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Title: A Grammar of Freethought
Author: Cohen, Chapman, 1868-
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "A Grammar of Freethought" ***

               A Grammar of

              CHAPMAN COHEN.

  (_Issued by the Secular Society, Ltd._)

            THE PIONEER PRESS,
        61 FARRINGDON STREET, E.C. 4.


_The Publishers wish to express their obligation to Mr. H. Cutner for
the very tasteful design which adorns the cover of this book._


  CHAPTER                                 PAGE

      I.--OUTGROWING THE GODS                9

     II.--LIFE AND MIND                     18

    III.--WHAT IS FREETHOUGHT?              37

     IV.--REBELLION AND REFORM              51

      V.--THE STRUGGLE FOR THE CHILD        61

     VI.--THE NATURE OF RELIGION            72

    VII.--THE UTILITY OF RELIGION           88

   VIII.--FREETHOUGHT AND GOD              101

     IX.--FREETHOUGHT AND DEATH            111

      X.--THIS WORLD AND THE NEXT          123

     XI.--EVOLUTION                        134

    XII.--DARWINISM AND DESIGN             146

   XIII.--ANCIENT AND MODERN               162

    XIV.--MORALITY WITHOUT GOD.--I.        172

     XV.--MORALITY WITHOUT GOD.--II.       182





It must be left for those who read the following pages to decide how far
this book lives up to its title. That it leaves many aspects of life
untouched is quite clear, but there must be a limit to everything, even
to the size and scope of a book; moreover, the work does not aim at
being an encyclopædia, but only an outline of what may fairly be
regarded as the Freethought position. Freethought, again, is too fluid a
term to permit its teachings being summarized in a set creed, but it
does stand for a certain definite attitude of mind in relation to those
problems of life with which thoughtful men and women concern themselves.
It is that mental attitude which I aim at depicting.

To those who are not directly concerned with the attack on
supernaturalism it may also be a matter of regret that so much of this
work is concerned with a criticism of religious beliefs. But that is an
accident of the situation. We have not yet reached that stage in affairs
when we can afford to let religion alone, and one may readily be excused
the suspicion that those who, without believing in it, profess to do so,
are more concerned with avoiding a difficult, if not dangerous, subject,
than they are with the problem of developing sane and sound methods of
thinking. And while some who stand forward as leaders of popular thought
fail to do their part in the work of attacking supernaturalistic
beliefs, others are perforce compelled to devote more time than they
would otherwise to the task. That, in brief, is my apology for
concerning myself so largely with religious topics, and leaving almost
untouched other fields where the Freethought attitude would prove
equally fruitful of results.

After all, it is the mental attitude with which one approaches a problem
that really matters. The man or woman who has not learned to set mere
authority on one side in dealing with any question will never be more
than a mere echo, and what the world needs, now as ever, is not echoes
but voices. Information, knowledge, is essential to the helpful
consideration of any subject; but all the knowledge in the world will be
of very little real help if it is not under the control of a right
method. What is called scientific knowledge is, to-day, the commonest of
acquisitions, and what most people appear to understand by that is the
accumulation of a large number of positive facts which do, indeed, form
the raw material of science. But the getting of mere facts is like the
getting of money. The value of its accumulation depends upon the use
made thereof. It is the power of generalization, the perception and
application of principles that is all-important, and to this the grasp
of a right method of investigation, the existence of a right mental
attitude, is essential.

The world needs knowledge, but still more imperatively it needs the
right use of the knowledge that is at its disposal. For this reason I
have been mainly concerned in these pages with indicating what I
consider to be the right mental attitude with which to approach certain
fundamental questions. For, in a world so distracted by conflicting
teachings as is ours, the value of a right method is almost
incalculable. Scepticism, said Buckle, is not the result, but the
condition of progress, and the same may be said of Freethought. The
condition of social development is the realization that no institution
and no teaching is beyond criticism. Criticism, rejection and
modification are the means by which social progress is achieved. It is
by criticism of existing ideas and institutions, by the rejection of
what is incapable of improvement, and by the modification of what
permits of betterment, that we show ourselves worthy of the better
traditions of the past, and profitable servants of the present and the

  C. C.




One of the largest facts in the history of man is religion. If it were
otherwise the justification for writing the following pages, and for
attempting the proof that, so far as man's history is concerned with
religion, it is little better than a colossal blunder, would not be
nearly so complete. Moreover, it is a generalization upon which
religionists of all classes love to dwell, or even to parade as one of
the strongest evidences in their favour; and it is always pleasant to be
able to give your opponent all for which he asks--feeling, meanwhile,
that you lose nothing in the giving. Universality of belief in religion
really proves no more than the universality of telling lies. "All men
are liars" is as true, or as false, as "All men are religious." For some
men are not liars, and some men are not religious. All the
generalization means is that some of both are found in every age and in
every country, and that is true whether we are dealing with the liar or
with the religious person.

What is ignored is the consideration that while at one stage of culture
religious belief is the widest and most embracing of all beliefs it
subsequently weakens, not quite in direct proportion to the advance of
culture, but yet in such a way that one can say there is an actual
relation between a preponderance of the one and a weakening of the
other. In very primitive communities gods are born and flourish with all
the rank exuberance of a tropical vegetation. In less primitive times
their number diminishes, and their sphere of influence becomes more and
more sharply defined. The gods are still credited with the ability to do
certain things, but there are other things which do somehow get done
without them. How that discovery and that division are made need not
detain us for the moment, but the fact is patent. Advancing civilization
sees the process continued and quickened, nay, that is civilization; for
until nature is rid of her "haughty lords" and man realizes that there
are at least some natural forces that come within the control of his
intelligence, civilization cannot really be said to have commenced.
Continued advance sees the gods so diminished in power and so weakened
in numbers that their very impotency is apt to breed for them the kind
of pity that one feels for a millionaire who becomes a pauper, or for an
autocratic monarch reduced to the level of a voteless citizen.

The truth is that all the gods, like their human creators, have in their
birth the promise of death. The nature of their birth gives them life,
but cannot promise them immortality. However much man commences by
worshipping gods, he sooner or later turns his back upon them. Like the
biblical deity he may look at his creation and declare it good, but he
also resembles this deity in presently feeling the impulse to destroy
what he has made. To the products of his mind man can no more give
immortality than he can to the work of his hands. In many cases the work
of his hands actually outlives that of his mind, for we have to-day the
remains of structures that were built in the honour of gods whose very
names are forgotten. And to bury his gods is, after all, the only real
apology that man can offer for having created them.

This outgrowing of religion is no new thing in human history. Thoughtful
observers have always been struck by the mortality among the gods,
although their demise has usually been chronicled in terms of exultation
by rival worshippers. But here and there a keener observer has brought
to bear on the matter a breadth of thought which robbed the phenomenon
of its local character and gave it a universal application. Thus, in one
of his wonderfully modern dialogues Lucian depicts the Olympian deities
discussing, much in the spirit of a modern Church Congress, the
prevalence of unbelief among men. The gods are disturbed at finding that
men are reaching the stage of either not believing, or not troubling
about them. There is a great deal of talk, and finally one of the minor
deities treats them to a little plain truth--which appears to be as
rare, and as unwelcome in heaven as on earth. He says--I quote from
Froude's translation:--

     What other conclusion could they arrive at when they saw the
     confusion around them? Good men neglected, perishing in penury and
     slavery, and profligate wretches wealthy, honoured and powerful.
     Sacrilegious temple robbers undiscovered and unpunished; devotees
     and saints beaten and crucified. With such phenomena before them,
     of course men have doubted our existence.... We affect surprise
     that men who are not fools decline to put their faith in us. We
     ought rather to be pleased that there is a man left to say his
     prayers. We are among ourselves with no strangers present. Tell us,
     then, Zeus, have you ever really taken pains to distinguish between
     good men and bad? Theseus, not you, destroyed the robbers in
     Attica. As far as Providence was concerned, Sciron and
     Pity-O-Campus might have murdered and plundered to the end of time.
     If Eurystheus had not looked into matters, and sent Hercules upon
     his labours little would you have troubled yourself with the Hydras
     and Centaurs. Let us be candid. All that we have really cared for
     has been a steady altar service. Everything else has been left to
     chance. And now men are opening their eyes. They perceive that
     whether they pray or don't pray, go to church or don't go to
     church, makes no difference to them. And we are receiving our

The case could hardly be put more effectively. It is the appeal to
experience with a vengeance, a form of argument of which religionists in
general are very fond. Of course, the argument does not touch the
question of the mere existence of a god, but it does set forth the
revolt of awakened common sense against the worship of a "moral governor
of the universe." We can say of our day, as Lucian said of his, that men
are opening their eyes, and as a consequence the gods are receiving
their deserts.

Generally speaking, it is not difficult to see the various steps by
which man outgrew the conception of the government of the world by
intelligent forces. From what we know of primitive thought we may say
that at first the gods dominated all. From the fall of a rain-drop to
the movement of a planet all was the work of gods. Merely to question
their power was the wildest of errors and the gravest of crimes. Bit by
bit this vast territory was reclaimed--a task at the side of which the
conquest of the fever-stricken tropics or the frozen north is mere
child's play. It is quite needless to enter into an elaborate
speculation as to the exact steps by which this process of
deanthropomorphization--to use a word of the late John Fiske's--was
accomplished, but one can picture the main line by what we see taking
place at later stages of development. And there is no exception to the
rule that so soon as any group of phenomena is brought within the
conception of law the notion of deity in connection with those phenomena
tends to die out. And the sum of the process is seen in the work of the
great law givers of science, Copernicus, Galileo, Kepler, Newton,
Laplace, Lyell, Dalton, Darwin, etc., who between them have presented us
with a universe in which the conception of deity simply has no place.
Apologies apart, the idea of deity is foreign to the spirit and method
of modern science.

In the region of the purely physical sciences this process may be
regarded as complete. In morals and sociology, purely on account of the
greater complexity of the subjects, mystical and semi-supernatural
conceptions still linger, but it is only a question of time for these
branches of knowledge to follow the same course as the physical
sciences. In morals we are able to trace, more or less completely, the
development of the moral sense from its first beginnings in the animal
world to its highest developments in man. What is called the "mystery of
morality" simply has no existence to anyone who is not a mystery-monger
by profession or inclination. And here, too, the gods have been
receiving their deserts. For it is now clear that instead of being a
help to morals there has been no greater obstacle to a healthy morality
than the play of religious ideas. In the name of God vices have been
declared virtues and virtues branded as vices. Belief in God has been an
unending source of moral perversion, and it lies upon the face of
historical development that an intelligent morality, one that is capable
of adapting itself to the changing circumstances of human nature, has
only become possible with the breaking down of religious authority.

Exactly the same phenomenon faces us in connection with social life. We
have to go back but a little way in human history to come to a time
when the existence of a State without a religion would have seemed to
people impossible. Much as Christians have quarrelled about other
things, they have been in agreement on this point. The historic fight
between the established Church and the Nonconformists has never really
been for the disestablishment of all religion, and the confining of the
State to the discharge of purely secular functions, but mainly as to
_which_ religion the State shall uphold. To-day, the central issue is
whether the State shall teach any religion, whether that does not lie
right outside its legitimate functions. And this marks an enormous
advance. It is a plain recognition of the truth that the gods have
nothing to contribute of any value to the development of our social
life. It marks the beginning of the end, and registers the truth that
man must be his own saviour here as elsewhere. As in Lucian's day we are
beginning to realize that whether we pray or don't pray, go to church or
don't go to church, believe in the gods or don't believe in them, makes
no real or substantial difference to natural happenings. Now as then we
see good men punished and bad ones rewarded, and they who are not fools
and have the courage to look facts in the face, decline to put their
faith in a deity who is incapable of doing all things right or too
careless to exert his power.

It is not that the fight is over, or that there is to-day little need to
fight the forces of superstition. If that were so, there would be no
need to write what is here written. Much as has been done, there is much
yet to do. The revolt against specific beliefs only serves to illustrate
a fight that is of much greater importance. For there is little real
social gain if one merely exchanges one superstition for another. And,
unfortunately, the gentleman who declared that he had given up the
errors of the Church of Rome in order to embrace those of the Church of
England represents a fairly common type. It is the prevalence of a
particular type of mind in society that constitutes a danger, and it is
against this that our aim is ultimately directed. Great as is the amount
of organized superstition that exists, the amount of unorganized
superstition is still greater, and probably more dangerous. One of the
revelations of the late war was the evidence it presented of the
tremendous amount of raw credulity, of the low type of intelligence that
was still current, and the small amount of critical ability the mass of
people bring to bear upon life. The legends that gained currency--the
army of Russians crossing England, the number of mutilated Belgian
babies that were seen, the story of the Germans boiling down their dead
to extract the fat, a story that for obscene stupidity beats everything
else, the Mons angels, the craze for mascots--all bore witness to the
prevalence of a frame of mind that bodes ill for progress.

The truth is, as Sir James Frazer reminds us, that modern society is
honeycombed with superstitions that are not in themselves a whit more
intellectually respectable than those which dominate the minds of
savages. "The smooth surface of cultured society is sapped and mined by
superstition." Now and again these hidden mines explode noisily, but the
superstition is always there, to be exploited by those who have the wit
to use it. From this point of view Christianity is no more than a
symptom of a source of great social weakness, a manifestation of a
weakness that may find expression in strange and unexpected but always
more or less dangerous ways. It is against the prevalence of this type
of mind that the Freethinker is really fighting. Freethinkers
realize--apparently they are the only ones that do realize--that the
creation of a better type of society is finally dependent upon the
existence of a sanely educated intelligence, and that will never exist
while there are large bodies of people who can persuade themselves that
human welfare is in some way dependent upon, or furthered by, practices
and beliefs that are not a bit more intellectually respectable than
those of the cave men. If Christianity, as a mere system of beliefs,
were destroyed, we should only have cleared the way for the final fight.
Thousands of generations of superstitious beliefs and practices that
have embodied themselves in our laws, our customs, our language, and our
institutions, are not to be easily destroyed. It is comparatively simple
to destroy a particular manifestation of this disastrous heritage, but
the type of mind to which it has given birth is not so easily removed.

The fight is not over, but it is being fought from a new vantage ground,
and with better weapons than have ever before been employed. History,
anthropology, and psychology have combined to place in the hands of the
modern Freethinker more deadly weapons than those of previous
generations were able to employ. Before these weapons the defences of
the faith crumble like wooden forts before modern artillery. It is no
longer a question of debating whether religious beliefs are true. So
long as we give a straightforward and honest meaning to those beliefs we
know that they are not true. It is, to-day, mainly a question of making
plain the nature of the forces which led men and women to regard them as
being true. We know that the history of religion is the history of a
delusion, and the task of the student is to recover those conditions
which gave to this delusion an appearance of truth and reality. That is
becoming more and more evident to all serious and informed students of
the subject.

The challenge of Freethought to religion constitutes one of the oldest
struggles in human history. It must have had its beginning in the first
glimmer of doubt concerning a tribal deity which crossed the mind of
some more than usually thoughtful savage. Under various forms and in
many ways it has gone on ever since. It has had many variations of
fortune, often apparently completely crushed, only to rise again
stronger and more daring than ever. To-day, Freethought is the accepted
mental attitude of a growing number of men and women whose intelligence
admits of no question. It has taken a recognized place in the
intellectual world, and its hold on the educated intelligence is rapidly
increasing. It may well be that in one form or another the antagonism
between critical Freethought and accepted teaching, whether secular or
religious, will continue as one of the permanent aspects of social
conflict. But so far as supernaturalism is concerned the final issue can
be no longer in doubt. It is not by one voice or by one movement that
supernaturalism is condemned. Its condemnation is written in the best
forms of art, science and literature. And that is only another way of
saying that it is condemned by life. Freethought holds the future in
fee, and nothing but an entire reversal of the order of civilization can
force it to forego its claims.



The outstanding feature of what may be called the natural history of
associated life is the way in which biologic processes are gradually
dominated by psychologic ones. Whatever be the nature of mind, a
question that in no way concerns us here, there is no denying the
importance of the phenomena that come within that category. To speak of
the first beginnings of mind is, in this connection, idle language. In
science there are no real beginnings. Things do not begin to be, they
simply emerge, and their emergence is as imperceptible as the
displacement of night by day, or the development of the chicken from the
egg. But whatever the nature of the beginning of mind, its appearance in
the evolutionary series marked an event of profound and revolutionary
importance. Life received a new impetus, and the struggle for existence
a new significance, the importance of which is not, even to-day,
generally recognized. The old formulæ might still be used, but they had
given to them a new significance. The race was still to the swift and
the battle to the strong, but swiftness and strength were manifested in
new ways and by new means. Cunning and intelligence began to do what was
formerly done without their co-operation. A new force had appeared,
arising out of the older forces as chemistry develops from physics and
biology from both. And, as we should expect from analogy, we find the
new force dominating the older ones, and even bending them to its

Associated life meets us very early in the story of animal existence,
and we may assume that it ranks as a genuine "survival quality." It
enables some animals to survive the attacks of others that are
individually stronger, and it may even be, as has been suggested, that
associated life is the normal form, and that solitary animals represent
a variation from the normal, or perhaps a case of degeneration. But one
result of associated life is that it paves the way for the emergence of
mind as an active force in social evolution. In his suggestive and
important work on _Mutual Aid_, Kropotkin has well shown how in the
animal world the purely biologic form of the struggle for existence is
checked and transformed by the factors of mutual aid, association and
protection. His illustrations cover a very wide field; they include a
great variety of animal forms, and he may fairly claim to have
established the proposition that "an instinct has been slowly developed
among animals and men in the course of an extremely long evolution ...
which has taught animals and men alike the force they can borrow from
mutual aid and support, and the joys they can find in social life."

But there is, on the whole, a very sharp limit set to the development of
mind in the animal world. One cause of this is the absence of a true
"social medium," to use the admirable phrase of that versatile thinker,
George Henry Lewes. In the case of man, speech and writing enable him to
give to his advances and discoveries a cumulative force such as can
never exist in their absence. On that subject more will be said later.
At present we may note another very important consequence of the
development of mind in evolution. In pre-human, or sub-human society,
perfection in the struggle for existence takes the form of the creation
or the perfecting of an organic tool. Teeth or claws become stronger or
larger, a limb is modified, sight becomes keener, or there is a new
effect in coloration. The changes here, it will be observed, are all of
an organic kind, they are a part of the animal and are inseparable from
it, and they are only transmissible by biologic heredity. And the rate
of development is, of necessity, slow.

When we turn to man and note the way in which he overcomes the
difficulties of his environment, we find them to be mainly of a
different order. His instruments are not personal, in the sense of being
a part of his organic structure. We may say they do not belong to him so
much as they do to the race; while they are certainly transmitted from
generation to generation irrespective of individuals. Instead of
achieving conquest of his environment by developing an organic
structure, man creates an inorganic tool. In a sense he subdues and
moulds the environment to his needs, rather than modifies his structure
in order to cope with the environment. Against extremes of temperature
he fashions clothing and builds habitations. He discovers fire, probably
the most important discovery ever made by mankind. He adds to his
strength in defence and attack by inventing weapons. He guards himself
from starvation by planting seeds, and so harnesses the productive
forces of nature to his needs. He tames animals and so secures living
engines of labour. Later, he compensates for his bodily weaknesses by
inventing instruments which aid sight, hearing, etc. Inventions are
multiplied, methods of locomotion and transportation are discovered, and
the difficulties of space and time are steadily minimized. The net
result of all this is that as a mere biologic phenomenon man's evolution
is checked. The biologic modifications that still go on are of
comparatively small importance, except, probably, in the case of
evolution against disease. The developments that take place are mainly
mental in form and are social in their incidence.

Now if the substantial truth of what has been said be admitted, and I do
not see how it can be successfully challenged, there arise one or two
considerations of supreme importance. The first of these is that social
history becomes more and more a history of social psychology. In social
life we are watching the play of social mind expressed through the
medium of the individual. The story of civilization is the record of the
piling of idea on idea, and the transforming power of the whole on the
environment. For tools, from the flint chip of primitive man, down to
the finished instrument of the modern mechanic, are all so many products
of human mentality. From the primitive dug-out to the Atlantic liner,
from the stone spear-head to the modern rifle, in all the inventions of
civilized life we are observing the application of mind to the conquest
of time, space, and material conditions. Our art, our inventions, our
institutions, are all so many illustrations of the power of mind in
transforming the environment. A history of civilization, as
distinguished from a mere record of biologic growth, is necessarily a
history of the growing power of mind. It is the cumulative ideas of the
past expressed in inventions and institutions that form the driving
power behind the man of to-day. These ideas form the most valuable part
of man's heritage, make him what he is, and contain the promise of all
that he may become.

So long as we confine ourselves to biologic evolution, the way in which
qualities are transmitted is plain. There is no need to go beyond the
organism itself. But this heritage of ideas, peculiarly human as it is,
requires a "carrier" of an equally unique kind. It is at this point that
the significance of what we have called the "social medium" emerges.
The full significance of this was first seen by G. H. Lewes.[1] Writing
so far back as 1879 he said:--

     The distinguishing character of human psychology is that to the
     three great factors, organism, external medium, and heredity; it
     adds a fourth, namely, the relation to a social medium, with its
     product, the general mind.... While the mental functions are
     products of the individual organism, the product, mind, is more
     than an individual product. Like its great instrument language, it
     is at once individual and social. Each man speaks in virtue of the
     functions of vocal expression, but also in virtue of the social
     need of communication. The words spoken are not his creation, yet
     he, too, must appropriate them by what may be called a creative
     process before he can understand them. What his tribe speaks he
     repeats; but he does not simply echo their words, he rethinks them.
     In the same way he adopts their experiences when he assimilates
     them to his own.... Further, the experiences come and go; they
     correct, enlarge, and destroy one another, leaving behind them a
     certain residual store, which condensed in intuitions and
     formulated in principles, direct and modify all future
     experiences.... Men living in groups co-operate like the organs in
     an organism. Their actions have a common impulse to a common end.
     Their desires and opinions bear the common stamp of an impersonal
     direction. Much of their life is common to all. The roads,
     market-places and temples are for each and all. Customs arise and
     are formulated in laws, the restraint of all.... Each generation is
     born in this social medium, and has to adapt itself to the
     established forms.... A nation, a tribe, a sect is the medium of
     the individual mind, as a sea, a river, or a pond, is the medium of
     a fish.[2]

[1] It will ease my feelings if I am permitted to here make a protest
against the shameless way in which this suggestive writer has been
pillaged by others without the slightest acknowledgement. They have
found him, as Lamb said of some other writers, "damned good to steal
from." His series of volumes, _Problems of Life and Mind_, have been
borrowed from wholesale without the slightest thanks or recognition.

[2] _Study of Psychology_, pp. 139, 161-5. So again, a more recent
writer says: "It is not man himself who thinks but his social community;
the source of his thoughts is in the social medium in which he lives,
the social atmosphere which he breathes.... The influence of environment
upon the human mind has always been recognized by psychologists and
philosophers, but it has been considered a secondary factor. On the
contrary, the social medium which the child enters at birth, in which he
lives, moves and has his being, is fundamental. Toward this environment
the individual from childhood to ripest old age is more or less
receptive; rarely can the maturest minds so far succeed in emancipating
themselves from this medium so far as to undertake independent
reflection, while complete emancipation is impossible, for all the
organs and modes of thought, all the organs for constructing thoughts
have been moulded or at least thoroughly imbued by it" (L. Gumplowicz,
_Outlines of Sociology_, p. 157).

Biologically, what man inherits is capacity for acquisition. But what he
shall acquire, the direction in which his native capacity shall express
itself, is a matter over which biologic forces have no control. This is
determined by society and social life. Given quite equal capacity in two
individuals, the output will be very different if one is brought up in a
remote Spanish village and the other in Paris or London. Whether a man
shouts long live King George or long live the Kaiser is mainly a
question of social surroundings, and but very little one of difference
in native capacity. The child of parents living in the highest civilized
society, if taken away while very young and brought up amid a people in
a very primitive state of culture, would, on reaching maturity, differ
but little from the people around him. He would think the thoughts that
were common to the society in which he was living as he would speak
their language and wear their dress. Had Shakespeare been born among
savages he could never have written _Hamlet_. For the work of the
genius, as for that of the average man, society must provide the
materials in the shape of language, ideas, institutions, and the
thousand and one other things that go to make up the life of a group,
and which may be seen reflected in the life of the individual. Suppose,
says Dr. McDougall:--

     that throughout the period of half a century every child born to
     English parents was at once exchanged (by the power of a magician's
     wand) for an infant of the French, or other, European nation. Soon
     after the close of this period the English nation would be composed
     of individuals of French extraction, and the French of individuals
     of English extraction. It is, I think, clear that, in spite of this
     complete exchange of innate characters between the two nations,
     there would be but little immediate change of national
     characteristics. The French people would still speak French, and
     the English would speak English, with all the local diversities to
     which we are accustomed and without perceptible change of
     pronunciation. The religion of the French would still be
     predominantly Roman Catholic, and the English people would still
     present the same diversity of Protestant creeds. The course of
     political institutions would have suffered no profound change, the
     customs and habits of the two peoples would exhibit only such
     changes as might be attributed to the lapse of time, though an
     acute observer might notice an appreciable approximation of the two
     peoples towards one another in all these respects. The inhabitant
     of France would still be a Frenchman and the inhabitant of England
     an Englishman to all outward seeming, save that the physical
     appearance of the two peoples would be transposed. And we may go
     even further and assert that the same would hold good if a similar
     exchange of infants were effected between the English and any other
     less closely allied nation, say the Turks or the Japanese.[3]

[3] _Social Psychology_, pp. 330-1.

The products of human capacity are the material of which civilization is
built; these products constitute the inheritance which one generation
receives from another. Whether this inheritance be large or small,
simple or complex, it is the chief determinant which shapes the
personality of each individual. What each has by biological heredity is
a given structure, that is, capacity. But the direction of that
capacity, the command it enables one to acquire over his environment, is
in turn determined by the society into which he happens to be born.

It has already been said that the materials of civilization, whether
they be tools, or institutions, or inventions, or discoveries, or
religious or ethical teachings, are facts that can be directly described
as psychological. An institution--the Church, the Crown, the
Magistracy--is not transmitted as a building or as so many sheets of
paper, but as an idea or as a set of ideas. A piece of machinery is, in
the same way, a mental fact, and is a physical one in only a subordinate
sense. And if this be admitted, we reach the further truth that the
environment to which man has to adapt himself is essentially, so far as
it is a social environment, psychological. Not alone are the outward
marks of social life--the houses in which man lives, the machines he
uses to do his bidding--products of his mental activity, but the more
important features of his environment, to which he must adapt himself,
and which so largely shape his character and determine his conduct, are
of a wholly psychological character. In any society that is at all
distinct from the animal, there exist a number of beliefs, ideas and
institutions, traditions, and, in a later stage, a literature which play
a very important part in determining the direction of man's mind. With
increasing civilization, and the development of better means of
intercourse, any single society finds itself brought into touch and
under the influence of other social groups. The whole of these
influences constitute a force which, surrounding an individual at birth,
inevitably shapes character in this or that direction. They dominate the
physical aspect of life, and represent the determining forces of social
growth. Eliminate the psychological forces of life and you eliminate all
that can be properly called civilization. It is wholly the transforming
power of mind on the environment that creates civilization, and it is
only by a steady grasp of this fact that civilization can be properly

I have pointed out a distinction between biological and social, or
psychological, heredity. But there is one instance in which the two
agree. This is that we can only understand a thing by its history. We
may catalogue the existing peculiarities of an animal form with no other
material than that of the organism before us, but thoroughly to
understand it we must know its history. Similarly, existing institutions
may have their justification in the present, but the causes of their
existence lie buried in the past. A king may to-day be honoured on
account of his personal worth, but the reason why there is a king to be
honoured carries us back to that state of culture in which the primitive
priest and magic worker inspires fear and awe. When we ring bells to
call people to church we perpetuate the fact that our ancestors rang
them to drive away evil spirits. We wear black at a funeral because our
primitive ancestors wished to hide themselves from the dead man's
ghost. We strew flowers on a grave because food and other things were
once buried with the dead so that their spirits might accompany the dead
to the next world. In short, with all human customs we are forced, if we
wish to know the reason for their present existence, to seek it in the
ideas that have dominated the minds of previous generations.[4]

[4] "The tyranny exercised unconsciously on men's minds is the only real
tyranny, because it cannot be fought against. Tiberius, Ghengis Khan,
and Napoleon were assuredly redoubtable tyrants, but from the depths of
their graves Moses, Buddha, Jesus, and Mahomet exerted on the human soul
a far profounder tyranny. A conspiracy may overthrow a tyrant, but what
can it avail against a firmly established belief? In its violent
struggle with Roman Catholicism it is the French Revolution that has
been vanquished, and this in spite of the fact that the sympathy of the
crowd was apparently on its side, and in spite of recourse to
destructive measures as pitiless as those of the Inquisition. The only
real tyrants that humanity has known have always been the memories of
its dead, or the illusions it has forged for itself" (Gustave Le Bon,
_The Crowd_, p. 153).

No one who has studied, in even a cursory manner, the development of our
social institutions can avoid recognition of the profound influence
exerted by the primitive conceptions of life, death, and of the
character of natural forces. Every one of our social institutions was
born in the shadow of superstition, and superstition acts as a powerful
force in determining the form they assume. Sir Henry Maine has shown to
what a large extent the laws of inheritance are bound up with ancestor
worship.[5] Spencer has done the same service for nearly all our
institutions,[6] and Mr. Elton says that "the oldest customs of
inheritance in England and Germany were, in their beginnings, connected
with a domestic religion, and based upon a worship of ancestral spirits
of which the hearthplace was essentially the altar."[7] The same truth
meets us in the study of almost any institution. In fact, it is not long
before one who _thinks_ evolution, instead of merely knowing its
formulæ, begins to realize the truth of the saying by a German
sociologist that in dealing with social institutions we are concerned
with the "mental creations of aggregates." They are dependent upon the
persistence of a set of ideas, and so long as these ideas are unshaken
they are substantially indestructible. To remove them the ideas upon
which they rest must be shaken and robbed of their authority. That is
the reason why at all times the fight for reform so largely resolves
itself into a contest of ideas. Motives of self-interest may enter into
the defence of an institution, and in some case may be responsible for
the attempt to plant an institution where it does not already exist, but
in the main institutions persist because of their harmony with a frame
of mind that is favourable to their being.

[5] See _Early History of Institutions_, and _Early Law and Custom_.

[6] _Principles of Sociology_, Vol. I.

[7] _Origins of English History_, p. 261.

A great deal of criticism has been directed against the conclusion of
Buckle that improvement in the state of mankind has chiefly resulted
from an improvement in the intellectual outlook. And yet when stated
with the necessary qualifications the generalization is as sound as it
can well be. Certainly, the belief held in some quarters, and stated
with an air of scientific precision, that the material environment is
the active force which is ever urging to new mental development will not
fit the facts; for, as we have seen, the environment to which human
nature must adapt itself is mainly mental in character, that is, it is
made up in an increasing measure of the products of man's own mental
activity. The theory of the sentimental religionist that the evil in the
world results from the wickedness of man, or, as he is fond of putting
it, from the hardness of man's heart, is grotesque in its
ineffectiveness. Soft heads have far more to do with the evil in the
world than have hard hearts. Indeed, one of the standing difficulties of
the orthodox moralist is, not to explain the deeds of evil men, which
explain themselves, but to account for the harm done by "good" men, and
often as a consequence of their goodness. The moral monster is a rarity,
and evil is rarely the outcome of a clear perception of its nature and a
deliberate resolve to pursue it. Paradoxical as it may sound, it demands
a measure of moral strength to do wrong, consciously and deliberately,
which the average man or woman does not possess. And the world has never
found it a matter of great difficulty to deal with its "bad" characters;
it is the "good" ones that present it with a constant problem.

The point is worth stressing, and we may do it from more than one point
of view. We may take, first of all, the familiar illustration of
religious persecution, as exemplified in the quarrels of Catholics and
Protestants. On the ground of moral distinction no line could be drawn
between the two parties. Each shuddered at the persecution inflicted by
the other, and each regarded the teachings of the other with the same
degree of moral aversion. And it has often been noted that the men who
administered so infamous an institution as the Inquisition were not, in
even the majority of cases, bad men.[8] A few may have had interested
motives, but it would have been impossible to have maintained so brutal
an institution in the absence of a general conviction of its rightness.
In private life those who could deliver men, women, and even children
over to torture were not worse husbands or parents than others. Such
differences as existed cannot be attributed to a lack of moral
endeavour, or to a difference of "moral temperament." It was a
difference of intellectual outlook, and given certain religious
convictions persecution became a religious necessity. The moral output
was poor because the intellectual standpoint was a wrong one.

[8] Speaking of the Inquisition, Mr. H. C. Lea, in his classic _History
of the Inquisition_, says, "There is no doubt that the people were as
eager as their pastors to send the heretic to the stake. There is no
doubt that men of the kindliest tempers, the profoundest aspirations,
the purest zeal for righteousness, professing a religion founded on love
and charity, were ruthless where heresy was concerned, and were ready to
trample it out at any cost. Dominic and Francis, Bonaventure and Thomas
Aquinas, Innocent III. and St. Louis, were types, in their several ways,
of which humanity, in any age, might feel proud, and yet they were as
unsparing of the heretic as Ezzelin di Romano was of his enemies. With
such men it was not hope of gain or lust of blood or pride of opinion or
wanton exercise of power, but sense of duty, and they but represented
what was universal public opinion from the thirteenth to the seventeenth
century." Vol. I., p. 234.

If we could once get over the delusion of thinking of human nature as
being fundamentally different five hundred years ago from what it is
to-day, we should escape a great many fallacies that are prevalent. The
changes that have taken place in human nature during the historic period
are so slight as to be practically negligible. The motives that animate
men and women to-day are the motives that animated men and women a
thousand or two thousand years ago. The change is in the direction and
form of their manifestation only, and it is in the light of the human
nature around us that we must study and interpret the human nature that
has gone before us. From that point of view we may safely conclude that
bad institutions were kept in being in the past for the same reason
that they are kept alive to-day. The majority must be blind to their
badness; and in any case it is a general perception of their badness
which leads to their destruction.

The subject of crime illustrates the same point. Against crime as such,
society is as set as ever. But our attitude toward the causation and
cure of crime, and, above all, to the treatment of the criminal, has
undergone a profound alteration. And the change that has taken place
here has been away from the Christian conception which brutalized the
world for so long, towards the point of view taken up by the ancient
Greeks, that wrong doing is the outcome of ignorance. Expressed in the
modern manner we should say that crime is the result of an undeveloped
nature, or of a pathological one, or of a reversion to an earlier
predatory type, or the result of any or all of these factors in
combination with defective social conditions. But this is only another
way of saying that we have exchanged the old, brutal, and ineffective
methods for more humane and effective ones because we look at the
problem of crime from a different intellectual angle. A more exact
knowledge of the causation of crime has led us to a more sensible and a
more humane treatment of the criminal. And this, not alone in his own
behalf, but in the interests of the society in which he lives. We may
put it broadly that improvement comes from an enlightened way of looking
at things. Common observation shows that people will go on tolerating
forms of brutality, year after year, without the least sense of their
wrongness. Familiarity, and the absence of any impetus to examine
current practice from a new point of view seem to account for this. In
the seventeenth century the same people who could watch, without any
apparent hostility, the torture of an old woman on the fantastic charge
of intercourse with Satan, had their feelings outraged by hearing a
secular song on Sunday. Imprisonment for "blasphemy," once regarded as a
duty, has now become ridiculous to all reasonable people. At one and the
same time, a little more than a hundred years ago in this country, the
same people who could denounce cock-fighting on account of its
brutality, could watch unmoved the murdering of little children in the
factories of Lancashire. Not so long ago men in this country fought
duels under a sense of moral compulsion, and the practice was only
abandoned when a changed point of view made people realize the absurdity
of trying to settle the justice of a cause by determining which of two
people were the most proficient with sword or pistol. We have a
continuation of the same absurdity in those larger duels fought by
nations where the old verbal absurdities still retain their full force,
and where we actually add another absurdity by retaining a number of
professional duellists who must be ready to embark on a duel whether
they have any personal feeling in the matter or not. And it seems fairly
safe to say that when it is realized that the duel between nations as a
means of settling differences is not a bit more intellectually
respectable than was the ancient duello we shall not be far removed from
seeing the end of one of the greatest dangers to which modern society is

Examples might be multiplied indefinitely, but enough has been said to
show what small reason there is for assuming that changes in
institutions are brought about by the operation of some occult moral
sense. It is the enlightenment of the moral sense by the growth of new
ideas, by the impact of new knowledge leading to a revaluation of things
that is mainly responsible for the change. The question of whether a man
should or should not be burned for a difference in religious belief was
never one that could be settled by weighing up the moral qualities of
the two parties in the dispute. All the moral judgment that has ever
existed, even if combined in the person of a single individual could
never decide that issue. It was entirely a question of acquiring a new
point of view from which to examine the subject. Until that was done the
whole force of the moral sense was on the side of the persecutor. To put
the matter paradoxically, the better the man the worse persecutor he
became. It was mental enlightenment that was needed, not moral

The question of progress thus becomes, in all directions, one of the
impact of new ideas, in an environment suitable to their reception and
growth. A society shut in on itself is always comparatively
unprogressive, and but for the movement of classes within it would be
completely so. The more closely the history of civilization is studied
the more clearly does that fact emerge. Civilization is a synthetic
movement, and there can be no synthesis in the absence of dissolution
and resolution.

