PROGRESS AND CULTURE
From H. P. Blavatsky Theosophical Articles, Vol. III.
Articles by HPB
Mated with a squalid savage--what to me were sun or clime?
WE, of the century claiming itself as the XIXth of our era, are very proud of our Progress and Civilization--Church and Churchmen attributing both to the advent of Christianity--"Blot Christianity out of the pages of man's history," they say, "and what would his laws have been?--what his civilization?" Aye; "not a law which does not owe its truth and gentleness to Christianity, not a custom which cannot be traced in all its holy and healthful parts to the Gospel."
What an absurd boast, and how easily refuted!
To discredit such statements one has but to remember that our laws are based on those of Moses--life for life and tooth for tooth; to recall the laws of the holy Inquisition, i.e., the burning of heretics and witches by the hecatomb, on the slightest provocation; the alleged right of the wealthiest and the strongest to sell their servants and fellow men into slavery, not to carry into effect the curse bestowed on Ham, but simply "to purchase the luxuries of Asia by supplying the slave market of the Saracens"; 1 [Footnote: 1. View of the State of Europe during the Middle Ages by H. H. Hallam, LL.D., F.R.A.S., p. 614. The author adds: "This trade was not peculiar to Venice. In England it was very common, even after the Conquest, to export slaves to Ireland; till in the reign of Henry II, the Irish came to a non-importation agreement which put a stop to the practice." And then, in a footnote: "William of Malmsbury accuses the Anglo-Saxon nobility of selling their female servants, even when pregnant by them, as slaves to foreigners " This is the Christian mode of dealing as Abraham with Hagar with a vengeance! ] and finally the Christian laws upheld to this day in England, and called women's disabilities, social and political. Moreover, as in the blessed days of our forefathers' ignorance, we meet now with such choice bits of unblushing blague as this, "We speak of our civilization, our arts, our freedom, our laws, and forget entirely how large a share of all is due to Christianity" (Rose).
Just so! "our laws and our arts," but neither "our civilization" nor "our freedom." No one could contradict the statement that these were won in spite of the most terrible opposition by the Church during long centuries, and in the face of her repeated and loud anathemas against civilization and freedom and the defenders of both. And yet, notwithstanding fact and truth, it is being constantly urged that even the elevated position (?!) of the Christian woman as compared with her "heathen" sister, is entirely the work of Christianity! Were it true, this would at best be but a poor compliment to pay to a religion which claims to supersede all others. As it is not true, however--Lecky, among many other serious and trustworthy writers, having shown that "in the whole feudal legislation (of Christendom) women were placed in a much lower legal position than in the Pagan Empire" --the sooner and the oftener this fact is mentioned the better it will be for plain truth. Besides this, our ecclesiastical laws are honeycombed as has been said, with the Mosaic element. It is Leviticus not the Roman code, which is the creator and inspirer of legislation--in Protestant countries, at any rate.
Progress, says Carlyle, is "living movement." This is true; but it is so only on the condition that no dead weight, no corpse shall impede the freedom of that "living movement." Now in its uncompromising conservatism and unspirituality the Church is no better than a dead body. Therefore it did and still does impede true progress. Indeed, so long as the Church--the deadliest enemy of the ethics of Christ--was in power, there was hardly any progress at all. It was only after the French Revolution that real culture and civilization had a fair start.
Those ladies who claim day after day and night after night with such earnest and passionate eloquence, at "Woman's Franchise League" meetings, their legitimate share of rights as mothers, wives and citizens, and still attend "divine" service on Sundays--prosecute at best the unprofitable business of boring holes through sea-water. It is not the laws of the country that they should take to task, but the Church and chiefly themselves. It is the Karma of the women of our era. It was generated with Mary Magdalene, got into practical expression at the hands of the mother of Constantine, and found an ever renewed strength in every Queen and Empress "by the grace of God." Judean Christianity owes its life to a woman--une sublime hallucinée, [Translation: a sublime hallucination -BNet Eds] as Renan puts it. Modern Protestantism and Roman Catholicism owe their illegitimate existence, again, to priest-ridden and church-going women; to the mother who teaches her son his first Bible lesson; to the wife or sister who forces her husband or brother to accompany her to church and chapel; to the emotional and hysterical spinster, the admirer of every popular preacher. And yet the predecessors of the latter have for fifteen centuries degraded women from every pulpit!
In Lucifer of October, 1889, in the article "The Women of Ceylon," we can read the opinion of Principal Donaldson, LL.D., of the University of St. Andrews, about the degradation of woman by the Christian Church. This is what he said openly in the Contemporary Review.
