KING AND BRADLAUGH DEBATE - PART 17
SIX NIGHTS' DISCUSSION
DAVID KING AND CHARLES BRADLAUGH
[The following section copied by permission of The British Library, No. 4018a2(1).]
WHAT IS SECULARISM? - WHAT CAN IT DO FOR MAN THAT CHRISTIANITY CANNOT?
Tuesday Evening, 25th October, 1870
UMPIRE - John Duckworth, Esq.
For Mr. King, Rev. Dr. Scott;
For Mr. Bradlaugh, Mr. Thomas Slater.
The Umpire: - Ladies and gentlemen, all of you who were present at the last meeting for debate, in September, will remember that at the close of the meeting a committee was formed with reference to the question of the existence of a letter (as alleged by Mr. Bradlaugh), in which Mr. King asked his committee to make a collection for him. I must tell you that a committee meeting was held on the 9th of October, 1870, when there were present: Rev. Dr. Scott, Rev. Mr. Roseman, Mr. Thos. Slater, Mr. William Coates, and Mr. John Duckworth. Mr. Martin was also present as owner of the letter which gave rise to the above committee. The committee carefully put aside all matters not strictly bearing on the disputed point, but held itself closely to Mr. Bradlaugh's question and Mr. King's reply. Mr. Bradlaugh's question was this - "I ask Mr. King whether it is not true that he has written to his committee, asking them to make a collection for him, and telling them he was ready to receive it?" Mr. King replied - "It is not true that I wrote to my committee asking them to make a collection." Mr. Bradlaugh then said "I ask Mr. Martin to produce the letter in which is was so stated." At the request of the committee Mr. Martin handed over a letter, which letter was carefully read, and its contents as carefully discussed, - finally, it was unanimously agreed that it was the letter which had given rise to Mr. Bradlaugh's question. The committee agreed upon the following resolution: - Moved by the Rev. Dr. Scott, seconded by Mr. William Coates - "That this meeting having read Mr. Bradlaugh's statement and the letter from Mr. King on which it was founded, unanimously agree to request the Umpire to read to the meeting on the 25th instant not only Mr. Bradlaugh's charge, but also Mr. King's letter of the 5th of April, referring to money; to express regret that the subject had been noticed, and to state that in the united judgment of the committee, Mr. Bradlaugh's statement is not sustained by Mr. King's letter. [Applause]. I would further say that the committee did not doubt but that Mr. Bradlaugh had been told that Mr. King had asked for a collection. Now, having thus placed the matter before the audience, I hope that both disputants will be perfectly satisfied with the verdict of the committee, and that the matter will now drop. I assure you that it has been the wish of the committee, who sat so unanimously and so comfortably, that both parties should have a fair and full hearing so far as they were concerned: and I am happy to say that the committee were perfectly agreed as to the course to be adopted. The subject for discussion tonight is "What is Secularism: and what can it do for man that Christianity cannot? and I call upon Mr. Slater to state the reasons why a change in the programme has been made.
MR. Slater: - Mr. Umpire, ladies and gentlemen, I have simply to say that, on account of medical advice, Mr. Bradlaugh is induced to refrain from continuing the discussion for five nights successively; and in order to meet, as we thought, the wishes of the other side, we conceded that they should take what subject they liked for discussion. They have resolved that "Secularism" shall be the question for tonight and tomorrow, in place of the question "What are the legitimate effects of Christianity?" I have likewise to say, in order that there may be no misunderstanding, that Mr. Bradlaugh has put aside other engagements intervening between this night and next Thursday week, with the exception of one discourse on Sunday night. I have likewise to say that Mr. Bradlaugh will be prepared to complete the discussion at any time the other party may choose, leaving out those announcements already made in the National Reformer; so that it will be seen that we have no desire to blink the question, but wish the whole subject, as announced, to be fully considered. We do not demand any expenses for Mr. Bradlaugh, on account of his journey from and to London on his third visit. The matter is now before you, and I hope you will accept that explanation; and I now beg to introduce Mr. Bradlaugh to your notice.
