PRAYER AND PRAISE
As to prayer and praise.
Christians believe that God is just, that He is all-wise and
If God is just, will He not do justice without being entreated of men?
If God is all wise, and knows all that happens, will He not know what
is for man's good better than man can tell Him?
If He knows better than Man knows what is best for man, and if He is a
just God and a loving Father, will He not do right without any advice or
reminder from Man?
If He is a just God, will He give us less than justice unless we pray
to Him; or will He give us more than justice because we importune Him?
To ask God for His love, or for His grace, or for any worldly benefit
seems to me unreasonable.
If God knows we need His grace, or if He knows we need some help or
benefit, He will give it to us if we deserve it. If we do not deserve it,
or do not need what we ask for, it would not be just nor wise of Him to
grant our prayer.
To pray to God is to insult Him. What would a man think if his children
knelt and begged for his love or for their daily bread? He would think his
children showed a very low conception of their father's sense of duty and
Then Christians think God answers prayer. How can they think that?
In the many massacres, and famines, and pestilences has God answered
prayer? As we learn more and more of the laws of Nature we put less and
less reliance on the effect of prayer.
When fever broke out, men used to run to the priest: now they run to
the doctor. In old times when plague struck a city, the priests marched
through the streets bearing the Host, and the people knelt to pray; now
the authorities serve out soap and medicine and look sharply to the
And yet there still remains a superstitious belief in prayer, and most
surprising are some of its manifestations.
For instance, I went recently to see Wilson Barrett in The Silver
King. Wilfred Denver, a drunken gambler, follows a rival to kill him.
He does not kill him, but he thinks he has killed him. He flies from
Now this man Denver leaves London by a fast train for Liverpool.
Between London and Rugby he jumps out of the train, and, after limping
many miles, goes to an inn, orders dinner and a private room, and asks for
the evening paper.
While he waits for the paper he kneels down and prays to God, for the
sake of wife and children, to allow him to escape.
And, directly after, in comes a girl with a paper, and Denver reads how
the train he rode in caught fire, and how all the passengers in the first
three coaches were burnt to cinders.
Down goes Denver on his knees, and thanks God for listening to his
And not a soul in the audience laughed. God, to allow a murderer to
escape from the law, has burnt to death a lot of innocent passengers, and
Wilfred Denver is piously grateful. And nobody laughed!
But Christians tell us they know that prayer is efficacious. And
to them it may be so in some measure. Perhaps, if a man pray for strength
to resist temptation, or for guidance in time of perplexity, and if he
have faith, his prayer shall avail him something.
Why? Not because God will hear, or answer, but for two natural reasons.
First, the act of prayer is emotional, and so calms the man who prays,
for much of his excitement is worked off. It is so when a sick man groans:
it eases his pain. It is so when a woman weeps: it relieves her
Secondly, the act of prayer gives courage or confidence, in proportion
to the faith of him that prays. If a man has to cross a deep ravine by a
narrow plank, and if his heart fail him, and he prays for God's help,
believing that he will get it, he will walk his plank with more
confidence. If he prays for help against a temptation, he is really
appealing to his own better nature; he is rousing up his dormant faculty
of resistance and desire for righteousness, and so rises from his knees in
a sweeter and calmer frame of mind.
For myself, I never pray, and never feel the need of prayer. And though
I admit, as above, that it may have some present advantage, yet I am
inclined to think that it is bought too dearly at the price of a decrease
in our self-reliance. I do not think it is good for a man to be always
asking for help, for benefits, or for pardon. It seems to me that such a
habit must tend to weaken character.
“He prayeth best who loveth best all things both great and small.” It
is better to work for the general good, to help our weak or friendless
fellow-creatures, than to pray for our own grace, or benefit, or pardon.
Work is nobler than prayer, and far more dignified.
And as to praise, I cannot imagine the Creator of the Universe wanting
men's praise. Does a wise man prize the praise of fools? Does a strong man
value the praise of the weak? Does any man of wisdom and power care for
the applause of his inferiors? We make God into a puny man, a man full of
vanity and “love of approbation,” when we confer on Him the impertinence
of our prayers and our adoration.
While there is so much grief and misery and unmerited and avoidable
suffering in the world, it is pitiful to see the Christian millions
squander such a wealth of time and energy and money on praise and prayer.
If you were a human father, would you rather your children praised you
and neglected each other, or that brother should stand by brother and
sister cherish sister? Then “how much more your Father which is in
Twelve millions of our British people on the brink of starvation! In
Christian England hundreds of thousands of thieves, knaves, idlers,
drunkards, cowards, and harlots; and fortunes spent on churches and the
praise of God.
If the Bible had not habituated us to the idea of a barbarous God who
was always ravenous for praise and sacrifice, we could not tolerate the
mockery of “Divine Service” by well-fed and respectable Christians in the
midst of untaught ignorance, unchecked roguery, unbridled vice, and the
degradation and defilement and ruin of weak women and little children.
Seven thousand pounds to repair a chapel to the praise and glory of God,
and under its very walls you may buy a woman's soul for a few pieces of
I cannot imagine a God who would countenance such a religion. I cannot
understand why Christians are not ashamed of it. To me the national
affectation of piety and holiness resembles a white shirt put on over a
VALUE OF THE EVIDENCE IN LAW
Christianity as a religion must, I am told, stand or fall with the
claims that Christ was divine, and that He rose from the dead and ascended
into Heaven. Archdeacon Wilson, in a sermon at Rochdale, described the
divinity and Resurrection of Christ as “the central doctrines of
Christianity.” The question we have to consider here is the question of
whether these central doctrines are true.
Christians are fond of saying that the Resurrection is one of the best
attested facts in history. I hold that the evidence for the Resurrection
would not be listened to in a court of law, and is quite inadmissible in a
court of cool and impartial reason.
First of all, then, what is the fact which this evidence is supposed to
prove? The fact alleged is a most marvellous miracle, and one upon which a
religion professed by some hundreds of millions of human beings is
founded. The fact alleged is that nearly two thousand years ago God came
into the world as a man, that He was known as Jesus of Nazareth, that He
was crucified, died upon the cross, was laid in a tomb, and on the third
day came to life again, left His tomb, and subsequently ascended into
The fact alleged, then, is miraculous and important, and the evidence
in proof of such a fact should be overwhelmingly strong.
We should demand stronger evidence in support of a thing alleged to
have happened a thousand years ago than we should demand in support of a
fact alleged to have happened yesterday.
The Resurrection is alleged to have happened eighteen centuries ago.
We should demand stronger evidence in support of an alleged fact which
was outside human experience than we should demand in support of a fact
common to human experience.
The incarnation of a God in human form, the resurrection of a man or a
God from the dead, are facts outside human experience.
We should demand stronger evidence in support of an alleged fact when
the establishment of that fact was of great importance to millions of men
and women, than we should demand when the truth or falsity of the alleged
fact mattered very little to anybody.
The alleged fact of the Resurrection is of immense importance to
hundreds of millions of people.
We should demand stronger evidence in support of an alleged fact when
many persons were known to have strong political, sentimental, or
mercenary motives for proving the fact alleged, than we should demand when
no serious interest would be affected by a decision for or against the
There are millions of men and women known to have strong motives—
sentimental, political, or mercenary—for proving the verity of the
On all these counts we are justified in demanding the strongest of
evidence for the alleged fact of Christ's resurrection from the dead.
The more abnormal or unusual the occurrence, the weightier should be
the evidence of its truth.
If a man told a mixed company that Captain Webb swam the English
Channel, he would have a good chance of belief.
The incident happened but a few years ago; it was reported in all the
newspapers of the day. It is not in itself an impossible thing for a man
But if the same man told the same audience that five hundred years ago
an Irish sailor had swum from Holyhead to New York, his statement would be
received with less confidence.
Because five centuries is a long time, there is no credible record of
the feat, and we cannot believe any man capable of swimming about
four thousand miles.
Let us look once more at the statement made by the believers in the
We are asked to believe that the all-powerful eternal God, the God who
created twenty millions of suns, came down to earth, was born of a woman,
was crucified, was dead, was laid in a tomb for three days, and then came
to life again, and ascended into Heaven.
What is the nature of the evidence produced in support of this
Is there any man or woman alive who has seen God? No. Is there any man
or woman alive who has seen Christ? No.
There is no human being alive who can say that God exists or that
Christ exists. The most they can say is that they believe that God
and Christ exist.
No historian claims that any God has been seen on earth for nearly
The Christians deny the assertions of all other religions as to divine
visits; and all the other religions deny their assertions about God and
There is no reason why God should have come down to earth, to be born
of a woman, and die on the cross. He could have convinced and won over
mankind without any such act. He has not convinced or won over
mankind by that act. Not one-third of mankind are professing Christians
to-day, and of those not one in ten is a true Christian and a true
The Resurrection, therefore, seems to have been unreasonable,
unnecessary, and futile. It is also contrary to science and to human
What is the nature of the evidence?