A fight of old ideas against new ones, a contest of clashing culture
levels, a struggle to get old things looked at from a new point of view,
these are the features that characterize all efforts after reform. It
was said by some of the eighteenth century philosophers that society was
held together by agreement in a bond. That is not quite correct. The
truth is that society is held together, as is any phase of social life,
by a bond of agreement. The agreement is not of the conscious,
documentary order, but it is there, and it consists in sharing a common
life created and maintained by having a common tradition, and a common
stock of ideas and ideals. It is this that makes a man a member of one
social group rather than of another--Chinese, American, French, German,
or Choctaw. There is no discriminating feature in what is called the
economic needs of people. The economic needs of human beings--food,
clothing, and shelter, are of the same order the world over. And
certainly the fact of a Chinaman sharing in the economic life of
Britain, or an Englishman sharing in the economic life of China, would
not entitle either to be called genuine members of the group in which he
happened to be living. Membership only begins to be when those belonging
to a group share in a common mental outfit. Even within a society, and
in relation to certain social groups, one can see illustrations of the
same principle. A man is not really a member of a society of artists,
lawyers, or doctors merely by payment of an annual subscription. He is
that only when he becomes a participant in the mental life of the
group.[9] It is this common stock of mental facts which lies at the
root of all collective ideas--an army, a Church, or a nation. And ever
the fight is by way of attack and defence of the psychologic fact.[10]

[9] This seems to me to give the real significance of Nationality. It
has been argued by some that nationality is a pure myth, as unreal as
the divinity of a king. The principal ground for this denial of
nationality appears to be that so-called national characteristics are
seen to undergo drastic transformation when their possessors are subject
to a new set of influences. This may be quite true, but if nationality,
in the sense of being a product of biological heredity, is ruled out, it
does not follow that nationality is thereby destroyed. The fact may
remain but it demands a different interpretation. And if what has been
said above be true, it follows that nationality is not a personal fact,
but an extra or super-personal one. It belongs to the group rather than
to the individual, and is created by the possession of a common speech,
a common literature, and a common group life. And quite naturally, when
the individual is lifted out of this special social influence its power
may well be weakened, and in the case of his children may be
non-existent, or replaced by the special characteristics of the new
group into which he is born. The discussion of nationality ought not,
therefore, to move along the lines of acceptance or rejection of the
conception of nationality, but of how far specific national
characteristics admit of modification under the pressure of new

[10] It would take too long to elaborate, but it may be here noted that
in the human group the impelling force is not so much needs as desires,
and that fact raises the whole issue from the level of biology to that
of psychology. So long as life is at a certain level man shares with the
animal the mere need for food. But at another level there arises not
merely the need for food, but a desire for certain kind of food, cooked
in a particular manner, and served in a special style. And provided that
we do not by hunger reduce man to the level of the beast again, the
desire will be paramount and will determine whether food shall be eaten
or not. So, again, with the fact of sex and marriage. At the animal
level we have the crude fact of sex, and this is, indeed, inescapable at
any stage. But the growth of civilization brings about the fact that the
need for the gratification of the sexual appetite is regulated by the
secondary qualities of grace of form, or of disposition, which are the
immediate determinants of whether a particular man shall marry a
particular woman or not. Again, it is the _desire_ for power and
distinction, not the _need_ for money that impels men to spend their
lives in building up huge fortunes. And, finally, we have the fact that
a great many of our present needs are transformed desires. The working
man of to-day counts as needs, as do we all more or less, a number of
things that began as pure desires. We say we need books, pictures,
music, etc. But none of these things can be really brought under the
category of things necessary to life. They are the creation of man's
mental cravings. Without them we say life would not be worth living, and
it is well that we should all feel so. Professor Marshall rightly dwells
upon this point by saying: "Although it is man's wants in the early
stages of development that give rise to his activities, yet afterwards
each new step is to be regarded as the development of new activities
giving rise to new wants, rather than of new wants giving rise to new
activities."--(_Principles of Economics_, Vol. I., p. 164.)

To do the Churches and other vested interests justice, they have never
lost sight of this truth, and it would have been better for the race
had others been equally alive to its importance. The Churches have never
ceased to fight for the control of those public organs that make for the
formation of opinion. Their struggle to control the press, the platform,
and the school means just this. Whatever they may have taught,
self-interest forced upon them recognition of the truth that it was what
men thought about things that mattered. They have always opposed the
introduction of new ideas, and have fought for the retention of old
ones. It was a necessity of their existence. It was also an admission of
the truth that in order for reform to become a fact the power of
traditional ideas must be broken. Man is what he thinks, is far nearer
the truth than the once famous saying, "Man is what he eats." As a
member of a social group man is dominated by his ideas of things, and
any movement of reform must take cognisance of that fact if it is to
cherish reasonable hopes of success.



Freedom of thought and freedom of speech stand to each other as the two
halves of a pair of scissors. Without freedom of speech freedom of
thought is robbed of the better part of its utility, even if its
existence is not threatened. The one reacts on the other. As thought
provides the material for speech, so, in turn, it deteriorates when it
is denied expression. Speech is, in fact, one of the great factors in
human progress. It is that which enables one generation to hand on to
another the discoveries made, the inventions produced, the thoughts
achieved, and so gives a degree of fixity to the progress attained. For
progress, while expressed through the individual, is achieved by the
race. Individually, the man of to-day is not strikingly superior in form
or capacity to the man of five or ten thousand years ago. But he knows
more, can achieve more, and is in that sense stronger than was his
ancestors. He is the heir of the ages, not as a figure of speech, but as
the most sober of facts. He inherits what previous generations have
acquired; the schoolboy of to-day starts with a capital of inherited
knowledge that would have been an outfit for a philosopher a few
thousand years ago.

It is this that makes speech of so great importance to the fact of
progress. Without speech, written or verbal, it would be impossible to
conserve the products of human achievement. Each generation would have
to start where its predecessor commenced, and it would finish at about
the same point. It would be the fable of Sisyphus illustrated in the
passing of each generation of human beings.

But speech implies communication. There is not very much pleasure in
speaking to oneself. Even the man who apologised for the practice on the
ground that he liked to address a sensible assembly would soon grow
tired of so restricted an audience. The function of speech is to
transmit ideas, and it follows, therefore, that every embargo on the
free exchange of ideas, every obstacle to complete freedom of speech, is
a direct threat to the well-being of civilisation. As Milton could say
that a good book "is the precious life-blood of a master spirit,
embalmed and treasured up to a life beyond life," and that "he who
destroys a good book kills reason itself," so we may say that he who
strikes at freedom of thought and speech is aiming a blow at the very
heart of human betterment.

In theory, the truth of what has been said would be readily admitted,
but in practice it has met, and still meets, with a vigorous opposition.
Governments have exhausted their powers to prevent freedom of
intercourse between peoples, and every Church and chapel has used its
best endeavours to the same end. Even to-day, when all are ready to pay
lip-homage to freedom of thought, the obstacles in the way of a genuine
freedom are still very great. Under the best possible conditions there
will probably always be some coercion of opinion, if only of that
unconscious kind which society as a whole exerts upon its individual
members. But to this we have to add the coercion that is consciously
exerted to secure the formation of particular opinions, and which has
the dual effect of inducing dissimulation in some and impotency in
others. Quite ignorantly parents commence the work when they force upon
children their own views of religion and inculcate an exaggerated
respect for authority. They create an initial bias that is in only too
many cases fatal to real independence of thought. Social pressure
continues what a mistaken early training has commenced. When opinions
are made the test of "good form," and one's social standing partly
determined by the kind of opinions that one holds, there is developed on
the one side hypocrisy, and on the other, because certain opinions are
banned, thought in general is unhealthily freed from the sobering
influence of enlightened criticism.[11]

[11] It is a curious thing, as Philip Gilbert Hamerton points out in one
of his essays, that in England religious freedom appears to exist in
inverse proportion to rank. The king has no freedom whatever in a choice
of religion. His religion is part of the position. An English nobleman,
speaking generally, has two religions from which to choose. He may be
either a member of the established Church or of the Roman Catholic. In
the middle classes there is the choice of all sorts of religious sects,
so long as they are Christian. Religious dissent is permitted so long as
it does not travel beyond the limits of the chapel. And when we come to
the better class working man, he has the greatest freedom of all. His
social position does not depend upon his belonging to this or that
Church, and he may, to borrow a phrase from Heine, go to hell in his own

To-day the legal prohibition of religious dissent is practically
ineffective, and is certainly far less demoralizing than the pressure
that is exerted socially and unofficially. In all probability this has
always been the case. For legal persecution must be open. Part of its
purpose is publicity, and that in itself is apt to rouse hostility.
Against open, legal persecution a man will make a stand, or if he gives
way to the force arrayed against him may do so with no feeling of
personal degradation. But the conformity that is secured by a threat of
social boycott, the freedom of speech that is prevented by choking the
avenues of intellectual intercourse, is far more deadly in its
consequences, and far more demoralizing in its influence on character.
To give way, as thousands do, not to the open application of force,
which carries no greater personal reflection than does the soldier's
surrender to superior numbers, but to the dread of financial loss, to
the fear of losing a social status, that one may inwardly despise even
while in the act of securing it, or from fear of offending those whom we
may feel are not worthy of our respect, these are the things that cannot
be done without eating into one's sense of self-respect, and inflicting
upon one's character an irreparable injury.

On this matter more will be said later. For the present I am concerned
with the sense in which we are using the word "Freethought."
Fortunately, little time need be wasted in discussing the once popular
retort to the Freethinker that if the principle of determinism be
accepted "free" thought is impossible. It is surprising that such an
argument should ever have secured a vogue, and is only now interesting
as an indication of the mentality of the defender of orthodox religion.
Certainly no one who properly understands the meaning of the word would
use such an argument. At best it is taking a word from sociology, a
sphere in which the meaning is quite clear and intelligible, and
applying it in the region of physical science where it has not, and is
not intended to have, any meaning at all. In physical science a thing is
what it does, and the business of science is to note the doings of
forces and masses, their actions and reactions, and express them in
terms of natural "law." From the point of view of physical science a
thing is neither free nor unfree, and to discuss natural happenings in
terms of freedom or bondage is equal to discussing smell in terms of
sight or colour in terms of smell. But applied in a legitimate way the
word "free" is not only justifiable, it is indispensible. The confusion
arises when we take a word from a department in which its meaning is
quite clear and apply it in a region where it has no application

Applied to opinion "Free" has the same origin and the same application
as the expressions "a free man," or a "free State," or "a free people."
Taking either of these expressions it is plain that they could have
originated only in a state of affairs where some people are "free," and
some are living in a state of bondage or restraint. There is no need to
trace the history of this since so much is implied in the word itself. A
free State is one in which those belonging to it determine their own
laws without being coerced by an outside power. A free man is one who is
permitted to act as his own nature prompts. The word "free" implies
nothing as to the nature of moral or mental causation, that is a
question of a wholly different order. The free man exists over against
the one who is not free, the free State over against one that is held in
some degree of subjection to another State. There is no other meaning to
the word, and that meaning is quite clear and definite.

Now Freethought has a precisely similar significance. It says nothing as
to the nature of thought, the origin of thought, or the laws of thought.
With none of these questions is it vitally concerned. It simply asserts
that there are conditions under which thought is not "free," that is,
where it is coerced to a foregone conclusion, and that these conditions
are fatal to thought in its higher and more valuable aspects.
Freethought is that form of thinking that proceeds along lines of its
own determining, rather than along lines that are laid down by
authority. In actual practice it is immediately concerned with the
expression of opinion rather than with its formation, since no authority
can prevent the formation of opinion in any mind that is at all
independent in its movements and forms opinions on the basis of observed
facts and adequate reasoning. But its chief and primary significance
lies in its repudiation of the right of authority to say what form the
expression of opinion shall take. And it is also clear that such a term
as "Freethought" could only have come into general use and prominence in
a society in which the free circulation of opinion was more or less

It thus becomes specially significant that, merely as a matter of
history, the first active manifestation of Freethought should have
occurred in connection with a revolt against religious teaching and
authority. This was no accident, but was rather a case of necessity.
For, in the first place, there is no other subject in which pure
authority plays so large a part as it does in religion. All churches and
all priesthoods, ancient and modern, fall back upon the principle of
pure authority as a final method of enforcing their hold upon the
people. That, it may be noted in passing, is one of the chief reasons
why in all ages governments have found religion one of the most
serviceable agencies in maintaining their sway. Secondly, there seems to
have been from the very earliest times a radically different frame of
mind in the approach to secular and religious matters. So far as one can
see there appears to be, even in primitive societies, no very strong
opposition to the free discussion of matters that are of a purely
secular nature. Questions of ways and means concerning these are freely
debated among savage tribes, and in all discussion differences of
opinion must be taken for granted. It is when we approach religious
subjects that a difference is seen. Here the main concern is to
determine the will of the gods, and all reasoning is thus out of place,
if not a positive danger. The only thing is to discover "God's will,"
and when we have his, or his will given in "sacred" books the embargo on
free thinking is complete. This feature continues to the end. We do not
even to-day discuss religious matters in the same open spirit in which
secular matters are debated. There is a bated breath, a timidity of
criticism in discussing religious subjects that does not appear when we
are discussing secular topics. With the thoroughly religious man it is
solely a question of what God wishes him to do. In religion this affords
the only latitude for discussion, and even that disappears largely when
the will of God is placed before the people in the shape of "revealed"
writings. Fortunately for the world "inspired" writings have never been
so clearly penned as to leave no room for doubt as to what they actually
meant. Clarity of meaning has never been one of the qualities of divine

In this connection it is significant that the first form of democratic
government of which we have any clear record should have been in
freethinking, sceptical Greece. Equally notable is it that in both Rome
and Greece the measure of mental toleration was greater than it has ever
been in other countries before or since. In Rome to the very end of the
Pagan domination there existed no legislation against opinions, as such.
The holders of certain opinions might find themselves in uncomfortable
positions now and then, but action against them had to rest on some
ground other than that which was afterwards known as heresy. There
existed no law in the Roman Empire against freedom of opinion, and those
who are familiar with Mr. H. C. Lea's classic, _History of the
Inquisition_, will recall his account of the various tactics adopted by
the Christian Church to introduce measures that would accustom the
public mind to legislation which should establish the principle of
persecution for opinion.[12] In the end the Church succeeded in
effecting this, and its success was registered in the almost
unbelievable degradation of the human intellect which was exhibited in
the Christian world for centuries. So complete was this demoralization
that more than a thousand years later we find men announcing as a most
daring principle a demand for freedom of discussion which in old Greece
and Rome was never officially questioned. Christianity not merely killed
freedom wherever it established itself, but it came very near killing
even the memory of it.

[12] See specially Vol. I., chapters 6, 7, and 8. One is sorely tempted
to engage in what would be a rather lengthy aside on the mental freedom
enjoyed by the people of ancient Greece, but considerations of cogency
advise a shorter comment in this form. In the first place we have to
note that neither the Greeks nor the Romans possessed anything in the
shape of "sacred" books. That, as the history of Mohammedanism and
Christianity shows, is one of the most disastrous things that can happen
to any people. But apart from this there were several circumstances
connected with the development of the Greek peoples that made for
freedom of opinion. There was no uniform theology to commence with, and
the configuration of the country, while enough to maintain local
independence, was not enough to prevent a certain amount of intercourse.
And it would certainly seem that no people were ever so devoid of
intolerance as were the ancient Greeks. It is true that the history of
Greece was not without its examples of intolerance, but these were
comparatively few, and, as Professor Bury says, persecution was never
organized. The gods were criticized in both speeches and plays. Theories
of Materialism and Atheism were openly taught and were made the topic of
public discussion. There was, indeed, a passion for the discussion of
all sorts of subjects, and to discussion nothing is sacred. The best
thought of Rome owed its impetus to Greece, and at a later date it was
the recovered thought of Greece which gave the impetus to Mohammedan
Spain in its cultivation of science and philosophy, and so led to the
partial recovery of Europe from the disastrous control of the Christian
Church. Nor need it be assumed that the work of Greece was due to the
possession of a superior brain power. Of that there is not the slightest
vestige of proof. It is simply that the ancient Greek lived in a freer
mental atmosphere. The mind had less to hamper it in its operations; it
had no organized and powerful Church that from the cradle to the grave
pursued its work of preventing free criticism and the play of
enlightened opinion. For several centuries the world has been seeking to
recover some of its lost liberties with only a very moderate success.
But if one thinks of what the Greeks were, and if one adds to what they
had achieved a possible two thousand years of development, he will then
have some notion of what the triumph of the Christian Church meant to
the world.

It was, therefore, inevitable that in the western world Freethought
should come into prominence in relation to the Christian religion and
its claims. In the Christian Church there existed an organization which
not alone worked with the avowed intention of determining what men
should think, but finally proceeded to what was, perhaps, the logical
conclusion, to say what they should not think. No greater tyranny than
the Christian Church has ever existed. And this applies, not to the
Roman Church alone, but to every Church within the limit of its
opportunities. In the name and in the interests of religion the
Christian Church took some of the worst passions of men and consecrated
them. The killing of heretics became one of the most solemn duties and
it was urged upon secular rulers as such. The greatest instrument of
oppression ever formed, the Inquisition, was fashioned for no other
purpose than to root out opinions that were obnoxious to the Church. It
would have been bad enough had the attempts of the Church to control
opinion been limited to religion. But that was not the case. It aimed at
taking under its control all sorts of teaching on all sorts of
subjects. Nothing would have surprised an inhabitant of ancient Rome
more, could he have revisited the earth some dozen centuries after the
establishment of Christianity, than to have found men being punished for
criticising doctrines that were in his day openly laughed at. And
nothing could have given an ancient Athenian greater cause for wonder
than to have found men being imprisoned and burned for teaching cosmical
theories that were being debated in the schools of Athens two thousand
years before. Well might they have wondered what had happened to the
world, and well might they have come to the conclusion that it had been
overtaken by an attack of universal insanity. And the explanation would
not have been so very wide of the truth.

In this matter of suppression of freedom of thinking there was little to
choose between the Churches. Each aimed at controlling the thought of
mankind, each was equally intolerant of any variation from the set line,
and each employed the same weapon of coercion so far as circumstances
permitted. At most the Protestant Churches substituted a dead book for a
living Church, and in the end it may be questioned, when all allowance
is made for the changed circumstances in which Protestantism operated,
whether the rule of the new Church was not more disastrous than the
older one. It had certainly less excuse for its intolerance. The Roman
Catholic Church might urge that it never claimed to stand for freedom of
opinion, and whatever its sins it was so far free from the offence of
hypocrisy. But the Protestant Churches could set up no such plea; they
professed to stand on freedom of conscience. And they thus added the
quality of inconsistency and hypocrisy to an offence that was already
grave enough in itself.

But whatever opinion one may have on that point, it is certain that in
practice the Protestant leaders were as opposed to freedom of thought as
were the Roman Catholics. And Protestant bigotry left a mark on European
history that deserves special recognition. For the first time it made
the profession of Christianity a definite part of the law of the secular
State.[13] Hitherto there had been no law in any of the European States
which made a profession of Christianity necessary. There had been plenty
of persecutions of non-Christians, and the consequences of a rejection
of Christianity, if one lived in a Christian State, were serious enough.
But when the secular State punished the heretic it was a manifestation
of good will towards the Church and not the expression of a legal
enactment. It was the direct influence of the Church on the State.
Church and State were legally distinct during the mediæval period,
however closely they may have been allied in practice. With the arrival
of Protestantism and the backing of the reformed religion given by
certain of the Princes, the machinery of intolerance, so to speak, was
taken over by the State and became one of its functions. It became as
much the duty of the secular officials to extirpate heresy, to secure
uniformity of religious belief as it was to the interest of the Church
to see that it was destroyed. Up to that time it was the aim of the
Church to make the State one of its departments. It had never legally
succeeded in doing this, but it was not for the Roman Church to sink to
the subordinate position of becoming a department of the State. It was
left for Protestantism to make the Church a branch of the State and to
give religious bigotry the full sanction of secular law.

[13] See on this point Heeren's _Historical Treatises_, 1836, pp.

Neither with Catholic nor Protestant could there be, therefore, any
relaxation in the opposition offered to independent thinking. That still
remained the cardinal offence to the religious mind. In the name of
religion Protestants opposed the physics of Newton as bitterly as
Catholics opposed the physics of Galileo. The geology of Hutton and
Lyell, the chemistry of Boyle and Dalton, the biology of Von Baer,
Lamarck and Darwin, with almost any other branch of science that one
cares to select, tell the same tale. And when the desire for reform took
a social turn there was the same influence to be fought. For while the
Roman Catholic laid the chief insistence on obedience to the Church, the
Protestant laid as strong insistence on obedience to the State, and made
disobedience to its orders a matter of almost religious revolt. The
whole force of religion was thus used to induce contentment with the
existing order, instead of to the creation of an intelligent discontent
which would lead to continuous improvement. In view of these
circumstances it is not surprising that the word "Freethought" should
have lost in actual use its more general significance of a denial of the
place of mere authority in matters of opinion, and have acquired a more
definite and precise connotation. It could not, of course, lose its
general meaning, but it gained a special application and became properly
associated with a definitely anti-theological attitude. The growth in
this direction was gradual but inevitable. When the term first came into
general use, about the end of the seventeenth century, it was mainly
used with reference to those deists who were then attacking
Christianity. In that sense it continued to be used for some time. But
as Deism lost ground, thanks partly to the Christian attack, the clear
and logical issue between Theism and Atheism became apparent, with the
result that the definite anti-religious character of "Freethought"
became firmly established. And to-day it is mere affectation or timidity
to pretend that the word has any other vital significance. To say that a
man is a Freethinker is to give, to ninety-nine people out of a hundred,
the impression that he is anti-religious. And in this direction the
popular sense of the word discloses what has been its important historic
function. Historically, the chief stronghold of mere authority has been
religion. In science and in sociology, as well as in connection with
supernaturalism proper, every movement in the direction of the free
exercise of the intellect has met with the unceasing opposition of
religion. That has always been at once the symbol and the instrument of
oppression. To attack religion has been to attack the enemy in his
capital. All else has been matter of outpost skirmishing.

I have apparently gone a long way round to get at the meaning of the
word "Freethought," but it was necessary. For it is of very little use,
in the case of an important word that has stood and stands for the name
of a movement, to go to a dictionary, or to appeal to etymology. The
latter has often a mere antiquarian interest, and the former merely
registers current meanings, it does not make them. The use of a word
must ultimately be determined by the ideas it conveys to those who hear
it. And from what has been said the meaning of this particular word
should be fairly clear. While standing historically for a reasoned
protest against the imposition of opinion by authority, and, negatively,
against such artificial conditions as prevent the free circulation of
opinion, it to-day stands actually for a definitely anti-religious
mental attitude. And this is what one would naturally expect. Protests,
after all, are protests against something in the concrete, even though
they may embody the affirmation of an abstract principle. And nowadays
the principle of pure authority has so few defenders that it would be
sheer waste of time, unless the protest embodied a definite attitude
with regard to specific questions. We may, then, put it that to us
"Freethought" stands for a reasoned and definite opposition to all forms
of supernaturalism, it claims the right to subject all religious beliefs
to the test of reason, and further claims that when so tested they break
down hopelessly. It is from this point of view that these pages are
written, and the warranty for so defining it should be apparent from
what has been said in this and the preceding chapter.



Rebellion and reform are not exactly twins, but they are very closely
related. For while all rebellion is not reform, yet in the widest sense
of the word, there is no reform without rebellion. To fight for reform
is to rebel against the existing order and is part of the eternal and
fundamentally healthful struggle of the new against the old, and of the
living present against the dead past. The rebel is thus at once a public
danger and a benefactor. He threatens the existing order, but it is in
the name of a larger and better social life. And because of this it is
his usual lot to be crucified when living and deified when dead. So it
has always been, so in its main features will it always be. If
contemporaries were to recognize the reformer as such, they would
destroy his essential function by making it useless. Improvement would
become an automatic process that would perfect itself without
opposition. As it is, the function of the rebel is to act as an
explosive force, and no society of average human beings likes
explosions. They are noisy, and they are dangerous. For the reformer to
complain at not being hailed as a deliverer is for him to mistake his
part and place in social evolution.

The rebel and the reformer is, again, always in minority. That follows
from what has already been said. It follows, too, from what we know of
development in general. Darwinism rests on the supreme importance of the
minority. It is an odd variation here and there that acts as the
starting point for a new species--and it has against it the swamping
influence of the rest of its kind that treads the old biological line.
Nature's choicest variations are of necessity with the few, and when
that variation has established itself and become normal another has to
appear before a new start can be made.

Whether we take biology or psychology the same condition appears. A new
idea occurs to an individual and it is as strictly a variation from the
normal as anything that occurs in the animal world. The idea may form
the starting point of a new theory, or perhaps of a new social order.
But to establish itself, to become the characteristic property of the
group, it must run the gamut of persecution and the risk of suppression.
And suppressed it often is--for a time. It is an idle maxim which
teaches that truth always conquers, if by that is implied that it does
so at once. That is not the truth. Lies have been victorious over and
over again. The Roman Catholic Church, one of the greatest lies in the
history of the human race, stood the conqueror for many centuries. The
teaching of the rotundity of the earth and its revolution round the sun
was suppressed for hundreds of years until it was revived in the 16th
century. In the long run truth does emerge, but a lie may have a
terribly lengthy innings. For the lie is accepted by the many, while the
truth is seen only by the few. But it is the few to whom we turn when we
look over the names of those who have made the world what is it. All the
benefits to society come from the few, and society crucifies them to
show its gratitude. One may put it that society lives on the usual, but
flourishes on account of the exception.

Now there is something extremely significant in the Christian religion
tracing all the disasters of mankind to a primal act of disobedience. It
is a fact which discloses in a flash the chief social function of
religion in general and of Christianity in particular. Man's duty is
summed up in the one word obedience, and the function of the
(religiously) good man is to obey the commands of God, as that of the
good citizen is to obey the commands of government. The two commands
meet and supplement each other with the mutual advantage which results
from the adjustment of the upper and lower jaws of a hyena. And it
explains why the powers that be have always favoured the claims of
religion. It enabled them to rally to their aid the tremendous and
stupefying aid of religion and to place rebellion to their orders on the
same level as rebellion against God. In Christian theology Satan is the
arch-rebel; hell is full of rebellious angels and disobedient men and
women. Heaven is reserved for the timid, the tame, the obedient, the
sheep-like. When the Christ of the Gospels divides the people into goats
and sheep, it is the former that go to hell, and the latter to heaven.
The Church has not a rebel in its calendar, although it has not a few
rogues and many fools. To the Church rebellion is always a sin, save on
those rare occasions when revolt is ordered in the interests of the
Church itself. In Greek mythology Prometheus steals fire from heaven for
the benefit of man and suffers in consequence. The myth symbolizes the
fact. Always the man has had to win knowledge and happiness in the teeth
of opposition from the gods. Always the race has owed its progress to
the daring of the rebel or of the rebellious few.

Often the Freethinker is denounced because he is destructive or
dangerous. What other is he expected to be? And would he be of much use
if he were otherwise?? I would go further and say that he is the most
destructive of all agencies because he is so intimately concerned with
the handling of the most destructive of weapons--ideas. We waste a good
deal of time in denouncing certain people as dangerous when they are in
reality comparatively harmless. A man throws a bomb, or breaks into a
house, or robs one of a purse, and a judge solemnly denounces him as a
most "dangerous member of society." It is all wrong. These are
comparatively harmless individuals. One man throws a bomb, kills a few
people, damages some property, and there the matter ends. Another man
comes along and drops instead of a bomb a few ideas, and the whole
country is in a state of eruption. Charles Peace pursues a career of
piety and crime, gets himself comfortably and religiously hanged, and
society congratulates itself on having got rid of a dangerous person,
and then forgets all about it. Karl Marx visits England, prowls round
London studying the life of rich and poor, and drops _Das Kapital_ on
us. A quiet and outwardly inoffensive individual, one who never gave the
police a moment's anxiety, spends years studying earthworms, and
flowers, and horses and cats, and all sorts of moving things and
presents society with _The Origin of Species_. Organized society found
itself able to easily guard itself against the attacks of men such as
Charles Peace, it may with impunity extend its hospitality to the
thrower of bombs, or robber of houses, but by what means can it protect
itself against the "peaceful" Marx or the "harmless" Darwin? No society
can afford to ignore in its midst a score of original or independent
thinkers, or if society does ignore them they will not for long ignore
society. The thinker is really destructive. He destroys because he
creates; he creates because he destroys. The one is the obverse of the

I am not making idle play with the word "destruction." It is literally
true that in human society the most destructive and the most coercive
forces at work are ideas. They strike at established institutions and
demand either their modification or their removal. That is why the
emergence of a new idea is always an event of social significance.
Whether it be a good idea or a bad one will not affect the truth of this
statement. For over four years our political mediocrities and muddle
headed militarists were acting as though the real problem before them
was to establish the superiority of one armed group of men over another
group. That was really a simple matter. The important issue which
society had to face was the ideas that the shock of the war must give
rise to. Thinkers saw this; but thinkers do not get the public ear
either as politicians or militarists. And now events are driving home
the lesson. The ideas of Bolshevism and Sinn Feinism proved far more
"dangerous" than the German armies. The Allied forces could handle the
one, but they were powerless before the other. It is not a question of
whether these particular ideas are good or bad, or whether we approve or
disapprove of them, but entirely one that, being ideas, they represent a
far more "destructive" power than either bomb or gun. They are at once
the forces that act as the cement of society and those that may hurl it
into chaotic fragments.

Whether an idea will survive or not must, in the end, be determined by
circumstances, but in itself a new idea may be taken as the mental
analogue of the variation which takes place in physical structures, and
which forms the raw material of natural selection. And if that is so, it
is evident that any attempt to prevent the play of new ideas on old
institutions is striking at the very fact of progress. For if we are to
encourage variation we must permit it in all directions, up as well as
down, for evil as well as for good. You cannot check variation in one
direction without checking it in all. You cannot prevent the appearance
of a new idea that you do not want without threatening the appearance of
a number of ideas that you would eagerly welcome. It is, therefore,
always better to encourage the appearance of a bad idea than it is to
risk the suppression of a good one. Besides, it is not always that force
applied to the suppression of ideas succeeds in its object. What it
often does is to cause the persecuted idea to assume a more violent
form, to ensure a more abrupt break with the past than would otherwise
occur, with the risk of a period of reaction before orderly progress is
resumed. The only way to silence an idea is to answer it. You cannot
reply to a belief with bullets, or bayonet a theory into silence.
History contains many lessons, but none that is plainer than this one,
and none that religious and secular tyrannies learn with greater

The Churches admit by their practice the truth of what has been said.
They have always understood that the right way to keep society in a
stationary position is to prevent the introduction of new ideas. It is
thought against which they have warred, the thinker against whom they
have directed their deadliest weapons. The Christian Church has been
tolerant towards the criminal, and has always been intolerant towards
the heretic and the Freethinker. For the latter the naming _auto da fé_,
for the former the moderate penance and the "go, and sin no more." The
worst of its tortures were neither created for nor applied to the thief
and the assassin, but were specially designed for the unbeliever. In
this the Church acted with a sure instinct. The thief threatens no
institution, not even that of private property. "Thou shalt not steal"
is as much the law of a thieves' kitchen as it is of Mayfair. But
Copernicus, Galileo, Newton, Lyell, Darwin, these are the men who
convey a threat in all they write, who destroy and create with a
splendour that smacks of the power with which Christians have endowed
their mythical deity. No aggregation of criminals has ever threatened
the security of the Church, or even disturbed its serenity. On the
contrary, the worse, morally, the time, the greater the influence of
Christianity. It flourishes on human weakness and social vice as the
bacilli of tuberculosis do in darkness and dirt. It is when weakness
gives place to strength, and darkness to light that the Church finds its
power weakening. The Church could forgive the men who instituted the
black slave trade, she could forgive those who were responsible for the
horrors of the English factory system, but she could never forgive the
writer of the _Age of Reason_. She has always known how to distinguish
her friends from her foes.

Right or wrong, then, the heretic, the Freethinker, represents a figure
of considerable social significance. His social value does not lie
wholly in the fact of his opinions being sound or his judgment
impeccable. Mere revolt or heresy can never carry that assurance with
it. The important thing about the rebel is that he represents a spirit,
a temper, in the absence of which society would stagnate. It is bad when
people revolt without cause, but it is infinitely better that a people
should revolt without cause than that they should have cause for
rebellion without possessing the courage of a kick. That man should have
the courage to revolt against the thing which he believes to be wrong is
of infinitely greater consequence than that he should be right in
condemning the thing against which he revolts. Whether the rebel is
right or wrong time and consequence alone can tell, but nothing can make
good the evil of a community reduced to sheep-like acquiescence in
whatever may be imposed upon them. The "Their's not to reason why"
attitude, however admirable in an army, is intolerable and dangerous in
social life. Replying to those who shrieked about the "horrors" of the
French Revolution, and who preached the virtue of patriotic obedience to
established authority, Carlyle, with an eye on Ireland, sarcastically
admitted that the "horrors" were very bad indeed, but he added:--

     What if history somewhere on this planet were to hear of a nation,
     the third soul of whom had not for thirty weeks of each year as
     many third-rate potatoes as would sustain him? History in that
     case, feels bound to consider that starvation is starvation; that
     starvation presupposes much; history ventures to assert that the
     French Sansculotte of Nine-three, who roused from a long death
     sleep, could rush at once to the frontiers and die fighting for an
     immortal hope and faith of deliverance for him and his, was but the
     second miserablest of men.

And that same history, looking back through the ages, is bound to
confess that it is to the great rebels, from Satan onward, that the
world mainly owes whatever of greatness or happiness it has achieved.

One other quality of the rebel remains to be noted. In his revolt
against established authority, in his determination to wreck cherished
institutions for the realization of an ideal, the rebel is not the
representative of an anti-social idea or of an anti-social force. He is
the true representative of the strongest of social influences. The very
revolt against the social institutions that exist is in the name and for
the realization of a larger and a better social order that he hopes to
create. A man who is ready to sacrifice his life in the pursuit of an
ideal cannot, whatever else he may be accused of, be reasonably accused
of selfishness or of a want of "social consciousness." He is a vital
expression of the centuries of social life which have gone before and
which have made us all what we are. Were his social sense weaker he
would risk less. Were he selfish he would not trouble about the
conversion of his fellows. The spirit of revolt represents an important
factor in the process of social development, and they who are most
strenuous in their denunciation of social control, are often, even
though unconsciously, the strongest evidence of its overpowering

Fed as we are with the mental food prepared by our Churches and
governments, to whose interests it is that the rebel and the Freethinker
should be decried and denounced, we are all too apt to overlook the
significance of the rebel. Yet he is invariably the one who voices what
the many are afraid or unable to express. The masses suffer dumbly, and
the persistence of their suffering breeds a sense of its inevitability.
It is only when these dumb masses find a voice that they threaten the
established order, and for this the man of ideas is essential. That is
why all vested interests, religious and social, hate him so heartily.
They recognize that of all the forces with which they deal an idea is
the greatest and the most untamable. Once in being it is the most
difficult to suppress. It is more explosive than dynamite and more
shattering in its effects. Physical force may destroy a monarch, but it
is only the force of an idea that can destroy a monarchy. You may
destroy a church with cannon, but cannon are powerless against Church
doctrines. An idea comes as near realizing the quality of
indestructibility as anything we know. You may quiet anything in the
world with greater ease than you may reduce a strong thinker to silence,
or subdue anything with greater facility than you may subdue the idea
that is born of strenuous thought. Fire may be extinguished and strife
made to cease, ambition may be killed and the lust for power grow faint.
The one thing that defies all and that finally conquers is the truth
which strong men see and for which brave men fight.

It is thus left for the philosophy of Freethought, comprehensive here as
elsewhere, to find a place for the rebel and to recognize the part he
plays in the evolution of the race. For rebellion roots itself
ultimately in the spirit of mental independence. And that whether a
particular act of revolt may be justifiable or not. It is bred of the
past, but it looks forward hopefully and fearlessly to the future, and
it sees in the present the material out of which that better future may
be carved. That the mass of people find in the rebel someone whom it is
moved to suppress is in no wise surprising. New things are not at first
always pleasant, even though they may be necessary. But the temper of
mind from which rebellion springs is one that society can only suppress
at its peril.



If the truth of what has been said above be admitted, it follows that
civilization has two fundamental aspects. On the one side there is the
environment, made up--so far as civilized humanity is concerned--of the
ideas, the beliefs, the customs, and the stored up knowledge of
preceding generations, and on the other side we have an organism which
in virtue of its education responds to the environmental stimuli in a
given manner. Between the man of to-day and the man of an earlier
generation the vital distinction is not that the present day one is, as
an organism, better, that he has keener sight, or stronger muscles, or a
brain of greater capacity, but that he has a truer perception of things,
and in virtue of his enlarged knowledge is able to mould natural forces,
including the impulses of his own nature, in a more desirable manner.
And he can do this because, as I have already said, he inherits what
previous generations have acquired, and so reaps the benefits of what
they have done.

We may illustrate this in a very simple manner. One of the most striking
differences between the man of to-day and the man of the past is the
attitude of the two in relation to natural phenomena. To the people of
not so many generations ago an eclipse was a very serious thing, fraught
with the promise of disaster to mankind. The appearance of a comet was
no less ominous. John Knox saw in comets an indication of the wrath of
heaven, and in all countries the Churches fought with all their might
against the growth of the scientific view. Away back in antiquity we
meet with the same view. There is, for example, the classic case of the
Greek general Nikias, who, when about to extricate his army from a
dangerous position before Syracuse, was told that an eclipse of the sun
indicated that the gods wished him to stay where he was for three times
nine days. Nikias obeyed the oracles with the result that his army was
captured. Now it is certain that no general to-day would act in that
manner, and if he did it is equally certain that he would be
court-martialled. Equally clear is it that comets and eclipses have
ceased to infect the modern mind with terror, and are now only objects
of study to the learned, and of curiosity to the unlearned. But the
difference here is entirely one of knowledge. Our ancestors reacted to
the appearance of a comet or an eclipse in a particular manner because
their knowledge of these things was of a certain kind. It was not at all
a case of feeling, or of degree of feeling, or of having a better brain,
but simply a matter of reacting to an environmental influence in terms
of an understanding of certain things. Had we the same conception of
these things that our ancestors had we should react in the same manner.
We act differently because our understanding of things is different. We
may put it briefly that the kind of reaction which we make to the things
around us is mainly determined by our knowledge concerning their nature.

There is one other fact that brings into prominence the importance of
the kind of reaction which we make to environmental stimuli. Put
briefly, we may say that an important distinction between the animal and
man is that the animal passes its existence in a comparatively simple
environment where the experiences are few in kind and often repeated,
whereas with man the environment is very complex, the experiences are
varied in character, and may be only repeated after long intervals. The
consequence is that in order to get through life an animal needs a few
simple instincts which automatically respond to frequently repeated
experiences, while on the other hand there must be with man opportunity
for the kind of response which goes under the name of intelligent
action. It is this which gives us the reason, or the explanation, why of
all animals the human being is born the most helpless, and why he
remains helpless for a longer period than does any other. The prolonged
infancy is the opportunity given to the human being to acquire the
benefits of education and so to reap the full advantage of that social
heritage which, as we have shown, raises him so far above the level of
past generations. Or we may express the matter with the late Professor
Fiske, who was the first, I think, to dwell at length upon this
phenomenon, that the distinction between man and the animal world is
that in the one case we have developed instincts with small capacity for
education, in the other few instincts with great capacity for education.

It is often said that the Churches have failed to pay attention to
education, or have not taken it seriously. That is quite wrong. It may,
indeed, be said that they have never failed to attend to education, and
have always taken it seriously--with disastrous results to education and
to social life. Ever since the birth of the modern movement for
education the Church has fought hard to maintain its control of schools,
and there is every reason why this should be so. Survival in the animal
world may be secured in two ways. On the one side we may have a
continuance of a special sort of environment to which a given structure
is properly adapted; on the other there may be a modification of the
animal to meet the demands of a changing environment.

