Christianity and Paganism
Christianity as an Asiatic cult is not suitable to European races. To prove this, let us make a careful comparison between Paganism and Christianity. There are many foolish things, and many excellent things, in both the Pagan and the Christian religions. We are not concerned with particular beliefs and rites; it is Paganism as a philosophy of life, and Christianity as a philosophy of life, that we desire to investigate. And at the threshold of our investigation we must bear in mind that Paganism was born and grew into maturity in Europe, while Asia was the cradle of Christianity. It would be superfluous to undertake to prove that in politics, in government, in literature, in art, in science, in the general culture of the people, Europe was always in advance of Asia.
Do we know of any good reason, when it comes to religion, why Asia should be incomparably superior to anything Europe has produced in that line? Unless we believe in miracles, the natural inference would be that a people who were better educated in every way than the Asiatics should have also possessed the better religion. I admit that this is only inferential, or a priori reasoning, and that it still remains to be shown by the recital of facts, that Europe not only ought to have produced a better religion than Asia, but that she did.
In my opinion, between the Pagan and Christian view of life there is the same difference that there is between a European and an Asiatic. What makes a Roman a Roman, a Greek a Greek, and a Persian a Persian? That is a very interesting, but also a very difficult question. Why are not all nations alike? Why is the oak more robust than the spruce? What are the subtle influences which operate in the womb of nature, where “the embryos of races are nourished into form and individuality?” I cannot answer that question satisfactorily, and I am not going to attempt to answer it at all. We know there is a radical difference between the European and the Asiatic; we know that Oriental and Occidental culture are the antitheses of each other, and nowhere else is this seen more clearly than in their interpretations of the universe, that is to say, in their religions.
In order to understand the Oriental races, we must discover the standpoint from which they take their observations.
But first, it is admitted, of course, that there are Europeans who are more Asiatic in their habits of life and thought than the Asiatics themselves, and, conversely, there are Asiatics who in spirit, energy and progressiveness are abreast of the most advanced representatives of European culture.
Nor has Asia been altogether barren; she has blossomed in many spots, and she nursed the flame of civilization at a time when Europe was not yet even cradled.
To show the intellectual point of view of the Asiatic, let me quote a passage from the Book of Job, which certainly is an Oriental composition, and one of the finest:
“How, then, can man be justified with God, or how can he be clean that is born of a woman? _Man that is a worm, and the son of man, which is a worm_.”
This, then, is the standpoint of the Oriental. He believes he is a poor little worm. His philosophy must necessarily trail in the dust. A worm cannot have the thoughts of an eagle; a worm cannot have the imagination of a Titan; a worm sees the world only as a worm may. This is the angle of vision of the Asiatic. He calls himself a worm, and naturally his view of life shrinks to the limits of his standpoint. To he perfectly fair, however, we must admit there are passages in all the bibles of the Orient which are as daring as those found in any European book, but they represent only the strayings of the Oriental mind, not its normal pulse. The habitual accent of the Oriental is that man, calling a woman his mother, is a worm. In the Psalms of David, or whoever wrote the book, we read these words: “_I am a worm, and not a man_.” What did the Oriental see in the worm, which induced him to select it out of all things as the original, so to speak, of man? The worm crawls and creeps and writhes. Nothing is so distressing as to see its helpless wiggling—and its home is in the dust; dirt is its daily food. Moreover, it is in danger of being stamped or trampled into annihilation at any instant. A worm represents the minimum of worth,–the dregs in the cup of existence; it is the scum or the froth of life, which one may blow into the air. It is impossible to descend lower than this in self-abasement.