Rev. Dr. Scott: - As the matter has been put very fairly before you, and every moment of our time tonight is valuable for the debate, I shall not trouble you with any remarks.
MR. BRADLAUGH'S OPENING ADDRESS
MR. BRADLAUGH: - Mr. Umpire and friends, I cannot help expressing my personal regret that any want upon my side should be the cause of any change in your programme, but I so seldom make public duty subservient to my private convenience, that I trust those who have the smallest acquaintance with me will believe that I should not have insisted on this occasion had I not found it most material to the preservation of my throat. I won't waste one word further upon that, except to say that I have already been obliged to break two lecturing engagements during the last fortnight, and also to postpone eight or nine lectures which stood for delivery during the next fortnight, including two nights' debate at Holywell; and I say that not seeking to make an apology or excuse, but because I think when a man makes an engagement with the public he ought to give at any rate some reason why that arrangement is departed from. The subject for this evening's debate is changed and from its very nature there is not the slightest unfairness in this, because otherwise the postponement would have been the postponement of that which in any discussion I am bound to defend. The question, therefore, is "What is Secularism; what can it do for the world that Christianity cannot?" Now the only difficulty which arises on this question is the preliminary difficulty in defining Secularism, when one is compelled to accompany the definition with a declaration that it has not, and cannot, by its very action, have any sort of definite and limited programme, which shall be the same ten years hence as it is today. The broad principle which I shall put to you will be the same, but the contention of Secularism is that each day's knowledge, each day's enquiry, each day's thought, may convince you of the truth of some matter of which you were heretofore ignorant, or of an error in some matter upon which you held there was no possibility of doubt. It would be unfair in me to disguise from you that by Secularism I mean and contend a position that is adverse to all the religious teachings of the world. It has been put in the Principle of the National Secular Society as clearly and distinctly as it is possible to put it, and I will read these to you, because they will form, to a great extent, the basis for the whole of my speech. "This Association declares that the promotion of human improvement and happiness is the highest duty. That the theological teachings of the world have been and are most powerfully obstructive of human improvement and happiness; human activity being guided and increased by a consciousness of the facts of existence, while it is misguided and impeded in the most mischievous manner when the intellect is warped or prostrated by childish and absurd superstitions. That in order to promote effectually the improvement and happiness of mankind, every individual of the human family ought to be well placed and well instructed, and all who are of a suitable age ought to be suitably employed for their own and the general good. That human improvement and happiness cannot be effectually promoted without civil and religious liberty, and that, therefore, it is the duty of every individual - a duty to be practically recognised by every member of this association - to actively attack all barriers to equal freedom of thought and utterance for all upon political and religious subjects." Now, these are the principles of the National Secular Society, and they contain that morality which means nothing more and nothing less than that which effects the greatest good for the greatest number, and with the least injury to any, and which should be, of a surety, when found worked out by everybody who professes to be enrolled under its banner. And Secularism teaches this - that there is no man who can by any possibility give you the whole truth upon all subjects - that there are very few men who can give you the whole truth upon any particular subject, even when they have made it their especial study, and that to gather the truth upon any subject you must gather it from all men, from all ages, from all sects, from all churches, finding in all some good, and applying the best knowledge of the best men for the adaptation of that good to your own improvement and the improvement of your fellows. [Hear, hear]. Now, I shall not at present put to you any further than that, the mere theory of Secularism - rather waiting until I hear it attacked. But shall apply myself to that special portion of the question - "What has Secularism done, or what can it do for you that Christianity cannot?" Now, I think that the best evidence of what Secularism can do for the world will be to show you what it has done, because there can be no fairer test of the ability of a system to accomplish its work than that which has resulted from it. And pardon my using the word "system," because it is a word forced upon me by the exigencies of language rather than by anything else. If you say party in lieu of system, or accept the word system as only an enunciation of the ideas of that party, I am content with the word; but if you mean by system that a line shall be drawn round us as a circle outside of which you can find nothing, I object, because we belong to a party that professes its ability every day to enlarge that line, and to take every day more of the facts of the world to its use than yesterday. Now I will tell you one thing which Secularism can do that Christianity cannot, or has not, - that is educate the mass of the peoples, and so fit them day by day for the work they have to do. The evidence of that is unfortunately too clear. The evidence of it may be