THEOSOPHY, Vol. 13, No. 2, December, 1924
(Pages 61-67; Size: 22K)
IS THE BIBLE MORALLY EDUCATIVE?
THE nation-wide recognition of the need of moral training for our youth has aroused thousands of good-intentioned and sincere people to wage an active campaign for the introduction of the Bible into the public schools. Failing in this, they have, however, been enabled to get authorization in California as in other states to release public school students for religious instruction during certain periods each week. So much being accomplished by the Bible propagandists, it is high time that the Bible should submit itself to examination just as do the contents of any book before coming into use by school children. For it is not correct to assume that every one does know, in a general way at least, about the Bible: we think we do not mistake in saying that not one in a thousand has read the Old Testament during his adult years, nor have the majority even of church members given it as thoughtful study as they have any other book which was required in their school or college curriculum. One writer, who claims to have felt the pulse of the people, says that Americans as a rule "believe in religion and in a religion based on the Mosaic Bible." If this be indeed true, it follows that many who believe profoundly in the lofty ideals set forth by our Ethical Culture Societies and our best modern writers on the subject of moral education, have either failed to express themselves or their sentiments have not been given due publicity. In any case, since the proposed Bible reading is to afford the needed basis for the moral upliftment of our children, let us briefly consider the concept of God, the ideals and moral standards which it presents.
Before accepting unreservedly those "authoritative" conclusions arrived at years ago and still kept alive by the oft-repeated phrases "The Bible is the Book of Books," it is the "inspired" book, or, "It is God's book," we should acquaint ourselves with the facts known to every theological student that the oldest texts date back less than a thousand years; that the original manuscripts, which alone could be "inspired" or the true word of God, are no longer in existence; that, in the process of copying, numerous errors have been made, not less than forty thousand remaining in the King James Version; that the Massorites, in order to secure a fixed text, added vowel points to the Hebrew consonants, not only perpetuating the already existing mistakes, but also altering many of the principal words, which alone afforded a clue to the correct interpretation of the scriptures; that, if we are to take St. Paul's word (Galatians 4:22, 24), the stories in the early part of Genesis are allegorical and to be read "by way of figure," (I Cor. 10, 11, R.V.) -- that is, each letter has its corresponding figure or numerical value. When Jerome translated the Gospel of Matthew, he admitted that he did not understand it, because it was a secret book. So, no book passing through so many translations, containing many historical inaccuracies and scientific errors, such as Joshua's making the sun and moon to stand still, can by any possibility be "God's book."
Again, many archaeological discoveries have thrown a new light upon the origin and character of the Bible. By consulting Professor George A. Barton's valuable work, "Archaeology and the Bible," published in 1916 by the American Sunday-School Union, one can find that the account of creation in the opening chapters of Genesis is antedated by and largely copied after the Assyrian tablets of creation discovered by Mr. George Smith, the latter in their turn being taken from still older Sumerian versions. Older stories of the flood have been discovered -- in fact, China, Persia, India, South and Central America and Mexico (which scholars have recently admitted possessed a civilization older perhaps than Egypt), all had their tradition of a deluge and a Noah. These nations also had their Garden of Eden, while engravings of the Tree of Life are found not only on Babylonian cylinders but on a temple wall at Palenque, Yucatan, which depict the story of Adam and Eve as plainly as may be done in art. Leviticus contains whole pages identical with the ancient laws of Manu, which far antedated the famous code of Hammurabi to which scholars admit the Mosaic law presents many striking similarities. Possibly the most astonishing fact is found in the Zend-Avesta, where Ahura Mazda gives one of his sacred names as "I am," and again, "I am that I am," the same that God is declared to give to Moses. If we will bear in mind that the Pentateuch is largely the work of Ezra, who lived in Babylon when that city was under Persian rule, the source of the identity of deific names is not difficult to trace. Therefore, inaccuracy of text aside, the Bible can not in strict truth be considered as even unique among the sacred writings of the world. If we insist that it is God's book, we must grant that those earlier scriptures from which it borrowed and which it often faithfully mirrors, are also God's books.
