Who the original "sons of God" were is a moot point. God only knows, and he has not told us. But Jewish and Christian divines have advanced many theories. According to some the sons of Gods were the offspring of Seth, who was born holy in succession to righteous Abel, while the daughters of men were the offspring of wicked Cain. Among the oriental Christians it is said that the children of Seth tried to regain Paradise by living in great austerity on Mount Hermon, but they soon tired of their laborious days and cheerless nights, and cast sheep's-eyes on the daughters of Cain, who beauty was equal to their father's wickedness. Marriages followed, and the Devil triumphed again.
According to the Cabbalists, two angels, Aza and Azael, complained to God at the creation of man. God answered, "You, O angels, if you were in the lower world, you too would sin." They descended on earth, and directly they saw the ladies they forgot heaven. They married and exchanged the hallelujahs of the celestial chorus for the tender tones of loving women and the sweet prattle of little children. Having sinned, or, to use the vile language of religion, "polluted themselves with women," they became clothed with flesh. On trying to regain Paradise they failed, and were cast back on the mountains, where they continued to beget giants and devils.
"There were giants in the earth in those days" says Scripture. Of course there were. Every barbarous people has similar legends of primitive ages. The translators of our Revised Version are ashamed of these mythical personages as being too suggestive of Jack and the Beanstalk, so they have substituted Anakim for giants. In other words, they have shirked the duty of translators, and left the nonsense veiled under the original word.
The Mohammedans say that not only giants, but also Jins, were born of the sons of God, who married the daughters of men. The Jins soon had the world in their power. They ruled everywhere, and built colossal works, including the pyramids.
Of the giants, the most remarkable was Og. He was taller than the last Yankee story, for at the Deluge he stopped the windows of heaven with his hands, or the water would have risen over his head. The Talmud says that he saved himself by swimming close to the ark in company with the rhinoceros. The water there happened to be cold, while all the rest was boiling hot; and thus Og was saved while all the other giants perished. According to another story, Og climbed on the roof of the ark, and when Noah tried to dislodge him, he swore that he would become the patriarch's slave. Noah at once clinched the bargain, and food was passed through a hole for the giant every day.
When we look into them we find the myths of the Bible wonderfully like the myths of other systems. The Giants are similar to the Titans, and the union of divine males with human females is similar to the amors of Jupiter, Apollo, Neptune, and Mars with the women of old. In this matter there is nothing new under the sun. Every fresh myth is only the recasting of an ancient fable, born of ignorance and imagination.
Let it finally be noted that this old Genesaic story of the angelic husbands of earthly women gives us a poor idea of the felicity of heaven. In that unknown region, as Jesus Christ informed his disciples, there is neither marrying nor giving in marriage; that is, no males, no females, no courting, no loving, no children, and no homes. Men cease to be men and women cease to be women. Everybody is of the neuter gender.
Or else all the angels are gentlemen, without a lady amongst them. Perhaps the latter view is preferable, as it harmonises with the Bible, in which the angels are always he's. In that case heaven would be, to say the least, rather a dull place. No whispering in the moonlight, no clasped hands under the throbbing stars. Not even a kiss under the misletoe. Oh, what must it be to be there! No wonder the sons of God wandered from their cheerless Paradise, visited this lower world, and saw the daughters of men that they were fair.
Melchizedek is the most extraordinary person of whom we have any record. Christ was born and Adam was made, but Melchizedek never began to be and will never cease to exist. If the Bible were not such an intensely serious book without a gleam of humor, except of the unconscious Hibernian kind, we might conclude that Melchizedek was nobody, for the description admirably suits that character. But the Bible does not play and must not be played with. All its personages are bona fide realities, from the Ancient of Days with white woolly hair on the throne of heaven to the prophet Jonah who took three days' lodging in the belly of a whale.
The name Melchizedek means king of justice, being derived from melec, a king, and tzedec, justice. When the gentleman bearing this name is introduced to us in the fourteenth of Genesis, he is king of Salem, which means peace. Salem was a city on the site of Zion.
Originally it was called Jebus, then Zadek, then Salem, and finally Jerusalem. So says Rabbi Joseph Ben-Gorion. But other writers, no doubt just as well informed, differ from him; and while the doctors disagree, simple laymen may well hold their judgment in suspense; or, better still, dismiss Jebus, Zadek, Salem, and Jerusalem, to the limbo of learned trivialities. Counting the spots on a leopard, the quills on a porcupine, or the hairs in a cat's whiskers, is just as amusing and quite as edifying as most of the problems of divines and commentators.
When Abraham returned from a successful campaign, in which he defeated five kings and their armies with three hundred and eighteen raw recruits, Melchizedek came out to meet him with victuals and drink. These two friends joined in the friendly office of scratching each other. They were, in fact, a small mutual admiration society. Abraham, although at other times a rank coward, was on this occasion a bold warrior laden with spoil; and Melchizedek besides being King of Salem, was "the priest of the most high God." "Bully for you, Abraham," said Melchizedek. "Bully for you, Melchizedek," said Abraham. As usual, however, the priest got the best of it, for the patriarch paid him tithes, which were a capital return for his compliments. Genesis is a little confused, indeed; and what scripture is not? "And he gave him tithes of all" is not very clear. It reminds one of the West of England yokel, who gave his evidence on a case of homicide in this way:
"He had a stick, and he had a stick; and he hit he, and he hit he. And if he'd only hit he as hard as he hit he, he'd a' killed he, and not he he."
But we must not be too hard on Bibles and yokels. So long as we can get a scintillation of their meaning we must be satisfied. Scripture, we may take it, means that the he who paid tithes was Abraham, and the him who received them was Melchizedek.
Now the book of Genesis is not an early, but a very late portion of the Jewish scriptures, dating only a few centuries before Christ. And we may depend on it that this little sentence about tithes, and perhaps the whole story that leads up to it, was got up by the priests, to give the authority of Abraham's name and the sanction of antiquity to an institution which kept them in luxury at the expense of their neighbors.
Our view of the case is supported by the fact that Melchizedek's name does not appear again in the whole of the Old Testament, except in the hundred and tenth Psalm, where somebody or other (the parsons of course say Christ) is called "a priest for ever after the order of Melchizedek." Paul, or whoever wrote the Epistle to the Hebrews, works up this hint in fine style. It would puzzle a lunatic, or a fortune-teller, or the Archbishop of Canterbury, or God Almighty himself, to say what the Seventh of Hebrews means. We give it up as an insoluble conundrum, and we observe that every commentator with a grain of sense and honesty does the same. But there is one luminous flash in the jumble of metaphysical darkness. Melchizedek is described as "without father, without mother, without descent, having neither beginning of days nor end of life." It will be easy to recognise a gentleman of that description when you meet him. When we do meet him we shall readily acknowledge him as our king and priest, and pay him an income tax of two shillings in the pound; but until then we warn all kings and priests off our doorsteps.
Jewish traditions say that Melchizedek was the son of Shem, and set apart for the purpose of watching and burying Adam's carcase when it was unshipped from the Ark. Some, however, maintain that he was of a celestial race; while other (Christian) speculators have held that he was no less than Jesus Christ himself, who put in an early appearance in Abraham's days to keep the Jewish pot boiling. St. Athanasius tells a long-winded story of Melchizedek and Abraham, which shows what stuff the early Christians believed. According to the Talmud, Melchizedek composed the hundred and tenth Psalm himself; and although he is without end of days, his tomb was shown at Jerusalem in the time of Gemelli Oarrere the traveller.
There was an heretical sect called the Melchizedekiana in the third century. They held that Jesus Christ was, according to Hebrews, only of the order of Melchizedek, and therefore that Melchizedek himself was the more venerable. This heresy revived in Egypt after its suppression elsewhere, and its adherents claimed that Melchizedek was the Holy Ghost. The last time Melchizedek was heard of he was a London coster-monger's donkey, but whether this was a real incarnation of the original Melchizedek no one is able to decide, unless the Lord should again, as in the case of Balaam's companion, "open the mouth of the ass" and inform the world of the things that belong unto its peace.
S'W'ELP ME GOD.