found in many parts of those countries where people are most religious - where no Infidelity obtains; for there they are the most ignorant, the most degraded, the most wretched, and in countries where the people are most professedly Christian they are also the most ignorant, the least educated. And if you go back for 300 or 400 years, to a time when there was no active and avowed Infidel propaganda in Europe, you find that the people did not know how to read or write, or in any way participate in the advantages of the civilization of the world. This will be the case which I will present to you, and I'll apply it first to England. The least Infidel population in England is the agricultural. There there is no division; there there are no subscribers to the National Reformer to be found; there there are no men, or at least so few as to be hardly perceptible, who are purchasers of Paine's works, or readers of Voltaire. Take the whole of the population of Wiltshire, or Dorset, or Somerset, or Essex, or Hertford, there would not be one in fifty that had heard of Strauss, or of Forbach, or of Kant. Those would all be words or sounds without any sort of connecting idea. They do know the Church of England; they have seen the parson. They do know the Squire, and they open the gate to him. They know that they ought to hold themselves reverently toward their spiritual pastors, and behave respectfully to all their betters. They know that they must be baptized; when their wives bring them children they must be brought to church, and other interesting facts of that kind, and that is the sum and substance of their religion, yet everyone would be shocked at the supposition of there being atheists among them. If you ask them what they are, they say Christians. They will pray to any extent, believe anything the parson likes to preach, but as to knowledge they have not got it. Take, then, if you please, as an illustration, the state of the most religious countries in Europe - I mean places where people believe the most and pray the most. I have a little experience of Spain; I have a great deal of experience of Sicily and Naples: and I can say that in Sicily and Naples I have seen praying and profession of faith at the shortest notice, and under the slightest circumstances, and the mass of the people would be utterly horrified at the notion of having anything to do with a disbeliever. And yet what is their condition? A condition of the most wretched ignorance. What is the state of things in our own country? Take, if you please, Dorking, in Norfolk, and I am about to quote from the Rev. James Frazer's report to the House of Commons. He speaks there of the state of the people as a disgrace to any Christian community. He says that in one small chamber persons of one, two, and three generations were huddled together, and all the operations of the toilet, dressing, undressing, births and deaths, were performed by each within the hearing and sight of all, and children of both sexes of the ages of 13 and 14, occupy the same bedroom. He said that there "human nature is degraded below the level of the swine;" and this in a portion of the country where infidelity has never been able to penetrate at all, where the Church holds its own religion triumphantly; and Secularism and Infidelity have been able to do nothing. But take, if you please, as a set off, the growth of education amongst the masses of the people in England. It is a very limited growth among the mass of the people, and limited to the last 150 years, and it has been effected chiefly during the last there or four generations. One body of men to whom probably we owe a great deal of education is the Unitarian body, at the time when they stood in relation to society very nearly in the same position as we stand in relation to it today. But the effectation of education today was done by the Socialistic and Owenite party, who did more than any other body in the State to lay the foundation of an educational system, which will grow in England. But what I wish to point out is this, that evidently all this could not be the result of Christianity, because, after Christianity had existed 1500 years (that is going 370 years back), you come to a state of things in England when there is not one out of a thousand of the working classes who know how to read and write. Well, all I can say is, that if Christianity could educate the people before, it is a pity it did not, and that it only began to try to do it when it found that infidelity was taking the work out of its hands. Then we will put the question of education aside for a moment. I don't mean to rest my case there; I have only thrown out this as a point for your consideration, and I have a few stronger facts to bring to bear than those I have already submitted to your notice. I will now take the question of slavery. Now slavery is utterly inconsistent with Secularism. It is a purely religious institution. So far as Christianity is concerned it is part and parcel of it. It is enacted in the Old Testament and it was never repealed in the New. In the Old Testament God provides than men may buy slaves, sell slaves, breed slaves, and keep slaves for ever: and Jesus never revokes that provision in the New Testament. Now, when did men first begin to think of giving freedom to slaves? When men were disposed towards infidelity. And William Wilberforce, in February, 1796, when moving in the House of Commons for leave to introduce a bill to amend the laws relating to the West Indian slave trade, reminded the House that what they were pleased to call anarchic infidel France had given freedom to her slaves, while Christian and monarchic England had kept them in serfdom. Now, I put it to you that it is inconsistent with the true doctrine of Christianity to give freedom to the slave, and that it is only an infidel institution - which claims liberty of thought, which cannot be, or be effected, without liberty of body accompanying it - that can come forward and give freedom to men. The doctrine of religion is what God regulated, what God provided, and in fact, one of its distinct teachings is that men should be contented with the lot of life in which they are placed by Providence. Secularism says that it is a crime to be contented with your lot in life unless that lot brings you healthy food, healthy clothing, and shelter, and in addition leisure, in which you may and do cultivate yourselves and make yourselves better and more useful, in which you may benefit your wives and families, and devote yourselves to finding out those things that will tend to improve the condition of yourselves and your fellows. Here is the distinction between the two - Secularism and Christianity. Christianity says, if you are in any difficulty pray to God, and He will remedy it. Secularism says, if there is a lump of mud in the way shovel it out, for it we don't, Providence will never remove it; and the proof of it is that it never will because it never has. [Cheers and disapprobation]. Another point is, woman's enfranchisement. Secularism does that for woman that Christianity could not, or would not, because the Bible places woman in an inferior position. The Old Testament treated her as something merely to gratify man's passion; to breed children for him; and it never dealt with her as a human being, fairly and truly. Some of the passages in the Old Testament are so shocking that one wonders how an English mother could ever allow it to come into her daughters' hands. Now, Secularism has made the enfranchisement of women possible, and it is with heretic notions that the utilising of women's work and abilities has made progress in the world - woman in connection with medicine, woman in connection with occupations of life in which independence, and self-reliance, such as men have in their sphere, has figured only in proportion to the growth of heresy, and figured most in countries where heresy has most obtained. And you will find in the present day, in connection with this great institution, that the men who opposed the enfranchisement of woman - even to the extent of the Married Women's Property Bill in the House of Lords - are the people most associated with the religious systems of the country. I allege to you that Secularists seek to provide for woman a fitting place in society, where religion would have treated her as something very much less than man. On this point, though I cannot repeat the passages, I was shocked to find that the New Testament, which is a later development, is in this respect nearly as much wanting in its appreciation of humanity as the Pentateuch itself. Then in regard to the mere matter of civil liberty Secularism gives to man the right to contend for individual right, and to perform individual duty in a way which Christianity not only did not, and could not, but in a way to which Christianity is entirely opposed. If you have a bad King you must not meddle with him; you must be obedient and submit yourselves to the powers that be. If you have a bad one you are bound to submit to him - that is laid down as clearly as it can be. Now, Secularism teaches that bad governments are a reflex of a bad, a corrupt, an ignorant, a degraded people, and that in making yourselves strong and true, you trust to your right and ability to throw off a bad government, and Secularism does not simply teach you to throw off the government, but to throw off in yourselves that which renders a bad government possible, at the same time that you denounce the government which is the result of the bad system against which your efforts are directed. The Christian religion teaches you to pray for the King, the Queen, the Royal family, without reference to whether they be good, bad, or indifferent. If a drunken, licentious prince, or a rascally cabinet, it is just the same. Christianity makes no difference; in fact the book which is its mouth-piece, teaches you to obey them, and if anything is bad it will be remedied by and bye; and I say that that is bad doctrine, and utterly destructive of all progress. Now, what is the evidence as it stands that this is so? Why all the civil and religious liberty of the world has grown, so far as the masses of the people are concerned, during the last 400 years, and as it has grown each movement has been denounced as infidel in the age in which it commenced although that movement, in relation to succeeding movements had been one which from our point of view we might almost call of an orthodox character, because it is impossible to get the human mind at first to throw off the shackles, and distinguish between them. It is with human thought the same as with physical muscle - the more you exercise it the stronger it grows. Voltaire and Paine were persecuted, Spinoza and others, truly noble, were burnt, Campenella and Pomponatius were sent to prison, but if you trace the history of their time you will find that the progress of heresy was unchecked. And take from the 16th century, when there was springing up in Sicily a Campanella; in the north a John Giovanni Bruno, who spent his life from boyhood in sunny Nola, coming to Switzerland and talking to the people in Swiss, coming to France and talking in French, to England and talking English, to Bavaria and Wurtemberg talking German, to Poland and talking Polish, and then back to Vienna, and into the dungeon, and to the stake, where he was burnt to win the liberty of speech we use today. If Christianity could give the liberty of speech we have today, why did it burn the first men who used it? Why did it trample on them, gag them, burn them, starve them? If there was any civil liberty in this church, in this creed, why did it not show it? [Applause].
