LECTURE IX. ETHICAL TENDENCIES OF THE EASTERN AND THE WESTERN PHILOSOPHIES
Moral, World, Human, Life, Modern, Christian
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." 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. 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.
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." 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 débris 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."
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."
Much to the same effect writes Professor Leconte. "In organic evolution the weak, the sick, the helpless, the unfit in anyway, perish, and ought to perish, because this is the most efficient way of strengthening the blood or physical nature of the species, and thus of carrying forward evolution. In human evolution (which occurs at an advanced stage) the weak, the helpless, the sick, the old, the unfit in anyway, are sustained, and ought to be sustained, because sympathy, love, pity, strengthen the spirit and moral nature of the race." There is this difference, however, between this statement and that of Mr. Fiske, that it does not indicate at what point "human evolution" begins; it does not expressly declare that the subject of evolution, even after he has become a man, is still for a time in duty bound to fight in the interest of selfishness and natural selection. Still he reverses the "ought" as he advances from organic to human evolution.
According to both authors, when, in view of new environments and new social requirements, it became more advantageous to each individual man that he should cease to maraud, should learn to regard the rights of others, should respect the family relation, and subordinate his selfish interest to the general good; then altruism dawned upon the world, moral principle appeared, and the angel of benevolence and love became enshrined in the human breast. Step by step this favored being, the ideal of natural selection in all her plans, advanced to a stage in which it became incumbent to even subordinate self to the good of others, not only to spare the weak but to tenderly care for them, and even to love those who have treated him with unkindness and abuse. While in the early stages the law of life and progress had been the sacrifice of others for selfish good; now the crowning glory consists in self-sacrifice for the good of all but self.
The logical result of this reasoning cannot escape the notice of any who carefully consider it. If, for any reason, any community of human beings should decline in moral and intellectual character until they should finally reach the original state of savagery, it would again become their duty to lay aside all high ethical claims as no longer suited to their condition. The extraneous complications which had grown out of mere social order having passed away, rectitude also would pass away; benevolence, philanthropy, humanity, would be wholly out of place, and however lovely Christian charity might appear from a sentimental point of view, it would be ill adapted to that condition of society. In such a state of things the strong and vigorous, if sacrificing themselves to the weak, would only perpetuate weakness, and it would be their duty rather to extirpate them, and by the survival only of the fittest to regain the higher civilization. I state the case in all its naked deformity, because it shows the confusion and darkness of a world in which God is not the moral centre.
And here, as already stated, modern speculation joins hands with the old heathen systems. According to Hindu as well as Buddhist philosophy, this retrograde process might not only carry civilized man back to savagery, but might place him again in the category of brutes. If tendencies control all things and have no limit, why might they not remand the human being to lower and lower forms, until he should reach again the status of the mollusk?
Now, over against all the systems which make mind either a product or a phenomenon of matter, we have the Scriptural doctrine that man was created in the image of God. This fact explains the differences which distinguish him from the beasts of the field; for even in his lowest estate he is amenable to the principle of right and wrong. Paul taught, in the first chapter of his Epistle to the Romans, that when men descend to the grade of beasts—and he shows that they may descend even below the dignity of beasts—so far from becoming exempt from moral claims, they fall under increased condemnation. The old Hindu systems taught that there can be no release from the consequences of evil acts. They traced them from one rebirth to another in kharma, as modern speculation traces them physically in heredity. The one saw no relief except in the changes of endless transmigrations, the other finds it only in the gradual readjustment of the nerve-cells. But we know by observation and experience that the spiritual power of the Holy Ghost can transform character at once. No fact in the history of Christianity is more firmly or more widely established than this. The nerve-tissues to the contrary notwithstanding, the human soul may be born again. The persecuting Saul may become at once a chief apostle. The blasphemer, the sot, the debauchee, the murderer, may be transformed to a meek and sincere Christian. Millions of the heathen, with thousands of years of savage and bestial heredity behind them, have become pure and loyal disciples of the spotless Redeemer. The fierce heathen Africaner, as well as the dissolute Jerry McCauley, have illustrated this transforming power.