The common idea of the man in the street is the idea that the Gospels
were written by Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John; that Matthew, Mark, Luke,
and John were contemporaries of Christ; and that the Gospels were written
and circulated during the lives of the authors.
There is no evidence to support these beliefs. There is no evidence,
outside the New Testament, that any of the Apostles ever existed. We know
nothing about Paul, Peter, John, Mark, Luke, or Matthew, except what is
told in the New Testament.
Outside the Testament there is not a word of historical evidence of the
divinity of Christ, of the Virgin Birth, of the Resurrection or Ascension.
Therefore it is obvious that, before we can be expected to believe the
tremendous story of the Resurrection, we must be shown overwhelming
evidence of the authenticity of the Scriptures.
Before you can prove your miracle you have to prove your book.
Suppose the case to come before a judge. Let us try to imagine what
COUNSEL: M'lud, may it please your ludship. It is stated by Paul of
Tarsus that he and others worked miracles—
THE JUDGE: Do you intend to call Paul of Tarsus?
COUNSEL: No, m'lud. He is dead.
JUDGE: Did he make a proper sworn deposition?
COUNSEL: No, m'lud. But some of his letters are extant, and I propose
to put them in.
JUDGE: Are these letters affidavits? Are they witnessed and attested?
COUNSEL: No, m'lud.
JUDGE: Are they signed?
COUNSEL: No, m'lud.
JUDGE: Are they in the handwriting of this Paul of Tarsus?
COUNSEL: No, m'lud. They are copies; the originals are lost.
JUDGE: Who was Paul of Tarsus?
COUNSEL: M'lud, he was the apostle to the Gentiles.
JUDGE: You intend to call some of these Gentiles?
COUNSEL: No, m'lud. There are none living.
JUDGE: But you don't mean to, say—how long has this shadowy witness,
Paul of Tarsus, been dead?
COUNSEL: Not two thousand years, m'lud.
JUDGE: Thousand years dead? Can you bring evidence to prove that he was
COUNSEL: Circumstantial, m'lud.
JUDGE: I cannot allow you to read the alleged statements of a
hypothetical witness who is acknowledged to have been dead for nearly two
thousand years. I cannot admit the alleged letters of Paul as evidence.
COUNSEL: I shall show that the act of resurrection was witnessed by one
Mary Magdalene, by a Roman soldier—
JUDGE: What is the soldier's name?
COUNSEL: I don't know, m'lud.
JUDGE: Call him.
COUNSEL: He is dead, m'lud.
COUNSEL: No, m'lud.
JUDGE: Strike out his evidence. Call Mary Magdalene.
COUNSEL: She is dead, m'lud. But I shall show that she told the
JUDGE: What she told the disciples is not evidence.
COUNSEL: Well, m'lud, I shall give the statements of Matthew, Mark,
Luke, and John. Matthew states very plainly that—
JUDGE: Of course, you intend to call Matthew?
COUNSEL: No, m'lud. He is—he is dead.
JUDGE: It seems to me, that to prove this resurrection you will have to
perform a great many more. Are Mark and John dead, also?
COUNSEL: Yes, m'lud.
JUDGE: Who were they?
COUNSEL: I—I don't know, m'lud.
JUDGE: These statements of theirs, to which you allude: are they in
their own handwriting?
COUNSEL: May it please your ludship, they did not write them. The
statements are not given as their own statements, but only as statements
“according to them.” The statements are really copies of translations of
copies of translations of statements supposed to be based upon what
someone told Matthew, and—
JUDGE: Who copied and translated, and re-copied and re-translated, this
COUNSEL: I do not know, m'lud.
JUDGE: Were the copies seen and revised by the authors? Did they
correct the proofs?
COUNSEL: I don't know, m'lud.
JUDGE: Don't know? Why?
COUNSEL: There is no evidence that the documents had ever been heard of
until long after the authors were dead.
JUDGE: I never heard of such a case. I cannot allow you to quote these
papers. They are not evidence. Have you any witnesses?
COUNSEL: No, m'lud.
That fancy dialogue about expresses the legal value of the evidence for
this important miracle.
But, legal value not being the only value, let us now consider the
evidence as mere laymen.
As men of the world, with some experience in sifting and weighing
evidence, what can we say about the evidence for the Resurrection?
In the first place, there is no acceptable evidence outside the New
Testament, and the New Testament is the authority of the Christian Church.
In the second place, there is nothing to show that the Gospels were
written by eye-witnesses of the alleged fact.
In the third place, the Apostle Paul was not an eye-witness of the
In the fourth place, although there is some evidence that some Gospels
were known in the first century, there is no evidence that the Gospels as
we know them were then in existence.
In the fifth place, even supposing that the existing Gospels and the
Epistles of Paul were originally composed by men who knew Christ, and that
these men were entirely honest and capable witnesses, there is no
certainty that what they wrote has come down to us unaltered.
The only serious evidence of the Resurrection being in the books of the
New Testament, we are bound to scrutinise those books closely, as on their
testimony the case for Christianity entirely depends.
Who, then, are the witnesses? They are the authors of the Gospels, the
Acts, and the Epistles of Peter and of Paul.
Who were these authors? Matthew and John are “supposed” to have been
disciples of Christ; but were they? I should say Matthew certainly was not
contemporary with Jesus, for in the last chapter of the Gospel according
to Matthew we read as follows:
Now while they were going behold some of the guard came into
the city, and told unto the chief priests all the things that
were come to pass. And when they were assembled with the elders,
and had taken counsel, they gave large money unto the soldiers,
saying, Say yet his disciples came by night and stole him away
while we slept. And if this come to the governor's ears, we
will persuade him, and rid you of care. So they took the money,
and did as they were taught: and this saying was spread abroad
among the Jews, and continueth until this day.
Matthew tells us that the saying “continueth until this day.” Which
day? The day on which Matthew is writing or speaking. Now, a man does not
say of a report or belief that it “continueth until this day" unless that
report or belief originated a long time ago, and the use of such a phrase
suggests that Matthew told or repeated the story after a lapse of many
That apart, there is no genuine historical evidence, outside the New
Testament, that such men as Paul, Peter, Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John
Neither can it be claimed that Matthew, Mark, Luke and John actually
wrote the Gospels which bear their names. These Gospels are called the
Gospel “according to Matthew,” the Gospel “according to Mark,” the Gospel
“according to Luke,” and the Gospel “according to John.” They were, then,
Gospels condensed, paraphrased, or copied from some older Gospels, or they
were Gospels taken down from dictation, or composed from the verbal
statements of the men to whom they were attributed.
Thus it appears that the Gospels are merely reports or copies of some
verbal or written statements made by four men of whom there is no historic
record whatever. How are we to know that these men ever lived? How are we
to know that they were correctly reported, if they ever spoke or wrote?
How can we rely upon such evidence after nineteen hundred years, and upon
a statement of facts so important and so marvellous?
The same objection applies to the evidence of Peter and of Paul. Many
critics and scholars deny the existence of Peter and Paul. There is no
trustworthy evidence to oppose to that conclusion.
That by the way. Let us now examine the evidence given in these men's
names. The earliest witness is Paul. Paul does not corroborate the Gospel
writers' statements as to the life or the teachings of Christ; but he does
vehemently assert that Christ rose from the dead.
What is Paul's evidence worth? He did not see Christ crucified. He did
not see His dead body. He did not see Him quit the tomb. He did not see
Him in the flesh after He had quitted the tomb. He was not present when He
ascended into Heaven. Therefore Paul is not an eye-witness of the acts of
Christ, nor of the death of Christ, nor of the Resurrection of Christ, nor
of the Ascension of Christ.
If Paul ever lived, which none can prove and many deny, his evidence
for the Resurrection was only hearsay evidence.
Paul, in the Epistle to the Corinthians, says that after His
Resurrection Christ was “seen of about five hundred persons; of whom the
great part remain unto this present, but some are fallen asleep.”
But none of the Gospels mentions this five hundred, nor does Paul give
the name of any one of them, nor is the testimony of any one of them
preserved, in the Testament or elsewhere.
Now, let us remember how difficult it was to disprove the statements of
the claimant in the Tichborne Case, although the trial took place in the
lifetime of the claimant, and although most of the witnesses knew the real
Roger Tichborne well; and let us also bear in mind that many critics and
scholars dispute the authorship of Shakespeare's plays, as to which strong
contemporary evidence is forthcoming, and then let us ask ourselves
whether we shall be justified in believing such a marvellous story as this
of the Resurrection upon the evidence of men whose existence cannot be
proved, and in support of whose statements there is not a scrap of
historical evidence of any kind.
