“A Faithful ‘Witness’ Will Not Lie”
Theosophist, April, 1882
“Thou shalt not raise a false report: put not thine hand with the wicked to be an unrighteous WITNESS” (Exodus, xxiii, I ).
The Indian Witness is our old Methodist friend—the Lucknow Witness—in disguise. Why the godly creature should have cast off its skin, is a problem to be set aside with the other ways of Providence quite as mysterious and puzzling to the God-fearing Christian as they are to the infidel Theosophist. Whether it suddenly felt the need of proving its ubiquity as one of the “Witnesses” to the God of Abraham and Jacob, and so volunteered its inestimable services; or, that it was subpoened, and, with the “people’s dollar” in its pocket, had to enlarge its field of operation, in order to give evidence on a broader scale; or, again, that it found Bengal a fitter locality—from a climatic point of view—to threaten the obstinate heathen with damnation, are all delicate points which we need not raise at present, nor lose our time to discuss. However it may be, it has quietly shifted its headquarters from provincial modest Lucknow, and we find it in the very centre of religious fermentation—the proud capital of Bengal—Calcutta. Our prying, psalm-croaking well-wisher and colleague was right. Its choice was certainly judicious, as it has now before its prophetic and inspired eye a far broader horizon, a far wider scope for religious reflection and critical observation than it could ever hope for in Mussulman Oudh. All the specialists agree in saying that the “City of Palaces” is the best manured spot with the theological guano of stray birds of prey of every feather, in all India. Hence, it is the most fertile land for missionary “plant” and for raising reformers and “Christian witnesses” on it, of every colour and species. Calcutta, as we all know, is the very hotbed of brilliant oratory and world-famous preachers, from the mellifluous Babu Keshub Chunder Sen—preaching Christ and Durga—down to the mealy-mouthed dissenters on the editorial staff of our Wesleyan contemporary, gushing over the departure and virtues of another “Christian Witness,” as they call Major-General Crofton, whosoever that gallant warrior may be Anyhow, the Lucknow-Indian Witness, having placed itself in an excellent position, from whence to spy and encourage the variegated specimens of converted preachers running amuck for their heathen brothers’ scalps, we had fondly hoped that, as an eyewitness, it might have now amended its evil ways; that it had become a trifle more truthful in its denunciations of the iniquities perpetrated by all the non-Christian sects and societies; and less exaggerated in the evidence brought to bear upon the moral beauty and sanctity of every stray Christian lecturer. Alas, we were once more disappointed! The Indian Witness is as false and untruthful, as slandering and gushing as was its Lucknow Sosia—no mean compliment, by the way, to the latter. Acting on a different policy than the missionary papers generally do, we mean to substantiate our charges.
In its issues of February 25th and March 4th, we find ourselves, very unexpectedly, receiving high honours, and a prominent place in the editorial paragraphs of that organ of deep Methodist thought. Its meek editors chuckle with suppressed delight; and their large, apostolic hearts seem overflowing with Christian love and charity—the very essence of Christism—as they couple our humble names with that of the “great” Lecturer, and still greater libeller and caviller, Mr. Joe Cook, of the backbiting Army of the Lord. It is no doubt, from that most trustworthy personage, that the no less trustworthy Methodist journal got the following bits of reliable information? Says the Indian Witness in its issue of March 4th:
“Defections from the ranks of infidelity are becoming somewhat frequent of late. Colonel Olcott recently named D. M. Bennett, Colonel Ingersoll, and Mr. Bradlaugh, as the three most worthy ‘martyrs’ of the age, and now the American papers tell us that Ingersoll begins to show signs of receding from his extreme positions. He no longer denies the existence of the soul after death, although he uses an ‘if’ in speaking on the subject. Intimate friends say this is only one of many indications of a change that has been coming over him recently; meanwhile, Mr. Frothingham, the strongest, and perhaps the most influential, of the avowed disbelievers in America has confessed that his system of infidelity has proved a failure, while Mr. Abbott, a well-known leader of the extreme school, has just written a letter, saying that he had withdrawn from the Free Religious Association, because he could not induce the body with which he acted to say a single word in repudiation of the identical charges, which Mr. Joseph Cook brought against Bennett and his friends in Bombay. (?) The same charges had been made by Mr. Cook in America, and Mr. Abbott, himself an avowed infidel, was the only man in the Association who was willing to wash his hands of the accusation. Truly, our Theosophists seem ready to open a cage of very unclean birds in our Indian cities.”
