A False “Witness”
Theosophist, May, 1881
The Lucknow Witness, it appears, indulged some time since in a bit of casuistical morality at the expense of the “Theosophists.” The term used by that organ of piety is very vague, for “Theosophists” are many and various, and as many and various are their opinions and creeds. Still, as the hit seems suspiciously like others that have been made at us, we assume the unpleasant duty of rejoinder, though the bolts have not reached the mark. Says the Witness (the italics being ours):—
“The Theosophists complain, in the last number of their periodical, that ‘ever since we landed in this country, impelled by motives, sincere and honest—though perhaps, as we now find it ourselves, too enthusiastic, too unusual in foreigners to be readily believed in by natives without some more substantial proof than our simple word—we have been surrounded by more enemies and opponents than by friends and sympathizers.’ They have themselves chiefly to blame for the opposition they have met. What their motives may be, we do not feel called upon to pronounce, but their actions have been in many respects discreditable. They began by setting forth the most scrupulous and untruthful charges against the missionaries, and by exhibiting such a rabid hatred of Christianity as to make their subsequent pretentions to universal love and brotherhood ridiculous. Their professions have been high and their practice low, and it is no wonder that a large part of their adherents have fallen away disappointed and disgusted. Their occult performances (?), whether due to sleight of hand or to some special gifts in the line of animal magnetism, have not been of character to raise them in the estimation of thoughtful people or to show that they could accomplish any important or useful ends. We shall not be surprised to hear before long that they have left the shores of India not to return, sadder and somewhat wiser than when they came. Meanwhile the foundation of God standeth sure, and His Church advances (sic) in its triumphant march to certain victory.”
Now really, this is kind! There is then “balm in Gilead” even for “theosophists,” who will vanish from these shores “sadder and somewhat wiser”? So inexcusably ignorant are we of the names of the numerous Christian sects and sub-sects that labour in India, that we really do not know by what particular sect the Lucknow paper’s editor is paid to witness for. The name of these sects is Legion. For, disregarding the direct command—“Thou shalt not sow thy vineyard with divers seeds, lest the fruit of thy seed which thou hast sown . . . be defiled” (Deut. 22:9), they one and all seek to transform palm-covered Aryavarta into their “Lord’s Vineyard,” make the Brahman who drinks of their wine, like Noah, “drunken,” and so cause their fruit to be “defiled.” But we love to think it is a Methodist organ. It is but these philanthropic dissenters who have the generosity to offer a “possible salvation for the whole human race.” Only whether the Witness be a primitive Methodist, a New Connection Methodist, a Church Methodist, a Calvinistic Methodist, a United Free Church Methodist, a Wesleyan Reformer, a Bible Christian Episcopalian, Presbyterian, Baptist, or any other sectarian, we are sorry that we are compelled to refuse its Editors the gift—let alone—of divine prophecy, but even that of simple mediumistic sooth-saying. The “theosophists”, i.e., the founders of the Theosophical Society, do not intend to leave “the shores of India, not to return.” They are truly sorry, but really find themselves unable to oblige their good friends of Lucknow and other missionary stations.
And now a “word to the wise.” Indulging in his broad and catholic criticisms, our censor (whoever he may be) evidently “forgot to take counsel of his own pillow” as the saying goes. He jumps, therefore, at conclusions, which to say the least, are dangerous for himself and brethren, as the weapon is a two-edged one. Of no other class, the world over, are the “professions (so) high” and the “practice (so) low,” as of our benevolent friends, the padris—with, of course, honourable exceptions. Because we have said that we were “surrounded by more enemies and opponents than by friends and sympathizers,” he declares that “a large part” of our adherents “have fallen away disappointed and disgusted.” To begin with, if we include a modest half-a-dozen of “adherents” at Bombay who left us for motives purely personal and selfish, and with which “theosophy” had nothing to do whatever, just nine in all left the Society in the year 1881—all its branches inclusive. Then our critic psychologizes himself into the belief that if we have met “opposition” it is on account of (1) our actions having been “in many respects discreditable”; (2) of our “most scrupulous (?) and untruthful charges against the missionaries”; and (3) of our “exhibiting such a rabid hatred of Christianity as to make their (our) subsequent pretensions to universal love and brotherhood ridiculous:”—Three charges, the first of which is a malevolent, wicked, and uncalled-for slander, which we would ask the writer to substantiate by some unimpeachable fact; the second, an untruthful and sweeping assertion; the third, a most impudent identification of what we would call a confusion of “centre with circumference,” Christianity being one, and Christians quite another, thing. “Many are called but few are chosen,”—the axiom applies to missionaries and the clergy with far more truth than to theosophy. Must we repeat for the hundredth time that whether we do or do not believe in Christ as God, we have no more “hatred of Christianity” than we have of any other religion in which we do not believe? And we blindly believe—in none. It is not against the teachings of Christ—pure and wise and good, on the whole, as any—that we contend, but against dogmas and their arbitrary interpretations by the hundreds of conflicting and utterly contradictory sects, calling themselves “Christians,” but which are all but power-seeking, ambitious, human institutions, at best. That the “foundation of God”—if by God, Truth is here meant—“standeth sure,” is perfectly true. Truth is one, and no amount of misinterpretations of it, even by the Lucknow Witness or The Theosophist, will ever be able to prevail against the One Truth. But, before our very virtuous contemporary indulges in further brag that the “Church advances in its triumphant march to certain victory” (church meaning with them their own only, of course), we must insist that it proves that its sect and none other of the hundreds of others is right; for all cannot be. To make good our words and show that the “Church,” instead of advancing to “certain victory” has in this century come not only to a dead stop, but is more and more vanishing out of sight, we will quote here the confession of a Christian clergyman. Let the Lucknow Witness contradict it, if it can.