Applying this principle to the question of the Churches and education
the moral is clear. The human environment changes more than that of any
other animal. The mere amassing of experience and its expression in the
form of new institutions or in the modification of already existing
ones, is enough to effect a change in the environment of successive
generations. The Christian Church, or for the matter of that, any form
of religion, has before it two possible courses. Either it must maintain
an environment that is as little as possible unchanged, or it must
modify its body of teaching to meet the changed surroundings. As a mere
matter of fact both processes go on side by side, but consciously the
Churches have usually followed the course of trying to maintain an
unchanged environment. This is the real significance of the attempt of
the more orthodox to boycott new, or heretical literature, or lectures,
or to produce a "religious atmosphere" round the child. It is an attempt
to create an environment to which the child's mind will respond in a
manner that is favourable to the claims and teachings of the Christian
Church. The Church dare not openly and plainly throw overboard its body
of doctrines to meet the needs of the modern mind; and the only thing
remaining is to keep the modern mind as backward as possible in order
that it may rest content with a teaching that is reminiscent of a past
stage of civilization.

In this connection it is interesting to note that the struggle for the
child is essentially a modern phrase. So long as the teaching of
religion is in, at least, a working harmony with current knowledge and
the general body of the social forces the question of religious
instruction does not emerge. Life itself--social life that is--to a very
considerable extent enforces religious teaching. At all events it does
not violently contradict it. But as, owing to the accumulation of
knowledge, views of the world and of man develop that are not in harmony
with accepted religious teaching, the Churches are forced to attempt the
maintenance of an environment of a special religious kind to which their
teaching is adapted. Hence the growing prominence of the division of
secular and sacred as things that have to do with religion and things
that have not. Hence, too, the importance to the Churches of acquiring
power over the child's mind before it is brought completely under the
influence of an environment in which orthodox teachings can only present
themselves as a gross anachronism.

Thus, one may say with absolute confidence that if in a modern
environment a child was left free with regard to modern influences there
is nothing that would lead to an acceptance of religion. Our ancestors
grew up familiar with the idea of the miraculous and the supernatural
generally because there was nothing in the existing knowledge of the
world that contradicted it. But what part is there in the general
education of the child in modern society that would lead to that end? So
far as it is taught anything about the world it learns to regard it in
terms of causation and of positive knowledge. It finds itself surrounded
with machinery, and inventions, and with a thousand and one mechanical
and other inventions which do not in the very remotest degree suggest
the supernatural. In other words, the response of a modern child in a
modern environment is of a strictly non-religious kind. Left alone it
would no more become religious in the sense of believing in the
religious teachings of any of the Churches than it would pass through
life looking for miracles or accepting fairy tales as sober statements
of historic fact. It would no more express itself in terms of religion
than it would describe an eclipse in the language of our ancestors of
five hundred years ago.

In self defence the Churches are thus bound to make a fight for the
possession of the child. They cannot wait, because that means allowing
the child to grow to maturity and then dealing with it when it is able
to examine religion with some regard to its historic evolution, and with
a due appreciation of the hopelessly unscientific character of the
conception of the supernatural. They must, so far as they can, protect
the growing child from the influence of all those environmental forces
that make for the disintegration of religious beliefs. The only way in
which the Churches can at all make sure of a supply of recruits is by
impressing them before they are old enough to resist. As the Germany of
the Kaiser is said to have militarized the nation by commencing with the
schools, so the Churches hope to keep the nations religious by
commencing with the children. Apart from these considerations there is
no reason why religion could not wait, as other subjects wait, till the
child is old enough to understand and appreciate it. But with the
Churches it is literally the child or nothing.

From the point of view of citizenship the retention of religion in State
schools is a manifest injustice. If ever religious instruction could be
justified in any circumstances it is when the religion taught represents
at least the professed beliefs of the whole of the people. But that is
clearly not the case to-day. Only a section of the people can be called,
even formally, Christian. Large numbers are quite opposed to
Christianity, and large numbers deliberately reject all religion. How,
then, can the State undertake the teaching of a religion without at the
same time rousing resentment in and inflicting an injustice on a large
number of its members? It cannot be done, and the crowning absurdity is
that the State acknowledges the non-essential character of religion by
permitting all who will to go without. In secular subjects it permits no
such option. It says that all children shall receive certain tuition in
certain subjects for a given period. It makes instruction in these
subjects compulsory on the definite and intelligible ground that the
education given is necessary to the intelligent discharge of the duties
of citizenship. It does not do that in the case of religion, and it dare
not do that. No government to-day would have the impudence to say that
discharge of the duties of citizenship is dependent upon acceptance of
the Athanasian Creed, or upon the belief in the Bible, or in an after
life. And not being able to say this it is driven to the absurd position
of, on the one hand saying to the people, that religion shall be taught
in the State schools, and on the other, if one doesn't care to have it
he may leave it alone without suffering the slightest disqualification.

Indeed, it is impossible for instruction in religion to be genuinely
called education at all. If I may be allowed to repeat what I have said
elsewhere on this subject, one may well ask:--

     What is it that the genuine educationalist aims at? The imparting
     of knowledge is, of course, essential. But, in the main, education
     consists in a wholesome training of mind and body, in forming
     habits of cleanliness, truthfulness, honesty, kindness, the
     development of a sense of duty and of justice. Can it be said in
     truth that what is called religious instruction does these things,
     or that instruction in them is actually inseparable from religion?
     Does the creation of a religious "atmosphere," the telling of
     stories of God or Jesus or angels or devils--I omit hell--have any
     influence in the direction of cultivating a sound mind in a sound
     body? Will anyone contend that the child has even a passing
     understanding of subjects over which all adults are more or less
     mystified? To confuse is not to instruct, to mystify is not to
     enlighten, the repetition of meaningless phrases can leave behind
     no healthy residuum in the mind. It is the development of capacity
     along right lines that is important, not the mere cramming of
     verbal formulæ. Above all, it is the function of the true teacher
     to make his pupil independent of him. The aim of the priest is to
     keep one eternally dependent upon his ministrations. The final and
     fatal criticism upon religious instruction is that it is not
     education at all.

     It may be argued that a policy of creating sentiments in favour of
     certain things not wholly understood by the child is followed in
     connection with matters other than religion. We do not wait until a
     child is old enough to appreciate the intellectual justification of
     ethics to train it in morals. And in many directions we seek to
     develop some tendencies and to suppress others in accordance with
     an accepted standard. All this may be admitted as quite true, but
     it may be said in reply that these are things for which an adequate
     reason _can_ be given, and we are sure of the child's approbation
     when it is old enough to appreciate what has been done. But in the
     case of religion the situation is altogether different. We are here
     forcing upon the child as true, as of the same admitted value as
     ordinary ethical teaching, certain religious doctrines about which
     adults themselves dispute with the greatest acrimony. And there is
     clearly a wide and vital distinction between cultivating in a child
     sentiments the validity of which may at any time be demonstrated,
     or teachings upon the truth of which practically all adults are
     agreed, and impressing upon it teachings which all agree may be
     false. We are exploiting the child in the interests of a Church.
     Parents are allowing themselves to be made the catspaws of priests;
     and it is not the least formidable of the counts against the
     Church's influence that it converts into active enemies of children
     those who should stand as their chief protectors. It is religion
     which makes it true that "a _child's_ foes shall be those of his
     own household."[14]

[14] _Religion and the Child_, Pioneer Press.

Where the claim to force religion upon the child breaks down on such
grounds as those outlined above it is quite certain that it cannot be
made good upon any other ground. Historically, it is also clear that we
do not find that conduct was better in those ages when the Christian
religion was held most unquestioningly, but rather the reverse. The
moralization of the world has, as a matter of historic fact, kept pace
with the secularizing of life. This is true both as regards theory and
fact. The application of scientific methods to ethical problems has
taught us more of the nature of morality in the short space of three or
four generations than Christian teaching did in a thousand years. And it
is not with an expansion of the power and influence of religion that
conduct has undergone an improvement, but with the bringing of people
together in terms of secular relationships and reducing their religious
beliefs to the level of speculative ideas which men may hold or reject
as they think fit, so long as they do not allow them to influence their
relations to one another.

On all grounds it is urgent that the child should be rescued from the
clutches of the priest. It is unfair to the child to so take advantage
of its trust, its innocence, and its ignorance, and to force upon it as
true teachings that which we must all admit may be false, and which, in
a growing number of cases, the child when it grows up either rejects
absolutely or considerably modifies. It is unjust to the principle upon
which the modern State rests, because it is teaching the speculative
beliefs of a few with money raised from the taxation of all. The whole
tendency of life in the modern State is in the direction of
secularization--confining the duties and activities of the State to
those actions which have their meaning and application to this life.
Every argument that is valid against the State forcing religion upon the
adult is valid also against the State forcing religion upon the child.
And, on the other hand, it is really absurd to say that religion must be
forced upon the child, but we are outraging the rights of the individual
and perpetuating an intolerable wrong if we force it upon the adult.
Surely the dawning and developing individuality of the child has claims
on the community that are not less urgent than those of the adult.

Finally, the resolve to rescue the child from the clutches of the priest
is in the interest of civilization itself. All human experience shows
that a civilization that is under the control of a priesthood is doomed.
From the days of ancient Egypt there is no exception to this rule. And
sooner or later a people, if they are to progress, are compelled to
attempt to limit the control of the priest over life. The whole of the
struggle of the Reformation was fundamentally for the control of the
secular power--whether life should or should not be under the control of
the Church. In that contest, over a large part of Europe, the Roman
Church lost. But the victory was only a very partial one. It was never
complete. The old priest was driven out, but the new Presbyter remained,
and he was but the old tyrant in another form. Ever since then the fight
has gone on, and ever since, the Protestant minister, equally with the
Catholic priest, has striven for the control of education and so to
dominate the mind of the rising generation. The fight for the liberation
of the child is thus a fight for the control or the directing of
civilization. It is a question of whether we are to permit the priest to
hold the future to ransom by permitting this control of the child, or
whether we are to leave religious beliefs, as we leave other beliefs of
a speculative character, to such a time as the child is old enough to
understand them. It is a fight for the future of civilization.



It is no mere paradox to say that religion is most interesting to those
who have ceased to believe in it. The reason for this is not far to
seek. Religious beliefs play so large a part in the early history of
society, and are so influential in social history generally, that it is
impossible to leave religion alone without forfeiting an adequate
comprehension of a large part of social evolution. Human development
forms a continuous record; our institutions, whatever be their nature,
have their roots in the far past, and often, even when modified in form,
retain their essential characteristics. No student of social history can
travel far or dig deeply without finding himself in contact with
religion in some form. And the mass of mankind are not yet so far
removed from "primitive" humanity as to give to the study of religion an
exclusively archæological interest.

Where so much is discord it is well, if it be possible, to start with a
basis of agreement. And on one point, at least, there is substantial
unity among critics. There is a general agreement among students of folk
lore, comparative mythology, and anthropology, that religious ideas rest
ultimately upon an interpretation of nature that is now generally
discarded. Differing as they do on details, there is consent upon this
point. It is the world of the savage that originates the religion of the
savage, and upon that rests the religions of civilized man as surely as
his physical structure goes back to the animal world for its beginning.
And in giving birth to a religious explanation of his world the savage
was only pursuing the normal path of human development. Mankind
progresses through trial and error; doubtful and erroneous theories are
framed before more reliable ones are established, and while truth may
crown our endeavours it seldom meets us at the outset. Religious beliefs
thus form man's earliest interpretation of nature. On this there is, as
I have said, general agreement, and it is as well not to permit
ourselves to lose sight of that in the discussion of the various
theories that are put forward as to the exact nature of the stages of
religious development.

In many directions the less accurate theories of things are replaced
gradually and smoothly by more reliable explanations. But in religion
this is not so. For many reasons, with which we are not now immediately
concerned, religious beliefs are not outgrown without considerable
"growing pains." And a long time after the point of view from which
religious beliefs sprang has been given up, the conclusions that were
based on that point of view are held to most tenaciously. And yet if one
accepts the scientific story of the origins of religious ideas there
seems no justification whatever for this. Religion cannot transcend its
origin. Multiply nothing to infinity and the result is still nothing.
Illusion can beget nothing but illusion, even though in its pursuit we
may stumble on reality. And no amount of ingenuity can extract truth
from falsehood.

One's surprise at the perpetuation of this particular delusion is
diminished by the reflection that the period during which we have
possessed anything like an exact knowledge of the character and
operations of natural forces is, after all, but an infinitesimal
portion of the time the race has been in existence. Three or four
centuries at most cover the period during which such knowledge has been
at our command, and small as this is in relation to the thousands of
generations wherein superstition has reigned unchallenged, a knowledge
of the laws of mental life belongs only to the latter portion. And even
then the knowledge available has been till recently the possession of a
class, while to-day, large masses of the population are under the
domination of the crudest of superstitions. The belief that thirteen is
an unlucky number, that a horse-shoe brings luck, the extent to which
palmistry and astrology flourishes, the cases of witchcraft that crop up
every now and again, all bear testimony to the vast mass of superstition
that is still with us. The primitive mind is still alive and active,
disguised though it may be by a veneer of civilization and a terribly
superficial education. And when one reflects upon all the facts there is
cause for astonishment that in the face of so great a dead weight of
custom and tradition against a rational interpretation of the universe
so much has been done and in so short a time.

In discussing religion very much turns upon the meaning of the word, and
unfortunately "religion" is to-day used in so many differing and
conflicting senses that without the most careful definition no one is
quite sure what is meant by it. The curious disinclination of so many to
avow themselves as being without a religion must also be noted. To be
without a religion, or rather to be known as one who is without a
religion, would seem to mark one off as apart from the rest of one's
kind, and to infringe all the tribal taboos at one sweep. And very few
seem to have the courage to stand alone. Mr. Augustine Birrell once
said, in introducing to the House of Commons an Education Bill, that
children would rather be wicked than singular. That is quite true, and
it is almost as true of adults as it is of children. There is no great
objection to having a religion different from that of other people,
because the religions of the world are already of so varied a character
that there is always companionship in difference. But to be without a
religion altogether is a degree of isolation that few can stand. The
consequence is that although vast numbers have given up everything that
is really religious they still cling to the name. They have left the
service, but they show a curious attachment to the uniform. Thus it
happens that we have a religion of Socialism, a religion of Ethics,
etc., and I should not be surprised to find one day a religion of
Atheism--if that has not already appeared.

But all this is a mistake, and a very serious mistake. The Freethinker,
or Socialist, who calls his theory of life a religion is not causing the
religionist to think more highly of him, he is making his opponent think
more highly of his own opinions. Imitation becomes in such a case not
alone flattery, but confirmation. The Goddite does not think more highly
of Freethought because it is labelled religion, he merely becomes the
more convinced of the supreme value of his own faith, and still hopes
for the Freethinker's return to the fold. If Freethinkers are to command
the respect of the religious world they must show not only that they can
get along without religion, but that they can dispense with the name
also. If strength does not command respect weakness will certainly fail
to secure it. And those of us who are genuinely anxious that the world
should be done with false ideas and mischievous frames of mind ought to
at least take care that our own speech and thought are as free from
ambiguity as is possible.

There is another and deeper aspect of the matter. As I have already
said, language not alone expresses thought, it also governs and directs
it. Locke expressed this truth when he said, "It is impossible that men
should ever truly seek, or certainly discover, the disagreement of ideas
themselves whilst their thoughts flutter about, or stick only on sounds
of doubtful and uncertain significance." Quite a number of theological
and metaphysical conundrums would lose their significance if it were
only realized that the words used are not alone of doubtful and
uncertain significance, but often of no possible significance whatever.
They are like counterfeit coins, which retain their value only so long
as they are not tested by a proper standard. And the evil of these
counterfeits is that they deceive both those who tender and those who
accept them. For even though slovenliness of speech is not always the
product of slovenly thought, in the long run it tends to induce it, and
those who realize this need to be specially on their guard against using
language which can only further confuse an already sufficiently confused
public opinion, and strengthen superstitions that are already
sufficiently strong without our clandestine or unintended assistance.[15]

[15] Of the evil of an incautious use of current words we have an
example in the case of Darwin. Neither his expressions of regret at
having "truckled to public opinion" at having used the term "creator,"
nor his explicit declaration that the word was to him only a synonym of
ignorance, prevented religious apologists from citing him as a believer
in deity on the strength of his having used the word.

Unfortunately, it remains a favourite policy with many writers to use
and define the word religion, not in accordance with a comprehensive
survey of facts, but in a way that will harmonize with existing
pre-possessions. To this class belongs Matthew Arnold's famous
definition of religion as "Morality touched with emotion," Professor
Seeley's statement that we are entitled to call religion "any habitual
and permanent admiration," or the common description of religion as
consisting in devotion to an ideal. All such definitions may be set on
one side as historically worthless, and as not harmonizing with the
facts. Arnold's definition is in the highest degree superficial, since
there exists no morality that is not touched with emotion, and on the
other hand there exist phases of religion that have not any connection
with morality, however slight. Professor Leuba properly rules
definitions of this class out of order in the comment that, as it is
"the function of words to delimitate, one defeats the purpose of
language by stretching the meaning of a word until it has lost all
precision and unity of meaning."[16] A definition that includes
everything may as well, for all the use it is, not cover anything.

[16] _The Psychological Origin and Nature of Religion_, p. 92.

Equally faulty are those definitions that are based upon an assumed
conscious effort to explain the mysteries of existence. No stranger
lapse ever overtook a great thinker than occurred to Herbert Spencer
when he described religion as consisting in a worship of the unknowable,
and as due to the desire to explain a mystery ever pressing for
interpretation. Granting the existence of an Unknowable, the sense of
its presence belongs to the later stages of mental evolution, not to the
earlier ones. Metaphysical and mystical theories of religion are
indications of its disintegration, not of its beginnings. Primitive man
began to believe in ghosts and gods for the same reasons that he
believed in other things; he worshipped his gods for very concrete
considerations. Even the distinction between "spiritual" and material
existence is quite foreign to his mind. Such distinctions arise
gradually with the progress of knowledge and its disintegrating
influence on inherited beliefs. If primitive man may be credited with a
philosophy, and if one may use the word in a purely convenient sense,
then one may say that he is neither a dualist, nor a pluralist, but a
monist. The soul or double he believes in is similar to the body he
sees; the unseen forces he credits with various activities are of the
same kind as those with which he is acquainted. To read our conceptions
into the mind of primitive man because we use our words to explain his
thoughts is a procedure that is bound to end in confusion. Man's
earliest conception of things is vague and indefinite. Later, he
distinguishes differences, qualitative and quantitative, his conception
of things becomes more definite, and distinctions are set up that lay
the foundations of science and philosophy, and which mark their
separation from religion.

So far as one can see there are only two causes why people should
continue to use the word religion after giving up all for which it
properly stands. One is sheer conservatism. When, for instance, Thomas
Paine said, "To do good is my religion," he had at least the
justification of believing in a deity, but apart from this the only
cause for his calling the desire to do good a religion is that there had
grown up the fashion of calling one's rule of life a religion. The other
cause is the ill-repute that has been attached to those who avow
themselves as being without religion. Orthodoxy saw to it that they were
treated as pariahs without social status, and, in many cases, legal
rights. Once upon a time it was useless unless one believed in the
_right_ religion. Nowadays, any religion will do, or anything that one
cares to call a religion. But not to have any religion at all still puts
one outside the pale of respectability, and there seem to be few who
can stand that. And supernatural religion--the only genuine
article--being impossible with many, these may still, if they care to,
save their face by professing to use the name, even if they have not the
thing. Orthodoxy is very accommodating nowadays.

Leaving for a time the question of how religion actually does arise, we
may turn to those writers who define religion in terms of ethics. It may
be admitted that so far as the later stages of religion are concerned
considerable emphasis is laid upon ethics. But we can only make religion
a part of ethics by expanding the term morality so as to include
everything, or by contracting it so as to exclude all the lower forms of
religious belief. And any definition of religion that does not embrace
all its forms is obviously inaccurate. It is not at all a question of
defining the higher in terms of the lower, or the lower in terms of the
higher, it is simply the need of so defining religion that our
definition will cover all religions, high and low, and thus deal with
their essential characteristics.

The only sense in which ethics may be said to be included in religion
lies in the fact that in primitive times religion includes everything.
The fear of unseen intelligences is one of the most powerful factors of
which early humanity is conscious, and the necessity for conciliating
them is always present. The religious ceremonies connected with eating
and drinking, with lying down and rising up, with sowing and reaping,
with disease, hunting, and almost every circumstance of primitive life
prove this. Differentiation and discrimination arise very slowly, but
one after another the various departments of life do shake off the
controlling influence of religion. Ethics may, therefore, be said to
originate in the shadow of religion--as do most other things--but in no
sense can morality be said to owe its origin to religion. Its origin is
deeper and more fundamental than religion. As a matter of practice
morality is independent of religious belief and moral theory, and as a
matter of theory the formulation of definite moral rules is
substantially independent of religion and is an assertion of its
independence. Indeed, the conflict between a growing moral sense and
religion is almost as large a fact in the social sphere as the conflict
between religion and science is in the intellectual one.

In all its earlier stages religion is at best non-moral. It becomes
otherwise later only because of the reaction of a socialized morality on
religious beliefs. Early religion is never concerned with the morality
of its teaching, nor are the worshippers concerned with the morality of
their gods. The sole question is what the gods desire and how best to
satisfy them. We cannot even conceive man ascribing ethical qualities to
his gods until he has first of all conceived them in regard to his
fellow men. The savage has no _moral_ reverence for his gods; they are
magnified men, but not perfect ones. He worships not because he admires,
but because he fears. Fear is, indeed, one of the root causes of
religious belief. Professor Leuba quite admits the origin of religion is
fear, but he reserves the possibility of man being occasionally placed
under such favourable conditions that fear may be absent. We admit the
possibility, but at present it remains a possibility only. At present
all the evidence goes to prove the words of Ribot that, "The religious
sentiment is composed first of all of the emotion of fear in its
different degrees, from profound terror to vague uneasiness, due to
faith in an unknown mysterious and impalpable power." And if that be
admitted, we can scarcely find here the origin of morality.

What is here overlooked is the important fact that while religion, as
such, commences in a reasoned process, morality is firmly established
before mankind is even aware of its existence. A formulated religion is
essentially of the nature of a theory set forth to explain or to deal
with certain experiences. Morality, on the other hand, takes its rise in
those feelings and instincts that are developed in animal and human
societies under the pressure of natural selection. The affection of the
animal for its young, of the human mother for its child, the attraction
of male and female, the sympathetic feelings that bind members of the
same species together, these do not depend upon theory, or even upon an
intellectual perception of their value. Theory tries to account for
their existence, and reason justifies their being, but they are
fundamentally the product of associated life. And it is precisely
because morality is the inevitable condition of associated life that it
has upon religion the effect of modifying it until it is at least not
too great an outrage upon the conditions of social well-being. All along
we can, if we will, see how the developing moral sense forces a change
in religious teaching. At one time there is nothing revolting in the
Christian doctrine of election which dooms one to heaven and another to
hell without the slightest regard to personal merit. At another the
doctrine of eternal damnation is rejected as a matter of course. Heresy
hunting and heretic burning, practised as a matter of course by one
generation become highly repulsive to another. In every direction we see
religious beliefs undergoing a modification under the influence of moral
and social growth. It is always man who moralizes his gods; never by any
chance is it the gods who moralize man.

If we are to arrive at a proper understanding of religion we can,
therefore, no more assume morals to be an integral part of religion
than we can assume medicine or any of the special arts, all of which may
be associated with religion. It will not even do to define religion with
Mr. W. H. Mallock[17] as a belief that the world "has been made and is
sustained by an intelligence external to and essentially independent of
it." That may pass as a definition of Theism, but Theism is only one of
the phases of religion, and the idea of a creator independent of the
universe is one that is quite alien to the earlier stages of religion.
And to deny the name of religion to primitive beliefs is to put oneself
on the level of the type of Christian who declines to call any
superstition but his own religion. It is for this reason impossible to
agree with Professor Leuba when he says that "the idea of a creator must
take precedence of ghosts and nature beings in the making of a
religion." If by precedence the order of importance, from the standpoint
of later and comparatively modern forms of religion, is intended, the
statement may pass. But if the precedence claimed is a time order, the
reply is that, instead of the idea of a creator taking precedence of
ghosts and nature beings, it is from these that the idea of a creator is
evolved. It is quite true Professor Leuba holds that "belief in the
existence of unseen anthropopathic beings is not religion. It is only
when man enters into relation with them that religion comes into
existence," but so soon as man believes in the existence of them he
believes himself to be in relation with them, and a large part of his
efforts is expended in making these relations of an amicable and
profitable character.

[17] _Religion as a Credible Doctrine_, p. 11.

A further definition of religion, first given, I think, by the late
Professor Fiske, but since widely used, as a craving for "fulness of
life," must be dismissed as equally faulty. For if by fulness of life
is meant the desire to make it morally and intellectually richer, the
answer is that this desire is plainly the product of a progressive
social life, of which much that now passes for religion is the
adulterated expression. Apologetically, it is an attempt so to state
religion that it may evade criticism of its essential character. From
one point of view this may be gratifying enough, but it is no help to an
understanding of the nature of religion. And how little religion does
help to a fuller life will be seen by anyone who knows the part played
by organized religion in mental development and how blindly obstructive
it is to new ideas in all departments of life. All these attempts to
define religion in terms of ethics, of metaphysics, or as the craving
after an ideal are wholly misleading. It is reading history backwards,
and attributing to primitive human nature feelings and conceptions which
it does not and cannot possess.

In another work[18] I have traced the origin of the belief in God to the
mental state of primitive mankind, and there is no need to go over the
same ground here at any length. Commencing with the indisputable fact
that religion is something that is acquired, an examination of the state
of mind in which primitive mankind faced, and still faces, the world,
led to the conclusion that the idea of god begins in the personification
of natural forces by the savage. The growth of the idea of God was there
traced back to the ghost, not to the exclusion of other methods of god
making, but certainly as one of its prominent causes. I must refer
readers to that work who desire a more extended treatment of the

[18] _Theism or Atheism_, Chapter 2.

What remains to be traced here, in order to understand the other factor
that is common to religions, is the belief in a continued state of
existence after death, or at least of a soul.

It has been shown to the point of demonstration by writers such as
Spencer, Tylor, and Frazer, that the idea of a double is suggested to
man by his experience of dreams, swoons, and allied normal and abnormal
experiences. Even in the absence of evidence coming to us from the
beliefs of existing tribes of savages, the fact that the ghost is always
depicted as identical in appearance with the living person would be
enough to suggest its dream origin. But there are other considerations
that carry the proof further. The savage sees in his dreams the figures
of dead men and assumes that there is a double that can get out of the
body during sleep. But he also dreams of dead men, and this is also
proof that the dead man still exists. Death does not, then, involve the
death of the ghost, but only its removal to some other sphere of
existence. Further, the likeness of sleep itself to death is so obvious
and so striking that it has formed one of the most insistent features of
human thought and speech. With primitive man it is far more than a
figure of speech. The Melanesians put this point of view when they say,
"the soul goes out of the body in some dreams, and if for some reason it
does not come back the man is found dead in the morning." Death and
dreaming have, therefore, this in common, they are both due to the
withdrawal of the double. Hence we find a whole series of ceremonies
designed to avert death or to facilitate the return of the double. The
lingering of this practice is well illustrated by Sir Frederick Treves
in his book, _The Other Side of the Lantern_. He there tells how he saw
a Chinese mother, with the tears streaming down her face, waving at the
door of the house the clothing of a recently deceased child in order to
bring back the departed spirit.

Death is thus the separation of the double from the body; but if it may
return, its return is not always a matter of rejoicing, for we find
customs that are plainly intended to prevent the ghost recognizing the
living or to find its way back to its old haunts. Thus Frazer has shown
that the wearing of black is really a form of disguise. It is a method
taken to disguise the living from the attentions of the dead. It is in
order to avoid recognition by spirits who wish to injure them that the
Tongans change their war costume at every battle. The Chinese call their
best beloved children by worthless names in order to delude evil
spirits. In Egypt, too, the children who were most thought of were the
worst clad. In some places the corpse is never carried out through the
door, but by a hole in the side of the hut, which is afterwards closed
so that the ghost may not find its way back.

The ghost being conceived as at all points identical with living beings,
it demands attention after death. It needs food, weapons, servants,
wives. In this way there originates a whole group of burial customs,
performed partly from fear of what the ghost may do if its wants are
neglected. The custom of burying food and weapons with the dead thus
receives a simple explanation. These things are buried with the dead man
in order that their spirit may accompany his to the next world and serve
the same uses there that they did here. The modern custom of scattering
flowers over a grave is unquestionably a survival of this primitive
belief. The killing of a wife on the husband's grave has the same
origin. Her spirit goes to attend the husband in the ghost-land. In the
case of a chief we have the killing of servants for the same reason.
When Leonidas says, "Bury me on my shield, I will enter even Hades as a
Lacedæmonian," he was exhibiting the persistence of this belief in
classical times. The Chinese offer a further example by making little
paper houses, filling them with paper models of the things used by the
dead person, and burning them on the grave. All over the world we have
the same class of customs developing from the same beliefs, and the same
beliefs projected by the human mind when brought face to face with the
same class of phenomena.

As the ghost is pictured as like the physical man, so the next world is
more or less a replica of this. The chief distinction is that there is a
greater abundance of desirable things. Hunting tribes have elysiums
where there is an abundance of game. The old Norse heaven was a place
where there was unlimited fighting. The gold and diamonds and rubies of
the Christian heaven represent a stage of civilization where these
things had acquired a special value. Social distinctions, too, are often
maintained. The Caribs believe that every time they secure an enemy's
head they have gained a servant in the next world. And all know the
story of the French aristocrat who, when threatened with hell, replied,
"God will think twice before damning a person of my quality."

Several other consequences of this service paid to the dead may be
noted. The ghost being drawn to the place where the body is buried, the
desire to preserve the corpse probably led to the practice of embalming.
The grave becomes a place of sanctity, of pilgrimage, and of religious
observance, and it has been maintained by many writers, notably by Mr.
W. Simpson in his _Worship of Death_, that the service round the grave
gives us the beginning of all temple worship.

But from this brief view of the beginnings of religion we are able to
see how completely fallacious are all those efforts to derive religion
from an attempt to achieve an ideal, from a desire to solve certain
philosophical problems, or from any of the other sources that are
paraded by modern apologists. The origin and nature of religion is
comparatively simple to understand, once we have cleared our minds of
all these fallacies and carefully examine the facts. Religion is no more
than the explanation which the primitive mind gives of the experiences
which it has of the world. And, therefore, the only definition that
covers all the facts, and which stresses the essence of all religions,
high and low, savage and civilized, is that given by Tylor, namely, the
belief in supernatural beings. It is the one definition that expresses
the feature common to all religions, and with that definition before us
we are able to use language with a precision that is impossible so long
as we attempt to read into religion something that is absent from all
its earlier forms, and which is only introduced when advanced thought
makes the belief in the supernatural more and more difficult to retain
its hold over the human mind.



The real nature of religion being as stated, it having originated in an
utterly erroneous view of things, it would seem that nothing more can be
needed to justify its rejection. But the conclusion would not be
correct, at least so far as the mass of believers or quasi-believers are
concerned. Here the conviction still obtains that religion, no matter
what its origin, still wields an enormous influence for good. The
curious thing is that when one enquires "what religion is it that has
exerted this beneficent influence?" the replies effectually cancel one
another. Each means by religion his own religion, and each accuses the
religion of the other man of all the faults with which the Freethinker
accuses the whole. The avowed object of our widespread missionary
activity is to save the "heathen" from the evil effects of their
religion; and there is not the least doubt that if the heathen had the
brute force at their command, and the impudence that we have, they would
cordially reciprocate. And the efforts of the various Christian sects to
convert each other is too well known to need mention. So that the only
logical inference from all this is that, while all religions are, when
taken singly, injurious, taken in the bulk they are sources of profound

It is not alone the common or garden order of religionist who takes up
this curious position, nor is it even the better educated believer; it
is not uncommon to find those who have rejected all the formal
religions of the world yet seeking to discover some good that religion
has done or is doing. As an illustration of this we may cite an example
from Sir James Frazer, than whom no one has done more to bring home to
students a knowledge of the real nature of religious beliefs. It is the
more surprising to find him putting in a plea for the good done by
religion, not in the present, but in the past. And such an instance, if
it does nothing else, may at least serve to mitigate our ferocity
towards the common type of religionist.

In an address delivered in 1909, entitled "Psyche's Task: A discourse
concerning the influence of superstition on the growth of Institutions,"
he puts in a plea for the consideration of superstition (religion) at
various stages of culture. Of its effects generally, he says:--

     That it has done much harm in the world cannot be denied. It has
     sacrificed countless lives, wasted untold treasures, embroiled
     nations, severed friends, parted husbands and wives, parents and
     children, putting swords and worse than swords between them; it has
     filled gaols and madhouses with its deluded victims; it has broken
     many hearts, embittered the whole of many a life, and not content
     with persecuting the living it has pursued the dead into the grave
     and beyond it, gloating over the horrors which its foul imagination
     has conjured up to appal and torture the survivors. It has done all
     this and more.

Now this is a severe indictment, and one is a little surprised to find
following that a plea on behalf of this same superstition to the effect
that it has "among certain races and at certain times strengthened the
respect for government, property, marriage, and human life." In support
of this proposition he cites a large number of instances from various
races of people, all of which prove, not what Sir James sets out to
prove, but only that religious observances and beliefs have been
connected with certain institutions that are in themselves admirable
enough. And on this point there is not, nor can there be, any serious
dispute. One can find many similar instances among ourselves to-day. But
the real question at issue is a deeper one than that. It is not enough
for the religionist to show that religion has often been associated with
good things and has given them its sanction. The reply to this would be
that if it had been otherwise religion would long since have
disappeared. The essential question here is, Have the institutions named
a basis in secular and social life, and would they have developed in the
absence of superstition as they have developed with superstition in the

Now I do not see that Sir James Frazer proves either that these
institutions have not a sufficient basis in secular life--he would, I
imagine, admit that they have; or that they would not have developed as
well in the absence of superstition as they have done with it. In fact,
the whole plea that good has been done by superstition seems to be
destroyed in the statements that although certain institutions "have
been based partly on superstitions, it by no means follows that even
among these races they have never been based on anything else," and that
whenever institutions have proved themselves stable and permanent "there
is a strong presumption that they rest on something more solid than
superstition." So that, after all, it may well be that superstition is
all the time taking credit for the working of forces that are not of its
kind or nature.

Let us take the example given of the respect for human life as a crucial
test. Admitting that religions have taught that to take life was a
sinful act, one might well interpose with the query as to whether it
was ever necessary to teach man that homicide within certain limits was
a wrong thing. Pre-evolutionary sociology, which sometimes taught that
man originally led an existence in which his hand was against every
other man, and who, therefore, fought the battle of life strictly off
his own bat, may have favoured that assumption. But that we now know is
quite wrong. We know that man slowly emerged from a pre-human gregarious
stage, and that in all group life there is an organic restraint on
mutual slaughter. The essential condition of group life is that the
nature of the individual shall be normally devoid of the desire for the
indiscriminate slaughter of his fellows. And if that is true of animals,
it is certainly true of man. Primitive human society does not and cannot
represent a group of beings each of whom must be restrained by direct
coercion from murdering the other.

In this case, therefore, we have to reckon with both biological and
sociological forces, and I do not see that it needs more than this to
explain all there is to explain. Human life is always associated life,
and this means not alone a basis of mutual forbearance and co-operation,
but a development of the sympathetic feelings which tends to increase as
society develops, they being, as a matter of fact, the conditions of its
growth. And whatever competition existed between tribes would still
further emphasize the value of those feelings that led to effective

The question, then, whether the anti-homicidal feeling is at all
dependent upon religion is answered in the negative by the fact that it
ante-dates what we may term the era of conscious social organization.
That of whether religion strengthens this feeling still remains,
although even that has been answered by implication. And the first thing
to be noted here is that whatever may be the value of the superstitious
safeguard against homicide it certainly has no value as against people
outside the tribe. In fact, when a savage desires to kill an enemy he
finds in superstition a fancied source of strength, and often of
encouragement. Westermarck points out that "savages carefully
distinguish between an act of homicide committed in their own community
and one where the victim is a stranger. Whilst the former is under
ordinary circumstances disapproved of, the latter is in most cases
allowed and often regarded as praiseworthy." And Frazer himself points
out that the belief in immortality plays no small part in encouraging
war among primitive peoples,[19] while if we add the facts of the killing
of children, of old men and women, and wives, together with the practice
of human sacrifice, we shall see little cause to attribute the
development of the feeling against homicide to religious beliefs.

[19] The state of war which normally exists between many, if not most,
neighbouring savage tribes, springs in large measure directly from their
belief in immortality; since one of the commonest motives to hostility
is a desire to appease the angry ghosts of friends who are supposed to
have perished by baleful arts of sorcerers in another tribe, and who, if
vengeance is not inflicted on their real or imaginary murderers, will
wreak their fury on their undutiful fellow-tribesmen.--_The Belief in
Immortality_, Vol. I., p. 468.

In one passage in his address Sir James does show himself quite alive to
the evil influence of the belief in immortality. He says:--

     It might with some show of reason be maintained that no belief has
     done so much to retard the economic and thereby the social progress
     of mankind as the belief in the immortality of the soul; for this
     belief has led race after race, generation after generation, to
     sacrifice the real wants of the living to the imaginary wants of
     the dead. The waste and destruction of life and property which
     this faith has entailed has been enormous and incalculable. But I
     am not here concerned with the disastrous and deplorable
     consequences, the unspeakable follies and crimes and miseries which
     have flowed in practice from the theory of a future life. My
     business at present is with the more cheerful side of a gloomy

Every author has, of course, the fullest right to select whichever
aspect of a subject he thinks deserves treatment, but all the same one
may point out that it is this dwelling on the "cheerful side" of these
beliefs that encourages the religionist to put forward claims on behalf
of present day religion that Sir James himself would be the first to
challenge. There is surely greater need to emphasize the darker side of
a creed that has thousands of paid advocates presenting an imaginary
bright side to the public gaze.