It is a prevalent opinion that woman owes her present high position to Christianity. I used to believe in this opinion. But in the first three centuries I have not been able to see that Christianity had any favorable effect on the position of women, but, on the contrary, that it tended to lower their character and contract the range of their activity.
How very correct then, the remark of H. H. Gardener, that in the New Testament "the words sister, mother, daughter, and wife, are only names for degradation and dishonor"!
That the above is a fact, may be seen in various works, and even in certain Weeklies. "Saladin" of the Agnostic gives in his last "At Random" eloquent proofs of the same by bringing forward dozens of quotations. Here are a few of these:
Mrs. Mary A. Livermore says: "The early Church fathers denounced women as noxious animals, necessary evils, and domestic perils."
Lecky says: "Fierce invectives against the sex form a conspicuous and grotesque portion of the writings of the fathers."
Mrs. Stanton says that holy books and the priesthood teach that "woman is the author of sin, who [in collusion with the devil] effected the fall of man."
Gamble says that in the fourth century holy men gravely argued the question, "Ought women to be called human beings?"
But let the Christian fathers speak for themselves. Tertullian, in the following flattering manner, addresses woman: "You are the devil's gateway; the unsealer of the forbidden tree; the first deserter from the divine law. You are she who persuaded him whom the devil was not valiant enough to attack. You destroyed God's image--man."
Clement of Alexandria says: "It brings shame to reflect of what nature woman is."
Gregory Thaumaturgus says: "One man among a thousand may be pure; a woman, never."
"Woman is the organ of the devil."--St. Bernard.
"Her voice is the hissing of the serpent."--St. Anthony.
"Woman is the instrument which the devil uses to get possession of our souls."--St. Cyprian.
"Woman is a scorpion."--St. Bonaventure.
"The gate of the devil, the road of iniquity."--St. Jerome.
"Woman is a daughter of falsehood, a sentinel of hell, the enemy of peace."--St. John Damascene.
"Of all wild beasts the most dangerous is woman."--St. John Chrysostom.
"Woman has the poison of an asp, the malice of a dragon."--St. Gregory the Great.
Is it surprising. with such instructions from the fathers, that the children of the Christian Church should not "look up to women, and consider them men's equals"?
Withal, it is emotional woman who, even at this hour of progress, remains as ever the chief supporter of the Church! Nay it is she again who is the sole cause, if we have to believe the Bible allegory, that there is any Christianity or churches at all. For only, imagine where would be both, had not our mother Eve listened to the tempting Serpent. First of all there would be no sin. Secondly, the Devil having been thwarted, there would be no need of any Redemption at all, nor of any woman to have "seed" in order that it should "bruise under its heel the serpent's head"; and thus there would be neither Church nor Satan. For as expressed by our old friend Cardinal Ventura de Raulica, Serpent-Satan is "one of the fundamental dogmas of the Church, and serves as a basis for Christianity." Take away that basis and the whole struggle topples overboard into the dark waters of oblivion.
Therefore, we pronounce the Church ungrateful to woman, and the latter no worse than a willing martyr; for if her enfranchisement and freedom necessitated more than an average moral courage a century ago, it requires very little now; only a firm determination.
Indeed, if the ancient and modern writers may be believed, in real culture, freedom, and self-dignity the woman of our century has placed herself far beneath the ancient Aryan mother, the Egyptian--of whom Wilkinson and Buckle say that she had the greatest influence and liberty, social, religious and political among her countrymen--and even the Roman matron. The late Peary Chand Mitra has shown, "Manu" in hand, to what supremacy and honor the women of ancient Aryavarta had been elevated. The author of the "Women of Ancient Egypt" tells us that "from the earliest time of which we can catch a glimpse, the women of Egypt enjoyed a freedom and independence of which modern nations are only beginning to dream." To quote once more from "At Random":
Sir Henry Maine says: "No society, which preserves any tincture of Christian institutions, is ever likely to restore to married women the personal liberty conferred on them by the Roman law."
The cause of "Woman's Rights" was championed in Greece five centuries before Christ.
Helen H. Gardener says: "When the Pagan law recognised her [the wife] as the equal of her husband, the Church discarded that law."
Lecky says: "In the legends of early Rome we have ample evidence both of the high moral estimate of women and of their prominence in Roman life. The tragedies of Lucretia and of Virginia display a delicacy of honor and a sense of the supreme excellence of unsullied purity which no Christian nation can surpass."
