Want of good books on the subject.
Religions, by which are meant the modes of divine worship proper to different tribes, nations, or communities, and based on the belief held in common by the members of them severally, were not before the XIX century the subject of original scientific research and comparative study among the European nations. With the exception of a few good books containing information on some ancient religions and in the religious customs of certain nations, nothing written on this subject in former centuries, can be said to possess any scientific value. Those very few books too were mere collections of descriptions of all the religions in the world without any critical acumen. There was a philosophy of religion but it was purely speculative. Attempts made to explain the mythology of the Greeks and Romans and that of the Eastern nations, proved a failure. Then there was the theological bias, which considered all religions except the one as false; the philosophical bias, which decried as mere superstitions all religions except the arbitrary abstraction called natural religion; and finally the total want of historical investigation. It was only after the brilliant discoveries made in the nineteenth century and the researches they gave rise to; after the sacred writings of the Indians, the Persians, the Chinese and some other ancient nations could be studied in original; after the finding of the key to the Egyptian hieroglyphics and the Assyrian and Babylonian cuneiform writing had lifted the veil which for many centuries had covered the history of these most ancient civilizations – it was then only that a history of religion could be thought of and that something like a science of religion could be aimed at.
Comparative study essential.
The comparative historical study of religions and a psychological study of man are the two means indispensable to the solution of the difficult problem 'what is Religion.' Religions, like living organisms have a history, and therefore this is to be studied first, so far as it can be known, - how they rise and spread, grow and fade away; how far they are the creations of individual genius or of the genius of nations and communities; by what laws their development is ruled; what are their relations to philosophy, science and art, to the state, to society, and above all to ethics; what is their mutual historical relations, whether sprung from one another, or derived from a common parent or borrowed from one another, and subject to another's influence and what place is to be assigned to each of those groups or single religions in the universal history of religion. The first result of this historical inquiry must be an attempt at a genealogical classification of religions, in which they are grouped after their proved or probable descent and affinity.
Every Religion has two elements.
However, historical investigations, like every genuine scientific study, must be comparative in order to determine in what particular respects they agree or differ. This requires comparative study on a much larger scale. Every religion has two prominent constituent elements, the one theoretical, the other practical – religious ideas and religious acts. It happens but very seldom, if ever, that those two elements balance each other. They are found in very different proportions, some faiths being preeminently doctrinal or dogmatic, others preeminently ritualistic or ethical; but where one of them is wanting entirely, religion no longer exists. Not that dogma and ritual are religion, but they are only its necessary manifestations, the embodiment of tis life and essence. It is only by a deep study of those two elements that we can proceed to characteristic and mutually compare religions themselves and that we may come to a morphological classification of religions.
The sources from which the knowledge of the various religions of the world is to be drawn, are written documents and traditions, monuments and works of art, sacred writings and books and an impartial weighing of the evidence brought by travelers and settlers from different parts of the globe – in short, an unbiased ascertaining of facts.
Of the two classifications, Genealogical and Morphological, let us deal with the first.
There is no difficulty in determining the descent and relationship of religions which have taken rise in historical times, such as Confucianism, Buddhism, Judaism, Christianity, Mahomedanism and some other of minor importance. But there is a great difficulty in determining the descent and relationship of the great majority of ancient religions which had their origin in prehistoric times, and of which neither documents nor trustworthy traditions are extant. In that case their mutual relation has to be established by reasoning from the myths, ideas, rites and characteristics common to them. Professor Max Muller suggests that, whatever classification has been found most useful in the science of language ought to prove equally useful in the science of religion. Now it may be true in general, at least for the most ancient times, that where the languages of a group of nations are proved to belong to one family, their religions too most probably hold together by the same relationship. But this assumption requires proof, and that proof can be obtained only by a comparative study of the religions themselves, only when the religions of two independent nations agree in doctrine and mode of worship, above all in the notion of the relation between God and man, then only may we feel sure that the one of these religions is the parent of the other, or that both have come from a common stock. If not only but several religions agree in like manner, or nearly so, we get a family of religions. But whatever his families themselves are branches of one and the same old tree is an open question to which no satisfactory answer can be given now.
