The Gospel of Christianity and the Gospel of Freethought

 

THE

Gospel of Christianity,

AND THE

GOSPEL OF FREETHOUGHT.



BY

ANNIE BESANT.



Freethought Publishing Company logo.jpg



LONDON:
FREETHOUGHT PUBLISHING COMPANY,
63, FLEET STREET, E.C.
1883.


PRICE TWOPENCE.

 

 

THE GOSPEL OF CHRISTIANITY

AND THE

GOSPEL OF FREETHOUGHT.

"I will not inquire," once said the Bishop of Peterborough, speaking to a large audience of Christians, "I will not inquire whether this gospel be true or false; I will only ask if it be good news." His Lordship was speaking of what he was pleased to call the Gospel of Science. I am a little at a loss to know to what the Bishop alluded in this sentence; Science can scarcely be said to pretend that her work is to proclaim a gospel to the world; it is hers to gaze up into the illimitable skies, and to describe to the dwellers on our earth the marvellous worlds which roll through the pure ether; it is hers to peer into the illimitable depths of existence, revealed through the microscope, and to report to us her discoveries of the fairy-lands which are hidden from our rough eye-sight in the drop of water, or in the down on an insect's wing; it is hers to scan earth's surface, and to sound the depths of ocean; to read in the records of the rocks the age of our world, or to translate the language of the hidden sea-bottom into words intelligible to us; it is her glory to search after the laws which "bind Nature fast in fate," to discover facts, to proclaim them to mankind; but I never heard it claimed for Science that she pretended to be the evangelist to men of a new gospel, or that she ever waited to ask, ere declaring some freshly-discovered fact, "is it good news?" Science worships Truth alone; her steady gaze is fixed upon the Real; she never glances aside to follow expediency. Her work is to declare what is; she leaves to others to say what ought to be. Pure, serene, unwavering, Science walks through this world of ours; a grand, clear, dry, light—illumining all dark places; revealing, with equal lucidity, beautiful facts and ugly facts; as the rays of the sun fall alike on gorgeous palace and on filthy hovel, on fair and happy faces, and on those ploughed deep with the lines of misery and want, so does the sunlight of Science throw clear beams on the glory of Nature, and illuminate with equal brightness its stains and its dark blots. "The gospel of Science," then, is a discovery which we owe to the supernatural vision of the Bishop of Peterborough. He takes some of the saddest revelations of Science; he points out how all Nature's order is based upon destruction; he shows how the iron chain of invariable sequence is never broken for human tears or human shrieks; he dwells on the fact that in Nature the weak must perish, while the strong survive to perpetuate their race: all these truths are dilated upon by the Bishop of Peterborough, and then he turns sharply round upon his appalled and shrinking hearers, and says: "I will not ask whether this be true or false; I will only ask if it be good news."

His Lordship of Peterborough has "digged a pit, and has fallen himself into the destruction which he made for other." Science, I have said, only claims to discover and to reveal facts; good or bad, she tells them out with equal clearness. But mark you, she reveals only that which she finds. These harsh things said about Nature by Dr. Magee are true things; the whole fabric of Nature is built up upon a principle of death; the destruction of one creature is the salvation of another; the death of one is the life of another; the anguish of one is the pleasure of another; the torture of one is the amusement of the other. See the panther drop on the neck of the antelope; it is natural for him to do so. See the cat play with the injured mouse; it is natural to her to do so. See the vultures peck at the eyes of the dying buffalo; it is natural to them to do so. Science reveals these facts, with many another, all bearing the same signet. She points out how the earthquake spares not for the shrieks of the terrified people; how the waves smooth not at the cries of the drowning crew; how the fire leaps none the less high for the fierce moan of the burning man. But Science did not make the facts which she reveals. Science is not responsible for the revelation she unfolds. If the news told by Science is bad news, who is to blame for its badness? Answer, Bishop of Peterborough, you who believe in a Creator of the world. Suppose that I dig a mine, and fill it with gunpowder, and lay a train, and set alight the match which will kindle it. I then go away, and leave the match to burn, foreseeing that in due time my gunpowder will explode, and bury a city in ruins. A man comes along, with clear, sharp eyes, noticing all around him; he sees the burning match, but cannot reach it to put it out; he hurries to warn the people of their danger; he shows them how to escape it. Is this man to blame for the danger of explosion, because he has discovered the danger, and not rather I, who am the cause of it? Is Science, then, to blame if the facts she reveals are sad, and not rather the cause of all those facts, he who, according to the Bishop of Peterborough, is the Author of Nature, he who foresaw all, designed all, over-rules all. If Nature is so evil, God, and not Science, is the one to be blamed.

