The Age of Philosophy Produced No Atheists

How then if they must accept the Pythagoras painted by the satirical Timon: "a juggler of solemn speech engaged in fishing for men," can they avoid judging of Jesus from the sketch that Celsus has embalmed in his satire? Historical impartiality has nought to do with creeds and personal beliefs, and exacts as much of posterity for one as for the other. The life and doings of Jesus are far less attested than those of Pythagoras, if, indeed, we can say that they are attested at all by any historical proof. For assuredly no one will gainsay that as a real personage Celsus has the advantage as regards the credibility of his testimony over Matthew, or Mark, or Luke, or John, who never wrote a line of the Gospels attributed to them respectively. Withal Celsus is at least as good a witness as Herakleitus. He was known as a scholar and a Neo-platonist to some of the Fathers; whereas the very existence of the four Apostles must be taken on blind faith. If Timon regarded the sublime Samian as "a juggler," so did Celsus hold Jesus, or rather those who made all the pretenses for him. In his famous work, addressing the Nazarene, he says: "Let us grant that the wonders were performed by you . . . but are they not common with those who have been taught by the Egyptians to perform in the middle of the forum for a few oboli." And we know, on the authority of the Gospel according to Matthew, that the Galilean prophet was also a man of solemn speech, and that he called himself and offered to make his disciples "fishers of men."

Let it not be imagined that we bring this reproach to any who revere Jesus as God. Whatever the faith, if the worshipper be but sincere, it should be respected in his presence. If we do not accept Jesus as God, we revere him as a man. Such a feeling honors him more than if we were to attribute to him the powers and personality of the Supreme, and credit him at the same time with having played a useless comedy with mankind, as, after all, his mission proves scarcely less than a complete failure; 2,000 years have passed, and Christians do not reckon one-fifth part of the population of the globe, nor is Christianity likely to progress any better in the future. No, we aim but at strict justice, leaving all personality aside. We question those who, adoring neither Jesus, Pythagoras, nor Apollonius, yet recite the idle gossip of their contemporaries; those who in their books either maintain a prudent silence, or speak of "our Saviour" and "our Lord," as though they believed any more in the made-up theological Christ, than in the fabulous Fo of China.

There were no Atheists in those days of old; no disbelievers or materialists, in the modern sense of the word, as there were no bigoted detractors. He who judges the ancient philosophies by their external phraseology, and quotes from ancient writings sentences seemingly atheistical, is unfit to be trusted as a critic, for he is unable to penetrate into the inner sense of their metaphysics. The views of Pyrrho, whose rationalism has become proverbial, can be interpreted only by the light of the oldest Hindu philosophy. From Manu down to the latest Swabhavika, its leading metaphysical feature ever was to proclaim the reality and supremacy of spirit, with a vehemence proportionate to the denial of the objective existence of our material world — passing phantom of temporary forms and beings. The numerous schools begotten by Kapila, reflect his philosophy no clearer than the doctrines left as a legacy to thinkers by Timon, Pyrrho's "Prophet," as Sextus Empiricus calls him. His views on the divine repose of the soul, his proud indifference to the opinion of his fellow men, his contempt for sophistry, reflect in an equal degree stray beams of the self-contemplation of the Gymnosophists and of the Buddhist Vaibhashika. Notwithstanding that he and his followers are termed, from their state of constant suspense, "skeptics," "doubters," inquirers, and ephectics, only because they postponed their final judgment on dilemmas, with which our modern philosophers prefer dealing, Alexander-like, by cutting the Gordian knot, and then declaring the dilemma a superstition, such men as Pyrrho cannot be pronounced atheists. No more can Kapila, or Giordano Bruno, or again Spinoza, who were also treated as atheists; nor yet, the great Hindu poet, philosopher, and dialectician, Veda-Vyasa, whose principle that all is illusion — save the Great Unknown and His direct essence — Pyrrho has adopted in full.

These philosophical beliefs extended like a net-work over the whole pre-Christian world; and, surviving persecution and misrepresentations, form the corner-stone of every now existing religion outside Christianity.

