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their native soil! how much more difficult to reclaim this soil from such influences, and to make it the receptacle of the good seed of divine truth, and a field that shall wave with the golden harvest of truth and righteousness!
To reject the truth in a christian land, a man must often do violence to public sentiment, to custom, to propriety, to his own conscience. In a heathen land, he feels nothing of the kind. He regards his own system of religion to be of divine origin. The doctrines and precepts of his sacred books, as well as the instructions and conduct of his priests and the character and reputed practices of his gods, go to prevent the dictates of reason, to silence the voice of conscience, and to extinguish the light of nature. His religion is made up of rites and observances, of pilgrimages and penances, prostrations to dumb idols, offerings, sacrifices, usages of caste, common customs, and the traditions of olden times. Hence the neglect of these is sin. The liar, the thief, the adulterer, may be very holy, if he repeats the names of his gods, goes through the mummery of a few unmeaning sentences, and performs a certain round of ceremonies. But let him neglect to bathe according to the prescribed rules, or let him eat with a man of another caste, and he is an abominable sinner. The writer has often, in argument with Brahmins, proposed the question, “What is sin ?" and has almost as often received for answer, "To change one's religion, that is sin." This answer may at first appear to be a cavil, and sometimes it may indeed be so. But as it is generally used by a Brahmin in controversy, it has a show of truth, and a plausibility, which, in the minds of an ignorant, superstitious people, amount to a great degree of satisfaction.
The truth is this: the Hindoo does not deny the divine original of christianity. When we talk of the excellency of the christian religion,—of its beautiful consistency with the divine nature, its suitableness to the circumstances of man as a sinner, and its universal adaptation to the wants of men; he says he has no doubt of its divine origin, or of its excellence. But its origin or its excellence, he contends, is no concern of his. If christianity is really thus excellent, and if we are convinced of its truth, he says, we ought to be very thankful for it, and ought cheerfully and religiously to practice accordingly; for God saw fit so to deal with the white man. But for himself, and for the black people of India, he affirms, God saw fit to establish a different system of religion, whether better or worse, is not for him to say: so it seemed good in the sight of God. The supreme Providence consulted climates, constitutions, habits,
and national circumstances, and gave to the several nations of the earth such a religion as he foresaw would be best suited to their respective conditions. The Brahmin disclaims any right or inclination to censure the ordinances of the Almighty, or to call in question the wisdom of his counsels in appointing for the different portions of mankind such systems of religion as he pleases. He accepts with satisfaction what is given him, and advises the christian to do the same. He never attempts to make proselytes; Hindooism forbids it. For a Hindoo to become a christian, or for a christian to embrace Hindooism or Mohammedanism, is, in his estimation, equally to distrust the wisdom of Omnipotence, and to show dissatisfaction with his wise allotments. Hence the sin of changing one's religion.
The difficulty of producing conviction in the mind of a heathen, is greater than may at first be supposed. The common people—under which term is included four-fifths of the population of India—are in a most degraded state of mental bondage. Not only is the mind of this numerous class of the people preoccupied by notions the most unworthy, extravagant, and debasing, so that if they would exercise their own reason in matters of religion, they need greater illumination than they now have, before they can begin to feel their way through the mists and darkness of paganism, and to emerge from its abyss and come to the glorious light of the truth ; but they are crushed down and ground into the dust of intellectual abasement. The Brahmins exercise an almost unbounded control over the minds of the common Hindoos, and especially over their religious belief. In matters of religion, a common Hindoo may not think for himself. He is continually taught, that everything which appertains to religion has been discussed, determined, and unalterably fixed, by the priesthood, thousands of years ago, when men were far wiser and better tban they now are; and that all his own reasonings on the subject are not merely futile, but absolutely wrong. He regards religion as the peculiar business of the priests and the different classes of mendicants and devotees.
This fact develops to us the true bearing of caste on religious belief and practice, and we see in what way it hinders conviction in the mind of a heathen. Caste is a tremendous engine in the hands of the priesthood. The institutions of caste, in order to clothe them with infallibility, are made to claim a divine origin. Forced on the people with the sanction and authority of divine oracles, they assign, as by the hand of ruthless fate, to every man, before he is born, his own peculiar business or profession. The Brahmins, to whose exclusive guardianship are
committed the keeping and the expounding of their sacred books, possess the authority and entire guidance in all matters of religion ; while the practice of it is more peculiarly the business of mendicants and devotees. The mass of the people have little to do with religion, except the mechanical performance of a few rites and ceremonies. The idea, everywhere so prevalent, that religion is a business or a calling to be disposed of by hereditary right or the usages of caste, like any secular business or profession, presents a formidable obstacle to the producing of conviction in the mind of a Hindoo.