When the Oriental, therefore, says that man is a worm or “I am a worm,” he is just as much obeying the cumulative pressure of his Asiatic ancestry, and voicing the inherited submission of the Oriental mind, as Prometheus, with the vulture at his breast, and shaking his hand in the face of the gods, expresses the revolt of the European mind. The normal state for the Asiatic is submission; for the European it is independence. Slavery has a fascination for the children of the east. The air of independence is too sharp for them. They crave a master, a Sultan or a Czar, who shall own them body and soul. Through long practice, they have acquired the art of servility and flattery, of salaams and prostrations—an art in which they have become so efficient that it would be to them like throwing away so much capital to abandon its practice. They expect to go to Heaven on their knees. This is not said to hurt the feelings of the races of the Orient. We are explaining the influence of absolutism upon the products and tendencies of the human mind. The religion of the Orient, then, notwithstanding its many beautiful features like its politics, is a product of the suppressed mind, which finds in the creeping worm of the dust the measure of its own worth. How different is the European from the Asiatic in this respect! The latter crawls upon the stage of this magnificent universe with the timidity, hesitancy and tremblings of a worm. True to his bringing up, he falls prostrate, overwhelmed by the marvelous immensities opening before him and the abysses yawning at his feet. He contracts and dwindles in size, imploring with outstretched hands to be spared because he is a poor worm. It is a part of his religion or philosophy that if he admits he is nothing but a worm, the dread powers will not consider him a rival or a rebel, but will look upon him as a confirmed subject, and permit him to live. This is his art, the strategy by which he hopes to secure his salvation.
There has never been a republic in Asia, which is another way of saying that the Asiatic mind has never asserted its independence. Hence its thought smacks of slavery. In politics, as in religion, the Asiatic has always been passive. He has never been an actor, but only a spectator. It is his to nod the head, fold the arms and bend the knee. On earth he must have a king and a pope, and in heaven an Allah or a Jehovah. He has not been created for himself, but for the glory of his earthly and heavenly Lords. This radical difference between European self-appreciation and Asiatic self-depreciation furnishes the key to the problem under discussion.
Paganism is the religion of a self-governing race. Buddhism, Judaism, Mohammedanism, and Christianity are religions born on a soil where man is owned by another. It will be impossible to imagine Marcus Aurelius, for instance, crawling upon his knees before any being, or calling himself a worm. One must have in his blood the taint of a thousand years of slavery, before he can stoop so low. Marcus Aurelius was a gentleman. The European conception of a gentleman implies self-respect and independence; the Oriental conception of a gentleman implies self-abasement and acquiescence. The Oriental gentleman is a man who serves his king as though he were his slave.
But observe now how the Oriental proceeds to pull down his mind to the level of his body, which he has likened to a worm. When I was still a Presbyterian minister, I was invited to address a Sunday-school camp-meeting at Asbury Park in New Jersey. There were other speakers besides myself; one of them, known as a Sunday-school leader, had brought with him a chart of the human heart, which, when he arose to address the children, he spread on a blackboard before them: “This is a picture of your heart before you have accepted Jesus. What do you think of it?” he asked the school. “It is all black,” was the answer; and it was. He had drawn a totally black picture to represent the heart of the child before conversion.
In all the literature of Pagandom, there is not the least intimation of so fearful an idea as the total depravity of human nature. The Pagans never thought, spoke, or heard of such a thing. It was inconceivable to them; they would have recoiled from it as from a species of barbarism. How radically different, then, must European culture have been from the Asiatic. There is a gulf well-nigh impassible between the thought of a free-born citizen and that of the oppressed and enslaved Oriental.
But let us continue. Not satisfied with thinking of himself as a worm, and of his intellectual and moral nature as totally degraded, the Oriental strikes with the same paralyzing stroke, at _the world in which he lives_, until it, too, withers and becomes an ugly and heinous thing. He calls the world a “vale of tears,” ruled by the powers of darkness, and groaning under a primeval curse. “The world, the flesh and the devil” become a trio of iniquity and sin. Some of you in your earlier days must have sung that Methodist hymn which represents the world as a snare and a delusion:
“The world is a fleeting show
For man’s illusion given.”
Given! Think of believing that the world has been purposely given us to lead us astray. The thought staggers the mind. It suggests a terrible conspiracy against man. For his ruin, sun, moon and stars co-operate with the devil. Help! we cry, as we realize our inability to cope with the tremendous powers hurling themselves against us like billows of the raging sea, and taking our breath away. It suggests that we are placed in a world which has been made purposely beautiful, in order to tempt us into sin. Think of such a belief! It is that of a slave. It is Asiatic; it is not European. Neither you nor I, in all our readings, have ever come across any such attitude toward nature in Pagan literature. The Greeks and the Romans loved nature and made lovely gods out of. every running brook, caressing zephyr, dancing wave, glistening dew, sailing cloud, beaming star, beautiful woman, or brave man. The Oriental suspects nature and regards her smiles—the shining of the sun, the perfume of the meadows, the swell of the sea, the fluttering of the branches tipped with blossoms, the emerald grass, the sapphire sky—looks upon all these as the seductive advances of a prostitute in whose embrace lurks death!
