I have said several times that Man could not and cannot sin against
This is the theory of Determinism, and I will now explain it.
If God is responsible for Man's existence, God is responsible for
The Christian says God is our Maker. God made Man.
Who is responsible for the quality or powers of a thing that is made?
The thing that is made cannot be responsible, for it did not make
itself. But the maker is responsible, for he made it.
As Man did not make himself, and had neither act, nor voice, nor
suggestion, nor choice in the creation of his own nature, Man cannot be
held answerable for the qualities or powers of his nature, and therefore
cannot be held responsible for his acts.
If God made Man, God is responsible for the qualities and powers of
Man's nature, and therefore God is responsible for Man's acts.
Christian theology is built upon the sandy foundation of the doctrine
of Free Will. The Christian theory may be thus expressed:
God gave Man a will to choose. Man chose evil, therefore Man is wicked,
and deserves punishment.
The Christian says God gave Man a will. The will, then, came
from God, and was not made nor selected by Man.
And this Will, the Christian says, is the “power to choose.”
Then, this “power to choose” is of God's making and of God's gift.
Man has only one will, therefore he has only one “power of choice.”
Therefore he has no power of choice but the power God gave him. Then, Man
can only choose by means of that power which God gave him, and he cannot
choose by any other means.
Then, if Man chooses evil, he chooses evil by means of the power of
choice God gave him.
Then, if that power of choice given to him by God makes for evil, it
follows that Man must choose evil, since he has no other power of choice.
Then, the only power of choice God gave Man is a power that will choose
Then, Man is unable to choose good because his only power of choice
will choose evil.
Then, as Man did not make nor select his power of choice, Man cannot be
blamed if that power chooses evil.
Then, the blame must be God's, who gave Man a power of choice that
would choose evil.
Then, Man cannot sin against God, for Man can only use the power God
gave him, and can only use that power in the way in which that power will
The word “will” is a misleading word. What is will? Will is not a
faculty, like the faculty of speech or touch. The word will is a symbol,
and means the balance between two motives or desires.
Will is like the action of balance in a pair of scales. It is the
weights in the scales that decide the balance. So it is the motives in the
mind that decide the will. When a man chooses between two acts we say that
he “exercises his will”; but the fact is, that one motive weighs down the
other, and causes the balance of the mind to lean to the weightier reason.
There is no such thing as an exterior will outside the man's brain, to
push one scale down with a finger. Will is abstract, not concrete.
A man always “wills” in favour of the weightier motive. If he loves the
sense of intoxication more than he loves his self-respect, he will drink.
If the reasons in favour of sobriety seem to him to outweigh the reasons
in favour of drink, he will keep sober.
Will, then, is a symbol for the balance of motives. Motives are born of
the brain. Therefore will depends upon the action of the brain.
God made the brain; therefore God is responsible for the action of the
brain; therefore God is responsible for the action of the will.
Therefore Man is not responsible for the action of the will. Therefore
Man cannot sin against God.
Christians speak of the will as if it were a kind of separate soul, a
“little cherub who sits up aloft” and gives the man his course.
Let us accept this idea of the will. Let us suppose that a separate
soul or faculty called the will governs the mind. That means that the
“little cherub” governs the man.
Can the man be justly blamed for the acts of the cherub?
No. Man did not make the cherub, did not select the cherub, and is
obliged to obey the cherub.
God made the cherub, and gave him command of the man. Therefore God
alone is responsible for the acts the man performs in obedience to the
If God put a beggar on horseback, would the horse be blamable for
galloping to Monte Carlo? The horse must obey the rider. The rider was
made by God. How, then, can God blame the horse?
If God put a “will” on Adam's back, and the will followed the beckoning
finger of Eve, whose fault was that?
The old Christian doctrine was that Adam was made perfect, and that he
fell. (How could the “perfect” fall?)
Why did Adam fall? He fell because the woman tempted him.
Then Adam was not strong enough to resist the woman. Then, the woman
had power to overcome Adam's will. As the Christian would express it, “Eve
had the stronger will.”
Who made Adam? God made him. Who made Eve? God made her. Who made the
Serpent? God made the Serpent.
Then, if God made Adam weak, and Eve seductive, and the Serpent subtle,
was that Adam's fault or God's?
Did Adam choose that Eve should have a stronger will than he, or that
the Serpent should have a stronger will than Eve? No. God fixed all those
God is all-powerful. He could have made Adam strong enough to resist
Eve. He could have made Eve strong enough to resist the Serpent. He need
not have made the Serpent at all.
God is all-knowing. Therefore, when He made Adam and Eve and the
Serpent He knew that Adam and Eve must fall. And if God knew they
must fall, how could Adam help falling, and how could he justly
be blamed for doing what he must do?
God made a bridge—built it Himself, of His own materials, to His
own design, and knew what the bearing strain of the bridge was.
If, then, God put upon the bridge a weight equal to double the bearing
strain, how could God justly blame the bridge for falling?
The doctrine of Free Will implies that God knowingly made the Serpent
subtle, Eve seductive, and Adam weak, and then damned the whole human race
because a bridge He had built to fall did not succeed in standing.
Such a theory is ridiculous; but upon it depends the entire fabric of
For if Man is not responsible for his acts, and therefore cannot sin
against God, there is no foundation for the doctrines of the Fall, the
Sin, the Curse, or the Atonement.
If Man cannot sin against God, and if God is responsible for all Man's
acts, the Old Testament is not true, the New Testament is not true, the
Christian religion is not true.
And if you consider the numerous crimes and blunders of the Christian
Church, you will always find that they grew out of the theory of Free
Will, and the doctrines of Man's sin against God, and Man's responsibility
St. Paul said, “As in Adam all men fell, so in Christ are all made
whole.” If Adam did not fall St. Paul was mistaken.
Christ is reported to have prayed on the cross, “Father, forgive them,
for they know not what they do.”
That looks as if Jesus knew that the men were not responsible for their
acts, and did not know any better. But if they knew not what they did, why
should God be asked to forgive them?
But let us go over the Determinist theory again, for it is most
If God is responsible for Man's existence, God is responsible for
The Christians say Man sinned, and they talk about his freedom of
choice. But they say God made Man, as He made all things.
Now, if God is all-knowing, He knew before He made Man what Man would
do. He knew that Man could do nothing but what God had enabled him to do.
That he could do nothing but what he was foreordained by God to do.
If God is all-powerful, He need not have made Man at all. Or He could
have made a man who would be strong enough to resist temptation. Or He
could have made a man who was incapable of evil.
If the All-powerful God made a man, knowing that man would succumb to
the test to which God meant to subject him, surely God could not justly
blame the man for being no better than God had made him.
If God had never made Man, then Man never could have succumbed to
temptation. God made Man of His own divine choice, and made him to His own
How, then, could God blame Man for anything Man did?
God was responsible for Man's existence, for God made him. If
God had not made him, Man could never have been, and could never have
acted. Therefore all that Man did was the result of God's creation of Man.
All man's acts were the effects of which his creation was the cause:
and God was responsible for the cause, and therefore God was responsible
for the effects.
Man did not make himself. Man could not, before he existed, have asked
God to make him. Man could not advise nor control God so as to influence
his own nature. Man could only be what God caused him to be, and do what
God enabled or compelled him to do.
Man might justly say to God: “I did not ask to be created. I did not
ask to be sent into this world. I had no power to select or mould my
nature. I am what You made me. I am where You put me. You knew when You
made me how I should act. If You wished me to act otherwise, why did You
not make me differently? If I have displeased You, I was fore-ordained to
displease You. I was fore-ordained by You to be and to do what I am and
have done. Is it my fault that You fore-ordained me to be and to do thus?”
Christians say a man has a will to choose. So he has. But that is only
saying that one human thought will outweigh another. A man thinks with his
brain: his brain was made by God.
A tall man can reach higher than a short man. It is not the fault of
the short man that he is outreached: he did not fix his own height.
It is the same with the will. A man has a will to jump. He can jump
over a five-barred gate; but he cannot jump over a cathedral.
So with his will in moral matters. He has a will to resist temptation,
but though he may clear a small temptation, he may fall at a large one.
The actions of a man's will are as mathematically fixed at his birth as
are the motions of a planet in its orbit.
God, who made the man and the planet, is responsible for the actions of
As the natural forces created by God regulate the influences of Venus
and Mars upon the Earth, so must the natural forces created by God have
regulated the influences of Eve and the Serpent on Adam.
Adam was no more blameworthy for failing to resist the influence of Eve
than the Earth is blameworthy for deviating in its course around the Sun,
in obedience to the influences of Venus and Mars.
Without the act of God there could have been no Adam, and therefore no
Fall. God, whose act is responsible for Adam's existence, is responsible
for the Fall.
If God is responsible for man's existence, God is responsible for
all Man's acts.
If a boy brought a dog into the house and teased it until it bit him,
would not his parents ask the boy, “Why did you bring the dog in at all?”
But if the boy had trained the dog to bite, and knew that it would bite
if it were teased, and if the boy brought the dog in and teased it until
it bit him, would the parents blame the dog?
And if a magician, like one of those at the court of Pharaoh,
deliberately made an adder out of the dust, knowing the adder would bite,
and then played with the adder until it bit some spectator, would the
injured man blame the magician or the adder?
How, then, could God blame Man for the Fall?
But you may ask me, with surprise, as so many have asked me with
surprise, “Do you really mean that no man is, under any circumstances, to
be blamed for anything he may say or do?”
And I shall answer you that I do seriously mean that no man can, under
any circumstances, be justly blamed for anything he may say or do. That is
one of my deepest convictions, and I shall try very hard to prove that it
But you may say, as many have said: “If no man can be justly blamed for
anything he says or does, there is an end of all law and order, and
society is impossible.”
And I shall answer you: “No, on the contrary, there is a beginning of
law and order, and a chance that society may become civilised.”
For it does not follow that because we may not blame a man we may not
condemn his acts. Nor that because we do not blame him we are bound to
allow him to do all manner of mischief.
Several critics have indignantly exclaimed that I make no difference
between good men and bad, that I lump Torquemada, Lucrezia Borgia, Fenelon,
and Marcus Aurelius together, and condone the most awful crimes.
That is a mistake. I regard Lucrezia Borgia as a homicidal maniac, and
Torquemada as a religious maniac. I do not blame such men and
women. But I should not allow them to do harm.
I believe that nearly all crimes, vices, cruelties, and other evil acts
are due to ignorance or to mental disease. I do not hate the man who calls
me an infidel, a liar, a blasphemer, or a quack. I know that he is
ignorant, or foolish, or ill-bred, or vicious, and I am sorry for him.
Socrates, as reported by Xenophon, put my case in a nutshell. When a
friend complained to Socrates that a man whom he had saluted had not
saluted him in return, the father of philosophy replied: “It is an odd
thing that if you had met a man ill-conditioned in body you would not have
been angry; but to have met a man rudely disposed in mind provokes you.”
This is sound philosophy, I think. If we pity a man with a twist in his
spine, why should we not pity the man with a twist in his brain? If we
pity a man with a stiff wrist, why not the man with a stiff pride? If we
pity a man with a weak heart, why not the man with the weak will? If we do
not blame a man for one kind of defect, why blame him for another?
But it does not follow that because we neither hate nor blame a
criminal we should allow him to commit crime.
We do not blame a rattlesnake, nor a shark. These creatures only fulfil
their natures. The shark who devours a baby is no more sinful than the
lady who eats a shrimp. We do not blame the maniac who burns a house down
and brains a policeman, nor the mad dog who bites a minor poet. But, none
the less, we take steps to defend ourselves against snakes, sharks,
lunatics, and mad dogs.
