Mr. Herbert Spencer has been a perfect god-send to the Christians with his "Unknowable"—the creation of which was the worst day's work he ever accomplished. It is only a big word, printed with a capital letter, to express the objective side of the relativity of human, knowledge. It connotes all that we do not know. It is a mere confession of ignorance; it is hollowness, emptiness, a vacuum, a nothing. And this nothing, which Mr. Spencer adorns with endless quasi-scientific rhetoric, is used as a buttress to prop up tottering Churches.
Professor Huxley has been nearly as serviceable to the Churches with his "Agnosticism," which belongs to the same category of substantially meaningless terms as the "Unknowable." No doubt it serves the turn of a good many feeble sceptics. It sounds less offensive than "Atheism." An Agnostic may safely be invited to dinner, while an Atheist would pocket the spoons. But this pandering to "respectability" is neither in the interest of truth nor in the interest of character. An Atheist is without God; an Agnostic does not know anything about God, so he is without God too. They come to the same thing in the end. An Agnostic is simply an Atheist with a tall hat on. Atheism carries its own name at the Hall of Science; when it occupies a fine house at Eastbourne, and moves in good society, it calls itself Agnosticism. And then the Churches say, "Ah, the true man of science shrinks from Atheism; he is only an Agnostic; he stands reverently in the darkness, waiting for the light."
Nor is this the only way in which Professor Huxley has helped "the enemy." He is, for instance, far too fond of pressing the "possibility" of miracles. We have no right, he says, to declare that miracles are impossible; it is asserting more than we know, besides begging the question at issue. Perfectly true. But Professor Huxley should remember that he uses "possibility" in one sense and the theologians in another. He uses it theoretically, and they use it practically. They use it where it has a meaning, and he uses it where it has no meaning at all, except in an a priori way, like a pair of brackets with nothing between them. When the Agnostic speaks of the "possibility" of miracles, he only means that we cannot prove a universal negative.
Let us take an instance. Suppose some one asserts that a man can jump over the moon. No one can demonstrate that the feat is impossible. It is possible, in the sense that anything is possible. But this is theoretical logic. According to practical logic it is impossible, in the sense that no rational man would take a ticket for the performance.
Why then does Professor Huxley press the "possibility" of miracles against his Freethinking friends? He is not advancing a step beyond David Hume. He is merely straining logical formulae in the interest of the Black Army.
Now let us take another instance. In a recent letter to the Times, with respect to the famous letter of the thirty-eight clergymen who have given the Bible a fresh certificate, Professor Huxley is once more careful to point out that science knows nothing of "the primal origin" of the universe. But who ever said that it did? Atheists, at any rate, are not aware that the universe ever had an origin. As to the "ultimate cause of the evolutionary process," it seems to us mere metaphysical jargon, as intolerable as anything in the mounding phraseology of the theologians.
But this is not all. Professor Huxley delivers himself of the following utterance: "In fact it requires some depth of philosophical incapacity to suppose that there is any logical antagonism between Theism and the doctrine of Evolution." This is food and drink to a paper like the Christian World. But what does it mean? Certainly there is no antagonism between the terms "Theism" and "Evolution." They do not fight each other in the dictionary. But is there not antagonism between Evolution and any kind of Theism yet formulated? The word "God" means anything or nothing. Give your God attributes, and see if they are consistent with Evolution. That is the only way to decide whether there is any "logical antagonism" between Evolution and Theism. The trouble begins when you are "logical" enough to deal in definitions; and the only definition of God that will stand the test of Evolution is "a sort of a something."
We leave Professor Huxley to present that highly edifying Theistic conclusion to his old theological opponents, and, if he likes, to flaunt it in the faces of his Freethinking friends. But is it really worth while for Samson to grind chaff for the Philistines? We put the question to Professor Huxley with all seriousness. Let him teach truth and smite falsehood, without spending so much time in showing that they harmonise when emptied of practical meaning. A sovereign and a feather fall with equal rapidity in a vacuum; and if you take away fact and experience, one proposition is as "possible" as another. But why should a great man waste his energies in propagating such a barren truism?
THE GOSPEL OF FREETHOUGHT.
Christians are perpetually crying that we destroy and never build up. Nothing could be more false, for all negation has a positive side, and we cannot deny error without affirming truth. But even if it were true, it would not lessen the value of our work. You must clear the ground before you can build, and plough before you sow. Splendor gives no strength to an edifice whose foundations are treacherous, nor can a harvest be reaped from fields unprepared for the seed.
Freethought is, in this respect, like a skilful physician, whose function it is to expel disease and leave the patient sound and well. No sick man claims that the doctor shall supply him with something in place of his malady. It is enough that the enemy of his health is driven out. He is then in a position to act for himself. He has legs to walk with, a brain to devise, and hands to execute his will What more does he need? What more can he ask without declaring himself a weakling or a fool? So it is with superstition, the deadliest disease of the mind. Freethought casts it out, with its blindness and its terrors, and leaves the mind clear and free. All nature is then before us to study and enjoy. Truth shines on us with celestial light, Goodness smiles on our best endeavors, and Beauty thrills our senses and kindles our imagination with the subtle magic of her charms.
What a boon it is to think freely, to let the intellect dart out in quest of truth at every point of the compass, to feel the delight of the chase and the gladness of capture! What a noble privilege to pour treasures of knowledge into the alembic of the brain, and separate the gold from the dross!
The Freethinker takes nothing on trust, if he can help it; he dissects, analyses, and proves everything, Does this make him a barren sceptic? Not so. What he discards he knows to be worthless, and he also knows the value of what he prizes. If one sweet vision turns out a mirage, how does it lessen our enjoyment at the true oasis, or shake our certitude of water and shade under the palm-trees by the well?
The masses of men do not think freely. They scarcely think at all out of their round of business; They are trained not to think. From the cradle to the grave orthodoxy has them in its clutches. Their religion is settled by priests, and their political and social institutions by custom. They look askance at the man who dares to question what is established, not reflecting that all orthodoxies were once heterodox, that without innovation there could never have been any progress, and that if inquisitive fellows had not gone prying about in forbidden quarters ages ago, the world would still be peopled by savages dressed in nakedness, war-paint, and feathers. The mental stultification which begins in youth reaches ossification as men grow older. Lack of thought ends in incapacity to think.
Real Freethought is impossible without education. The mind cannot operate without means or construct without materials. Theology opposes education: Freethought supports it. The poor as well as the rich should share in its blessings. Education is a social capital which should be supplied to all. It enriches and expands. It not only furnishes the mind, but strengthens its faculties. Knowledge is power. A race of giants could not level the Alps; but ordinary men, equipped with science, bore through their base, and make easy channels for the intercourse of divided nations.
Growth comes with use, and power with exercise, Education makes both possible. It puts the means of salvation at the service of all, and prevents the faculties from moving about in vacuo, and finally standing still from sheer hopelessness. The educated man has a whole magazine of appliances at his command, and his intellect is trained in using them, while the uneducated man has nothing but his strength, and his training is limited to its use.
Freethought demands education for all. It claims a mental inheritance for every child born into the world. Superstition demands ignorance, stupidity, and degradation. Wherever the schoolmaster is busy, Freethought prospers; where he is not found, superstition reigns supreme and levels the people in the dust.
Free speech and Freethought go together. If one is hampered the other languishes. What is the use of thinking if I may not express my thought? We claim equal liberty for all. The priest shall say what he believes and so shall the sceptic. No law shall protect the one and disfranchise the other. If any man disapproves what I say, he need not hear me a second time. What more does he require? Let him listen to what he likes, and leave others to do the same. Let us have justice and fair play all round.
Freethought is not only useful but laudable. It involves labor and trouble. Ours is not a gospel for those who love the soft pillow of faith. The Freethinker does not let his ship rot away in harbor; he spreads his canvas and sails the seas of thought. What though tempests beat and billows roar? He is undaunted, and leaves the avoidance of danger to the sluggard and the slave. He will not pay their price for ease and safety. Away he sails with Vigilance at the prow and Wisdom at the helm. He not only traverses the ocean highways, but skirts unmapped coasts and ventures on uncharted seas. He gathers spoils in every zone, and returns with a rich freight that compensates for all hazards. Some day or other, you say, he will be shipwrecked and lost. Perhaps. All things end somehow. But if he goes down he will die like a man and not like a coward, and have for his requiem the psalm of the tempest and the anthem of the waves.
Doubt is the beginning of wisdom. It means caution, independence, honesty and veracity. Faith means negligence, serfdom, insincerity and deception. The man who never doubts never thinks. He is like a straw in the wind or a waif on the sea. He is one of the helpless, docile, unquestioning millions, who keep the world in a state of stagnation, and serve as a fulcrum for the lever of despotism. The stupidity of the people, says Whitman, is always inviting the insolence of power.