All Religions may be classified under two families – Aryan and Semitic.
Aryan or Indo-Germanic family.
Comparative mythology and the history of Religion leave no doubt that all the religions of the Aryan or Indo-Germanic nations, viz, Eastern Aryans (or Indians, Persians and Phrygians) and Western Aryans (or Greeks, Romans, German, Norsemen, Letto-Slavs and Celts), are the common offspring of one primitive OLD ARYAN RELIGION (Prehistoric Religion). That the same name of the highest heaven-God Dyaus, Zeus, Ju (piter), Zio (Ty) is met with among Indians, Greeks, Italietes, Germans and Norsemen, however great the difference of the attributes and dignity attributed by each of them to the god thus named may be is a fact now generally known. Where this name has been lost, as is the case with the Persians, the Slavs, and the Celts, there are other divine names which they have in common with their kindred nations. Still mote important is the fact that most Aryans show a tendency to call their supreme God "father", as is proved by the very common forms Dyans, pitar, Zeus, Jupiter, &c. Moreover many divine names used by different Aryan nations, though varying in form, are derived from the same root, - which proves the original unity of this conception. For example, the root di (div), "to shine" and its derivatives Dyaus, Deva, and their family 'Diti, Aditi, Dione, Pandian, Dionysos, Diovis, Dianus, Diana, Juno, &c. If we add to this the remarkable conformity of the myths and customs in all Aryan religions, if, above all, by comparing them with those of other races, especially of the Semites, we find that the leading idea embodied in these Aryan myths and rites is everywhere the same, however different the peculiar character of each religion may be, namely, the close relation between God and man, the real unity between the divine and the human economy. From these facts, we may conclude that all of them have sprung from one primitive Old Aryan Religion.
However, the degree in which the Aryan religions are mutually related is not always the same. None of them came directly from the old Aryan religion. They consist of five pairs, each of which must have been first a unity: - (1) the Indo-Persian, (2) the Graeco-Roman, (3) the Letto-Slavic, (4) the Norse Teutonic, and (5) the Gaelo-Cymric. The fact that the members of those pairs are more closely allied with one another than with the other members of the family obliges us to assume five prehistoric Aryan Religions: - (1) the OLD EAST-ARYAN, (2) the OLD PELASGIC, (3) the OLD WINDIC, (4) the OLD GERMAN, and (5) the OLD CELTIC Religions, forming so many links between those historical religious and the common parent of all, the primeval ARYAN worship.
The Old East Aryan religion consisted of (1) Old Iranian religion that had prevailed in Persia and Bactria and given rise to modern Parsism, Mazdaism and Mithraism and (2) old Indian religion that had prevailed in India and given rise to modern Hinduism, Buddhism and Jainism. The Old Pelasgic religion was the religion of the Italians and Grecians. The Old
Windic was the religion of Letts, Baltic Slavs, old Russians, Poles, Servians &c. The Old German was the religion of Teutons (Low and High Germans and Norse and Scandinavians. The Old Celtic was the religion of the Welsh, Irish and Scotch &c. It may be noted all the last four religions have now been superseded by Christian religions, whereas the Indian Religion (Hinduism &c.) remains unscathed and continue to flourish.
