in the belief that they are engaged in serious study: it is a rare bird among them who pays attention to the fundamental matters I have mentioned. It may be that Tibetan civilisation is semi-sacral, like the Arabic.
The magnitude of the fall of the Moslem peoples, which rouses the astonishment of scholars, was due to the cramping effect of an Islam unequal to the problems of historical development; for the Moslem, at the most involved moments of his history, religion ceased to be the lever of life. The highest cultures in Arabic civilisation, the Baghdad and the Cordoban, sometimes leant outside Islam, whence came a split between the higher and lower classes, which often developed into a conflict dividing society and destroying State institutions. In Turanian civilisation, on the other hand, Islam encouraged Turanian camp-mindedness but nothing else and the wild remained wild.
It amounts to this, that sacral-type civilisations do arise, but the type is inferior. Identity of civilisation and religion leads to under-development of civilisation; in such over-close association standstill must be reached. Thus the power of religion’s influence on civilisation is apparent; power no less than that of language. As an imperfect language in the end checks the development of a civilisation, in the same way — but to an even greater extent — religion of an inferior order will help to bring civilisation to a standstill. Significantly, only inferior religions produce out of themselves sacral civilisations. The higher the level of a religion the less of the sacral it imposes on communal life.