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COMPARISON OF CHRISTIAN AND HEATHEN CIVILIZATIONS.

{The following lecture was delivered March 10th, 1898, in University Hall, Lebanon, Ohio, before the assembled students and faculty of all the departments of the University, by Elder H. M. Curry.}

In casting about for a subject for this occasion I hit upon the one announced to you from the Chair. I have chosen this theme for two or three reasons. In the first place it embodies many facts that are useful to mention; and in the second place, I have an idea in my mind which I can best get out along this line of discussion.

Do not be scared at the word Heathen; that is not such a bad word; it does not mean cannibal; it simply means in this connection those great nations of antiquity that reached the zenith of glory before the advent of Christ, or before it became fashionable to call everything Christian. Neither would I have you to attach undue importance to the word Christian; that does not mean anything now. In this connection it simply means those great warlike nations that have sprung up within the christian era, and profess the Christian religion.

The only medium of comparison between the civilizations of different periods or nations is what the people have thought, said and done. This is exemplified in their language, literature and works of art. There is no higher criterion by which to try the universal greatness of a people than their language. The facilities for the expression of thought are an unerring index to the character of the thought itself. Language was undoubtedly brought to the greatest perfection by the Greeks, several centuries before Christ. No people ever had so beautiful or refined a language, or spoke it with so much purity and grace. The Greek sentence was agitated throughout its length and depth by the stress of expression. The whole paragraph trembled from end to end when the thrill of life awoke in any of its parts. This language with its multitudinous endings all in harmonious accord lay like a beautiful meadow of stately grass swaying and waving in the breezes of thought. The thrill of joy, the message of defiance, the moan of the disconsolate, the palm of battle, the shout of victory, every emotion, every mood that the mind of man in his most vigorous estate is capable of experiencing, swept in rolling billows over the pulsating bosom of this beautiful speech. The Roman or Latin language was less beautiful, perhaps, than the Greek, but in many respects it was one of the most precise, expressive and artistic languages that ever graced the lips or stirred the heart of man. Where language was brought to such matchless perfection, there the very highest type of civilization must have existed.

The literature of a people forms a highway into the very heart of their mental and moral culture, their aesthetic tastes and religious notions is an exponent of every element and fact of their civilization. The literature of the Greeks and Romans, as to originality, literary merit, and influence on the world, surpasses that of all the so-called Christian nations; and as to moral elements, it is equal to that of any modern people. When we read the exquisite wit and keen satire of Horace, the stately and highly finished hexameters of Virgil, or the fiery, impetuous effusions of Homer, we are not conscious of the vast flood of years that rolls between us and our author. He identifies himself so closely with our own times that we forget we are reading what a Heathen wrote two thousand years ago. On comparing the Iliad of Homer, and the Aeneid of Virgil, the two great Heathen epics, with Dante’s Inferno, and Milton’s Paradise Lost, the two great Christian epics, we find that the Heathen writers excelled the Christian authors in everything but heathenism itself. Dante’s Inferno, as everyone knows, embodies all the so-called Christian learning up to the thirteenth century, and is more essentially heathen in every respect than the works of Virgil from which it is largely borrowed. Milton’s Paradise Lost, which has been esteemed by the Protestants nearly as sacred as the Bible itself, bears the stamp of Heathenism upon its forehead. It opens with the customary invocation to the Heavenly Muse, the Heathen goddess of poetry, and then proceeds to turn the angels into soldiers, to make heaven a battlefield and the hatching place and nursery of devils, to put Christ in uniform, and make God a militia general.

Some of the most wonderful literary productions are of the greatest antiquity. While Isaiah was a little lad, roaming the olive-crowned hills of old Judea, receiving instruction in the Jewish Law from Israel’s Rabbis, Homer was playing in boyish glee under the sunny skies of Greece, finding tongues in trees, books in the running brooks, sermons in stones, and beauty in everything; and as Isaiah the prophet proclaimed to the inhabitants of Jerusalem his heaven-born warnings, denunciations and gospel promises, in all the grandeur, imagery and vigor of Hebrew poetry, Homer was delighting the ear, swelling the heart and molding the character of aesthetic Greeks by the recital of his impetuous Iliad. Although this poem is of so ancient date, it has never been equaled in the history of literature. It has wielded a broader, more varied and perpetual influence over the human race than all other books ever written. It inspired the heart of the Greek to all that was beautiful in thought, noble in character and patriotic in deed. It incited the ambition of Alexander to conquer the world. It has shaped the literature and refined the tastes of all literary nations, and it rules England today through the statesmanship of Gladstone, and through English rule influences the whole civilized world.

