Doubts In Dialogue
A Respectable Man Of The World, Reputedly Pious, And A Heritic Addicted To Public Advocacy Of Freethought
[“National Reformer,” August 31, 1884.]
CHRISTIAN PRIEST. — At least, belief is the safe side. When you die, if your unbelief be right, there is an end of you and of all your heresy; and if it is wrong, there is eternal torment as your sad lot.
UNBELIEVER. — Hardly so. If I am right, my un-belief will live after me, in its encouragement to others to honest protest against the superstitions which hinder progress.
C.P. — But you, at any rate, may be wrong, and belief is, therefore, safest for you.
U. — Which belief? Must I accept alike all creeds?
C.P. — No; that is not possible. You are asked to accept the true Christian faith.
U. — Why not the true Jewish faith?
C.P. — A new dispensation was given through Jesus.
U. — Why not the true Mahommedan faith?
C.P. — Mahommed was an impostor.
U. — About two hundred millions of human beings now believe that he was the prophet of God, and that the Koran is a divine revelation.
C.P. — He was a false prophet. His pretense that the Koran was revelation was an imposture.
U. — Then it would not be safe for me to believe in Mahommed?
C.P. — Certainly not; you must believe in Christ and in the Gospels.
U. — Would it not be enough to believe in Buddha, and the blessing of eternal repose in Nirvana?
C.P. — Buddhism is the equivalent of Atheism. Nirvana is another word for annihilation.
U. — But some four hundred millions are Buddhists, and the character of Buddha is placed very high.
C.P. — The true faith is that in Jesus, and in him crucified.
U. — Do you mean the man Jesus in whom the Unitarians believe?
C.P. — Unitarians! Do you not know that there is a special canon of the law-established Church against the dammable and cursed heresie of Socialism”? It is belief in Jesus as God, the second person in the Holy Trinity.
U. — In the Trinity as painted at Holyrood? or in the new Cathedral at Moscow?
C.P. — It is the Trinity as taught in the New Testament you must believe. The paintings you refer to are profane, idolatrous, and blasphemous.
U. — But have not the latest revisers omitted from the New Testament, as being a pious fraud, the strongest Trinitarian text?
C.P. — The omission does not weeken the doctrine; the Trinity in Unity must be believed.
U. — But not painted. May it be thought?
C.P. — Of course.
U. — But can I think man who is God, who is begotten yet eternal?
C.P. — You must believe in the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, three in one.
U. — Are there in the Trinity three persons, each God?
C.P. — Yes; but there is only one God, who so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son to die for it.
U. — Is Jesus the only begotten son of God?
C.P. — Yes; begotten before all worlds.
U. — Is Jesus God?
C.P. — Yes; very God of very God
U. — Had Jesus a mother?
C.P. — Yes; the Virgin Mary.
U. — When did she live?
C.P. — About 1,900 years ago.
U. — Was that before all worlds?
C.P. — Your attempt to reason will lead you to heresy; Belief without reason is the safe side.
U. — Did Jesus die?
C.P. — Yes.
U. — Was he quite dead?
C.P. — Yes.
U. — After he was quite dead did he eat and drink?
C.P. — He first came to life again.
U. — How long was he really dead before he came to life again?
C.P. — He died on Friday, and rose from the dead before dawn on Sunday.
U. — So that God, to show his love for the world, let his only son die for one whole day, part of another day, and not quite two nights?
C.P. — That is indeed blasphemy as well as heresy; believe as the Church teaches, that in the grave Christ triumphed over death.
U. — Which Church? The Episcopalian, the Presbyterian, the Free Church, the Established Church, the Lutheran Church, the Calvinist, the Roman Catholic, the Methodist — which of these is the safest?
C.P. — There is only one true Church, that as by law established.
U. — But as interpreted by Colenso? by Mackonochie? by Convocation? or by the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council?
C.P. — Do not distress me with these doubts. At any rate believe in Christ as taught in the Gospel.
U. — Which version of the Gospel, that of Rheims? or the authorized version of King James? or the revised version of the present day?
C.P. — Do not raise these quibbles as to versions; have faith.
U. — In what or whom?
C.P. — In God our father in heaven.
U. — The father of the English and the Soudanese? of the French and the Hovas? of the Boer and the Zulu?
C.P. — The Father of all.
U. — Who, having the power to prevent war, permits it? Who, being able to hinder disease, promotes it?
C.P. — These are mysteries; be content to believe and trust.
U. — In God who sent the earthquake in Java? the cholera in Marseilles and Toulon?
C.P. — Doubt is dangerous, belief is safe, your puny intellect cannot measure the infinite.
U. — Will all unbelievers in Jesus be tormented eternally?
C.P. — Yes.
U. — Is not that unfair to the millions who are unbelievers because they have never heard of Jesus except as I may hear of Obi?
C.P. — God will be merciful to those who have not heard the gospel, and therefore cannot believe.
U. — Is not that, then, very hard on the one who is an unbeliever because having heard the Gospel he cannot believe it?
C.P. — You are now judging the rule of the omnipotent, measuring the plan of the all-wise; be content to believe.
U. — Will those who have never heard the Gospel escape despite their unbelief?
C.P. — I have said God is mercfful; he will punish those who, having heard, reject.
U. — But do not your Church and many other Christian Churches send missionaries to preach the Gospel to those who have not heard it?
C.P. — Yes, our missionaries to heathen lands are the glory of all our Churches.
U. — But do they not thus take the possibility of damnation to those who would otherwise escape?
The Christian Priest here turned away despairingly.
[“National Reformer,” September 7th, 1884.]
C.P. — Believe in Jesus and be saved.
U. — Were the immediate disciples of Jesus saved?
C.P. — Certainly, except perhaps Judas, but why the doubt?
U. — Thomas would not believe (John xx. 25); was he damned?
C.P. — Even he believed at last; believe and repent.
U. — No, when he had evidence (v. 27) he knew; you ask me to believe upon grounds satisfactory to you; like Thomas I claim to examine for myself. Thomas said: “I will not believe,” I say that I cannot believe. But those that were with Jesus (Mark xvi. ii) believed not, nor when two of the disciples told the residue that they had seen Jesus, “neither believed they” (v. I3); were these saved?
C.P. — They all believed when they saw Jesus.
U. — But is not actual seeing more than mere belief? If not, may I see? When the disciples actually saw Jesus they surely scarcely deserved eternal salvation because they saw? They could not help seeing.
C.P. — But Jesus himself taught that he that believeth and is baptized shall be saved, but that he that believeth not shall be damned.
U. — Did Jesus certainly teach this? In my revised version, printed at the Oxford University Press, I read that “the two oldest Greek manuscripts and some other authorities” omit these words.
C.P. — Leave those critical questions to scholars; be humble in spirit, and have faith.
U. — In what? or whom?
C.P. — In Jesus.
U. — But the disciples who knew him intimately had small faith in Jesus. When he was arrested “they all forsook him and fled” (Mark xiv. 50), and it is pretended that those very ones who so forsook him had seen Jesus feed the hungry, cure the sick, make the blind to seg, the lame to walk, and the dead rise again to life.
C.P. — Do not say pretended; that is blasphemy.
U. — But did Peter really see dead Lazarus raised again to life, and yet deny? Was John the son of Zebedee, the disciple whom Jesus loved, and did he run away at the first approach of danger? Would not this be the veriest hardihood and audacity of disbelief?
C.P. — These things are mysteries; leave these and believe.
U. — But these disciples who did not believe were all specially selected by Jesus himself; did he know that they would be unbelievers, and that their unbelief would hinder my faith?
