Is The Position Of Atheism Growing Stronger
GIRARD, KANSAS By E. Haldeman-Julius
In my ‘Rise and Fall of the Gods’ (1931) I traced the weird and ever-changing belief in Gods from the days of man’s infancy to our own time. I showed that at every period during the 5,000 years of history when men developed a higher culture Atheism appeared. We find it in ancient Egypt in spite of the scantiness of the literary remains and the despotic power of the priests. We see it so widespread in civilization 2,500 years ago that it takes a prominent place in history in the form of the Ionian philosophy of Greece and the ethic of Buddha and Confucius in Asia. Then there is the high cultural development of the Greek-Roman civilization, and from 300 B.C. to 300 A.D. we find the thinly veiled Atheism of the Stoics. Epicureans, and Skeptics accepted by the great majority of the better-educated. Atheism perishes again with the crass ignorance and clerical tyranny of the Iron Age, but it spreads widely in the light of the Arab-Persian civilization, wherever the fanatics are checked, and at the Renaissance it reappears in Christendom. The hardening of the religious attitude after the Reformation again cheeks it, but in the 18th Century it enters upon a development which has, in spite of murderous clerical tyranny in some countries, proceeded steadily ever since.
On the strict ground of these historical facts, without taking account of personal valuations or hopes, I formulated the law that Atheism grows in proportion to the growth of knowledge and freedom. No law of history is more consistently revealed in the records. It follows that the 20th century ought to witness a development of Atheism immeasurably greater than has ever been known before. Our knowledge of realities is incomparably greater than the knowledge of any previous civilization: that knowledge is imparted to the mass of the people by a machinery of education which is as superior to that of the Greek-Roman as a giant Cunarder is to an ancient trireme: and it was understood that the heroic struggle of the last century had won for the world at large freedom of thought and expression. We shall now survey the world in an attempt to determine to what extent Atheism has grown. The task is difficult. Atheist organizations are so few and poor that there is no approach to a census of the number of Atheists throughout the world, while the name itself has been so changed in meaning by religious writers that a large proportion of the folk who are Atheists do not know it or are reluctant to admit it. The word is here taken in its legitimate sense, which is supported by most of our leading dictionaries and invariably accepted by Atheist writers — the men, one would say, who ought to know best — as the proper designation of any man or woman who has no belief in any being or entity whom he or she calls God. In dictionary language it means “one who denies or disbelieves the existence of God.”
There is no census of such folk. Even in the few countries where a religious clause is inserted in the census-papers the results are, we shall see, apt to be grossly misleading, Except where Atheism is accepted as the creed of a definite political organization such as the Communists and, in some countries, the Socialists, it is so difficult to ascertain its strength in a community that for the compilation of this essay I have had practically no assistance from any other writer. Our post graduate research-students and professors seem at times to be running short of themes for those valuable monographs an contemporary life that they give us, but none cares to take up the exact study of one of the most startling phenomena of our age — the rapid growth of Atheism. one knows why. In the circumstances, instead of imitating the round liberality of a religious organization when it publishes a statement of its membership, I will use here only such figures, besides those which are accepted statistics, as are plainly within the truth. Yet with this cautiousness of procedure I will now prove the truth of statements I have occasionally made on the matter which seem to startle many folk and to others seem incredible:
That Atheism has grown in the last 10 years a hundred times more rapidly than any religion ever grew.
That it is moderate to claim that there are considerably more than 200,000,000 Atheists today.
That the growth has been checked only by fraudulent misrepresentations and savage persecution.
That the growth is such that if freedom is again generally secured in the next 10 years we may justly expect Atheists to be more numerous than genuine Christians in 20 years.
But if we would appreciate the full force and implication of these statements we must consider the difficulties that are put in the way of the spread of Atheism in all but one or two countries. In America and England, for instance, one imagines a quite honest religions person scoffing at my thesis and pointing out that religion looms larger in public life today than it did in the first two decades of the present century; that the appeal of its ministers was never louder and more penetrating. Undoubtedly: but only because the majority of the community are cynically indifferent about religion and permit the clergy to usurp a power out of all proportion to the number of their followers, and because the discrediting of what are called “religious evidences” and the rapid disintegration of the Churches themselves have driven the clergy to adopt new and noisier methods. Not even in the Middle Ages were Churches so elaborately organized as they are today; and, since accessions to the Churches from one great churchless body are negligible in number in our time, a desperate effort is made to cheek the streams of secession and to camouflage the social and Intellectual failure. Religion was a reality when a church just opened its doors with silent dignity to admit men and women who felt an urge to worship. The noisier it becomes, with its braying out upon the ether, its publicity bureaus and camera men, and its boosting of its social attractions and entertainments, its pushing to the front at every civic ceremonial or public event, the more plainly it confesses its failure to appeal to either the intellect or the emotions of our time. It reveals itself as just a clerical corporation for the protection of an income of so many hundred million dollars a year.
The amiable professor or “psychological” essayist who calls this a superficial view of the religious situation, who asks us to distinguish between religion and theology or to perceive, as he more wisely does, the difference between natural and institutional religion, may be invited to reflect upon one fact. ‘The more nearly any religion or sect of our time approaches his standard of intellectual resectability, the less successful it is.’ It is not Unitarianism, Modernism, or Theism that attracts the millions who quit the old Churches, but Bible Religion, Four-Square Gospel, Spiritualism, Christian Science, etc. The biggest Churches are still those that are richest in medieval stupidities. The most successful of them all in restricting its leakage, accumulating wealth, and usurping the power to bully people who do not belong to it, is the most medieval of them all. Of the, let. us say, 40,000,000 Christians of America three-fourths are Fundamentalist.
And the Churches hold such millions as they do by purveying to them a mixed diet of sacred and profane which their Jesus Christ would have drenched with the dregs of the Aramaic dictionary; by guarding their untruth with such dupery as I exposed in the last number; and by allying themselves, in every country where the alliance is offered, with Political adventurers who purchase their support by promising to crucify their critics for them. The first method is too familiar to need much comment. A church is now a social and recreational center with business methods of advertising its attractions. There is a foolish sort of person who asks us whether we suppose there are no longer genuine believers in Jesus who eagerly go to church to worship and to feel a sense of communion. Of course we grant the existence of very large bodies of such people. Whether even these, or how many of them, would retain their fervor if it were not for the untruth that is given them instead of science and genuine history is a question. But if the Churches had only, or mainly, such men and women to deal with, they would be content with the occasional chicken-supper or concert or picnic which is a time-honored concomitant of religious fellowship. They go leagues beyond these things today. They are no longer even content to have bright, brief, and brotherly services, with suave and natty floorwalkers at the door to pounce upon strangers.
Typical of the modern procedure is an experience I had in New York when, after years of nervous misgiving, the late Billy Sunday made his fatal descent upon the metropolis. Next to me at the end of the row (on my other side was an Atheist lady-friend) was a very prosy New Yorker who had just been attracted by the heavily- purchased publicity in the press and the report that Sunday’s “personal magnetism” (which turned out to be as synthetic as the beauty of a manicurist) was worth seeing. But, when it came to taking the sawdust-trail, one of the ushers pressed my totally apathetic neighbor so warmly to “go up and shake hands with Dr. Sunday” that he went. Naturally he — though he had been plainly disgusted at Sunday’s exhibition of temper at the smallness of the collections — was one of the hundreds of converts in the statistics issued.
But everybody knows the tricks and desperate devices of a modern city-church: the catchy titles of sermons published in the press, the professional and often profane soloist, the occasional invitations to a base-ball player or ocean flier, the cinema, the wide fringe of social attractions from matrimonial (or other) possibilities to cheap meals, better trade, political jobbery, or social connections. The Catholic Church may reject some of these aids to devotion but it is all the more assiduous in showing in other ways the social and economic advantages of being a Catholic. Why, the churchgoers ask, should yon growl about it? We might almost reply that, on the contrary, we are glad to see it. At the very least it confesses the failure of the religious appeal. However, it is enough to note that, clearly, church-going is no longer evidence of Christian belief, and that it is not simply a set of doctrinal formularies that we now attack.
Much more serious is the use of the new business-organization of the Churches to prevent free trade in truth. I have said that it is a law of history that Atheism grows with the growth of knowledge, and that we have now a marvelous machinery for transmitting our knowledge to all. But every part of this machinery — the school, the public library, the press, the bookstore, the lecture-room, the radio — can be used just as effectively for the dissemination of untruth as of truth, and the Churches, with their enormous wealth and power, have gained a very pernicious degree of control over the machinery. They complain of the hostility of Communists and Socialists, yet they know that today it is essential to their security that a social-political order in which they can intrigue for power shall be maintained. With the passing of Capitalism and large private fortunes they lose not only the greater part of their wealth and its immunity from taxation, but the power they now enjoy of controlling education (to a great extent), securing the service of the press, bullying publishers and booksellers, censoring public libraries, and — in comparison with the Atheist — monopolizing radio-instruction.
The detailed evidence of this very extensive control of our educational facilities would fill a volume, but since it is unquestioned we need not linger. School-education, from the primary to the university, is jealously watched for anything that it considered “contrary to the interests of religion”: which means that scientific and historical teaching is eviscerated or falsified. It is largely owing to the clergy, or the alliance of the Churches with capitalist governments, that education remains everywhere outside Russia and Turkey an unstimulating and very largely useless communication of facts that are irrelevant to the purposes of life. There are large cities like Boston where the Catholic Church notoriously influences education even in the schools to which it forbids its parents to send their children, but all the Churches keep an eye on school-manuals and teachers. I have letters from non-Catholic mothers, and far away from Massachusetts, telling me how in public high school their daughters have to listen to the most blatant Catholic propaganda. And this is only the first stage of their control of education. They have organizations, with local representatives everywhere, for watching the daily and weekly papers and threatening to injure the circulation if truths that are unpalatable to them are published or if good space is not given to their own utterances and activities. They get the work of reviewing books and even reading for publishers into the hands of the clergy or reliable laity. They threaten publishers — I have seen letters — and bully booksellers and librarians. They try to stifle all criticism, they insist on favors for their subsidized articles and pamphlets; and they make the ether throb with their ancient and modern untruths. Even employers are enlisted in the good work.
