The State of Christianity
Theosophist, April, 1880
The entire space in a monthly magazine as large as this might be filled with extracts from the journals of Europe and America showing the misbehaviour of Christian clergymen and influential lay representatives of the Christian religion. Our purpose in alluding to the fact is neither to gratify the prejudices of “Heathen,” nor strengthen the scepticism of “Infidels”—ourselves included in either class. In what little has been said, and the more that is to appear in these columns, we are merely performing a plain and imperative duty to the great Eastern public into which we have become incorporated. Experience now supplements the information previously derived from reading, and we see the missionary emissaries of Christendom withholding the truth, and by specious stories labouring to entice our people to desert their noble Aryan faiths and become converts. If this would make them better, wiser, and happier; if the new religion were more conducive to public or private good; the chapters of Western history showed that the lofty ethical code arbitrarily ascribed to Jesus had elevated the nations professing it; if in Great Britain, Russia, France Spain, Germany, Italy, the United States of America, or any other “Christian” country, there were fewer crimes, and those of a more venial character, than in lands where—
“The Heathen, in his blindness,
Bows down to wood and stone;”
—then we might at least hold our peace. But it is exactly the reverse in nearly every one of these particulars. From one end of Christendom to the other there prevails neither real peace, brotherhood, contentment, firm religious faith, nor a preponderating tone of morality in official or private life. The press bristles with the proofs that Christianity has no right to be considered as an active purificatory force. More may be added. The gradual liberation of thought by the progress of scientific research has undermined the very foundations of the Christian religion, and the edifice, erected during eighteen centuries with so much difficulty and at such appalling sacrifices of human life and national morality, is tottering like a tree that sways to its fall. The picture of social morals that one finds in the journals of every Christian country would so shock the Hindu mind, that it would be no wonder if a general rising should drive out of the country, between two days, every missionary, bishop, priest, deacon, or lay teacher calling himself a Christian. For, bad as India may have become in these degenerate days, and forgotten as may be the pure religion of the Veda, there is not a community throughout the Peninsula, which would not be able to show among Natives a better average of morality, of sincere religious fervour, and of security for life than either of the communities from which these proselyters come. Last month, an editorial of that powerful American newspaper, the New York Sun, transferred to these pages, showed us that despite the large worldly advantages offered, there was a marked and significant decrease in the proportion of young collegians who were preparing for the priestly calling. This month we reprint the following brief but pointed remarks of Puck, a satirical weekly journal of New York, which were called forth by the most recent clerical scandal:—
OUR SPIRITUAL GUARDIANS
What is the matter with all the ministers of the Gospel? The example set by Plymouth Church’s great preacher has not merely been followed by smaller fry, but often improved on and varied, according to the taste and fancy of the holy individual.
It is not a pleasant picture for the conscientious Christian who believes in going to church regularly and listening to the word of God as expounded by the clerical gentlemen who may happen to have the floor of the pulpit.
We scarcely know where to begin—the list of these eccentric pastors is such an appalling one.
The special weaknesses of the Rev. H. W. B. are pretty well understood; he has, however, found humble imitators in the Rev. Mr. Hafermann, of the Hoboken Lutheran Evangelical Church who kisses his cook for “pure” Christian motives, and for her spiritual welfare, and the Rev. Mr. Trumbrower, pastor of the Porter Methodist Episcopal Church, also in Hoboken, who is getting himself talked about for his osculatory practices with one Mrs. Boh, a member of his flock, and a married woman, by the way.
But while Hoboken, with its Hafermann and Trumbrower, may eventually prove a worthy and formidable rival to Brooklyn and its notorious pastors, it is not going to carry off all the honours in clerical misdoings. Connecticut, represented by the Rev. Mr. Hayden, will not permit it. It goes in for something a trifle stronger than mere kissing. It goes for higher game—betrayal and murder; true, not proven according to the opinion of an intelligent jury, but unpleasantly probable.
New York has of late been a little behindhand in crooked clergymen, although, as becomes a patriotic citizen, the Reverend Mr. Cowley will not allow it to be left altogether out in the cold.
