Christian Leaders and Humane Teaching

By Josiah Oldfield, M.A., D.C.L., L.R.C.P.

The time is now at hand when Christianity in the persons of its bishops and its priests will have to face the bare facts of the humanitarian problem. So far they have thrown the whole weight of their influence into the flesh-eating scale and have decided that, as leaders and teachers of the highest Christian ethics, it was enough to become patrons of societies for the prevention of cruelty to animals. One or two have indeed gone so far as to recognise that other people might rightly become more humane and so have thrown a few kindly commendations to anti-vivisection workers, but the bulk of the bishops have considered that the problem of vestments was more pressing than the claims of the slaughter-house victims, and the smell of incense more urgent than the sacrifices of the cattle upon a thousand hills.

The Bishop of Manchester, I believe, did say once that his conscience disapproved of the slaughter-house, but that his weak throat demanded a little meat. He was evidently thinking of Timothy’s stomach and claimed Timothy’s privilege. Apart from this one case I do not know of a single bishop to-day who has ever thought this problem of the groaning creation travailing in pain to pander to human pleasure, worthy of his attention.

I remember the present Bishop of London coming and having tea with us at Oriolet, but the humanitarian basis of the hospital did not appeal to him one little bit, and the young fellows who came with him joined in the usual set of formulas of “What about leather?” and “What will become of the animals?” The whole attitude was, that abstinence from flesh food upon humanitarian grounds was a fad, and that “objections” were the most important things to raise. This attitude, however, is one that must soon give way, for the problem is one that is forcing itself to the front, and is demanding a solution from all who profess to live by law, and who prefer to believe that love rules the universe, and that amity is greater than enmity, and compassion as divine an attribute as justice.

One might have thought that the leaders of the Free Churches would have been pioneers of the century towards a humane ideal, but so far as I can gather, only one body of Christians, and this, to the great honour of the Salvation Army, be it said, has a leader who has ventured to lay it down in the code of instructions to his people that fleshfood should be abjured. I have discussed the subject with Mr. Hugh Price Hughes, and though he admits that in his conscience he is a vegetarian, yet he has a difficulty in getting a vegetarian cook – the cook difficulty is greater than the conscience scruple, and therefore he continues to eat meat.

I talked the matter over with Dr. Parker one day on the Lake of Geneva, and he admitted that he had once been so impressed with the claims of humane dietary that he went three whole days without flesh-food, and then the craving became great and he went back again and the enjoyment of eating once more the products of the slaughter-house was so great that it was well worth the pains of the three days abstinence! Such is the flippant way in which at present they who are claiming to be the leaders of their race and generation deal with a new subject which requires some self-sacrifice and which brings no glory in its train.

I feel assured that the time will come when the leaders of Christianity will be forced to treat this subject seriously. They will not do it of a voluntary choice resulting from a Christian prescience. They have had all these years their opportunity to do this and they have passed by on the other side with disdain. So they will ere long do it of compulsion – compelled by the force of a public opinion which is, as usual, in advance of its spiritual advisers. Public opinion will sooner or later force their hands, because public opinion is governed by the law of evolution, and any high water mark which has been attained in the ages will sooner or later be attained again in that community where progressive thought is free and unfettered.

Where, then, has the humane treatment of animals been advocated without that reservation of the selfish appetite which claims licence to itself to remain inhumane? Unchristian Christianity is so supremely self-confident of its own virtues that it assumes that all the self-sacrifice and all the goodness and all the humanity of the world are the fruit of its own scythe and of its own sickle. This is so false that when the eyes of the unseeing multitude become opened and the ears of the apathetic minds become unstopped they will tend to swing right away from all that calls itself Christian as if it were a liar and a hypocrite. And this is the danger which we must labour to prevent. It is not Christianity which lacks in humanity, but unchristianised Christianity which refuses to accept any new light which would entail personal self-sacrifice, and a cook or a throat or a stomach difficulty! Unchristianised Christianity, instead of being the beneficent mother of all that is gentle and humane, has been too often the strangling step-mother while wearing all the drapery and titles of motherhood.