Looking at life from the angle of social psychology, one finds it remarkable that so large a majority of the community contrive to keep clear of the contagion. For, that the constant aim of all this work is to prevent the dissemination of truth and purvey what is regarded by the great majority of properly educated persons as untruth I have proved in scores of works. The grossest historical untruths, to the advantage of Christianity, are repeated until even the non-Christian majority imagine them to be unquestioned. The social services and possibilities of service of the Churches are flagrantly misrepresented. The truths of science that are essential to a correct appreciation of life and man are concealed or denied. The activity of the Churches in America is glowingly announced; the beneficent action of Atheism in Russia is misrepresented; the crimes of the Churches in Europe which cooperate with truculent dictators are never mentioned; and, in particular, the growth of Atheism is so carefully concealed behind assurances of Church- progress that people regard a plain statement of it as fantastic and reckless. History and contemporary life alike are falsely described, because the truth would be resented by one or other Church.
For reasons which will be discussed in later essays even this comprehensive and unceasing miseducation does not make people return to the Churches, but it has one of the effects that are sought: it convinces most people that Atheists are a scanty and rather eccentric body who have no title to be treated in the press or on the radio with the same respect as Christians, The clergy attach more importance to that than many people imagine. The critic they dread above all others is the man with a clean-cut profession of Atheism, the man who neither in his thoughts nor his speech admits the slightest shade of mysticism. They care very little about the professor or the literary man who openly rejects their doctrines but still talks respectfully about religion and Spiritual realities and the sacredness of doubt and the open mind. He has, perhaps, a few hundred high-brow readers, and they, in any case, agree with him before they open his book. The clergy will even permit him to speak on the radio. He generally agrees with them that Atheists are dogmatic, lacking in good taste, superficial and anyway a nuisance. So the fiction is sustained and the people are duped.
The third chief method is the modern form of the medieval habit of invoking the secular arm. It is today cynical. The Churches were still assuring us that they are today in favor, on principle, of complete toleration and freedom when they eagerly grasped every opportunity that was offered them to cooperate in a policy of intolerance and tyranny. I have just completed a thorough study of the world-situation in this respect in the Appeal to Reason and must refer any who have not read it to that series of books. Here I would point out that, though it happens that these murderous dictatorships have nearly all been set up in Catholic countries with the connivance of the Catholic Church, all Churches in all countries will accept the same alliance if ever it is offered to them. The Lutheran Church in Germany was, 10 years ago, teaching the same gentle principles of tolerance, freedom, and humanity as the Churches are teaching in America. Today the great body of the Lutheran pastors support the blood-stained tyranny of the Nazi regime, and the dissentient minority of them quarrel, not with the truculent tyranny as such, but with its interference in their affairs. Catholics and Protestants alike are willing to see Hitler and his brutal lieutenants torture Jews, Communists, Socialists, Pacifists, and humanitarians generally as long as they do not attempt to interfere with the doctrinal teaching of the Churches themselves; just as American Protestants were generally silent about the criminal aggression of Japan in China because the Japanese promised to favor the Christian missions and Russian influence in China was destroying them.
The most positive and the largest figures of bodies of Atheists that I shall give in the course of this essay are those of Communist and, in most countries, Socialist bodies. These are professedly, if not aggressively, atheistic. That is the new situation which confronts the Churches. It explains the remarkable adjustment of the Sermon on the Mount to a support of tyranny and cruelty in Germany, Austria Hungary, Poland, Italy, Spain, Yugoslavia, Bulgaria, Rumania, and Greece. And there is not the least reason to suppose that if the occasion arose, there would not be a similar adjustment in every country. Some 200,000,000 people in Europe today live or suffer under a Fascist tyranny which scorns every principle of the American social ethic, even as taught by the Churches, yet all the Churches, with the reserve I gave in the case of Germany, support the tyranny. The chief pretext for establishing the tyranny was the growth of Communism and Socialism, and part of the reward of the Churches in nearly every case was the suppression of their critics, whether Communist or not. In other words, the Churches have gone back to medieval methods just as the dictators they support have. In six of the countries I have named atheistic Communism and Socialism had in about 20 years won at least 50,000,000 adherents, detaching most of them from the Churches. We shall see proof of that. Are we asked to believe that the Churches were austerely inattentive to that fact when they supported the dictators? And are we expected to be quite polite when we are assured that, if atheistic Communism and Socialism came to capture one-third of the people in America and England also, the Churches would serenely refuse to have anything to do with a successful Fascist usurpation?
These preliminary considerations are offered to those who from a long tradition of rationalist literature are apt to regard the struggle as one of truth against untruth. If that were the case, it would be over in a few decades. What has really happened in Russia, we shall see, proves that. If we could put to the American people the relevant facts of history and truths of science as freely and unceasingly as the Churches put their untruths, no one can doubt the issue. Unfortunately, but very naturally, most people who quit church-going do not want to hear religion mentioned again. They switch off the sermon or religious address on the radio and skip the sermon-page in the paper. Let them get on with it, is the general sentiment. So atheistic organizations remain small and poor, opposing ridiculously slender resources and activities to a clerical organization with 250,000 servants of one kind or other and an income of a billion dollars a year. One of those literary men who feel that we aggressive Atheists are “on the wrong line” asked me how it was that we had such poor results. Like most of his class, he had not the least idea how enormously Atheism has spread, but the direct answer is that a few thousand people with almost no resources do not usually make a spectacular success against a billion-dollar corporation that controls the general education of the country.
Let us not fool ourselves with phrases like, Great is Truth and it will prevail. They knew quite a lot of truth in ancient Greece, and it was buried for 15 centuries, Yet it is an inestimable advantage to have the truth on your side, and it is the first point in the strengthening of the position of the Atheist in recent years that we have got weighty corroboration of our claim to possess the truth. Materialistic Atheism — and any other kind is so rare, comparatively, that it need not be considered here — is the kind of negative position which is, nevertheless, based upon a massive knowledge of realities. For most Theists nature proves, in one way or other, the existence of God. And this at once makes science a rival interpretation of nature and the natural enemy of religion. It is a mere quibble to insist that science has no concern whatever with God or spiritual realities, For more than a century science has been busy giving a natural explanation of phenomena which religious writers claimed to be inexplicable except by assuming that there was an infinite spirit in the heavens and a finite spirit in man. Attempts to shift the basis of Theism we will consider in later essays, but for at least four-fifths of the religious folk of America the basis of their belief in God is some aspect of nature (beauty, order, the mind, the moral sense, etc.) which, they say, science will never explain without God and the soul. Hence the question of the religious beliefs of scientific men has always had considerable fascination, and I will take this first.
In the last essay I remarked that to a religions person it must seem singular that, while he was assured on all sides that science had ceased to be materialistic and had “created an atmosphere more favorable to religion,” he heard nothing about conversions of scientific men. Possibly he gathered from the incessant droning about the beautiful harmony of science and religion that there was no need for conversions. One of the most liberal and cultivated preachers of New York said, when certain skeptical remarks of a scientist of secondary rank were reported to him: “Yes, the little men of science say these things: the big men are religious.” Less liberal preachers will hardly grant us the little men. Yet there is no other country in which the opinions of scientific men about the fundamental propositions of religion — God and immortality — are so easily ascertained as they are in America. Apart from other evidence, Professor Leuba gave very definite and reliable statistics 20 years ago. That was in the bad old materialistic days, before the heavenly twins of British astronomy burst upon the scientific world. Fortunately, Professor Leuba has covered the ground once more, and we have the most positive evidence of what has really happened in the American scientific world while the press and pulpits were rejoicing in the change of heart of science.
The new analysis is, like all the new facts I here get together, a triumph for Atheism. Men of science are considerably more atheistic today than they were 20 years ago. Naturally Professor Leuba does not call himself an Atheist, and probably very few of the men whose opinions he gives would admit that title. But I have explained in what sense I use the word; and, if it be thought important, I could quote very respectable dictionary authority for that use. Contrary to a widespread belief, it is the word “Agnostic” that is loosely used in our generation. It was coined by Huxley to designate a man who holds that from its own nature the mind is incapable of answering such questions as whether there is a God or not. They do not lie merely beyond the range of science but beyond the range of thought. Why Huxley coined the new word we need not consider here. He was himself in the accepted meaning of the word an Atheist. The leading British religious apologist in his time was Gladstone, and Murray’s famous Dictionary, in defining an Atheist as “one who denies or disbelieves the existence of a God” — Funk and Wagnalls Standard Dictionary and Webster’s New International Dictionary give the same definition — quote Gladstone using the word in that sense. The leading Atheist of the time, Bradlaugh, defined his position in the same sense. And since the word “disbelieve” is in the definition plainly set in contrast to “deny,” it means simply one who has no belief in God. Huxley certainly had not, and not one of the thousands of Agnostics I have known (including such well-known leaders as Sir Leslie Stephen, Professor Sully, Sir E. Ray Lankester, E. Clodd, G.J. Holyoake, J.M. Robertson, etc.) or know had the least doubt whether there was a God or not or considered themselves precluded by the nature of the mind from valuating the evidences for Theism.
Therefore, while Professor Leuba distinguishes between believers, disbelievers, and doubters, I take both the latter groups as men who are without belief in God and therefore Atheists. For those, however, who regard the distinction as of any importance I may say that of the nearly 2,000 men of science who replied to the question whether they believed in a personal God only 30 percent said Yes; 56 percent said No (disbelievers, and only 14 percent were classed as Doubters (which seems to mean Agnostics). Religious writers were severely hit by the book, Belief in God and Immortality, in which Professor Leuba published his results in 1916, and they tried frantically to discredit his procedure. It was ideally fair, and he repeated it in 1933. Of the 23,000 names in Cattell’s American Men of Science for 1933 he took one-tenth and sent his questions to them. About 75 percent replied, and there could not possibly be a fairer test. The only weakness I see is one that favors the Godly. Cattell’s list includes teachers of science in religious colleges and universities, and we are not prepared to take these as quite impartial witnesses of the same value as the others.