Whoever has seen a Hebrew money-lender in a County Court take up a copy of the Old Testament, present the greasy cover to his greasy lips, and, like honest Moses in the School for Scandal, "take his oath on that," must have had a lively impression as to the value of swearing as a religious ceremony. And this impression must have been heightened when he has seen an ingenuous Christian, on the other side of the suit, present a copy of the New Testament to his pious lips, and quietly swear to the very opposite of all that the God-fearing Jew had solemnly declared to be the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. One's appreciation of the oath is still further increased by watching the various litigants and witnesses as they caress the sacred volume: Here a gentleman wears an expression of countenance which seems to imply "I guess they'll get a good deal of truth out of me"; and there anothers face seems to promise as great a regard for truth as is consistent with his understanding with the solicitor who subpoenaed him as an independent witness in the interest of justice and a sound client. Hard swearing is the order of the day. So conflicting is the evidence on simple matters of fact that it is perfectly obvious that the very atmosphere is charged with duplicity. The thing is taken as a matter of course. Judges are used to it, and act accordingly, deciding in most cases by a keen observation of the witnesses and an extensive knowlege of the seamy side of nature. But sometimes the very judges are nonplussed, so brazen are the faces of the gentlemen who "have kissed the book" Very often, no doubt, their honors feel inclined to say, like the American judge in directing his jury, "Well, gentlemen, if you believe what these witnesses swear, you will give a verdict for the plaintiff; and if you believe what the other witnesses swear, you will give a verdict for the defendant; but if, like me, you don't believe what either side swears, I'm hanged if I know what you will do."
The fact is, the oath is absolutely useless if its object is to prevent false witness. Should there be any likelihood of a persecution for perjury, a two-faced Testament-kisser will be on his guard, and be very careful to tell only such lies as cannot be clearly proved against him. He dreads the prospect of daily exercise on the treadmill, he loathes the idea of picking oakum, and his gorge rises at the thought of brown bread and skilly. But so long as that danger is avoided, there are hosts of witnesses, most of them very good Christians, who have been suckled on the Gospel in Sunday Schools, and fed afterwards on the strong meat of the Word in churches and chapels, who will swear fast and loose after calling God to witness to their veracity. They ask the Almighty to deal with them according as they tell the truth, yet for all that they proceed to tell the most unblushing lies. What is the reason of this strange inconsistency? Simply this. Hell is a long way off, and many things may happen before the Day of Judgment. Besides, God is merciful; he is always ready to forgive sins; a man has only to repent in time, that is a few minutes before death, and all his sins will be washed out in the cleansing blood of Christ. Notwithstanding all his lies in earthly courts, the repentant sinner will not lose his right of walking about for ever and ever in the court of heaven, although some poor devil whose liberty or property he swore away may be frizzling for ever and ever in hell.
We are strongly of opinion that if the oath were abolished altogether there would be fewer falsehoods told in our public courts. No doubt the law of perjury has some effect, but it is less than is generally imagined, partly because the law is difficult to apply, and partly because there is a wide disinclination to apply it, owing to a sort of freemasonry in false witness, which is apt to be regarded as an essential part of the game of litigation. Here and there, too, there may be a person of sincere piety, who fears to tell a lie in what he considers the direct presence of God. But for the most part the fear of punishment, in this world or in the next, will not make men veracious. The fact is proved by universal experience; nay, there are judges, as well as philosophers, who openly declare that the oath has a direct tendency to create perjury. Anyone, with a true sense of morality will understand the reason of this. Fear is not a moral motive; and when the threatened punishment is very remote or very uncertain, it has next to no deterrent effect. Cupidity is matched against fear, and the odds of the game being in its favor, it wins. But if a moral motive is appealed to, the case is different. Many a man will tell a lie in the witness-box who would scruple to do so "on his honor"; many a man will lie before God who would scruple to deceive a friend. Let a man feel that he is trusted, let his self-respect be appealed to, and he is more likely to be veracious than he would be if he were threatened with imprisonment in this life and hell-fire in the next.
Why Christians should cling to this relic of barbarity it is difficult to conceive. Their Savior plainly commanded them to "Swear not at all," and the early Church obeyed this injunction until it rose to power under Constantine. It is also a striking fact that the apostle Peter, when he disobeyed his Master, and took an oath, used it to confirm a palpable lie. When the damsel charged him in court with having been a follower of Jesus, he "Denied it with an oath." "You were one of them," said the damsel. "I wasn't," said Peter. "You were with him," she rejoined. Whereupon Peter exclaimed "S'w'elp me God, I never knew him." Surely if self-interest made Peter commit flat perjury in the bodily presence of his Savior, it is idle to assert that the oath in any way promotes veracity.
INFIDEL HOMES. *
* The Influence of Scepticism on Character. Being the sixteenth Fernley Lecture. By the Rev. William L. Watkinson. London: T. Woolmer.
John Wesley was a man of considerable force of mind and singular strength of character. But he was very unfortunate, to say the least of it, in his relations with women. His marriage was a deplorable misunion, and his latest biographer, who aims at presenting a faithful picture of the founder of Wesleyanism, has to dwell very largely on his domestic miseries. Wesley held patriarchal views on household matters, the proper subordination of the wife being a prime article of his faith. Mrs. Wesley, however, entertained different views. She is therefore described as a frightful shrew, and rated for her inordinate jealousy, although her husband's attentions to other ladies certainly gave her many provocations.
In face of these facts, it might naturally be thought that Wesleyans would say as little as possible about the domestic infelicities of Freethinkers. But Mr. Watkinson is not to be restrained by any such consideration. Although a Wesleyan (as we understand) he challenges comparisons on this point. He has read the biographies and autobiographies of several "leading Freethinkers," and he invites the world to witness how selfish and sensual they were in their domestic relations. He is a pulpit rhetorician, so he goes boldly and recklessly to work. Subtlety and discrimination he abhors as pedantic vices, savoring too much of "culture." His judgments are of the robustious order. Like Jesus Christ, he fancies that all men can be divided into sheep and goats. The good are good, and the bad are bad. And naturally the good are Christians and bad are Freethinkers.
The first half of Mr. Watkinson's book of 162 pages (it must have been a pretty long lecture!) is a preface to the second half, which contains his fling at Goethe, Mill, George Eliot, Harriet Martineau, Carlyle, and other offenders against the Watkinsonian code. We think it advisable, therefore, to follow him through his preface first, and through his "charges" afterwards.
Embedded in a lot of obscure or questionable matter in Mr. Watkinson's exordium is this sentence—"What we believe with our whole heart is of the highest consequence to us." True, but whether it is of the highest consequence to other people depends on what it is. Conviction is a good thing, but it cannot dispense with the criterion of truth. On the other hand, what passes for conviction may often be mere acquiescence. That term, we believe, would accurately describe the creed of ninety-nine out of every hundred, in every part of the world, whose particular faith is merely the result of the geographical accident of their birth. Assuredly we do not agree with Mr. Watkinson that "all reasonable people will acknowledge that the faith of Christian believers is to a considerable extent most real; nay, in tens of thousand of cases it is the most real thing in their life." Mr. Cotter Morison laboriously refutes this position in his fine volume on The Service of Man. Mill denied and derided it in a famous passage of his great essay On Liberty. Mr. Justice Stephen denies it in the Nineteenth Century. Carlyle also, according to Mr. Fronde, said that "religion as it existed in England had ceased to operate all over the conduct of men in their ordinary business, it was a hollow appearance, a word without force in it." These men may not be "reasonable" in Mr. Watkinson's judgment, but with most people their word carries a greater weight than his.
Mr. Watkinson contends—and what will not a preacher contend?—that "the denial of the great truths of the Evangelical faith can exert only a baneful influence on character." We quite agree with him. But evangelicalism, and the great truths of evangelicalism, are very different things. It is dangerous to deny any "great truth," but how many does evangelicalism possess? Mr. Watkinson would say "many." We should say "none." Still less, if that were possible, should we assent to his statement that "morals in all spheres and manifestations must suffer deeply by the prevalence of scepticism." Mr. Morison, asserts and proves that this sceptical age is the most moral the world has seen, and that as we go back into the Ages of Faith, vice and crime grow denser and darker.
If the appeal is to history, of which Mr. Watkinson's references do not betray a profound knowledge, the verdict will be dead against him.
Mr. Justice Stephen thinks morality can look after itself, but he doubts whether "Christian charity" will survive "Christian theology." This furnishes Mr. Watkinson with a sufficient theme for an impressive sermon. But his notion of "Christian charity" and Mr. Justice Stephen's are very different. The hard-headed judge means the sentimentalism and "pathetic exaggerations" of the Sermon on the Mount, which he has since distinctly said would destroy society if they were fully practised. "Morality," says Mr. Watkinson, "would suffer on the mystical side." Perhaps so. It might be no longer possible for a Louis the Fifteenth to ask God's blessing when he went to debauch a young girl in the Parc aux Cerfs, or for a grave philosopher like Mr. Tylor to write in his Anthropology that "in Europe brigands are notoriously church-goers." Yet morality might gain as much on the practical side as it lost on the mystical, and we fancy mankind would profit by the change.
