Sunday, April 17, 2016
Venerating the Bible by Kersey Graves 1879
Idolizing the Bible by Kersey Graves 1879
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"Should reason, science, and philosophic lore
Against my faith combine,
I'd clasp the Bible to my breast,
Believing still that it's divine.
Here I am told how Christ hath died
To save my soul from hell:
Not all the books on earth beside
Such heavenly wonders tell.
This simple book I'd rather own
Than all the gold and gems
That e'er in monarch's coffers shone,
Than all their diadems.
Nay, were the seas one chrysolite,
The earth a golden ball,
And diadems the stars of night,
This book were worth them all."
A Christian writer, in attempting to portray the Protestant view of the Bible, says, "It is a miraculous collection of miraculous books. Every word it contains was written by miraculous inspiration from God, which was so full, complete, and infallible, that the authors delivered the truth, and nothing but the truth. The Bible contains no false statements of doctrine or faith, but sets forth all religious and moral truth which man needs to know, or which it is possible for him to receive, and not a particle of error; and therefore the Bible is the only authoritative rule of faith and practice." These two pious effusions—one in prose, the other in poetry—exhibit the views and feelings very prevalent among the disciples of the Christian faith only a few centuries ago; and they are cherished yet, to a considerable extent, by a large portion of Christian professors. This blind, idolatrous veneration is gradually giving way to the light of science and general intelligence; and the thick mental gloom and darkness of superstition out of which they grow is being dispelled. When the intellectual mind becomes fully developed and enlightened, the Bible will find its true level, and will command no more homage than other books. It will be read and estimated, like other human productions, according to its real merits. In this enlightened and scientific age, Bible devotees never go to such extreme lengths in pouring fulsome adulations upon the idolized book. They would be laughed at for their ignorance and superstition if they should attempt it. But the time has been when every religious nation which possessed a "Holy Book" attached extreme sacredness and exalted holiness to the book and all its contents, and often indulged in the most extravagant language and the wildest rhapsodies in their attempts to eulogize and idolize its virtues. In this respect there was but little difference between Jews, pagans, and Christians: all idolized their Holy Books. A sacred regard was shown not only for the book, but often for every manuscript, scrap of paper, or text which it contained, or which was supposed to contain a message or revelation from God. But few religious nations have existed, even in the remote past, who have not possessed some kind of Bible or sacred record which they treated with an enthusiastic veneration bordering on idolatry.
The Hindus, the Egyptians, the Persians, the Chinese, the Muslims, and the early Christians were all Bible idolaters. The Hindus, like the Christians, were religiously enjoined to read and study "the Holy Scriptures;" and the priests, as those in Christian countries do now, made them a study, and reduced the interpretation of them to an art. And, like Christians in another respect, they were interdicted from transcending in knowledge what was taught in their assumed-to-be divinely illuminated pages. The disciple of the Hindoo faith was not allowed to become "wise above what was written" in the Vedas; and the same solemn prohibition, "Add not to, or take not from, the word of God," was reverently obeyed by the devout disciple of the Vedas. The Muslims believe the Koran has been received and transmitted from generation to generation by the direct agency of God. They claim that it is not only an infallible rule of faith and practice, but "God's last will and testament to man," and that it is designed by God for the whole human family; and they pray and hope for its universal extension and adoption. One pious Muslim (Sadak), on being asked why the Koran appeared to be newer every time it was read, replied, "Because God did not reveal it for any particular age or nation, but for all mankind down to the Judgment Day." Muslims tell us that, "such is the innate efficacy of the Koran, it removes all pains of body and all sorrows of mind. It annihilates what is wrong in carnal desires, delivers us from the temptations of Satan and from fears. It removes all doubts raised by satanic influences, sanctifies the heart, imparts health to the soul, and produces union with the Lord of holiness." With the ancient Persians the great test and touchstone of all faith and all moral action was their "Holy Word of God." To know whether a thing was right or wrong, they had only to inquire, "Is it taught, or is it forbidden, by the Zenda Avesta?" The Persians, like the Jews, had four days set apart in each month for religious festivals, on which occasions, Mr. Hyde informs us, "they met in their temples, and read portions of their Holy Books, and preached and inculcated morality and virtue" (chap. xxxviii. p. 352). But Bible exaltation and adoration ran much higher than is here indicated in some countries. They were not only believed to be "words" or "the word of God," but to have a portion of the spirit of God impressed