Oriental Religions and Christianity Part 16

How marvellous is all this--that Theosophists, Aryas, Brahmos, Buddhists, Moslems, though they hate Christianity and fight it to the death--still bow before the mild sceptre of Christ. As the central light of the diamond shines alike through every facet and angle, so His doctrine and character are claimed as the glory of every creed. Many types of heathen faiths honor Him, and many schools of philosophic scepticism. Some of the noblest tributes to His unearthly purity have been given by men who rejected His divinity. In spite of itself the most earnest thought of many races, many systems, many creeds, has crystallized around Him. History has made Him its moral centre, the calendar of the nations begins with Him, and the anniversary of His birth is the festival of the civilized world. The prediction that all nations should call Him blessed is already fulfilled.


[Footnote 167: It is worthy of note that both the Pentateuch and most heathen traditions agree, as to the order or stages of creation, with the geological record of modern science.]

[Footnote 168: Rawlinson: _Ancient Monarchies_.]

[Footnote 169: Ebrard: _Apologetics_, vol. ii.]

[Footnote 170: Williams: _Indian Wisdom_, p. 22.]

[Footnote 171: De Quatrefages: _The Human Species_, p. 490.]

[Footnote 172: _Christ and Other Masters_, p. 281.]

[Footnote 173: _Manual of Buddhism_, p. 66.]

[Footnote 174: Ebrard: _Apologetics_, vol. ii.]

[Footnote 175: Ibid.]

[Footnote 176: _Indian Wisdom_, pp. 32, 393.]

[Footnote 177: Ebrard: _Apologetics_, vol. ii.]

[Footnote 178: Ebrard: _Apologetics_, vol. iii.]

[Footnote 179: De Pressense: _The Ancient World and Christianity_, p.


[Footnote 180: Schoolcraft: _Notes on the Iroquois_.]

[Footnote 181: Quoted by Morgan in _St. Paul in Britain_, p. 23.]

[Footnote 182: The full development of the doctrine was not reached till far on in the Christian centuries. Hardwick: _Christ and Other Masters_, p. 204.]

[Footnote 183: _Aryan Witness_, closing chapter.]



It is not my purpose to discuss the comparative merits of philosophic systems, but only to consider some practical bearings of philosophy, ancient and modern, upon vital questions of morals and religion. There has been no lack of speculation in the world. For ages the most gifted minds have labored and struggled to solve the mysteries of the Universe and of its Author. But they have missed the all-important fact that with the heart, as well as with the intellect, men are to be learners of the highest wisdom, and that they are to listen to the voice of God not only in nature, but in the soul.

So the old questions, still unsolved, are ever asked anew. The same wearying researches and the same confident assertions, to be replaced by others equally confident, are found both in the ancient and in the modern history of mankind. By wisdom the present generation has come no nearer to finding out God than men of the remotest times. The cheerless conclusion of agnosticism was reached in India twenty-four centuries ago, and Confucius expressed it exactly when he said, with reference to the future, "We do not know life; how can we know death?" This same dubious negation probably has the largest following of all types of unbelief in our time. It is not atheism: that, to the great mass of men, is unthinkable; it is easier to assume simply that "we do not know." Yet almost every form of agnosticism, ancient or modern, claims to possess a vast amount of very positive knowledge. Speculative hypothesis never employed the language of dogmatic assurance so confidently as now. Even theosophic occultism speaks of itself as "science."

That which strikes one first of all in the history of philosophy is the similarity between ancient and modern speculations upon the great mysteries of the world.

1. Notice with what accord various earlier and later theories dispense with real and personal creatorship in the origin of the universe. The atomic theory of creation is by no means a modern invention, and so far as evolution is connected with that hypothesis, evolution is very old.

Mr. Herbert Spencer states his theory thus: "First in the order of evolution is the formation of simple mechanical aggregates of atoms, e.g., molecules, spheres, systems; then the evolution of more complex aggregations or organisms: then the evolution of the highest product of organization, thought; and lastly, the evolution of the complex relations which exist between thinking organisms, or society with its regulative laws, both civil and moral." Between these stages, he tells us, "there is no fixed line of demarcation.... The passage from one to the other is continuous, the transition from organization to thought being mediated by the nerve-system, in the molecular changes of which are to be found the mechanical correlates and equivalents of all conscious processes." It will be seen that this comprehensive statement is designed to cover, if not the creation, at least the creative processes of all things in the universe of matter and in the universe of thought.

