The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 84
Audi Alteram Partem
Audi Alteram Partem.
I Shall not dispute the wisdom which decided upon giving insertion, in the first issue of this magazine, to the article headed, "Is Spiritualism a Delusion ?" but I cannot avoid doubting the wisdom of the writer in attempting to grapple with a subject of which he so evidently knows nothing. At the same time he is certainly in earnest, and desirous of the truth, and we are therefore bound to accord him respect, especially as he writes in a tone of goodwill to the cause, and carefully avoids the abuse which non-believers are so apt to lavish upon believers in Spiritualism.
Mr. Lennan will therefore, I hope, do me the justice to believe that I am actuated by no illwill towards him in writing this paper, but that I am merely desirous of affording the readers of Freethought an opportunity for hearing a reply to his article.
He begins by saying that Spiritualists have not yet decided whether to call Spiritualism a science or a religion. This is a mistake. All page 87 Spiritualists are agreed that religion has nothing to do with the question, which is simply whether spirits can and do communicate with mortals, and which, being affirmed, constitutes a man a Spiritualist, no matter what his religious belief may be.
He tells us that, sitting in circle, others have said they saw or heard things which he could not hear or see, and that he had come to the conclusion that they were deluded. Is this just? Because his spiritual faculties are dormant, he doubts their existence.
He complains of the misstatements made by spirits, and adds, "I cannot imagine spirits telling lies, or that spirits living in the presence of God would do wrong," Mr. Lennan herein shows how little he has comprehended the teachings of Spiritualism as to the condition of man in the next world. God being omnipresent, we live in his presence as much as spirits do, or can do; and spirits, being but men divested of the flesh, are open to error and wrong-doing even as we are. If Mr. Lennan is an orthodox Christian, he will probably admit that even the devil once "dwelt in the presence of God," and was good—yet he rebelled, and with him one-third of the angels. Adam and Eve were created "good," yet they fell. It does not do for a Christian to try that line of argument.
Mr. Lennan urges that there can be no progression if spirits lie-Now, in the first place, it is not pretended that progression begins at once, for that would imply that there is no after-punishment for sin, as happiness must begin to be felt by any spirit or man who knows that he is progressing in virtue. Then, too, there are different grades of sin, and spirits who have got away from the propensities to kill or steal may still regard lying as no crime—or rather think nothing at all about it, as nine out of every ten liars do on earth. But, above all, it must be remembered that a large proportion of the supposed spiritual communications emanate merely from the medium, and that everything that comes is more or less tinged by the idiosyncracies of the instrument through which it is made known.
Mr. Lennan next wants to know, "How can Spiritualists disprove the divinity of Jesus Christ ?" Spiritualists, as such, attempt nothing of the sort, for millions of their number are still orthodox Christians, as witness the Howitts, Halls, and others. Freethinking Spiritualists disprove the divinity of Christ, as any man can do who will allow his reason fair play. But let Mr. Lennan remember that it is not the Freethinker's business to prove a negative, but to confute the arguments of those who assert Christ's divinity. As a matter of fact, Christians never do this, being content to believe without asking reasons.
He goes on to say that Spiritualism, having made Jesus a mere page 88 man (which is not the work of Spiritualists, as aforesaid), now proceeds to "take away the fear of a dread hereafter from mankind." If this means that the orthodox hell is abolished, he is right; but he should remember that while Christianity teaches that a villain of the deepest dye can escape the consequences of his misdeeds, and be rewarded even as the most just of men, by a simple act of faith in the atonement of Jesus Christ, Spiritualism teaches that every sin will certainly bear its punishment. It seems to me that such a belief must surely tend to keep men more moral than one which leaves them the chance of deathbed repentance.
Mr. Lennan asks why some should get manifestations and others not. He might as well inquire why everybody cannot write poetry like Shakespeare, or paint like Raphael.
He objects that the "physical strength" required to tilt tables, &c., might be better applied. If the tilt of a table suffices to convert one materialist to a belief in a future life and its accompanying responsibilities, I think it about as good work as could be done even by the most advanced of spirits.
He finishes thus : "I think, before Spiritualists try to clear away the inconsistencies that they imagine are in the Bible, they should first, in the words of that book, "take the beam out of their own eye." As I said before, Spiritualists, as such, have nothing to do with such work; but Freethinkers, who do expose the errors of the Bible, are very little-divided amongst themselves. The real divisions in the Spiritual camp are amongst the Christian Spiritualists.
Most of the errors into which Mr. Lennan has fallen have arisen from his misconception of Spiritualism, and esteeming that to be a religion which is only a science. That so many Spiritualists are Freethinkers arises from the facts—first, that very orthodox Christians seldom venture to make any inquiry trenching upon religious ground; and secondly, that when the reason is allowed fair play, it soon masters prejudice, and so "proof" is asked for where, "faith" was once sufficient.
I had proposed dealing also with an article in Freethought entitled "Natural or Supernatural." The author thereof has also fallen into error; but, as my space is limited, and he promises a further instalment, I must defer answering him for a time.
In all humility, I would advise gentlemen, before they rush into print about Spiritualism, to state their objections to some well-read believer. I have not the slightest doubt that they would then forego their intentions.
Harold W. H. Stephen.