Professor Huxley and others, in our time, are trying to elaborate some basis of ethics independently of religion. But, as a matter of fact, these very men are living on conventional moral promptings and restraints derived from the Bible. The best basis of morals yet known is that of Christianity, and it is from its high and ennobling cultus that even the enemies of the truth are deriving their highest inspiration. Mr. Goldwin Smith, in an able article published in the Forum of April, 1891, on the question, "Will Morality Survive Faith?" shows at least that the best ethics which the world now has are the outcome of religious belief and of Christian belief, and he leads the minds of his readers to gravely doubt whether a gospel of agnostic evolution could ever produce those forces of moral prompting and restraint which the centuries of Christianity have developed. He does not hesitate to assert that those who hold and advocate the modern anti-theistic speculations are themselves living upon the influence of a Christian cultus which has survived their faith. A true test of their principles could only be made when a generation should appear upon which no influence of Christian parents still remained, and in a society in which Christian sentiment no longer survived. It may be said that the truth must be received without regard to the results which may follow. This is admitted, but the same cannot be said of theories. If there is perfect harmony between all truths in the physical and the moral world, then all these should have their influence in reaching final conclusions.
4. The philosophies, ancient and modern, have agreed in lowering the common estimate of man as man; they have exerted an influence the opposite of that in which the New Testament pleads for a common and an exalted brotherhood of the race.
Hinduism raised the Brahman almost to the dignity of the gods, and debased the Sudra to a grade but a little higher than the brute. Buddha declared that his teachings were for the wise, and not for the simple. The philosophers of Greece and Rome, even the best of them, regarded the helot and the slave as of an inferior grade of beings—even though occasionally a slave by his superior force rose to a high degree. In like manner the whole tendency of modern evolution is to degrade the dignity and sacredness of humanity. It is searching for "missing links;" it measures the skulls of degraded races for proofs of its theories. It has travellers and adventurers on the lookout for tribes who have no conception of God, and no religious rites; it searches caves and dredges lakes for historical traces of man when he had but recently learned to "stand upright upon his hind legs." The lower the types that can be found, the more valuable are they for the purposes required. All this tends to the dishonoring of the inferior types of men. Wherever Christianity had changed the old estimates of the philosophers, and had led to the nobler sentiment that God had made of one blood all nations and races, and had stamped His own image on them all, and even redeemed them all by the sacrifice of His Son, the speculations of sceptical biology have in a measure counteracted its benign influence. They have fostered the contempt of various classes for a dark skin or an inferior civilization. They indirectly encourage those who, with little merit of their own, speak contemptuously of the "Buck Indian," "the Nigger," the "Heathen Chinee." They encourage the "hoodlum," and so far as they have any influence, give an implied sanction to much unrighteous legislation.
Even Peschel, who will not be suspected of any bias toward Christianity, has said on this subject: "This dark side of the life of uncivilized nations has induced barbarous and inhuman settlers in transoceanic regions to assume as their own a right to cultivate as their own the inheritance of the aborigines, and to extol the murder of races as a triumph of civilization. Other writers, led away by Darwinian dogmas, fancied that they had discovered populations which had, as it were, remained in a former animal condition for the instruction of our times." And he adds: "Thus in the words of a 'History of Creation,' in the taste now prevalent, 'in Southern Asia and the East of Africa men live in hordes, mostly climbing trees and eating fruit, unacquainted with fire, and using no weapons but stones and clubs, after the manner of the higher apes.' It can be shown," he continues, "that these statements are derived from the writings of a learned scholar of Bonn on the condition of savage nations, the facts of which are based either on the depositions of an African slave of the Doko tribe, a dwarfish people in the south of Shoa, or on the assertions of Bengalese planters, or perhaps on the observations of a sporting adventurer, that a mother and daughter, and at another time a man and woman, were found in India in a semi-animal condition. On the other hand, not only have neither nations, nor even hordes, in an ape-like condition ever been encountered by any trustworthy traveller of modern times, but even those races which in the first superficial descriptions were ranked far below our grade of civilization have, on nearer acquaintance, been placed much nearer the civilized nations. No portion of the human race has yet been discovered which does not possess a more or less rich vocabulary, rules of language, artificially pointed weapons, and various implements, as well as the art of kindling fire."
The assertion has been made again and again that races are found which are possessed of no knowledge or conception of Deity, but this assumption has been thoroughly refuted by Max Müller and many others.
