The Natural Religion of Mankind
by Manly P. Hall,
from The All-Seeing Eye
November, 1930, vol.5, no.2
What men ordinarily term religion may be de fined as a primitive tradition subjected to constant revision, reformation and restatement. The great world religions of today are products of an almost interminable process of modification. Occasionally the advent of a new religion is announced.
If we analyze its articles of faith, however, we will discover that it is only a conscientious objection to some previous cult or creed. Each succeeding religion is built coral-like upon the dead substratum of a previous order. All religious doctrines are interpretations in terms of human limitation of certain ever-existing and unchanging spiritual and ethical realities.
World Saviors are purifiers of tradition, re-shapers and reformers of doctrines.
Buddha was a conscientious objector to certain of the tenets of the Brahmans; Jesus was a conscientious objector to certain of the tenets of the Jews; and Mohammed was a conscientious objector to certain of the tenets of the Christians.
Conscientious objection is, therefore, the impulse continually arranging into new patterns the fractional parts of religious opinion. We find the reformer of things spiritual in every age and among all peoples. He is endeavoring to re-establish according to his own understanding the natural religion of man kind which has been obscured by false and idolatrous conceptions.
It is, therefore, a mistake to consider religions as essentially different, for the differences apparent in them are wholly superficial and accidental.
The philosopher should rather attempt to visualize religion as a life-giving stream whose waters, rising from an unknown source—the splendor of the Eternal Presence—have become polluted from contact with the various civilizations through which they have flowed since the beginning of time. When these waters become the carrier of the poison of perverse opinion and creedal degeneracy, purifying reformations be come necessary. These reformations, however, are not directed against the original idea but are simply efforts to return to that idea.
In this century the dilemma has become acute. The departure of theology from its fundamental premises is painfully evident, with the inevitable result that men have turned from the insufficiency of dogma to seek a fuller and more adequate revelation.
The prayer of the philosopher today must be, “Let that which is irrelevant be eliminated that the relevancies may be rendered apparent. May the Eternal Truth which is, was and ever shall be, be stated again in terms comprehensible to this civilization.”
In every generation there are men who have desired light and who have banded themselves together to investigate the deeper mysteries of God and Nature. These men have been persecuted because their discoveries threatened the integrity of prevailing opinionism. Still they have persisted and many of the symbols of alchemy, Hermeticism and Freemasonry bear witness to their devotion and ability. Max Muller, the German Oriental scholar, stated a fundamental truth when he said that there had never been a false religion unless a child be a false man.
All religions have had one common origin—a desire for greater justice and enlightenment.
Most, also, have had a common end. Departing from the simplicity of their origin to become involved in meaningless complexities and dissensions, they have failed from the earth because they no longer served the soul hunger of man. An organization is merely the vehicle of an idea, and when the idea fails or is hopelessly deflected, the organization can no longer justify its right to exist.
The Freemason knows that primitive, or natural, religion is consistent with the laws of Nature and God.
That which departs from Nature dies physically and that which departs from God dies spiritually.
Only when we abide by the dictates of the Great Father above and the Great Mother beneath can we endure.
Departing from the laws of both Nature and God, temporal religions established an ecclesiasticism which seeks to dictate arbitrarily the destiny of souls. It is this condition that produces the reformer and inclines the mind to the study of such other sciences as can contribute to a new spiritual renaissance.
True religion is, in the last analysis, the highest and most perfect form of natural philosophy.
The deterioration of religion sets in when, turning from the severity of primitive tradition, it attempts to cater to human selfish ness. Religions have a tendency to compromise with principle in an effort to increase their own temporal power. This is the beginning of the end, for no religious order has ever survived a compromise.
When spiritual truth is sacrificed for the welfare of the organization, then the organization dooms itself to inevitable destruction.
The primitive religion of prehistoric man divided into two main branches, one of which was restated by the Brahmans, reformed by the Chinese, re-emphasized by the Buddhists, purified by the Taoists, moralized by the Confucianists, and transformed into an ele mental worship by the Shintoists. Each of these groups endeavored to purge the original revelation of the inconsequentials carried upon the surface of the stream. Each succeeded in some detail but failed in others.
The other branch of the ageless Truth flowed westward to Chaldea and Phoenicia and, abiding for a time in Egypt, raised the Double Empire of the Nile to chief place among the repositories of wisdom. Egypt proved to be a laboratory of chemistry both divine and infernal, and when the stream at last flowed beyond the boundaries of Khem it had lost all semblance of its former appearance.
Thousands of years will be necessary to correct the evils originating in the decadent priestcrafts of Egypt. To the Egyptian priests we are indebted for nearly all the fallacies of Occidental ecclesiasticism. A battle of truth against error was fought in the dark mysteries of the ancient Egyptians. Truth was supported by the truly enlightened hierophants of the temples, initiates of the great Fire Mystery.
Against these was arrayed a pseudo-sacerdotal caste, which probably sprang into existence as the result of the demoralizing influence of barbarians and usurpers brought to the throne of Egypt by war and conquest. These uninitiated foreigners, by virtue of Egyptian law being raised automatically to the chief place in the priesthood but being individually unqualified for such distinction, perverted their religious power and finally brought the Mysteries into dis repute.
Primitive religion thus was lost in a maze of absurdities created by fools, perfected by fools, and finally destroyed by fools. It was in Egypt that religion died and theology was born. Hence, theology may well be termed “a doctrine of usurpers.”