Now for Mr. Watkinson's history, which he prints in small capitals, probably to show it is the real, unadulterated article. He tell us that "the experiment of a nation living practically a purely secular life has been tried more than once" with disastrous results. He is, however, very careful not to mention these nations, and we defy him to do so. What he does is this. He rushes off to Pompeii, whose inhabitants he thinks were Secularists! He also reminds us in a casual way that "they had crucified Christ a few years before," which again is news. Equally accurate is the statement that Pompeii was an "infamous" city, "full" of drunkenness, cruelty, etc. Probably Mr. Watkinson, like most good Christians who go to Pompeii, visited an establishment, such as we have thousands of in Christendom, devoted to the practical worship of Venus without neglecting Priapus. He has forgotten the immortal letter of Pliny, and the dead Roman sentinel at the post of duty. He acts like a foreigner who should describe London from his experience at a brothel.
Philosophy comes next. Mr. Watkinson puts in a superior way the clap-trap of Christian Evidence lecturers. If man is purely material, and the law of causation is universal, where, he asks, "is the place for virtue, for praise, for blame?" Has Mr. Watkinson never read the answer to these questions? If he has not, he has much to learn; if he has, he should refute them. Merely positing and repositing an old question is a very stale trick in religious controversy. It imposes on some people, but they belong to the "mostly fools."
"Morality is in as much peril as faith," cries Mr. Watkinson. Well, the clergy have been crying that for two centuries, yet our criminal statistics lessen, society improves, and literature grows cleaner. As for the "nasty nude figures" that offend Mr. Watkinson's eyes in the French Salon, we would remind him that God Almighty makes everybody naked, clothes being a human invention. With respect to the Shelley Society "representing the Cenci and other monstrous themes," we conclude that Mr. Watkinson does not know what he is talking about. There is incest in the Cenci, but it is treated in a high dramatic spirit as a frightful crime, ending in bloodshed and desolation. There is also incest in the Bible, commonplace, vulgar, bestial incest, recorded without a word of disapprobation. Surely when a Christian minister, who says the Bible is God's Word, knowing it contains the beastly story of Lot and his daughters, cries out against Shelley's Cenci as "monstrous," he invites inextinguishable Rabelaisian laughter. No other reply is fitting for such a "monstrous" absurdity, and we leave our readers to shake their sides at Mr. Watkinson's expense.
Mr. Watkinson asks whether infidelity has "produced new and higher types of character." Naturally he answers the question in the negative. "The lives of infidel teachers," he exclaims, "are in saddest contrast to their pretentious philosophies and bland assumptions." He then passes in review a picked number of these upstarts, dealing with each of them in a Watkinsonian manner. His rough-and-ready method is this. Carefully leaving out of sight all the good they did, and the high example of honest thought they set to the world, he dilates upon their failings without the least regard to the general moral atmosphere of their age, or the proportion of their defects to the entirety of their natures. Mr. Smith, the greengrocer, whose horizon is limited to his shop and his chapel, may lead a very exemplary life, according to orthodox standards; but his virtues, as well as his vices, are rather of a negative character, and the world at large is not much the better for his having lived in it. On the other hand a man like Mirabeau may be shockingly incontinent, but if in the crisis of a nation's history he places his genius, his eloquence, and his heroic courage at the service of liberty, and helps to mark a new epoch of progress, humanity can afford to pardon his sexual looseness in consideration of his splendid service to the race. Judgment, in short, must be pronounced on the sum-total of a man's life, and not on a selected aspect. Further, the faults that might be overwhelming in the character of Mr. Smith, the Methodist greengrocer, may sink into comparative insignificance in the character of a great man, whose intellect and emotions are on a mightier scale. This truth is admirably expressed in Carlyle's Essay on Burns.
"Not the few inches of deflection from the mathematical orbit, which are so easily measured, but the ratio of these to the whole diameter, constitutes the real aberration. This orbit may be a planet's, its diameter the breadth of the solar system; or it may be a city hippodrome; nay the circle of a ginhorse, its diameter a score of feet or paces. But the inches of deflection only are measured: and it is assumed that the diameter of the ginhorse, and that of the planet, will yield the same ratio when compared with them! Here lies the root of many a blind, cruel condemnation of Burnses, Swifts, Rousseaus, which one never listens to with approval. Granted, the ship comes into harbor with shrouds and tackle damaged; the pilot is blameworthy; he has not been all-wise and all-powerful: but to know how blameworthy, tell us first whether his voyage has been round the Globe, or only to Ramsgate and the Isle of Dogs."
We commend this fine passage to Mr. Watkinson's attention. It may make him a little more modest when he next applies his orthodox tape and callipers to the character of his betters.
Goethe is Mr. Watkinson's first infidel hero, and we are glad to see that he makes this great poet a present to Freethought. Some Christians claim Goethe as really one of themselves, but Mr. Watkinson will have none of him. "The actual life of Goethe," he tells us, "was seriously defective." Perhaps so, and the same might have been said of hundreds of Christian teachers who lived when he did, had they been big enough to have their lives written for posterity. Goethe's fault was a too inflammable heart, and with the license of his age, which was on the whole remarkably pious, he courted more than one pretty woman; or, if the truth must be told, he did not repel the pretty women who threw themselves at him. But there were thousands of orthodox men who acted in the same way. The distinctive fact about Goethe is that he kept a high artistic ideal always before him, and cultivated his poetic gifts with tireless assiduity. His sensual indulgences were never allowed to interfere with his great aim in life, and surely that is something. The result is that the whole world is the richer for his labors, and only the Watkinsons can find any delight in dwelling on the failings he possessed in common with meaner mortals. To say that Goethe should be "an object of horror to the whole self-respecting world" is simply to indulge in the twang of the tabernacle.
Carlyle is the next sinner; but, curiously, the Rock, while praising Mr. Watkinson's lecture, says that "Carlyle ought not to be classed with the sceptics." We dissent from the Rock however; and we venture to think that Carlyle's greatest fault was a paltering with himself on religious subjects. His intellect rejected more than his tongue disowned. Mr. Watkinson passes a very different criticism. Taking Carlyle as a complete sceptic, he proceeds to libel him by a process which always commends itself to the preachers of the gospel of charity. He picks from Mr. Froude's four volumes a number of tid-bits, setting forth Carlyle's querulousness, arrogance, and domestic storms with Mrs. Carlyle. Behold the man! exclaims Mr. Watkinson. Begging his pardon, it is not the man at all. Carlyle was morbidly sensitive by nature, he suffered horribly from dyspepsia, and intense literary labor, still further deranging his nerves, made him terribly irritable. But he had a fine side to his nature, and even a sunny side. Friends like Professor Tyndall, Professor Norton, Sir James Stephen, and Mrs. Gilchrist, saw Carlyle in a very different light from Mr. Froude's. Besides, Mrs. Carlyle made her own choice. She deliberately married a man of genius, whom she recognised as destined to make a heavy mark on his age. She had her man of genius, and he put his life into his books. And what a life! And what books! The sufficient answer to all the Watkinson tribe is to point to Carlyle's thirty volumes. This is the man. Such work implies a certain martyrdom, and those who stood beside him should not have complained so lustily that they were scorched by the fire. Carlyle did a giant's work, and he had a right to some failings. Freethinkers see them as well as Mr. Watkinson, but they are aware that no man is perfect, and they do not hold up Carlyle, or any other sceptic, as a model for universal imitation.
Mr. Watkinson's remarks on George Eliot are simply brutal. She was a "wanton." She "lived in free-love with George Henry Lewes." She had no excuse for her "license." She was "full of insincerity, cant, and hypocrisy." And so on ad nauseam. To call Mr. Watkinson a liar would be to descend to his level. Let us simply look at the facts. George Eliot lived with George Henry Lewes as his wife. She had no vagrant attachments. Her connection with Lewes only terminated with his death. Why then did they not marry? Because Lewes's wife was still living, and the pious English law would not allow a divorce unless all the household secrets were dragged before a gaping public. George Eliot consulted her own heart instead of social conventions. She became a mother to Lewes's children, and a true wife to him, though neither a priest nor a registrar blessed their union. She chose between the law of custom and the higher law, facing the world's frown, and relying on her own strength to bear the consequences of her act. To call such a woman a wanton and a kept mistress is to confess one's self devoid of sense and sensibility. Nor does it show much insight to assert that "infidelity betrayed and wrecked her life," and to speculate how glorious it might have been if she had "found Jesus." It will be time enough to listen to this strain when Mr. Watkinson can show us a more "glorious" female writer in the Christian camp.