But this is only according to the Bishop of Peterborough. We have no slur of this kind to cast on Nature. With many evils inherent in it, the scheme around us is slowly evolving the higher from the lower; mankind are growing gradually into a nobler type; increasing knowledge is enabling us to cope with Nature's rougher moods; nowhere is truer the axiom that "knowledge is power" than when we say that knowledge of Nature is power over Nature. While the Bishop of Peterborough is forced by his arraignment of Nature to deny either the power or the goodness of the God in whom he believes, we, who believe in no designer, award neither praise nor blame to any being for the order in which we find ourselves; the universe is, we are part of it; we can study it, improve it, beautify it, by means of powers inherent in itself; and therefore we meet the dangers in our path with courage, and mend its imperfections by our skill.

The facts around us not being dependent for their existence either upon our knowledge or upon our ignorance, I deny altogether that Science is to blame because much of her revelation to mankind is stern and sad. But there is a foe to Christianity in the battle-field of the world; there is a gospel, which is not Christian, which is being proclaimed to mankind; there is a banner, whose folds are just floating out upon the air of England, which is blazoned with a new heraldry for humanity. It is the gospel of Freethought, the banner of Secularism. This is the gospel which I assert as against the gospel of Christianity; this is the gospel whose superiority to the Christian gospel I am prepared to maintain. On behalf of this gospel I lift from the ground the challenge-gauntlet flung down by the Bishop of Peterborough, and I say that not only is it true, but it is also good news to the world. This gospel is very much bound up with Science, and thus there may have been some confusion about it in the episcopal mind. A rumour may have penetrated to the depths of his palace, which murmured that a foe had arisen against Christianity, and was rapidly progressing, especially among those to whom Christianity had brought no glad tidings of great joy, to be found on earth. The gospel of Freethought is the daughter of Science; the good news she brings is based upon scientific facts; along the path in which she guides the feet of men she holds up the lamp of Science to show the way.

I intend now to lay before you the leading points of these two gospels, so that you may see clearly the advantages of each, and may judge between them; may see which of them has in it most hope for man, most promise for humanity.

The gospel of Christianity is good news because it reveals to us the existence of a God. It tells us of a God who is unlimited in being, but yet limited to a personal existence; unlimited in power, but yet frustrated and checkmated at every step; unlimited in goodness, yet allowing plagues and famines to desolate the world he loves, and the children he cherishes in his "Fatherly Heart;" the author of all things and perfectly holy, yet creator and ruler of a world where evil is found in all directions; a pure spirit, yet possessing face, hands, loins, feet, like a material human being.

