The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 12
[Misopseudes: A Vision]
As under the lee of a gigantic eucalyptus, I lay supine, weary, inert, dozing, dreaming, while all the air of the solemn forest around was quivering and humming, musical and fragrant beneath the pulsation of the fervid sun, a vision came to my prophetic soul.
A vision, as of a youth—a student of the year 2073—girt about with a great gathering of fellow students, to whom he lectured, with whom he discoursed. And sore grief and dismay fell upon my soul as I hearkened to his words; for it quickly appeared that in his day all now extant Religious Creeds had become mere "Historical Expressions." Of a verity, his day seemed to be the day of the "Abomination of Desolation."
"My friends," the student said, or seemed to say, "perusing these great works, the 'History of Human Error,' the 'Hebrew and Christian Mythology,' the 'Dictionary of Superstition,' and the 'Curiosities of Unreason,' one is filled with amazement and disgust, and with humiliation and shame too, as one discovers what gross superstitions, what puerilities, absurdities, impossibilities, contradictions, immoralities, atrocities and lurid horrors were held by our unhappy ancestors as sacred and divine truths and holy religion. Learning what poor infatuates our forefathers were of but two or three hundred years ago, our pride, if any pride be left to us, need no longer take affront at the theory of our immensely remote descent, or rather ascent, from the ape.
"Though much light had been for some time streaming in, and the black cloud of superstition, brooding incubus-like over the mind of man, had been riven and rent, and was being slowly dispersed, still, as lately as near the close of the nineteenth century, great numbers of so called educated men continued to hold, or to profess to hold, such monstrous beliefs as these:—
"That they were in possession of paper-revelations from the Infinite Soul of the Universe, who was not only the Infinite Spirit, but also, somehow, a personal deity, whatever that might have meant; that there was also another great spirit—the spirit of evil—whom they commonly call the Devil, and who in some sort shared the dominion of the universe with the good spirit. Though the good spirit, being omnipotent, could easily have page 2 extinguished the had one by a gentle euthanasia, yet he did not so will it, but, on the contrary, appointed the devil his superintendent, in some portion of the universe called Hell, where his appointed duties were to torture for ever, in sæula sæulorum, all the human creatures whom the Deity had made, except some few, who were saved by divine grace, or by their implicit faith, without inquiry, without using the reason God had given them, in impossibilities. But, nevertheless, God was all-merciful and of loving-kindness.
"And when any sceptic asked them what it was that was tormented in hell, seeing that they were speaking of dead men, they would reply it was 'the immortal souls; the immortal spirits of the dead.' When it would be pointed out to them that immaterial spirit, without flesh and nerves, would be incapable of feeling any sensation whatsoever, then they seemed to think that the immortal souls would be reinvested in fresh clothings of flesh and blood, facsimiles of the old ones, so as to enable them to enjoy again the luxury of sensation. But these new robes of flesh and blood were to be quite different from the old ones, inasmuch that they were indestructible, no matter how much they got torn. They could not bleed to death. "When asked what was the difference between immaterial spirit and nothing, they were sorely puzzled, and could only say—nothing!
"Though they in some sort, perhaps rather dubiously, accepted the idea of God being the soul of the infinite universe, they, nevertheless, at the same time firmly believed that he was also the son of the wife of a Jewish carpenter; that he was executed as a revolutionary demagogue; but, coming out from his grave in a day or two, was mistaken for a gardener. That, after that, in the presence of human witnesses, this God went up from the top of a hill into the air, like a balloon, until he vanished out of sight, and never came down again,—though he promised he would before that generation passed away!
"They had a notion, those superstition-bewildered forefathers of ours, that, by becoming thus incarnate and going through the ceremonial of human death—(to a god it could be but a ceremonial)—the Deity in some way appeased his own wrath against his own human creatures, or his Father's wrath (there is some confusion here, not easily unravelled, for it seems there were two or three gods, and still only one), and reconciled it to his own sense of justice to save mankind from the clutches of his superintendent, the evil spirit, and his cells of eternal torment. But, somehow, this divine scheme of the Omnipotent turned out not a great success, inasmuch as they held that, after and in spite of this queer divine expiation, the number of men to be saved would be to those hopelessly damned but as the gleanings of the field to the harvest.