Buckle has well said that scepticism is "the necessary antecedent of all progress." Without it we should still be groping in the night of the Dark Ages. The very foundations of modern science and philosophy were laid on ground which was wrested from the Church, and every stone was cemented with the blood of martyrs. As the edifice arose the sharpshooters of faith attacked the builders at every point, and they still continue their old practice, although their missiles can hardly reach the towering heights where their enemies are now at work.
Astronomy was opposed by the Church because it unsettled old notions of the earth being the centre of the universe, and the sun, moon, and stars mere lights stuck in the solid firmament, and worked to and fro like sliding panels. Did not the Bible say that General Joshua commanded the sun to stand still, and how could this have happened unless it moved round the earth? And was not the earth certainly flat, as millions of flats believed it to be? The Catholic Inquisition forced Galileo to recant, and Protestant Luther called Copernicus "an old fool."
Chemistry was opposed as an impious prying into the secrets of God. It was put in the same class with sorcery and witchcraft, and punished in the same way. The early chemists were regarded as agents of the Devil, and their successors are still regarded as "uncanny" in the more ignorant parts of Christendom. Roger Bacon was persecuted by his brother monks; his testing fire was thought to have come from the pit, and the explosion of his gunpowder was the Devil vanishing in smoke and smell. Even at the end of last century, the clergy-led mob of Birmingham who wrecked Priestley s house and destroyed his apparatus, no doubt felt that there was a close connection between chemistry and infidelity.
Physiology and Medicine were opposed on similar grounds. We were all fearfully and wonderfully made, and the less the mystery was looked into the better. Disease was sent by God for his own wise ends, and to resist it was as bad as blasphemy. Every discovery and every reform was decried as impious. Men now living can remember how the champions of faith denounced the use of anaesthetics in painful labor as an interference with God's curse on the daughters of Eve.
Geology was opposed because it discredited Moses, as though that famous old Jew had watched the deposit of every stratum of the earth's crust. It was even said that fossils had been put underground by God to puzzle the wiseacres, and that the Devil had carried shells to the hill-tops for the purpose of deluding men to infidelity and perdition. Geologists were anathematised from the pulpits and railed at by tub-thumpers. They were obliged to feel their way and go slowly. Sir Charles Lyell had to keep back his strongest conclusions for at least a quarter of a century, and could not say all he thought until his head was whitened by old age and he looked into the face of Death.
Biology was opposed tooth and nail as the worst of all infidelity. It exposed Genesis and put Moses out of court. It destroyed all special creation, showed man's' kinship with other forms of life, reduced Adam and Eve to myths, and exploded the doctrine of the Fall. Darwin was for years treated as Antichrist, and Huxley as the great beast. All that is being changed, thanks to the sceptical spirit. Darwin's corpse is buried in Westminster Abbey, but his ideas are undermining all the churches and crumbling them into dust.
The gospel of Freethought brands persecution as the worst crime against humanity. It stifles the spirit of progress and strangles its pioneers. It eliminates the brave, the adventurous and the aspiring, and leaves only the timid, the sluggish and the grovelling. It removes the lofty and spares the low. It levels all the hills of thought and makes an intellectual flatness. It drenches all the paths of freedom with blood and tears, and makes earth the vestibule of hell.
Persecution is the right arm of priestcraft. The black militia of theology are the sworn foes of Free-thought. They represent it as the sin against the Holy Ghost, for which there is no forgiveness in this world or the next. When they speak of the Holy Ghost they mean themselves. Freethought is a crime against them. It strips off the mystery that invests their craft, and shows them as they really are, a horde of bandits who levy black mail on honest industry, and preach a despot in heaven in order to maintain their own tyranny on earth.
The gospel of Freethought would destroy all priesthoods. Every man should be his own priest. If a professional soul-doctor gives you wrong advice and leads you to ruin, he will not be damned for you. He will see you so first. We must take all responsibility, and we should also take the power. Instead of putting our thinking out, as we put our washing, let us do it at home. No man can do another's thinking for him. What is thought in the originator is only acquiescence in the man who takes it at secondhand.
If we do our own thinking in religion we shall do it in everything else. We reject authority and act for ourselves. Spiritual and temporal power are brought under the same rule. They must justify themselves or go. The Freethinker is thus a politician and a social reformer. What a Christian may be he must be. Freethinkers are naturally Radicals. They are almost to a man on the side of justice, freedom and progress. The Tories know this, and hence they seek to suppress us by the violence of unjust law. They see that we are a growing danger to every kind of privilege, a menace to all the idle classes who live in luxury on the sweat and labor of others—the devouring drones who live on the working bees.
The gospel of Freethought teaches us to distinguish between the knowable and the unknowable. We cannot fathom the infinite "mystery of the universe" with our finite plummet, nor see aught behind the veil of death. Here is our appointed province:
This world which is the world Of all of us, and where in the end We find our happiness or not at all.
Let us make the best of this world and take our chance of any other. If there is a heaven, we dare say it will hold all honest men. If it will not, those who go elsewhere will at least be in good company.
Our salvation is here and now. It is certain and not contingent. We need not die before we realise it Ours is a gospel, and the only gospel, for this side of the grave. The promises of theology cannot be made good till after death; ours are all redeemable in this life.
We ask men to acknowledge realities and dismiss fictions. When you have sifted all the learned sermons ever preached, you will find very little good grain. Theology deals with dreams and phantasies, and gives no guidance to practical men. The whole truth or life may be summed up in a few words. Happiness is the only good, suffering the only evil, and selfishness the only sin. And the whole duty of man may be expressed in one sentence, slightly altered from Voltaire—Learn what is true in order to do what is right. If a man can tell you anything about these matters, listen to him; if not, turn a deaf ear, and let him preach to the wind.
The only noble things in this world are great hearts and great brains. There is no virtue in a starveling piety which turns all beauty into ugliness and shrivels up every natural affection. Let the heart beat high with courage and enterprise, and throb with warm passion. Let the brain be an active engine of thought, imagination and will. The gospel of sorrow has had its day; the time has come for the gospel of gladness. Let us live out our lives to the full, radiating joy on all in our own circle, and diffusing happiness through the grander circle of humanity, until at last we retire from the banquet of life, as others have done before us, and sink in eternal repose.
Goldsmith said there are two classes of people who dread ridicule—priests and fools. They cry out that it is no argument, but they know it is. It has been found the most potent form of argument. Euclid used it in his immortal Geometry; for what else is the reductio ad absurdum which he sometimes employs? Elijah used it against the priests of Baal. The Christian fathers found it effective against the Pagan superstitions, and in turn it was adopted as the best weapon of attack on them by Lucian and Celsus. Ridicule has been used by Bruno, Erasmus, Luther, Rabelais, Swift, and Voltaire, by nearly all the great emancipators of the human mind.
All these men used it for a serious purpose. They were not comedians who amused the public for pence. They wielded ridicule as a keen rapier, more swift and fatal than the heaviest battle-axe. Terrible as was the levin-brand of their denunciation, it was less dreaded than the Greek fire of their sarcasm. I repeat that they were men of serious aims, and indeed how could they have been otherwise? All true and lasting wit is founded on a basis of seriousness; or else, as Heine said, it is nothing but a sneeze of the reason. Hood felt the same thing when he proposed for his epitaph: "Here lies one who made more puns, and spat more blood, than any other man of his time."
Buckle well says, in his fine vindication of Voltaire, that he "used ridicule, not as the test of truth, but as the scourge of folly." And he adds—
"His irony, his wit, his pungent and telling sarcasms, produced more effect than the gravest arguments could have done; and there can be no doubt that he was fully justified in using those great resources with which nature had endowed him, since by their aid he advanced the interests of truth, and relieved men from some of their most inveterate prejudices."
Victor Hugo puts it much better in his grandiose way, when he says of Voltaire that "he was irony incarnate for the salvation of mankind."
Voltaire's opponents, as Buckle points out, had a foolish reverence for antiquity, and they were impervious to reason. To compare great things with small, our opponents are of the same character. Grave argument is lost upon them; it runs off them like water from a duck. When we approach the mysteries of their faith in a spirit of reverence, we yield them half the battle. We must concede them nothing. What they call reverence is only conventional prejudice. It must be stripped away from the subject, and if argument will not remove the veil, ridicule will. Away with the insane notion that absurdity is reverend because it is ancient! If it is thousands of years old, treat it exactly as if it were told the first time to-day. Science recognises nothing in space and time to invalidate the laws of nature. They prevailed in the past as well as in the present, in Jerusalem as well as in London. That is how Science regards everything; and at bottom Science and common-sense are one and the same.