Nor is this all. The stories of the Resurrection as told in the Gospels
are full of discrepancies, and are rendered incredible by the
interpolation of miraculous incidents.
Let us begin with Matthew. Did Matthew see Christ crucified? Did
Matthew see Christ's dead body? Did Matthew see Christ quit the tomb? Did
Matthew see Christ in the flesh and alive after His Resurrection? Did
Matthew see Christ ascend into Heaven? Matthew nowhere says so. Nor is it
stated by any other writer in the Testament that Matthew saw any of these
things. No: Matthew nowhere gives evidence in his own name. Only, in the
Gospel “according to Matthew” it is stated that such things did happen.
Matthew's account of the Resurrection and the incidents connected
therewith differs from the accounts in the other Gospels.
The story quoted above from Matthew as to the bribing of Roman soldiers
by the priests to circulate the falsehood about the stealing of Christ's
body by His disciples is not alluded to by Mark, Luke, or John.
Matthew, in his account of the fact of the Resurrection, says that
there was an earthquake when the angel rolled away the stone. In the other
Gospels there is no word of this earthquake.
But not in any of the Gospels is it asserted that any man or woman saw
Jesus leave the tomb.
The story of His actual rising from the dead was first told by some
woman, or women, who said they had seen an angel, or angels, who had
declared that Jesus was risen.
There is not an atom of evidence that these young men who told the
story were angels. There is not an atom of evidence that they were not
men, nor that they had not helped to revive or to remove the swooned or
Stress has been laid upon the presence of the Roman guard. The presence
of such a guard is improbable. But if the guard was really there, it might
have been as easily bribed to allow the body to be removed, as Matthew
suggests that it was easily bribed to say that the body had been stolen.
Matthew says that after the Resurrection the disciples were ordered to
go to Galilee. Mark says the same. Luke says they were commanded not to
leave Jerusalem. John says they did go to Galilee.
So, again, with regard to the Ascension. Luke and Mark say that Christ
went up to Heaven. Matthew and John do not so much as mention the
Ascension. And it is curious, as Mr. Foote points out, that the two
apostles who were supposed to have been disciples of Christ and might be
supposed to have seen the Ascension, if it took place, do not mention it.
The story of the Ascension comes to us from Luke and Mark, who were not
Jesus rose from the dead on the third day. Yet Luke makes Him say to
the thief on the cross: “Verily I say unto thee, to-day shalt thou be with
me in Paradise.” Matthew, Mark, and John do not repeat this blunder.
There are many other differences and contradictions in the Gospel
versions of the Resurrection and Ascension; but as I do not regard those
differences as important, I shall pass them by.
Whether or not the evidence of these witnesses be contradictory, the
facts remain that no one of them states that he knows anything about the
matter of his own knowledge; that no one of them claims to have himself
heard the story of the woman, or the women, or the angels; that no one of
them states that the women saw, or said they saw, Christ leave the tomb.
As for the alleged appearances of Christ to the disciples, those
appearances may be explained in several ways. We may say that Christ
really had risen from the dead, and was miraculously present; we may say
that the accounts of His miraculous appearance are legends; or we may say
that His reappearance was not miraculous at all, for He had never died,
but only swooned.
As Huxley remarked, when we are asked to consider an alleged case of
resurrection, the first essential fact to make sure of is the fact of
death. Before we argue as to whether a dead man came to life, let us have
evidence that he was dead.
Considering the story of the crucifixion as historical, it cannot be
said that the evidence of Christ's death is conclusive.
Death by crucifixion was generally a slow death. Men often lingered on
the cross for days before they died. Now, Christ was only on the cross for
a few hours; and Pilate is reported as expressing surprise when told that
he was dead.
To make sure that the other prisoners were dead, the soldiers broke
their legs. But they did not break Christ's legs.
To be sure, the Apostle John reports that a soldier pierced Christ's
side with a spear. But the authors of the three synoptic Gospels do not
mention this wounding with the spear. Neither do they allude to the other
story told by John, as to the scepticism of Thomas, and his putting his
hand into the wound made by the spear. It is curious that John is the only
one to tell both stories: so curious that both stories look like
But even if we accept the story of the spear thrust, it affords no
proof of death, for John adds that there issued from the wound blood and
water: and blood does not flow from wounds inflicted after death.
Then, when the body of Christ was taken down from the cross, it was not
examined by any doctor, but was taken away by friends, and laid in a cool
What evidence is forthcoming that Christ did not recover from a swoon,
and that His friends did not take Him away in the night? Remember, we are
dealing with probabilities in the absence of any exact knowledge of the
facts, and consider which is more probable—that a man had swooned and
recovered; or that a man, after lying for three days dead, should come to
life again, and walk away?
Apologists will say that the probabilities in the case of a man do not
hold in the case of a God. But there is no evidence at all that Christ was
God. Prove that Christ was God, and therefore that He was omnipotent, and
there is nothing impossible in the Resurrection, however improbable His
death may seem.
Even assuming that the Gospels are historical documents, the evidence
for Christ's death is unsatisfactory, and that for His Resurrection quite
inadequate. But is there any reason to regard the Gospel stories of the
death, Resurrection, and Ascension on of Christ as historical? I say that
we have no surety that these stories have come down to us as they were
originally compiled, and we have strong reasons for concluding that these
stories are mythical.
Some two or three years ago the Rev. R. Horton said: “Either Christ was
the Son of God, and one with God, or He was a bad man, or a madman. There
is no fourth alternative possible.” That is a strange statement to make,
but it is an example of the shifts to which apologists are frequently
reduced. No fourth alternative possible! Indeed there is; and a fifth!
If a man came forward to-day, and said he was the Son of God, and one
with God, we should conclude that he was an impostor or a lunatic.
But if a man told us that another man had said he was a god, we should
have what Mr. Horton calls a “fourth alternative” open to us. For we might
say that the person who reported his speech to us had misunderstood him,
which would be a “fourth alternative”; or that the person had wilfully
misrepresented him, which would be a fifth alternative.
So in the Gospels. Nowhere have we a single word of Christ's own
writing. His sayings come to us through several hands, and through more
than one translation. It is folly, then, to assert that Christ was God, or
that He was mad, or an impostor.
So in the case of the Gospel stories of the Crucifixion, the
Resurrection, and Ascension of Christ. Many worthy people may suppose that
in denying the facts stated in the Gospels we are accusing St. Matthew and
St. John of falsehood.
But there is no certainty who St. Matthew and the others were. There is
no certainty that they wrote these stories. Even if they did write them,
they probably accepted them at second or third hand. With the best faith
in the world, they may not have been competent judges of evidence. And
after they had done their best their testimony may have been added to or
perverted by editors and translators.
Looking at the Gospels, then, as we should look at any other ancient
documents, what internal evidence do they afford in support of the
suspicion that they are mythical?
In the first place, the whole Gospel story teems with miracles. Now, as
Matthew Arnold said, miracles never happen. Science has made the belief in
miracles impossible. When we speak of the antagonism between religion and
science, it is this fact which we have in our mind: that science has
killed the belief in miracles, and, as all religions are built up upon the
miraculous, science and religion cannot be made to harmonise.
As Huxley said:
The magistrate who listens with devout attention to the precept,
“Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live,” on Sunday, on Monday
dismisses, as intrinsically absurd, a charge of bewitching a
cow brought against some old woman; the superintendent of a
lunatic asylum who substituted exorcism for rational modes of
treatment, would have but a short tenure of office; even parish
clerks doubt the utility of prayers for rain, so long as the
wind is in the east; and an outbreak of pestilence sends men,
not to the churches, but to the drains. In spite of prayers for
the success of our arms, and Te Deums for victory, our real
faith is in big battalions and keeping our powder dry; in
knowledge of the science of warfare; in energy, courage, and
discipline. In these, as in all other practical affairs, we
act on the aphorism, Laborare est orare; we admit that
intelligent work is the only acceptable worship, and that,
whether there be a Supernature or not, our business is with Nature.
We have ceased to believe in miracles. When we come upon a miracle in
any historical document we feel not only that the miracle is untrue, but
also that its presence reduces the value of the document in which it is
contained. Thus Matthew Arnold, in Literature and Dogma, after
saying that we shall “find ourselves inevitably led, sooner or later,” to
extend one rule to all miraculous stories, and that “the considerations
which apply in other cases apply, we shall most surely discover, with even
greater force in the case of Bible miracles,” goes on to declare that
“this being so, there is nothing one would more desire for a person or
document one greatly values than to make them independent of miracles.”
