The Protestant Missions — October 25, 2010 at 10:29 am

The Influence of Western Materialism on Japan.


John Thomas Gulick (1832–1923) was an American missionary and naturalist.

Intercourse with Western lands brought to the Japanese not only a knowledge of Christianity, but also of modem materialism and skepticism. The letters of missionaries show that they quickly recognized the danger.

Thus Rev. J.T. Gulick wrote:

“It becomes more and more evident that the strongest opponent to Christianity in Japan will not be Buddhism but materialism; not the religions and superstitions of old Japan but the scepticism of modern Europe. The faith of the people in their old religions is giving way gradually, and though the strong fraternities of priests and a large conservative element among the common people will be for a time resolutely arrayed against any change of religious opinions, their utmost endeavors cannot stay the tide. Though we should fail to do our part in urging the claims of Christianity, the old systems would not fail to crumble before the advance of modem ideas. But we must not deceive ourselves with the thought that in the absorption of new ideas Christianity will be as readily received as other things; for it becomes every day more apparent that the natural heart of progressive Japan is the eager disciple of rationalistic and materialistic Europe.”

The scorn with which many looked on religion finds expression in the following extract from one of the leading newspapers, the Hochi Shimbun, of October 19, 1878:

“The Christian religion seems to be extending by degrees throughout our country. . . . We have no wish to obey it, nor have we any fear of being troubled by it. As we can enjoy sufficient happiness without any religion whatever, the question as to the merits or demerits of the different forms never enters our head. Indeed, we are of those who, not knowing the existence of religions in the universe, are enjoying perfect happiness. We have no intention of either supporting or attacking the Christian religion. In fact, religion is nothing to us.”

While many of the wise and noble thus despised Christianity, it was having its influence on publicans and sinners. Rev. O. H. Gulick, writing of a visit to Hikone, said:

“Two men widely known in that section of country as keepers of gambling saloons and houses of ill-fame, have within a few months become ashamed of their vile trade. Gathering the inmates of their establishments together, they announced their purpose to abandon the wicked business and follow the teachings of Christ The women and girls, whom they had purchased from their parents and subjected to a life of degradation, they promised to set free without the return of money if they could find homes as wives or if they would return to their parents, giving pledges that they would abandon their lives of shame. We were told that all but one of the victims of their trade had in these ways been provided with homes, the business had been entirely dosed, and those who were the organisers of this iniquity had become regular and attentive hearers of the word of life.”

This was but one of many cases in which men were led to give up trades not consistent with Christian teaching, though to do so involved considerable loss.

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