Christian and Skeptic.
The Theosophist, October, 1887
At the recent May Meeting of the Church Missionary Society, Sir M. Monier-Williams felt impelled to lay before the world in general, and the crowd in Exeter Hall in particular, his latest views of the non-Christian religions. A few specimens from his speech will be instructive. As to his impartiality,
“it seems to me,” he says, “that our missionaries are already sufficiently convinced of the necessity of studying these works [the sacred books of the East], and of making themselves conversant with the false creeds they have to fight against.”
Compare with this the liberal admission of Matthew Arnold that “Buddhism possesses both the method and the secret of Jesus;” and compare it also with the saying, “Whosoever is not against us is for us.”
As to the Professor’s religious education,
“In my youth” he says, “I had been accustomed to hear all non-Christian religions, described as ‘inventions of the Devil.’ (Laughter) And when I began investigating Hinduism and Buddhism, some well-meaning Christian, (!) friends expressed their surprise that I should waste my time by grubbing in the dirty gutters of heathendom.” (The italics are ours).
Compare with this saying of the most Christian professor another saying,
“Other sheep have I not of this fold, them also must I bring that there may be one fold and one shepherd.”
Another example of his impartiality.
“After a little examination I said to myself ‘It is probable that they [the non-Christian religions] were all intended to lead up to the one True Religion, and that Christianity is merely the climax of them all.’”
“I am glad of this opportunity of stating that I am persuaded that this idea is quite erroneous.”
Here at least we agree with the Professor. Now for a specimen of the Professor’s taste;
“I contend that a limp, flabby, jelly-fish kind of tolerance is utterly incompatible with the nerve, fibre, and back-bone that ought to characterise a manly Christian.”
As far as we can see, the tolerance the Professor alludes to is the belief that “in every nation he that feareth God, and worketh righteousness, is accepted with Him.” He goes on to say,
“If God be God, serve Him. If Baal be God, serve him.”
Now for another example of the impartiality of this eminently unprejudiced Professor;
“We welcome these books; [Sacred books of the East], but we warn every missionary that there can be no greater mistake than to (force these non-Christian Bibles into conformity with some scientific theory of development and then) point to the Christian’s Holy Bible as the crowning product of religious evolution. (Applause). So far from this, these non-Christian Bibles are all developments in the wrong direction. (Renewed applause).”
These godly people who attend Exeter Hall meetings, seem very glad that the Almighty has left no chance for the Hindu and his friends to escape from eternal damnation; they apparently rather enjoy saying to them, “Truly, I think you are damned.” We will not ask what Jesus of Nazareth would think of this. It is true the Professor is kind enough to say that the non-Christian religions “all begin with some flashes of true light,” though they “end in darkness.” We will see, farther on, what the professor considers “true light.” We will pass over the calm assumption of ability to sift Aryan metaphysics to the uttermost, which this sentence involves, and proceed to the two real gems of the oration.
“Listen to me, ye youthful students of the so-called sacred books of the East,” says the Professor, “search them through and through and tell me, do they affirm of Vyasa, of Zoroaster, of Confucius, of Buddha, of Muhammad, what our Bible affirms of the founder of Christianity, that He, a sinless Man, was made sin? Not merely that he is the eradicator of sin, but that He, the sinless Son of Man, was himself made sin?”
Now for the pendant to this gem; the Professor modestly adds,
“Understand me, I do not pretend, as a layman, to interpret the apparently contradictory proposition put forth in our Bible that a sinless man was made sin.”
No, Professor, we should think not; but is it not rather awkward for your Christian brothers who are not laymen, to have this kind of task set for them? The second gem is like unto the first.
“Once again, ye youthful students of the so-called Sacred books of the East, search them through and through, and tell me do they affirm of Vyasa, of Zoroaster, of Confucius, of Buddha, of Muhammad, what our Bible affirms of the founder of Christianity,—that he a dead and buried man, was made life, not merely that he is the giver of life, but that he, a dead and buried man, is life. Let me remind you too, that the blood is the life, and that our sacred book adds this matchless, this unparalleled, this astounding assertion: Except ye eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, ye have no life in you.”