Though our knowledge of the Semitic religions, especially as regards those of the pre-Christian Aramaeans, of the pre-Islamic Arabs, and of the old Hebrews, is very little, yet that very little knowledge tends to prove that they too must have descended were worshipped by several North-semitic nations, it might be contended that they were borrowed from one of them, as trade and conquest had brought them from ancient times into close contact with one another. But no such relation existed till the very last centuries of the Assyrian Empire between the northern semites and the various tribes of the Arabian Desert. Therefore Gods and religious ideas and customs prevailing alike among the Northern and the Southern or Arabic branch of the race may be safely regarded as the primeval property of the whole family. Such are the general name for the godhead, Ilu El, Ilah (in Allah) &c. The Tree worship and stone worship have been pretty general in prehistoric times, and not a few remains of both have survived in all faiths and modern superstitions. Holy mountains too are very frequent among the Semites. Finally all Semitic religious without a single exception understand the relation between God and man as one between the Supreme lord and king and his subject and slave. They are eminently theocratic and show a marked tendency to monotheism, which, both in Israel and in Arabia, is the last word of their religious development. The grade of relationship between the different Semitic religions can be fixed only in a general way. The Southern branch of the old Semitic religion – Old Arabic Religion – has led to Mahomedanism or Islam; and the northern branch – Hebrew Religion – has given rise to Christianity.
We will here consider about the religions which do not belong to either of those two principal families – Aryan and Semitic.
III. African Religions.
The first among the African Religions is the Egyptian Religion. It is neither Semitic and theocratic nor Aryan and the anthropic. It has many elements that belong to the former. It is generally supposed that the Egyptian race sprang from Asiatic settlers and conquers, who long before the dawn of history invaded the country, subjugated the dark colored inhabitants, and mixed with them, and that it is to these foreigners that the more elevated elements in the Egyptian Religion are due.
All we can say about the other original religions of the Dark Continent is that they resemble one another in many respects. There are to be found a great many magical rites and animistic customs closely resembling in the Egyptian and other religions of the African continent. We may distinguish four principal groups:
(1) The Cushite, inhabiting the north-eastern coast region south of Egypt; not much information can be had of them now.
(2) The Nigritian proper, including all the Negro tribes of inner Africa and the West Coasts; the prominent characteristic of their religion is their unlimited Fetichism, combined as usual with tree worship, animal worship, especially that of serpents, with a strong belief in sorcery and with the most abject superstitions, which even Islam and Christianity are not able to overcome. They have got a theistic tendency and believe in some supreme God. But the most widely spread worship among Negros is that of the moon, combined with a great veneration for the cow.
(3) The Bantu or Kaffrarian (Kaffir); among them fetichism is not so exuberant. Their religion is rather a religion of spirits. The spirits they worship, are conjured up by a caste of sorcerers and Magicians, and are all subordinate to a ruling spirit regarded as the ancestor of the race. They agree in many respects with those of the Negros, but differ from them in others, especially in their fetichism.
(4) The Khoi-khoin or Hottentots living in and near the Cape Colony. They also have a Supreme deity, called Tsui or Tsunikoal, which is, like the highest God of the Bantu, the ancestor of the race and the chief of souls and spirits. The great difference between the religions of the Hottentots and the other Nigritians is the total absence of animal worship and of fetichism by which it is characterized.
IV. Mongolian and Ural Altai family of Religions.
Under this come not only the Chinese, with their nearest relatives the Japanese and Koreans, all Ural Altaic or Turanian nations – but also the whole Malay race, including the Polynesians and Micronesians, and even the aboriginal Americans, from the Eskimo to the Patagonians and Fuegians. There is indeed some similarity in the religions customs of the Americans and of the so called Turanians; and even in the Polynesian religions some points of contact with those of the former might be discovered. Prof. Max Muller tries to show that the religious of all these groups of nations (this Mongolian race) are also bound together by a close relationship, because not only their character is fundamentally the same, but even the same name of the highest God is met with among most of them. Even apart from this argument, we cannot deny the fact that not only in the Ural-Altaic and Japanese but also in the highly developed Chinese religions the relation between the divine powers and man is purely patriarchal. Just as the chief of the horde – nay, even the son of heaven, the Chinese Emperor – is regarded as the father of all his subjects, whom they are bound to obey, so are the gods to their worshippers. The only difference is that the Chinese heaven-god Tien is an Emperor like his earthly representative, ruling over the other spirits of heaven and earth as does the latter over the dukes of the Empire and their subjects, while the Ural Altaic heaven God is indeed the most powerful being invoked in the greatest difficulties when he only is able to save, but no supreme ruler. The high venerations for the spirits of the deceased fathers, which are devoutly worshipped among all the members of this religious family, is a necessary consequence of its patriarchal type. Another striking characteristic of the Mongolic religions is their extensive magic and sorcery (Shamanism).
