Calvinism, Catholicism, Anglicanism, Orthodoxy, and Mohammedanism
"The Middle Eastern adventures of two remarkable sisters provide an instructive lesson about religious pluralism," writes Kitty Furguson — Victorian Conviction, Victorian Tolerance. These paragraphs are most enlightening and unintentionally humorous:
- Born in Scotland in 1843, the sisters had grown up in a rigid religious tradition. Their Scottish Calvinism preached a demanding God who knows every person, holds human beings responsible for their own behavior, and expects them to be unflaggingly industrious and useful. Their denomination frowned on the ritual, ostentation, and “idolatry” of Roman Catholicism and Anglicanism. Early in her travel journal, Agnes referred to icons precious to the Eastern Orthodox Church as “dirty old pictures, painted on boards.” With such views of fellow Christians, what would the sisters make of Muslims?
Travel taught them, however, that the world is complicated and that the differences among people and religious beliefs are subtle and nuanced. According to Agnes’s journal, in Jerusalem they felt happier visiting a harem than in the over-decorated churches. They were not offended when their Muslim hostess remarked that “since [the sisters] did not worship pictures or kiss crosses or any such thing, she could not bear to think of Protestants under so insulting a title as ‘Christians,’ but thought they must be Mohammedans of another sect.” In Greece, where most men would not converse with female travelers, it was possible to have wonderful conversations with the highly educated Greek monks, even with the necessity of sometimes “tiptoeing around doctrinal differences with stately platitudes” and defusing an awkward moment by mentioning a common enemy, the Pope.
They were impressed that their Muslim guide near Suez read the Koran and the Christian New Testament daily, and thought the differences between the two faiths were slight. Agnes noticed a Muslim chanting as he maneuvered a boat and another prostrating himself in prayer even while contending alone with dangerous wind and waves. “I should like to know,” she wrote, “why it is the Moslems bring their religion, imperfect as it is, into their daily life so much more than Christians do.” Of Eastern Christians she was moved to write that, though there “is no hiding the fact” that they “persist in image or idol worship,” the Greek Church “has life in it.”