The gospel of Freethought knows of no such being as this. Thought cannot think him out: reason cannot found his existence on any known facts; imagination cannot paint his picture, with its contradictory attributes; her colours all run into each other, and make a confused blot. A God of love? that is, a God so loving that he made a world, whose scheme is based on suffering and death; a God so loving that he formed the parents of the human race, and made the future of all mankind depend upon the eating of an apple; a God so loving that he then sent a serpent to tempt the woman whom he had predestined to fall; a God so loving that he drowned the world in his fury, because it was exactly what he had from all eternity designed that it should be; a God so loving that in Egypt he slew the little children, because the king, whose heart he had himself hardened, was hard-hearted; a God so loving that his chosen people slew men, and women, and the little ones even yet unborn, because these poor folks were living in a land coveted by the fierce Hebrew race; a God so loving that, as he himself says, he deceived his own messengers and put a lying spirit in the mouths of the prophet: a very loving God, truly, yet this is the God of love, whose disappearance would be so terrible a loss to the hearts of his children. A God of wisdom? that is, a wise God who made his master-piece man so badly, that he fell to pieces at the first temptation; a wise God whose whole work had to be destroyed because he had made it so badly that he himself got out of patience with it; a wise God, whose every aim is thwarted both by man and Devil; a wise God, whose wise plans are such a failure, that having drowned the world once, and tried his method over again, he has again failed so dismally that he is going to burn it all up, and make another new heaven and new earth, which, judging by past experience, are as likely to fail as their predecessors. Truly, this God has shown his wisdom very signally. A God of power? that is, a strong God, whose projects are foiled, whose plans are defeated, whose will is not done; a strong God who cannot even guard his poor creatures from a Devil, who appears, if we are to judge by results, to be more widely-present and more powerful than his own Maker. Truly a very strong God. The gospel of Secularism has no God. It sees a great universe, and knows only that it is; it believes in no origin, because there is no reason for such a belief. Uncaused and self-existent Natural order rolls on; the Secularist studies it, because, being himself a part of that order, his happiness lies in conformity with it; he reverences it, as the mother who has given him birth; he recognises the limitations imposed on him by the conditions of his being, and, instead of worshipping the Unknown, he studies it as far as he can, and devotes his whole strength to that for which his faculties fit him.

But the gospel of Christianity is good news because it speaks of a Father in Heaven, and, in painting his fair picture, it forgets the terrible blots with which this same God is disfigured. It appeals to the feeling of weakness and dependence in man, and it is here that its true power lies. A Father whose tender mercies are over all his works? we will believe it when sinking ships, and destroying pestilences, and heart-rending accidents, can be proved never to have taken place. A Father who loves his children? we will believe it when his children no longer starve and pine, when the noblest of the sons of men are no longer outcasts and martyrs, when the bad are no longer princes, and the good no longer hated. A Father who hears the cry of his children? we will believe it when we find that prayer turns aside pain, and grief, and death, when the cry of the mother saves the life of her child, the pleading of the wife gives her dead husband back living to her arms. Hitherto, as has been well said, instead of finding that faith of the size of a grain of mustard-seed will move mountains, we have never yet found faith of the size of a mountain move a grain of mustard-seed. I do not deny that it is pleasant to believe in the existence of a Being who is always at hand to remedy your mistakes, and to save you from the painful consequences of your own actions. But, unfortunately for the Bishop of Peterborough's argument, the goodness or badness of news does very materially depend upon its truth or its falsehood. Suppose a man, through folly or through crime, has become bankrupt; it would be very good news for him to be told that on waking up the next morning he would find his fortune as large as ever. But what is the use of the good news if it be not true? This is exactly what the gospel of Christianity does: it goes to the murderer whose life is forfeited, and it says to him: "Jesus has suffered for you, and you will be rewarded with happiness in heaven if you believe in him." No matter how foul the life, Christianity offers to wipe away all past offences, and stop the consequences of all past actions. Mark you, Christians do not live up to their creed in daily life; they do not set the murderer, who is fit company for saints in heaven, free to mingle with them again on earth; they cannot restore the squandered fortune to the spendthrift, or the lost health to the profligate and the drunkard. Facts are too strong for their creed; only in an imaginary world can they promise an imaginary happiness. Friends, against these fair promises of Christianity, Freethought has nothing to offer you. Sternly just, she decrees: laws disregarded strike the transgressor. If you are intemperate in drink or food, then shaking hands, enfeebled brain, ruined constitution, shall teach you that punishment invariably follows on transgression. If you lead impure lives, abusing the good powers given you by Nature, then disease and premature old age shall tell you that natural laws cannot be trifled with without suffering. Secularism, like Nature, is here stern and immutably severe. But if these things are so, is it not well to proclaim them, so that men, knowing the invariable law, may rule their lives well, and live happily? Show me one drunkard, who has first ruined his nerves, and has then steadied his shaking hand by prayer, and I will believe that this Christian doctrine of forgiveness by a loving Father is true and good news. Good news, I admit it to be to the thief, to the outlaw, to the murderer, in the sense that it would be good news to them to be told that all laws were repealed; but good news to the world it is not. Rather most evil news; for it encourages evil by promising escape from deserved punishment; it weakens good by giving to the good and to the bad one equal happiness. But the gospel of Freethought is really good news to the world, though bad news to the evilly-disposed while they refuse to amend their ways; for it warns men to avoid wrong-doing, by pointing out the misery which invariably follows evil; it strengthens men in leading noble lives, by showing them the good results that flow therefrom; it teaches the true path to happiness, by discovering and proclaiming natural laws. Christianity injures the world by condoning evil; Secularism blesses the world by making the happiness of one depend upon the good of all.

