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Title: Ludicrous Aspects Of Christianity - A Response To The Challenge Of The Bishop Of Manchester
Author: Holyoak, Austin
Language: English
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LUDICROUS ASPECTS OF CHRISTIANITY:

A Response To The Challenge Of The Bishop Of Manchester.

By Austin Holyoak


The Bishop of Manchester, in a speech delivered by him in Oldham in
August, 1870, is reported to have said that "he could defy anyone to try
to caricature the work, the character, or the person of the Lord Jesus
Christ." He no doubt felt confident in throwing out such a challenge,
as the attempt would be considered so atrociously impious that few men
could be found with courage enough to incur the odium of such an act. We
confess that we have not the temerity to wound the sensitiveness of the
devoutly religious. What may be deemed of the nature of caricature in
the following remarks the reader is requested to regard as merely the
spontaneous utterance of one who is keenly alive to the ludicrous, and
who is not awed by the belief that the Bible is an infallible volume.
We find the New Testament, when read without the deceptive spectacles of
_faith_ as amusing, as extravagant, and as contradictory in many places
as most books.

A system of religion, to be a moral guide to men, should be perfect in
all its parts. It should not consist of a few precepts which might
be followed under certain circumstances, the rest being made up of
impossibilities and contradictions; but should be so comprehensive as to
embrace all orders of men under all circumstances. And a divine exemplar
to mankind, if such a being can be imagined, should possess every human
virtue in perfection, and be absolutely without fault. We are told daily
and hourly that Jesus Christ possesses these transcendent qualities, and
is worthy of the homage and admiration of the world. We ask where this
divine image is to be found, and are referred to the four Gospels in the
New Testament. All that is there written was written by inspiration of
God, and God therefore is the painter of the lineaments of his own Son.
We will take it as such, and see what aspect Jesus presents when viewed
in the light we are able to bring to bear upon his portrait. We shall
follow a somewhat different plan to that adopted by M. Rénan. That
great French writer has evidently gone to his task with the intention or
anticipation of finding an almost perfect man, and he ends by believing
he really sees one in Jesus. We have taken up the Gospels with the
desire of finding what is actually there; and as it appears to us, so we
will present it to the reader. We know that some will view the sayings
and actions in a different light; but that is inevitable. No two persons
ever see in the painted portrait of a friend or relative, precisely
the same expression; yet they may be equally honest. Now we claim to be
regarded as truthful in the following portraiture, though Jesus appears
to us a very different man to what he appeared to M. Renan. Some may say
we are flippant, but that we cannot help, though we may regret it. We
must express ourselves in our own way, and we most be excused if we
laugh at what seems ludicrous or absurd.

We may be accused of a want of reverence, but we cannot feel reverence
for what does not excite that feeling in us.

These pages are not critical--they do not pretend to be learned--they
do not seek to explain away anything on the score of "forgeries" or
"interpolations." They are based upon the supposition that the _Four_
Gospels are each and collectively true, and without contradiction. No
attempt is made to reconcile contradictions by rejecting all that does
not harmonise. The Churches do not do so--they cling to all within the
two covers of the "sacred book," and of course take the responsibility.

Nothing will be here set down that Jesus did not utter; no meaning will
be put upon his words that they will not legitimately bear; we have
judged of him as we find him in the general actions of his life. A
devout believer will exclaim, with uplifted hands and eyes--"Oh, this
is blasphemy; it is revolting to the moral sense; Christ was the Son of
God, and therefore perfect. He could not be what you have represented
him to be, or people long ago would have ceased to worship him. He is
the one sublime character whose image fills the world, and before whom
millions bow the head in reverent humility." Just so; that is where the
delusion arises. Men have been taught that they must not think--that
they must not doubt--that they must not examine the grounds of their
faith--they must _believe_, and that the sin of unbelief is everlasting
perdition. A halo of sanctity is thrown around this distorted
image--there is a sacred mystery, a "holy of holies" into which common
sense must not enter; and so devotees fall down at the threshold and
worship, where they should stand erect in reliance on their own reason
and judgment, and examine fearlessly for themselves into those doctrines
on a belief in which their everlasting salvation is said to depend.

Jesus, the son of Mary, but not the son of Joseph, Mary's husband, was,
according to his biographers, an illegitimate child--at least, his
birth seems to have been brought about in a most illegitimate way. One
Matthew, who pretends to know a great deal about this child, even before
it was born, wishes his readers to infer that Jesus was descended in
a direct line from that worthy man and favourite of God, King David,
through exactly twenty-eight generations; that is, down to Joseph, who
was not the father of Jesus at all. He was the son of the Holy Ghost,
but who or what that was no man knows, and no one has been able to
comprehend unto this day. Another biographer named Luke, more sensible
than Matthew, like a modern Welshman traces Jesus's descent direct from
Adam, who, being the first man, _was_ probably a very distant relative
of his.

This extraordinary child Jesus, who in his own language was simply
Joshua, came into the world to fulfil no end of prophecies. He was to be
called Jesus, that he might save his people from their sins. But he did
not do it, as the Jews have had amongst them since his time as great
criminals as ever existed before. He was also to be named Emmanuel,
"which, being interpreted, is God with us." But he never was called
Emmanuel, so the second prophecy was fulfilled! He was born in a house
in the first instance, and a star was seen to walk before certain wise
men and direct them where he was. In the second instance he was born in
a manger, in the stable of an inn where certain shepherds found Mary,
and Joseph, and the babe lying. These were not wise men from the East,
but poor ignorant shepherds from the neighbouring fields, and they
were not led by a star, but had seen an angel of the Lord by night, who
terrified them very much, and departed without telling them in which
particular manger the Saviour was to be found. The angel appeared amid
loud sounds of "Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, and
good-will towards men." If those glad tidings of great joy _were_ heard
then, they have never been heard since, for the advent of this child was
the signal for war, and strife, and bloodshed among mankind, which have
desolated every land where the Christian name has been spoken. After
their fright was over, the shepherds consulted together, and resolved to
go into Bethlehem, to look for "this thing which had come to pass." They
alighted upon Joseph and his family all lying in a manger, much to the
surprise of Mary, who evidently did not comprehend what the excitement
was about, for we are told that "Mary kept all these things, and
pondered them in her heart." So after all, who knows that they found the
right babe at last? If such evidence as is here given were adduced in a
court of law to prove the identity of a lost heir to an estate, it would
never be allowed to go even to trial, but the grand jury would ignore
the bill at once.

