A History of the Expansion of Christianity - Vol. 7

By Kenneth Scott Latourette | Go to book overview

Chapter XVII
A COMPARISON WITH THE RECORDS OF OTHER RELIGIONS

WE MAY find additional perspective in appraising the expansion of Christianity, the outlook for the future, and the significance of Christianity in history if we can see the record of that faith against the background of the course of the other religions which have long been a part of the human scene and have had wide extension. Obviously we cannot enter upon a detailed comparison. Clearly, too, here more than in almost any other phase of our enterprise we must be aware of our bias and must seek to safeguard our judgments from being warped by it. We cannot, moreover, include all religions, but must restrict ourselves to those which have displayed viability over centuries and have given some proof in experience to a claim to universal validity. However, in spite of its palpable dangers and limitations, the attempt at comparison should yield useful generalizations.

We are not here to concern ourselves with the philosophic aspects or the intellectual validity of the several religions. These would extend our study to unwieldy dimensions and take us into an area which has been repeatedly covered. Our concern is rather with the historical record of spread, of decline, and of interaction with the environment--subjects which have had our attention in our pilgrimage with Christianity.

As we enter upon our venture, we must remind ourselves that the time span covered by the other religions as well as Christianity is, when contrasted with the total life of mankind on the planet, very brief. Judaism and Hinduism are probably the most ancient of the high religions which we shall consider, and at the longest they are scarcely more than four thousand years old. The Buddha and Confucius were less than six centuries before Christ. While the systems which look back to these two as their founders were, like Christianity, indebted to a long tradition which preceded them, in their most distinctive aspects they dated from those whose names popular nomenclature has attached to them. Mohammed was approximately six hundred years younger than Christ. The sceptic might say that even the four or five thousand years of the oldest living religions may be only a short chapter in the long journey of the human race, a phase which from the vantage of a hundred thousand

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