Mr. Spencer does not allude here to the question of a First Cause back of the molecules and their movements, though he is generally understood to admit that such a Cause may exist. He does not in express terms deny that at some stage in this development there may have been introduced a divine spark of immortal life direct from the Creator's hand. He even maintains that "the conscious soul is not the product of a collocation of material particles, but is in the deepest sense a Divine effluence."[184] Yet he seems to get on without any very necessary reliance upon such an intervention, since the development from the atom to the civilized man is "a continuous process," and throughout the whole course from molecule to thought and moral and social law, "there are no lines of demarcation." He leaves it for the believer in theistic evolution to show when and where and how the Divine effluence is introduced.

Similar to this was the theory which the Hindu Kanada propounded more than two thousand years ago. As translated and interpreted by Colebrook, Kanada taught that two earthly atoms concurring by an unseen and peculiar virtue called "adrishta," or by the will of God, or by time, or by competent cause, constitute a double atom of earth; and by concourse of three binary atoms a tertiary atom is produced, and by concourse of four triple atoms a quaternary, and so on.[185] Thus the great earth is produced. The system of Lucretius was much the same, though neither Lucretius nor Spencer has recognized any such force as adrishta.[186]

What seems to distinguish Mr. Spencer's theory is the extension of this evolutionary process to mind and spirit in the development of thought and feeling. He does not say that mind resides in the molecules, but that their movements attend (if they do not originate and control) the operation of the mind. Professor Leconte seems to go farther when he says that "in animals brain-changes are in all cases the cause of psychical phenomena; in man alone, and only in his higher activities, psychic changes precede and determine brain changes."[187] We shall see farther on that Mr. Spencer, in his theory of intuition, admits this same principle by logical inference, and traces even man's highest faculties to brain or nerve changes in our ancestors. Kanada also held that mind, instead of being a purely spiritual power, is atomic or molecular, and by logical deduction the mental activities must depend on the condition of the molecules.

Ram Chandra Bose, in expounding Kanada's theory, says: "The general idea of mind is that _which is subordinate to substance_, being also found in intimate relations in an atom, and it is itself material." The early Buddhist philosophers also taught that physical elements are among the five "skandas" which constitute the phenomenal soul. Democritus and Lucretius regarded the mind as atomic, and the primal "monad" of Leibnitz was the living germ--smallest of things--which enters into all visible and invisible creations, and which is itself all-potential; it is a living microcosm; it is an immortal soul. These various theories are not parallels, but they have striking similarities. And I believe that Professor Tyndall, in his famous Belfast Address, virtually acknowledges Lucretius as the father of the modern atomic theories.

Whether Lucretius borrowed them from India, we shall not stop to inquire, but we may safely assert that modern philosophers, German, French or English, have borrowed them from one or both.

It is not my purpose to discuss the truth or falsity of the atomic theory, or the relation of mind to the movements of molecules in the brain; I simply point out the fact that this is virtually an old hypothesis; and I leave each one to judge how great a degree of light it has shed upon the path of human life in the ages of the past, how far it availed to check the decline of Greece and Rome, and how much of real moral or intellectual force it has imparted to the Hindu race. The credulous masses of men should not be left to suppose that these are new speculations, nor to imagine that that which has been so barren in the past can become a gospel of hope in the present and the future.

The constant tendency with young students of philosophy, is to conclude that the hypotheses which they espouse with so much enthusiasm are new revelations in metaphysics and ethics as well as in physical science--compared with which the Christian cultus of eighteen centuries is now effete and doomed. It is well, therefore, to know that so far from these speculations having risen upon the ruins of Christianity, Christianity rose upon the ruins of these speculations as, in modified forms, they had been profoundly elaborated in the philosophies of Greece and Rome. Lucretius was born a century before the Christian era, and Democritus, whose disciple he became, lived earlier still. Kanada, the atomist philosopher of India, lived three centuries before Democritus.

The early Christian fathers were perfectly familiar with the theories of Lucretius. We are indebted to Jerome for many of the facts which we possess concerning him. Nearly all the great leaders of the church, from Origen to Ambrose, had studied Greek philosophy, some of them had been its devotees before their conversion to the Christian faith. There is at least incidental evidence that the Apostle Paul was versed in the current philosophy as well as in the poetry of Greece.

