The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 42
The Bible, or Freethought?
The Bible, or Freethought?
"Wisdom and Truth are the offspring of Heaven—are immortal; but Cunning and Deception are meteors of the earth, which, after glittering a moment, must pass away."
We live in an age when every man is at liberty to express his opinions freely. Diversity of opinion is the life of literature and the stimulation of research. He who recently shone with the full radiance of our Attorney-General has contributed his quota to this incitement, having mounted the pedestal of Theology, from whence he has taken the opportunity to formulate a definition of the principles of the Freethought Association of Dunedin. From this we learn that "They search for the true, and the true alone;" yet the declared method forces the opinion that they search all the time, with the conviction that they have already got "the true"—each man for himself, and only for himself. While each man is "the true" to himself, he may be "the false" to every other. "The true" is not without, but within the individual searching for it. Strange, too, is their doctrine of the freedom of private judgment: "We believe, and so we act;" "We recognise no authority as competent to dictate to us;" "We care not whether some of our fellow-citizens are angry with us, or shocked at our actions." It must be observed that these maxims are in no way qualified, and therefore must be understood to refer to all phases of life—moral, social, political. Moreover, the matter goes further than mere forms of belief or conviction; for the same authority—we must acknowledge Mr Stout an authority on this special subject—has declared "that if religious or quasi-religious and political associations unite to deprive us of our rights as citizens, we will be found defending our position." This is a resolve of stern action; and when it borne in mind that on only one thing is there an agreement amongst the members of this Society, and that that agreement is "the right of every man to examine every subject for himself and to think freely, and to speak freely what he may think," and that the practical outcome of this is, that as each individual thinks so he acts, and that no authority is re- page 6 cognised as "competent to dictate to him," the most obtuse must see the state of anarchy into which society would be thrown by such precepts put into practice.
According to his argument, it follows that each man is to himself the "first care." There is a complete absence of the Divine preeept "Love thy neighbour as thyself." The new motto should be, if the promulgators of this new theory had the "courage of their opinions," "Love thyself, and ignore thy neighbour;" and the creed of this party, who are neither religious nor political in their tenets, and who are emphatically non-social in their professions, should be "I believe in myself." This would embrace all the affirmative doctrines they avow; but as their theory is almost purely one of negation, and as they have such a contempt for old creeds, perhaps it would be a novelty if they were to strike out in a new line and, discarding all affirmations, formulate a Non Creedo. Out of this they could make a tolerably imposing document, for though brevity is the soul of wit, quantity is frequently preferred to quality. How commanding would a Non Creedo of twenty or thirty clauses be with each sentence commencing "I don't believe in, &c."
|1.||I don't believe in the Bible.|
|2.||I don't believe in priests.|
|3.||I don't believe in a code of moral laws.|
|4.||I don't believe in religion.|
|5.||I don't believe in human authority.|
|6.||I don't believe in politics.|
|7.||I don't believe in monarchs.|
|8.||I don't believe in governments.|
|9.||I don't believe in penal laws.|
|10.||I don't believe in society controlling me.|
These might be extended ad infinitum, and, of course, any member would be at liberty to add to the non creedo whatever he desired, such as, for instance, "I don't believe in marriage," or "I don't believe in filial regard," or some more bold than the rest might get a tolerably complete list and write at the foot "I don't believe in anything." Some, of course, would have to strike out clauses occasionally. Such as No. 6 would not do in the non-belief of a man who sought political honours, and when a portfolio was within his grasp, with £1500 a year and perquisites, No. 8 would have to go as well as No. 6. When another had a chance of securing the honourable appendage to his name which the mysterious letters J.P. indicate, No. 5 would require to go to Eribus, carrying with it also Nos. 3 and 9; and so on, as "sell" became greater the "non-belief" would grow smaller in exact proportion. If this chopping and changing should appear inconsistent to any of their fellow citizens, and they indulge in ridicule, it is but worthy of contempt, and the advanced disciple of Freethought lets it pass off as water passes off the back of a duck. He is perfectly indifferent, and thoroughly stoical. He sails on o'er the ocean of life in the calm serenity of a selfish conscience, heedless of the fools who deride him, but, oh! how complaisant to those who laud him and call him wise. The wise man of antiquity said, "Rebuke a wise man and he will love thee;" but our sages of page 7 modern times having come to scorn everything ancient, except so much as each thinks worthy of esteem, and having grown superior to all authority, and above all advice, declare that no man is wise enough to teach them. Each man is to himself the embodiment of wisdom, and needeth not that any man should instruct him. "The fool hateth reproof." "He that regardeth reproof is prudent," Perhaps it is also wise to take the advice of the same, though ancient, sage when he says, "Reprove not a scorner, lest he may hate thee." Still, it may be needful to "give instruction to the wise, for then they will increase in learning;" and I would desire to enlist the attention of some who are wise enough to distrust the arguments and non-beliefs which place a man's individual mind and will above all the world, even to the deposition of God from the moral, as well as the physical, management of the universe. I shall endeavour to make an analysis of the principles as above noted, and advanced by Mr Stout as those of the members of the Freethought Association.
