The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 42
The conflict, as I have contended, is not one between those who affirm that there is no God, and those who uphold godliness; but between the upholders of dogma and human authority, and those who insist on their right to follow Truth wherever it may lead, and who maintain that Truth can only be discerned where there is unfettered freedom of research. The quarrel with the men of science, now, as ever, arises because they will not submit themselves to the priesthood. Dr. Vaughan says—"Did scientific men—men, that is, whose lives are dedicated to the investigation of Nature—keep to their science, and were they content with what can page 26 be demonstrated and verified by it, then they would be looked upon by the Church as amongst the benefactors of mankind." Here we have an inkling of the true quarrel. Men of science will not keep to their science, the bounds of science to be specified not by themselves but by the Church, which is supremely ignorant of science. It is the same quarrel as the Church picked with Copernicus, Galileo, and Bruno; they would not keep to the "science" prescribed for them by the Church. It is not only men of science who are thus unaccommodating, but poets and philosophers object, also, to priestly dictation. The conflict is no new one. It has been the conflict of the ages. In every epoch there have been the same struggles between those who have been swayed by the fresh inspiration of the time direct from the Fount of Inspiration, and those who have sought to manipulate the outflow on behalf of some human organization;—a struggle between heresy and orthodoxy, freethought and fettered thought,—between those who worship the living God in His temple of nature, and those who have faith in outworn forms, dead ceremonies, and defunct idols. In the times covered by bible writings we discern a similar contest. Ever we perceive some vagrant and "Bohemian" Elijah, Elisha, Jeremiah, or John the Baptist, impelled by an irresistible influence, forsaking the field or the workshop, and seeking, in spite of priestly persecution, to bring men back to Nature and Human Conscience, the true expositors of God. Ever we see some poor Jeremiah placed in the stocks, tumbled into dungeons, tortured by the priests, or some John page 27 the Baptist driven into the desert, cast into prison, and put to death by orthodox authority. Those who betake themselves to Nature, at first hand, for their God, are certain to become objects of antipathy to the priesthood whose idle forms and incantations they heartily despise. Thus every fundamental teacher of the race,—Buddha, Jesus, Bruno,—each one who has listened to the direct inspiration of Nature rather than to the voice of tradition and antiquity has had to fight the same battle, and has earned the same martyr's crown. It is similar with the Prophets of Science and Poetry in our own day, save that enlightment is spreading, so that the persecuting power of priestcraft is curtailed. All they are seeking to inculcate is, that return to natural reason which has formed the staple tuition of every genuine reformer.
"Into air, into thin air,
Like the baseless fabric of a vision."
The true conflict of this age, then, is between Christian Dogma and Rationalism, and in coming to its consideration as Freethinkers, we must never forget to draw a palpable line of demarcation between Christian Dogma, and what the orthodox are fond of terming "Christian Philosophy" and "Christian Morality." Christian Philosophy and Christian Morality are, so far as they may be really philosophical and moral, a part of the Philosophy and Morality of Humanity. Let them be found where they will, and intermixed with as much error and superstition as they may, they constitute a part of the precious possessions of the race which only folly would disregard. We must ever bear in mind that Rationalism includes all that is not repellant to Reason and Conscience.page 28
My object in the present lecture is to contrast in a necessarily cursory and superficial manner the teachings of the Dogmatic and Rationalistic schools of thought. The radical difference between them is, that the one is based on an appeal to Authority, and the other, to individual Conscience; the one reviles and distrusts human nature and seeks to control it through fear, the other honours and trusts it, and proposes to educate it to a knowledge of true goodness and consequent happiness. In seeking to carry out the latter process, Rationalism does not despise Authority, provided that it is at all times prepared to justify its fitness and truth. Dr. Vaughan sophistically endeavours to confound together two very different things,—the Authority which naturally attaches to demonstration and ability, and the Authority which is born of unchallenged assumption. Thus, on page 138 of his published pamphlet, he quotes the following words of a clear thinker, Sir George Cornwall Lewis:—"Many are the tricks of speech; and it has become almost a commonplace of our time to set up in matters of opinion an opposition between Authority and Truth, and to treat them as excluding one another. It would be almost as reasonable to set up an opposition between butcher's meat and food." You will observe that Sir George Lewis is here very properly condemning the position of those who assume that Authority and Truth cannot be identical, but the use which Archbishop Vaughan would make of the quotation is to induce his unthinking hearers to conceive that Authority and Truth are rarely opposed to each page 29 other. Because it would be absurd to set up a necessary opposition between butcher's meat and food; therefore, all butcher's meat must be wholesome food—a proposition which, if half that has been written lately in Sydney be true, is not likely to find many ardent believers in this city. That Authority and Truth may be coincident is a proposition to which nationalists would readily accede, but the very different deduction that Authority is unlikely to be opposed to Truth is one which contradicts all the facts of history. When Jesus challenged the power of the orthodox priesthood of his country and denounced their pretensions, were Truth and Authority not in opposition? When Alexander Borgia was revelling in his papal palace, and possessed sufficient authority to divide South America between two of his satellite sovereigns, was Truth with him, or with the poor miner's son begging from door to door for the means of obtaining education, with the spirit of the Protestant Reformation fermenting in his soul? Authority is doubtless a good thing so long as it is helpful to the race, but how is it when it is harmful?
