A History of Freedom of Thought/Chapter 7

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Modern science, heralded by the researches of Copernicus, was founded in the seventeenth century, which saw the demonstration of the Copernican theory, the discovery of gravitation, the discovery of the circulation of the blood, and the foundation of modern chemistry and physics. The true nature of comets was ascertained, and they ceased to be regarded as signs of heavenly wrath. But several generations were to pass before science became, in Protestant countries, an involuntary arch-enemy of theology. Till the nineteenth century, it was only in minor points, such as the movement of the earth, that proved scientific facts seemed to conflict with Scripture, and it was easy enough to explain away these inconsistencies by a new interpretation of the sacred texts. Yet remarkable facts were accumulating which, though not explained by science, seemed to menace the credibility of Biblical history. If the story of Noah's Ark and the Flood is true, how was it that beasts unable to swim or fly inhabit America and the islands of the Ocean? And what about the new species which were constantly being found in the New World and did not exist in the Old? Where did the kangaroos of Australia drop from? The only explanation compatible with received theology seemed to be the hypothesis of innumerable new acts of creation, later than the Flood. It was in the field of natural history that scientific men of the eighteenth century suffered most from the coercion of authority. Linnæus felt it in Sweden, Buffon in France. Buffon was compelled to retract hypotheses which he put forward about the formation of the earth in his Natural History (1749), and to state that he believed implicitly in the Bible account of Creation.

At the beginning of the nineteenth century Laplace worked out the mechanics of the universe, on the nebular hypothesis. His results dispensed, as he said to Napoleon, with the hypothesis of God, and were duly denounced. His theory involved a long physical process before the earth and solar system came to be formed; but this was not fatal, for a little ingenuity might preserve the credit of the first chapter of Genesis. Geology was to prove a more formidable enemy to the Biblical story of the Creation and the Deluge. The theory of a French naturalist (Cuvier) that the earth had repeatedly experienced catastrophes, each of which necessitated a new creative act, helped for a time to save the belief in divine intervention, and Lyell, in his Principles of Geology (1830), while he undermined the assumption of catastrophes, by showing that the earth's history could be explained by the ordinary processes which we still see in operation, yet held fast to successive acts of creation. It was not till 1863 that he presented fully, in his Antiquity of Man, the evidence which showed that the human race had inhabited the earth for a far longer period than could be reconciled with the record of Scripture. That record might be adapted to the results of science in regard not only to the earth itself but also to the plants and lower animals, by explaining the word "day" in the Jewish story of creation to signify some long period of time. But this way out was impossible in the case of the creation of man, for the sacred chronology is quite definite. An English divine of the seventeenth century ingeniously calculated that man was created by the Trinity on October 23, B.C. 4004, at 9 o'clock in the morning, and no reckoning of the Bible dates could put the event much further back. Other evidence reinforced the conclusions from geology, but geology alone was sufficient to damage irretrievably the historical truth of the Jewish legend of Creation. The only means of rescuing it was to suppose that God had created misleading evidence for the express purpose of deceiving man.

Geology shook the infallibility of the Bible, but left the creation of some prehistoric Adam and Eve a still admissible hypothesis. Here however zoology stepped in, and pronounced upon the origin of man. It was an old conjecture that the higher forms of life, including man, had developed out of lower forms, and advanced thinkers had been reaching the conclusion that the universe, as we find it, is the result of a continuous process, unbroken by supernatural interference, and explicable by uniform natural laws. But while the reign of law in the world of non-living matter seemed to be established, the world of life could be considered a field in which the theory of divine intervention is perfectly valid, so long as science failed to assign satisfactory causes for the origination of the various kinds of animals and plants. The publication of Darwin's Origin of Species in 1859 is, therefore, a landmark not only in science but in the war between science and theology. When this book appeared, Bishop Wilberforce truly said that "the principle of natural selection is incompatible with the word of God," and theologians in Germany and France as well as in England cried aloud against the threatened dethronement of the Deity. The appearance of the Descent of Man (1871), in which the evidence for the pedigree of the human race from lower animals was marshalled with masterly force, renewed the outcry. The Bible said that God created man in his own image, Darwin said that man descended from an ape. The feelings of the orthodox world may be expressed in the words of Mr. Gladstone: "Upon the grounds of what is called evolution God is relieved of the labour of creation, and in the name of unchangeable laws is discharged from governing the world." It was a discharge which, as Spencer observed, had begun with Newton's discovery of gravitation. If Darwin did not, as is now recognized, supply a complete explanation of the origin of species, his researches shattered the supernatural theory and confirmed the view to which many able thinkers had been led that development is continuous in the living as in the non-living world. Another nail was driven into the coffin of Creation and the Fall of Adam, and the doctrine of redemption could only be rescued by making it independent of the Jewish fable on which it was founded.

Darwinism, as it is called, has had the larger effect of discrediting the theory of the adaptation of means to ends in nature by an external and infinitely powerful intelligence. The inadequacy of the argument from design, as a proof of God's existence, had been shown by the logic of Hume and Kant; but the observation of the life-processes of nature shows that the very analogy between nature and art, on which the argument depends, breaks down. The impropriety of the analogy has been pointed out, in a telling way, by a German writer (Lange). If a man wants to shoot a hare which is in a certain field, he does not procure thousands of guns, surround the field, and cause them all to be fired off; or if he wants a house to live in, he does not build a whole town and abandon to weather and decay all the houses but one. If he did either of these things we should say he was mad or amazingly unintelligent; his actions certainly would not be held to indicate a powerful mind, expert in adapting means to ends. But these are the sort of things that nature does. Her wastefulness in the propagation of life is reckless. For the production of one life she sacrifices innumerable germs. The "end" is achieved in one case out of thousands; the rule is destruction and failure. If intelligence had anything to do with this bungling process, it would be an intelligence infinitely low. And the finished product, if regarded as a work of design, points to incompetence in the designer. Take the human eye. An illustrious man of science (Helmholtz) said, "If an optician sent it to me as an instrument, I should send it back with reproaches for the carelessness of his work and demand the return of my money." Darwin showed how the phenomena might be explained as events not brought about intentionally, but due to exceptional concurrences of circumstances.

The phenomena of nature are a system of things which co-exist and follow each other according to invariable laws. This deadly proposition was asserted early in the nineteenth century to be an axiom of science. It was formulated by Mill (in his System of Logic, 1843) as the foundation on which scientific induction rests. It means that at any moment the state of the whole universe is the effect of its state at the preceding moment; the casual sequence between two successive states is not broken by any arbitrary interference suppressing or altering the relation between cause and effect. Some ancient Greek philosophers were convinced of this principle; the work done by modern science in every field seems to be a verification of it. But it need not be stated in such an absolute form. Recently, scientific men have been inclined to express the axiom with more reserve and less dogmatically. They are prepared to recognize that it is simply a postulate without which the scientific comprehension of the universe would be impossible, and they are inclined to state it not as a law of causation—for the idea of causation leads into metaphysics—but rather as uniformity of experience. But they are not readier to admit exceptions to this uniformity than their predecessors were to admit exceptions to the law of causation.