The principal sub-divisions of this Mongolian or patriarchal family of religions are: -
1. Chinese religions, being (a) the Ancient National religion, now superseded partly by (b) Confucianism (being the restoration of the ancient national religion according to the reforms of Confucius), (c) Taoism (being a revival of the ancient national religion, to which the Tao-te-king had to give the appearance of a philosophical basis), partly, though only several centuries later, by Chinese Buddhism.
2. Japanese Religions, where we have again the same triad nearly parallel to the Chinese; (a) the old national religion
Kamino-madsu (worship of the gods), called frequently Sinto (Chinese Shin-tao, the worship of the spirits) with the Mikado as its spiritual head, just as Chinese Taoism had its popes; (b) Confucianism, imported from China in the 7th century; and (c) Buddhism, imported from Korea and nearly exterminated in the 6th century, but reviving, and at last, in the beginning of the 7th century, triumphant.
3. The Finnic branch of the Ural-Altaic religions, all recognizing the same heaven God. Num, Yum, Yummel &c., as supreme, is the religion of the Lapps, the Estonians and the Finns.
V. American Religions.
The religions of the Eskimo should be distinguished from those of the other American nations. They are of the same character as those prevailing among the Ural-Altains and Mongols, though some of their customs and notions resemble those of the other American nations. The American elements in the Eskimo religion have been more or less borrowed. At any rate of the religion of the Eskimo is the connecting link between the latter and those of the American aborigines.
All the other religions of North and South America are closely allied to one another. Several myths like those of the sun-hers, of the moon-goddess, of the four brothers, are found in their characteristics American form among the most distant tribes of both continents. Some religious customs, such as the sweating both intended to cause a state of ecstasy, the ball-play, a kind of ordeal the sorcery by means of the rattle, are all but generally practiced. Fetichism and idolatry are much less developed among the Americans.
VI. Malayo-Polynesian Family.
To the Malayo Polynesian family of religions belong those people inhabiting the islands in the Great Pacific from Easter Island to the Pelew Archipelago, the East Indian Archipelago, and the Malay Peninsula and also Madagascar. The chief characteristic of their religion is the institution of the taboo, a kind of interdict laid on objects and persons, by which they are made sacred and inviolable. The general observance of such a peculiar custom as the taboo by all the peoples belonging to this ethnic family, a custom which rules their whole religion, gives rise to such a classification as a Malayo-Polynesian family of religions.
These are the rough outlines of a genealogical classification of religions.
II. Morphological Classification of Religion.
In his lectures on the Science of Religion, Prof. Max Muller, who has done so much to raise the comparative study of religions to the rank of a science, criticizes the most usual modes of classification applied to religions, viz. (1) that into true and false, (2) that into revealed and natural, (3) that into national and individual, (1) that into polytheistic, dualistic and monotheistic, and dismisses each and all of them as useless and impracticable and asserts that the only scientific and truly genetic classification of religions is the same as the classification of languages. Prof. Max Muller says that, particularly in the early history of the human intellect, there exists the most intimate relationship between language, religion, and nationality. But it is contended by some that the further history and nationality and that the stage of development a religion has attained to – the one thing to be considered for a morphological classification – has nothing to do with the language of its adherents, and that for a really scientific study of religions, such a morphological classification is absolutely necessary.
Stages of Religious Development.
Prof. Pfleiderer considers the original religion must have been a kind of indistinct, chaotic naturism, being an adoration of the natural phenomena as living powers. Then from this primitive naturism spring: - (1) anthropomorphic polytheism, which is decidedly an advance on mythopoeic naturism, as it brings the personal gods into relation with the moral life of man, but at the same time has its draw-backs since it attributes all human passions to the gods; (2) Spiritism (animism), combined with a primitive idolatry, fetichism, which is rather a depravation of religion, caused by the decadence of civilization; (3) henotheism, being an adoration of one God above others as the specific tribal god or as the lord of over a particular people.