Nevertheless the belief has long been held and is still cherished that in no other religion is there such lofty monotheism as is found in the Hebrew scriptures. Let us turn to the Zoroastrian teaching: "Our God has neither face, nor form, nor color, nor shape, nor fixed place. There is no other like Him. He is Himself, singly such a glory that we cannot praise or describe Him; nor our mind comprehend Him." In the Tao-Teh-King Laotze says he does not know the name of Deity, but calls it Tao. "It is to be regarded as the Universal Mother. All things subsist in it, and all are in its care." "From eternity until now its nature has remained unchanged." "The Tao has no favorites; it always aids the good man." And this from the Hermetic teachings: "God is not a mind, but the cause that mind is; not a spirit but the cause that spirit is; not a light, but the cause that light is." "That which is subject to birth and change is not real. And what then is the Primordial Reality? That which is one and alone; that which is not made of matter, nor in any body. That which has neither color nor form, which changes not nor is transmuted, but that which always is." Numerous passages in the Upanishads, the Bhagavad-Gita, and in Sankaracharya -- who speaks of the One Self -- show that back of all the great religions is the idea of an impersonal, formless, eternal, immutable source which we call God -- that God, indeed, "around whose pavilion is darkness, and who never can be found out," addressed by the Egyptians as "the One Dark Truth."
Did such an almost universal concept of One God exist, the popular worship was polytheistic, it may be objected, and the numerous "gods" of the various "heathen" nations adduced as proof. But when were the Old Testament Jews ever monotheistic? Beginning with Saul and ending with Josiah, thirty-one out of thirty-seven kings of Israel and Judah worshipped other gods. Only by the most drastic measures from the time of the exodus onward were the people ever held to the single worship of Jehovah, the prophet Jeremiah exclaiming, "According to the number of thy cities are thy gods, O Judah." (Jer. 2:28.) We should bear in mind, too, that the gods of Egypt and Babylonia were not gods in our western idea of the term, but the invisible denizens of space -- the "thrones," "dominions," "principalities," and "powers" of St. Paul, angels and archangels, the latter being worshipped by Catholics to this day.
What concept of God are our children likely to get from the Old Testament Jehovah? He who gives Moses the commandment "Thou shalt not steal," orders him to spoil the Egyptians of all their gold and silver! He it was who hardened Pharaoh's heart and put a lying spirit into the tongue of the prophet to entice Ahab to his doom. (II Chron. 18:22.) God, represented in the New Testament as being without "variableness or the shadow of turning," in the Old Testament repents and reverses his judgment. God, who is "no respector of persons," who "maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good," is alleged in the Old Testament to have selected one small tribe out of all the great nations of the world as his "chosen people." And the western world for twenty centuries has accepted this claim without questioning its justice or probability! The preposterous idea of favoritism on the part of God for one race as against all others is responsible for the international strife and unbrotherliness among Christian nations today, producing a German Kaiser with an identical motto, "Gott mit uns." What more natural than that the claim of national favoritism should culminate in the claim of individual favoritism -- the apotheosis of spiritual selfishness, "O God save me" -- the burden of many Psalms. Against the narrow sectarianism of the Mosaic Bible contrast the self-immolation of Jesus; the universal compassion of Buddha, who said, "I would not let one cry whom I could save;" or the glorious pledge of Kwan-Yin of ancient China: "Never will I seek nor receive private, individual salvation; never will I enter into final peace alone; but forever, and everywhere, will I live and strive for the redemption of every creature throughout the world."
What basis for morals or what stimulus to the religious feelings of our youth can be found in the God of the Mosaic Bible? Can it be possible that Jehovah -- a vindictive, cruel, unjust God -- is God in reality? Or has man made that God according to his own false imagination? It would seem so, since the concept of God varies with the intelligence of the people, the ideas of the Jews changing as they came in contact with the loftier religious and philosophical teachings expounded in Alexandria. Can we not see, then, if "America believes in a religion based on the Mosaic Bible," it cannot at the same time consistently accept the teachings of Jesus, who contradicted the entire spirit of the Old Testament? Read his words and see if it is not evident that he came to give his people a nobler conception of God and of law -- replacing the jealous, revengeful Jehovah by the Father within; and substituting for the Mosaic law of "an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth" a code of forgiveness and mercy. How often he says to the multitude, "Ye have heard that it hath been said by them of old time" thus and so, "but I say unto you" the opposite. "But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you." (Matt. 5:44.)