The idea of development has been applied not only to nature, but to the mind of man and to the history of civilization, including thought and religion. The first who attempted to apply this idea methodically to the whole universe was not a student of natural science, but a metaphysician, Hegel. His extremely difficult philosophy had such a wide influence on thought that a few words must be said about its tendency. He conceived the whole of existence as what he called the Absolute Idea, which is not in space or time and is compelled by the laws of its being to manifest itself in the process of the world, first externalizing itself in nature, and then becoming conscious of itself as spirit in individual minds. His system is hence called Absolute Idealism. The attraction which it exercised has probably been in great measure due to the fact that it was in harmony with nineteenth-century thought, in so far as it conceived the process of the world, both in nature and spirit, as a necessary development from lower to higher stages. In this respect indeed Hegel's vision was limited. He treats the process as if it were practically complete already, and does not take into account the probability of further development in the future, to which other thinkers of his own time were turning their attention. But what concerns us here is that, while Hegel's system is "idealistic," finding the explanation of the universe in thought and not in matter, it tended as powerfully as any materialistic system to subvert orthodox beliefs. It is true that some have claimed it as supporting Christianity. A certain colour is lent to this by Hegel's view that the Christian creed, as the highest religion, contains doctrines which express imperfectly some of the ideas of the highest philosophy—his own; along with the fact that he sometimes speaks of the Absolute Idea as if it were a person, though personality would be a limitation inconsistent with his conception of it. But it is sufficient to observe that, whatever value be assigned to Christianity, he regarded it from the superior standpoint of a purely intellectual philosophy, not as a special revelation of truth, but as a certain approximation to the truth which philosophy alone can reach; and it may be said with some confidence that any one who comes under Hegel's spell feels that he is in possession of a theory of the universe which relieves him from the need or desire of any revealed religion. His influence in Germany, Russia, and elsewhere has entirely made for highly unorthodox thought.

Hegel was not aggressive, he was superior. His French contemporary, Comte, who also thought out a comprehensive system, aggressively and explicitly rejected theology as an obsolete way of explaining the universe. He rejected metaphysics likewise, and all that Hegel stood for, as equally useless, on the ground that metaphysicians explain nothing, but merely describe phenomena in abstract terms, and that questions about the origin of the world and why it exists are quite beyond the reach of reason. Both theology and metaphysics are superseded by science—the investigation of causes and effects and coexistences; and the future progress of society will be guided by the scientific view of the world which confines itself to the positive data of experience. Comte was convinced that religion is a social necessity, and, to supply the place of the theological religions which he pronounced to be doomed, he invented a new religion—the religion of Humanity. It differs from the great religions of the world in having no supernatural or non-rational articles of belief, and on that account he had few adherents. But the "Positive Philosophy" of Comte has exercised great influence, not least in England, where its principles have been promulgated especially by Mr. Frederic Harrison, who in the latter half of the nineteenth century has been one of the most indefatigable workers in the cause of reason against authority.

Another comprehensive system was worked out by an Englishman, Herbert Spencer. Like Comte's, it was based on science, and attempts to show how, starting with a nebular universe, the whole knowable world, psychical and social as well as physical, can be deduced. His Synthetic Philosophy perhaps did more than anything else to make the idea of evolution familiar in England.

I must mention one other modern explanation of the world, that of Haeckel, the zoologist, professor at Jena, who may be called the prophet of evolution. His Creation of Man (1868) covered the same ground as Darwin's Descent, had an enormous circulation, and was translated, I believe, into fourteen languages. His World-riddles (1899) enjoys the same popularity. He has taught, like Spencer, that the principle of evolution applies not only to the history of nature, but also to human civilization and human thought. He differs from Spencer and Comte in not assuming any unknowable reality behind natural phenomena. His adversaries commonly stigmatize his theory as materialism, but this is a mistake. Like Spinoza he recognizes matter and mind, body and thought, as two inseparable sides of ultimate reality, which he calls God; in fact, he identifies his philosophy with that of Spinoza. And he logically proceeds to conceive material atoms as thinking. His idea of the physical world is based on the old mechanical conception of matter, which in recent years has been discredited. But Haeckel's Monism,[1] as he called his doctrine, has lately been reshaped and in its new form promises to exercise wide influence on thoughtful people in Germany. I will return later to this Monistic movement.

It had been a fundamental principle of Comte that human actions and human history are as strictly subject as nature is, to the law of causation. Two psychological works appeared in England in 1855 (Bain's Senses and Intellect and Spencer's Principles of Psychology), which taught that our volitions are completely determined, being the inevitable consequences of chains of causes and effects. But a far deeper impression was produced two years later by the first volume of Buckle's History of Civilization in England (a work of much less permanent value), which attempted to apply this principle to history. Men act in consequence of motives; their motives are the results of preceding facts; so that "if we were acquainted with the whole of the antecedents and with all the laws of their movements, we could with unerring certainty predict the whole of their immediate results." Thus history is an unbroken chain of causes and effects. Chance is excluded; it is a mere name for the defects of our knowledge. Mysterious and providential interference is excluded. Buckle maintained God's existence, but eliminated him from history; and his book dealt a resounding blow at the theory that human actions are not submitted to the law of universal causation.

The science of anthropology has in recent years aroused wide interest. Inquiries into the condition of early man have shown (independently of Darwinism) that there is nothing to be said for the view that he fell from a higher to a lower state; the evidence points to a slow rise from mere animality. The origin of religious beliefs has been investigated, with results disquieting for orthodoxy. The researches of students of anthropology and comparative religion—such as Tylor, Robertson Smith, and Frazer—have gone to show that mysterious ideas and dogma and rites which were held to be peculiar to the Christian revelation are derived from the crude ideas of primitive religions. That the mystery of the Eucharist comes from the common savage rite of eating a dead god, that the death and resurrection of a god in human form, which form the central fact of Christianity, and the miraculous birth of a Saviour are features which it has in common with pagan religions—such conclusions are supremely unedifying. It may be said that in themselves they are not fatal to the claims of the current theology. It may be held, for instance, that, as part of Christian revelation, such ideas acquired a new significance and that God wisely availed himself of familiar beliefs—which, though false and leading to cruel practices, he himself had inspired and permitted—in order to construct a scheme of redemption which should appeal to the prejudices of man. Some minds may find satisfaction in this sort of explanation, but it may be suspected that most of the few who study modern researches into the origin of religious beliefs will feel the lines which were supposed to mark off the Christian from all other faiths dissolving before their eyes.

The general result of the advance of science, including anthropology, has been to create a coherent view of the world, in which the Christian scheme, based on the notions of an unscientific age and on the arrogant assumption that the universe was made for man, has no suitable or reasonable place. If Paine felt this a hundred years ago, it is far more apparent now. All minds however are not equally impressed with this incongruity. There are many who will admit the proofs furnished by science that the Biblical record as to the antiquity of man is false, but are not affected by the incongruity between the scientific and theological conceptions of the world.