But Professor Leuba knows well that the gross results are not enough, and he classifies his men into Greater and Lesser and into the four categories of Physicists, Biologist, Sociologists, and Psychologists. The distinction between Greater and Lesser is taken from Cattell, and the names that are starred as of special distinction in his book were selected by leading authorities in each branch of science. Again, therefore, the procedure is ideally impartial, and the result adds to the triumph of Atheism and the rout of preachers who say that it is “only the small men” who are Atheists. Of the Lesser scientists 35 percent believe in God; of the Greater only 13 percent. The Atheists are 65 percent of the Lesser and 87 percent of the Greater. Do not forget that the believers include an unknown proportion of teachers in religious institutions.
The further analysis gives just as encouraging results. In the last number I explained that since evidence for God is not found in the world of “dead matter” but begins in the world of life and is supposed to be strongest in the world of mind, the opinion of physicists is of less value than that of biologists, and much less value than that of sociologists and psychologists. It fully confirms what I said when we find that of the physicists 38 percent (43 percent Lesser and 17 Greater) believe in God: of the biologists only 27 percent (12 percent Greater): of the sociologists 24 percent (20 percent Greater and 5 percent Greatest, according to a further refinement he makes in this case); of the psychologists only 10 percent, and of the Greater Psychologists only 2 percent. It does not concern me here and will be reported in a later number, but it may be useful to say, briefly that while 41 percent of the physicists believe in an immortal soul, only 9 percent of the psychologists (mostly Lesser) believed.
And the final point is the most encouraging of all. Since 1916, when the earlier results were published, frantic attempts have been made to secure the names of scientific men for religions lists. The late Dr. Osborn and Dr. Millikan made one attempt, in the hope that it would check the Fundamentalist menace to the teaching of science. It was a dismal failure, only about a dozen men of science answering the call. The Churches used their insidious pressure and intrigue, and they got a few university men, who in some cases were seriously threatened by pressure, to begin to attend chapel (which means nothing in such institutions) and go on the lists. Now we get an impartial and scientific test of such change as there has been in the attitude of science to the God-idea in the last 20 years. I trust Professor Leuba will not mind if, as is necessary, I borrow his cold statistical summary of the change in regard to belief in God.
Scientific Believers (percent)
Lesser Men Greater Men
1914 1933 1914 1933
Physicists 50 43 34 17 Biologists 39 31 17 12 Sociologists 29 30 19 13 Psychologists 32 13 13 12
Henceforward any preacher or writer who claims that the big men are believers, who quotes “A little learning is a dangerous thing” or “The fool said in his heart,” who tells his people that it is “the camp-followers of science” who represent its teaching as materialistic, is guilty of frigid and calculated inaccuracy or has not read the outstanding piece of documentary evidence.
I have been severely rebuked both by religious writers and certain scientific men for saying, as they represent, that men of science are generally Atheists. I have, of course, never said that. I have always said that the opinion of a scientific man on the subject might be worth less than that of a truck driver who has read critical literature about it — look at the drivel written on the subject by Millikan, Pupin and Osborn — but that the success of their various branches of science in giving us a materialistic interpretation of reality so impresses them, that four-fifths of them do not believe in God and not one in 10 is a Christian believer. It will be understood that I was using the word “men of science” in the British fashion. We mean men who are prominent in the service of science, not any college-teacher of physics or biology. And it seems that, according to this exact British test, I kept my words, as I usually do, well within the truth. Not 20 percent, but only about 10 percent, of the more distinguished men of science believe in a personal God.
The situation is the same in England. Here no straight questionnaire has been issued, and we have no exact statistics. But there has in the last 20 years been the same frantic attempt as in America to induce them to stand out on the side of the angels, especially since Bishop Barnes was, on the strength of a knowledge of mathematics, admitted to the higher scientific world. In the weightiest of scientific periodicals, Nature, there actually appeared a few years ago an editorial imploring men of science to see that Atheism led to the “horrors” of the French and the Russian Revolutions. It was a sordid appeal and from the angle of historical fact on the level of a parochial magazine. But the response has been no better than to the Osborn-Millikan appeal in America. As I showed in the last volume of my ‘Rise and Fall of the Gods,’ only a small proportion of British men of science have gratified the Churches by publishing professions of belief. The Congresses of the Church of England can no more attract them than do the Conferences of the Protestant Episcopal Church of America. No scientific man of any distinction belongs to the Catholic, the Baptist, or the Methodist Church, and few but certain aged and very heterodox scientists with a mystic vein associate even with the Modernists of the Church of England.
That the situation is the same as in America is curiously shown by a document recently published to prove the opposite. I referred to one aspect of it in the last number. The British Christian Evidence Society issued in 1932 a small work, The Religion of Scientists, which purported to give the answers of Fellows of the Royal Society to six questions about religion. The book is, as I said, marked by the customary trickery of the man of God. It boasts throughout of having received 200 expressions of opinion and nowhere tells the readers that there are 503 Fellows of the Royal Society, so that no less than 300 disdained to reply to it. I am quite certain that Barnes secured a reply from every religious Fellow. Further, the book grossly deceives the public by giving them the impression that all the Fellows of the Royal Society are men of science, if not the cream of British scientists. The rules of the Society expressly state that candidates are not necessarily of distinction in science but may be “such that their election would be of signal benefit to the Society.” Hence it includes five royal princes, who could not tell a seismograph from a saccharometer, five rich peers, a few ecclesiastics, lawyers, admirals, statesmen (like Baldwin), and other odds and ends. What is more important, it includes 47 foreigners, a large number of colonial professors who are admitted often on imperialist grounds, and a singularly large number of men with no academic position and, as far as I can see — I have read through the entire list — of no name whatever in science. Finally, distinction in science for the purpose of the Society means distinction in applied science (engineering, agriculture, etc.) as well as pure science.
It is thus easy to see that the Society might yield 100 favorable replies that did not include a single man of science of any distinction or whose opinion is of the least value. Yet on the two questions that afford something like a definite test only 47 and 74 respectively replied favorably. The first question of the six was: Do you credit the existence of a spiritual domain? As I have already pointed out, the word “spiritual” is now so ambiguous that the fact that 121 (out of 503) replied in the affirmative means nothing. It is interesting to note that only 24 out of the 121 permitted the publication of their names, and that 80 of them were engaged in the physical sciences! The second question was even more ambiguous; Is man in some degree responsible for his acts of choice? They might as well ask if free will accounted for acts of free will. It is meaningless that 173 replied Yes, but worthy of noting that 80 of them were in the physical sciences, and only four were psychologists or physiologists — the only men fitted to judge. The third question was: Is it your opinion that belief in evolution is compatible with belief in a Creator? The ambiguity of this will be seen when I say that Bertrand Russell is amongst those who said yes: also Professor E.B. Bailey, who has taken the chair for atheistic lectures of mine and made it clear in his letter to the Society that he did not believe in a Creator. The fourth question is worse: Do you believe that science negatives the idea of a personal God as taught by Jesus Christ? It was open to any atheistic scientist to reply No, since science never discusses God, yet, significantly, the favorable replies now fell to 103 (mostly chemists, physicists, and mathematicians), and 26 said yes. It illustrates the relative morale of Atheists and believers that 25 of the 26 Atheists allowed the publication of their names, and only 67 of the pious 103 gave such permission.
The fifth question was honest enough: Do you believe that the personalities of men and women exist after the death of their bodies? The affirmers now fell with a bang to 47 (including, one psychologist and no physiologist), while 41 said No. So 47 out of 503 — by no means all scientists — believe in immortality. It would have been interesting if the next question had been: Do you believe in a personal God? But such honesty would have been fatal. It was: Do you think that the recent remarkable developments in scientific thought are favorable to religious beliefs? Yet even to this non-committal question the favorable replies were only 74, and most of them explained that they meant that the new physics had discredited Materialism. My book on the subject appeared in England soon afterwards, and I am told that they would not get even 74 affirmatives today. In short, of 503 Fellows of the Royal Society only 47 made a definite profession of belief in a fundamental religious doctrine, and of these eight were physicists, eight chemists, four botanists, three mathematicians (one a bishop), and three geologists, but not a single one of England’s great physiologists. The document proves nothing, but suggests that, as in America, only about one in 10 of the greater men of science believe in God.
For other countries we have no statistics. Professors of science generally resent such inquisitions, and in many places the Atheist professor has only too good ground to do so. But we can easily show that the proportion of atheistic scientists in the more advanced countries of the world is about the same as in America and Great Britain. In the first place, nearly all the distinguished professors of science in France, Russia, and Japan are Atheists, and this would balance any less proportion of them in other countries. It would, however, he useless to inquire how many scientists are Atheists under the present regime in Germany, Austria, Italy, and Spain. A large number of atheistic professors have been dismissed and are in exile. In Italy the university professors were so far atheistic 22 years ago (1913) that the Minister of Education sent in their name a public telegram of congratulation to Ernest Haeckel on his 80th birthday. From Spain and even Austria the Catholic could get no more scientific support than from France. The lists of “loyal sons of the Church” who were also “great scientists” which are given in Catholic literature are amusing. They suggest that the species became extinct about half a century age. Just a few living men like Marconi are quoted; and what Marconi thinks today about religion and what his thoughts are worth we know not.
In 1931 Mr. Edward H. Cotton published a symposium to which he gave the meretricious title ‘Has Science Discovered God?’ He soon found that the number of American scientists who would help in the holy work could be counted on one’s fingers, so he made the quest international. Jeans and Eddington spread their familiar plumes in his columns, and even Julian Huxley, who does not believe in God, contributed. Dr. Malcolm Bird and even Langdon-Davies were dragged in to support the angelic doctors, and still the body of men representing “science” was paltry. So the summons sped to Germany, and Einstein, who was still there, was invited to respond. But all that Einstein, who is very emotional and pacific, has said (in a speech at Berlin in 1933) about his religion is that “the sense of the mysterious” is “at the root of religion and beauty.” On other occasions he has seemed willing to apply the word God in a Spinozistic sense to “the power of the universe” — meaning, of course, the universe itself — but he is totally uninterested in religion except in a humanitarian sense of the word and it does not matter much what he says.