Dr. Vaughan dwells on the fact that the vast majority of the people have not time nor inclination to investigate for themselves, and therefore must rely on Authority. That contention may be granted, but it has no part in the conflict now agitating Christendom, which turns upon quite other issues. The question has reference not to those who have not time nor inclination for personal investigation, but to those who have both, and are bent on disseminating the knowledge they obtain; those who page 30 are determined to enquire for themselves and to teach others. Are they to he prevented by the "iron hand" of authority? If there be people who can be longer satisfied to have their thinking done for them by a priesthood, let them. It would be no part of Rationalism to bring any other power to bear on them than that of argument. The Roman Catholic hierarchy is, doubtless, a magnificent organization from a worldly point of view, and holds out promises and patents of salvation beyond any other confederacy. Its influence among timid souls is doubtless mighty, and is likely, for some years, rather to increase than diminish. In the words of Mr. Gladstone—"There have always been and there still are, no small proportion of our race, and these by no means in all respects the worst, who are sorely open to the temptation, especially in times of religious disturbance, to discharge their spiritual responsibilities by power of attorney. As advertising houses find custom in proportion, not so much to the solidity of their resources as to the magniloquence of their promises and assurances, so theological boldness in the extension of such claims is sure to pay, by widening certain circles of devoted adherents, however it may repel the mass of mankind." The claims of a priesthood which knows well how to advertise itself are not likely to fail of effect. If all people were in sound mental health it might advertise for ever and not secure a single patient. But, alas! people have been drugged into sickness. They are trained from the cradle to distrust natural law and the God of Nature; and hence, when a page 31 priesthood points to its grand conclave of clerical physicians, to its infallible head, to its well-attested list of undoubted cures,—when it shouts to the feeble and ailing, "Be in time! Be in time! or the Devil will catch you!"—what wonder there should be a rush on to the painted platform, and that the medicated nostrums should be in great demand.
But all this is business, and nationalism leaves it wisely alone. Its opposition to Dogma is based on other grounds. Dogma is necessarily authoritative and persecuting. To the extent of its power it is repressive to freedom of thought, and hence Freethinkers are compelled to oppose its advance, and unmask the true nature of its pretensions. Every priesthood is of necessity an enemy to freedom; the Roman Catholic priesthood especially so. The latter body has never surrendered its claim to persecute, and if its pretensions are admitted, it is a logical claim. A Roman Catholic Bishop in the United States openly declared a year or two ago that the Church had ceased to persecute heretics for lack of power, not because it deemed it wrong to do so. To this day, the oath taken by the bishops of this Church binds them to persecute to the extent of their power. The words to which I refer run thus:—"The rights, honours, privileges, and authority of the holy Roman Church of our Lord the Pope, and his foresaid successors, I will endeavour to preserve, defend, increase, and advance. . . . . . . Heretics, schismatics, and rebels to our said Lord, and his foresaid successors, I will to my power persecute and oppose."*
* Jura, honores, privilegia, et auctoritatem sanctæ Romanæ Ecclesiæ Domini nostri Papa, et successorum prædictorum conservare, defendere, augere, promovere curabo. . . . . . . Hæreticos, schismaticos, et rebelles eidem Domino nostro, vel successoribus prsedictis, pro posse persequar et impugnabo."