The Clarion does not hate a cruel sweater, nor a tyrannous
landlord, nor a shuffling Minister of State, nor a hypocritical
politician: it pities such poor creatures. Yet the Clarion opposes
sweating and tyranny and hypocrisy, and does its best to defeat and to
If a tiger be hungry he naturally seeks food. I do not blame the tiger;
but if he endeavoured to make his dinner off our business manager, and if
I had a gun, I should shoot the tiger.
We do not hate nor blame the blight that destroys our roses and our
vines. The blight is doing what we do: he is trying to live. But we
destroy the blight to preserve our roses and our grapes.
So we do not blame an incendiary. But we are quite justified in
protecting life and property. Dangerous men must be restrained. In cases
where they attempt to kill and maim innocent and useful citizens, as, for
instance, by dynamite outrages, they must, in the last resort, be killed.
“But,” you may say, “the dynamiter knows it is wrong to wreck a street
and murder inoffensive strangers, and yet he does it. Is not that free
will? Is he not blameworthy?”
And I answer that when a man does wrong he does it because he knows no
better, or because he is naturally vicious.
And I hold that in neither case is he to blame: for he did not make his
nature, nor did he make the influences which have operated on that nature.
Man is a creature of Heredity and Environment. He is by Heredity what
his ancestors have made him (or what God has made him). Up to the moment
of his birth he has had nothing to do with the formation of his character.
As Professor Tyndall says, “that was done for him, and not by
him.” From the moment of his birth he is what his inherited nature, and
the influences into which he has been sent without his consent, have made
An omniscient being—like God—who knew exactly what a man's nature would
be at birth, and exactly the nature of the influences to which he would be
exposed after his birth, could predict every act and word of that man's
Given a particular nature; given particular influences, the result will
be as mathematically inevitable as the speed and orbit of a planet.
Man is what heredity (or God) and environment make him. Heredity gives
him his nature. That comes from his ancestors. Environment modifies his
nature: environment consists of the operation of forces external to his
nature. No man can select his ancestors; no man can select his
environment. His ancestors make his nature; other men, and circumstances,
modify his nature.
Ask any horse-breeder why he breeds from the best horses, and not from
the worst. He will tell you, because good horses are not bred from bad
Ask any father why he would prefer that his son should mix with good
companions rather than with bad companions. He will tell you that evil
communications corrupt good manners, and pitch defiles.
Heredity decides how a man shall be bred; environment regulates what he
One man is a critic, another is a poet. Each is what heredity and
environment have made him. Neither is responsible for his heredity nor for
If the critic repents his evil deeds, it is because something has
happened to awake his remorse. Someone has told him of the error of his
ways. That adviser is part of his environment.
If the poet takes to writing musical comedies, it is because some evil
influence has corrupted him. That evil influence is part of his
Neither of these men is culpable for what he has done. With nobler
heredity, or happier environment, both might have been journalists; with
baser heredity, or more vicious environment, either might have been a
millionaire, a Socialist, or even a Member of Parliament.
We are all creatures of heredity and environment. It is Fate, and not
his own merit, that has kept George Bernard Shaw out of a shovel hat and
gaiters, and condemned some Right Honourable Gentlemen to manage State
Departments instead of planting cabbages.
The child born of healthy, moral, and intellectual parents has a better
start in life than the child born of unhealthy, immoral, and
The child who has the misfortune to be born in the vitiated atmosphere
of a ducal palace is at a great disadvantage in comparison with the child
happily born amid the innocent and respectable surroundings of a
semi-detached villa in Brixton.
What chance, then, has a drunkard's baby, born in a thieves' den, and
dragged up amid the ignorant squalor of the slums?
Environment is very powerful for good or evil. Had Shakespeare been
born in the Cannibal Islands he would never have written As You Like It;
had Torquemada been born a Buddhist he never would have taken to roasting
But this, you may say, is sheer Fatalism. Well! It seems to me to be
truth, and philosophy, and sweet charity.
And now I will try to show the difference between this Determinism,
which some think must prove so maleficent, and the Christian doctrine of
Free Will, which many consider so beneficent.
Let us take a flagrant instance of wrong-doing. Suppose some person to
persist in playing “Dolly Grey” on the euphonium, or to contract a baneful
habit of reciting “Curfew shall not Ring” at evening parties, the
Christian believer in Free Will would call him a bad man, and would say he
ought to be punished.
The philosophic Determinist would denounce the offender's conduct,
but would not denounce the offender.
We Determinists do not denounce men; we denounce acts. We
do not blame men; we try to teach them. If they are not teachable we
You will admit that our method is different from the accepted method. I
shall try to convince you that it is also materially better than the
accepted, or Christian, method.
Let us suppose two concrete cases: (1) Bill Sikes beats his wife; (2)
Lord Rackrent evicts his tenants.
Let us first think what would be the orthodox method of dealing with
these two cases?
What would be the orthodox method? The parson and the man in the street
would say Bill Sikes was a bad man, and that he ought to be punished.
The Determinist would say that Bill Sikes had committed a crime, and
that he ought to be restrained, and taught better.
You may tell me there seems to be very little difference in the
practical results of the two methods. But that is because we have not
followed the two methods far enough.
If you will allow me to follow the two methods further you will, I
hope, agree with me that their results will not be identical, but that our
results will be immeasurably better.
For the orthodox method is based upon the erroneous dogma that Bill
Sikes had a free will to choose between right and wrong, and, having
chosen to do wrong, he is a bad man, and ought to be punished.
But the Determinist bases his method upon the philosophical theory that
Bill Sikes is what heredity and environment have made him; and that he is
not responsible for his heredity, which he did not choose, nor for his
environment, which he did not make.
Still, you may think the difference is not effectively great. But it
is. For the Christian would blame Bill Sikes, and no one but Bill Sikes.
But the Determinist would not blame Sikes at all: he would blame his
Is not that a material difference? But follow it out to its logical
results. The Christian, blaming only Bill Sikes, because he had a “free
will,” would punish Sikes, and perhaps try to convert Sikes; and there his
effort would logically end.
The Determinist would say: “If this man Sikes has been reared in a
slum, has not been educated, nor morally trained, has been exposed to all
kinds of temptation, the fault is that of the social system which has made
such ignorance, and vice, and degradation possible.”
That is one considerable difference between the results of a
good religion and a bad one. The Christian condemns the man—who is a
victim of evil social conditions. The Determinist condemns the evil
conditions. It is the difference between the methods of sending individual
sufferers from diphtheria to the hospital and the method of condemning the
But you may cynically remind me that nothing will come of the
Determinists' protest against the evil social conditions. Perhaps not. Let
us waive that question for a moment, and consider our second case.
Lord Rackrent evicts his tenants. The orthodox method is well known. It
goes no further than the denunciation of the peer, and the raising of a
subscription (generally inadequate) for the sufferers.
The Determinist method is different. The Determinist would say: “This
peer is what heredity and environment have made him. We cannot blame him
for being what he is. We can only blame his environment. There must be
something wrong with a social system which permits one idle peer to ruin
hundreds of industrious producers. This evil social system should be
amended, or evictions will continue.”
That Determinist conclusion would be followed by the usual inadequate
And now we will go back to the point we passed. You may say, in the
case of Sikes and the peer, that the logic of the Determinist is sound,
but ineffective: nothing comes of it.
I admit that nothing comes of it, and I am now going to tell you why
nothing comes of it.
The Determinist cannot put his wisdom into action, because he is in a
So long as Christians have an overwhelming majority who will not touch
the drains, diphtheria must continue.
So long as the universal verdict condemns the victim of a bad system,
and helps to keep the bad system in full working order, so long will evil
flourish and victims suffer.
If you wish to realise the immense superiority of the Determinist
principles over the Christian religion, you have only to imagine what
would happen if the Determinists had a majority as overwhelming as the
majority the Christians now hold.
For whereas the Christian theory of free will and personal
responsibility results in established ignorance and injustice, with no
visible remedies beyond personal denunciation, the prison, and a few coals
and blankets, the Determinist method would result in the abolition of
lords and burglars, of slums and palaces, of caste and snobbery. There
would be no ignorance and no poverty left in the world.
That is because the Determinist understands human nature, and the
Christian does not. It is because the Determinist understands morality,
and the Christian does not.
For the Determinist looks for the cause of wrong-doing in the
environment of the wrong-doer. While the Christian puts all the wrongs
which society perpetrates against the individual, and all the wrongs which
the individual perpetrates against his fellows down to an imaginary “free
Some Free-Willers are fond of crying out: “Once admit that men are not
to be blamed for their actions, and all morality and all improvement will
cease.” But that is a mistake. As I have indicated above, a good many
evils now rife would cease, because then we should attack the evils, and
not the victims of the evils. But it is absurd to suppose that we do not
detest cholera because we do not detest cholera patients, or that we
should cease to hate wrong because we ceased to blame wrong-doers.
Admit the Determinist theory, and all would be taught to do well, and
most would take kindly to the lesson. Because the fact that environment is
so powerful for evil suggests that it is powerful for good. If man is what
he is made, it behoves a nation which desires and prizes good men to be
very earnest and careful in its methods of making them.
I believe that I am what heredity and environment made me. But I know
that I can make myself better or worse if I try. I know that because I
have learnt it, and the learning has been part of my environment.
My claim, as a Determinist, is that it is not so good to punish an
offender as to improve his environment. It is good of the Christians to
open schools and to found charities. But as a Determinist I am bound to
say that there ought to be no such things in the world as poverty and
ignorance, and one of the contributory causes to ignorance and poverty is
the Christian doctrine of free will.
Take away from a man all that God gave him, and there will be nothing
of him left.
Take away from a man all that heredity and environment have given him,
and there will be nothing left.
Man is what he is by the act of God, or the results of heredity and
environment. In either case he is not to blame.
In one case the result is due to the action of his ancestors and
society, in the other to the act of God.
Therefore a man is not responsible for his actions, and cannot sin
If God is responsible for Man's existence, God is responsible for
A religion built upon the doctrine of Free Will and human
responsibility to God is built upon a misconception and must fall.
Christianity is a fabric of impossibilities erected upon a foundation
Perhaps, since I find many get confused on the subject of Free Will
from their consciousness of continually exercising the “power of choice,”
I had better say a few words here on that subject.
You say you have power to choose between two courses. So you have, but
that power is limited and controlled by heredity and environment.
If you have to choose between a showy costume and a plain one you will
choose the one you like best, and you will like best the one which your
nature (heredity) and your training (environment) will lead you to like
You think your will is free. But it is not. You may think you have
power to drown yourself; but you have not.
Your love of life and your sense of duty are too strong for you.
You might think I have power to leave the Clarion and start an
anti-Socialist paper. But I know I have not that power. My nature
(heredity) and my training and habit (environment) are too strong for me.
If you knew a lady was going to choose between a red dress and a grey
one, and if you knew the lady very well, you could guess her choice before
she made it.
If you knew an honourable man was to be offered a bribe to do a
dishonourable act, you would feel sure he would refuse it.
If you knew a toper was to be offered as much free whisky as he could
drink, you would be sure he would not come home sober.
If you knew the nature and the environment of a man thoroughly well,
and the circumstances (all the circumstances) surrounding a choice
of action to be presented to him, and if you were clever enough to work
such a difficult problem, you could forecast his choice before he made it,
as surely as in the case of the lady, the toper, and the honourable man
You have power to choose, then, but you can only choose as your
heredity and environment compel you to choose. And you do not
select your own heredity nor your own environment.
Christian apologists make some daring claims on behalf of their
religion. The truth of Christianity is proved, they say, by its endurance
and by its power; the beneficence of its results testifies to the divinity
of its origin.
These claims command wide acceptance, for the simple reason that those
who deny them cannot get a hearing.