Dr. Luther Fry has tried another method. In the ‘Scientific Monthly’ in 1933 he professed to analyze, the creed of the distinguished Americans in Who’s Who for 1910 and 1930 and find a positive growth of religion in the 20 years. We know those “distinguished Americans”; bankers, rich businessmen, clerics, artists, judges, politicians, etc. Moreover, for some reason best known to himself Dr. Fry examines only two-thirds of the names for 1910 and all of them for 1930, and he vaguely admits that in the meantime there was some change in the method of getting the religious affiliation of the victims. The only religious significance of the creed-descriptions in ‘Who’s Who’ is that which Professors Huntingdon and Whitney pointed out. It is the stark poverty of the Roman Catholic Church in men of distinction. They have only seven per 100,000 of their members in Who’s Who, to the Unitarians 1,185 per 100,000; and how many of these Catholic supermen are simply prelates, politicians, businessmen, etc., we are not told. But the very fact that the intellectually distinguished amongst the 30,000 men and women in ‘Who’s Who’ so remarkably prefer to say that their affiliation is Unitarian is significant enough. Large numbers of Unitarian congregations do not demand belief in God in their members.
The chief basis of Atheism is the teaching of science, and we now see that that foundation is firmer than ever. Tens of thousands of times in the last 10 years people have been assured that there was a change of heart in the scientific world and that what Atheists and Materialists had claimed to be their strongest basis was ruined. We have found this a statement that can escape the charge of unveracity only on the supposition that the religious writers who made it never study facts. In spite of all the frantic appeals and subtle cajolery of prelates and their rich supporters, who have often serious influence on universities, the proportion of men of science who believe in God has fallen. We speak on the ground of the most positive evidence when we say that only about one in 10 of the more distinguished men of science now believe in a personal God and that the majority of these believers belong to those branches of science which least of all equip a man to pass a critical judgment on the subject; and I may add, both from the published names and published confessions of belief, that most of these scientific Theists are men of the departing generation. The younger men, especially in anthropology, psychology, physiology, ethics, sociology, paleontology, and biology, have seen the progress of research in the last 20 years afford a massive and entirely consistent confirmation of the position of the Atheist and Materialist. Our basis is sound. Science may almost be called atheistic; and there is no higher authority in the modern world upon which the people may rest their faith.
Hence God’s apostles and publicity-agents strike a new note. We will later notice the miserable sophistry that tries to persuade people that if they have a “sense of God” or a religious intuition or instinct that assures them of his existence, they need no proof. This is, we shall see, whether it is said by Sir Arthur Eddington (a dreamy Quaker in the non-scientific half of his brain) or by some vapid Modernist preacher, as crude, in the light of modern psychology, as is the belief in a flat earth. The new note which I have here in mind is a sort of perversion or prostitution of pragmatism or humanism: a theory which, with all respect to its authors, is apt to lead to such consequences. Distrust rational arguments, is the new appeal, for man is no mere logical machine. His interests and emotions are the things that matter in shaping his opinions. If these demand God, pay no attention to the syllogisms of the Atheist. Smile at the philosophers who tell you that they are agreed that all the old arguments for the existence of God from the order and beauty and power of nature are as illogical as the arguments of the old alchemists. We are all sociologists, all practical men, today. Mix up a lot of discredited history, some warm rhetoric about the world’s troubles, and a little pulpit-verbiage, and you can prove that if God did not exist we should have to invent him. A Father Coughlin (with his economic guides behind the curtain) becomes the savior of the race. A Canadian bible-teacher, Aberhardt, switches in a year from lessons on Moses and Jezebel to the economic control of a province. And so on. God is found to be vital to our civilization.
These pleas of the rights of the religious instincts and the sociological value of the God-idea we will consider in themselves in later numbers. Here, in taking Russia as the first country in which there has been a phenomenal growth of Atheism, I would point out that its experience completely discredits all these new arguments for the God-idea. That is the next point in that triumph of Atheism which the reactionaries have to use blackjacks, automatics, and concentration-camps or jails to check. Those of us who study these things candidly always knew that this theological sociology was nonsense. The history it appeals to is a clotted mass of untruth, our world has moved at least in the direction of real civilization in exact proportion as it has rejected the theocratic idea, and no statesman in the world today has any more idea of getting inspiration from religion than has that one respectable dictator of our time, the skeptical President of the Turkish Republic. Yet in most countries the press and preachers talk so unctuously about religion and reconstruction that the millions are fooled. No wonder they hated and libeled Russia! For the news is spreading, and is triumphing even over reactionary opposition that Russia is doing the finest and soundest reconstructive work of our time, and it is doing this, not only without God, but on a basis of militant Atheism. It smothers the plea that we must “cooperate with God,” the pretense that there is any social wisdom in popes or parsons. It furnishes a massive and magnificent proof of what Shelley more than a hundred years ago called “The Necessity of Atheism.”
Further, the success of Soviet Russia as deeply discredits the psychological as it does the sociological argument for the God- idea. Here were 160,000,000 people who had been for ages, apart from a small educated minority, as deeply rooted in religion, according to the religious view, as the peasants of Ireland or Mexico; and in less than 20 years half of them toss aside religion as cheerfully as one discards one’s overcoat on the first day of spring. The same thing was seen in France in the third year of the Revolution, and the facility with which half of the French people gave up their creed in a year, not under pressure of but in spite of the wishes of Danton and Robespierre, discredited the instinct- argument long ago. In every country today, in fact, as I showed in another book, the Churches are not ministering to a craving on the part of the people, as this theory of an ineradicable religious instinct requires, but are confessing the absence of such craving by appealing to quite other instincts. To tell New York, Paris or London, that the general character of its people, five-sixths of whom do not want to hear anything about religion, is lacking in fine elements which flourish in the character of folk in Georgia or Oklahoma is too silly to be an insult. Yet that is what preachers imply.
We will consider the psychology of the theory later, but an ounce of fact is worth a ton of reasoning. And what has happened in Russia is a very massive and instructive fact. Not only in towns but in village after village, once the truth about Christianity and the people was impressed upon, the villagers, they as a body, except a few of the older folk, cashiered their priest and turned the church into a library or a nursery. It was proved at once that their “devotion to religion,” as it had been called, was simply a traditional practice protected by ignorance of the truth. But we will first determine the real character of the movement and then ascertain its size.
As soon as this disturbing fact of the rejection of all religion by tens of millions of Russians broke through the clerical embargo on truth, the cry was raised that it was not a voluntary change of allegiance. Let me point out at once that, even if this were true, it would not in the least lessen the force of the argument against the sociological plea for God. For it is just these leading men who are supposed to have persecuted religion that have made the Russian civilization what it is today. They would themselves be the fast to recognize the cooperative work of the mass of the people, but, plainly, it is the planning and directive work of men like Stalin and Litvinov that has had the chief share. They are Atheists to a man — or woman. The thousands of officers who link them with the labor of the people are all aggressive Atheists. The millions of members of the Communist party, who are the backbone of the workers in the task of reconstruction, are all Atheists. Until the 18th Century the leaders of every civilization in Europe, apart from Spain and Sicily in the Middle Ages, were Christians. We know what sort of civilization they created and maintained. From the 18th Century onward there was an increasing leaven of skepticism in the brain of the state; and there was an increasing, improvement of its features. But in Russia we now have a homogeneously atheistic body of men and women doing all the directive work of the state, and the result is beginning to extort admiration from the most reluctant writers. Even the ass has spoken, and the prophet ceases to curse. With an irony that shows only that nothing is too wild to say in the religious world, preachers who a few years ago represented the Russian leaders and officials as sadistic gorillas, from the taint of whose ideas other nations must be preserved even at the cost of war, now tell their followers that the Russians have invented a new religion!
What their idealism is and how far it has already been realized we shall fully consider in the eighth and tenth numbers of this series. And the cry of persecution has already so far declined that we need not say much about it. As early as January 23, 1918, the attitude of the new state toward religion was defined in constitutional decrees, and one clause was:
“Every citizen is at liberty to practice any religion or none at all. All penalties attaching to the practice of any creed whatever, or to the non-practicing of any creed, are abolished.”
That law was never altered, but in the year of the invasion of Russia by White and foreign armies large numbers of the priests (especially Catholic priests, who are for the most part Poles) intrigued with the invaders and in many ways made the task of the Soviet government more difficult. Any man who has any doubt about this should read their own confessions as quoted in Dr. Sherwood Eddy’s pamphlet, ‘The Soviet War on Religion,’ In 1923 the Patriarch of the Russian Church said in an address to his followers:
“We recognize our offense before the Soviet government, namely, our many passive and active anti-Soviet activities recounted in the charge laid against us in the Supreme Court.”
The All-Russian Church Assembly in 1923 said:
“From the summer of 1917 onward the responsible leaders of the Church took up a definite counter-revolutionary attitude.”
On November 5, 1927, a group of Catholic priests in the Ukraine published a letter in which they said:
“We have been guilty more than once of yielding to the temptation of political activity, frequently establishing relations with the agents of the Polish bourgeoisie and the Polish capitalist state.”
A Catholic priest and protopresbyter, Nicholas Tolstoy, wrote a letter in a Kharkov paper in February, 1929, to say that, while he remained a Catholic, he renounced the priesthood on this ground:
“The Roman Catholic priesthood embodies all the hatred of the capitalist West to the Workers’ government.”
He said that priests in the Ukraine had for 10 years “acted as propagandists of Polish imperialism … in full touch with Poland and with the blessing of the Vatican.” In fine, the Anglo-Russian Catholic lady, Miss Almedingen, whose ‘Catholic Church in Russia’ gives a tearful story of persecution of priests in 1922 — though the facts she honestly tells are mild as milk in comparison with the fiery mendacity written by priests in America — admits that the charges against these priests “were of course true from a Soviet standpoint” (p. 96). The lady could hardly expect the Soviet courts to judge delinquent priests from the Vatican standpoint!
Let me recall to the mind of the reader that at the very time when a few priests were being shot — Miss Almedingen gives only one such case — or imprisoned in Russia hundreds of Socialists and Communists were being murdered in Italy, and the Pope was preparing to accept the red hand of Mussolini and was blessing the regime of tyranny and cruelty in Poland. You will have read all this in the ‘Appeal to Reason,’ The Catholic attitude was cynical in the extreme, and the Pope richly deserves the world-opprobrium he has now drawn upon himself by his trimming over Ethiopia. As to the charge that the Soviet authorities brought about the mass-movement to Atheism by any sort of compulsion, the heads of the religious bodies in Russia repeatedly repudiated it. In 1928, while rabbis in New York were praying Jehovah and his Wall Street servants to punish the Russian Communists, 31 Russian-Jewish rabbis published a letter in which they said:
“The Jews living in the U.S.S.R. have received complete and absolute equality. There is not a single government in the world which has done as much for the Jewish people, persecuted for ages, as the Soviet government.”