1.—the Highest Duty
Of every man is to "examine every subject for himself, and to think freely and speak freely what he may think." With this maxim I have no quarrel. I have for years acted upon it, for I discovered that it was in itself good, and also that it was promulgated in the Bible, and that those who acted upon it were highly commended for their noble perseverance and zeal. But I have a strong objection to any set, of men claiming; that only they accept this as a high and elevating principle, for it is prominent throughout the teaching of protestant reformers, and lives in healthy robustness throughout Protestant Christianity. With the position which Mr Stout has assigned to it, however, I have a most emphatic protest to enter. That this should be the highest duty of man contracts human duty into a channel of miserable meanness, whence it can permeate no further than a man's own person. This rule shuts out the entire world from the man—withers up the most precious of human comforts which flow from the affections. It expels love from the catalogue of human virtues, for love is nothing if it is not unselfish. But worst of all, this rule is capable of such wide and various application that it might be the certain destruction of all rule and good order. For if a man's "highest" duty is to "think, speak, and act" simply as his mind dictates, it must also be the "highest" duty of all other men to refrain from interfering with him. There can therefore be no standard of right between a man and his neighbours, for Mr Stout contends that this rule is to be adhered to "independent altogether of the consequence that may result from our actions." If this be the case, then every man is bound in the highest duty to act out his own convictions whatever they may be, not in any way taking into consideration what effect the action may have upon the community; and this community has no authority to prevent the action. Yet, I should be more than surprised if Mr Stout would carry out the rule if a man were to act upon thoughts which dictated him to possess himself of some of the former gentleman's property. Mr Stout would have convictions which he would deem it prudent to assert and defend, regardless of the other man's convictions to the contrary; and how should they settle their difference? To whom could they appeal? There is "no authority competent to dictate" to either. Society is by page 8 such a means completely disorganised. Each man is a law to himself; he is the only person capable of interpreting that law, and to no other law is he responsible. That this is no false comment, let us follow up the argument and we shall see.
2.—Not a Sect.
It seems to me that this is merely a quibble, and no fact. So long as they are a Society, and separate themselves from other sects, they also are sectarian. The word simply implies a separated body or society, and has no special religious or political meaning. Hence, so long as the members of the Freethought Association do not represent the major portion of the community they are a section or sect of it—a separated branch. There needs be no theological formulæ, no religious opinions, to constitute a sect; but simply a union of men holding certain opinions, or tenets, which cause them to differ from other men—this "cuts" them off from the larger portion of the society, and forms them a sect, whether they will or no. It is not an uncommon thing to read of this or that school or sect of philosophy, as well as of religion. However, it is probable that these men wish to be no sect, and the former topic we discussed would tend to confirm this view of their society. They must either be the main stem of society or a sect of it. If, then, they recognise only individual self as the chief object, then so far as they are concerned each man is the main stem, and certainly their society can be no sect. Of course, if they recognised themselves to be a sect, then they would have to recognise the authority of that of which they are a sect. But, despising authority, they must raise themselves into the chief position, to give a show of superiority. Only by such a step could they hope to succeed in gaining any popularity for their theory. Then, again, it is contended that they are
3.—Not a Political Party.