Very well. The Gospels teem with miracles. If we make the accounts of
the death, Resurrection, and Ascension of Christ “independent of
miracles,” we destroy those accounts completely. To make the Resurrection
“independent of miracles” is to disprove the Resurrection, which is a
miracle or nothing.
We must believe in miracles, or disbelieve in the Resurrection; and
“miracles never happen.”
We must believe miracles, or disbelieve them. If we disbelieve them, we
shall lose confidence in the verity of any document in proportion to the
element of the miraculous which that document contains. The fact that the
Gospels teem with miracles destroys the claim of the Gospels to serious
consideration as historic evidence.
Take, for example, the account of the Crucifixion in the Gospel
according to Matthew. While Christ is on the cross “from the sixth hour
there was darkness over all the land until the ninth hour,” and when He
dies, “behold, the veil of the temple was rent in twain from the top to
the bottom; and the earth did quake; and the rocks were rent; and the
tombs were opened; and many bodies of the saints that had fallen asleep
were raised; and coming forth out of the tombs after His Resurrection,
they entered into the holy city, and appeared unto many.”
Mark mentions the rending of the veil of the temple, but omits the
darkness, the earthquake, and the rising of the dead saints from the
tombs. Luke tells of the same phenomena as Mark; John says nothing about
any of these things.
What conclusion can we come to, then, as to the story in the first
Gospel? Here is an earthquake and the rising of dead saints, who quit
their graves and enter the city, and three out of the four Gospel writers
do not mention it. Neither do we hear another word from Matthew on the
subject. The dead get up and walk into the city, and “are seen of many,”
and we are left to wonder what happened to the risen saints, and what
effect their astounding apparition had upon the citizens who saw them. Did
these dead saints go back to their tombs? Did the citizens receive them
into their midst without fear, or horror, or doubt? Had this stupendous
miracle no effect upon the Jewish priests who had crucified Christ as an
impostor? The Gospels are silent.
History is as silent as the Gospels. From the fifteenth chapter of the
first volume of Gibbon's Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire I
take the following passage:
But how shall we excuse the supine inattention of the Pagan
and philosophic world to those evidences which were presented
by the hand of Omnipotence, not to their reason, but to their
senses? During the age of Christ, of His Apostles, and of
their first disciples, the doctrine which they preached was
confirmed by innumerable prodigies. The lame walked, the
blind saw, the sick were healed, the dead were raised, demons
were expelled, and the laws of Nature were frequently suspended
for the benefit of the Church. But the sages of Greece and
Rome turned aside from the awful spectacle, and pursuing the
ordinary occupations of life and study, appeared unconscious
of any alterations in the moral or physical government of the
world. Under the reign of Tiberius the whole earth, or at least
a celebrated province of the Roman Empire, was involved in a
preternatural darkness of three hours. Even this miraculous
event, which ought to have excited the wonder, the curiosity,
and the devotion of all mankind, passed without notice in an
age of science and history. It happened during the lifetime
of Seneca and the elder Pliny, who must have experienced the
immediate effects, or received the earliest intelligence of
the prodigy. Each of these philosophers, in a laborious work,
has recorded all the great phenomena of Nature, earthquakes,
meteors, comets, and eclipses, which his indefatigable
curiosity could collect. But the one and the other have
omitted to mention the greatest phenomenon to which mortal
eye has been witness since the creation of the globe. A
distinct chapter of Pliny is designed for eclipses of an
extraordinary nature and unusual duration; but he contents
himself with describing the singular defect of light which
followed the murder of Caesar, when, during the greatest
part of the year, the orb of the sun appeared pale and without
splendour. This season of obscurity, which surely cannot be
compared with the preternatural darkness of the Passion, had
been already celebrated by most of the poets and historians
of that memorable age.
No Greek nor Roman historian nor scientist mentioned that strange
eclipse. No Jewish historian nor scientist mentioned the rending of the
veil of the temple, nor the rising of the saints from the dead. Nor do the
Jewish priests appear to have been alarmed or converted by these marvels.
Confronted by this silence of all contemporary historians, and by the
silence of Mark, Luke, and John, what are we to think of the testimony of
Matthew on these points? Surely we can only endorse the opinion of Matthew
And the more the miraculousness of the story deepens, as after
the death of Jesus, the more does the texture of the incidents
become loose and floating, the more does the very air and aspect
of things seem to tell us we are in wonderland. Jesus after his
resurrection not known by Mary Magdalene, taken by her for the
gardener; appearing in another form, and not known by the
two disciples going with him to Emmaus and at supper with him
there; not known by His most intimate apostles on the borders
of the Sea of Galilee; and presently, out of these vague
beginnings, the recognitions getting asserted, then the ocular
demonstrations, the final commissions, the ascension; one
hardly knows which of the two to call the most evident here,
the perfect simplicity and good faith of the narrators, or
the plainness with which they themselves really say to us
Behold a legend growing under your eyes!
Behold a legend growing under your eyes! Now, when we have to consider
a miracle-story or a legend, it behoves us to look, if that be possible,
into the times in which that legend is placed. What was the “time spirit”
in the day when this legend arose? What was the attitude of the general
mind towards the miraculous? To what stage of knowledge and science had
those who created or accepted the myth attained? These are points that
will help us signally in any attempt to understand such a story as the
Gospel story of the Resurrection.
A story emanating from a superstitious and unscientific people would be
received with more doubt than a story emanating from people possessing a
knowledge of science, and not prone to accept stories of the marvellous
without strict and full investigation.
A miracle story from an Arab of the Soudan would be received with a
smile; a statement of some occult mystery made by a Huxley or a Darwin
would be accorded a respectful hearing and a serious criticism.
Now, the accounts of the Resurrection in the Gospels belong to the less
credible form of statement. They emanated from a credulous and
superstitious people in an unscientific age and country.
The Jews in the days of which the Gospels are supposed to tell, and the
Jews of Old Testament times, were unscientific and superstitious people,
who believed in sorcery, in witches, in demons and angels, and in all
manner of miracles and supernatural agents. We have only to read the
Scriptures to see that it was so. But I shall quote here, in support of my
assertion, the opinions taken by the author of Supernatural Religion
from the works of Dean Milman and Dr. Lightfoot. In his History of
Christianity Dean Milman speaks of the Jews as follows:
The Jews of that period not only believed that the Supreme
Being had the power of controlling the course of Nature, but
that the same influence was possessed by multitudes of subordinate
spirits, both good and evil. Where the pious Christian of the
present day would behold the direct Agency of the Almighty, the
Jews would invariably have interposed an angel as the author
or ministerial agent in the wonderful transaction. Where the
Christian moralist would condemn the fierce passion, the
ungovernable lust, or the inhuman temper, the Jew discerned
the workings of diabolical possession. Scarcely a malady was
endured, or crime committed, which was not traced to the
operation of one of these myriad demons, who watched every
opportunity of exercising their malice in the sufferings and
the sins of men.
Read next the opinion of John Lightfoot, D.D., Master of Catherine
... Let two things only be observed: (1) That the nation under
the Second Temple was given to magical arts beyond measure;
and (2) that it was given to an easiness of believing all
manner of delusions beyond measure ... It is a disputable
case whether the Jewish nation were more mad with superstition
in matters of religion, or with superstition in curious arts:
(1) There was not a people upon earth that studied or attributed
more to dreams than they; (2) there was hardly any people in
the whole world that more used, or were more fond of amulets,
charms, mutterings, exorcisms, and all kinds of enchantments.
It is from this people, “mad with superstition” in religion and in
sorcery, the most credulous people in the whole world, a people destitute
of the very rudiments of science, as science is understood to-day—it is
from this people that the unreasonable and impossible stories of the
Resurrection, coloured and distorted on every page with miracles, come
down to us.
We do not believe that miracles happen now. Are we, on the evidence of
such a people, to believe that miracles happened two thousand years ago?
We in England to-day do not believe that miracles happen now. Some of
us believe, or persuade ourselves that we believe, that miracles did
happen a few thousand years ago.
But amongst some peoples the belief in miracles still persists, and
wherever the belief in miracles is strongest we shall find that the people
who believe are ignorant of physical science, are steeped in superstition,
or are abjectly subservient to the authority of priests or fakirs.
Scientific knowledge and freedom of thought and speech are fatal to
superstition. It is only in those times, or amongst those people, where
ignorance is rampant, or the priest is dominant, or both, that miracles
It will be urged that many educated Englishmen still believe the Gospel
miracles. That is true; but it will be found in nearly all such cases that
the believers have been mentally marred by the baneful authority of the
Church. Let a person once admit into his system the poisonous principle of
“faith,” and his judgment in religious matters will be injured for years,
and probably for life.
But let me here make clear what I mean by the poisonous principle of
“faith.” I mean, then, the deadly principle that we are to believe any
statement, historical or doctrinal, without evidence.