MR. KING'S FIRST REPLY
MR. KING: - I regret that our expected course has been interfered with, but we have done the best we could under the circumstances. Mr. Bradlaugh's throat is not in favourable condition for the work he has engaged to perform, and I am satisfied with his withdrawal from a portion of the debate, if there be a withdrawal, as stated by Mr. Slater on Mr. Bradlaugh's behalf, from other lectures and engagements. It would be unfair on our part to raise any objection, if that feature of the case is to be carried out. I regret that we have not had something like a definition of Secularism tonight. The first part of the question is "What is Secularism?" and then "What can it do for man that Christianity cannot?" So far as I can gather my opponent has simply told us that Secularism is not a system. It is a difficult question to answer, apparently. He says that the Secularism of today may be something different from the Secularism of ten years hence. But it would have been quite as well had he told us precisely what it is today - what it is for the present time - [Applause] - then if we live ten years hence we can ask how much it has changed - how much it has improved - in the interval. But we have not been gratified with that information tonight, and I don't expect to be gratified with it throughout the discussion.
But what is Secularism? Who can tell? Mr. Holyoake originated it and Mr. Bradlaugh is President of the National Secular Society. Yet only a few weeks ago they met in public debate to settle this very question, and parted leaving it as unsettled as ever, each intimating that the other does not understand it. In the beginning Mr. Holyoake created Secularism. It was this way. Socialism, under the headship of R. Owen, had had its innings and been fairly stumped out. Far larger in organization and membership and wider in its activities than the present Secularism, as also equally fierce in its denunciations of Christianity and bitter in its hatred of Christians, it died by the force of public argument and the failure of its efforts to set up model farms and communistic societies, and to inaugurate a "new moral world." So complete was the collapse that it became necessary for infidels to abandon old terms and create a new name for the old infidelity in the hope of deceiving the public by pretending that Secularism was a new name for a new thing. The communistic "New Harmony" of old Socialism turned out a common possession of bitterness, destitution, and confusion, and the new thing with the new name (Secularism) after some twenty years of active existence, sets up its founder and its president in a platform fight, to determine what it is, which they utterly fail to do; whereupon one of the two comes here tonight to tell us what that Secularism is which the other (its founder) intimates he does not understand and is unfit to represent. In that debate Mr. Holyoake affirmed, and Mr. Bradlaugh denied, that the principles of Secularism do NOT include Atheism. Mr. Holyoake said - "It is this which Secularism attempts by founding a dominion of reason where all who think are free and all who are true are sure, asserting its own principles, but not assailing others - needing neither to assail nor condescending to assail theological systems. Secularism keeps its own ground by studying the means which nature places at the disposal of man. It commands resources of self help - in a utilitarian rule of morals it finds guidance. It establishes personal desert by service and veracity. In all these principles there is perfect independence of Atheism." Then he goes on to say that "neither the existence nor the non-existence of God - neither the mortality nor the immortality of the soul - that none of these doctrines are in any way necessary - that they are separate and independent from these Secular tenets." All this is very plain and very liberal, and, so far as I can see, leaves me perfectly qualified for membership in a Secular Society, for certainly I do think and I am true, and opinions as to God and immortality do not disqualify. But, on the other hand, Mr. Bradlaugh is illiberal, strait-laced, narrow-minded, and as exclusive as the veriest bigot that ever walked the earth. With him not only is Atheism essential to Secularism, but where Atheism is not there can be no scheme of morals, and every man who believes in a future life and judgment after death is immoral; or, rather, he goes further and declares it immoral to admit admit the possibility of such future life and judgment. His