The different stages of religions development have been characterized by C. P. Tiele in his Outlines of the History of Religion as follows: - (1) a period in which animism generally prevailed, still represented by the so called nature religions, or rather by the polydemonistic magical tribal religions; (b) polytheistic national religions resting on a traditional doctrine; (c) nomistic or nomothetic religions, or religious communities founded on a law or sacred writing and subduing polytheism more or less completely by pantheism or monotheism; (d) universal or world religions which start from principles and maxims. Though this division is generally maintained at least for practical use, yet if we want to draw up a morphological classification of religions, we shall have to modify it and to arrange the different stages under the two principal categories of nature religions and Ethical religions.
In the nature religions, the Supreme gods are the mighty powers of nature, be they demons, spirits, or manlike beings and ever so highly exalted. Ethical religions do not exclude the old naturistic elements altogether, but subordinate them to the ethical principle and lend them something of an ethical tinge. Nature religions are polydemonistic or polytheistic; under favorable circumstances they may rise at best to monalatry. Ethical religions, on the other hand, though not all of them strictly monotheistic or pantheistic, all tend to monotheism.
Nature Religions. It is certain that the oldest religions must have contained the germs of all the later growth, and, though perhaps more thoroughly naturistic than the most naturistic now known, must have shown some faint traces at least of awakening moral feelings. Man, in that primitive stage, must have regarded the natural phenomena on which his life and welfare depend as living beings, endowed with superhuman magical power; and his imagination, as yet uncontrolled by observation and reasoning, must frequently have given them the shape of frightful animals, monsters, portentous mythical beings, some of which still survive in the later mythologies. This is the first stage of religious development.
The following naturistic stages are to be classified under three distinct heads.
(a) Polydemonistic magical religion under the influence of aninism. Aninism which exercise such an influence on the religion of this stage is a system by which man, having become conscious of the superiority of the spirit over the body and of its relative independence, tries to account for the phenomena of nature, which he, not having the slightest scientific knowledge either of nature or of mind is unable to explain otherwise. It is not itself a religion, but a sort of primitive philosophy. To this class belong the religions of the so called savages or uncivilized peoples.
(b) Purified magical religions, in which animistic ideas still play a prominent part, but which have grown up to a therianthropic polytheism. The gods, though sometimes represented in a human form, are really spiritual beings, embodying themselves in all kinds of things but principally in animals. Most images of the gods are either human bodies with heads of animals or the bodies of animals with human heads. These religions are therefore called therianthropic. To this class belong Japanese Kamino-madsu, the religion of the Finns, the old Arabic religions, old Pelasgic, old Italiote, Etruscan, Old Slavonic religions, the semi-civilized religions of America, the ancient religion of the Chinese Empire, Ancient Babylonian Religions and Religion of Egypt.
(c) Religions in which the powers of nature are worshipped as manlike though superhuman and semi-ethical beings, or anthropomorphic because the gods are now all of them superhuman but manlike beings, lords over the powers of nature and reigning over its departments, workers of good and of evil. Under the class come the ancient Vedic religion of India, the pre-Zarathustrian Iranic religion, the younger Babylonian and Assyrian religion, the religions of the other civilized semites, the Celtic, Germanic, Hellenic, and Greeco Roman religions.
Ethical religions are founded on a law or Holy Scriptures. They may by classified as national Ethical religions consisting of Taoism and Confucianism in China, Hinduism with its various sects, Jainism, Mazdaism, Mosaism and Judaism and as individual ethical religions, comprising Islam, Buddhism and Christianity.
Space forbids us from dwelling on the history and spread of religions, but it must be noted that in both ancient and modern times, religions spread (1) by the influence of superior civilization (2) by conquest, (3) by colonization or commerce, (4) by missions and the modern history of religions is chiefly the history of Buddhism, Christianity and Islam, and of their wrestling with the ancient faiths which slowly fade away before their encroachments. It must also be borne in mind that though they overran all other ancient faiths, yet they could not gain even an inch of ground over the ancient Hindu faith. The Hindu Religion may therefore be called the Eternal Religion. It is a universal world religion.