There is a very general assumption abroad in the world that bigotry and even bias of judgment belong exclusively to the advocates of religious truth, and that the teachers of agnostic science are, in the nature of the case, impartial and therefore authoritative. But the generalizations which have been massed by non-Christian anthropologists and sociologists are often gleaned and culled under the strongest subserviency to some favorite hypothesis, and that on the most superficial observation and from the most unreliable authorities. De Quatrefages, an anthropologist of profound learning, and certainly with no predilections for Christian theism, in speaking of the alleged evidences given by Sir John Lubbock and Saint-Hilaire to show that many races of men have been found destitute of any conception of Deity, says: "When the writers against whom I am now arguing have to choose between two evidences, the one attesting, and the other denying, the existence of religious belief in a population, it is always the latter which they seem to think should be accepted. More often than not, they do not even mention the contrary evidences, however definite, however authentic they may be. Now, it is evidently much easier not to see than to discover that which may be in so many ways rendered inappreciable to our eyes. When a traveller states that he has proved the existence of religious sentiments in a population which by others has been declared destitute of them, when he gives precise details upon such a delicate question, he has unquestionably at least probability in his favor. I see nothing to authorize this rejection of positive evidence and unconditional acceptance of negative evidence. This, however, is too often the case. I might justify this imputation by taking one by one almost all the examples of so-called atheist populations pointed out by different authors." De Quatrefages then proceeds to show how, with respect to American tribes, Robertson is quoted while D'Orbigny is passed in silence, even though he has by the testimony of many authors disproved the statements of Robertson; how Baegert's negative and sweeping statements in regard to the California tribes are accepted, while the very specific testimony of De Mofras in regard both to the fact and to the nature of their worship is rejected. In relation to the Mincopies, Mouat (negative) is adopted against Symes and Day. The Hottentots are adjudged atheistic on the testimony of Le Vaillant, in spite of the united witness of Kolben, Saar, Tachard, Boeving, and Campbell. The Kaffirs are declared to be destitute of religion on the statements of Burchel, while Livingstone and Cazalis have given clear accounts of the religion of the different Kaffir tribes.
In a similar manner Professor Flint, of Edinburgh, arraigns Sir John Lubbock and certain other advocates of the atheistic theory concerning savage tribes, for the partiality of their selection of testimony and for the superficial evidence which they accept when favorable to their theories. After reviewing Lubbock's wholesale quotations concerning the Indian tribes of Brazil, he says, "These are Sir John Lubbock's instances from South American tribes. But I find that they are all either erroneous or insufficiently established." And he gives many counter-proofs. "It will never do," he says, "to believe such sweeping statements—sweeping negatives—merely because they happen to be printed." Farther on he adds: "But I think that he (Lubbock) might have told us that Humboldt, whose travels in South America were so extensive, whose explorations were so varied, scientific, and successful, and who certainly was uninfluenced by traditional theological beliefs, found no tribes and peoples without a religion; and that Prince Max von Neuwied tells us that in all his many and wide wanderings in Brazil he had found no tribes the members of which did not give manifest signs of religious feelings."
In the appendix of the book from which these extracts are made, Professor Flint says: "No one, I think, who has not a theory to maintain can consider the circumstances in which most of the Brazilian Indian tribes are placed without coming to the conclusion that they must have sunk from a higher intellectual and religious level."
I have dwelt at length upon these arraignments of the careless and biased utterances of supposed scientists, because it is so much the fashion of our times to support certain theories of anthropology by massing the supposed evidences of man's degradation found, even now, in the environments of savage life. Many readers, apparently dazed by the vast accumulation of indiscriminate and heterogeneous statements which they have no time to examine, yield an easy and blind assent, based either on the supposed wisdom of the writer or upon the fact that so many others believe, and they imagine that no little courage is required on their part to risk the loss of intellectual caste. A vast amount of the thinking of our age, although it claims to be scientific, is really a matter of simple faith—faith in the opinions and dicta of distinguished leaders. And under such circumstances, is it not our privilege and our duty as Christian men to at least challenge and cross-question those theories which depress and dishonor our common humanity before we yield them our assent?