On February 14, 1930, the Acting Patriarch, the Metropolitan of Saratov, the Archbishop of Khutinsk, and the bishop of Orekhovo Zueva signed a statement repudating all the stories of atrocities published in England and America in that year and declaring:
“There has never been, nor is there, any persecution of religion in the U.S.S.R.”
We need not go further. The cry has died away — because there is no longer the least hope of intervention in Russia.
Similar lies were told about the League of Militant Atheists which was represented as an instrument of the government for the destruction of Churches and the degrading of the minds of the people with cartoons and caricatures. The League is, and has always been, a voluntary association with a few million members for the education of the people in Atheism. It has no power to close or destroy churches, and none have been alienated or destroyed except at the demand of the great majority of the worshipers or, in a very few cases, to meet specific civic requirements. As to the caricatures, they were at least true and in better taste than some of the novels and even positive statements made about Russia. The Pope still mumbles as if the wild rumor that the Communists advocated Common ownership of women had not been exploded years ago.
I am not here to describe life in Russia — we shall see it later — but I would recommend any religious lady who shudders at the description given her of Russian character to reflect on this fact, which I take from the current issue of the highly respectable and conservative British Observer. It says that “Tolstoy’s following in Russia has kept steady pace with the phenomenal growth of the number of Soviet readers.” In 1917 only 26,000 copies of his works were published: in 1933 more than half a million. In 1935 “nearly a million” volumes of his works will be published, and that will bring the total published since the Revolution to nearly 12,000,000. And Tolstoy would be described even by parsons as one of the most spiritual and anti-sensual writers. Probably we shall next hear that Russia menaces the world with a mania for asceticism.
How many Atheists are there amongst the 160,000,000 people of the U.S.S.R.? The head of the League, Yaroslavsky, whom Dr. Sherwood Eddy calls a man of “transparent honesty and earnestness of character,” said in August, 1932, that the most that could be claimed by the Church was that 100,000,000 Russians were still religious. There were then 5,500,000 members of the League of Militant Atheists: 40 percent of the Trade Unionists were Atheists: and not less than 10,000,000 workers on the collective farms were Atheists. That — a total of at least 60,000,000 Atheists — was the careful estimate of the chief expert in 1932. But the movement has spread very rapidly since that time. The collective farms, with their educational and atheistic atmosphere, have enormously increased, and the work in the towns has so far progressed that the League of Militant Atheists has recently decided to relax its efforts and leave it mainly to the schools and literature to complete’ the work. Even in 1932, Yaroslavsky said, more than half the children of Russia were Atheists, and of the 5,500,000 members of the League nearly one-third were women. In carrying out its Five Year Plan the League had risen from 400,000 to 5,500,000 members, and the young Atheists’ Association had risen from 10,000 to about 2,000,000. Moreover, nearly 25,000,000 children were being educated in the entirely atheistic government schools.
It is temperate to conclude that with three further years of this zealous propaganda the Atheists must now be in a majority or must number something like 100,000,000, but for the purpose of this work I count only 80,000,000. The towns are over-whelmingly atheistic. Walter Duranty observed in 1931 that of the former 1,600 churches of Moscow “only a scanty few” were left open, and these sufficed even at Easter for “the small but faithful remnant:” “Religion is dying in Moscow,” he said. In villages that still had churches, he reported to the New York Times, 70 percent of the people were content with civic marriage and registering of births and deaths. Describing the destruction of one of the most venerated churches in Moscow, on which there had been tearful and shuddering comments in religious and many other papers, Duranty reported that there was no excitement in Moscow. “New Russia does not care,” he said; “its past is dead, and it is glad.” Next year a more intensive campaign of aggressive Atheism was inaugurated and the work proceeded with great success. Another correspondent who will certainly not be accused of bias in favor of either Atheism or Communism, Cummings of the London News-Chronicle, visited Russia in 1935. He paid a remarkable tribute to the work that was being done, and he gave the gist of conversations he had with the people about religion. The younger, he said, have finished with religion: only some of the old folk cling to it.
Since exact figures are not obtainable, it is unnecessary to multiply these quotations. Correspondents like Duranty and Cummings, who know Russia and are recognized as impartial witnesses on such a matter as religion, all tell the same story. In the towns religion is “dead”: that is to say, all but a small minority, estimated in Moscow at less than 10 percent, are Atheists. Tourists who go there with the belief that the government has forcibly suppressed religion write home ecstatically about the “crowds of worshippers” they saw in a church here and there, and professional religious correspondents beat up reports of an apostle in one place or another who promises a religious revival. But Atheism steadily and rapidly grows. The dense mass of the illiterate peasantry who were the most refractory to Atheism are being educated so rapidly that in provinces where 98 percent were illiterate 15 years ago, now 98 percent can read; and they do read. The agricultural trouble is practically over, and the collective farms have triumphed. All the children of the nation are being educated in schools in which the entire curriculum and all the teachers are atheistic and materialistic; while Russia already surpasses Germany, France, and Great Britain in the proportion of youths and girls who receive higher (and always atheistic) education. In 20 years the number of those who have ceased to be Christians and become Atheists in russia alone is well over 50,000,000 and nearer 100,000,000; and the majority of the remainder are old folk who will die out or the very backward peoples of Asiatic Russia who are already being educated out of their superstitions. But, as I said at the start, I am not going to put even the full legitimate weight on my evidence. Let us say that beyond question. 80,000,000 Russians, or one half, and the younger half of the population, are now Atheists.
One of the desperate pleas of those who do not like to see the world passing away from Christianity is that there is “a considerable and increasing interest in religion.” That is to say, they bully the press into giving a large space to the activities of the Churches and use their wealth to put religion on the ether (radio) and in the topical pictures, and then they ask us to be impressed. When some scientific man writes a book which seems to be favorable to religion, they boost its circulation and then flaunt the figures in our faces. Curiously, they never mention as an indication of interest in religion the immense circulation of 280,000,000 Little Blue Books. But the best test of the sincerity of these people is that, as I said, not the least attempt is made to ascertain even approximately how many in the last 20 years have passed from Christianity to Atheism, though the figure obviously runs to tens of millions.
In the very conspicuous case of Russia the religious writer first says that the change has been brought about by compulsion, which you easily disprove, and then he objects that the fascination of some millions of peasants who have just learned to read for new ideas is unimportant and transitory. Again he completely ignores or misrepresents Russian experience. We might make a broad distinction of three intellectual levels in Russia. The highest is that of the higher officials, technical experts, professors, writers, artists, and all who have received higher education. No one questions that the man and women of this category are solidly atheistic. The second intellectual level is that of the skilled workers, town- workers generally, officials of third and fourth grade, and youths and young women who have had secondary or technical education. These are overwhelmingly, though not so completely, atheistic. The third level is that of the mass of the peasants, the great majority of whom were illiterate until a few years ago. And it is in that category that you find the remaining tens of millions of believers, and particularly in the remoter provinces where education is most difficult. To point out a few exceptions to this classification is polemical trickery. It is the broad truth that matters.
But the chief blunder of these people is to imagine that when we speak of Atheism in our time we are thinking only, or almost entirely, of Russia. There are today more Atheists outside Russia than there are under the Soviet rule, That is what I have now to show, and we will begin with a consideration of the number of Atheists in the United States and Great Britain.
The government of the United States was persuaded many years ago to omit from the census-papers the clause that asked a man’s religious “affiliation.” The clause itself was deliberately ambiguous and was intended to enable men and women to say that they had some sort of connection with a Church, or disliked it less than others, though they never attended its services. But skepticism continued to grow, and the clergy persuaded officials that the best way to ascertain how many Catholics and Protestants there are in the country is to ask the Churches. It must have tickled the genial cynicism of our civil servants, but they agreed. How nice and easy their work would be in the Treasury if they just had to ask a man what his income is and need not trouble to put any check on his statement.
As a result, naturally, we get fantastic figures of church- membership at which the clergy often smile. Dr. McConnell says in his Christianity, an Interpretation, (p. 229):
“Church statistics are worth less than nothing. It is probably speaking within bounds to say that not one parish in 10 could find and locate one half the number of members it reports.”
In the circumstances the preciseness of these religious statistics is an exquisite piece of humor. At the last census we learned that there were just 54,576,346 Christians in America. It conveyed an impression — to some people — of swarms of priests and parsons perspiring over their books and meticulously counting their sheep to the last unit.
I once, in my clerical days, was staying with a priest when, in my presence and talking to me about it all the time, he made up his figures for his own clerical authorities. These were not for publication, and his authorities demanded to know not only how many Catholics actually attended services but also how many there were in his parish who were baptized Catholics. He did not know the first figure within hundreds and the second within thousands but he reported that there were about 5,000 nominal Catholics in his parish and about 1,000 real Catholics. This was an exceptionally bad case for the people were wretchedly poor and the Church was not so keen as it would be in a comfortable suburb of Boston, but it illustrates how such statistics are made. At the best they mean only that a clergyman who keeps a register counts the names of all who were inscribed in it and not known to him to be dead. What proportion of them have given up their creed and never came near his church he has, as a rule, not the least idea.
The inconsistency and other peculiar features of the statistics give them away to any person who examines them closely. The Roman Catholics, for instance, counted their numbers in their Directory as 2,000,000 more than they figured in the Census of Religions, and their learned representative who was invited to write on them in the new edition of the Encyclopedia Britannica gave them a further 5,000,000 or so. They claimed even in the Census of 1926 that during the preceding 10 years they had, as usual, grown even more rapidly than the growth of population, yet on another page it appeared that, whereas in 1916 they had reported 1,860,000 Sunday School pupils, and the admirable fertility of Catholic mothers ought to have raised this in 10 years to well over the 2,000,000 mark, they in 1926 reported only 1,201,000. They clearly lost nearly a million children of Sunday-School age in 10 years yet boasted of an almost miraculous growth.