The Christians have virtual command of all the churches, universities,
and schools. They have the countenance and support of the Thrones,
Parliaments, Cabinets, and aristocracies of the world, and they have the
nominal support of the World's Newspaper Press. They have behind them the
traditions of eighteen centuries. They have formidable allies in the shape
of whole schools of philosophy and whole libraries of eloquence and
learning. They have the zealous service and unswerving credence of
millions of honest and worthy citizens: and they are defended by solid
ramparts of prejudice, and sentiment, and obstinate old custom.
The odds against the Rationalists are tremendous. To challenge the
claims of Christianity is easy: to get the challenge accepted is very
hard. Rationalists' books and papers are boycotted. The Christians will
not listen, will not reason, will not, if they can prevent it, allow a
hostile voice to be heard. Thus, from sheer lack of knowledge, the public
accept the Christian apologist's assertions as demonstrated truth.
And the Christians claim this immunity from attack as a triumph of
their arms, and a further proof of the truth of their religion. Religion
has been attacked before, they cry, and where now are its assailants? And
the answer must be, that many of its assailants are in their graves, but
that some of them are yet alive, and there are more to follow. But the
combat is very unequal. If the Rationalists could for only a few years
have the support of the Crowns, Parliaments, Aristocracies, Universities,
Schools, and Newspapers of the world; if they could preach Science and
Reason twice every Sunday from a hundred thousand pulpits, perhaps the
Christians would have less cause for boasting.
But as things are, we “Infidels” must cease to sigh for whirlwinds, and
do the best we can with the bellows.
So: the Christians claim that their religion has done wonders for the
world; a claim disputed by the Rationalists.
Now, when we consider what Christianity has done, we should take
account of the evil as well as the good. But this the Christians are
unwilling to allow.
Christians declare that the divine origin and truth of their religion
are proved by its beneficent results.
But Christianity has done evil as well as good. Mr. G. K. Chesterton,
while defending Christianity in the Daily News, said:
Christianity has committed crimes so monstrous that the sun might
sicken at them in heaven.
And no one can refute that statement.
But Christians evade the dilemma. When the evil works of their religion
are cited, they reply that those evils were wrought by false Christianity,
that they were contrary to the teachings of Christ, and so were not the
deeds of Christians at all.
The Christian Commonwealth, in advancing the above plea as to
real and false Christianity, instances the difference between Astrology
and Astronomy, and said:
We fear Mr. Blatchford, if he has any sense of consistency,
must, when he has finished his tirade against Christianity,
turn his artillery on Greenwich Observatory, and proclaim the
Astronomer Royal a scientific quack, on account of the follies
of star-gazers in the past.
But that parallel is not a true one. Let us suppose that the follies of
astrology and the discoveries of astronomy were bound up in one book, and
called the Word of God. Let us suppose we were told that the whole
book—facts, reason, folly, and falsehoods—was divinely inspired and
literally true. Let us suppose that any one who denied the old crude
errors of astrology was persecuted as a heretic. Let us suppose that any
one denying the theory of Laplace or the theory of Copernicus would be
reviled as an “Infidel.” Let us suppose that the Astronomer Royal claimed
infallibility, not only in matters astronomical, but also in politics and
morals. Let us suppose that for a thousand years the
astrological-astronomical holy government had whipped, imprisoned,
tortured, burnt, hanged, and damned for everlasting every man, woman, or
child who dared to tell it any new truth, and that some of the noblest men
of genius of all ages had been roasted or impaled alive for being rude to
the equator. Let us suppose that millions of pounds were still annually
spent on casting nativities, and that thousands of expensive observatories
were still maintained at the public cost for astrological rites. Let us
suppose all this, and then I should say it would be quite consistent and
quite logical for me to turn my verbal artillery on Greenwich Observatory.
Would the Christians listen to such a plea in any other case? Had
Socialists been guilty of tyranny, or war, of massacre, or torture, of
blind opposition to the truth of science, of cruel persecution of the
finest human spirits for fifteen centuries, can anyone believe for a
moment that Christians would heed the excuse that the founders of
Socialism had not preached the atrocious policy which the established
Socialist bodies and the recognised Socialist leaders had put in force
persistently during all those hundreds of cruel years?
Would the Christian hearken to such a defence from a Socialist, or from
a Mohammedan? Would a Liberal accept it from a Tory? Would a Roman
Catholic admit it from a Jew?
Neither is it right to claim credit for the good deeds, and to avoid
responsibility for the evil deeds of the divine religion.
And the fact must be insisted upon, that all religion, in its
very nature, makes for persecution and oppression. It is the assumption
that it is wicked to doubt the accepted faith and the presumption that one
religion ought to revenge or justify its God upon another religion, that
leads to all the pious crimes the world groans and bleeds for.
This is seen in the Russian outrages on the Jews, and in the Moslem
outrages upon the Macedonians to-day. It is religious fanaticism that
lights and fans and feeds the fire. Were all the people in the world of
one, or of no, religion to-day, there would be no Jews murdered by
Christians and no Christians murdered by Moslems in the East. The cause of
the atrocities would be gone. The cause is religion.
Why is religious intolerance so much more fierce and bitter than
political intolerance? Just because it is religious. It is the
supernatural element that breeds the fury. It is the feeling that their
religion is divine and all other religions wicked: it is the belief that
it is a holy thing to be “jealous for the Lord,” that drives men into
blind rage and ruthless savagery.
We have to regard two things at once, then: the good influences of
Christ's ethics, and the evil deeds of those who profess to be His
As to what some Christians call “the Christianity of Christ,” I suggest
that the teachings of Christ were imperfect and inadequate. That they
contain some moral lessons I admit. But some of the finest and most
generally admired of those lessons do not appear to have been spoken by
Christ, and for the rest there is nothing in His ethics that had not been
taught by men before, and little that has not been extended or improved by
men since His era.
The New Testament, considered as a moral and spiritual guide for
mankind, is unsatisfactory. For it is based upon an erroneous estimate of
human nature and of God.
I am sure that it would be easy to compile a book more suitable to the
needs of Man. I think it is a gross blunder to assume that all the genius,
all the experience, all the discovery and research; all the poetry,
morality, and science of the entire human race during the past eighteen
hundred years have failed to add to or improve the knowledge and morality
of the first century.
Mixed with much that is questionable or erroneous, the New Testament
contains some truth and beauty. Amid the perpetration of much bloodshed
and tyranny, Christianity has certainly achieved some good. I should not
like to say of any religion that all its works were evil. But Christ's
message, as we have it in the Gospels, is neither clear nor sufficing, and
has been obscured, and, at times almost obliterated, by the pomps and
casuistries of the schools and churches. And just as it is difficult to
discover the actual Jesus among the conflicting Gospel stories of His
works and words, so it is almost impossible to discover the genuine
authentic Christian religion amid the swarm of more or less antagonistic
sects who confound the general ear with their discordant testimonies.
It is a common mistake of apologists to set down all general
improvements and signs of improvements to the credit of the particular
religion or political theory they defend. Every good Liberal knows that
bad harvests are due to Tory government. Every good Tory knows that his
Party alone is to thank for the glorious certainties that Britannia rules
the waves, that an Englishman's house is his castle, and that journeymen
tailors earn fourpence an hour more than they were paid in the thirteenth
Cobdenites ascribe every known or imagined improvement in commerce, and
the condition of the masses, to Free Trade. Things are better than they
were fifty years ago: Free Trade was adopted fifty years ago. Ergo—there
There is not a word about the development of railways and steamships,
about improved machinery, about telegraphs, the cheap post and telephones;
about education and better facilities of travel; about the Factory Acts
and Truck Acts; about cheap books and newspapers; and who so base to
whisper of Trade Unions, and Agitators, and County Councils?
So it is with the Christian religion. We are more moral, more
civilised, more humane, the Christians tell us, than any human beings ever
were before us. And we owe this to the Christian religion, and to no other
thing under Heaven.
But for Christianity we never should have had the House of Peers, the
Times newspaper, the Underground Railway, the Adventures of Captain
Kettle, the Fabian Society, or Sir Thomas Lipton.
The ancient Greek Philosophers, the Buddhist missionaries, the Northern
invaders, the Roman laws and Roman roads, the inventions of printing, of
steam, and of railways, the learning of the Arabs, the discoveries of
Copernicus, Galileo, Newton, Herschel, Hunter, Laplace, Bacon, Descartes,
Spencer, Columbus, Karl Marx, Adam Smith; the reforms and heroisms and
artistic genius of Wilberforce, Howard, King Asoka, Washington, Stephen
Langton, Oliver Cromwell, Sir Thomas More, Rabelais, and Shakespeare; the
wars and travels and commerce of eighteen hundred years, the Dutch
Republic, the French Revolution, and the Jameson Raid have had nothing to
do with the growth of civilisation in Europe and America.
And so to-day: science, invention, education, politics, economic
conditions, literature and art, the ancient Greeks and Oriental Wisdom,
and the world's Press count for nothing in the moulding of the nations.
Everything worth having comes from the pulpit, the British and Foreign
Bible Society, and the War Cry.
It is not to our scientists, our statesmen, our economists, our
authors, inventors, and scholars that we must look for counsel and reform:
such secular aid is useless, and we shall be wise to rely entirely upon
His Holiness the Pope and His Grace the Archbishop of Canterbury.
In the England of the Middle Ages, when Christianity was paramount,
there was a cruel penal code, there was slavery, there were barbarous
forest laws, there were ruthless oppression and insolent robbery of the
poor, there were black ignorance and a terror of superstition, there were
murderous laws against witchcraft, there was savage persecution of the
Jews, there were “trial by wager of battle,” and “question” of prisoners
Many of these horrors endured until quite recent times. Why did
Christianity with its spiritual and temporal power, permit such things to
Did Christianity abolish them? No. Christianity nearly always opposed
reform. The Church was the enemy of popular freedom, the enemy of popular
education; the friend of superstition and tyranny, and the robber baron.
Those horrors are no more. But Christianity did not abolish them. They
were abolished by the gradual spread of humane feelings and the light of
knowledge; just as similar iniquities were abolished by the spread of
humane doctrines in India, centuries before the birth of Christ.
Organised and authoritative religion the world over makes for
ignorance, for poverty and superstition. In Russia, in Italy, in Spain, in
Turkey, where the Churches are powerful and the authority is tense, the
condition of the people is lamentable. In America, England, and Germany,
where the authority of the Church is less rigid and the religion is nearer
Rationalism, the people are more prosperous, more intelligent, and less
superstitious. So, again, the rule of the English Church seems less
beneficial than that of the more rational and free Nonconformist. The
worst found and worst taught class in England is that of the agricultural
labourers, who have been for centuries left entirely in the hands of the
It may be urged that the French, although Catholics, are as intelligent
and as prosperous as any nation in the world. But the French are a clever
people, and since their Revolution have not taken their religion so
seriously. Probably there are more Sceptics and Rationalists in France
than in any other country.
My point is that the prosperity and happiness of a nation do not depend
upon the form of religion they profess, but upon their native energy and
intelligence and the level of freedom and knowledge to which they have
It is because organised and authoritative religion opposes education
and liberty that we find the most religious peoples the most backward. And
this is a strange commentary upon the claim of the Christians, that their
religion is the root from which the civilisation and the refinement of the
world have sprung.
Christianity, we are told, inaugurated the religion of humanity and
human brotherhood. But the Buddhists taught a religion of humanity and
universal brotherhood before the Christian era; and not only taught the
religion, but put it into practice, which the Christians never succeeded
in doing, and cannot do to-day.
And, moreover, the Buddhists did not spread their religion of humanity
and brotherhood by means of the sword, and the rack, and the thumb-screw,
and the faggot; and the Buddhists liberated the slave, and extended their
loving-kindness to the brute creation.
The Buddhists do not depend for the records of their morality on books.