Thus we are to believe that Christ rose from the dead because the
Gospels say so. When we ask why we are to accept the Gospels as true, we
are told because they are inspired by God. When we ask who says that the
Gospels are inspired by God, we are told that the Church says so. When we
ask how the Church knows, we are told that we must have faith. That is
what I call a poisonous principle. That is the poison which saps the
judgment and perverts the human kindness of men.
The late Dr. Carpenter wrote as follows:
It has been my business lately to inquire into the mental
condition of some of the individuals who have reported the
most remarkable occurrences. I cannot—it would not be fair—
say all I could with regard to that mental condition; but I can
only say this, that it all fits in perfectly well with the
result of my previous studies upon the subject, namely, that
there is nothing too strange to be believed by those who have
once surrendered their judgment to the extent of accepting as
credible things which common sense tells us are entirely incredible.
It is unwise and immoral to accept any important statement without
I come now to a phase of this question which I touch with regret. It
always pains me to acknowledge that any man, even an adversary, has acted
dishonourably. In this discussion I would, if I could, avoid the
imputation of dishonesty to any person concerned in the foundation or
adaptation of the Christian religion. But I am bound to point out the
probability that the Gospels have been tampered with by unscrupulous or
over-zealous men. That probability is very strong, and very important.
In the first place, it is too well known to make denial possible that
many Gospels have been rejected by the Church as doubtful or as spurious.
In the second place, some of the books in the accepted canon are regarded
as of doubtful origin. In the third place, certain passages of the Gospels
have been relegated to the margin by the translators of the Revised
Version of the New Testament. In the fourth place, certain historic
Christian evidence—as the famous interpolation in Josephus, for
instance—has been branded as forgeries by eminent Christian scholars.
Many of the Christian fathers were holy men; many priests have been,
and are, honourable and sincere; but it is notorious that in every Church
the world has ever known there has been a great deal of fraud and forgery
and deceit. I do not say this with any bitterness, I do not wish to
emphasise it; but I must go so far as to show that the conduct of some of
the early Christians was of a character to justify us in believing that
the Scriptures have been seriously tampered with.
Mosheim, writing on this subject, says:
A pernicious maxim which was current in the schools, not only
of the Egyptians, the Platonists, and the Pythagoreans, but
also of the Jews, was very early recognised by the Christians,
and soon found among them numerous patrons—namely, that those
who made it their business to deceive, with a view of promoting
the cause of truth, were deserving rather of commendation than
And if we seek internal evidence in support of this charge we need go
no further than St. Paul, who is reported (Rom. iii. 7) as saying: “For if
the truth of God hath more abounded through my lie unto His Glory, why yet
am I also judged as a sinner?” I do not for a moment suppose that Paul
ever wrote those words. But they are given as his in the Epistle bearing
his name. I daresay they may be interpreted in more than one way: my point
is that they were interpreted in an evil way by many primitive Christians,
who took them as a warranty that it was right to lie for the glory of God.
Mosheim, writing of the Church of the fifth century, alludes to the
Base audacity of those who did not blush to palm their own
spurious productions on the great men of former times, and,
even on Christ Himself and His Apostles, so that they might
be able, in the councils and in their books, to oppose names
against names and authorities against authorities. The whole
Christian Church was, in this century, overwhelmed with these
Dr. Giles speaks still more strongly. He says:
But a graver accusation than that of inaccuracy or deficient
authority lies against the writings which have come down to us
from the second century. There can be no doubt that great numbers
of books were then written with no other view than to deceive
the simple-minded multitude who at that time formed the great
bulk of the Christian community.
Dean Milman says:
It was admitted and avowed that to deceive into Christianity
was so valuable a service as to hallow deceit itself.
Bishop Fell says:
In the first ages of the Church, so extensive was the licence
of forging, so credulous were the people in believing, that
the evidence of transactions was grievously obscured.
John E. Remsburg, author of the newly-published American book, The
That these admissions are true, that primitive Christianity
was propagated chiefly by falsehood, is tacitly admitted by
all Christians. They characterise as forgeries, or unworthy
of credit, three-fourths of the early Christian writings.
Mr. Lecky, the historian, in his European Morals, writes in the
following uncompromising style:
The very large part that must be assigned to deliberate
forgeries in the early apologetic literature of the Church
we have already seen; and no impartial reader can, I think,
investigate the innumerable grotesque and lying legends that,
during the whole course of the Middle Ages, were deliberately
palmed upon mankind as undoubted facts, can follow the history
of the false decretals, and the discussions that were connected
with them, or can observe the complete and absolute incapacity
most Catholic historians have displayed of conceiving any good
thing in the ranks of their opponents, or of stating with common
fairness any consideration that can tell against their cause,
without acknowledging how serious and how inveterate has been
the evil. It is this which makes it so unspeakably repulsive
to all independent and impartial thinkers, and has led a great
German historian (Herder) to declare, with much bitterness,
that the phrase “Christian veracity” deserves to rank with the
phrase “Punic faith.”
I could go on quoting such passages. I could give specific instances of
forgery by the dozen, but I do not think it necessary. It is sufficient to
show that forgery was common, and has been always common, amongst all
kinds of priests, and that therefore we cannot accept the Gospels as
genuine and unaltered documents.
Yet upon these documents rests the whole fabric of Christianity.
Professor Huxley says:
There is no proof, nothing more than a fair presumption, that
any one of the Gospels existed, in the state in which we find
it in the authorised version of the Bible, before the second
century, or, in other words, sixty or seventy years after the
events recorded. And between that time and the date of the
oldest extant manuscripts of the Gospel there is no telling
what additions and alterations and interpolations may have
been made. It may be said that this is all mere speculation,
but it is a good deal more. As competent scholars and honest
men, our revisers have felt compelled to point out that such
things have happened even since the date of the oldest known
manuscripts. The oldest two copies of the second Gospel end
with the eighth verse of the sixteenth chapter; the remaining
twelve verses are spurious, and it is noteworthy that the maker
of the addition has not hesitated to introduce a speech in
which Jesus promises His disciples that “in My name shall
they cast out devils.”
The other passage “rejected to the margin” is still more
instructive. It is that touching apologue, with its profound
ethical sense, of the woman taken in adultery—which, if
internal evidence were an infallible guide, might well be
affirmed to be a typical example of the teaching of Jesus.
Yet, say the revisers, pitilessly, “Most of the ancient
authorities omit John vii. 53—viii. 11.” Now, let any
reasonable man ask himself this question: if after an
approximate settlement of the canon of the New Testament,
and even later than the fourth or fifth centuries, literary
fabricators had the skill and the audacity to make such
additions and interpolations as these, what may they have
done when no one had thought of a canon; when oral tradition
still unfixed, was regarded as more valuable than such
written records as may have existed in the latter portion
of the first century? Or, to take the other alternative,
if those who gradually settled the canon did not know of
the oldest codices which have come down to us; or, if knowing
them, they rejected their authority, what is to be thought
of their competency as critics of the text?
Since alterations have been made in the text of Scripture we can never
be certain that any particular text is genuine, and this circumstance
militates seriously against the value of the evidence for the
If the story of Christ's life were true, we should not expect to find
that nearly all the principal events of that life had previously happened
in the lives of some earlier god or gods, long since acknowledged to be
If the Gospel record were the only record of a god coming upon
earth, of a god born of a virgin, of a god slain by men, that record would
seem to us more plausible than it will seem if we discover proof that
other and earlier gods have been fabled to have come on earth, to have
been born of virgins, to have lived and taught on earth, and to have been
slain by men.
Because, if the events related in the life of Christ have been
previously related as parts of the lives of earlier mythical gods, we find
ourselves confronted by the possibilities that what is mythical in one
narrative may be mythical in another; that if one god is a myth another
god may be a myth; that if 400,000,000 of Buddhists have been deluded,
200,000,000 of Christians may be deluded; that if the events of Christ's
life were alleged to have happened before to another person, they may have
been adopted from the older story, and made features of the new.
If Christ was God—the omnipotent, eternal, and only God—come on
earth, He would not be likely to repeat acts, to re-act the adventures of
earlier and spurious gods; nor would His divine teachings be mere shreds
and patches made up of quotations, paraphrases, and repetitions of earlier
teachings, uttered by mere mortals, or mere myths.
What are we to think, then when we find that there are hardly any
events in the life of Christ which were not, before His birth, attributed
to mythical gods; that there are hardly any acts of Christ's which may not
be paralleled by acts attributed to mythical gods before His advent; that
there are hardly any important thoughts attributed to Christ which had not
been uttered by other men, or by mythical gods, in earlier times? What
are we to think if the facts be thus?