For such minds science has only succeeded in carrying some entrenchments, which may be abandoned without much harm. It has made the old orthodox view of the infallibility of the Bible untenable, and upset the doctrine of the Creation and Fall. But it would still be possible for Christianity to maintain the supernatural claim, by modifying its theory of the authority of the Bible and revising its theory of redemption, if the evidence of natural science were the only group of facts with which it collided. It might be argued that the law of universal causation is a hypothesis inferred from experience, but that experience includes the testimonies of history and must therefore take account of the clear evidence of miraculous occurrences in the New Testament (evidence which is valid, even if that book was not inspired). Thus, a stand could be taken against the generalization of science on the firm ground of historical fact. That solid ground, however, has given way, undermined by historical criticism, which has been more deadly than the common-sense criticism of the eighteenth century.

The methodical examination of the records contained in the Bible, dealing with them as if they were purely human documents, is the work of the nineteenth century. Something, indeed, had already been done. Spinoza, for instance (above, p. 138), and Simon, a Frenchman whose books were burnt, were pioneers; and the modern criticism of the Old Testament was begun by Astruc (professor of medicine at Paris), who discovered an important clue for distinguishing different documents used by the compiler of the Book of Genesis (1753). His German contemporary, Reimarus, a student of the New Testament, anticipated the modern conclusion that Jesus had no intention of founding a new religion, and saw that the Gospel of St. John presents a different figure from the Jesus of the other evangelists.

But in the nineteenth century the methods of criticism, applied by German scholars to Homer and to the records of early Roman history, were extended to the investigation of the Bible. The work has been done principally in Germany. The old tradition that the Pentateuch was written by Moses has been completely discredited. It is now agreed unanimously by all who have studied the facts that the Pentateuch was put together from a number of different documents of different ages, the earliest dating from the ninth, the last from the fifth, century B.C.; and there are later minor additions. An important, though undesigned, contribution was made to this exposure by an Englishman, Colenso, Bishop of Natal. It had been held that the oldest of the documents which had been distinguished was a narrative which begins in Genesis, Chapter I, but there was the difficulty that this narrative seemed to be closely associated with the legislation of Leviticus which could be proved to belong to the fifth century. In 1862 Colenso published the first part of his Pentateuch and the Book of Joshua Critically Examined. His doubts of the truth of Old Testament history had been awakened by a converted Zulu who asked the intelligent question whether he could really believe in the story of the Flood, "that all the beasts and birds and creeping things upon the earth, large and small, from hot countries and cold, came thus by pairs and entered into the ark with Noah? And did Noah gather food for them all, for the beasts and birds of prey as well as the rest?" The Bishop then proceeded to test the accuracy of the inspired books by examining the numerical statements which they contain. The results were fatal to them as historical records. Quite apart from miracles (the possibility of which he did not question), he showed that the whole story of the sojourn of the Israelites in Egypt and the wilderness was full of absurdities and impossibilities. Colenso's book raised a storm of indignation in England—he was known as "the wicked bishop"; but on the Continent its reception was very different. The portions of the Pentateuch and Joshua, which he proved to be unhistorical, belonged precisely to the narrative which had caused perplexity; and critics were led by his results to conclude that, like the Levitical laws with which it was connected, it was as late as the fifth century.

One of the most striking results of the researches on the Old Testament has been that the Jews themselves handled their traditions freely. Each of the successive documents, which were afterwards woven together, was written by men who adopted a perfectly free attitude towards the older traditions, and having no suspicion that they were of divine origin did not bow down before their authority. It was reserved for the Christians to invest with infallible authority the whole indiscriminate lump of these Jewish documents, inconsistent not only in their tendencies (since they reflect the spirit of different ages), but also in some respects in substance. The examination of most of the other Old Testament books has led to conclusions likewise adverse to the orthodox view of their origin and character. New knowledge on many points has been derived from the Babylonian literature which has been recovered during the last half century. One of the earliest (1872) and most sensational discoveries was that the Jews got their story of the Flood from Babylonian mythology.

Modern criticism of the New Testament began with the stimulating works of Baur and of Strauss, whose Life of Jesus (1835), in which the supernatural was entirely rejected, had an immense success and caused furious controversy. Both these rationalists were influenced by Hegel. At the same time a classical scholar, Lachmann, laid the foundations of the criticism of the Greek text of the New Testament, by issuing the first scientific edition. Since then seventy years of work have led to some certain results which are generally accepted.

In the first place, no intelligent person who has studied modern criticism holds the old view that each of the four biographies of Jesus is an independent work and an independent testimony to the facts which are related. It is acknowledged that those portions which are common to more than one and are written in identical language have the same origin and represent only one testimony. In the second place, it is allowed that the first Gospel is not the oldest and that the apostle Matthew was not its author. There is also a pretty general agreement that Mark's book is the oldest. The authorship of the fourth Gospel, which like the first was supposed to have been written by an eye-witness, is still contested, but even those who adhere to the tradition admit that it represents a theory about Jesus which is widely different from the view of the three other biographers.

The result is that it can no longer be said that for the life of Jesus there is the evidence of eye-witnesses. The oldest account (Mark) was composed at the earliest some thirty years after the Crucifixion. If such evidence is considered good enough to establish the supernatural events described in that document, there are few alleged supernatural occurrences which we shall not be equally entitled to believe. As a matter of fact, an interval of thirty years makes little difference, for we know that legends require little time to grow. In the East, you will hear of miracles which happened the day before yesterday. The birth of religions is always enveloped in legend, and the miraculous thing would be, as M. Salomon Reinach has observed, if the story of the birth of Christianity were pure history.

Another disturbing result of unprejudiced examination of the first three Gospels is that, if you take the recorded words of Jesus to be genuine tradition, he had no idea of founding a new religion. And he was fully persuaded that the end of the world was at hand. At present, the chief problem of advanced criticism seems to be whether his entire teaching was not determined by this delusive conviction.

It may be said that the advance of knowledge has thrown no light on one of the most important beliefs that we are asked to accept on authority, the doctrine of immortality. Physiology and psychology have indeed emphasized the difficulties of conceiving a thinking mind without a nervous system. Some are sanguine enough to think that, by scientific examination of psychical phenomena, we may possibly come to know whether the "spirits" of dead people exist. If the existence of such a world of spirits were ever established, it would possibly be the greatest blow ever sustained by Christianity. For the great appeal of this and of some other religions lies in the promise of a future life of which otherwise we should have no knowledge. If existence after death were proved and became a scientific fact like the law of gravitation, a revealed religion might lose its power. For the whole point of a revealed religion is that it is not based on scientific facts. So far as I know, those who are convinced, by spiritualistic experiments, that they have actual converse with spirits of the dead, and for whom this converse, however delusive the evidence may be, is a fact proved by experience, cease to feel any interest in religion. They possess knowledge and can dispense with faith.