But, once more; not satisfied with dragging the world down to the plane of his totally depraved nature, and that again to the level of the worm, the Asiatic projects his fatal thought into the next world and, crossing the grave, that silent and painless home of a tired race, he crowds the beyond with a thousand thousand pains and aches and horrors and fires—with sulphur and brimstone and burning hells. His frightened imagination invokes dark and infernal beings without number, fanning with their dark wings the very air he breathes. This is too revolting to think of. Poor slave! Inured to suffering,–to the lash, to oppression’s crushing heel,–he dare not dream of a painless future, of a quiet, peaceful sleep at life’s end, nor has he the divine audacity to invent a new world wherein the misery and slavery of his present existence will be impossible,–where all his tyrants will be dead, where he shall taste of sweet freedom and become himself a god. In his timidity and shrinking submission, with the spring of his heart broken, his spirit crushed, all independence strangled in his soul,–he puts in the biggest corner of his heaven even,–a hell!
Nor does he pause there, but, stinging his slave imagination once more, he declares that this future of torture and hell-fire is everlasting. He cannot improve upon that. Deeper in degradation he cannot descend. That is the darkest thought he can have, and, strange to say, he hugs it to his bosom as a mother would her child. The doctrine of hell is the thought of a slave and of a coward. No free-horn man, no brave soul could ever have invented so abhorrent an idea. Only under a regime of absolutism, only under an Oriental Sultan whose caprice is law, whose vengeance is terrible, whose favors are fickle, whose power is crushing, whose greed is insatiable, whose torture instruments are without number, and whose dark dungeons always resound with the rattling of chains and the groans of martyrs—only under such a regime could man have invented an unending hell. But we were mistaken when we said that hell was the darkest that the Asiatic was capable of. He has grafted upon the European mind a belief which is darker still.
Is there anything more precious in human life than children? The sternest heart melts, the fiercest features relax, at the sight of an innocent, sweet, laughing, frolicking babe in its mother’s arms. Look at its glorious eyes, so full of surprises, so deep, so appealing! Look at the soft round hands, the little feet, the exquisite mouth, opening like a bud! Hear its prattle, which is nothing but the mind beginning to stir! Watch its gestures, the first language of the child! See it with its tiny arms about its mother’s neck. Mark its joy when it is kissed. What else in our human world is more beautiful, more divine? And yet, and yet, the slave creed of Asia has drawn into its burning net of damnation even the cradle. John Burroughs describes how in a Catholic cemetery near where he lives he was shown a neglected, unkept corner, used for the burial of unbaptized children. Consecrated ground is denied to them, and so their poor bodies are huddled together in this profane plot, unblessed and unsaved. I do not wish to live in a world where such absurdities are not only countenanced, but where they are exalted even to the dignity of a religion!
O holy children! O sweet children! huddled together in unconsecrated ground, and thus exposed to the cruelty of indescribable demons! Can you hear me? I am a man of compassion. I can forgive the murderer. I can pardon and pity the meanest wretch and take him into my arms, but I confess that even if I had a heart as big as the ocean, I could not, I would not, forgive the creed that can be guilty of such inhumanity against you,–dear, innocent ones, who were born to breathe but for a moment the harsh air of this world! When such gloom overpowers me and wrings from my lips such hard words, I find some little respite in contemplating the old Pagan world in its best days. I hasten for consolation to my Pagan friends, and in their sanity find healing for my bruised heart.
In one of his letters, the Greek Plutarch says this about children, which I want you to compare with what St. Augustine, the representative of the Asiatic creed, says on the same subject. “It is irreligious,” writes Plutarch, “to lament for those pure souls (the children) who have passed into a better life and a happier dwelling place.” [Footnote: Plutarch Ad Uxorem. Comp. Lecky’s History of European Morals. Vol. I.] Compare this Pagan tenderness for children with the Asiatic doctrine of infant damnation but recently thrown out of the Presbyterian creed. Yet, if St. Augustine is to be believed, it is a heresy to reject the damnation of unbaptized infants: “Whosoever shall tell,” writes this Father of the church, “that infants shall be quickened in Christ who died without partaking in his sacrament, does both contradict the apostles’ teaching and condemn the whole church.” [Footnote: St. Augustine Epist. 166.] It is infinitely more religious to disagree with the apostles and the church, if that is their teaching. The Pagan view of children is the holier view. The doctrine of the damnation of children could only find lodgment in the brain of a slave or a madman. It is Asiatic and altogether foreign to the culture of Europe.