Mr. Parsons, in Our Sun God, quotes the following passage from a
Latin work by St. Augustine:
Again, in that I said, “This is in our time the Christian
religion, which to know and also follow is most sure and
certain salvation,” it is affirmed in regard to this name,
not in regard to the sacred thing itself to which the name
belongs. For the sacred thing which is now called the
Christian religion existed in ancient times, nor, indeed,
was it absent from the beginning of the human race until
the Christ Himself came in the flesh, whence the true religion
which already existed came to be called “the Christian.” So
when, after His resurrection and ascension to heaven, the
Apostles began to preach and many believed, it is thus written,
“The followers were first called Christians at Antioch.”
Therefore I said, “This is in our time the Christian religion,”
not because it did not exist in earlier times, but as having
in later times received this particular name.
From Eusebius, the great Christian historian, Mr. Parsons, quotes as
What is called the Christian religion is neither new nor
strange, but—if it be lawful to testify as to the truth —
was known to the ancients.
Mr. Arthur Lillie, in Buddha and Buddhism, quotes M. Burnouf as
History and comparative mythology are teaching every day
more plainly that creeds grow slowly up. None came into the
world ready-made, and as if by magic. The origin of events
is lost in the infinite. A great Indian poet has said: “The
beginning of things evades us; their end evades us also; we
see only the middle.”
Before Darwin's day it was considered absurd and impious to talk of
“pre-Adamite man,” and it will still, by many, be held absurd and impious
to talk of “Christianity before Christ.”
And yet the incidents of the life and death of Christ, the teachings of
Christ and His Apostles, and the rites and mysteries of the Christian
Church can all be paralleled by similar incidents, ethics, and ceremonies
embodied in religions long anterior to the birth of Jesus.
Christ is said to have been God come down upon the earth. The idea of a
god coming down upon the earth was quite an old and popular idea at the
time when the Gospels were written. In the Old Testament God makes many
visits to the earth; and the instances in the Greek, Roman, and Egyptian
mythologies of gods coming amongst men and taking part in human affairs
are well known.
Christ is said to have been the Son of God. But the idea of a son-god
is very much older than the Christian religion.
Christ is said to have been a redeemer, and to have descended from a
line of kings. But the idea of a king's son as a redeemer is very much
older than the Christian religion.
Christ is said to have been born of a virgin. But many heroes before
Him were declared to have been born of virgins.
Christ is said to have been born in a cave or stable while His parents
were on a journey. But this also was an old legend long before the
Christ is said to have been crucified. But very many kings, kings'
sons, son-gods, and heroes had been crucified ages before Him.
Christ is said to have been a sacrifice offered up for the salvation of
man. But thousands and thousands of men before Him had been slain as
sacrifices for the general good, or as atonements for general or
Christ is said to have risen from the dead. But that had been said of
other gods before Him.
Christ is said to have ascended into Heaven. But this also was a very
Christ is said to have worked miracles. But all the gods and saints of
all the older religions were said to have worked miracles.
Christ is said to have brought to men, direct from Heaven, a new
message of salvation. But the message He brought was in nowise new.
Christ is said to have preached a new ethic of mercy and peace and
good-will to all men. But this ethic had been preached centuries before
His supposed advent.
The Christians changed the Sabbath from Saturday to Sunday. Sun-day is
the day of the Sun God.
Christ's birthday was fixed on the 25th of December. But the 25th of
December is the day of the Winter solstice—the birthday, of Apollo, the
Sun God—and had been from time immemorial the birthday of the sun gods in
all religions. The Egyptians, Persians, Greeks, Phoenicians, and Teutonic
races all kept the 25th of December as the birthday of the Sun God.
The Christians departed from the monotheism of the Jews, and made their
God a Trinity. The Buddhists and the Egyptians had Holy Trinities long
before. But whereas the Christian Trinity is unreasonable, the older idea
of the Trinity was based upon a perfectly lucid and natural conception.
Christ is supposed by many to have first laid down the Golden Rule, “Do
unto others as you would that they should do unto you.” But the Golden
Rule was laid down centuries before the Christian era.
Two of the most important of the utterances attributed to Christ are
the Lord's Prayer and the Sermon on the Mount. But there is very strong
evidence that the Lord's Prayer was used before Christ's time, and still
stronger evidence that the Sermon on the Mount was a compilation, and was
never uttered by Christ or any other preacher in the form in which it is
given by St. Matthew.
Christ is said to have been tempted of the Devil. But apart from the
utter absurdity of the Devil's tempting God by offering Him the
sovereignty of the earth—when God had already the sovereignty of twenty
millions of suns—it is related of Buddha that he also was tempted of the
Devil centuries before Christ was born.
The idea that one man should die as a sacrifice to the gods on behalf
of many, the idea that the god should be slain for the good of men, the
idea that the blood of the human or animal “scapegoat” had power to purify
or to save, the idea that a king or a king's son should expiate the sins
of a tribe by his death, and the idea that a god should offer himself as a
sacrifice to himself in atonement for the sins of his people—all these
were old ideas, and ideas well known to the founders of Christianity.
The resemblances of the legendary lives of Christ and Buddha are
surprising: so also are the resemblances of forms and ethics of the
ancient Buddhists and the early Christians.
Mr. Arthur Lillie, in Buddha and Buddhism, makes the following
quotation from M. Leon de Rosny:
The astonishing points of contact between the popular legend
of Buddha and that of Christ, the almost absolute similarity
of the moral lessons given to the world between these two
peerless teachers of the human race, the striking affinities
between the customs of the Buddhists and the Essenes, of whom
Christ must have been a disciple, suggest at once an Indian
origin to Primitive Christianity.
Mr. Lillie goes on to say that there was a sect of Essenes in Palestine
fifty years B.C., and that fifty years after the death of Christ there
existed in Palestine a similar sect, from whom Christianity was derived.
Mr. Lillie says of these sects:
Each had two prominent rites: baptism, and what Tertullian
calls the “oblation of bread.” Each had for officers, deacons,
presbyters, ephemerents. Each sect had monks, nuns, celibacy,
community of goods. Each interpreted the Old Testament in a
mystical way—so mystical, in fact, that it enabled each to
discover that the bloody sacrifice of Mosaism was forbidden,
not enjoined. The most minute likenesses have been pointed
out between these two sects by all Catholic writers from
Eusebius to the poet Racine... Was there any connection
between these two sects? It is difficult to conceive that
there can be two answers to such a question.
The resemblances between Buddhism and Christianity were accounted for
by the Christian Fathers very simply. The Buddhists had been instructed by
the Devil, and there was no more to be said. Later Christian scholars face
the difficulty by declaring that the Buddhists copied from the Christians.
Reminded that Buddha lived five hundred years before Christ, and that
the Buddhist religion was in its prime two hundred years before Christ,
the Christian apologist replies that, for all that, the Buddhist
Scriptures are of comparatively late date. Let us see how the matter
The resemblances of the two religions are of two kinds. There is,
first, the resemblance between the Christian life of Christ and the Indian
life of Buddha; and there is, secondly, the resemblance between the moral
teachings of Christ and Buddha.
Now, if the Indian Scriptures are of later date than the
Gospels, it is just possible that the Buddhists may have copied incidents
from the life of Christ.
But it is perfectly certain that the change of borrowing cannot be
brought against Augustus Caesar, Plato, and the compilers of the
mythologies of Egypt and Greece and Rome. And it is as certain that the
Christians did borrow from the Jews as that the Jews borrowed from
Babylon. But a little while ago all Christendom would have denied the
indebtedness of Moses to King Sargon.
Now, since the Christian ideas were anticipated by the Babylonians, the
Egyptians, the Romans, and the Greeks, why should we suppose that they
were copied by the Buddhists, whose religion was triumphant some centuries
And, again, while there is no reason to suppose that Christian
missionaries in the early centuries of the era made any appreciable
impression on India or China, there is good reason to suppose that the
Buddhists, who were the first and most successful of all missionaries,
reached Egypt and Persia and Palestine, and made their influence felt.
I now turn to the statement of M. Burnouf, quoted by Mr. Lillie. M.
Burnouf asserts that the Indian origin of Christianity is no longer
It has been placed in full light by the researches of scholars,
and notably English scholars, and by the publication of the
original texts... In point of fact, for a long time folks had
been struck with the resemblances—or, rather, the identical
elements—contained in Christianity and Buddhism. Writers
of the firmest faith and most sincere piety have admitted them.
In the last century these analogies were set down to the
Nestorians; but since then the science of Oriental chronology
has come into being, and proved that Buddha is many years
anterior to Nestorius and Jesus. Thus the Nestorian theory
had to be given up. But a thing may be posterior to another
without proving derivation. So the problem remained unsolved
until recently, when the pathway that Buddhism followed was
traced step by step from India to Jerusalem.
