James Freeman Clarke.

Ten great religions: an essay in comparative theology online

. (page 1 of 47)
Online LibraryJames Freeman ClarkeTen great religions: an essay in comparative theology → online text (page 1 of 47)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook












" Prophets who have been since the world began." LUKE i. 70.

" Gentiles .... who show the work (or influence) of the (that) law which is written la
their hearts." ROMANS ii. 15.

" God .... hath made of one blood all nations of men for to dwell on all the face of
the earth .... that they should seek the Lord, if haply they may feel after him and find
him." ACTS xvlii. 24-2T.


1872 .

Entered according to Act of Congress, in the year 1871,

in the Office of the Librarian of Congress, at Washington.





CFfjtg ESSorfc



first six chapters of the present volume are com-
posed from six articles prepared for the Atlantic
Monthly, and published in that magazine in 1868. They
attracted quite as much attention as the writer antici-
pated, and this has induced him to enlarge them, and
add other chapters. His aim is to enable the reader to,
become acquainted with the doctrines and customs of the
principal religions of the world, without having to con-
sult numerous volumes. He has not come to the task
without some preparation, for it is more than twenty-
five years since he first made of this study a speciality.
In this volume it is attempted to give the latest results
of modern investigations, so far as any definite and trust-
worthy facts have been attained. But the writer is well
aware of the difficulty of being always accurate in a task
which involves such interminable study and such an
amount of details. He can only say, in the words of a
Hebrew writer : " If I have done well, and as is fitting
the story, it is that which I desired ; but if slenderly and
meanly, it is that which I could attain unto."





1. Object of the present Work 1

2. Comparative Theology ; its Nature, Value, and present Position . 3

3. Ethnic Keligions. Injustice often done to them by Christian Apol-

ogists 4

4. How Ethnic Religions were regarded by Christ and his Apostles . 9

5. Comparative Theology will furnish a new Class of Evidences in

Support of Christianity 13

6. It will show that, while most of the Religions of the World are Eth-

nic, or the Religions of Races, Christianity is Catholic, or adapted
to become the Religion of all Races 16

7. It will show that Ethnic Religions are partial, Christianity universal 21
i 8. It will show that Ethnic Religions are arrested, but that Christianity

is steadily progressive . . .29



1. Peculiarities of Chinese Civilization 32

2. Chinese Government based on Education. Civil-Service Examina-

tions 38

3. Life and Character of Confucius 44

4. Philosophy and subsequent Development of Confucianism . . 62

5. Lao-tse and Tao-ism s . 53

6. Religious Character of the " Kings." 67

7. Confucius and Christianity. Character of the Chinese . . .68

8. The Tae-ping Insurrection 62

^OTE. The Nestorian Inscription in China v . . . .71



1. Our Knowledge of Brahmanism. Sir William Jones . . .77

2. Difficulty of this Study. The Complexity of the System. The

Hindoos have no History. Their Ultra- Spiritualism. . . 81


3. Helps from Comparative Philology. The Aryans in Central Asia . 86
4. The Aryans in India. The Native Races. The Vedic Age. Theol-
ogy of the Vedas

5. Second Period. Laws of Manu. The Brahmanic Age . . .100
6. The Three Hindoo Systems of Philosophy, The Sankhya, Vedanta,

