The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 39
The Rev. S. D. Headlam, B.A., on a Christian View of the "Bradlaugh Case."
The Rev. S. D. Headlam, B.A., on a Christian View of the "Bradlaugh Case."
The Rev. Stewart D. Headlam, said :—
There is certainly one remark of the chairman's that I entirely endorse, and it is the wish that I could have met a good large number of the clergy of Northampton to discuss this subject with them. (Hear, hear.) I feel very strongly indeed that I am entirely within my rights and duties as a priest of the Church of England in taking the line I do. (Cheers.) I do not come before you as I might do, merely as citizen to have my say on what I believe to be a great constitutional question; but I come before you also as a clergyman to have my say in what I believe to be a great religious question. (Hear, hear.) I would ask you in a friendly way first of all to understand that I am not in the habit of giving lectures in large halls like this, and I don't think anyone would have induced me to come down here had it not been first of all for the great admiration I feel for the great social and political work which has been done by Mr. Bradlaugh—(loud cheers)—and secondly, for the very strong feeling which I have that you here in Northampton have a most important work in hand at present to see that Mr. Bradlaugh and you get your rights in the House of Commons. (Cheers.) Now, the title I have chosen for my lecture is—"A Christian view of the Bradlaugh case." And I think I have a right to bring before you a Christian view of this case, because you know how very many, the large majority of Mr. Bradlaugh's opponents throughout the country, oppose him in the name of Christianity. (Applause.) There are very many good friends of mine, and I daresay many good friends of yours, page 2 who deprecate the connecting religion and politics in any way whatever. They often say that a clergyman is better in his parish, and ought not to interfere with politics either on one side or the other. I do not so read the life and character of Jesus Christ or of Jesus Christ's apostles. As far as I understand the life and character of Jesus Christ he was far more of a secularist than many religious people seem to think. I would like to call your attention to the fact that almost all those works which are reported as having been done by Jesus Christ in the four Gospels are works for what we should now-a-days call the secular welfare of mankind, that those miracles of His, though we may not understand how they were worked, but, taking them as we find them, were works done for health against disease, for life against premature death, works done to see that people were properly fed, works done to see that nature was subdued to human good. All those kinds of ideas are brought before you when you think of those works of Jesus Christ. Once more, when you think of those words of Jesus Christ's, which we call parables, when you read the New Testament you will find they were parables of the kingdom of heaven. You will find, and I will ask you to think of this very carefully, that when Jesus Christ spoke of the kingdom of heaven, he did not speak about a life in the clouds, to which people were to go, and which they were to enjoy after death, but he spoke about a righteous society which he said he was to establish upon earth. (Cheers.) I would ask any of you—perhaps there may be some secularists here who have revolted against the religious teaching they were given in their childhood, or in the Sunday-school and who have not candidly examined the subject since their first revolt—I would ask them to read the four gospels through once more and see whether I am right. I say that Jesus did not teach anything about a good time coming merely—he taught that and something else, he spoke of the time when righteousness should prevail in this world, in this world, and tyranny and bigotry be got rid of. (Loud cheers.) Then, again, think how Jesus Christ associated with those who were looked upon as outcasts of society. Think how it was rather those who were considered by the religious world to be heretics that he found himself in friendship with. Think how he boldly rebuked the vices, not so much of the poor and degraded, but the vices of the clergy of the time, for that was really what the scribes and Pharisees were, and how he rebuked the vices of the great social leaders of the time. page 3 (Hear, hear.) When I hear revolutionists denounced as enemies of their country, I remember the words which Christ used of the king of the time : "Go, tell that fox" That was the language the gentle Jesus used of the king of his country whom he believed to be a wrong-doer. That is one of many instances I could give you if I were to go into detail. Consider this, and that Christian clergymen are bound to take Jesus Christ as their example, and then