C.P. — You are now setting up the pride of your reason against the things of God; be as a little child; of such is the kingdom of heaven.
U. — Was Jesus a young child, and did he grow through boyhood to manhood?
C.P. — Yes, so the Gospel teaches.
U. — And must I believe that he was a God whilst he was a young child?
C.P. — He was God incarnate to suffer and redeem.
U. — And whilst a child still God. Then are the legends I find in every ancient faith of God-born children who grew through childhood into manhood, and were Gods — are these, too, to be believed?
C.P. — No, they are false religious legends — myths the infant Bacchus, or Hor, or Hercules, these are mostly sun-myths.
U. — Mostly older, though, than the myth of Jesus; how do you make the modem copy truer than the ancient fable?
C.P. — If you call Jesus myth, how do you account for Christianity?
U. — Calling, as you do, Hor myth, how do you account for Osirianism? Calling Krishna myth, how do you account for Hinduism?
C.P. — But think of the great men who have believed in Jesus.
U. — And of the great men who have believed in Mahommed, Buddha, Ra, and Agni. It is in their creeds that great men are often very weakly.
C.P. — But Christianity is spreading all over the world, other religions are dying away.
U. — It would be more true to ssy that all religions are dying away. Christianity spreads where your cannon take it, and where your bayonet keeps it; see in Zululand, in Afghanistan; it exterminates where it has foothold, as amongst the Maories, the Fijians, the Hawaians, the Hovas. But does it so surely spread at home?
C.P. — Certainly; what do you mean?
U. — In England the majority of your population from cradle to grave, save for baptism, marriage or funeral, never enter Church or Chapel; in Ireland, Catholics, more devout, shoot landlords. and Ulster Protestants, more pious, shoot Nationalists. In Italy scarce a prominent man who is not avowedly indifferent or hostile to Christianity. In France the public men are most careless of religion or repudiate it. In Germany the educated are nearly all Freethinkers, the pious nearly all soldiers.
C.P. — Do not talk of the Continent; its inhabitants are Sabbath-breakers.
U. — Shall I limit Christianity to the few in these islands, and look at home, say in outcast London, Ratchff Highway, or the Mint, or Flower and Dean Street, or the old Sanctuary? amongst the very poor and miserable in the still undestroyed narrow courts of Drury Lane? or shall I take the outcast rich in the public streets about midnight, within half a mile of Westminster Abbey? are these the fruits of eighteen centuries of Christianity?
C.P. — These are sins and shames against which our Church ever labours; look to our Christian-founded hospitals and libraries.
U. — But these have grown since civilization has compelled them. The crime and your Church have dwelt together for centuries. In Rome, Paris, London, great piety, great riches, great crime, and your Church, always mighty for evil and mostly powerless for good.
C.P. — I cannot listen: these things are not true; it is unjust to put on the Church the sins of great cities where infidelity is rampant.
U. — But it is the pious in these cities who are fashionable and criminal; and there are terrors of crime which touch your Church even in its highest ranks. Heresy, or as you call it, infidelity, has during 300 years done something to purify — the corruption is part of your history. But take, too, your agricultural districts where, even to-day, there would be scant mercy for an infidel preacher, and reach me your assize calendars and total for me the record of your ordinary and of your nameless crimes. Is this the result of 1800 years of your Church?
C.P. — No, this is the natural wickedness of man; and if you destroy our faith what will you give us in its stead?
U. — Where is your faith recorded? and is your natural inclination to wickedness God-given?
C.P. — It is in the Bible, God’s word, you will find our faith; with what will you replace it? Man has a free will; do not blasphemously put his sins on God.
U. — But do you believe and practise the Bible? Do you imitate Abraham — father Abraham? or Lot? or Jacob? or Saul? or David? or Solomon? or Ezekiel? or Hosea?
C.P. — These were of the old dispensation; I preach Jesus.
U, — Then you, too, do put away as it suits you a large part of the Bible but you keep to Jesus.
C.P. — Yes; and what will you give me in his stead?
U. — Do you keep to Jesus? The Jesus of the Gospels said, Blessed be ye poor; and your Church is rich. He said, take no thought for the morrow and your Ecclesiastical Commissioners, have stringent covenants for 99 years of to-morrows. He said, thou shalt not swear; you swear yourselves, and compel others, too, to swear. He said, judge not, and agree with thine adversary quickly; and you rely on Lord Penzance, monitions, sequestrations, capiases, and long-pending litigation. if Jesus came to-day to St, Paul’s Cathedral or Westmitister Abbey, you would probably send him on the morrow to Holloway jail as a brawler.
C.P. — Why harden your heart in unbelief? why not receive the Gospel prayerfully and humbly?
U. — Does that mean that I should accept what you call the gospel without trying to find out whether such gospel is truth or error, or a mixture of both?
C.P. — The gospel is God’s word to humankind; to doubt it is to sin.
U. — How am I to be satisfied of that?
C.P. — The very desire for satisfaction is sin. The gospel is attested by miracle, and has been accepted by the wisest and best of mankind.
U. — But the miracle itself has not been worked to me; if I may not examine it how can it attest? There are many millions who have not accepted the gospel you preach. What is the evidence to me of a miracle dating back nearly twenty centuries, and performed before a foreign people?
C.P. — The whole testimony of the Church. Indeed God speaks.
U. — But I do not hear; and is the testimony of the Church even to-day unanimous?
C.P. — On the main points, yes; the doctrinal differences between the various Christian sects are trifling.
U. — If that be really so, why do not the various religious bodies, say, in England, sink these trifling differences and unite in one Church?
C.P. — For practical purposes there is that union.
U. — Is that quite true? Are Roman Catholics united with Protestants? Do they freely preach from each other’s pulpits? Do Church of England clergymen willingly bury unbaptized Nonconformists in consecrated ground? Is there perfect concord and unity between the Tablet, the Church Times, and the Rock? Did the Bishop of Capetown work in harmony with Dr. Colenso? Do even devout Low-Churchmen who promote law-suits against Ritualists give illustration of such union?
C.P. — At least in all good work these bodies, prelates and writers, sink all minor differences and are united. Take hospitals, the promotion of temperance, the abolition of slavery, and other charitable undertakings.
U. — But in a Catholic hospital would a Protestant Christian be allowed to die quietly in his heresy? And how long has the union existed? Your Christianity is claimed to be in its nineteenth century, and the union of the great Catholic and Protestant divisions of your Church is in this country not yet sixty years old even in possibility. The approach to toleration of each other has been compelled by educated public opinion; it is no natural outgrowth. Rack, faggot, and dungeon marked the differences, not the union. Nor did your churches unite for the abolition of slavery; if they united at all it was to oppose the abolition. It is not even quite certain that they are temperate, or that as a whole they have worked for temperance.
C.P. — You are leaving untouched the entreaty I made to you that you should accept the gospel frayerfully and humbly. You are drifting into criticisms on the conduct of individuals, some of them unworthy of their priestly office.
U. — Why may I not judge the tree by its fruit? Why may I not examine your gospel before I accept it?
C.P. — It is God’s gospel, the gospel of Jesus — this should be enough for you.
U. — Am I not entitled to test it by my reason?
C.P. — Human reason is a dangerous and unsafe standard whereby to test heavenly things.
U. — You present for my acceptance the gospel of Christ; well, I offer you the gospel of Krishna.
C.P. — You have no authority for this; it is a false gospel.
U. — What authority have you? Krishna was God incarnate.
C.P. — The very suggestion is blasphemy; the story was borrowed from the Christian gospel.
