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INTERVIEW WITH DR. JOHN HENRY BARROWS,
(From our Poona CORRESPONDENT.) When I learnt that the presence of the plague in Bombay has induced Dr. Barrows to make a longer stay in Poona, a thought came into
mind to interview him and get his opinions on certain matters, and I wrote to him and got an appointment made for Wednesday. I went to him at the appointed time when he was talking with a young man.
I had to wait a little before he could come to me. He received me very well. In the face of the fact of Dr. Barrows shortly coming to Madras, I do not like to spoil your pleasure of seeing him first hand, and I do not therefore describe his personality. The following is the result of my interview :
Q. How do you like India ?
A. I have every reason to like India, for I have had, during the last seven weeks, the most courteous reception from the various religious communities. I was welcomed at Bombay by men of several faiths, and in Calcutta every kindness was shown by Hindus, Moslems, Jains, Parsis, Brahmos and many besides. I take all this as a grateful response to the American people for the welcome given at the Parliament of Religions and elsewhere to the delegates from India. What has greatly pleased me during the delivery of the nearly seventy addresses I have been called upon to give, has been the courteous and candid attention of my hearers to a speaker, who has striven to set forth, with clearness and vigor as well as with sympathy, what he deems the rightful claims of the Christianity of Christ. I have learned also to admire the keenness of the Hindu mind and its quick and sympathetic appreciation of the very best which I had in my power to offer. But India means much more than the thousands of educated youth and courteous scholars whom I have had the privilege of addressing. It means, in part, this beautiful winter climate, the noble architectural monuments bequeathed by the past, the sublime and beautiful scenery which inspired the early Vedic poets, and the systems of philosophy and religion prevailing among this immense population. India cannot be considered apart from Hinduism, which I have long known to be a mixture of many faiths. I did not expect to be pleased with popular Hinduism as illustrated in the common forms of worship.
The Hinduism which I examined, for example, in Benares filled me with pity and distress. The hideous idolatries which I have witnessed in many places appear to me thoroughly debasing to the people. I know what excuses and explanations are offered by the pundits. I am sorry that they think the common and, to me, degrading worship, is fitted to an unenlightened population. I am sorry that they do not cherish a loftier faith in the possibilities of the common mind. Even granting, which I do not, that idolatry is fitted to national infancy, three thousand years of idolatry constitute too long a period of childish enslavement. Christianity in three hundred years swept away, in large measure, the degrading forms of Greek and Roman polytheism. I know that there are hundreds of brave-hearted reformers in India who are hoping and working for the spiritual uplifting of the people, and I wonder that hundreds of thousands of educated Hindus do not devote them. selves to a similar noble task. In Western Christendom it is believed that tbe lowliest and most ignorant are worthy of the best illumination, and the preaching of the Gospel to the poor has wrought some of the chief marvels of Christian history. We have found that the humblest and most ignorant can be brought to worship God who is spirit "in spirit and in truth.” Instead of palliating idolatry and all its terrible accompaniments in India, the educated Hindu, it seems to me, might well strive to repeat, with better accompaniments and without any surrender of faith in the great God, the reformatory and ethical work which even Buddhism wrought in India more than two thousand years ago.
Philosophic Hinduism is another thing, and the representatives of it whom I have met are men not only of intellectual acuteness but often of true devoutness of spirit. I should esteem them even more highly than I now do if their lives were devoted to lifting the pall of ignorance from this poor people, and I am sorry that they are not more generally willing to accept and proclaim that Christian Gospel which I believe, more firmly if possible than even before, is the only sufficient force for the regeneration of the individual and of society.
Q. If it were given to you, would you like to live the simple life of India ?
A. I am not sure that I understand what is meant by “the simple life of India.” If it means the half-clothed distress, the pitiful hunger of the many millions who, not merely in years of famine, but generally, live in mud hovels without the comforts which are enjoyed by some of the aboriginal tribes of NorthAmerica, I should neither like it for myself nor for the poorest and most abject people of Europe and America. What Emerson meant by “plain-living" coupled with “high-thinking” I deem a note of the truest civilization. Enervating luxuries and the extravagances of fast living are not wholesome in any part of the world. But I
believe that the body should be cared for, decently clothed, comfortably housed and properly fed, so that it may be the best instrument of a vigorous mind and a pure heart. And therefore I look upon the “simple life” of the naked mendicant and the dirty fakir as neither an ornament nor a credit to religion and humanity. Of course, there have been ascetic developments here and there in Christian history of which I would speak in a similar way, but they mostly belong to a remote period of the past. The opportunity and the freedom which belong to the British and American nationalities, a gift to them in a large measure from Christianity, have delivered the vast majority of the people from the material and, it seems to me, 'debasing conditions which prevail almost everywhere in India. I know that there are inequalities in Christendom, and there is much room for improvement in the distribution of wealth, but more than nine-tenths of the people are advanced from that state of close approximation to mere animalism in physical conditions which distresses me in my observations here. I am well aware that under the just over-rule of Great Britain material conditions have much improved. With peace and justice, progress has been made. But far greater progress is still demanded in order that India may escape from the curse of what is now a “simple life,” a life which is utterly unfitted for a being like man, with a soul capable of noble hungers, living in a world which ought to meet his many material, intellectual and moral wants. So long as agri. culture is the all but universal occupation of the people, their material advancement will be retarded. Diversified industries and the growth of manufactures are needed. The building up of industrial and technical schools will doubtless be a help in these directions.