William Godwin is the next Freethinker whom Mr. Watkinson calls up for judgment. All the brave efforts of the author of Political Justice in behalf of freedom and progress are quietly ignored. Mr. Watkinson comments, in a true vein of Christian charity, on the failings of his old age, censures his theoretical disrespect for the marriage laws, and inconsistently blames him for his inconsistency in marrying Mary Woolstonecraft. Of that remarkable woman he observes that scepticism "destroyed in her all that fine, pure feeling which is the glory of the sex." But the only proof he vouchsafes of this startling statement is a single sentence from one of her letters, which Mr. Watkinson misunderstands, as he misunderstands so many passages in Carlyle's letters, through sheer inability to comprehend the existence of such a thing as humor. He takes every jocular expression as perfectly serious, being one of those uncomfortable persons in whose society, as Charles Lamb said, you must always speak on oath. Mr. Watkinson's readers might almost exclaim with Hamlet, "How absolute the knave is! We must speak by the card, or equivocation will undo us."
The next culprit is Shelley, who, we are told, "deserted his young wife and children in the most shameful and heartless fashion." It does not matter to Mr. Watkinson that Shelley's relations with Harriet are still a perplexing problem, or that when they parted she and the children were well provided for, Nor does he condescend to notice the universal consensus of opinion among those who were in a position to be informed on the subject, that Harriet's suicide, more than two years afterwards, had nothing to do with Shelley's "desertion." Instead of referring to proper authorities, Mr. Watkinson advises his readers to consult "Mr. Jeafferson's painstaking volumes on the Real Shelley." Mr. Jeafferson's work is truly painstaking, but it is the work of an advocate who plays the part of counsel for the prosecution. Hunt, Peacock, Hogg, Medwin, Lady Shelley, Rossetti, and Professor Dowden—these are the writers who should be consulted. Shelley was but a boy when Harriet Westbrook proposed to run away with him. Had he acted like the golden youth of his age, and kept her for a while as his mistress, there would have been no scandal. His father, in fact, declared that he would hear nothing of marriage, but he would keep as many illegitimate children as Shelley chose to get. It was the intense chivalry of Shelley's nature that turned a very simple affair into a pathetic tragedy. Mr. Watkinson's brutal methods of criticism are out of place in such a problem. He lacks insight, subtlety, delicacy of feeling, discrimination, charity, and even an ordinary sense of justice.
James Mill is another flagrant sinner. Mr. Watkinson goes to the length of blaming him because "his temper was constitutionally irritable," as though he constructed himself. Here, again, Mr. Watkinson's is a purely debit account. He ignores James Mill's early sacrifices for principle, his strenuous labor for what he considered the truth, and his intense devotion to the education of his children. His temper was undoubtedly austere, but it is more than possible that this characteristic was derived from his forefathers, who had been steeped in the hardest Calvinism.
John Stuart Mill was infatuated with Mrs. Taylor, whom he married when she became a widow. But Mr. Watkinson conceals an important fact. He talks of "selfish pleasure" and "indulgence," but he forgets to tell his readers that Mrs. Taylor was a confirmed invalid. It is perfectly obvious, therefore, that Mill was attracted by her mental qualities; and it is easy to believe Mill when he disclaims any other relation than that of affectionate friendship. No one but a Watkinson could be so foolish as to imagine that men seek sensual gratification in the society of invalid ladies.
Harriet Martineau is "one of the unloveliest female portraits ever traced." Mr. Watkinson is the opposite of a ladies' man. Gallantry was never his foible. He hates female Freethinkers with a perfect hatred. He pours out on Harriet Martineau his whole vocabulary of abuse. But it is, after all, difficult to see what he is in such a passion about. Harriet Martineau had no sexual sins, no dubious relations, no skeleton in the domestic cupboard. But, says Mr. Watkinson, she was arrogant and censorious. Oh, Watkinson, Watkinson! have you not one man's share of those qualities yourself? Is there not "a sort of a smack, a smell to" of them in your godly constitution?
We need not follow Mr. Watkinson's nonsense about "the domestic shrine of Schopenhauer," who was a gay and festive bachelor to the day of his death. As for Mr. Watkinson's treatment of Comte, it is pure Christian; in other words, it contains the quintessence of uncharitableness. Comte had a taint of insanity, which at one time necessitated his confinement. That he was troublesome to wife and friends is not surprising, but surely a man grievously afflicted with a cerebral malady is not to be judged by ordinary standards. Comte's genius has left its mark on the nineteenth century; he was true to that in adversity and poverty. This is the fact posterity will care to remember when the troubles of his life are buried in oblivion.
Mr. Watkinson turns his attention next to the French Revolution, which he considers "as much a revolt against morals as it was against despotism." If that is his honest opinion, he must be singularly ignorant. The moral tone of the Revolutionists was purity itself compared with the flagrant profligacy of the court, the aristocracy, and the clergy, while Freethinkers were imprisoned, and heretics were broken on the wheel. We have really no time to give Mr. Watkinson lessons in French history, so we leave him to study it at his leisure.
It was natural that Voltaire should come in for his share of slander. All Mr. Watkinson can see in him is that he wrote "an unseemly poem," by which we presume he means La Pucelle. But he ought to know that the grosser parts of that poem were added by later hands, as may be seen at a glance in any variorum edition. In any case, to estimate Voltaire's Pucelle by the moral standard of a century later is to show an absolute want of judgment. Let it be compared with similar works of his age, and it will not appear very heinous. But Voltaire did a great deal besides the composition of that poem. He fought despotism like a hero, he stabbed superstition to the heart, he protected the victims of ecclesiastical and political tyranny at the risk of his own life, he sheltered with exquisite generosity a multitude of orphans and widows, he assisted every genius who was trodden down by the age. These things, and the great mass of his brilliant writings, will live in the memory of mankind. Voltaire was not perfect; he shared some of the failings of his generation. But he fought the battle of freedom and justice for sixty years. Other men indulged in gallantry, other men wrote free verses. But when Calas was murdered by the priests, and his family desolated, it was Voltaire, and Voltaire alone, who faced the tyrants and denounced them in the name of humanity. His superb attitude on that critical occasion inspired the splendid eulogium of Carlyle, who was no friendly witness: "The whole man kindled into one divine blaze of righteous indignation, and resolution to bring help against the world."
ARE ATHEISTS CRUEL? *
* April 26,1891.
There seems to be an ineradicable malignancy in the heart of professional Christianity. St. Paul, indeed in a fine passage of his first epistle to the Corinthians, speaks with glowing eloquence of the "charity" which "thinketh no evil." But the hireling advocates and champions of Christianity have ever treated the apostle's counsel with contempt in their dealings with sceptics and heretics. Public discussion is avoided by these professors of the gospel of love and practisers of the gospel of hatred. They find it "unprofitable." Consequently they neglect argument and resort to personalities. They frequently insinuate, and when it is safe they openly allege, that all who do not share their opinions are bad husbands, bad fathers, bad citizens, and bad men. Thus they cast libellous dust in the eyes of their dupes, and incapacitate them from seeing the real facts of the case for themselves. A notable illustration of this evil principle may be found in a recent speech by the Bishop of Chester. Dr. Jayne presided at a Town Hall meeting of the local branch of the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children, and took advantage of the occasion to slander a considerable section of his fellow citizens. With a pious arrogance which is peculiar to his boastful faith, he turned what should have been a humanitarian assembly into a receptacle for his discharge of insolent fanaticism. Parentage is a natural fact, and the love of offspring is a well-nigh universal law of animal life. It would seem, therefore, that a Society for preventing cruelty to children by parents of perverted instincts, might live aloof from sectarian squabbles. But the Bishop of Chester is of a different opinion. He is a professional advocate of one form of faith, and his eye is strictly bent on business. He appears to be unable to talk anything but "shop." Even while pressing the claims of poor, neglected, ill-used children on the sympathy and assistance of a generous public, he could not refrain from insulting all those who have no love for his special line of business. And the insult was not only gratuitous; it was groundless, brutal, and malignant; so much so, indeed, that we cherish a hope that the Bishop has overreached himself, and that his repulsive slander will excite a re-action in favor of the objects of his malice.
Dr. Jayne told the meeting that "the persons who were most liable to be guilty of cruelty to their children were those artisans who had taken up Secularist opinions, and who looked upon their children as a nuisance, and were glad to get them out of the way."