However, as Jesus was declared the rightful heir, we must accept that
fact, and proceed to examine how far he administered the great estate
to which he was born. Joseph was a very drowsy man, who had to be
continually warned and roused by angels as to what he should do and the
dangers which threatened him. Being made wide awake to the fact that
Herod sought to kill the child, he suddenly fled into Egypt with
his family, and there remained till the death of Herod, that another
prophecy might be fulfilled, "Out of Egypt have I called my son." But he
did not go into Egypt, but was taken back to Nazareth at eight days
old, and there remained till he was a man. So the third prophecy was
fulfilled!

Jesus is familiarly known by the name of the "meek and lowly," but this
is a title which scarcely seems warranted by the narratives. From
his youth upwards he gave signs of the possession of an imperious
disposition and a vituperative tongue, and he on several occasions
manifested a want of filial affection. His parents went to Jerusalem
every year to the feast of the Passover, and at the age of twelve Jesus
was taken. When the parents returned, the boy remained behind unknown
to them, and they had got a day's journey on their way home before they
missed him. They retraced their steps to Jerusalem in much trouble, and
at last, after three days' search, found the truant comfortably seated
in the temple in the midst of the doctors, holding a learned argument
with them. When his mother saw him she asked him why he had caused them
so much sorrow. Instead of showing any penitence, he pertly answered,
"How is it that ye sought me? wist ye not that I must be about my
Father's business?" And Mary, though she knew he was the son of the Holy
Ghost, had not the slightest idea what he meant.

When he "began to be about thirty years of age," he met with John
Baptist, a strange sort of anchorite, who used to dress in camelshair
and eat locusts and wild honey. From this cynic Jesus learnt much,
especially the habit of calling names. When people presented themselves
to John to be baptised, he greeted them in this loving way--"O
generation of vipers, who hath warned _you_ to flee from the wrath to
come?" Jesus was baptised, and afterwards retailed much that John had
said, especially his abusive phrases. At this ceremony of immersion the
heavens opened to Jesus, and the Spirit of God descended like a dove and
alighted upon him. This Spirit assumes as many shapes as Satan himself,
and altogether appears to be a very curious bird of passage. This
baptism was not a happy thing to Jesus, for immediately afterwards he
was led up of the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted of the Devil,
and he had to fast forty days and forty nights, and afterwards, we are
gravely told, "he was an hungered," which is not a remarkable fact,
seeing that he was a young man of very good appetite. We shall see, as
we get farther on, that his love of eating and drinking was manifested
on many carious occasions. The Old and New Testaments teem with accounts
of feasts and carouses by the chosen of the Lord, and the Lord himself,
to such a degree, that Christianity has not inaptly been termed the
religion of gourmands. Jesus frequently manifests great readiness and
smartness in reply, which is either an answer to the question addressed
to him, or a very clever evasion of it. When the Devil had got Jesus,
he said to him, "If thou be the Son of God, command that these stones be
made bread." The Devil evidently thought that to make something to eat
would be the greatest temptation he could offer him. But Jesus evaded
the task by saying, "It is written that man shall not live by bread
alone." The Devil tried again, and took him to the pinnacle of a temple,
and asked him to cast himself down, saying--"For it is written He shall
give his angels charge concerning thee." Jesus said unto him, "It is
written again, Thou shalt not tempt the Lord thy God." The Devil tried a
third time, and took him up into an exceeding high mountain, and
showed him all the kingdoms of this world, and the _glory_ of them, and
promised him all if he would fall down and worship him. How could Jesus
see from one spot all the kingdoms of the world? as no one looking
straight before him can see round a globe; but if it was done by
supernatural power, why take the trouble to go to the top of an
exceeding high mountain? the _flat_ country would have been a more
suitable spot. He also saw the _glory_ of them, which must have puzzled
him greatly, for what is the glory of one place, is sometimes the shame
of another, Jesus said, "Get thee hence, Satan: for it is written, Thou
shalt worship the Lord thy God, and him only shalt thou serve." The
Devil deemed this conclusive, and thereupon took his departure.

After John the Baptist was cast into prison, Jesus went to reside in
Capernaum, and there commenced to preach from John's text--"Repent, for
the kingdom of heaven is at hand." At the outset of his public career
he was a copyist, and he remained so to the end of his life. He
simply repeated other men's sayings, or elaborated the traditions and
prophecies which were so prevalent among the Jews of his day. This
kingdom of heaven did not mean something in another world somewhere
in the clouds, but simply a new order of things here, and that more
especially among the Jews. At times, it must be confessed, it is
difficult to understand what it meant if not an improved mental state,
and not a material kingdom at all. Jesus belonged to the working class,
and his followers were of the lower orders, and he constantly preached
against riches, which was very popular. His followers now appreciate
his sublime example so much, that they get rich as fast as they can,
especially the successors of the Apostles, who are content if they can
only get princely incomes, and a palace wherein to lay their heads!