Sir Henry Maine, in his "Ancient Laws," says that "the inequality and oppression which related to women disappeared from Pagan laws," and adds:' "the consequence was that the situation of the Roman female became one of great personal and proprietary independence; but Christianity tended somewhat, from the very first, to narrow this remarkable liberty." He further says that "the jurisconsults of the day contended for better laws for wives, but the Church prevailed in most instances, and established the most oppressive ones."
Professor Draper, in his "Intellectual Development of Europe," gives certain facts as to the outrageous treatment of women by Christian men (the clergy included) which it would be exceedingly indelicate in me to repeat.
Moncure D. Conway says: "There is not a more cruel chapter in history than that which records the arrest, by Christianity, of the natural growth of European civilisation regarding women."
Neander, the Church historian, says: "Christianity diminishes the influence of woman."
Thus, it is amply proved that instead of an "elevated" position, it is a degraded one to which Christianity (or rather "Churchianity") has brought woman. Apart from this, woman has nought to thank it for.
And now, a word of good advice to all the members of Leagues and other societies connected with Woman's Rights. In our days of culture and progress, now that it is shown that in Union alone lies strength, and that tyrants can be put down only by their own weapons; and that finally we find that nothing works better than a "strike"--let all the champions of women's rights strike, and pledge themselves not to set foot in church or chapel until their rights are re-established and their equality with men recognised by law. We prophesy that before six months are over every one of the Bishops in Parliament will work as jealously as themselves to bring in bills of reformation and pass them. Thus will Mosaic and Talmudic law be defeated to the glory of--WOMAN.
But what are really culture and civilization? Dickens' idea that our hearts have benefited as much by macadam as our boots, is more original from a literary, than an aphoristical, standpoint. It is not true in principle, and it is disproved in nature by the very fact that there are far more good-hearted and noble-minded men and women in muddy country villages than there are in macadamised Paris or London. Real culture is spiritual. It proceeds from within outwards, and unless a person is naturally noble-minded and strives to progress on the spiritual before he does so on the physical or outward plane, such culture and civilization will be no better than whitened sepulchres full of dead men's bones and decay. And how can there be any true spiritual and intellectual culture when dogmatic creeds are the State religion and enforced under the penalty of the opprobrium of large communities of "believers." No dogmatic creed can be progressive. Unless a dogma is the expression of a universal and proven fact in nature, it is no better than mental and intellectual slavery. One who accepts dogmas easily ends by becoming a dogmatist himself. And, as Watts has well said: "A dogmatical spirit inclines a man to be censorious of his neighbors. . . . He is tempted to disdain his correspondents as men of low and dark understandings because they do not believe what he does."
The above finds its demonstration daily in bigoted clergymen, in priests and Rabbis. Speaking of the latter and of the Talmud in connection with progress and culture, we note some extraordinary articles in Les Archives Israelites, the leading organ of the French Jews, at Paris. In these the stagnation of all progress through fanaticism is so evident, that after reading some papers signed by such well-known names of men of culture as F. Crémieux (Clericalisme et Judaisme), A. Franck, a member of the Institute (Les Juifs et l'Humanité), and especially an article by Elie Aristide Astruc, "Grand rabbin de Bayonne, grand rabbin honoraire de la Belgique," etc.--("Pourquoi nous restons Juifs")--no one can detect the faintest trace of the progress of the age, or preserve the slightest hope of ever witnessing that which the Christians are pleased to call the moral regeneration of the Jews. This article (not to mention the others), written by a man who has an enormous reputation for learning and ability, bears on its face the proofs of what is intellectual culture, minus spirituality. The paper is addressed to the French Jews, considered as the most progressed of their race, and is full of the most ardent and passionate apology for Talmudic Judaism, soaked through and through with colossal religious self-opinionatedness. Nothing can approach its self-laudation. It precludes every moral progress and spiritual reformation in Judaism; it calls openly upon the race to exercise more than ever an uncompromising exclusiveness, and awakens the darkest and the most bigoted form of ignorant fanaticism. If such are the views of the leaders of the Jews settled in France, the hotbed of civilization and progress, what hope is there left for their coreligionists of other countries?
The article, "Why we remain Jews," is curious. A. Astruc, the learned author thereof, notifies his readers solemnly that the Jews have to remain nolens volens [Translation: whether willing or not -BNet Eds.] Jews, as not one of the existing religions could "satisfy the genius of the nation." "Were we forced to break with Judaism," he argues, "where is that other creed which could guide our lives?" He speaks of the star that once arose in the East and led the Magi to Bethlehem, but asks, "could the East, the cradle of religions, give us now a true creed? Never!" Then he turns to an analysis of Islamism and Buddhism. The former, he finds too dry in dogma and too ritualistic in form, and shows that it could never satisfy the Israelitish mind. Buddhism with its aspirations towards Nirvana, considered as the greatest realisation of bliss and "the most abstruse consciousness of non-being"(?) seems to him too negative and passive.