you will surely conclude that we are bound to do all we possibly can to help to make this world better—(cheers)—to work to leave this world better than we found it, and get a real kingdom of heaven, a real righteous society, established here upon earth. And when one remembers—I don't know Northampton personally, but I have no doubt it is true of Northampton as of London—when one remembers the great amount of indifference there is amongst the vast majority of people who care nothing for Secularism or religion, who perhaps have hardly time to care for anything else but getting their daily bread, and very little of that—when one thinks of the enormous amount of indifference amongst the people—on account of their own foolish ignorance, or on account of very different circumstances in which they find themselves—I feel, for one, that I am bound to work heart and soul with any man—no matter what he calls himself, Roman Catholic, English Catholic, Dissenter, or Secularist—who is trying to make the world better and to get rid of the evil in the world. (Loud cheers.) Then I would ask you further to bear in mind that according to Christian teaching, Christ not only taught as I have said, but he founded a society to keep on doing the work he began to do, and that that society is the Christian Church; and that therefore the Christian Church, with all its organisations, ought not to be troubling itself with about ten thousand and one doctrines, but ought to be doing all it possibly can as an organised society to ameliorate the condition of the people of the country in which it finds itself. (Cheers.) I see you are going to have a Mission, a Christian Mission, a Church Mission, in this town very soon, headed by the Bishop of the Diocese. A very good thing indeed, but I hope you will use your energy to get the work of that Mission turned not only to converting individual souls from wrong-doing, a very good piece of work indeed, but also to converting public opinion to righteousness with reference to great political matters. (Cheers.) It is just as important that a town should be righteous in its social and political dealings, or that a nation should page 4 be righteous in its social and political dealings, as that Tom or Jane should be helped to be made better people by the action of the Christian Church. (Cheers.) And the Christian Church has just as much work to do, I maintain—and more work—with reference to these great social and political matters than with regard to these individual matters. (Cheers.) Having said so much to show the position which I take as a Christian, I should like to give you certain reasons for my very cordial approval of your action, the action of you electors of Northampton, with reference to Mr. Bradlaugh. I have had the pleasure of knowing Mr. Bradlaugh, for some, I suppose, six, seven, or eight years, and I have found him throughout the time I have known him an earnest Radical Reformer. (Cheers.) He has not been as so many others have been, on the side either of aristocracy, or of the plutocracy, but so far as I have studied his life and his career he has been an earnest reformer on all matters which concern the welfare of the people. (Cheers.) Therefore, as a Christian, I am bound not to consider whether he says he is an Atheist, or whether somebody else says he is an Atheist, but to consider whether, on the whole, the work he does is for the good of humanity, good for the people of England, and for the people of Northampton. (Cheers) I have convinced myself—very strongly as I disagree with him on many religious matters, on almost all religious matters, and on some social matters—I have convinced myself from absolute experience that he is a man willing to work for the well-being of the great body of the people, for the greatest happiness of the greatest number. (Loud cheers.) Then there is a second reason. It is perhaps rather a reason of expediency, and it is a reason I should have urged more strongly if I had had the advantage of meeting the clergy or opposition in this Hall, than I shall urge it on you—and it is that for good or for evil Mr. Bradlaugh has a very large and enthusiastic following, and that it is most dangerous to the well being of the country when a man has a large and enthusiastic following that that man should be kept outside the pale of the constitution. (Hear, hear.) We have always been glad in England that our great reforms and revolutions have as far as possible been carried by moral force and without bloodshead. Jesus Christ, my Lord and Master, was a moral force revolutionist. He had sympathy with those who were physical force revolutionists. Still he would not endorse their action for one moment, though he had sympathy with their aspirations. But I say to the Conservatives, and those weak- page 5 kneed Liberals who have been on the same side with them—(cheers.) I say to