The following is an extract from a speech recently delivered in Paisley, Scotland, by the Rev. David Watson, a minister of the Presbyterian Church, and which can be found in Mr. Tyerman’s Freethought Vindicated.
“The great, and the wise, and the mighty, are not with us. That I fear we must all own to, however much we may grieve to say so; and the more we read of the history, the poetry, the biography, and the literature of the age, the more we think so. The best thought, the widest knowledge, and the deepest philosophy have discarded our Church. Not that they have taken up a hostile attitude towards us—some have, but not all—but they have turned their backs upon us with a quiet dislike, unspoken disapproval, and a practical renunciation, greatly more conclusive than a wordy man would be. I do not mention names, it would be unfair to do so, for there is still a social stigma thrown at the man who ventures to disconnect himself from the common creed. But that does not alter the case one whit—the great, the wise, and the mighty are not with us. . . . They are not even nominally with us. They look not for our heaven; they fear not our hell. They detest what they call the inhumanities of our creed, and scorn the systematized Spiritualism we believe in. They step out into speculative Atheism, for they can breathe freer there. . . . But, mark you, they do not pass over into practical Atheism, for however they hate the name of orthodoxy and everything theological, their hearts are too large and their souls are too religious—instinctively religious—to forget that reverence that is due, that is meet and fit. Some become practical philanthropists and philosophic friends of man by helping industry, extending knowledge, advocating temperance, inaugurating institutions that incarnate Christianity, furthering society, in a thousand ways, reforming the manners, and making the men of time and clime. . . . They are all big with a faith in the ultimate salvation of man—a faith that inspires them to toil and shames our whining cant. And yet these men—the master minds and imperial leaders amongst men—the Comtes, the Carlyles, the Goethes, the Emersons, the Humboldts, the Tyndalls, and Huxleys if you will, are called by us Atheists; are outside our most Christian Church; pilloried in our Presbyterian orthodoxy, as ‘heretics’ before God and man. Why are these and such like men without the pale of the Christian Church? Not that they are unfit—we own that; not that they are too great—we know that; but that we are unworthy of them, and by the mob force of our ignorant numbers, have driven them out. They shun us because of our ignorant misconceptions and persistent misrepresentations of heaven, man, and God. They feel our evil communications corrupting their good manners; they feel our limited vision narrowing the infinitude of the horizon, and, therefore, as an indispensable condition to the very existence of their souls, they separate themselves from us, and forsake—and greatly unwilling are many of them to do so—the worship with us of our common God.”
This is the confession of an honest and a noble-hearted man—of one who is alike fearless in his speech and sincere in his faith and religion. For him this religion represents truth, but he does not confound it with the personality of its clergy. Heaven forbid that we should ever go against such a truthful man, however little we personally may believe in his God! But until our dying day will we loudly protest against the Moodys and Sankys, and their like. “We were all guilty of high treason to Christ, and we should all go to him with ropes around our necks, knowing that we were deserving of hell-fire,” is the remark, as reported by one of the Sydney daily papers, of Mr. Thomas Spurgeon, in an address given by him in the Protestant Hall, under the auspices of the Y.M.C.A.
These are the men and missionaries we go against. As to “scrupulous (?) and untruthful charges against” the latter, it is an unscrupulously untruthful charge of the Lucknow Witness against us. We never publish anything against our friends, the padris, without giving authorities. Can our reverend critic give the proofs of one of our “discreditable actions”? If he cannot—as in fact, he cannot—then how shall we call his action?