The majority of scientists now so confidently assume the certain derivation of man from lower orders of life, that, as Max Müller has expressed it, their intolerance greets "with a perfect howl of derision a man like Virchow," who dares to declare that proof of man's derivation from animals is still wanting. Nevertheless Virchow, himself an evolutionist, maintains his ground, as the following passage quoted some months since from The London Tablet will show:
"Some sensation has been caused at the recent Anthropological Congress in Vienna by the speech of the great Berlin biologist, Professor Virchow. About a year ago Virchow, on a similar occasion, made a severe attack on the Darwinian position, and this year he is similarly outspoken. We make the following extracts from his long address to the Congress:
"'Twenty years ago, when we met at Innspruck, it was precisely the moment when the Darwinian theory had made its first victorious mark throughout the world. My friend Vogt at once rushed into the ranks of the champions of this doctrine. We have since sought in vain for the intermediate stages which were supposed to connect man with the apes; the proto-man, the pro-anthropos is not yet discovered. For anthropological science the pro-anthropos is not even a subject of discussion. The anthropologist may, perhaps, see him in a dream, but as soon as he awakes he cannot say that he has made any approach toward him. At that time in Innspruck the prospect was, apparently, that the course of descent from ape to man would be reconstructed all at once, but now we cannot even prove the descent of the separate races from one another. At this moment we are able to say that among the peoples of antiquity no single one was any nearer to the apes than we are. At this moment I can affirm that there is not upon earth any absolutely unknown race of men. The least known of all are the peoples of the central mountainous districts of the Malay peninsula, but otherwise we know the people of Terra del Fuego quite as well as the Eskimo, Bashkirs, Polynesians, and Lapps. Nay! we know more of many of these races than we do of certain European tribes. I need only mention the Albanians. Every living race is still human; no single one has yet been found that we can designate as Simian or quasi-Simian. Even when in certain ones phenomena appear which are characteristic of the apes—e.g., the peculiar ape-like projections of the skull in certain races—still we cannot on that account alone say that these men are ape-like. As regards the Lake dwellings, I have been able to submit to comparative examination nearly every single skull that has been found. The result has been that we have certainly met with opposite characteristics among various races; but of all these there is not one that lies outside of the boundaries of our present population. It can thus be positively demonstrated that in the course of five thousand years no change of type worthy of mention has taken place. If you ask me whether the first man were white or black, I can only say I don't know.'
"Professor Virchow thus summed up the question as to what anthropological science during the last forty years has gained, and whether, as many contend, it has gone forward or backward.
"'Twenty years ago the leaders of our science asserted that they knew many things which, as a matter of fact, they did not know. Nowadays we know what we know. I can only reckon up our account in so far as to say that we have made no debts; that is, we have made no loan from hypotheses; we are in no danger of seeing that which we know over-turned in the course of the next moment. We have levelled the ground so that the coming generation may make abundant use of the material at their disposition. As an attainable objective of the next twenty years, we must look to the anthropology of the European nationalities.'"
5. Another demoralizing type of speculation which has exerted a wide influence in many ages and on many nations is pantheism. By abdicating the place and function of the conscious ego, by making all things mere specialized expressions of infinite Deity, and yet failing to grasp any clear conception of what is meant by Deity, men have gradually destroyed that sense of moral responsibility which the most savage show to have been a common heritage. It is not among the lowest and most simple races that missionaries find the greatest degree of obtuseness and insensibility with respect to sin; it is among populations like those of India, where the natural promptings of conscience have been sophisticated by philosophic theories. The old Vedantism, by representing all things as mere phenomenal expressions of infinite Brahm, tended necessarily to destroy all sense of personal responsibility. The abdication of the personal ego is an easy way of shifting the burden of guilt. The late Naryan Sheshadri declared that one thing which led him to renounce Hinduism was the fact that, when he came to trace its underlying principles to their last logical result he saw no ground of moral responsibility left. It plunged him into an abyss of intellectual and moral darkness without chart or compass. It paralyzed conscience and moral sensibility.
It is equally impossible to reason ourselves into any consciousness of merit or demerit, if we are moved only by some vague law of nature whose behest, as described by Mr. Buckle, we cannot resist, whose operations within us we cannot discern, and whose drift or tendency we cannot foresee. It makes little difference whether we build our faith upon the god of pantheism or upon the unknowable but impersonal force which is supposed to move the world, which operates in the same ways upon all grades of existence from the archangel to the mote in the sunbeam, which moves the molecules of the human brain only as it stirs the globules of sap in the tree or plant. It is difficult to see how, upon any such hypothesis, we are any more responsible for our volitions and affections than we are for our heart-beats or respirations. And yet we are conscious of responsibility in the one case and not in the other. Consciousness comes in with tremendous force at just this point, all theories and speculations to the contrary notwithstanding. And we dare not disregard its testimony or its claims. We know that we are morally responsible.