What ideals for conduct will children get from hearing the Bible of the Old Testament read? To start with, as ordinarily interpreted, Eve tempted Adam and through Adam's sin we all fell and have been sinners ever since. So ingrained into our systems is this dogma of original sin that Christ's exhortation "Be ye perfect, even as your Father in Heaven is perfect" has never been considered a possibility for every man. And yet perfected men must be the end and aim of human evolution -- an aim alone possible of firing human hearts to heroism. But returning to the heroes of the Old Testament: Cain was a murderer; Jacob secured his inheritance through his own and his mother's trickery; David, "a man after God's own heart," caused the death of Bathsheba's husband in order that he might marry the widow; Elijah unhesitatingly slew four hundred and fifty prophets of Baal; Deborah the prophetess killed Sisera by smiting him on the head with a hammer. Verily, history repeats itself! Even the otherwise charming idyll of Ruth is marred by her offering herself to the elderly Boaz. Of course, many will contend that the Bible does not countenance evil and that God always punishes sinners. But what about the educational principle that seeks to inculcate morals by the presentment of immoral characters? Could there be more false psychology? Truer the psychology of the poet who said:Why not awaken the religious feelings of our children by presenting the hero Jesus? by holding before them the illustrious dead of all ages and in all climes? by extolling many of our own early American statesmen, poets and martyrs, who far surpassed the average Old Testament hero, whose characteristics and failings are the very ones we hope to eradicate by the Bible reading?"Lives of great men all remind us
We can make our lives sublime."
Accustomed as we are to hearing the Bible read instead of reading it ourselves, we have little idea how careful must be the preacher or teacher or whoever prepares Bible lessons, to avoid indecent allusions and descriptions of degrading acts with which the Old Testament abounds. There is hardly an evil practice during the centuries that may not be traced back to and sanctioned by the Old Testament. The burning of witches at Salem, the greatest blot on our national history, was justified by the Mosaic law so commanding. No adult can read the Bible, with the idea in mind of placing it in the hands of his children, without receiving one of the greatest shocks of his life. Whosoever doubts the statement should test it out for himself.
But admitting that we shield our children from this contact and make the best selections, we fail to understand how any one can be made more moral by merely listening to the words of a book. Wherever Bible reading has been carried on for any length of time, the testimony of teachers is that no moral improvement has been noted, and whenever Bible lessons have been required, a distinct distaste for and distrust of the Bible has been engendered. Very young children will listen attentively and without criticism to such stories as Jonah, Balaam's ass, the fall of Jericho, Joshua's making the sun and the moon to stand still, the burning fiery furnace, and many others which have a certain dramatic value, but what high moral lesson will they get from the story of Elisha told in II Kings, 2:23, 24? "As he was going up by the way, there came forth little children out of the city, and mocked him, and said, Go up, thou bald head. And he turned back, and looked on them, and cursed them in the name of the Lord. And there came forth two bears out of the wood and tare forty-two of them!" The account of Joshua's spies bringing back from Canaan a bunch of grapes so large that it had to be borne on a staff between two men draws heavily on the imagination, but we might bear in mind that it was the knowledge of these very stories, which many modern children do not know, that made hundreds of sceptics in the past and aided science greatly in its conflict with religion. Certainly, the youth of today is hardly less credulous than the adult of half a century ago!