"When asked what was their warranty that Jesus of Nazareth page 3 was really incarnate God, their reply was that it was incontrovertibly proved by his having changed water into wine, and made loaves and fishes out of nothing, with some other similar little thaumaturgics. They also believed firmly that in those old days an angel used to swoop down from Heaven once a year, and fall flop—like a duck—into a dirty little pond near Jerusalem, and stir up the waters thereof, and that any sick or maimed mortal bathing therein after him, would be immediately restored to health and the normal number of limbs. Also that their Anthropoid Deity had a singular talent for discovering lots of little devils in men's insides, and a faculty for making them come out of that pretty quickly. Sometimes he hardly knew what to do with them after their ejectment, for it is narrated that on one occasion he had to get rid of them by making them fly down the throats of a herd of poor pigs, who incontinently, in affront or despair, rushed into the sea and committed suicide, drowning at once themselves and the little devils, their inside-passengers. A sad loss to the owner of the porkers. She was a widow, and they were her all. She died of starvation. If a handkerchief or other bit of rag touched the body of the Divine Anthropoid or of any of his chief spokesmen, the woollen or cotton fibre thereof became impregnated with a certain magical aroma, capable of inoculating all sick people with health.
"Once upon a time the great Evil Spirit, Superintendent of Hell, carried this God to the top of a hill so lofty that he was able to show him from it, all the kingdoms of this world, the spherical form of which was unknown to both of them.
"It is almost inconceivable, but I can assure you it is a certain fact, that all the grotesque fables of the old Hebrew mythology were held by our poor ancestors to be sacred truths, divinely inspired narratives of real events! Of those old fables—sometimes merely fantastic and puerile, often horrible, sanguinary and revolting, full of impossibilities, immoralities and obscenities, and having as much verisimilitude as the 'Arabian Nights Entertainments'—they deemed every word to be divinely inspired! They accepted as the Infinite Soul's revelation of itself, all the sordid anthropomorphic conceptions of the Deity formed by the dark minds of the old squalid ferocious Hebrew savages, who pictured him as a vague gigantic old man, sitting in the clouds, full of their own vile passions, wrathful, revengeful, jealous, fickle, taking no heed of the great universe (of which they knew nothing), but solely occupied as the tutelary but cruel genius of one filthy tribe. Thus, they believed, as a divinely revealed fact, that quaint old myth of God having made the universe out of nothing only a few hundred years ago, and after six days hard work at it, finding himself so knocked up that he had to rest on the seventh. page 4 Curiously enough, there is a reason to believe that in this old myth originated our present custom of generally keeping every seventh day as a sort of holyday. They further believed that God had to carve a rib out of the side of the first man in order to make the first woman. Also, in that queer old tale (which some of you may have seen in the nursery, bound up with the 'Arabian Nights') of a paradise somewhere near the site of the great railway station, on the Euphrates line, in which the first human couple were paddocked, and where the woman was over persuaded by a rattlesnake to eat a ribstone pippin which God had forbidden her to eat—for which disobedience she and her female descendants were for ever cursed with the penalty of having to be the mothers of children. But for the snake there would have been no human race, it appears! Perhaps that was the reason he was worshipped in some countries in old times. It was also considered quite certain that the Asiatic aborigines used to live to the ago of about a thousand years!
"It seems probable that at a very early human period, before our race had become very numerous, and when it was chiefly gathered together in some valley, perhaps in the alluvial flats of Mesopotamia, some considerable local flood occurred, by which many people perished, and others only escaped by boats and rafts. And that after a time, among an utterly ignorant and barbarous people, this catastrophe got magnified into a monstrous myth—full of moral and physical impossibilities—bearing the palpable mark of the savage mint in which it was coined. And by degrees the fable was built up that in the days of yore, God, getting into an awful scot with all the organic life he had placed on the earth, determined to swamp it all, with the exception of one human family, and pairs of every species of animal and insect. So he 'gave the office' to an old aboriginal called Noah, and lessons in naval construction, and caused him to build a great punt, as big as one of our passenger steamers. Into this got Noah and his family, and received pairs of all the beasts, divinely inspired to come to them. Fancy the amiable Noah handing in the cobra-di-capella, and rattlesnakes and centipedes, and scorpions! Then God caused it to rain for four or five weeks, which had the singular effect of raising the water over the summits of the highest mountains in the world—the Himalayas, Andes, etc. After a long cruise, the big punt grounded in shoal water on the top of a very high peak, and the four-or-five-miles thickness of water ran away into the sea-bed, and somehow found room there. The old reciters (improvisatori), priests who piled up the myth, forgot, or did not know that such a submersion would have destroyed all vegetable as effectually as all animal life. So, by this oversight, they omitted to make any provision for the preservation in the punt of seedlings of all trees and plants. No doubt it would have appeared to them only natural page 5 that all these should spring again in full development from the drying soil. You will find it hard to credit, but I can assure you I have ascertained it to be a fact, that this childish and ridiculous fable was universally believed in as lately as the seventeenth century, very generally in the eighteenth, and that even in the nineteenth century there were thousands among the classes middlingly educated who still believed, or feigned and professed to believe, it.