Jesus wanted followers, so he walked out by the sea of Galilee, and saw
Peter and Andrew casting their nets. If they had been only fishing for
small fry, he could not have more contemptuously addressed them. "And he
said unto them, Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men. And they
straightway left their nets and followed him." A curious phenomenon
strikes one here. Peter and Andrew have never seen Jesus before; he does
not tell them who he is; he explains no principles to them by which to
enlist their sympathies and awaken conviction--he merely says, "follow
me, and I will make you fishers of men," and in prospect of that
delightful occupation they abandon their home and calling to accompany a
stranger on a doubtful mission, Whatever fish may have come to their net
afterwards, they certainly could never have caught two greater flat-fish
than themselves. A more striking instance of blind following is not to
be found upon record. Peter afterwards became the greatest fanatic of
all the Disciples, and caused his Master some trouble through his excess
of zeal. And this is the man to whom are entrusted the keys of heaven.
No wonder the ignorant fanatics find a ready admission, whilst sensible
people are excluded. And he too is the great predecessor of the Pope
of Rome, the head of a Church which preaches the efficacy of saints'
relics, the liquefaction of blood, and the truth of winking virgins.
Fanaticism was at the foundation, and delusion and ignorance very
naturally result. Others followed Jesus, forsaking their nets and their
parents, and they went about all Galilee, Jesus preaching and curing
all sorts of disease and sickness--and curious indeed were some of his
cures, such as are not mentioned in any modern pharmacopoeia. Having
vanquished great Satan himself on three occasions, the minor devils had
no chance with him, and woe betide all who came before him inhabiting
human beings. All these cures were performed that a prophecy might be
fulfilled, "which was spoken by Esaias the prophet, saying-, Himself
took our infirmities, and bare our sicknesses." But then he did nothing
of the kind. And so that prophecy was fulfilled! To cure a disease is
not to take it upon ourselves; if it were, the Royal College of Surgeons
would soon become an institution of the past. You might love your
neighbour as yourself, but to be expected to have the measles tor him,
would cool the warmest friendship.

One style of cure Jesus had which may have been very efficacious, but
it certainly was not delicate. Once a deaf man, who had an impediment in
his speech, was brought to him to be healed. Jesus took him aside from
the multitude, and put his fingers into his ears, and spat and touched
his tongue. And a blind man was brought to him, whom he took by the hand
and led out of the town; and when he had spit on his eyes, and put his
hands on him, asked him if he saw aught And the man was restored to
sight This kind of lubrication could scarcely be deemed pleasant.

Neither do we find an incentive to cleanliness in this, for we are told,
"as he spake, a certain Pharisee besought him to dine with him; and
he went in, and sat down to meat And when the Pharisee saw it, he
mar-yelled that he had not first washed before dinner. And the Lord said
onto him, Now do ye Pharisees make clean the outside of the cup and the
platter; but your inward part is full of ravening wickedness. Ye
fools, did not he that made that which is _without_, make that which it
_within_ also?" This may be very true, but it is also very dirty; and
though it may satisfy the Son of God, would not be an excuse for any man
who wished to be considered decent.

The fame of Jesus spread rapidly, and great multitudes flocked to hear
him. One day he went up into a mountain, and addressed the people, but
his discourse was of rather an extravagant description. As we understand
matters in these days, what is the amount of truth contained in the
following sentences?--

"Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

"Blessed art they that mourn: for they shall be comforted.

"Blessed are the meek: for they shall inherit the earth.

"Blessed an the merciful: for they shall obtain mercy.

"Blessed are the pure in heart for they shall see God.

"Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called the children of
God.

"Blessed are they which are persecuted for righteousness' sake: for
theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

"Blessed are ye, when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall
say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake."

This kingdom of heaven is past all comprehension. The poor in spirit
have it, and the persecuted for righteousness' sake have it; and if
these are the penalties to be paid for its possession, it is not worth
the winning. Then is it possible or proper for any one to act in this
way:--"If thy right eye offend thee, pluck it out; if thy right hand
offend thee, cut it off?" Who in his senses would think of doing so?
Who would stand by and allow others to do it? And who lives according
to this Christian principle, and who follows this precept:--"Resist not
evil; but whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the
other also?" In the first place, it is grossly immoral _not_ to resist
evil; and in the second, all the world repudiates the doctrine of
non-resistance under such circumstances. If any one smites us on the
right cheek, do we not quickly turn and hit him on the left? It is a
natural instinct, and to act otherwise is cowardice. Do the proceedings
of our law courts furnish many instances of the adoption of this
recommendation:--"And if any man will sue thee at the law, and take away
thy coat, let him have thy cloak also?" One half humanity would very
soon be stripped by the other half. "And whoever shall compel thee to
go a mile, go with him twain. Give to him that asketh thee, and from him
that would borrow of thee turn not thou away." No one with any spirit
or power of resistance would think of submitting to the _compulsion_ of
walking a mile with a person, much less of going two in the company of
one whose society might be a nuisance. And if we are to give to every
one that asketh, what are our vagrancy laws but a flagrant violation
of Christianity? The injunction is here given without the slightest
qualification, and is an encouragement to mendicancy the world over.

There are one or two precepts specially binding on Christians of the
present day! This, for instance, is very much obeyed:--"And when thou
prayest, thou shalt not be as the hypocrites are; for they love to pray
standing in the synagogues, _and in the corners of the streets_, that
they may be seen of men." This, we know, is universally observed by
the followers of Jesus. It is obeyed by the ordained minister in his
canonicals; the Primitive in his whitewashed tabernacle; the Methodist
in his tub; the Revivalists in their delirious and epileptic gatherings;
the Ranters in their camp meetings, and howling peregrinations through
our country towns and villages; and above all, those highly gifted young
men belonging to the Town Mission, who render the night hideous by their
insane ravings at the corners of the streets and in the paths of public
places. It is consoling to find the "salt of the earth" such consistent
followers of their great Master. It is because _they_ are the salt of
the earth, that the world has got into such a precious pickle.

Bishops especially, and pluralists in particular, nurse in their hearts
this saying: "Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth." No, poor
men, they think too much about their heavenly Father! A few thousand!
a year are quite sufficient for them. And Christian bankers and
millionaires equally regard the injunction.

This is a Christian country, and we are a Christian people, and our
various provident and benefit societies and savings' banks tell how we
esteem this command: "Take no thought for the morrow, saying, What shall
we eat? or, what shall we drink? or, wherewithal shall we be clothed?"
We don't think of the morrow merely, but of years to come, and he who is
the most careful in providing for the future, is most honoured amongst
men.

