Thursday, January 7, 2016

Theological Delusions by Charles Watts 1897


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Christian theology is based upon, and supported by, delusion. Its expounders seem to be impressed with the mistaken idea that they have the intellect of the world upon their side; and in the preaching and debating they are constantly taunting Secularists with being unable to produce the names of great men who have worked in the Freethought cause. Even if such an allegation were accurate, it would not prove that Christianity was true, or that Secularism was false. Names of great men of the past can be cited in favor of the most palpable errors that ever deluded the human mind. Take, for instance the belief in witchcraft, in the earth being flat, and in the existence of devils in the human organization as the cause of disease. For centuries these delusions were entertained by the greatest men both in and out of the Christian Church. They taught that these delusions were sanctioned by the teachings of the Bible. But to-day no one but suitable candidates for a lunatic asylum would be found endorsing such gross errors. Besides, men may be great upon one subject, and at the same time no authority whatever upon others. An opinion is only valuable in proportion as it has been formed after careful and unbiased study, and in so far as it can be supported by facts.

There is no subject upon which great men's opinions are of less value than that of Christian theology, for this reason: they have either been induced from the morning of their lives to give it merely a passive acceptance, or they have been too indifferent to investigate its claims. Moreover, it does not follow, because eminent persons have allowed themselves to be regarded as Christians, that they have therefore permitted the Christian faith to influence their actions in daily life. It should be remembered that, when the Church was in full power, it was almost impossible for an avowed disbeliever in the Christian faith to have his genius acknowledged either in philosophy or in science. At that period, if a man were known to be sceptical, he was denounced by tho Church, and ignored by the "powers that be." Still, in spite of all ostracism that has been enforced by professed Christians, Sceptics have appeared and left an impress of true greatness upon the age in which they lived. This was evident to the observing mind of J. S. Mill, who, in his work On Liberty, wrote: "It is historically true that a large proportion of Infidels, in all ages, have been persons of distinguished integrity and honor...Persons in greatest repute with the world, both by virtues and attainments, are well known, at least to their intimates, to be unbelievers...It can do truth no good to blink the fact, known to all who have the most ordinary acquaintance with literary history, that a large portion of the noblest and most valuable moral teachings has been the work, not only of men who did not know, but of men who knew and rejected, the Christian faith." This is quite true, for some of tho noblest men and women who have adorned the history of their times, and given to the world a record of the most useful deeds, have been unbelievers. Lucretius, Spinoza, Goethe, Humboldt, Dr. Priestley, Newton, Voltaire, Paine, Robert Owen, Lyell, Clifford, Darwin, Tyndall, Huxley, and Harriet Martineau, are prominent in the Pantheon of the world's reformers; and these were all unbelievers, from the orthodox standpoint.

Christians, who delude themselves by supposing that the use of the names of great men enhances the value of Christianity, should note the fact that it is exceedingly difficult to ascertain the exact attitude which many of those men assumed towards the Christian religion. It is unfortunate that, through the persecuting conduct of Christians, the possession of genius has been found not incompatible with an evasive manner concerning views upon religious questions. This avoidance of candor and outspokenness was felt to be necessary, inasmuch as a frank avowal of disbelief in Christianity would probably have entailed the infliction of penalties by the pious followers of "the meek and lowly Jesus." The same evil obtains at the present time to a large extent. Although many eminent men in the scientific, political, and educational world will not allow any theological teachings to interfere with their useful work; still, they are compelled in many instances to refrain from proclaiming their disbelief in the Christian faith, knowing that, if they avowed their opinions, their public services would be impaired. It has ever been so, more or less, since the inception of the Christian Church—a fact which is a standing disgrace to the Christian party.

True, in all ages there have been found a few men and women who were able to show the courage of their convictions, and thus defy the power of the Church and the malice of the priests. The names of Bruno, Vanini, Descartes, Spinoza, Voltaire, Paine, Kant, Volney, David Hume, and, more recently, Carlile, Watson, Southwell, Hetherington, Holyoake, and others, recall to our minds a muster-roll of brave Sceptics who labored outside of Christianity in vindication of the principles of personal right and mental freedom. These Freethought pioneers, be it remembered, emphasized the fact that disbelief in traditional faith has generally been followed by progressive results. Martin Luther disbelieved in the mysteries and mummeries of Roman Catholicism, and the result was what is called the Protestant Reformation. Copernicus and Galileo disbelieved in the Bible cosmogony, with its theory of the heavens and this scepticism gave birth to correct views upon the great science of astronomy. Modern geologists reject the Bible story of creation, and the consequence is a more extensive faith in Nature's records. In philosophy the same thing has occurred. Thus the Christian delusion, that the Church since its advent has monopolized all the great men of the world, has no foundation in fact. On the contrary, unbelievers have been the promoters of improvement, while theologians have been persistent upholders of superstitious conservatism, which eschews advancement, frowns down new discoveries, and keeps its anchor firmly fixed in the errors of the past.

The theological delusion, that the belief in Theism is necessary to good character and to the performance of moral actions, prompts its believers to exclaim: "Where are the Atheists among the great men whose deeds are recorded in the pages of history?" Now, the truth is that nearly every man mentioned above was an Atheist to the Christian's God, and therefore their deity is not required to ensure intellectual greatness and ethical conduct. Besides, all scientists, as such, are Atheists, for, as the Bishop of Carlisle admitted, "science is Atheism; all physical science, properly so-called, is compelled by its very nature to take no account of the being of God." Then take Buddha and his more than 400,000,000 followers, all of whom were practical Atheists. Chambers' Encyclopedia says: "Contrary to the opinion once confidently and generally held, that a nation of Atheists never existed, it is no longer to be disputed that the numerous Buddhist nations are essentially Atheist." And Max Muller, in his Science of Religion, writes: "As regards the denial of a Creator, or Atheism in the ordinary acceptation of the term, I do not think that any one passage from the books of the canon known to us can be quoted which contradicts it, or which in any way presupposes the belief in a personal God or a Creator " (p. 139). "Buddhism...
which, in spite of all its merits, culminated in Atheism and Nihilism " (ibid, p. 133). Yet allied with this Atheism were greatness of intellect and sublimity of character which have never been surpassed. Max Muller also says that the religion of Buddha possesses "a vitality which has made its branches to overshadow the largest portion of the inhabited globe" (ibid, p. 35). Again he remarks: "One hardly trusts one's eyes on seeing Catholic and Protestant missionaries vie with each other in their praises of the Buddha; and even the attention of those who are indifferent to all that concerns religion must be arrested for a moment, when they learn from statistical accounts that no religion, not even the Christian, has exercised so powerful an influence on the diminution of crime as the old, simple doctrine of the Ascetic of Kapilavastu" (ibid, p. 132).

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