U. — But the Krishna story was current at least 1000 years before Christ is claimed to have existed. It is vouched by miracle.
C.P. — The Hindu miracles are absurd and ridiculous.
U. — So to me are those of your own bible; so to me are those of the Christian healer who is now in South Australia curing the sick by hundreds.
C.P. — Many of the Hindu sacred writings are coarse, voluptuous, and even filthy.
U. — So to me are many of the Hebrew sared writings.
C.P. — The Krishna story is monstrous and unreasonable.
U. — But you have taught me that human reason is a dangerous and unsafe guide in matters of religion. But I pass to the Koran offered to you by Mahommed, the prophet of the Lord.
C.P. — Mahommed was a false prophet and impostor.
U. — Is not that exactly what the Jews said of Jesus?
C.P. — But Mahommedanism has for centuries been maintained and spread by the sword.
U. — So was Christianity from the 4th to the 16th centuries; and even to-day a Christian bishop blesses an invading army, declaring that it may cut a road for the Christian missionary.
C.P. — But Mahommedans are fatalists.
U. — So were Luther, Calvin, and Jonathan Edwards.
C.P. — Oh, do not harden your heart; repent of your unbelief and believe. God is merciful, and Will forgive you.
U. — Do you mean that God, having blinded my eyes, will forgive me if I repent that I have not seen, and if I will believe that I see when I do not? Or do you mean that having given me sight and hearing he will punish me for having seen and listened unless I will repent and believe that I am blind and deaf?
C.P. — These are quibbles, hardened man; dare you reject God’s truth?
U. — Reject God’s truth spoken from opposite points with opposite meanings and in irreconcilable terms? How can I choose, how determine which is the truth if I may not examine and test all presentation? I may test a coin, a jewel, an the acquirement of which I only expend the results of a day, a week, or a month, but I may not test the jewel on the acceptance or rejection of which you say depends the happiness of an eternity. I cannot see in the black underground of hidden things, I must have light.
[“Natiottal Reformer,” December 28th, 1884.]
CHRISTIAN PRIEST. — At least, this anniversary of the message of peace and good-will to all the world should touch even your cold heart.
Skeptic. — Was the message of peace and good-will? and was it to all the world?
C.P. — Why, surely yes. God so loved the world that he gave his only son to die for it.
S. — Could he not have shown his love without killing his own son?
C.P. — That is mystery; take his love — it is given freely.
S. — Given or bought? Do the poor get this gift of love to lighten their misery? Given or taken? Do the weak get this gift of love to aid their helplessness?
C.P. — Yes, it is for all, but especially for the poor and the weak; theirs is the blessing.
S. — Is that quite true of the country , poor in cottages quite unfit for human dwellings, or of the town poor in filthy court and squalid alley? Is that quite true of the weaker races scattered through the world, kidnapped and harried for the greed of their stronger Christian brethren?
C.P. — Here man’s wickedness hinders God’s love.
S. — Can finite man’s wickedness hinder omnipotent God’s infinite goodness?
C.P. — This, again, is mystery; but it is rather of the eternal future I would speak.
S. — Peace and good-will for the dead as set-off for war and malice amongst the living.
C.P. — True Christianity would in this world abolish war and uproot malice.
S. — Would it? Why, then, do Christian nations make larger preparations for war than were ever made by any Pagan peoples? Why do these gathered in Christian churches pray for victory in war, and sing Te Deum laudamus when the carnage has been great?
C.P. — I said true Christianity, and you deal only with those who are mere professors.
S. — But then there is no professedly Christian nation which is really Christian. Then there has never been any professedly Christian nation which has been really Christian, for every so-called Christian people has had the priest-blessed wars.
C.P. — Alas! they have departed from the Gospel.
S. — Or kept too closely to its injunctions. They have remembered that Jesus came to fulfil the law and the prophets, and that the law and the prophets brim over with great slaughterings by the Lord’s people in the name of the Lord.
C.P. — It is of the peace and good-will of the new covenant I would speak.
S. — Which made a man’s foes of his own household, instead as theretofore only of the nations that are round about him.
C.P. — But Jesus meant a message of preace.
S. — And unfortunately intentionally so preached it that even those who heard him should not understand his meaning, lest they should be converted.
C.P. — But look at the countries where Christianity is triumphant.
S. — Yes, begin at home: Ireland held like a conquered province by an occupying army and speaking peace at night by the blunderbuss through cottage windows; Scotland, land of Knox, where crofters starve and deer multiply; England, which kidnaps coolies, steals South African territories and blows Arabs suddenly to heaven with mines; Germany with a pious Emperor and the largest army in the world; Spain with a monarchy tempered by poison, and Rome with a Church sanctified by brigandage.
C.P. — These again are men’s sins for which God will punish.
S. — Yes, but where is the message of peace and good-will? Just now. we are shipping explosives to the Soudan, to destroy the followers of the Mahdi, and are watching every vessel and searching every package lest. some of our loving Christian brethren should preach to us the gospel of nitroglycerine. Is it not cant and hypocrisy to pretend to be better than the mad and criminal men who tried to destroy London Bridge, whilst we have laboratories at Woolwich and, elsewhere for the manufacture of torpedoes and explosive shells? Is it not cant and hypocrisy to preach peace and good-will on Christmas Day when your navy and army at home and in India cost more than 45,000,000 pounds a year and you in Britain alone have spent in war during the last 200 years more than 2,000,000,000 pounds?
[“National Reformer,” January 11th, 1885.]
THEIST. — Surely your Atheism is most unreasonable. How can the universe exist without God?
ATHEIST. — What do you mean by “God”? and What by Universe?
T. — By God, the creator, preserver, and ruler of all things. By the universe, all that he has created.
A. — What do you mean by creation?
T. — Origination — beginning.
A. — A chair is originated from the wood of a tree; a stalagmite is begun by the water dripping through from the limestone.
T. — Those are instances of change of form. By creation I mean origin of existence.
A. — Do you mean that once the universe was not, and that what you call “God” created the universe?
T. — Yes.
A. — By universe I mean all phenomena, and all that is necessary for the happening of each and every phenomenon. I cannot think the universe non-existent — can you?
T. — The universe must have had a commencement.
A. — Why? Why may it not always have existed?
T. — Everything must have had a beginning.
A. — Even the Creator?
T. — No; he is eternal.
A. — Why he? and what do you mean by eternal?
T. — Not to think a personal deity is Atheistic, and the deity is self-existent. By eternal I mean without beginning.
A. — But even if deity must be personal, why masculine? and how do you think masculine person self-existent?
T. — All religions make God a masculine person. I cannot help thinking God self-existent.
A. — But are all religions true?
T. — Truth pervades them all, but there is only one true religion.
A. — Then the pervading truth does not save the great mass of religions from falseness. But if you can think God self-existent, why may I not think universe self-existent?
T. — The universe is finite; God is infinite.
A. — Then there exists infinity plus the finite universe. By infinite I mean illimitable extension, indefinable extent; that is, extension of x, to which I cannot think bounds. You say God is infinite. Infinite what?
T. — Infinite God.
A. — But what is God?
T. — I have already answered; the creator, preserver, and ruler of all things.
A. — But five minutes before the creation of anything what was God?
T. — God is a spirit.
A. — But what is spirit?
T. — All that is not matter.
A. — Five minutes before the creation of matter what was spirit?
T. — The question is monstrous.
A. — Only because it is the test of a monstrous misstatement.
T. — But if there be no God, whence came intelligence?
A. — Intelligence is not an entity; it is a result, and an ever-changing result.
T. — What do you mean?
A. — Intelligence = all mental phases, — perception, including consciousness, memory, comparison, judgment, reflection, reason. Intelligence does not come from, or go to; it grows with and of. Unless you change the meaning of words, God is not properly describable as intelligent.