Now all these impracticable and extravagant commands are taken from the
much-vaunted Sermon on the Mount, and Jesus said, whosoever heard them,
and obeyed them, he would liken unto a _wise_ man; but whosoever obeyed
them not, he would liken unto a foolish man. It may be an honour to be
deemed foolish in such a case; but what shall we say of the professing
Christian, who considers himself so much superior to the Freethinker,
and who boasts of his principles being the checks which keep him moral,
and says that if it had not been for his blessed Saviour the world would
have been lost? Why, out of the mouth of Jesus himself he is proved to
be a hypocrite and foolish, for he does what is solemnly condemned,
and leaves undone what is strictly enjoined. "And it came to pass,
when Jesus had ended these sayings, the people _were_ astonished at
his doctrine." And can any rational inquirer be astonished at that?
On reading over these Gospels calmly, and seeing what are attributed to
Jesus as his sayings and doings, one is amazed at the credulity of the
world in allowing such a stupendous delusion as the Christian religion
to be palmed upon it as something divine derived direct from Deity.

After this startling sermon, great multitudes followed Jesus, and
wherever he went he healed the sick and performed miracles, but he
generally enjoined the convalescents not to mention to any one what
he had done. The reason for this is not given, but if one may make a
conjecture, it was either because he had really worked no cure at all,
or else he was afraid of having too many demands made upon his time.
We are told that when "Jesus saw great multitudes about him, he gave
commandment to depart unto the other side" of the water, that he might
get away from them. Before he departed, a disciple said unto him, "Lord,
suffer me first to go and bury my father. But Jesus said unto him,
Follow me, and let the dead bury their dead." Is this an instance of
meekness?

When on board the ship, a great storm came on, and the sailors were
afraid of being wrecked. So they awoke Jesus, telling him of their
danger. He first chided them, and then scolded the winds and the waves,
which at once subsided. When he was come to the other side, into the
country of the Gergesenes, he was met by two men possessed with devils,
who asked him if he had come to torment them before their time? And
singular to say, the devils also, from the _interior_, entered into
conversation with Jesus, asking as a favour, that if they were cast out,
they might be allowed to go into a herd of swine which were feeding some
distance off. Why they should choose such an abode is not apparent; but
having permission to go, they at once entered into possession, much to
the astonishment of the poor porkies, who took fright and ran violently
down a steep hill into the sea, and all, to the number of 2,000,
perished in the waters. O unhappy pigs! O miserable devils! the Son of
man, whom you had never injured, worked your speedy destruction. "And,
behold, the whole city came out to meet Jesus; and when they saw him,
they besought him that he would depart out of _their_ coasts." They
had more desire to save their bacon than to see miracles worked at the
expense of their pigs. Jesus entered into a ship and came over to his
own city, where a certain ruler came and worshipped him, saying that his
daughter was dead, but making the request that she should be raised to
life again. When Jesus entered the ruler's house, he said, "Give place,
for the maid is not dead, but sleepeth." And they laughed him to scorn.
But when the house was cleared he took the girl by the hand, and the
maid arose. This was regarded as a miracle, but it could not be, because
Jesus said the girl only slept, and it is not possible that a perfect
God could tell an untruth.

After this Jesus called together his twelve disciples, and gave them
instructions what to do. He said:--"Provide neither gold, nor silver,
nor brass in your purses, nor scrip for your journey, neither two coats,
neither shoes, nor yet staves; for the workman is worthy of his meat.
And into whatsoever city or town ye shall enter, inquire who in it is
worthy; and there abide till ye go hence. And when ye come into a house,
salute it. And if the house be worthy, let your peace come upon it; but
if it be not worthy, let your peace return to you. And whosoever shall
not receive you, nor hear your words, when ye depart out of that house
or city, shake off the dust of your feet. Verily I say unto you, It
shall be more tolerable for the land of Sodom and Gomorrha in the day of
judgment than for that city." But it is doubtful if he meant the land of
Sodom and Gomorrha, or Tyre and Sidon. However, though we may overlook
this uncertainty, we cannot the fact, that a threat of destroying cities
is held out if his disciples are not received and fed by people upon
whom they have not the slightest claim. This advice would justify the
order of 'Mendicant Friars in their lazy habit of living upon all who
are willing to support them. He also added--"Behold, I send you forth
as sheep in the midst of wolves: be ye therefore wise as serpents, and
harmless as doves." Have not the Jesuits carried out this advice? And
then he gave utterance to this painful truth to which the blood-stained
pages of history can testify:--"Think not that I am come to send peace
on earth: I came _not_ to send peace, but a sword. For I am come to
set a man at variance against his father, and the daughter against her
mother, and the daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law. And a man's
foes shall be they of his own household. He that loveth father or mother
more than, me, is not worthy of me; and he that loveth son or daughter
more than me, is not worthy of me." There has been no peace, and there
can be none, in the world, so long as the contradictory and impossible
doctrines of Jesus of Nazareth are taught as infallible truth. House has
been divided against house, the father's hand lifted against the child,
and the mother's loving tenderness turned to bitterest hate, because of
differences of opinion upon Christian dogmas.

While Jesus was making one of his incoherent speeches, somebody told him
that his mother and brothers were without, desiring to speak with him.
"But he answered and said unto him that told him, Who is my mother?
and who are my brethren? And he stretched forth his hand toward his
disciples, and said, Behold my mother and my brethren." There is here
manifested a want of natural affection unbecoming any man, and which
justifies M. Rénan in saying, notwithstanding his great reverence for
Jesus, that he was more loved than loving. There is scarcely a trace of
affection throughout his life, from his childhood to his death. He
was mystical and fanatical, like all who seek to set themselves up as
inspired teachers.

One day Jesus sat by the sea-side and talked to the people in parables.
He is answerable for the following:--"For whosoever hath to him shall be
given, and he shall have more abundance; but whosoever hath _not_, from
him shall be taken away even that he hath." He says immediately after,
as a sort of apology, "Therefore speak I to then in parables, because
they seeing, see not; and hearing, they hear not, neither do they
understand."

It would be a miracle greater than that worked among the pigs, if
anyone did understand. This sort of talk must have been indulged in for
amusement--it could not have had any serious purport, or if it had, it
is too profound to be understood.