Now, on the face of it, the statement is positively grotesque in its absurdity. If Secular principles tend to make parents hate their own children, why should their evil influence be confined to artisans? And if Secular principles do not produce parental hatred in the wealthier classes, why does Dr. Jayne hurl this disgraceful accusation at the poorer class of unbelievers? It cannot be simply because they are poorer, for he was delighted to know that "poverty by no means necessarily meant cruelty." What, then, is the explanation? It seems to us very obvious. Dr. Jayne was bent on libelling sceptics, and, deeming it safer to libel the poorer ones, he tempered his valor with a convenient amount of discretion. He is not even a brave fanatic. His bigotry is crawling, cowardly, abject, and contemptible.
Dr. Jayne relied upon the authority of Mr. Waugh, who happened to be present at the meeting. This gentleman jumped up in the middle of the Bishop's speech, and said "it was the case, that the class most guilty of cruelty to children were those who took materialistic, atheistic, selfish and wicked views of their own existence." Surely this is a "fine derangement of epitaphs." It suggests that Mr. Waugh is less malignant than foolish. What connection does he discover between Secularism and selfishness? Is it in our principles, in our objects, or in our policy? Does he really imagine that the true character of any body of men and women is likely to be written out by a hostile partisan? Such a person might be a judge of our public actions, and we are far from denying his right to criticise them; but when he speaks of our private lives, before men of his own faith, and without being under the necessity of adducing a single scrap of evidence, it is plain to the most obtuse intelligence that his utterances are perfectly worthless.
We have as much right as Mr. Waugh to ask the world to accept our view of the private life of Secularists. That is, we have no right at all. Nevertheless we have a right to state our experience and leave the reader to form his own opinion. Having entered the homes of many Secularists, we have been struck with their fondness for children The danger lies, if it lies anywhere, in their tendency to "spoil" them. It is a curious fact—and we commend it to the attention of Dr. Jayne and Mr. Waugh—that the most sceptical country in Europe is the one where children are the best treated, and where there is no need for a Society to save them from the clutches of cruelty. There is positively a child-cultus in the great French cities, and especially in Freethinking Paris. In this Bible-and-beer-loving land the workman, like his social "superior," stands or sits drinking in a public-house with male cronies; but the French workman usually sits at the cafe table with his wife, and on Sundays with his children, and takes his drink, whatever it may be, under the restraining eyes of those before whom a man is least ready to debase himself.
One Secular home, at least, is known to us intimately. It is the home of the present writer, who for the moment drops the editorial "we" and speaks in the first person My children are the children of an Atheist, yet if they do not love me as heartily as Dr. Jayne's or Mr. Waugh's children love their father, "there's witchcraft in it." There is no rod, and no punishment in my home. We work with the law of love. Striking a child is to me a loathsome idea. I shrink from it as I would from a physical pollution. Strike a child once, be brutal to it once, and there is gone forever that look of perfect trust in the child's eyes, which is a parent's dearest possession, and which I would not forfeit for all the prizes in the world.
I know Christians who are less kind to their children than I am to mine. They are not my natural inferiors. Humanity forbid that I should play the Pharisee! But they are degraded below their natural level by the ghastly notion of parental "authority" I do not say there are no rights in a family. There are; and there are also duties. But all the rights belong to the children, and all the duties belong to the parents.
Personally I am not fond of talking about myself. Still less am I anxious to make a public exhibition of my home. But if the Dr. Jaynes and the Mr. Waughs of the Christian world provoke comparisons, I have no fear of standing with my little ones opposite them with theirs, and letting the world judge between us.
Dropping again into the editorial style, we have a question to ask of the Bishop of Chester, or rather of Mr. Waugh. It is this. Where are the statistics to justify your assertion? Men who are sent to gaol, for whatever reason, have their religions registered. Give us, then, the total number of convictions your Society has obtained, and the precise proportion of Secularists among the offenders. And be careful to give us their names and the date and place of their conviction.
We have a further word to all sorts and conditions of libellous Christians. Where are the evidences of Atheistic cruelty? The humanest of the Roman emperors were those who were least under the sway of religion. Julius Caesar himself, the "foremost man of all this world," who was a professed Atheist, was also the most magnanimous victor that ever wore the purple. Akbar, the Freethinker, was the noblest ruler of India. Frederick the Great was kind and just to his subjects. But, on the other hand, who invented and who applied such instruments of cruelty as racks, wheels, and thumbscrews? Who invented separate tortures for every part of the sensitive frame of man? Who burnt heretics? Who roasted or drowned millions of "witches"? Who built dungeons and filled them? Who brought forth cries of agony from honest men and women that rang to the tingling stars? Who burnt Bruno? Who spat filth over the graves of Paine and Voltaire? The answer is one word—Christians. Yet with all this blood on their hands, and all this crime on their consciences, they turn round and fling the epithet of "cruel" at the perennial victims of their malice.
ARE ATHEISTS WICKED?
One of the most effective arts of priestcraft has been the misrepresentation and slander of heretics. To give the unbeliever a bad name is to prejudice believers against all communication with him. By this means a twofold object is achieved; first, the faithful are protected from the contagion of scepticism; secondly, the notion is propagated that there is something essentially immoral involved in, or attendant upon, unorthodox opinions; and thus the prevalent religious ideas of the age become associated with the very preservation and stability of the moral order of human society.
This piece of trickery cannot, of course, be played upon the students of civilisation, who, as Mill remarked, are aware that many of the most valuable contributions to human improvement have been the work of men who knew, and rejected, the Christian faith. But it easily imposes on the multitude, and it will never be abandoned until it ceases to be profitable.
Sometimes it takes the form of idle stories about the death-beds of Freethinkers, who are represented as deploring their ill-spent life, and bewailing the impossibility of recalling the wicked opinions they have put into circulation. At other times it takes the form of exhibiting their failings, without the slightest reference to their virtues, as the sum and substance of their character. When these methods are not sufficient, recourse is had to insinuation. Particular sceptics are spared perhaps, but Freethinkers are depicted—like the poor in Tennyson's "Northern Farmer"—as bad in the lump. It is broadly hinted that it is a moral defect which prevents them from embracing the popular creed; that they reject what they do not wish to believe; that they hate the restraints of religion, and therefore reject its principles; that their unbelief, in short, is only a cloak for sensual indulgence or an excuse for evading irksome obligations.
We are so accustomed to this monstrous theory of scepticism in religious circles, that it did not astonish us, or give us the least surprise, to read the following paragraph in the Christian Commonwealth—
"Free Life, and No Compulsory Virtue, was the title of a placard borne by a pamphlet seller of the public highway a few days ago. What the contents of the pamphlets were we do not know, but the title is a suggestive sign of the times, and a rather more than usually plain statement of what a good deal of modern doubt amounts to. Lord Tennyson was severely taken to task a few years ago for making the Atheist a villain in his 'Promise of May,' but he was about right. Much of the doubt of the day is only an outcome of the desire to discredit and throw off the restraints of religion and moral law in the name of freedom, wrongly used. Free love, free life, free divorce, free Sundays, in the majority of cases, are but synonyms for license. Those who hold the Darwinian doctrine of descent from a kind of ape may yet see it proved by a reversion to the beast, if men succeed in getting all the false and pernicious freedom they want."
Now, in reply to this paragraph, we have first to observe that our contemporary takes Lord Tennyson's name in vain. The villain of the "Promise of May" is certainly an Agnostic, but are not the villains of many other plays Christians? Lord Tennyson does not make the rascal's wickedness the logical result of his principles; indeed, although our contemporary seems ignorant of the fact, he disclaimed any such intention, A press announcement was circulated by his eldest son, on his behalf, that the rascal was meant to be a sentimentalist and ne'er-do-well, who, whatever his opinions, would have come to a bad end. When the Commonwealth, therefore, talks of Lord Tennyson as "about right," it shows, in a rather vulgar way, the danger of incomplete information. Were we to copy its manners we might use a swifter phrase.
That Atheists, in the name of freedom, throw off the restraints of moral law, is a statement which we defy the Commonwealth to prove, or in the slightest degree to support, and we will even go to the length of suggesting how it might undertake the task.
Turpitude of character must betray itself. Moral corruption can no more be hidden than physical corruption. Wickedness "will out," like murder or smallpox. A man's wife discovers it; his children shun him instead of clinging about his knees; his neighbors and acquaintances eye him with suspicion or dislike; his evil nature pulsates through an ever-widening circle of detection, and in time nis bad passions are written upon his features in the infallible lines of mouth and eyes and face. How easy, then, it should be to pick out these Atheists. The most evil-looking men should belong to that persuasion. But do they? We invite our contemporary to a trial. Let it inquire the religious opinions of a dozen or two, and see if there is an Atheist among them.