and Nvasa 114

7. Origin of the Hindoo Triad 123

8. The Epics, the Puranas, and Modern Hindoo Worship . . . 128
9. Relation of Brahmanism to Christianity 135



1. Buddhism, in its Forms, resembles Romanism; in its Spirit, Prot-
estantism 139

$ 2. Extent of Buddhism. Its Scriptures 146

3. Sakya-muni, the Founder of Buddhism 148

4. Leading Doctrines of Buddhism . . . . . . . 153

5. The Spirit of Buddhism Rational and Humane 156

6. Buddhism as a Religion 159

7. Karma and Nirvana 161

8. Good and Evil of Buddhism ........ 164

$ 9. Relation of Buddhism to Christianity 167



1. Ruins of the Palace of Xerxes at Persepolis 171

2. Greek Accounts of Zoroaster. Plutarch's Description of his Religion 175

3. Anquetil du Perron and his Discovery of the Zend Avesta. . . 178

4. Epoch of Zoroaster. What do we know of him ? . . . .180

5. Spirit of Zoroaster and of his Religion 182

6. Character of the Zend Avesta 187

7. Later Development of the System in the Bundehesch . . . 194

8. Relation of the Religion of the Zend Avesta to that of the Vedas . 201

9. Is Monotheism or pure Dualism the Doctrine of the Zend Avesta . 203

10. Relation of this System to Christianity. The Kingdom of Heaven . 204



1. Antiquity and Extent of Egyptian Civilization 209

2. Religious Character of the Egyptians. Their Ritual . . . 214

3. Theology of Egypt. Sources of our Knowledge concerning it . . 223

4. Central Idea of Egyptian Theology and Religion. Animal Worship 225

5. Sources of Egyptian Theology. Age of the Empire and Affinities

of the Race 230

6. The Three Orders of Gods 239

7. Influence upon Judaism and Christianity 250



1. The Land and the Race 259

2. Idea and general Character of Greek Religion .... 266

3. The Gods of Greece before Homer . 270

4. The Gods of the Poets - .277

5. The Gods of the Artists . . . 286

6. The Gods of the Philosophers 291

7. Worship of Greece . . ... .297

i 8. The Mysteries. Orphism 301

i 9. Relation of Greek Religion to Christianity 308



1. Origin and essential Character of the Religion of Rome . . .316

2. The Gods of Rome 321

3. Worship and Ritual 331

4. The Decay of the Roman Religion 339

5. Relation of the Roman Religion to Christianity 347



1. The Land and the Race 355

2. Idea of the Scandinavian Religion 362

3. The Eddas and their Contents 363

4. The Gods of Scandinavia 376

5. Resemblance of the Scandinavian Mythology to that of Zoroaster . 384

_ 6. Scandinavian Worship 385

7. Social Character, Maritime Discoveries, and Political Institutions of

the Scandinavians 387

8. Relation of this System to Christianity 390



" 1. Palestine, and the Semitic Races 397

2. Abraham; -or, Judaism as the Family Worship of a Supreme Being 402
3. Moses : or, Judaism as the national Worship of a just and holy King 409
4. David; or, Judaism as the personal Worship of a Father and 'Friend 421

5. Solomon; or, the Religious Relapse 428

6. The Prophets; or, Judaism as a Hope of a spiritual and universal

Kingdom of God 438

7. Judaism as a Preparation for Christianity . . . . . 444




1. Recent Works on the Life of Mohammed 448

| 2. The Arabs and Arabia . 452

3. Early Life of Mohammed, to the Hegira 454

4. Change in the Character of Mohammed after the Hegira . . 465
$ 5. Religious Doctrines and Practices among the Mohammedans . . 472
6. The Criticism of Mr.' Palgrave on Mohammedan Theology . . 478
| 7. Mohammedanism a Relapse; the worst Form of Monotheism, and a

retarding Element in Civilization 481

NOTE . 486




1. General Resnlts of this Survey . . 489

2. Christianity a Pleroma, or Fulness of Life 492

3. Christianity, as a Pleroma, compared with Brahmanism, Confu-

cianism, arid Buddhism 494

4. Christianity compared with the Avesta and the Eddas. The Duad

in all Religions 496

5. Christianity and the Religions of Egypt, Greece, and Rome . . 499

6. Christianity in Relation to Judaism and Mohammedanism. The

Monad in all Religions 501

7. The Fulness of Christianity is derived from the Life of Jesus . 504

8. Christianity as a Religion of Progress and of universal Unity . . 507




1. Object of the present Work. 2. Comparative Theology ; its Na-
ture, Value, and present Position. 3. Ethnic Religions. Injustice
often done to them by Christian Apologists. 4. How Ethnic Re-
ligions were regarded by Christ and his Apostles. 5. Compara-
tive Theology will furnish a new Class of Evidences in Support of
Christianity. 6. It will show that, while most of the Religions
of the World are Ethnic, or the Religions of Races, Christianity is
Catholic, or adapted to become the Religion of all Races. 7. It will
show that Ethnic Religions are Partial, Christianity Universal. 8.
It will show that Ethnic Religious are arrested, but that Christianity
is steadily progressive.