When Jesus learnt the execution of John the Baptist, he departed into
a desert place, but the multitude heard of him, and followed him out of
the cities. And when evening came, the disciples asked him to send the
multitude away, that they might go into the villages and buy themselves
victuals. We do not usually find villages in _desert_ places; but that
was quite as possible in this case as what followed. Jesus said they
need not go, and told the disciples to give to the people to eat. They
said, We have here but five loaves and two fishes. He said, Bring them
hither to me. And then looking up to heaven, he blessed and brake, and
distributed to the multitude. Now out of this very small commissariat,
about five thousand men, besides women and children, ate and were
filled, and left twelve baskets full of fragments at the end of the
feast. All we can deplore is, that the age of miracles is past. If
anyone could do this now, what a number of attached followers be would
have, no matter what his speculative opinions might be. He might believe
in the eternity of punishments; in three Gods in one, or one in three;
in election, predestination, or transmigration of souls--in short, in
anything or nothing; if he could only feed his flock by casting his eyes
up to heaven, he would soon empty all the churches and chapels in the
kingdom. As Rénan very powerfully points out, no miracle ever yet took
place under scientific conditions; and till one of this description
is wrought under such conditions, we must be allowed to suspend our
judgment. We do not say it did not take place, but we don't believe it.
It is true it does not say what kind of fishes the two were which served
to fill five thousand men, _besides_ women and children, who probably
ran the number up to eight thousand. Perhaps the fishes were whales, as
the whole story is so "very like a whale" that any suggested solution of
the astounding tale is legitimate. This miracle was once discussed by a
society in Chicago, and the 'cute American intellect found a key to the
mystery, for they _resolved_--"That the multitude must certainly have
made their repast off _multiplication tables_!"

After this stupendous feat, Jesus constrained his disciples to get into
the ship and go across the water, whilst he remained behind to get rid
of his well fed friends. And when night came, the ship was tossed by the
storm. And in the fourth watch Jesus went unto them walking on the sea.
When his disciples saw him they said he was a spirit, and cried out for
fear. But Jesus said, Be of good cheer; it is I; be not afraid. Then the
enthusiastic Peter said, Lord, if it be thou, bid me come unto thee on
the water. Jesus said, Come; to which Peter responded by stepping out of
the ship; but he could not float, and began to sink rapidly, and would
have perished if his master had not put out his hand and saved him.
If this system of aquatic locomotion could be instituted now, it would
supersede all lifeboats. But we have little _faith_ in these days of
scientific facts, and it requires an immense amount of that commodity to
be able to attempt even what was said to have been accomplished by the
founders of our national religion.

Jesus did not confine his creative abilities to the solid comforts of
life, but exercised them upon the liquid luxuries of existence. Being
invited to a wedding, and there being no wine, his mother, with a
woman's natural solicitude on such an occasion, said to him, "They have
no wine. Jesus saith unto her, Woman, what have I to do with thee? mine
hour is not yet come." Now, what such a churlish answer had to do with
the simple remark made by his mother, we leave to gentle Christians
to say. However, after a time he became more amiable; and, no doubt,
reflecting upon the disappointment of those who had come to a marriage
feast, and found nothing but water to drink, he took compassion on
them, and turned the water into wine, to the extent of "six water pots,
containing two or three firkins apiece." "This beginning of miracles
did Jesus in Cana of Galilee, and manifested forth his glory; and his
disciples believed on him." Well they might; and we fear that any man
in these days who should do such things, would have many followers, in
spite of all the preaching of all the teetotallers, who, strange to say,
for the most part profess to be good Christians, notwithstanding that
Christ, when he had the opportunity of rebuking wine bibbing, did not do
so, but encouraged it by supplying the very beverage which teetotallers
so vehemently condemn.

When Jesus came into the coasts of Cæsarea Philippi, he asked his
disciples, saying, Whom do men say that I the Son of Man am? He was
anxious to know what people thought of him now that he was become so
famous. "And they said, Some say that thou art John the Baptist; some,
Elias; and others, Jeremias, or one of the prophets. He saith unto them,
But whom say _ye_ that I am?" Of course Peter was ready to crown all,
and he said--"Thou art the Christ, the son of the living God." For which
Jesus blessed Peter, and promised him the keys of the kingdom of heaven;
but they soon fell to quarrelling, when Jesus said that he must go unto
Jerusalem, and suffer many things, and be killed, and be raised again
the third day. Peter rebuked him, and said it should not be; but Jesus
turned upon him, and said, "Get thee behind me, Satan: thou art an
offence unto me." It was not very dignified or in good taste after
Peter had imparted such an important fact to him, which was done by a
revelation of his Father which is in heaven.. But such was the manner of
Jesus.

When he left Galilee, and came into Judæa, he resolved to go to
Jerusalem; and when he was come to the Mount of Olives, he sent two
of his disciples to a village on a very questionable errand. It was to
perform no less an act than the appropriation of a donkey and her colt.
He told them that, if any one said aught unto them, they were to say,
"The Lord hath need of them." That kind of answer would scarcely be
deemed satisfactory in these days, especially to a policeman. He would
very likely reply, If the Lord hath need of the ass, the magistrate
hath need of thee; and if the instigator of the deed were not the actual
thief, he would be charged as an accessory before the fact, and would
be provided with board and lodging at the expense of the county for
at least twelve months. This was done that another prophecy might be
fulfilled, which said, "Tell ye the daughter of Sion, Behold, thy king
cometh unto thee, meek, and sitting upon an ass, and a colt the foal of
an ass." But this prophet must have been an ass, or he would have known
that even the Son of man would find it difficult to sit upon two asses
of such unequal size at the same time. Apart from the absurdity of the
story, it is an example of very loose notions indeed of the rights of
property, which, if stated of Mahomet, of Joseph Smith the Mormon, or
any other founder of a religious sect, would be quoted as a proof of his
obliquity of moral vision. After this successful exploit of taking unto
himself other people's goods, Jesus became quite daring; and when he got
to Jerusalem he went into the temple of God, where he found a number of
people carrying on their usual business. He had no more right there than
they had--in fact, not so much, as he was a stranger to the city. But,
notwithstanding this, he got a rope, and thrashed every one out of
the place, upsetting the tables and chairs, and creating such a
consternation as only a Bedlamite broken loose would be likely to
produce. Though this was immediately after the appropriation of the two
donkeys, upon which he had actually ridden to the temple, he called all
the tradespeople dishonest, and accused them of having turned the place
into a den of thieves. Whatever it might have been before he came,
certainly one would think the designation not inappropriate after the
arrival of himself and his disciples. He was not arrested on the spot
for this act of assault and battery; but what should we think of the
City Police Commissioner if he neglected to order into custody any mad
enthusiast who might so conduct himself on the Stock Exchange? But he
would not, and the enthusiast's vagaries and his visit to the police
cell would be a very little time apart. It would be no use his alleging
that he was about his Father's business, and that he was fulfilling
prophecy--that would only aggravate the offence. He would be told that
if his father did not take better care of him, the county asylum would;
and the prophet would very soon be "wanted" who had instigated such
folly.