T. — Why?
A. — The basis of intelligence is in sensation. Prior to creation what could God sensate?
T. — You cannot compass God with finite terms and by your finite mind.
A. — Yet you preach God in finite terms and to any finite mind.
T. — Your Atheism is mere negation.
A. — Not so, except as the affirmation of any truth negates the falsehood it contradicts.
T. — Your Atheism leads men to vice.
A. — First, that is rather abuse than argument, and if true, would scarcely demonstrate the existence of God. Are all Theists virtuous?
T. — Unfortunately not.
A. — Are most criminals Theists?
T. — They profess religion, but they are practical Atheists.
A. — The last statement is again abuse. Are all Atheists vicious?
T. — No; they are, many of them, better than their principles.
A. — That, again, is abuse, unless you state the Atheistic principles which you allege lead to vice.
T. — Why should not an Atheist lie and steal and cheat, if he can do it without being found out?
A. — Why should he? It is easier to tell the truth than to lie, especially if you cultivate the habit of truth-telling; stealing and cheating are practices of social misdoing which involve at least the possibility of being discovered. An Atheist cannot clear himself from rascality by repentance. He. finds it much more comfortable and profitable to encourage habits of truthfulness and honesty in others by practising them himself.
T. — But this is a low and selfish vice.
A. — Is it? It is a view which, if extensively adopted, would afford ground for economy in jail chaplains, who would not be required to preach to orthodox convicts.
[“National Reformer,” August 9th, 1885.]
CURATE. — God so loved the world that he gave his only son to die for it.
DOUBTER. — When?
C. — Jesus died somewhere about 1,850 Years ago.
D. — For what did Jesus die?
C. — To redeem the world from the consequences of Adam’s sin.
D. — When did Adam sin?
C. — About 4,000 years before the birth of Jesus.
D. — If God so loved the world, why did he delay the redemption for 4,000 years?
C. — That is not for finite minds to judge.
D. — Yet you teach that finite minds must believe without judgment. But was Adam punished for his sin?
C. — Yes.
D. — Is it just to punish one who is not guilty for a sin for which Adam suffered?
C. — But the penalty was a curse which passed on to Adam’s descendants, and it is from this curse that the sacrifice of Jesus redeemed the world.
D. — Does the redemption extend to the whole world?
C. — Yes, if they believe, and are baptized.
D. — What was Adam’s sin?
C. — He disobeyed God.
D. — Is God all-powerful?
C. — Yes.
D. — Did he create and control Adam?
C. — Yes.
D. — Can the creature disobey the omnipotent controller?
C. — God gave man liberty.
D. — Liberty to fall?
C. — If Adam had chosen, he might have stood upright; God gave him the noblest gifts. Through Adam’s own fault he fell.
D. — Before Adam’s fall, could he distinguish good from evil?
C. — No.
D. — How then could he choose between them?
C. — He had God’s command to guide him.
D. — Do the commands of the omnipotent guide or compel? Can the irresistible be resisted?
C. — You forget man had free will.
D. — Do you mean that God being infinite, his win was everywhere omnipotent, but that in some places and under some circumstances Adam’s will was stronger than that of God?
C. — No. I mean that omnipotent God allowed man to be free.
D. — That is, that God, being able to prevent sin would not. But in human morals, is not one who knows of a crime about to be committed, and who might prevent it and does not — is not such a one treated as accessory before the fact? and in legal jargon is not an accessory before the fact treated as if a principal in the crime?
C. — God’s ways are not as man’s ways.
D. — But is not acquiescence in crime criminal?
C. — God did not acquiesce in Adam’s crime.
D. — He did more than acquiesce, he contrived the crime.
C. — That is blasphemy.
D. — Is God omniscient?
C. — Yes.
D. — Did he, before he created Adam, know that Adam would sin?
C. — Yes.
D. — Have any of the millions of people, who have peopled the world since Adam, died unredeemed by Jesus?
C. — Yes, the large majority die unredeemed. The holy scriptures say, “Few are chosen.”
D. — And did God know this before he created any?
C. — Yes.
D. — And did he then so love the world that he created them to suffer by unnumbered millions?
C. — That is a difficulty a finite mind cannot grasp.
D. — And yet you teach that the finite mind is to suffer if it cannot believe. Was there any existence beside God before creation?
C. — Certainly not.
D. — Is God infinitely good?
C. — Most certainly yes.
D. — Then before creation there was no evil?
C. — No.
D. — Is it compatible with God’s infinite goodness that he should have created evil?
C. — This again is beyond the sphere of finite reason, and you Materialists have equal difficulty. You have evil in Nature; how do you account for that?
D. — Which evil? or which evils? Some, science does account for, others she is examining. Take, for instance, the Lisbon or Java earthquake: science notes the shocks, marks the range, warns the inhabitants, and, though knowing but little, adds daily to her knowledge. Take the evils of poverty, crime, disease: science has studied a thousand theories, connoted the experience of generations, and at least does not kneel blindly before disaster, but grapples in earnest effort; for amelioration. But the Materialist’s inability to explain the whole of Natum does not justify your inability to explain the creed to which you ask my adhesion.
A RESPECTABLE MAN OF THE WORLD, REPUTEDLY PIOUS, AND A HERETIC ADDICTED TO PUBLIC ADVOCACY OF FREETHOUGHT
[“National Reformer,” July 25th, 1886.]
R.M.W. — What is the use of disturbing men’s views on religion? Some religion is necessary to restrain the lower classes.
H. — I do not admit your last proposition. The utility of provoking thought seems to me too dear to need defence.
R.M.W. — But you must admit that infidelity is unfashionable, and that to be known as an aggressive infidel is a barrier to any respectable career.
H. — Are not the cases of Mill, Tyndall, Huxley, Darwin, instances to the contrary?
R.M.W. — Tyndall is not an infidel, nor is Huxley; certainly neither of them should be described as aggressive infidels.
H. — A few years ago Tyndal as very hotly and sometimes coarsely denounced as an infidel from many pulpits, and the alleged materialism of Huxley has been made matter of severest censure and attack.
R.M.W. — But none of the great men you have mentioned have preached infidelity at public meetings up and down the country.
H. — They have been as badly assailed as if they had. It has been charged that they erected science as the foe of religion.
R.M.W. — When urging on you the unpopularity of heresy, I rather referred to the coarser infidelity which attacks the Bible.
H. — Such an attack was made by Colenso.
R.M.W. — But he would not have lectured against the Bible to the lower orders, and he confined his criticisms to the Old Testament.
H. — It is to anti-biblical criticism specially made clear to the people and going beyond the Hebrew books that you object?
R.M.W. — I object that the whole thing is all waste of time: why not leave those matters to the clergy whose business it is, and devote your abilities to something useful?
H. — Do you not regard it as useful to have accurate views on religion? If all questions of faith were left to the clergy, you would leave an unchallenged control over the public mind. Such a control has seldom been used for public advantage.
R.M.W. — But belief in the Bible helps to keep men sober and moral.
H. — Does it? How then do you account for the existence of much crime where there is no heresy? How do you account for some men being great criminals and yet preachers of the Bible? What do the horrible offences recorded in assize calendars mean?
R.M.W. — These are exceptions; the general result of belief in the Bible is good.