Again, a certain amount of evil disposition must produce a certain percentage of criminal conduct. Accordingly the gaols should contain a large proportion of Atheists. But do they? Statistics prove they do not. When the present writer was imprisoned for "blasphemy," and was asked his religion, he answered "None," to the wide-eyed astonishment of the official who put the question. Atheists were scarce in the establishment. Catholics were there, and red tickets were on their cell-doors; Protestants were there, and white tickets marked their apartments; Jews were there, and provision was made for their special observances; but the Atheist was the rara avis, the very phoenix of Holloway Gaol.
Let us turn to another method of investigation. During the last ten years four members have been expelled from the House of Commons. One of them was not expelled in the full sense of the word; he was, however, thrust by brute force from the precincts of the House. His name was Charles Bradlaugh, and he was an Atheist. But what was his crime? Simply this: he differed from his fellow members as to his competence to take the parliamentary oath, and the ultimate event proved that he was right and they were wrong. Now what were the crimes of the three other members, who were completely and absolutely expelled? Captain Verney was found guilty of procuration for seduction, Mr. Hastings was found guilty of embezzlement, and Mr. De Cobain was pronounced guilty of evading justice, while charged with unnatural offences. Mr. Jabez Spencer Balfour might also have been expelled, if he had not accepted the Chiltern Hundreds. Now all these real delinquents were Christians, and even ostentatious Christians. Compare them with Charles Bradlaugh, the Atheist, and say which side has the greatest cause for shame and humiliation.
Are Atheists conspicuous in the Divorce Court? Is it not Christian reputations that are smirched in that Inquisition? Do Atheists, or any species of unbelievers, appear frequently before the public as promoters of bubble companies, and systematic robbers of orphans and widows? Is it not generally found, in the case of great business collapses, that the responsible persons are Christians? Is it not a fact that their profession of Christianity is usually in proportion to the depth of their rascality?
Not long since the Bishop of Chester, backed up by Mr. Waugh, of the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children, publicly declared that the worst ill-users of little ones were artisan Secularists. He was challenged to give evidence of the assertion, but he preferred to maintain what is called "a dignified silence." Mr. Waugh was challenged to produce proofs from the Society's archives, and he also declined. It is enough to affirm infamy against Freethinkers; proof is unnecessary; or, rather, it is unobtainable. Singularly, there have been several striking cases of brutal treatment of children since Mr. Waugh and Bishop Jayne committed themselves to this indefensible assertion, and in no instance was the culprit a Secularist, though some of them, including Mrs. Montagu, were devout Christians.
There are other methods of inquiry into the wickedness of Atheists, but we have indicated enough to set the Commonwealth at work, and we invite it to begin forthwith. And while it is getting ready we beg to observe that theologians have always described "free-dem" as "license," whereas it is nothing of the kind. Freedom is the golden mean between license and slavery. The breaking of arbitrary fetters, forged by ignorance and intolerance, does not mean a fall into loose living. The heretic in religion, while resenting outside control, by his very perception of the vast and far-reaching consequences of human action, is often chained to "the most timid sanctities of life."
With respect to "the Darwinian theory of descent from a kind of ape," we have a word for our contemporary. The annual meeting of the British Association was held at Oxford in 1860. Darwin's Descent of Man had recently been published, and the air was full of controversy. Bishop Wilberforce, in the course of a derisive speech, turned to Professor Huxley and asked whether it was on the mother's or father's side that his grandfather had been an ape. Huxley replied that man had no reason to be ashamed of having an ape for a grandfather. "If there is an ancestor," he continued, "whom I should feel shame in recalling it would be a man"—one who meddled with scientific questions he did not understand, only to obscure them by aimless rhetoric, and indulgence in "eloquent digressions and appeals to religious prejudice." This rebuke was administered thirty-three years ago, but it is still worth remembering, and perhaps the Commonwealth may find in it something applicable to itself.
The prolonged drought has already inflicted serious injury on the farmers. They are, as a rule, a loyal class of men, but their loyalty will probably be shaken when they realise that the Lord has spoiled their crops to provide Queen's weather for the Jubilee. An occasional shower might wet the Queen's parasol or ruffle the plumage of the princes and princelings in her train. Occasional showers, however, are just what the farmers want. The Lord was therefore in a fix. Though the Bible says that with him nothing is impossible, he was unable to please both sides; so he favored the one he loved best, gave royalty unlimited sunshine, and played the deuce with the agricultural interest.
Possibly the Lord knows better than we do, but we venture to suggest that a slight exercise of intelligence, though we admit it may have been a strain upon his slumbrous brain, would have surmounted the difficulty. The windows of heaven might have been opened from two till four in the morning. That would have been sufficient for a proper supply of rain, and the whole of the day could have been devoted to "blazing" without injuring anyone. Or, if the early morning rain would have damaged the decorations, the celestial turnkey might have kept us a week without water giving us an extra supply beforehand. On the whole, if we may hazard so profane an observation, the powers above are singularly behind the age. Their affairs are frightfully mixed, and the result is that capital and labor are both in a state of uncertainty. The celestial dynasty will have to improve, or its imperial power will be questioned, and there will be a demand for Home Rule with regard to the weather. It is a perfect nuisance, with respect to a matter which vitally affects us, not to be able to know what a day will bring forth.
Meanwhile we turn to the clergy, and inquire why they do not perform their professional duties in this emergency. There is a form of prayer for such cases in the Prayer-book. Why has it not been used? Do the clergy think the Lord is growing deaf with old age? Have they a secret suspicion that praying for a change of weather is as useful as whistling for the wind? Or has the spirit of this sceptical age invaded the clerical ranks so thoroughly as to make them ashamed of their printed doctrines? When a parish clerk was told by the parson one morning that the prayer for rain would be read, he replied, "Why, sir, what's the use of praying for rain with the wind in that quarter?" We fancy that parish clerk must have a good many sympathisers in the pulpit.
Still the clergy should do what they are paid for, or resign the business. They are our rain doctors, and they should procure us the precious fluid. If they cannot, why should we pay them a heavenly water-rate? The rain doctors of savages are kept to their contract. They are expected to bring rain when it is required, and if they do not, the consequences are unpleasant. They are sometimes disgraced, and occasionally killed. But the rain doctors in civilised countries retain all the advantages of their savage prototypes without any of their risks and dangers. Modern Christians allow the clergy to play on the principle of "heads I win, tails you lose." If the black regiments pray and there is no answer, Christians resign themselves to the will of God. If there is an answer, they put it to the credit of the priests, or the priests put it to their own credit, which is much the same thing.
We should be sorry to charge such a holy body of men with duplicity, but is there not "a sort of a smack, a smell to?" They are reluctant to pray for rain, on the alleged ground that Omnipotence should not be interfered with rashly. But the sincerity of this plea is questionable when we reflect that it obviously favors the clergy. Our climate is variable, long spells of particular weather are infrequent, and if when one occurs the clergy hold back till the very last, their supplication for a change cannot long remain unanswered. But perhaps this is only an illustration of the wisdom of the serpent which Jesus recommended to his apostles.
If the clergy are anxious to exhibit their powers they should pray for rain in the desert of Sahara. Missionaries might be sent out to establish praying stations, and in the course of time the desert might bloom as a garden, and the wilderness as a rose. We make the suggestion in all sincerity. We are anxious to be convinced, if conviction is possible. Praying for rain in a watery climate is one thing, praying for rain where none ever falls is another. If the clergy can bring down a fruitful shower on the African sands, we shall cry, "A miracle," and send them a quarter's pew-rent.
Seriously—for we can be serious—we ask the clergy to do their level best. The farmers are swearing wholesale, and by taking the name of the Lord their God in vain they incur the peril of eternal damnation. The fruit crop is injured, and children suffer unusually from the stomach-ache. Worst of all, infidel France is flooding our markets with cherries and other fruits, and we are supporting the accursed sceptical brood because the Lord has not nourished our own growths. Surely then it is time to act. If the parsons lose this fine opportunity they may rely on it that the anti-tithe agitation will develop into alarming proportions. Their livings are at stake, and we ask them to consider the interests of their wives and families. If our generous warning is unheeded the clergy may find the nation carrying out the principle of free trade in religion, and importing some rain doctors from Africa. Many of these magical blackmen would be glad to exchange their present pickings for a vicarage and five hundred a year. If they thought there was a chance of obtaining a bishopric, with a palace and six or ten thousand a year, they would start for England at once. Many of them are of excellent reputation, and would come to us with the best of testimonials. Would it not be well to give them a trial? We should find out who was best at the business. He might be constituted our national rain doctor at a liberal salary, and the rest discharged; for surely the Lord does not require thirty thousand praying to him at once, unless on the principle that he must be surrounded to prevent the prayer from going into one ear and out at the other.
