G. W. FOOTE and J. M. WHEELER (1887) in Crimes of Christianity
ADVERSITY TRIES A MAN
AN Irish orator was once protesting his immaculate honesty before a suspicious audience of his countrymen. Displaying his dexter palm, he exclaimed that there was a hand that never took a bribe; whereupon a smart auditor cried “How about the one behind your back?”
My purpose (in this article) is to show the hand behind the back. Christianity is plausible and fair-spoken today, although it occasionally emits a fierce flash of its primitive spirit. Its advocates are no longer able to crush opposition; they are obliged to answer its arguments, or to make a show of defending their own doctrines. They scruple at damning heretics, and blandly expect a reciprocation of the courtesy.
Feeling that the tendency of modern thought is against them, and afraid to resist it, they bend before it rather than break. Their only object is to weather the storm at any cost, even by sacrificing large quantities of their freightage. We do not believe that Christianity will weather the storm; in our opinion it is doomed. Nevertheless, as earnest (Awakened) Freethinkers, we feel incumbent on us the duty of assisting in its destruction. We are anxious that, as religions die of being found out, Christianity shall be seen in its true light. We desire that it shall not be judged by its present promises, but by its past performance. We wish to show what it was in the evil days of its supremacy, when opportunity matched inclination, and it acted according to the laws of its nature, unchecked by science, free thought and humanity.
Adversity tries a man, says the proverb. But not like prosperity. No man is really known until he possesses power, and the same may be said of religions. They should be tested, not by what they pretend in their weakness, but by what they do in their strength. The merits and services of Christianity have been industriously extolled by its hired advocates. Every Sunday its praises are sounded from myriads of pulpits. It enjoys the prestige of an ancient establishment and the comprehensive support of the State. It has the ear of rulers and the control of education. Every generation is suborned in its favor. Those who dissent from it are losers, those who oppose it are ostracized; while in the past, for century after century, it has replied to criticism with imprisonment, and to skepticism with the dungeon and the stake. By such means it has induced a general tendency to allow its pretensions without inquiry and its beneficence without proof.
If we are told of the beneficial effect of Christianity on individual lives, we answer that this invites a fresh indictment. Who can estimate the blight which has fallen upon sensitive souls from its doctrines of a personal devil, of salvation by accurate faith, of the guilt of doubt, of a terrible day of judgment, of everlasting torture in hell, and of a God whose favor is propitiated for a few by the sacrifice of the innocent for the guilty, and who is literally to all the rest “a consuming fire”? Who can describe the anguish of lovers whom faith has parted, of friends whom it has estranged, of husbands and wives between whom it has sown division, of parents whom it has filled with the dread that their children were doomed to perdition?
Christianity is an historical religion and must be judged historically. We trace its course along the stream of time and show its character and achievements. Without dwelling unnecessarily on individual cases of fanaticism and folly, we should exhibit its action on society and its principles as formulated by Councils and illustrated by general practice. We are also as careless of sects (in future analysis herein) as of eccentrics. We deal with the Christian Church in its great movements and manifestations; not chasing small currents but following the sweep of the tide. Nor can we listen to the Protestant plea that Catholicism is an idolatrous heresy, and is alone responsible for the crimes and errors of Christianity (mostly in the Middle Ages). In a future analysis (here in this holy blog) it will be our duty to relate the criminal misdeeds of Protestantism. Meanwhile we say it is absurd for Protestants to repudiate the only Christianity that existed for a thousand years, and to stigmatize with heresy that Catholic Church which is the venerable mother of their own faith, and the custodian and guarantor of their Scriptures. Both Catholic and Protestant have to face the fact that the triumph of Christianity was the triumph of barbarism, and that the doctrine of salvation by faith is in each Church the logical basis and sanction of persecution.
In such enlightening works as this I always aim at truth rather than eloquence. What I wish to be heard is, not my own voice, but the voice of history. I therefore let the historian speak when possible. Not only did the author of The Decline and Fall, as Mr. Freeman observes, “monopolize the historical genius and the historical learning” of his times, and write “with wonderful power and with wonderful accuracy,” but, in the words of Cardinal Newman, “it is melancholy to say it, but the chief, perhaps the only English writer who has any claim to be considered an ecclesiastical historian, is the unbeliever Gibbon.” It may be added that Dr. Adams, a competent judge, in his Manual of Historical Literature, says that neither “the laborious investigations of German scholarship,” nor even “the keen criticisms of theological zeal,” have revealed more than a “very few important errors” in the whole range of Gibbon’s labors, extending over the political, social, religious, and intellectual activity of thirteen centuries.