H. — I do not think so. The general result in any country, under any faith, is only good when the general life conditions are favourable to moral conduct. Most convicted murderers have professed some religion; many swindlers have had high reputation for piety.
R.M.W. — I do not desire to argue with you generally on matters of religion; I wanted to point out personally to you that known unbelief is prejudicial to your worldly prospects.
H. — But is it prejudicial to my permanent usefulness to my fellow-men?
R.M.W. — Yes, decidedly yes; there is much good work you might do which now you cannot. There are high positions you might occupy, from which you are excluded. No respectable club will have an avowed infidel as a member.
H. — But many who are not known to be what you call “infidels” are members of clubs; and their unbelief is known to their fellow-members.
R.M.W. — Yes, but they do not publicly lecture about their views.
H. — Then it is not the opinion held but the honest advocacy you object to?
R.M.W. — No one would care what your views were if you did not thrust them on the public.
H. — Suppose that, holding the views, I concealed them, would not this be hypocrisy?
R.M.W. — But you cannot expect respectable men to be identified with one who attacks religion.
H. — Why not? Why should not men associate in any good work, on which they are agreed, notwithstanding their differences of religious opinion? Mohammedans, Roman Catholics, and Protestants of all shades work together on temperance platforms, and most certainly Roman Catholics and Protestants are constantly disturbing one another’s religious opinions; sometimes, indeed, breaking one another’s heads.
R.M.W. — Oh, yes, but you have no religion.
H. — Just so, and thinking religion mischievous I say so.
R.M.W. — What do you give to the men whose religion you take away?
H. — Sounder judgment on the affairs of life.
R.M.W. — How can the ignorant be expected to exercise that judgment?
H. — I do my best at least on religious questions to dissipate their ignorance.
R.M.W. — But while you thrust your irreligion on the world you close to yourself many opportunities for usefulness.
H. — You mean that so-called religious persons are afraid of the odium of being known to cooperate with me?
R.M.W. — Put it that way if you like. It at any rate hinders you.
H. — I am not sure that it does if I am strong enough to stand; and if I am weak enough to be hypocrite, I am afraid my sphere of human usefulness will never be very wide.
[“National Reformer.” October 24th, 1886.]
MISSIONARY. — Why do you disregard the evidence of the truth of Christianity involved in the fulffiment prophecy?
ATHEIST. — What do you mean by prophecy?
M. — To use the appropriate language of Hartwell Horne, prophecy is “a miracle of knowledge, a declaration or description of something future, beyond the power of human sagacity to discern or calculate, and it is the highest evidence that can be given of supematural communion with the deity, and of the truth of a revelation from God.”
A. — But the acceptance of prophecy then involves the acceptance of what you call “deity” foreknowing the happings of the particular event described in the prophetic passage?
M. — Yes.
A. — When you speak of “deity” foreknowing the happening in the future of a particular event, do you mean that what you call deity causes the event to happen?
M. — Yes.
A. — Does that mean that this deity causes all events to happen?
M. — Certainly.
A. — Does deity then cause the prophet to prophesy, meaning the prophecy to be evidence to me, and at the same time cause me to disbelieve the prophecy?
M. — No, he leaves you your free will.
A. — Does that mean that deity does not know beforehand of any proposition what I will believe, or of any act that I Will do?
M. — God knows everything.
A. — Then he does always know what I will believe and what I will do?
M. — Yes.
A. — Can I believe, or do, the contrary of that which God foreknows I shall believe or do?
M. — No.
A. — But if I can only believe or do that which God foreknew I should believe or do, what becomes of my free Will?
M. — You are digressing from the value of prophecy as evidence into a mere metaphysird discussion.
A. — Heine foretold the terrible German invasion of France. Was that prophecy?
M. — That was a guess or reasoning as to probable national action: it was not prophecy.
A. — Mazzini, in fervid language, foretold the unification of Italy. Was that prophecy?
M. — That was the expression of a hope as to the future of his country which Joseph Mazzini worked to realize: it was not prophecy.
A. — Charles Sumner, in the American Senate, eloquently foretold the abolution of slavery by the United States. Was that prophecy?
M. — That was a judgment on the likely results of a long- sustained anti-slavery agitation: it was not prophecy.
A. — Give me some clear test distinguishing prophecy from, say, Mother Shipton’s verses.
M. — The prophecy attributed to Mother Shipton has probably grown in the repetition, and been gradually made to fit the facts after they have happened.
A. — How can a prophecy be tested?
M. — It must clearly tell something that could not be known to the prophet except by supematural means.
A. — So that to accept prophecy I must first admit the possibility or rather the actuality of the supernatural?
M. — Yes.
A. — But to me nature means everything.
M. — I will agree that nature means everything material.
A. — Do you know anything that is not material?
M. — Yes; soul, angel, devil, God; these are all supernatural.
A. — What do you mean by soul?
M. — The life, the intelligence of each individual human being.
A. — Is the life of a man or woman his or her soul?
M. — Yes.
A. — By life I mean the functional activity of each animal; the normal activity is healthy life: abnormal activity, as in inflammation or arrestment, is disease cessation of all functional activity, followed by decay, is death. Is the life of a pig its soul?
M. — I speak of the life of a rational being.
A. — But do not many animals, besides human animals, reason?
M. — I decline to be drawn away from the subject of prophecy into a discussion on psychology.
A. — But unless there is the supernatural, prophecy, on your own definition, is impossible.
M. — It is impossible to argue with an Atheist who denies everything.
A. — On the contrary, I accept everything. It is when you affirm other than everything that I wish this surplusage explained to me. Give. me an instance of what you call prophecy.
M. — Take Isaiah vii. 1-16. As Hartwell Home says: “Within tree short years the event justified the prophecy in all its parts, though it was without any natural probability.”
A. — First, there is not a particle of evidence that this so- called prophecy was recorded before the happening of the events to which it relates; and it is liable to the objection taken by you to Mother Shipton’s prophecy. Second, even if spoken before the event to which it relates, it might well be a guess or reasoning founded on political knowledge or conjecture, and would fall under the objection raised by you against the prophecies of Heine, Mazzini, and Sumner.
M. — Take another instance cited by Hartwell Home: “The destruction of Sennacherib’s army, together with all the minute circumstances of his previous advance, was announced by Isaiah a long time before it happened, with this additional circumstance, that such destruction should take place in the night; and that the noise of the thunder that should roll over the Assyrians should be to Jerusalem an harmonious sound, and like a melodious concert, because it would be followed with public thanks-givings. It was these precise and circumstantial predictions that supported the hopes of Hezekiah, notwithstanding everything that seemed to oppose it.” You will find this in Isaiah x. 26-28; and following xxix. 6-8; xxx. 29-31, 32.
A. — Again, there is not a shred of testimony to show that this so-called prophecy existed before the events claimed as the fulfilment. In any case, the language is too vague to be worth serious argument.
M. — Take the chief of the predictions as to the Jewish nation — (a) Genesis xii. 1-3; (b) xiii. 14-16; (c) xv. 5; (d) xvii. 2-8; (e) xxii. 17, 18; (f) Exodus xxii. 13.
A. — (a) is not true, and there is no evidence that it has ever been temporarily true; (b and f) it is certain that there is no land anywhere which the Jews have owned in perpetuity; (c) nor have the Jews been innumerable; (d) the land of Canaan has clearly not been an everlasting possession for the Jews; (e) the Jews have sccarcely been blessed in Europe during the past fifteen centuries.