These great men--great in natural powers and in philosophic training--had seen just what the speculations of Democritus, Lucretius, Zeno, Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle could do; they had indeed undermined the low superstitions of their time, but they had proved powerless to regenerate society, or even relieve the individual pessimism and despair of men like Seneca, Pliny, or Marcus Aurelius.

Lucretius, wholly or partially insane, died by his own hand. The light of philosophy left the Roman Empire, as Uhlhorn and others have clearly shown, under the shadow of a general despair. And it was in the midst of that gloom that the light of Christianity shone forth. Augustine, who had fathomed various systems and believed in them, tells us that it was the philosophy which appeared in the writings and in the life of the Apostle Paul which finally wrought the great change in his career. Plato had done much; Paul and the Cross of Christ did infinitely more.

The development of higher forms of life from lower by natural selection, as set forth by the late Charles Darwin, has been supposed to be an entirely new system. Yet the Chinese claim to have held a theory of development which represents the mountains as having once been covered by the sea. When the waters subsided small herbs sprang up, which in the course of ages developed into trees. Worms and insects also appeared spontaneously, like lice upon a living body; and these after a long period became larger animals--beetles became tortoises; worms, serpents.

The mantis was developed into an ape, and certain apes became at length hairless. One of these by accident struck fire with a flint. The cooking of food at length followed the use of fire, and the apes, by being better nourished, were finally changed into men. Whether this theory is ancient or modern, it is eminently Chinese, and it shows the natural tendency of men to ascribe the germs of life to spontaneous generation, because they fail to see the Great First Cause who produces them. The one thing which is noticeable in nearly all human systems of religion and philosophy, is that they have no clear and distinct idea of creatorship. They are systems of evolution; in one way or another they represent the world as having _grown_. Generally they assume the eternity of matter, and often they are found to regard the present cosmos as only a certain stage in an endless circle of changes from life to death and from death to life. The world rebuilds itself from the wreck and debris of former worlds. It is quite consistent with many of these systems that there should be gods, but as a rule they recognize no God. While all races of men have shown traces of a belief in a Supreme Creator and Ruler far above their inferior deities, yet their philosophers, if they had any, have sooner or later bowed Him out.

2. Most systems of philosophic speculation, ancient and modern, tend to weaken the sense of moral accountability. First, the atomic theory, which we have just considered, leads to this result by the molecular, and therefore purely physical, origin which it assigns to moral acts and conditions. We have already alluded to Herbert Spencer's theory of intuition. In the "Data of Ethics," page 123, he says: "I believe that the experiences of utility, organized and consolidated through all past generations of the human race, have been producing corresponding nervous modifications, which by continued transmission and accumulation _have become in us certain faculties of moral intuition_, certain emotions corresponding to right and wrong conduct which have no apparent basis in the individual experiences of utility."

It appears from this statement that, so far as we are concerned, our moral intuitions are the results of "nervous modifications," if not in ourselves, at least in our ancestors, so that the controlling influence which rules, and which ought to rule, our conduct is a nervous, and therefore a physical, condition which we have inherited. It follows, therefore, that every man's conscience or inherited moral sense is bound by a necessity of his physical constitution. And if this be so, why is there not a wide door here opened for theories of moral insanity, which might come at length to cast their shield over all forms and grades of crime? It is easy to see that, whatever theory of creation may be admitted as to the origin of the human soul, this hypothesis rules out the idea of an original moral likeness of the human spirit to a Supreme Moral Ruler of the universe, in whom righteousness dwells as an eternal principle; and it finds no higher source for what we call conscience than the accumulated experience of our ancestors.

The materialistic view recently presented by Dr. Henry Maudsley, in an article entitled, "The Physical Basis of Mind"--an article which seems to follow Mr. Spencer very closely--would break down all moral responsibility. His theory that true character depends upon what he calls the reflex action of the nerve-cells; that acts of reason or conscience which have been put forth so many times that, in a sense, they perform themselves without any exercise of consciousness, are the best; that a man is an instinctive thief or liar, or a born poet, because the proper nervous structure has been fixed in his constitution by his ancestors; that any moral act, so long as it is conscious, is not ingrained in character, and the more conscious it is, the more dubious it is; and that "virtue itself is not safely lodged until it has become a habit"--in other words, till it has become an automatic and unconscious operation of the nerve-cells, such a doctrine, in its extreme logical results, destroys all voluntary and conscious loyalty to principle, and renders man a mere automatic machine.