1. Object of the present Work.

THE present work is what the Germans call a Versuch,
and the English an Essay, or attempt. It is an at-
tempt to compare the great religions of the world with
each other. When completed, this comparison ought to
show what each is, what it contains, wherein it resembles
the others, wherein it differs from the others ; its origin
and development, its place in universal history ; its posi-
tive and negative qualities, its truths and errors, and its
influence, past, present, or future, on the welfare of man-
kind. For everything becomes more clear by comparison.
We can never understand the nature of a phenomenon
when we contemplate it by itself, as well as when we look
at it in its relations to other phenomena of the same kind.
The qualities of each become more clear in contrast with
those of the others. By comparing together, therefore,
i A


the religions of mankind, to see wherein they agree and
wherein they differ, we are able to perceive with greater
accuracy what each is. The first problem in Comparative
Theology is therefore analytical, being to distinguish each
religion from the rest. We compare them to see wherein
they agree and wherein they differ. But the next prob-
lem in Comparative Theology is synthetical, and considers
the adaptation of each system to every other, to deter-
mine its place, use, and value, in reference to universal
or absolute religion. It must, therefore, examine the dif-
ferent religions to find wherein each is complete or defec-
tive, true or false ; how each may supply the defects of
the other or prepare the way for a better ; how each
religion acts on the race which receives it, is adapted
to that race, and to the region of the earth which
it inhabits. In this department, therefore, it connects
itself with Comparative Geography, with universal his-
tory, and with ethics. Finally, this department of Com-
parative Theology shows the relation of each partial
religion to human civilization, and observes how each
religion of the world is a step in the progress of hu-
manity. It shows that both the positive and negative
side of a religion make it a preparation for a higher re-
ligion, and that the universal religion must root itself in
the decaying soil of partial religions. And in this sense
Comparative Theology becomes the science of missions.

Such a work as this is evidently too great for a single
mind. Many students must co-operate, and that through
many years, before it can be completed. This volume is
intended as a contribution toward that end. It will con-
tain an account of each of the principal religions, and
its development. It will be, therefore, devoted to the
natural history of ethnic and catholic religions, and its
method will be that of analysis. The second part, which
may be published hereafter, will compare these different
systems to show what each teaches concerning the great
subjects of religious thought, God, Duty, and Immor-
tality. Finally, it will compare them with Christianity,
and will inquire whether or not that is capable of becom-
ing the religion of the human race.


2. Comparative Theology ; its Nature, Valw, and present

The work of Comparative Theology is to do equal jus-
tice to all the religious tendencies of mankind. Its
position is that of a judge, not that of an advocate. As-
suming, with the Apostle Paul, that each religion has
come providentially, as a method by which different races
" should seek the Lord, if haply they might feel after him
and find him," it attempts to show how each may be a
step in the religious progress of the races, and " a school-
master to bring men to Christ." It is bound, however,
to abstain from such inferences until it has accurately
ascertained all the facts. Its first problem is to learn
what each system contains ; it may then go on, and enr
deavor to generalize from its facts.

Comparative Theology is, therefore, as yet in its infan-
cy. The same tendency in this century, which has pro-
duced the sciences of Comparative Anatomy, Comparative
Geography, and Comparative Philology, is now creating
this new science of Comparative Theology.* It will be
to any special theology as Comparative Anatomy is to
any special anatomy, Comparative Geography to any
special geography, or Comparative Philology to the study
of any particular language. It may be called a science,
since it consists in the study of the facts of human hisr
tory, and their relation to each other. It does not dogma.-
tize : it observes. It deals only with phenomena, single
phenomena, or facts ; grouped phenomena, or laws.

Several valuable works, bearing more or less directly
on Comparative Theology, have recently appeared in Ger-
many, France, and England. Among these may be men-
tioned those of Max Miiller, Bunsen, Burnouf, Dollinger,
Hardwicke, St. Hilaire, Diincker, F, C. Baur, Re"nan,
Creuzer, Maurice, G. W. Cox, and others.