The gospel of Christianity is good news because it reveals to us the existence of the Devil. It does not tell us where he came from, or how he became a Devil. It tells us that God is all-holy, and it teaches us that God made good angels: it hints that Satan was a very fine specimen of an angel, a leader among angels, but that, at some indefinite time, he fell and became a Devil. Milton relates the whole affair in detail, but does not inform us how a perfect angel could do wrong of his own accord. In Job we meet Satan when he is half-way through his transformation, and is still quite at home in Heaven, and in fact plots with God to tempt Job. We meet him in the Gospels, where God, in the form of Jesus, still treats him with courteous respect, and argues with him. Later, he becomes a roaring lion and a dragon. What he is like now we are not told. But, as a Secularist, I venture to plead that this is not good news at all. The Christian may retort that it is true nevertheless. Then I challenge him for evidence. He can only give the assertion of his gospel: without Christianity we have no proof of the existence of the Devil, and I have, therefore, a right to say that the news is made by Christianity, and is most decidedly bad. Freethought has no Devil. It studies history, and therefore it knows, what most Christians do not know, where this notion of a Devil comes from. We can trace the genealogy of the Christian Devil back a long way. We see him in Persia, co-ruler of the world with God: we meet him in every old faith; light and darkness give birth to the ideas of God and Devil; in Egypt Typhon, the principle of darkness, slays Osiris, the sun, the principle of light. The good and bad in Nature were referred, in the childhood of the world, to two hostile principles; so far as I know, only the earlier Hebrew faith was without an evil Devil. The Hebrew Satan was originally a great and severe angel of God, who tried and tested men to see what they were worth, but this work was done in conjunction with God, as we see him in Job. The Hebrew Satan did not become God's enemy until the Jews had been captive in Babylonia, where their own majestic Satan became painted black, so to speak, and made into an evil spirit. Christianity took up this mingled Devil and darkened him yet more; but it also preserved to him the co-equal power with God given to the Devil in Eastern lore. He became again the principle of evil, struggling always with, and often conquering, the principle of good. All over the world the Devil fights with God for man's soul, and generally wins it. Few there are who are to be saved in heaven, many there are who are to be lost in hell. In the end the Devil triumphs: in spite of God, in spite of the blood of Jesus, in spite of the Holy Spirit, the Devil is to reign for ever over the vast majority of mankind. We decline to think that this news about the Devil is good news. Good news to know that there is an evil spirit ever at our elbow, prompting us to sin? Good news to know that there is a Devil always watching for a chance to seize us? Good news to know that when we die, there will be a Devil waiting to try and catch us and drag us to hell? No. This is bad news of the worst kind. And where is your God of power, O Christian, that he permits himself to be thwarted and set at nought by this Devil? where is your God of love, that he allows his dear children to be enticed into sin by this Devil? Some Christians dislike the Devil so much, that they try to refine him away, and make him into an allegory. But this cannot be allowed, unless they are willing to make God into an allegory too. The two beings must stand or fall together. If there is no need for a Devil to account for the evil in the universe, then there is no need for a God to account for the good in it. If you do not personify the destructive principle in nature, neither must you personify the preservative; there is no evidence for the existence of a God, that does not also prove the existence of a Devil. You must have both, or neither. The gospel of Christianity asserts the existence of both; the gospel of Freethought denies the existence of both. And I affirm that the disproof of the Devil is good news to the world.