M. — I pass to the prophecies relating to the Messiah, which, as Hartwell Home says, “are astonishingly minute,” and I have the more satisfaction on this branch of the subject, because “the great object of the prophecies of the Old Testament is the redemption of mankind.” To quote once more Hartwell Home: “The prophecies which respect the Messiah are neither few in number nor vague and equivocal in their reference, but numerous, pointed, and particular. They bear on them those discriminating marks by which divine inspiration may be distinguished from the conjectures of human sagacity, and a necessary or probable event from a casual and uncutain contingency. They are such as cannot be referred to the dictates of mere natural penetration, because they are not confined to general occurrences, but point out with singular exactness a variety of minute circumstances relating to times, places, and persons which were neither objects of foresight nor conjecture, because they were not necessarily connected with the principal event, or even probable either in themselves or in their relation. They were such as could only have occurred to a mind that was under the immediate influence of the divinity, by which distant periods were revealed and the secrets of unborn ages disclosed.”
A. — Before taking the specific instances of so-called Messianic prophecy, I submit for your consideration a couple of extracts from Dr. Kalisch: The gift of prophecy, which all ancient nations attributed to elected favourites of the deity, is again nothing else but the gift of human reason and judgment, striving to penetrate through the veil of the future, and hence naturally liable to error.” And whilst he claims that the Hebrew prophets were high-minded and unselfish, he says they “were not the less fallible; their activity was absolutely tied to the ordinary limits of the human mind; and therefore they occasionally predicted events which either were not fulffiled at all, or happened in a different manner and form. Thus Amos foretold, ‘Jeroboam shall die by the sword, and Israel shall surely be led away captive out of their own land,’ whereas the historical account relates ‘that he slept with his fathers, and Nadab, his son, reigned in his stead.’ Jeremiah prophesied of King Jehoiakim, that ‘he shall be buried in the burial of an ass, and drawn and cast forth beyond the gates of Jerusalem’; but history tells us that ‘he slept with his fathers.’ Again, Jeremiah foretold, concerning the Edomites, that all their towns would be given up to eternal desolation, that, in fact, their whole territory would be converted into a dreary, uninhabited desert, the horror and mockery of all strangers, like Sodom and Gomorrah, and that they themselves would be carried away by Nebuchadnezzar like helpless lambs; and gloomy predictions of a similar nature, likewise suggested by deep and implacable hatred, were pronounced by Ezekiel, Obadiah, and other writers. Now, the Edomites were indeed subjugated by the Babylonians, and suffered considerable injuries, but they remained in their land; they succeeded even in appropriating to themselves a part of Southern Judea including Hebron, which was therefore frequently called Idumea; they took an active part in the Maccabean wars in the course of which they were compelled by john Hyrcanus (about 130 B.C.) to adopt the rite of circumcision, and were incorporated in the Jewish commonwealth. Ezekiel promised the political reunion of the empires of Israel and Judah, which has never been realized. The total destruction of Gaza is repeatedly predicted in distinct terms, yet the town exists to the present day.”
[“National Reformer,” October 31st, 1886.]
A. — I understood you to describe prophecy as a miracle of knowledge — that is, that the prophet foretold an event which “Deity ” intended to happen, but which human forethought was insufficient to predict.
M. — Yes.
A. — Does not that involve that the matters to which the prophecy relates must have been predestined by “Deity”?
M. — Yes.
A. — Does that mean that all events are predestined?
M. — Yes; subject to the fact that man is endowed by God with freedom of will.
A. — Then whether I should be good or wicked must have been predestined before my birth?
M. — You forget that you have a free will.
A. — Did Herod slaughter the little children that prophecy might be fulfilled?
M. — So Matthew says.
A. — Did Herod in slaughtering the little children exercise his free will?
M. — Yes.
A. — But, if Matthew is correct in treating the massacre as prophesied by Jeremiah, was not that slaughter predestined?
M. — God knew how Herod would act.
A. — Could Herod have refrained from slaughtering the little children?
M. — Certainly he could; but God knew the wickedness of his heart.
A. — Several centuries before he was born?
M. — Yes; time makes no difference to God’s knowledge.
A. — Are any events the subject of prophecy which are not dependent on man’s volition?
M. — There may be such events.
A. — In such cases the events must be predestined by “Deity”?
M. — Yes.
A. — And the happening of some such events may involve advantages or disadvantages to individuals?
M. — Yes.
A. — But will this not show actual partiality of “Deity” for or against such individuals?
M. — The finite must not presume to judge the infinite. We are the creatures of Deity.
A. — Who should therefore treat us all fairly, and does not.
M. — That is blasphemy.
A. — You referred me to the Messianic prophecies. I will take them in the order given in the Gospels. (1) Matthew 1.:
“22. Now all this was done, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken of the Lord by the prophet, saying,
23. Behold, a virgin shall be with child, and shall bring forth a son, and they shall call his name Emrrianuel; which being interpreted is, God with us.”
The marginal reference in the Bible is to Isaiah vii. where I read:
“10. Moreover, the Lord spake again unto Ahaz, saying,
“11. Ask thee a sign of the Lord thy God: ask it either in the depth, or in the height above.
“12. But Ahaz said, I will not ask, neither Will I tempt the Lord.
“13. And he said, Hear ye now, O house of David; Is it a small thing for you to weary men, but will ye weary my God also?
“14. Therefore the Lord Himself shall give you a sign: Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.
“15. Butter and honey shall he eat, that he may know to refuse the evil, and choose the good.
“16. For before the child shall know to refuse the evil, and choose the good, the land that thou abhorrest shall be forsaken of both her kings.
“17. The Lord shall bring upon thee, and upon thy people, and upon thy father’s house, days that have not come, from the day that Ephraim departed from Judah; even the king of Assyria.
“18. And it shall come to pass in that day, that the Lord shall hiss for the fly that is in the uttermost part of the rivers of Egypt, and for the bee that is in the land of Assyria:
“19. And they shall come, and shall rest all of them in the desolate valleys, and in the holes of the rocks, and upon all thorns, and upon all bushes.
“20, In the same day shall the Lord shave with a razor that is hired, namely, by them beyond the river, by the king of Assyria, the head, and the hair of the feet: and it shall also consume the beard.
“21. And it shall come to pass in that day, that a man shall nourish a young cow and two sheeps:
“22. And it shall come to pass, for the abundance of milk that they shall give that he shall eat butter: for butter and honey shall everyone eat that is left in the land.
“23. And it shall come to pass in that day, that every place shall be, where there were a thousand vines at a thousand silverlings, it shall even be for briers and thoms.
“24. With arrows and with bows shall men come thither; because all the land shall become briers and thorns.
“25. And on all hills that shall be digged with the mattock, there shall not come thither the fear of briers and thoms: but it shall be for the sending forth of oxen, and for the treading of lesser cattle.”
Are any of the particulars given here in any way applicable to Jesus?
M. — Verses 17 to 25 are no part of the prophecy.
A. — They are all part of one chapter; apparently all relate to the one matter. But take verses 14, 15, and 16: is not the word translated “virgin” in this verse ***** and does not that mean a woman of marriageable age? is not the identical Arabic word used for dancing girls? is not the proper Hebrew word for virgin ######? and does not Isaiah viii. 3 and 4, show explicitly that a virgin is not meant here? Where is Jesus in the Gospels called Immanuel? where is the evidence that he ate butter and honey? and what shadow of justification is there for pretending that in the case of Jesus there is any fulfilment of verse 16?
M. — I am content to read Isaiah as Matthew read it. That Jesus was to be born of a virgin was also prophesied by Jeremiah (xxxi. 22).
