This is a great book. I loved it. Well, I love Cohen. His books are great. I am stuck in the 19th and 18th centuries or even earlier. It is possible that on this subject a lot has happened since he wrote his book but I don’t think that work overturns his conclusions. They could only build or improve it.

I will not bore you with my dull stories, I will let Cohen speak for himself most of the time.

He writes, and I agree

Any human quality may be enlisted in the service of religion, but there are none that are specifically religious. It is a pure assumption that the religious visionary possesses qualities that are either absent or rudimentary in other persons. Human faculty is everywhere identical although the form in which it is expressed differs according to education, the presence of certain dominating ideas, and the general influence of one’s environment.

Those goddites who believe their charlatans priests have some power or knowledge they don’t posses are heavily deluded. Maybe they do. The power to bullshit and get away with it.

Then, there are those who claim science can investigate religious facts. He says you are misled. Facts are facts, and are open to examination by science. These facts can be biological, physical, psychological and physiological. And religious claims fall in the sphere of psychological and physiological facts. It is here they will be collected and examined.

He writes

Far more suggestive, however, than the association of religion with what we may call the normal social forces, is its connection with conditions that are now clearly recognised as abnormal. From the earliest times we find the use of drugs and stimulants, the practice of fasting and self-torture, with other methods of depressing or stimulating the action of the nervous system, accepted as well-recognised methods of inducing a sense of religious illumination, or the feeling that one is in direct communion with a supernatural order of existence.

Now you know why fasting is very important to your preacher.

He tells us

man is everywhere under the domination of his mental life.

That is to say, to understand humanity, one must study his mental environment. That a study of society must, to understand its environment start with the study of the mental life.

As has been pointed out severally, Cohen, reminds us

The first is that man’s conviction of the nearness of a supernatural world began in his lack of knowledge concerning the nature of natural forces.

The goddite will readily deny this but every honest one of them should admit that most if not all of their belief is based on ignorance. They have not moved an inch from the savage in terms of mental development. They may know calculus and how to change a light bulb, but taken back to the life of our ancestors, they would fit perfectly.

We can blame some madness on religious teachers.

We are told,

Religious teachers by enforcing celibacy, fasting, and solitude, have done their best towards making men mad, and they have always largely succeeded in inducing morbid mental conditions among their followers.

Look around you, seen that fellow who looks odd, chances are they are religious and are on a fast- either from food or sex.

For a people to whom

for generations and æons the truth that a child is only born in consequence of an act of sexual union, that the birth of a child is the natural consequence of such an act performed in favouring circumstances, and that every child must be the result of such an act and of no other cause, was not realised by mankind, that down to the present day it is imperfectly realised by some peoples, and that there are still others among whom it is unknown

we can expect sex to have a supernatural significance. Maybe the christian still believes this. I don’t know.

Chapman tells us

The conception of woman as one heavily charged with supernatural potentialities, and, therefore, a source of danger to the community, seems to lie at the basis of the widespread belief in the religious ‘uncleanness’ of women. The real significance of the word ‘unclean’ in religious ritual has been obscured by our modern use of it in a hygienic or ethical sense.

and I think any unbiased reader will agree with him.

To understand why religion has had such a big influence in American society, one has to understand the philosophy of revivals. He tells us

The philosophy of the matter seems to be this: Revivals are theocratic in their very nature; they introduce God into human affairs…. In the conservative theory of revivals, this power is restricted to the conversion of souls; but in actual experience it goes, or tends to go, into all the affairs of life…. Religious love is very near neighbour to sexual love, and they always get mixed in the intimacies and social excitements of revivals. The next thing a man wants, after he has found the salvation of his soul, is to find his Eve and his Paradise…. The course of things may be restated thus: Revivals lead to religious love; religious love excites the passions; the converts, finding themselves in theocratic liberty, begin to look about for their mates and their liberty

And while there are those who think religious instruction is education I have bad news for you. I mean those graduates of divinity colleges and seminaries. A writer asks

What does the ordinary seminary graduate know of the histology, anatomy, and physiology of the soul? Absolutely nothing. He must stumble along through years of trying experience and look back over countless mistakes before he understands these things even in a general way. What does the ordinary graduate understand about doubt? It is all classed together, whether in adolescents or in hardened sinners, and one dose is applied. What does the graduate know about sexuality, so closely allied with certain forms of religious manifestations? What about ecstasy, in its various forms, the numerous methods of faith cure thrust upon an illiterate but credulous people, or the significance or insignificance of visions and dreams.