Comparative theology is a two-edged weapon, and has so proved itself. But the Christian advocates, unabashed by evidence, force comparison in the serenest way; Christian legends and dogmas, they say, do somewhat resemble the heathen, it is true; but see, while the one teaches us the existence, powers, and attributes of an all-wise, all-good Father-God, Brahmanism gives us a multitude of minor gods, and Buddhism none whatever; one is fetishism and polytheism, the other bald atheism. Jehovah is the one true God, and the Pope and Martin Luther are His prophets! This is one edge of the sword, and this the other: Despite missions, despite armies, despite enforced commercial intercourse, the "heathen" find nothing in the teachings of Jesus — sublime though some are — that Christna and Gautama had not taught them before. And so, to gain over any new converts, and keep the few already won by centuries of cunning, the Christians give the "heathen" dogmas more absurd than their own, and cheat them by adopting the habit of their native priests, and practicing the very "idolatry and fetishism" which they so disparage in the "heathens." Comparative theology works both ways.

In Siam and Burmah, Catholic missionaries have become perfect Talapoins to all external appearance, i.e., minus their virtues; and throughout India, especially in the south, they were denounced by their own colleague, the Abbé Dubois.* This was afterward vehemently denied. But now we have living witnesses to the correctness of the charge. Among others, Captain O'Grady, already quoted, a native of Madras, writes the following on this systematic method of deception:+ "The hypocritical beggars profess total abstinence and horror of flesh to conciliate converts from Hinduism. . . . I got one father, or rather, he got himself gloriously drunk in my house, time and again, and the way he pitched into roast beef was a caution." Further, the author has pretty stories to tell of 'black-faced Christs," "Virgins on wheels," and of Catholic processions in general. We have seen such solemn ceremonies accompanied by the most infernal cacophony of a Cingalese orchestra, tam-tam and gongs included, followed by a like

* "Edinburgh Review," April, 1851, p. 411.

f "Indian Sketches; or Life in the East," written for the "Commercial Bulletin," of Boston.

Brahmanic procession, which, for its picturesque coloring and mise en scene, looked far more solemn and imposing than the Christian saturnalias. Speaking of one of these, the same author remarks: "It was more devilish than religious. . . . The bishops walked off Romeward,* with a mighty pile of Peter's pence gathered in the minutest sums, with gold ornaments, nose-rings, anklets, elbow bangles, etc., etc., in profusion, recklessly thrown in heaps at the feet of the grotesque copper-colored image of the Saviour, with its Dutch metal halo and gaudily-striped cummerbund and — shade of Raphael! — blue turban."+

As every one can see, such voluntary contributions make it quite profitable to mimic the native Brahmans and bonzes. Between the worshippers of Christna and Christ, or Avany and the Virgin Mary, there is less substantial difference, in fact, than between the two native sects, the Vishnavites and the Sivites. For the converted Hindus, Christ is a slightly modified Christna, that is all. Missionaries carry away rich donations and Rome is satisfied. Then comes a year of famine; but the nose-rings and gold elbow-bangles are gone and people starve by thousands. What matters it? They die in Christ, and Rome scatters her blessings over their corpses, of

f It would be worth the trouble of an artist, while travelling around the world, to make a collection of the multitudinous varieties of Madonnas, Christs, saints, and martyrs as they appear in various costumes in different countries. They would furnish models for masquerade balls in aid of church charities!

which thousands float yearly down the sacred rivers to the ocean.} So servile are the Catholics in their imitation, and so careful not to give offense to their parishioners, that if they happen to have a few higher caste converts in a Church, no pariah nor any man of the lower castes, however good a Christian he may be, can be admitted into the same Church with them. And yet they dare call themselves the servants of Him who sought in preference the society of the publicans and sinners; and whose appeal — "Come unto me all ye that are heavy laden, and I will give you rest" has opened to him the hearts of millions of the suffering and the oppressed!