The havoc which science and historical criticism have wrought among orthodox beliefs during the last hundred years was not tamely submitted to, and controversy was not the only weapon employed. Strauss was deprived of his professorship at Tübingen, and his career was ruined. Renan, whose sensational Life of Jesus also rejected the supernatural, lost his chair in the Collège de France. Büchner was driven from Tübingen (1855) for his book on Force and Matter, which, appealing to the general public, set forth the futility of supernatural explanations of the universe. An attempt was made to chase Haeckel from Jena. In recent years, a French Catholic, the Abbé Loisy, has made notable contributions to the study of the New Testament and he was rewarded by major excommunication in 1907.

Loisy is the most prominent figure in a growing movement within the Catholic Church known as Modernism—a movement which some think is the gravest crisis in the history of the Church since the thirteenth century. The Modernists do not form an organized party; they have no programme. They are devoted to the Church, to its traditions and associations, but they look on Christianity as a religion which has developed, and whose vitality depends upon its continuing to develop. They are bent on reinterpreting the dogmas in the light of modern science and criticism. The idea of development had already been applied by Cardinal Newman to Catholic theology. He taught that it was a natural, and therefore legitimate, development of the primitive creed. But he did not draw the conclusion which the Modernists draw that if Catholicism is not to lose its power of growth and die, it must assimilate some of the results of modern thought. This is what they are attempting to do for it.

Pope Pius X has made every effort to suppress the Modernists. In 1907 (July) he issued a decree denouncing various results of modern Biblical criticism which are defended in Loisy's works. The two fundamental propositions that "the organic constitution of the Church is not immutable, but that Christian society is subject, like every human society, to a perpetual evolution," and that "the dogmas which the Church regards as revealed are not fallen from heaven but are an interpretation of religious facts at which the human mind laboriously arrived"—both of which might be deduced from Newman's writings—are condemned. Three months later the Pope issued a long Encyclical letter, containing an elaborate study of Modernist opinions, and ordaining various measures for stamping out the evil. No Modernist would admit that this document represents his views fairly. Yet some of the remarks seem very much to the point. Take one of their books: "one page might be signed by a Catholic; turn over and you think you are reading the work of a rationalist. In writing history, they make no mention of Christ's divinity; in the pulpit, they proclaim it loudly."

A plain man may be puzzled by these attempts to retain the letter of old dogmas emptied of their old meaning, and may think it natural enough that the head of the Catholic Church should take a clear and definite stand against the new learning which seems fatal to its fundamental doctrines. For many years past, liberal divines in the Protestant Churches have been doing what the Modernists are doing. The phrase "Divinity of Christ" is used, but is interpreted so as not to imply a miraculous birth. The Resurrection is preached, but is interpreted so as not to imply a miraculous bodily resurrection. The Bible is said to be an inspired book, but inspiration is used in a vague sense, much as when one says that Plato was inspired; and the vagueness of this new idea of inspiration is even put forward as a merit. Between the extreme views which discard the miraculous altogether, and the old orthodoxy, there are many gradations of belief. In the Church of England to-day it would be difficult to say what is the minimum belief required either from its members or from its clergy. Probably every leading ecclesiastic would give a different answer.

The rise of rationalism within the English Church is interesting and illustrates the relations between Church and State.

The pietistic movement known as Evangelicalism, which Wilberforce's Practical View of Christianity (1797) did much to make popular, introduced the spirit of Methodism within the Anglican Church, and soon put an end to the delightful type of eighteenth-century divine, who, as Gibbon says, "subscribed with a sigh or a smile" the articles of faith. The rigorous taboo of the Sabbath was revived, the theatre was denounced, the corruption of human nature became the dominant theme, and the Bible more a fetish than ever. The success of this religious "reaction," as it is called, was aided, though not caused, by the common belief that the French Revolution had been mainly due to infidelity; the Revolution was taken for an object lesson showing the value of religion for keeping the people in order. There was also a religious "reaction" in France itself. But in both cases this means not that free thought was less prevalent, but that the beliefs of the majority were more aggressive and had powerful spokesmen, while the eighteenth-century form of rationalism fell out of fashion. A new form of rationalism, which sought to interpret orthodoxy in such a liberal way as to reconcile it with philosophy, was represented by Coleridge, who was influenced by German philosophers. Coleridge was a supporter of the Church, and he contributed to the foundation of a school of liberal theology which was to make itself felt after the middle of the century. Newman, the most eminent of the new High Church party, said that he indulged in a liberty of speculation which no Christian could tolerate. The High Church movement which marked the second quarter of the century was as hostile as Evangelicalism to the freedom of religious thought.

The change came after the middle of the century, when the effects of the philosophies of Hegel and Comte, and of foreign Biblical criticism, began to make themselves felt within the English Church. Two remarkable freethinking books appeared at this period which were widely read, F. W. Newman's Phases of Faith and W. R. Greg's Creed of Christendom (both in 1850). Newman (brother of Cardinal Newman) entirely broke with Christianity, and in his book he describes the mental process by which he came to abandon the beliefs he had once held. Perhaps the most interesting point he makes is the deficiency of the New Testament teaching as a system of morals. Greg was a Unitarian. He rejected dogma and inspiration, but he regarded himself as a Christian. Sir J. F. Stephen wittily described his position as that of a disciple "who had heard the Sermon on the Mount, whose attention had not been called to the Miracles, and who died before the Resurrection."

There were a few English clergymen (chiefly Oxford men) who were interested in German criticism and leaned to broad views, which to the Evangelicals and High Churchmen seemed indistinguishable from infidelity. We may call them the Broad Church—though the name did not come in till later. In 1855 Jowett (afterwards Master of Balliol) published an edition of some of St. Paul's Epistles, in which he showed the cloven hoof. It contained an annihilating criticism of the doctrine of the Atonement, an explicit rejection of original sin, and a rationalistic discussion of the question of God's existence. But this and some other unorthodox works of liberal theologians attracted little public attention, though their authors had to endure petty persecution. Five years later, Jowett and some other members of the small liberal group decided to defy the "abominable system of terrorism which prevents the statement of the plainest fact," and issued a volume of Essays and Reviews (1860) by seven writers of whom six were clergymen. The views advocated in these essays seem mild enough to-day, and many of them would be accepted by most well-educated clergymen, but at the time they produced a very painful impression. The authors were called the "Seven against Christ." It was laid down that the Bible is to be interpreted like any other book. "It is not a useful lesson for the young student to apply to Scripture principles which he would hesitate to apply to other books; to make formal reconcilements of discrepancies which he would not think of reconciling in ordinary history; to divide simple words into double meanings; to adopt the fancies or conjectures of Fathers and Commentators as real knowledge." It is suggested that the Hebrew prophecies do not contain the element of prediction. Contradictory accounts, or accounts which can only be reconciled by conjecture, cannot possibly have been dictated by God. The discrepancies between the genealogies of Jesus in Matthew and Luke, or between the accounts of the Resurrection, can be attributed "neither to any defect in our capacities nor to any reasonable presumption of a hidden wise design, nor to any partial spiritual endowments in the narrators." The orthodox arguments which lay stress on the assertion of witnesses as the supreme evidence of fact, in support of miraculous occurrences, are set aside on the ground that testimony is a blind guide and can avail nothing against reason and the strong grounds we have for believing in permanent order. It is argued that, under the Thirty-nine Articles, it is permissible to accept as "parable or poetry or legend" such stories as that of an ass speaking with a man's voice, of waters standing in a solid heap, of witches and a variety of apparitions, and to judge for ourselves of such questions as the personality of Satan or the primeval institution of the Sabbath. The whole spirit of this volume is perhaps expressed in the observation that if any one perceives "to how great an extent the origin itself of Christianity rests upon probable evidence, his principle will relieve him from many difficulties which might otherwise be very disturbing. For relations which may repose on doubtful grounds as matters of history, and, as history, be incapable of being ascertained or verified, may yet be equally suggestive of true ideas with facts absolutely certain"—that is, they may have a spiritual significance although they are historically false.