A. — Do you really mean that that text has the most remote reference to Jesus? It reads:
“22. How long wilt thou go about, O thou back-sliding daughter? for the Lord hath created a new thing in the earth. A woman shall compass a man.” The words are ambiguous; the meaning is vague and obscure. Instead of covering your evasion with Jeremiah, answer rather the objections I have taken to the alleged prophecy from Isaiah vii.
M. — “The absolute authority of the New Testament,” as has been well observed by Mr. Tregelles, in his note to Gesenius, “is quite sufficient to settle the question to a Christian.”
A. — So that you prove the truth of the New Testament by prophecy, and the prophecy by the New Testament. Convenient to the Christian, but hardly convincing to anybody else. I will go to the next alleged prophecy in Matthew ii.:
“3. When Herod the king had heard these things, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him.
“4. And when he had gathered all the chief priests and scribes of the people together, he demanded of them where Christ should be born.
“5. And they said unto him, in Bethlehem of Judsea: for thus it is written by the prophet;
“6. And thou Bethlehem, in the land of Juda, art not the least among the princes of Juda: for out of thee shall come a Governor, thit shall rule my people Ismel.”
The only place in the Old Testament where anything like this can be found is Micah v.:
“1. Now gather thyself in troops, O daughter of troops; he hath laid siege against us; they shall smite the judge of Israel with a rod upon the cheek.
“2. But thou, Bethlehem, Ephratah, though thou be little among the thousands of Judah, yet out of thee shall he come forth unto me that is to be ruler in Israel; whose goings forth have been from of old, from everlasting.
“3. Therefore will he give them up, until the time that she which travaileth hath brought forth; then the remnant of his brethren shall return unto the children of Israel.
“4. And he shall stand and feed in the strength of the Lord, in the majesty of the name of the Lord his God; and they shall abide: for now shall he be great unto the ends of the earth.
“5. And this man shall be the peace, when the Assyrian shall come into our land: and when he shall tread in our palaces, then shall we raise against him seven shepherds, and eight principal men.
“6. And they shall waste the land of Assyria with the sword, and the land of Nimrod in the entrances thereof: thus shall he deliver us from the Assyrian, when he cometh unto our land, and when he treadeth within our borders.”
How do you make this in any fashion into a prophecy of Jesus? Was he ever ruler in Israel? Were the goings-forth of Jesus from of old, from everlasting”? Was Jesus “peace” when the Assyrian came into Judea? and did Jesus deliver the Jews from the Assyrian when seven shepherds and eight princes were raised up?
M. — You take a narrow and perverse view of the texts, seeking to raise minute and technical difficuities in order to shake the Christian faith, which tends so much to the comfort of man.
A. — At present I leave untouched the tendency of the Christian faith. I am limiting myself to the value of the evidence from prophecy as stated in the Gospels, which you allege to be divinely inspired; and I will take the next given, Matthew ii.:
“14. When he arose, he took the young child and his mother by night, and departed into Egypt:
“15. And was there until the death of Herod, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken of the Lord by the prophet, saying, Out of Egypt have I called my son.”
The only likeness to this is in the prophet Hosea xi.:
“1. When Israel was a child, then I loved him, and called my son out of Egypt.
“2. As they called them, so they went from them: they sacrificed unto Baalim, and burned incense to graven images.
“3. I taught Ephraim also to go, taling them by their arms; but they knew not that I healed them.
“4. I drew them with cords of a man, with bands of love: and I was to them as they that take off the yoke on their jaws, and I laid meat unto them.
“5. He shall not retum into the land of Egypt, but the Assyrian shall be his king, becaupe they refused to retum.
“6. And the sword shall abide on his cities, and shall consume his branches, and devour them, because of their own counsels.”
it surely requires considerable audacity to pretend that this was prophetic of Jesus. It is in the past tense, and relates to the calling out of Egypt narrated in the Pentateuch, with which it has some agreement, whilst it has none whatever with the gospel narrative of the life of Jesus.
M. — The Evangelist Matthew was inspired: he knew that the prophecy in Hosea applied to Jesus, and I refuse to be misled by your sophistries.
A. — Then I will go to the next “prophecy” in order, Matthew ii.:
“16. Then Herod, when he saw that he was mocked of the wise men, was exceeding wroth, and sent forth, and slew all the children that were in Bethlehem and in all the coasts thereof, from two years old and under, according to the time which he had diligently enquired of the wise men.
“17. Then was fulfilled that which was spoken by Jeremy, the. prophet, saying,
“18. In Rama was there a voice heard, lamentation, and weeping, and great mourning, Rachel weeping for her children, and would not be comforted, because they are not.”
[The text referred to is Jeremiah xxxi.]
“15. Thus saith the Lord, A voice was heard in Ramah, lamentation, and bitter weeping; Rachel weeping for her children refused to be comforted for her chfldren, because they were not.
“16. Thus saith the Lord, Refrain thy voice from weeping, and thine eyes from tears: for thy work shall be rewarded, saith the Lord; and they shall come again from the land of the enemy.
“17. And there is hope in thine end, saith the Lord, that thy children shall come again to their own border.”
But this refers to Rachel’s children, then in captivity, who were to be rescued or released, not to children who were to be slaughtered in the future, and who, being dead, could never “come again to their own border.”
There is one other prophecy quoted, Matthew ii.
“23. And he came and dwelt in a city called Nazareth: that it might be fulffiled which was spoken by the prophet, He shall be called a Nazarene.”
As there is no such prophecy to be found in any part of the Bible, and the only phrase like it is in Judges xii. 5 and 7, clearly limited to Samson, I leave you for the present with this testimony to explain.
[“National Reformer,” January 23rd, I887.[
[The views attributed to the Christian Lady are all taken textually from a small religious book, “The Test of Truth,” by Mary Jane Graham, published by S.W. Partridge, and sent to me to convert me. The answers are mine.]
CHRISTIAN LADY. — I will suppose that it is yet a matter of doubt whether the Scriptures are the genuine and lively oralcles of God, or the sordid, lying inventions of man.
INFIDEL. — There is another alternative which you have omitted, i.e., that what you called the Scriptures may be a mixture of crystallized tradition and legend, with some errors, some blunders, some truths, some falsehoods, and some misapprehensions, grown together through many centuries.
C.L. — You are, I hope, willing to allow that this universal frame is the work of some divine uncreated intelligence.
I. — If by “universal fame” you mean the universe, I do not make the admission you ask. The words, “some divine uncreated intelligence,” imply the possibility of more than one such. I only know intelligence as characteristic of organization, varying in quantity and quality with each organism. I do not understand the sense you intend by “divine uncreated.”
C.L. — You are surely not so thoroughly debased in heart as to be able to look round on the wonders of creation without perceiving in them all manifest tokens of creating power.
I. — Is it quite well to assume “debasement” for those who do not believe as you do? Looking round on the phenomena nearest me, I can hardly see tokens of creating power in the Lisbon earthquake, the lava-destroyed Herculaneum, the cinder-smothered Pompeii, or the disrupted. Krakatoa.
C.L. — It is enough for my argument if you admit that the existence of God, if not certain, is at least probable; or if not probable, is at least possible.
I. — I can make no such admission until I know what you intend by the word “God.”
C.L. — The various instances of deep design and exquisite contrivance which force themselves upon your notice on every side will not suffer you to deny the possible existence of some great Designer and Contriver.