Few writers are as bold and outspoken as the late lamented Dr. Thomas Inman, of Liverpool, England. But however small their number, these men all agree unanimously, that the philosophy of both Buddhism and Brahmanism must rank higher than Christian theology, and teach neither atheism or fetishism. "To my own mind," says Inman, "the assertion that Sakya did not believe in God is wholly unsupported. Nay, his whole scheme is built upon the belief that there are powers above which are capable of punishing mankind for their sins. It is true that these gods

J Even as we write, there comes from Earl Salisbury, Secretary of State for India, a report that the Madras famine is to be followed by one probably still more severe in Southern India, the very district where the heaviest tribute has been exacted by the Catholic missionaries for the expenses of the Church of Rome. The latter, unable to retaliate otherwise, despoils British subjects, and when famine comes as a consequence, makes the heretical British Government pay for it.

were not called Elohim, nor Jah, nor Jehovah, nor Jahveh, nor Adonai, nor Ehieh, nor Baalim, nor Ashtoreth — yet, for the son of Suddhadana, there was a Supreme Being."*

There are four schools of Buddhist theology, in Ceylon, Thibet, and India. One is rather pantheistical than atheistical, but the other three are purely theistical.

On the first the speculations of our philologists are based. As to the second, third, and the fourth, their teachings vary but in the external mode of expression. We have fully explained the spirit of it elsewhere.

As to practical, not theoretical views on the Nirvana, this is what a rationalist and a skeptic says: "I have questioned at the very doors of their temples several hundreds of Buddhists, and have not found one but strove, fasted, and gave himself up to every kind of austerity, to perfect himself and acquire immortality; not to attain final annihilation.

"There are over 300,000,000 of Buddhists who fast, pray, and toil. . . . Why make of these 300,000,000 of men idiots and fools, macerating their bodies and imposing upon themselves most fearful privations of every nature, in order to reach a fatal annihilation which must overtake them anyhow?"+

As well as this author we have questioned Buddhists and Brahmanists and studied their philosophy. Apavarg has wholly a different meaning from annihilation. It is but to

* "Ancient Faiths and Modern," p. 24. f "Fétichisme, Polythéisme, Monothéisme."

become more and more like Him, of whom he is one of the refulgent sparks, that is the aspiration of every Hindu philosopher and the hope of the most ignorant is never to yield up his distinct individuality. "Else," as once remarked an esteemed correspondent of the author, "mundane and separate existence would look like God's comedy and our tragedy; sport to Him that we work and suffer, death to us to suffer it."

The same with the doctrine of metempsychosis, so distorted by European scholars. But as the work of translation and analysis progresses, fresh religious beauties will be discovered in the old faiths.

Professor Whitney has in his translation of the Vedas passages in which he says, the assumed importance of the body to its old tenant is brought out in the strongest light. These are portions of hymns read at the funeral services, over the body of the departed one. We quote them from Mr. Whitney's scholarly work:

"Start onward! bring together all thy members; let not thy limbs be left, nor yet thy body; Thy spirit gone before, now follow after; Wherever it delights thee, go thou thither.

Collect thy body; with its every member; thy limbs with help of rites I fashion for thee.

If some one limb was left behind by Agni, When to thy Fathers' world he hence conveyed you,

That very one I now again supply you; rejoice in heaven with all your limbs, ye Fathers!"*

The "body" here referred to is not the physical, but the astral one — a very great distinction, as may be seen.

Again, belief in the individual existence of the immortal spirit of man is shown in the following verses of the Hindu ceremonial of incremation and burial.

"They who within the sphere of earth are stationed, or who are settled now in realms of pleasure, The Fathers who have the earth — the atmosphere — the heaven for their seat,

The 'fore-heaven' the third heaven is styled, and where the Fathers have their seat."

Rig-Veda, x

With such majestic views as these people held of God and the immortality of man's spirit, it is not surprising that a comparison between the Vedic hymns and the narrow, unspiritual Mosaic books should result to the advantage of the former in the mind of every unprejudiced scholar. Even the ethical code of Manu is incomparably higher than that of the Pentateuch of Moses, in the literal meaning of which all the uninitiated scholars of two worlds cannot find a single proof that the ancient Jews believed either in a future life or an immortal spirit in man, or that Moses himself ever taught it.