The most daring Essay was the Rev. Baden Powell's Study of the Evidences of Christianity. He was a believer in evolution, who accepted Darwinism, and considered miracles impossible. The volume was denounced by the Bishops, and in 1862 two of the contributors, who were beneficed clergymen and thus open to a legal attack, were prosecuted and tried in the Ecclesiastical Court. Condemned on certain points, acquitted on others, they were sentenced to be suspended for a year, and they appealed to the Privy Council. Lord Westbury (Lord Chancellor) pronounced the judgment of the Judicial Committee of the Council, which reversed the decision of the Ecclesiastical Court. The Committee held, among other things, that it is not essential for a clergyman to believe in eternal punishment. This prompted the following epitaph on Lord Westbury: "Towards the close of his earthly career he dismissed Hell with costs and took away from Orthodox members of the Church of England their last hope of everlasting damnation."

This was a great triumph for the Broad Church party, and it is an interesting event in the history of the English State-Church. Laymen decided (overruling the opinion of the Archbishops of Canterbury and York) what theological doctrines are and are not binding on a clergyman, and granted within the Church a liberty of opinion which the majority of the Church's representatives regarded as pernicious. This liberty was formally established in 1865 by an Act of Parliament, which altered the form in which clergymen were required to subscribe the Thirty-nine Articles. The episode of Essays and Reviews is a landmark in the history of religious thought in England.

The liberal views of the Broad Churchmen and their attitude to the Bible gradually produced some effect upon those who differed most from them; and nowadays there is probably no one who would not admit, at least, that such a passage as Genesis, Chapter XIX, might have been composed without the direct inspiration of the Deity.

During the next few years orthodox public opinion was shocked or disturbed by the appearance of several remarkable books which criticized, ignored, or defied authority—Lyell's Antiquity of Man, Seeley's Ecce Homo (which the pious Lord Shaftesbury said was "vomited from the jaws of hell"), Lecky's History of Rationalism. And a new poet of liberty arose who did not fear to sound the loudest notes of defiance against all that authority held sacred. All the great poets of the nineteenth century were more or less unorthodox; Wordsworth in the years of his highest inspiration was a pantheist; and the greatest of all, Shelley, was a declared atheist. In fearless utterance, in unfaltering zeal against the tyranny of Gods and Governments, Swinburne was like Shelley. His drama Atalanta in Calydon (1865), even though a poet is strictly not answerable for what the persons in his drama say, yet with its denunciation of "the supreme evil, God," heralded the coming of a new champion who would defy the fortresses of authority. And in the following year his Poems and Ballads expressed the spirit of a pagan who flouted all the prejudices and sanctities of the Christian world.

But the most intense and exciting period of literary warfare against orthodoxy in England began about 1869, and lasted for about a dozen years, during which enemies of dogma, of all complexions, were less reticent and more aggressive than at any other time in the century. Lord Morley has observed that "the force of speculative literature always hangs on practical opportuneness," and this remark is illustrated by the rationalistic literature of the seventies. It was a time of hope and fear, of progress and danger. Secularists and rationalists were encouraged by the Disestablishment of the Church in Ireland (1869), by the Act which allowed atheists to give evidence in a court of justice (1869), by the abolition of religious tests at all the universities (a measure frequently attempted in vain) in 1871. On the other hand, the Education Act of 1870, progressive though it was, disappointed the advocates of secular education, and was an unwelcome sign of the strength of ecclesiastical influence. Then there was the general alarm felt in Europe by all outside the Roman Church, and by some within it, at the decree of the infallibility of the Pope (by the Vatican Council 1869–70), and an Englishman (Cardinal Manning) was one of the most active spirits in bringing about this decree. It would perhaps have caused less alarm if the Pope's denunciation of modern errors had not been fresh in men's memories. At the end of 1864 he startled the world by issuing a Syllabus "embracing the principal errors of our age." Among these were the propositions, that every man is free to adopt and profess the religion he considers true, according to the light of reason; that the Church has no right to employ force; that metaphysics can and ought to be pursued without reference to divine and ecclesiastical authority; that Catholic states are right to allow foreign immigrants to exercise their own religion in public; that the Pope ought to make terms with progress, liberalism, and modern civilization. The document was taken as a declaration of war against enlightenment, and the Vatican Council as the first strategic move of the hosts of darkness. It seemed that the powers of obscurantism were lifting up their heads with a new menace, and there was an instinctive feeling that all the forces of reason should be brought into the field. The history of the last forty years shows that the theory of Infallibility, since it has become a dogma, is not more harmful than it was before. But the efforts of the Catholic Church in the years following the Council to overthrow the French Republic and to rupture the new German Empire were sufficiently disquieting. Against this was to be set the destruction of the temporal power of the Popes and the complete freedom of Italy. This event was the sunrise of Swinburne's Songs before Sunrise (which appeared in 1871), a seedplot of atheism and revolution, sown with implacable hatred of creeds and tyrants. The most wonderful poem in the volume, the Hymn of Man, was written while the Vatican Council was sitting. It is a song of triumph over the God of the priests, stricken by the doom of the Pope's temporal power. The concluding verses will show the spirit.

"By thy name that in hellfire was written, and burned at the point of thy sword,
Thou art smitten, thou God, thou art smitten; thy death is upon thee, O Lord.
And the lovesong of earth as thou diest resounds through the wind of her wings—
Glory to Man in the highest! for Man is the master of things."

The fact that such a volume could appear with impunity vividly illustrates the English policy of enforcing the laws for blasphemy only in the case of publications addressed to the masses.