The gospel of Christianity is good news, because it brings "life and immortality to light." Now, before I am prepared to say that I can feel grateful for the gift of immortal life, I must know what kind of life it is that is to be bestowed upon me. On this point, at least, Christianity speaks clearly and definitely. Immortality is, this gospel tells us, divided into two kinds; there is eternal life in heaven, and there is eternal death in hell. This heavenly life has not to me, I freely confess, many attractions. I am told that I shall meet there Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and David; but I do not care to associate with such people. Then there is the penitent thief, but I am not much attracted by him; there are shoals of the people turned out of earth, because they were not thought fit for it, and I am not anxious to make their acquaintance. The best people of history are not there; I must not hope to meet there the bearers of the great names I reverence and honour; heretics of all ages will not be there; philosophers and thinkers will not be there; patriots and reformers will not be there. I may search in vain for the faces I love on earth; not in heaven will be found the deniers of the Godhead, and those brave men who are now fighting for reforms. What then could I do in heaven? Sadly I should walk through the golden streets, and lonely and desolate I should saunter on the banks of the river of life. Then the occupations of heaven are distasteful to me—singing evermore, and playing on a golden harp. Sweet music I should weary of. My brain and heart would cry out for work. Then the city would be comfortless; it would be a cold, dazzling, hard, home. Streets of gold, gates of jewels; barbaric splendour fit to sicken anyone, who loves the cool green of the summer forest, and the soft blue of the pure evening sky. This eternal life has no charms for me; has it any attraction to anyone? Friends, does it not draw its attracting power from the fact that it is not hell, from the fact that it is the only alternative of eternal death. In criticising this good news of immortality, I am bound to take into account the fact that there is an immortality of pain and anguish, which this good news tells us is to be the lot of the majority of the human race. Listen to the gospel of Christianity: "Strait is the gate and narrow is the way which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it. Wide is the gate and broad is the way that leadeth to destruction, and many there be which go in thereat." So says Jesus himself. Hear the Roman Catholic Church; hear Spurgeon; hear the English Church in the person of one of her bishops. This is the good news to the world; this is the gospel of Christianity. Good news to the world that it shall be damned for ever in hell: that it shall be tormented with fire and brimstone in the presence of the Lamb for ever and ever, and the smoke of their torment ascendeth up for ever and ever, and they have no rest day nor night. Strange minds and hearts must Christians have if they really consider this horrible gospel to be good news. I marvel sometimes where this gospel of hell-fire had its birth; in what poor human heart, wrung with passionate hatred to mankind, embittered and soured by terrible wrongs, fired with fierce longing for revenge, did this awful phantom first take shape and form? Who first imaged out this ghastly notion of a heavenly Moloch, sitting on his throne, and wreaking on men an eternal hatred, mocking the helpless agony of his victims, and in bitter irony forcing them to call him their Father and a God of love. Never let Christianity dare to call itself good news, so long as hell is part of its gospel to mankind; never let it boast of the immortality it proclaims, so long as to the majority of mankind it only proffers an immortality of anguish unspeakable. If this gospel were true—nay, if there were even any probability of its being true—then every man and woman with a human heart would make a stern resolution never again to bring a child into the world who might be doomed to an eternity of suffering; never again would they co-operate with God, so as to form a body which God might thereafter be enabled to curse with the terrible gift of an immortal soul.