The literature of the ancients was generally of a high order, and their refined and cultured tastes did not furnish a highway for such foolish, trashy, worthless productions as flood the Christian nations. The current modern literature is entitled to any other name than that of Christian. It is a flood of infidelity, a deluge of skepticism, a gulf stream of rubbish, with here and there a volume of truth drifted aside in some out of way eddy. From the standpoint of literature the Heathen nations surpassed the Christian civilization.

In oratory, the noblest, most exalted and sublime accomplishment that ever adorned an individual or blessed a nation, the Heathen Greeks and Romans stand unrivaled. At the head of that magnetic company who have swayed the world by eloquence stands Demosthenes, a Heathen master of diction, fountain of eloquence, king of orators. His oration on the crown is universally and justly acknowledged the most brilliant contest of oratory that the world has ever known. Cicero’s orations are still studied as matchless models in diction, logic, eloquence and power. For simplicity, dignity, grandeur, intellectual and moral force, the great Heathen orators of Athens and Rome are altogether without a parallel in the history of eloquence.

In statesmanship the Greeks and Romans have never been surpassed. From their wisdom and experience all Christian nations have drawn instruction. Many of these Heathen statesmen were men of the purest motives, the broadest experience and the profoundest wisdom. The English Constitution and English Law were derived from the Roman Codes and Constitution. Blackstone was not a lawgiver, but a commentator on law which had come down from the remotest antiquity. Solon and Lycurgus, so far as is known, were lawmakers, and to them the nations are more indebted for common and civil law than to Moses, Israel’s lawgiver.

The ancient philosophers still hold sway in the world of thought. Aristotle, Socrates and Plato, will never die. In the most eminent seats of modern learning the principles of philosophy laid down by them have never been displaced.

Architecture, the most necessary and useful of all arts, was brought to the greatest perfection by the remote Heathen nations. Before Moses wrote the Pentateuch, or the smoke ascended from Jewish altars, the pyramids, the sphinx, the wonderful temples of Thebes, the walls and palaces of Nineveh, had been built, exemplifying taste and skill in architecture, and a knowledge of mechanics far in advance of anything known at the present day. The marble wilderness of Athens eclipses the world in examples of architectural beauty, symmetry and grace. The Parthenon is universally acknowledged to have been the most perfect specimen of architecture that has ever adorned this earth. It has long been the wonder, admiration and delight of poets, travelers and artists of all nations.

If the history of Greece had never been written, the Parthenon alone would testify to the superior greatness of that people. What a civilization that must have been that found a man to decree, an architect to design, a sculptor to adorn, statuaries to execute, workmen to carve, and a people to pay for and maintain such an edifice.

In sculpture and painting the Greeks stand unrivaled. Their models have fixed the standard of taste for all nations. The statues of Palos Athena and Olympian Zeus, executed in ivory and gold by Phidias, for massiveness, expensiveness, majestic expression and every element of grace and beauty, are unsurpassed in the history of art. Painting, in all that is essential or beautiful, was brought to the greatest perfection several centuries before Christ; by Polygustus, Appollodorus, Zeuxis and Parrhasius.

In domestic life the Romans displayed every indication of a superior civilization. Their extravagance in ornaments, dress, sumptuous living and magnificent furniture excelled all modern nations. The palaces of Nero glittered with gold and jewels; perfumes and flowers showered from ivory ceilings. The halls of the nobles were hung with cloth of gold enriched with precious stones. They rode in gilded chariots. They bathed in marble baths. They slept on beds of down upon bedsteads of silver. They dined from gold plate upon tables of Delian bronze and pure gold. They drank from crystal cups. They wore embroidered robes adorned with jewels and precious stones. They decorated their houses with carpets from Babylon, onyx cups from Bithynia, bronzes from Corinth, and statues from Athens. Although this incredible luxury was an evil to society, yet it is an evidence of their matchless civilization.

A tree is known by its fruit. Such beautiful, expressive and adequate language; such acute, refined and sensitive wit; such noble, endearing and marvelous achievements in literature; such pure, true and self-sacrificing patriotism; such unwavering, invincible and incontestable courage; such ardent, devoted and exquisite love of the beautiful; such masterly, skillful and unequaled genius in sculpture; such massive, beautiful and sublime works of architecture; such keen, subtle and exhaustive philosophy; such wise, unselfish and profound statesmanship; such dignified, brilliant and overwhelming oratory, as has been exemplified in the ancient Heathen nations, is the most conclusive evidence of a civilization, in many respects superior to anything known at the present time or that we can ever hope to see again.