Professor Huxley, in his admirable little book on Hume, after pointing out the improbability of centaurs, says that judged by the canons of science all "miracles" are centaurs. He also considers what would happen if he were told by the greatest anatomist of the age that he had seen a centaur. He admits that the weight of such authority would stagger him, but it would scarcely make him believe. "I could get no further," says Huxley, "than a suspension of judgment."
Now I venture to say that if Johannes Mueller had told Huxley any such thing, he would have at once concluded that the great anatomist was joking or suffering from hallucination. As a matter of fact trained investigators do not see these incredible monstrosities, and Huxley's hypothetical case goes far beyond every attested miracle. But I do say that if Johannes Muller, or anyone else, alleged that he had seen a centaur, Huxley would never think of investigating the absurdity.
Yet the allegation of, a great anatomist on such a matter is infinitely more plausible than any miraculous story of the Christian religion. The "centaurs" of faith were seen centuries ago by superstitious people; and what is more, the relation of them was never made by the witnesses, but always by other people, who generally lived a few generations at least after the time.
What on earth are we to do with people who believe in "centaurs" on such evidence, who make laws to protect their superstition, and appoint priests at the public cost to teach the "centaur" science? The way to answer this question is to ask another. How should we treat people who believed that centaurs could be seen now? Why, of course, we should laugh at them.
And that is how we should treat people who believe that men-horses ever existed at all.
Does anybody ask that I shall seriously discuss whether an old woman with a divining-rod can detect hidden treasures; whether Mr. Home floated in the air or Mrs. Guppy sailed from house to house; whether cripples are cured at Lourdes or all manner of diseases at Winifred's Well? Must I patiently reason with a man who tells me that he saw water turned into wine, or a few loaves and fishes turned into a feast for multitudes, or dead men rise up from their graves? Surely not. I do what every sensible man does. I recognise no obligation to reason with such hallucinate mortals; I simply treat them with ridicule.
So with the past. Its delusions are no more entitled to respect than those of to-day. Jesus Christ as a miracle-worker is just as absurd as any modern pretender. Whether in the Bible, the Koran, the Arabian Nights, Monte Christo, or Baron Munchausen, a tremendous "walker" is the fit subject of a good laugh. And Freethinkers mean to enjoy their laugh, as some consolation for the wickedness of superstition. The Christian faith is such that it makes us laugh or cry. Are we wrong in preferring to laugh?
There is an old story of a man who was plagued by the Devil. The fiend was always dropping in at inconvenient times, and making the poor fellow's life a hell on earth. He sprinkled holy water on the floor, but by-and-bye the "old 'un" hopped about successfully on the dry spots. He flung things at him, but all in vain. At last he resolved on desperate measures. He plucked up his courage, looked the Devil straight in the face, and laughed at him. That ended the battle. The Devil could not stand laughter. He fled that moment and never returned.
Superstition is the Devil. Treat him to a hearty wholesome laugh. It is the surest exorcism, and you will find laughter medicinal for mind and body too. Ridicule, and again ridicule, and ever ridicule!
WHO ARE THE BLASPHEMERS?
Atheists are often charged with blasphemy, but it is a crime they cannot commit. God is to them merely a word, expressing all sorts of ideas, and not a person. It is, properly speaking, a general term, which includes all that there is in common among the various deities of the world. The idea of the supernatural embodies itself in a thousand ways. Truth is always simple and the same, but error is infinitely diverse. Jupiter, Jehovah, and Mumbo-Jumbo are alike creations of human fancy, the products of ignorance and wonder. Which is the God is not yet settled. When the sects have decided this point, the question may take a fresh turn; but until then god must be considered as a generic term, like tree or horse or man; with just this difference, however, that while the words tree, horse, and man express the general qualities of visible objects, the word god expresses only the imagined qualities of something that nobody has ever seen.
When the Atheist examines, denounces, or satirises the gods, he is not dealing with persons but with ideas. He is incapable of insulting God, for he does not admit the existence of any such being.
Ideas of god may be good or bad, beautiful or ugly; and according as he finds them the Atheist treats them. If we lived in Turkey, we should deal with the god of the Koran; but as we live in England, we deal with the god of the Bible. We speak of that god as a being, just for convenience sake, and not from conviction. At bottom, we admit nothing but the mass of contradictory notions between Genesis and Revelation. We attack not a person but a belief, not a being but an idea, not a fact but a fancy.
Lord Brougham long ago pointed out, in his Life of Voltaire, that the great French heretic was not guilty of blasphemy, as his enemies alleged; since he had no belief in the actual existence of tne god he dissected, analysed, and laughed at. Mr. Ruskin very eloquently defends Byron from the same charge. In Cain and elsewhere, the great poet does not impeach God; he merely impeaches the orthodox creed. We may sum up the whole matter briefly. No man satirises the god he believes in, and no man believes in the god he satirises.
We shall not, therefore, be deterred by the cry of "blasphemy!" which is exactly what the Jewish priests shouted against Jesus Christ. If there is a God, he cannot be half such a fool and blackguard as the Bible declares. In destroying the counterfeit we do not harm the reality. And as it is better, in the words of Plutarch, to have no notion of the gods than to have notions which dishonor them, we are satisfied that the Lord (if he exist) will never burn us in hell for denying a few lies told in his name.
The real blasphemers are those who believe in God and blacken his character; who credit him with less knowledge than a child, and less intelligence than an idiot; who make him quibble, deceive, and lie; who represent him as indecent, cruel, and revengeful; who give him the heart of a savage and the brain of a fool. These are the blasphemers.
When the priest steps between husband and wife, with the name of God on his lips, he blasphemes. When, in the name of God, he resists education and science, he blasphemes. When, in the name of God, he opposes freedom of thought and liberty of conscience, he blasphemes. When, in the name of God, he robs, tortures, and kills those who differ from him, he blasphemes. When, in the name of God, he opposes the equal rights of all, he blasphemes. When, in the name of God, he preaches content to the poor and oppressed, flatters the rich and powerful, and makes religious tyranny the handmaiden of political privilege, he blasphemes. And when he takes the Bible in his hand, and says it was written by the inspiration of God, he blasphemes almost beyond forgiveness.
Who are the blasphemers? Not we who preach freedom and progress for all men; but those who try to bind the world with chains of dogma, to burden it, in God's name, with all the foul superstitions of its ignorant past.
CHRISTIANITY AND COMMON SENSE.
There are two things in the world that can never get on together—religion and common sense. Religion deals with the next life, common sense with this; religion points to the sky, common sense to the earth; religion is all imagination, common sense all reason; religion deals with what nobody can understand, common sense with what everybody can understand; religion gives us no return for our investments but flash notes on the bank of expectation, common sense gives us good interest and full security for our capital. They are as opposite as two things can possibly be, and they are always at strife. Religion is always trying to fill the world with delusions, and common sense is always trying to drive them away. Religion says Live for the next world, and common sense says Live for this.
It is in the very nature of things that religion and common sense should hate and oppose each other. They are rivals for the same prize—aspirants to the same throne. In every age a conflict has been going on between them; and although common sense is fast getting the upper hand to-day, the war is far from ended, and we may see some fierce struggles before the combat closes. There can, however, be no doubt as to the issue; for science has appeared on the scene with the most deadly weapons of destruction, and science is the sworn ally of common sense. Nay, is not Science the mighty child of common sense—the fruit of Reason from the lusty embrace of Nature?
Common sense is primitive logic. It does not depend on books, and it is superior to culture. It is the perception of analogy—the instinct of causation. It guides the savage through trackless forests, and the astronomer through infinite space. It makes the burnt child dread the fire, and a Darwin see in a few obvious facts the solution of a mystery. It built the first hut and the last palace; the first canoe and the last ocean steamer. It constructed docks, and laid down railways, applied steam to machinery and locomotion, prompted every mechanical discovery, instigated all material progress, and transformed an ape-like beast into a civilised man.
Even the highest art is full of common sense. Sanity and simplicity are the distinguishing marks of the loftiest genius, which may be described as inspired common sense. The great artist never loses touch of fact; he may let his imagination soar as high as the stars, but he keeps his feet firm-planted on the ground. All the world recognises the sublimity of Greek sculpture and Shakespeare's plays, because they are both true to nature and fact and coincident with everlasting laws. The true sublime is not fantastic; it is solid and satisfying, like a mighty Alp, deep-rooted first of all in the steadfast earth, and then towering up with its vineyards, its pastures, its pine-forests, its glaciers, its precipices, and last of all the silence of infinitude brooding over its eternal snows.