We will not stop to discuss this new phase of metaphysics, i.e., the phenomenon of non-being endowed with self-consciousness. Let us rather see the author's analysis of the two forms of Christianity--Roman Catholicism and Protestantism. The former with its Trinitarianism, and the dogmas of Divine Incarnation and Redemption, are incomprehensible "to the free mind of the Israelite"; the latter is too much scattered into innumerable sects to ever become the religion of the future. Neither of these two faiths "could satisfy a Jew," he says; therefore, the Rabbi implores his co-religionists to remain faithful to Judaism, or the Mosaic law, as this faith is the best and the most saving of all; it is, in short, as he puts it, "the ultimate as the highest expression of human religious thought."
This ultra-fanatical article has drawn the attention of several "Christian" papers. One of these takes its author to task severely for his fear of dogmas only because human reason is unable to comprehend them; as though, he adds, "any religious faith could ever be built upon reason"! This is well said, and would denote real progressive thought in the mind of the critic, had not his definition of belief in dogmas been a bona fide defence of them, which is far from showing philosophical progress. Then, the Russian reviewer, we are happy to say, defends Buddhism against the Rabbi's assault.
We would have our honorable friend understand that he is quite wrong in undervaluing Buddhism, or regarding it, as he does, as infinitely below Judaism. Buddhism with its spiritual aspiration heavenward, and its ascetic tendencies, is, with all its defects, most undeniably more spiritual and humanitarian than Judaism ever was; especially modern Judaism with its inimical exclusiveness, its dark and despotic kahal, its deadening talmudic ritualism, which is a Jewish substitute for religion, and its determined hatred of all progress(Nov. Vremya).
This is good. It shows a beginning, at any rate, of spiritual culture in the journalism of a country regarded hitherto as only semi-civilised, while the press of the fully civilised nations generally breathes religious intolerance and prejudice, if not hatred, whenever speaking of a pagan philosophy.
And what, after all, does our civilization amount to in the face of the grandiose civilizations of the Past, now so remote and so forgotten, as to furnish our modern conceit with the comforting idea that there never were any true civilizations at all before the advent of Christianity? Europeans call the Asiatic races "inferior" because, among other things, they eat with their hands and use no pocket-handkerchiefs. But how long is it that we, of Christendom, have ceased eating with our thumb and fingers, and begun blowing our noses with cambric? From the beginnings of the nations and down to the end of the XVIIIth century Christendom has either remained ignorant of, or scorned the use of, the fork. And yet in the Rome of the Cæsars, civilization was at the height of its development; and we know that if at the feasts of Lucullus, famous for their gorgeous luxury and sumptuousness, each guest chose his succulent morsel by plunging his fingers into a dish of rare viands, the guests of the Kings of France did the same as late as the last century. Almost 2,000 years rolled away, between Lucullus and the Pagan Caesars on the one hand and the latest Bourbons on the other, yet the same personal habits prevailed; we find the same at the brilliant courts of Francois I, Henry II, Louis XIII, and Louis XIV. The French historian, Alfred Franklin, gives in his interesting volumes La Vie privée d'autrefois du Xll au XVIII siècles, les Repas, etc., a mass of curious information, especially as to the etiquette and the laws of propriety which existed in those centuries. He who, instead of using daintily his three fingers, used the whole hand to fish a piece of food out of the dish, sinned as much against propriety in those days, as he who puts his knife to his mouth while eating, in our own day. Our forefathers had very strict rules on cleanliness: e.g., the three fingers being de rigueur, they could be neither licked, nor wiped on one's jacket, but had to be cleaned and dried after every course "on the table cloth." The VIth volume of the work named acquaints the reader with all the details of the sundry customs. The modern habit of washing one's hands before dinner--existing now in truth, only in England--was strictly de rigueur, not only at the courts of the French kings, but was a general custom, and had to be repeated before every course. The office was performed at courts by chamberlains and pages, who holding in their left hand a gold or silver basin, poured with their right hand out of a similar jug, aromatic, tepid water on to the hands of the diners. But this was in the reign of Henry III and IV. Two centuries later, in the face of progress and civilization, we see this custom disappearing, and preserved only at the courts and by the highest aristocracy. In the XVIth century it began to fall into desuetude: and even Louis the XIVth limited his ablutions to a wet napkin. In the midst of the bourgeoisie it had almost disappeared; and Napoleon 1st washed his hands only once before dinner. To-day no country save England has preserved this custom.