The Lucknow Witness—a false “witness” in our case—says that our “occult performances . . . have not been of a character to raise them (us) in the estimation of thoughtful people, or to show that they (we) could accomplish any important or useful ends.” Having never made “occult performances,” but only experiments in occult forces before a few personal friends and in private houses, and the Lucknow Witness knowing no more of them than it has seen in newspaper heavy jokes—we might decline altogether to notice the remark. But we may as well remind the editors that in experimental science there are no phenomena of a high or a low character; all discoveries of natural law are honourable and dignified. The Witness refers so grandiloquently, we suppose, to our experiments with the “cigarette papers” and others, of which he has heard. Well; the duplication of a bit of paper, or a “cup,” or anything else is as scientific and of no lower character, at any rate, than the instantaneous transformation “of the dust of the land” into “lice” or “frogs,” which dying, “the land stank”; and more useful and certainly less dangerous or conducive to evil than the transformation of water into wine. Ours were but inoffensive, and scientific experiments, without the slightest claim to either divine or satanic origin, but on the contrary, having a determined object to dispel any belief in “miracle” or “supernaturalism”—which is shameful in our century of science. But the occult performances “of Moses in lice” and such like “miracles” besides their intrinsically low character have resulted in fifty millions of persons being put to death by sword and fire, during a period of eighteen centuries, for either not believing in the genuineness of the alleged “miracle” or desiring to repeat the same on more scientific principles. But then, of course, our “performances,” being neither public nor yet “miracles” at all, but being scientifically possible, if not yet “probable” in the opinion of skeptics, are not calculated to raise us “in the estimation of thoughtful people”—meaning, doubtless, those who edit and the few who read the Lucknow missionary paper. Very well, so be it. Our “pretensions to universal love and brotherhood” are “ridiculous” because we denounce some ignorant, bigoted missionaries, who would far better stay at home and till the ground, than live upon the labour earnings of poor foolish servant girls whom they frighten into fits with their stories about hell. One thing at least not even the Lucknow Witness can gainsay. We do not live upon extorted or voluntary charity; but work for our personal support and preach theosophy gratis. Nor have we accepted or asked for one penny from those who do believe in and have seen our “occult performances”; nor do we claim infallibility for our teachings or ourselves. Can the Christian missionaries say as much?
Far wiser would it be for the would-be Christianizers of India, were they to follow the example of some of their more intelligent brethren in America and England! Were the Padris to confess the truth as Rev. David Watson did in the above-quoted extract, or treat their opponents in religious belief as the Rev. Henry Ward Beecher does that most mortal enemy of Christianity—Colonel Robert G. Ingersoll—then would the “theosophists” be their friends and show for their opinions and Christian views no more animosity than they now do to the orthodox Brahmans, whose dogmas and views they also reject, but whose Vedas as the oldest philosophy and book on the globe, they profoundly respect. The field for human conceptions, philosophical and religious, is vast, and there is room for all without our taking to breaking each other’s heads and noses. The following is characteristic of the age. We copy it from our esteemed Australian contemporary, the Harbinger of Light, whose learned editor is a representative of our Theosophical Society at Melbourne:—
“Henry Ward Beecher and Ingersoll, ‘the American Demosthenes,’ have, it appears, been fraternising in a manner calculated to shock many religious souls and to astound others. Says the New York Herald:—‘The sensation created by the speech of the Rev. H. W. Beecher at the Academy of Music in Brooklyn, when he uttered a brilliant eulogy on Colonel Robert G. Ingersoll and publicly shook hands with him, has not yet subsided.’ Subsequently, both gentlemen were independently interviewed by a Herald reporter anxious to elicit the opinion entertained by each of the other.
‘I regard Mr. Beecher,’ the Colonel is described as saying, ‘as the greatest man in any pulpit in the world. . . . I told him that night that I congratulated the world it had a minister with an intellectual horizon broad enough, and a mental sky studded with stars of genius enough, to hold all creeds in scorn that shocked the heart of man. . . . Mr. Beecher holds to many things that I most passionately deny, but in common we believe in the liberty of thought. My principal objections to orthodox religion are two—slavery here and hell hereafter. I do not believe that Mr. Beecher on these points can disagree with me. The real difference between us is—he says God, I say Nature. The real agreement between us is—we both say Liberty. . . . He is a great thinker, a marvellous orator, and in my judgment, greater and grander than any creed of any Church. Manhood is his greatest forte, and I expect to live and die his friend.’
“Mr. Beecher’s estimate of Ingersoll may be gathered from the following remarks:
‘I regard him as one of the greatest men of this age. I am an ordained clergyman and believe in revealed religion. I am therefore bound to regard all persons who do not believe in revealed religion as in error. But on the broad platform of human liberty and progress I was bound to give him the right hand of fellowship. I would do it a thousand times over. I do not know Colonel Ingersoll’s religious views precisely, but I have a general knowledge of them. He has the same right to free thought and free speech that I have. . . . I admire Ingersoll because he is not afraid to speak what he honestly thinks, and I am only sorry that he does not think as I do. I never heard so much brilliancy and pith put into a two hours’ speech as I did on that night. I wish my whole congregation had been there to hear it.’”
Bravo, Atheist and Clergyman! That is what we might call the wolf and the lamb lying down together.