Religion is the most rigid and unyielding of all human institutions, but it does tardily adjust to changing society. Eventually, evolutionary religion does reflect the changing mores, which, in turn, may have been affected by revealed religion. Slowly, surely, but grudgingly, does religion (worship) follow in the wake of wisdom—knowledge directed by experiential reason and illuminated by divine revelation.
Religion clings to the mores; that which was is ancient and supposedly sacred. For this reason and no other, stone implements persisted long into the age of bronze and iron. This statement is of record: “And if you will make me an altar of stone, you shall not build it of hewn stone, for, if you use your tools in making it, you have polluted it.” Even today, the Hindus kindle their altar fires by using a primitive fire drill. In the course of evolutionary religion, novelty has always been regarded as sacrilege. The sacrament must consist, not of new and manufactured food, but of the most primitive of viands: “The flesh roasted with fire and unleavened bread served with bitter herbs.” All types of social usage and even legal procedures cling to the old forms.
When modern man wonders at the presentation of so much in the scriptures of different religions that may be regarded as obscene, he should pause to consider that passing generations have feared to eliminate what their ancestors deemed to be holy and sacred. A great deal that one generation might look upon as obscene, preceding generations have considered a part of their accepted mores, even as approved religious rituals. A considerable amount of religious controversy has been occasioned by the never-ending attempts to reconcile olden but reprehensible practices with newly advanced reason, to find plausible theories in justification of creedal perpetuation of ancient and outworn customs.
But it is only foolish to attempt the too sudden acceleration of religious growth. A race or nation can only assimilate from any advanced religion that which is reasonably consistent and compatible with its current evolutionary status, plus its genius for adaptation. Social, climatic, political, and economic conditions are all influential in determining the course and progress of religious evolution. Social morality is not determined by religion, that is, by evolutionary religion; rather are the forms of religion dictated by the racial morality.
Races of men only superficially accept a strange and new religion; they actually adjust it to their mores and old ways of believing. This is well illustrated by the example of a certain New Zealand tribe whose priests, after nominally accepting Christianity, professed to have received direct revelations from Gabriel to the effect that this selfsame tribe had become the chosen people of God and directing that they be permitted freely to indulge in loose sex relations and numerous other of their olden and reprehensible customs. And immediately all of the new-made Christians went over to this new and less exacting version of Christianity.
Religion has at one time or another sanctioned all sorts of contrary and inconsistent behavior, has at some time approved of practically all that is now regarded as immoral or sinful. Conscience, untaught by experience and unaided by reason, never has been, and never can be, a safe and unerring guide to human conduct. Conscience is not a divine voice speaking to the human soul. It is merely the sum total of the moral and ethical content of the mores of any current stage of existence; it simply represents the humanly conceived ideal of reaction in any given set of circumstances.