The gospel of Secularism has neither heaven nor hell to offer to the world. On the subject of immortality its lips are dumb. Science tells it nothing which points to continued life after death; all analogy is against it; we have never met life apart from organisation; we cannot conceive of mind as apart from matter. Life is, to us, an attribute of matter, under certain conditions, just as brightness is an attribute of the polished steel, sharpness of the pointed iron. But Secularism bids us leave a future life alone. If there is one, we shall get it in due time; if there is not, extinction is far preferable to torture, or to personal happiness while others are being tortured. Fix your eyes upon earth, Freethought says to the Secularist; of this life you are sure: a heaven in the clouds has nothing to do with you now; work rather to make a heaven upon earth: do not trouble how to meet a future life; learn rather to live your present life well. It has been justly said: "For a long time men have been taught how to die; what is wanted is, that they should be taught how to live." At any rate, Secularism removes from our sky the brooding, lowering, crowds which have darkened it so long; it clears away from the tomb that terrible shadow which enshrouds it when the Christian lays there the body of some dear relative or beloved friend who has died without faith in God; it quenches the lurid flames which might otherwise affright us when we lie upon our own death-beds, if we have spent our lives in serving man instead of in serving God; it gives us that calm serenity which can quietly do its work here so long as strength holds out, and which, when death calls us, will enable us to lie down and die in peace.

The gospel of Christianity is good news because it comes to sinners with the offer of an Atonement for sin. Man, says Christianity, is lying under the heavy wrath of a justly-offended God, and then Jesus Christ, the Son of God, mercifully comes forward, and bears the punishment of sin for us by being crucified. I am not going to deal now with the subject of the Atonement doctrinally, nor to criticise the justice of its arrangements, or the ingenuity of its design. We are only concerned with it, as a prominent feature of the gospel of Christianity, as good news to the world. What benefit does the Atonement, supposed to be wrought by Jesus, confer on the world? "It delivers us from sin and from the wrath of God." That it delivers us from sin, I deny; that it delivers us from the wrath of God is a work of supererogation, if the gospel of Secularism is true. At any rate, it is not good news to be told that we are under the wrath of God; news it is, for we should never have found it out for ourselves; good, it most decidedly is not. The wrath of God is one of the blessings brought to light by the gospel of Christianity. An Atheist may go out into the country in a Sunday excursion-train, he may enjoy the sweet scent of the flowers, and lie at ease on the green turf; he may listen to the rustle of the breeze through the leaves over his head, and hear the melody of the blackbird and the thrush as they warble out their happiness; all around him is, say Christians, the work of God, and all around him is ministering to his pleasure. A Christian comes along, and tells him that he is under the unchanging displeasure of God, and the Atheist feels the caress of the sunbeams, and he laughs at the idea that the Worker should be angry, when the works are so full of joy-giving power. We should never have guessed at the abiding wrath of God, if it had not been for Christianity. Christianity, however, having found the wrath, also finds the peace-offering, and then rejoices over its good news.

I would also have you observe, that all that the gospel of Christianity promises you deliverance from, it first creates; all the dangers it saves you from are pits of its own digging; all the curses it shields you from are arrows which it has first shot at you from its own bow. Search and see if any good thing promised you by Christianity be anything more than deliverance from some evil invented by this so-called gospel. It first puts chains on all your limbs, and then boasts loudly that it can show you how to take them off again. But the gospel of Secularism tells you that you are free men; that these chains are only shadowy links, made out of the fog of superstition; it bids you show your manhood by shaking them off you, and by standing fast in that liberty wherewith your nature makes you free. I cannot bid the Bishop of Peterborough farewell—the prelate who has so kindly given me the text of my lecture—without calling your attention to the bribe he offers to the people whom he is endeavouring to retain within the Christian fold. "I will not ask," he says, "if it be true or false; I will only ask whether it be good news." It is not often that a Christian speaks out so clearly about his motives in being religious. "I don't care about truth or falsehood; I only want to believe that which is pleasant." I have myself heard the question asked: "Why should I seek for truth, and why should I lead a good life, if there be no immortality, in which to reap a reward?" To this question the Freethinker has one clear and short answer: "There is no reason why you should seek Truth, if to you the search has no attracting power. There is no reason why you should lead a noble life, if you find your happiness in leading a poor and a base one." Friends, no one can enjoy a happiness which is too high for his capabilities; a book may be of intensest interest, but a dog will very much prefer being given a bone. To him whose highest interest is centred in his own miserable self, to him who only cares to gain his own ends, to him who seeks only his own individual comfort, to that man Freethought can have no attraction. Such a man may indeed be made religious by a bribe of heaven; he may be led to seek for Truth, because he hopes to gain his reward hereafter by the search; but Truth disdains the service of the self-seeker; she cannot be grasped by a hand that itches for reward. If Truth is not loved for her own pure sake, if to lead a noble life, if to make men happier, if to spread brightness around us, if to leave the world better than we found it—if these aims have no attraction for us, if these thoughts do not inspire us, then we are not worthy to be Secularists, we have no right to the proud title of Freethinkers. If you want to be paid for your good lives by living for ever, in a lazy and useless fashion, in an idle heaven; if you want to be bribed into nobility of life; if, like silly children, you learn your lesson, not to gain knowledge, but to win sugar-plums, then you had better go back to your creeds and your churches: they are all you are fit for; you are not worthy to be free. But we—who, having caught a glimpse of the beauty of Truth, deem the possession of her worth more than all the world beside; who have made up our minds to do our work ungrudgingly, asking for no reward beyond the results which spring up from our labour—we will spread the gospel of Freethought among men, until the sad minor melodies of Christianity have sobbed out their last mournful notes on the dying evening-breeze, and on the fresh morning winds shall ring out the chorus of hope and joyfulness, from the glad lips of men whom the Truth has at last set free.