Their testimony is written upon the rocks. No argument can explain away
the rock edicts of King Asoka.
King Asoka was one of the greatest Oriental kings. He ruled over a vast
and wealthy nation. He was converted to Buddhism, and made it the State
religion, as Constantine made Christianity the State religion of Rome. In
the year 251 B.C., King Asoka inscribed his earliest rock edict. The other
edicts from which I shall quote were all cut more than two centuries
before our era. The inscription of the Rupuath Rock has the words: “Two
hundred and fifty years have elapsed since the departure of the teacher.”
Now, Buddha died in the fifth century before Christ.
The Dhauli Edict of King Asoka contains the following:
Much longing after the things [of this life] is a disobedience,
I again declare; not less so is the laborious ambition of
dominion by a prince who would be a propitiator of Heaven.
Confess and believe in God, who is the worthy object of obedience.
From the Tenth Rock Edict:
Earthly glory brings little profit, but, on the contrary,
produces a loss of virtue. To toil for heaven is difficult
to peasant and to prince, unless by a supreme effort he gives
This is from the Fourteenth Edict:
Piyadasi, the friend of the Devas, values alone the harvest
of the next world. For this alone has this inscription been
chiselled, that our sons and our grandsons should make no new
conquests. Let them not think that conquests by the sword
merit the name of conquests. Let them see their ruin, confusion,
and violence. True conquests alone are the conquests of Dharma.
Rock Edict No. 1 has:
Formerly in the great refectory and temple of King Piyadasi,
the friend of the Devas, many hundred thousand animals were
daily sacrificed for the sake of food meat ... but now the
joyful chorus resounds again and again that henceforward not
a single animal shall be put to death.
The Second Edict has:
In committing the least possible harm, in doing abundance of
good, in the practice of pity, love, truth, and likewise purity
of life, religion consists.
The Ninth Edict has:
Not superstitious rites, but kindness to slaves and servants,
reverence towards venerable persons, self-control with respect
to living creatures ... these and similar virtuous actions
are the rites which ought indeed to be performed.
The Eighth Edict has:
The acts and the practice of religion, to wit, sympathy,
charity, truthfulness, purity, gentleness, kindness.
The Sixth Edict has:
I consider the welfare of all people as something for which
I must work.
The Dhauli Edict has:
If a man is subject to slavery and ill-treatment, from this
moment he shall be delivered by the king from this and other
captivity. Many men in this country suffer in captivity,
therefore the stupa containing the commands of the king has
been a great want.
Is it reasonable to suppose that a people possessing so much wisdom,
mercy, and purity two centuries before Christ was born could need to
borrow from the Christian ethics?
Mr. Lillie says of King Asoka:
He antedates Wilberforce in the matter of slavery. He antedates
Howard in his humanity towards prisoners. He antedates Tolstoy
in his desire to turn the sword into a pruning-hook. He antedates
Rousseau, St. Martin, Fichte in their wish to make interior
religion the all in all.
King Asoka abolished slavery, denounced war, taught spiritual religion
and purity of life, founded hospitals, forbade blood sacrifices, and
inculcated religious toleration, two centuries before the birth of Christ.
Centuries before King Asoka the Buddhists sent out missionaries all
over the world.
Which religion was the borrower from the other—Buddhism or
Two centuries before Christ, King Asoka had cut upon the rocks these
I pray with every variety of prayer for those who differ with
me in creed, that they, following after my example, may with
me attain unto eternal salvation. And whoso doeth this is
blessed of the inhabitants of this world; and in the next
world endless moral merit resulteth from such religious charity
How many centuries did it take the Christians to rise to that level of
wisdom and charity? How many Christians have reached it yet?
But the altruistic idea is very much older than Buddha, for it existed
among forms of life very much earlier and lower than the human, and has,
indeed, been a powerful factor in evolution.
Speaking of “The Golden Rule” in his Confessions of Faith of a Man
of Science, Haeckel says:
In the human family this maxim has always been accepted as
self-evident; as ethical instinct it was an inheritance
derived from our animal ancestors. It had already found a
place among the herds of apes and other social mammals; in a
similar manner, but with wider scope, it was already present
in the most primitive communities and among the hordes of the
least advanced savages. Brotherly love—mutual support,
succour, protection, and the like—had already made its
appearance among gregarious animals as a social duty; for
without it the continued existence of such societies is
impossible. Although at a later period, in the case of man,
these moral foundations of society came to be much more highly
developed, their oldest prehistoric source, as Darwin has shown,
is to be sought in the social instincts of animals. Among the
higher vertebrates (dogs, horses, elephants, etc.), as among
the higher articulates (ants, bees, termites, etc.), also, the
development of social relations and duties is the indispensable
condition of their living together in orderly societies. Such
societies have for man also been the most important instrument
of intellectual and moral progress.
It is not to revelation that we owe the ideal of human brotherhood, but
to evolution. It is because altruism is better than selfishness that it
has survived. It is because love is stronger and sweeter than greed that
its influence has deepened and spread. From the love of the animal for its
mate, from the love of parents for their young, sprang the ties of kindred
and the loyalty of friendship; and these in time developed into tribal,
and thence into national patriotism. And these stages of altruistic
evolution may be seen among the brutes. It remained for Man to take the
grand step of embracing all humanity as one brotherhood and one nation.
But the root idea of fraternity and mutual loyalty was not planted by
any priest or prophet. For countless ages universal brotherhood has
existed among the bison, the swallow, and the deer, in a perfection to
which humanity has not yet attained.
For a fuller account of this animal origin of fraternity I recommend
the reader to two excellent books, The Martyrdom of Man, by Winwood
Reade (Kegan Paul), and Mutual Aid, by Prince Kropotkin
But the Christian claims that Christ taught a new gospel of love, and
mercy, and goodwill to men. That is a great mistake. Christ did not
originate one single new ethic.
The Golden Rule was old. The Lord's Prayer was old. The Sermon on the
Mount was old. With the latter I will deal briefly. For a fuller
statement, please see the R.P.A. sixpenny edition of Huxley's Lectures
and Essays, and Christianity and Mythology, by J. M. Robertson.
Shortly stated, Huxley's argument was to the following effect:
That Mark's Gospel is the oldest of the Synoptic Gospels, and that
Mark's Gospel does not contain, nor even mention, the Sermon on the Mount.
That Luke gives no Sermon on the Mount, but gives what may be called a
“Sermon on the Plain.” That Luke's sermon differs materially from the
sermon given by Matthew. That the Matthew version contains one hundred and
seven verses, and the Luke version twenty-nine verses.
Huxley's conclusion is as follows:
“Matthew,” having a cento of sayings attributed—rightly or
wrongly it is impossible to say—to Jesus among his materials,
thought they were, or might be, records of a continuous discourse
and put them in a place he thought likeliest. Ancient historians
of the highest character saw no harm in composing long speeches
which never were spoken, and putting them into the mouths of
statesmen and warriors; and I presume that whoever is represented
by “Matthew” would have been grievously astonished to find that
any one objected to his following the example of the best models
accessible to him.
But since Huxley wrote those words more evidence has been produced.
From the Old Testament, from the Talmud, and from the recently-discovered
Teaching of the Twelve Apostles (a pre-Christian work) the origins of
the Sermon on the Mount have been fully traced.
Agnostic criticism now takes an attitude towards this sermon which may
be thus expressed:
1. The sermon never was preached at all. It is a written compilation.
2. The story of the mount is a myth. The name of the mount is not
given. It is not reasonable to suppose that Jesus would lead a
multitude up a mountain to speak to them for a few minutes. The
mountain is an old sun-myth of the Sun God on his hill, and the
twelve apostles are another sun-myth, and represent the signs of
3. There is nothing in the alleged sermon that was new at the time
of its alleged utterance.
Of course, it may be claimed that the arrangement of old texts in a new
form constitutes a kind of originality; as one might say that he who took
flowers from a score of gardens and arranged them into one bouquet
produced a new effect of harmony and beauty. But this credit must be given
to the compilers of the gospels' version of the Sermon on the Mount.
Let us take a few pre-Christian morals.
Sextus said: “What you wish your neighbours to be to you, such be also
Isocrates said: “Act towards others as you desire others to act towards
Lao-tze said: “The good I would meet with goodness, the not-good I
would also meet with goodness.”
Buddha said: “Hatred does not cease by hatred at any time: hatred
ceases by love.”
And again: “Let us live happily, not hating those who hate us.”
In the Talmud occur the following Jewish anticipations of Christian
Love peace, and seek it at any price.
Remember that it is better to be persecuted than persecutor.
To whom does God pardon sins?—To him who himself forgives
Those who undergo injuries without returning it, those who
hear themselves vilified and do not reply, who have no motive
but love, who accept evils with joy; it is of them that the
prophet speaks when he says the friends of God shall shine
one day as the sun in all his splendour.
It is not the wicked we should hate, but wickedness.
Be like God, compassionate, merciful.
Judge not your neighbour when you have not been in his place.
He who charitably judges his neighbour shall be charitably judged
Do not unto others that which it would be disagreeable to you
to suffer yourself, that is the main part of the law; all the
rest is only commentary.
From the Old Testament come such morals as:
Let him give his cheek to him that smiteth him (Lam. iii. 30).
Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself (Lev. xix. 18).
He that is of a lowly spirit shall obtain honour (Prov. xxix. 23)
The meek shall inherit the land (Ps. xxxvii 11).
History and ancient literature prove that Christianity did not bring a
new moral code, did not inaugurate peace, nor purity, nor universal
brotherhood, did not originate the ideal human character: but checked
civilisation, resisted all enlightenment, and deluged the earth with
innocent blood in the endeavour to compel mankind to drink old moral wine
out of new theological bottles.
Three of the greatest blessings men can have are freedom, liberty of
conscience, and knowledge. These blessings Christianity has not given, but
It is largely to the ancient Greeks and Romans, to the Arabs and the
Indians, to patriots, heroes, statesmen, scholars, scientists, travellers,
inventors, discoverers, authors, poets, philanthropists, rebels, sceptics,
and reformers that the world owes such advance as it has made towards
liberty and happiness and universal loving-kindness.
This advance has been made in defiance of Christian envy, hatred, and
malice, and in defiance of Christian tyranny and persecution. After
fighting fiercely to defeat the advance of humanity, after slaying and
cursing the noblest sons and daughters of the ages, the defeated
Christians now claim to have conquered the fields they have lost, to have
bestowed the benefits they have denied, to have evolved the civilisation
they have maimed and damned.
As a Democrat, a Humanist, and a Socialist, I join my voice to the
indignant chorus which denies those claims.
We are told that the divine origin and truth of Christianity are proved
by the marvellous success of that religion. But it seems to me that the
reverse is proved by its failure.
Christianity owed its magnificent opportunities (which it has wasted)
to several accidental circumstances. Just as the rise of Buddhism was made
possible by the act of King Asoka in adopting it as the State Religion of
his vast Indian kingdom, was the rise of Christianity made possible by the
act of the Emperor Constantine in adopting it as the State religion of the
far-stretched Roman Empire.
Christianity spread rapidly because the Roman Empire was ripe for a new
religion. It conquered because it threw in its lot with the ruling powers.
It throve because it came with the tempting bribe of Heaven in one hand,
and the withering threat of Hell in the other. The older religions, grey
in their senility, had no such bribe or threat to conjure with.
Christianity overcame opposition by murdering or cursing all who
resisted its advance. It exterminated scepticism by stifling knowledge,
and putting a merciless veto on free thought and free speech, and by
rewarding philosophers and discoverers with the faggot and the chain. It
held its power for centuries by force of hell-fire, and ignorance, and the
sword; and the greatest of these was ignorance.