How much cleaner are the primitive peoples in eating than we are--the Hindus, for instance, and especially the Brahmans. These use no forks, but they take a full bath and change entirely their clothes before sitting down to dinner, during which they wash their hands repeatedly. No Brahman would eat with both his hands, or use his fingers for any other purpose while eating. But the Europeans of the eighteenth century had to be reminded, as we find in, various works upon etiquette, of such simple rules as the following: "It is considered improper, and even indecent, to touch one's nose, especially when full of snuff, while eating one's dinner" (loc. cit.). Yet Brahmans are "pagans" and our forefathers Christians. In China, native forks (chop-sticks) were used 1,000 years B.C., as they are now. And when was the fork adopted in Europe? This is what Franklin tells us:
Roasted meats were eaten with fingers as late as the beginning of this century. Montaigne remarks in his Essais that he more than once bit his fingers through his habitual precipitation in eating. The fork was known in the days of Henry III, but rarely used before the end of the last century. The wife of Charles le Bel (1324) and Clemence of Hungary had in their dowry each one fork only; and the Duchess of Tours had two. Charles V (1380) and Charles VI (1418) had in their table inventory only three golden forks--for fruit. Charlotte d'Albrey (1514) three likewise, which were, however, never used.
Germany and Italy adopted the fork at their meals a century earlier than did the French. Cornet, an Englishman, was much surprised, while travelling in Italy in 1609, to find "a strange-looking, clumsy, and dangerous weapon called a fork," used by the natives while eating. In 1651 we find Ann of Austria refusing to use this "weapon," and eating together with her son (Louis XIV) with her fingers. The fork came into general use only at the beginning of our own century.
Whither then shall we turn to find a corroboration of the mendacious claim, that we owe our civilization and culture, our arts, sciences, and all, to the elevating and benign influence of Christianity? We owe to it nothing--nothing at all, neither physically nor morally. The progress we have achieved, so far, relates in every case to purely physical appliances, to objects and things, not to the inner man. We have now every convenience and comfort of life, everything that panders to our senses and vanity, but not one atom of moral improvement do we find in Christendom since the establishment of the religion of Christ. As the cowl does not make the monk, so the renunciation of the old Gods has not made men any better than they were before, but only, perhaps, worse. At any rate, it has created a new form of hypocrisy--cant; nor has civilization spread as much as is claimed for it. London is civilized, but in truth--only in the West-end. As to the East-end with its squalid population, and its desolate wildernesses of Whitechapel, Limehouse, Stepney, etc., it is as uncultured and almost as barbarous as Europe was in the early centuries of our era, and its denizens, moreover, have acquired a form of brutality quite unknown to those early ages, and never dreamt of by the worst savages or modern heathen nations. And it is the same in every Christian metropolis, in every town and city; outward polish, inward roughness and rottenness--a Dead Sea fruit indeed!
The simple truth is that the word "civilization" is a very vague and undefined term. Like good and evil, beauty and ugliness, etc., civilization and barbarism are relative terms. For that which to the Chinaman, the Hindu, and the Persian would appear the height of culture, would be regarded by the European as a shocking lack of manners, a terrible breach of Society etiquette. In India the traveller is disgusted whenever he sees the native using his fingers instead of a pocket-handkerchief. In China, the Celestial is profoundly sickened at perceiving a European storing carefully into his pocket the product of his mucous glands. In Bombay the Puritan English woman regards, suffused with blushes, the narrow space of bared waist, and the naked knees and legs of the native woman. Bring the Brahmanee into a modern ball-room--nay, the "Queen's Drawing-room"--and watch the effect produced on her Several thousand years B.C., the Amazons danced the Circle Dance around the "Great Mother," at the Mysteries; the daughters of Shiloh, bare to the waist, and the prophets of Baal divested of their clothes, whirled and leaped likewise at the Sabean festivals. This was simply symbolical of the motion of the planets around the Sun, but is now branded as a phallic dance. How then will future generations characterize our modern ball-room dances and the favorite waltz? What difference is there between the ancient priestesses of the God Pan, or the Bacchantes, with the rest of the sacred dancers, and the modern priestesses of Terpsychore? We really see very little. The latter, nude almost down to their waists, dance likewise their "circle dance," while whirling around the ball room; the only distinction between them being, that the former performed their dance without mixing with the opposite sex, while the waltzers are clasped in turn in the arms of strangers, of men who are neither their husbands nor their brothers.
How unfathomable are thy mysteries, O sphinx of progress, called modern civilization!
H. P. Blavatsky