A “Light” Shining in Darkness
Theosophist, May, 1882
Our respected contemporary, Light, catches at an expression in a recent letter, from one of the Secretaries of our Society, to its Editor, transmitting a copy of a Bombay paper for his information, and lectures us in a fatherly way upon our bitterness towards Christianity. In a circular letter, addressed, by order of our Society’s Council, to several Spiritualistic newspapers, a loose expression was used by the writer—a Hindu—namely, “Christianity,” instead of “dogmatic or exoteric Christianity,” which would have been better. This omission of adjectives is made the occasion for a severe admonition. Well, had a Christian, in writing to Light, said that it seemed a pity that Western Spiritualists could not . . . realize that they (the Christians) are their natural allies against “orthodox Buddhism or Brahmanism, or any other heathenism”—we doubt whether the expression would have provoked such rebuke. Our severe critic dislikes the idea that men of the Rev. Cook stamp should be taken as representatives of that religion.
“Men of this type,” he says, “do no injury except to the cause which they may elect for the moment to advocate. The only surprising thing is that so discerning a man as Epes Sargent should have taken any trouble about him. Colonel Olcott says that he is going to answer him, which, on the whole, is a pity. Such persons live and gain notoriety by misrepresenting the answers of those who are indiscreet enough to notice them.”
This is very sensible as a generalization, but scarcely applies to the present case. Mr. Cook had been not only adopted as the champion of Christianity, but heralded as such throughout all India and Ceylon; his lectures were looked for as the long-expected death stroke to Hinduism and kindred superstitions; the Christian community turned out en masse to hear him; eminently respectable Anglo-Indian officials served as his Chairmen; and his coarse and false diatribes against the Theosophical Society and its Founders were applauded vociferously by his Christian friends. If we had kept silence, we should have done great injury to our standing throughout Asia, and the imploring appeal of the Rev. Spaar to God to send the roaring and plank-crushing Cook to shut our mouths would have been regarded as answered. Another reason why we could not treat this contemptible coward with the scornful silence he deserved, was that he laid his impious hand upon the religions of our Asiatic brothers, talked of having the Government force Christianity upon the pupils in the Government schools; and used the strongest expressions to signify his personal loathing for the Vedas and other Asiatic sacred books. This was so gross an insult to the feelings of people whose interests are our interests, whose cause is our cause, that we took up the challenge on their behalf quite as much as our own. And now let this wretched agitator pass out into the oblivion he deserves.
One word in this connection must be said. We know quite as well as Light that, in point of fact, the Cooks and Talmadges of Christendom do not represent the sweet doctrine of the Master they audaciously pretend to follow. If our contemporary will honour us by reading the preface to the second volume of Isis Unveiled, he will see our real sentiment expressed upon this point. We know hundreds, no doubt, of men and women whose lovely lives reflect a charming beauty upon their professed faith. But these no more represent the average—or what may be called the practical, executive and real Christianity-—than an Averroes or a Djellal-Eddeen reflects the tone of executive and popular Mohammedanism. If our contemporary were to put his fingers in the missionary vice along with ours, he would know how it was himself, and perhaps not lecture us in so paternal a tone. The test of Philosophy is always best made under circumstances which “try men’s souls”; one can be charmingly serene when far away from the field of battle. Let anyone, who aspires to the martyr’s crown, come to India and Ceylon, and help us in trying to establish a society on the basis of Tolerance and Brotherhood. He would then find of what stuff the average Christian is made, and might well be pardoned if, in the rush of his righteous indignation, he should even talk as though a religion that had hatched such vermin and begotten a Torquemada, were itself an enemy of the whole human family. Certainly it is not that, and most assuredly it is far better than the general run of its professors. We do accept Christians as members of our Society, and, in fact, a Christian clergyman was one of its Founders. We do believe that a Christian is as much entitled—though no more entitled—to the undisturbed enjoyment of his belief, as any other; and, as Colonel Olcott very emphatically said in his address at our recent Anniversary Meeting at Bombay—
“From the day when the Christians will live up to their so-called ‘Golden Rule’ . . . . . . You will never hear a word spoken or see a line written by us against the missionaries or their religion.”
We do not need any prophet to tell us that we are getting no more than was in the contract; and that theoretically we have no right to even wince when the missionary party calls us adventurers, liars, and all that sort of thing. We try to be humble, but our humanity is volcanic and rebellious; still, we are not without hope that, in time, we may be able to rather enjoy a run through the “upper and nether millstones” of the Padris. Meanwhile, we implore our equanimous friend of Light, who holds the torch amid the London fogs, to remember that Shakespeare wrote:
“Let the galled jade wince,
Our withers are unwrung”
—and draw the obvious moral therefrom.
Our circular letter was written in the most friendly spirit. In our innocence, we had believed that we were doing our duty in warning the Spiritualists of the vilifications poured on their and our heads by a common enemy—the sophomoric Cook who was shouting through India as a Christian champion. We did not even dream that our letter would have provoked such a very unfriendly answer. To one portion of that answer particularly we must positively take exception. What we said seven years ago in regard to Spiritualism, we say now. We never described Spiritualism “in terms of almost unqualified reprobation,” nor, are we likely to modify our terms even temporarily on “remonstrance.” But we always regarded mediumship as a peril. Apart from this, it is all well and good. Our alliance and friendly overtures may not be needed, but why break chairs over our heads?