But what has been said of the relation of the feeling against homicide
applies with no more than a variation of terms to the other instances
given by Sir James Frazer. Either these institutions have a basis in
utility or they have not. If they have not, then religion can claim no
social credit for their preservation. If they have a basis in utility,
then the reason for their preservation is to be found in social
selection, although the precise local form in which an institution
appears may be determined by other circumstances. And when Sir James
says that the task of government has been facilitated by the
superstition that the governors belonged to a superior class of beings,
one may safely assume that the statement holds good only of individual
governors, or of particular forms of government. It may well be that
when a people are led to believe that a certain individual possesses
supernatural powers, or that a particular government enjoys the favour
of supernatural beings, there will be less inclination to resentment
against orders than there would be otherwise. But government and
governors, in other words, a general body of rules for the government of
the tribe, and the admitted leadership of certain favoured individuals,
would remain natural facts in the absence of superstition, and their
development or suppression would remain subject to the operation of
social or natural selection. So, again, with the desire for private
property. The desire to retain certain things as belonging to oneself is
not altogether unnoticeable among animals. A dog will fight for its
bone, monkeys secrete things which they desire to retain for their own
use, etc., and so far as the custom possesses advantages, we may
certainly credit savages with enough common-sense to be aware of the
fact. But the curious thing is that the institution of private property
is not nearly so powerful among primitive peoples as it is among those
more advanced. So that we are faced with this curious comment upon Sir
James's thesis. Granting that the institution of private property has
been strengthened by superstition we have the strange circumstance that
that institution is weakest where superstition is strongest and
strongest where superstition is weakest.

The truth is that Sir James Frazer seems here to have fallen into the
same error as the late Walter Bagehot, and to have formed the belief
that primitive man required breaking in to the "social yoke." The truth
is that the great need of primitive mankind is not to be broken in but
to acquire the courage and determination to break out. This error may
have originated in the disinclination of the savage to obey _our_ rules,
or it may have been a heritage from the eighteenth century philosophy of
the existence of an idyllic primitive social state. The truth is,
however, that there is no one so fettered by custom as is the savage.
The restrictions set by a savage society on its members would be
positively intolerable to civilized beings. And if it be said that these
customs required formation, the reply is that inheriting the imitability
of the pre-human gregarious animal, this would form the basis on which
the tyrannizing custom of primitive life is built.

There was, however, another generalization of Bagehot's that was
unquestionably sound. Assuming that the first step necessary to
primitive mankind was to frame a custom as the means of his being
"broken in," the next step in progress was to break it, and that was a
far more difficult matter. Progress was impossible until this was done,
and how difficult it is to get this step taken observation of the people
living in civilized countries will show. But it is in relation to this
second and all important step that one can clearly trace the influence
of religion. And its influence is completely the reverse of being
helpful. For of all the hindrances to a change of custom there is none
that act with such force as does religion. This is the case with those
customs with which vested interest has no direct connection, but it
operates with tenfold force where this exists. Once a custom is
established in a primitive community the conditions of social life
surround it with religious beliefs, and thereafter to break it means a
breach in the wall of religious observances with which the savage is
surrounded. And so soon as we reach the stage of the establishment of a
regular priesthood, we have to reckon with the operation of a vested
interest that has always been keenly alive to anything which affected
its profit or prestige.

It would not be right to dismiss the discussion of a subject connected
with so well-respected a name as that of Sir James Frazer and leave the
reader with the impression that he is putting in a plea for current
religion. He is not. He hints pretty plainly that his argument that
religion has been of some use to the race applies to savage times only.
We see this in such sentences as the following: "More and more, as time
goes on, morality shifts its grounds from the sands of superstition to
the rock of reason, from the imaginary to the real, from the
supernatural to the natural.... The State has found a better reason than
these old wives' fables for guarding with the flaming sword of justice
the approach to the tree of life," and also in saying that, "If it can
be proved that in certain races and at certain times the institutions in
question have been based partly on superstition, it by no means follows
that even among these races they have never been based on anything else.
On the contrary ... there is a strong presumption that they rest mainly
on something much more solid than superstition." In modern times no such
argument as the one I have been discussing has the least claim to
logical force. But that, as we all know, does not prevent its being used
by full-blown religionists, and by those whose minds are only partly
liberated from a great historic superstition.

It will be observed that the plea of Frazer's we have been examining
argues that the function of religion in social life is of a conservative
character. And so far he is correct, he is only wrong in assuming it to
have been of a beneficial nature. The main function of religion in
sociology is conservative, not the wise conservatism which supports an
institution or a custom because of its approved value, but of the kind
that sees in an established custom a reason for its continuance. Urged,
in the first instance, by the belief that innumerable spirits are
forever on the watch, punishing the slightest infraction of their
wishes, opposition to reform or to new ideas receives definite shape and
increased strength by the rise of a priesthood. Henceforth economic
interest goes hand in hand with superstitious fears. Whichever way man
turns he finds artificial obstacles erected. Every deviation from the
prescribed path is threatened with penalties in this world and the next.
The history of every race and of every science tells the same story, and
the amount of time and energy that mankind has spent in fighting these
ghosts of its own savage past is the measure of the degree to which
religion has kept the race in a state of relative barbarism.

This function of unreasoning conservatism is not, it must be remembered,
accidental. It belongs to the very nature of religion. Dependent upon
the maintenance of certain primitive conceptions of the world and of
man, religion dare not encourage new ideas lest it sap its own
foundations. Spencer has reminded us that religion is, under the
conditions of its origin, perfectly rational. That is quite true.[20]
Religion meets science, when the stage of conflict arises, as an
opposing interpretation of certain classes of facts. The one
interpretation can only grow at the expense of the other. While
religion is committed to the explanation of the world in terms of vital
force, science is committed to that of non-conscious mechanism.
Opposition is thus present at the outset, and it must continue to the
end. The old cannot be maintained without anathematizing the new; the
new cannot be established without displacing the old. The conflict is
inevitable; the antagonism is irreconcilable.

[20] It may with equal truth be said that all beliefs are with a similar
qualification quite rational. The attempt to divide people into
"Rationalists" and "Irrationalists" is quite fallacious and is
philosophically absurd. Reason is used in the formation of religious as
in the formation of non-religious beliefs. The distinction between the
man who is religious and one who is not, or, if it be preferred, one who
is superstitious and one who is not, is not that the one reasons and the
other does not. Both reason. Indeed, the reasoning of the superstitionist
is often of the most elaborate kind. The distinction is that of one
having false premises, or drawing unwarrantable conclusions from sound
premises. The only ultimate distinctions are those of religionist and
non-religionist, supernaturalist and non-supernaturalist, Theist or
Atheist. All else are mere matters of compromise, exhibitions of
timidity, or illustrations of that confused thinking which itself gives
rise to religion in all its forms.

It lies, therefore, in the very nature of the case that religion, as
religion, can give no real help to man in the understanding of himself
and the world. Whatever good religion may appear to do is properly to be
attributed to the non-religious forces with which it is associated. But
religion, being properly concerned with the relations between man and
mythical supernatural beings, can exert no real influence for good on
human affairs. Far from that being the case, it can easily be shown to
have had quite an opposite effect. There is not merely the waste of
energy in the direction above indicated, but in many other ways. If we
confine ourselves to Christianity some conception of the nature of its
influence may be formed if we think what the state of the world might
have been to-day had the work of enlightenment continued from the point
it had reached under the old Greek and Roman civilizations. Bacon and
Galileo in their prisons, Bruno and Vanini at the stake are
illustrations of the disservice that Christianity has done the cause of
civilization, and the obstruction it has offered to human well-being.

Again, consider the incubus placed on human progress by the institution
of a priesthood devoted to the service of supernatural beings. In the
fullest and truest sense of the word a priesthood represents a parasitic
growth on the social body. I am not referring to individual members of
the priesthood in their capacity as private citizens, but as priests, as
agents or representatives of the supernatural. And here the truth is
that of all the inventions and discoveries that have helped to build up
civilization not one of them is owing to the priesthood, as such. One
may confidently say that if all the energies of all the priests in the
whole world were concentrated on a single community, and all their
prayers, formulæ, and doctrines devoted to the one end, the well-being
of that community would not be advanced thereby a single iota.

Far and away, the priesthood is the greatest parasitic class the world
has known. All over the world, in both savage and civilized times, we
see the priesthoods of the world enthroned, we see them enjoying a
subsistence wrung from toil through credulity, and from wealth through
self-interest. From the savage medicine hut up to the modern cathedral
we see the earth covered with useless edifices devoted to the foolish
service of imaginary deities. We see the priesthood endowed with special
privileges, their buildings relieved from the taxes which all citizens
are compelled to pay, and even special taxes levied upon the public for
their maintenance. The gods may no longer demand the sacrifice of the
first born, but they still demand the sacrifice of time, energy, and
money that might well be applied elsewhere. And the people in every
country, out of their stupidity, continue to maintain a large body of
men who, by their whole training and interest, are compelled to act as
the enemies of liberty and progress.

It is useless arguing that the evils that follow religion are not
produced by it, that they are casual, and will disappear with a truer
understanding of what religion is. It is not true, and the man who
argues in that way shows that he does not yet understand what religion
is. The evils that follow religion are deeply imbedded in the nature of
religion itself. All religion takes its rise in error, and vested error
threatened with destruction instinctively resorts to force, fraud, and
imposture, in self defence. The universality of the evils that accompany
religion would alone prove that there is more than a mere accident in
the association. The whole history of religion is, on the purely
intellectual side, the history of a delusion. Happily this delusion is
losing its hold on the human mind. Year by year its intellectual and
moral worthlessness is being more generally recognized. Religion
explains nothing, and it does nothing that is useful. Yet in its name
millions of pounds are annually squandered and many thousands of men
withdrawn from useful labour, and saddled on the rest of the community
for maintenance. But here, again, economic and intellectual forces are
combining for the liberation of the race from its historic incubus.
Complete emancipation will not come in a day, but it will come, and its
arrival will mark the close of the greatest revolution that has taken
place in the history of the race.



Why do people believe in God? If one turns to the pleas of professional
theologians there is no lack of answers to the question. These answers
are both numerous and elaborate, and if quantity and repetition were
enough, the Freethinker would find himself hopelessly "snowed under."
But on examination all these replies suffer from one defect. They should
ante-date the belief, whereas they post-date it. They cannot be the
cause of belief for the reason that the belief was here long before the
arguments came into existence. Neither singly nor collectively do these
so-called reasons correspond to the causes that have ever led a single
person, at any time or at any place, to believe in a God. If they
already believed, the arguments were enough to provide them with
sufficient justification to go on believing. If they did not already
believe, the arguments were powerless. And never, by any chance, do they
describe the causes that led to the existence of the belief in God,
either historically or individually. They are, in truth, no more than
excuses for continuing to believe. They are never the causes of belief.

The evidence for the truth of this is at hand in the person of all who
believe. Let one consider, on the one hand, the various arguments for
the existence of God--the argument from causation, from design, from
necessary existence, etc., then put on the other side the age at which
men and women began to believe in deity, and their grasp of arguments of
the kind mentioned. There is clearly no relation between the two.
Leaving on one side the question of culture, it is at once apparent that
long before the individual is old enough to appreciate in the slightest
degree the nature of the arguments advanced he is already a believer.
And if he is not a believer in his early years, he is never one when he
reaches maturity, certainly not in a civilized society. And when we turn
from the individual Goddite to Goddites in the mass, the assumption that
they owe their belief to the philosophical arguments advanced becomes
grotesque in its absurdity. To assume that the average Theist, whose
philosophy is taken from the daily newspaper and the weekly sermon,
derives his conviction from a series of abstruse philosophical arguments
is simply ridiculous. Those who are honest to themselves will admit that
they were taught the belief long before they were old enough to bring
any real criticism to bear upon it. It was the product of their early
education, impressed upon them by their parents, and all the "reasons"
that are afterwards alleged in justification are only pleas why they
should not be disturbed in their belief.

Are we in any better position if we turn from the individual to the
race? Is the belief in God similar to, say, the belief in gravitation,
which, discovered by a genius, and resting upon considerations which the
ordinary person finds too abstruse to thoroughly understand, becomes a
part of our education, and is accepted upon well established authority?
Again, the facts are dead against such an assumption. It is with the
race as with the individual. Science and philosophy do not precede the
belief in God and provide the foundation for it, they succeed it and
lead to its modification and rejection. We are, in this respect, upon
very solid ground. In some form or another the belief in God, or gods,
belongs to very early states of human society. Savages have it long
before they have the slightest inkling of what we moderns would call a
scientific conception of the world. And to assume that the savage, as we
know him, began to believe in his gods because of a number of scientific
reasons, such as the belief in universal causation, or any of the other
profound speculations with which the modern theologian beclouds the
issue, is as absurd as to attribute the belief of the Salvation Army
preacher to philosophical speculations. Added to which we may note that
the savage is a severely practical person. He is not at all interested
in metaphysics, and his contributions to the discussions of a
philosophical society would be of a very meagre character. His problem
is to deal with the concrete difficulties of his everyday life, and when
he is able to do this he is content.

But, on the other hand, we know that our own belief in God is descended
from his belief. We know that we can trace it back without a break
through generations of social culture, until we reach the savage stage
of social existence. It is he who, so to speak, discovers God, he
establishes it as a part of the social institutions that govern the
lives of every member of the group; we find it in our immaturity
established as one of those many thought-forms which determine so
powerfully our intellectual development. The belief in God meets each
newcomer into the social arena. It is impressed upon each in a thousand
and one different ways, and it is only when the belief is challenged by
an opposing system of thought that philosophical theories are elaborated
in its defence.

The possibility of deriving the idea of God from scientific and
philosophic thought being ruled out, what remains? The enquiry from
being philosophical becomes historical. That is, instead of discussing
whether there are sufficient reasons for justifying the belief in God,
we are left with the question of determining the causes that led people
to ever regard the belief as being solidly based upon fact. It is a
question of history, or rather, one may say, of anthropology of the
mental history of man. When we read of some poor old woman who has been
persecuted for bewitching someone's cattle or children we no longer
settle down to discuss whether witchcraft rests upon fact or not; we
know it does not, and our sole concern is to discover the conditions,
mental and social, which enabled so strange a belief to flourish. The
examination of evidence--the legal aspect--thus gives place to the
historical, and the historical finally resolves itself into the
psychological. For what we are really concerned with in an examination
of the idea of God is the discovery and reconstruction of those states
of mind which gave the belief birth. And that search is far easier and
the results far more conclusive than many imagine.

In outlining this evidence it will only be necessary to present its
general features. This for two reasons. First, because a multiplicity of
detail is apt to hide from the general reader many of the essential
features of the truth; secondly, the fact of a difference of opinion
concerning the time order of certain stages in the history of the
god-idea is likely to obscure the fact of the unanimity which exists
among all those qualified to express an authoritative opinion as to the
nature of the conditions that have given the idea birth. The various
theories of the sequence of the different phases of the religious idea
should no more blind us to the fact that there exists a substantial
agreement that the belief in gods has its roots in the fear and
ignorance of uncivilized mankind, than the circumstance that there is
going on among biologists a discussion as to the machinery of evolution
should overshadow the fact that evolution itself is a demonstrated
truth which no competent observer questions.

In an earlier chapter we have already indicated the essential conditions
which lead to the origin of religious beliefs, and there is no need
again to go over that ground. What is necessary at present is to sketch
as briefly as is consistent with lucidity those frames of mind to which
the belief in God owes its existence.

To realize this no very recondite instrument of research is required. We
need nothing more elaborate than the method by which we are hourly in
the habit of estimating each other's thoughts, and of gauging one
another's motives. When I see a man laugh I assume that he is pleased;
when he frowns I assume that he is angry. There is here only an
application of the generally accepted maxim that when we see identical
results we are warranted in assuming identical causes. In this way we
can either argue from causes to effects or from effects to causes. A
further statement of the same principle is that when we are dealing with
biological facts we may assume that identical structures imply identical
functions. The structure of a dead animal will tell us what its
functions were when living as certainly as though we had the living
animal in front of us. We may relate function to structure or structure
to function. And in this we are using nothing more uncommon than the
accepted principle of universal causation.

Now, in all thinking there are two factors. There is the animal or human
brain, the organ of thought, and there is the material for thought as
represented by the existing knowledge of the world. If we had an exact
knowledge of the kind of brain that functioned, and the exact quantity
and quality of the knowledge existing, the question as to the ideas
which would result would be little more than a problem in mathematics.
We could make the calculation with the same assurance that an
astronomer can estimate the position of a planet a century hence. In the
case of primitive mankind we do not possess anything like the exact
knowledge one would wish, but we do know enough to say in rather more
than a general way the kind of thinking of which our earliest ancestors
were capable, and what were its products. We can get at the machinery of
the primitive brain, and can estimate its actions, and that without
going further than we do when we assume that primitive man was hungry
and thirsty, was pleased and angry, loved and feared. And, indeed, it
was because he experienced fear and pleasure and love and hate that the
gods came into existence.

Of the factors which determine the kind of thinking one does, we know
enough to say that there were two things certain of early mankind. We
know the kind of thinking of which he was capable, and we have a general
notion of the material existing for thinking. Speaking of one of these
early ancestors of ours, Professor Arthur Keith says, "Piltdown man saw,
heard, felt, thought and dreamt much as we do," that is, there was the
same _kind_ of brain at work that is at work now. And that much we could
be sure of by going no farther back than the savages of to-day. But as
size of brain is not everything, we are warranted in saying that the
brain was of a relatively simple type, while the knowledge of the world
which existed, and which gives us the material for thinking, was of a
very imperfect and elementary character. There was great ignorance, and
there was great fear. From these two conditions, ignorance and fear,
sprang the gods. Of that there is no doubt whatever. There is scarcely a
work which deals with the life of primitive peoples to-day that does not
emphasize that fact. Consciously or unconsciously it cannot avoid doing
so. Long ago a Latin writer hit on this truth in the well-known saying,
"Fear made the gods," and Aristotle expressed the same thing in a more
comprehensive form by saying that fear first set man philosophizing. The
undeveloped mind troubles little about things so long as they are going
smoothly and comfortably. It is when something painful happens that
concern is awakened. And all the gods of primitive life bear this primal
stamp of fear. That is why religion, with its persistent harking back to
the primitive, with its response to the "Call of the Wild" still dwells
upon the fear of the Lord as a means of arousing a due sense of piety.
The gods fatten on fear as a usurer does upon the folly of his clients,
and in both cases the interest demanded far outweighs the value of the
services rendered. At a later stage man faces his gods in a different
spirit; he loses his fear and examines them; and gods that are not
feared are but poor things. They exist mainly as indisputable records of
their own deterioration.

Now to primitive man, struggling along in a world of which he was so
completely ignorant, the one certain thing was that the world was alive.
The wind that roared, the thunder that growled, the disease that left
him so mysteriously stricken, were all so many living things. The
division of these living forces into good and bad followed naturally
from this first conception of their nature. And whatever be the stages
of that process the main lines admit of no question, nor is there any
question as to the nature of the conditions that brought the gods into
existence. On any scientific theory of religion the gods represent no
more than the personified ignorance and fear of primitive humanity.
However much anthropologists may differ as to whether the god always
originates from the ghost or not, whether animism is first and the
worship of the ghost secondary or not, there is agreement on that
point. Whichever theory we care to embrace, the broad fact is generally
admitted that the gods are the products of ignorance and fear. Man fears
the gods as children and even animals fear the unknown and the

And as the gods are born of conditions such as those outlined, as man
reads his own feelings and passions and desires into nature, so we find
that the early gods are frankly, obtrusively, man-like. The gods are
copies of their worshippers, faithful reflections of those who fear
them. This, indeed, remains true to the end. When the stage is reached
that the idea of God as a physical counterpart of man becomes repulsive,
it is still unable to shake off this anthropomorphic element. To the
modern worshipper God must not possess a body, but he must have love,
and intelligence--as though the mental qualities of man are less human
than the bodily ones! They are as human as arms or legs. And every
reason that will justify the rejection of the conception of the universe
being ruled over by a being who is like man in his physical aspects is
equally conclusive against believing the universe to be ruled over by a
being who resembles man in his mental characteristics. The one belief is
a survival of the other; and the one would not now be accepted had not
the other been believed in beforehand.

I have deliberately refrained from discussing the various arguments put
forward to justify the belief in God in order that attention should not
be diverted from the main point, which is that the belief in deity owes
its existence to the ignorant interpretation of natural happenings by
early or uncivilized mankind. Everything here turns logically on the
question of origin. If the belief in God began in the way I have
outlined, the question of veracity may be dismissed. The question is
one of origin only. It is not a question of man first seeing a thing but
dimly and then getting a clearer vision as his knowledge becomes more
thorough. It is a question of a radical misunderstanding of certain
experiences, the vogue of an altogether wrong interpretation, and its
displacement by an interpretation of a quite different nature. The god
of the savage was in the nature of an inference drawn from the world of
the savage. There was the admitted premiss and there was the obvious
conclusion. But with us the premiss no longer exists. We deliberately
reject it as being altogether unwarrantable. And we cannot reject the
premiss while retaining the conclusion. Logically, the god of the savage
goes with the world of the savage; it should have no place in the mind
of the really civilized human being.

It is for this reason that I am leaving on one side all those
semi-metaphysical and pseudo-philosophical arguments that are put
forward to justify the belief in God. As I have already said, they are
merely excuses for continuing a belief that has no real warranty in
fact. No living man or woman believes in God because of any such
argument. We have the belief in God with us to-day for the same reason
that we have in our bodies a number of rudimentary structures. As the
one is reminiscent of an earlier stage of existence so is the other. To
use the expressive phrase of Winwood Reade's, we have tailed minds as
well as tailed bodies. The belief in God meets each newcomer to the
social sphere. It is forced upon them before they are old enough to
offer effective resistance in the shape of acquired knowledge that would
render its lodgement in the mind impossible. Afterwards, the dice of
social power and prestige are loaded in its favour, while the mental
inertia of some, and the self-interest of others, give force to the
arguments which I have called mere mental subterfuges for perpetuating
the belief in God.

Only one other remark need be made. In the beginning the gods exist as
the apotheosis of ignorance. The reason the savage had for believing in
God was that he did not know the real causes of the phenomena around
him. And that remains the reason why people believe in deity to-day.
Under whatever guise the belief is presented, analysis brings it
ultimately to that. The whole history of the human mind, in relation to
the idea of God, shows that so soon as man discovers the natural causes
of any phenomenon or group of phenomena the idea of God dies out in
connection therewith. God is only conceived as a cause or as an
explanation so long as no other cause or explanation is forthcoming. In
common speech and in ordinary thought we only bring in the name of God
where uncertainty exists, never where knowledge is obtainable. We pray
to God to cure a fever, but never to put on again a severed limb. We
associate God with the production of a good harvest, but not with a
better coal output. We use "God only knows" as the equivalent of our own
ignorance, and call on God for help only where our own helplessness is
manifest. The idea remains true to itself throughout. Born in ignorance
and cradled in fear, it makes its appeal to the same elements to the
end. And if it apes the language of philosophy, it does so only as do
those who purchase a ready-made pedigree in order to hide the obscurity
of their origin.



In the early months of the European war a mortally wounded British
soldier was picked up between the lines, after lying there unattended
for two days. He died soon after he was brought in, and one of his last
requests was that a copy of Ruskin's _Crown of Wild Olive_ should be
buried with him. He said the book had been with him all the time he had
been in France, it had given him great comfort, and he wished it to be
buried with him. Needless to say, his wish was carried out, and
"somewhere in France" there lies a soldier with a copy of the _Crown of
Wild Olive_ clasped to his breast.

There is another story, of a commoner character, which, although
different in form, is wholly similar in substance. This tells of the
soldier who in his last moments asks to see a priest, accepts his
ministrations with thankfulness, and dies comforted with the repetition
of familiar formulæ and customary prayers. In the one case a Bible and a
priest; in the other a volume of lectures by one of the masters of
English prose. The difference is, at first, striking, but there is an
underlying agreement, and they may be used together to illustrate a
single psychological principle.

Freethinker and Christian read the record of both cases, but it is the
Freethinker alone whose philosophy of life is wide enough to explain
both. The Freethinker knows that the feeling of comfort and the fact of
truth are two distinct things. They may coalesce, but they may be as
far asunder as the poles. A delusion may be as consoling as a reality
provided it be accepted as genuine. The soldier with his copy of Ruskin
does not prove the truth of the teachings of the _Crown of Wild Olive_,
does not prove that Ruskin said the last word or even the truest word on
the subjects dealt with therein. Neither does the consolation which
religion gives some people prove the truth of its teachings. The comfort
which religion brings is a product of the belief in religion. The
consolation that comes from reading a volume of essays is a product of
the conviction of the truth of the message delivered, or a sense of the
beauty of the language in which the book is written. Both cases
illustrate the power of belief, and that no Freethinker was ever stupid
enough to question. The finest literature in the world would bring small
comfort to a man who was convinced that he stood in deadly need of a
priest, and the presence of a priest would be quite useless to a man who
believed that all the religions of the world were so many geographical
absurdities. Comfort does not produce conviction, it follows it. The
truth and the social value of convictions are quite distinct questions.

There is here a confusion of values, and for this we have to thank the
influence of the Churches. Because the service of the priest is sought
by some we are asked to believe that it is necessary to all. But the
essential value of a thing is shown, not by the number of people who get
on with it, but by the number that can get on without it. The canon of
agreement and difference is applicable whether we are dealing with human
nature or conducting an ordinary scientific experiment. Thus, the
indispensability of meat-eating is not shown by the number of people who
swear that they cannot work without it, but by noting how people fare in
its absence. The drinker does not confound the abstainer; it is the
other way about. In the same way there is nothing of evidential value in
the protests of those who say that human nature cannot get along without
religion. We have to test the statement by the cases where religion is
absent. And here, it is not the Christian that confounds the
Freethinker, it is the Freethinker who confounds the Christian. If the
religious view of life is correct the Freethinker should be a very rare
bird indeed; he should be clearly recognizable as a departure from the
normal type, and, in fact, he was always so represented in religious
literature until he disproved the legend by multiplying himself with
confusing rapidity. Now it is the Freethinker who will not fit into the
Christian scheme of things. It is puzzling to see what can be done with
a man who repudiates the religious idea in theory and fact, root and
branch, and yet appears to be getting on quite well in its absence. That
is the awkward fact that will not fit in with the religious theory. And,
other things equal, one man without religion is greater evidential value
than five hundred with it. All the five hundred prove at the most is
that human nature can get on with religion, but the one case proves that
human nature can get on without it, and that challenges the whole
religious position. And unless we take up the rather absurd position
that the non-religious man is a sheer abnormality, this consideration at
once reduces religion from a necessity to a luxury or a dissipation.

The bearing of this on our attitude towards such a fact as death should
be obvious. During the European war death from being an ever-present
fact became an obtrusive one. Day after day we received news of the
death of friend or relative, and those who escaped that degree of
intimacy with the unpleasant visitor, met him in the columns of the
daily press. And the Christian clergy would have been untrue to their
traditions and to their interests--and there is no corporate body more
alert in these directions--if they had not tried to exploit the
situation to the utmost. There was nothing new in the tactics employed,
it was the special circumstances that gave them a little more force than
was usual. The following, for example, may be accepted as typical:--

     The weight of our sorrow is immensely lightened if we can feel sure
     that one whom we have loved and lost has but ascended to spheres of
     further development, education, service, achievement, where, by and
     by, we shall rejoin him.

Quite a common statement, and one which by long usage has become almost
immune from criticism. And yet it has about as much relation to fact as
have the stories of death-bed conversions, or of people dying and
shrieking for Jesus to save them. One may, indeed, apply a rough and
ready test by an appeal to facts. How many cases has the reader of these
lines come across in which religion has made people calmer and more
resigned in the presence of death than others have been who were quite
destitute of belief in religion? Of course, religious folk will repeat
religious phrases, they will attend church, they will listen to the
ministrations of their favourite clergyman, and they will say that their
religion brings them comfort. But if one gets below the stereotyped
phraseology and puts on one side also the sophisticated attitude in
relation to religion, one quite fails to detect any respect in which the
Freethinking parent differs from the Christian one. Does the religious
parent grieve less? Does he bear the blow with greater fortitude? Is his
grief of shorter duration? To anyone who will open his eyes the talk of
the comfort of religion will appear to be largely cant. There are
differences due to character, to temperament, to training; there is a
use of traditional phrases in the one case that is absent in the other,
but the incidence of a deep sorrow only serves to show how superficial
are the vapourings of religion to a civilized mind, and how each one of
us is thrown back upon those deeper feelings that are inseparable from a
common humanity. The thought of an only son who is living with the
angels brings no real solace to a parent's mind. Whatever genuine
comfort is available must come from the thought of a life that has been
well lived, from the sympathetic presence of friends, from the silent
handclasp, which on such occasions is so often more eloquent than
speech--in a word, from those healing currents that are part and parcel
of the life of the race. A Freethinker can easily appreciate the
readiness of a clergyman to help a mind that is suffering from a great
sorrow, but it is the deliberate exploitation of human grief in the name
and in the interests of religion, the manufacturing of cases of
death-bed consolation and repentance, the citation of evidence to which
the experience of all gives the lie, that fill one with a feeling akin
to disgust.

The writer from whom I have quoted says:--

     It is, indeed, possible for people who are Agnostic or unbelieving
     with regard to immortality to give themselves wholly to the pursuit
     of truth and to the service of their fellowmen, in moral
     earnestness and heroic endeavour; they may endure pain and sorrow
     with calm resignation, and toil on in patience and perseverance.
     The best of the ancient Stoics did so, and many a modern Agnostic
     is doing so to-day.

The significance of such a statement is in no wise diminished by the
accompanying qualification that Freethinkers are "missing a joy which
would have been to them a well-spring of courage and strength." That is
a pure assumption. They who are without religious belief are conscious
of no lack of courage, and they are oppressed by no feeling of despair.
On this their own statement must be taken as final. Moreover, they are
speaking as, in the main, those who are fully acquainted with the
Christian position, having once occupied it. They are able to measure
the relative value of the two positions. The Christian has no such
experience to guide him. In the crises of life the behaviour of the
Freethinker is at least as calm and as courageous as that of the
Christian. And it may certainly be argued that a serene resignation in
the presence of death is quite as valuable as the hectic emotionalism of
cultivated religious belief.

What, after all, is there in the fact of natural death that should breed
irresolution, rob us of courage, or fill us with fear? Experience proves
there are many things that people dread more than death, and will even
seek death rather than face, or, again, there are a hundred and one
things to obtain which men and women will face death without fear. And
this readiness to face or seek death does not seem to be at all
determined by religious belief. The millions of men who faced death
during the war were not determined in their attitude by their faith in
religious dogmas. If questioned they might, in the majority of cases,
say that they believed in a future life, and also that they found it a
source of strength, but it would need little reflection to assess the
reply at its true value. And as a racial fact, the fear of death is a
negative quality. The positive aspect is the will to live, and that may
be seen in operation in the animal world as well as in the world of man.
But this has no reference, not even the remotest, to a belief in a
future life. There are no "Intimations of Immortality" here. There is
simply one of the conditions of animal survival, developed in man to
the point at which its further strengthening would become a threat to
the welfare of the species. The desire to live is one of the conditions
that secures the struggle to live, and a species of animals in which
this did not exist would soon go under before a more virile type. And it
is one of the peculiarities of religious reasoning that a will to live
here should be taken as clear proof of a desire to live somewhere else.

The fear of death could never be a powerful factor in life; existence
would be next to impossible if it were. It would rob the organism of its
daring, its tenacity, and ultimately divest life itself of value.
Against that danger we have an efficient guard in the operation of
natural selection. In the animal world there is no fear of death, there
is, in fact, no reason to assume that there exists even a consciousness
of death. And with man, when reflection and knowledge give birth to that
consciousness, there arises a strong other regarding instinct which
effectively prevents it assuming a too positive or a too dangerous form.
Fear of death is, in brief, part of the jargon of priestcraft. The
priest has taught it the people because it was to his interest to do so.
And the jargon retains a certain currency because it is only the
minority that rise above the parrot-like capacity to repeat current
phrases, or who ever make an attempt to analyse their meaning and
challenge their veracity.

The positive fear of death is largely an acquired mental attitude. In
its origin it is largely motived by religion. Generally speaking there
is no very great fear of death among savages, and among the pagans of
old Greece and Rome there was none of that abject fear of death that
became so common with the establishment of Christianity. To the pagan,
death was a natural fact, sad enough, but not of necessity terrible. Of
the Greek sculptures representing death Professor Mahaffy says: "They
are simple pictures of the grief of parting, of the recollection of
pleasant days of love and friendship, of the gloom of an unknown future.
But there is no exaggeration in the picture." Throughout Roman
literature also there runs the conception of death as the necessary
complement of life. Pliny puts this clearly in the following: "Unto all,
the state of being after the last day is the same as it was before the
first day of life; neither is there any more variation of it in either
body or soul after death than there was before death." Among the
uneducated there does appear to have been some fear of death, and one
may assume that with some of even of the educated this was not
altogether absent. It may also be assumed that it was to this type of
mind that Christianity made its first appeal, and upon which it rested
its nightmare-like conception of death and the after-life. On this
matter the modern mind can well appreciate the attitude of Lucretius,
who saw the great danger in front of the race and sought to guard men
against it by pointing out the artificiality of the fear of death and
the cleansing effect of genuine knowledge.

    So shalt thou feed on Death who feeds on men,
    And Death once dead there's no more dying then.

The policy of Christianity was the belittling of this life and an
exaggeration of the life after death, with a boundless exaggeration of
the terrors that awaited the unwary and the unfaithful. The state of
knowledge under Christian auspices made this task easy enough. Of the
mediæval period Mr. Lionel Cust, in his _History of Engraving during the
Fifteenth Century_, says:--

     The keys of knowledge, as of salvation, were entirely in the hands
     of the Church, and the lay public, both high and low, were,
     generally speaking, ignorant and illiterate. One of the secrets of
     the great power exercised by the Church lay in its ability to
     represent the life of man as environed from the outset by legions
     of horrible and insidious demons, who beset his path throughout
     life at every stage up to his very last breath, and are eminently
     active and often triumphant when man's fortitude is undermined by
     sickness, suffering, and the prospect of dissolution.

F. Parkes Weber also points out that, "It was in mediæval Europe, under
the auspices of the Catholic Church, that descriptions of hell began to
take on their most horrible aspects."[21] So, again, we have Sir James
Frazer pointing out that the fear of death is not common to the lower
races, and "Among the causes which thus tend to make us cowards may be
numbered the spread of luxury and the doctrines of a gloomy theology,
which by proclaiming the eternal damnation and excruciating torments of
the vast majority of mankind has added incalculably to the dread and
horror of death."[22]

[21] _Aspects of Death in Art and Epigram_, p. 28.

[22] _Golden Bough_, Vol. IV., p. 136.

No religion has emphasized the terror of death as Christianity has done,
and in the truest sense, no religion has so served to make men such
cowards in its presence. Upon that fear a large part of the power of the
Christian Church has been built, and men having become so obsessed with
the fear of death and what lay beyond, it is not surprising that they
should turn to the Church for some measure of relief. The poisoner thus
did a lucrative trade by selling a doubtful remedy for his own toxic
preparation. More than anything else the fear of death and hell laid the
foundation of the wealth and power of the Christian Church. If it drew
its authority from God, it derived its profit from the devil. The two
truths that emerge from a sober and impartial study of Christian history
are that the power of the Church was rooted in death and that it
flourished in dishonour.

It was Christianity, and Christianity alone that made death so abiding a
terror to the European mind. And society once Christianized, the
uneducated could find no adequate corrective from the more educated. The
baser elements which existed in the Pagan world were eagerly seized upon
by the Christian writers and developed to their fullest extent. Some of
the Pagan writers had speculated, in a more or less fanciful spirit, on
a hell of a thousand years. Christianity stretched it to eternity.
Pre-Christianity had reserved the miseries of the after-life for adults.
Christian writers paved the floor of hell with infants, "scarce a span
long." Plutarch and other Pagan moralists had poured discredit upon the
popular notions of a future life. Christianity reaffirmed them with all
the exaggerations of a diseased imagination. The Pagans held that death
was as normal and as natural as life. Christianity returned to the
conception current among savages and depicted death as a penal
infliction. The Pagan art of living was superseded by the Christian art
of dying. Human ingenuity exhausted itself in depicting the terrors of
the future life, and when one remembers the powers of the Church, and
the murderous manner in which it exercised them, there is small wonder
that under the auspices of the Church the fear of death gained a
strength it had never before attained.

Small wonder, then, that we still have with us the talk of the comfort
that Christianity brings in the face of death. Where the belief in the
Christian after-life really exists, the retention of a conviction of the
saving power of Christianity is a condition of sanity. Where the belief
does not really exist, we are fronted with nothing but a parrot-like
repetition of familiar phrases. The Christian talk of comfort is thus,
on either count, no more than a product of Christian education.
Christianity does not make men brave in the presence of death, that is
no more than a popular superstition. What it does is to cover a natural
fact with supernatural terrors, and then exploit a frame of mind that it
has created. The comfort is only necessary so long as the special belief
is present. Remove that belief and death takes its place as one of the
inevitable facts of existence, surrounded with all the sadness of a last
farewell, but rid of all the terror that has been created by religion.

Our dying soldier, asking for a copy of the _Crown of Wild Olive_ to be
buried with him, and the other who calls for priestly ministrations,
represent, ultimately, two different educational results. The one is a
product of an educational process applied during the darkest periods of
European history, and perpetuated by a training that has been mainly
directed by the self-interest of a class. The other represents an
educational product which stands as the triumph of the pressure of life
over artificial dogmas. The Freethinker, because he is a Freethinker,
needs none of those artificial stimulants for which the Christian
craves. And he pays him the compliment--in spite of his protests--of
believing that without his religion the Christian would display as much
manliness in the face of death as he does himself. He believes there is
plenty of healthy human nature in the average Christian, and the
Freethinker merely begs him to give it a chance of finding expression.
In this matter, it must be observed, the Freethinker makes no claim to
superiority over the Christian; it is the Christian who forces that
claim upon him. The Freethinker does not assume that the difference
between himself and the Christian is nearly so great as the latter would
have him believe. He believes that what is dispensable by the one,
without loss, is dispensable by the other. If Freethinkers can devote
themselves to "the pursuit of truth and the service of their fellow
men," if they can "endure pain and sorrow with calm resignation," if
they live with honour and face death without fear, I see no reason why
the Christian should not be able to reach the same level of development.
It is paying the Freethinker a "violent compliment," to use an
expression of John Wesley's, to place him upon a level of excellence
that is apparently so far above that of the average Christian. As a
Freethinker, I decline to accept it. I believe that what the Freethinker
is, the Christian may well become. He, too, may learn to do his duty
without the fear of hell or the hope of heaven. All that is required is
that he shall give his healthier instincts an opportunity for



In the preceding chapter I have only discussed the fact of death in
relation to a certain attitude of mind. The question of the survival of
the human personality after death is a distinct question and calls for
separate treatment. Nor is the present work one in which that topic can
be treated at adequate length. The most that can now be attempted is a
bird's eye view of a large field of controversy, although it may be
possible in the course of that survey to say something on the more
important aspects of the subject.