Nor must it be supposed that the persecution and the slaughter of
“Heretics” and “Infidels” was the exception. It was the rule. Motley, the
American historian, states that Torquemada, during eighteen years' command
of the Inquisition, burnt more than ten thousand people alive, and
punished nearly a hundred thousand with infamy, confiscation of property,
or perpetual imprisonment.
To be a Jew, a Moslem, a Lutheran, a “wizard,” a sceptic, a heretic was
to merit death and torture. One order of Philip of Spain condemned to
death as “heretics” the entire population of the Netherlands.
Wherever the Christian religion was successful the martyrs' fires burned,
and the devilish instruments of torture were in use. For some twelve
centuries the Holy Church carried out this inhuman policy. And to this day
the term “free thought” is a term of reproach. The shadow of the fanatical
priest, that half-demented coward, sneak, and assassin, still blights us.
Although that holy monster, with his lurking spies, his villainous
casuistries, his flames and devils, and red-hot pincers, and whips of
steel, has been defeated by the humanity he scorned and the knowledge he
feared, yet he has left a taint behind him. It is still held that it ought
to be an unpleasant thing to be an Infidel.
And, yes, there were other factors in the “success” of Christianity.
The story of the herald angels, the wise men from the east, the manger,
the child God, the cross, and the gospel of mercy and atonement, and of
universal brotherhood and peace amongst the earthly children of a Heavenly
Father, whose attribute was love—this story, possessed a certain homely
beauty and sentimental glamour which won the allegiance of many
golden-hearted and sweet-souled men and women. These lovely natures
assimilated from the chaotic welter of beauty and ashes called the
Christian religion all that was pure, and rejected all that was foul. It
was the light of such sovereign souls as Joan of Arc and Francis of Assisi
that saved Christianity from darkness and the pit; and how much does that
religion owe to the genius of Wyclif and Tyndale, of Milton and Handel, of
Mozart and Thomas a Kempis, of Michael Angelo and Rafael, and the
compilers of the Book of Common Prayer?
There are good men and good women by millions in the Christian ranks
to-day, and it is their virtue, and their zeal, and their illumination of
its better qualities, and charitable and loyal shelter of its follies and
its crimes, that keep the Christian religion still alive.
Christianity has been for fifteen hundred years the religion of the
brilliant, brave, and strenuous races in the world. And what has it
accomplished? And how does it stand to-day?
Is Christianity the rule of life in America and Europe? Are the masses
of people who accept it peaceful, virtuous, chaste, spiritually minded,
prosperous, happy? Are their national laws based on its ethics? Are their
international politics guided by the Sermon on the Mount? Are their
noblest and most Christlike men and women most revered and honoured? Is
the Christian religion loved and respected by those outside its pale? Are
London and Paris, New York and St. Petersburg, Berlin, Vienna, Brussels,
and Rome centres of holiness and of sweetness and light? From Glasgow to
Johannesburg, from Bombay to San Francisco is God or Mammon king?
If a tree should be known by its fruit, the Christian religion has
small right to boast of its success.
But the Christian will say, “This is not Christianity, but its
caricature.” Where, then, is the saving grace, the compelling power, of
this divine religion, which, planted by God Himself, is found after
nineteen centuries to yield nothing but leaves?
After all these sad ages of heroism and crime, of war and massacre, of
preaching and praying, of blustering and trimming; after all this prodigal
waste of blood and tears, and labour and treasure, and genius and
sacrifice, we have nothing better to show for Christianity than European
and American Society to-day.
And this ghastly heart-breaking failure proves the Christian religion
to be the Divine Revelation of God!
Another alleged proof of the divine verity of the Christian religion is
the Prophecies. Hundreds of books—perhaps I might say thousands of
books—have been written upon these prophecies. Wonderful books, wonderful
prophecies, wonderful religion, wonderful people.
If religious folk did not think by moonlight those books on the
prophecies would never have been written. There are the prophecies of
Christ's coming which are pointed out in the Old Testament. That the Jews
had many prophecies of a Jewish Messiah is certain. But these are
indefinite. There is not one of them which unmistakably applies to Jesus
Christ; and the Jews, who should surely understand their own prophets and
their own Scriptures, deny that Christ was the Messiah whose coming the
Then, we have the explicit prophecy of Christ Himself as to His second
coming. That prophecy at least is definite; and that has never been
For Christ declared in the plainest and most solemn manner that He
would return from Heaven with power and glory within the lifetime of those
to whom He spoke:
Verily, I say unto you, this generation shall not pass, till
all these things be fulfilled.
These prophecies by Christ of His return to earth may be read in the
Gospels of Matthew and Luke. They are distinct, and definite, and solemn,
I could fill many pages with unfulfilled prophecies from the Old and
New Testaments. I think the one I give is enough.
Jesus Christ distinctly says that He will come in glory with all His
angels before “this generation” all have passed away.
This is the year 1903. Christ uttered His prophecy about the year 31.
Christians declare the religious sentiment to be universal. Even if it
were so, that would show a universal spiritual hunger; but would not prove
the Christian religion to be its only food.
But the religious sentiment is not universal. I know many young people
who have never been taught religion of any kind, who have never read Bible
nor Gospel, who never attended any place of worship; and they are virtuous
and courteous and compassionate and happy, and feel no more need of
spiritual comfort or religious consolation than I do.
They are as gentle, sweet, and merry, and do their duty as faithfully
as any Christian, yet to them Heaven and Hell are meaningless
abstractions; God and the soul are problems they, with quiet cheerfulness,
leave time to solve.
If the craving for religion were universal these young folk would not
be free from spiritual hunger. As they are free from spiritual hunger, I
conclude that the craving for religion is not born in us, but must be
Many good men and women will look blank at such heresy. “What!” they
will exclaim, “take away the belief in the Bible, and the service of God?
Why, our lives would be empty. What would you give us in exchange?”
To which I answer, “The belief in yourselves, and the belief in your
fellow-creatures, and the service of Man.”
Such belief and such service will certainly increase the sum of
happiness on earth. And as for the Hereafter—no man knoweth. No man
Christians tell us that their religion is our only refuge, that Christ
is our only saviour. From the wild Salvation Army captain, thundering and
beseeching under his banner of blood and fire, to the academic Bishop
reconciling science and transfiguring crude translations in the dim
religious light of a cathedral, all the apostles of the Nazarene carpenter
insist that He is the only way. In this the Christian resembles the Hindu,
the Parsee, the Buddhist, and the Mohammedan. There is but one true
religion, and it is his.
The Rationalist locks on with a rueful smile, and wonders. He sees
nothing in any one of these religions to justify its claim to
infallibility or pre-eminence. It seems to him unreasonable to assert that
any theology or any saviour is indispensable. He realises that a man may
be good and happy in any church, or outside any church. He cannot admit
that only those who follow Jesus, or Buddha, or Mahomet, or Moses can be
“saved,” nor that all those who fail to believe in the divine mission of
one, or all of these will be lost.
Let us consider the Christian claim. If the Christian claim be valid,
men cannot be good, nor happy, cannot be saved, except through Christ. Is
this position supported by the facts?
One Christian tells me that “It is in the solemn realities of life that
one gets his final evidence that Christianity is true.” Another tells me
that “In Christ alone is peace”; another, that “Without Christ there is
neither health nor holiness.”
If these statements mean anything, they mean that none but true
Christians can live well, nor die well, nor bear sorrow and pain with
fortitude, do their whole duty manfully, nor find happiness here and bliss
But I submit that Christianity does not make men lead better lives than
others lead who are not Christians, and there are none so abjectly afraid
of death as Christians are. The Pagan, the Buddhist, the Mohammedan, and
the Agnostic do not fear death nearly so much as do the Christians.
The words of many of the greatest Christians are gloomy with the fears
of death, of Hell, and of the wrath of God.
The Roman soldier, the Spartan soldier, the Mohammedan soldier did not
fear death. The Greek, the Buddhist, the Moslem, the Viking went to death
as to a reward, or as to the arms of a bride. Compare the writings of
Marcus Aurelius and of Jeremy Taylor, of Epictetus and John Bunyan, and
then ask yourself whether the Christian religion makes it easier for men
There are millions of Europeans—not to speak of Buddhists and Jews—
there are millions of men and women to-day who are not Christians. Do they
live worse or die worse, or bear trouble worse, than those who accept the
Some of us have come through “the solemn realities of life,” and have
not realised that Christianity is true. We do not believe the Bible;
we do not believe in the divinity of Christ; we do not pray, nor feel the
need of prayer; we do not fear God, nor Hell, nor death. We are as happy
as our even Christian; we are as good as our even Christian; we are as
benevolent as our even Christian: what has Christianity to offer us?
There are in the world some four hundred and fifty millions of
Buddhists. How do they bear themselves in “the solemn realities of life”?
I suggest that consolation, and fortitude, and cheerfulness, and
loving-kindness are not in the exclusive gift of the Christian religion,
but may be found by good men in all religions.
As to the effects of Christianity on life. Did Buddha, and King Asoka,
and Socrates, and Aristides lead happy, and pure, and useful lives? Were
there no virtuous, nor happy, nor noble men and women during all the
millions of years before the Crucifixion? Was there neither love, nor
honour, nor wisdom, nor valour, nor peace in the world until Paul turned
Christian? History tells us no such gloomy story.
Are there no good, nor happy, nor worthy men and women to-day outside
the pale of the Christian churches? Amongst the eight hundred millions of
human beings who do not know or do not follow Christ, are there none as
happy and as worthy as any who follow Him?
Are we Rationalists so wicked, so miserable, so useless in the world,
so terrified of the shadow of death? I beg to say we are nothing of the
kind. We are quite easy and contented. There is no despair in our hearts.
We are not afraid of bogeys, nor do we dread the silence and the dark.
Friend Christian, you are deceived in this matter. When you say that
Christ is the only true teacher, that He is the only hope of
mankind, that He is the only Saviour, I must answer sharply that I
do not believe that, and I do not think you believe it deep down in your
heart. For if Christ is the only Saviour, then thousands of millions of
Buddhists have died unsaved, and you know you do not believe that.
Jeremy Taylor believed that; but you know better.
Do you not know, as a matter of fact, that it is as well in this
world, and shall be as well hereafter, with a good Buddhist, or Jew, or
Agnostic, as with a good Christian?
Do you deny that? If you deny it, tell me what punishment you think
will be inflicted, here or hereafter on a good man who does not accept
If you do not deny it, then on what grounds do you claim that Christ is
the Saviour of all mankind, and that “only in Christ we are made
You speak of the spiritual value of your religion. What can it give you
more than Socrates or Buddha possessed? These men had wisdom, courage,
morality, fortitude, love, mercy. Can you find in all the world to-day two
men as wise, as good, as gentle, as happy? Yet these men died centuries
before Christ was born.
If you believe that none but Christians can be happy or good; or if you
believe that none but Christians can escape extinction or punishment, then
there is some logic in your belief that Christ is our only Saviour. But
that is to believe that there never was a good man before Christ died, and
that Socrates and Buddha, and many thousands of millions of men, and
women, and children, before Christ and after, have been lost.
Such a belief is monstrous and absurd.
But I see no escape from the dilemma it places us in. If only Christ
can save, about twelve hundred millions of our fellow-creatures will be
If men can be saved without Christ, then Christ is not our only
Christianity seems to be a composite religion, made up of fragments of
religions of far greater antiquity. It is alleged to have originated some
two thousand years ago. It has never been the religion of more than
one-third of the human race, and of those professing it only ten per cent
at any time have thoroughly understood, or sincerely followed, its
teachings. It was not indispensable to the human race during the thousands
(I say millions) of years before its advent. It is not now indispensable
to some eight hundred millions of human beings. It had no place in the
ancient civilisations of Egypt, Assyria, and Greece. It was unknown to
Socrates, to Epicurus, to Aristides, to Marcus Aurelius, to King Asoka,
and to Buddha. It has opposed science and liberty almost from the first.