There was baptism before Christ, and before John the Baptist. There
were gods, man-gods, son-gods, and saviours before Christ. There were
Bibles, hymns, temples, monasteries, priests, monks, missionaries,
crosses, sacraments, and mysteries before Christ.
Perhaps the most important sacrament of the Christian religion to-day
is the Eucharist, or Lord's Supper. But this idea of the Eucharist, or the
ceremonial eating of the god, has its roots far back in the prehistoric
days of religious cannibalism. Prehistoric man believed that if he ate
anything its virtue passed into his physical system. Therefore he began by
devouring his gods, body and bones. Later, man mended his manners so far
as to substitute animal for human sacrifice; still later he employed bread
and wine as symbolical substitutes for flesh and blood. This is the origin
and evolution of the strange and, to many of us, repulsive idea of eating
the body and drinking the blood of Christ.
Now, supposing these facts to be as I have stated them above, to what
conclusion do they point?
Bear in mind the statement of M. Burnouf, that religions are built up
slowly by a process of adaptation; add that to the statements of Eusebius,
the great Christian historian, and of St. Augustine, the great Christian
Father, that the Christian religion is no new thing, but was known to the
ancients, and does it not seem most reasonable to suppose that
Christianity is a religion founded on ancient myths and legends, on
ancient ethics, and on ancient allegorical mysteries and metaphysical
To support those statements with adequate evidence I should have to
compile a book four times as large as the present volume. As I have not
room to state the case properly, I shall content myself with the
recommendation of some books in which the reader may study the subject for
A list of these books I now subjoin:
The Golden Bough. Frazer. Macmillan &Co.
A Short History of Christianity. Robertson. Watts &Co.
The Evolution of the Idea of God. Grant Allen. Rationalist
Buddha and Buddhism. Lillie. Clark.
Our Sun God. Parsons. Parsons.
Christianity and Mythology. Robertson. Watts &Co.
Pagan Christs. Robertson. Watts &Co.
The Legend of Perseus. Hartland. Nutt.
The Birth of Jesus. Soltau. Black.
The above are all scholarly and important books, and should be
For reasons given above I claim, with regard to the divinity and
Resurrection of Jesus Christ:
That outside the New Testament there is no evidence of any
value to show that Christ ever lived, that He ever taught,
that He ever rose from the dead.
That the evidence of the New Testament is anonymous, is
contradictory, is loaded with myths and miracles.
That the Gospels do not contain a word of proof by any
eye-witness as to the fact that Christ was really dead;
nor the statement of any eye-witness that He was seen to
return to life and quit His tomb.
That Paul, who preached the Resurrection of Christ, did not
see Christ dead, did not see Him arise from the dead, did
not see Him ascend into Heaven.
That Paul nowhere supports the Gospel accounts of Christ's
life and teaching.
That the Gospels are of mixed and doubtful origin, that they
show signs of interpolation and tampering, and that they have
been selected from a number of other Gospels, all of which
were once accepted as genuine.
And that, while there is no real evidence of the life or the
teachings, or the Resurrection of Christ, there is a great
deal of evidence to show that the Gospels were founded upon
anterior legends and older ethics.
But Christian apologists offer other reasons why we should accept the
stories of the miraculous birth and Resurrection of Christ as true. Let us
examine these reasons, and see what they amount to.
Archdeacon Wilson gives two reasons for accepting the doctrines of
Christ's divinity and Resurrection as true. The first of these reasons is,
the success of the Christian religion; the second is, the evolution of the
Christlike type of character.
If the success of the Christian religion proves that Christ was God,
what does the success of the Buddhist religion prove? What does the
success of the Mohammedan religion prove?
Was Buddha God? Was Mahomet God?
The archdeacon does not believe in any miracles but those of his own
religion. But if the spread of a faith proves its miracles to be true,
what can be said about the spread of the Buddhist and Mohammedan
Islam spread faster and farther than Christianity. So did Buddhism.
To-day the numbers of these religions are somewhat as follows:
Buddhist: 450 millions.
Christians: 375 millions, of which only 180 millions are Protestants.
Hindus: 200 millions.
Mohammedans: 160 millions.
It will be seen that the Buddhist religion is older than Christianity,
and has more followers. What does that prove?
But as to the reasons for the great growth of these two religions I
will say more by and by. At present I merely repeat that the Buddhist
faith owed a great deal to the fact that King Asoka made it the State
religion of a great kingdom, and that Christianity owes a great deal to
the fact that Constantine adopted it as the State religion of the Roman
We come now to the archdeacon's second argument: that the divinity of
Christ is proved by the evolution of the Christlike type of character.
And here the archdeacon makes a most surprising statement, for he says
that type of character was unknown on this globe until Christ came.
Then how are we to account for King Asoka?
The King Asoka of the Rock Edicts was as spiritual, as gentle, as pure,
and as loving as the Christ of the Gospels.
The King Asoka of the Rock Edicts was wiser, more tolerant, more humane
than the Christ of the Gospels.
Nowhere did Christ or the Fathers of His Church forbid slavery; nowhere
did they forbid religious intolerance; nowhere did they forbid cruelty to
The type of character displayed by the rock inscriptions of King Asoka
was a higher and sweeter type than the type of character displayed by the
Jesus of the Gospels.
Does this prove that King Asoka or his teacher, Buddha, was divine?
Does it prove that the Buddhist faith is the only true faith? I shall
treat this question more fully in another chapter.
Another Christian argument is the claim that the faithfulness of the
Christian martyrs proves Christianity to be true. A most amazing argument.
The fact that a man dies for a faith does not prove the faith to be true;
it proves that he believes it to be true—a very different thing.
The Jews denied the Christian faith, and died for their own. Does that
prove that Christianity was not true? Did the Protestant martyrs prove
Protestantism true? Then the Catholic martyrs proved the reverse.
The Christians martyred or murdered millions, many millions, of
innocent men and women. Does that prove that Christ was divine? No:
it only proves that Christians could be fanatical, intolerant, bloody, and
And now, will you ponder these words of Arthur Lillie, M.A., the author
of Buddha and Buddhism? Speaking of the astonishing success of the
Buddhist missionaries, Mr. Lillie says:
This success was effected by moral means alone, for Buddhism
is the one religion guiltless of coercion.
Christians are always boasting of the wonderful good works wrought by
their religion. They are silent about the horrors, infamies, and shames of
which it has been guilty.
Buddhism is the only religion with no blood upon its hands. I submit
another very significant quotation from Mr. Lillie:
I will write down a few of the achievements of this inactive Buddha and
the army of Bhikshus that he directed:
1. The most formidable priestly tyranny that the world had ever seen
crumbled away before his attack, and the followers of Buddha were
paramount in India for a thousand years.
2. The institution of caste was assailed and overthrown.
3. Polygamy was for the first time assailed and overturned.
4. Woman, from being considered a chattel and a beast of burden, was
for the first time considered man's equal, and allowed to develop
her spiritual life.
5. All bloodshed, whether with the knife of the priest or the sword
of the conqueror, was rigidly forbidden.
6. Also, for the first time in the religious history of mankind, the
awakening of the spiritual life of the individual was substituted
for religion by body corporate.
7. The principle of religious propagandism was for the first time
introduced with its two great instruments, the missionary and
To that list we may add that Buddhism abolished slavery and religious
persecution; taught temperance, chastity, and humanity; and invented the
higher morality and the idea of the brotherhood of the entire human race.
What does that prove? It seems to me to prove that Archdeacon
Wilson is mistaken.
What is Christianity? When I began to discuss religion in the
Clarion I thought I knew what Christianity was. I thought it was the
religion I had been taught as a boy in Church of England and
Congregationalist Sunday schools. But since then I have read many books,
and pamphlets, and sermons, and articles intended to explain what
Christianity is, and I begin to think there are as many kinds of
Christianity as there are Christians. The differences are numerous and
profound: they are astonishing. That must be a strange revelation of God
which can be so differently interpreted.
Well, I cannot describe all these variants, nor can I reduce them to a
common denominator. The most I can pretend to offer is a selection of some
few doctrines to which all or many Christians would subscribe.
1. All Christians believe in a Supreme Being, called God, who
created all beings. They all believe that He is a good and
loving God, and our Heavenly Father.
2. Most Christians believe in Free Will.
3. All Christians believe that Man has sinned and does sin against God.
4. All Christians believe that Jesus Christ is in some way necessary
to Man's “salvation,” and that without Christ Man will be “lost.”
But when we ask for the meaning of the terms “salvation” and “lost"
the Christians give conflicting or divergent answers.
5. All Christians believe in the immortality of the soul. And I
think they all, or nearly all, believe in some kind of future
punishment or reward.