And first we may notice the curious assumption that the man who argues
for immortality is taking a lofty view of human nature, while he who
argues against it is taking a low one. In sober truth it is the other
way about. Consider the position. It is tacitly admitted that if human
motive, considered with reference to this world alone, is adequate as an
incentive to action, and the consequences of actions, again considered
with reference to this world, are an adequate reward for endeavour, then
it is agreed that the main argument for the belief in immortality breaks
down. To support or to establish the argument it is necessary to show
that life divorced from the conception of a future life can never reach
the highest possible level. Natural human society is powerless in itself
to realize its highest possibilities. It remains barren of what it might
be, a thing that may frame ideals, but can never realize them.

Now that is quite an intelligible, and, therefore, an arguable
proposition. But whether true or not, there should be no question that
it involves a lower view of human nature than the one taken by the
Freethinker. He does at least pay human nature the compliment of
believing it capable, not alone of framing high ideals, but also of
realizing them. He says that by itself it is capable of realizing all
that may be legitimately demanded from it. He does not believe that
supernatural hopes or fears are necessary to induce man to live cleanly,
or die serenely, or to carry out properly his duties to his fellows. The
religionist denies this, and asserts that some form of supernaturalism
is essential to the moral health of men and women. If the Freethinker is
wrong, it is plain that his fault consists in taking a too optimistic
view of human nature. His mistake consists in taking not a low view of
human nature, but a lofty one. Substantially, the difference between the
two positions is the difference between the man who is honest from a
conviction of the value of honesty, and the one who refrains from
stealing because he feels certain of detection, or because he is afraid
of losing something that he might otherwise gain. Thus, we are told by
one writer that:--

     If human life is but a by-product of the unconscious play of
     physical force, like a candle flame soon to be blown out or burnt
     out, what a paltry thing it is!

But the questions of where human life came from, or where it will end,
are quite apart from the question of the value and capabilities of human
life now. That there are immense possibilities in this life none but a
fool will deny. The world is full of strange and curious things, and its
pleasures undoubtedly outweigh its pains in the experience of normal man
or woman. But the relations between ourselves and others remain
completely unaffected by the termination of existence at the grave, or
its continuation beyond. It is quite a defensible proposition that life
is not worth living. So is the reverse of the proposition. But it is
nonsense to say that life is a "paltry thing" merely because it ends at
the grave. It is unrestricted egotism manifesting itself in the form of
religious conviction. One might as well argue that a sunset ceases to be
beautiful because it does not continue all night.

If I cannot live for ever, then is the universe a failure! That is
really all that the religious argument amounts to. And so to state it,
to reduce it to plain terms, and divest it of its disguising verbiage,
almost removes the need for further refutation. But it is seldom stated
in so plain and so unequivocal a manner. It is accompanied with much
talk of growth, of an evolutionary purpose, of ruined lives made good,

     Seeing that man is the goal towards which everything has tended
     from the beginning, seeing that the same eternal and infinite
     Energy has laboured through the ages at the production of man, and
     man is the heir of the ages, nothing conceivable seems too great or
     glorious to believe concerning his destiny.... If there is no limit
     to human growth in knowledge and wisdom, in love and constructive
     power, in beauty and joy, we are invested with a magnificent worth
     and dignity.

So fallacy and folly run on. What, for example, does anyone mean by man
as the goal towards which everything has tended since the beginning?
Whatever truth there is in the statement applies to all things without
exception. It is as true of the microbe as it is of man. If the
"infinite and eternal Energy" laboured to produce man, it laboured also
to produce the microbe which destroys him. The one is here as well as
the other; and one can conceive a religious microbe thanking an almighty
one for having created it, and declaring that unless it is to live for
ever in some microbic heaven, with a proper supply of human beings for
its nourishment, the whole scheme of creation is a failure. It is quite
a question of the point of view. As a matter of fact there are no "ends"
in nature. There are only results, and each result becomes a factor in
some further result. It is human folly and ignorance which makes an end
of a consequence.

After all, what reason is there for anyone assuming that the survival of
man beyond the grave is even probably true? We do not know man as a
"soul" first and a body afterwards. Neither do we know him as a detached
"mind" which afterwards takes possession of a body. Our knowledge of man
commences with him, as does our knowledge of any animal, as a body
possessing certain definite functions of which we call one group mental.
And the two things are so indissolubly linked that we cannot even think
of them as separate. If anyone doubts this let him try and picture to
himself what a man is like in the absence of a body. He will find the
thing simply inconceivable. In the absence of the material organism, to
which the mind unquestionably stands in the relation of function to
organ, what remains is a mere blank. To the informed mind, that is. To
the intelligence of the savage, who is led, owing to his erroneous
conception of things, to think of something inside the body which leaves
it during sleep, wanders about, and then returns on awakening, and who
because of this affiliates sleep to death, the case may be different.
But to a modern mind, one which is acquainted with something of what
science has to say on the subject, the conception of a mind existing
apart from organization is simply unthinkable. All our knowledge is
against it. The development of mind side by side with the development of
the brain and the nervous system is one of the commonplaces of
scientific knowledge. The treatment of states of mind as functions of
the brain and the nervous system is a common-place of medical practice.
And the fact that diet, temperature, health and disease, accidents and
old age, all have their effects on mental manifestations is matter of
everyday observation. The whole range of positive science may safely be
challenged to produce a single indisputable fact in favour of the
assumption that there exists anything about man independent of the
material organism.

All that can be urged in favour of such a belief is that there are still
many obscure facts which we are not altogether able to explain on a
purely mechanistic theory. But that is a confession of ignorance, not an
affirmation of knowledge. At any rate, there does not exist a single
fact against the functional theory of mind. All we _know_ is decidedly
in its favour, and a theory must be tested by what we know and by what
it explains, not by what we do not know or by what it cannot explain.
And there is here the additional truth that the only ground upon which
the theory can be opposed is upon certain metaphysical assumptions which
are made in order to bolster up an already existing belief. If the
belief in survival had not been already in existence these assumptions
would never have been made. They are not suggested by the facts, they
are invented to support an already established theory, which can no
longer appeal to the circumstances which gave it birth.

And about those circumstance there is no longer the slightest reason for
justifiable doubt. We can trace the belief in survival after death
until we see it commencing in the savage belief in a double that takes
its origin in the phenomena of dreaming and unusual mental states. It is
from that starting point that the belief in survival takes its place as
an invariable element in the religions of the world. And as we trace the
evolution of knowledge we see every fact upon which was built the belief
in a double that survived death gradually losing its hold on the human
intelligence, owing to the fact that the experiences that gave it birth
are interpreted in a manner which allows no room for the religious
theory. The fatal fact about the belief in survival is its history. That
history shows us how it began, as surely as the course of its evolution
indicates the way in which it will end.

So, as with the idea of God, what we have left in modern times are not
the reasons why such a belief is held, but only excuses why those who
hold it should not be disturbed. That and a number of arguments which
only present an air of plausibility because they succeed in jumbling
together things that have no connection with each other. As an example
of this we may take the favourite modern plea that a future life is
required to permit the growth and development of the individual. We find
this expressed in the quotation above given in the sentence "if there is
no limit to human growth, etc.," the inference being that unless there
is a future life there is a very sharp limit set to human growth, and
one that makes this life a mockery. This plea is presented in so many
forms that it is worth while analysing it a little, if only to bring out
more clearly the distinction between the religious and the Freethought
view of life.

What now is meant by there being no limit to human growth? If by it is
meant individual growth, the reply is that there is actually a very
sharp limit set to growth, much sharper than the average person seems
to be aware of. It is quite clear that the individual is not capable of
unlimited growth in this world. There are degrees of capacity in
different individuals which will determine what amount of development
each is capable of. Capacity is not an acquired thing, it is an
endowment, and the child born with the brain capacity of a fool will
remain a fool to the end, however much his folly may be disguised or
lost amid the folly of others. And with each one, whether he be fool or
genius, acquisitions are made more easily and more rapidly in youth, the
power of mental adaptation is much greater in early than in later life,
while in old age the capacities of adaptation and acquisition become
negligible quantities. And provided one lives long enough, the last
stage sees, not a promise of further progress if life were continued,
but a process of degradation. The old saying that one can't put a quart
into a pint pot is strictly applicable here. Growth assumes acquisition;
acquisition is determined by capacity, and this while an indefinite
quantity (indefinite here is strictly referable to our ignorance, not to
the actual fact) is certainly not an unlimited one. Life, then, so far
as the individual is concerned, does not point to unlimited growth. It
indicates, so far as it indicates anything at all, that there is a limit
to growth as to all other things.

Well, but suppose we say that man is capable of indefinite growth, what
do we mean? Let us also bear in mind at this point that we are strictly
concerned with the individual. For if man survives death he must do it
as an individual. To merely survive as a part of the chemical and other
elements of the world, or, to follow some mystical theologians, as an
indistinguishable part of a "world-soul," is not what people mean when
they talk of living beyond the grave. Here, again, it will be found
that we have confused two quite distinct things, even though the one
thing borrows its meaning from the other.

When we compare the individual, as such, with the individual of three or
four thousand years ago, can we say with truth that the man of to-day is
actually superior to the man of the earlier date? To test the question
let us put it in this way. Does the man of to-day do anything or think
anything that is beyond the capacity of an ancient Egyptian or an
ancient Greek, if it were possible to suddenly revive one and to enable
him to pass through the same education that each one of us passes
through? I do not think that anyone will answer that question in the
affirmative. Reverse the process. Suppose that a modern man, with
exactly the same capacity that he now has had lived in the days of the
ancient Egyptians or the ancient Greeks, can we say that his capacity is
so much greater than theirs, that he would have done better than they
did? I do not think that anyone will answer that question in the
affirmative either. Is the soldier of to-day a better soldier, or the
sailor a better sailor than those who lived three thousand years ago?
Once more the answer will not be in the affirmative. And yet there are
certain things that are obvious. It is plain that we all know more than
did the people of long ago, we can do more, we understand the past
better, and we can see farther into the future. A schoolboy to-day
carries in his head what would have been a philosopher's outfit once
upon a time. Our soldiers and sailors utilize, single-handed, forces
greater than a whole army or navy wielded in the far-off days of the
Ptolemies. We call ourselves greater, we think ourselves greater, and in
a sense we are greater than the people of old. What, then, is the
explanation of the apparent paradox?

The explanation lies in the simple fact that progress is not a
phenomenon of individual life at all. It is a phenomenon of social
existence. If each generation had to commence at the exact point at
which its predecessors started it would get no farther than they got. It
would be an eternal round, with each generation starting from and
reaching the same point, and progress would be an inconceivable thing.
But that we know is not the case. Instead of each generation starting
from precisely the same point, one inherits at least something of the
labours and discoveries of its predecessors. A thing discovered by the
individual is discovered for the race. A thought struck out by the
individual is a thought for the race. By language, by tradition, and by
institutions the advances of each generation are conserved, handed on,
and made part of our racial possessions. The strength, the knowledge, of
the modern is thus due not to any innate superiority over the ancient,
but because one is modern and the other ancient. If we could have
surrounded the ancient Assyrians with all the inventions, and given them
all the knowledge that we possess, they would have used that knowledge
and those inventions as wisely, or as unwisely as we use them. Progress
is thus not a fact of individual but of racial life. The individual
inherits more than he creates, and it is in virtue of this racial
inheritance that he is what he is.

It is a mere trick of the imagination that converts this fact of social
growth into an essential characteristic of individual life. We speak of
"man" without clearly distinguishing between man as a biological unit
and man as a member of a social group developing in correspondence with
a true social medium. But if that is so, it follows that this capacity
for growth is, so to speak, a function of the social medium. It is
conditioned by it, it has relevance only in relation to it. Our
feelings, our sentiments, even our desires, have reference to this life,
and in a far deeper sense than is usually imagined. And removed from its
relation to this life human nature would be without meaning or value.

There is nothing in any of the functions of man, in any of his
capacities, or in any of his properly understood desires that has the
slightest reference to any life but this. It is unthinkable that there
should be. An organ or an organism develops in relation to a special
medium, not in relation to one that--even though it exists--is not also
in relation with it. This is quite an obvious truth in regard to
structures, but it is not always so clearly recognized, or so carefully
borne in mind, that it is equally true of every feeling and desire. For
these are developed in relation to their special medium, in this case,
the existence of fellow beings with their actions and reactions on each
other. And man is not only a member of a social group, that much is an
obvious fact; but he is a product of the group in the sense that all his
characteristic human qualities have resulted from the interactions of
group life. Take man out of relation to that fact, and he is an enigma,
presenting fit opportunities for the wild theorizing of religious
philosophers. Take him in connection with it, and his whole nature
becomes susceptible of understanding in relation to the only existence
he knows and desires.

The twin facts of growth and progress, upon which so much of the
argument for a future life turns nowadays, have not the slightest
possible reference to a life beyond the grave. They are fundamentally
not even personal, but social. It is the race that grows, not the
individual, he becomes more powerful precisely because the products of
racial acquisition are inherited by him. Remove, if only in thought, the
individual from all association with his fellows, strip him of all that
he inherits from association with them, and he loses all the qualities
we indicate when we speak of him as a civilized being. Remove him, in
fact, from that association, as when a man is marooned on a desert
island, and the more civilized qualities of his character begin to
weaken and in time disappear. Man, as an individual, becomes more
powerful with the passing of each generation, precisely because he is
thus dependent upon the life of the race. The secret of his weakness is
at the same time the source of his strength. We are what we are because
of the generations of men and women who lived and toiled and died before
we were born. We inherit the fruits of their labours, as those who come
after us will inherit the fruits of our struggles and conquests. It is
thus in the life of the race that man achieves immortality. None other
is possible, or conceivable. And to those whose minds are not distorted
by religious teaching, and who have taken the trouble to analyse and
understand their own mental states, it may be said that none other is
even desirable.



Language, we have said above, is one of the prime conditions of human
greatness and progress. It is the principal means by which man conserves
his victories over the forces of his environment, and transmits them to
his descendants. But it is, nevertheless, not without its dangers, and
may exert an influence fatal to exact thought. There is a sense in which
language necessarily lags behind thought. For words are coined to
express the ideas of those who fashion them; and as the knowledge of the
next generation alters, and some modification of existing conceptions is
found necessary, there is nothing but the existing array of words in
which to express them. The consequence is that there are nearly always
subtle shades of meaning in the words used differing from the exact
meaning which the new thought is trying to express. Thought drives us to
seek new or improved verbal tools, but until we get them we must go on
using the old ones, with all their old implications. And by the time the
new words arrive thought has made a still further advance, and the
general position remains. It is an eternal chase in which the pursued is
always being captured, but is never caught.

Another way in which language holds a danger is that with many words,
especially when they assume the character of a formula, they tend to
usurp the place of thinking. The old lady who found so much consolation
in the "blessed" word Mesopotamia, is not alone in using that method of
consolation. It does not meet us only in connection with religion, it
is encountered over the whole field of sociology, and even of science.
A conception in science or sociology is established after a hard fight.
It is accepted generally, and thereafter takes its place as one of the
many established truths. And then the danger shows itself. It is
repeated as though it had some magical virtue in itself; it means
nothing to very many of those who use it, they simply hand over their
mental difficulties to its care, much as the penitent in the
confessional hands over his moral troubles to the priest, and there the
matter ends. But in such cases the words used do not express thought,
they simply blind people to its absence. And not only that, but in the
name of these sacred words, any number of foolish inferences are drawn
and receive general assent.

A striking illustration of this is to be found in such a word as
"Evolution." One may say of it that while it began as a formula, it
continues as a fiat. Some invoke it with all the expectancy of a
mediæval magician commanding the attendance of his favourite spirits.
Others approach it with a hushed reverence that is reminiscent of a
Catholic devotee before his favourite shrine. In a little more than half
a century it has acquired the characteristics of the Kismet of the
Mohammedan, the Beelzebub of the pious Christian, and the power of a
phrase that gives inspiration to a born soldier. It is used as often to
dispel doubt as it is to awaken curiosity. It may express comprehension
or merely indicate vacuity. Decisions are pronounced in its name with
all the solemnity of a "Thus saith the Lord." We are not sure that even
to talk about evolution in this way may not be considered wrong. For
there are crowds of folk who cannot distinguish profundity from
solemnity, and who mistake a long face for the sure indication of a
well-stored brain. The truth here is that what a man understands
thoroughly he can deal with easily; and that he laughs at a difficulty
is not necessarily a sign that he fails to appreciate it, he may laugh
because he has taken its measure. And why people do not laugh at such a
thing as religion is partly because they have not taken its measure,
partly from a perception that religion cannot stand it. Everywhere the
priest maintains his hold as a consequence of the narcotizing influence
of ill-understood phrases, and in this he is matched by the
pseudo-philosopher whose pompous use of imperfectly appreciated formulæ
disguises from the crowd the mistiness of his understanding.

A glance over the various uses to which the word "Evolution" is put will
well illustrate the truth of what has been said. These make one wonder
what, in the opinion of some people, evolution stands for. One of these
uses of evolution is to give it a certain moral implication to which it
has not the slightest claim. A certain school of Non-Theists are, in
this matter, if not the greatest offenders, certainly those with the
least excuse for committing the blunder. By these evolution is
identified with progress, or advancement, or a gradual "levelling up" of
society, and is even acclaimed as presenting a more "moral" view of the
Universe than is the Theistic conception. Now, primarily, this
ascription of what one may call a moral element to evolution is no more
than a carrying over into science of a frame of mind that properly
belongs to Theism. Quite naturally the Theist was driven to try and find
some moral purpose in the Universe, and to prove that its working did
not grate on our moral sense. That was quite understandable, and even
legitimate. The world, from the point of view of the Goddite, was God's
world, he made it; and we are ultimately compelled to judge the
character of God from his workmanship. An attack on the moral character
of the world is, therefore, an attack on the character of its maker. And
the Theist proceeded to find a moral justification for all that God had

So far all is clear. But now comes a certain kind of Non-Theist. And he,
always rejecting a formal Theism and substituting evolution, proceeds to
claim for his formula all that the Theist claimed for his. He also
strives to show that the idea of cosmic evolution involves conceptions
of nobility, justice, morality, etc. There is no wonder that some
Christians round on him, and tell him that he still believes in a god.
Substantially he does. That is, he carries over into his new camp the
same anthropomorphic conception of the workings of nature, and uses the
same pseudo-scientific reasoning that is characteristic of the Theist.
He has formally given up God, but he goes about uncomfortably burdened
with his ghost.

Now, evolution is not a fiat, but a formula. It has nothing whatever to
do with progress, as such, nor with morality, as such, nor with a
levelling up, nor a levelling down. It is really no more than a special
application of the principle of causation, and whether the working out
of that principle has a good effect or a bad one, a moralizing, or a
demoralizing, a progressive, or a retrogressive consequence is not
"given" in the principle itself. Fundamentally, all cosmic phenomena
present us with two aspects--difference and change--and that is so
because it is the fundamental condition of our knowing anything at all.
But the law of evolution is no more, is nothing more serious or more
profound than an attempt to express those movements of change and
difference in a more or less precise formula. It aims at doing for
phenomena in general exactly what a particular scientific law aims at
doing for some special department. But it has no more a moral
implication, or a progressive implication than has the law of
gravitation or of chemical affinity. The sum of those changes that are
expressed in the law of evolution may result in one or the other; it has
resulted in one or the other. At one time we call its consequences moral
or progressive, at another time we call them immoral or retrogressive,
but these are some of the distinctions which the human mind creates for
its own convenience, they have no validity in any other sense. And when
we mistake these quite legitimate distinctions, made for our own
convenience, and argue as though they had an actual independent
existence, we are reproducing exactly the same mental confusion that
keeps Theism alive.

The two aspects that difference and change resolve themselves into when
expressed in an evolutionary formula are, in the inorganic world,
equilibrium, and, in the organic world, adaptation. Of course,
equilibrium also applies to the organic world, I merely put it this way
for the purpose of clarity. Now, if we confine our attention to the
world of animal forms, what we have expressed, primarily, is the fact of
adaptation. If an animal is to live it must be adapted to its
surroundings to at least the extent of being able to overcome or to
neutralize the forces that threaten its existence. That is quite a
common-place, since all it says is that to live an animal must be fit to
live, but all great truths are common-places--when one sees them. Still,
if there were only adaptations to consider, and if the environment to
which adaptation is to be secured, remained constant, all we should have
would be the deaths of those not able to live, with the survival of
those more fortunately endowed. There would be nothing that we could
call, even to please ourselves, either progress or its reverse. Movement
up or down (both human landmarks) occurs because the environment itself
undergoes a change. Either the material conditions change, or the
pressure of numbers initiates a contest for survival, although more
commonly one may imagine both causes in operation at the same time. But
the consequence is the introduction of a new quality into the struggle
for existence. It becomes a question of a greater endowment of the
qualities that spell survival. And that paves the way to progress--or
the reverse. But one must bear in mind that, whether the movement be in
one direction or the other, it is still the same process that is at
work. Evolution levels neither "up" nor "down." Up and down is as
relative in biology as it is in astronomy. In nature there is neither
better nor worse, neither high nor low, neither good nor bad, there are
only differences, and if that had been properly appreciated by all, very
few of the apologies for Theism would ever have seen the light.

There is not the slightest warranty for speaking of evolution as being a
"progressive force," it is, indeed, not a force at all, but only a
descriptive term on all fours with any other descriptive term as
expressed in a natural law. It neither, of necessity, levels up nor
levels down. In the animal world it illustrates adaptation only, but
whether that adaptation involves what we choose to call progression or
retrogression is a matter of indifference. On the one hand we have
aquatic life giving rise to mammalian life, and on the other hand, we
have mammalian life reverting to an aquatic form of existence. In one
place we have a "lower" form of life giving place to a "higher" form. In
another place we can see the reverse process taking place. And the
"lower" forms are often more persistent than the "higher" ones, while,
as the course of epidemical and other diseases shows certain lowly forms
of life may make the existence of the higher forms impossible. The
Theistic attempt to disprove the mechanistic conception of nature by
insisting that evolution is a law of progress, that it implies an end,
and indicates a goal, is wholly fallacious. From a scientific point of
view it is meaningless chatter. Science knows nothing of a plan, or an
end in nature, or even progress. All these are conceptions which we
humans create for our own convenience. They are so many standards of
measurement, of exactly the same nature as our agreement that a certain
length of space shall be called a yard, or a certain quantity of liquid
shall be called a pint. To think otherwise is pure anthropomorphism. It
is the ghost of God imported into science.

So far, then, it is clear that the universal fact in nature is change.
The most general aspect of nature which meets us is that expressed in
the law of evolution. And proceeding from the more general to the less
general, in the world of living beings this change meets us in the form
of adaptation to environment. But what constitutes adaptation must be
determined by the nature of the environment. That will determine what
qualities are of value in the struggle for existence, which is not
necessarily a struggle against other animals, but may be no more than
the animal's own endeavours to persist in being. It is, however, in
relation to the environment that we must measure the value of qualities.
Whatever be the nature of the environment that principle remains true.
Ideally, one quality may be more desirable than another, but if it does
not secure a greater degree of adaptation to the environment it brings
no advantage to its possessor. It may even bring a positive
disadvantage. In a thieves' kitchen the honest man is handicapped. In a
circle of upright men the dishonest man is at a discount. In the
existing political world a perfectly truthful man would be a
parliamentary failure. In the pulpit a preacher who knew the truth about
Christianity and preached it would soon be out of the Church.
Adaptation is not, as such, a question of moral goodness or badness, it
is simply adaptation.

A precautionary word needs be said on the matter of environment. If we
conceive the environment as made up only of the material surroundings we
shall not be long before we find ourselves falling into gross error. For
that conception of environment will only hold of the very lowest
organisms. A little higher, and the nature of the organism begins to
have a modifying effect on the material environment, and when we come to
animals living in groups the environment of the individual animal
becomes partly the habits and instincts of the other animals with which
it lives. Finally, when we reach man this transformation of the nature
of the environment becomes greatest. Here it is not merely the existence
of other members of the same species, with all their developed feelings
and ideas to which each must become adapted to live, but in virtue of
what we have described above as the social medium, certain "thought
forms" such as institutions, conceptions of right and wrong, ideals of
duty, loyalty, the relation of one human group to other human groups,
not merely those that are now living, but also those that are dead, are
all part of the environment to which adjustment must be made. And in the
higher stages of social life these aspects of the environment become of
even greater consequence than the facts of a climatic, geographic, or
geologic nature. In other words, the environment which exerts a
predominating influence on civilized mankind is an environment that has
been very largely created by social life and growth.

If we keep these two considerations firmly in mind we shall be well
guarded against a whole host of fallacies and false analogies that are
placed before us as though they were unquestioned and unquestionable
truths. There is, for instance, the misreading of evolution which
asserts that inasmuch as what is called moral progress takes place,
therefore evolution involves a moral purpose. We find this view put
forward not only by avowed Theists, but by those who, while formally
disavowing Theism, appear to have imported into ethics all the false
sentiment and fallacious reasoning that formerly did duty in bolstering
up the idea of God. Evolution, as such, is no more concerned with an
ideal morality than it is concerned with the development of an ideal
apple dumpling. In the universal process morality is no more than a
special illustration of the principle of adaptation. The morality of man
is a summary of the relations between human beings that must be
maintained if the two-fold end of racial preservation and individual
development are to be secured. Fundamentally morality is the formulation
in either theory or practice of rules or actions that make group-life
possible. And the man who sees in the existence or growth of morality
proof of a "plan" or an "end" is on all fours with the mentality of the
curate who saw the hand of Providence in the fact that death came at the
end of life instead of in the middle of it. What we are dealing with
here is the fact of adaptation, although in the case of the human group
the traditions and customs and ideals of the group form a very important
part of the environment to which adaptation must be made and have,
therefore, a distinct survival value. The moral mystery-monger is only a
shade less objectionable than the religious mystery-monger, of whom he
is the ethical equivalent.

A right conception of the nature of environment and the meaning of
evolution will also protect us against a fallacy that is met with in
connection with social growth. Human nature, we are often told, is
always the same. To secure a desired reform, we are assured, you must
first of all change human nature, and the assumption is that as human
nature cannot be changed the proposed reform is quite impossible.

Now there is a sense in which human nature is the same, generation after
generation. But there is another sense in which human nature is
undergoing constant alteration, and, indeed, it is one of the
outstanding features of social life that it should be so. So far as can
be seen there exists no difference between the fundamental capacities
possessed by man during at least the historic period. There are
differences in people between the relative strengths of the various
capacities, but that is all. An ancient Assyrian possessed all the
capacities of a modern Englishman, and in the main one would feel
inclined to say the same of them in their quantitative aspect as well as
in their qualitative one. For when one looks at the matter closely it is
seen that the main difference between the ancient and the modern man is
in expression. Civilization does not so much change the man so much as
it gives a new direction to the existing qualities. Whether particular
qualities are expressed in an ideally good direction or the reverse
depends upon the environment to which they react.

To take an example. The fundamental evil of war in a modern state is
that it expends energy in a harmful direction. But war itself, the
expression of the war-like character, is the outcome of pugnacity and
the love of adventure without which human nature would be decidedly the
poorer, and would be comparatively ineffective. It is fundamentally an
expression of these qualities that lead to the quite healthy taste for
exploration, discovery, and in intellectual pursuits to that contest of
ideas which lies at the root of most of our progress. And what war means
in the modern State is that the love of competition and adventure, the
pugnacity which leads a man to fight in defence of a right or to redress
a wrong, and without which human nature would be a poor thing, are
expended in the way of sheer destruction instead of through channels of
adventure and healthy intellectual contest. Sympathies are narrowed
instead of widened, and hatred of the stranger and the outsider, of
which a growing number of people in a civilized country are becoming
ashamed, assumes the rank of a virtue. In other words, a state of war
creates an environment--fortunately for only a brief period--which gives
a survival value to such expressions of human capacity as indicate a
reversion to a lower state of culture.

We may put the matter thus. While conduct is a function of the organism,
and while the _kind_ of reaction is determined by structure, the _form_
taken by the reaction is a matter of response to environmental
influences. It is this fact which explains why the capacities of man
remain fairly constant, while there is a continuous redirecting of these
capacities into new channels suitable to a developing social life.

We are only outlining here a view of evolution that would require a
volume to discuss and illustrate adequately, but enough has been said to
indicate the enormous importance of the educative power of the
environment. We cannot alter the capacities of the individual for they
are a natural endowment. But we can, in virtue of an increased emphasis,
determine whether they shall be expressed in this or that direction. The
love of adventure may, for example, be exhausted in the pursuit of some
piratical enterprise, or it may be guided into channels of some useful
form of social effort. It lies with society itself to see that the
environment is such as to exercise a determining influence with regard
to expressions of activity that are beneficial to the whole of the

To sum up. Evolution is no more than a formula that expresses the way in
which a moving balance of forces is brought about by purely mechanical
means. So far as animal life is concerned this balance is expressed by
the phrase "adaptation to environment." But in human society the
environment is in a growing measure made up of ideas, customs,
traditions, ideals, and beliefs; in a word, of factors which are
themselves products of human activities. And it is for this reason that
the game of civilization is very largely in our own hands. If we
maintain an environment in which it is either costly or dangerous to be
honest and fearless in the expression of opinion, we shall be doing our
best to develop mental cowardice and hypocrisy. If we bring up the young
with the successful soldier or money-maker before them as examples,
while we continue to treat the scientist as a crank, and the reformer as
a dangerous criminal, we shall be continuing the policy of forcing the
expression of human capacity on a lower level than would otherwise be
the case. If we encourage the dominance of a religion which while making
a profession of disinterested loftiness continues to irradiate a narrow
egotism and a pessimistic view of life, we are doing our best to
perpetuate an environment which emphasizes only the poorer aspects of
human motive. Two centuries of ceaseless scientific activity have taught
us something of the rules of the game which we are all playing with
nature whether we will or no. To-day we have a good many of the winning
cards in our hands, if we will only learn to play them wisely. It is not
correct to say that evolution necessarily involves progress, but it does
indicate that wisdom and foresight may so control the social forces as
to turn that ceaseless change which is indicated by the law of evolution
into channels that make for happiness and prosperity.



The influence of the hypothesis of evolution on religion was not long in
making itself felt. Professor Huxley explained the rapid success of
Darwinism by saying that the scientific world was ready for it. And much
the same thing may be said of the better representatives of the
intellectual world with regard to the bearing of evolution on religion.
In many directions the cultivated mind had for more than half a century
been getting familiar with the general conception of growth in human
life and thought. Where earlier generations had seen no more than a
pattern to unravel there had developed a conviction that there was a
history to trace and to understand. Distant parts of the world had been
brought together during the seventeenth and the eighteenth centuries,
readers and students were getting familiarized with the mass of customs
and religious ideas that were possessed by these peoples, and it was
perceived that beneath the bewildering variety of man's mental output
there were certain features which they had in common, and which might
hold in solution some common principle or principles.

This common principle was found in the conception of evolution. It was
the one thing which, if true, and apart from the impossible idea of a
revelation, nicely graduated to the capacities of different races,
offered an explanation of the religions of the world in terms more
satisfactory than those of deliberate invention or imposture. Once it
was accepted, if only as an instrument of investigation, its use was
soon justified. And the thorough-going nature of the conquest achieved
is in no wise more clearly manifested than in the fact that the
conception of growth is, to-day, not merely an accepted principle with
scientific investigators, it has sunk deeply into all our literature and
forms an unconscious part of popular thought.

One aspect of the influence of evolution on religious ideas has already
been noted. It made the religious idea but one of the many forms that
were assumed by man's attempt to reduce his experience of the world to
something like an orderly theory. But that carried with it, for
religion, the danger of reducing it to no more than one of the many
theories of things which man forms, with the prospect of its rejection
as a better knowledge of the world develops. Evolution certainly
divested religion of any authority save such as it might contain in
itself, and that is a position a religious mind can never contemplate
with equanimity.

But so far as the theory of Darwinism is concerned it exerted a marked
and rapid influence on the popular religious theory of design in nature.
This is one of the oldest arguments in favour of a reasoned belief in
God, and it is the one which was, and is still in one form or another,
held in the greatest popular esteem. To the popular mind--and religion
in a civilized country is not seriously concerned about its failing grip
on the cultured intelligence so long as it keeps control of the ordinary
man and woman--to the popular mind the argument from design appealed
with peculiar force. Anyone is capable of admiring the wonders of
nature, and in the earlier developments of popular science the marvels
of plant and animal structures served only to deepen the Theist's
admiration of the "divine wisdom." The examples of complexity of
structure, of the interdependence of parts, and of the thousand and one
cunning devices by which animal life maintains itself in the face of a
hostile environment were there for all to see and admire. And when man
compared these with his own conscious attempts to adapt means to ends,
there seemed as strong proof here as anywhere of some scheming
intelligence behind the natural process.

But the strength of the case was more apparent than real. It was weakest
at the very point where it should have been strongest. In the case of a
human product we know the purpose and can measure the extent of its
realization in the nature of the result. In the case of a natural
product we have no means of knowing what the purpose was, or even if any
purpose at all lies behind the product. The important element in the
argument from design--that of purpose--is thus pure assumption. In the
case of human productions we argue from purpose to production. In the
case of a natural object we are arguing from production to an assumed
purpose. The analogy breaks down just where it should be strongest and

Now it is undeniable that to a very large number of the more thoughtful
the old form of the argument from design received its death blow from
the Darwinian doctrine of natural selection. In the light of this theory
there was no greater need to argue that intelligence was necessary to
produce animal adaptations than there was to assume intelligence for the
sifting of sand by the wind. As the lighter grains are carried farthest
because they are lightest, so natural selection, operating upon organic
variations, favoured the better adapted specimens by killing off the
less favoured ones. The fittest is not created, it survives. The world
is not what it is because the animal is what it is, the animal is what
it is because the world is as it is. It cannot be any different and
live--a truth demonstrated by the destruction of myriads of animal
forms, and by the disappearance of whole species. The case was so plain,
the evidence so conclusive, that the clearer headed religionists dropped
the old form of the argument from design as no longer tenable.

But the gentleman who exchanged the errors of the Church of Rome for
those of the Church of England is always with us. And the believer in
deity having dropped the argument from design in one form immediately
proceeded to revive it in another. This was, perhaps, inevitable. After
all, man lives in this world, and if proof of the existence of deity is
to be gathered from his works, it must be derived from the world we
know. So design _must_ be found somewhere, and it must be found here.
Only one chance was left. The general hypothesis of evolution--either
Darwinism alone, or Darwinism plus other factors--explained the
development of animal life. But that was _within_ the natural process.
What, then, of the process as a whole? If the hand of God could not be
seen in the particular adaptations of animal life, might it not be that
the whole of the process, in virtue of which these particular
adaptations occurred, might be the expression of the divine
intelligence? God did not create the particular parts directly, but may
he not have created the whole, leaving it for the forces he had set in
motion to work out his "plan." The suggestion was attractive. It
relieved religion from resting its case in a region where proof and
disproof are possible, and removed it to a region where they are
difficult, if not impossible. So, as it was not possible to uphold the
old teleology, one began to hear a great deal of the "wider teleology,"
which meant that the Theist was thinking vaguely when he imagined he was
thinking comprehensively, and that, because he had reached a region
where the laws of logic could not be applied, he concluded that he had
achieved demonstration. And, indeed, when one gets outside the region of
verification there is nothing to stop one theorizing--save a dose of
common-sense and a gracious gift of humour.

In another work (_Theism or Atheism_) I have dealt at length with the
argument from design. At present my aim is to take the presentation of
this "wider teleology" as given by a well-known writer on philosophical
subjects, Mr. F. C. S. Schiller, in a volume published a few years ago
entitled _Humanism: Philosophical Essays_. And in doing so, it is
certain that the theologian will lose nothing by leaving himself in the
hands of so able a representative.

Mr. Schiller naturally accepts Darwinism as at least an important factor
in organic evolution, but he does not believe that it excludes design,
and he does believe that "our attitude towards life will be very
different, according as we believe it to be inspired and guided by
intelligence or hold it to be the fortuitous product of blind
mechanisms, whose working our helpless human intelligence can observe,
but cannot control."

Now within its scope Darwinism certainly does exclude design, and even
though the forces represented by natural selection may be directed
towards the end produced, yet so far as the play of these forces is
concerned they are really self-directing, or self-contained. The
argument really seems to be just mere theology masquerading as
philosophy. Theories do play some part in the determination of the
individual attitude towards life, but they do not play the important
part that Mr. Schiller assumes they play. It is easily observable that
the same theory of life held by a Christian in England and by another
Christian in Asia Minor has, so far as it affects conduct, different
results. And if it be said that even though the results be different
they are still there, the reply is that they differ because the facts of
life compel an adjustment in terms of the general environment. Mr.
Schiller admits that the "prevalent conduct and that adapted to the
conditions of life must coincide," and the admission is fatal to his
position. The truth of the matter is that the conditions of life being
what they are, and the consequences of conduct being also what they are,
speculative theories of life cannot, in the nature of the case, affect
life beyond a certain point; that is, if life is to continue. That is
why in the history of belief religious teachings have sooner or later to
accommodate themselves to persistent facts.

Mr. Schiller brings forward two arguments in favour of reconciling
Darwinism and Design, both of them ingenious, but neither of them
conclusive. With both of these I will deal later; but it is first
necessary to notice one or two of his arguments against a non-Theistic
Darwinism. The denial of the argument from design, he says, leads
farther than most people imagine:--

     A complete denial of design in nature must deny the efficacy of all
     intelligence as such. A consistently mechanical view has to regard
     all intelligence as otiose, as an "epi-phenomenal by-product" or
     fifth wheel to the cart, in the absence of which the given results
     would no less have occurred. And so, if this view were the truth,
     we should have to renounce all effort to direct our fated and
     ill-fated course down the stream of time. Our consciousness would
     be an unmeaning accident.

A complete reply to this would involve an examination of the meaning
that is and ought to be attached to "intelligence," and that is too
lengthy an enquiry to be attempted here. It is, perhaps, enough to
point out that Mr. Schiller's argument clearly moves on the assumption
that intelligence is a _thing_ or a quality which exists, so to speak,
in its own right and which interferes with the course of events as
something from without. It is quite probable that he would repudiate
this construction being placed on his words, but if he does not mean
that, then I fail to see what he does mean, or what force there is in
his argument. And it is enough for my purpose to point out that
"intelligence" or mind is not a thing, but a relation. It asserts of a
certain class of actions exactly what "gravitation" asserts of a certain
class of motion, and "thingness" is no more asserted in the one case
than it is in the other.