It has committed the most awful crimes and atrocities. It has upheld the
grossest errors and the most fiendish theories as the special revelations
of God. It has been defeated in argument and confounded by facts over and
over again, and has been steadily driven back and back, abandoning one
essential position after another, until there is hardly anything left of
its original pretensions. It is losing more and more every day its hold
upon the obedience and confidence of the masses, and has only retained the
suffrages of a minority of educated minds by accepting as truths the very
theories which in the past it punished as deadly sins. Are these the signs
of a triumphant and indispensable religion? One would think, to read the
Christian apologists, that before the advent of Christianity the world had
neither virtue nor wisdom. But the world very old. Civilisation is very
old. The Christian religion is but a new thing, is a mere episode in the
history of human development, and has passed the zenith of its power.
Christians say that only those who are naturally religious can
understand religion, or, as Archdeacon Wilson puts it, “Spiritual truths
must be spiritually discerned.” This seems to amount to a claim that
religious people possess an extra sense or faculty.
When a man talks about “spiritual discernment,” he makes a tacit
assertion which ought not to be allowed to pass unchallenged. What is that
assertion or implication? It is the implication that there is a spiritual
discernment which is distinct from mental discernment. What does that
mean? It means that man has other means of understanding besides his
This spiritual discernment is a metaphysical myth.
Man feels, sees, and reasons with his brain. His brain may be more
emotional or less emotional, more acute or less acute; but to invent a
faculty of reason distinct from reason, or to suggest that man can feel or
think otherwise than with his brain, is to darken counsel with a multitude
There is no ground for the assertion that a spiritual faculty exists
apart from the reason. But the Christian first invents this faculty, and
then tells us that by this faculty religion is to be judged.
Spiritual truths are to be spiritually discerned. What is a “spiritual
truth”? It is neither more nor less than a mental idea. It is an idea
originating in the brain, and it can only be “discerned,” or judged, or
understood, by an act of reason performed by the brain.
The word “spiritual,” as used in this connection, is a mere
affectation. It implies that the idea (which Archdeacon Wilson calmly dubs
a “truth") is so exalted, or so refined, that the reason is too gross to
John says: “I know that my Redeemer liveth.” Thomas asks: “How do you
know?” John says: “Because I feel it.” Thomas answers: “But that is
only a rhapsodical expression of a woman's reason: 'I know because I
know.' You say your religion is true because you feel it is true. I
might as well say it is not true because I feel that it is not true.”
Then John becomes mystical. He says: “Spiritual truths must be
spiritually discerned.” Thomas, who believes that all truths, and
all errors, must be tried by the reason, shrugs his shoulders
irreverently, and departs.
Now, this mystical jargon has always been a favourite weapon of
theologians, and it is a very effective weapon against weak-minded, or
ignorant, or superstitious, or very emotional men.
We must deal with this deception sternly. We must deny that the human
reason, which we know to be a fact, is inferior to a postulated
“spiritual” faculty which has no existence. We must insist that to make
the brain the slave of a brain-created idea is as foolish as to
subordinate the substance to the shadow.
John declares that “God is love.” Thomas asks him how he knows.
John replies that it is a “spiritual truth,” which must be “spiritually
discerned.” Thomas says: “It is not spiritual, and it is not true. It is a
mere figment of the brain.” John replies: “You are incapable of judging:
you are spiritually blind.” Thomas says: “My friend, you are incapable of
reasoning: you are mentally halt and lame.” John says Thomas is a “fellow
of no delicacy.”
I think there is much to be said in excuse for Thomas. I think it is
rather cool of John to invent a faculty of “spiritual discernment,” and
then to tell Thomas that he (Thomas) does not possess that faculty.
That is how Archdeacon Wilson uses me. In a sermon at Rochdale he is
reported to have spoken as follows:
As regards the first axiom, the archdeacon reaffirmed his
declaration as to Mr. Blatchford's disqualification for such
a controversy ... Whether Mr. Blatchford recognised the fact
or not, it was true that there was a faculty among men which,
in its developed state, was as distinct, as unequally distributed,
as mysterious in its origin and in its distribution, as was
the faculty for pure mathematics, for music, for metaphysics,
or for research. They might call it the devotional or religious
faculty. Just as there were men whose faculties of insight
amounted to genius in other regions of mental activity, so
there were spiritual geniuses, geniuses in the region in which
man holds communion with God, and from this region these who
had never developed the faculty were debarred. One who was
not devotional, not humble, not gentle in his treatment of
the beliefs of others, one who could lightly ridicule the
elementary forms of belief which had corresponded to the
lower stages of culture, past and present, was not likely
to do good in a religious controversy.
Here is the tyranny of language, indeed! Here is a farrago of myths and
symbols. “There is a faculty—we may call it the devotional or religious
faculty—there are geniuses in the region in which man holds communion with
Why the good archdeacon talks of the “region in which man holds
communion with God” as if he were talking of the telephone exchange. He
talks of God as if he were talking of the Postmaster-General. He
postulates a God, and he postulates a region, and he postulates a
communication, and then talks about all these postulates as if they were
facts. I protest against this mystical, transcendental rhetoric. It is not
Who has seen God? Who has entered that “region”? Who has communicated
There is in most men a desire, in some men a passion, for what is good.
In some men this desire is weak, in others it is strong. In some it takes
the form of devotion to “God,” in others it takes the form of devotion to
men. In some it is coloured by imagination, or distorted by a love of the
marvellous; in others it is lighted by reason, and directed by love of
truth. But whether a man devotes himself to God and to prayer, or devotes
himself to man and to politics or science, he is actuated by the same
impulse—by the desire for what is good.
John says: “I feel that there is a God, and I worship Him.” Thomas
says: “I do not know whether or not there is a God, and if there is, He
does not need my adoration. But I know there are men in darkness and women
in trouble, and children in pain, and I know they do need my love
and my help. I therefore will not pray; but I will work.”
To him says John: “You are a fellow of no delicacy. You lack spiritual
discernment. You are disqualified for the expression of any opinion on
spiritual truths.” This is what John calls “humility,” and “gentle
treatment of the beliefs of others.” But Thomas calls it unconscious
Really, Archdeacon Wilson's claim that only those possessing spiritual
discernment can discern spiritual truths means no more than that those who
cannot believe in religion do not believe in religion, or that a man whose
reason tells him religion is not true is incapable of believing religion
is true. But what he means it to mean is that a man whose reason rejects
religion is unfit to criticise religion, and that only those who accept
religion as true are qualified to express an opinion as to its truth. He
might as well claim that the only person qualified to criticise the Tory
Party is the person who has the faculty for discerning Tory truth.
My claim is that ideas relating to spiritual things must be weighed by
the same faculties as ideas relating to material things. That is to say,
man can only judge in religious matters as he judges in all other matters,
by his reason.
I do not say that all men have the same kind or quantity of reason.
What I say is, that a man with a good intellect is a better judge on
religious matters than a man, with an inferior intellect; and that by
reason, and by reason alone, can truth of any kind be discerned.
The archdeacon speaks of spiritual geniuses, “geniuses in the region in
which man holds communion with God.” The Saints, for example. Well, if the
Saints were geniuses in matters religious, the Saints ought to have been
better judges of spiritual truth than other men. But was it so? The Saints
believed in angels, and devils, and witches, and hell-fire and Jonah, and
the Flood; in demoniacal possession, in the working of miracles by the
bones of dead martyrs; the Saints accepted David and Abraham and Moses as
men after God's own heart.
Many of the most spiritually gifted Christians do not believe in these
things any longer. The Saints, then, were mistaken. They were mistaken
about these spiritual matters in which they are alleged to have been
We do not believe in sorcerers, in witches, in miracle-working relics,
in devils, and eternal fire and brimstone. Why? Because science has killed
those errors. What is science? It is reason applied to knowledge. The
faculty of reason, then, has excelled this boasted faculty of spiritual
discernment in its own religious sphere.
It would be easy to multiply examples.
Jeremy Taylor was one of the most brilliant and spiritual of our
divines. But his spiritual perception, as evidenced in his works, was
fearfully at fault. He believed in hell-fire, and in hell-fire for all
outside the pale of the Christian Church. And he was afraid of God, and
afraid of death.
Archdeacon Wilson denies to us this faculty of spiritual perception.
Very well. But I have enough mental acuteness to see that the religion of
Jeremy Taylor was cowardly, and gloomy, and untrue.
Luther and Wesley were spiritual geniuses. They both believed in
witchcraft. Luther believed in burning heretics. Wesley said if we gave up
belief in witchcraft we must give up belief in the Bible.
Luther and Wesley were mistaken: their spiritual discernment had led
them wrong. Their superstition and cruelty were condemned by humanity and
To me it appears that these men of “spiritual discernment” are really
men of abnormally credulous and emotional natures: men too weak to face
We cannot allow the Christians to hold this position unchallenged. I
regard the religious plane as a lower one than our own. I think the
Christian idea of God is even now, after two thousand years of evolution,
a very mean and weak one.
I cannot love nor revere a “Heavenly Father” whose children have to
pray to Him for what they need, or for pardon for their sins. My children
do not need to pray to me for food or forgiveness; and I am a mere earthly
father. Yet Christ, who came direct from God— who was God—to teach
all men God's will, directed us to pray to God for our daily bread, for
forgiveness of our trespasses against Him, and that He would not lead us
into temptation! Imagine a father leading his children into temptation!
What is there so superior or so meritorious in the attitude of a
religious man towards God? This good man prays: for what? He prays that
something be given to him or forgiven to him. He prays for gain or fear.
Is that so lofty and so noble?
But you will say: “It is not all for gain or for fear. He prays for
love: because he loves God.” But is not this like sending flowers and
jewels to the king? The king is so rich already: but there are many poor
outside his gates. God is not in need of our love: some of God's children
are in need. Truly, these high ideals are very curious.
Mr. Augustine Birrell, in his Miscellanies, quotes a passage
from “Lux Mundi”; and although I cannot find it in that book, it is too
good to lose:
If this be the relation of faith to reason, we see the explanation
of what seems at first sight to the philosopher to be the most
irritating and hypocritical characteristic of faith. It is
always shifting its intellectual defences. It adopts this or
that fashion of philosophical apology, and then, when this is
shattered by some novel scientific generalisation of faith,
probably after a passionate struggle to retain the old position,
suddenly and gaily abandons it, and takes up the new formula,
just as if nothing had happened. It discovers that the new
formula is admirably adapted for its purposes, and is, in fact,
what it always meant, only it has unfortunately omitted to
mention it. So it goes on again and again; and no wonder that
the philosophers growl at those humbugs, the clergy.
That passage has a rather sinister bearing upon the Christian's claim
for spiritual genius.
But, indeed, the claim is not admissible. The Churches have taught many
errors. Those errors have been confuted by scepticism and science. It is
no thanks to spiritual discernment that we stand where we do. It is to
reason we owe our advance; and what a great advance it is! We have got rid
of Hell, we have got rid of the Devil, we have got rid of the Christian
championship of slavery, of witch-murder, of martyrdom, persecution, and
torture; we have destroyed the claims for the infallibility of the
Scriptures, and have taken the fetters of the Church from the limbs of
Science and Thought, and before long we shall have demolished the belief
in miracles. The Christian religion has defended all these dogmas, and has
done inhuman murder in defence of them; and has been wrong in every
instance, and has been finally defeated in every instance. Steadily and
continually the Church has been driven from its positions. It is still
retreating, and we are not to be persuaded to abandon our attack by the
cool assurance that we are mentally unfit to judge in spiritual matters.