Common sense, the civiliser, has had an especially hard fight with that particular form of religion known as Christianity. When Tertullian said that Christianity was to be believed because it was incredible, he spoke in the true spirit of faith; just as old Sir Thomas Browne did when he found the marvels of religion too weak for his credulity, David Hume expressed the same truth ironically at the conclusion of his Essay on Miracles, when he said that it was not reason that persuaded any Christian of the truth of his creed, which was established on the higher ground of faith, and could not be accepted without a miracle.
Common sense is blasphemy. It is the thing which religion dreads most, and which the priests most mortally hate. Common sense dispenses with learned disquisitions, and tries everything with simple mother wit. If, for instance, it hears that a whale swallowed a man, and vomited him up safe and sound three days after, it does not want to know all the physiology of men and whales before deciding if the story is true; it just indulges in a hearty laugh and blows the story to Hades. Miracle-mongers are quite helpless when a man turns round and says, "My dear sir, that story's just a trifle too thin." They see his case is a hopeless one, and leave him to the tender mercies of the Lord of Hosts.
Learning is all very well in its way, but common sense is a great deal better. It is infinitely the best weapon to use against Christianity. Without a knowledge of history, without being acquainted with any science but that of daily life, without a command of Hebrew, Latin and Greek, or any other language than his own, a plain man can take the Bible in his hand and easily satisfy himself it is not the word of God. Common sense tells him not to believe in contradictory statements; common sense tells him that a man could not have found a wife in a land where there were no women; common sense tells him that three millions of people never marched out of any country in one night; common sense tells him that Jesus Christ could not have "gone up" from two places at once; common sense tells him that turning devils out of men into pigs is a fable not half as good as the poorest of AEsop's; common sense tells him that nobody but a skunk would consent to be saved from the penalty of his own misdeeds by the sufferings of an innocent man; common sense tells him that while men object to having their pockets picked and their throats cut, they want no divine command against theft and murder; common sense tells him that God never ordered the committal of such atrocities as those ascribed to him in the Bible; and common sense tells him that a God of mercy never made a hell.
Yes, all this is perfectly clear, and the priests know it. That is why they cry out Blasphemy! every time they meet it. But that is also precisely the reason why we should employ it against them. The best antidote to superstition, the worst enemy of priestcraft, and the best friend of man, is (to parody Danton's famous formula) Common Sense, and again Common Sense, and for ever Common Sense.
THE LORD OF LORDS. *
* Written in August, 1884.
We are in the midst of a political crisis. The House of Lords opposes a reform unanimously voted by the House of Commons. Great demonstrations are being held all over the country, to insist on the popular will being carried into effect, and there is a growing cry of "Down with the Lords." A spectator from another planet might wonder at all the fuss. He might marvel how forty millions of people needed to stamp and gesticulate against a handful of obstructives. He might imagine that they had only to decree a thing and it would immediately be; that all opposition to their sovereign will would melt away the moment they declared it. This traveller, however, would soon be undeceived. A little study would show him that the people are kept in check by faith and custom. He would learn that the nation is tied down like Gulliver was, by ligatures springing from its own head. Behind the King there is a King of Kings; behind the Lords there is a Lord of Lords. Behind every earthly despotism there is a heavenly one. The rulers of mankind overawe the people by religious terrors. They keep a body of men in their pay, the black army of theology, whose business it is to frighten people from their rights by means of a ghost behind the curtain. Nobody has ever seen the bogie, but we are taught to believe in it from our infancy, and faith supplies the deficiencies of sight. Thus we are enslaved by our own consent. Our will is suborned against our interests. We wear no chains to remind us of our servitude, but our liberty is restrained by the subtle web of superstition, which is so fine as to be imperceptible except to keen and well-practised eyes, and elastic enough to cheat us with a false sense of freedom.
Yes, we must seek in religion the secret of all political tyranny and social injustice. Not only does history show us the bearing of religion on politics—we see it to-day wherever we cast our gaze. Party feeling is so embittered in France because the sharp line of division in politics corresponds with the sharp line of division in religion. On the one side there is Freethought and Republicanism, and on the other Catholicism and Monarchy. Even in England, which at present knows less of the naked despotism of the Catholic Church than any other European country, we are gradually approximating to a similar state of things. Freethougnt is appearing upon the public stage, and will play its peculiar part as naturally as religion does. Those who fancy that theology and politics have no necessary relations, that you may operate in the one without affecting the other, and that they can and should be kept distinct, are grossly mistaken. Cardinal Newman has well shown how it is the nature of ideas to assimilate to themselves whatever agrees with them, and to destroy whatever disagrees. When once an idea enters the human mind it acts according to the necessary laws of thought. It changes to its own complexion all its mental surroundings, and through every mental and moral channel influences the world of practice outside. The real sovereigns of mankind, who sway its destinies with irresistible power, are not the czars, emperors, kings and lords, nor even the statesmen who enact laws when public sentiment is ripe; they are the great thinkers who mould opinion, the discoverers and enunciators of Truth, the men of genius who pour the leaven of their ideas and enthusiasm into the sluggish brain of humanity.
Even in this crisis it is easy to see how Religion and Freethought are at variance. The Liberal party is not pledged to the abolition of the House of Lords, but the Radical party is. Orthodox Liberalism is Christian, only a little less so than orthodox Conservatism; but Radicalism is very largely sceptical. It would surprise the dullards of both parties to learn how great a portion of the working energy of Radicalism is supplied by Freethinkers. True, many of them are unavowed Freethinkers, yet they are of our party although they do not wear our colors. But setting all these aside, I assert that Radicalism would be immensely weakened by the withdrawal of declared Freethinkers from its ranks. No one in the least acquainted with political organisation would think of disputing this.
Belief in God is the source and principle of all tyranny. This lies in the very nature of things. For what is God? All definitions of religion from Johnson's down to that of the latest dictionary agree on this one point, that it is concerned with man's relations to the unknown. Yes, God is the Unknown, and theology is the science of ignorance. Earl Beaconsfield, in his impish way, once said that where our knowledge ends our religion begins. A truer word was never spoken.
Now the unknown is the terrible. We become fearful the moment we confront the incalculable. Go through the history of religions, consult the various accounts of savage and barbarous faiths at present extant, and you will find that the principle of terror, springing from the unknown, is the essential feature in which they all agree. This terror inevitably begets slavishness. We cannot be cowardly in this respect without its affecting our courage in others. The mental serf is a bodily serf too, and spiritual fetters are the agencies of political thraldom. The man who worships a tyrant in heaven naturally submits his neck to the yoke of tyrants on earth. He who bows his intellect to a priest will yield his manhood to a king. Everywhere on earth we find the same ceremonies attending every form of dependence. The worshipper who now kneels in prayer to God, like the courtier who backs from the presence of the monarch, is performing an apology for the act of prostration which took place alike before the altar and the throne. In both cases it was the adoration of fear, the debasement of the weak before the seat of irresponsible power.
Authority is still the principle of our most refined creeds. The majority of Christians believe in salvation by faith; and what is the God of that dogma but a capricious tyrant, who saves or damns according to his personal whim? The ministers of Protestantism, like the priests of Catholicism, recognise this practically in their efforts to regulate public education. They dare not trust to the effect of persuasion on the unprejudiced mind; they must bias the minds of children by means of dogmatic teaching. They bend the twig in order to warp the tree.
Now God is the supreme principle of authority as he is the essence of the unknown. He is thus the head, front and symbol of terror and slavery, and as such must be assailed by every true soldier of Progress. We shall never enfranchise the world without touching people's superstitions; and even if we abolish the House of Lords we shall still dwell in the house of bondage unless we abolish the Lord of Lords; for the evil principle will remain as a germ to develop into new forms of oppression.
Freethought is the real Savior. When we make a man a Freethinker, we need not trouble greatly about his politics. He is sure to go right in the main. He may mistake here or falter there, but his tendency will always be sound. Thus it is that Freethinkers always vote, work and fight for the popular cause. They have discarded the principle of authority in the heavens above and on the earth beneath, and left it to the Conservative party, to which all religionists belong precisely in proportion to the orthodoxy of their faith. Freethought goes to the root. It reaches the intellect and the conscience, and does not merely work at haphazard on the surface of our material interests and party struggles. It aims at the destruction of all tyranny and injustice by the sure methods of investigation and discussion, and the free play of mind on every subject. It loves Truth and Freedom. It turns away from the false and sterile ideas of the Kingdom of God and faces the true and fruitful idea of the Republic of Man.