In America, except Mr. Alger's admirable monograph
on the " Doctrine of the Future Life," we have scarcely
anything worthy of notice. Mrs. Lydia Maria Child's

* It is one of the sagacious remarks of Goethe, that "the eighteenth
century tended to analysis, but the nineteenth will deal with synthesis,"


work on the " Progress of Religious Ideas " deserves the
greatest credit, when we consider the time when it was
written and the few sources of information then accessi-
ble.* Twenty-five years ago it was hardly possible to pro-
cure any adequate information concerning Brahmanism,
Buddhism, or the religions of Confucius, Zoroaster, and
Mohammed. Hardly any part of the Vedas had been
translated into a European language. The works of
Anquetil du Perron and Kleuker were still the highest
authority upon the Zendavesta. About the Buddhists
scarcely anything was known. But now, though many
important lacunce remain to be filled, we have ample
means of ascertaining the essential facts concerning most
of these movements of the human soul. The time seems
to have come to accomplish something which may have
a lasting value.

3. Ethnic Religions. Injustice often done to them, ly
Christian Apologists.

Comparative Theology, pursuing its impartial course as
a positive science, will avoid the error into which most
of the Christian apologists of the last century fell, in
speaking of ethnic or heathen religions. In order to
show the need of Christianity, they thought it necessary
to disparage all other religions. Accordingly they have
insisted that, while the Jewish and Christian religions
were revealed, all other religions were invented ; that,
while these were from God, those were the work of man ;
that, while in the true religions there was nothing false,
in the false religions there was nothing true. If any trace
of truth was to be found in Polytheism, it was so mixed
with error as to be practically only evil. As the doc-
trines of heathen religions were corrupt, so their worship
was only a debasing superstition. Their influence was to
make men worse, not better ; their tendency was to pro-
duce sensuality, cruelty, and universal degradation. They
did not proceed, in any sense, from God ; they were not

* Professor Cocker's work on " Christianity and Greek Philosophy,"
should also be mentioned.


even the work of good men, but rather of deliberate
imposition and priestcraft. A supernatural religion had
become necessary in order to counteract the fatal conse-
quences of these debased and debasing superstitions.
This is the view of the great natural religions of the world
which was taken by such writers as Leland, Whitby, and
Warburton in the last century. Even liberal thinkers,
like James Foster * and John Loeke,^ declare that, at the
coming of Christ, mankind had fallen into utter darkness,
and that vice and superstition filled the world. Infidel
no less than Christian writers took the same disparaging
view of natural religions. They considered them, in their
source, the work of fraud ; in their essence, corrupt super-
stitions ; in their doctrines, wholly false ; in their moral
tendency, absolutely injurious ; and in their result, degen-
erating more and more into greater evil.

A few writers, like Cudworth and the Platonists, en-
deavored to put in a good word for the Greek philoso-
phers, but the religions of the world were abandoned to
unmitigated reprobation. The account which so candid
a writer as Mosheim gives of them is worth noticing, on
account of its sweeping character. " All the nations of the
world," he says, " except the Jews, were plunged in the
grossest superstition. Some nations, indeed, went be-
yond others in impiety and absurdity, but all stood
charged with irrationality and gross stupidity in matters of
religion." " The greater part of the gods of all nations were
ancient heroes, famous for their achievements and their
worthy deeds, such as kings, generals, and founders of

* James Foster has a sermon on " The Advantages of a Revelation," in
which he declares that, at the time of Christ's coming, "just notions of
God were, in general, erased from the minds of men. His worship was
debased and polluted, and scarce any traces could be discerned of the
genuine and immutable religion of nature."

t John Locke, in his " Reasonableness of Christianity," says that
when Christ came "men had given themselves up into the hands of
their priests, to fill their heads with false notions of the Deity, and
their worship with foolish rites, as they pleased ; and what dread or craft
once began, devotion soon made sacred, and religion immutable." "In
this state of darkness and ignorance of the true God, vice and supersti-
tion held the world." Quotations of this sort might be indefinitely mul-
tiplied. See an article by the present writer, in the " Christian Exam-
iner," March, 1857.