Faith and credulity are the same thing with different names. When a man has plenty of faith he is ready to believe anything. However fantastic it may be, however childish, however infantile, he accepts it with gaping wonder. His imagination is not necessarily strong, but it is easily excited. Macaulay held that savages have stronger imaginations than civilised men, and that as the reason developes the imagination decays. But, in our opinion, he was mistaken. The imagination does not wither under the growth of reason; on the contrary, it flourishes more strongly. It is, however, disciplined by reason, and guided by knowledge; and it only appears to be weaker because the relation between it and other faculties has changed. The imagination of the savage seems powerful because his other faculties are weak. In the absence of knowledge it cuts the most astonishing capers, just as a bird would if it were suddenly deprived of sight. Now the savage is a mental child, and the ignorant and thoughtless are mental savages. They credit the absurdest stories, and indulge in the most ridiculous speculations. When religion ministers to their weakness, as it always does, they gravely discuss the most astonishing puerilities. Indeed, the history of religious thought—that is, of the infantile vagaries of the human mind—is full of puerilites. There is hardly an absurdity which learned divines have not debated as seriously as scientists discuss the nebular hypothesis or the evolution theory. They have argued how many angels could dance on the point of a needle; whether Adam had a navel; whether ghosts and demons could cohabit with women; whether animals could sin; and what was to be done with a rat that devoured a holy wafer. We believe the decision of the last weighty problem, after long debate, was that the rat, having the body of Christ in its body, was sanctified, and that it had to be eaten by the priest, by which means the second person of the Trinity was saved from desecration.
But of all the pious puerilities on record, probably the worst are ascribed to the rabbis. The faith of those gentlemen was unbounded, and they were so fond of trivialities, that where they found none they manufactured them. The rabbis belonged to the most credulous race of antiquity. "Tell that to the Jews," as we see from Juvenal, was as common as our saying, "Tell that to the marines." The chosen people were infinitely superstitious. They had no head for science, nor have they to this day; but they were past-masters in every magical art, and connoisseurs in amulets and charms. Their rabbis were the hierophants of their fanatical folly. They devoted amazing industry, and sometimes remarkable ingenuity, to its development; frequently glossing the very scriptures of their religion with dexterious imbecilities that raise a sinister admiration in the midst of our laughter. This propensity is most noticeable in connection with Bible stories. When the chroniclers and prophets record a good solemn wonder, which reads as though it ought to be true if it is not, they allege or suggest little additions that give it an air of ostentatious silliness. Hundreds of such instances have come under my eyes in foraging for extra-Biblical matter for my Bible Heroes, but I have only room for one or two specimens.
King Nimrod was jealous of young Abraham, as Herod was jealous of young Jesus. He tried various methods to get rid of the boy, but all in vain. At last he resolved to burn Abraham alive. This would have made a striking scene, but the pious puerility of the sequel spoils it all. The king issued a decree, ordering every man in his kingdom to bring wood to heat the kiln. What a laughable picture! Behold every adult subject wending his way to the crematorium with a bundle of sticks on his back—"For Abraham." The The Mussulman tradition (Mohammedans and Jews are much alike, and both their religions are Semitic) informs us that Nimrod himself died in the most extraordinary manner. A paltry little gnat, with a game leg and one eye, flew up his nostril, and lodged in his brain, where it tormented him for five hundred years. During the whole of that period, in which the gnat displayed a longevity that casts Methuselah's into the shade, the agonising king could only obtain repose by being struck on the head; and relays of men were kept at the palace to pound his royal skull with a blacksmith's hammer. The absurdity of the story is transcendent. One is charitably tempted to believe, for the credit of human nature, that it was the work of a subtle, solemn wag, who thought it a safe way of satirising the proverbial thick-headedness of kings.
What reader of the Bible does not remember the pathetic picture of Esau falling on Jacob's neck and weeping, in a paroxysm of brotherly love and forgiveness? But the rabbis daub it over with their pious puerilities. They solemnly inform us that Esau was a trickster, as though Jacob's qualities were catching? and that he tried to bite his brother's neck, but God turned it into marble, and he only broke his teeth. Esau wept for the pain in his grinders. But why did Jacob weep? This looks like a poser, yet later rabbis surmounted the difficulty. Jacob's neck was not turned into marble, but toughened. It was hard enough to-hurt Esau's teeth, and still tender enough to make Jacob suffer, so they cried in concert, though for different reasons.
Satyrs are mentioned in the Bible, although they never existed outside the superstitious imagination. The rabbis undertook to explain the peculiar structure of these fabulous creatures, as well as of fauns, who somewhat resemble them. The theory was started, therefore, that God was overtaken by the Sabbath, while he was creating them, and was obliged to postpone finishing them till the next day. Hence they are misshapen! The rabbis also say that God cut off Adam's tail to make Eve of. The Bible origin of woman is low, but this is lower still. However, if Adam exchanged his tail for a wife he made a very good bargain, despite the apple and the Devil.
Captain Noah, says the Talmud, could not take the rhinoceros into the ark because it was too big. Rabbi Jannai solemnly asserts that he saw a young rhinoceros, only a day old, as big as Mount Tabor. Its neck was three miles long, its head half a mile, and the river Jordan was choked by its excrement. Let us pause at this stretcher, which "stands well for high."
Perhaps the Christian will join us in laughing at such pious puerilities. But he should remember that the Bible is loaded with absurdities that are little inferior. Ravens bring a prophet sandwiches, another prophet besieges a tile, an axe swims on the water, a man slays a thousand men in battle with the jawbone of a donkey, an ass speaks, and a whale swallows and vomits a man. Had these pious puerilities occurred in any other book, they would have been laughed to scorn; but being in the Bible, they must be credited on pain of eternal damnation.
"THUS SAITH THE LORD."
Dogmatism, said Douglas Jerrold, is only puppyism grown to maturity. This sarcastic wit never said a truer thing. We call a young fellow a puppy when he is conceited and impudent, and we call a man dogmatic when he betrays the same qualities in controversy. Yet every Church prides itself on being dogmatic. Rome is dogmatic and Canterbury is dogmatic. Without dogma there is no theology. And what is dogma? An opinion, or a set of opinions, promulgated by somebody for the blind acceptance of somebody else. Arrogance, therefore, is of its very essence. What right has one man to say to another, "This is the truth; I have taken the trouble to decide that point, and all you have to do is to accept what I present you "? And if one man has no such right to impose his belief on another, how can twenty thousand men have such a right to impose their belief on twenty millions? This, however, is precisely what they do without the least shame or compunction. Before we are able to judge for ourselves, the priests thrust certain dogmas upon us, and compel us to embrace them. Authority takes the place of judgment, dogmatism supplants thought. The young mind is rendered slavish, and as it grows up it goes through life cringeing to the instruments of its own abasement.
When a superior mind rises from this subjection and demands reasons for believing, he is knocked down with the Bible. A text is quoted to silence him. But who wrote the text? Moses, Isaiah, Ezekiel, Matthew, John, Peter, or Paul. Well, and who made them lords over us? Have we not as much right to our own thoughts as they had to theirs? When they state an opinion in the pompous language of revelation, are they less fallible than the rest of us? Obviously not. Yet prophets and evangelists have a trick of writing, which still clings to their modern representatives, as though they could not be mistaken. "I am Sir Oracle," they seem to say, "and when I ope my lips let no dog bark." No doubt this self-conceit is very natural, but self-conceited people are not usually taken at their own estimate. Nowadays we laugh at them and try to take the conceit out of them. But what is absurd to-day is treated as venerable because it happened thousands of years ago, and prophets are regarded as inspired who, if they existed now, would be treated with ridicule and contempt.
The style of downright God-Almighty-men is very simple. They need not argue, they have only to assert, and they preface every statement with "Thus saith the Lord." Now suppose such a declaration were made today. A man with no greater reputation for sense than his neighbors stands up and shouts "Thus saith the Lord." Should we not look at him with curiosity and amusement? Would he not strike us as a silly fanatic? Might we not even reflect that he was graduating for a strait-waistcoat? The fellow is simply an ignorant dogmatist. What he believes you must believe. Reasons for his belief he has none, and he cannot conceive that you want any either. Yet it would never do to exclaim, "I am your lord and master," so the grown-up puppy shouts "Thus saith the Lord," in order to assure you that in rejecting him you reject God.