Their special object is not the government of the place, how could it I Their views do not permit any authority to exist with dictatorial power. Their province is to do away with politics, for each man is to be the only judge of his sense of right and wrong; and before this theory can ever have a thoroughly practically outcome, the body politic must be dissolved. "True freedom" can never exist, according to their definition, so long as representatives of the people are allowed to formulate laws and enforce penalties for their infringement. This is a very serious interference with the independent thinking and acting of the individual, and is even in a large measure subjugating the free exercise of the inclinations, to the wish of others; it is, in fact, imposing upon him the necessity of "recognising an authority competent to dictate to him." This, of course cannot be tolerated. Each man must dwell in "true freedom." He may not judge his neighbour, nor may his neighbour judge him. What each man thinks right is right; yet, if I conscientiously think him wrong, I am also right. Of course conviction leads to action, so that in our doings we are to be as independent and careless of our neighbours as if they did not exist, and are to persist in this course with studious indifference, so long as we are persuaded we are following what we think right. One thing which it is essential to page 9 keep in mind is that these rules are absolutely unqualified and are therefore without limit, spreading over every action in our lives of multifarious duties, and even to men of all shades of thought, and peculiarities of early and later training; that they apply with equal force to the illiterate scavenger, to the man whose life has been one long training in vice and wickedness, as to the cultured, the refined, and the virtuous—all stand on one level. So that even a community of virtuous people possesses no authority to restrain the actions of the vicious and wicked, even when the latter are represented by only one person. So that imprisonment for a violation of what the community considered a right would be in itself a violation of what the offender considered his own right, as a man who has the freedom of his will and the "courage of his opinions." Most truly, then, they are "not a political party," they being emphatically anti-political, if we are to take Mr Stout as a correct exponent of their views, and I know no more capable man.
4.—Our Rights as Citizens.
What he means by "Our rights as citizens" is left very vague by Mr Stout. This need be no cause for surprise, for if his other assertions were really genuine, he must have met with some difficulty when he approached this part of his subject, and casting a glance over the preceding portion of his address, his eye must have fallen on the statement "that the only one thing upon which their Society was agreed was that men are free to think, speak, and act, independent of all authority, and that their highest duty is to carry out this independent policy regardless of its consequences." This is then the right of every individual, as an individual; but as a citizen, we may ask, does a right at all exist? and I am inclined to answer with caution, and reply, "Right only exists where might commands it." What one man may consider his right another may look upon as the reverse; what a few may be agreed upon, the general voice may dispute. Yet, on Mr Stout's authority, it is laid down that every man must, in carrying out his "highest duty," act out his convictions, regardless of his neighbour's, while he "grants the same right to everyone else." Most appropriate, therefore, is the ensuing sentence—"We cannot therefore expect to act as one man." Under such notions of moral and political rule, it would be an utter impossibility for united action, and the inevitable result would be constant contentions, despite our policy of "true freedom." Diversity of opinion is to be expected, and as opinion is to govern action, antagonism, and not unity, must be looked for. Then by what rule are our "rights as citizens" to be established and recognised? Only by our power to enforce that recognition. It is simply "acquire what you can, and hold it as you can." I can find no other "right" existing under this promulgated law of true freedom."
5.—Defending Our Position
"What I think I utter, what I will I do."
There is a spirit of independence sounding through this thought. By itself it does not seem much; it is its surroundings which give it such prominent significance. Where it is placed it breathes strongly of defiance, and blisters with the constant spirit of self-importance which page 10 shows up so prominently throughout this exposition of Freethought principles. It is couched in strong and determined language—"We are determined that if religious or guasi-religious and political associations unite to deprive us of our rights as citizens, then we will be found defending our position." The whole affair breathes the sentiments of resistance to the wishes of the community, and most forcibly suggests a pre-determination to instigate an insurrection should this Society not be granted all that its members imagine to be their rights, even although the greater part of the community believe that the concession of these imagined "rights to a few" would be a "wrong to the many." And this is the language of our late Attorney-General, and shows how far the spirit has progressed amongst, and possessed the minds of, the people. Surely it is time that society opened its eyes to the insidious notions which are gaining ground in our midst, when such men will boldly make such statements; and leading newspapers are willing to give publication to them, while they contemn speeches and letters which seek to check the influence of these