cities." " To these some added the more splendid and use-
ful objects in the natural world, as the sun, moon, and
stars ; and some were not ashamed to pay divine honors to
mountains, rivers, trees, etc." " The worship of these deities
consisted in ceremonies, sacrifices, and prayers. The cere-
monies were, for the most part, absurd and ridiculous,
and throughout debasing, obscene, and cruel. The pray-
ers were truly insipid and void of piety, both in their
form and matter." " The priests who presided over this
worship basely abused their authority to impose on the
people." " The whole pagan system had not the least effi-
cacy to produce and cherish virtuous emotions in the
soul ; because the gods and goddesses were patterns of
Vice, the priests bad men, and the doctrines false." *

This view of heathen religions is probably much exag-
gerated. They must contain more truth than error, and
must have been, on the whole, useful to mankind. We
do not believe that they originated in human fraud, that
their essence is superstition, that there is more falsehood
than truth in their doctrines, that their moral tendency
is mainly injurious, or that they continually degenerate
into greater evil.' No doubt it may be justly predicated
of all these systems that they contain much which is
false and injurious to human virtue. But the following
considerations may tend to show that all the religions of
the earth are providential, and that all tend to benefit

To ascribe the vast phenomena of religion, in their
variety and complexity, to man as their author, and to
suppose the whole a mere work of human fraud, is not
a satisfactory solution of the facts before us. That
priests, working on human ignorance or fear, should be
able to build up such a great mass of belief, sentiment,
and action, is like the Hindoo cosmogony, which sup-
poses the globe to rest on an elephant, the elephant on a
turtle, and the turtle on nothing at all.

If the people were so ignorant, how happened the
priests to be so wise ? If the people were so credulous,
why were not the priests credulous too ? " Like people,

* Mosheim's Church History, Vol. I. Chap. I.


like priests," is a proverb approved by experience.
Among so many nations and through so many centuries,
why has not some one priest betrayed the secret of the
famous imposition ? Apply a similar theory to any other
human institution, and how patent is its absurdity ! Let
a republican contend that all other forms of government
the patriarchal system, government by castes, the feu-
dal system, absolute and limited monarchies, oligarchies,
and aristocracies are wholly useless and evil, and were
the result of statecraft alone, with no root in human na-
ture or the needs of man. Let one maintain that every
system of law (except our own) was an invention of law-
yers for private ends. Let one argue in the same way
about medicine, and say that this is a pure system of
quackery, devised by physicians, in order to get a support
out of the people for doing nothing. We should at once
reply that, though error and ignorance may play a part in
all these institutions, they cannot be based on error and
ignorance only. Nothing which has not in it some ele-
ments of use can hold its position in the world during
so long a time and over so wide a range. It is only
reasonable to say the same v of heathen or ethnic religions.
They contain, no doubt, error and evil. No doubt priest-
craft has been carried very far in them, though not fur-
ther perhaps than it has sometimes been carried in Chris-
tianity. But unless they contained more of good than
evil, they could not have kept their place. They partially
satisfied a great hunger of the human heart. They exer-
cised some restraint on human wilfulness and passion.
They have directed, however imperfectly, the human con-
science toward the right. To assume that they are wholly
evil is disrespectful to human nature. It supposes man
to be the easy and universal dupe of fraud. But these
religions do not rest on such a sandy foundation, but
on the feeling of dependence, the sense of accountability,
the recognition of spiritual realities very near to this
world of matter, and the need of looking up and worship-
ping some unseen power higher and better than ourselves.
A decent respect for the opinions of mankind forbids us
to ascribe pagan religions to priestcraft as their chief


And a reverence for Divine Providence brings us to the
same conclusion. Can it be that God has left himself
without a witness in the world, except among the He-
brews in ancient times and the Christians in modern
times ? This narrow creed excludes God from any com-
munion with the great majority of human beings. The
Father of the human race is represented as selecting
a few of his children to keep near himself, and as leaving
all the rest to perish in their ignorance and error. And
this is not because they are prodigal children who have
gone astray into a far country of their own accord ; for
they are just where they were placed by their Creator.
HE " has determined the times before appointed and the
bounds of their habitation." HE has caused some to be
born in India, where they can only hear of him through
Brahmanism ; and some in China, where they can know
him only through Buddha and Confucius. The doctrine

Online LibraryJames Freeman ClarkeTen great religions: an essay in comparative theology → online text (page 1 of 47)