In Desperate Straits
Theosophist, February, 1882
The emotional letter to the Editor of a Christian journal of London, from a well-known native clergyman of Ceylon, which we copy below, is generously accorded the wide circulation of our magazine to show that we bear no malice even to such bitter and often truculent enemies as the missionaries have shown themselves to be. It does seem rather amusing, however, that this writer, himself a clergyman and presumably able to expound his religion, should be appealing for help to Dr. Sexton, once upon a time a well-known Spiritualist, and the editor of a Spiritualist paper, but at the same time not lifting his hand to stop the Buddhist revival in Ceylon. Mr. Spaar was one of the five Padris who were present at Panadure on the 22nd of June, 1881—the occasion, referred to in his letter, when a makeshift heterodox champion offered himself as an antagonist to Col. Olcott—but who did not open their mouths when that gentleman said: “If, either now or at any other time prior to my departure for India, the Christian party should put forward a champion whom I can without sacrificing self-respect meet in debate, their challenge will be accepted.” This year, again, the old game of putting up obscure laymen to challenge our President was repeated, but, of course, no notice was taken of them. Our mission is not one of aggression, but of defense. We defend, first, the principle of Universal Brotherhood and mutual tolerance, and then the right of all Asiatic peoples, to be left unmolested in the enjoyment of their ancient faiths. Whatever we have ever done against missionaries in Asia has been done, because those propagandists are trying their utmost to stamp out and destroy religions far better suited to Asiatic moral needs than the one they would introduce, and taking advantage of the ignorance of youth to turn them into irreligious sceptics. As for the present editor of the Shield of Faith whose help is implored, he is a man of learning and eloquence, but may prove no more persistent in defending the “Holy Ghost,” than he was in advocating the cause of the unholy ghosts in general. 1 A whilom Spiritualist who has turned his coat, though he be, yet, his argumentum ad crumenum—to “raise the funds”—the usual appeal to the pockets of the faithful on such occasions—in the editorial which we copy below ought to be responded to by the Sinhalese Christians at once, and the Rev. Spaar should head the list. To help the worthy gentleman in his distress, we now quote from his plaintive letter:—
Kalutara, Ceylon, August 4, 1881.
Rev. Sir,—. . . . . .Never was there such a revival of unbelief as there is at present in Ceylon. The battle for the truth must ere long be fought, and God grant that some valiant David may arise to stand up against the Philistines of error and infidelity who stalk through the land. All this while we have had to deal with difficulties arising from the purely heathen Buddhist, but now there has sprung up in our midst, a “Theosophical Society,” whose President and Founder in Ceylon is a professed American (sic), Col. H. S. Olcott. He first arrived in the island towards the end of last year in company with Madame Blavatsky, who professed to work miracles. 2 Both of them visited several towns and villages, lecturing against Christianity, indulging in horrible blasphemies. They declared themselves converted to Buddhism, and worshipped at its shrines. 3 After preaching or lecturing, Col. Olcott usually challenges any one to come forward and meet him in debate. At one place his challenge was accepted by a native Christian, quite sanguine that some Christian English missionary would joyfully come forward in defence of the faith; but the idea of the missionaries is to let well alone, and that all this will come to nought. Col. Olcott is believed to be quite a master of the sciences, having lectured on those of an occult character. This native Christian having failed in enlisting the sympathies of the missionaries, got a member of the “Christo-Brahmo-Samaj” to take up the gauntlet thrown down by Col. Olcott; but when the opponents met, Col. Olcott declined to hold any discussion with a man who was not a Christian, on the subject of the Divine Origin of Christianity. Having made collections in aid of what is now known as the “Sinhalese National Buddhist Fund,” the Theosophists left for Bombay, where they endeavour to make us believe they are very strong, and where they issue a monthly magazine called the THEOSOPHIST. Whilst there, it appears from the papers that a split occurred, and several of Col. Olcott’s followers left for America. The Colonel himself, encouraged perhaps by the welcome accorded to him here on his previous visit, when he was hailed as the “White Buddhist” has come back with one Mr. Bruce (this time without Madame Blavatsky) described as Inspector of Schools. The former is busily engaged in publishing pamphlets, catechisms, &c., lecturing and raising money, and opening schools with the avowed object of stopping heathen children from attending Christian schools. I send you a copy of this man’s catechism. A pamphlet, by one Professor Woodrof, has been published and circulated widely. It treats of the so-called “discrepancies in the Gospels.” If ever the “heathen rage and the people imagine a vain thing” it is now. The silence of the missionaries is construed into want of ability to meet this Goliath. I am sure that there is more than one quite competent in the name of the Lord of Hosts to go out to battle; but as I said before, the convenient method of getting over it is by saying “Don’t be afraid, Col. O. won’t do much harm; it will all come to an end.” “There isn’t much good gained by controversy. It is not in my line.” “Let us preach the Gospel.” God only knows, however, the incalculable mischief that is done. A few native Christians have just formed themselves into an “Evangelical Union” for the purpose of doing something, but their efforts are sure to meet with the cold shoulder from those who are “the sent.”