All that we have advanced thus far may be summed up in one phrase:
Asia invented the idea that man is a fallen being. This idea, which is the dors espinal,–the backbone—of Christianity, never for once entered the mind of the European. We have already quoted from Job and the Psalms; the following is from the book of Jeremiah: “The heart is deceitful above all things and desperately wicked.” This is one of the texts upon which the doctrine of the fall of man is based. We repeat that only under a religion of slavery, where one slave vies with another to abase himself before his lords and masters, could such an idea have been invented. There is not a man in all our sacred scriptures who could stand before the deity erect and unabashed, or who could speak in the accents of a Cicero who said, “We boast justly of our own virtue, which we could not do if we derived it from the deity and not from ourselves,” or this from Epictetus, “It is characteristic of a wise man that he looks for all his good and evil from himself.” Such independence was foreign to a race that believed itself fallen.
In further confirmation of our position, it may be said that the models which the Pagans set up for emulation were men like themselves, only nobler. The models which the Orientals set up for imitation, on the other hand, were supernatural beings, or men who were supposed to possess supernatural powers. The great men for the Oriental are men who can work miracles, who possess magical powers, who possess secrets and can know how to influence the deity,–Moses, Joshua, David, Joseph, Isaiah, Jesus, Paul,–all demi-divinities. The Pagans, on the other hand, selected natural men, men like themselves, who had earned the admiration of their fellows. Let me quote to you Plutarch’s eloquent sentence relative to this subject: “Whenever we begin an enterprise or take possession of a charge, or experience a calamity, we place before our eyes the examples of the greatest men of our own or of bygone ages, and we ask ourselves how Plato, or Epaminondas, or Lycurgus, or Agesilaus, would have acted. Looking into these personages, as into a faithful mirror, we can remedy our defects in word or deed.”
The Westminster Catechism, which in its essentials is a resume of our Asiatic religion, emphasizes the doctrine of the fall of man, of which the Pagan world knew nothing, and refused to believe it until priests succeeded in dominating the mind of Europe: “The catechism following the Scripture teaches that…we are not only a disinherited family, but we are personally depraved and demoralized.” [Footnote:
Westminster Catechism, Comments.] Goodness! the Oriental imagination, abused by slavery, cannot rid itself of the idea of being disinherited, turned out into the cold, orphaned and smitten with moral sores from head to foot. To the Pagan, such a description of man would have been the acme of absurdity. Again: “It (the fall) affirms that he (man) is all wrong, in all things and all the time.” [Footnote: Westminster Catechism, Comments.] If this was comforting news to the Asiatic, the Pagan world would have rejected the idea as unworthy of men in their senses. Once more: “All mankind by their fall lost communion with God, are under his wrath and curse, and so made liable to all miseries in this life and to the pains of hell forever.” [Footnote: Westminster Catechism, Comments.] And this is the Gospel we have imported from Asia!
Is it not pathetic? Could slavery ever strike a deeper bottom than that? Standing before his owner, the Asiatic, of his own choice, hands himself over to be degraded, to be placed in chains and delivered up to the torments of hell forever. I despair of man. I would cry my heart out if I permitted myself to dwell upon the folly and stupidity and slavery of which man voluntarily makes himself the victim. Think of it! A man and a woman, nobody knows where or when, are supposed to have tasted of the fruit of a tree; the Oriental mind, with its crouching imagination, pounces upon this flimsy, fanciful tale with the appetite of a carrion crow, and exalts it to the dignity of an excuse for the eternal damnation of a whole world. I am dazed! I can say no more!
Let us recapitulate. The Oriental distrust of the natural man, born of self-depreciation, which is the fruit of prolonged slavery, develops into a sort of mental canker spreading at a raging pace until the whole universe, with its glorious sun and stars, becomes an object of horror and loathing. Not satisfied with thinking of himself as a worm, of his intellectual and moral nature as totally depraved, he communicates his disease to the world in which he lives until it, too, shrinks and wastes away. Then the disease, finding no more on this side of the grave to feed upon, leaps over the grave and converts the beyond, the virgin worlds, into an inferno with which to satiate its fear. Indeed frightful are the thoughts of a slave people!