Hindu religion – The Eternal Religion.
What is at present called Hindu Religion had no specific name in ancient Sanskrit Literature. The old sages knew of one religion only, and hence a specific name for this religion, was not necessary, nay it was not possible. To them it was simply Religion. It is only in the later literature that the word Hindu is met with. Moreover, the Hindu Religion does not owe its foundation and spread to the genius of any single man like Buddhism, Christianity and Mahomedanism. We owe it to the religious consciousness of the whole of the Indo-Aryan Race. We cannot say in what century, nay in what millennium, the Hindu Religion was first conceived. Its beginning is truly unknown. Hence it may, with some propriety, be called the eternal Religion.
There is yet another implication in the employment of the term Eternal Religion for the Hindu Religion. It implies that beneath the changing phases of the Hindu Religion, there is something that is unchanging, something that is permanent, and something that is eternal. In the Mahabharata, we often read of an eternal religion to which all sincere thinkers have invited the devotion of their fellowmen since the dawn of history.
Brotherhood of Religions.
We have already seen what Religion is. It is man's search for God or the means to the unfolding of the God consciousness in man. Or it may be said to be man's idea of his relation to the universe. Almost all religions agree in so far as they all believe in the existence of God. We will see later on in what other respects also they agree.
Any of us pausing for a moment on the title "Brotherhood of Religions" may very well exclaim "Well! Whatever else religions may be, most certainly they are not brotherly." And it is unhappily true that if we look into the religious history of the immediate past we shall find therein very little brotherhood; rather shall we find the religions fighting the one against the other, battling which shall be predominant and crush its rivals to death. Religious war have been the most cruel; religious persecutions have been the most merciless; crusade, inquisitions, horrors of every kind blot with blood and tears the history of religious struggles; what mockery it seems amid bloody battlefields and lucid flames of countless stakes, to prate of "The Brotherhood of Religions."
Nor is it even between religion and religion that the continual strife is carried on. Even within the pale of a single religion sects are formed which often wage war against each other. Christianity has become a bye-word among non-Christian nations by the mutual hatreds of the followers of the "prince of peace."
Roman Catholics and Anglicans, Lutherans and Calvinists Wesleyans, Baptists &c. &c., disturb the peace of the nations with their infuriated controversies.
Islam has the fierce quarrels of its shiahs and sunnis.
Even in Hinduism there are now bigoted camps of Vaishnavas and Shaivas, who denounce each other. Religions controversy has become the type of everything most bitter and most unbrotherly in the struggles of man with man.
It was not always thus the antagonism between religions is a plant of modern growth, grown out of the seed of an essentially modern claim – the claim of a single religion to be unique and alone inspired. In the old world there were many religions, and for the most part religion was a national thing so that the man of one nation had no wish to convert the man of another nation.
Each nation had its own religion, as it had its own laws and its own customs, and men were born into and remained in the creed of their fatherland. Hence if we look back into the history of the old world, we shall be struck with the rarity of religious wars. We shall further observe that within a single religion there were many schools of thought which existed side by side without hatred. Hinduism has its six systems of Philosophy, six points of view – and while the philosophers wrangle and debate, and each school defends its own positions, there is no lack of brotherly feeling, and all the philosophies are still taught within one patashala or religious school. Even in one philosophic system, the Vedanta, then are three recognized sub-division – Advaita, Vishistadvaita and Dvaita – differing on the most fundamental of teachings – viz., the relation between Jeevatma and Paramatma the Human soul and the Divine soul.
A man may belong to any one of the three or to none of them and yet remain a good Hiada though, as said above, in these modern days religious sectarianism has become more bitter.