In No. 1 of the Appeal to Reason Library I carefully analyzed the Roman Catholic total for 1928. Different versions of that total in Catholic publications airily differed from each other by one to two millions, though each of them was precise to the final unit, and the ‘Christian Century’ made a careful estimate, on information supplied by the Catholic clergy themselves, which was more than 3,000,000 less than the lowest Catholic estimate. I referred my readers for remarkable disclosures by Catholics to John F. Moores’s work, Will ‘America Become Catholic?’ He shows that Catholic writers in some cases nearly doubled figures supplied by the priests for the purpose of the Census, and that even these latter figures were shown by Catholic local inquiry to be 30, 40, and in some cases nearly 50 percent exaggerated. He quotes a Catholic writer in a Catholic periodical complaining bitterly that the statistics supplied by the priests are “shockingly suggestive of either prevarication or down-right stupidity.” They are, he says, “padded” and for the purpose of “deceiving ourselves and others.” In short, I gave ample proof that Catholics in America number at the most 15,000,000 instead of 22,000,000 people. Any reader who cares to go back to my article in the Appeal will recognize that even the figure of 15,000,000 is optimistic.
I have already quoted Protestant divines making even larger deductions from their statistics, so we are fully assured that the figures are very high above the truth. Is it possible to have some sort of approximate idea how many do belong to the various Christian bodies? Church going is still the safest test, for the small number of genuine Christians who never attend any church is more than offset by the number of those who do attend but do not accept the creed in any fashion, even in the Modernist interpretation of it. And the assurances of religious writers and impartial observers which I have repeatedly quoted make it quite plain that the number falls enormously short of the figure of 50,000,000 to 60,000,000 which is usually given. In the Catholic Fortnightly Review for January 1, 1927, it was pointed out that for one Catholic diocese the Census figure was 21,268 and the Catholic Directory figure, 39,450, for the same year. But I have made it quite clear that the Catholic one-third of the supposed total number of Christians must be reduced by 30 percent, and we may safely make the same deduction from all the figures.
This would give the real number of church-going folk as about 40,000,000. Seeing that, as I will tell in a moment, the clerical authorities in Great Britain admit that they hold only one-fifth of the population, to allow that the Churches in America control one- third seems too generous. Probably the very much larger proportion of rural population and the colored folk of the southern states do give the American churches a higher percentage than the British: though in the circumstances it is not a matter to boast about. But let us not be finicky. Let us give them a round 40,000,000 for all Churches. When I was running the ‘Militant Atheist,’ I quoted from the ordinary press one witness after another declaring from personal observation and inquiry that nothing like one-third of the people go to church. But, as I said, let us have a little Christian charity or generosity.
This leaves at least 80,000,000 Americans who do not attend church, chapel, or synagogue. Now, how many of these are Atheists? Well, your guess is almost as good is mine, but let me give you a few pointers. First, if only 30 percent of the ordinary professors of science in the universities and higher colleges believe in a personal God, we suspect that the proportion is not likely to be higher among their pupils. Professor Leuba made an exact inquiry of some interest more than 20 years ago. He had a questionnaire distributed in nine colleges and received 927 replies from students of 18, 19 and 20 years. It turned out that 56 percent of the young men believed in a personal God (82 percent of the girls), but we are not told if any of the colleges were religious or under religious influence. More instructive was the result of an inquiry into the belief in immortality in a college of such religious respectability that even Roman Catholics were found in it. Here 80.3 percent of the freshmen, 76.2 of the sophomores, 60 percent of the juniors, and 70.1 percent of the seniors believed in immortality; and the greater amount of belief amongst seniors than juniors was explained by the fact, which all attested, of the “intellectual superiority of the junior class.” In both investigations many refused to reply. We see that a very high proportion lose their beliefs in transit through college. Nearly half (or 40 percent) of the male students of senior rank became or were Atheists.
But this was a few years before 1916, or more than 20 years ago, and it will hardly be questioned that there is much more skepticism among the men, and especially the young women, today. Unfortunately we have had no further exact inquiries and can only conclude that the Christian young men who write to the papers to say that there was not a single Atheist in their colleges were either brought up in cotton wool or mean by Atheist what no Atheist does mean. Taking middle class and working class together it is impossible to say statistically what proportion of the 80,000,000 non-Christian Americans are Atheists. It would be of considerable service if Atheists would make careful reports, based upon entirely impartial personal knowledge and inquiry, what proportion of the non-church-going people whom they can reach are Atheists. I have made extensive inquiries of this kind in England, and both in England and America it is my favorite practice, not to inspect civic halls and other buildings, but to eat in every variety of eating-shop and listen to the conversation of the people everywhere. We must further take into account the tone of the literature the people read, the plays and talkies and vaudeville they prefer. In a later number of this series of essays I will carefully analyze the change that has, in spite of censors, come over this kind of literature and entertainment, but everybody knows that the situation today reveals that tens of millions not only want “godless” novels and shows but keenly enjoy any jest about religion that the censors permit. Certainly one-fourth, probably a third, of the non-church goers do not believe in God. But I have better material for judgment in the case of England, where the situation must be much the same as in America.
First let us get the number of church-going folk in England and Wales (which have joint statistics). I have repeatedly pointed out during the last 10 years that the combined Churches, which every year supply their figures of membership, to such annuals as the ‘Statesman’s Year Book’ and ‘Whitaker’s Almanack,’ do not claim even one-fourth of the population of England and Wales; and it is the same in Scotland, yet, such is the general educational atmosphere in which we live that I still find a skeptical London audience surprised when I mention the fact. There is now little excuse for surprise. In 1934 the heads of the Church of England appointed a committee to make as severe an inquiry as possible into these figures, and the published result was that of the 40,000,000 people of England and Wales between 80 and 90 percent do not go to church. The clergy now put it that they control only one-fifth of the population;. and this has recently been repeated by Father Knox, one of the leading Roman Catholic propagandists. It is therefore an admitted figure that 32,000,000 people in Great Britain do not belong to any Church or attend any services. The true figure is probably higher. There are churches within a mile of my home of which the ministers refuse to marry any who will not submit and induce their families to submit to baptism first; and so urgent is the craving of girls for the picturesque church-wedding that I know of whole families of Atheists who, with sonorous cursing behind the parson’s back, submitted. They, of course, never entered the church again, but they are on the list of members of the Church of England. I see all round me people, of the one-tenth or one-twentieth of church-goers in London, who “affiliate” avowedly for social reasons.
These people, as I said, offset the number of folk who genuinely and deliberately believe in God or Christianity yet never go to church. But what proportion of the 32,000,000 are Atheists? Inquiries which I have had made into the frame of mind — that is what it really comes to — of dozens of middle-class and working- class families which do not go to church yet have no connection with atheistic associations and have never read atheistic literature report that about half are scornfully atheistic and in the other half one gets a value frame of mind shading from “I don’t know — I think there must be something in it” to a definite belief that there must be a God who “made the world.” The real difficulty in counting Atheists is that between the men and women who emphatically say they do not believe there is a God — they generally refer to the cruelty of life and the hypocrisy of the clergy and religious people — and the men and women who promptly and definitely say they do believe, there are millions who never think about the subject until they are asked, and they are then apt to say that “there must be something in it.” Without hesitation we may say that at least a fourth of them, probably a third, have no belief in God.
And this is strongly confirmed by the few attempts that have been made to elicit their opinions. About a dozen years ago — I have lost the cutting and this remarkable experience is never mentioned in books on religion — the ‘Daily News’ urged its readers to reply to 14 questions about religion. Of the 500,000 readers of the paper, which was the favored daily paper of Methodists and Baptists, Only 15,168 filled out the questionnaire, though for two months they were implored to do so, and many clergymen joined in the request. I do not see how any man, in such circumstances and in view of the semi-religious character of the paper, can suggest a reason why a disproportionate number of Atheists should reply; yet of the 15,000, only 9,991 said that they believed in a personal God and 2,686 said they did not. By arrangement the questions were published simultaneously in the London Nation, a middle-class weekly. Of those who replied in this case 537 professed belief and 736 rejected the belief. The figures are so small that we can do no more than draw the broad conclusion that the proportion of Atheists amongst non-church goers is very, high, It confirms my moderate estimate that at least a third of them do not believe in God.
The cultural level is so much the same in England and America that the admission of the British heads of Churches, that they have lost four-fifths of the people, suggests a parallel situation in America. If one accepts that suggestion, the number of non-church goers in America rises to more than 90,000,000, and at least a fourth of these have no religious beliefs. The time has gone by for admitting the frivolous claim that people who never go to church are really Christians without the church-going habit. In September, 1935, the Dean of St. Paul’s Cathedral (London), one of the abler officials of the Church of England, said at a Church conference:
“I do not believe that more than 20 percent of the people of this country are in any possible sense of the word Christians.”
We have no reason whatever to speak different of the 80,000,000 or more Americans who never go to church, and one is surely very generous in entertaining the idea that even one half of them cherish a pure theistic belief though they never hear a sermon and few read religious books.
The similarity of cultural and clerical conditions in America and Great Britain and the absence of any large atheistic political party justify me in considering both apart from the condition of continental Europe. There we have an extraordinary situation. In nearly half of Europe, apart from European Russia, Atheism is proscribed and persecuted. It is regarded as a symptom if not a cause of political views. Hence not even the most resolute sophist will ask us to measure Atheism in Fascist countries today by expressions of it. We must measure its growth in the last period in which Atheists had freedom of expression, and this will provide us with some formidable statistics. In other countries we must proceed much as we have done in regard to America, though in some of them, even in small countries, we have official registers of professions of Atheism which must surprise those who are not on the alert for such matters.
German statistics of religion show only the complete worthlessness of the kind of “religious statistics” that are still published annually in works of reference and included in encyclopedias which pride themselves on their accuracy. They take from the official annual, the ‘Statisches Jahrbuch,’ the statement, represented as based upon the declarations of the people themselves, that as late as 1933 the Germans were 62.7 percent Protestant (40,000,000) and 32.5 percent Catholic (21,000,000). None are put in the category of “no religion.” Yet in the preceding year the Catholics, who have their own political (Center) party and are rigorously bound to vote for its candidates, cast only 12 percent instead of 32 percent of the total votes! I have elsewhere explained that these neglected figures really provide the key to the situation in Germany today. Roman Catholicism is in ruins. It has in about 10 years lost more than 10,000,000 of its working- class adherents and can therefore be treated by Hitler as an almost negligible factor in the political situation. We are expected to be patient and polite while Catholic publications in America boast of a few tens of thousands of converts snatched from other Churches and deny this enormous loss of millions in Germany by giving that country the conventional figure of 20,000,000 followers of the Vatican.