words are - "I say it is absolutely immoral and absolutely unsecularist to admit the possibility of conduct in this life being the subject of trial, judgment, and sentence after death and in some future world." Lower down he adds - "You cannot have a scheme of morality without Atheism." In the debate with Mr. Harrison he said - "Secularism is Atheism. I have said so for the last thirteen years of my life." Thus Bradlaugh and Holyoake are at opposites. In the debate Mr. Holyoake cited Mr. Watts (who is now secretary and lecturer to the National Secular Society) as dead against Mr. Bradlaugh. He says - "That the question of the existence of God, being one of conjecture, Secularism leaves it for persons to decide for themselves. Atheism includes Secularism but Secularism does not exact atheistical profession as the basis of co-operation. It is not considered necessary that a man should advance as far as Atheism to be a Secularist." In reply to this Mr. Bradlaugh intimated that, further on, Mr. Watts had said something different. If that be the case we can put it thus - Holyoake against Bradlaugh; Bradlaugh against Holyoake; Watts against both of them, and also against himself. [Cheers]. Here, then, is a dilemma. How are you to know which is right, seeing they have no standard of appeal? And which Secularism am I to deal with? Mr. Bradlaugh is here, Mr. Holyoake is not. I will, therefore, deal with that of the man who is present, and leave that of the absent one to take care of itself. The principles of Secularism, then, DO include Atheism. As then he is not a Christian who does not embrace the principles of Christianity, and as he is not a Teetotaller who does not embrace the principles of Teetotalism, so he is not a Secularist who does not embrace the principles of Secularism. And as the principles of Christianity embrace belief in Deity, and the principles of Teetotalism total abstinence from intoxicants, and as the principles of Secularism embrace Atheism, so no man can be a Christian who is not a Theist - no one can be a Teetotaller who does not abstain, and no man can be a Secularist who is not an Atheist. This being the case, I shall in this debate refuse to recognise any man as a Secularist who is not an Atheist, and I shall refuse to place to the account of Secularism work done by persons who believe in Deity. So then where there is no Atheist there is no Secularist, and where there is no Atheism there is no Secularism. What, then, is Secularist work? That is to say, properly and distinctively so, according to Secularism as defined by Mr. Bradlaugh. Why, most certainly that and that only which only a Secularist can do - which only an Atheist can perform. Whatever work, then, I, or any other Theist can accomplish, is not (in the proper distinctive sense of the term) Secularist work - that is to say, not work which in any special and exclusive way appertains to the National Secular Society, nor to any similar association. Secularism talks much of its "Scheme of Rights," Principles, Work, and Moral Basis. But Mr. Bradlaugh's Secularism has no rights peculiar to it, save one. As men these Secularists have many rights, but as Secularists (that is, Atheists) only one - the right to express their opinions against Deity. Of distinctive principles they have only one - that man, or rather that some men, do not know that a God exists. Of work, properly their own, they have none, save that of propagating their one distinctive principle. As to moral code, or moral basis, distinctively theirs, they have none, and can have none; for Secularism, being Atheism (and, therefore, nothing more than doubt or denial of Deity), has no code of morals to offer. The consequence is, that when we examine its alleged rights, principles, work, and morals, nothing is found save that which belongs to those who are not Secularists, or that which is purely fanciful, as when Mr. Bradlaugh declares all men immoral who admit the possibility of rewards and punishment after death. Take as an example the SCHEME OF RIGHTS given by Mr. Holyoake. He says - "Secularism builds on the foundation of four rights:-
1. The right to think for one's self, which most Christians now admit, at least in theory.
2. The right to differ, without which the right to think is nothing worth.
3. The right to assert difference of opinion, without which the right to differ is of no practical use.
4. The right to debate all vital opinion, without which there is no intellectual equality - no defence against the errors of the state or the pulpit."