them that it is a very dangerous thing every point of view to keep one who represents such a large and enthusiastic following as Mr. Bradlaugh does outside the pale of the constitution. (Cheers.) I recommend that thought to them for their most earnest consideration. Then I have a third reason why, as a Christian, I endorse your action with reference to Mr. Bradlaugh. I know that here in Northampton the fight, as far as possible, is fought out not on Atheistic grounds, but simply on political grounds. (Cheers.) But still you must allow me to say, as a clergyman, that I honor Mr. Bradlaugh very much indeed because he is an out-spoken Atheist. I don't like the word myself, and I hardly ever use it about anybody. But there are many people who hold the same opinion about matters of religion as Mr. Bradlaugh does, but they have kept it dark. (Hear, hear) I have heard people quote this sentence, I believe it was said of the Mill—John Stuart Mill and his brother James Mill—"There is no God, but it is a family secret; you must not let he people know anything about it You must only let the philosophers and the half-crown magazines say anything about it. These questions of Atheism or Theism, these questions of Christianity, must not be brought down to the people; it will make them discontented." I honor Mr. Bradlaugh because, feeling what he did feel—of course I differ from him in what he does feel—he spoke out plainly what he thought was the falseness of certain teachings that had been going on for a long time; and because he was therefore a more honest and a more healthy opponent than a person who keeps his opinions dark. I have had the pleasure of meeting Mr. Bradlaugh two or three times in controversy. I have now every Sunday evening after service discussions at which some of the London Secularists attend and take part. I have had my say for twenty minutes or half-an-hour, and they have had their say quite as plainly as to what they think. And I am sure all of us who attend there lectures are very much the better, because we have each spoken out our feelings and our opinions; and we know our grounds for belief or bisbelief. It is this matter of the outspokenness of Mr. Bradlaugh in matters of religion which seems to me another claim on my admiration for him. (Cheers.) Then, again also with reference to another matter which, I believe, did not come very strongly before you at the election, but I must claim my right to speak of, and that is with regard to some of Mr. page 6 Bradlaugh's social teachings. Mr. Bradlaugh is what is called a Malthusian, I am not by any means a Malthusian, but I am, as strongly as I can be, a Socialist; and I believe the Malthusian theory is not the theory which will eventually be adopted. (Hear, hear) I believe, since Mr. Henry George's book on "Progress and Poverty" has been circulated far and wide, the Malthusian theory has to a very great extent been destroyed. But why I honor Mr. Bradlaugh here again for is that whilst all the great economists, Mr. John Stuart Mill, and Mr. Fawcett, whom we mention with all reverence now he is on his sick bed—while all have been Malthusians, they again have kept it dark, and have not carried out to a legitimate extent their Malthusian programme. Mr. Bradlaugh, his friend Mrs. Besant, Dr. Drysdale, and others, have had the courage, in face of the greatest difficulties, and in spite of all opposition, and the nasty-minded suggestions of nasty-minded people—(loud checrs)—have had the courage to speak out plainly and clearly. Mr. Bradlaugh felt that starvation was caused by the pressure of population against the means of subsistence, and that, therefore, the only remedy was to limit population. I don't agree with him. I believe that Socialism is the remedy which will, in the end, come into operation. But all the more I honestly admire him for having spoken out so plainly and suffered so much as he has done, in that matter (Cheers.) Now I propose to give you two or three reasons why I protest against the action of the House of Commons in excluding Mr. Bradlaugh, and, of course, the first reason is simply a constitutional one According to the Christian ideal the State is a very sacred thing indeed, and the theory of the English State is that every single grown person is to have a voice in the government of the country. We know we have not quite got up to the ideal yet, but still that is the theory. The representatives meet in the House of Commons simply because it is impossible for everybody—the whole body of the people—to meet to transact the business of the country on account of the vastness of the numbers. But there has grown up a kind of notion that the House of Commons is a kind of club, and that the members of that club have some kind of right to object to this or that kind of man joining them unless they approve of him. (Laughter. It sounds almost ridiculous