Intelligence, as a name given to a special class of facts or actions,
remains, whatever view we take of its nature, and it is puzzling to see
why the denial of extra natural intelligence--that is, intelligence
separated from all the conditions under which we know the phenomenon of
intelligence--should be taken as involving the denial of the existence
of intelligence as we know it. Intelligence as connoting purposive
action remains as much a fact as gravity or chemical attraction, and
continues valid concerning the phenomena it is intended to cover. All
that the evolutionist is committed to is the statement that it is as
much a product of evolution as is the shape or colouring of animals. It
is not at all a question of self-dependence. Every force in nature must
be taken for what it is worth, intelligence among them. Why, then, does
the view that intelligence is both a product of evolution and a cause of
another phase of evolution land us in self-contradiction, or make the
existence of itself meaningless? The truth is that intelligence
determines results exactly as every other force in nature determines
results, by acting as a link in an unending sequential chain. And the
question as to what intelligence is _per se_ is as meaningless as what
gravitation is _per se_. These are names which we give to groups of
phenomena displaying particular and differential characteristics, and
their purpose is served when they enable us to cognize and recognize
these phenomena and to give them their place and describe their function
in the series of changes that make up our world.

Mr. Schiller's reply to this line of criticism is the familiar one that
it reduces human beings to automata. He says:--

     The ease with which the Darwinian argument dispenses with
     intelligence as a factor in survival excites suspicion. It is
     proving too much to show that adaptation might equally well have
     arisen in automata. For we ourselves are strongly persuaded that we
     are not automata and strive hard to adapt ourselves. In us at
     least, therefore, intelligence _is_ a source of adaptation....
     Intelligence therefore is a _vera causa_ as a source of adaptations
     at least co-ordinate with Natural Selection, and this can be denied
     only if it is declared inefficacious _everywhere_; if all living
     beings, including ourselves, are declared to be automata.

One is compelled again to point out that Darwinism does not dispense
with intelligence as a factor in survival, except so far as the
intelligence which determines survival is declared to be operating apart
from the organisms which survive. The conduct of one of the lower
animals which reacts only to the immediate promptings of its environment
is of one order, but the response of another animal not merely to the
immediate promptings of the environment, but to remote conditions, as
in the selection of food or the building of a home of some sort, or to
the fashioning of a tool, does obviously give to the intelligence
displayed a distinct survival value. And that effectively replies to the
triumphant conclusion, "If intelligence has no efficacy in promoting
adaptations, _i.e._, if it has no survival value, how comes it to be
developed at all?"

Darwinism would never have been able to dispense with intelligence in
the way it did but for the fact that the opposite theory never stood for
more than a mere collection of words. That species are or were produced
by the operations of "Divine Intelligence" is merely a grandiloquent way
of saying nothing at all. It is absurd to pretend that such a formula
ever had any scientific value. It explains nothing. And it is quite
obvious that some adaptations do, so far as we know, arise without
intelligence, and are, therefore, to use Mr. Schiller's expression,
automata. (I do not like the word, since it conveys too much the notion
of someone behind the scenes pulling strings.) And it is on his theory
that animals actually are automata. For if there be a "Divine mind"
which stands as the active cause of the adaptations that meet us in the
animal world, and who arranges forces so that they shall work to their
pre-destined end, what is that but converting the whole of the animal
world into so many automata. One does not escape determinism in this
way; it is only getting rid of it in one direction in order to
reintroduce it in another.

And one would like to know what our conviction that we are not automata
has to do with it. Whether the most rigid determinism is true or not is
a matter to be settled by an examination of the facts and a careful
reflection as to their real significance. No one questions that there is
a persuasion to the contrary; if there were not there would be nothing
around which controversy could gather. But it is the conviction that is
challenged, and it is idle to reply to the challenge by asserting a
conviction to the contrary. The whole history of human thought is the
record of a challenge and a reversal of such convictions. There never
was a conviction which was held more strenuously than that the earth was
flat. The experience of all men in every hour of their lives seemed to
prove it. And yet to-day no one believes it. The affirmation that we are
"free" rests, as Spinoza said, ultimately on the fact that all men know
their actions and but few know the causes thereof. A feather endowed
with consciousness, falling to the ground in a zigzag manner, might be
equally convinced that it determined the exact spot on which it would
rest, yet its persuasion would be of no more value than the "vulgar"
conviction that we independently adapt ourselves to our environment.

Mr. Schiller's positive arguments in favour of reconciling Darwinism
with design--one of them is really negative;--are concerned with (1) the
question of variation, and (2) with the existence of progress. On the
first question it is pointed out that while Natural Selection operates
by way of favouring certain variations, the origin or cause of these
variations remains unknown. And although Mr. Schiller does not say so in
as many words, there is the implication, if I rightly discern his drift,
that there is room here for a directing intelligence, inasmuch as
science is at present quite unable to fully explain the causes of
variations. We are told that Darwin assumed for the purpose of his
theory that variations were indefinite both as to character and extent,
and it is upon these variations that Natural Selection depends. This
indefinite variation Mr. Schiller asserts to be a methodological device,
that is, it is something assumed as the groundwork of a theory, but
without any subsequent verification, and it is in virtue of this
assumption that intelligence is ruled out of evolution. And inasmuch as
Mr. Schiller sees no reason for believing that variations are of this
indefinite character, he asserts that there is in evolution room for a
teleological factor, in other words, "a purposive direction of

Now it hardly needs pointing out to students of Darwinism that
indefinite variation is the equivalent of "a variation to which no exact
limits can be placed," and in this sense the assumption is a perfectly
sound one. From one point of view the variations must be definite, that
is, they can only occur within certain limits. An elephant will not vary
in the direction of wings, nor will a bird in the direction of a rose
bush. But so long as we cannot fix the exact limits of variation we are
quite warranted in speaking of them as indefinite. That this is a
methodological device no one denies, but so are most of the other
distinctions that we frame. Scientific generalizations consist of
abstractions, and Mr. Schiller himself of necessity employs the same

Mr. Schiller argues, quite properly, that while Natural Selection states
the conditions under which animal life evolves, it does not state any
reason why it should evolve. Selection may keep a species stationary or
it may even cause it to degenerate. Both are fairly common phenomena in
the animal and plant world. Moreover, if there are an indefinite number
of variations, and if they tend in an indefinite number of directions,
then the variation in any one direction can never be more than an
infinitesimal portion of the whole, and that this one should persist
supplies a still further reason for belief in "a purposive direction of
variations." Mr. Schiller overlooks an important point here, but a very
simple one. It is true that any one variation is small in relation to
the whole of the possible or actual number of variations. But it is not
in relation to quantity but quality that survival takes place, and in
proportion to the keenness of the struggle the variation that gives its
possessor an advantage need only be of the smaller kind. In a struggle
of endurance between two athletes it is the one capable of holding out
for an extra minute who carries off the prize.

Further, as Mr. Schiller afterwards admits, the very smallness of the
number of successful variations makes against intelligence rather than
for it, and he practically surrenders his position in the statement,
"the teleological and anti-teleological interpretation of events will
ever decide their conflict by appealing to the facts; for in the facts
each finds what it wills and comes prepared to see." After this lame
conclusion it is difficult to see what value there is in Mr. Schiller's
own examination of the "facts." Not that it is strictly correct to say
that the facts bear each view out equally. They do not, and Mr. Schiller
only justifies his statement by converting the Darwinian position, which
is teleologically negative, into an affirmative. The Darwinian, he says,
denies intelligence as a cause of evolution. What the Darwinian does is
to deny the validity of the evidence which the teleologist brings to
prove his case. The Theist asserts mind as a cause of evolution. The
Darwinian simply points out that the facts may be explained in quite
another way and without the appeal to a quite unknown factor.

And here one might reasonably ask, why, if there is a directive mind at
work, are there variations at all? Why should the "directive
intelligence" not get earlier to work, and instead of waiting until a
large number of specimens have been produced and then looking them over
with a view to "directing" the preservation of the better specimens, why
should it not set to work at the beginning and see that only the
desirable ones make their appearance? Certainly that is what a mere
human intelligence would do if it could. But it is characteristic of the
"Divine Intelligence" of the Theist that it never seems to operate with
a tenth part of the intelligence of an ordinary human being.

Moreover, Mr. Schiller writes quite ignoring the fact that the
"directive intelligence" does not direct the preservation of the better
specimens. What it does, if it does anything at all, is to kill off the
less favoured ones. Natural Selection--the point is generally overlooked
by the Theistic sentimentality of most of our writers--does not preserve
anything. Its positive action is not to keep alive but to kill. It does
not take the better ones in hand and help them. It seizes on all it can
and kills them. It is the difference between a local council that tried
to raise the standard of health by a general improvement of the
conditions of life, and one that aimed at the same end by killing off
all children that failed to come up to a certain standard. The actual
preservation of a better type is, so far as Natural Selection is
concerned, quite accidental. So far as Natural Selection operates it
does so by elimination, not by preservation.

Mr. Schiller's other plea in favour of Design is concerned with the
conception of progress. He points out that while degeneration and
stagnation both occur in nature, yet--

     life has been on the whole progressive; but progress and
     retrogression have both been effected under the same law of Natural
     Selection. How, then, can the credit of that result be ascribed to
     Natural Selection? Natural Selection is equally ready to bring
     about degeneration or to leave things unchanged. How, then, can it
     be that which determines which of the three possible (and actual)
     cases shall be realized?... It cannot be Natural Selection that
     causes one species to remain stationary, another to degenerate, a
     third to develop into a higher form.... Some variable factor must
     be added to Natural Selection.

But why? Evolution, as we have pointed out in a previous chapter, makes
for adaptation in terms of animal preservation. If the adaptation of an
animal to its environment is secured by "degenerating" or "developing"
or by remaining stationary, it will do one of the three. That is the
normal consequence of Natural Selection, and it is surprising that Mr.
Schiller does not see this. He is actually accusing Natural Selection of
not being able to do what it does on his own showing. The proof he
himself gives of this operation of Natural Selection in the examples he
cites of its ineffectiveness. If Natural Selection could not make for
degeneration or development, in what way would it be able to establish
an equilibrium between an animal and its surroundings? Really, there is
nothing that so strengthens one's conviction of the truth of the
Freethought position so much as a study of the arguments that are
brought against it.

Mr. Schiller is really misled, and so misleads his readers by an
unjustifiable use of the word "progress." He says that evolution has
been, on the whole, progressive, and appeals to "progress" as though it
were some objective fact. But that is not the case. There is no
"progress" in the animal world, there is only change. We have dealt with
this in a previous chapter, and there is no need to again labour the
point. "Progress" is a conception which we ourselves frame, and we
measure a movement towards or away from this arbitrary standard of ours
in terms of better or worse, higher or lower. But nature knows nothing
of a higher or a lower, it knows only of changing forms more or less
fitted to live in the existing environment. Scientifically, life has
not progressed, it has persisted, and a _sine qua non_ of its
persistence has been adaptation to environment.

Progress, then, is not a "natural" fact, but a methodological one. It is
a useful word and a valuable ideal. I am not protesting against its use,
only against its misuse. It is one of the many abstractions created by
thinkers, and then worshipped as a reality by those who forget the
origin and purpose of its existence. And in this we can see one of the
fatal legacies we have inherited from Theistic methods of thinking. The
belief that things are designed to be as they are comes to us from those
primitive methods of thinking which personify and vitalize all natural
phenomena. We have outgrown the crude frame of mind which saw direct
volitional action in a storm or in the movements of natural forces. The
development of civilized and scientific thinking has removed these
conceptions from the minds of educated men and women, but it has left
behind it as a residuum the habit of looking for purpose where none
exists, and of reading into nature as objective facts our own
generalizations and abstractions. And so long as we have not outgrown
that habit we are retaining a fatal bar to exact scientific thinking.

Finally, and this consideration is fatal to any theory of design such as
Mr. Schiller champions, adaptation is not a special quality of one form
of existence, but a universal quality of all. There is not a greater
degree of adaptation here and a less degree there, but the same degree
in every case. There is no other meaning to adaptation except that of
adjustment to surroundings. But whether an animal lives or dies, whether
it is higher or lower, deformed or perfect, the adjustment is the same.
That is, every form of existence represents the product of forces that
have made it what it is, and the same forces could not have produced
anything different. Every body in existence, organic or inorganic,
constitutes in ultimate analysis a balance of the forces represented by
it. It is not possible, therefore, for the Theist to say that design is
evidenced by adaptation in one case and its absence in another. There is
adaptation in every case, even though it may not be the adaptation we
should like to see. It is not possible for the Theist to say that the
_degree_ of adaptation is greater in the one case than in the other, for
_that_ is the same in every case. What needs to be done if design is to
be established is to prove that the forces we see at work could not have
produced the results that emerge without the introduction of a factor
not already given in our experience. Anything else is mere waste of



In the preceding chapters we have, without saying it in so many words,
been emphasizing the modern as against the ancient point of view. The
distinction may not at first glance appear to be of great moment, and
yet reflection will prove it to be of vital significance. It expresses,
in a sentence, the essence of the distinction between the Freethinker
and the religionist. Objectively, the world in which we are living is
the same as that in which our ancestors lived. The same stars that
looked down upon them look down upon us. Natural forces affected them as
they affect us. Even the play of human passion and desire was the same
with them as with us. Hunger and thirst, love and hatred, cowardice and
courage, generosity and greed operate now as always. The world remains
the same in all its essential features; what alters is our conception of
it--in other words, the point of view.

The question thus resolves itself into one of interpretation.
Freethinker and religionist are each living in the same world, they are
each fed with the same foods and killed with the same poisons. The same
feelings move both and the same problems face both. Their differences
are constituted by the canon of interpretation applied. It is on this
issue that the conflict between religion and science arises. For
religion is not, as some have argued, something that is supplementary or
complementary to science, nor does it deal with matters on which
science is incompetent to express an opinion. Religion and science face
each other as rival interpretations of the same set of facts, precisely
as the Copernican and the Ptolemaic systems once faced each other as
rival interpretations of astronomical phenomena. If the one is true the
other is false. You may reject the religious or the scientific
explanation of phenomena, but you cannot logically accept both. As Dr.
Johnson said, "Two contradictory ideas may inhere in the same mind, but
they cannot both be correct."

Now while it is true that in order to understand the present we must
know the past, and that because the present is a product of the past, it
is also true that a condition of understanding is to interpret the past
by the present. In ordinary affairs this is not questioned. When
geologists set out to explain the causes of changes in the earth's
surface, they utilize the present-day knowledge of existing forces, and
by prolonging their action backward explain the features of the period
they are studying. When historians seek to explain the conduct of, say
Henry the Eighth, they take their knowledge of the motives animating
existing human nature, and by placing that in a sixteenth century
setting manage to present us with a picture of the period. So, again,
when the thirteenth century monkish historian gravely informs us that a
particular epidemic was due to the anger of God against the wickedness
of the people, we put that interpretation on one side and use our own
knowledge to find in defective social and sanitary conditions the cause
of what occurred. Illustrations to the same end may be found in every
direction. It is, indeed, not something that one may accept or reject as
one may take or leave a political theory, it is an indispensible
condition of rational thinking on any subject whatsoever.

Accepted everywhere else, it is in connection with religion that one
finds this principle, not openly challenged, for there are degrees of
absurdity to which even the most ardent religionist dare not go, but it
is quietly set on one side and a method adopted which is its practical
negation. Either the procedure is inverted and the present is
interpreted by the past, as when it is assumed that because God did
certain things in the past therefore he will continue to do the same
things in the present, or it is assumed that the past was unlike the
present, and, therefore, the same method of interpretation cannot be
applied to both cases. Both plans have the effect of landing us, if not
in lunacy, at least well on the way to it.

It is indispensible to the religionist to ignore the principle above
laid down. For if it is admitted that human nature is always and
everywhere the same, and that natural forces always and everywhere act
in the same manner, religious beliefs are brought to the test of their
conformity with present day knowledge of things and all claim to
objective validity must be abandoned. Yet the principle is quite clear.
The claim of the prophets of old to be inspired must be tested by what
we know of the conditions of "inspiration" to-day, and not by what
unenlightened people thought of its nature centuries ago. Whether the
story of the Virgin Birth is credible or not must be settled by an
appeal to what we know of the nature of animal procreation, and not by
whether our faith urges us to accept the statement as true. To act
otherwise is to raise an altogether false issue, the question of
evidence is argued when what is really at issue is that of credibility.
It is not at all a matter of whether there is evidence enough to
establish the reality of a particular recorded event, but whether our
actual knowledge of natural happenings is not enough for us to rule it
out as objectively untrue, and to describe the conditions which led to
its being accepted as true.

Let us take as an illustration of this the general question of miracles.
The _Oxford Dictionary_ defines a miracle as "A marvellous event
occurring within human experience which cannot have been brought about
by human power or by the operation of any natural agency, and must,
therefore, be ascribed to the special intervention of the deity or some
supernatural being." That is a good enough definition, and is certainly
what people have had in mind when they have professed a belief in
miracles. A miracle must be something marvellous, that is, it must be
unusual, and it must not be even conceivably explainable in terms of the
operation of natural forces. If it is admitted that what is claimed as a
miracle might be explained as the result of natural forces provided our
knowledge was extensive enough and exact enough, it is confessed that
miracle and ignorance are convertible terms. And while that may be true
enough as a matter of fact, it would never suit the religious case to
admit it in so many words.

Nor would it make the case any better to argue that the alleged miracle
has been brought about by some superior being with a much greater
knowledge of nature than man possesses, but which the latter may one day
acquire. That is placing a miracle on the same level as a performance
given by a clever conjuror, which puzzles the onlooker because he lacks
the technical knowledge requisite to understand the methods employed. A
miracle to be a miracle must not be in accordance with natural laws,
known or unknown, it must contravene them or suspend their operation.

On the other hand, the demand made by some critics of the miraculous,
namely, that the alleged miracle shall be performed under test
conditions, is absurd, and shows that they have not grasped the
essential point at issue. The believer's reply to such a demand is plain
and obvious. He says, a miracle is by its nature a rare event, it is
performed under special circumstances to serve a special purpose. Where,
then, is the reason in asking that this miracle shall be re-performed in
order to convince certain people that it has already occurred? To
arrange for the performance of a miracle is an absurdity. For it to
become common is to destroy both its character as a miracle and the
justification for its existence. A miracle must carry its own evidence
or it fails of its purpose and ceases to be a miracle at all. Discussion
on these lines ends, at best, in a stalemate.

It is just as wide of the mark to discuss miracles as though it were a
question of evidence. What possible evidence could there be, for
example, that Jesus fed five thousand people with a few loaves and
fishes, and had basketfuls left at the end of the repast? Suppose it
were possible to produce the sworn testimony of the five thousand
themselves that they had been so fed. Would that produce conviction?
Would it do any more than prove that they believed the food had been so
expanded or multiplied that it was enough for them all? It would be
convincing, perhaps, as proof of an act of belief. But would it prove
any more than that? Would it prove that these five thousand were not the
victims of some act of deception or of some delusion? A belief in a
miracle, whether the belief dates from two thousand years since or from
last week, proves only--belief. And the testimony of a Salvation Army
convert as to the truth of the resurrection of Jesus Christ is as good,
as evidence, as though we had the sworn testimony of the twelve
apostles, with that of the grave-diggers thrown in.

The truth is that the question of belief in the miraculous has nothing
whatever to do with evidence. Miracles are never established by
evidence, nor are they disproved by evidence, that is, so long as we use
the term evidence with any regard to its judicial significance. What
amount or what kind of evidence did the early Christians require to
prove the miracles of Christianity? Or what evidence did our ancestors
require to prove to them that old women flew through the air on
broomsticks, or bewitched cows, or raised storms? Testimony in volumes
was forthcoming, and there is not the slightest reason for doubting its
genuineness. But what amount or kind of evidence was required to
establish the belief? Was it evidence to which anyone to-day would pay
the slightest regard? The slightest study of the available records is
enough to show that the question of evidence had nothing whatever to do
with the production of the belief.

And, on the other hand, how many people have given up the belief in
miracles as a result of a careful study of the evidence against them? I
have never heard of any such case, although once a man disbelieves in
miracles he may be ready enough to produce reasons to justify his
disbelief in them. The man who begins to weigh evidence for and against
miracles has already begun to disbelieve them.

The attitude of children in relation to the belief in fairies may well
be taken to illustrate the attitude of the adult mind in face of the
miraculous. No evidence is produced to induce the belief in fairies, and
none is ever brought forward to induce them to give it up. At one stage
of life it is there, at another it is gone. It is not reasoned out or
evidenced out, it is simply outgrown. In infancy the child's conception
of life is so inchoate that there is room for all kinds of fantastic
beliefs. In more mature years certain beliefs are automatically ruled
out by the growth of a conception of things which leaves no room for
beliefs that during childhood seemed perfectly reasonable.

Now this is quite on all-fours with the question of miracles. The issue
is essentially one of psychology. Belief or disbelief is here mainly
determined by the psychological medium in which one lives and moves.
Given a psychological medium which is, scientifically, at its lowest,
and the belief in the miraculous flourishes. At the other extreme
miracles languish and decay. Tell a savage that the air is alive with
good and bad spirits and he will readily believe you. Tell it to a man
with a genuine scientific mind and he will laugh at you. Tell a peasant
in some parts of the country that someone is a witch and he will at once
believe it. Tell it to a city dweller and it will provide only occasion
for ridicule. People who accept miracles believe them before they
happen. The expressed belief merely registers the fact. Miracles never
happen to those who do not believe in them; as has been said, they never
occur to a critic. Those who reject miracles do so because their
acceptance would conflict with their whole conception of nature. That is
the sum and substance of the matter.

A further illustration may be offered in the case of the once much
debated question of the authenticity of the books of the New Testament
and the historicity of the figure of Jesus. It appears to have been
assumed that if it could be shown that the books of the New Testament
were not contemporary records the case against the divinity of Jesus was
strengthened. On the other hand it was assumed that if these writings
represented the narratives of contemporaries the case for the truth of
the narratives was practically proven. In reality this was not the vital
issue at all. It would be, of course, interesting if it could be shown
that there once existed an actual personage around whom these stories
gathered, but it would make as little difference to the real question at
issue as the demonstration of the Baconian authorship of _Hamlet_ would
make in the psychological value of the play.

Suppose then it were proven that a person named Jesus actually existed
at a certain date in Judea, and that this person is the Jesus of the New
Testament. Suppose it be further proven, or admitted, that the followers
whom this person gathered around him believed that he was born of a
virgin, performed a number of miracles, was crucified, and then rose
from the dead, and that the New Testament represents their written
memoirs. Suppose all this to be proven or granted, what has been
established? Simply this. That a number of people believed these things
of someone whom they had known. But no Freethinker need seriously
concern himself to disprove this. He may, indeed, take it as the data of
the problem which he sets out to solve. The scientific enquirer is not
really concerned with the New Testament as a narrative of fact any more
than he is concerned with Cotton Mather's _Invisible World Displayed_ as
a narrative of actual fact. What he is concerned with is the frame of
mind to which these stories seemed true, and the social medium which
gave such a frame of mind a vogue. It is not at all a question of
historical evidence, but of historical psychology. It is not a question
of the honesty of the witnesses, but of their ability, not whether they
wished to tell the truth, or intended to tell the truth, but whether
they were in a position to know what the truth was. We have not to
discuss whether these events occurred, such a proposition is an insult
to a civilized intelligence, the matter for discussion is the
conditions that bring such beliefs into existence and the conditions
that perpetuate them.

The development of social life and of education thus shifts the point of
view from the past to the present. To understand the past we do not ask
what was it that people believed concerning the events around them, but
what do we know of the causes which produce beliefs of a certain kind.
Thus, we do not really reject the story of Jesus turning water into wine
because we are without legal evidence that he ever did anything of the
kind, but because, knowing the chemical constituents of both water and
wine we know that such a thing is impossible. It is only possible to an
uninstructed mind to which water and wine differ only in taste or
appearance. We do not reject the story of the demoniacs in the New
Testament because we have no evidence that these men were possessed of
devils, or that Jesus cast them out, but because we have exactly the
same phenomena with us to-day and know that it comes within the province
of the physician and not of the miracle worker. It is not a matter of
evidence whether a man rose from the dead or not, or whether he was born
of a virgin or not, but solely a question of examining these and similar
stories in the light of present day knowledge. The "evidence" offered is
proof only of belief, and no one ever questioned the existence of that.
And if the proof of belief is required there is no need to go back a
couple of thousand years or to consult ancient records. The testimony of
a present day believer, and the account of a revival meeting such as one
may find in any religious newspaper will serve equally well. As is so
often the case, the evidence offered is not merely inadequate, it is
absolutely irrelevant.

Past events must be judged in the light of present knowledge. That is
the golden rule of guidance in judging the world's religious legends.
And that canon is fatal to their pretensions. On the one hand we see in
the life of contemporary savages and in that of semi-civilized peoples
all the conditions and the beliefs that meet us in the Bible and among
the early Christians. And with our wider and more exact knowledge we are
able to take exactly the same phenomena that impressed those of an
earlier generation and explain them without the slightest reference to
supernatural powers or beings. The modern mind is really not looking
round for evidence to disprove the truth of Christian legends. It knows
they are not true. There is no greater need to prove that the miracles
of Christianity never occurred, than there is to prove that an old woman
never raised a storm to wreck one of the kings of England. The issue has
been changed from one of history to one of psychology. It is the present
that of necessity sits in judgment on the past, and it is in the light
of the knowledge of the present that the religions of the past stand



The mystery-monger flourishes almost as well in ethics as he does in
theology. Indeed, in some respects he seems to have forsaken one field
of exercise only to find renewed scope in the other. He approaches the
consideration of moral questions with the same hushed voice and
"reverential" air that is so usual in theology, and talks of the mystery
of morality with the same facility that he once talked about the mystery
of godliness--and with about an equal amount of enlightenment to his
hearers or readers.

But the mystery of morality is nearly all of our own making. Essentially
there is no more mystery in morality than there is in any other question
that may engage the attention of mankind. There are, of course, problems
in the moral world as there are in the physical one, and he would be a
fool who pretended to the ability to satisfactorily solve them all. The
nature of morality, the causes that led to the development of moral
"laws," and still more to the development of a sense of morality, all
these are questions upon which there is ample room for research and
speculation. But the talk of a mystery is misleading and mystifying. It
is the chatter of the charlatan, or of the theologian, or of the partly
liberated mind that is still under the thraldom of theology. In ethics
we have exactly the same kind of problem that meets us in any of the
sciences. We have a fact, or a series of facts, and we seek some
explanation of them. We may fail in our search, but that is not
evidence of a "mystery," it is proof only of inadequate knowledge, of
limitations that we may hope the future will enable us to overcome.

For the sake of clarity it will be better to let the meaning of morality
emerge from the discussion rather than to commence with it. And one of
the first things to help to clear the mind of confusion is to get rid of
the notion that there is any such thing as moral "laws" which correspond
in their nature to law as the term is used in science. In one sense
morality is not part of physical nature at all. It is characteristic of
that part of nature which is covered by the human--at most by the higher
animal--world. Nature can only, therefore, be said to be moral in the
sense that the term "Nature" includes all that is. In any other sense
nature is non-moral. The sense of values, which is, as we shall see, of
the essence of the conception of morality, nature knows nothing of. To
speak of nature punishing us for _bad_ actions or rewarding us for
_good_ ones is absurd. Nature neither punishes nor rewards. She meets
actions with consequences, and is quite indifferent to any moral
consideration. If I am weakly, and go out on a cold, wet night to help
someone in distress, nature does not act differently than it would if I
had gone out to commit a murder. I stand exactly the same chances in
either case of contracting a deadly chill. It is not the moral value of
an action with which natural forces are concerned, but merely with the
action, and in that respect nature never discriminates between the good
man and the bad, between the sinner and the saint.

There is another sense in which moral laws differ from natural laws. We
can break the former but not the latter. The expression so often used,
"He broke a law of nature," is absurd. You cannot break a law of
nature. You do not break the law of gravitation when you prevent a stone
falling to the ground; the force required to hold it in the air is an
illustration of the law. It is, indeed, one of the proofs that our
generalization does represent a law of nature that it cannot be
"broken." For broken is here only another word for inoperative, and a
law of nature that is inoperative is non-existent. But in the moral
sphere we are in a different world. We not only can break moral laws, we
do break them; that is one of the problems with which our teachers and
moralisers have constantly to deal. Every time we steal we break the law
"Thou shalt not steal." Every time we murder we break the law "Thou
shalt not kill." We may keep moral laws, we ought to keep them, but we
can, quite clearly, break them. Between a moral law and a law of nature
there is plainly a very radical distinction. The discovery of that
distinction will, I think, bring us to the heart of the subject.

Considering man as merely a natural object, or as a mere animal, there
is only one quality that nature demands of him. This is efficiency.
Nature's sole law is here "Be Strong." How that strength and efficiency
is secured and maintained is of no consequence whatever. The heat he
requires, the food he needs may be stolen from others, but it will
serve. The food will not nourish the less, the fire will not warm the
less. So long as efficiency is acquired it is a matter of absolute
indifference how it is secured. Considered as a mere animal object it is
difficult to see that morality has any meaning at all for man. It is
when we come to regard him in his relation to others that we begin to
see the meaning and significance of morality emerge.

Now one of the first things that strike us in connection with moral laws
or rules is that they are all statements of relation. Such moral
commands as "Thou shalt not steal," "Thou shalt not kill," the commands
to be truthful, kind, dutiful, etc., all imply a relation to others.
Apart from this relation moral rules have simply no meaning whatever. By
himself a man could neither steal, nor lie, nor do any of the things
that we habitually characterize as immoral. A man living by himself on
some island would be absolved from all moral law; it would have no
meaning whatever for him. He would be neither moral nor immoral, he
would simply be without the conditions that make morality possible. But
once bring him into relations with his kind and his behaviour begins to
have a new and peculiar significance, not alone to these others, but
also to himself. What he does affects them, and also affects himself so
far as they determine the character of his relations to these others. He
must, for example, either work with them or apart from them. He must
either be on his guard against their securing their own efficiency at
his expense, or rest content that a mutual forbearance and trust will
govern their association. To ignore them is an impossibility. He must
reckon with these others in a thousand and one different ways, and this
reckoning will have its effect on the moulding of his nature and upon

Morality, then, whatever else it may be, is primarily the expression of
a relation. And the laws of morality are, consequently, a summary or
description of those relations. From this point of view they stand upon
exactly the same level as any of the arts or sciences. Moral actions are
the subject matter of observation, and the determination of their
essential quality or character is by the same methods as we determine
the essential quality of the "facts" in chemistry or biology. The task
before the scientific enquirer is, therefore, to determine the
conditions which give to moral rules or "laws" their meaning and

One of the conditions of a moral action has already been pointed out.
This is that all moral rules imply a relation to beings of a similar
nature. A second feature is that conduct represents a form of
efficiency, it is a special feature of the universal biological fact of
adaptation. And the question of why man has a "moral sense" is really on
all fours with, and presents no greater mystery than is involved in, the
question of why man has digestive organs, and prefers some kinds of food
to others. Substantially, the question of why man should prefer a diet
of meat and potatoes to one of prussic acid is exactly the question of
why society should discourage certain actions and encourage others, or
why man's moral taste should prefer some forms of conduct to other
forms. The answer to both questions, while differing in form, is the
same in substance.

Man as we know him is always found as a member of a group, and his
capacities, his feelings, and tastes must always be considered in
relation to that fact. But considering man merely as an animal, and his
conduct as merely a form of adaptation to environment, the plain
consideration which emerges is that even as an individual organism he is
compelled, in order to live, to avoid certain actions and to perform
others, to develop certain tastes and to form certain distastes. To take
our previous illustration it would be impossible for man to develop a
liking for life-destroying foods. It is one of the conditions of living
that he shall eat only that food which sustains life, or that he shall
abstain from eating substances which destroy it. But conduct at that
stage is not of the kind which considers the reasons for acting; indeed,
life cannot be based upon considered action, however much reason may
justify the actions taken. Further, as all conscious action is prompted
by the impulse to do what is pleasant and to avoid what is unpleasant,
it follows, as Spencer pointed out, that the course of evolution sets up
a close relation between actions that are pleasurable in the performance
and actions that are life preserving. It is one of the conditions of the
maintenance of life that the pleasurable and the beneficial shall in the
long run coincide.

When we take man as a member of a group we have the same principle in
operation, even though the form of its expression undergoes alteration.
To begin with, the mere fact of living in a group implies the growth of
a certain restraint in one's relations to, and of reciprocity in dealing
with, others. Men can no more live together without some amount of trust
and confidence in each other, or without a crude sense of justice in
their dealings with each other, than an individual man can maintain his
life by eating deadly poisons. There must be a respect for the rights of
others, of justice in dealing with others, and of confidence in
associating with others, at least to the extent of not threatening the
possibility of group life. There are rules in the game of social life
that must be observed, and in its own defence society is bound to
suppress those of its members who exhibit strong anti-social tendencies.
No society can, for example, tolerate homicide as an admitted practice.
There is, thus, from the earliest times, a certain form of elimination
of the anti-social character which results in the gradual formation of
an emotional and mental disposition that habitually and instinctively
falls into line with the requirements of the social whole.

To use an expression of Sir Leslie Stephen's, man as a member of the
group becomes a cell in the social tissue, and his fitness to survive is
dependent upon, positively, his readiness to perform such actions as the
welfare of the group require, and, negatively, upon his refraining from
doing those things that are inimical to social welfare.[23] Moreover,
there is the additional fact that the group itself is, as a whole,
brought into contact with other groups, and the survival of one group as
against another is determined by the quality and the degree of cohesion
of its units. From this point of view, participation in the life of the
group means more than refraining from acts that are injurious to the
group, it involves some degree of positive contribution to social

[23] The question of what are the things that are essential to the
welfare of the group, and the fact that individuals are often suppressed
for doing what they believe is beneficial to the group, with the kindred
fact that there may exist grave differences of opinion on the matter,
does not alter the essential point, which is that there must exist
sufficient conformity between conduct and group welfare to secure

But the main thing to note is that from the very dawn of animal life the
organism is more or less under the pressure of a certain discipline that
tends to establish an identity between actions which there is a tendency
to perform and those that are beneficial to the organism. In the social
state we simply have this principle expressed in another way, and it
gives a degree of conscious adaptation that is absent from the
pre-social or even the lower forms of the social state. It is in the
truly social state also that we get the full influence of what may be
called the characteristically human environment, that is, the operation
of ideas and ideals. The importance of this psychological factor in the
life of man has been stressed in an earlier chapter. It is enough now to
point out that from the earliest moment the young human being is, by a
process of training, imbued with certain ideals of truthfulness,
loyalty, duty, etc., all of which play their part in the moulding of his
character. However much these ideals may vary in different societies,
the fact of the part played by them in moulding character is plain. They
are the dominant forces in moulding the individual to the social state,
even while the expressions of the social life may be in turn checked by
the fact that social conduct cannot persist if it threatens those
conditions upon which the persistence of life ultimately depends.

There is one other consideration that must be noted. One very pregnant
fact in life is that nature seldom creates a new organ. What it usually
does is to refashion an old one, or to devote an old one to new uses.
This principle may be seen clearly in operation in connection with moral
evolution. On the one hand the various forces that play upon human
nature drive the moral feelings deeper into it. On the other hand it
develops them by their steady expansion over a wider area. Whether it is
an actual fact or not--I do not stress it because the point is the
subject of discussion--it is at least possible that the earliest human
group is the family. And so long as that was the case such feelings of
right and wrong as then existed will have been confined to the family.
But when a group of families combine and form the tribe, all those
feelings of confidence, justice, etc., which were formerly
characteristic of the smaller group are expanded to cover the larger
one. With the expansion of the tribe to the nation we have a further
development of the same phenomenon. There is no new creation, there is
nothing more than expansion and development.

The process does not and cannot, obviously, stop here. From the tribe to
the nation, from the nation to the collection of nations which we call
an empire, and from the empire to the whole of humanity. That seems the
inevitable direction of the process, and there does not require profound
insight to see it already on the way. Development of national life
involves a growing interdependence of the world of humankind. Of hardly
any nation can it be said to-day that it is self-supporting or
self-contained or independent. There is nothing national or sectarian in
science, and it is to science that we have to look for our principal
help. All over the world we utilize each other's discoveries and profit
by each other's knowledge. Even economic interdependence carries with it
the same lesson. The human environment gets gradually broader and wider,
and the feelings that have hitherto been expanded over the narrower area
have now to be expanded over the wider one. It is the gradual
development of a human nature that is becoming adapted to a conception
of mankind as an organic unit. Naturally, in the process of adaptation
there is conflict between the narrower ideals, conserved in our
educational influences, and the wider ones. There are still large
numbers of those who, unable to picture the true nature of the
evolutionary process owing to their own defective education, yet think
of the world in terms of a few centuries ago, and still wave the flag of
a political nationalism as though that were the end of social growth,
instead of its being an early and transient expression of it. But this
conflict is inevitable, and the persistence of that type can no more
ensure its permanent domination than the persistence of the medicine man
in the person of the existing clergyman can give permanence to the
religious idea.

There is, then, no mystery about the fact of morality. It is no more of
a mystery than is the compilation of the multiplication table, and it
has no greater need of a supernatural sanction than has the law of
gravitation. Morality is a natural fact, and its enforcement and growth
are brought about by natural means. In its lower form, morality is no
more than an expression of those conditions under which social life is
possible, and in its higher one, an expression of those ideal conditions
under which corporate life is desirable. In studying morality we are
really studying the physiology of associated life, and that study aims
at the determination of the conditions under which the best form of
living is possible. It is thus that here, as elsewhere, man is thrown
back upon himself for enlightenment and help. And if the process is a
slow one we may at least console ourselves with the reflection that the
labours of each generation are making the weapons which we bring to the
fight keener and better able to do their work.




In the preceding chapter I have been concerned with providing the most
meagre of skeleton outlines of the way in which our moral laws and our
moral sense have come into existence. To make this as clear as possible
the chapter was restricted to exposition. Controversial points were
avoided. And as a matter of fact there are many religionists who might
concede the truth of what has been said concerning the way in which
morality has arisen, and the nature of the forces that have assisted in
its development. But they would proceed to argue, as men like Mr.
Balfour and Mr. Benjamin Kidd, with others of the like, have argued,
that a natural morality lacks all coercive power. The Freethought
explanation of morality, they say, is plausible enough, and may be
correct, but in conduct we have to deal not merely with the correctness
of things but with sanctions and motives that exercise a compulsive
influence on men and women. The religionist, it is argued, has such a
compulsive force in the belief in God and in the effect on our future
life of our obedience or disobedience to his commands. But what kind of
coercion can a purely naturalistic system of morals exert? If a man is
content to obey the naturalistic command to practise certain virtues and
to abstain from certain vices, well and good. But suppose he chooses to
disregard it. What then? Above all, on what compulsion is a man to
disregard his own inclinations to act as seems desirable to himself,
and not in conformity with the general welfare? We disregard the
religious appeal as pure sentimentalism, or worse, and we at once
institute an ethical sentimentalism which is, in practice, foredoomed to

Or to put the same point in another way. Each individual, we say, should
so act as to promote the general welfare. Freethinker and religionist
are in agreement here. And so long as one's inclinations jump with the
advice no difficulty presents itself. But suppose a man's inclinations
do not run in the desired direction? You tell him that he must act so as
to promote the general well-being, and he replies that he is not
concerned with the promotion of the public welfare. You say that he
_ought_ to act differently, and he replies, "My happiness must consist
in what I regard as such, not in other people's conception of what it
should be." You proceed to point out that by persisting in his present
line of conduct he is laying up trouble for the future, and he retorts,
"I am willing to take the risk." What is to be done with him? Can
naturalism show that in acting in that way a man is behaving
unreasonably, that is, in the sense that he can be shown to be really
acting against his own interests, and that if he knew better he would
act differently?