Spiritual Discernment has been beaten by reason in the past, and will be
beaten by reason in the future. It is facts and logic we want, not
Christianity, we are told, vastly improved the relations of rich and
How comes it, then, that the treatment of the poor by the rich is
better amongst Jews than amongst Christians? How did it fare with the poor
all over Europe in the centuries when Christianity was at the zenith of
its power? How is it we have twelve millions of Christians on the verge of
starvation in England to-day, with a Church rolling in wealth and an
aristocracy decadent from luxury and self-indulgence? How is it that the
gulf betwixt rich and poor in such Christian capitals as New York, London,
and Paris is so wide and deep?
Christianity, we are told, first gave to mankind the gospel of peace.
Christianity did not bring peace, but a sword. The Crusades were holy
wars. The wars in the Netherlands were holy wars. The Spanish Armada was a
holy expedition. Some of these holy wars lasted for centuries and cost
millions of human lives. Most of them were remarkable for the barbarities
and cruelties of the Christian priests and soldiers.
From the beginning of its power Christianity has been warlike, violent,
and ruthless. To-day Europe is an armed camp, and it is not long since the
Christian Kaiser ordered his troops to give no quarter to the Chinese.
There has never been a Christian nation as peaceful as the Indians and
Burmese under Buddhism. It was King Asoka, and not Jesus Christ or St.
Paul, who first taught and first established a reign of national and
To-day the peace of the world is menaced, not by the Buddhists, the
Parsees, the Hindoos, or the Confucians, but by Christian hunger for
territory, Christian lust of conquest, Christian avarice for the opening
up of “new markets,” Christian thirst for military glory, and jealousy,
and envy amongst the Christian powers one of another.
Christianity, we are told, originated the Christ-like type of
character. The answer stares us in the face. How can we account for King
Asoka, how can we account for Buddha?
Christianity, we are told, originated hospitals.
Hospitals were founded two centuries before Christ by King Asoka in
Christianity, we are told, first broke down the barrier between Jew and
How have Christians treated Jews for fifteen centuries? How are
Christians treating Jews to-day in Holy Russia? How long is it since Jews
were granted full rights of citizenship in Christian England?
All this, the Christian will say, applies to the false and not to the
Let us look, then, for an instant, at the truest and best form of
Christianity, and ask what it is doing. It is preaching about Sin, Sin,
Sin. It is praying to God to do for Man what Man ought to do for himself,
what Man can do for himself, what Man must do for himself; for God has
never done it, and will never do it for him.
And this fault in the Christian—the highest and truest Christian—
attitude towards life does not lie in the Christians: it lies in the
truest and best form of their religion.
It is the belief in Free Will, in Sin, and in a Heavenly Father, and a
future recompense that leads the Christian wrong, and causes him to
mistake the shadow for the substance.
“If you take from us our religion,” say the Christians, “what have you
to offer but counsels of despair?” This seems to me rather a commercial
way of putting the case, and not a very moral one. Because a moral man
would not say: “If I give up my religion, what will you pay me?” He would
say: “I will never give, up my religion unless I am convinced it is not
true.” To a moral man the truth would matter, but the cost would not.
To ask what one may gain is to show an absence of all real
The feeling of a truly religious man is the feeling that, cost what it
may, he must do right. A religiously-minded man could not
profess a religion which he did not believe to be true. To him the vital
question would be, not “What will you give me to desert my colours?” but
“What is the truth?”
But, besides being immoral, the demand is unreasonable. If I say that a
religion is untrue, the believer has a perfect right to ask me for proofs
of my assertion; but he has no right to ask me for a new promise. Suppose
I say this thing is not true, and to believe anything which is untrue is
useless. Then, the believer may justly demand my reasons. But he has no
right to ask me for a new dream in place of the old one. I am not a
prophet, with promises of crowns and glories in my gift.
But yet I will answer this queer question as fully as I can.
I do not say there is no God. I do not say there is no “Heaven,” nor
that the soul is not immortal. There is not enough evidence to justify me
in making such assertions.
I only say, on those subjects, that I do not know.
I do not know about those things. There may be a God, there may be a
“Heaven,” there may be an immortal soul. And a man might accept all I say
about religion without giving up any hope his faith may bid him hold as to
a future life.
As to those “counsels of despair” the question puzzles me. Despair of
Let me put the matter as I see it. I think sometimes, in a dubious way,
that perhaps there may be a life beyond the grave. And that is
interesting. But I think my stronger, and deeper, and more permanent
feeling is that when we die we die finally, and for us there is no more
life at all. That is, I suppose, my real belief—or supposition. But do I
despair? Why should I? The idea of immortality does not elate me very
much. As I said just now, it is interesting. But I am not excited about
it. If there is another innings, we will go in and play our best; and we
hope we shall be very much better and kinder than we have been. But if it
is sleep: well, sleep is rest, and as I feel that I have had a really good
time, on the whole, I should consider it greedy to cry because I could not
have it all over again. That is how I feel about it. Despair? I am one of
the happiest old fogeys in all London. I have found life agreeable and
amusing, and I'm glad I came. But I am not so infatuated with life that I
should care to go back and begin it all again. And though a new start, in
a new world, would be—yes, interesting— I am not going to howl because old
Daddy Death says it is bed-time. I think somebody, or something, has been
very good to allow me to come in and see the fun, and stay so long,
especially as I came in, so to speak “on my face.” But to beg for another
invitation would be cheeky. Some of you want such a lot for nothing.
“But,” you may say, “the poor, the failures, the wretched—what of
them?” And I answer: “Ah! that is one of the weak points of your
religion, not of mine.” Consider these unhappy ones, what do you offer
them? You offer them an everlasting bliss, not because they were starved
or outraged here—not at all. For your religion admits the probability that
those who came into this world worst equipped, who have here been most
unfortunate, and to whom God and man have behaved most unjustly, will
stand a far greater chance of a future of woe than of happiness.
No. According to your religion, those of the poor or the weak who get
to Heaven will get there, not because they have been wronged and must be
righted, but because they believe that Jesus Christ can save them.
Now, contrast that awful muddle of unreason and injustice with what you
call my “counsels of despair.” I say there may be a future life and there
may not be a future life. If there is a future life, a man will deserve it
no less, and enjoy it no less, for having been happy here. If there is no
future life, he who has been unhappy here will have lost both earthly
happiness and heavenly hope.
Therefore, I say, it is our duty to see that all our fellow-creatures
are as happy here as we can make them.
Therefore I say to my fellow-creatures, “Do not consent to suffer, and
to be wronged in this world, for it is immoral and weak so to submit; but
hold up your heads, and demand your rights, here and now, and leave the
rest to God, or to Fate.”
You see, I am not trying to rob any man of his hope of Heaven; I am
only trying to inspire his hope on earth.
But I have been asked whether I think it right and wise to “shake the
faith of the poor working man—the faith that has helped him so long.”
What has this faith helped him to do? To bear the ills and the wrongs
of this life more patiently, in the hope of a future reward? Is that the
idea? But I do not want the working man to endure patiently the ills and
wrongs of this life. I want him, for his own sake, his wife's sake, his
children's sake, and for the sake of right and progress, to demand
justice, and to help in the work of amending the conditions of life on
No, I do not want to rob the working-man of his faith: I want to awaken
his faith—in himself.
Religion promises us a future Heaven, where we shall meet once more
those “whom we have loved long since and lost awhile,” and that is the
most potent lure that could be offered to poor humanity.
How much of the so-called “universal instinct of belief” arises from
that pathetic human yearning for reunion with dear friends, sweet wives,
or pretty children “lost awhile”? It is human love and natural longing for
the dead darlings, whose wish is father to the thought of Heaven. Before
that passionate sentiment reason itself would almost stand abashed: were
reason antagonistic to the “larger hope”—which none can prove.
Few of us can keep our emotions from overflowing the bounds of reason
in such a case. The poor, tearful desire lays a pale hand on reason's lips
and gazes wistfully into the mysterious abyss of the Great Silence.
So I say of that “larger hope,” cherish it if you can, and if you feel
it necessary to your peace of mind. But do not mistake a hope for a
certainty. No priest, nor pope, nor prophet can tell you more about that
mystery than you know. It is a riddle, and your guess or mine may be as
near as that of a genius. We can only guess. We do not know.
Is it wise, then, to sell even a fraction of your liberty of thought or
deed for a paper promise which the Bank of Futurity may fail to honour? Is
it wise, is it needful, to abandon a single right, to abate one just
demand, to neglect one possibility of happiness here and now, in order to
fulfil the conditions laid down for the attainment of that promised Heaven
by a crowd of contradictory theologians who know no more about God or
about the future than we know ourselves?
Death has dropped a curtain of mystery between us and those we love. No
theologian knows, nor ever did know, what is hidden behind that veil.
Let us, then, do our duty here, try to be happy here, try to make
others happy here, and when the curtain lifts for us—we shall see.
I have been asked why I have “gone out of my way to attack religion,”
why I do not “confine myself to my own sphere and work for Socialism, and
what good I expect to do by pulling down without building up.”
In reply I beg to say:
1. That I have not “gone out of my way” to attack religion. It was
because I found religion in my way that I attacked it.
2. That I am working for Socialism when I attack a religion which is
3. That we must pull down before we can build up, and that I hope to
do a little building, if only on the foundation.
But these questions arose from a misconception of my position and
I have been called an “Infidel,” a Socialist, and a Fatalist. Now, I am
an Agnostic, or Rationalist, and I am a Determinist, and I am a Socialist.
But if I were asked to describe myself in a single word, I should call
myself a Humanist.
Socialism, Determinism, and Rationalism are factors in the sum; and the
sum is Humanism.
Briefly, my religion is to do the best I can for humanity. I am a
Socialist, a Determinist, and a Rationalist because I believe that
Socialism, Determinism, and Rationalism will be beneficial to mankind.
I oppose the Christian religion because I do not think the Christian
religion is beneficial to mankind, and because I think it is an obstacle
in the way of Humanism.
I am rather surprised that men to whom my past work is well known
should suspect me of making a wanton and purposeless attack upon religion.
My attack is not wanton, but deliberate; not purposeless, but very
purposeful and serious. I am not acting irreligiously, but religiously. I
do not oppose Christianity because it is good, but because it is not good
There are two radical differences between Humanism and Christianity.
Christianity concerns itself with God and Man, putting God first and
Humanism concerns itself solely with Man, so that Man is its first and
last care. That is one radical difference.
Then, Christianity accepts the doctrine of Free Will, with its
consequent rewards and punishments; while Humanism embraces Determinist
doctrines, with their consequent theories of brotherhood and prevention.
And that is another radical difference.
Because the Christian regards the hooligan, the thief, the wanton, and
the drunkard as men and women who have done wrong. But the Humanist
regards them as men and women who have been wronged.
The Christian remedy is to punish crime and to preach repentance and
salvation to “sinners.” The Humanist remedy is to remove the causes which
lead or drive men into crime, and so to prevent the manufacture of
Let us consider the first difference. Christianity concerns itself with
the relations of Man to God, as well as with the relations between man and
man. It concerns itself with the future life as well as with the present
Now, he who serves two causes cannot serve each or both of them as well
as he could serve either of them alone.
He who serves God and Man will not serve Man as effectually as he who
gives himself wholly to the service of Man.
As the religion of Humanism concerns itself solely with the good of
humanity, I claim that it is more beneficial to humanity than is the
Christian religion, which divides its service and love between Man and
Moreover, this division is unequal. For Christians give a great deal
more attention to God than to Man.
And on that point I have to object, first, that although they
believe there is a God, they do not know there is a God, nor
what He is like. Whereas they do know very well that there are men, and
what they are like. And, secondly, that if there be a God, that God does
not need their love nor their service; whereas their fellow-creatures do
need their love and their service very sorely.