Let me now, in conclusion, call your attention to another difference between the Occidental and the Oriental mind. When the body is feeble or ill-nourished, it is less liable to resist disease; likewise when the mind is alarmed, cowed, or pinched with fear, it becomes more exposed to superstition. Superstition is the disease of the mind. It will keep away from robust minds, as physical disease from a body in health. Now, the Asiatic mind, scared into silence and subjection,–starved to a mere shadow of what it should be, falls an easy prey to all the maladies that mind is heir to. The European mind, on the other hand, with room and air to move and grow in, develops a vitality which offers resistance to all attacks of mental disease. That explains why superstition thrives with ignorance and slavery, and expires when science and liberty gain the ascendency. Sanitary precautions prevent physical disease; knowledge and liberty constitute the therapeutics of the mind. Why is the Oriental so prone or partial to miracle and mystery? His mind is sick. To believe is easier to him than to reason. He follows the line of the least resistance: he has invented faith that he may not have to think. The mental cells in his brain are so starved, so devitalized, that they have to be whipped into movement. Only the bizarre, the monstrous, the supernatural,–demons, ghosts, dream worlds, miracles and mysteries,–can hold his attention. Not science, but metaphysics, barren speculation,–is the product of the Oriental mind. The philosopher Bacon describes the Asiatic when he speaks of men who “have hitherto dwelt but little, or rather only slightly touched upon experience, whilst they have wasted much time on theories and fictions of the imagination.”
Again: I sometimes think that if it be true that monotheism, the idea of one God, was first discovered in Asia, it must have been suggested to them by the regime of Absolutism, under which they lived. Unlike Asia, democratic Europe believed in a republic of gods. Polytheism is more consonant with the republican idea, than monotheism. If we would let the American President rule the land without the aid of the two houses of congress or his cabinet ministers, his power would be infinitely more than it is now, but his gain would be the people’s loss. His increased power would only represent so much more power taken away from the people. One God means not only more slaves, but more abject, more helpless ones. One God is a centralization which reduces man’s liberty to a minimum. With more gods, and gods at times disagreeing among themselves, and all bidding for man’s support, man would count for more. The Greeks could not tolerate a Jehovah, or an Allah, before whom the Oriental rabble bent the knee. “Allah knows,” exclaims the Moslem; that is why the Mohammedans continue in ignorance. “Allah is great,” cries again the Turk. That is why he himself is small. The more powerful the sovereign, the smaller the subject.
Now this leads us to a final reflection upon the difference between the mind brought up under restraint,–in slavery,–and the mind of the free. “The Pagan,” to quote Lecky, “believed that to become acceptable to the deity, one must be virtuous;” the Asiatic doctrine, on the contrary, taught that “the most heroic efforts of human virtue are insufficient to avert a sentence of eternal condemnation, unless united with an implicit belief” in the dogmas of religion. In other words, the noblest of men cannot be saved by his own merits of character alone, for even when we have done our best, we are but “unprofitable slaves,” quoting a Bible text. Only by the merits of Christ, or by the grace of God, can any man be saved. Have you ever paused to think of the purport of this piece of Orientalism? It wipes out every imaginable claim or right of man. Even when he is just and great and good, he has no rights, he is as vile as the vilest. Only the favor of the king can save,–only the grace of God, who can save the thief on the cross if he so pleases. Is he not absolute? If he extends his scepter, you live; if he smiles you are spared; if he patronizes you, you are fortunate. He says, live! you live. He says, die! you die. This is the apotheosis of despotism exalted into a revelation.
What, then, is our creed, but the thoughts of an eastern slave population, cringing before the throne of a Sultan, and one by one signing away their liberties? “The foundation of all real grandeur is a spirit of proud and lofty independence,” says Buckle; but that is not the spirit of Asia, or of its religion. It is, and we ought to try to keep it, the spirit of the Western world.
I cannot imagine how we in this country, born of sturdy parents, born of the freedom-loving Pagans of Rome and Greece, born of men who shook their hands in the face of heaven, and pulled the gods off their thrones when they violated the rights of man,–I cannot understand how we have thrown overboard the proud, lofty spirit of independence of the Pagans,–our forefathers, and taken upon our necks the strangling yoke of the slave-thought of Asia!