Jesus did not remain in the city during the night--it was not prudent
after such an advent in the morning, but he went and lodged in Bethany,
a little way out of town. In returning next morning he was hungry, so,
when he came to a fig-tree, he looked at it hoping to find some fruit
on it, but there was none, as it was not the right season. We should
forgive an excited hungry man here if he, in a moment of forgetfulness,
looked for apples in winter; but if he began to curse the tree for not
bearing fruit out of season, we should think he was mad past doubt. Yet
this is exactly what Jesus did; and not only so, but he withered the
tree that it should not bear fruit thenceforward forever. His disciples
marvelled at what he had done, as well they might. "Jesus answered and
said unto them, Verily I say unto you, If ye have faith, and doubt not,
ye shall not only do this which is done to the fig tree, but also if ye
shall say unto this mountain, Be thou removed, and be thou cast into
the sea; it shall be done. And all things, whatsoever ye shall ask in
prayer, believing, ye shall receive." No persons have ever yet had the
requisite amount of faith to remove mountains; and the less they try
such credulity on fruit trees, the better for our orchards. Nobody does
or can believe such insane talk. Jesus went to the temple again, and
whilst he was preaching, the Chief Priests and elders came and asked him
by what authority he did such things. In true Quaker style he answered
them by asking a question, which had the merit of being impossible of
solution. He said--"The baptism of John, whence was it? from heaven, or
of men?" They said: "We cannot tell. And he said unto them, Neither tell
I you by what authority I do these things." That seemed to silence his
interrogators, but it did not answer them. It was a favourite way with
this Messiah; and we remain as much in the dark to this hour as did the
Chief Priests and elders. This method of evasion is also exemplified
in the case of the tribute money. When asked whether it was lawful to
render tribute unto Cæsar, he said, looking at a coin, "Whose is this
image and superscription?" They said, Cæsar's. "Then saith he unto them,
Render therefore unto Cæsar the things which are Cæsar's, and unto God
the things that are God's." Rénan says on this point--"To establish as
a principle that we must recognise the legitimacy of a power by the
inscription on its coins, to proclaim that the perfect man pays tribute
with scorn, and without question, was to destroy Republicanism in the
ancient form, and to favour all tyranny. Christianity, in this sense,
has contributed much to weaken the sense of duty of the citizen, and to
deliver the world into the absolute power of existing circumstances."
But we are not surprised that he should so readily teach the payment of
tribute, considering how easy he found it to pay tribute himself;
for the ludicrous account given in Matthew, in the same chapter which
describes the transfiguration, shows Jesus discharging his own liability
and that of Peter in the most original manner imaginable. Not wishing
to offend the tax collectors, he said to Peter--"Go thou to the sea, and
cast an hook, and take up the fish that first cometh up; and when thou
hast opened his mouth, thou shalt find a piece of money: take that, and
give unto them for me and thee." If fish of this description swam
in rivers now, they would be preserved to the exclusion of the most
delicious members of the finny tribe. Every man would be an angler,
and fishing-tackle making would be the most lucrative trade known.
Take another instance of evasion. The Sadducees did not believe in
the resurrection, so they put a question to Jesus on that point. They
instanced a woman who had been married to seven brothers in succession,
all of whom had died. Therefore, in the resurrection, they asked whose
wife she would be out of the seven when they met again. This was quickly
disposed of, for "Jesus answered and said onto them, Ye do err, not
knowing the Scriptures, nor the power of God. For In the resurrection
they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are as the angels of
God in heaven." If this is so, what becomes of the hope which believers
in immortality have that in heaven they will be joined again to those
they have lost on earth? This great consolation of the Christian is
founded on a delusion. Jesus also supplemented his statement with this
remarkable declaration, "But as touching the resurrection of the dead,
have ye not read that which was spoken unto you by God, saying, I am the
God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob? God is _not_
the God of the _dead_, but of the _living_," What then is the use
of Catholic prayers for the souls of those in Purgatory? What is the
utility of our burial service, which goes upon the supposition that God
will attend to our requests as touching the dead we are about to consign
to the grave? Freethinkers and rational thinkers discard the whole
ceremony as a mockery. When once dead, the particles which composed our
bodies are dissolved, and pass into new combinations--_we_ never live
again.