CONSECRATING THE COLORS
The Queen has recently presented new colors to the first battalion of the Seaforth Highlanders. There was a great parade at Osborne, half the royal family being present to witness her Majesty perform the one piece of business to which she takes kindly in her old age. She has long been, as Lord Beaconsfield said, physically and morally unfit for her many duties; but she is always ready to inspect her troops, to pin a medal or a cross on the breast of that cheap form of valor which excites such admiration in feminine minds, or to thank her brave warriors for exhibiting their heroism on foreign fields against naked savages and half-naked barbarians. The ruling passion holds out strong to the last, and the respectable old lady who is allowed to occupy the English throne because of her harmlessness can still sing, like the Grand Duchess in Offenbach's opera, "Oh, I dote on the military."
But the Queen is not my game. I am "going for" the priests behind her, the mystery-men who give the sanction of religion to all the humbug and hypocrisy, as well as to all the plunder and oppression, that obtain amongst us. Those new colors were consecrated (that is the word) by the Dean of Windsor. The old colors were consecrated forty-two years ago by the Venerable Dr. Vernon Harcourt, Archbishop of York, who was probably a near relative of our pious Home Secretary, the fat member for Derby. If I were a courtier, a sycophant, or an ordinary journalist, I might spend some time in hunting up the actual relationship between these two Harcourts; but being neither, and not caring a straw one way or the other, I content myself, as I shall probably content my readers, with hazarding a conjecture.
Consecrating the colors! What does that mean? First of all it implies the alliance between the soldier and the priest, who are the two arms of tyranny. One holds and the other strikes; one guards and the other attacks; one overawes with terror and delusion, and the other smites with material weapons when the spiritual restraints fail. The black and the red armies are both retainers in the service of Privilege, and they preach or fight exactly as they are bidden. It makes no real difference that the soldier's orders are clear and explicit, while the priest's are mysteriously conveyed through secret channels. They alike obey the mandate of their employers, and take their wages for the work.
In the next place it shows the intimate relation between religion and war. Both belong to the age of faith. When the age of reason has fairly dawned both will be despised and finally forgotten. They are always and everywhere founded on ignorance and stupidity, although they are decorated with all sorts of fine names. The man of sense sees through all these fine disguises. He knows that the most ignorant people are the most credulous, and that the most stupid are the most pugnacious. Educated and thoughtful men shrink alike from the dogmas of religion and the brutalities of war.
Further, this consecration of the colors reminds us that the Christian deity is still the lord of hosts, the god of battles. His eyes delight to look over a purple sea of blood, and his devotees never invoke his name so-much as when they are about to emulate his sanguinary characteristics. The Dean of Windsor does not shock, he only gratifies, the feelings of the orthodox world, when he blesses the flag which is to float over scenes of carnage, and flame like a fiend's tongue over the hell of battle, where brothers of the same human family, without a quarrel in the world, but set at variance bv thieves and tricksters, maim and mangle and kill each other with fractricidal hands, which ought to have been clasped in friendship and brotherhood. Yet these hireling priests, who consecrate the banners of war, dare to prate that God is a loving father and that we are all his children. What monstrous absurdity! What disgusting hypocrisy I Surely the parent of mankind, instead of allowing his ministers to mouth his name over the symbols of slaughter, would command them to preach "peace, peace!"
Until the war-drums beat no longer and the battle-flags are furled In the parliament of man, the federation of the world.
Of course there is a comic side to this, as to almost everything else. The priests of the various nations consecrate rival banners, pray for victory for their own side, and swear that God Almighty is sure to give it them if they trust in him. Now what is the Lord to do when they go on in this way on opposite sides? He is sure to disappoint one party, and he is likely to get devilish little thanks from the other. A wise God would remain neutral, and say, "My comical little fellows, if you will go knocking out each other's brains because they are not strong enough to settle your differences by peaceful means, by all means get through the beastly business as soon as possible; but pray don't trouble me with your petitions for assistance; both sides are fools, and I wash my hands of the whole affair."
I have heard of an old Dutch commander who actually prayed the Lord to remain neutral, although from a different motive. On the eve of battle he addressed the deity in this fashion: "O Lord, we are ten thousand, and they are ten thousand, but we are a darned sight better soldiers than they, and, O Lord, do thou but keep out of it, and well give them the soundest thrashing they ever had."
Our Prayer Book pays a very poor compliment to the god of battles. "Give peace in our time, O Lord," says the preacher. "Because there is none other that fighteth for us but only thou O God," responds the congregation. The compilers of the Prayer Book evidently blundered, unless they secretly felt that the Lord of hosts was used up, and not worth a keg of gunpowder or an old musket.
Consecrating colors, like consecrating graveyards, is after all only a trick of trade. The Dean of Windsor only practises the arts of his profession, and probably laughs in his sleeve at his own public performance. Perhaps he knows that God, as Napoleon said, is on the side of the big battalions; just as, probably, every bishop knows that Church corpses rot exactly like Dissenting corpses, although they lie in consecrated ground. Priestly mummeries will last as long as there is a demand for them. It is of little use to quarrel with this supply. The Freethinker's duty is to lessen the demand.
CHRISTMAS IN HOLLOWAY GAOL. *
* I was imprisoned there for "blasphemy" from February 1883 to February 1884, by sentence of a Roman Catholic judge, Mr. Justice North.
The dullest Christmas I ever spent was in her Majesty's hotel in North London. The place was spacious, but not commodious; it was magnificent in the mass, but very petty in detail; it was designed with extreme care for the safety of its many guests, but with a complete disregard of their comfort; and it soon palled upon the taste, despite the unremitting attentions of a host of liveried servants. How I longed for a change of scene, if what I constantly gazed upon may be so described; but I was like a knight in some enchanted castle, surrounded with attendants, yet not at liberty to walk out. The hospitality of my residence, however, was by no means sumptuous. The table did not groan beneath a weight of viands, or gleam with glowing wines. Its poverty was such that a red-herring would have been a glorious treat, and a dose of physic an agreeable variety. Why then, you may ask, did I not quit this inhospitable hotel, and put up at another establishment? Because I was invited by her Majesty, and her Majesty's invitations are commands.
Speaking by the card, Christmas-day in Holloway was treated as a Sunday. There was no work and no play then, the dinner was the poorest and worst cooked in the whole week, and the only diversion was a morning or afternoon visit to chapel, where we had the satisfaction of learning that heaven was an eternal Sunday.
The fibre put into my cell to be picked by my industrious fingers had all been removed the previous evening, lest I should desecrate the sacred day by pursuing my ordinary avocation. My apartment was therefore clean and tidy, and by the aid of a bit of dubbin I managed to give an air of newness to my well-worn shoes. The attendants had, however, omitted to provide me with a Sunday suit, so I was obliged to don my working clothes, in which graceless costume I had to perform my religious devotions in the house of God, where an ill-dressed person is always regarded as an exceptionally bad sinner, and expected to show an extraordinary amount of humility and contrition. Linen was never a burning question in Holloway Hotel, and cuffs and collars were unknown, except when a short guest wore a long shirt. My toilet was therefore easily completed; and with a good wash, and the energetic use of a three-inch comb, I was soon ready for the festivities of the season.
At eight o'clock I received the first instalment of my Christmas fare, in the shape of three-quarters of a pint of tea and eight ounces of dry bread. Whether the price of groceries was affected by the Christmas demand, or whether the kitchen was demoralised by the holiday, I am unable to decide; but I noticed that the decoction was more innocuous than usual, although I had thought its customary strength could not be weakened without a miracle. My breakfast being devised on the plainest vegetarian principles, there was no occasion for grace before meat, so I sipped the tea and munched the bread (eight ounces straight off requires a great deal of mastication) without breathing a word of thanks to the giver of all good things.
After a remarkably short hour's tramp round the exercise ring in a thieves' procession, doing the rogue's march without the music, I returned to my cell, and sitting down on my little three-legged stool, I was soon lost in thought. I wondered what my wife was doing, how she was spending the auspicious day. What a "merry Christmas" for a woman with her husband eating his heart out in gaol! But "that way madness lies," and I had fought down the demon too long to give way then. Springing to my feet, I sped up and down my cell like a caged animal, and after many maledictions on "the accursed creed," I succeeded in stilling the tumult of my emotions. A great calm followed this storm, and resuming my seat and leaning my back against the plank-bed, I took a scornful retrospect of my prosecution and trial. How insignificant looked the Tylers, Giffards, Norths and Harcourts! How noble the friends and the party who had stood by me in the dark hour of defeat! A few short weeks, and I should be free again to join their ranks and strike hard in the thickest of the battle, under the grand old flag of Freethought.