inflammatory orations. It is quite possible that, with all our modern culture, and improved social condition, there is still the latent spirit, which in other days and other lands has given such evidence of its power, when evoked by imaginary wrongs, dilated and expatiated upon in exciting and vehement language. What is the difference between that which was the immediate cause of the diabolical outrages of the French Revolution, and the sentiments of the exposition of Freethought under our review? The latter is but a seed of the former. Nor do I think that anyone who examines the literature of those who also seem to belong to the same sect as Mr Stout will be able to come to any other conclusion. One thing especially will tend to this conviction—viz., they all admire the very men whose writings and speeches fired the fury which made France bleed and mourn for years! Their cry was, "Defending their rights." With them every man had his "own rights," and he was considered entitled to defend his rights not with standing the result of his actions. If, however, his sword could not maintain his "right," it ceased to exist. Right lay in a man's "strong right arm." I do not give Mr Stout credit for seeing the matter in this true light. He has allowed his "search for the true" to be so circumscribed that he has forgotten the existence of "communities of men" in his intense desire to have every impediment, real and imaginary, removed from the progress of each "individual unit" of those communities. He has allowed himself to drift away into a strangely illogical and false position. To confirm this, I advance to another thought, and sum up what he calls
|(a)||They have no common political sympathies.|
|(b)||They have no common religion, and may be of any religion if ithas not an old creed.|
|(c)||Each man refuses to recognise any authority as competent to dictate to him.|
|(d)||Each person is an independent entity.page 11|
|(e.)||It is every person's right to form his own independent judgment, and follow the bent of his own will.|
|(f.)||It is his "highest duty" to carry out the dictates of his own will fearlessly, and careless of the interests of others,|
|(g.)||He is entitled to defend his position against those who differ from him.|
|(h.)||While he grants the same liberties to others.|
"Then rose the seed of chaos and of night,
To blot out order, and extinguish light.,
"Lo! thy dread empire. Chaos, is restored,
Light dies before thy uncreating word;
Thy hand, great Anarch, lets the curtain fall,
And universal darkness buries all."
Man is gregarious. No man is an independent entity. We cannot succeed in loneliness. We are so constituted that companionship is absolutely essential to our mental, moral, and physical development. Every man is more or less moulded by his company. He is an uncommonly constituted man whose happiest hours are not those spent with congenial associates. It is only when harmony reigns among companions that true enjoyment is possible; and it is only when individuality is blended in community that harmony is possible. 'Tis only then that men will
"Live as brothers should with brother."
'Tis only that will
"Keep them in good humour with each other."
If society is to go smoothly, and avoid jars and ruptures, it is not self-isolation, arrogance, and suspicion which will secure it. Nothing so oils the wheels of social life as charity and reciprocity, a blending of interests, and a genial consideration for each other's well-being.page 12
"Affliction's sons are brothers in distress;
A brother to relieve, how exquisite the bliss."
"Man's inhumanity to man
Makes countless thousands mourn."
Those rules or principles which are contrary to the nature of man, are contrary to wisdom. Those laws which would seek to unhinge the natural order of human life, are unnatural; and therefore will prove futile in the production of good fruit; while the very high probability—almost certainty—is that they will result in much mischief, not only in delaying the promulgation and establishment of good laws and the reign of virtue, but in inuring the minds of the community to their wrongs, and the continuation of vice and oppression.
Such a position as that assumed by the Freethought Association can only be the result of rash inconsideration, and the careless adoption of the principles of some bold misanthrope, who "Ruminates like a hostess that hath no arithmetic but her brain to put down the reckoning." But even the very advocates of this society will decare that
"They only babble who practice not reflection."
Yet, where is the evidence of reflection in the conflicting and contradictory principles they have announced as their rules of thought and action? It would be difficult in the last degree to compile and publish an exposition of doctrines of more diametrically opposed sentiments, and yet in such a shape that it would be accepted by a number of people as a harmonious whole. Nevertheless, it is a fact that some men of shrude perception seem to accept these propositions as if they were the very grandest scheme ever formulated by the mind of man, or even for the mind of man to contemplate. How it is that men of ordinary intelligence can bring themselves to such a state of mind, is a matter of singular interest yet bidding defiance to my reason. The very effort to discover how any man can see a harmony and beauty existing between the two following propositions is perplexing:—"Every man has the privilege to define his own rights of citizenship, and to defend his position thus decided upon." "Every man is bound to grant every other man similar liberties to those which he claims for himself." The more I look at them and examine their true logical effect, the more fiercely do I see them gore each other as with
"The horns of an angry bull."