I have just read that Rev. Joseph Cook purposes to visit India shortly. Oh! if it would please the Lord to send him or you among us for a season.
I must also mention that an English infidel paper is getting among us; the other day a railway traveller was giving away some, and I noticed copies on the library table of this town, where one of my friends also put in your Shield of Faith.
Yours in the Lord,
J. A. SPAAR.
P.S.—A supply of tracts, &c., against infidelity for circulation will be welcome.
Dr. Sexton editorially offers to not only visit Ceylon but make the tour around the globe if “the friends . . . in each of these countries form societies, raise funds, and make the preliminary arrangements.” Then he modestly adds, “they can, in their turn, challenge the Olcotts, the Blavatskys, et hoc genus omne.” Here is a chance for the Rev. Spaar that he should not let slip; and will not unless—as his behaviour at Panadure would seem to show—he too is disposed “to let well alone,” and not make himself appear ridiculous by playing the “David” when the theosophical “Goliath” is “to the front.” Since Dr. Sexton and his correspondent are fond of Latin may we not be permitted to remark that if the Theosophical movement for them is a—Deo dignus vindice nodus they ought to adopt more dignified means to get out of their difficulties than that of spreading false and slanderous reports against it in their Christian organs. Abusus non tollit usum; abuse and calumny are no arguments though certainly they do appear as the deliciae theologiae. At all events the time for arguing is past and they ought to resort to more effective means. Let then Dr. Sexton or Rev. Joseph Cook hurry at once to Ceylon; and making a supreme effort to clear the korales of the fair island for ever of the “Philistines of error,” the “Olcotts and the Blavatskys”—have them slain by the American-London Samsons, in the name of the “Lord of Hosts,” and with the traditional biblical weapon—”the jaw of an ass”—which Mr. Cook handles in such a remarkably dexterous manner.
1. The Medium and Daybreak (November 11) says:—
Dr. Sexton continues to enlarge the profits of his ministry by condemning Spiritualism as “decidedly anti-Christian.” ‘A Humanitarian’ replies to him at length in the South Shields Daily News, we make one extract: ‘Could anything be more foolish than to censure a cause for doing the very work which it is sent into the world to perform, viz., to convert the sinner and unbeliever from the error of his ways? Does not everybody know that the worthy doctor was himself an Atheist for many years, and that it was through his association with Spiritualism that he became possessed of a belief in a future life, and in a Providence who rules wisely and well? The eloquence of Christendom was launched at him in vain: he remained a staunch Atheist; but—the Phenomena of Spiritualism being proved by him to be genuine—he now looks triumphantly over the grave, and gratefully advises his hearers to believe that it is all the work of evil spirits!’
2. Who never professed anything of the kind; the statement is a padri-born, barefaced untruth. We leave the claim of working “miracles” to the “Generals” and “Captains” of the “Salvation Army.”—ED. [H.P.B.]
3. The latter never lectured in her life, and is a Buddhist for the last twenty years.—ED. [H.P.B.]