It is because of this indestructible spirit of persecution attaching to theological Dogma that it finds itself confronted by Science. Science does not purpose to meddle with it in any way, but unfortunately it is a part of its mission to be perpetually sticking up feeble barriers across the road where Science is advancing. In the past these barriers were far from feeble, and then scientific men and Rationalists were troubled and harassed by them. Now they are for the most part innoxious excepting to those who confide in them. It is amusing, however, to note that dogmatists affect to consider themselves the injured personages. Thus Dr. Vaughan says: "We should prefer by far to be allowed to love and adore our Master in peace; but the world will not let us; there is a propaganda of Denial around us, and we must therefore rouse ourselves up." I think I have read something very like this in Æsop, who tells of a lamb whose propagandist movements were complained of in similar fashion. The Dogmatic Church has always been persecuted by this propaganda of Denial. In the past it took the shape of denying that the earth was a flat plain, the centre of the universe. It denied that the sun travelled round this globe; denied that the world was made in six days, only some sixty centuries ago. The propaganda in all these cases really denied nothing, but it advanced its truths in spite of opposition, and the errors gradually denied themselves. It is a similar propaganda which is now troubling Archbishop Vaughan. In page 33 the domains of geology, palæontology, biology, embriology, and anatomy, scientific men are presenting fact after fact which go to demonstrate the process of growth in the earth and the earth's inhabitants, are proving by experiment that species are not immutable but are capable of development the one from the other, and are indicating the way in which the apparently ruthless struggle in Nature ushers in new and advanced forms of being. Hence the erroneous notions of a special magical creation for each species are fading away, to the sore dismay of the dogmatists, who affirm that they constitute a portion of their God's teachings. That these scientific facts should form a part of the school tuition is especially galling to the Roman Catholic priesthood, who are not content with being tolerated in such teaching as, to them, seems meet, but want other people to teach according to their direction. Rationalism is ready to tolerate systems of instruction of which it must disapprove, but it cannot permit that its own money and means shall be used in the propagation of what it conceives to be "damnable error." It is a sad thing to notice, but it is a fact, that the Roman Catholic organization is intolerant alike where it is in a majority and where it is in a minority. A majority is tolerant, when it allows people who are in a minority to prosecute their own methods of teaching, in their own fashion, with their own resources. At Rome, this toleration is obnoxious to the Pope, and he is seeking to prohibit, by authority, the establishment of Protestant schools, although the money for the purpose comes exclusively from page 34 Protestant coffers. A minority is tolerant, when it is content that the revenue of a secular State shall he employed for State purposes, and shall not he diverted into sectarian channels. In Australia and New Zealand, where the Roman Catholics are in a minority, they are still intolerant, for they persistently demand that a portion of the State funds shall be handed over to them to be used for their own exclusive purposes. Rationalism is of necessity opposed to a body thus inimical to public liberty.
That dogmatic teaching leads logically to persecution is almost too apparent to need prolonged discussion. If people conceive, or affect to conceive, that the welfare of mankind rests upon the maintenance of certain dogmatic assumptions, incapable of proof, they will, of course, resist, by all means, contrary instruction. Dr. Vaughan says—"Grant that man sprang from the mudfish, and you have upset Christianity and left the world a black ruin in a howling wilderness." A gentleman who thinks, or says he thinks, that the world is left "a black ruin in a howling wilderness," if man did not spring, at a bound, from the mud, is impelled to persecute and, if he can, destroy all those who attempt to show that man grew out of the mud by natural gradations, until he reached the station, prophetic of further elevation, where we now find him. It would be useless, doubtless to remind Dr. Vaughan of similar asseverations put forth by his predecessors in bygone centuries. "Grant that the earth is not the centre of the universe,—allow that it is but one comparatively small page 35 planet, among a number, and you upset Christianity and leave the world a black ruin in a howling wilderness;" such was the argument, or substitute for argument addressed over and over again by the theologians to Copernicus, Kepler, and Galileo. If such a concession were permitted, they contended ad nauseam, the scheme of Christian salvation would be shattered. God is not likely to have a son born and put to death as an atonement for sin on every planet. Hence the earth must be the centre of the solar system. It is curious to observe arguments resembling these advanced here in Australia, at the Antipodes, which the infallible Church declared and reiterated had no existence. If the world had listened to the dogmatic voice of the Pope, we should not, at this moment, have been here. Our very existence is an offence to the infallible Papacy, and how it has condescended to establish a hierarchy of its own in a place which ought not to exist, passes my comprehension to determine. Just, how ever, as in the past, it affirmed that the earth could not be permitted to travel round the sun, so now its agents denounce the science, which asserts that species have been, and continue to be, inter-developed, as "miserable drivel." And just as in the past, it persecuted the enunciators of such "miserable drivel," so would it persecute them now, if the Spirit of the Age did not interpose its peremptory protest.
"Physics and astronomy, in his opinion, belonged to the divine class of phenomena, in which human research was insane, fruitless, and impious."
