Tuesday, February 28, 2017

The Bishop of Carlisle upon Heathenism

The Bishop of Carlisle appears to have been so much interested by the discussion on heathenism to which the remarks made by the Archbishop of Canterbury gave rise, that he has preached a sermon containing sentiments of his own on the subject, from which we have already published a remarkable extract. In a few words, it amounted to this. The heathen-- or, to take a phrase which cannot possibly give offence, natives of India-- ought by acquainting themselves with the condition of England to be either converted to Christianity or at all events so favourably disposed towards it that they "ought to be their own missionaries." "What, then, was the aspect which England presented to an educated Hindoo who came to visit the country of his conquerors and rulers?" He would find English people in general "excommunicated by about five-sixths of Christendom or more.” He would find the whole Christian world divided by "rents," than which "nothing could be more pronounced and apparently hopeless." He would find the English Church full of "strife and disputes." He would "find men equally earnest who differed in their accounts of” its doctrine "as widely as the poles." All this, however, might be put aside "if the general effect produced upon the mind of a Hindoo by the condition of our country were such as to compel him to say that God was of a truth among us. Therefore we must ask, Is this so? Is the general condition of public morality-- is the purity of life among us, the sobriety of people in the lower classes of life, and the practical godliness of those in the higher classes, such that we can take our stand upon them? The missionary's work would be a comparatively simple one if he could say to the natives of any heathen country, If you could only come home with me, you would perceive what a blessing it is that I am now offering to you; if you could see England, you would easily understand what I want to make your country. Dare any missionary put his message to this test?"

As the whole sermon is not before us, we cannot say what answer the Bishop gave to his own questions; but if he merely drew from them the trite moral, "Mind and behave well, because the Hindoo gentlemen are looking at you," the sermon must have been not only commonplace and unsatisfactory, but exceedingly like playing with edged tools in the most dangerous way. Practically speaking, the Bishop of Carlisle, like every other bishop and man, knows perfectly well that no amount of sermons will make England or English morality very different from what it is now, was yesterday, and will be to-morrow. We are, in all essential respects, very much the same sort of people as our fathers, and our sons have a very strong family likeness to ourselves. The presence of all the Hindoos for whom there is room in England will not make us alter our demeanour in the smallest degree. English we are and English we shall continue to be, whether they like us and our ways or not; and, what is more, the Hindoo need not go so far as England to see English people. He sees them in his own country, under circumstances singularly favourable for the observation of their character, which, by the way, they display there with a frank indifference to the impression which they make and with an absence of all concealment and affectation of habits which they do not like and opinions which they do not hold which is by no means common in England itself. As for the religious divisions of Christendom in general and those of the Church of England in particular, it is absurd to suppose that a reflection as to the scandal they will cause to Hindoos will affect them in the smallest degree. They are what they are, and they will continue to be so.

As all this is not only notoriously true, but the most common- place of all commonplaces, it would surely be as well if, instead of using it for the sake of enforcing a pointless moral, the clergy would simply accept the fact as a fact, and consider what it means. What would be the sense or meaning of going to a man in a consumption and preaching to him from the text chosen by the Bishop, "Ye are the salt of the earth"? "Oh, my dear brother, consider this awful truth! You are the salt of the earth. You are six feet high. You have a splendid figure, a fine complexion, well-shaped limbs, and a good digestion, yet there you lie unable to make the least exertion, wasting away daily, and obliged to spend the winter in Madeira in order to get a chance of living over another summer. What would your dark-skinned brother say if he saw you? what would he think of Englishmen six feet high, and remarkably well made, if he judged them by your sad example? Why do you not get well at once for the credit of your country?" The obvious answer would be, "Why do you mock a sick man by ascribing to him what he never claimed? You cannot cure me, and you know it. Why cannot you let me alone?" The answer to the Bishop's sermon is very much the same. Can any rational man who knows what he is talking about even pretend to believe that Christians are in possession of such a complete solution of the problems of life that they either have actually solved them, or have made such an approach to a solution of them that they can claim belief in their creed on the strength of its practical success from people not otherwise inclined to believe in it? Do any considerable body of English people really imagine that they are either the salt of the earth or the light of the world? If they do, it may be an act of charity to break down their absurd vanity by such arguments as the Bishop of Carlisle’s; but to imply that they are by telling them to act up to their character is disguised flattery of a very vulgar kind. Suppose a nurse were to say to the child under her care, What a naughty child you are to be speaking to little common children as if they were your equals! would the lesson be one of humility or of pride? If preachers wish to preach to advantage and to base what they have to say upon facts, the very first fact with which they have got to deal is that Christianity does not produce the effects which, according to certain views of it, it ought to produce; that all sorts of different opinions prevail in perfect good faith as to what constitutes it; that in the most Christian countries the great mass of mankind do not really believe in it with the faith which influences their conduct and moulds their character, but only acquiesce in it in a superficial, half-hearted way. To take it for granted that this is all wrong, the result of ordinary negligence which can be removed by appropriate admonition, and that matters may be set to rights by reminding congregations that the Hindoos are looking at them, is like giving a man a glass of water to clear his throat of a consumptive cough.

What a Hindoo or any one else who looks at the condition of England with open eyes will learn from it is plain enough. He will see one of the most intelligent, vigorous, and prosperous nations in the world actively engaged in leading the life which suits it. He will find in it, among other things, many religions and in particular several forms of Christianity, each of which is believed by a considerable number of persons with various degrees of energy, from enthusiastic belief down to mere acquiescence. He will see that the enormous majority of the nation, without being altogether indifferent to religion, are very far indeed from being enthusiastically attached to it, and that far the greater part of their thoughts and actions depend upon totally different principles. Above all, he will see that, whatever according to theological theories ought to be the case, religion is no more the whole of life, or even the supreme guide and ruler of life, in Europe than it is in India. He will perceive, in short, that such sermons as the Bishop of Carlisle’s are in the nature of reproaches to men for not living up to an ideal which never has been realized, which never can be realized, which hardly any one wishes to see realized, and which in some particulars is habitually trangressed or modified by people whose consciences do not reproach them for such transgressions and modifications.

That all this is true in fact no one can deny. Of course it is another question what is the proper inference from the fact; but, at all events, let us begin by recognizing its existence. It would be a great gain if the clergy would do so in real earnest, and would once for all discard from their sermons reproaches as unmeaning as an exhortation delivered by a judge in former times to John Doe or Richard Roe to give up his litigious habits would have been. When they had done this, they or any one else who was interested in the subject might well say to Hindoos, Go and see England if you want to know the nature of the work that Englishmen are doing in your country. If you look at it with intelligent eyes, you will see a sight which you will never forget as long as you live, and which will give you more new ideas than you will know what to do with. In the first place, you will see a general level of life and energy utterly unlike anything which you have ever had an opportunity of observing. You will see all the arts of life, not only the physical but the social and political arts, carried to a point which will confuse you.  You will, in a word, see human nature working at a far higher power and under much more favourable circumstances than those to which you have been accustomed.  This you will find has its effects on religion and morals as well as on other things.  You will not find a perfect religion or a perfect system of morals, but you will find much better specimens of both than you have been used to.  You will find that in England as in India human beings are men and women, but you will find that they know more, that they can do more, that they have many more interests in the world, and, speaking generally, care much more about life and get much more out of it. All this can be said with perfect truth; to lament over the impossibility of saying with truth England is a paradise of universal love and perfect virtue is like regretting that we have not angels’ wings and shining clothing, that ours is not
“A land of pure delight,
Where saints immortal reign,
Where endless day excludes the night
And pleasures banish pain.”
Pall Mall Gazette, September 11, 1872.

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