The chapel-bell roused me from phantasy. The other half of the prison disgorged its inmates, and I could hear the sound of their tramping to the sanctuary. While they were engaged there I read a chapter of Gibbon; after which I heard the "miserable sinners" return from the chapel to their cells.
At twelve o'clock came mv second instalment of Christmas fare: six ounces of potatoes, eight ounces of bread and a mutton chop. Being on hospital diet, I had this trinity for my dinner every day for nine months, and words cannot describe the nauseous monotony of the menu. The other prisoners had the regular Sunday's diet: bread, potatoes and suet-pudding. After dinner I went for another short hour's tramp in the yard. The officers seemed to relax their usual rigor, and many of the prisoners exchanged greetings. "How did yer like the figgy duff?" "Did the beef stick in yer stomach?" Such were the flowers of conversation that afternoon. From the talk around me, I gathered that under the old management, before the Government took over the prison, all the inmates had a "blow out" on Christmas-day, consisting of beef, vegetables, plum-pudding and a pint of beer. Some of the "old hands" bitterly bewailed the decadence in prison hospitality. Their lamentations were worthy of a Conservative orator at a rural meeting. The present was a poor thing compared with the past, and they sighed for "the tender grace of a day that is dead."
After exercise I went to chapel. The schoolmaster, who was a very pleasant gentleman, had drilled the singing class into a fair state of efficiency, and they sang one or two Christmas hymns in pretty good style; but the effect of their efforts was considerably marred by the rest of the congregation, whose unmusical voices, bad sense of time, and ignorance of the tune, more than once nearly brought the performance to an untimely end. Parson Playford followed with a seasonable sermon, which would have been more heartily relished on a fuller stomach. He told us what a blessed time Christmas was, and how people did well to be joyous on the anniversary of their Savior's birth; after which I presume he returned to the bosom of his family, and celebrated the birth of Christ with liberal doses of turkey, goose, beef, pudding, and communion wine. Before dismissing us with his blessing to our "little rooms," which was his habitual euphemism for our cells, he said that he could not wish us a happy Christmas in our unhappy condition, but would wish us a peaceful Christmas; and he ventured to promise us that boon, if after leaving chapel, we fell on our knees, and besought pardon for our sins. Most of the prisoners received this advice with a grin, for their cell-floors were black-leaded, and practising genuflexions in their "little-rooms" gave too much kneecap to their trousers.
At six o'clock I had my third instalment of Christmas fare, consisting of another eight ounces of bread and three quarters of a pint of tea. The last mouthfuls were consumed to the accompaniment of church bells. The neighboring gospel-shops were announcing their evening performance, and the sound penetrated into my cell through the open ventilator. The true believers were wending their way to God's house, and the heretic, who had dared to deride their creed and denounce their hypocrisy, was regaling himself on dry bread and warm water in one of their prison-cells. And the bells rang out against each other from the many steeples with a wild glee as I paced up and down my narrow dungeon. They seemed mad with the intoxication of victory; they mocked me with their bacchanalian frenzy of triumph. But I smiled grimly, for their clamor was no more than the ancient fool's-shout, "Great is Diana of the Ephesians." Great Christ has had his day since, but he in turn is dead; dead in man's intellect, dead in man's heart, dead in man's life; a mere phantom, flitting about the aisles of churches where priestly mummers go through the rites of a phantom creed.
I took my Bible and read the story of Christ's birth in Matthew and Luke. What an incongruous jumble of absurdities! A poor fairy tale of the world's childhood, utterly insignificant beside the stupendous wonders which science has revealed to its manhood. From the fanciful little story of the Magi following a star, to Shelley's "Worlds on worlds are rolling ever," what an advance! As I retired to sleep upon my plank-bed my mind was full of these reflections. And when the gas was turned out, and I was left alone in darkness and silence, I felt serene and almost happy.
WHO KILLED CHRIST?
Without committing ourselves to a full acceptance of the Gospel story of Christ's death, with all its monstrous miracles and absurd defiance of Roman and Jewish legal procedure, we propose to take the story as it stands for the purpose of discussing the question at the top of this article.
The ordinary Christian will exclaim that Jesus was murdered by those infernal Jews. Ever since they had the power of persecuting the Jews—that is, ever since the days of Constantino—the Christians have acted on the assumption that the countrymen of Jesus did actually cry out before Pilate, "His blood be on our heads!" and that they and their posterity deserved any amount of robbery and outrage until they unanimously confessed their sin and worshipped him whom they crucified. It made no difference that the contemporaries of Jesus Christ could not transmit their guilt to their offspring. The Christians continued, century after century, to act in the spirit of the sailor in the story. Coming ashore after a long voyage, Jack attended church and heard a pathetic sermon on the Crucifixion. On the following day he looked into the window of a print-shop, and saw a picture of Jesus on the cross. Just then a Jew came and looked into the window; whereupon the sailor, pointing to the picture, asked the Hebrew gentleman whether he recognised it. "That's Jesus," said the Jew, and the sailor immediately knocked him down. Surprised at this treatment, the Hebrew gentleman inquired the reason. "Why," said the sailor, "didn't you infernal Jews crucify him?" The poor son of Abraham admitted the fact, but explained that it happened nearly two thousand years ago. "No matter," said the sailor, "I only heard of it yesterday."
Now it is perfectly clear, according to the Gospels, that the Jews did not kill Jesus. Unless they lynched him they had no power to put him to death. Judaea was then a Roman province, and in every part of the Empire the extreme penalty of the law was only inflicted by the Roman governor. Nevertheless it maybe argued that the Jews really killed him, although they did not actually shed his blood, as they clamored for his death and terrorised Pontius Pilate into ordering a judicial murder. But suppose we take this view of the case: does it therefore follow that they acted without justification? Was not Jesus, in their judgment, guilty of blasphemy, and was not that a deadly crime under the Mosaic law? "He that blasphemeth the name of the Lord," says Leviticus xxiv. 16, "shall surely be put to death." Were not the Jews, then, carrying out the plain commandment of Jehovah?
Nor was this their only justification. In another part of the Mosaic law (Deut. xiii. 6-10), the Jews were ordered to kill anyone, whether mother, son, daughter, husband, or wife, who should entice them to worship other gods. Now it is expressly maintained by the overwhelming majority of divines that Jesus asserted his own godhead, he is reported as saying, "I and my father are one," and, as St, Paul says, "He thought it no robbery to be equal to God." Were not the Jews, then, bound to kill him if they could?
Let it not be supposed that we would have killed him. We are not excusing the Jews as men, but as observers of the Mosaic law and worshippers of Jehovah. Their God is responsible for the death of Jesus, and if Jesus was a portion of that very deity, he was responsible for his own death. His worshippers had learnt the lesson so well that they killed their own God when he came in disguise.
It is contended by some Christians that Pontius Pilate killed Jesus. According to these arguers, Pilate knew that Jesus was innocent, and the execution was therefore a murder. But is it not perfectly obvious from the Gospel story that Pilate tried to save Jesus? Did not the obstinate prisoner plead guilty to what was really a charge of sedition? Did he attempt any defence? Did he call any witnesses? Was he not contumacious? And had Pilate any alternative to sentencing him to the legal punishment of his crime?
Other friends of Jesus lay the blame of his death on Judas Iscariot, But the whole story of his "betrayal" of Jesus is a downright absurdity. How could he sell his master when the commodity was common? What sense is there in his being paid to indicate the best-known man in Jerusalem? Even if the story were true, it appears that Jesus knew what Judas was doing, and as he could easily have returned to Galilee, he was accessory to his own fate. It may also be pointed out that Judas only killed Jesus if the tragedy would not have occurred without him; in which case he was the proximate cause of the Crucifixion, and consequently a benefactor to all who are saved by the blood of Christ. Instead of execration, therefore, he deserves praise, and even the statue which Disraeli suggested as his proper reward.
Who killed Christ? Why himself. His brain gave way. He was demented. His conduct at Jerusalem was that of a maniac. His very language showed a loss of balance. Whipping the dove-sellers and moneychangers, not out of the Temple, but out of its unsanctified precincts, was lunatic violence. Those merchants were fulfilling a necessary, reputable function; selling doves to women who required them as burnt offerings, and exchanging the current Roman money for the sacred Jewish coins which alone were accepted by the Temple priests. It is easy to call them thieves, but they were not tried, and their evidence is unheard. If they cheated, they must have been remarkably clever, for all their customers were Jews. Besides, there were proper tribunals for the correction of such offences, and no one who was not beside himself would think of going into a market and indiscriminately whipping the traders and dashing down their stalls. Certainly any man who did it now would be arrested, if he were not lynched on the spot, and would either be imprisoned or detained at Her Majesty's pleasure.