"In his (the early Greek's) view, the description of the sun, as given in a modern astronomical treatise, would have appeared not merely absurd, but repulsive and impious: even in later times, when the positive spirit of inquiry had made considerable progress, Anaxagoras and other astronomers incurred the charge of blasphemy for dispersonifying Hêlios, and trying to assign invariable laws to the solar phenomena." The application which Spencer makes of these quotations is precisely adapted to the gentleman whose utterances I am reviewing:—
"That a likeness exists between the feeling then displayed respecting phenomena of inorganic nature, and the feeling now displayed respecting phenomena of Life and Society is manifest. The ascription of social actions and political events entirely to natural causes, thus leaving out Providence as a factor, seems to the religious mind of our day, as seemed to the mind of the pious Greek the dispersonification of Helios, and the explanation of celestial motions otherwise than by immediate divine agency."
It was Atheism to the Greek dogmatist to endeavour to prove that the glorious luminary of the heavens moved by virtue of the mysterious operation of universal law, and not because a beneficent God directly conveyed him on his course. It is Atheism to the Christian dogmatist to advance evidence showing that man is the outcome of a similarly mysterious universal law operating on all preceding animal forms in Nature, and that he was not moulded, in the male sex, from the mud, directly by a God, and a subsequent female constructed, on second thought, out of a superfluous rib.
Rationalism so far from being justly amenable to the charge of Atheism is intensely godly; but its God is the God of universal law. Its system of creation—and therein lies its main offensiveness to the clerical mind—knows of no capricious Potentate, whom priests may be enabled to worry with their prolix petitions, or coax with their obsequious flattery. Its God is infinite and incomprehensible. If the conflict were really, as the author of a pamphlet published some time ago in this city, well expresses it, "between no God, and a God who sympathised with the atrocities of the Church of Rome in the slaughter of heretics"—Rationalism would speedily make its choice. Happily there is no such dire necessity. We are called upon to choose between a God of Law, whose revelation is made in the domain of Nature, which includes all that the human mind has evolved, and a God of Magic, whose sole revelation is to be found in a certain portion of the legends, traditions, and fancies of the past. Rationalists know that it is page 39 idle to attempt to form a conception of God, but in any speculations they may put forth they are at least careful that no degrading, or immoral elements shall be introduced. The author of these Lenten lectures forcibly observes:—"I have a supreme conviction that to lie, to kill, to blaspheme are in themselves crimes, and nevercould be made virtues." Rationalists contend that this "supreme conviction" to which humanity has attained, is a part of the Infinite God's infallible teaching, and that we degrade our ideal of God if we attribute to Him the commission of "crimes which never could be made virtues." Hence they decline to believe that God instigated a lying spirit to mislead the prophets of King Ahab so that the monarch might be deceived to his ruin (1 Kings c. xxii. 2 Chron. c. xviii); they decline to believe that God commanded the Jews to kill their fellow-men and women among the Amorites, and debauch those who were virgins (Num. c. xxxi); they reject the story of God's giving success to Jephthah and so entrapping him into the murder of his own daughter; they will not accept the statement as true that God killed 70,000 unoffending Jews because their King, David, annoyed him by instituting a census. To attribute such things as these to the Infinite Father of the universe is in their opinion the rankest blasphemy, and what is worse, is inconsistent with the teaching of truth.
For time a sin, stretched out into Eternity
* It may be well to inform distant readers that a certain local "Evangelist"—whatever that may be—has latterly been thus advertising himself in the public papers.
"When we made an excursion in Southern Utah not long ago we were hospitably entertained by the Mormon Bishop of Richfield He was a Scotchman, and had been brought up a rigid Presbyterian. 'Ah, well,' said he, 'they think ill of me at home for changing my religion; but there was my poor brother Alec who took it most to heart. He was on his way last year to California, and turned off the road a bit to see me and try to bring me back into the fold. When he got here he spent the whole evening in lecturing me, and then went to bed. In the morning I gave him the best breakfast the country could afford—coffee and rolls, trout, beef, and venison steak, and such like. Poor Alec, he looked all over the table, and then turned upon me his sorrowful face, blurting out: 'Oh, Jamie, page 43 mon! Jamie, mon! did I ever think it would come to this? I could hae forgi'en ye a' yer poleegamy, but hae ye gi'en up yer parritch?'"