I could not forbear making these remarks upon a sentiment so poor, so mean, as that we were to choose our creeds for the sake of their pleasantness; but—although I have not had time to touch upon the many other points in which the gospel of Secularism is better than the gospel of Christianity—I have yet, I hope, said enough to prove that, so far as the goodness of the news to the world goes, the advantage is with the message we proclaim. And naturally so. For the theory of Secularism is built up only in reference to the promotion of happiness in this world: if any course does not promote human happiness, then that course is stamped by Secularism as bad; if any course promotes human happiness, then that course is stamped by Secularism as good. The gospel of Freethought is a proclamation to mankind of their true object in life, and of the means whereby to gain that object. But Christianity, on the other hand, asserts itself as a scheme which is intended to prepare men for a future life elsewhere; for the sake of that future they are to despise the present; for the sake of a crown in heaven they are to carry a cross on earth; if they would live unto God, they must die unto the world. Therefore Christianity has no right to pretend that it is a gospel to men while they are living on the earth; it cannot maintain that it promotes temporal happiness. It turns men's eyes from earth to fix them upon heaven; it bids them be careless of the temporal, while luring them to grasp at the eternal; it makes them less earnest in the present life, by bidding them brood over a life to come; it makes them endure life's wrongs and life's tyrannies with a cowardly patience, in the hope of a glory to be revealed. And therefore this gospel is not good for mankind. It is not good news to the poor and the oppressed, because it bribes them to be contented with their poverty, and to remain passive under their oppression; it is not good news for those who love men, because it dooms the greater part of our race to misery unending; it is not good news to the patriot and the reformer, for it tells him that his toil is wasted, being done for a world which is soon to be destroyed. Neither is the gospel of Freethought good news to everybody. But to the world the gospel of Freethought does really bring good news; glad tidings of great joy, which shall be to all nations. It sweeps away all the terrors of the supernatural; it bids men look on earth as their fair heritage, capable of being beautified and cultured, through knowledge and skill and love. It brings tidings of peace, for it educates and refines, and teaches gentleness and brotherhood to all alike. And it brings tidings of freedom; tidings of freedom from political tyranny; tidings of freedom from priestly superstitions; tidings of freedom for heart and for brain; tidings that man shall no longer be a slave, either to a Church or to a King.

 

London: Printed by Annie Besant and Charles Bradlaugh,
63, Fleet Street, E.C.
1883.


This work is in the public domain in the United States because it was published before January 1, 1925.


The author died in 1933, so this work is also in the public domain in countries and areas where the copyright term is the author's life plus 80 years or less. This work may also be in the public domain in countries and areas with longer native copyright terms that apply the rule of the shorter term to foreign works.