* "Oriental and Linguistic Studies," "Vedic Doctrine of a Future Life," by W. Dwight Whitney, Prof. of Sanscrit and Comparative Philology at Yale College.

Yet, we have eminent Orientalists who begin to suspect that the "dead letter" conceals something not apparent at first sight. So Professor Whitney tells us that "as we look yet further into the forms of the modern Hindu ceremonial we discover not a little of the same discordance between creed and observance; the one is not explained by the other," says this great American scholar. He adds: "We are forced to the conclusion either that India derived its system of rites from some foreign source, and practiced them blindly, careless of their true import, or else that those rites are the production of another doctrine of older date, and have maintained themselves in popular usage after the decay of the creed of which they were the original expression."!

This creed has not decayed, and its hidden philosophy, as understood now by the initiated Hindus, is just as it was 10,000 years ago. But can our scholars seriously hope to have it delivered unto them upon their first demand? Or do they still expect to fathom the mysteries of the World-Religion in its popular exoteric rites?

No orthodox Brahmans and Buddhists would deny the Christian incarnation; only, they understand it in their own philosophical way, and how could they deny it? The very corner-stone of their religious system is periodical incarnations of the Deity. Whenever humanity is about merging into materialism and moral degradation, a Supreme Spirit incarnates himself in his creature selected for the f "Oriental and Linguistic Studies," p. 48.

purpose. The "Messenger of the Highest" links itself with the duality of matter and soul, and the triad being thus completed by the union of its Crown, a saviour is born, who helps restore humanity to the path of truth and virtue. The early Christian Church, all imbued with Asiatic philosophy, evidently shared the same belief — otherwise it would have neither erected into an article of faith the second advent, nor cunningly invented the fable of Anti-Christ as a precaution against possible future incarnations. Neither could they have imagined that Melchisedek was an avatar of Christ. They had only to turn to the Bhagavad-Gita to find Christna or Bhagaved saying to Arjuna: "He who follows me is saved by wisdom and even by works. . . . As often as virtue declines in the world, I make myself manifest to save it."

Indeed, it is more than difficult to avoid sharing this doctrine of periodical incarnations. Has not the world witnessed, at rare intervals, the advent of such grand characters as Christna, Sakya-muni, and Jesus? Like the two latter personages, Christna seems to have been a real being, deified by his school at some time in the twilight of history, and made to fit into the frame of the time-honored religious programme. Compare the two Redeemers, the Hindu and the Christian, the one preceding the other by some thousands of years; place between them Siddhartha Buddha, reflecting Christna and projecting into the night of the future his own luminous shadow, out of whose collected rays were shaped the outlines of the mythical Jesus, and from whose teachings were drawn those of the historical Christos; and we find that under one identical garment of poetical legend lived and breathed three real human figures. The individual merit of each of them is rather brought out in stronger relief than otherwise by this same mythical coloring; for no unworthy character could have been selected for deification by the popular instinct, so unerring and just when left untrammeled. Vox populi, vox Dei was once true, however erroneous when applied to the present priest-ridden mob.

Kapila, Orpheus, Pythagoras, Plato, Basilides, Marcian, Ammonius and Plotinus, founded schools and sowed the germs of many a noble thought, and disappearing left behind them the refulgence of demi-gods. But the three personalities of Christna, Gautama, and Jesus appeared like true gods, each in his epoch, and bequeathed to humanity three religions built on the imperishable rock of ages. That all three, especially the Christian faith, have in time become adulterated, and the latter almost unrecognizable, is no fault of either of the noble Reformers. It is the priestly self-styled husbandmen of the "vine of the Lord" who must be held to account by future generations. Purify the three systems of the dross of human dogmas, the pure essence remaining will be found identical. Even Paul, the great, the honest apostle, in the glow of his enthusiasm either unwittingly perverted the doctrines of Jesus, or else his writings are disfigured beyond recognition. The Talmud, the record of a people who, notwithstanding his apostasy from Judaism, yet feel compelled to acknowledge Paul's greatness as a philosopher and religionist, says of Aher (Paul),* in the Yerushalmi, that "he corrupted the work of that man" — meaning Jesus. +

0 0

Post a comment