6. Many philosophic systems, ancient and modern, have tended to fill the world with gloomy pessimism. Pessimism is very old and very widespread. Schopenhauer acknowledges his indebtedness to Gautama for much of the philosophy which is known by his name. In Hinduism and Buddhism, as well as in the teachings of the German pessimists, the natural complainings of the human heart are organized into philosophical systems. There is in all human nature quite enough of querulousness against the unequal allotments of Providence, but all these systems inculcate and foster that discontent by the sanctions of philosophy. The whole assumption of "The Light of Asia" is that the power that upholds and governs the world is a hard master, from whose leash we should escape if we can by annihilating our powers and faculties, and abdicating our conscious being; that the world and the entire constitution of things are all wrong; that misery is everywhere in the ascendant, and that man and beast can only make common cause against the tyranny of a reckless fate, and cry out with common voice for some sympathizing benefactor who can pity and deliver. There is no hint that sin has wrought the evil. Man is not so much a sinner as the victim of a hard lot; he is unfortunate, and it is the world that is wrong. Therefore the true end of life is to get rid of the recurrence of life.
In much of our modern agnosticism there is the same dark outlook, and agnosticism naturally joins hands with pessimism. Dr. Noah Porter, in one of the series of "Present-Day Tracts," has shown it to be a doctrine of despair. A well-known lecturer who has loudly declaimed against what he considers the remorseless character of the Old Testament, has acknowledged that it is not more cruel than nature; that in the actual world about us we find the same dark mystery, the weak perishing before the strong, the wicked prosperous, the just oppressed, and the innocent given as a prey to the guilty; and his conclusion is that deism is no more defensible than Christianity. His pessimistic estimate of the actual world drives him to a disbelief in a personal God.
We do not ignore the sad facts of life; even the Christian is often saddened by the mysteries which he cannot explain. Bishop J. Boyd Carpenter, in speaking of the sad and cheerless spirit of Buddhism, has said: "There are moments in which we are all Buddhists; when life has disappointed us, when weariness is upon us, when the keen anguish born of the sight of human suffering appals and benumbs us, when we are frozen to terror, and our manhood flies at the sight of the Medusa-like head of the world's unappeased and unappeasable agony; then we too are torn by the paroxysm of anguish; we would flee to the Nirvana of oblivion and unconsciousness, turning our back upon what we cannot alleviate, and longing to lay down the burden of life, and to escape from that which has become insupportable." But these are only the dark and seemingly forsaken hours in which men sit in despair beneath the juniper-tree and imagine that all the world has gone wrong. The juniper-tree in Christianity is the exception; the Bo-tree of Buddhism, with the same despondent estimate, is the rule. No divine message came to show the Buddha a brighter side. And the agnostic stops his ears that no voice of cheer may be heard. The whole philosophy of Buddhism and of modern agnosticism is pessimistic. The word and Spirit of God do not deny the sad facts of human life in a world of sin, but they enable the Christian to triumph over them, and even to rejoice in tribulation.
7. And this leads to one more common feature of all false systems, their fatalism. Among the exaggerated claims which are made for heathen religions in our day, it is alleged that they rest upon a more humane philosophy than appears in the grim fatalism of our Christian theology, especially that of the Calvinistic type. Without entering upon any defence of Christian doctrines of one type or another, it would be easy to show that fatalism, complete and unmitigated, is at the foundation of all Oriental religion and philosophy, all ancient or modern pantheism, and most of the various types of agnosticism. While this has been the point at which all infidel systems have assailed the Christian faith, it has nevertheless been the goal which they have all reached by their own speculations. They have differed from Christianity in that their predestinating, determining force, instead of being qualified by any play of free-will, or any feasible plan of ultimate and superabounding good, has been a real fatalism, changeless, hopeless, remorseless. That the distaff of the Fates, and the ruthless sceptre of the Erinnys, entered in full force into all the religions of the Greeks and Romans, scarcely needs to be affirmed. They controlled all human affairs, and even the gods were subject to them. The Sagas of the Northmen also were full of fatalism, and that principle still survives in the folk-lore and common superstitions of all Scandinavian, Teutonic, and Celtic races.
The fatalism of the Hindus is plainly stated in the "Code of Manu," which declares that, "in order to distinguish actions, he (the creator) separated merit from demerit. To whatever course of action the Lord appointed each kind of being, that alone it has spontaneously adopted in each succeeding creation. Whatever he has assigned to each at the first creation, noxiousness or harmlessness, gentleness or ferocity, virtue or sin, truth or falsehood, that clings to it." The same doctrine is put in still more offensive form when it is declared that "Manu (here used in the sense of creator) allotted to woman a love of her bed, of her seat, of ornament, also impure desires, wrath, dishonesty, and bad conduct." There would be some relief from this horrible doctrine if in subsequent chapters of Manu there were kindly tokens of grace, or sympathy for woman, or any light of hope here or hereafter; but the whole teaching and spirit of the "Code" rests as an iron yoke upon womanhood, and it is largely a result of this high authority that the female sex has for ages been subjected to the most cruel tyranny and degradation. It might well be said that, in spite of the horrors of infanticide, the most merciful element of Hinduism with respect to woman is the custom by which so large a proportion of female children have been destroyed at birth. The same fatalistic principles affect all ranks and conditions of Hindu society. The poor Sudra is not only low-born and degraded, but he is immovably fixed in his degradation. He is cut off from all hope or aspiration; he cannot rise from the thraldom of his fate. In the Bhagavad Gita, Krishna declares to Arjuna that it is
"Better to do the duty of one's caste Though bad or ill performed, and fraught with evil, Than undertake the business of another, However good it be."