How much of the popular religion of our day is "parritch," at the best? And it is well that it should be so, for the dogmatic theology on which it is based appeals to the lowest passion of our nature, to fear, and, as it loses its hold, a nobler philosophy, the philosophy of law, of the invariable succession of cause and effect, of the certainty of good results following rational effort, will take its place. I have said that the dogmatists make their appeal to the passion of fear. I like to judge a theology not by its carefully-prepared public platitudes, but by the teachings which it sets before its young in the privacy of the family and the school. I hold in my hand thirteen little penny productions, termed "Books for Children and Young Persons," written by Rev. J. Furniss,—a most appropriate name. They are for the use of Roman Catholic families, missions, and schools, and are published "permissu superiorum." Here, then, we obtain a glimpse of the nature of that "Authority" before which Archbishop Vaughan would have the world, in this nineteenth century, fall prostrate. The titles of these precious compilations speak for themselves: they are "Almighty God," "The House of Death," "The Book of the Dying," "Stumbling Blocks," "The Great Evil," "The Terrible Judgment and the Bad Child," "Schools in which Children Lose their Holy Faith," "The Sight of Hell," and the like. By announcement on the cover of each, "Parents are recommended to read these Books to their page 44 Children," and they are commended to "Schools, Missions, and Retreats." Of their contents, for the sake of those who may not have glanced at them, I may say that they largely consist of stories so horrible, disgusting, and abominable, to any healthy mind, that I would not condescend to read them from this platform. Their production gives us a fresh insight into the possible depths of cruelty and baseness of which a diseased imagination is capable. That such things should be conjured up for the purpose of terrifying and dominating the innocent and plastic mind of childhood constitutes a depressing subject for reflection. This little pamphlet, entitled "The Sight of Hell!" is literally crammed with the most nauseating and offensive details. Regarded as a work of fiction it is clumsy and brutal; presented as a something which a child is taught to believe actual in God's universe it almost passes the bounds of rational toleration. There are one or two extracts calculated to amuse rather than disgust, which I may venture to set before you. This is how a child is to be impressed with the idea of what is meant by the tortures of Hell being Eternal. The heading of the "lesson" is—"Teaks!—Sand!!—Dots!!!"
"Think that a man in Hell cries only one single tear in ten hundred millions of years. Tell me, how many millions of years must pass before he fills a little basin with his tears? how many millions of years must pass before he cries as many tears as there were drops of water at the deluge? how many years must pass before he has drowned the heavens and earth with his tears? Is this Eternity? No.page 45
"Turn all the earth into little grains of sand, and fill all the skies and the heavens with little grains of sand. After each hundred millions of years, one grain of sand is taken away; oh what a long, long time it would be before the last grain of sand was taken away. Is this Eternity? No.
"Cover all the earth and all the skies with little dots like these . . . . Let every dot stand for a hundred thousand millions of years. Is this eternity? No.
"After such a long, long time will God still punish sinners? Yes. Is. ix., After all this his anger is not turned away, his hand is still stretched out. How long, then, will the punishment of sinners go on? For ever, and ever, and ever!"
"Perhaps at this moment, seven o'clock in the evening, a child is just going into Hell. Tomorrow evening at seven o'clock, go and knock at the gates of Hell, and ask what the child is doing. The devils will go and look. Then they will come back again and say, the child is burning! Go in a week and ask what the child is doing; you will get the same answer—it is burning! Go in a year and ask; the same answer comes—it is burning! Go in a million of years and ask the same question; the answer is just the same—it is burning! So if you go for ever and ever, you will always get the same answer—it is burning in the fire!"
All human guess or gauge above,
Preserves in fiery suffocation
The myriads of his own creation."
If Archbishop Vaughan declares that he does not know that the master minds named by him are destined for his God's eternal Hell, then I ask him what does he know, with all his dogmas, more than other people? If he admits a loophole of escape outside of his infallible Church, I think all nationalists—nay, all "men of good will"—would prefer to cast in their lot with these prophetic souls rather than shelter under "Authority" backed by all the Leos and all the Gregories, all the Bonifaces and all the Borgias.
"Grown weary and worn with the conflict of creeds,
I had sought a new faith for the soul with its needs,
When the love of the Beautiful guided my feet
Through a leafy arcade to a sylvan retreat,
Where the oriole sung in the branches above,
And the wild roses burned with their blushes of love,
And the purple-fringed aster, and bright golden rod,
Like jewels of beauty adorned the green sod.
O, how blessed to feel from the care-laden heart
All the sorrows and woes that oppressed it depart,
And to lay the tired head, with its achings, to rest
On the heart of all others that loves it the best!
O, thus is it ever when, wearied, we yearn
To the bosom of Nature and Truth to return!
And life blossoms forth into beauty anew,
As we learn to repose in the Simple and True."