"This Bible-God of our forefathers, neglecting the infinite myriad of myriads of thousand-fold grander worlds, devoted all his time and attention, in personal presence, to this microscopic satellite of a microscopic star, an insignificant unit in that insignificant cluster of suns which we call the Milky Way.
"And even on this microscopic grain of cosmic sand there was only one paltry tribe of slaves and savages for whom he cared. With them he bivouacked and hobnobbed. Sometimes he marched at the head of a rabble of revolted slaves and canaille, in the costume of a pillar of smoke or of fire. Sometimes he sat in a burning bush and commanded a gentleman who came to interview him to show him decent respect by taking off his bluchers, for the ground within a certain radius around the bush had become more holy than the rest of the surface of God's earth.
"At another time, the Bible-God camped on the top of the Horeb ridges, surrounded by. a really brilliant display of fireworks, accompanied by the blowing of trombones and French horns. The chief magistrate of the people of the valley below went up to call upon him, and to request the pleasure of an interview; when he, scarcely setting an example of good manners, replied that he would not permit him to see his face (for that no man could see and live), but that he might see his posteriors if he pleased. Afterwards, however, changing his mind, he met the same mayor face to face, and conversed with him 'as one man to another.'
"And, on a second occasion, he courteously received a full deputation of the mayor and all the aldermen, and entertained them at dinner. Nevertheless, not feeling quite sure of himself, he warned them to take care of themselves, lest he should break forth on them (like a savage dog). While he thus held court on the top of the hill, he took the trouble to engrave, with his own royal hand, on tablets of stone, all his laws for the guidance of the human race,—or rather of the one wandering tribe for which alone he cared. But herein he made a mistake, not being able to foresee or prevent the smashing-up of these tablets next day by an angry man.
"It is not unlikely that this myth had its origin from some volcano, of which the priests had availed themselves for the purpose of humbugging the people. Once upon a time, this great god, putting on a human form, indulged in a wrestling- page 6 match with one of the old patriarchs. Whether for so much a side or not, is not recorded. After a very severe tusslehe, flung him by a cross-buttocker, and hurt him so much that he limped ever after.
"This Bible-Deity was not represented at all as an omnipotent god. On the contrary, he usually encountered great difficulty in carrying out his schemes, and often signally failed. For instance, when he took it in hand to free the slaves held by the king and people of Egypt, he first endeavoured to persuade the king to permit them to go. Failing in this, he next tried to coerce king and people by afflicting them with various juggling plagues, fantastic or horrible. The king, however, was still resolute—being a man of stronger will than the Bible-God, who then got up a sort of Fenian conspiracy among the slaves, instructing them to rise simultaneously in the night, rob their sleeping masters and mistresses, and bolt for the bush. Afterwards, by a beautiful act of military strategy, God succeeded in decoying his enemy, the Egyptian king, into an ambush, where he could easily bring into play his old celebrated drowning tactics; which he did; swamping the hostile king and all his army. This brilliant success against a few of his own poor creatures—crawling upon a microscopic grain of cosmical dust—was an enormous and magnificent triumph for the Infinite Spirit of the Universe, and was celebrated ever after by endless rub-a-dubbing, and 'sounding of loud timbrels o'er Egypt's dark sea,' for the Infinite had triumphed, and his ragamuffins were free. God himself was very proud of it, and frequently thereafter declared himself to be a Man of War, and the Generalissimo of Hosts! But he was not always so successful; for, when he and his people came into conflict with a tribe possessing chariots of iron, he could not prevail against them. And all through these veracious, inspired histories, I find our Bible-God pictured as a struggling, striving, unscrupulous (but often unsuccessful) partisan.