The Professor hastens to add,
“Again, I say, I am not now presuming to interpret so marvellous, so stupendous a statement. All I contend for is that it is absolutely unique.”
Granted, Professor. It is unique, and more than unique. There is a third jewel almost equal to the other two.
“Vyasa, Zoroaster, Confucius, Buddha, Muhammad, are all dead and buried.”
By the way, why does the Professor persistently omit Krishna from his lists? Is he too delicate ground?
“Mark this” he says “their bones have crumbled into dust; their flesh is dissolved, their bodies are extinct. Even their followers admit this. Christianity alone commemorates the passing into the heavens of its Divine Founder, not merely in the spirit, but in the body and with flesh, bones, and all things appertaining to the perfection of man’s nature.”
Our orator seems enamoured of the tasteful phrase he before made use of; he repeats,—“In these days of flabby compromise and milk-and-water concession, it requires some courage” to utter such sentiments to a cultured, liberal, Exeter Hall audience. Go on in your valour, most courageous Professor; go to Exeter Hall and tell them, cast it in their teeth, that they are to be saved—flesh; bones, and all—while the Hindu and the Buddhist are to be damned. May Heaven deliver Christianity from such an advocate as this! But enough of culture and Exeter Hall.
Let us now turn for rest to the sceptical astronomer, Mr. Richard A. Proctor. In the number of “Knowledge,” which began the new year, he writes—
“It is simply a fact (be the explanation what it may) that the teachings in the New Testament, not only in the ethical aspect, but in method, and often in actual wording, are such as Gautama and his disciples preached long before, and such as holy Aryans had taught long before Gautama. Max Müller dwells on the ‘strange coincidences’ which there are between the language of Buddha and his disciples and the language of Christ and his Apostles. ‘Even’ he proceeds, ‘some of the Buddhist legends and parables sound as if taken from the New Testament, though we know that many of them existed before the Christian era,’ which is Prof. Müller’s quaintly cautious way of saying that the New Testament stories read as if derived from those earlier legends. There is not one of the teachings regarded as most characteristic of Christianity, which is not more ancient than Christianity by many hundreds of years, albeit to the Jewish people those teachings were new, as they were to the Western Gentiles whom the early Apostles of Christianity chiefly taught. We cannot explain this by suggesting simply that Jesus Christ was an Essene, though it seems tolerably clear that he had been trained by teachers of that sect; or by suggesting, further, that the Essenes had received their doctrines from Buddhist teachers, though there is strong evidence that they had. There was more in the teaching of Jesus, as there was more in the teaching of Paul, than either had derived directly from the earliest leaders of the Essenes; and in the doctrines of the Essenes there were details which had not been derived from Buddhist missionaries, either directly or indirectly,—details which belonged to the Semitic character, and without which no doctrines of purely Aryan origin could ever have found favour among the Jews.
“I am asked what I must believe.
“I believe that early in the first century a teacher of great power, and of singularly earnest character, who was called Jesus, and early known as the Christ or the Anointed, arose among the Jews. I believe that this teacher, a man of pure and blameless life (whatever else, higher yet, he may have been) brought before that people more effectively than any before, the better part of the doctrines—obviously Aryan in origin (whatever Semitic colouring they may have acquired) by which the Essenes had long been distinguished from other sects.
“The evidence appears to me decisive that, though the doctrines of Christianity reached the present Christian world from a Semitic source, they are of purely Aryan Origin. But though these doctrines were originally Aryan, they would never have made their way as they did among the races which now accept them had it not been first, for the specific warmth of colour given them by Jewish teachers, and especially by Jesus and Paul (who were, indeed, the teachers of the Jews); and secondly; for the special circumstances which led to the dispersion of such teachers among non-Jewish races after the fall of Jerusalem. In the spread of the doctrines of love and justice among races then about to take leading positions in the world, but then (as now) most prone to cruelty and wrong doing, I recognize the greatest event of which human history bears record, and promise of the worthiest fruit.
“But though the fields have long been ripening into harvest, the full time for reaping has not yet come; we shall not live to see it, though some even in our day have discerned its fair fields and pleasant homesteads from the Pisgah they sadly and painfully have climbed.”
All honour to the man who can speak like this.