Now before attempting a reply to this it is worth while pointing out
that whatever strength there may be in this criticism when directed
against naturalism, it is equally strong when directed against
supernaturalism. We can see this at once if we merely vary the terms.
You tell a man to act in this or that way "in the name of God." He
replies, "I do not believe in God," and your injunction loses all force.
Or, if he believes in God, and you threaten him with the pains and
penalties of a future life, he may reply, "I am quite willing to risk a
probable punishment hereafter for a certain pleasure here." And it is
certain that many do take the risk, whether they express their
determination to do so in as many words or not.

What is a supernaturalist compelled to do in this case? His method of
procedure is bound to be something like the following. First of all he
will seek to create assent to a particular proposition such as "God
exists, and also that a belief in his existence creates an obligation to
act in this or that manner in accordance with what is believed to be his
will." That proposition once established, his next business will be to
bring the subject's inclinations into line with a prescribed course of
action. He is thus acting in precisely the same manner as is the
naturalist who starts from an altogether different set of premises. And
both are resting their teaching of morals upon an intellectual
proposition to which assent is either implied or expressed. And that
lies at the basis of all ethical teaching--not ethical practice, be it
observed, but teaching. The precise form in which this intellectual
proposition is cast matters little. It may be the existence of God, or
it may be a particular view of human nature or of human evolution, but
it is there, and in either case the authoritative character of moral
precepts exists for such as accept it, and for none other. Moral
practice is rooted in life, but moral theory is a different matter.

So far, then, it is clear that the complaint that Freethought ethics has
nothing about it of a compulsive or authoritative character is either a
begging of the question or it is absurd.

Naturalistic ethics really assert three things. The first is that the
continuance of life ensures the performance of a certain level of
conduct, conduct being merely one of the means by which human beings
react to the necessities of their environment. Second, it asserts that
a proper understanding of the conditions of existence will in the
normally constituted mind strengthen the development of a feeling of
obligation to act in such and such a manner; and that while all
non-reasonable conduct is not immoral, all immoral conduct is
fundamentally irrational. Third, there is the further assumption that at
bottom individual and general welfare are not contradictory, but two
aspects of the same thing.

Concerning the second point, Sir Leslie Stephen warns us (_Science of
Ethics_, p. 437) that every attempt so to state the ethical principle
that disobedience will be "unreasonable" is "doomed to failure in a
world which is not made up of working syllogisms." And for the other two
points Professor Sorley (_Ethics of Naturalism_, p. 42) tells us that
"It is difficult ... to offer any consideration fitted to convince the
individual that it is reasonable for him to seek the happiness of the
community rather than his own"; while Mr. Benjamin Kidd asserts that
"the interests of the individual and those of the social organism are
not either identical or capable of being reconciled, as has been
necessarily assumed in all those systems of ethics which have sought to
establish a naturalistic basis of conduct. The two are fundamentally and
inherently irreconcilable, and a large proportion of the existing
individuals at any time have ... no personal interest whatever in the
progress of the race, or in the social development we are undergoing."

It has already been said that however difficult it may be to establish
the precise relationship between reason and ethical commands, such a
connection must be assumed, whether we base our ethics on naturalistic
or supernaturalistic considerations. And it cannot be denied by anyone
to-day that a causal relation must exist between actions and their
consequences, whether those causal consequences be of the natural and
non-moral kind, or of the more definitely moral order such as exists in
the shape of social approval and disapproval. And if we once grant that,
then it seems quite allowable to assume that provided a man perceives
the reason underlying moral judgments, and also the justification for
the sense of approval and disapproval expressed, we have as much reason
for calling his conduct reasonable or unreasonable as we have for
applying the same terms to a man's behaviour in dressing in view of the
variations of the temperature.

Consequently, while I agree that _in the present state of knowledge_ it
is impossible in all cases to demonstrate that immoral conduct is
irrational in the sense that it would be unreasonable to refuse assent
to a mathematical proposition, there seems no justification for
regarding such a state of things as of necessity permanent. If a
scientific system of ethics consists in formulating rules for the
profitable guidance of life, not only does their formulation presuppose
a certain constancy in the laws of human nature and of the world in
general, but the assumption is also involved that one day it may be
possible to give to moral laws the same precision that now is attached
to physiological laws and to label departure from them as "unreasonable"
in a very real sense of the word.

The other objection that it is impossible to establish a "reasonable"
relation between individual and social well-being arises from a dual
confusion as to what is the proper sphere of ethics, and of the mutual
relation of the individual and society. To take an individual and ask,
"Why should he act so as to promote the general welfare?" is to imply
that ethical rules may have an application to man out of relation with
his fellows. That, we have already seen, is quite wrong, since moral
rules fail to be intelligible once we separate man from his fellows.
Discussing ethics while leaving out social life is like discussing the
functions of the lungs and leaving out of account the existence of an

If, then, instead of treating the individual and society as two distinct
things, either of which may profit at the expense of the other, we treat
them as two sides of the same thing, each an abstraction when treated
alone, the problem is simplified, and the solution becomes appreciably
easier. For the essential truth here is that just as there is no such
thing as a society in the absence of the individuals composing it, so
the individual, as we know him, disappears when we strip him of all that
he is in virtue of his being a part of the social structure. Every one
of the characteristic human qualities has been developed in response to
the requirements of the social medium. It is in virtue of this that
morality has anything of an imperative nature connected with it, for if
man is, to use Sir Leslie Stephen's phrase, a cell in the social tissue,
receiving injury as the body social is injured, and benefitting as it is
benefitted, then the refusal of a man to act so that he may promote the
general welfare can be shown to be unreasonable, and also unprofitable
to the individual himself. In other words, our efficiency as an
individual must be measured in terms of our fitness to form part of the
social structure, and consequently the antithesis between social and
personal well-being is only on the surface. Deeper knowledge and a more
exact understanding reveals them as two sides of the same fact.

It may be granted to Mr. Kidd that "a large proportion of the existing
individuals at any time" have no _conscious_ interest in "the progress
of the race or in the development we are undergoing," and that is only
what one would expect, but it would be absurd to therefore come to the
conclusion that no such identity of interest exists. Molière's
character, who all his life had been talking prose without knowing it,
is only a type of the majority of folk who all their lives are acting in
accordance with principles of which they are ignorant, and which they
may even repudiate when they are explained to them. From one point of
view the whole object of a scientific morality is to awaken a conscious
recognition of the principles underlying conduct, and by this means to
strengthen the disposition to right action. We make explicit in language
what has hitherto been implicit in action, and thus bring conscious
effort to the aid of non-conscious or semi-conscious behaviour.

In the light of the above consideration the long and wordy contest that
has been waged between "Altruists" and "Egoists" is seen to be very
largely a waste of time and a splutter of words. If it can be shown on
the one hand that all men are not animated by the desire to benefit
self, it is as easy to demonstrate that so long as human nature is human
nature, all conduct must be an expression of individual character, and
that even the morality of self-sacrifice is self-regarding viewed from
the personal feelings of the agent. And it being clear that the position
of Egoist and Altruist, while each expressing a truth, is neither
expressing the whole truth, and that each does in fact embody a definite
error, it seems probable that here, as in so many other cases, the truth
lies between the two extremes, and that a reconciliation may be effected
along these lines.

Taking animal life as a whole it is at least clear that what are called
the self-regarding feelings must come first in order of development.
Even with the lower races of human beings there is less concern shown
with the feelings and welfare of others than is the case with the
higher races of men. Or, again, with children we have these feelings
strongest in childhood and undergoing a gradual expansion as maturity is
reached. This is brought about, as was shown in the last chapter, not by
the destruction of existing feelings, but by their extension to an ever
widening area. There is a transformation, or an elaboration of existing
feelings under the pressure of social growth. One may say that ethical
development does not proceed by the destruction of the feeling of
self-interest, so much as by its extension to a wider field. Ethical
growth is thus on all fours with biological growth. In biology we are
all familiar with the truth that maintenance of life is dependent upon
the existence of harmonious relations between an organism and its
environment. Yet it is not always recognized that this principle is as
true of the moral self as it is of the physical structure, nor that in
human evolution the existence of others becomes of increasing importance
and significance. For not only do I have to adapt myself, mentally and
morally, to the society now existing, but also to societies that have
long since passed away and have left their contribution to the building
up of _my_ environment in the shape of institutions and beliefs and

We have in this one more illustration that while the environment of the
animal is overwhelmingly physical in character, that of man tends to
become overwhelmingly social or psychological. Desires are created that
can only be gratified by the presence and the labour of others. Feelings
arise that have direct reference to others, and in numerous ways a body
of "altruistic" feeling is created. So by social growth first, and
afterwards by reflection, man is taught that the only life that is
enjoyable to himself is one that is lived in the companionship and by
the co-operation of others. As Professor Ziegler well puts the

     Not only on the one hand does it concern the interests of the
     general welfare that every individual should take care of himself
     outwardly and inwardly; maintain his health; cultivate his
     faculties and powers; sustain his position, honour, and worth, and
     so his own welfare being secured, diffuse around him happiness and
     comfort; but also, on the other hand, it concerns the personal,
     well understood interests of the individual himself that he should
     promote the interests of others, contribute to their happiness,
     serve their interests, and even make sacrifices for them. Just as
     one forgoes a momentary pleasure in order to secure a lasting and
     greater enjoyment, so the individual willingly sacrifices his
     personal welfare and comfort for the sake of society in order to
     share in the welfare of this society; he buries his individual
     well-being in order that he may see it rise in richer and fuller
     abundance in the welfare and happiness of the whole community
     (_Social Ethics_, pp. 59-60).

These motives are not of necessity conscious ones. No one imagines that
before performing a social action each one sits down and goes through a
more or less elaborate calculation. All that has been written on this
head concerning a "Utilitarian calculus" is poor fun and quite beside
the mark. In this matter, as in so many others, it is the evolutionary
process which demands consideration, and generations of social struggle,
by weeding out individuals whose inclinations were of a pronounced
anti-social kind, and tribes in which the cohesion between its members
was weak, have resulted in bringing about more or less of an
identification between individual desires and the general welfare. It is
not a question of conscious evolution so much as of our becoming
conscious of an evolution that is taking place, and in discussing the
nature of morals one is bound to go beyond the expressed reasons for
conduct--more often wrong than right--and discover the deeper and truer
causes of instincts and actions. When this is done it will be found that
while it is absolutely impossible to destroy the connection between
conduct and self-regarding actions, there is proceeding a growing
identity between the gratification of desire and the well-being of the
whole. This will be, not because of some fantastical or ascetic teaching
of self-sacrifice, but because man being an expression of social life is
bound to find in activities that have a social reference the beginning
and end of his conduct.

The fears of a morality without God are, therefore, quite unfounded. If
what has been said be granted, it follows that all ethical rules are
primarily on the same level as a generalization in any of the sciences.
Just as the "laws" of astronomy or of biology reduce to order the
apparently chaotic phenomena of their respective departments, so ethical
laws seek to reduce to an intelligible order the conditions of
individual and social betterment. There can be no ultimate antithesis
between individual reason and the highest form of social conduct,
although there may exist an apparent conflict between the two, chiefly
owing to the fact that we are often unable to trace the remote effects
of conduct on self and society. Nor can there be an ultimate or
permanent conflict between the true interests of the individual and of
society at large. That such an opposition does exist in the minds of
many is true, but it is here worthy of note that the clearest and most
profound thinkers have always found in the field of social effort the
best sphere for the gratification of their desires. And here again we
may confidently hope that an increased and more accurate appreciation
of the causes that determine human welfare will do much to diminish
this antagonism. At any rate it is clear that human nature has been
moulded in accordance with the reactions of self and society in such a
way that even the self has become an expression of social life, and with
this dual aspect before us there is no reason why emphasis should be
laid on one factor rather than on the other.

To sum up. Eliminating the form of coercion that is represented by a
policeman, earthly or otherwise, we may safely say that a naturalistic
ethics has all the coercive force that can be possessed by any system.
And it has this advantage over the coercive force of the
supernaturalist, that while the latter tends to weaken with the advance
of intelligence, the former gains strength as men and women begin to
more clearly appreciate the true conditions of social life and
development. It is in this way that there is finally established a
connection between what is "reasonable" and what is right. In this case
it is the function of reason to discover the forces that have made for
the moralization--really the socialization--of man, and so strengthen
man's moral nature by demonstrating the fundamental identity between his
own welfare and that of the group to which he belongs. That the coercion
may in some cases be quite ineffective must be admitted. There will
always, one fancies, be cases where the personal character refuses to
adapt itself to the current social state. That is a form of
mal-adaptation which society will always have to face, exactly as it has
to face cases of atavism in other directions. But the socializing and
moralizing process continues. And however much this may be, in its
earlier stages, entangled with conceptions of the supernatural, it is
certain that growth will involve the disappearance of that factor here
as it has done elsewhere.



The association of religion with morality is a very ancient one. This is
not because the one is impossible without the other, we have already
shown that this is not the case. The reason is that unless religious
beliefs are associated with certain essential social activities their
continuance is almost impossible. Thus it happens in the course of
social evolution that just in proportion as man learns to rely upon the
purely social activities to that extent religion is driven to dwell more
upon them and to claim kinship with them.

While this is true of religions in general, it applies with peculiar
force to Christianity. And in the last two or three centuries we have
seen the emphasis gradually shifted from a set of doctrines, upon the
acceptance of which man's eternal salvation depends, to a number of
ethical and social teachings with which Christianity, as such, has no
vital concern. The present generation of Christian believers has had
what is called the moral aspect of Christianity so constantly impressed
upon them, and the essential and doctrinal aspect so slurred over, that
many of them have come to accept the moral teaching associated with
Christianity as its most important aspect. More than that, they have
come to regard the immense superiority of Christianity as one of those
statements the truth of which can be doubted by none but the most
obtuse. To have this alleged superiority of Christian ethical teaching
questioned appears to them proof of some lack of moral development on
the part of the questioner.

To this type of believer it will come with something of a shock to be
told quite plainly and without either circumlocution or apology that his
religion is of an intensely selfish and egoistic character, and that its
ethical influence is of a kind that is far from admirable. It will shock
him because he has for so long been told that his religion is the very
quintessence of unselfishness, he has for so long been telling it to
others, and he has been able for so many generations to make it
uncomfortable for all those who took an opposite view, that he has
camouflaged both the nature of his own motives and the tendency of his

From one point of view this is part of the general scheme in virtue of
which the Christian Church has given currency to the legend that the
doctrines taught by it represented a tremendous advance in the
development of the race. In sober truth it represented nothing of the
kind. That the elements of Christian religious teaching existed long
before Christianity as a religious system was known to the world is now
a commonplace with all students of comparative religions, and is
admitted by most Christian writers of repute. Even in form the Christian
doctrines represented but a small advance upon their pagan prototypes,
but it is only when one bears in mind the fact that the best minds of
antiquity were rapidly throwing off these superstitions and leading the
world to a more enlightened view of things, we realize that in the main
Christianity represented a step backward in the intellectual evolution
of the race. What we then see is Christianity reaffirming and
re-establishing most of the old superstitions in forms in which only the
more ignorant classes of antiquity accepted them. We have an assertion
of demonism in its crudest forms, an affirmation of the miraculous that
the educated in the Roman world had learned to laugh at, and which is
to-day found among the savage people of the earth, while every form of
scientific thought was looked upon as an act of impiety. The scientific
eclipse that overtook the old pagan civilization was one of the
inevitable consequences of the triumph of Christianity. From the point
of view of general culture the retrogressive nature of Christianity is
unmistakable. It has yet to be recognized that the same statement holds
good in relation even to religion. One day the world will appreciate the
fact that no greater disaster ever overtook the world than the triumph
of the Christian Church.

For the moment, however, we are only concerned with the relation of
Christianity to morality. And here my thesis is that Christianity is an
essentially selfish creed masking its egoistic impulses under a cover of
unselfishness and self-sacrifice. To that it will probably be said that
the charge breaks down on the fact that Christian teaching is full of
the exhortation that this world is of no moment, that we gain salvation
by learning to ignore its temptations and to forgo its pleasures, and
that it is, above all other faiths, the religion of personal sacrifice.
And that this teaching is there it would be stupid to deny. But this
does not disprove what has been said, indeed, analysis only serves to
make the truth still plainer. That many Christians have given up the
prizes of the world is too plain to be denied; that they have forsaken
all that many struggle to possess is also plain. But when this has been
admitted there still remains the truth that there is a vital distinction
in the consideration of whether a man gives up the world in order to
save his own soul, or whether he saves his soul as a consequence of
losing the world. In this matter it is the aim that is important, not
only to the outsider who may be passing judgment, but more importantly
to the agent himself. It is the effect of the motive on character with
its subsequent flowering in social life that must be considered.

The first count in the indictment here is that the Christian appeal is
essentially a selfish one. The aim is not the saving of others but of
one's self. If other people must be saved it is because their salvation
is believed to be essential to the saving of one's own soul. That this
involves, or may involve, a surrender of one's worldly possessions or
comfort, is of no moment. Men will forgo many pleasures and give up much
when they have what they believe to be a greater purpose in view. We see
this in directions quite unconnected with religion. Politics will show
us examples of men who have forsaken many of what are to others the
comforts of life in the hopes of gaining power and fame. Others will
deny themselves many pleasures in the prospect of achieving some end
which to them is of far greater value than the things they are
renouncing. And it is the same principle that operates in the case of
religious devotees. There is no reason to doubt but that when a young
woman forsakes the world and goes into a cloister she is surrendering
much that has considerable attractions for her. But what she gives is to
her of small importance to what she gains in return. And if one believed
in Christianity, in immortal damnation, with the intensity of the great
Christian types of character, it would be foolish not to surrender
things of so little value for others of so great and transcendent

To do Christians justice they have not usually made a secret of their
aim. Right through Christian literature there runs the teaching that it
is the desire of personal and immortal salvation that inspires them, and
they have affirmed over and over again that but for the prospect of
being paid back with tremendous interest in the next world they could
see no reason for being good in this one. That is emphatically the
teaching of the New Testament and of the greatest of Christian
characters. You are to give in secret that you may be rewarded openly,
to cast your bread upon the waters that it may be returned to you, and
Paul's counsel is that if there be no resurrection from the dead then we
may eat, drink, and be merry for death only is before us. Thus, what you
do is in the nature of a deliberate and conscious investment on which
you will receive a handsome dividend in the next world. And your
readiness to invest will be exactly proportionate to your conviction of
the soundness of the security. But there is in all this no perception of
the truly ethical basis of conduct, no indication of the inevitable
consequences of conduct on character. What is good is determined by what
it is believed will save one's own soul and increase the dividend in the
next world. What is bad is anything that will imperil the security. It
is essentially an appeal to what is grasping and selfish in human
nature, and while you may hide the true character of a thing by the
lavish use of attractive phrases, you cannot hinder it working out its
consequences in actual life. And the consequence of this has been that
while Christian teaching has been lavish in the use of attractive
phrases its actual result has been to create a type of character that
has been not so much immoral as _a_moral. And with that type the good
that has been done on the one side has been more than counterbalanced by
the evil done on the other.

What the typical Christian character had in mind in all that he did was
neither the removal of suffering nor of injustice, but the salvation of
his own soul. That justified everything so long as it was believed to
contribute to that end. The social consequences of what was done simply
did not count. And if, instead of taking mere phrases from the
principal Christian writers, we carefully examine their meaning we shall
see that they were strangely devoid of what is now understood by the
expression "moral incentive." The more impressive the outbreak of
Christian piety the clearer does this become. No one could have
illustrated the Christian ideal of self-sacrifice better than did the
saints and monks of the earlier Christian centuries. Such a character as
the famous St. Simon Stylites, living for years on his pillar, filthy
and verminous, and yet the admired of Christendom, with the lives of
numerous other saints, whose sole claim to be remembered is that they
lived the lives of worse than animals in the selfish endeavours to save
their shrunken souls, will well illustrate this point. If it entered the
diseased imagination of these men that the road to salvation lay through
attending to the sick and the needy, they were quite ready to labour in
that direction; but of any desire to remove the horrible social
conditions that prevailed, or to remedy the injustice of which their
clients were the victims, there is seldom a trace. And, on the other
hand, if they believed that their salvation involved getting away from
human society altogether and leading the life of a hermit, they were as
ready to do that. If it meant the forsaking of husband or wife or parent
or child, these were left without compunction, and their desertion was
counted as proof of righteousness. The lives of the saints are full of
illustrations of this. Professor William James well remarks, in his
_Varieties of Religious Experience_, that "In gentle characters, where
devoutness is intense and the intellect feeble, we have an imaginative
absorption in the love of God to the exclusion of all practical human
interests.... When the love of God takes possession of such a mind it
expels all human loves and human uses." Of the Blessed St. Mary
Alacoque, her biographer points out that as she became absorbed in the
love of Christ she became increasingly useless to the practical life of
the convent. Of St. Teresa, James remarks that although a woman of
strong intellect his impression of her was a feeling of pity that so
much vitality of soul should have found such poor employment. And of so
famous a character as St. Augustine a Christian writer, Mr. A. C.
Benson, remarks:--

     I was much interested in reading St. Augustine's _Confessions_
     lately to recognize how small a part, after his conversion, any
     aspirations for the welfare of humanity seem to play in his mind
     compared with the consciousness of his own personal relations with
     God. It was this which gave him his exuberant sense of joy and
     peace, and his impulse was rather the impulse of sharing a
     wonderful and beautiful secret with others than an immediate desire
     for their welfare, forced out of him, so to speak, by his own
     exultation rather than drawn out of him by compassion for the needs
     of others.

That is one of the most constant features which emerges from a careful
study of the character of Christian types. St. Francis commenced his
career by leaving his parents. John Fox did the same. In that Puritan
classic, _The Pilgrim's Progress_, one of the outstanding features is
the striking absence of emphasis on the value of the social and domestic
virtues, and the Rev. Principal Donaldson notes this as one of the
features of early Christian literature in general. Christian preaching
was for centuries full of contemptuous references to "filthy rags of
righteousness," "mere morality," etc. The aim of the saints was a purely
selfish and personal one. It was not even a refined or a metaphysical
selfishness. It was a simple teaching that the one thing essential was
to save one's own soul, and that the main reason for doing good in this
world was to reap a benefit from it in the world to come. If it can
properly be called morality, it was conduct placed out at the highest
rate of interest. Christianity may often have used a naturally lofty
character, it was next to impossible for it to create one.

If one examines the attack made by Christians upon Freethought morality,
it is surprising how often the truth of what has been said is implied.
For the complaint here is, in the main, not that naturalism fails to
give an adequate account of the nature and development of morality, but
that it will not satisfy mankind, and so fails to act as an adequate
motive to right conduct. When we enquire precisely what is meant by
this, we learn that if there is no belief in God, and if there is no
expectation of a future state in which rewards and punishments will be
dispensed, there remains no inducement to the average man or woman to do
right. It is the moral teaching of St. Paul over again. We are in the
region of morality as a deliberate investment, and we have the threat
that if the interest is not high enough or certain enough to satisfy the
dividend hunting appetite of the true believer, then the investment will
be withdrawn. Really this is a complaint, not that the morality which
ignores Christianity is too low but that it is too high. It is doubted
whether human nature, particularly Christian human nature, can rise to
such a level, and whether, unless you can guarantee a Christian a
suitable reward for not starving his family or for not robbing his
neighbour, he will continue to place any value on decency or honesty.

So to state the case makes the absurdity of the argument apparent, but
unless that is what is meant it is difficult to make it intelligible. To
reply that Christians do not require these inducements to behave with a
tolerable amount of decency is not a statement that I should dispute; on
the contrary, I would affirm it. It is the Christian defender who makes
himself and his fellow believers worse than the Freethinker believes
them to be. For it is part of the case of the Freethinker that the
morality of the Christian has really no connection with his religion,
and that the net influence of his creed is to confuse and distort his
moral sense instead of developing it. It is the argument of the
Christian that makes the Freethinker superior to the Christian; it is
the Freethinker who declines the compliment and who asserts that the
social forces are adequate to guarantee the continuance of morality in
the complete absence of religious belief.

How little the Christian religion appreciates the nature of morality is
seen by the favourite expression of Christian apologists that the
tendency of non-religion is to remove all moral "restraints." The use of
the word is illuminating. To the Christian morality is no more than a
system of restraints which aim at preventing a man gratifying his
appetite in certain directions. It forbids him certain enjoyments here,
and promises him as a reward for his abstention a greater benefit
hereafter. And on that assumption he argues, quite naturally, that if
there be no after life then there seems no reason why man should undergo
the "restraints" which moral rules impose. On this scheme man is a born
criminal and God an almighty policeman. That is the sum of orthodox
Christian morality. To assume that this conception of conduct can have a
really elevating effect on life is to misunderstand the nature of the
whole of the ethical and social problem.

What has been said may go some distance towards suggesting an answer to
the question so often asked as to the reason for the moral failure of
Christianity. For that it has been a moral failure no one can doubt.
Nay, it is an assertion made very generally by Christians themselves.
Right from New Testament times the complaint that the conduct of
believers has fallen far short of what it should have been is constantly
met with. And there is not a single direction in which Christians can
claim a moral superiority over other and non-Christian peoples. They are
neither kinder, more tolerant, more sober, more chaste, nor more
truthful than are non-Christian people. Nor is it quite without
significance that those nations that pride themselves most upon their
Christianity are what they are. Their state reflects the ethical spirit
I have been trying to describe. For when we wipe out the disguising
phrases which we use to deceive ourselves--and it is almost impossible
to continually deceive others unless we do manage to deceive
ourselves--when we put on one side the "rationalizing" phrases about
Imperial races, carrying civilization to the dark places of the earth,
bearing the white man's burden, peopling the waste places of the earth,
etc., we may well ask what for centuries have the Christian nations of
the world been but so many gangs of freebooters engaged in world-wide
piracy? All over the world they have gone, fighting, stealing, killing,
lying, annexing, in a steadily rising crescendo. To be possessed of
natural wealth, without the means of resisting aggression, has for four
centuries been to invite the depredations of some one or more of the
Christian powers. It is the Christian powers that have militarized the
world in the name of the Prince of Peace, and made piracy a national
occupation in the name of civilization. Everywhere they have done these
things under the shelter of their religion and with the sanction of
their creed. Christianity has offered no effective check to the
cupidity of man, its chief work has been to find an outlet for it in a
disguised form. To borrow a term from the psycho-analysts, the task of
Christianity has been to "rationalize" certain ugly impulses, and so
provide the opportunity for their continuous expression. The world of
to-day is beginning to recognize the intellectual weakness of
Christianity; what it has next to learn is that its moral bankruptcy is
no less assured.

One of the great obstacles in the way of this is the sentimentalism of
many who have given up all intellectual adherence to the Christian
creed. The power of the Christian Church has been so great, it has for
so long had control of the machinery of public education and
information, that many find it almost impossible to conclude that the
ethical spirit of Christianity is as alien to real progress as are its
cosmical teachings. The very hugeness of this century-old imposture
blinds many to its inherent defects. And yet the continuous and
world-wide moral failure of Christianity can only be accounted for on
the ground that it had a fatal moral defect from the start. I have
suggested above what is the nature of that defect. It has never regarded
morality as a natural social growth, but only as something imposed upon
man from without. It has had no other reason for its existence than the
fear of punishment and the hope of reward. Christian morality is the
morality of the stock exchange _plus_ the intellectual outlook of the
savage. And with that in control of national destinies our surprise
should be, not that things are as they are, but rather that with so
great a handicap the world has contrived to reach its present moderate
degree of development.



Intolerance is one of the most general of what we may call the mental
vices. It is so general that few people seem to look upon it as a fault,
and not a few are prepared to defend it as a virtue. When it assumes an
extreme form, and its consequences are unpleasantly obvious, it may meet
with condemnation, but usually its nature is disguised under a show of
earnestness and sincere conviction. And, indeed, no one need feel called
upon to dispute the sincerity and the earnestness of the bigot. As we
have already pointed out, that may easily be seen and admitted. All that
one need remark is that sincerity is no guarantee of accuracy, and
earnestness naturally goes with a conviction strongly held, whether the
conviction be grounded on fact or fancy. The essential question is not
whether a man holds an opinion strongly, but whether he has taken
sufficient trouble to say that he has a right to have that opinion. Has
he taken the trouble to acquaint himself with the facts upon which the
expressed opinion is professedly based? Has he made a due allowance for
possible error, and for the possibility of others seeing the matter from
another and a different point of view? If these questions were frankly
and truthfully answered, it would be found that what we have to face in
the world is not so much opinion as prejudice.

Some advance in human affairs is indicated when it is found necessary to
apologise for persecution, and a still greater one when men and women
feel ashamed of it. It is some of these apologies at which we have now
to glance, and also to determine, if possible, the probable causes of
the change in opinion that has occurred in relation to the subject of

A favourite argument with the modern religionist is that the element of
persecution, which it is admitted, has hitherto been found in
association with religion, is not due to religion as such, but results
from its connection with the secular power. Often, it is argued, the
State for its own purposes has seen fit to ally itself with the Church,
and when that has taken place the representatives of the favoured Church
have not been strong enough to withstand the temptation to use physical
force in the maintenance of their position. Hence the generalization
that a State Church is always a persecuting Church, with the corollary
that a Church, as such, has nothing to do with so secular a thing as

The generalization has all the attractiveness which appeals to those who
are not in the habit of looking beneath the surface, and in particular
to those whose minds are still in thraldom to religious beliefs. It is
quite true that State Churches have always persecuted, and it is equally
true that persecution on a general scale could not have been carried on
without the assistance of the State. On the other hand, it is just as
true that all Churches have persecuted within the limits of their
opportunity. There is no exception to this rule in any age or country.
On a wider survey it is also clear that all forms of religious belief
carry with them a tendency to persecution more or less marked. A close
examination of the facts will show that it is the tendency to toleration
that is developed by the secular power, and the opposite tendency
manifested by religion.

It is also argued that intolerance is not a special quality of religion;
it is rather a fault of human nature. There is more truth in this than
in the previous plea, but it slurs over the indictment rather than meets
it. At any rate, it is the same human nature that meets us in religion
that fronts us in other matters, and there is no mistaking the fact that
intolerance is far more pronounced in relation to religion than to any
other subject. In secular matters--politics, science, literature, or
art--opinions may differ, feelings run high, and a degree of intolerance
be exhibited, but the right to differ remains unquestioned. Moreover,
the settlement of opinion by discussion is recognized. In religion it is
the very right of difference that is challenged, it is the right of
discussion that is denied. And it is in connection with religion alone
that intolerance is raised to the level of a virtue. Refusal to discuss
the validity of a religious opinion will be taken as the sign of a
highly developed spiritual nature, and a tolerance of diverging opinions
as an indication of unbelief. If a political leader refused to stand
upon the same platform with political opponents, on non-political
questions, nearly everyone would say that such conduct was intolerable.
But how many religious people are there who would see anything wrong in
the Archbishop of Canterbury refusing to stand upon the same platform as
a well-known Atheist?

We are here approaching the very heart of the subject, and in what
follows I hope to make clear the truth of the following propositions:
(1) That the great culture ground of intolerance is religion; (2) That
the natural tendency of secular affairs is to breed tolerance; (3) That
the alliance of religion with the State has fostered persecution by the
State, the restraining influences coming from the secular half of the
partnership; (4) That the decline of persecution is due to causes that
are quite unconnected with religious beliefs.

The first three points can really be taken together. So far as can be
seen there is no disinclination among primitive peoples to discuss the
pros and cons of matters that are unconnected with religious beliefs. So
soon as we get people at a culture stage where the course of events is
seen to be decided by human action, there goes on a tolerance of
conflicting opinions that is in striking contrast with what occurs with
such matters as are believed to directly involve the action of deity.
One could not expect things to be otherwise. In the carrying on of
warfare, as with many other tribal activities, so many of the
circumstances are of a determinable character, and are clearly to be
settled by an appeal to judgment and experience, that very early in
social history they must have presented themselves as a legitimate field
for discussion, and to discussion, as Bagehot says, nothing is sacred.
And as a matter of fact we have a survival of this to-day. However
intolerant the character, so long as we are dealing with secular matters
it is admitted that differences of opinion must be tolerated, and are,
indeed, necessary if we are to arrive at the wisest conclusion. The most
autocratic of monarchs will call upon his advisers and take their
dissension from his own views as a matter of course. But when we get to
the field of religion, it is no longer a question of the legitimacy of
difference, but of its wrongness. For a religious man to admit a
discussion as to whether his religious belief is founded on fact or not
is to imply a doubt, and no thoroughly religious man ever encourages
that. What we have is prayers to be saved from doubt, and deliberate
efforts to keep away from such conditions and circumstances as may
suggest the possibility of wrong. The ideal religious character is the
one who never doubts.

It may also be noted, in passing, that in connection with religion there
is nothing to check intolerance at any stage. In relation to secular
matters an opinion is avowedly based upon verifiable facts and has no
value apart from those facts. The facts are common property, open to
all, and may be examined by all. In religion facts of a common and
verifiable kind are almost wanting. The facts of the religious life are
mainly of an esoteric character--visions, intuitions, etc. And while on
the secular side discussion is justified because of the agreement which
results from it, on the religious side the value of discussion is
discounted because it never does lead to agreement. The more people
discuss religion the more pronounced the disagreement. That is one
reason why the world over the only method by which people have been
brought to a state of agreement in religious doctrines is by excluding
all who disagreed. It is harmony in isolation.

Now if we turn to religion we can see that from the very beginning the
whole tendency here was to stifle difference of opinion, and so
establish intolerance as a religious duty. The Biblical story of Jonah
is a case that well illustrates the point. God was not angry with the
rest of the ship's inhabitants, it was Jonah only who had given offence.
But to punish Jonah a storm was sent and the whole crew was in danger of
shipwreck. In their own defence the sailors were driven to throw Jonah
overboard. Jonah's disobedience was not, therefore, his concern alone.
All with him were involved; God was ready to punish the whole for the
offence of one.

Now if for the ship we take a primitive tribe, and for Jonah a primitive
heretic, or one who for some reason or other has omitted a service to
the gods, we have an exact picture of what actually takes place. In
primitive societies rights are not so much individual as they are
social. Every member of the tribe is responsible to the members of other
tribes for any injury that may have been done. And as with the members
of another tribe, so with the relation of the tribe to the gods. If an
individual offends them the whole of the tribe may suffer. There is a
splendid impartiality about the whole arrangement, although it lacks all
that we moderns understand by Justice. But the point here is that it
makes the heretic not merely a mistaken person, but a dangerous
character. His heresy involves treason to the tribe, and in its own
defence it is felt that the heretic must be suppressed. How this feeling
lingers in relation to religion is well seen in the fact that there are
still with us large numbers of very pious people who are ready to see in
a bad harvest, a war, or an epidemic, a judgment of God on the whole of
the people for the sins of a few. It is this element that has always
given to religious persecutions the air of a solemn duty. To suppress
the heretic is something that is done in the interests of the whole of
the people. Persecution becomes both a religious and a social duty.

The pedigree of religious persecution is thus clear. It is inherent in
religious belief, and to whatever extent human nature is prone to
intolerance, the tendency has been fostered and raised to the status of
a virtue by religious teaching and practice. Religion has served to
confuse man's sense of right here as elsewhere.

We have thus two currents at work. On the one hand, there is the
influence of the secular side of life, which makes normally for a
greater tolerance of opinion, on the other side there is religion which
can only tolerate a difference of opinion to the extent that religious
doctrines assume a position of comparative unimportance. Instead of it
being the case that the Church has been encouraged to persecute by the
State, the truth is the other way about. I know all that may be said as
to the persecutions that have been set on foot by vested interests and
by governments, but putting on one side the consideration that this begs
the question of how far it has been the consequence of the early
influence of religion, there are obvious limits beyond which a secular
persecution cannot go. A government cannot destroy its subjects, or if
it does the government itself disappears. And the most thorough scheme
of exploitation must leave its victims enough on which to live. There
are numerous considerations which weigh with a secular government and
which have little weight with a Church.

It may safely be said, for example, that no government in the world, in
the absence of religious considerations would have committed the
suicidal act which drove the Moors and the Jews from Spain.[24] As a
matter of fact, the landed aristocracy of Spain resisted suggestions for
expulsions for nearly a century because of the financial ruin they saw
would follow. It was the driving power of religious belief that finally
brought about the expulsion. Religion alone could preach that it was
better for the monarch to reign over a wilderness than over a nation of
Jews and unbelievers. The same thing was repeated a century later in the
case of the expulsion of the Huguenots from France. Here again the crown
resisted the suggestions of the Church, and for the same reason. And it
is significant that when governments have desired to persecute in their
own interests they have nearly always found it advantageous to do so
under the guise of religion. So far, and in these instances, it may be
true that the State has used religion for its own purpose of
persecution, but this does not touch the important fact that, given the
sanction of religion, intolerance and persecution assume the status of
virtues. And to the credit of the State it must be pointed out that it
has over and over again had to exert a restraining influence in the
quarrels of sects. It will be questioned by few that if the regulative
influence of the State had not been exerted the quarrels of the sects
would have made a settled and orderly life next to impossible.

[24] For this, as well as for the general consequences of persecution on
racial welfare, see my pamphlet _Creed and Character_.