The story of the saintly Mr. Cowley’s executive ability in his management of the Shepherd’s Fold, and dieting its little inmates, is already familiar to everybody, and we fondly hope that Mr. Cowley will soon become familiar with the interior of a cell in some respectable jail.
There are many more of these saintly sinners, who have distinguished themselves in a greater or lesser degree, but we forebear mentioning their names. The subject is not an inviting one, but yet it must not be shirked; on the contrary, it must be vigorously handled, for the protection of our wives, our daughters, our children, and for everything that is dear to us in our domestic life.
These men—these pastors—to whom practically the care of our families is confided, are constantly disgracing themselves.
It is not a question of the misfortune of any one denomination, disgraced by these unworthy guardians. Protestant, Catholic, Atheist, and Jew are alike interested in the exposure and punishment of the public teacher who betrays his trust and misuses his privileges.
The above editorial is accompanied by one of the cleverest cartoons we have ever seen. In sarcasm and disdain it matches the most famous caricatures of Gilray or Hogarth. Catholic and Protestant clergymen are depicted in their proven characters of voluptuaries, peculators, and sensationalists; each picture being inscribed with proper names, extracted from the records of the law-courts. No wonder that decent young graduates should prefer any other profession than one which is so rapidly falling into disrepute. Who can be surprised at the growing scepticism throughout Christendom? We are approaching the crisis of the Western religion, and none but a bold and enthusiastic apologist dares deny that its doom is sealed. Without the revival of Aryan philosophy, for which we are labouring, the West will tend towards the grossest materialism; but with the opening of that long-sealed fountain of spiritual refreshment, we may hope that there will arise, upon the ruins of the bad new faith, the superstructure of the good old one, for the salvation of a world given over to vice and folly.
A few weeks ago, an audience of nearly 4,000 persons of the better class gathered at Chicago, to listen to a defense of the memory of Thomas Paine by that splendid American orator, Colonel Robert G. Ingersoll. Paine was one of the purest, wisest, and bravest apostles of Free Thought that the Anglo-Saxon race has produced. He wrote The Age of Reason—a book which, if the missionaries were governed by the spirit of fair-play, would be on the shelf of every mission library in India, so that their “Heathen” pupils might read both sides of the Christian question. For this crime, the noble author was persecuted in the most malicious way by Christians. His name was made the synonym of all that is vile and malevolent. His enemies, not satisfied with lying about him while alive, desecrated his grave, and we have ourselves seen his monument at New Rochelle, New York, bespattered with dung and battered with sticks and stones. But time heals all injustice, and now, seventy years after Thomas Paine’s death, his memory is vindicated. He died almost solitary and alone, deserted by friends, and his services to American liberty all forgotten. But now, thousands and hundreds of thousands of the most intelligent and influential ladies and gentlemen of America have cheered to the echo Colonel Ingersoll’s glowing periods.
In the address above alluded to, for a verbatim report of which we are indebted to the Religio-Philosophical Journal, the Spiritualist organ to which an allusion was made by us last month, occur the following passages:—
In his (Paine’s) time the church believed and taught that every word in the Bible was absolutely true. Since his day it has been proven false in its cosmogony, false in its astronomy, false in its chronology and geology, false in its history, and so far as the Old Testament is concerned, false in almost everything. [Laughter.] There are but few, if any, scientific men, who apprehend that the Bible is literally true. Who on earth at this day would pretend to settle any scientific question by a text from the Bible? The old belief is confined to the ignorant and zealous. The church itself will before long be driven to occupy the position of Thomas Paine. The best minds of the orthodox world, to-day are endeavouring to prove the existence of a personal deity. All other questions occupy a minor place. You are no longer asked to swallow the Bible whole, whale, Jonah and all, you are simply required to believe in God and pay your pew-rent.