"In point of morality this God was far lower in the scale than any other god ever invented by the human brain—altogether viler. The gods of the Greeks had their little foibles and peccadilloes, but, upon the whole, they were a gracious, amiable, debonnair, gay and festive lot; gentlemen, and cavaliers, and ladies. But the god of the Jews was limned in the lurid and sanguinary hues of their own peculiarly dark, gloomy and ferocious minds. He was a god who delighted, above all things, in carnage, massacre and murder, in treasons, stratagems and spoils. He led his armed and trained bands against nation after nation of peaceful and comparatively civilised people, always with sternest injunctions to smite and spare not; to slaughter man, woman, and child; to rip up the bellies of women with child; and to despoil, bum, and lay waste their cities. If they failed to make a satisfactory extermination in any case, they page 7 themselves incurred his wrath. On one occasion when his people had been hard at work all day, making a most lovely massacre, the day not proving long enough to make a nice clean finish of it, he graciously commanded the sun to stand still in the heavens for two hours, so as to give his pet bravos so much more time for slashing and stabbing, and ripping up bellies. You see astronomy was not known when this myth was concocted. When 100,000 women and children of another nation were brought in captive, this Divine Being would command that all the women who were not virgins together with all the boys should be cut to pieces, and that the virgins should be divided fairly among the soldiers, after the priests had taken their pick.
"At another time He would proclaim to his chosen people, 'I remember that which Amalek did to Israel (four hundred years before), how he laid wait for him in the way, when he came up from Egypt. Now go and smite Amalek, and utterly destroy all that they have, and spare them not; but slay both man and woman, infant and suckling, ox and sheep, camel and ass.'
"And sometimes when there were no other people about handy to be slaughtered, he would command his own people to run-amuck among themselves, in such words as these:—'Thus saith the Lord God, put every man his sword by his side, and go in and out from gate to gate throughout the camp, and slay every man his brother, and every man his companion, and every man his neighbour.'
"He greatly delighted in good, clever, treacherous, private assassination. So, when an amiable woman invited a political refugee into her house, gave him good cheer and a comfortable bed, and then drove a spike-nail into his brain as soon as he slept, he gave her great kudos, and proclaimed her 'blessed beyond all women!' His chiefest favorite among men, David, king, saint and inspired prophet, specially characterised as 'the man after God's own heart,' whenever he overcame foreign nations, was wont to put the people of all their cities under saws and under harrows of iron, and under axes of iron, and cast them into brickkilns. The exterminating massacres made by his people, under his guidance, among the peaceful nations of Asia Minor have, probably, never been paralleled, before or since, in the world's history. Some nations were so utterly swept away that not even their name survives: no record, save the almost imperishable ruins of their most magnificent cities—to overturn which, those savages possessed not sufficient mechanical skill. For instance, the Baalbec ruins, which many of you have seen. The people who reared those wonderful temples, or public buildings, were certainly in some branches of mechanics and in architecture, superior to us at this day. They must have enjoyed many centuries of peaceful prosperity, and must have attained to a considerable degree of civilisation. page 8 They had, perhaps, never heard of war, and fell victims, helpless as sheep, before the ruthless sword of the chosen horde, under divine guidance.
"This old book I have here, entitled the 'Comic Bible,' is certainly the most comical of all the books I know; it was an immense favorite a hundred years ago, but has lost its piquancy now, because so few in these days know anything of the original of the burlesque."
The student seemed to resume:—
"It would fill a goodly volume, my friends, to give anything like a full answer to a question as to how so shallow and absurd a superstition as the Christian could ever have obtained a first footing in the days of the old Roman Empire. On this occasion I can do no more than point out very briefly, two or three of the most salient and obvious causes—predisposing and active. The great predisposing cause was, beyond doubt, the absolute mental blankness of the lower classes in those days. The intellectual and educational status of the classes among whom, for the first two or three centuries, the new superstition crawled, like a low typhoid, was not superior to that of the nigger slaves of early American history, while in natural acumen, sense of logic and appreciation of the ridiculous, the early Christians must have been inferior to the average uneducated African negro.
"And there was an epidemic of credulity abroad which impelled the minds of the ignorant to accept with hungry and implicit faith all that was marvellous and impossible, which seemed, indeed, to make the marvellous and impossible more belief-worthy than the natural. As for scientific inquiry and physical truth, the ideas had not been born. One of the great fathers of the new sect declared, 'Credo quia impossibile.'
"It should ever be borne in mind that, at first and for a long period, the new doctrines were promulgated only among the slaves, the pauper, the lazzaroni and gutter people of the old world; only among the classes clothed in rags, ignorance, dirt and disease. The educated classes knew little of what was going on in the cellars and slums; if they heard of it, they called it an exitiabilis superstitio, and 'pooh pooh'd' it, de haut en bas, as merely the silly Obiism of the slaves. They ignored the disease until, alas! it had spread beyond stamping out.