Thus even the laws of right and wrong are subordinate to the fatality of caste, and all aspiration is paralyzed.
On the other hand, it has been acknowledged repeatedly that the sternest type of Puritan theology, as a moral and political force, is full of inspiration; it does not deaden the soul; it stimulates the action of free-will; its moral earnestness has been a great power in molding national destinies. Mr. Bancroft has not hesitated to declare that the great charters of human liberty are largely due to its strong conception of a divine and all-controlling purpose. Even Matthew Arnold admitted that its stern "Hebraic" culture, as he called it, had wrought some of the grandest achievements of history. But Hindu fatalists, noble Aryans as they were at first, have been conquered by every race of invaders that has chosen to assail them. And no better result could have been expected from a philosophy whose summum bonum is the renunciation of life as not worth living, and the loss of all personality by absorption into the One supreme existence.
Buddhism does not present the same fatalistic theory of creation as Brahminism, but it introduces even a more aggravated fatalism into human life. Both alike load down the newly-born with burdens of guilt and consequent suffering transmitted from previous existences. But in the case of Buddhism there is no identity between the sinner, who incurred the guilt, and the recipient of the evil kharma, which demands punishment. Every man comes into the world entangled in the moral bankruptcy of some one who has gone before, he knows not who nor where. There is no consciousness of identity, no remembrance, no possible sense of guilt, or notion of responsibility. It is not the same soul that suffers, for in either case there is no soul; there is only a bundle of so-called skandhas—certain faculties of mind and body newly combined whose interaction produces thought and emotion. Yet there is conscious suffering. Scoffers have long pointed with indignation at the Christian doctrine that a child inherits a moral bias from his parents, but nowadays evolutionists carry the law of heredity to an extreme which no hyper-Calvinist ever thought of, and many cavillers at "original sin" have become eloquent in their praises of Buddhism, which handicaps each child with the accumulated demerit of pre-existent beings with whom he had no connection whatever. The Christian doctrine imputes punishable guilt only so far as each one's free choice makes the sin his own: the dying infant who has no choice is saved by grace; but upon every Buddhist, however short-lived, there rests an heir-loom of destiny which countless transmigrations cannot discharge.
In Mohammedanism the doctrine of fate—clear, express, and emphatic—is fully set forth. The Koran resorts to no euphemism or circumlocution in declaring it. Thus, in Sura lxxiv. 3, 4, we read: "Thus doth God cause to err whom he pleases, and directeth whom he pleases." Again, Sura xx. 4, says: "The fate of every man have we bound round his neck." As is well known, fatalism as a practical doctrine of life has passed into all Mohammedan society. "Kismet" (it is fated) is the exclamation of despair with which a Moslem succumbs to adversity and often dies without an effort to recover. In times of pestilence missionaries in Syria have sometimes found whole villages paralyzed with despair. Yielding to the fatalism of their creed, the poor mountaineers have abandoned all means of cure and resigned themselves to their fate. The same fatal paralysis has affected all liberty of thought, all inventiveness and enterprise, all reform of evils, all higher aspiration of the oppressed people.
With the lower forms of religious belief, fetishism, animism, serpent worship, demon worship, the case is still worse. The only deities that are practically recognized in these rude faiths are generally supposed to be malevolent beings, who have not only fixed an evil fate upon men, but whose active and continued function it is to torment them. Though there is a lingering belief in a Supreme Being who created all things, yet he is far off and incomprehensible. He has left his creatures in the hands of inferior deities, at whose mercy they pass a miserable existence. Looking at the dark facts of life and having no revelation of a merciful God they form their estimates of Deity from their trials, hardships, fears, and they are filled with dread; all their religious rites have been devised for appeasing the powers that dominate and distress the world. And yet a pronounced agnostic has asked us to believe that even this wide-spread horror, this universal nightmare of heathen superstition, is more humane than the Calvinistic creed.