Pain thought the barbarities of the Old Testament inconsistent with what he deemed the real character of God. He believed the murder, massacre, and indiscriminate slaughter had never been commanded by the Deity. He regarded much of the Bible as childish, unimportant, and foolish. The scientific world entertained the same position. Pain attacked the Bible precisely in the same spirit in which he had attacked the pretensions of the kings. He used the same weapons. All the pomp in the world could not make him cower. His reason knew no “Holy of Holies” except the abode of truth. The sciences were then in their infancy. The attention of the really learned had not been directed to an impartial examination of our pretended revelation. It was accepted by most as a matter of course. The church was all-powerful, and no one else, unless thoroughly imbued with the spirit of self-sacrifice, thought for a moment of disputing the fundamental doctrines of Christianity. The infamous doctrine that salvation depends upon belief, upon a mere intellectual conviction, was then believed and preached. To doubt was to secure the damnation of your soul. This absurd and devlish doctrine shocked the common sense of Thomas Paine, and he denounced it with the fervor of honest indignation. This doctrine, although infinitely ridiculous, has been nearly universal, and has been as hurtful as senseless. For the overthrow of this infamous tenet Paine exerted all his strength. He left few arguments to be used by those who should come after him, and he used none that have been refuted. The combined wisdom and genius of all mankind cannot possibly conceive of an argument against liberty of thought. Neither can they show why any one should be punished, either in this world or another, for acting honestly in accordance with reason; and yet a doctrine with every possible argument against it had been, and still is, believe and defended by the entire orthodox world. Can it be possible that we have been endowed with reason simply that our souls may be caught in its toils and snares, that we may be led by its false and delusive glare out of the narrow path that leads to joy into the broad way of everlasting death? Is it possible that we have been given reason simply that we may through faith ignore its deductions and avoid its conclusions? Ought the sailor to throw away his compass and depend entirely upon the fog? If reason is not to be depended upon in matters of religion, that is to say, in respect of our duties to the Deity, why should it be relied upon in the matter respecting the rights of our fellows? Down, for ever down, with any religion that requires upon its ignorant altar its sacrifice of the goddess Reason; that compels her to abdicate for ever the shining throne of the soul, strips from her form the imperial purple, snatches from her hand the sceptre of thought, and makes her the bond-woman of a senseless faith.
If a man should tell you he had the most beautiful painting in the world, and after taking you where it was should insist upon having your eyes shut, you would likely suspect either that he had no painting or that it was some pitiable daub. Should he tell yo that he was a most excellent performer on the violin, and yet refused to play unless your ears were stopped, you would think, to say the least of it, that he had an odd way of convincing you of his musical ability. But would his conduct be any more wonderful than that of a religionist who asks that before examining his creed you will have the kindness to throw away your reason? The first gentleman says: “Keep your eyes shut: my picture will bear everything but being seen.” [Laughter.] “Keep your ears stopped; my music objects to nothing but being heard.” [Laughter.] The last says: “Away with your reason; my religion dreads nothing but being understood.” [Laughter.]
So far as I am concerned, I most cheerfully admit that most Christians are honest, and most ministers sincere. We do not attack them: we attack their creed. We accord to them the same rights that we ask for ourselves. We believe that their doctrines are hurtful, and I am going to do what I can against them. We believe that the frightful text, “He that believeth shall be saved, and he that believeth not shall be damned,” has covered the earth with blood. You might as well say all that have red hair shall be damned. It has filled the heart with arrogance, cruelty, and murder. It has caused the religious wars; bound hundreds of thousands to the stake; founded inquisitions; filled dungeons; invented instruments of torture; taught the mother to hate her child; imprisoned the mind; filled the world with ignorance; persecuted the lovers of wisdom; built the monasteries and convents; made happiness a crime, investigation a sin, and self-reliance a blasphemy. It has poisoned the springs of learning; misdirected the energies of the world; filled all countries with want; housed the people in hovels; fed them with famine, and, but for the efforts of a few brave infidels, it would have taken the world back to the midnight of barbarism, and left the heavens without a star.