This civilization was evolved without a Bible, without a church, or any of the religious machinery at work in the world today. This is conclusive evidence against that foolish, traditional, superstitious notion extant that the Bible is the only civilizer, and the only way from barbarism to civilized life is through the medium of the Christian church.

It may be objected that the Christian civilization surpasses that of the Heathen in morals, virtue and forbearance. The objection is more easily made than sustained. England is a fair example of so-called Christian civilization. She is, perhaps, the greatest commercial and political power in the world at the present time, the greatest literary light of modern nations. Is she a model of Christian virtue? She has extended her dominion over the isles of the sea, in the name of Christianity. She has forced opium upon China and rum upon Africa in the name of gospel missions. She has planted her flag and standing armies in India in the name of the gospel of peace. She has starved Catholic Ireland for centuries in the spirit of Protestantism. England received her laws and Constitution from the Roman empire, her principles of freedom and independence, what little she has, from the ancient German barbarians, her indefatigable tact and perseverance from Anglo-Saxon ancestors, and her bigotry, intolerance and avarice from her religion. England taxes beggary to support royalty, and grinds the face of the poor to support a religious aristocracy. She has wielded the sword in the name of the cross, and lighted the fagots with the tapers from her altars. I do not thus mention England because she is a sinner above all nations, but because she is a fair example of so-called Christian civilization.

The Christian nations have excelled the Heathen nations in the arts of war. They have invented the revolver, the rifle and the bomb-shell. They have expended millions in constructing the most terrible and deadly engines of destruction. They are today educating, training and drilling five million men in the arts of wholesale slaughter. The world is covered with forts to protect Christians from other Christians and the seas are covered with iron monsters, built and engineered by Christians, to blow Christian brains out. Every Christian nation is groaning under a vast debt incurred in waging war with other Christian nations, or in evangelizing Heathens with sword and ball.

The religion of the Heathen was milder, more humane and tolerant than that of the Christian nations. It is true the Heathens sometimes offered human sacrifice; but that was mild indeed when compared with the Inquisition of Catholicism and the persecutions of Protestantism.

The victims for Heathen sacrifice were generally selected from the prisoners of war, while the martyrs of the Christian nations were the most earnest, devoted, liberty-loving characters among them. The Heathen nations have sacrificed their thousands, but the Christian nations have martyred their tens of thousands.

The greatest enemy that modern civilization has had to contend with is nominal Christianity. From the time it was taken out of the slums and placed upon the throne by the wickedest emperor Rome ever had, until the present time, it has tried by every contrivance to rule the world. It has proved to be the most grievous tax a nation has ever been burdened with; a tax not only upon the purse, but upon every energy of a nation; a tax too often levied upon the conscience and exacted in blood. When the spirit of freedom and progress refuses to acknowledge its authority, it cunningly adapts itself to every whim and caprice of society, and is ready to write its name upon every enterprise.

The accepted religion of the Christian nations is eclectic. Its philosophy is the old Greek anthropology, which was introduced into the catechetical school of Alexandria in the third century, and which has formed the basis of all theological seminary instruction ever since. The two principal church festivals of both Catholic and Protestant communions {I speak of Christmas and Easter Sunday,} were both derived directly from the ancient Heathen nations of northern Europe; and the modern Santa Klaus imposed upon the credulity of the Sunday School infants is a hobgoblin from the same source. A specially educated and salaried priesthood is an institution of the ancient Egyptians, older than Moses himself, and has been perpetuated through the intervening Heathen nations, and finally incorporated into the eclectic system of nominal Christianity. I would not have you think for one moment that I would deride in the least true Christianity. This I could not do; but I desire to state most emphatically that true Christianity is not national. It was never intended to be so. Christianity is not a former of states. That religion that seeks to ally itself with every species of worldly power, to monopolize all our educational institutions, and to manufacture all public opinion, is not the religion of Christ.

The careful analysis of the two civilizations, called Christian and Heathen, shows that the same elements enter into both, and the same facts are attendant upon both, and so far as their nature is concerned they are essentially the same. There does not exist that fundamental, basal distinction that would warrant upon a scientific basis the classification that the qualifying words Christian and Heathen would imply. Civilization is in no way dependent upon Christianity or the Bible. It is through the perversion of these institutions to that end that the name of Christianity and the Bible have been prostituted, and modern morals corrupted, and civilization cursed. In this is exemplified the truth of the proverb that, “The perversion of the best things often leads to the worst.” The present civilization bears more of the marks of Athens than Jerusalem, of the Greek Academic than the church, of Plato than of Christ.

H. M. Curry.