And, as I remarked before, if there is a Father in Heaven, He is likely
to be better pleased by our loving and serving our fellow-creatures (His
children) than by our singing and praying to Him, while our brothers and
sisters (His children) are ignorant, or brutalised, or hungry, or in
I speak as a father myself when I say that I should not like to think
that one of my children would be so foolish and so unfeeling as to erect a
marble tomb to my memory while the others needed a friend or a meal. And I
speak in the same spirit when I add that to build a cathedral, and to
spend our tears and pity upon a Saviour who was crucified nearly two
thousand years ago, while women and men and little children are being
crucified in our midst, without pity and without help, is cant, and
sentimentality, and a mockery of God.
Please note the words I use. I have selected them deliberately and
calmly, because I believe that they are true and that they are needed.
Christians are very eloquent about Our Blessed Lord and Saviour Jesus
Christ, and Our Father which is in Heaven. I know nothing about gods and
heavens. But I know a good deal about Manchester and London, and about men
and women; and if I did not feel the real shames and wrongs of the world
more keenly, and if I did not try more earnestly and strenuously to rescue
my fellow-creatures from ignorance, and sorrow, and injustice than most
Christians do, I should blush to look death in the face or call myself a
I choose my words deliberately again when I say that to me the most
besotted and degraded outcast tramp or harlot matters more than all the
gods and angels that humanity ever conjured up out of its imagination.
The Rev. R. F. Horton, in his answer to my question as to the need of
Christ as a Saviour, uttered the following remarkable words:
But there is a holiness so transcendent that the angels veil
their faces in the presence of God. I have known a good many
men who have rejected Christ, and men who are living without
Him, and, though God forbid that I should judge them, I do not
know one of them whom I would venture to take as my example if
I wished to appear in the presence of the holy God. They do
not tremble for themselves, but I tremble for myself if my
holiness is not to exceed that of such Scribes and Pharisees.
Oh, my brothers, where Christ is talking of holiness He is
talking of such a goodness, such a purity, such a transcendent
and miraculous likeness of God in human form, that I believe
it is true to say that there is but one name, as there is but
one way, by which a man can be holy and come into the presence
of God; and I look, therefore, upon this word of Christ not
only as the way of salvation, but as the revelation of the
holiness which God demands.
I close these answers to the questions with a practical word
to everyone that is here. It is my belief that you may be
good enough to pass through the grave and to wander in the
dark spaces of the world which is still earthly and sensual,
and you may be good enough to escape, as it were, the torments
of the hell which result from a life of debauchery and cruelty
and selfishness; but if you are to stand in the presence of God,
if you are ever to be pure, complete, and glad, “all rapture
through and through in God's most holy sight,” you must believe
in the name and in the power of our Lord Jesus Christ, the
only begotten son of God, who came into the world to save
sinners, and than whose no other name is given in heaven or
earth whereby we may be saved.
Such talk as that makes me feel ill. Here is a cultured, educated,
earnest man rhapsodising about holiness and the glory of a God no mortal
eye has ever seen, and of whom no word has ever reached us across the gulf
of death. And while he rhapsodised, with a congregation of honest
bread-and-butter citizens under him, trying hard with their blinkered eyes
and blunted souls, to glimpse that imaginary glamour of ecstatic
“holiness,” there surged and rolled around them the stunted, poisoned, and
emaciated life of London.
Holiness!—Holiness in the Strand, in Piccadilly, in Houndsditch, in
Whitechapel, in Park Lane, in Somerstown, and the Mint.
Holiness!—In Westminster, and in Fleet Street, and on 'Change.
Holiness!—In a world given over to robbery, to conquest, to vanity, to
ignorance, to humbug, to the worship of the golden calf.
Holiness!—With twelve millions of our workers on the verge of famine,
with rich fools and richer rogues lording it over nations of untaught and
half-fed dupes and drudges.
Holiness!—With a recognised establishment of manufactured paupers,
cripples, criminals, idlers, dunces, and harlots.
Holiness!—In a garden of weeds, a hotbed of lies, where hypnotised
saints sing psalms and worship ghosts, while dogs and horses are pampered
and groomed, and children are left to rot, to hunger, and to sink into
crime, or shame, or the grave.
Holiness! For shame. The word is obnoxious. It has stood so long for
craven fear, for exotistical inebriation, for selfish retirement from the
trials and buffets and dirty work of the world.
What have we to do with such dreamy, self-centred, emotional holiness,
here and now in London?
What we want is citizenship, human sympathy, public spirit, daring
agitators, stern reformers, drains, houses, schoolmasters, clean water,
truth-speaking, soap—and Socialism.
Holiness! The people are being robbed. The people are being cheated.
The people are being lied to. The people are being despised and neglected
and ruined body and soul.
Yes. And you will find some of the greatest rascals and most impudent
liars in the “Synagogues and High Places” of the cities.
Holiness! Give us common sense, and common honesty, and a “steady
supply of men and women who can be trusted with small sums.”
Your Christians talk of saving sinners. But our duty is not to save
sinners; but to prevent their regular manufacture: their systematic
manufacture in the interests of holy and respectable and successful and
Holiness! Cant, rant, and fustian! The nations are rotten with dirty
pride, and dirty greed, and mean lying, and petty ambitions, and sickly
sentimentality. Holiness! I should be ashamed to show my face at Heaven's
gates and say I came from such a contemptible planet.
Holiness! Your religion does not make it—its ethics are too weak, its
theories too unsound, its transcendentalism is too thin.
Take as an example this much-admired passage from St. James:
Pure religion and undefiled is this before God and the Father,
to visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and
to keep oneself unspotted from the world.
The widows and the fatherless are our brothers and sisters and our
flesh and blood, and should be at home in our hearts and on our hearths.
And who that is a man will work to keep himself unspotted from the world
if the service of the world needs him to expose his flesh and his soul to
I can fancy a Reverend Gentleman going to Heaven, unspotted from the
world, to face the awful eyes of a Heavenly Father whose gaze has been on
A good man mixes with the world in the rough-and-tumble, and takes his
share of the dangers, and the falls, and the temptations. His duty is to
work and to help, and not to shirk and keep his hands white. His business
is not to be holy, but to be useful.
In such a world as this, friend Christian, a man has no business
reading the Bible, singing hymns, and attending divine worship. He has not
time. All the strength and pluck and wit he possesses are needed in
the work of real religion, of real salvation. The rest is all “dreams out
of the ivory gate, and visions before midnight.”
There ought to be no such thing as poverty in the world. The earth is
bounteous: the ingenuity of man is great. He who defends the claims of the
individual, or of a class, against the rights of the human race is a
A hungry man, an idle man, an ignorant man, a destitute or degraded
woman, a beggar or pauper child is a reproach to Society and a witness
against existing religion and civilisation.
War is a crime and a horror. No man is doing his duty when he is not
trying his best to abolish war.
I have been asked why I “interfered in things beyond my sphere,” and
why I made “an unprovoked attack” upon religion. I am trying to explain.
My position is as follows:
Rightly or wrongly, I am a Democrat. Rightly or wrongly, I am for the
rights of the masses as against the privileges of the classes. Rightly or
wrongly, I am opposed to Godship, Kingship, Lordship, Priestship. Rightly
or wrongly, I am opposed to Imperialism, Militarism, and Conquest. Rightly
or wrongly, I am for universal brotherhood and universal freedom. Rightly
or wrongly, I am for union against disunion, for collective ownership
against private ownership. Rightly or wrongly, I am for reason against
dogma, for evolution against revelation; for humanity always; for earth,
not Heaven; for the holiest Trinity of all—the Trinity of Man, Woman, and
The greatest curse of humanity is ignorance. The only remedy is
Religion, being based on fixed authority, is naturally opposed to
A man may have a university education and be ignorant. A man may be a
genius, like Plato, or Shakespeare, or Darwin, and lack more knowledge.
The humblest of unlettered peasants can teach the highest genius something
useful. The greatest scientific and philosophical achievements of the most
brilliant age are imperfect, and can be added to and improved by future
There is no such thing as human infallibility. There is no finality in
human knowledge and human progress. Fixed authority in matters of
knowledge or belief is an insult to humanity.
Christianity degrades and restrains humanity with the shackles of
“original sin.” Man is not born in sin. There is no such thing as sin. Man
is innately more prone to good than to evil; and the path of his destiny
I should be inclined to call him who denies the innate goodness of
mankind an “Infidel.”
Heredity breeds different kinds of men. But all are men whom it breeds.
And all men are capable of good, and of yet more good. Environment can
move mountains. There is a limit to its power for good and for evil, but
that power is almost unimaginably great.
The object of life is to improve ourselves and our fellow-creatures,
and to leave the world better and happier than we found it.
The great cause of crime and failure is ignorance. The great cause of
unhappiness is selfishness. No man can be happy who loves or values
himself too much.
As all men are what heredity and environment have made them, no man
deserves punishment nor reward. As the sun shines alike upon the evil and
the good, so in the eyes of justice the saint and the sinner are as one.
No man has a just excuse for pride, or anger, or scorn.
Spiritual pride, intellectual pride, pride of pedigree, of caste, of
race are all contemptible and mean.
The superior person who wraps himself in a cloak of solemn affectations
should be laughed at until he learns to be honest.
The masterful man who puts on airs of command and leadership insults
his fellow-creatures, and should be gently but firmly lifted down many
Genius should not be regarded as a weapon, but as a tool. A man of
genius should not be allowed to command, but only to serve. The human race
would do well to watch jealously and restrain firmly all superior persons.
Most kings, jockeys, generals, prize-fighters, priests, ladies'-maids,
millionaires, lords, tenor singers, authors, lion-comiques, artists,
beauties, statesmen, and actors are spoiled children who sadly need to be
taught their place. They should be treated kindly, but not allowed too
many toys and sweetmeats, nor too much flattery. Such superior persons are
like the clever minstrels, jesters, clerks, upholsterers, storytellers,
horse-breakers, huntsmen, stewards, and officers about a court. They
should be fed and praised when they deserve it, but they cannot be too
often reminded that they are retainers and servants, and that their
Sovereign and Master is—
In a really humane and civilised nation:
There should be and need be no such thing as poverty.
There should be and need be no such thing as ignorance.
There should be and need be no such thing as crime.
There should be and need be no such thing as idleness.
There should be and need be no such thing as war.
There should be and need be no such thing as slavery.
There should be and need be no such thing as hate.
There should be and need be no such thing as envy.
There should be and need be no such thing as pride.
There should be and need be no such thing as greed.
There should be and need be no such thing as gluttony.
There should be and need be no such thing as vice.
But this is not a humane and civilised nation, and never will be while
it accepts Christianity as its religion.
These are my reasons for opposing Christianity. If I have said anything
to give pain to any Christian, I am sorry, and ask to be forgiven. I have
tried to maintain “towards all creatures a bounteous friendly feeling.”
As to what I said about holiness, I cannot take back a word. Dr. Horton
said that without that form of holiness which only a belief in Christ can
give we shall only be good enough to barely escape Hell, and, “after
passing through the grave, to wander in the dark spaces of the world,
which is still earthly and sensual.”
I say earnestly and deliberately that if I can only attain to Heaven
and to holiness as one of a few, if I am to go to Heaven and leave
millions of my brothers and sisters to ignorance and misery and crime, I
will hope to be sent instead into those “dark spaces of the world which is
still earthly and sensual” and there to be permitted to fight with all my
strength against pain and error and injustice and human sorrow. I know I
shall be happier so. I think I was made for that kind of work, and I
fervently wish that I may be allowed to do my duty as long as ever there
is a wrong in the world that I can help to right, a grief I can help to
soothe, a truth I can help to tell.
Let the Holy have their Heaven. I am a man, and an Infidel. And this is
Besides, gentlemen, Christianity is not true.