Now, what have these four rights to do with Atheism more than with Deism? Why are they put down as the rights of Secularists? That is, why are they presented as the distinctive rights of the Atheist? Put them as the rights of man and I have nothing to say against them. Why, did not T. Paine assert and maintain these four rights? I mean not as to the exact words, but did he not act in the full spirit of them? Yet he was not an Atheist, and, therefore, were he still living could not be a Secularist, on Mr. Bradlaugh's theory. I claim these four rights for myself and for every man, and I act upon them, and I am taught by Christianity so to do. The command to me is, "Prove all things, and hold fast that which is good." These, then, are not the distinctive rights of Secularism, as defined by Mr. Bradlaugh, for, as we have seen, it has but one right - that of asserting Atheism. Take the PRINCIPLES of Secularism as given by Mr. Bradlaugh in the National Secular Society's Almanack. This Secular creed consists of four articles, and commences with - "This Association declares that the promotion of human improvement and happiness is the highest duty." Of course the association may declare just what it thinks proper, and the principles thus proclaimed may really be those of the men of whom the association is composed. But there is nothing distinctive of Atheism in this first principle. A hundred different societies, with not an infidel among them, might avow it. I avow it and act upon it. The second principle on the list I cannot adopt - i.e., that "all theological teachings are powerfully obstructive of human improvement." I hold that some theological teachings are powerfully promotive of human improvement. But Paine could have subscribed this principle, or, if not, then "theological teachings" do not include mere Theism, and the proposition, in that case, is merely the one distinctive principle of Mr. Bradlaugh's Secularism - ATHEISM. The other two set forth, that every individual ought to be well placed, well instructed, and usefully employed - that there should be civil and religious liberty, and that it is the duty of every individual to attack the barriers to equal freedom, thought, utterance, etc. Why, what is there in all this distinctive of that Secularism which is Atheism? I see nothing in Nos. 3 and 4 not held by the churches in Birmingham in which I minister. Then let us glance at the work pointed out by the executive of the National Secular Society as specially deserving active attention - obtaining a system of National Secular compulsory education - the disestablishment and disendowment of the State Church, and placing all religions and forms of opinion on a level before the law - the improvement of the condition of the agricultural classes - changing the land laws - substituting for the hereditary chamber of peers a chamber of life members elected for their fitness - the investigation of the causes of poverty, etc. Now, in all this there is nothing distinctive of Secularistic - i.e., Atheistic - work - nothing that any man need go outside Christianity in order to be able to promote - nothing that an Atheist can do better than a Theist - nothing but what believers in Christianity are engaged in promoting - nothing but what I, myself, approve. Take for instance National Secular Education. Is the President of the National Education League (Mr. Dixon, M.P.) an Atheist? He is a man of note as to piety and belief. Why, so far is this work from being, in any special way, that of the National Secular Society, that Mr. Holyoake intimates that Secularism of Mr. Bradlaugh's type has been a hindrance to Parliamentary progress. Take the disestablishment of the State Church. Are the leaders in this work Atheists? Is the Liberation Society an infidel club? Is Mr. Edward Miall an Atheist? Is the Central Nonconformist Committee (which is now rendered permanent for the purpose of action till unsectarian and secular education is provided for the whole land) Atheistic? It is something worse than absurdity to parade this kind of work as appertaining to that Atheistic Secularism whose only distinctive work is disseminating Atheism. But now let us turn to the Secularistic theory of morals. I do not mean that moral code which cannot be constructed without Atheism. That is not out yet, or at least I have not met with it. It does not, however, follow that it has no existence. It may be moving about in quiet - travelling by underground railway - keeping company with that "uncomfortable book" the commendations of which, by Mr. Bradlaugh, so sorely troubled Mr. Holyoake. But this Secularist, Athestic, Moral Code ought to be given tonight. These ten years it has been called for, but it is not yet forthcoming. Mr. Hutchings, in debate with Mr. Bradlaugh, intimated that one of his reasons for entering upon that discussion was that of dragging out of his opponent a plain statement of his moral code. But he did not succeed in getting it. Mr. Bradlaugh