The only thing their training does is

gives them a knowledge of several ancient languages, makes them acquainted with the rise and fall of certain doctrines, the nature of Church ritual and the like, all of which, while interesting enough in themselves, give little more genuine enlightenment than a knowledge of the dates of English monarchs provides of the character of genuine historic processes.

Cohen tells us this about religious conversion

Finally, it has to be borne in mind, in view of the data given above, that conversion is experienced by the individual at that period of life when the more social side of human nature is beginning to find expression. In this way the natural growth from the small world of childhood to the larger world of adult humanity is taken advantage of by religion, and the process of inevitable growth is attributed to the influence of religious belief. In itself the phenomenon is in no degree religious, but wholly social. The process is well enough described by Starbuck in the following passage—although there are certain quite unnecessary theological implications:—

“Conversion is the surrender of the personal will to be guided by the larger forces of which it is a part. These two aspects are often mingled. In both there is much in common. There is a sudden revelation and recognition of a higher order than that of the personal will. The sympathies follow the direction of the new insight, and the convert transfers the centre of life and activity from the part to the whole. With new insight comes new beauty. Beauty and worth awaken love—love for parents, kindred, kind, society, cosmic order, truth, and spiritual life. The individual learns to transfer himself from a centre of self-activity into an organ of revelation of universal being, and to live a life of affection for and oneness with the larger life outside. As a necessary condition of the spiritual awakening is the birth of fresh activity and of a larger self-consciousness, which often assert themselves as the dominant element in consciousness.

He warns against this exploitation of social development. He writes

An exploitation of social life in the interests of supernaturalism is still in active operation. It is this that is really the central truth of the situation. And in ignoring this truth we expose a growing generation to the worst possible of educative influences, at a time when a wiser control would be preparing it for an intelligent participation in the serious and enduring work of social organisation.

I will end here by quoting a sketch by Lecky on the life of the monk. He writes

There is perhaps no phase in the moral history of mankind of a deeper and more painful interest than this ascetic epidemic. A hideous, sordid, and emaciated maniac, without knowledge, without patriotism, without natural affection, passing his life in a long routine of useless and atrocious self-torture, and quailing before the ghastly phantoms of his delirious brain, had become the ideal of the nations which had known the writings of Plato and Cicero, and the lives of Socrates and Cato. For about two centuries, the hideous maceration of the body was regarded as the highest proof of excellence. St. Jerome declares, with a thrill of admiration, how he had seen a monk, who for thirty years had lived exclusively on a small portion of barley bread and of mouldy water; another who lived in a hole and never ate more than five figs for his daily repast; a third who cut his hair only on Easter Sunday, who never washed his clothes, who never changed his tunic till it fell to pieces, who starved himself till his eyes grew dim, and his skin like a pumice stone…. For six months, it is said, St. Macarius of Alexandria slept in a marsh, and exposed his naked body to the stings of venomous flies…. His disciple, St. Eusebius, carried one hundred and fifty pounds of iron, and lived for three years in a dried-up well…. St. Besarion spent forty days and nights in the middle of thorn bushes, and for forty days and nights never lay down when he slept…. Some saints, like St. Marcian, restricted themselves to one meal a day, so small that they continually suffered the pangs of hunger…. Some of the hermits lived in deserted dens of wild beasts, others in dried-up wells, while others found a congenial resting-place among the tombs. Some disdained all clothes, and crawled abroad like the wild beasts, covered only by their matted hair. The cleanliness of the body was regarded as a pollution of the soul, and the saints who were most admired had become one hideous mass of clotted filth. St. Athanasius relates with enthusiasm how St. Antony, the patriarch of monachism, had never, to extreme old age, been guilty of washing his feet…. St. Abraham, the hermit, however, who lived for fifty years after his conversion, rigidly refused from that date to wash either his face or his feet…. St. Ammon had never seen himself naked. A famous virgin, named Sylvia, though she was sixty years old, and though bodily sickness was a consequence of her habits, resolutely refused, on religious principles, to wash any part of her body except her fingers. St. Euphraxia joined a convent of one hundred and thirty nuns, who never washed their feet, and who shuddered at the mention of a bath.

If you can, go read the book. It will be worth your time.