After he had done all his preaching, and had thoroughly aroused the ire
of the authorities and most of the people of Jerusalem against him,
he began to fear that he would have to suffer for it, and he told his
disciples so. After they had supped together in the house of one of
the friends, they departed to the Mount of Olives outside the city, and
Jesus said they would all be offended with him because of that night.
Peter the loquacious declared, that though all men might be offended
because of him, he would never be. Jesus had no great opinion of Peter's
steadfastness, and told him, notwithstanding his protestations of
attachment, that before the cock crew he would deny him thrice. Peter
asseverated again: "Though I should die with ye, yet will I not deny
thee." Poor Peter's word, like his judgment, however, was not to be
relied upon, for the very next day he denied all knowledge of Jesus, and
when pressed for an answer, he began to curse and to swear that he had
never seen him. Soon after this the Garden of Gethsemane, into which
they had entered; was surrounded by a multitude with staves and with
swords, and Jesus was arrested, Peter the dauntless did make some
resistance, and cut off the ear of Malchus, a servant of the High
Priest; but the loss was only temporary, for we are told that Jesus
immediately "touched his ear, and healed him," and if this does not
mean that he stuck the ear on again, what does it mean? When Jesus
was arrested in the Garden, all the disciples, escaped as quickly as
possible, but Peter followed at a distance; and when Jesus was taken to
the house of Caiaphas the High Priest, Peter entered and mixed with
the servants. He was soon recognised as a follower of Jesus; but when
accused of the fact, he stoutly denied it three times, the last with
oaths, like the low-bred man he was; for though he had been consorting
with Jesus a long time, he had not learnt refinement of manners,
which is not wonderful, as Jesus certainly did not set an example of
choiceness of language, his favourite mode of speech being to call
people fools, and to launch curses at them. But Peter had to fulfil a
prophecy--namely, that he would deny his master _thrice_, before the
cock crew _twice_, which he did before the cock crew _once_. And so that
prophecy was fulfilled!

When Jesus was first examined on the charge of blasphemy he remained
silent, and would not answer any questions put to him. Then Caiaphas
said--"I adjure thee by the living God that thou tell us whether thou be
Christ, the Son of God." Jesus at last replied--"Thou hast said," which
may fairly be interpreted to mean, "You say I am, not I." This is in
keeping with his usual evasive mode of answering, as before pointed out.
Especially as he continued--"Nevertheless I say unto you, _Hereafter_
shall ye see the Son of man sitting on the right hand of power, and
coming in the clouds of heaven." This was declared blasphemous, and we
know how excited bigoted people get when that word is pronounced. So
they struck the enthusiast, as he had struck others in the temple. In
the morning he was bound and led before Pilate the governor, who asked
him, "Art thou the king of the Jews?" He again answered, "Thou sayest"
And when the Chief Priests and elders repeated their charges, he still
refused to answer them, which surprised Pilate. However, Pilate saw no
harm in what he had done, and was anxious to set him at liberty; but the
priests, as is usual with them, persisted in their demands of vengeance
against one who had offended them. Then Jesus was delivered over to the
soldiers to be crucified, which was a very barbarous mode of execution.
He was cruelly treated by the soldiers, who were incited thereto by
the priests. He died the death of a malefactor, but his end was brought
about by his own wild and extravagant conduct. In these days he would
have been confined as a lunatic, but in that barbarous time, and
under the influence of priests, he was tortured to death. No one
can contemplate his fate, whatever his faults may have been, without
feelings of sorrow. But if his death was to fulfil prophecy, and to save
a lost and ruined world, we ought to regard it with exultation and great
joy, and not only observe Good Friday as a national holiday, but every
Friday as a public festival. But who, on calmly reading the narrative,
and dismissing from his mind the fables taught him in his childhood, can
see anything supernatural in Jesus' life and death? He displayed through
life all the infirmities and littlenesses of a man, and he died like one
who had brought about his own death by his own acts. When on the cross,
and no doubt in mortal agony, he exclaimed, in the utterness of despair,
like one who had long trusted to a delusion, and when too late had found
out his mistake--"My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?" The Chief
Priests and elders, the people about, and even the two thieves who were
dying with him, jeered him for his folly, saying, "He trusted in God;
let him deliver him now, if he will have him: for he said, I am the Son
of God." But there was no deliverance from heaven for him more than for
any other man.

Jesus had acted so extravagantly from the time he entered on public
life that it is not surprising that his followers were infected by his
example, and it is to them we are indebted for the re-appearance of
Jesus after he was dead and buried. He himself said that he was to
fulfil the prophecy of Jonas, for, as he was three days and three nights
in the belly of the whale, so should the Son of man be three days and
three nights in the heart of the earth. Yet he never went into the heart
of the earth, but was laid in a tomb or cave with a door to it; and he
was not even there three days and three nights, but only two nights,
and not two days altogether. And so that prophecy was fulfilled! Jesus
prophesied his own resurrection only, but the earthquake which followed
his death was no respecter of persons, for when the veil of the temple
was rent in twain from the top to the bottom, and the earth did quake,
and the rocks were rent, the graves were opened, and many bodies of
the saints which slept arose, and came out of the graves after his
resurrection, and went into the holy city, and appeared unto many. No
orthodox, Christians doubt for a moment that Jesus rose again from the
dead, because he was to do so, and he was the Son of God; but do they
believe these unknown saints revisited the glimpses of the moon, and
experienced a resurrection equal to that of Jesus, for no purpose at
all, and for no merit of their own? Yet we have no more authority for
the one than the other, and no reason to believe one more than the
other. Toward the end of the Sabbath (that is, Saturday evening) came
Mary Magdalene, with the other Mary, to see the sepulchre where Jesus
was laid, and another earthquake took place, and the angel of the Lord
descended from heaven, and came and rolled back the stone from the door,
and sat upon it. His countenance was like lightning, and his raiment
like snow. He told the women that Jesus had risen, and asked them to see
the place where the Lord lay. But whether they looked or not we are not
told, but they ran away with fear and great joy to tell the disciples.
And as they went, whom should they meet but Jesus himself, who said
to them, "All hail." But then there is some little confusion in this
infallible narrative. It was not towards the end of Saturday, but very
early in the morning of Sunday, at the rising of the sun, that the women
came, and for the purpose of anointing the body. And the stone was still
against the door, and they said, Who shall roll us away the stone? But
when they looked again the stone was away, and on entering the sepulchre
they saw a young man dressed in white sitting _inside_, and no angel
with a lightning face sitting _outside_. The women fled with terror, but
told no man what they had seen; and it isa mystery to this day how that
which was never told to any one is known to nearly all the world. Jesus
did not meet the two Marys, but appeared first to Mary Magdalene, out of
whom he had cast seven devils. She went and told the disciples about the
resurrection, but they believed her not. He appeared afterwards to two
of his disciples, but they did not believe in his resurrection, neither
did the eleven disciples, to whom he appeared. If they who knew him
intimately did not believe in it after only three days' absence from
them, shall we, after a lapse of eighteen hundred years, put faith in
this clumsy, impossible, and absurd fable? But perhaps the condition
he attached to the belief may have something to do with the faith of so
many people in these days. He said, after upbraiding his disciples for
their unbelief and hardness of heart--"He that believeth and is baptised
shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned." That threat,
fulminated from thousands of pulpits, has frightened timid and weak
people in nearly every age of the Christian era. But then again there
were not two women but many who went to the sepulchre, and they found
the stone away; and when they entered they saw two men in shining
garments, and the women did not conceal what they had seen, but went and
told all the disciples, but they were not believed. This time the lively
Peter ran to the tomb to look for himself, and saw nothing but the linen
clothes lying by themselves. After that two of the disciples went to
Emmana, where Jesus himself joined them, but they knew him not, and did
not believe the story of his resurrection. He then rebuked them in
his usual sweet and placid style, by exclaiming, "O fools, and slow of
heart," and beginning at Moses and all the prophets, "he expounded unto
them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself," which must
have been a tolerably long discourse for one so recently out of the
grave. They asked him to stop with them and have something to eat,
which, his appetite being as good as ever, he consented to do; and it
was his mode of breaking bread and blessing it that convinced them that
he was Jesus. And he then vanished out of their sight. They went to
Jerusalem and told the others what they had seen, and while they were
talking Jesus stood in the midst of them; but they did not know him
again, but took him to be a spirit. He said--"Behold my hands and my
feet, that it is myself; for a spirit hath not flesh and bones as ye see
me have." And while they yet believed not for joy and wondered, he said
unto them, "Have ye here any meat?" He was again hungry, and they gave
him a piece of broiled fish and a honeycomb. And he took it, and did eat
before them. That was enough to convince them a second time. "And he led
them out as far as Bethany, and he lifted up his hands and blessed them.
And it came to pass, while he blessed them, he was parted from them, and
carried up into heaven," with the broiled fish on his stomach, where he
entered into joy everlasting.