Quite in keeping with these displays of temper was the conduct of Jesus before Pilate. A modicum of common sense would have saved him. He was not required to tell a lie or renounce a conviction. All that was necessary to his release was to plead not guilty and defend himself against the charge of sedition. His death, therefore, was rather a suicide than a martyrdom. Unfortunately the jurisprudence of that age was less scientific than the one which now prevails; the finer differences between sanity and insanity were not discriminated; otherwise Jesus would have been remanded for inquiries into his mental condition.
As a man Jesus died because he had not the sense to live. As a God he must have died voluntarily. In either case it is an idle, gratuitous, enervating indulgence in "the luxury of woe" to be always afflicting ourselves with the story of his doom. Great and good men have suffered and died since, and other lessons are needed than any that may be learnt at the foot of the Cross.
DID JESUS ASCEND?
The story of the Ascension of Jesus Christ is as absurd as the story of his Resurrection. Both, in fact, are the products of an age prone to believe in the wonderful. So prevalent was the popular belief in the supernatural character of great men, that the comparatively cultivated Romans accepted a monstrous fable about Julius Caesar. "The enthusiasm of the multitude," says Mr. Froude, "refused to believe that he was dead. He was supposed to have ascended into heaven, not in adulatory metaphor, but in literal and prosaic fact."
Similarly the enthusiasm of the first followers of Jesus, and especially of hysterical ladies like Mary Magdalene, refused to believe that he was dead. The fable of his resurrection was gradually developed, and his ascension was devised to round off the story. Whoever will read St. Paul's epistles first, and the Gospels and the Acts afterwards, will see how the Christ myth grew from vagueness to precision under the shaping imagination of the Church of the first century after the age of the Apostles.
It is a significant fact that the appearances of Jesus after his Resurrection were all made to the faithful, and his ascension took place before them, without a single impartial person being allowed to witness an event of which it was of the utmost importance for the world to have positive assurance.
When we turn to the Gospels and the Acts, five documents whose authorship is absolutely unknown, we find the most contradictory accounts of what happened after the Resurrection. It may safely be affirmed that five such witnesses would damn any case in a legal court where the laws of evidence are respected.
These witnesses cannot even agree as to whether the risen Jesus was a man or a ghost. Now he comes through a closed door, and anon he eats broiled fish and honeycomb; now he vanishes, after walking and talking with his disciples, and anon he allows the sceptical Thomas to examine the wounds of his crucifixion as a proof that he was not a spirit, but solid flesh and blood.
According to Matthew's account, Jesus first appeared to the women—as is very probable! Mark says his first appearance was to Mary Magdalene alone; Luke says it was two of the disciples on the road to Emmaus.
His subsequent appearances are recorded with the same harmony. While Matthew makes him appear but once, Mark makes him appear three times—to the women, to the two disciples going to Emmaus, and to the eleven apostles. Luke makes him appear but twice, and John four times—to Mary Magdalene alone, to the disciples in a room without Thomas, to the same again with Thomas, and to the same once more at Tiberias. John is the only one who tells the pretty story about Thomas, and John of course is the only one who mentions the spear-thrust in Christ's side at the crucifixion, because he wanted a hole for Thomas to put his hand into, and the other evangelists had no need of such a provision. Matthew and Mark relate that the disciples were told by an angel to go to Galilee, while Luke keeps them in the Holy City, and Acts declares that Jesus expressly "commanded them that they should not depart from Jerusalem."
The ascension itself, which involved the last appearance of Jesus, as well as his disappearance, is not related by Matthew, nor is it related by John. Now Matthew and John are supposed to have been apostles. If the ascension happened they must have witnessed it; but both of them are silent, and the story of the ascension comes from three writers who were not present.
Nor do these three writers agree with each other. Luke informs us that Jesus ascended from Bethany, a short distance from Jerusalem, on the very day of the Resurrection, or at the latest the next morning; while Mark, without any precision as to time, distinctly affirms that Jesus ascended from Galilee, which was at least sixty miles from Jerusalem. Now the ascension could not have occurred at two different places, and, in the absence of corroborative testimony, Mark and Luke destroy each other as witnesses. The author of Acts agrees with Mark as to the place, but differs both from Mark and Luke as to the time. He declares that Jesus spent forty days (off and on) with his disciples before levitating. This constitutes another difficulty. Mark, Luke, and the author of Acts must all leave the court in disgrace, for it is too late for them to patch up a more harmonious story.
According to the detailed account in Acts, Jesus ascended in the presence of his apostles, including Matthew and John, who appear to have mistrusted their eyesight. After making a speech he was "taken up, and a cloud received him out of their sight." He was in a cloud, and they were in a cloud, and the millions who believe them are in a cloud.
The time of the year is seasonable for an examination of the story of the Ascension. Would that the opportunity were taken by Christians, who believe what they have been taught with scarcely a moment's investigation, and read the Bible as lazily as they smoke their pipes. We do not ask them to take our word for anything. Let them examine for themselves. If they will do this, we have no fear as to the result. A belief in the New Testament story of the supernatural Christ is impossible to any man who candidly sifts and honestly weighs the evidence.
If Christians would pursue their investigations still further they would soon satisfy themselves that the life, death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus Christ are largely, if not entirely, mythical. Now, for instance, when they are preparing to celebrate the ascension of Christ, they are welcoming the ascension of the Sun. The great luminary is (apparently) rising higher and higher in the heaven, shedding his warmer beams on the earth, and gladdening the hearts of man. And there is more connection between the Son and the Sun than ordinary Christians imagine.
THE RISING SON.
You are requested to read the above title carefully. Notice the spelling of the last word. It is son, not sun. The difference to the eye is only in one letter. The substantial difference is very great. Yet in the end the distinction between the Son and the Sun vanishes. Originally they were one and the same thing, and they will be so again when Christianity is properly understood.
Supposing that Jesus of Nazareth ever lived, it is impossible to know, with any approach to accuracy, what he really was. With the exception of four epistles by Saint Paul—in which we find a highly mystical Christ, and not a portrait or even a sketch of an actual man—we have no materials for a biography of Jesus written within a hundred years of his death. Undoubtedly some documents existed before the Canonical and Apocryphal Gospels, but they were lost through neglect or suppression, and what we have is simply the concoction of older materials by an unscrupulous Church.
During the interval between the real or supposed death of Jesus and the date of the gospels, there was plenty of time for the accumulation of any quantity of mythology. The east was full of such material, only waiting, after the destruction of the old national religions under the sway of Rome, to be woven into the texture of a non-national system as wide as the limits of the Empire.
Protestants are able to recognise a vast deal of Paganism in the teaching and ritual of the Roman Catholic Church. On that side they keep an open eye. On the other side their eye is shut. If they opened it they would see plenty of Paganism in the gospels.
The only fixed date in the career of Jesus is his birthday. This is known by every scholar to be fictitious. The primitive Church was ignorant of the day on which Jesus was born. But what was unknown to the apostles, one of whom is said to have been his very brother, was opportunely discovered by the Church three hundred years afterwards. For some time the nativity of Jesus had been celebrated on all sorts of days, but the Church brought about uniformity by establishing the twenty-fifth of December. This was the Pagan festival of the nativity of the Sun. The Church simply appropriated it, in order to bring over the Pagan population by a change of doctrine without a change or rites and customs.
It may be objected that the primitive Church did not inquire as to the birthday of Jesus until it was too late to ascertain it. But this objection cannot possibly apply to the resurrection, the date of which is involved in equal uncertainty, although one would expect it to be precisely known and regularly commemorated. For many ages the celebration was irregular. Different Sundays were kept, and sometimes other days, in various weeks of March and April. Finally, after fierce disputes and excommunications, the present system was imposed upon the whole Catholic world.
Easter is, in fact, decided astronomically, by a process in which sun-worship and moon-worship are both conciliated. The starting point is the vernal equinox, which was the time of a common Pagan festival. The very name of Easter is of heathen origin. All its customs are bequeathed to us from far-off Pagan ancestors. Easter eggs, symbolising the life of the universe, have been traced back to the Romans, Greeks, Persians, and Egyptians.
When the Christians celebrate the resurrection of Christ they are imitating the ancient "heathen," who at the same time of the year commemorated the resurrection of the Sun, and his manifest triumph over the powers of darkness. And when the moderns prepare to celebrate the ascension of Christ, they are really welcoming the ascension of the Sun. The great luminary—father of light and lord of life—is then (apparently) rising higher and higher in heaven, shedding his warmer beams on the earth, and gladdening the hearts of men.