There may be a harmony, however, between the following:—"We recognise no authority, &c.," and "We cannot be expected to work as one man at elections;" but if there is harmony, is there not also the acme of absurdity! for while these men will acknowledge "no authority," they take part in the mummery of elections, which place their fellow men in offices with imaginary but no real authority. They will take part in elections, but hold the power of the elected in contempt. They will choose citizens to frame and enforce laws, and then mock them in their office. "There is no authority competent to dictate to us;" yet they mimic to set up constituted authority, simply that their scorn for this page 13 relic of antiquity may be displayed in slapping it in the face and pulling the pedestal from beneath it, that it may fall and be smashed to fragments at their feet It is merely a pastime of the "Aunt Sally" description in appearance, but in reality it is a gross outrage on human intelligence and morality. Do our freethinking friends entertain a serious opinion that, if all authority and constraint or restraint were abolished, and each person allowed to shape and carry out his own line of action, that the need of laws of restraint would also disappear? If so, they have a larger degree of faith in human nature than is either very common or wise. I should like to learn from them by what process of reasoning they arrive at such a conviction. I might possibly work myself up to such a state of mind, but I should first have to obliterate my knowledge of history, and banish from me what I have been taught by experience of man's predilections. My experience most emphatically corroborates the ancient saying, "Law is a terror to evildoers, and a praise to those who do well." I am also convinced that vice will not be supplanted by license, or charmed out of existence by absolute freedom from restraint. Crime is not kept alive by punishment, or fear of detection; the greater the certainty of discovery is, the greater is the weakness and shamefacedness of crime, and the greater is society's immunity from its annoyance. Therefore, authority is good, and its maintenance wise; but much depends upon the nature of that authority. That of the autocrat is harsh, and to enlightened minds it is repugnant and mischievous. Men want to look upon the power to rule and keep order, not as the power of a chief, but as the united power of the people centred in a chosen representative or officer. Then they have a respect for it, and act up to it, not from dread, but from a sense of honour. It is utterly impossible for men to live in communities without recognising some controlling authority. The rules of the Freethought Association, which have Mr Stout's approbation, reject all authority; therefore, it rejects the bond or organisation, and consequently tends to the introduction of governmental destruction and popular confusion.
Doubless the progress of these notions is slow. What a blessing for society! He is a madman who wishes to see the lawlessness of the Revolution of France introduced to previously peaceful lands. We are not so imbecile as to long for such a state of things as society in Russia at present exhibits, and we trust the progress of such principles as the Fresthought Association is declared to advocate may continue, if at all, to move at a slow pace. There is a limit, beyond which liberty is dissolved into license, and such license runs into individual self-will, and self-will would destroy his mother. Yet even Russian agitators are acting under a recognised authority, though they are defying another. They are not so far gone, bad as they are, as to reject all authority, as our friends here desire to do. Never was a greater absurdity uttered than that by Mr Stout. It is impossible for him even to imagine a State without an authoritative head. Then his boast is an empty bauble.
"Mark what unvaried laws preserve each State,
Laws wise as nature, and as fixed as fate."
Logical men can never cluster round the banner of Freethought, if Mr Stout's exposition is correct. They may gather to their ranks the young, the inexperienced, and the men who seek for distinction while reckless of principle; but years will bring experience, sound judgment, and nobler views. As members improve in mental power, they will find Freethought to be rather a bondage, and only those who allow the one idea to warp their faculties will be able to end their days in membership under the rules described; for they are contrary to the inborn principles of human nature, which must rebell against them. Men naturally see this, and nature keeps them from identification with the lusus natural of the Freethought Society. The "ultimate success" for which Mr Stout's ardent soul looks into the future will try the patience of his fellow-members for many years yet to come, and in the end I predict they shall realise that
"Hope deferred maketh the heart sick."
And many will return to the old creeds, and patriotically support the old laws and maxims of their country.
"Stand forth, and turn this frame of things the right side out."
There is a difference between "harsh criticism" and just, though severe, and faithful criticism. In searching for "the true," men are forced to submit every argument to a thorough process of ratiocination; they are compelled to be faithful, but they never need be "harsh"—that is if by harshness we mean abuse or rudeness, calling names, and imputing unworthy motives. Our duty is to take the arguments as they are presented, construe them according to their connection, and deliberately examine their bearing. It is only a matter to be looked for, however, that new parties, and new notions should be viewed with suspicion. This is one of Nature's safeguards against imposition, by which it prompts the diligent to survey the past as he goes along. In many cases this leads to the discovery of imposture, wilful and deliberate, which richly deserves to be vigorously exposed. "Right" and "justice" demand forcible style and language to present the deformity in its true shape. This often passes for harshness, or rather is denounced as such, and only too often the authors of the sayings thus dealt with look upon the critic as acting from a desire to injure him or cast approbrium on him, and therefore he treats the review with contempt, and he continues in his old course, quite indifferent, verifying the saying of the poet—
"Constrain a man against his will,
He holds his own opinions still."