On the other hand Mr. A.R. Wallace, in combating the theory that the moral sense in man is based on the utility experienced by our ancestors, relates the following incident: "A number of prisoners taken during the Santal insurrection were allowed to go free on parole, to work at a certain spot for wages. After some time cholera attacked them and they were obliged to leave, but everyone of them returned and gave up his earnings to the guard. Two hundred savages with money in their girdles walked thirty miles back to prison rather than break their word. My own experience with savages has furnished me with similar, although less severely tested, instances; and we cannot avoid asking how it is that, in these few cases 'experience of utility' have left such an overpowering impression, while in others they have left none.... The intuitional theory which I am now advocating explains this by the supposition that there is a feeling--a sense of right and wrong--in our nature antecedent to, and independent of, experiences of utility."[188]

3. Theories which confound the origin of man with that of brutes, whether in the old doctrine of transmigration or in at least some of the theories of evolution, involve a contradiction in man's ethical history.

The confusion shown in the Buddhist Jatakas, wherein Buddha, in the previous existences which prepared him for his great and holy mission, was sometimes a saint and sometimes a gambler and a thief, is scarcely greater, from an ethical point of view, than that which evolution encounters in bridging the chasm between brute instinct and the lofty ethics of the perfected man.

The lower grades of animal life know no other law than the instinct which prompts them to devour the types which are lower still. This destruction of the weaker by the stronger pervades the whole brute creation; it is a life of violence throughout. On the other hand, all weaker creatures, exposed to such ravages, protect themselves universally by deception. The grouse shields her young from hawks or other carnivora by running in the opposite direction, with the assumed appearance of a broken wing. The flat fish, to escape its mortal enemies, lies upon the bottom of the stream, scarcely distinguishable in color or appearance from the sand which constitutes its bed. Nature seems to aid and abet its falsehood by the very form which has been assigned to it. And so also the gift of transparency helps the chameleon in seeming to be a part of the green plant, or the brown bark, upon which it lies. And Professor Drummond, in his interesting account of his African travels, describes certain insects which render themselves indistinguishable either in color or in form from the branchings and exfoliation of certain grasses upon which they feed. Deception therefore becomes a chief resource of the weak, while violence is that of the strong. And those which are in the middle of the scale practise both.

There are still other animals which are invested with attributes of all that is meanest and most contemptible in character. The sly and insinuating snake gliding noiselessly toward the victim of its envenomed sting--the spider which spreads forth its beautiful and alluring net, sparkling with morning dew, while it lurks in a secret corner, ready to fall upon its luckless prey--the sneaking and repulsive hyena, too cowardly to attack the strong and vigorous, but waiting for the crippled, the helpless, the sick, and dying--if all these are in the school of preparation for that noble stage of manhood when truth and righteousness shall be its crown of glory, then, where is the turning-point? Where do violence, meanness, and deception gradually beam forth into benevolence and truth?

"The spider kills the fly. The wiser sphinx Stings the poor spider in the centre nerve, Which paralyzes only; lays her eggs, And buries with them with a loving care The spider, powerless but still alive, To warm them unto life, and afterward To serve as food among the little ones.

This is the lesson nature has to teach, 'Woe to the conquered, victory to the strong.'

And so through all the ages, step by step, The stronger and the craftier replaced The weaker, and increased and multiplied.

And in the end the outcome of the strife Was man, who had dominion over all, And preyed on all things, and the stronger man Trampled his weaker brother under foot."

Mr. John Fiske maintains that mankind, during the previous bestial period, were compelled like all other animals to maraud and destroy, as a part of the plan of natural selection in securing the survival of the fittest; the victories of the strong over the weak were the steps and stages of the animal creation in its general advancement. And he further states that, even after man had entered upon the heritage of his manhood, it was still for a time the true end of his being to maraud as before and to despoil all men whose weakness placed them in his power.

It was only thus that the steady improvement of the race could be secured; and in that view it was man's duty to consult the dictates of selfishness and cruelty rather than those of kindness. To use Mr.

Fiske's own words, "If we could put a moral interpretation upon events which antedated morality as we understand it, we should say it was their duty to fight; and the reverence accorded to the chieftain who murdered most successfully in behalf of his clansmen was well deserved."[189]

Chapter end

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