Churches and altars are decked with vegetation, which is another relic of nature-worship. Life is once more bursting forth under the kindling rays of the sun. Hope springs afresh in the heart of man. His fancy sees the pastures covered with flocks and herds, the corn waving in the breeze, and the grapes plumping in the golden sunshine, big with the blood of earth and the fire of heaven.
According to the Apostles' Creed, Jesus descended into hell between his death and resurrection. That is also a relic of sun-worship. During the dark, cold winter the sun descended into the underworld, which is the real meaning of Hades. Misunderstanding this circumstance, or deliberately perverting it, the early Church fabricated the monstrous fable that Jesus "preached unto the spirits in prison," as we read in the first epistle of Peter. One of the apocryphal gospels gives a lively account of how he harried the realm of Old Harry, emptying the place wholesale, and robbing the poor Devil of all his illustrious subjects, from Adam to John the Baptist.
A volume might be filled with illustrations of the mythology of the Resurrection. Our present space is limited, and we must let the above suffice. Anyone who reads the gospel story of the resurrection and ascension of Jesus Christ, with a careful eye and a critical mind, will see that it is not historical. Such witnesses, so loose in statement and so contradictory of each other, would collapse in a few minutes in any court of law. They do not write as spectators, and they were not spectators. What they give us is the legendary and mythical story that had taken possession of the Christian mind long after all the contemporaries of Jesus were dead.
Our belief, in conclusion, is that the Rising Sun will outlast the Rising Son. The latter is gradually, but very surely, perishing. Even professed Christians are giving up the miraculous elements of the gospels. But who would give up the Sun, which has warmed, lighted, and fertilised the earth for millions of years, and will do so for millions of years after the death of Christianity?
ST. PAUL'S VERACITY.
A very pretty storm has been raised (and settled) by the Independent and Nonconformist. It raged around the Apostle Paul and Mr. Herbert Spencer, who both come out of it apparently not a penny the worse. Mr. Spencer has a chapter on Veracity in his recently published Principles of Ethics, wherein he cites Paul as a violator of this virtue, and remarks that "apparently piquing himself on his craft and guile," he "elsewhere defends his acts by contending that 'the truth of God hath more abounded through my lie unto his glory.'" This roused the ire of the Independent, and Mr. Spencer was informed that his extraordinary aspersion on the Apostle's character was wholly without justification. Whereupon the great Evolutionist replied that two days before receiving the Independent he had "sent to the printer the copy of a cancel to be substituted for the page in which there occurs the error you point out." Mr. Spencer goes on to say that he had trusted to assistants, and been misled on this particular point as on a few others.
"The inductions contained in the Principles of Sociology and in Part II. of the Principles of Ethics are based mainly, though not wholly, upon the classified materials contained in The Descriptive Sociology, compiled between 1867 and 1881 by three University men I engaged for the purpose. When using this compilation of facts concerning sixty-eight different societies I have habitually trusted to the compilers. For even had I been in good health, it would have been impossible for me to verify all their extracts from multitudinous books. In some cases, where the work was at hand, I have referred for verification; and have usually done so in the case of extracts from the Bible; now and then, as I remember, rejecting the extracts given to me as being not justified by the context. But in the case in point it seems that I had not been sufficiently careful. It is only after reading the preceding chapter that it becomes clear that the passage I quoted must be taken as part of an argument with an imaginary interlocutor, rather than as expressive of St. Paul's own sentiment. It must, I think, be admitted that the presentation of the thought is a good deal complicated, and, in the absence of the light thrown upon it by the preceding chapter, is liable to be misunderstood. I regret that I misunderstood it."
This explanation and apology are, of course, most satisfactory. Saint Paul is cleared by Mr. Spencer's certificate, and the Independent remarks that this is "a noble codicil to Mr. Spencer's chapter on Veracity." Nay, it professes high "admiration" for him as the "greatest living philosopher of the English-speaking race." Thus the "Comedy of Errors" is followed by "All's Well that Ends Well," and the curtain falls on compliments and embraces.
It really seems a shame to disturb this pleasant harmony, but we feel compelled to say something to the Independent and to Mr. Herbert Spencer about the Apostle Paul.
In the first place we must observe that Mr. Spencer's "erroneous" statement about the great apostle, while it may be an aspersion, is certainly not extraordinary. It has repeatedly been made by the apostle's adverse critics, and even by some of his admirers. Without citing a long list of them, we will give two—both English, and both judicial. Jeremy Bentham, the great reformer of our jurisprudence, wrote a work entitled Not Paul, but Jesus, in which he contends through four hundred pages that Paul was mercenary, ambitious, and an unscrupulous liar. To cull a single passage from Bentham's book is like picking one raisin from a rich plum-pudding. Every sentence is an indictment. And surely after Bentham's trenchant performance it is idle for an English journal to pretend that there is anything "extraordinary" in Mr. Spencer's "erroneous" accusation. The other judicial writer, also belonging to the English race, is Sir Richard David Hanson, who was for some time Chief Justice of South Australia. In his able work on The Apostle Paul there is an admirable summing-up of the hero's character. After admitting Paul's ability, persistence, courage, and other virtues, he remarks—"But these are accompanied by what in an uninspired man would be called pride, jealousy, disdain, invective, sophistry, time-serving and intolerance." This is pretty strong; and "sophistry" and "time-serving" are only euphemisms for lying in preaching and practice.
So much for the Independent, and now for Mr. Spencer. It must be observed that one part of his "erroneous" statement cannot be repudiated. The apostle distinctly says, "being crafty, I caught you with guile" (2 Uor. xii. 16), so that "piquing himself on his craft and guile" must stand while this text remains in the Epistle. Mr. Spencer allows that, in the third of Romans, the "presentation of the thought is a good deal complicated," and "liable to be misunderstood"; but, if read in the light of the preceding chapter, the passage about lying to the glory of God "must be taken as part of an argument with an imaginary interlocutor." Perhaps so; but which is speaking in the seventh verse? Paul or his opponent? Mr. Spencer does not say. Yet this is the real point. To us it seems that Paul is speaking. Of course it may be urged that he is speaking ironically. But this is not Mr. Spencer's contention. It is not clear what he does mean; in fact, he seems to have caught a little of Paul's confusion.
We have no objection to reading the seventh verse of the third of Romans in the light of the preceding chapter. But should it not also be read in the light of Christian history? Have honest openness and strict veracity been ever regarded as essential virtues in the propagation of the gospel? And why is it likely that Paul, of all men, escaped the contagion of fraud, which has always disgraced the Christian Church? The ordinary Protestant imagines, or pretends, that the Catholic Church has been the great impostor; but this is nonsense to the student of early Christianity. Mosheim remarks that the "pernicious maxim" that "those who make it their business to deceive with a view of promoting the cause of truth were deserving rather of commendation than of censure," was "very early recognised by the Christians." Bishop Ellicott similarly observes that "history forces upon us the recognition of pious fraud as a principle which was by no means inoperative in the earliest ages of Christianity." Middleton likewise reflects that the bold defiance of honesty and truth displayed by the Fathers of the fourth century "could not have been acquired, or become general at once, but must have been carried gradually to that height, by custom and the example of former times, and a long experience of what the credulity and superstition or the multitude would bear." So far, indeed, were the "earlier ages" from being remarkable for integrity, that Middleton says there never was "any period of time" in which fraud and forgery more abounded. The learned Casaubon also complains that it was in "the earliest times of the Church" that it was "considered a capital exploit to lend to heavenly truth the help of invention, in order that the new doctrine might be more readily allowed by the wise among the Gentiles." Mosheim even finds that the period of fraud began "not long after Christ's ascension." And it continued, without a blush of shame on Christian cheeks; not growing worse, for that was impossible; until Eusebius, in the fourth century, remarked as a matter of course that he had written what redounded to the glory, and suppressed whatever tended to the disgrace of religion.
Now if fraud was practised as a pious principle in the very earliest ages of Christianity; if it continued for as many centuries as it could pass with impunity; if it was so systematic and prolonged, and carried to such a height, that Herder declared "Christian veracity" fit to rank with "Punic Faith"; what right has anyone—even a Christian editor—to place Paul above suspicion, or to find a "monstrous" blunder in his being accused of lying, especially when the historic practice of his co-religionists seems to many persons to be more than half countenanced by his own language?
We are not concerned to press the charge of lying against St. Paul. There have been so many liars in the Christian Church that one more or less makes very little difference. On the other hand, we cannot accept Mr. Spencer's certificate without reservation. He admits that Paul's language is obscure; and perhaps a little obscurity is to be expected when a man is replying to an accusation which he is not wholly able to rebut.