We have italicized the five glaring misstatements composing the five sentences, contained in about two dozen of lines. They are all represented as facts, but, as the reader will see, consist of three skillful misrepresentations, of one clumsy falsehood, and of one calumny of the kind so be loved by, and so constantly resorted to, in the missionary organs, devoted to proving the superiority of the Christian morality over that of the false religions of the Hindu systems. We will enumerate the misstatements.
1. Colonel Olcott has never either published or named Mr. D. M. Bennett, Colonel Ingersoll, and Mr. Bradlaugh as “the three most worthy martyrs of the age.” Our President having nothing to do with the Western materialistic Free-thought, and being well acquainted with the lives of the three gentlemen above named, has respect and sympathy for them personally, but none whatever for their extreme views. Knowing, therefore, (a) Colonel Ingersoll, as a very happy, prosperous man, successful throughout his lecturing career, always coming out triumphant from his squabbles with the bigots who attack him, and one who probably never had one hour’s “martyrdom” in his life; and (b) Mr. Bradlaugh as rather the reverse of a martyr, inasmuch as he certainly gives more trouble to his persecutors than they can ever give to him—he could not have uttered such an absurdity. What he said and maintains is, that those three gentlemen had done more to upset dogmatic Christianity in England and America, and to arrest its progress even here, than any other three men living. And hence, that they had to suffer for it in their reputations torn to pieces by vile calumny and the efforts of untruthful and unprincipled Christian zealots.
As for Mr. Bennett, though this sentiment has never found room in Colonel Olcott’s public utterances, for there was no need for it, yet the editor of the Truth Seeker may justly be regarded by all those who know him personally as a “martyr,” and the victim of a gigantic and the most shameful conspiracy ever resorted to, in order to get rid of a dangerous opponent. We, who know something of his private life, and believe in the impartial judgment of some of our best friends in America, who knew him for years, maintain that he was made a martyr to, and has suffered for, that cause of freedom for which every right-minded man in America will stand up and will die for, if necessary. We certainly do not include in the latter category the majority of American clergymen and missionaries, nor yet the fools and bigots who become their blind tools. And knowing so much, notwithstanding, and to the face of Mr. Joseph Cook, and his pharisaical supporters, we proclaim Mr. Bennett a kind, truthful, quiet, right-minded man, imperfect and liable to err, as every other mortal, but, at the same time scrupulously honest, and as incapable of spreading false reports even against his bitterest enemies, as the latter are incapable of doing anything else. Impenetrable as they are to any decent feeling of justice, forgiveness or charity, most of them carry, under their black gowns and white ties, a bladder full of gall instead of a heart.
2. Colonel Ingersoll has not shown the slightest sign of recanting, or of “receding from his extreme positions.” To our knowledge, and having heard him lecture years back, he has never denied the principle of immortality, but had only questioned the possibility for any man of obtaining any certainty to that effect. Is it his latest pamphlet, “What shall I DO to be saved?” or his sharp rejoinder to Judge Jere S. Black, on the subject of the Christian religion (see November number of the North American Review) that shows any such sign of “receding?”
3. The news spread by other American false WITNESSES to the effect that Mr. Frothingham “has confessed that his system of infidelity has proved a failure,” is denied by that eminent gentleman himself, in the papers. This is what the Reverend M. J. Savage, the personal friend of Mr. Frothingham, said in his Discourse delivered “upon authority from Mr. Frothingham himself, to explain more fully the latter gentleman’s present position, and remove certain misconceptions of that position made by the press, especially by the evangelical religious press of the country.” The latter, of course, being as prompt as ever to catch at a straw, and to spread false reports in order to maintain its reputation for disseminating the truth of God. If the Indian Witness is eager to know the exact position of Mr. Frothingham, the most intellectual and broad-minded of those Freethinkers who are called the “Free Religionists,” it may learn it now.