In the mighty empire of Ancient Rome all creeds were welcomed, all religions respected, even honored. In the Pantheon of Rome, i.e., the temple of all Gods, the images that symbolized the Gods of every subject nation were to be found and the Roman citizens showed reverence to them all. And if a new nation came within the circle of the Empire, and that nation adored a form of God other than those forms already worshipped, the images or symbols of the Gods of the new daughter nation, were borne with all honor to the pantheon of the Motherland, and were reverently enshrined therein. Thus thoroughly was the old would permeated by the liberal idea that religion was a personal or national affair with which none had the right to interfere God was everywhere; He was in everything; what mattered the form in which he was adored? He was one unseen eternal Being with many names; what mattered the title by which He was invoked? The watchword of the religious liberty of the old world rings out in the splendid declaration of Shri Krishna: - "However men approach Me, even so do I welcome them for the path men take from every side is Mine.
Swami Vivekananda's words in World's Fair address conveys the same idea. "As the different streams having their sources in different places all mingle their water in the Sea, oh, Lord, so the different paths which men take through different tendencies various though they appear, crooked or straight all lead to them."
The first time that religions persecution stained the annals of Imperial Rome was when young Christianity came into conflict with the state, and the blood of Christians washed, not as religious sectaries but as political traitors and as disturbers of the public peace. The Christians claimed supremacy over the older religions, and thus provoked hatred and tumults; they attacked the religions which had hitherto lived in peace side by side, declaring that they alone were right and all others wrong; they aroused resentment by their aggressive and intolerant attitude, causing disturbances wherever they went. Still more they gave rise to the most serious suspicious of their loyalty to the state, by refusing to take part in the ordinary ceremony of sprinkling incense in the fire before the statue of the reigning Emperor and denounced the practice as idolatrous; Rome saw her sovereignty challenged by the new religion and while carelessly tolerant of all religions she was fiercely intolerant of any political insubordination. As rebels, not as heretics, she flung the Christians to the lions, and chased them from her cities into caves and deserts. It was this claim of Christianity to be the only true religion, which gave birth to two religious persecution, first of Christianity then by it.
For as long as your religion is yours, and mine is mine, and neither claims to impose his religion on the other, no question of persecution can arise. But if I say. "Your conception of God is wrong and mine is right, I only have the truth, and I only can point out the way of salvation, if you do not accept my idea you will be damned", then if I can logical and in the majority. I must be a prosecutor, for it is kinder to roast misbelievers here than to allow them to spread their misbelief and thus damn themselves and others for ever.
If I am in a minority, I am likely to be persecuted; for men will not readily tolerate the arrogance of their fellowmen, who will not allow them to look at the heathens save through this special telescope.
Christianity from being persecuted became dominant, and seized the power of the state. This alliance between church and state made religious persecution half political.
Heresa in religion became disloyalty; Refusal to believe with the Head of the State became treason against that Head; and thus the sad story of Christendom was written, a story which all men who love religion, be they Christian or Non-Christians must read with shame, with sorrow almost with despair. And how the "Power that shapes our ends" has marked with national ruin, the evil results of unbrotherliness in religion, Spain carried on a fierce persecution against the Moors and the Jews; she burned them by thousands, she tortured them, and exiled them. The tears and the cries of the weak she crushed so pitilessly, became the avengers.
The result was that she sank from being the mistress of Europe, to the little regarded power she is today.
Islam caught from Christianity the deadly disease of persecution. The name of Mohammed the merciful was used to sharpen the swords of his followers; and in India the doom of the Moghul Empire rang out in the cries of the dying slaughtered for their faith by Aurangzeb. Going back to the Hindu period we can see how the Buddhists were massacred by the Brahmans throughout India.
In India as in Spain, religious persecution has resulted in political disaster.
