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"One of the ablest reviews in the English language."— Most Rev. P. J. Ryan, Archbishop of Philadelphia. Hon. A. K. McClure, formerly editor The Philadelphia Times.
"The spiciest and most thought-provoking magazine that comes to this office."—The Boston Herald.
IS CHRISTIANITY THE "ABSOLUTE" RELIGION?
In order that we may do no injustice to those representatives of what is known as the higher criticism in other lands or our own, who are inclined or who positively assert the negative of the question propounded, we quote the following in full from The Literary Digest of December 28, 1901, and, as a supplement thereto, and more or less involved in the general question, we quote also in full a resume in the same paper- of January 25, 1902, of an article by Rev. David Downie, headed "What is to be the Universal Religion?"
Tlie Literary Digest, though as a rule fair to all sides of modern faith and thought, is essentially sympathetic with Baptist Protestantism, is total abstinent in its advocacy of the nonliquor question, but generally and wisely non-committal on any and all questions of importance—simply giving abstracts of the opinions of others.
Here is its abstract on the first phase of the question involved: "Is Christianity the 'Absolute' Religion?—The traditional answer to this question has all along been an emphatic affirmative; but the new school of theologians, who are under the spell of the teachings of the new 'Science of Religion,' the comparative study of Christianity as one of the religions of the world, does not hesitate to answer this in the negative. A special conference to discuss this one question was recently held in Miihlocker, and many of the most prominent university professors and other theologians were in attendance from all parts of Germany. The leading paper was presented by the head of this new school, Professor Troeltsch, of the University of Heidelberg, who formulated the fundamental principles substantially as follows:
"'i. The term "Absoluteness of Christianity" is a formula for the expression of one of the leading problems that has grown out of the modern conception of historical development as applied to Christianity.
"'2. The purpose of this problem is to determine exactly the relation of Christianity to the other great religions of the world and its importance in the world's religious development.
"'3. Christianity is a purely historical phenomenon, and as such is to be studied and judged by the general laws of development that obtain in history.
"'4. In trying to determine the exact valuation of Christianity to the other religions of the world, the investigator is controlled by his own personal feelings and convictions, which cannot indeed be logically forced upon anybody else, but which for himself are binding and conclusive.
"'5. These feelings and convictions naturally seek to find their warrant in the demonstration that there are gradations between the great religious forces. The theory that results from this knowledge is that of a gradual unfolding of the revelation of the transcendental force behind all history, which comes to view in the various personalities and phenomena of history, and in these brings us nearer to the transcendental absolute.
"'6. Christianity, judged from this point of view, shows itself the highest stage of religious development and in principle superior to all other forms of religion; but, nevertheless, as a phenomenon subject to the historical laws of growth.
"'7. All other beliefs as to Christianity, such as the conviction that Christianity will be invincible, are purely a matter of personal faith and not the subject of scientific certainty.
"'8. In this whole conception of Christianity, religion is viewed not as an illusion, but as an expression of the relation between man and the divine.'
"What is given above in somewhat heavy theological phraseology is more clearly expressed and applied by another speaker at this conference, Dr. Max Christlieb, who discussed mission work as affected by this denial of the absoluteness of Christianity. His leading propositions were these:
"'1. Our knowledge of non-Christian religions has become much greater in recent decades than it was before. One of the results of this growth in knowledge is the general conviction that the absoluteness of Christianity can no longer be claimed. This new knowledge must influence mission problems and methods of work.
"'2. The relative merits or demerits of a religion are to be judged by its fruits. This principle must obtain also in the judgment of Christianity.
"'3. The proposition that "everything in heathendom is false" can no longer be maintained, in view of the fact that these systems contain so much that agrees with Christianity.
"'4. On the other hand, the recognition of the good elements in the heathen religions may result in a dangerous practical syncretism.
"'5. The proposition that "everything in Christianity is true" can no longer be maintained. The fact that certain leading doctrines of older Christian creeds, such as the eternal condemnation of the unbaptized, the historical character of the story of creation, the personality and activity of the devil, have been generally discarded by Christian thinkers themselves, has already led to a different attitude in principle toward the heathen races.
"'6. The fact that the doctrine of verbal inspiration has been generally discarded has led to the following changes in the mission field: (a) The missionary has lost the support of absolute authority. (£>) Liberal theology must be taught in mission institutions, (c) All problems of modern religious life receive a different importance.
"'7. Since the absoluteness of Christianity cannot be demonstrated, but only the fact that it is relatively the highest of religions, we need, and those engaged in mission work also need, a greater faith than ever before.'"
And here is its quotation covering the second question:
"Wtiat is to be the Universal Religion?—This question is tersely discussed by the Rev. David Downie, D.D., for many years an honored missionary of the American Baptist Missionary Union. According to his view, the millennium is not by any means so near as many suppose. He writes as follows, in The Baptist Missionay Review (August), published at Madras, India:
"'Christianity is a missionary religion, but so are Mohammedanism and Buddhism. All other religions are ethnic or race religions, hence are not in the contest for the supremacy of the world. We believe that Christianity will finally triumph, but before it does there will come a mighty struggle, and there are indications that the twentieth century will see it. I have an idea, amounting almost to a conviction, that India will play a very important part in that conflict, and may even be the center of the struggle. My reasons for this opinion will appear when we consider the geographical position of India as related to the chief centers of the respective religions.'
"In estimating the strength of the contending parties, Dr. Downie credits Buddhism with a host of 500,000,000 adherents, with a doctrine and a history which manifest a missionary spirit. But he does not regard the most numerous as the most formidable of the rivals of Christianity. 'Mohammedanism,' he says, 'with less than half the number, is much more to be feared, being much more aggressive. Of the 175,000,000 Mohammedans, India alone contains one-third, or about 60,000,000. Central Asia, Persia, Arabia, Syria, Palestine, European Turkey and a large part of Africa are almost wholly Mohammedan.'
"The writer then dissents from the position usually taken by the opponents of Mohammedanism, who generally claim that its success has been due primarily to the force of arms:
"'Although the sword of Islam is broken and its political power is fading, yet as a religion it shows little disposition to relinquish its claim to the supremacy of the world, and in many parts is making a determined effort to make good the claim. Perhaps it is sufficient to say, in proof of this statement, that we have to-day a Mohammedan propaganda in America, with 1,000 converts in a single city and 2,000 more in other cities.'
"In urging the conquest of India by Christianity as a strategic point, Dr. Downie proposes to fight it out on three lines:
"'(1) First and chief is a strong reinforcement of evangelistic missionaries, several of whom should be especially fitted and set apart for work among the higher and educated classes. (2) Christian education ought to be strengthened and extended. A mere secular education may deprive a Hindu of his religion, but it gives him nothing in its place. That is hardly fair, for even a poor religion is better than none. Christian education