6. Most Christians believe that Christ was God.
7. Most Christians believe that after crucifixion Christ rose from
the dead and ascended into Heaven.
8. Most Christians believe, or think they believe, in the efficacy
9. Most Christians believe in a Devil; but he is a great many different
kinds of a Devil.
Of these beliefs I should say:
1. As to God. If there is no God, or if God is not a loving Heavenly
Father, who answers prayer, Christianity as a religion cannot stand.
I do not pretend to say whether there is or is not a God, but I deny
that there is a loving Heavenly Father who answers prayer.
2 and 3. If there is no such thing as Free Will Man could not sin
against God, and Christianity as a religion will not stand.
I deny the existence of Free Will, and possibility of Man's sinning
4. If Jesus Christ is not necessary to Man's “salvation,” Christianity
as a religion will not stand.
I deny that Christ is necessary to Man's salvation from Hell or from
5. I do not assert or deny the immortality of the soul. I know nothing
about the soul, and no man is or ever was able to tell me more than I
Of the remaining four doctrines I will speak in due course.
I spoke just now of the religion I was taught in my boyhood, some forty
years ago. As that religion seems to be still very popular I will try to
express it as briefly as I can.
Adam was the first man, and the father of the human race. He was
created by God, in the likeness of God: that is to say, he was made
But, being tempted of the Devil, Adam sinned: he fell. God was so angry
with Adam for his sin that He condemned him and all his descendants for
five thousand years to a Hell of everlasting fire.
After consigning all the generations of men for five thousand years to
horrible torment in Hell, God sent His Son, Jesus Christ, down on earth to
die, and to go Hell for three days, as an atonement for the sin of Adam.
After Christ rose from the dead all who believed on Him and were
baptised would go to Heaven. All who did not believe on Him, or were not
baptised, would go to Hell, and burn for ever in a lake of fire.
That is what we were taught in our youth; and that is what millions of
Christians believe to-day. That is the old religion of the Fall, of
“Inherited Sin,” of “Universal Damnation,” and of atonement by the blood
There is a new religion now, which shuts out Adam and Eve, and the
serpent, and the hell of fire, but retains the “Fall,” the “Sin against
God,” and the “Atonement by Christ.”
But in the new Atonement, as I understand, or try to understand it,
Christ is said to be God Himself, come down to win back to Himself Man,
who had estranged himself from God, or else God (as Christ) died to save
Man, not from Hell, but from Sin.
All these theories, old and new, seem to me impossible.
I will deal first, in a short way, with the new theories of the
If Christ died to save Man from sin, how is it that nineteen centuries
after His death the world is full of sin?
If God (the All-powerful God, who loves us better than an earthly
father loves his children) wished to forgive us the sin Adam committed
ages before we were born, why did He not forgive us without dying, or
causing His Son to die, on a cross?
If Christ is essential to a good life on earth, how is it that many who
believe in Him lead bad lives, while many of the best men and women of
this and former ages either never heard of Christ or did not follow Him?
As to the theory that Christ (or God) died to win back Man to Himself,
it does not harmonise with the facts.
Man never did estrange himself from God. All history shows that Man has
persistently and anxiously sought for God, and has served Him, according
to his light, with a blind devotion even to death and crime.
Finally, Man never did, and never could, sin against God. For Man is
what God made him; could only act as God enabled him, or constructed him
to act, and therefore was not responsible for his act, and could not sin
If God is responsible for Man's existence, God is responsible for Man's
act. Therefore Man cannot sin against God.
But I shall deal more fully with the subject of Free Will, and of the
need for Christ as our Saviour, in another part of this book.
Let us now turn to the old idea of the Fall and the Atonement.
First, as to Adam and the Fall and inherited sin. Evolution, historical
research, and scientific criticism have disposed of Adam. Adam was a myth.
Hardly any educated Christians now regard him as an historic person.
But—no Adam, no Fall; no Fall, no Atonement; no Atonement, no Saviour.
Accepting Evolution, how can we believe in a Fall? When did Man
fall? Was it before he ceased to be a monkey, or after? Was it when he was
a tree man, or later? Was it in the Stone Age, or the Bronze Age, or in
the Age of Iron?
There never was any “Fall.” Evolution proves a long slow rise.
And if there never was a Fall, why should there be any Atonement?
Christians accepting the theory of evolution have to believe that God
allowed the sun to form out of the nebula, and the earth to form from the
sun, that He allowed Man to develop slowly from the speck of protoplasm in
the sea. That at some period of Man's gradual evolution from the brute,
God found Man guilty of some sin, and cursed him. That some thousands of
years later God sent His only Son down upon the earth to save Man from
But evolution shows Man to be, even now, an imperfect creature, an
unfinished work, a building still undergoing alterations, an animal still
Whereas the doctrines of “the Fall” and the Atonement assume that he
was from the first a finished creature, and responsible to God for his
This old doctrine of the Fall, and the Curse, and the Atonement is
against reason as well as against science.
The universe is boundless. We know it to contain millions of suns, and
suppose it to contain millions of millions of suns. Our sun is but a speck
in the universe. Our earth is but a speck in the solar system.
Are we to believe that the God who created all this boundless universe
got so angry with the children of the apes that He condemned them all to
Hell for two score centuries, and then could only appease His rage by
sending His own Son to be nailed upon a cross? Do you believe that? Can
you believe it?
No. As I said before, if the theory of evolution be true, there was
nothing to atone for, and nobody to atone. Man has never sinned against
God. In fact, the whole of this old Christian doctrine is a mass of
error. There was no creation. There was no Fall. There was no Atonement.
There was no Adam, and no Eve, and no Eden, and no Devil, and no Hell.
If God is all-powerful, He had power to make Man by nature incapable of
sin. But if, having the power to make Man incapable of sin, God made Man
so weak as to “fall,” then it was God who sinned against Man, and not Man
For if I had power to train a son of mine to righteousness, and I
trained him to wickedness, should I not sin against my son?
Or if a man had power to create a child of virtue and intellect, but
chose rather to create a child who was by nature a criminal or an idiot,
would not that man sin against his child?
And do you believe that “our Father in Heaven, our All-powerful God,
who is Love,” would first create man fallible, and then punish him for
And if He did so create and so punish man, could you call that just or
And if God is our “maker,” who but He is responsible for our make-up?
And if He alone is responsible, how can Man have sinned against God?
I maintain that besides being unhistorical and unreasonable, the old
doctrine of the Atonement is unjust and immoral.
The doctrine of the Atonement is not just nor moral, because it implies
that man should not be punished or rewarded according to his own merit or
demerit, but according to the merit of another.
Is it just, or is it moral, to make the good suffer for the bad?
Is it just or moral to forgive one man his sin because another is
sinless? Such a doctrine—the doctrine of Salvation for Christ's sake, and
after a life of crime—holds out inducements to sin.
Repentance is only good because it is the precursor of reform. But no
repentance can merit pardon, nor atone for wrong. If, having done wrong, I
repent, and afterwards do right, that is good. But to be sorry and not to
reform is not good.
If I do wrong, my repentance will not cancel that wrong. An act
performed is performed for ever.
If I cut a man's hand off, I may repent, and he may pardon me. But
neither my remorse nor his forgiveness will make the hand grow again. And
if the hand could grow again, the wrong I did would still have been done.
That is a stern morality, but it is moral. Your doctrine of pardon “for
Christ's sake” is not moral. God acts unjustly when He pardons for
Christ's sake. Christ acts unjustly when He asks that pardon be granted
for his sake. If one man injures another, the prerogative of pardon should
belong to the injured man. It is for him who suffers to forgive.
If your son injure your daughter, the pardon must come from her. It
would not be just for you to say: “He has wronged you, and has made no
atonement, but I forgive him.” Nor would it be just for you to forgive him
because another son of yours was willing to be punished in his stead. Nor
would it be just for that other son to come forward, and say to you, and
not to his injured sister, “Father, forgive him for my sake.”
He who wrongs a fellow-creature wrongs himself as well, and wrongs both
for all eternity. Let this awful thought keep us just. It is more moral
and more corrective than any trust in the vicarious atonement of a
Christ's Atonement, or any other person's atonement, cannot justly
be accepted. For the fact that Christ is willing to suffer for another
man's sin only counts to the merit of Christ, and does not in any way
diminish the offence of the sinner. If I am bad, does it make my offence
the less that another man is so much better?
If a just man had two servants, and one of them did wrong, and if the
other offered to endure a flogging in expiation of his fault, what would
the just man do?
To flog John for the fault of James would be to punish John for being
better than James. To forgive James because John had been unjustly flogged
would be to assert that because John was good, and because the master had
acted unjustly, James the guilty deserved to be forgiven.
This is not only contrary to reason and to justice: it is also a very