So far as Christianity is concerned it would puzzle the most zealous of
its defenders to indicate a single direction in which it did anything to
encourage the slightest modification of the spirit of intolerance.
Mohammedans can at least point to a time when, while their religion was
dominant, a considerable amount of religious freedom was allowed to
those living under its control. In the palmy days of the Mohammedan rule
in Spain both Jews and Christians were allowed to practise their
religion with only trifling inconveniences, certainly without being
exposed to the fiendish punishments that characterized Christianity all
over the world. Moreover, it must never be overlooked that in Europe all
laws against heresy are of Christian origin. In the old Roman Empire
liberty of worship was universal. So long as the State religion was
treated with a moderate amount of respect one might worship whatever god
one pleased, and the number was sufficient to provide for the most
varied tastes. When Christians were proceeded against it was under laws
that did not aim primarily to shackle liberty of worship or of opinion.
The procedure was in every case formal, the trial public, time was given
for the preparation of the defence, and many of the judges showed their
dislike to the prosecutions.[25] But with the Christians, instead of
persecution being spasmodic it was persistent. It was not taken up by
the authorities with reluctance, but with eagerness, and it was counted
as the most sacred of duties. Nor was it directed against a sectarian
movement that threatened the welfare of the State. The worst periods of
Christian persecution were those when the State had the least to fear
from internal dissension. The persecuted were not those who were guilty
of neglect of social duty. On the contrary they were serving the State
by the encouragement of literature, science, philosophy, and commerce.
One of the Pagan Emperors, the great Trajan, had advised the magistrates
not to search for Christians, and to treat anonymous accusations with
contempt. Christians carried the search for heresy into a man's own
household. It used the child to obtain evidence against its own parents,
the wife to secure evidence against the husband; it tortured to provide
dictated confessions, and placed boxes at church doors to receive
anonymous accusations. It established an index of forbidden books, an
institution absolutely unknown to the pagan world. The Roman trial was
open, the accused could hear the charge and cite witnesses for the
defence. The Christian trial was in secret; special forms were used and
no witnesses for the defence were permitted. Persecution was raised to a
fine art. Under Christian auspices it assumed the most damnable form
known in the history of the world. "There are no wild beasts so
ferocious as Christians" was the amazed comment of the Pagans on the
behaviour of Christians towards each other, and the subsequent history
of Christianity showed that the Pagans were but amateurs in the art of
punishing for a difference of opinion.

[25] I am taking the story of the persecutions of the early Christians
for granted, although the whole question is surrounded with the greatest
suspicion. As a matter of fact the accounts are grossly exaggerated, and
some of the alleged persecutions never occurred. The story of the
persecutions is so foreign to the temper of the Roman government as to
throw doubt on the whole account. The story of there being ten
persecutions is clearly false, the number being avowedly based upon the
legend of the ten plagues of Egypt.

Up to a comparatively recent time there existed a practically unanimous
opinion among Christians as to the desirability of forcibly suppressing
heretical opinions. Whatever the fortunes of Christianity, and whatever
the differences of opinion that gradually developed among Christians
there was complete unanimity on this point. Whatever changes the
Protestant Reformation effected it left this matter untouched. In his
_History of Rationalism_ Lecky has brought forward a mass of evidence in
support of this, and I must refer to that work readers who are not
already acquainted with the details. Luther, in the very act of pleading
for toleration, excepted "such as deny the common principles of the
Christian religion, and advised that the Jews should be confined as
madmen, their synagogues burned and their books destroyed." The
intolerance of Calvin has became a byword; his very apology for the
burning of Servetus, entitled _A Defence of the Orthodox Faith_, bore
upon its title page the significant sentence "In which it is proved that
heretics may justly be coerced with the sword." His follower, Knox, was
only carrying out the teaching of the master in declaring that
"provoking the people to idolatry ought not to be exempt from the
penalty of death," and that "magistrates and people are bound to do so
(inflict the death penalty) unless they will provoke the wrath of God
against themselves." In every Protestant country laws against heresy
were enacted. In Switzerland, Geneva, Sweden, England, Germany,
Scotland, nowhere could one differ from the established faith without
running the risk of torture and death. Even in America, with the
exception of Maryland,[26] the same state of things prevailed. In some
States Catholic priests were subject to imprisonment for life, Quaker
women were whipped through the streets at the cart's tail, old men of
the same denomination were pressed to death between stones. At a later
date (about 1770) laws against heresy were general. "Anyone," says

     who should dare to speculate too freely about the nature of Christ,
     or the philosophy of the plan of salvation, or to express a doubt
     as to the plenary inspiration of every word between the two covers
     of the Bible, was subject to fine and imprisonment. The tithing man
     still arrested the Sabbath-breakers, and shut them up in the town
     cage in the market-place; he stopped all unnecessary riding or
     driving on Sunday, and haled people off to the meeting-house
     whether they would or no.[27]

[26] The case of Maryland is peculiar. But the reason for the toleration
there seems to have been due to the desire to give Catholics a measure
of freedom they could not have elsewhere in Protestant countries.

[27] For a good sketch of the Puritan Sunday in New England see _The
Sabbath in Puritan New England_, by Alice Morse Earle. For an account of
religious intolerance see the account of the Blue Laws of Connecticut as
contained in Hart's _American History told by Contemporaries_, Vol. I.

And we have to remember that the intolerance shown in America was
manifested by men who had left their own country on the ostensible
ground of freedom of conscience. As a matter of fact, in Christian
society genuine freedom of conscience was practically unknown. What was
meant by the expression was the right to express one's own religious
opinions, with the privilege of oppressing all with whom one happened to
disagree. The majority of Christians would have as indignantly
repudiated the assertion that they desired to tolerate non-Christian or
anti-Christian opinions as they would the charge of themselves holding
Atheistic ones.

How deeply ingrained was the principle that the established religion was
justified in suppressing all others may be seen from a reading of such
works as Locke's _Letters on Toleration_, and Milton's _Areopagitica_,
which stand in the forefront of the world's writings in favour of
liberty of thought and speech. Yet Locke was of opinion that "Those are
not at all to be tolerated who deny the being of a God. Promises,
covenants, and oaths, which are the bonds of human society, can have no
hold upon an Atheist. The taking away of God, though but even in
thought, dissolves all." And Milton, while holding that it was more
prudent and wholesome that many be tolerated rather than all compelled,
yet hastened to add "I mean not tolerated popery and open superstition,
which as it extirpates all religious and civil supremacies so should
itself be extirpated." In short, intolerance had become so established a
part of a society saturated in religion that not even the most liberal
could conceive a state of being in which all opinions should be placed
upon an equal footing.

Yet a change was all the time taking place in men's opinions on this
matter, a change which has in recent years culminated in the affirmation
of the principle that the coercion of opinion is of all things the least
desirable and the least beneficial to society at large. And as in so
many other cases, it was not the gradual maturing of that principle that
attracted attention so much as its statement in something like a
complete and logical form. The tracing of the conditions which have led
to this tremendous revolution in public opinion will complete our survey
of the subject.

It has already been pointed out that in primitive societies a very
important fact is that the relation of the individual to the community
is of a different nature from that which exists in a later stage of
culture. The whole is responsible for the part in a very literal sense,
and especially so in regard to religious beliefs. Individual rights and
responsibilities have but a precarious existence at best. The individual
exists far more for the benefit of the tribe than the tribe can be said
to exist for the benefit of the individual. The sense of corporate
responsibility is strong, and even in secular affairs we see this
constantly manifested. When a member of one tribe inflicts an injury
upon a member of another tribe, retaliation on any one of the group to
which the offending person belongs will suffice. We see the remnants of
this primitive view of life in the feuds of schoolboys, and it is also
manifested in the relations of nations, which move upon a lower ethical
level than do individuals. Most wars are ostensibly waged because in
some obscure way the nation is held responsible for the offences of one
or more individuals. And an instance of the same feeling is seen in the
now obsolete practice of punishing the members of a man's family when
the parents happen to have committed certain offences.

In religion, as we have already pointed out, the sense of corporate
responsibility completely governs primitive man's sense of his relation
to the tribal gods. In the development of the tribal chief into the
tribal god the ghost is credited with much the same powers as the man,
with the added terror of having more subtle and terrible ways of
inflicting punishment. The man who offends the ghost or the god is a
standing danger to the whole of the tribe. The whole of the tribe
becomes responsible for the offence committed, and the tribe in self
protection must not alone take measures to punish the offender, but must
also guard itself against even the possibility of the offence being
perpetrated. The consequence is that there is not a religion in which
one can fail to trace the presence of this primitive conception of
personal and social responsibility, and consequently, where we cannot
find persecution, more or less severe, and also more or less organized,
in the interest of what is believed to be social welfare. In the case of
the failure of the Spanish Armada to effect the conquest of England, the
Spanish monarch was convinced that its non-success was partly due to his
not having weeded out the heretics from his own dominion before
troubling about the heretics abroad. And right down to our own day there
has not been a national calamity the cause of which has not been found
by numbers of religious people to lie in the fact that some members of
the suffering nation have offended God. The heretic becomes, as we have
already said, a social danger of the gravest description. Society must
be guarded against his presence just as we learn to-day to protect
ourselves against the presence of a death-dealing germ. The suppression
of heresy thus becomes a social duty, because it protects society from
the anger of the gods. The destruction of the heretic is substantially
an act of social sanitation. Given the primitive conception of religion,
affiliated to the existing conception of corporate responsibility, and
persecution becomes one of the most important of social duties.

This, I believe, is not alone the root of persecution, but it serves to
explain as nothing else can its persistence in social life and the fact
of its having became almost a general mental characteristic. To realize
this one need only bear in mind the overpowering part played by
religious conceptions in early communities. There is nothing done that
is not more or less under the assumed control of supernatural agencies.
Fear is the dominant emotion in relation to the gods, and experience
daily proves that there is nothing that can make men so brutal and so
callous to the sufferings of others as can religious belief. And while
there has all along been a growing liberation of the mind from the
control of religion, the process has been so slow that this particular
product of religious rule has had time to root itself very deeply in
human nature. And it is in accordance with all that we know of the order
of development that the special qualities engendered by a particular set
of conditions should persist long after the conditions themselves have
passed away.

The conditions that co-operate in the final breaking down of the
conviction of the morality of persecution are many and various.
Primarily, there is the change from the social state in which the
conception of corporate responsibility is dominant to one in which there
is a more or less clearly marked line between what concerns the
individual alone and what concerns society as a whole. This is
illustrated in the growth from what Spencer called the military type of
society to an industrial one. In the case of a militant type of society,
to which the religious organization is so closely affiliated, a State is
more self contained, and the governing principle is, to use a
generalization of Sir Henry Maine's, status rather than contract. With
the growth of commerce and industrialism there is developed a greater
amount of individual initiative, a growing consideration for personal
responsibility, and also the development of a sense of interdependence
between societies. And the social developments that go on teach people,
even though the lesson may be unconsciously learned, to value each
other in terms of social utility rather than in terms of belief in
expressed dogmas. They are brought daily into contact with men of widely
differing forms of opinion; they find themselves working in the same
movements, and participating in the same triumphs or sharing the same
defeats. Insensibly the standard of judgment alters; the strength of the
purely social feelings overpowers the consciousness of theological
differences, and thus serves to weaken the frame of mind from which
persecution springs.

The growing complexity of life leads to the same end. Where the
conditions of life are simple, and the experiences through which people
pass are often repeated, and where, moreover, the amount of positive
knowledge current is small, conclusions are reached rapidly, and the
feeling of confidence in one's own opinions is not checked by seeing
others draw different conclusions from the same premises. Under such
conditions an opinion once formed is not easily or quickly changed.
Experience which makes for wider knowledge makes also for greater
caution in forming opinions and a greater readiness to tolerate
conclusions of an opposite character at which others may have arrived.

Finally, on the purely intellectual side one must reckon with the growth
of new ideas, and of knowledge that is in itself quite inconsistent with
the established creed. If the primary reason for killing the heretic is
that he is a social danger, one who will draw down on the tribe the
vengeance of the gods, the strength of that feeling against the heretic
must be weakened by every change that lessens men's belief in the power
of their deity. And one must assume that every time a fresh piece of
definite knowledge was acquired towards the splendid structure that now
meets us in the shape of modern science there was accomplished
something that involved an ultimate weakening of the belief in the
supremacy of the gods. The effect is cumulative, and in time it is bound
to make itself felt. Religious opinion after religious opinion finds
itself attacked and its power weakened. Things that were thought to be
solely due to the action of the gods are found to occur without their
being invoked, while invocation does not make the slightest difference
to the production of given results. Scientific generalizations in
astronomy, in physics, in biology, etc., follow one another, each
helping to enforce the lesson that it really does not matter what
opinions a man may hold about the gods provided his opinions about the
world in which he is living and the forces with which he _must_ deal are
sound and solidly based. In a world where opinion is in a healthy state
of flux it is impossible for even religion to remain altogether
unchanged. So we have first a change in the rigidity of religious
conceptions, then a greater readiness to admit the possibility of error,
and, finally, the impossibility of preventing the growth and expression
of definitely non-religious and anti-religious opinions in a community
where all sorts of opinions cannot but arise.

With the social consequences of religious persecution, and particularly
of Christian persecution, I have dealt elsewhere, and there is no need
to repeat the story here. I have been here concerned with making plain
the fact that persecution does not arise with a misunderstanding of
religion, or with a decline of what is vaguely called "true religion,"
nor does it originate in the alliance of some Church with the secular
State. It lies imbedded in the very nature of religion itself. With
polytheism there is a certain measure of toleration to gods outside the
tribe, because here the admitted existence of a number of gods is part
of the order of things. But this tendency to toleration disappears when
we come to the monotheistic stage which inevitably treats the claim to
existence of other gods in the same spirit as an ardent royalist treats
the appearance of a pretender to the throne. To tolerate such is a crime
against the legitimate ruler. And when we get the Christian doctrine of
eternal damnation and salvation tacked on to the religious idea we have
all the material necessary to give the persecutor the feeling of moral
obligation, and to make him feel that he is playing the part of a real
saviour to society.

At bottom that is one of the chief injuries that a religion such as
Christianity inflicts on the race; it throws human feeling into some of
the most objectionable forms, and provides a religious and moral
justification for their expression. The very desire to benefit one's
fellows, normally and naturally healthy, thus becomes under Christian
influences an instrument of oppression and racial degradation. The
Christian persecutor does not see himself for what he is, he pictures
himself as a saviour of men's souls by suppressing the unbeliever who
would corrupt them. And if Christianity be true he is correct in
thinking himself such. I have no hesitation in saying that if
Christianity be true persecution becomes the most important of duties. A
community that is thoroughly Christian is bound to persecute, and as a
mere matter of historic fact every wholly Christian community has
persecuted. The community which says that a man may take any religion he
pleases, or go without one altogether if he so chooses, proclaims its
disbelief in the importance of religion. The measure of religious
freedom is also the measure of religious indifference.

There are some experiences through which a human being may pass the
effects of which he never completely outgrows. Usually he may appear to
have put them quite out of his mind, but there are times when he is
lifted a little out of the normal, and then the recollection of what he
has passed through comes back with terrifying force. And acute observers
may also be able to perceive that even in normal circumstances what he
has passed through manifests itself for the worse in his everyday
behaviour. So with religion and the life history of the race. For
thousands of generations the race has been under the influence of a
teaching that social welfare depended upon a right belief about the
gods. The consequence of this has been that persecution became deeply
ingrained in human nature and in the social traditions which play so
large a part in the character building of each new generation. We have
as yet hardly got beyond the tradition that lack of religion robs a man
of social rights and dispenses with the necessity for courteous and
considered treatment. And there is, therefore, small cause for wonder
that the element of intolerance should still manifest itself in
connection with non-religious aspects of life. But the certain thing is
that throughout the whole of our social history it is religion that has
been responsible for the maintenance of persecution as a social duty.
Something has been done in more recent times to weaken its force, the
growth of science, the rationalizing of one institution after
another--in a word, the secularizing of life--is slowly creating more
tolerant relations between people. But the poison is deep in the blood,
and will not be eradicated in a generation. Religion is still here, and
so long as it remains it will never cease--under the guise of an appeal
to the higher sentiments of man--to make its most effective appeals to
passions of which the best among us are most heartily ashamed.



Books on the future of religion are numerous, and to one blessed with a
sense of humour, full of entertainment. They are also not without
instruction of a psychological kind. Reliable information as to what the
future will be like they certainly do not give, but they do unlock the
innermost desires of the writers thereof. They express what the writers
of the prophecies would like the future to be. And they create the
future state on earth exactly as devout believers have built up the
character of their heaven beyond the clouds. Every form of faith which
they disagree with is rejected as not possessing the element of
vitality, with the result that there is only their own form left. And
that, they triumphantly proclaim, is the religion of the future.

But the future has an old-fashioned and disconcerting habit of
disappointing expectations. The factors that govern human nature are so
many and so complex, their transmutations and combinations are so
numerous, that it is as well to tread cautiously, and to a very
considerable extent leave the future to take care of itself. At the
utmost all that we can do with safety is to detect tendencies, and to
hasten or retard their development as we think them good or bad. The
factors that make up a science of human nature are not to-day so
well-known and so well understood that we can depict the state of
society a century hence with the same certainty that we can foretell the
position of the planet Venus in the year 2000.

My aim in this chapter is, therefore, not to describe precisely what
will be the state of society when religious belief has ceased to exist.
It is rather to offer a general reply to those gloomy individuals who
declare that when the aims of the Freethinker are fully realized we
shall find that in destroying religion we have destroyed pretty much all
that makes human life worth living. We have managed to empty the baby
out with the bath.

The most general form of this fear is expressed in calling Freethought a
creed of negation, or a policy of destruction, and assuring the world
that mankind can never rest content with such things. That may be quite
true, but we fail to see in what way it touches Freethought. A
Freethought that is wholly destructive, that is a mere negation, is a
creation of the pulpit, and belongs to the same class of imaginative
efforts as the pietistic outbursts of famous unbelievers on their
death-beds. That such things could have obtained so wide a currency, and
be looked upon as quite natural occurrences, offers demonstrative
evidence of the paralyzing power of Christian belief on the human mind.

As a matter of fact, neither reformers in general nor Freethinkers in
particular deserve the charge of being mere destructionists. They are
both far more interested in building up than they are in pulling down,
and it is sheer lack of understanding that fixes the eyes of so many on
one aspect of the reformer's task and so steadily ignores the other one.
Of course, the phenomenon is not an unusual one. In a revolution it is
the noise, the street fighting, the breaking of old rules and the
shattering of established institutions that attract the most attention.
The deeper aims of the revolutionists, the hidden social forces of which
the revolution is the expression, the work of reconstruction that is
attempted, escape notice. The old order shrieks its loudest at the
threat of dissolution, the new can hardly make its voice heard.
Carlyle's division of the people into the shrieking thousands and the
dumb millions is eternally true. And even the millions are impressed
with the importance of the thousands because of the noise they are able
to make.

Actually the charge to which reformers in general are open is that of a
too great zeal for reconstruction, a belittling of the difficulties that
stand in the way of a radical change. They are apt to make too small an
allowance for the occurrence of the unexpected and the incalculable,
both of which are likely to interfere with the fruition of the most
logical of schemes. And they are so obsessed with reconstruction that
destruction seems no more than an incident by the way. A little less
eagerness for reconstruction might easily result in a greater concern
for what is being pulled down. The two greatest "destructive" movements
of modern times--the French revolution of 1789 and the Russian
revolution--both illustrate this point. In both movements the leading
figures were men who were obsessed with the idea of building a new
world. They saw this new world so clearly that the old one was almost
ignored. And this is equally true of the literature that precedes and is
the mouthpiece of such movements. The leading appeal is always to what
is to be, what existed is only used as a means of enforcing the
desirability of the new order. It is, in short, the mania for
reconstruction that is chiefly responsible for the destruction which so
horrifies those whose vision can never see anything but the world to
which they have become accustomed.

In parenthesis it may be remarked that it is a tactical blunder to make
one's attack upon an existing institution or idea depend upon the
attractiveness of the ideal state depicted. It enables critics to fix
attention on the precise value of the proposed remedy instead of
discussing whether the suggested reform is necessary. The attacker is
thus placed in the position of the defender and the point at issue
obscured. This is, that a certain institution or idea has outgrown its
usefulness and its removal is necessary to healthy growth. And it may
well be that its removal is all that is required to enable the social
organism to function naturally and healthily. The outworn institution is
often the grit in the machine that prevents it running smoothly.

This by the way. The fact remains that some of our best teachers have
shown themselves apt to stumble in the matter. Without belief in
religion they have too often assumed that its removal would leave a
serious gap in life, and so would necessitate the creation of a number
of substitutes to "take the place of religion." Thus, no less profound a
thinker than Herbert Spencer remarks in the preface to his _Data of

     Few things can happen more disastrous than the death and decay of a
     regulative system no longer fit, before another and a better
     regulative system has grown up to replace it. Most of those who
     reject the current creed appear to assume that the controlling
     agency furnished by it may safely be thrown aside, and the vacancy
     left unfilled by any other controlling agency.

Had Spencer first of all set himself to answer the question, "What is it
that the Freethinker sets himself to remove?" or even the question,
"What is the actual control exerted by religion?" one imagines that the
passage above given would either never have been written or would have
been differently worded. And when a man such as Spencer permits himself
to put the matter in this form one need not be surprised at the ordinary
believer assuming that he has put an unanswerable question to the
Freethinker when he asks what it is that we propose to put in the place
of religion, with the assumption that the question is on all fours with
the enquiry as to what substitutes we have for soap and coal if we
destroy all stocks of these articles.

The question assumes more than any scientific Freethinker would ever
grant. It takes for granted the statement that religion does at present
perform some useful function in the State. And that is the very
statement that is challenged. Nor does the Freethinker deny that some
"controlling agency" is desirable. What he does say is that in the
modern State, at least, religion exerts no control for good, that its
activities make for stagnation or retrogression, that its removal will
make for the healthier operation of other agencies, and that to these
other and non-religious agencies belongs the credit which is at present
given to religion.

Moreover, Spencer should not have needed reminding that systems of
thought while they have any vital relation to life will successfully
defy all attempts at eradication. The main cause of the decay of
religion is not the attack made upon it by the forces of reasoned
unbelief. That attack is largely the conscious expression of a revolt
against a system that has long lost all touch with reality, and so has
ceased to derive support from current life and thought. From this point
of view the reformer is what he is because he is alive to the drift of
events, susceptible to those social influences which affect all more or
less, and his strength is derived from the thousand and one subtle
influences that extend from generation to generation and express
themselves in what we are pleased to call the story of civilization.

But the quotation given does represent a fairly common point of view,
and it is put in a form that is most favourable to religious
pretensions. For it assumes that religion does really in our modern
lives perform a function so useful that it would be the height of folly
to remove it before we had something equally useful to take its place.
But something in the place of religion is a thing that no scientific
Freethinker desires. It is not a new religion, or another religion that
the world needs, but the removal of religion from the control of life,
and a restatement of those social qualities that have hitherto been
expressed in a religious form so that their real nature will be apparent
to all. Then we shall at last begin to make progress with small chance
of getting a serious set-back.

This does not, of course, deny that there are many things associated
with religion for the absence of which society would have cause for
regret. It is part of the Freethought case that this is so. And it may
also be admitted that large numbers of people honestly believe that
their religious beliefs serve as motives to the expression of their
better qualities. That, again, is part of the delusion we are fighting.
We cannot agree that religion, as such, contains anything that is
essentially useful to the race. It has maintained its power chiefly
because of its association with serviceable social qualities, and it is
part of the work of Freethought to distinguish between what properly
belongs to religion and what has become associated with it during its
long history. At present the confusion exists and the fact need cause no
surprise. At best the instincts of man are deep-laid, the motives to
conduct are mostly of an obscure kind, and it would be cause for
surprise if, seeing how closely religion is associated with every phase
of primitive life, and how persistent are primitive modes of thinking,
there were not this confusion between the actual part played by religion
in life and the part assigned it by tradition.

At any rate, it is idle to argue as though human conduct was governed by
a single idea--that of religion. At the most religious beliefs represent
no more than a part of the vast mass of influences that determine human
effort. And when we see how largely religious beliefs are dependent upon
constant stimulation and protection for their existence, it seems
extremely unlikely that they can hold a very vital relation to life. The
impotency of religion in matters of conduct is, too, decisively shown in
the fact that it is quite impossible to arrange men and women in a scale
of values that shall correspond with the kind or the fervency of their
religious beliefs. A religious person may be a useful member of society
or he may be a quite useless one. A profound religious conviction may be
accompanied by the loftiest of ideals or by the meanest of aims. The
unbeliever may be, and often is, a better man than the believer. No
business man would ever think of making a man's religion the condition
of taking one into his service, or if he did the general opinion would
be that it indicated bigotry and not shrewdness. We find it quite
impossible to determine the nature of religious belief by watching the
way people behave. In no stage of social life does religion provide us
with anything in the nature of a differentiating factor.

It was argued by the late Sir James Fitzjames Stephen, himself a
Freethinker, that as men have for a long time been in the habit of
associating moral feelings with the belief in God, a severance of the
two may entail moral disaster. It is, of course, hard to say what may
not happen in certain cases, but it is quite certain that such a
consequence could not follow on any general scale. One has only to bring
a statement of this kind down from the region of mere theory to that of
definite fact to see how idle the fear is. If, instead of asserting in a
vague way that the moral life is in some way bound up with religious
beliefs we ask what moral action or moral disposition is so connected,
we realize the absurdity of the statement. Professor Leuba well says:--

     Our alleged essential dependence upon transcendental beliefs is
     belied by the most common experiences of daily life. Who does not
     feel the absurdity of the opinion that the lavish care for a sick
     child by a mother is given because of a belief in God and
     immortality? Are love of father and mother on the part of children,
     affection and serviceableness between brothers and sisters,
     straightforwardness and truthfulness between business men
     essentially dependent upon these beliefs? What sort of person would
     be the father who would announce divine punishment or reward in
     order to obtain the love and respect of his children? And if there
     are business men preserved from unrighteousness by the fear of
     future punishment, they are far more numerous who are deterred by
     the threat of human law. Most of them would take their chances with
     heaven a hundred times before they would once with society, or
     perchance with the imperative voice of humanity heard in the
     conscience (_The Belief in God and Immortality_, p. 323).

And in whatever degree the fear may be justified in special cases, it
applies to any attempt whatever that may be made to disturb existing
conventions. Luther complained that some of his own converts were
behaving worse as Protestants than they behaved as Catholics, and even
in the New Testament we have the same unfavourable comparison made of
many of Christ's followers when compared with the Pagans around them. A
transference of allegiance may easily result in certain ill-balanced
minds kicking over the traces, but in the long run, and with the mass,
the deeper social needs are paramount. There was the same fear expressed
concerning man's political and social duties when the relations of
Church and State were first challenged. Yet the connection between the
two has been quite severed in some countries, and very much weakened in
many more, without society in the least suffering from the change. On
the contrary, one may say that man's duties towards the State have been
more intelligently perceived and more efficiently discharged in
proportion as those religious considerations that once ruled have been
set on one side.

The reply of the Freethinker to the question of "What is to follow
religion?" may, therefore, easily be seen. In effect it is, "Nothing at
all." In any study of social evolution the properly equipped student
commences his task with the full conviction that whatever the future may
be like its germs are already with us. If nature does not "abhor a
vacuum" it has at least an intense dislike to absolute beginnings. The
future will be an elaboration of the present as the present is an
elaboration of the past. For good or evil that principle remains

The essential question is not, What is to follow religion? but rather
what will the disappearance of religion affect that is of real value to
the world. The moment the question is raised in this unambiguous manner
the answer suggests itself. For assume that by some strange and
unexpected happening there set in a raging epidemic of common sense.
Assume that as a consequence of this the world was to awake with its
mind completely cleared of all belief in religion. What would be the
effect of the transformation? It is quite clear that it would not affect
any of the fundamental processes of life. The tragi-comedy of life would
still be performed, it would run through the same number of acts, and it
would end in the same happy or unhappy manner. Human beings would still
get born, they would grow up, they would fall in love, they would marry,
they would beget their kind, and they would in turn pass away to make
room for another generation. Birth and death, with all their
accompanying feelings, would remain. Human society would continue, all
the glories of art, the greatness of science, all the marvels and
wonders of the universe would be there whether we believed in a God or
not. The only difference would be that we should no longer associate
these things with the existence of a God. And in that respect we should
be following the same course of development that has been followed in
many other departments of life. We do not nowadays associate the
existence of spirits with a good or a bad harvest, the anger of God with
an epidemic, or the good-will of deity with a spell of fine weather. Yet
in each case there was once the same assumed association between these
things, and the same fears of what would happen if that association was
discarded. We are only carrying the process a step further; all that is
required is a little courage to take the step. In short, there is not a
single useful or worthy quality, intellectual or moral, that can
possibly suffer from the disappearance of religion.

On this point we may again quote from Professor Leuba:--

     The heroism of religious martyrs is often flaunted as marvellous
     instances of the unique sustaining strength derived from the belief
     in a personal God and the anticipation of heaven. And yet for
     every martyr of this sort there has been one or more heroes who has
     risked his life for a noble cause, without the comfort which
     transcendental beliefs may bring. The very present offers almost
     countless instances of martyrs to the cause of humanity, who are
     strangers to the idea of God and immortality. How many men and
     women in the past decade gladly offered and not infrequently lost
     their lives in the cause of freedom, or justice, or science? In the
     monstrous war we are now witnessing, is there a less heroic defence
     of home and nation, and less conscious self-renunciation among the
     non-believers than among the professed Christians? Have modern
     nations shown a more intense or a purer patriotism than ancient
     Greece and Rome, where men did not pretend to derive inspiration
     for their deeds of devotion in the thoughts of their gods.... The
     fruitful deeds of heroism are at bottom inspired not by the thought
     of God or a future life, but by innate tendencies or promptings
     that have reference to humanity. Self sacrifice, generosity, is
     rooted in nothing less superficial and accidental than social
     instincts older than the human race, for they are already present
     in a rudimentary form in the higher animals.

These are quite familiar statements to all Freethinkers, but to a great
many Christians they may come with all the force of a new revelation.

In the earlier pages of this work I have given what I conceive solid
reasons for believing that every one of the social and individual
virtues is born of human intercourse and can never be seriously deranged
for any length of time, so long as human society endures. The scale of
values may well undergo a change with the decay of religion, but that is
something which is taking place all the time, provided society is not in
a state of absolute stagnation. There is not any change that takes
place in society that does not affect our view of the relative value of
particular qualities. The value we place upon personal loyalty to a king
is not what it once was. At one stage a man is ready to place the whole
of his fortune at the disposal of a monarch merely because he happens to
be his "anointed" king. To-day, the man who had no better reason for
doing that would be looked upon as an idiot. Unquestioning obedience to
established authority, which once played so high a part in the education
of children, is now ranked very low by all who understand what genuine
education means. From generation to generation we go on revising our
estimate of the value of particular qualities, and the world is the
better for the revision. And that is what we may assume will occur with
the decay of religious belief. We shall place a higher value upon
certain qualities than we do at present and a lower value upon others.
But there will be no discarding the old qualities and creation of new
ones. Human nature will be the same then as now, as it has been for
thousands of years. The nature of human qualities will be more directly
conceived and more intelligently applied, and that will be an
undesirable development only for those who live by exploiting the
ignorance and the folly of mankind.

Thus, if one may venture upon a prophecy with regard to the
non-religious society of the future it may be said with confidence that
what are known as the ascetic qualities are not likely to increase in
value. The cant of Christianity has always placed an excessive value
upon what is called self-sacrifice. But there is no value in
self-sacrifice, as such. At best it is only of value in exceptional
circumstances, as an end it is worse than useless, and it may easily
degenerate from a virtue to a vice. It assumed high rank with Christian
teachers for various reasons. First, it was an expression of that
asceticism which lies at the root of Christianity, second, because
Christianity pictured this world as no more than a preparation for
another, and taught that the deprivations and sufferings of the present
life would be placed to a credit account in the next one, and third,
because it helped men and women to tolerate injustice in this world and
so helped the political game that governments and the Christian Church
have together played. A really enlightened society would rank
comparatively low the virtue of asceticism. Its principle would be not
self-sacrifice but self-development.

What must result from this is an enlargement of our conception of
justice and also of social reform. Both of these things occupy a very
low place in the Christian scale of virtues. Social reform it has never
bothered seriously about, and in its earlier years simply ignored. A
people who were looking for the end of the world, whose teaching was
that it was for man's spiritual good to suffer, and who looked for all
help to supernatural intervention, could never have had seriously in
their minds what we understand by social reform. And so with the
conception of Justice. There is much of this in pre-Christian
literature, and its entrance into the life and thought of modern Europe
can be traced directly back to Greek and Roman sources. But the work of
the Christian, while it may have been to heal wounds, was not to prevent
their infliction. It was to minister to poverty, not to remove those
conditions that made poverty inevitable.

A Spanish writer has put this point so well that I cannot do better than
quote him. He says:--

     The notion of justice is as entirely foreign to the spirit of
     Christianity as is that of intellectual honesty. It lies wholly
     outside the field of its ethical vision. Christianity--I am not
     referring to interpretations disclaimed as corruptions or
     applications which may be set down to frailty and error, but to the
     most idealized conceptions of its substance and the most exalted
     manifestations of its spirit--Christianity has offered consolation
     and comfort to men who suffered under injustice, but of that
     injustice itself it has remained absolutely incognizant. It has
     called upon the weary and heavy laden, upon the suffering and the
     afflicted, it has proclaimed to them the law of love, the duty of
     mercy and forgiveness, the Fatherhood of God; but in that torment
     of religious and ethical emotion which has impressed men as the
     summit of the sublime, and been held to transcend all other ethical
     ideals, common justice, common honesty have no place. The ideal
     Christian is seen in the saint who is seen descending like an angel
     from heaven amid the welter of human misery, among the victims of
     ruthless oppression and injustice ... but the cause of that misery
     lies wholly outside the range of his consciousness; no glimmer of
     right or wrong enters into his view of it. It is the established
     order of things, the divinely appointed government of the world,
     the trial laid upon sinners by divine ordinance. St. Vincent de
     Paul visits the hell of the French galleys; he proclaims the
     message of love and calls sinners to repentance; but to the
     iniquity which creates and maintains that hell he remains
     absolutely indifferent. He is appointed Grand Almoner to his Most
     Christian Majesty. The world might groan in misery under the
     despotism of oppressors, men's lives and men's minds might be
     enslaved, crushed and blighted; the spirit of Christianity would go
     forth and _comfort_ them, but it would never occur to it to redress
     a single one of those wrongs. It has remained unconscious of them.
     To those wrongs, to men's right to be delivered from them, it was
     by nature completely blind. In respect to justice, to right and
     wrong, the spirit of Christianity is not so much immoral as amoral.
     The notion was as alien to it as the notion of truth. Included in
     its code was, it might be controversially alleged, an old formula,
     "the golden rule," a commonplace of most literature, which was
     popular in the East from China to Asia Minor; but that isolated
     precept was never interpreted in the sense of justice. It meant
     forgiveness, forbearing, kindness, but never mere justice, common
     equity; those virtues were far too unemotional in aspect to appeal
     to the religious enthusiast. The renunciation of life and all its
     vanities, the casting overboard of all sordid cares for its
     maintenance, the suppression of desire, prodigal almsgiving, the
     consecration of a life, the value of which had disappeared in his
     eyes, to charity and love, non-resistance, passive obedience, the
     turning of the other cheek to an enemy, the whole riot of these
     hyperbolic ethical emotions could fire the Christian consciousness,
     while it remained utterly unmoved by every form of wrong, iniquity
     and injustice (Dr. Falta de Gracia. Cited by Dr. R. Briffault, _The
     Making of Humanity_, pp. 334-5.)

That, we may assume, will be one of the most striking consequences of
the displacement of Christianity in the social economy. There will be
less time wasted on what is called philanthropic work--which is often
the most harmful of all social labours--and more attention to the
removal of those conditions that have made the display of philanthropy
necessary. There will not be less feeling for the distressed or the
unfortunate, but it will be emotion under the guidance of the intellect,
and the dominant feeling will be that of indignation against the
conditions that make human suffering and degradation inevitable, rather
than a mere gratification of purely egoistic feeling which leaves the
source of the evil untouched.

That will mean a rise in the scale of values of what one may call the
intellectual virtues--the duty of truthseeking and truth speaking.
Hitherto the type of character held up for admiration by Christianity
has been that of the blind believer who allowed nothing to stand in the
way of his belief, who required no proofs of its truth and allowed no
disproofs to enter his mind. A society in which religion does not hold a
controlling place is not likely to place a very high value upon such
precepts as "Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed,"
or "Though he slay me yet will I trust him." But a very high value will
be placed upon the duty of investigation and the right of criticism. And
one cannot easily over-estimate the consequences of a generation or two
brought up in an atmosphere where such teachings obtain. It would mean a
receptiveness to new ideas, a readiness to overhaul old institutions, a
toleration of criticism such as would rapidly transform the whole mental
atmosphere and with it enormously accentuate the capacity for, and the
rapidity of, social progress.

There is also to be borne in mind the effect of the liberation of the
enormous amount of energy at present expended in the service of
religion. Stupid religious controversialists often assume that it is
part of the Freethinker's case that religion enlists in its service bad
men, and much time is spent in proving that religious people are mostly
worthy ones. That could hardly be otherwise in a society where the
overwhelming majority of men and women profess a religion of some sort.
But that is, indeed, not the Freethinker's case at all, and if the
badness of some religious people is cited it is only in answer to the
foolish argument that religionists are better than others. The real
complaint against religion is of a different kind altogether. Just as
the worst thing that one can say about a clergyman intellectually is,
not that he does not believe in what he preaches, but that he does, so
the most serious indictment of current religion is not that it enlists
in its service bad characters, but that it dissipates the energy of
good men and women in a perfectly useless manner. The dissipation of
Christian belief means the liberating of a store of energy for service
that is at present being expended on ends that are without the least
social value. A world without religion would thus be a world in which
the sole ends of endeavour would be those of human betterment or human
enlightenment, and probably in the end the two are one. For there is no
real betterment without enlightenment, even though there may come for a
time enlightenment without betterment. It would leave the world with all
the means of intellectual and æsthetic and social enjoyment that exist
now, and one may reasonably hope that it will lead to their cultivation
and diffusion over the whole of society.

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Transcriber's Note:

Minor punctuation errors and letters printed upside down have been
corrected without note. Inconsistent hyphenation (e.g. common-place vs.
commonplace) has been retained. Variant and unusual spellings used
consistently (e.g. indispensible) have also been kept.

The following corrections and changes were made to the text:

p. 65: knowlelge to knowledge (accumulation of knowledge)

p. 98: upder to under (under the old Greek)

p. 102: extra "to" removed (owe their belief to the philosophical)

p. 114: sterotyped to stereotyped (stereotyped phraseology)

p. 132: developes to develops (organ or an organism develops)

p. 157: it to is (After this lame conclusion it is difficult)

p. 186: percieves to perceives (provided a man perceives)

p. 190: Zeigler to Ziegler (Professor Ziegler)

p. 215: mayority to majority (majority of Christians)

p. 216: precariout to precarious (precarious existence at best)

Advertisements: entrace to entrance (an entrance fee of ten shillings)

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