The greatest fallacy lies in the supposition that religion is in a book; that, unless we believe in the Mosaic Bible, we cannot be religious nor teach our children to be religious, that is, to do right. But it is not that we would not have religion taught in the schools. Rather, we would have it taught not in fifteen minutes a day of reading, but in every minute of every day by precept of every noble book; by example of considerateness and honor and well-performed duty; by recognition of that true religion which binds all men -- and all things -- back to their Source. Call that Source God, Primordial Reality, Tao, the One Self, the Over-Soul, or what you will -- it is this oneness of Source that constitutes the fact of universal brotherhood. If all souls come from the One, whatever affects one affects all. Here is the first fundamental for right action -- of moral law.
The second fundamental concept needed is the recognition of the universality of that law, for spiritual law lies at the foundation of all other laws soever. In this age of lawlessness people have come to believe that they can "get away" with anything. Since, in the words of a recent journalist, "hell isn't as hot as it used to be," and the fear of future torment has been removed, we have thought there are no consequences to evil actions. That this is a universe of law -- not an outside law of some outside, personal God, but an inherent, operative force within all things and beings -- provides the compelling basis for ethics and morality. Suppose every one knew that even though he escaped the laws of the land the law of universal life would find him out. Suppose he knew that "Whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap?" The law of life is nothing less than that action and reaction are equal. Each one by his act disturbs the equilibrium of the universe, and while it does affect every other being, it comes back to the actor. Suppose our children became thoroughly imbued with this law of compensation, would they not begin to do right? and continuing to do right, would they not come finally to act, not from fear of consequences, but from love of righteousness?
The third essential to right conduct in our youth is their seeing that all consequences are self-inaugurated; hence they are responsible beings. Having ourselves acted, we bring into operation universal law. Our use of divine power creates all the good or evil there is. Educators are beginning to realize that to impart knowledge without teaching its right use is very dangerous, and they note with increasing alarm that the most recent discoveries are for destructive purposes. With inauspicious omens on every hand, and in their anxiety for the future, they grasp at any broken plank that may keep our civilization afloat, for the revival of a religion based on the Mosaic Bible cannot save us.
There is no need of repudiating the Mosaic Bible insofar as we accept it for what it is -- a more or less faithful portrayal of the emergence and evolution of a single race. Not even the spiritual life of our Jewish people of today depends upon or is quickened by their outgrown ideas, since many Jewish as well as other modern writers on the subject of moral education have put forth far loftier standards of morals than are found in the Mosaic Bible. Hence, the plea for a religion based upon the highest ideals the world affords -- not sectarian, nor racial, nor national -- but universal ideas and ideals.
If we search the various scriptures of the world without preconception or prejudice, we shall discover that their Great Teachers, irrespective of whether we consider them divine or human, all taught identical basic concepts, all gave the same ethics, all had the same purpose. If we doubt that Christ's teaching differed essentially from that of earlier teachers, we have but to turn to their words. In the Tao-Teh-King, read the noble Sermon on the Mount:"Whosoever bendeth himself shall be straightened.And nothing said by the Christian teacher is absent from the Buddhist teachings. We need not believe in any of these "heathen" faiths, but we can acquaint ourselves with their contents and learn tolerance, without which no one can be truly religious.
"Whosoever emptieth himself shall be filled.
"Whosoever weareth himself away shall be renewed.
"Whosoever humbleth himself shall be exalted.
"Whosoever exalteth himself shall be abased."
We are sometimes constrained to think Koheleth was right when in pessimistic vein he declared "The thing that hath been it is that which shall be; and that which is done is that which shall be done; and there is no new thing under the sun." But there is a vicious cycling of the old tread-mill of thought which betokens spiritual indolence: it is easier to accept "authority," to follow that which hath been, than to search diligently for the truth ourselves. True ideas are true whether found in scripture or out of it, whether sanctioned by the church or by our own conscience. And, after all is said and done, religion is in the heart of each one, or it does not exist for him. Only by teaching our children to recognize truth wherever found and to detect error wheresoe'er it may be enshrined, can we develop their integrity, their self-reliance -- in short, their moral sense; only by so doing can we hope for a better and higher civilization, which must be made by those who even now are being trained in our schools.
THEOSOPHY AND EDUCATION--I
(Part 1 of a 3-part series)
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