"Like the vile Communism which, a century and a half ago, it cost so much blood and treasure to hold under foot until the general spread of an enlightened knowledge of economic and social laws finally exorcised the unclean spirit, the new Gospel of Jesus was expressly framed to pander to all the mean passions and prejudices of an ignorant proletariat; to pander to the envy and malice, the dull and savage hatred, which, in the ignorant ages, always animated the hearts of the poor against all who were a little above them in material comfort or educa- page 9 tion, or intelligence. It proclaimed the kingdom of heaven as the inheritance of the paupers, only, of this world! that into that blissful kingdom no rich man should enter: 'Woe to the rich! they had their portion here!' In the world to come they should only have hell-tire. And the paupers, luxuriating in the abodes of the blessed, should solace themselves for ever by the agreeable spectacle of the writhings of their whilome masters in fiery lakes of sulphur! And, from the pauper standpoint of view, who is Dives, the rich man? Why, every man who wears a decent coat and lives in a comfortable house—the well-to-do farmer, shop-keeper, or tradesman, the successful artizan—they are the rich of this world, as viewed from the gutter. Woe to them all! they have had their portion—for them, in the world to come, only the worm that dieth not! It shall be as impossible for one of them to enter the Kingdom of Heaven as for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle.
"This new Gospel taught them also not to trouble themselves to be saving and prudent; to take no heed for the morrow, but to trust to odd jobs that might turn up. Not to bother themselves with much work or labour, but rather to follow the example of the lilies, which 'toiled not.' What mattered rags and dirt, and a few ulcers? They would soon be looking down from Heaven on all the prudent and painstaking, suffering infinitely worse inconvenience, in a place where there would be eternal gnashing of teeth. What a seductive, irresistible gospel for town lazzaroni and country mud-cabiners!
"Another potent cause of the rapid spread of the mental epidemic is to be found in the panic-terror with which. the low multitude was stricken by the authoritative and positive announcement of the immediate end of the world, and by the horrifying pictures of a ghastly, imminent Hell, together with the confident and unfaltering pretensions of the preachers, that they alone could show the one way of escape there from. Be sure, preachers and proselytisers were plenty! To ambitious, vain and wordy loafers, who hate work and love to hear their own voices, what r⊚le so attractive as that of preacher and prophet? To rise, per saltum, say from the sweeping of a crossing to the position of a semi-divine personage! To be welcomed to the best fare in every house or cabin, to be listened to with gaping mouth and wondering reverence; to be petted, and kissed, and worshipped by all the women! And no more work; no more sweeping of the crossing! Only to talk, and lift up the eyes! You have heard that some of them came to grief. That is so. Casualties occurred in the ranks both of the early Mormon and early Christian apostles. In both cases some were hanged by the authorities, and some wiped out in street rows. But they were mere casualties; happening to, say, one in a thousand. And in page 10 both cases, doubtlessly, when the victims (that were to be) first took up the propagand, they thought little of remote, possible, future danger, which each one, individually, would naturally hope to escape by prudence and management. Or, if they foresaw a slight contingency of peril, it would be to them enormously outweighed by the immense, immediate gain in position, in gratification of vanity, in the sudden emergence from unconsidered and unknown pauperdom to a sort of social eminence. When accidents happened to them they were dubbed 'holy martyrs,' and their bones and toenails were worshipped; and, in old-world slang, they were said to have given 'testimony unto death;' to have 'sealed their faith with their blood,' etc. Yes; just as a fallen soldier may be said to have 'sealed his faith' in a red coat and the comforts of the barracks. A contingency attached to a good profession—that is all.
"My friends," the student went on, "it seems to me that I' have already partly answered your second question—Why we are at the present day usually taught to consider the Christian the most pernicious of the superstitions of the past? The student of history sees reasons only too grievous for so estimating it. It would, however, be more correct to speak, not of Christianity apart, but rather of the Hebraic cluster of religions conjointly. For, as you all know, Mormonism, Mahometanism, and Christianism, were only excrescences—morbid outgrowths from the original baleful Hebrew stock. Indeed all dark and gloomy conceptions of Nature, and man and his destiny, seem to be derived from the farouche and sombre Semitic mind. It was that cluster of religions which first hatched the detestable idea of persecution for theological—that is, merely speculative—opinion. The principle of persecution was the marked characteristic which differentiated them from all other crystallisations of religious thought. All the other religions of the Old World were comparatively free from that fiendish element; comparatively mild and benevolent. The Greeks of old had their imaginary gods, but they picked no quarrel with the gods of other people. On the contrary, they complaisantly acknowledged them, and gave them niches in their Pantheon. And Buddhism, the religion which has numbered so many more followers than any other, was purely philosophical and meditative. The special Christian development possesses, however, the most direct interest for us, as having been the error of our own forefathers. Not without some element of good in it, the over-balance of evil and mischief wrought upon mankind by that superstition is incalculable. What calamities and woes it caused! What cruel persecutions, what horrors and gloom, and despair and blood.