when you put it in that way, but that is practically what it comes to. (Cheers) We must protest against that with all the force we can. It is for simple constitutional rights you are page 7 standing up. It has not anything to do really with the opinions I have just expressed with regard to Mr. Bradlaugh. If Mr. Bradlaugh were the most tremendous Tory on the face of the earth it would be just as much your duty to fight the constitutional question, and place him in the position to which you sent him (Cheers.) Then I object very much to the action of the House of Commons on the ground of the damage done to true religion even by the appearance of religious people trying to gag an opponent. A country rector telegraphed to Sir Stafford Northcote on the occasion of the first agitation on this matter: "It is you who are making Atheist wholesale." (Loud cheers.) And, without doubt, to one who has not really seriously studied the principles of Christianity as apart from the practice of the large majority of Christians, and especially of Christian officers and clergymen, it must seem as if our religion were a very weak thing indeed if it were just to topple over because Mr. Bradlaugh got into the House of Commons. (Cheers.) That is what a large majority of Christians seem to think. I think it is a most suicidal thing to try to gag any kind of opinion, that in the end it always acts against the person who tries to gag the opinion and for the person who is gagged. (Hear, hear) Mr. Bradlaugh—whose opinions on religion I object to very strongly—is very much strengthened by the action of the so-called Christians in the House of Commons. (Loud cheers.) And now to go a little more into detail in reference to the action of these Christians. They say, you know, it would be blasphemy for Mr. Bradlaugh to take the oath. Well, now, that is not a logical position to take up. How can an Atheist blaspheme? When Mr. Bradlaugh was willing to take the oath, though he preferred not to, it strikes me that his action in the matter, though not as politic as it might have been, has been most straightforward and honorable. (Cheers.) He felt that people would be distressed by his using the phrase "So help me God," and so he wished to make the simple affirmation which was made by Quakers and others. When people tell you that he would blaspheme when he said the words "So help me God," and that he would be false to his principles, I cannot see what they are talking about. The word "God" has no meaning to him, he does not understand it in any definite sense; but the oath would be binding on him though the word "God" had no meaning to him. He would rather not use a word which has no meaning to him, but which is sacred to many people; though if the law of the land compels page 8 him to do so he will do so. And if any nonsensical words were used at the end of the oath he would use those if he were called upon to do so. To Mr. Bradlaugh the word "God" is nonsensical, that is, it is without sense to him—conveys no definite idea to his mind, and so he would much rather not use it; but if compelled to use it he will use it There seems to me nothing at all in any way shirking difficulties in the course he has taken, or in any way fencing the matter, but it all appears to me perfectly straightforward, and that the Christians who accuse him of offering to blaspheme are really talking about what they do not understand. (Cheers.) Now Mr. Bradlaugh's opponents in the House of Commons may, it seems to me, be divided into three classes; and it is rather important to consider them. First of all, there are the really earnest religious people, and they deserve very great respect for their honesty. One such, the vicar of this parish, wrote to me when he saw I was advertised to come here, protesting very strongly against me so doing. I most truly believe him to be a most earnest, honest, and well-intentioned man—(laughter and cheers)—but of course, I could not for a moment think that a clergyman of a parish has the right or the responsibility or the duty to settle what lectures should be given in the public Town Hall which happens to be in his parish. If the Rector of a certain church in Piccadilly were held responsible for all the songs sung and the speeches made at St. James' Hall, or the Vicar of St. Michael's, Burleigh Street, for all that was done in Exeter Hall, they would have a great deal of responsibility on their shoulders which it would be difficult to bear. And though I very much respect the earnestness of purpose of the Vicar of the parish in regard to his lecture, he is one of those who I understand are earnest, religious opponents of Mr. Bradlaugh, and such people, who are in earnest, deserve our sympathy and respect. But while these religious people deserve our respect on account of their earnestness, one cannot say very much for their common sense. (Laughter