Political circumstances thus invited and stimulated rationalists to come forward boldly, but we must not leave out of account the influence of the Broad Church movement and of Darwinism. The Descent of Man appeared precisely in 1871. A new, undogmatic Christianity was being preached in pulpits. Mr. Leslie Stephen remarked (1873) that "it may be said, with little exaggeration, that there is not only no article in the creeds which may not be contradicted with impunity, but that there is none which may not be contradicted in a sermon calculated to win the reputation of orthodoxy and be regarded as a judicious bid for a bishopric. The popular state of mind seems to be typified in the well-known anecdote of the cautious churchwarden, who, whilst commending the general tendency of his incumbent's sermon, felt bound to hazard a protest upon one point. 'You see, sir,' as he apologetically explained, 'I think there be a God.' He thought it an error of taste or perhaps of judgment, to hint a doubt as to the first article of the creed."

The influence exerted among the cultivated classes by the æsthetic movement (Ruskin, Morris, the Pre-Raphaelite painters; then Pater's Lectures on the Renaissance, 1873) was also a sign of the times. For the attitude of these critics, artists, and poets was essentially pagan. The saving truths of theology were for them as if they did not exist. The ideal of happiness was found in a region in which heaven was ignored.

The time then seemed opportune for speaking out. Of the unorthodox books and essays,[2] which influenced the young and alarmed believers, in these exciting years, most were the works of men who may be most fairly described by the comprehensive term agnostics—a name which had been recently invented by Professor Huxley.

The agnostic holds that there are limits to human reason, and that theology lies outside those limits. Within those limits lies the world with which science (including psychology) deals. Science deals entirely with phenomena, and has nothing to say to the nature of the ultimate reality which may lie behind phenomena. There are four possible attitudes to this ultimate reality. There is the attitude of the metaphysician and theologian, who are convinced not only that it exists but that it can be at least partly known. There is the attitude of the man who denies that it exists; but he must be also a metaphysician, for its existence can only be disproved by metaphysical arguments. Then there are those who assert that it exists but deny that we can know anything about it. And finally there are those who say that we cannot know whether it exists or not. These last are "agnostics" in the strict sense of the term, men who profess not to know. The third class go beyond phenomena in so far as they assert that there is an ultimate though unknowable reality beneath phenomena. But agnostic is commonly used in a wide sense so as to include the third as well as the fourth class—those who assume an unknowable, as well as those who do not know whether there is an unknowable or not. Comte and Spencer, for instance, who believed in an unknowable, are counted as agnostics. The difference between an agnostic and an atheist is that the atheist positively denies the existence of a personal God, the agnostic does not believe in it.

The writer of this period who held agnosticism in its purest form, and who turned the dry light of reason on to theological opinions with the most merciless logic, was Mr. Leslie Stephen. His best-known essay, "An Agnostic's Apology" (Fortnightly Review, 1876), raises the question, have the dogmas of orthodox theologians any meaning? Do they offer, for this is what we want, an intelligible reconciliation of the discords in the universe? It is shown in detail that the various theological explanations of the dealings of God with man, when logically pressed, issue in a confession of ignorance. And what is this but agnosticism? You may call your doubt a mystery, but mystery is only the theological phrase for agnosticism. "Why, when no honest man will deny in private that every ultimate problem is wrapped in the profoundest mystery, do honest men proclaim in pulpits that unhesitating certainty is the duty of the most foolish and ignorant? We are a company of ignorant beings, dimly discerning light enough for our daily needs, but hopelessly differing whenever we attempt to describe the ultimate origin or end of our paths; and yet, when one of us ventures to declare that we don't know the map of the Universe as well as the map of our infinitesimal parish, he is hooted, reviled, and perhaps told that he will be damned to all eternity for his faithlessness." The characteristic of Leslie Stephen's essays is that they are less directed to showing that orthodox theology is untrue as that there is no reality about it, and that its solutions of difficulties are sham solutions. If it solved any part of the mystery, it would be welcome, but it does not, it only adds new difficulties. It is "a mere edifice of moonshine." The writer makes no attempt to prove by logic that ultimate reality lies outside the limits of human reason. He bases this conclusion on the fact that all philosophers hopelessly contradict one another; if the subject-matter of philosophy were, like physical science, within the reach of the intelligence, some agreement must have been reached.

The Broad Church movement, the attempts to liberalize Christianity, to pour its old wine into new bottles, to make it unsectarian and undogmatic, to find compromises between theology and science, found no favour in Leslie Stephen's eyes, and he criticized all this with a certain contempt. There was a controversy about the efficacy of prayer. Is it reasonable, for instance, to pray for rain? Here science and theology were at issue on a practical point which comes within the domain of science. Some theologians adopted the compromise that to pray against an eclipse would be foolish, but to pray for rain might be sensible. "One phenomenon," Stephen wrote, "is just as much the result of fixed causes as the other; but it is easier for the imagination to suppose the interference of a divine agent to be hidden away somewhere amidst the infinitely complex play of forces, which elude our calculations in meteorological phenomena, than to believe in it where the forces are simple enough to admit of prediction. The distinction is of course invalid in a scientific sense. Almighty power can interfere as easily with the events which are, as with those which are not, in the Nautical Almanac. One cannot suppose that God retreats as science advances, and that he spoke in thunder and lightning till Franklin unravelled the laws of their phenomena."

Again, when a controversy about hell engaged public attention, and some otherwise orthodox theologians bethought themselves that eternal punishment was a horrible doctrine and then found that the evidence for it was not quite conclusive and were bold enough to say so, Leslie Stephen stepped in to point out that, if so, historical Christianity deserves all that its most virulent enemies have said about it in this respect. When the Christian creed really ruled men's consciences, nobody could utter a word against the truth of the dogma of hell. If that dogma had not an intimate organic connection with the creed, if it had been a mere unimportant accident, it could not have been so vigorous and persistent wherever Christianity was strongest. The attempt to eliminate it or soften it down is a sign of decline. "Now, at last, your creed is decaying. People have discovered that you know nothing about it; that heaven and hell belong to dreamland; that the impertinent young curate who tells me that I shall be burnt everlastingly for not sharing his superstition is just as ignorant as I am myself, and that I know as much as my dog. And then you calmly say again, 'It is all a mistake. Only believe in a something—and we will make it as easy for you as possible. Hell shall have no more than a fine equable temperature, really good for the constitution; there shall be nobody in it except Judas Iscariot and one or two others; and even the poor Devil shall have a chance if he will resolve to mend his ways.'"