into every chapter, every verse, and every word; and hence they received a portion of that veneration and adoration usually ascribed to Deity. And here we find both Jews and Christians have been strict imitators of the heathen in the practical exhibition of this species of book idolatry. We are told that the ancient Buddhists ascribed inherent sacredness and supernatural power to the identical Sanscrit word of their scriptures. Hence it was considered sacrilegious to make any alteration in the arrangement of those words; and, for fear some alteration of this kind might be made, they objected to the missionaries translating "the Holy Book" into the English language. Mr. Hyde informs us, they not only read their Bible in their temples, but at their festivals and in their families; and, like the Jews and primitive Christians and the Muslims, they carried them in their travels, and slept with the Holy Book under their pillows. Nearly all Bibles in that age were treated with this kind of veneration. Brahmins, Persians, Jews, Muslims, and Christians, in their earlier history, were in the habit of attaching texts or detached portions of scripture to their clothes, or inserting them into their hats or shoes,—an act prompted by the belief that they would impart some supernatural charm; and the Persians, Hindus, and Muslims have been seen covered from head to foot with scripture texts. In the days of St. Justin and St. Jerome such scenes were often witnessed among Christians also. Even the handling of the Bible was believed to impart a supernatural or miraculous power, manifested in the cure of diseases, driving away devils, &c. Several Bibles were thus deified. In some nations they were kept under lock and key, or cloistered in a golden box, to prevent unsanctified hands from opening them. The notion was prevalent with the devotees of several Bibles, that they should be read differently, if not held differently, from other books. Kissing the "Holy Book" was also prevalent among the Hindus, Muslims, and early Christians,—indeed, in nearly all religious countries. Bible worship knew no bounds in the days of ignorance and superstition, when people had more piety than philosophy. Believing that the spirit of God permeated their Bibles, nearly all the blessings of life were ascribed to their influence. Such a belief, fostered from age to age, and transmitted from parent to child, could but operate to blind the judgment of all Bible believers so as to disqualify them for detecting defects or perceiving their errors, though they may abound on every page. And these Bibles have been read by millions of their disciples with a kind of solemn awe or holy fervor, which not only wholly incapacitates the mind for perceiving its errors, but shuts out the possibility of a doubt of its truth. Indeed, they glory in assuming it to be "a perfect embodiment of divine truth," "without the shadow of a shade of error from Genesis to Revelation," to use the language of Dr. Cheviot with respect to the Christian Bible. The reasoning faculties are put to sleep, and the intellect bound fast in chains, before "God's Holy Book" is opened; and if the reasoning faculties should by chance arouse, and rebel against such tyranny, and try to assert their rights by permitting a doubt to spring up in the mind that some statement or text is not true, the Bible devotee becomes alarmed, and exclaims, with trembling fear, "Lord, I believe: help thou mine unbelief." In this state of fearful and prayerful mental strife against reason, doubt, and disbelief, he again sinks into the "darkness of devotion," determined still longer to hug his canonized and idolized book to his bosom with all its errors and immoralities. This has been virtually the experience of thousands of Bible believers, to a greater or less extent, in all ages and all countries in possession of "Holy Books." In this way Bibles have been an obstacle to the progress of mind and the progress of society. An unchangeable and infallible book must inevitably cramp the mind, and hold it in chains. Hence a Bible-believing community can make no progress in morals, science, or civilization, only so far as they violate their own principles by transcending its teachings. Society would remain for ever in an ignorant, uncultured state, were there not some minds in it possessing a sufficient amount of intellect to outgrow their Bibles; and, but for the publication and perusal of other books, society would make but little progress. A mind which is religiously and conscientiously bound to believe in a Bible is bound to all its errors and all its ignorance, and hence can make no progress while it adheres rigidly to its own principles or its own scruples; but, thanks to the progressive genius of the age, the "Holy Books" which embody the moral and religious errors of the past are nearly outgrown, so that they are seldom read now even by their professed admirers. People are assuming the liberty of becoming "wise above what is written" in "God's Holy Book." Even Christians themselves often assume this liberty: otherwise we should have a community characterized by ignorance and superstition; and our writers would be as liable to stumble into errors and contradictions as the Bible writers when they penned "God's perfect revelation." It requires the acquisition of but little knowledge and intelligence to become "wise above that which was written" in that illiterate and ignorant age.