At that time nothing so delighted the church as the beauties of endless torment, and listening to the weak wailing of damned infants struggling in the slimy coils and poison folds of the worm that never dies. No wonder the church hated and traduced the author of the “Age of Reason.” England was filled with Puritan gloom and Episcopal ceremony. The ideas of crazy fanatics and extravagant poets were taken as sober facts. Milton had clothed Christianity in the soiled and faded finery of the gods—had added to the story of Christ the fables of mythology. He gave tot he Protestant church the most outrageously material ideas of Deity. He turned all the angels into soldiers—made heaven a battle-field, put Christ in uniform, and described God as a militia-general.
Progress is born of doubt and inquiry. The church never doubts—never inquires. To doubt is heresy—to inquire is to admit that you cannot know—the church does neither.
More than a century ago Catholicism, wrapped in robes red with the innocent blood of millions, holding in her frantic clutch crowns and sceptres, honors and gold, the keys of heaven and hell, trampling beneath her feet the liberties of nations, in the proud moment of almost universal dominion, felt within her heartless breast the deadly dagger of Voltaire. From that blow the church can never recover. Livid with hatred she launched her eternal anathema at the great destroyer, and ignorant Protestants have echoes the curse of Rome.
Paine knew that across the open Bible lay the sword of ward, and so where others worshipped he looked with scorn and wept. And so it has been through all the ages gone.
The doubter, the investigator, the infidel, have been the saviours of liberty. The truth is beginning to be realized, and the truly intellectual are honoring the brave thinkers of the past.
But the church is as unforgiving as ever, and still wonders why an infidel should be wicked enough to endeavour to destroy her power. I will tell the church why I hate it. You have imprisoned the human mind; you have been the enemy of liberty; you have burned us at the stake, roasted us before slow fires, torn our flesh with irons; you have covered us with chains; treated us as outcastes; you have filled the world with fear; you have taken our wives and children from our arms; you have confiscated our property; you have denied us the rights to testify in courts of justice; you have branded us with infamy; you have torn out our tongues; you have refused us burial. In the name of your religion, you have robbed us of every right; and after having inflicted upon us every evil that can be inflicted in this world, you have fallen upon your knees, and with clasped hands implored your God to finished the holy work in hell.
Can you wonder that we hate your doctrine; that we despise your creeds; that we feel proud to know that we are beyond your power; that we are free in spite of you; that we can express our honest thought, and that the whole world is grandly rising into the blessed light? Can you wonder that we point with pride to the fact that infidelity has ever been found battling for the rights of man, for the liberty of conscience, and for the happiness of all? Can you wonder that we are proud to know that we have always been disciples of reason and soldiers of freedom; that we have denounced tyranny and superstition, and have kept our hands unstained with human blood?
It does seem as though the most zealous Christians must at times entertain some doubt as to the divine origin of his religion. For eighteen hundred years the doctrine has been preached. For more than a thousand years the church had, to a great extent, the control of the civilized world, and what has been the result? Are the Christian nations patterns of charity and forbearance? On the contrary, their principal business is to destroy each other. More than five million of Christians are trained and educated and drilled to murder their fellow Christians. Every nation is groaning under a vast debt incurred in carrying on war against other Christians, or defending itself from Christian assault. The world is covered with forts to protect Christians from Christians, and every sea is covered with iron monsters ready to blow Christian brains into eternal froth. Millions upon millions are annually expended in the effort to construct still more deadly and terrible engines of death. Industry is crippled, honest toil is robbed, and even beggary is taxed to defray the expenses of Christian murder. There must be some other way to reform this world. We have tried creed and dogma and fable, and they have failed—and they have failed in all the nations deas.
If to love your fellow-men more than self is goodness, Thomas Paine was good. If to be in advance of your time, to be a pioneer in the direction of right, is greatness, Thomas Paine was great. If to avow your principles and discharge your duty in the presence of death is heroic, Thomas Paine was a hero.
At the age of seventy-three death touched his tired heart. He died in the land his genius defended, under the flag he gave to the skies. Slander cannot touch him now; hatred cannot reach him more. He sleeps in the sanctuary of the tomb, beneath the quiet of the stars.
A few more years, a few more brave men, a few more rays of light, and mankind will venerate the memory of him who said:
“Any system of religion that shocks the mind of a child cannot be a true system.
“The world is my country, and to do good, my religion.”