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CHRISTIANITY AND OTHER RELIGIONS JUDGED
BY THEIR FRUITS.
PRESIDENT JAMES B. ANGELL.
Delivered May 15th, 1892.
According to the teachings of the gospel of Christ, men, governments, religions, all institutions are like trees to be known by their fruits. We all agree that this is a just principle of judgment. If it does not bear good fruits, then no matter what authority is claimed for it, no matter how hoary with age are its institutions, no matter with what learning and eloquence it is defended, no matter how many millions of adherents it can boast, it must be and will be weighed in the balance and found wanting.
This standard, by which Christianity consents to be judged, it also applies in judging every other system of religion. There are not a few persons who, observing how different religions have sprung up in different countries, have called attention to some useful features of each and have attempted to persuade us that each is especially adapted to meet the wants of some nation and is better suited to their needs than any other religion, than even Christianity itself. Of course, it follows as a consequence, if their main position is right, that it is obtrusive, impertinent, and even harmful for the disciples of Christ to go everywhere preaching the gospel, and offering a lesser for a greater good. But Christianity claims to be a religion for all men, the best religion for all nations, better for the Arabs and
Turks than Mohammedanism, better for the Hindus than Brahmanism or Buddhism, better for the Chinese than Confucianism or Taoism, better for the Japanese than Shintoism, better for all men than any other or all other faiths, because it reveals to us more clearly than any other the will of God concerning man, and so makes better men and better institutions. It does not ignore whatever is good or true in them. It furnishes that and something more, and so by a natural process supersedes them. As the morning sun with its floods of light drowns and quenches not only the misleading will-o'-the-wisps but also the very stars of night, so Christianity, if once received, supplants all other faiths and they vanish from our sight.
In spite of the intimations or statements of some modern writers that after all there is not so much to choose between the chief religions of the world, since each has certain merits and meets some deep wants of believers in it, I do not see how an impartial man can observe the fruits borne by non-Christian systems and those borne by Christianity without recognizing the immense superiority of Christianity as an actual working force among men.
I admit the difficulty of determining with precision exactly what results in a human life or in the life of a nation are due to religion. Life is complex. The factors which shape it are many We cannot always measure the power of each factor. Still there are some results which are plainly due in a part to the religious beliefs of a man or a people. As we study the life of a nation, we can mark certain characteristic traits and tendencies, of which we can say with certainty that they are not due to race or climate or to anything but the religious belief of the nation.
Having been during my visit to Asia compelled to see the
operation of certain non-Christian systems, I have often been constrained to ask myself, "What fruits are lacking to them which Christianity yields?" Let me mention some of the answers which plain facts seem to suggest.
Now partly because some objectors to the superiority of Christianity set little or no store by what we may call the distinctly spiritual results of Christianity and partly to leave the case as strong as justice requires for the non-Christian religions, I will omit the consideration of what we call the spiritual results of Christian faith and contemplate only some of those ethical, social and intellectual results of Christianity which mark its superiority to all other faiths. These are the kinds of results whose value none can question.
1. In the first place I think that Christianity has succeeded in strengthening beyond all other religions the fundamental virtue of truthfulness. No doubt the ethics of the Asiatic religions are higher than those of any other non-Christian system. But it is the universal testimony of travellers that veracity is appreciated nowhere in Asia as it is in Northern Europe and in this country Other virtues are set above it, as for instance in India kindness to animals; and in China filial respect. Lying is there a venial sin. To resort to it to escape from slight embarrassments surprises nobody
Now with us, while there are unhappily too many men who do not always tell the truth, yet I think all regard truthfulness as the keystone of character In the absence of this virtue we do not confidently look for any other. Experienced teachers will tell you that they cherish hopes of saving a wayward youth provided that he does not lie. But if he is a liar, there is nothing to build character on. The scripture thunders out its most terrible denunciations against lying and liars. It
withers and scorches the liar to a crisp in the blazing fires of its rebuke. Public opinion here brands a liar with unspeakable scorn and ineffable contempt. No man can retain the respect of decent men if his word is not good. Wherever Christianity is the purest and has the strongest hold on men, there the standard of truthfulness is highest and most rigorously respected. We so instinctively regard truthfulness as an essential of Christian character that we immediately pronounce any man or any nation, that lacks this virtue, unchristian. To have emphasized, developed and strengthened the virtue of veracity, this fundamental virtue, is not the least of the achievements of Christianity
2. Again the attention of the traveller is strikingly arrested by the surprising contrast in the position accorded to women in Christian and non-Christian countries. Often as I contemplated the wretched lot of women in Asia, did the pathetic words in which Goethe makes Iphigenia pour forth her pathetic plaint, spring to my lips. "Der Frauen Zustand ist beklagenswerth." "The condition of women is lamentable. Those words might be chiselled as an appropriate inscription on the gates of the cities and on the doorposts of the houses. So indeed it is in all the eastern world at present. Woman is doomed to ignorance. Her life has no width of horizon. She is the slave and the drudge of man. Her mind is not deemed worthy of education. I know of nothing in all the east so painful to the view of men from a Christian land as the condition of
It is only where the gospel has shed its light, that woman is recognized as the companion of man, with faculties susceptible and deserving of as careful training as his, with a soul touched to finer issues than his, with duties, if in some respects different,