Mr. Matthew Arnold may, I suppose, be numbered among the agnostics, but he was of a very different type. He introduced a new kind of criticism of the Bible—literary criticism. Deeply concerned for morality and religion, a supporter of the Established Church, he took the Bible under his special protection, and in three works, St. Paul and Protestantism, 1870, Literature and Dogma, 1873, and God and the Bible, 1875, he endeavoured to rescue that book from its orthodox exponents, whom he regarded as the corrupters of Christianity. It would be just, he says, "but hardly perhaps Christian," to fling back the word infidel at the orthodox theologians for their bad literary and scientific criticisms of the Bible and to speak of "the torrent of infidelity which pours every Sunday from our pulpits!" The corruption of Christianity has been due to theology "with its insane licence of affirmation about God, its insane licence of affirmation about immortality"; to the hypothesis of "a magnified and non-natural man at the head of mankind's and the world's affairs"; and the fancy account of God "made up by putting scattered expressions of the Bible together and taking them literally." He chastises with urbane persiflage the knowledge which the orthodox think they possess about the proceedings and plans of God. "To think they know what passed in the Council of the Trinity is not hard to them; they could easily think they even knew what were the hangings of the Trinity's council-chamber." Yet "the very expression, the Trinity, jars with the whole idea and character of Bible-religion; but, lest the Socinian should be unduly elated at hearing this, let us hasten to add that so too, and just as much, does the expression, a great Personal First Cause." He uses God as the least inadequate name for that universal order which the intellect feels after as a law, and the heart feels after as a benefit; and defines it as "the stream of tendency by which all things strive to fulfil the law of their being." He defined it further as a Power that makes for righteousness, and thus went considerably beyond the agnostic position. He was impatient of the minute criticism which analyzes the Biblical documents and discovers inconsistencies and absurdities, and he did not appreciate the importance of the comparative study of religions. But when we read of a dignitary in a recent Church congress laying down that the narratives in the books of Jonah and Daniel must be accepted because Jesus quoted them, we may wish that Arnold were here to reproach the orthodox for "want of intellectual seriousness."

These years also saw the appearance of Mr. John Morley's sympathetic studies of the French freethinkers of the eighteenth century, Voltaire (1872), Rousseau (1873), and Diderot (1878). He edited the Fortnightly Review, and for some years this journal was distinguished by brilliant criticisms on the popular religion, contributed by able men writing from many points of view. A part of the book which he afterwards published under the title Compromise appeared in the Fortnightly in 1874. In Compromise, "the whole system of objective propositions which make up the popular belief of the day" is condemned as mischievous, and it is urged that those who disbelieve should speak out plainly. Speaking out is an intellectual duty. Englishmen have a strong sense of political responsibility, and a correspondingly weak sense of intellectual responsibility. Even minds that are not commonplace are affected for the worse by the political spirit which "is the great force in throwing love of truth and accurate reasoning into a secondary place." And the principles which have prevailed in politics have been adopted by theology for her own use. In the one case, convenience first, truth second; in the other, emotional comfort first, truth second. If the immorality is less gross in the case of religion, there is "the stain of intellectual improbity." And this is a crime against society, for "they who tamper with veracity from whatever motive are tampering with the vital force of human progress." The intellectual insincerity which is here blamed is just as prevalent to-day. The English have not changed their nature, the "political" spirit is still rampant, and we are ruled by the view that because compromise is necessary in politics it is also a good thing in the intellectual domain.

The Fortnightly under Mr. Morley's guidance was an effective organ of enlightenment. I have no space to touch on the works of other men of letters and of men of science in these combative years, but it is to be noted that, while denunciations of modern thought poured from the pulpits, a popular diffusion of freethought was carried on, especially by Mr. Bradlaugh in public lectures and in his paper, the National Reformer, not without collisions with the civil authorities.

If we take the cases in which the civil authorities in England have intervened to repress the publication of unorthodox opinions during the last two centuries, we find that the object has always been to prevent the spread of freethought among the masses. The victims have been either poor, uneducated people, or men who propagated freethought in a popular form. I touched upon this before in speaking of Paine, and it is borne out by the prosecutions of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. The unconfessed motive has been fear of the people. Theology has been regarded as a good instrument for keeping the poor in order, and unbelief as a cause or accompaniment of dangerous political opinions. The idea has not altogether disappeared that free thought is peculiarly indecent in the poor, that it is highly desirable to keep them superstitious in order to keep them contented, that they should be duly thankful for all the theological as well as social arrangements which have been made for them by their betters. I may quote from an essay of Mr. Frederic Harrison an anecdote which admirably expresses the becoming attitude of the poor towards ecclesiastical institutions. "The master of a workhouse in Essex was once called in to act as chaplain to a dying pauper. The poor soul faintly murmured some hopes of heaven. But this the master abruptly cut short and warned him to turn his last thoughts towards hell. 'And thankful you ought to be,' said he, 'that you have a hell to go to.'"

The most important English freethinkers who appealed to the masses were Holyoake,[3] the apostle of "secularism," and Bradlaugh. The great achievement for which Bradlaugh will be best remembered was the securing of the right of unbelievers to sit in Parliament without taking an oath (1888). The chief work to which Holyoake (who in his early years was imprisoned for blasphemy) contributed was the abolition of taxes on the Press, which seriously hampered the popular diffusion of knowledge.[4] In England, censorship of the Press had long ago disappeared (above, p. 139); in most other European countries it was abolished in the course of the nineteenth century.[5]

In the progressive countries of Europe there has been a marked growth of tolerance (I do not mean legal toleration, but the tolerance of public opinion) during the last thirty years. A generation ago Lord Morley wrote: "The preliminary stage has scarcely been reached—the stage in which public opinion grants to every one the unrestricted right of shaping his own beliefs, independently of those of the people who surround him." I think this preliminary stage has now been passed. Take England. We are now far from the days when Dr. Arnold would have sent the elder Mill to Botany Bay for irreligious opinions. But we are also far from the days when Darwin's Descent created an uproar. Darwin has been buried in Westminster Abbey. To-day books can appear denying the historical existence of Jesus without causing any commotion. It may be doubted whether what Lord Acton wrote in 1877 would be true now: "There are in our day many educated men who think it right to persecute." In 1895, Lecky was a candidate for the representation of Dublin University. His rationalistic opinions were indeed brought up against him, but he was successful, though the majority of the constituents were orthodox. In the seventies his candidature would have been hopeless. The old commonplace that a freethinker is sure to be immoral is no longer heard. We may say that we have now reached a stage at which it is admitted by every one who counts (except at the Vatican), that there is nothing in earth or heaven which may not legitimately be treated without any of the assumptions which in old days authority used to impose.