Suppose we heckle this loud-mouthed preacher for a minute. "You tell us, Thus saith the Lord. Did he say so to you, and where and when? And are you quite sure you did not dream the whole business?" Probably he answers, "No, the Lord did not say it to me, but he said it to the blessed prophets and apostles, and I am only repeating their words." "Very well then," a sensible man would reply, "you are in the second-hand business, and I want new goods. You had better send on the original traders—Moses, Isaiah, Paul and Co.—and I'll see what I can do with them." If, however, the preacher says, "Yes, the Lord did say it to me," a sensible man replies, "Well, now, I should have thought the Lord would have told somebody with more reputation and influence. Still, what you assert may be true. I don't deny it, but at the same time your word is no proof. On the whole, I think I'll go my way and let you go yours. The Lord has told you something, and you believe it; when he tells me, I'll believe it too. I suppose the Lord told you because he wanted you to know, and when he wants me to know I suppose he'll give me a call. What you got from him is first-hand, what I get from you is second-hand; and, with all due respect, I fancy your authority is hardly equal to the Almighty's." "Thus saith the Lord" is no argument. It is simply
The dark lanthorn of the spirit Which none can see by but those who bear it.
Nay more, it dispenses with reason, and makes every man's faith depend on somebody else's authority. Discussion becomes impertinence, criticism is high treason. Hence it is but a step from "Thus saith the Lord." Very impolite language, truly, yet it is the logical sequence of dogmatism, Fortunately the time is nearly past for such impudent nonsense. This is an age of debate. And although there are many windy platitudes abroad, and much indulgence in empty mouthing, the very fact of debate being considered necessary to the settlement of all questions makes the public mind less hasty and more cautious. "Thus saith the Lord" men can only succeed at present among the intellectual riff-raff of the populace.
Looking over the past, we see what an immense part dogmatism has played in history. "Thus saith the Lord" cried the Jewish prophets, and they not only terrified their contemporaries, but overawed a hundred generations. "Thus saith the Lord" cried the Christian apostles, and they converted thousands of open-mouthed slaves to a "maleficent superstition." "Thus saith the Lord" cried Mohammed, and the scimitars of Islam flashed from India to Spain. "Thus saith the Lord" cried Joe Smith, and Mormonism springs up in the practical West, with its buried gold tablets of revelation and its retrogressive polygamy. "Thus saith Reason" has been a still small voice, sometimes nearly inaudible, though never quite drowned; but now it is swelling into a mighty volume of sound, overwhelming the din of sects and the anathemas of priests.
BELIEVE OR BE DAMNED.
Christian ministers are showing a disposition to fight shy of the second half of the last chapter of Mark, where Jesus is represented as saying to his apostles, "Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature. He that believeth and is baptised shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned." Some of them tell us to look at the Revised Version, where we shall see in the margin that this portion of the chapter does not exist in the earliest manuscripts; and they innocently expect that Freethinkers will therefore quietly drop the offensive passage. Oh dear no! Before they have any right to claim such indulgence they must put forth a new edition of the whole Bible, showing us what they desire excised, and what they wish to retain and are ready to defend as the infallible word of God. We should then discuss whether their selection is justifiable, and after that we should discuss whether the amended Bible is any diviner than the original one. But we cannot allow them to keep the Bible as it is, to call it God's Word, to revile people who doubt it, and to persecute people who oppose it; and yet, at the same time, to evade responsibility for every awkward text. This will never do. The clergy cannot have the authority of inspiration in their pulpits and the ease of eclecticism on the platform and in the press.
Besides, although the text in Mark is the most striking piece of impudent bigotry, there are many passages of Holy Writ that display the same spirit. The Jews were expressly ordered to kill heretics in this world, and the victims only escaped eternal damnation because the chosen people knew nothing at that time of future rewards and punishments. A glance at the first few pages of Crimes of Christianity will also show that the earliest apostles of Christianity were thoroughly imbued with the spirit of persecution. Paul smote Elymas with blindness for opposing him, and even "the beloved disciple" said "If there come any unto you, and bring not this doctrine, receive him not into your house, neither bid him God speed." Paul tells the Galatians, "If any man preach any other gospel unto you than that ye have received, let him be accursed." These passages plainly imply that the unbeliever is to be shunned like poison, and that the teacher of unbelief is a devil. What difference is there between this and the passage in Mark? As a matter of fact, all the Christian Churches, from the beginning till now, have taught that faith is necessary to salvation; and this historic consensus of opinion justifies the Freethinker in regarding bigotry as of the essence of the Bible.
Now what is belief? It is an automatic act of the mind, over which the will has absolutely no power. The will might, indeed, turn the eyes from regarding evidence in a particular direction, or the entire mind from attending to the subject at all. But given the evidence before you, and your own powers of thought, and your judgment is a logical necessity. You cannot help believing what your intellect certifies as true; you cannot help disbelieving what your intellect certifies as false. If you were threatened with everlasting torment for believing that twice two are four, you could not, by the most tremendous effort of volition, alter your conviction in the slightest degree. You might be induced to assert that twice two are five, but whatever your tongue might utter, your belief would remain unchanged.
The effect of threats, therefore, is not to change belief, but to produce hypocrisy. Yet this much must be allowed. The threats may succeed if they are carried out. Fear will make multitudes profess without investigating, and as liars often come to believe their own lies, habitual profession produces a state of mind that has a superficial resemblance to real belief; and, on the other hand, if the threats of future punishment are supplemented by penal laws against heresy, there is a process of artificial selection by which independent minds are eliminated, while the slavish survive. Even when penal laws are relaxed, social ostracism will have a similar, though perhaps a weaker effect. Prizes offered to one form of opinion, and losses inflicted on others, will necessarily make a difference in their relative success. How slowly Christianity advanced during the first three centuries, when it was under a cloud! How swiftly it progressed when Constantine gave it wealth and privileges, and used the temporal sword to repress or extinguish its enemies!
Nothing is truer than that the religious belief of more than ninety-nine hundredths of mankind is determined by the geographical accident of birth. Born in Spain they are Catholics; born in England they are Protestants; born in Turkey they are Mohammedans; born in India they are Brahmanists; born in Ceylon they are Buddhists; born in the shadow of a synagogue they are Jews. Their own minds have not the smallest share in deciding their faith. They take it at secondhand, as they do their language and their fashion of dressing. To call their "faith" belief is absurd. It is simply a prejudice. Belief, in the proper sense of the word, follows evidence and reflection. What evidence has the ordinary Christian, and has he ever reflected on his creed for five minutes in the whole course of his life?
Philosophically speaking, men think as they can, and believe as they must; and as belief is independent of the will, and cannot be affected by motives, it is not a subject for praise or blame, reward or punishment. Religions, therefore, which promise heaven for belief and hell for unbelief, are utterly unphilosophical. They are self-condemned. Truth invites free study. Falsehood shuns investigation, and denounces that liberty of thought which is fatal to its pretensions.
There is a not too refined, but a very true piece of verse, which was first published more than a generation ago in a pungent Freethought journal, and we venture to quote its conclusion. After relating the chief "flams" of the Bible, it says:
And when with this nonsense you're crammed, To make you believe it all true, They say if you don't you'll be damned; But you ought to be damned if you do.
Jesus Christ told his disciples that, in bestowing alms, they were not even to let their left hand know what their right hand did. But this self-sacrificing method has not been generally approved, and comparatively few Christians "do good by stealth and blush to find it fame." They more often "do good for fame and publish it by stealth." Nay more, their "charity" is actually their boast in their controversies with "infidels." Look at our hospitals, they say; look at our orphanages, look at our almshouses, look at our soup-kitchens. It is a wonder they do not boast of their asylums, but perhaps they think it would invite the retort that they not only build them but fill them. Such boasting, however, is utterly absurd from every point of view. Since the world was in any degree civilised it has never lacked some kind of benevolent institutions. It is absolutely certain that hospitals are not of Christian origin; and there is hardly a country in the world, with any pretension to rank above barbarians, in which some species of provision is not made by the rich for the necessities of the poor. Every Mohammedan, for instance, is required by his religion to devote a tenth of his income to charity; whereas the Christian system of tithes is entirely for the profit and aggrandisement of the clergy.