If we inquire into the tendency of all types of ancient or modern pantheism in this particular phase, we shall find them, without exception, fatalistic. They not merely make God the author of sin—they make Him the sinner. Our misdeeds are not our acts, but God's. Thus the vaunted Bhagavad Gita, uniting the Sankhyan and the Vedanta philosophies, makes Krishna say to Arjuna: "All actions are incessantly performed by operation of the qualities of Prakriti (the self-existing Essence). Deluded by the thought of individuality, the soul vainly believes itself to be the doer. The soul, existing from eternity, devoid of qualities, imperishable, abiding in the body, acts not, nor is by any act polluted. He who sees that actions are performed by Prakriti alone, and that the soul is not an actor, perceives the truth." Such is Hindu pantheism. Yet this most inconsistent system charges man with guilt. It represents his inexorable fate as pursuing him through endless transmigrations, holding over him the lash of retribution, while it exacts the very last farthing. Still, from first to last, it is not he that acts, but some fractional part of the One only Existence which fills all space.
The philosophy of Spinoza was quite as fatalistic as the Hindu Vedanta. He taught, according to Schwegler, that "The finite has no independent existence in itself: it exists because the unrestrained productive energy of the (infinite) Substance spontaneously produced an infinite variety of particular forms. It has, however, no proper reality; it exists only in and through the Substance. Finite things are the most external, the last, the most subordinate forms of existence into which the universal life is specialized, and they manifest their finitude in that they are without resistance, subject to the infinite chain of causality which binds the world. The divine Substance works freely according to the inner essence of its own nature; individuals, however, are not free, but are subject to the influence of those things with which they come into contact. It follows from these metaphysical grounds," Schwegler continues, "that what is called free-will cannot be admitted. For, since man is only a mode, he, like any other mode, stands in an endless series of conditioning causes, and no free-will can, therefore, be predicated of him." Further on he adds: "Evil, or sin, is, therefore, only relative and not positive, for nothing happens against God's will. It is only a simple negation or deprivation, which only seems to be a reality in our representation." The late Samuel Johnson, in his chapter on "The Morality and Piety of Pantheism," undertakes to defend both the Vedantic and the Spinozan philosophy by pointing out a distinction between an "external compulsion and an inner force which merges us in the Infinite. Though both are equally efficient as to the result, and both are inconsistent with individual freedom, yet real fate is only that which is external…. While destiny or fate in the sense of absolute external compulsion would certainly be destructive, not only of moral responsibility but of personality itself, yet religion or science without fate is radically unsound." Again he adds: "We cannot separate perfection and fate. Deity whose sway is not destiny is not venerable, nor even reliable. It would be a purpose that did not round the universe, a love that could not preserve it. Theism without fate is a kind of atheism, and a self-dominated atheism. But holding justice to be the true necessity or fate, is properly theism, though it refuses the name."
The reasoning here reminds one of the conclusions of a still more recent writer, who while condemning what he considers the fatalism of Calvinistic theology, still asserts that its logic leaves no alternative but the denial of a personal God. And an early Buddhist philosopher has left a fragment which gives the very same reason for agnosticism. Thus he says: "If the world was made by God (Isvara) there should be no such thing as sorrow or calamity, nor doing wrong, nor doing right; for all, both pure and impure, deeds must come from Isvara…. If he makes without a purpose he is like a suckling child, or with a purpose, he is not complete. Sorrow and joy spring up in all that lives; these, at least, are not alike the works of Isvara, for if he causes love and joy he must himself have love and hate. But if he loves and hates, he is not rightly called self-existent. 'Twere equal, then, the doing right or doing wrong. There should be no reward of works; the works themselves being his, then all things are the same to him, the maker."
This was a Buddhist's answer to the Hindu pantheism, and there follows a reply also to the Oriental dualism which attempted to solve the difficulty by assigning two great first causes, one good and the other evil. "Nay," says this Buddhist philosopher, "if you say there is another cause beside this Isvara, then he is not the end or sum of all, and therefore all that lives may, after all, be uncreated, and so you see the thought of Isvara is overthrown." Thus the same problems of existence have taxed human speculation in all lands and all ages. The same perplexities have arisen, and the same cavils and complaints.
