The Louisville Ky.
(Editorial that appeared on March 21, 1897)
The Courier-Journal has received a peculiar appeal from far-off Calcutta . It is reasonable enough, doubtless, from the standpoint of those who send it, surrounded as they are by the atmosphere of Hinduism and Buddhism, but to us here, with an entirely different environment, it has in it something that borders on the ludicrous. The appeal comes from the " College Young Men/s Christian Association of Calcutta ," and is signed by its Secretary, W. W. White, d.d., PH.D. We are asked : " What have you to say of the likelihood of America abandoning Christianity and adopting either Hinduism or Mahommedanism in its stead ?"
Along with this letter comes a long editorial from the Indian Mirror, Calcutta , under the caption " Swami Vivekananda." That our readers may not be misled, it is necessary to explain that Swami Vivekananda is not a religion, a dogma, a tropical fruit or other Indian product, an idol, or an insect, but the title and name of a person who is supposed to have set on foot the conversion of the United States to Vedantism, or some other sort of Indian religion. In fact, he is reported to have made Eastern religious ideas so popular in the United States that both Hindus and Buddhists—we follow the Mirror's spelling—are said to have forgotten their own differences and joined to welcome him back, recognizing the gratitude which they both owe him. It appears that on his return to India he was hailed everywhere as a
“ conquering hero," not of war but of peace, as one who has spread " a religion which teaches the highest doctrine of peace and brotherhood among mankind." It is also stated that he has "raised the Hindu nation in the estimation of the Western world, and has created for the Hindu faith an interest which will last, through all time."
It is perhaps natural that statements of this sort, made with such confidence in a city largely populated by people of another faith, should disturb the minds of Christian residents there. Not that they doubt the ultimate triumph of Christianity, for on that point the letter of Dr. White speaks in no uncertain tone. But the Mirror's editorial is well calculated to awake apprehensions in the minds of those who do not know that it is the very " madness of the moon," unsupported by any facts that can possibly serve as the basis for generalizations so broad and sweeping, or, indeed, for any generalizations at all.
The specifications in the editorial referred to are not so alarming. It is stated that " hundreds of men and women have enlisted under the standard that he (Vivekananda) unfolded in America , and some of them have even taken to the bowl and the yellow robes." Very likely this is true. It is certain that hundreds had taken to the bowl before the Swami arrived, and other hundreds had appeared in yellow robes; but this, we take it, was in an entirely different sense from that in which the Mirror uses the terms. Possibly some hundreds of people have professed to believe in Hinduism, but these are not converts. They are mere dilletanti, who, having grown weary of a course of hypocritical adherence to Christianity, are seeking some new diversion and possible social distinction by professing conversion to a religion whose tenets they no more understand than they comprehend the religion which they have renounced. Among them there are probably a very few real inquirers, but the mass of them have no capacity for weighing evidence, and if they had are not really in earnest. Their temporary interest in Hinduism, Buddhism or Mohammedanism is a mere dissipation of idle people craving a new sensation.
Even if these few hundred men and women were in deadly earnest, it would not signify anything whatever. So many converts may be easily commanded in this country for any fantastical scheme under the name of religion that any one chooses to invent. There is an arrant fakir out in Illinois who claims to be Jesus Christ, who has captured a number of people by his transparent lies, and is running a harem which he calls Heaven, giving out that the children born there have the Holy Ghost for their father. That many of his disciples are in earnest is evinced by the fact that they have surrendered their property to him, and work for him like slaves. In various other parts of the country there are similar fakirs, teaching all sorts of follies, and devoutly believed in by small bands.
Of foolish men and women, who accept their confident statements as divine revelations.
Do these things afford any evidence that Christianity is being superseded in the United States by other religions ? Not the slightest. They are mere ripples on the surface of the ocean. The various Christian churches are going on from year to year growing stronger in numbers, in influence, in financial ability, in the range and scope of their work, both for the conversion of the world and for ameliorating the condition of mankind in this life. More and more the churches realize the necessity that civilization must accompany Christianity ; that education must crystallize the teachings of the missionary ; that the moral and social condition of the converts must be bettered with the change of faith. Hence the teacher and the physician are going with the missionary, healing the bodies and enlightening the minds of the heathen at the same time that efforts a*re made for the salvation of their souls. The progress of the Christian work is not noticeably impeded by the few hundreds that are crying out in favor of some foreign creed, or some domestic fakir claiming divine honors. The mass of the people are hardly aware of the existence of these erratic believers, and entirely unacquainted with their beliefs.So far as the religions of India are concerned, they can make little impression in the United States , even among those who never believed in Christianity or have renounced that belief. They are not adapted to the Western mind, to Western habits of thought or Western customs. In fact, the teachings of Hinduism or Buddhism are largely incomprehensible to our people. We have unbelievers enough in Christianity, but most of them still recognize the fact that it is the religion of the most enlightened and most progressive people of the world, and that a reversion to Hinduism or Mohammedanism would be a distinctly backward movement in the scale of civilization. The prospect of the United States becoming Hindu, or Buddhist, or Mohammedan, is just about equal to the probability that scientific discovery will convince people that snakes are developed from horsehairs. Christianity is here to stay, and our friends at Calcutta are fully justified in making a note of it.
- www.vivekananda.net edited by Frank Parlato Jr.