and cheers,) They seem to think that if Mr. Bradlaugh were to say very steadily for some time, and his followers were to say for some time : "There is no God," that it would make some difference, that it would make it an open question. That is the line they seem to take. They seem to think that the negations of these few men—for there are only a few men Atheists in the country—that it might have some serious effect on the Christian faith. My line is quite plain. I know as far as I know anything about the Christian religion, that page 9 though Atheists say they don't know God, God knows them, is speaking to them. (Hear, hear.) I say that Mr. Bradlaugh and his followers so far as they do good work are inspired by God to do it. (Cheers.) And that is the line I hope you will take with Christian opponents in this town. Make them understand that Christ taught that all good works came from God's good Spirit. It is really blasphemy to say that anybody does any good except by means of God's good spirit. (Cheers.) And if you acknowledge, as everybody is bound to acknowledge, that Mr. Bradlaugh's political work is good work, then you are bound to acknowledge that that comes from God's good spirit, though Mr. Bradlaugh and his Secularist friends do not acknowledge the source of it (Cheers) Religious people—though I dont like to say it—are real blasphemers in this matter. It is they who are dragging the religion of Christ in the mud; it is they who are denying the great truth that Jesus Christ is the great emancipator, the great deliverer, the Secularist Reformer, who seeks the establishment of the Kingdom of Heaven upon Earth—it is they who are the blasphemers, not Mr Bradlaugh. It is these good people whose earnestness I respect very much, but whose logical position I cannot understand. (Cheers.) Then there is another set of people who oppose Mr. Bradlaugh very strongly, political opponents. Many of them, of course, use a certain show of religion on this matter, but I am afraid we cannot say the House of Commons, or the majority of the House of Commons, who are opposing Mr. Bradlaugh consists entirely of earnest religious people. (Hear, hear) But there are political opponents who, as you know, are very glad of the Brad laugh incident as a weapon with which to strike a blow at Mr. Gladstone and to hinder the progress of Liberal measures. (Cheers.) For such people I have no respect whatever. For the earnest religious man who thinks he must keep Mr. Bradlaugh out of the House of Commons, for the honor of God, I can have respect—(cheers)—but the man who tries to discredit reform and a great Liberal statesman by trying to oppose Mr. Bradlaugh, deserves no pity from us, and I hope all such will be very well remembered at the next election (Loud cheers.) Then there are also those, both in the House of Commons and out of it, who may be called the social opponents of Mr. Bradlaugh, to whom Mr. Bradlaugh's social opinions are very dreadful This is the kind of thing you hear in London drawing-rooms. I have had the satisfaction of meeting a good large body of clergymen who felt that Mr. Bradlaugh's social and page 10 moral position was so dreadful that nobody ought to associate with him, and "having it out" with them, I found they were very ignorant of the matter; and they have no right to speak of Mr. Bradlaugh or any other man without knowing. (Cheers.) But still the talk of these people, just as the talk of the London drawing-rooms, is ignorant talk, and as such it must be simply met and answered as far as possible. The little body of clergy to whom I have referred already I was able to convince that Mr. Bradlaugh was not the dreadful, terrible anti-social person they thought he was. The great joke from my point of view was their speaking of Mr. Bradlaugh as a dreadful socialist, the very last thing he is. He is a stern political economist of the Malthusian type. When the matter was explained to them they saw it in a different light. That explanation has been going on in various ways and must go on still. But the social argument against admitting Mr. Bradlaugh into Parliament, even if it were all they say it is, should be of no weight what ever. You would have a precious time of it, if you were going to have an enquiry into the moral character—using "moral" in the narrow sense of the word—of every member of Parliament before he took his seat. (Laughter and cheers.) If people who were not acceptable in London drawing-rooms were not to be admitted into the House of Commons, you would have a very curious House of Commons indeed. (Renewed laughter) But if this were true it would have nothing to do with the question, because the House of Commons is not a great social club, but the great representative body of the whole nation. (Cheers,) These, then, are the three classes of opponents, the religious, the political, and the social, and