The fact is, when a man has written anything he makes up his mind in most cases that his honour depends upon maintaining its correctness. "Facts may be false, but he must needs be true." So he either scorns or condemns adverse criticism; whereas his place is to submit it to a cross-examination, and so either break it down, or accept the result. Bold and free criticism of new ideas and arguments, is absolutely essential to right and justice, morality and truth; but epithets and approbium are a disgrace to the author of them.
9.—Our Duty not to Decline.
Mr Stout is anxious that the members of his Association, or sect, be "burning and shining lights." They are to regard it as their "duty to show that a disbelief in the popular creeds does not lessen their respect for what is right and just." We will try to pick out the meaning; it is vague and most difficult to analyse, yet I presume there is a general meaning to be culled from it. I shall paraphrase it thus—It is incumbent on us who have cast off, or discarded, the beliefs of the community in general, to evince by our conduct that we have not thereby become less respectful to those principles which we individually deem to be right and just. That, at least, would be a wise policy. If they could not walk up to this poverty-stricken sense of duty, hope for their Society's progress might soon die out. This little sermon is a cruel tell tale. They are urged to bear in mind the duty they are under to exert themselves to prevent their sinking below their former standard of moral rectitude. It is a virtual admission that there is a tendency under their principles to sink, and they are urged to fortify the weak part, lest they themselves break through and expose the flaw to those whose eyes are surrounding them. I should have expected an exhortation to endeavour to gain a higher level—to show a more perfect respect for the right and just—if the preacher had a conviction that his "non creedo" was more excellent than the popular beliefs. But evidently, sensible of the danger to which his party is exposed, he exhorts to vigilance against a fall. His cry is not the noble "Excelsior," but the humble "beware of pitfalls." He points, not to "Saint Augustine's ladder," urging its ascent, but with eyes fixed on the ground, and perplexity in his mind, he calls to his companions "the ground is treacherous, your duty is to show that you can get through without losing your shoes, or soiling your garments." So long as they escape degrading themselves below their former selves they walk up to the requitements of their "duty." There is here no aspiration after a purer or more perfectly virtuous life; no incentive to outgrow the old stateby reaching "forward to that which is before." The word is not "let us strive to become better and wiser men," but "let us watch we do not become worse men." Unworthy motto!
Yet, our author is so credulous as to believe that "by this means they may become 'living epistles;' preaching more effectually than by words that the abandonment of old creeds may lead to good ideas and a pure life." Dim probability; possible possibility; yet improbable result. He was wise to place it as a mere hypothesis. At best he can only say it may; he can make no definite assertion. Yet I fail even to be able to endorse his indefinite proposition. Can a negative action of the mind lead to a positive condition of life? Can a mere non-belief effect a positive state? Is it possible that without becoming more virtuous a man's actions can assert that he is living a truer life? If a man only shows that his respect for right does not grow less, what is there in his life to attract the admiration and emulation of others? It is a matter of absolute impossibility that the mere act of casting overboard our faith in old and time-honoured creeds can lead to a good state, unless the belief page 16 in those creeds led to a bad state; then, if so, our action may be the first step toward setting out in a course of life of a better kind. But we will not accept the assumption that a belief in popular creeds is always and necessarily evil; and only by allowing that assumption is Mr Stout's hypothetical position of any value. Man is so constituted that he desires to follow a model. He will never improve his state upon a mere non-belief. He believes always in something, or condition of life, better than his present, and he aspires to that. This he can never do on a "disbelief." Man always erects a positive standard as the goal of his attainments.
The Christian creed has a noble goal. It is up even the very highest point that man can think of. Christianity is not outgrown until man has vanquished every evil and progressed in every virtuous grace—until he has reached the excellency of the Divine. Never can he rest with the mere satisfaction of not descending from his sense of right; but it is with him still press forward and reach higher.
"Nearer my God to Thee; nearer to Thee!"