In this brief review of the triumphs of reason in the nineteenth century, we have been considering the discoveries of science and criticism which made the old orthodoxy logically untenable. But the advance in freedom of thought, the marked difference in the general attitude of men in all lands towards theological authority to-day from the attitude of a hundred years ago, cannot altogether be explained by the power of logic. It is not so much criticism of old ideas as the appearance of new ideas and interests that changes the views of men at large. It is not logical demonstrations but new social conceptions that bring about a general transformation of attitude towards ultimate problems. Now the idea of the progress of the human race must, I think, be held largely answerable for this change of attitude. It must, I think, be held to have operated powerfully as a solvent of theological beliefs. I have spoken of the teaching of Diderot and his friends that man's energies should be devoted to making the earth pleasant. A new ideal was substituted for the old ideal based on theological propositions. It inspired the English Utilitarian philosophers (Bentham, James Mill, J. S. Mill, Grote) who preached the greatest happiness of the greatest number as the supreme object of action and the basis of morality. This ideal was powerfully reinforced by the doctrine of historical progress, which was started in France (1750) by Turgot, who made progress the organic principle of history. It was developed by Condorcet (1793), and put forward by Priestley in England. The idea was seized upon by the French socialistic philosophers, Saint-Simon and Fourier. The optimism of Fourier went so far as to anticipate the time when the sea would be turned by man's ingenuity into lemonade, when there would be 37 million poets as great as Homer, 37 million writers as great as Molière, 37 million men of science equal to Newton. But it was Comte who gave the doctrine weight and power. His social philosophy and his religion of Humanity are based upon it. The triumphs of science endorsed it; it has been associated with, though it is not necessarily implied in, the scientific theory of evolution; and it is perhaps fair to say that it has been the guiding spiritual force of the nineteenth century. It has introduced the new ethical principle of duty to posterity. We shall hardly be far wrong if we say that the new interest in the future and the progress of the race has done a great deal to undermine unconsciously the old interest in a life beyond the grave; and it has dissolved the blighting doctrine of the radical corruption of man.

Nowhere has the theory of progress been more emphatically recognized than in the Monistic movement which has been exciting great interest in Germany (1910–12). This movement is based on the ideas of Haeckel, who is looked up to as the master; but those ideas have been considerably changed under the influence of Ostwald, the new leader. While Haeckel is a biologist, Ostwald's brilliant work was done in chemistry and physics. The new Monism differs from the old, in the first place, in being much less dogmatic. It declares that all that is in our experience can be the object of a corresponding science. It is much more a method than a system, for its sole ultimate object is to comprehend all human experience in unified knowledge. Secondly, while it maintains, with Haeckel, evolution as the guiding principle in the history of living things, it rejects his pantheism and his theory of thinking atoms. The old mechanical theory of the physical world has been gradually supplanted by the theory of energy, and Ostwald, who was one of the foremost exponents of energy, has made it a leading idea of Monism. What has been called matter is, so far as we know now, simply a complex of energies, and he has sought to extend the "energetic" principle from physical or chemical to biological, psychical, and social phenomena. But it is to be observed that no finality is claimed for the conception of energy; it is simply an hypothesis which corresponds to our present stage of knowledge, and may, as knowledge advances, be superseded.

Monism resembles the positive philosophy and religion of Comte in so far as it means an outlook on life based entirely on science and excluding theology, mysticism, and metaphysics. It may be called a religion, if we adopt Mr. MacTaggart's definition of religion as "an emotion resting on a conviction of the harmony between ourselves and the universe at large." But it is much better not to use the word religion in connexion with it, and the Monists have no thought of finding a Monistic, as Comte founded a Positivist, church. They insist upon the sharp opposition between the outlook of science and the outlook of religion, and find the mark of spiritual progress in the fact that religion is gradually becoming less indispensable. The further we go back in the past, the more valuable is religion as an element in civilization; as we advance, it retreats more and more into the background, to be replaced by science. Religions have been, in principle, pessimistic, so far as the present world is concerned; Monism is, in principle, optimistic, for it recognizes that the process of his evolution has overcome, in increasing measure, the bad element in man, and will go on overcoming it still more. Monism proclaims that development and progress are the practical principles of human conduct, while the Churches, especially the Catholic Church, have been steadily conservative, and though they have been unable to put a stop to progress have endeavoured to suppress its symptoms—to bottle up the steam.[6] The Monistic congress at Hamburg in 1911 had a success which surprised its promoters. The movement bids fair to be a powerful influence in diffusing rationalistic thought.[7]

If we take the three large States of Western Europe, in which the majority of Christians are Catholics, we see how the ideal of progress, freedom of thought, and the decline of ecclesiastical power go together. In Spain, where the Church has enormous power and wealth and can still dictate to the Court and the politicians, the idea of progress, which is vital in France and Italy, has not yet made its influence seriously felt. Liberal thought indeed is widely spread in the small educated class, but the great majority of the whole population are illiterate, and it is the interest of the Church to keep them so. The education of the people, as all enlightened Spaniards confess, is the pressing need of the country. How formidable are the obstacles which will have to be overcome before modern education is allowed to spread was shown four years ago by the tragedy of Francisco Ferrer, which reminded everybody that in one corner of Western Europe the mediæval spirit is still vigorous. Ferrer had devoted himself to the founding of modern schools in the province of Catalonia (since 1901). He was a rationalist, and his schools, which had a marked success, were entirely secular. The ecclesiastical authorities execrated him, and in the summer of 1909 chance gave them the means of destroying him. A strike of workmen at Barcelona developed into a violent revolution, Ferrer happened to be in Barcelona for some days at the beginning of the movement, with which he had no connection whatever, and his enemies seized the opportunity to make him responsible for it. False evidence (including forged documents) was manufactured. Evidence which would have helped his case was suppressed. The Catholic papers agitated against him, and the leading ecclesiastics of Barcelona urged the Government not to spare the man who founded the modern schools, the root of all the trouble. Ferrer was condemned by a military tribunal and shot (Oct. 13). He suffered in the cause of reason and freedom of thought, though, as there is no longer an Inquisition, his enemies had to kill him under the false charge of anarchy and treason. It is possible that the indignation which was felt in Europe and was most loudly expressed in France may prevent the repetition of such extreme measures, but almost anything may happen in a country where the Church is so powerful and so bigoted, and the politicians so corrupt.

  1. From Greek monos, alone.
  2. Besides the works referred to in the text, may be mentioned: Winwood Reade, Martyrdom of Man, 1871; Mill, Three Essays on Religion; W. R. Cassels, Supernatural Religion; Tyndall, Address to British Association at Belfast; Huxley, Animal Automatism; W. K. Clifford, Body and Mind; all in 1874.
  3. It may be noted that Holyoake towards the end of his life helped to found the Rationalist Press Association, of which Mr. Edward Clodd has been for many years Chairman. This is the chief society in England for propagating rationalism, and its main object is to diffuse in a cheap form the works of freethinkers of mark (cp. Bibliography). I understand that more than two million copies of its cheap reprints have been sold.
  4. The advertisement tax was abolished in 1853, the stamp tax in 1855, the paper duty in 1861, and the optional duty in 1870.
  5. In Austria-Hungary the police have the power to suppress printed matter provisionally. In Russia the Press was declared free in 1905 by an Imperial decree, which, however, has become a dead letter. The newspapers are completely under the control of the police.
  6. I have taken these points, illustrating the Monistic attitude to the Churches, from Ostwald's Monistic Sunday Sermons (German), 1911, 1912.
  7. I may note here that, as this is not a history of thought, I make no reference to recent philosophical speculations (in America, England, and France) which are sometimes claimed as tending to bolster up theology. But they are all profoundly unorthodox.