Q. Had Christianity ever to contend with a religion which had a sound philosophy for its basis, and whose people were highly civilized ?
A. With some explanations and limitations it may be truly said that the Greco-Roman world was a congeries of nations which a sound philosophy was not wanting, and some of whose people were in a high state of civilization. Christianity met this world and finally overcame it. The early Christian Fathers had
of them a great liking for the Greek philosophy, which they studied and which some of them regarded as a schoolmaster leading to Christ. Dr. Fairbairn of Oxford has ably shown how Christianity, in a measure, absorbed into itself the philosophic systems of classical antiquity, both utilizing and ennobling them. The civilization of the Roman Empire into which Christianity entered, was complicated, advanced, highly intellectual, adorned with great cities, rich in luxury, starred with philosophic schools, proud of a literature, some of it inherited from the golden period of Greek learning, which is the world's delight to-day, and ennobled with a
sculptural art which has not since been equalled. Out of the Greco-Roman world Christianity built the modern world, or rather from the former the latter has grown. It appears to me that the philosophy which Christianity found in the first and second centuries had a sounder constitution in some respects than the philosophies of the eastern thinkers. There was a more definite recognition of the personal God and of the responsible human personality. A pantheistic blight did not cover the speculations of Socrates, Plato Exd Aristotle. There is a certain vigor and validity to the thinking of Greece and Rome which the modern mind must highly respect. Surely, the civilization of the Greco-Roman world was, in important particulars, more advanced than any civilization which Christianity has since met.
Q. Do you not see any similarity between the spread of Christi. anity to-day and the spread of Buddhism in ancient times, when it was supported by the State ?
A. There is a similarity in the progress of both religions. But I see a closer similarity between the spread of Christianity to-day and the spread of ancient Buddhism before it was supported by the State. Early Buddhism was diffused by the preaching of bands of earnest men who found the people tired of the formalism and pettiness and bondage of the Bramanic priesthood. With its teaching of brotherhood and its deliverance for all through the eight-fold path, it must have met some of the needs of the human soul. Unfortunately Gautama had no perception of man's chief need, namely, a loving God. And therefore the moral progress possible to Buddhism was limited. Christianity with its perfect theism and its perfect ethics meets all spiritual needs. Its spread to-day is owing to the power of truth and love and not to any support from the State. An increasing interest is felt in Christian lands for the work in non- 1-Christian. Thousands of lives and many millions of rupees have been given to Christian toil and effort outside the bounds of Christendom. These offerings are free-will, voluntary and independent of any help from the State.
Q. With the primitive means of communication was not the spread of early Buddhism marvellous ?
A. The means of communication do not appear to me a very important element in the early history of either Buddhism, Christi. anity or Mohammedanism. Similar means were open to all. The early progress of Buddhism may be called “marvellous” in that it was rapid and wide. But in reality it was not wonderful that men should welcome almost anything as an escape from the fearful Brahmanic tyranny. I prefer to apply the word marvellous to the progress made by a faith like the Christian, which encountered antagonisms immensely stronger and more relentless than anything which the followers of Buddha met. A system like Christianity
demanding perfect loyalty to God and equal love to men, and permitting no compromises like that of Buddhism when it consented to be one of three religions in China, makes progress by overcoming the most obdurate pride and all the entrenched wickedness of man, and therefore regard its early advance as one of the chief wonders of history. Its real progress to-day among non-Christian peoples is owing to the special presence and power of the Holy Spirit, inspiring love, creating purity, renewing the soul.
Q. Hinduism is highly eclectic, and will Christianity make a stand against such a religion ? A. The so-called paganism of ancient Greece and Rome became
The neo-Platonism of Alexandria was a marvellous eclecticism, and Christianity not only made a stand against it, but overcame it. I prefer to call Hinduism omnivorous rather than strictly eclectic. It seems to me that it does not select truths and parts of systems here and there, combining them into a new and more perfect whole, but it endeavors to absorb everything indiscriminately with the result that it becomes more vague and less distinct than ever. There is a good deal of truth in the claims of certain Hindu Scholars that Hinduism is a social condition in which any kind of religion, theism, polytheism or pantheism may have a home. If this be true then its downfall is certain and possibly not very distant, for caste is being undermined by a hundred forces. It is being modified or utterly thrown away by the Hindu reformers who are sure to increase in numbers and influ. ence with the progress of enlightenment and humanity. Of all the religions of the world Hinduism is the most unsystematic and illdefined. Those who have lived in India for years affirm that they can scarcely find two Hindus who are agreed even as to fundamentals. In my conversations with pundits, the friend with whom I am talking always affirms that some other pandit’s Hinduism is not genuine. All this is in contrast with Christianity. In spite of the divisions among Christians, the various churches at work in India are heartily in accord as to the fundamental facts and truths which are contained in the so-called Apostles' Creed.
Q. You believe, I suppose, that God has revealed Himself in every country and in every age.
A. Certainly. The realm of revelation is world-wide. This truth I assert over and over again in my lectures in various forms. This truth is asserted in the Christian Scriptures. Paul speaks of “The law of God written on the heart," and declares that God hath not left Himself without witness among the nations. The Fourth Gospel speaks of the Logos as “the original light enlightening every man.
These various revelations have been much dimmed distorted and intermixed with guess work, error and invention, and I never feel more profoundly the need of such a complete, final and