I am not so foolish as to say this of all men who claim to be Christians, I speak it of what is the spirit of our Divine religion.
"Grow in grace"
Is the motto placed before us; "love God and your neighbour" is hold out as our first duty and our highest privilege. We are taught that all men are to be equally respected and loved, and not to think "more highly of ourselves than we ought to think," and we are taught to hold authority in respect.
11.—An Uneasy Warfare.
How is it that with a set of principles so light and easy to walk up to, Mr. Stout says that the Freethought "warfare is not an easy one?" It is not like the other sects. They all impose duties requiring care and watchfulness to perform them; they all direct an uphill road, and the overthrow of evil passions and desires, and an effort to live in love and harmony with all men. But it is not so with Freethought people; they have only to remain on this already gained tableau—not descend—and so long as each one follows out his own opinions of what is right he does well. Why should this be called a difficult warfare? But this may not be the sense of Mr Stout's words. It seems rather to be that the warfare refers to aggressive work, or the endeavour to spread the influence of their "non creedo;" for he complains that "Hereditary beliefs, backed, as popular creeds of the day are backed, have great vitality." It is, then, the overthrow of these "hereditary beliefs" that constitutes theirs an uneasy warfare. And so it should be. Well it is so. To the honour of our race is it written. Who amongst us would easily be persuaded to give up our hereditary estate, which was our fathers' before us for generations? especially when the man attempting to influence us, merely tells us that we could get on very well without it; that even if we abandon our inheritance we can still live as moral as before, and enjoy our health as well roaming about the world in lodgings, page 17 as in our ancestral hall. Something more attractive would be necessary to lure us from our possessions. The very fact of its being an ancient possession would make us cling to it with the greater tenacity. This, together with a knowledge that it was a valuable property, a help and not a hindrance in life, would increase our love for it. Doubtless the man who sought to change our minds would find he had no easy task. But then—oh strange inconsistency!—Mr. Stout disclaims all anxiety for new converts. How can this be? Does Mr. Stout stultify himself in such a complete fashion? Well, there are his own words. The difficulty of Freethought warfare lies in persuading men to abjure their old beliefs, and yet the advocates of this action have no anxiety about the result of this suit. Had a hired Freethought lecturer said this we might have understood that he only wished to have people hear him advocate his scheme, but so long as he got his hire he cared not for any other success. This could not, however be Mr. Stout's meaning. He made a mistake somewhere in his zeal to show a wide difference between his sect and all others. What a failure! I would counsel every man
"To look on truth, unbroken and entire.
Truth in the system, the full orb—where truths,
By truths enlightened and sustained, afford
An arch-like, strong foundation, to support.
The incumbent weight of absolute, complete conviction."
Had I a plantation of this isle, my lord,
And were the king of it, what would I do?
I' the commonwealth I would by contraries
Execute all things; for no kind of traffic
Would I admit; no name of magistrate;
Letters should be unknown; no use of service,
Of riches, or of poverty; no contracts,
Successions, bonds of land, tilth, vineyard, none;
No use of metals, corn, or wine, or oil;
No occupation; all menidle, all.
And women too, but innocent and pure;
Sebastian.—And yet he would be king on't.
Antonio.—The latter end of his commonwealth forgets the beginning.
That is just it. He commences by claiming complete freedom from all authority for every subject—thorough independence of our neighbours—yet he ends with acknowledging personal responsibility and "duty to respect right and justice." The fact is, his notions are a bundle of contraries and absurd impossibilities, fitted to excite uncultured minds against established customs and institutions, but totally unfitted to reconstruct or reorganise a workable or manageable state of affairs. England has already learned what such sentiments are capable of doing, and how difficult it is to restore order and peace. The doctrines of the Chartists who instigated the grievous disturbances during the fifth page 18 decade of the present century, and those advanced and advocated by Mr. Stout and his confrères, are as much alike as twin-born infants; and, were occasion to arise, doubtles the same or a similar result would follow. If, however, a difference exists between the Chartists' claims and those of Freethought, I willingly give my preference to the former. Yet they
"Rushed forth to deeds of recklessness, but naught
Achieved of freedom, since nor plan nor thought
Their might directed."
A madness was wrought in the minds of the poor, sore-worked men far beyond the desire or expectation of their agitators, who had a definite object in their immediate view, though, like our friends, a very vague idea of the distant future.