Until about 20 years ago Germany was in much the same condition as regards religion as America and Great Britain. In the cities at least four-fifths of the people never attend church- services of any sort, and the “best sellers” amongst the thoughtful reading public were Atheists like Nietzsche and Haeckel. It was said during the war that half the soldiers had Nietzsche in their bags and half the Bible. The one very important difference was that Socialism counted millions of followers amongst the workers, and it was preponderantly or quite generally atheistic. Its great leaders had all been, and in fact were 20 years ago, outspoken Atheists. The Russian Revolution gave an impetus to Communism, and between 1923 and 1933 it spread so widely that the fear of its capturing Germany was made the pretext for the propagation of Fascism (as Nazism really is) and the burning, of the Reichstag by the Nazis to secure their triumph.
This strength of the Communists and Socialists at the last free elections in 1932 gives us an exact indication of the minimum number of Atheists in Germany. I say minimum because just the same proportion of Atheists were found in the middle class as in other advanced countries. The Communists were solidly and aggressively atheistic, and, though there had been attempts to get rid of the old aggressive Atheism of the Socialists, no Catholic could belong to the party, and, if any Protestants or other Theists did, their number was far more than counterbalanced by the millions of Atheists in the middle class and the non-Socialist working class. The Nazis themselves are, as their treatment of both Churches plainly shows, very largely Atheists. We may therefore take the number of Communists and Socialists as at least a minimum indication of the growth of Atheism.
We find that, while the Catholics polled 4,230,644 votes at the last free election (November, 1932), the Communists cast 5,980,540 votes and the Socialists 7,251,752. Had it not been for their unhappy mutual hostility they would now, or in a few years, be the majority in Germany. Together they obtained 13,232,292 out of a national total of 35,148,470 votes, or nearly 40 percent of the whole. Here we have plain indication that by 1932 at least 40 percent of the people of Germany, or about 24,000,000 men, women, and children, had become Atheists. I have already said that for some years the Socialist body has not been homogeneously atheistic, but the bitter denunciation of the body by Catholic and other Church authorities has prevented it from attracting any large number of religious voters. These are negligible in comparison with the vast number of Atheists in the middle class and the ranks of the Nazi movement itself. At least 30,000,000 of the 65,000,000 people of Germany are now Atheists in the proper sense of the word.
France is the classic land of Atheism in Europe. In spite of long periods of political reaction at various times in the 19th Century the French nation never returned with deep and genuine attachment to the Roman religion which it spontaneously deserted from about 1792 to 1800 (when Napoleon reimposed it). The year 1880 fairly marks the final defeat of Roman Catholicism and the complete secularization of the life of the country. The annexation of hundreds of thousands of Catholic Alsatians and Lorrainers added to the strength of the Church in 1919, and the dread of the Pope’s influence in those disaffected provinces has in the last 16 years moderated the anti-clerical note. But, as I have elsewhere shown, even French Catholic writers do not claim that there are more than 6,000,000 “practicing Catholics” in the country; and I need only remark that I am myself, in theology, the kind of person they call a non-practicing Catholic, to show how absurd the distinction is. I have proved that there are only about 5,000,000 Catholics and less than a million Protestants in the population of 40,000,000.
The religious belief or unbelief of the 34,000,000 who, though they may often get the priest to bury their dead and baptize their children — a matter of custom — are cynically opposed to all Churches and all attempts to found a theistic or spiritualist religion, can hardly be in serious doubt. To the enormous majority of them religion means only one thing, Catholicism, and they have rejected it. No people so thoroughly appreciate jokes at the expense of religion and its petit bon Dieu (good little God) as the French do. The atheistic note is predominant in every town, and the 10,000,000 Radical-Socialist, Socialist, and Communist organized workers are solidly atheistic. Add a large proportion of the non- Socialist but republican workers and nearly the whole of the middle class, and you see that considerably more than half the population is atheistic. We can safely say that there is a minimum of 20,000,000 Atheists in France.
In Italy there are at present no aggressive Atheists and there is little open expression of Atheism. It was part of the bargain with the Pope that critics of religion should be imprisoned. The law, it is true, cannot be strictly applied, for Atheists formed a large part of the Fascist movement which bore Mussolini, who seems still to be an Atheist, to power. We must, however, take the situation as it was before Mussolini passed his infamous laws for the restriction of liberty. In 1908 I proved in my ‘Decay of the Church of Rome’ that already at least 6,000,000 Italians had quitted the Church. Higher teaching was mainly in the hands of Atheists, and popular and rather caustic atheistic weeklies had a circulation of more than a million amongst the workers. From that date the Socialist movement, which in Italy is atheistic and bitterly condemned by the Church, rapidly advanced. At the election of 1919, the last entirely free election, it secured 1,840,593 out of a national total of 3,500,000 votes. Atheistic Socialism and Communism had won the immense majority of the town-workers and a very large part of the peasants. But I have thoroughly examined the situation in the ‘Appeal to Reason’ (No. 1) and will merely quote my conclusion that there were at least 10,000,000 Atheists in Italy. Thousands are dead or in jail but persecution has changed no opinions.
In the same quarterly I have examined the religious situation in Spain and shown that it corresponds closely to that of Italy. Until the Catholic intriguer Gil Robles and the treacherous Lerroux took advantage of the quarrels of Socialists and Communists to destroy the power of both, they had been for some years the dominant party in the government. What splendid work their atheistic leaders did we shall see later. Even today so powerful is the anti-Roman sentiment in the towns that the masterful Robles has been checked for more than a year in his attempts to restore the full power of Church and monarchy. At all events, the results of both municipal and general elections showed to the end of 1933 that the Socialists, Communists, and other atheistic bodies controlled half the voters. Anti-clericals generally had 255 out of the 463 deputies to the Cortes. In Latin countries anti-clerical generally means Atheist. God is to them the God of the Catholic Church. Except in cultivated circles there is virtually no literature urging people to believe in any other sort of God, and the popular press does not, as in America, keep up the pretense that ours is a Christian civilization under the presidency of a deity. Protestantism they disdain, and by “religion” they almost invariably mean the Roman creed. In such circumstances it is temperate to conclude that of the 55,000,000 anti-clericals of France, Italy, Spain, and Portugal at least 40,000,000 have no belief in God.
It is enough for my purpose in this essay to indicate the existence of the larger bodies of Atheists, which run to millions or tens of millions, so I need not examine every country in Europe. In fact, there are few cases in which it is possible to use exact statistics as a base, but there are several such cases, and they are very significant. Census reports are apt to be, as I have shown in the case of Germany, quite ridiculous, but wherever in a Census a body of men and women write down that they have “no religion” we may certainly take these as the more definite or aggressive Atheists of that country. On the other hand, the smallness in some cases of the number of those who so describe themselves is not in the least a proof of the scantiness of Atheists. In Sweden and Norway, for instance, the number is negligible, yet one has only to reflect that in those countries the Socialists are so powerful that they are sometimes described as Socialist states; and any person who imagines that the immense body of Swedish Socialists and Communists, who together number more than a million adults in a population of 6,000,000 are religious is very far astray.
Whatever be the routine of demanding one’s religious description in Norway and Sweden, there is complete liberty in Czechoslovakia and Holland, and the result is interesting. In Czechoslovakia, the 14,000,000 people of which are so predominantly agricultural that there are only six cities with more than 50,000 people, no less than 854,638 adults reported themselves at the Census of 1931 as of “no religion.” It would be a desperate apologist who would try to persuade us that “no religion” means simply no Church. The Freethought movement is stronger in Czechoslovakia, where the atheistic President Masaryk has for decades been the chief popular idol, than in any other country in Europe. In July of last year (1935) there was a demonstration in the great square at Prague by 40,000 Atheists. This body grew up independently of the anti-clericalism of Socialists and Communists, who now number 1,700,000 adult voters. Doubtless many of these figure also in the statistics of Freethinkers, but it is clear that there must be, counting their families (generally) with the adults, 2,000,000 to 3,000,000 Atheists in the small country.
Holland, with a population of only 8,000,000, returned no less than 1,144,393 men and women as of “no religion” at the Census of 1930. We are thus fortunate in having precise statistics in a few cases, and these give us some clue to the situation in other countries. Denmark, for instance, is certainly not behind Holland in the growth of advanced opinions. Belgium has a million Socialists and Communists, Poland half a million, even Bulgaria about 200,000. Austria had, until Dollfuss and the religious criminal Starhemberg brought out their artillery, a formidable body of 1,578,000 Socialists and Communists, and the massacre of some hundreds has not induced the remainder to become convinced that there is a God in the heavens. The only prayer they say is probably that which Catholic neighbors in Bavaria mutter under their Nazi authorities:
Dass Ich nicht in Dochau Kumm.
Which may be translated: “Dear God, make me dumb so that I won’t give myself away.” Thus even if we suppose that little more than a tenth of the population of these smaller countries of Europe are Atheists, it adds some 10,000,000 to our total; and I have given precise evidence that in many of them the number of Atheists is nearer one-fifth than one-tenth.
Let me repeat that the chief basis of my estimate consists of statistics that cannot be controverted. All Communists in Europe are Atheists, and from Great Britain, where the old anti-clerical tradition of Labor has been abandoned for the sake of enlarging the party, Socialists are with few exceptions Atheists. In Austria, Portugal, Spain, Italy, France, and Belgium, Socialism is under the ban of the ruling Church, and religious workers do not adopt it. I have, however, made allowance for whatever proportion of theistic workers there may be in the Socialist bodies of Sweden, Norway, and Switzerland by almost ignoring the very large amount of non- Socialistic Atheism. These figures we have further checked and confirmed wherever possible by the explicit professions of unbelief registered in the Census publications. We have thus found the historic law of the growth of Atheism fully verified in our own age. Where there is freedom of expression and a sound system of education Atheism spreads rapidly. Outside the countries which I have so far covered we find the people generally in a lamentable condition of illiteracy, but we have now to see how even amongst these, in proportion to the dissemination of knowledge, there is a rapid growth of Atheism.