I. — If each phenomenon has been designed and contrived, how am I to regard the designer and contriver of leprosy? of famine? of cholera? of war? of Climate fatal to those not indigenous? of coal and iron useful to man hidden away from him for thousands of years? of rattlesnakes, wolves, and tigers? of a hundred conflicting forms of religion? Is it possible to imagine much corn designed to grom in Kansas, and many thousands of human beings designed to starve in Ireland? I cannot imagine it possible that dynamite and melinite were designed to explode amongst human beings contrived by the same designer for the purpose of being blown to pieces.
C.L. — You may pretend to be an Atheist in public, but I am. persuaded you are not an Atheist alone. You may boast that you are one in the convivial circle, but you cannot support the character in your closet.
I. — That is your view; but in my case it is certainly not true. I thought myself into Atheism when quite alone, during a period when I had no access to heretical writings, and no opportunity of hearing Atheistical arguments. I have never mixed much in “convivial society,” and I have certainly never in such society spoken on theologic questions; much less have I boasted over the winecup. Most of the opinions I now hold on theology have been thought out quite alone. Three times — with years between — have I believed myself about to die, and remained Atheist with the shadow of the grave in my path.
C.L. — Surely God has not left himself without a witness even in your heart?
I. — You forget that if your assumption be true, that though I declare myself to be an Atheist yet that I know “God,” then you affirm that “God” has at the same time compelled me to recognize his existence, and enabled me to deny it.
C.L. — A single glance at the various and absurd religions of mankind may suffice to convince us that God is not universally or even generally known upon earth.
I. — Why, then, did you just now suggest that in my case “God’s” existence must be known to me? and why do you call the religions held by other people “absurd,” and yet feel surprised or indignant that I may apply the same word to your own creed?”
C.L. — Out of so many different Gods, only one can be the true God.
I. — But assuming the possibility of coherent meaning for the phrase “one true God,” how do you account for any false Gods having been accepted? How can you distinguish the “true God”?
C.L. — Whoever God is, it must be obvious to both Christians and Infidels that the world in general knows very little about him.
I. — You may go further with safety, Madam, and say that the world in general knows nothing at all about him; but is not your own assumption the exact contradiction of your assumption that “God” had left witness of his existence in the heart of every human being?
[“National Reformer,” October 16th, 1887.[
CHRISTIAN MISSIONARY. — DO you deny immortal life?
SKEPTIC. — The words immortal life are to me contradictory. By life I mean “the totality of functional ability, its activity and result in each individual organism.” To speak of life as immortal is confusing.
C.M. — But you ignore the soul?
S. — I have no meaning for the word “soul” if you imply an entity other than the living animal or vegetable.
C.M. — But where does the life go when a man dies?
S. — Do you ask where the life goes when an oyster dies?
C.M. — That is an evasion, and there is no fair comparison between the life of an oyster and that of a man.
S. — Each organism differs from all other organisms, or it could not be distinguished in thought. The word “life” only expresses state of organism, ie., the state of the particular organism described as living. Normal life is health; abnormal activity, excess, or collapse, would be disease. Cessation of activity, and negation of its possible resumption, is death. You do not ask where the life of a sheep has gone when you have converted the sheep into mutton pie.
C.M. — But sheep is not intelligent as is man.
S. — Sheep is more intelligent than oyster; but why do you mix up intelligence with this assertion of immortality?
C.M. — The soul, which is immortal, is intelligence as well as life.
S. — What you call intelligence, which you do not define, is to me the totality of nervous encephalic ability, its activity and results in each animal. I cannot conceive the individual intelligence of any animal continuing in activity after the individual animal has died.
C.M. — But where do you say life goes when the breath leaves the body?
S. — When an animal permanently ceases to breathe, no breath leaves his body and there is no life to go anywhere.
C.M. — Yours is a black doctrine of annihilation.
S. — Instead of finding unpleasant colour for a doctrine that I do not hold, explain your own view. Do you say that a man does live when he has died and whilst he is dead?
C.M. — I say that the Bible teaches that man has an immortal life — that man is a living soul.
S. — Before dealing with the supposed teaching of any book let me be sure that I know what you mean. Do you mean that man continues to live notwithstanding that he has died?
C.M. — Man’s soul lives.
S. — The body ceases to be a living body?
C.M. — Yes; the body is mortal, it is the soul lives on.
S. — Can you afford me any means of distinguishing what you call soul as separate from the body, or of identifying a soul living on after the death of the body?
C.M. — You reject the Bible.
S. — Apart from the Bible, can you answer my question?
C.M. — The best and most intellectual men believe in the immortality of the soul.
S. — My question is, can you afford me to-day any means, apart from the Bible and apart from the belief of others, of identifying a soul as living on after the death of its body?
C.M. — If you will not believe, it is useless to reason with you.
S. — It is not a question of my willingness or unwillingness to believe, but it is rather a question of your ability to make yourself clear on propositions to which you ask my assent. What do you mean by soul?
C.M. — Man’s immortal spirit.
S. — That is only a change of words; it is not an explanation of meaning. What do you mean by man’s immortal spirit?
C.M. — That which is intelligent and living in man.
S. — Is that which is intelligent and living in an ox its immortal spirit?
C.M. — The intelligence of an ox is very different from that of a man.
S. — But the ox lives: has an ox immortal life, or when it dies does it cease to live?
C.M. — That is always the way with infidels; you try to reduce man to the level of the beast.
S. — That is not true, and if it were true would, at least as to dying have the scriptural justification. “As the one dieth, so dieth the other”; but as you say the soul is that which is intelligent in man, I will ask you whether the basis of intelligence is sensation and memory of sensation?
C.M. — No doubt the soul uses the senses.
S. — Leaving aside “soul,” which you have not defined, what kind of intelligence would you expect to find in a person born without sight, hearing, taste, or smell?
C.M. — You take an almost impossible case.
S. — Or in the case of a congenital idiot? Do you say that the intelligence of the idiot boy is his soul?
C.M. — I do not deny that there are some mysteries, but these do not justify your disbelief.
S. — But does your absolute inability to explain what you mean by “soul” justify your requiring me to believe that which to me is meamingless, and with you is inexplicable?
C.M. — But what explanation do you give of life and intelligence?
S. — It is rather on those who assert that the onus of explanation should rest. Functional ability is inherited, and depends on the parents and their surroundings, meaning by parents much more than the immediate father and mother. Functional ability may be developed under good conditions; may be checked and arrested under hostile conditions. Individual life waxies according to heredity and life surroundings. The sensative abilities are results of heredity, the scope and intensity of their exercise varying; the ability to remember sensations differing: the brain, as to quantity, quality, and convolutions, peculiar to each individual; the nervous centres and nerve system different, though like. Life and intelligence are the word-labels of physical states and results. When the man dies, it is absurd to describe him as living.
C.M. — But your argument would make consciousness a mere attribute of matter, and we all know matter cannot think.
S. — By matter, if I use the word, I mean the totality of all phenomena and of all that is necessary for the happening of any phenomenon; that is = existence = everything. By totality I only mean infinite — that is, indefiffite — quaiitity. The material phenomenon iron pot, or granite block, does not think. The material phenomenon man, or cat, does think. There is no general consciousness in any animal, there is an ever varying state of mind as long as the animal lives and thinks.
C.M. — But surely there is a vital principle in man.
S. — Why more than a digesting principle?
C.M. — But the huge majority of mankind believe that there is a vital principle in man, and that the soul is that principle.
S. — It would be as conclusive and relevant to say that the huge majority in every nation have at some period believed as true some proposition which at another period the huge majority have rejected as false. And the “huge majority” scarcely ever believe: they acquiesce, and drift with the stream; having much the same effective relation to the creed of the day that the clay has to the river which, holding it in suspension, carries it towards the sea.