answered, "Have I not told you, that that is right which is moral - that that is moral which brings the greatest good to the greatest number." This is about equal to a certain confession of faith of which I have read. "Patrick - what do you believe? - I believe what the Church believes. - What does the Church believe? - The Church believes as I believe. What then do you and the Church believe? - Why, we both believe the same things." [Applause]. Now, it may be admitted that morality will produce the greatest good to the greatest number; but the required answer must specify those actions which will and those actions which will not promote that good. But, leaving this point till we see whether Mr. Bradlaugh will enlighten us, we briefly notice the "Theory of Morals." Mr. Holyoake puts is thus - "That there exists guarantees of morality in human nature, in utility; and intelligence." Now, surely we are entitled to ask - How, if these guarantees exist, immorality has come to prevail? A guarantee which does not secure what it guarantees is a mockery and snare. In human nature there exist no guarantees of morality, or immorality could not exist. From whence came the prevalent immorality? It did not, according to Mr. Bradlaugh, come from God nor devil, for neither of them exist. It comes then from man and, therefore from that very human nature which is said to have guarantees for its non-existence. Shall it be said that human nature has not yet attained the required acquaintance with utility, and that the requisite intelligence does not exist? If the intelligence does not yet exist, of course human nature is without it, and that which does not exist cannot be a guarantee of anything. But how long must human nature wait before that amount of intelligence is possessed which really will guarantee morality? According to the lowest calculation, man has been here some 6,000 years. According to Mr. Bradlaugh's fables he may have been here millions of years. Surely the intelligence might have been developed by this time. [Applause]. And if not, what reason have we to conclude that human nature will ever find herself in possession of these imaginary securities? But there is utility. Yes, and positive proof that utility is no such guarantee. Does not the profane swearer admit that there is no utility whatever in making himself a blackguard? And yet he does so. Does the drunkard dream of utility in drunkenness, which starves his children and breaks the heart of his wife? He understands fully the inutility of the thing, and his intelligence completely comprehends the results, and yet he goes on in the road to ruin. Go to our prisons and dens of crime - ask the inmates their views of the immoralities they commit, and you will learn that human nature often shudders at its enormities - that utility (in any moral application of the term) is not alleged, and that often those who live a vicious course possess intelligence which condemns, but does not save them therefrom. The moral basis, then, of Secularism is a quagmire, and those who follow its blind leaders will find themselves overhead in the bog. Now, in view of all this, what should I gain by becoming a Secularist? Its scheme of rights offers me nothing, for I already exercise them. Its statement of principles (excepting that which involves the advocacy of Atheism) I can, as a Christian, accept. Its programme of work is one for the accomplishment of which I have already put forth considerable effort. Its moral basis is immoral nonsense, and if it were not so, it offers me nothing; as whatever guarantees there are in nature apply to me as much as to the Secularist. If I throw in what Mr. Holyoake calls "Its practical result" - the discovery that "Science is the Providence of Man," I still get nothing, for science does as much for me as it does for the Secularist, and Theists have done far more than Atheists to promote scientific discovery. Secularism is like unto a man advertising to give new clothing to all comers, but who, when you apply, presents you permission to use your own wardrobe upon condition that you become Atheists. [Applause]. This everlasting cry of science, as though it had some exclusive connection with Atheistic Secularism, is a cheat, a nuisance, and an absurdity. One would suppose that all scientific discovery and progress came from Atheists. But, was Roger Bacon an Atheist? Was Columbus an Atheist? Was Copernicus an Atheist? Were Sir Francis Bacon, Galileo, Keplar, Sir Isaac Newton, Faraday, with a host of others too numerous to mention, Atheists? No! Not one of them. Away then with all your Secularistic cant about science, until it can be shown that scientific discovery has been advanced exclusively by Atheists, or at least till the world's roll of science promoters (from the remote past down to the present) shows its numerous pages of atheistic names only here and there broken by a solitary Theist. [Continued applause].
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