There is an important sense in which all forms of materialism are fatalistic in their relation to moral responsibility. James Büchner assures us that "what is called man's soul or mind is now almost universally conceded as equivalent to a function of the substance of the brain." Walter Bagehot, like Maudsley, suggests that the newly born child has his destiny inscribed on his nervous tissues. Mr. Buckle assures us that certain underlying but indefinable laws of society, as indicated by statistics, control human action irrespective of choice or moral responsibility. Even accidents, the averages of forgetfulness or neglect, are the subjects of computation. To support his position he cites the averages of suicides, or the number of letters deposited yearly in a given post-office, the superscription of which has been forgotten. Thus, underlying all human activity there is an unknown force, a vague something—call it Deity, or call it Fate—which controls human affairs irresistibly.
It would be amusing, if it were not sad, to see what devices and what names have been resorted to in order to get rid of a personal God. The Hindu Sankhyans ascribed all things to the "Eternally Existing Essence." The Greek Atomists called it an "Inconceivable Necessity;" Anaxagoras, "The World-forming Intelligence;" Hegel, "Absolute Idea;" Spinoza, "Absolute Substance;" Schopenhauer, "Unconscious Will." Spencer finds only "The Unknowable;" Darwin's virtual Creator is "Natural Selection;" Matthew Arnold recognize a "Stream of Tendency not our own which makes for righteousness." Nothing can be more melancholy than this dreary waste of human speculation, this weary and bootless search after the secret of the universe. At the same time a deaf ear is turned to those voices of nature and revelation which speak of a benevolent Creator. But the point to which I call particular attention in this connection is, that these vague terms, whatever else they may mean, imply in each case some law of necessity which moulds the world. They are only the names of the Fates whom all philosophies have set over us. If we have been correct in tracing an element of fatalism through all the heathen faiths, and all ancient and modern philosophies, how is it that the whole army of unbelief concentrate their assailments against divine sovereignty in the Word of God, and yet are ready to laud and approve these systems which exhibit the same things in greater degree and without mitigation?
That which differentiates Christianity is the fact that, while it does represent God as the originator and controller of all things, it yet respects the freedom of the human will, which Mohammedanism does not, which Hinduism does not, which ancient or modern Buddhism does not, which Materialism does not. Not only the Word of God but our own reason tells us that the Creator of this world must have proceeded upon a definite and all-embracing plan; and yet at the same time, not only the Word of God, but our own consciousness, tells us that we are free to act according to our own will. How these things are to be reconciled we know not, simply because we are finite and God is infinite. I once stood before the great snowy range of the Himalayas, whose lofty peaks rose twenty-five thousand feet above the sea. None could see how those gigantic masses stood related to each other, simply because no mortal ever has explored, or ever can explore, their awful and unapproachable recesses.
So with many great truths concerning the being, attributes, and works of God. One may say that God predetermined and then foresaw what He had ordained; another that He foresaw and then resolved to effect what he had foreseen. Neither is correct, or at least neither can know that he is correct. God is not subject to our conditions of time and space. It is impossible that He, whose knowledge and will encompass all things, should be affected by our notions of order and sequence; there is with Him no before and after. The whole universe, with all its farthest extended history, stood before Him from all eternity as one conception and as one purpose; and the conception and the purpose were one. The too frequent mistake of human formulas is that they undertake to reason out infinite mysteries on our low anthropomorphic lines, one in one extreme and another in another. We cannot fit the ways of God to the measure of our logic or our metaphysics. What we have to do with many things is simply to believe and trust and wait. On the other hand, there are many things of a practical nature which God has made very plain. He has brought them down to us. The whole scheme of grace is an adaptation of the mysteries of the Godhead to our knowledge, faith, obedience, and love.
And this leads directly to the chief differential which Christianity presents in contrast with the fatalisms of false systems, viz., that while sin and death abound, as all must see, the Gospel alone reveals a superabounding grace. It is enough for us that the whole scheme is one of Redemption, that the Lamb was slain from the foundation of the world—nay, that He made the world, and made it for an infinitely benevolent purpose. If dark mysteries appear in the Word or in the world, we are to view them in the light of Calvary, and wait till we can see as we are seen; for this world is Christ's, and will surely subserve His ends, which are those of infinite compassion.
Our position, therefore, as before the abettors of heathen or agnostic philosophy, is impregnable: the fatalism is all theirs, the union of sovereign power with infinite love is ours. We have reason as well as they. We realize the facts and mysteries of life as fully as they, but are not embittered by them. We see nothing to be gained by putting out the light we have. We prefer faith to pessimism, incarnate love to the tyranny of "unconscious will."
|Written By Frank F. Ellinwood|
|Prev | Next|