the chief people with whom Mr. Bradlaugh and his fellows have to deal I cannot help saying that especial blame is attaching in this matter to to those to whom I have referred as weak-kneed Liberals. (Hear, hear.; There is something consistent in the Conservative action : it may be rather sharp practice. But the action of the weak-kneed Liberals, like Mr. Sam. Morley—(hisses)—and others, is so inconsistent that it makes me tremble for the future of Liberalism—when you find people are only Liberal so far as it suits their convenience, and won't carry their principles to their legitimate conclusion. You found it in the French Republic, when the executive was so very illiberal towards the religious societies in France; and I was proud to find that Mr. Bradlaugh was one of the few people who protested, in the National Reformer, against the action of the French page 11 Republic. So he seemed to be a true Liberal. Though he could have but little sympathy with those religious societies, he felt the importance of giving fair-play all round. I say to my weak-kneed friends: "Take care that a terrible day is not awaiting you. The day may come when Mr. Bradlaugh and his friends will be in power; and suppose they treat you as you treat them, and they refuse to let any religious person be in Parliament, and they use physical force against religion, as you have against irreligion—you would be treated in a way that would serve you right, though in a way that no honest Radical would ever treat you." (Loud cheers.) I think I must have exhausted your patience pretty well by this time. (Cries of "Go on!") I don't know how right I am in feeling personally that, greatly as I respect Mr. Gladstone, he is to some extent to blame for not having put his foot down firmly in this matter. (Loud cheers) I know there are those, and some of Mr. Bradlaugh's best friends, who say Mr. Gladstone is perfectly right, that Mr. Bradlaugh has now a constitutional right to enter Parliament, that to pass a law to let him in would be giving in to the unconstitutional action which keeps him out, and that we must bide our time. But still, in a matter of practical politics like this, if Mr. Gladstone, instead of being so fond of Mr. Bradlaugh as Lord Randolph Churchill tried to make out, had not had a shuddering objection to Mr. Bradlaugh on account of his religious principles, and if he had put his foot down rather more strongly than he did at first, the difficulty would have been got over. (Cheers.) However, perhaps I do wrong, being so young in the cause, to criticise his work. These, then are the main matters I wish to bring before you with reference to Mr. Bradlaugh's case and views of it as a Christian clergyman. I am so much in the habit of having discussion after my lectures, that if there is anyone who wishes to ask a question, or to put the other side of the question to see how far lam right in this matter, I should be glad to answer his questions. I feel very strongly indeed from the Christian standpoint that my position is perfectly strong, that Jesus Christ is above everything else, the Emancipator of the People, the Defender of the Oppressed, and the great Secular Worker of the World; and that, therefore, all those who go in for the emancipation of the people, and the Secular well-being of the people, should be supported by Christians—that the fact of their calling themselves Atheists does not separate them from you by any means, and that we are page 12 bound to give, if possible, more than justice to those whom we differ from in these matters. The religious people of North-hampton should say : "Now at any rate Mr. Bradlaugh is the elect of this town, and we will show that we feel, because we are Christians, we wish justice to be done, more to an opponent than we should have wished a friend." (Cheers.) If there are any questions put to me I shall be happy to answer them. (Loud Cheers.)
No question being asked,
Mr. Headlam again rose and said: I see I am announced as the curate of St. Michael's, Shoreditch, London. I should not like to come here under any false pretences, and I should not like it to be thought that I represented anyone but myself. It so happens that on account of my political teaching my connexion with St. Michael's will soon be brought to a conclusion. The Church of England is in this envious position, that the clergy are not elected by the people, but are forced on the people by this or that patron, and the curate is the servant, the almost absolute servant, of the Vicar, who may dismiss him as he chooses. I have been on very good terms with my Vicar, but he finds my political teaching is too strong for his friends, so we have to part. (Laughter and cheers.) You must take my utterances as the expression of my own opinion, and not the opinion of any Church Society. (Loud cheers.)
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