"During the earlier centuries, when Faith was not merely nominal, but frightfully real and active, the peoples were frenzied by the new terror of an ever-yawning Hell. The world, page 11 under the shadow of night, was made hideous with the ceaseless prowlings of the Devil and his ghastly imps. No other such calamity as this terror of the Christian Hell ever fell upon mankind, overshadowing it with a sulphurous cloud of despairing asceticism; blotting out the brightness and joyousness of the earth; driving men into the unintelligent ferocity of frightened wild beasts. Men were taught that all who knew not, or accepted not, the Faith, were doomed to eternal torment by the inexorable decree of a merciless all-merciful God. More than that, each sect within the faith was taught that every other sect would be certainly damned! 'Tweedledum' believed that 'Tweedledee' would be as satisfactorily damned as even they who had never heard of 'Tweedledum' and 'Tweedledee.' Further; it was held that even among the correctly orthodox, only an elect few—not one in a thousand—would be really saved.
"With the conviction on every mind that the vast majority of mankind were predestined to be foul fiends in Hell, what could there be in the world of respect for human life; of kindly human feeling, of cheerful brotherhood? No; nothing in those days but the evilness of fear and despair. Only gloom; only cruelty; only self-brooding and self-mortification; only the stern suppression of all the pleasurable emotions. What could signify the present suffering, or the mortal lives of future demons? Let us slaughter and burn a thousand misbelievers, and so save our own souls.
"And hundreds of thousands were driven into caves and deserts, and monasteries and nunneries, and became more or less insane. Even up to a comparatively recent era thousands of fine minds were thrown off their balance and ruined by the terrible inner conflict between early-implanted-faith and reason, revolting against the transparently false.
"So anti-social was the Christian dogma in its essence, that, had not the bulk of the people always and everywhere been too unimaginative—stolid and commonsensible—fully to apprehend and realise it, the human race would doubtlessly have died out under its icy devitalising breath; for its real teaching was to despise all mundane matters, for 'the Kingdom of Heaven was at hand:' to cast away property as an incumbrance, to contemn wealth and comfort as snares; only to live upon such fruits of the earth as could be picked up without much anxiety, and to wait patiently as they could, until death opened to them the portals of eternal bliss. Had all the world fully believed, all the world had turned anchorite,—as did the portion which so believed. There would have been an end of all industrial and commercial effort, of ships, colonies and commerce, of mines and manufactures. Why trouble ourselves about such trumpery? for 'the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand.'
"The ethics of this creed were often utterly bewildering. If a poor man were reckless, improvident, incapable, and so remained page 12 always a poor man, he had a chance of Heaven; hut if he were prudent and saving, and so raised himself into wealth and household comfort, then, woe to him! none such shall enter the kingdom! he had had his portion.
"So class was set against class, and the poor taught to hate the rich: yet, at the same time, passive obedience to all in authority was inculcated. Why should the poor man, certain of developing into an angel in Heaven, be so submissive to Dives, whose doom was hell? Though the whole nature of religion was such as necessarily to evoke the fiercest spirit of persecution, and though the reputed author himself was reported to have declared that he came to bring a sword into the world, still one of its chief moral teachings was cowardly submission to injury and insult. If a man smote you on one cheek, you were to offer him the other to be smitten. How should evil be mended, or cured, or removed, if it were never to be resisted? A poor, mean, humble spirit, was highly commended. And consider the monstrosity of making salvation depend upon faith, upon the wholly involuntary act of believing or disbelieving certain propositions, which were either mere assertions or theorems submitted to your judgment and reason! that was a puzzle which drove many men mad.
"To us, in this twenty-first century, there is, perhaps, nothing more repulsive in the old Christian ethics than the intersexual asceticism they set up, and the insult they offered to our human nature, by reprobating the sexual passion as unholy and impure. Taking the obverse of the true moral, that the gratification of this appetite, as of any other of our appetites, is naturally and essentially innocent, and only casually made sinful by circumstances and consequences, Christianism taught that it was naturally and essentially sinful and unholy, and only permissible under the one circumstance of matrimony blessed by a priest; even then only barely to be tolerated, not to be commended. The only truly holy life for men and women was to live apart in monasteries and nunneries, and suppress natural desires by fasting, flagellation, fustigation, maceration. Weaker brethren (which perhaps meant the saner ones) were, however, out of consideration for their deplorable frailty, permitted the alternative of priest-blessed marriage, without being certainly damned. Though their chances of salvation were, of course, far inferior to those of the nobler ones in the stone cells.
