Updated: Mar 27, 2018
by Franz Hartmann
The term Religion is derived from the Latin world religere, which may be properly translated "to bind back," or to "relate." Religion, in the true sense of the term, implies that science which examines the link which exists between man and the cause from which he originated, or in other words, which deals with the relation which exists between man and God, for the true meaning of the term "God" is Supreme First Cause, and Nature is the effect of its manifestation. True religion is therefore a science far higher than a science based upon mere sensual perception, but it cannot be in conflict with what is true in science. Only what is false in science must necessarily be in conflict with what is true in religion, and what is false in religion is in conflict with what is true in science. True religion and true science are ultimately one and the same thing, and therefore equally true; a religion that clings to illusions, and an illusory science, are equally false, and the greater the obstinacy with which they cling to their illusions the more pernicious is their effect.
A distinction should be made between "religion" and "religionism"; between "science" and "scientism"; between "mystic science" and "mysticism."
The highest aspect of Religion is practically the union of man with the Supreme First Cause, from which his essence emanated in the beginning.
Its second aspect teaches theoretically the relations existing between that Great First Cause and Man; in other words, the relations existing between the Macrocosm and Microcosm.
In its lowest aspect religionism consists of the adulation of dead forms, of the worshipping of fetiches, of fruitless attempts to wheedle oneself into the favour of some imaginary deity, to persuade "God" to change his mind, and to try to obtain some favours which are not in accordance with justice.
Science in her highest aspect is the real knowledge of the fundamental laws of Nature, and is therefore a spiritual science, based upon the knowledge of the spirit within one's own self.
In its lower aspect it is a knowledge of external phenomena, and the secondary or superficial causes which produce the latter, and which our modern scientism mistakes for the final cause.
In its lowest aspect scientism is a system of observation and classification of external appearances, of the causes of which we know nothing.
Religionism and Scientism are continually subject to changes. They have been created by illusions, and die when the illusions are over. True Science and true Religion are one, and if realised by Practice, they form, with the truth which they contain, the three-lateral pyramid, whose foundations are upon the earth, and whose point reaches into the kingdom of heaven.
Mystic science in its true meaning is spiritual knowledge; that is to say, the soul knowledge of spiritual and "super-sensual" things, perceived by the spiritual powers of the soul. These powers are germinally contained in every human organisation, but only few have developed them sufficiently to be of any practical use.
Mysticism belongs to the vapoury speculations of the brain. It is a hankering after illusions, a desire to pry into divine mysteries which the material mind cannot comprehend, a craving to satisfy curiosity in regard to what an animal ought not to know. It is the realm of fancies, of dreams, the paradise of ghost-seers, and of spiritistic tomfooleries of all kinds.
But which is the true religion and the true science? There is no doubt that a definite relationship exists between Man and the cause that called humanity into existence, and a true religion or a true science must be the one which teaches the true terms of that relation. If we take a superficial view of the various religious systems of the world, we find them all apparently contradicting each other. We find a great mass of apparent superstitions and absurdities heaped upon a grain of something that may be true. We admire the ethics and moral doctrines of our favourite religious system, and we take its theological rubbish in our bargain, forgetting that the ethics of nearly all religions are essentially the same, and that the rubbish which surrounds them is not real religion. It is evidently an absurdity to believe that any system could be true, unless it contained the truth. But it is equally evident that a thing cannot be true and false at the same time.
The truth can only be one. The truth never changes; but we ourselves change, and as we change so changes our aspect of the truth. The various religious systems of the world cannot be unnatural products. They are all the natural outgrowth of man's spiritual evolution upon this globe, and they differ only in so far as the conditions under which they came into existence differed at the time when they began to exist; while his science has been artificially built by facts collected from external observation. Each intellectual human being, except one blinded by prejudice, recognises the fact that each of the great religious systems of the world contains certain truths, which we intuitively know to be true; and as there can be only one fundamental truth, so all these religions are branches of the same tree, even if the forms in which the truth manifests itself are not alike. The sunshine is everywhere the same, only its intensity differs in different localities. In one place it induces the growth of palms, in another of mushrooms; but there is only one Sun in our system. The processes going on on the physical plane have their analogies in the spiritual realm, for there is only one Nature, one Law.
If one person quarrels with another about religious opinions, he cannot have the true religion, nor can he have any true knowledge; because true religion is the realisation of truth. The only true religion is the religion of universal Love; this love is the recognition of one's own divine universal self. Love is an element of divine Wisdom, and there can be no wisdom without love. Each species of birds in the woods sings a different tune; but the principle which causes them to sing is the same in each. They do not quarrel with each other, because one can sing better than the rest. Moreover, religious disputations, with their resulting animosities, are the most useless things in the world; for no one can combat the darkness by fighting it with a stick: the only way to remove darkness is to kindle a light, the only way to dispel spiritual ignorance is to let the light of knowledge that comes from the centre of love shine into every heart.
All religions are based upon internal truth, all have an outside ornamentation which varies in character in the different systems, but all have the same foundation of truth, and if we compare the various systems with one another, looking below the surface of exterior forms, we find that this truth is in all religious systems one and the same. In all this, truth has been hidden beneath a more or less allegorical language, impersonal and invisible powers have been personified and represented in images carved in stones or wood, and the formless and real has been pictured in illusive forms. These forms in letters, and pictures, and images are the means by which truths may be brought to the attention of the unripe Mind. They are to the grown-up children of all nations what picture-books are to small children who are not yet able to read, and it would be as unreasonable to deprive grown-up children of their images before they are able to read in their own hearts, as it would be to take away the picture-books from little children and to ask them to read printed books, which they cannot yet understand.
Very uninteresting and insignificant would be the stories contained in the Bible, and in other religious books, if the personal events described therein were referring merely to certain occurrences having happened in the lives of certain individuals who lived some thousands of years ago, and whose biography can seriously interest no one to-day. What do we care now about the family affairs of a man called Adam or Abraham? Why should we want to be interested in knowing bow many legitimate or illegitimate children the Jewish Patriarchs had, and what became of them? What is it to us whether or not a man by the name of Jonah was thrown into the water and swallowed by a whale? What happens to-day in the various countries of Europe is more interesting and important for us to know than what happened at the court of Zerubabel or Nabuchodonoser.
But fortunately for the Bible and -- if we only knew how to read it -- fortunately for us, the stories contained therein are by no means merely histories of persons who lived in ancient times, but they are allegories and myths having always a very deep meaning, of which our expounders of the Bible, as well as its critics, usually know very little.
The men and the women of the old and new "testament" are much more than mere persons supposed to have existed at that time. They are personifications of eternally active spiritual forces, of which physical science does not even know that they exist; and their histories give an account of their action, their interrelations within the Macrocosm and its counterpart the Microcosm; they teach the history of the evolution of mankind in its spiritual aspect.
If our natural philosophers would study the Bible and the ancient religious books of the East, in their esoteric and spiritual aspects, they might learn a great many things which they desire to know. They might learn to find out what are the true powers of the still sleeping "Inner Man," which are required to produce occult phenomena at will; they might find instruction how to transmute lead or iron into pure gold, and to transform animals into gods.