Thus is the need for Brotherliness enforced by the destruction that waits on unbrotherliness. A law of nature is as much proved by the breaking of all that opposes it as by the enduring of all that is in harmony with it. The multiplicity of religious beliefs would be an advantage, not an injury to Religion, if the religions were a Brotherhood instead of a battlefield. For each religion has some peculiarity of its own, something to give to the would which the others cannot give. Each religion speaks one letter of the great name of God, the One without a second, and that name will only be spoken when every religion sounds out the letter given it to voice, in melodious harmony with the rest. God is so great, so illimitable, that no one brain of man, however great, no one religion however perfect, can express his infinite perfection. It needs a universe in its totality to mirror him, nay countless universes cannot exhaust him. A star may tell of His radiance. A planet may tell of His Order, revolving in unchanging rhythm. A forest may whisper His Beauty, a mountain His strength, a river His fertilizing Life.
But no object, no grace of form, no splendor of color, nay, not even the heart of man in which He dwells, can show out the manifold perfection of that endless wealth of Being. Only a fragment of His glory is seen in every object, in every mode of life, and only the totality of all things, past, present and to come, can image out in their endlessness His infinitude.
And so also a religion can only show forth some aspects of that myriad faced existence. What does Hinduism say to the world? It say Dharma – law, order, harmonious dutiful growth, the right place of each right duty, right obedience. What does Zoroastrianism say? It says purity – stainless acts of thought, of word and of act. What does Buddhism say? It says wisdom knowledge all-embracing wedded to perfect Love, Love of man, service of humanity, a perfect compassion the gathering of the lowest and the weakest into the tender arms of the Lord of Love himself. What does Christianity say? It says self-sacrifice, and takes the cross as its dearest symbol, remembering that whenever one human spirit crucifies the lower nature and rises to the Supreme, there the cross shines out.
And what does Islam say? It says submission – self surrender to the one Will that guides the worlds and so sees that Will everywhere that it cannot see the little human wills, that live only as they blend themselves with it.
We cannot afford to lose any one of these words, summing up the characteristics of each great faith; so while recognizing the differences of Religions, let us recognize them that we may learn, rather than that we may criticize. Let the Christian teach us what he has to teach, but let him not refuse to learn from his brother of Islam or his brother of any other creed, for each has something to learn, and something also to teach. And, verily, he best preaches his religion who makes it his motive power in love to God and service to man.
Let us see why we should not quarrel apart from these general principles. Because all the great truths of Religion are common properly, do not belong exclusively to any faith. That is why nothing vital is gained by changing from one religion to another. We need not travel over the whole field of the religions of the world in order to find the water of truth. Dig in the field of your own religion, and go deeper, till you find the spring of the water of life gushing up pure and full.
Is the above sentence on the universality of religious truths true in fact or is it only verbiage?
We cannot but repeat that the fundamental doctrines underlying the principles taught by all the religion of the world are exactly the same. This identity, this unity in diversity can be recognized only by those who have unbiased minds and deep insights. Whereas there has been controversies after controversies between the theologians of the various religions, there existed a unity among the minds of the saints of the various religions. The saints agree when the theologians do not. Intellectually there exists a diversity whereas spiritually there is unity.
Great men have formulated in diverse ages, in diverse ways the facts of the universe.
And the teachings about these facts as thus formulated by them form the doctrine of the various religions. Mention may be made of some of the doctrines common to many religions are: -
1. The unity of God.
2. The trinity of the manifestations of the power of God.
3. The emanation of Jeevatma or the human soul from the Paramatma or the Diving Spirit.
4. Immortality and reincarnation of souls.
&c. &c. &c.
But any how these religions must necessarily vary in some points, with the variations and the limitations of the human mind that framed their dogmas. But this is a matter to rejoice over not to deplore, for the many views of truth give fullness and roundness to its presentations. And each man's thoughts enrich the ever growing heritage of humanity. This variety of religions is a beauty and not a defect. As the various colors of the sky and sea and land are all due to the variety of combinations of matter which take from the one white light, the constituents they need and throw back the rest in gorgeous play of colors; so also do men a varying minds assimilate what they require of the one Truth and yield the manifold splendors of religious thought. Rightly seen all religions might be considered as sects in one universal religion – when this is recognized Religion will become once more a binding instead of a disintegrating force and will work for peace instead of moving to war.