"The ethics of the Bible were, however, many-sided and abundantly contradictory; passage gainsaying passage throughout. So that out of them you could build up any moral system you pleased—from the worst to the best. During the later periods of the prevalence of superstition, it was customary to pick out, by a judicious eclecticism, all the best precepts and ignore all the evil—pretending it did not exist. Then these selected, assorted, and sieved Bible-morals were page 13 held up to the admiration of the world as something too perfect ever to have been discovered by human reason, unassisted by Divine revelation. As if there were something very abtruse in the science of morals—the science merely of what, in the principle of moral action, tends, or tends not, to the well-being of mankind.
"At first thought, it would seem an inexplicable phenomenon that any among the educated classes in the nineteenth century could keep on believing, in face of the fact that, in those days, and in the previous century, it had been by many able writers repeatedly—and, we would say, incontrovertibly—shown that the popular religion was no better than the baseless fabric of a dream; in face of the fact that it was repudiated, either contemptuously or with pity and in silence, by all their scientific men, and by the great majority of all their foremost thinkers. Again and again it had been shown that the religion was self-condemned by its own inherent absurdity; that the book they called 'inspired' was self-condemned by its own internal evidence; by its self-contradictions, its assertions of physical falsehoods, its laudation of vile crimes and immoral sentiments. It had been shown that the reputed miraculous-and-supernatural events on which Christianity was based were reported to have occurred in a very dark corner of the world, in a very dark age, when there was no printing-press, no newspapers, no telegraph, no post-office, no stage coaches, no special reporters, no publicity, and among the very lowest class of people—fishermen, beggars, etc.—among whom the accomplishments of reading and writing were not to be looked for (though these same disciples were afterwards absurdly credited with high literary abilities); that no scientific commission had examined into the alleged facts; no able counsel had been appointed to cross-examine the witnesses and sift the evidence; and no detectives had been dispatched from Scotland Yard. That, in fact, the very idea of scientific investigation had not been conceived in those days; the inductive study of natural laws was unheard of, and no definite boundary had been drawn between the natural and the supernatural, but both were jumbled up together—the one appearing as probable as the other.
"With regard to the writings which they called 'the Gospels'—on the literal truth and exactness of which they depended for all knowledge of the sayings and doings of the Founder of their Faith—it had been shown, again and again, that they were written nobody knew when, and nobody knew by whom; but certainly not by their reputed authors; that there was no historical record of their publication or their existence earlier than a century and a-half after the events of which they professed to be narratives by eye-witnesses. That, earlier than that, no writer had ever alluded to their existence; that page 14 these four Gospels were then avowedly selected by the priests, or "Fathers," from hundreds of other gospels; that these old Fathers were (teste their own writings) men, at once of inconceivable folly and credulity, and of boundless dishonesty; esteeming all frauds pious that favoured their own Church and their own interests.
"And it had been forcibly represented that, in those old, dark, troublous days, and in relation to events in which only some of the lowest and most ignorant class took any interest, the lapse of a century and a-half, or even half that time, would have thrown over the past a more impenetrable fog of antiquity and obscurity than could the rolling of thousands of years of the modern world.
"There was another proof much relied upon by the Christians at a somewhat earlier period, namely,—the so-called 'Evidence of Prophecy.' This meant that certain more ancient Jewish writings referred to, had predicted the events of the Christian Gospels. The Divine Founder and the 'inspired writers' of those gospels distinctly claimed them in evidence. The Jews however—who ought to have known something about it—always utterly denied that their old scriptures bore any such meaning. And when, at last, criticism proved beyond controversy that none of those ancient writings referred to the then-distantly-future Christian era, but to synchronous events easily designated, then the Christian divines, receding, took up the position that, if not in a direct or primary sense, still, in a secondary (allegorical and mystical) sense, they were unquestionably prophetic of Jesus. They argued well that 'Jesus was certainly the Christ' because the old prophets had prophesied of him; and that the prophets had certainly prophesied of him (even though only allegorically), since he, being the Christ, had said so.
"A great portion of the so-called 'prophetic writings' are void of all intelligible meaning, and may be supposed to signify anything or nothing. They were, probably, the rhapsodies and ravings of priests who had gone mad. In the East, the insane were always regarded with a superstitious reverence.
"I have remarked that the evidence from prophecy was not much insisted upon—indeed, seldom alluded to—since the close of the eighteenth century. The position seemed to have been abandoned, probably as untenable.
