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FOREWORD TO LEAVES OF THE
Leaves of the Greater Bible: An Anthology of Reprints and Paraphrases from Ethnic Scriptures and
Looking back over the course of our first year, it seems as if the plan announced in the initial circular had been carried out with reasonable fidelity. Inevitable changes in programme, due to the inability to obtain recondite information for the "Notes,” or a satisfactory paraphrase, seem to have turned out, on the whole, to the advantage of the plan, as may appear by comparing the present table of contents, classified by theme, with the former announcements.
The title of our anthology has naturally seemed to not a few too challenging. Let us pass, however, certain important considerations in brief review. A good God must needs everywhere and in all times have answered His children's prayer for guidance and comfort. There cannot have been any exclusive monopoly granted to any race. Peculiar experience, social, political, economic, conditions of climate and of race heredity, must necessarily have produced susceptibility or genius in some particular direction, with reference to special spiritual stimuli.
Naturally every people, every period, every transient phase of the social order, must make out as best it can with what it has; and so long as Chinese walls of prejudice or geographical distance isolate, what each has, must seem to him, not only good, but all there needs to be. Intercourse and comparison at first give scope to racial and national egotism. Ultimately each people, each nation, each localized temperament, comes to feel that if it has something to teach, it has also something to learn.
Even as exclusive a people as the Hebrews did not fail to profit by foreign influences. The native peoples of Canaan, Egypt, Babylon, Syria, Phoenicia, Persia, Hellas, all made their acknowledged or unacknowledged contributions to the genius of the “peculiar” people. The old arrogant claim of monopoly cannot to-day impress the student of comparative religion.
It would seem as if, after all, there could be for the human race but One Religion, with as many phases, varieties of expression, stages of definition and practice, as there are varieties of race, civilization, climate, and stages of political development. For not only do the anthropologist and the antiquarian give us ample evidence of the essential unity of human nature in the history of religion, but we possess many biblia, sacred books, ethnic Scriptures, cherished classics which convey inspiration because they were the product of inspired writers, or rather because in them some measure of literary gift was put naively at the service of a socially operative conviction, an established religious custom, a nascent mass enthusiasm.
When the great body of literature, canonically sacred or not, which gives expression to man's religious nature, is examined even superficially, the witness to the One Religion, more or less realized here, there and everywhere, is almost overwhelming.
It would seem as if the point of view for even a mere amateur student in comparative religion must be quite different from that hitherto assumed by devotees and propagandists, Christian, Buddhist, Mahometan, Parsee, Hebrew, or of almost any bygone cult or faith. The order of our affirmations and devotions may be somewhat like the following: First, a burning interest in the highest individual and social life of man; second, therefore, an interest in religion as maintaining or furthering the same; third, therefore, a peculiar personal interest in some special religion as ministering most readily to our self, our own people, our own times; fourth, an interest only less intense in other religions, past and present or to come, as doubtless emphasizing somewhat, too lightly passed over by us, or perhaps entirely ignored, and the lack of which may possibly distort or at least diminish the effective value of what we have; fifth, an interest in some denomination, some social organization, which mediates religion in the form most congenial; and for that very reason, lastly, an abiding generous interest in all denominations whatsoever, with their rival claims to ours, as helping each in some way to supplement the good work of our own, an interest which nowise invalidates the claims of our own personal loyalty and service.
There will be those doubtless even to-day who do sincerely find their first and last interest to be in God only, for His own sole sake. The present writer would consider such to be religious geniuses, or most exceptional original saints. He is not prepared to make such extravagant claims for himself. Nor does he consider that he is bound to govern his practical undertaking by their preference. The devout amateur student of comparative religion is probably first a humanist, then a religionist, then a Christian. He will instinctively believe his Christianity destined to be a world religion: but not by the extirpation of rivals; rather by their “benevolent assimilation.” To him, if Christianity should seem the river of life, it would seem quite fair to regard his loyalty as primarily attached to the far-off mouth of that river, by which time it shall have received all confluents, and is ready to empty into the great sea of future human perfection. Therefore he will regard all religions, past and present, with a benevolent tenderness as being destined to restrospective ancestral honors some day, as part of a preparation, of the providential preparation for the inclusive Christianity of more enlightened ages. He will not feel that he is jeopardizing his Christianity by this attitude of kindly consideration, and a sort of anticipated reverent remembrance! Indeed, he will feel that just in so far as he can be imaginatively a true Taoist, a true Buddhist, ay, or an aboriginal now extinct Red man, engaged in the mysteries of Hako, he is merely rendering more vivid and effective for himself some element in that vital synthesis which he claims as his Christianity, his religion of the Incarnate God.
Why is not such a point of view (more and more common among enlightened missionaries) laying hold on cultivated, broad-minded English-speaking people? Is it not because after all that has been done the most representative expressions of religion outside of the Hebrew and Christian canons are so difficult of access in untechnical renderings? One hears of this and of that great relic, sublime masterpiece, inspiring ritual; but each quest leads on a distant trail, and usually the trail ends at some poorly worded translation, the language of which is so eruditely tortured as to make it almost impossible to catch the inspiration of the original.
It is to meet this evident need for a handy exhibit of the choicest expressions vouchsafed the religious spirit in any time and any place, that this anthology has been conceived and is now in process of execution. Our limited space (sixteen pages an issue) is a cruel limitation in scope. For instance, we can include none of the score or more of Job-like dramas; none even of the epical episodes of religious import; none of the larger rituals which occupy many days for their performance. We can avail ourself only of sep. arable lyrics, brief epical moments, detachable ritual morsels that are representative of the larger rites; and yet even should we with this inevitable limitation continue our work for ten years (and the present listed programme extends further), would it not be a somewhat amazing result: twelve hundred pages of inspired, inspiring literature, furnishing multiple evidence of the unity of the human spirit, of the unity of God, and therefore of the eternal oneness of religion?
Take even this present volume. Can any intelligent reader let his mind stray through the Buddhist beatitudes, and not begin to feel a strange contagion reaching him? Granted he rejects dogmatically the doctrinal construction of the Hinayana, and regards the Buddhist psychology as hopelessly unscientific, its soteriology as mischievous; --can he fail to appreciate the great spirit of detachment from vulgar concerns and petty interests that begins to breathe about him like a fragrant atmosphere, until his soul, rejecting the doctrine, is never. theless captured by the religious genius, the special contribution, which the religion of Buddha has to make to world religion? Must one needs go through, with superstitious conviction in its physical magic, the so-called “Sweat-lodge,” to feel the infinite pathos of the prayer of the children” to the "Ancient of Days," who condescends to be their “Father,” the “Great White Rock” in whom they may take refuge, and who will help them to stand up in His strength with Him in the latter end? Or, descending from the sublime to the ridiculous, will this religious ritual be less spiritually helpful, because one remembers that resort to the “Sweat-lodge” in cases of German measles often proved fatal to the Red man? The Red-man, attacked by an unknown white man's disease, very properly resorted to spiritual purification; but he failed to reckon with the physical reaction