For many years there has been in Moscow a center for the training of missionaries of Atheism as well as Communism, and these, spreading over the world as far as South Africa and Latin America, have met with a far more abundant response than the missionaries of the Christian faith ever did. Even where the Communism has not been very widely accepted, the anti-religious gospel, coinciding with influences that had been at work for many years, has had remarkable results. One of the most surprising is the rapid spread of Atheism amongst the African people. It illustrates the dishonesty with which the interests of the Churches are promoted that neither press nor writers on religion ever refer to a fact which seems to people, when you draw their attention to it, one of the most singular developments of our time from the religious viewpoint: the fact that in the official publication of the last Census taken in the Union of South Africa of a total black population of about 5,000,000 more than half, or 3,062,669, are described as of no religion. I collected evidence years ago that skepticism was spreading rapidly amongst the natives through their contact with Europeans and their cynical experience of the Christian religion. Here — the figure will be found in the ‘Statesman’s Year Book’ — we have a definite proof for one part of Africa. The movement spreads up the east as far as Egypt and there is a parallel movement in west Africa. A colored friend with mining interests far in the interior of west-central Africa, which he knew well, assured me that if I would accompany him, the chief would gladly have me give scientific and atheistic talks to his people, and students in colleges in the coast-provinces have written me in appreciation of my Little Blue Books. I will not even attempt to suggest a figure in the case of Africa. It is enough that here is a development of Atheism, running to millions, which a quarter of a century ago would have seemed impossible.
Nor can we suggest even an approximate figure for the millions of Atheists in Asia. Every reader will remember the alarm of American missionaries a few years ago when Communists inspired by Russia took over a whole immense province of China, and the people burned down Christian chapels and Buddhist or Taoist temples with equal satisfaction. The No-God Movement spread through the cities of other parts of China, but I find it impossible to learn what the situation is in the chaotic China of today. A family of adventurers in Peking won the support of white nations and the missionaries by being “converted” to Christianity, and they and the missionaries are now smoothing the way for the Japanese. We can say only that the Atheism which has for centuries been the general attitude of the educated men both in China and Japan is being adopted by millions of the people as education reaches them and literature in the modernized Chinese characters is provided.
From China, India (where already a large proportion of the educated were Atheists), and Asiatic Russia the stream flows in all directions. French writers find the new thought threatening their position in the sphere they control and admit; as the English do in India, that their occupation is only a matter of time, and their Christian missions will then go up in smoke. An article in the ‘Revue des Deux Mondes’ (practically a Catholic magazine) in June, 1934, on the situation in Annam admitted that the province was full of Communism and hatred of the priests. The Viet Nam Con San Dang (the Communist party of Annam) is so successful that the governor, Varenne (himself a skeptic), said: “I feel easy only about two elements — the missionaries and the soldiers.” To describe this and other Asiatic movements as a seething of the more ignorant natives, as is often done, is dishonest. The writer of this article admits that the schools and colleges are the centers of the ferment, and the teachers are the chief leaders. The movement is, of course, atheistic. I trust I tell enough to stimulate some leisured Atheist to make a more thorough and detailed survey of the world from our viewpoint, but here I have space only for a word about Turkey. In the ‘Militant Atheist’ I gave month by month some account of progress in Turkey under the skeptical President who now calls himself Kemal Attaturk. Without persecuting or depriving Mohammedans of their mosques he struck such blows at religion that travelers in the cities reported a remarkable decrease of mosque- going. The rapid spread of secular education is extending this work. It is necessarily slow in the provinces, for as late as 1927 only 9 percent of the people (14,000,000) could read and write. Now the Soviet authorities are cooperating amicably with Turkey and progress is faster. Anti-clerical laws continue to appear. Last summer (June 13, 1935) a new law forbade a minister of any religion or a nun to wear a religious costume out of doors. Numbers of religious schools have closed down, and the monks and nuns have departed. By another law all children of Turkish parents must receive their primary education in the secular schools of the Republic. Atheism spreads apace,.
Most Americans probably plead that domestic affairs have been sufficiently exacting for the last six years to excuse them from taking an interest in these movements in remote parts of the globe. The excuse hardly applies to Mexico, but here one can imagine a man pleading that it is as difficult to discover the truth as it was to learn the truth about Russia a few years ago. I have before me three articles on Mexico — probably only three out of dozens — published in America in the last few months. One appeared (August 24) in the magazine which rather ironically calls itself Liberty: the magazine which lately allowed E. Price Bell to explain how pained the Pope is by misrepresentation of his attitude on the Italo-Ethiopian trouble (and he does not condemn Italy even in this). The article, ‘Untold Secrets of Catholics in Mexico,’ which is all splashed with red ink and full of atrocity-stories, is by F.V. Williams, who was Al Smith’s publicity-manager. The second article, an interview with a New York businessman, had already appeared in the New York ‘World-Telegram’ (June 8) and discredited all the atrocity stories in advance, “I saw no persecution except of law-violators,” Mr. J. Austin Smith said, after two years in Mexico, and he “heard more about trouble with the Church in New York than in Mexico.” “The Mexican government is in the saddle to stay,” he said: and, apart from its playful way of preventing foreigners from exploiting the people, he had nothing but admiration for it. And the third article, ‘The Holy War in Mexico’ (in The Forum), is by a Catholic who throws the entire blame upon the Catholics of Mexico, with whom he was thoroughly disgusted. Under his eyes the Catholic rebels, having taken the train in which he was, committed atrocities on the peons, not caring whether they were Catholics or not, which smells of savagery. So they have acted since 1926 and “more often than not the victims of their attacks were innocent Roman Catholics.” This wholly agrees with what I saw in Mexico in 1926.
But there is no space here to deal with atrocity-stories. We are concerned with the growth of Atheism and will take up the behavior of Atheists in a later number. Williams says that the situation is that 1,500,000 Atheists dominate 14,500,000 Catholics. We smile when he adds that if the atheistic one-tenth are “allowed” to continue in power, Mexico will become a Communist country. Allowed by whom? By Wall Street and Washington, of course. Notoriously the clergy have for years organized the armed revolt of the Cristeros — Williams’ own article is full of the fact — yet these “nine-tenths” of the nation can do no more than commit outrages and raids. The Catholic writer in the Forum, Moreno, is more illuminating. He says that the opening of the campaign against the Church in 1926 was “accepted by the people with extraordinary calm” — I was there and can confirm this — for the simple reason that a very large part of the Indians had never been Catholics. They had remained under the surface pagans, and many Were glad that they no longer had to pay priests. The truth is that, as I found, three-fourths of the urban workers were Atheists in 1926 and forced the middle-class Atheists of the government to take action against the Church. The rapid extension of schooling to the peons and the relief from clerical exactions of masses who were never deeply Christian has given anti-clericalism a solid basis in popular sentiment. Educated Mexicans are in the large majority Atheists: the Church may boast that it still has the large majority of the illiterate.
With less yet very considerable success the movement has spread from Mexico to every part of Latin America. There the middle class has for decades been largely skeptical, and the new development is the rise of a very self-conscious body of workers who eagerly adopt Communism and Atheism and often have cultivated men supporting them. The leader of the Apra (Associacion Popular Revolucionaria Americana) in Peru, once regarded as the last stronghold of the priests, got 100,000 votes for the Presidency in 1921, and the party has carried several revolts. In Chile, the twin clerical Republic, an Atheist-Socialist government had power for a time in 1932. In Brazil and Argentina Atheism spreads equally. Only the fact that the middle class and wealthy have a common interest with the clergy in opposing it, on account of its general alliance with Communism or Socialism, keeps it, in cheek. Trade unions, missionaries complain, are sometimes so aggressively atheistic that they will not admit a Christian worker. In 20 years between 10,000,000 and 20,000,000 Atheists have appeared in Latin America. The Church frantically appeals for violent suppression or, as in Mexico, bloody revolt, but the movement spreads year by year.
One of those skeptical writers who, of course, accept no creed but regard Atheism and Materialism as crude and superficial, Dr. C.M. Joad, has written lately on “The Return of Dogma.” In a Rationalist magazine he says, dogmatically, that “the intellect of the contemporary world is being submerged beneath a wave of belief” and that “the movement of contemporary intellectuals into the Roman Catholic Church has achieved the dimensions of a stampede.” You possibly have not noticed the stampede in America and think that maybe it is in England, France, and Germany. Well, the stampede of “intellectuals” in England consists, it seems, of Chesterton, Waugh, Lunn, Knox, and Hemingway; in France of Coeteau; and for Germany he mentions only Hitlerism, which has smashed the Catholic Church. He reminds me of a similar American writer who, illustrating the stampede of intellectuals back to religion, gives the names of Eugene O’Neill, Sheila Kaye Smith, J. Maritain, and Compton Mackenzie!
This is the only kind of “liberalism” that is allowed expression in our press and magazines and gets its books honestly reviewed and adopted in the circulating libraries. And it is extraordinarily ignorant and misleading. Dr. Joad, for instance, is a man of high courage and integrity, and one has no alternative but to think that he is remarkably ignorant about the religious situation on which he writes. For in spite of the desertion of science, in spite of the abandonment of the traditional anti- clericalism of Labor in many countries, in spite of the disowning of its great skeptical pioneers by the feminist-movement of our time, in spite of an alliance of the clergy with violence and all the maneuvers I described in the first chapter, Atheism has made a hundred times more progress in the last 10 years than any religion ever made. I have not in this small space been able even to glance at every country. While I write I hear, for instance, that at the Census recently taken in Australia about 800,000 — one-seventh of the entire population yet, presumably, all adults wrote themselves as having “no religion.” Central and west-central Canada, New Zealand, and the other, British colonies and dominions add to the total.
Given the conditions for the operation of the historic law — freedom and knowledge — Atheism will in this century be the common attitude of civilized people. Non-Christians are the great majority in every free country today. Atheists number tens of millions, quite apart from Communist activity, in such countries. Let us get those facts recognized before it is too late. Sooner or later the despairing Churches will try to get a world-alliance with something like Fascist tyranny to check the growth of Atheism. It is their one hope. Let our young folk act in defense of the liberties that have been won for them and break up this fabric of lies.