The foregoing will certainly be declared "blasphemous" by all true
believers, and will no doubt be pronounced a "caricature" of Jesus by
even Unitarians. But the fault does not lie with us--it is in the text,
which we did not make. We are not responsible for the representation,
for we have scrupulously followed the inspired delineations of the
Evangelists. Let us briefly sum up this biography.

Jesus was the Son of God, and not the son of his mother's husband, and
his mother remained a virgin notwithstanding his conception and birth,
although she strangely offered the usual sacrifice when the days of her
purification were accomplished.

He was descended from the royal line of David, that is, Joseph the
husband of his mother was so descended; but then Joseph was not his
father at all.

The miraculous boy was to fulfil many prophecies; but although he often
purposely acted in order to fulfil them, several given as illustrations
are singularly wide of the mark.

At twelve years of age he was a match for learned doctors in
disputation, and could pertly rebuke his mother for inquiring where he
had been for three days and three nights.

He was baptised at thirty by John, who taught him rudeness of manners;
and though a dove descended direct from heaven, and alighted on his
head, he was immediately taken by the spirit into very dangerous places,
was kept a remarkably long time without food, and was very strangely
tempted by the Devil in person.

He became a great talker, dealt largely in mystical language, and
gathered followers from the poorest, most ignorant, and most credulous
of his countrymen.

He cured all sorts of diseases and afflictions, though there is no
evidence that he ever underwent a medical training.

He worked miracles, as became an Eastern founder of a sect, but his
achievements scarcely rank as high as the tricks of an Indian juggler.

He was uneducated, and never, so far as the record goes, wrote a line
in his life; but as a preacher he was famous, and always succeeded
in making his hearers marvel at his strange doctrines--doctrines so
contradictory that no sane man can follow them.

He was vituperative in his language, austere in his manners, undutiful
and repelling to his mother.

He appropriated other persons' property, and immediately after violently
assaulted a large number of men, whom he charged with being dishonest.

When asked questions touching vital points of his own doctrines, he
usually gave evasive answers.

He promised his disciples all sorts of wonderful powers if they would
believe in him, and he promised also to come in a cloud with great glory
before that generation passed away; but having risen from the grave, and
ascended into heaven, he has not returned in a cloud with glory up to
the time of our going to press.

He ultimately met the death of a malefactor, and in the last moments of
agony his fanaticism was strong upon him, for he promised to the thief
who flattered him that he would meet him that day in paradise, though he
did not go there himself till about six weeks afterwards.

After his death he was brought to life again, thus defying all the laws
of physiology. When but just out of the grave, his powers of preaching
were as strong as ever, and his appetite as vigorous as though he had
returned from a long journey; and after partaking of a singular repast,
and before he had had time to digest it, he ascended into the clouds
without the aid of a balloon, and was seen no more.

All this, with much more of the same incredible nature, is taught as
infallible truth by some of the best educated men the Universities can
produce, and belief in the whole of it is necessary to "respectability"
in this life, and to salvation in a life after death. How educated men
can believe it, is a mystery which we trust the School Boards of the
future will be able to unravel; at present we find it as insoluble as
all the other sublime mysteries of Christianity, for we cannot believe
that a University training necessarily makes men hypocrites, and we are
loth to believe that on one most important subject it necessarily makes
them imbecile.

There would be fewer believers if there were more inquirers. The
advocates of Bible reading in Elementary Schools must feel that there
is danger to the faith lurking in the future if that "precious book"
is read and not "expounded." Dogmatic teaching is the stronghold of
the religion of Christendom. The "plain, unvarnished tale" of the
Four Gospels would carry with it its own condemnation, for the best
refutation of Christianity is a true knowledge of Christ.


          Printed and Published by
          C. Watts,  17, Johnson's Court, Fleet St, London, E.C.
          PRICE TWOPENCE





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