"In fine, in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, it had been made patent to all who were willing and able to inquire with an even-balanced mind, that the intrinsically incredible popular religion was unsupported, except by such shadowy proofs as would not for a moment be entertained in the discussion of any other historical question—proofs such as no secular historian would consider sufficient to throw any colour of authenticity over traditions of even a natural and non- page 15 absurd character. The true Gospel of Science had been proclaimed, and yet thousands of infidels shut their ears and kept on believing in their own misshapen idols. How was this? The phenomenon is not inexplicable. There were many reasons why it should be so. There was the heavy vis inertiæ of old custom, and the dull stolid resistance of bourgeois respectability and black-coated Philistinism. Then the women were systematically kept in the dark; so that, though paterfamilias might have made himself a thoroughly enlightened man, still his son—receiving his earliest, too often indelible, impressions from his mother, female relatives, nursemaids and parsons—would have to start again in life from a mental platform no higher than that of his great-grandmother, gaining little, or nothing, by the intellectual elevation of his father. And each successive generation of young men had to repeat for itself the painful process of believing at first and learning to disbelieve afterwards. And in each generation the authority of the nursery clung supreme through life to thousands of minds, sluggish and uninquiring, or obstinate and proud, or timid and reverential and feebly imaginative. A reticence, for politic reasons very generally maintained, long upheld the form of a religion that was really moribund and nearly inanimate. The worldly success and comfort of most men depended upon appearing to swim with the tide of popular prejudice, and so, before the public, they hypocritically pretended to reverence what, in their hearts and in the society of intimate friends, they despised and derided. Thus, the free-thinkers had no means of learning their own numbers and strength. And this cowardly reticence was carried so far, that, long after they were in a decided majority, each individual free-thinker was afraid to speak, supposing himself to be only one of a small minority. Writers of the close of the nineteenth century express an opinion that for nearly a hundred years the popular creed had floated only upon reticence.
"But to explain this phenomenon, which seems to puzzle you so much, of the coexistence, side by side, for more than a hundred years, of the broad light of Science and Philosophy, and the darkness of superstition, what more is necessary than the well-proved biological doctrine of the produced hereditariness of mental impressions, warps and twists, continued through many generations? We know that what we call instinct in the lower animals, is only inherited memory, experience and habits. The fish that have swum for countless generations in the pitch-dark waters of the Adelsberg caves, have become eyeless through the gradual atrophy of the unused organs of sight. When removed to open waters, many generations pass ere they begin once more to blink at the glimpses of the sun. Had the Chinese bandaged, cramped and dwarfed the feet of both sexes for a certain number of generations, it page 16 is highly probable that, at last, the foot-deformity would have become congenital, inherited.
"Now, the minds of men who, in the light of the nineteenth century, still kept on believing, were like Adelsberg fish that had not yet been in the open water for a sufficient number of generations to recover their vision. The minds of their forefathers had been for so many ages shut up in the tenebrous crypts and cloisters of superstition—seeing nothing therein but false and doleful phantoms—that the mental eye, capable of seeing the truth, had become congenitally atrophied. And their minds were like the suppositional Chinese foot; their predecessors' minds had been so long dwarfed and distorted by the bandages of priestcraft, authority and custom, that a few generations without bandages were necessary for restoration.
"Happy are we in this glorious twenty-first century! Happy to have learnt to be humble enough to acknowledge that there is a definite impassable limit to the range of human inquiry; to be wise enough never more to shatter our brain-power in vain attempts to transcend the limit into the infinite abysses! "Whereas the men of old, in the arrogance of ignorance, glancing at the one infinite phenomenon of the universe, flippantly declared themselves at once capable of hitting on the true solution of the mystery of mysteries, and that the solution was, that the universe had been made by a god pre-existing in vacuo (the Hindoo elephant and tortoise over again!), and thereupon fell to discussing the attributes and character of this brain-coined Being, we simply say that all inquiry into first causes and the real nature of things is 'beyond the limit,' and cease to beat the air. "While they, mistaking inference for observation, naively declared that they could plainly see all around the wonderful evidences of design, we, noting—all that can be noted—the marvellous adaptation of things, "humbly admit that the cause of those adaptations is from man for ever hidden, and that the inquiry is beyond the limit.
"Happy are we that, with souls no longer perturbed by the menacing figure of the old-man-god in the clouds, with his attendant devil, we can tranquilly cultivate the one real religion—the religion of humanity—how we may best labour to promote the happiness and alleviate the woes of mankind."
Here the impious vision ended, and, springing to my feet, I devoutly crossed myself, exclaiming "Anathema maranatha!"