In a letter republished in the Boston Banner of Light, January 7, 1882, and other papers, Mr. Fred. L. H. Willis informs us that:
“From Mr. Savage’s explanation of Mr. Frothingham’s position, if we may so term it, we learn that the representative of the press who interviewed the latter gentleman and elicited from him the statements that have called forth such wide spread comments, instead of taking notes of what was said, trusted to his memory, and consequently mis-stated . . . some of Mr. Frothingham’s positions.”
For example: Mr. F. does not think that ‘unbridled free thought leads to a dreary negation called materialism.’ “On the contrary,” says Mr. Savage, “he holds that no science worthy the name of a science can possibly tend that way.” “Nor does he believe that revealed religion is stronger today than it was twenty years ago,” as has been so triumphantly asserted. (By Mr. Cook for one.)
“He would limit thought in no direction. He would go back to no past church statement or creed. He believes that the work of the iconoclast is not yet finished, and denies that he has any disposition to recall one word that he has spoken or published.”
That settles the question. If this is “confessing that the system of infidelity (in the sense of the sectarians and dogmatists) has proved a failure, then we can expect the Indian Witness to say one of these days that we have confessed to the missionary papers as to the most truthful organs in the world. But what is Mr. Frothingham’s real position? Mr. Savage tells us that in so many words:
“For many years,” says Mr. Frothingham to his friends, “I have been inclined to try to prove that everything comes out of the earth below, that religion is purely earthly in its origin, something made by man in his effort to perfect himself, and I have not taken account enough of the working in the world of a divine power—a power above man working on and through him to lift and lead.”
“I hope that new light will break out, not of God’s words in the sense of a book, but of God’s universe through new manifestations, through natural methods in the human soul.”
This is the expression of pure theosophy, and the very essence of it. Therefore, Mr. Frothingham is merging with every day more into Spiritualism and Theosophy; and rejecting the Bible, which he contemptuously styles a “book,” he “would go back,” he says “to no past church statement or creed.” How does this tally with the Indian Witness’ truthful statements?
4. We never knew a Mr. Abbott, nor do we know of any Mr. Abott, who knows us, least of all one, who would feel obliged to come out as our champion. Nor has our Society, nor have we ourselves anything to do, or in common with the “Free Religious Association.” Therefore, the statement given out that a Mr. Abott withdraws from that Society, because he could not induce that body to repudiate “the identical charges which Mr. Cook brought against Bennett and his friends in Bombay” is a deliberate and impudent falsehood, whoever may be its author. For all we know, its first part (regarding Mr. Bennett) may be true; nevertheless, it is utterly false in its concluding words. To begin with, no one had (not even ourselves), nor was any one expected to repudiate any charge brought against us by J. Cook, since with the exception of the insane and ridiculous charge against the “THEOSOPHISTS”—i.e., Colonel Olcott and Madame Blavatsky—having come to India to learn sorcery and then to teach it in their turn, “to the mediums already exposed”—no charge was ever preferred There was plenty of direct and vulgar abuse, and, perhaps; hazy hints and suggestions which made people laugh more at the lecturer than at what he had said, and that is all. But so far neither the noisy Cook, nor its servile admirer—the Indian Witness—have ever substantiated any charge worthy of being noticed.
“Truly our Theosophists seem ready to open a cage of very unclean birds in our Indian cities” is the concluding strike of the little Methodist viper. We do not know of any uncleaner birds in India than the crows and vultures, of the genus maleficus of the Theologus family; unless it be the American bustard, which began to emigrate here in masses of late. All such feed on the heathen refuse, and boast of it as of a dainty dish. As for the Theosophists, their “cage” has never yet contained an unclean bird, but it found itself immediately expelled and pecked out of the society as every other element that pollutes it. Let the Indian Witness read our Rules and Statutes carefully before it ventures on any more such calumnies as the one quoted; and let its editors beware of what they say, lest they find themselves one day compelled by law, to publish a full retractation and an apology to the Theosophists: as even were the editors of the Dnyanodaya and of the Calcutta Statesman. Of course, in offering this salutary advice we bear in mind the wise proverb of Solomon, the King of the 700 wives and the 300 concubines, that saith: “An ungodly WITNESS scorneth judgment; and the mouth of the wicked devoureth iniquity.” Yet, we derive some hope and consolation from the verse that directly follows, since it promises that—”Judgments are prepared for scorners and stripes for the back of fools.”