The world is beginning to demand truth at all costs – even from its bishops and Free Church leaders, and if they, like Mr. Sheldon, refuse to face new problems for fear of the consequences to their kitchen arrangements, the world will build for itself a new and more beautiful temple – a very Solomon’s temple – with the sacred well in its sanctuary where truth may ever abide. It is quietly claimed, and Sunday school children are taught, that the organised care for the sick and suffering is peculiarly Christian. It is often stated that Louis IX. of France was the originator of the hospital system. But both these statements are false. The Moors had public hospitals in Spain for centuries before Louis came into the world, and it was indeed Spanish Christians who destroyed them in their battles with the Moors.

Benjamin of Tudela, who travelled early in the twelfth century describes how the Sultan of Bagdad had built large hospitals for the sick on the Euphrates, where sixty store-houses, filled with every variety of stores, provided all that the doctors wanted. Patients were there in crowds, and were fed and housed and tended at the cost of the Sultan until they were cured. Where do you find in any Christian country any hospital to surpass in excellence of foundation and management, and especially in religious devotion, the noble pile which the Sultan Kilayur erected and endowed at Cairo centuries ago.

It has been described by a celebrated English Writer* as an immense building combining hospital, college and mausoleum. There were beds for rich and poor, wards for women as for men, readers of the sacred Scriptures to the number of fifty on duty, day and night, chanting their words of comfort and of peace.,I have specially drawn attention to Mahommedan culture because those who picture the brutal Ottoman Turk as the type of what Mahommedanism means, grievously underestimate the influence that the religion of the prophet has had in developing the gentle spirit of humaneness in the human race.

As to Buddha and his beautiful precepts of homely care for all that can suffer pain and die, the world to-day knows much, and millions of the human race stand aside from the infliction of pain upon their weaker cousins because the Buddhist scriptures have taught them that perfect love should cast out fear and the cause of fear. There is a free hospital at Surat, which was founded 244 B.C. by the great king Asoka, and it has continued to flourish to this day.

The Maharajah of Bhurtpore has a great extent of park preserved, but does he use it like the Monarchs of Europe to breed up birds and beasts that he may slaughter them for his pleasure? “Oh, no,” was the answer of the native guide to the English traveller, who asked this question, “His Highness never kills anything if he can help it. But when he sees cattle overladen or an animal suffering, he buys it and turns it loose here, to end its days in rest, in comfort and in peace – he remembers the words of the sacred Scriptures which say ‘A monarch should care even for the beasts of the field and the birds of Heaven. He must answer for them before the great throne of God.”

If we turn to the pages of the Zendavista and hear what Zoroaster would teach, we find that the gospel of humaneness is taught as a cardinal virtue of man. The god whose duty it was to protect the cattle of the earth, in sorrow and sadness appeals with infinite pathos for a champion who would come down to earth and put an end to the brutal pains which the animal race are enduring from the hands of man. No god will respond, and none will volunteer to take up the great cross which shall fall upon him who will become a saviour amid the groaning creation. At last, then, Ahura-Mazda, the God of heaven, answers the petition and says that he has commissioned Zoroaster to do his best for the animals.

“I asked,” is the lesser god’s despairing reply, “for a champion brave and fearless and mighty who could meet the rude blasts of the world and who could protect my helpless creatures – but the prophet whom you have given me is but poor and weak and old, and the evil doers fear him not. But thou, O God, knowest what is best.” Nearly 3,000 years ago that despairing cry went up, and to-day the Christian Bishops and the Free Church leaders still bless with their custom and their benediction the slaughter-houses and the blood sports of the land.

Those of us who believe in Christianity believe that the time is at hand when it will break its episcopal fetters, and that it will demand that the champion promised thousands of years ago shall soon be given, and that the deliverer of a creation groaning and travailing in pain unto this day shall be sent to the waiting world. And then blood foods and blood sports shall become things of the barbaric past, and the Churches will have learnt the great mystery of the abolition of the sacrifices of death. and the substitution therefor of a holy feast of bread and of fruit, symbols of the harvest field and the orchard, and the restoration of man again to his lost inheritance – an Eden wherein man walked with God and wherein his food was “every herb of the field bearing seed and every fruit of the tree bearing fruit,” to man “it shall be for meat!”

*Sir William Muir in his “Mameluke Dynasties.”

The Herald of the Golden Age, June 1901.