Were a common man to begin to concern himself on the subject of religion, (suppose it were in reference to the salvation of his own soul,) he would be instantly and severely reproached as an intermeddler or as a busybody in other men's matters. He would be treated as a disorganizer and a stirrer up of sedition. He would be tauntingly asked if he had grown wiser than the Brahmins,-yea, wiser than the gods,—that he should abandon his hammer or his spade, and assume the profession of a godlike Brahmin. The Brahmins would need only to threaten such a man with the power of their enchantments, or to predict that the wrath of the gods would fall on him, and in ninetynine cases in a hundred, the desired effect would be produced on the too superstitious mind of the presumptuous man; for a Brahmin may work on the fears and superstitions of the people to almost any extent he pleases. The writer has known a boy, twelve years old, terrified almost out of his senses, on being told by a Brahmin, that he would die, if he kept the book that had just been given him; and we have heard of the whole population of a town collecting together and burning the books and tracts which they had received a few days before with great apparent gladness, because they were told by one of these subtle priests, that these books and tracts were the cause of the cholera which was at that time raging among
them. It is more difficult to sustain an argument with a Brahmin, or a shrewd Hindoo of any caste, than may be at first imagined. We will illustrate what we mean, by a few examples.—In argument with a Brahmin, we point out a number of palpable contradictions in one of his sacred books. He says, “Yes, these are seemingly contradictions, incomprehensible and irreconcilable by our weak and limited faculties. But what of that? Do you receive as truth, nothing which you cannot comprehend or reconcile with your narrow conceptions of things? These seeming contradictions are all real consistencies,—objects of faith.” He repeats,—what in a better cause is not new to the christian,—that we must believe many things which we cannot comprehend. He does not pretend to reconcile all the discrepancies that you may point out in his creed. He receives all these things on the divine authority of his sacred books. His eyes may deceive him; his reason may make a false report; but his gods cannot misguide him. He sees, for example, that milk is white; suppose he find it written in his shastras that it is black, he distrusts his senses and believes his shastras.
Again, we adduce the immoral character of their gods as an evidence of the falsity of their religion, and of its debasing and vitiating tendency. They admit, that their gods are not moral and virtuous in the sense in which we apply these terms to mortals. They will allow if necessary, when pressed in argument, that their deities often transgress the laws which they themselves have given to men. But they deny, that there is any guilt or moral turpitude in this. They deny, that these laws have any application or suitableness to the circumstances of gods. They were given to beings of another nature, that is, of a human nature ; and consequently the transgressions, by a god, of a human law or a law made for mortals, can be no immorality. Or they will soberly contend, that these reputed immoralities of their gods are but their pastimes, their amusements or innocent gratifications; and hence these things determine nothing as to their moral character.
Again, we appeal to the morality of the bible; to the purity of the christian doctrines; to the just, consistent, and worthy character there given of God, and to the general excellency of christianity. He coolly and complacently replies, “all that may be true." We show him on the other hand, the corrupt character and the vitiating tendency of Hindooism,--the bad moral character of those who live under that system, and the immoral and unworthy character which it attributes to the supreme God. “What then?" responds the subtle Brahmin. " Suppose your opinion of the comparative worth of our religion be correct, what have we to do with that? Such is our fate,—the gods ordained it; and who are we, that we should quarrel with the gods?" It is no concern of his to enquire into the comparative merits of different religions. It is enough, that he is satisfied which was designed for him. If our religion be better, he does not covet it: if worse, he does not want it.
We appeal to miracles. He can refer to ten reputed miracles of his gods where we can adduce one of our God. We tell him Moses led the Israelites through the wilderness, and when they were perishing from thirst he smote a rock, and waters gushed out and run down in a rivulet through the camp of the people. “Where did that thing happen?” says the Brahmin. In Arabia, we reply, between Egypt and Canaan, showing him at the same time the places on a map,--adding, you may see traces of these miracles having been wrought there to this day. “Of these places and transactions,” he says, “we know nothing. Our people have never been there, or seen any of these things; but if you will go with us to Dongurgaw (twelve miles from Ahmednuggur) we will show you where our god Ramŭ smote the rock, and brought forth an ocean of water to supply the countless myriads of his army." And there they will show us, (for we have visited the spot,) when we have descended by a broad flight of steps of hewn stone into a wild ravine, not only the place where the miracle is said to have been wrought, but the rock that was struck, with the waters still flowing. For there a large and beautiful spring of water issues from an aperture in a rock, the triumphant boast of many a Brahmin when challenged to defend his creed. We tell him how Moses led the same multitude-through the Red Sea on dry land. He replies: “Of the Red Sea and of Moses and his host, we know nothing; these are subjects not mentioned in our sacred books ; but if you will go with us to Rameshwar (the southern point of India) we will there show you the very remains of the bridge which Ramŭ made over the sea, from the continent to Ceylon, when he led the before mentioned army against her impious king. When, in his victorious career through the south of India, the ocean dared obstruct his passage, he tore up rocks and trees, hills and mountains, with which to bridge the mighty deep, and thus he passed over on dry land."
The miracles quoted by the Brahmin are not only more numerous, but far more extravagant and marvelous, and therefore more congenial with his preconceived notions of religion, and more consistent with the reputed character of his deities, than the sober and benevolent miracles of the Old or New Testament. To the mind of a Hindoo there is something extremely tame in the naked truth. There is such a simplicity in the miracles of Christ,—they are so unostentatious, and the narration of them is so unpretending when compared with that of the reputed miracles of Hindoo mythology, that the Hindoo, with his mind preoccupied, as it is, with the most extravagant and absurd notions of miracles, seems almost incapacitated to believe them. They by no means afford to his perverted mind that overwhelming weight of evidence to the truth of christianity, which the nominal christian gains from the same source.