â€śWhere is the wise? where is the scribe? where is the disputer of this world? hath not God made foolish the wisdom of this world?â€ť 1 Corinthians 1:20
Recently, a friend of mine asked me a question about a quote from Thomas Babington Macaulay, the Victorian era statesman who served the interests of the British government in India for several years and who also wrote a still-acclaimed History of England. Macaulay was a man of his times, thoroughgoing in his love and appreciation for British culture and values, and ready to promote them upon any and every opportunity.
His views of the superiority of British culture had a decided influence upon his service in India and this is what gave rise to the question from my friend. Macaulay, who served there from 1834 to 1838, strongly advocated for and was instrumental in the implementation of a system of education that sought, at its foundation, to â€śAnglicizeâ€ť the Indian people. By so doing, he hoped to bring what he saw as the superior British culture to India and as well to establish an abiding affinity for England among the inhabitants of its then-largest colony.
What makes this question even more interesting from a Gospel perspective is the marked contrast between Macaulayâ€™s views and those of the many missionaries who were then serving in India. Among those were Dr. William Carey of England and Dr. John Scudder of the United States. Neither of these men were ashamed to be known as citizens of their respective countries, yet they acknowledged themselves to be, more importantly, citizens of that â€śheavenly country,â€ť and ambassadors of the everlasting kingdom to â€śthe uttermost parts of the earth.â€ť As a result, they labored not to promote any mere temporal authority, but rather were carrying forward that commission given by the Lord to the Apostle Paul, â€śTo open their eyes, and to turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan unto God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins,â€ť (Acts 26:18).
It is unknown whether Macualay ever met Carey (who died the same year that Macaulay began his service in India) or Scudder (who came to India in 1836), but what is certain is that Macaulayâ€™s views on the means to be used to educate the Indian people, and the ends to be achieved thereby, were fundamentally different from those of these missionaries.
To offer just a few brief examples, while Macaulay had mostly disdain for what he perceived as the inferior languages of the Indian people, John Scudder worked tirelessly to translate and distribute the Scriptures and tracts in the native Indian dialects, especially Tamil. Macaulay scorned knowledge of Sanskrit, pronouncing it unfit to serve as a means of education. On the other hand, William Carey, whose work in textual translation is to this day nearly unparalleled in its breadth, held the view that Sanskrit was the key not only to understanding all of the native Indian languages, but formed the basis of many, if not most, known languages, and his decades of research into the matter proved him right. Careyâ€™s labors resulted in the translation of the Scriptures into forty languages!
In addition, both Scudder and Carey fiercely opposed the caste system, entrenched for centuries in Indian culture, that had such a crushing effect upon the lower classes in India. They banned any caste distinctions in the churches with which they were associated. Macaulay would have been concerned with caste only as it intersected with his interest in creating his proposed class of "cultural intermediaries."
Of course, Macualay's opinions were based upon and served a political imperative â€“ the more efficient and effective rule of India as a British colony. Not that he held them hypocritically, he sincerely believed what he espoused, but clearly it also served the ends of the colonial government by giving expression to a form of cultural "re-education" that, it was ultimately hoped, would secure a perpetual social class in India favorable to British culture and therefore to continued British control. Ironically, it would eventually backfire as the British-educated Mohandas Gandhi became the leader of the nation's movement for independence from Great Britain.
In contrast, men such as Scudder and Carey labored for far higher ends - putting the Word of God into the language of the people that the Gospel might be proclaimed to a people who had never heard it. While they were forced from time to time to navigate the political waters in their missionary labors (to try to prevent the colonial governments from restricting their work), they had no need to advocate for solely political ends. They were there not to colonize but to evangelize.
Should some object that these missionaries were, in their own way, seeking to â€śwesternizeâ€ť the Indian population by preaching a â€śEuropeanâ€ť faith, then how paradoxical that for many years the powerful British East India Company, through its influence with the British government, bitterly opposed Dr. Careyâ€™s evangelistic endeavors, so much so that he was forced to establish the missionâ€™s base in Dutch-controlled Serampore. In addition, both these men established schools in which teaching was done in the native Indian languages. They had no interest in making Europeans out of the Indians, but every interest, yea, their sole interest as demonstrated in their work and writings, was in seeing the Indian people come to the knowledge of Jesus Christ the Lord, whose Gospel transcends every cultural and national distinction.
While Macaulay was seeking to produce a westernized Indian society through education, the missionaries were seeking change in that society by conversion of men and women to Christ. That is not to say that they didn't advocate for direct social change. Careyâ€™s was one of the earliest and loudest voices in opposition to the practice of "suttee" â€“ burning alive the widow with a husband that had died â€“ and it has been attributed to Carey's unceasing efforts that the colonial governors eventually banned the practice. Yet in the end, even their advocacy of social change was but an outgrowth of their labors to â€śby all means save some,â€ť (1 Cor. 9:22).
Macaulay's principles as adopted did have an effect upon Indian society, but not exactly, in the end, what he would have intended, and in the end only a temporal one. On the other hand, men such as Scudder and Carey have left a lasting legacy in translation and in the proclamation of the Gospel, the echoes of which can still be heard in modern-day India.
What a contrast indeed! Rather than promoting love for a country, these missionaries taught the Indian people to love a Savior. Instead of temporal education with a political motive, these labored to instruct men and women for eternity by publishing the â€śmore sure wordâ€ť in their own language. Macaulayâ€™s efforts served an earthly empire that lasted only a few more generations. The missionary work of these men and others who followed them turned many in India â€śfrom idols to serve the living and true God,â€ť (1 Thess. 1:9), added to that numberless multitude of the redeemed â€śout of every kindred, and tongue, and people, and nation,â€ť (Rev. 5:9), and witnessed to the truth that â€śthe righteous shall be in everlasting remembrance,â€ť (Psm. 112:6). Surely our God has â€śmade foolish the wisdom of this world!â€ť
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