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ADDITION 30

from: God and Evolution, Chapman Cohen [1868 - 1954 (see 1150 (biography))], (Issued by the Secular Society, Limited), Price Sixpence, London: The Pioneer Press, 1925.

"There is far more at issue in the trial ['Scopes "Monkey Trial"', 1925 (see Encyc. Unbelief)] in that small undeveloped town of Dayton [Tennessee] than whether a teacher has broken a State law or not. The real issue is Christianity versus modern science. Astute Christians have been trying for many years to cloud this issue by fallacious attempts to explain away the plainest of Christian teachings, and by attempting to read into scientific theories inferences they will not bear. There is much talk nowadays about GETTING BACK TO JESUS--the Daytonites are helping to show us what that means. For THEY ARE BACK WITH JESUS--WITH JESUS THE BELIEVER IN LEGIONS OF ANGELS AND DEVILS, A FLAT EARTH, A LITERAL HEAVEN, AND AN ETERNAL HELL, AND WHOSE INFLUENCE WAS SEEN FOR SO MANY CENTURIES IN THE BURNING OF HERETICS AND THE TORTURE OF OLD WOMEN FOR DEALING WITH THE DEVIL. Our time-serving clergy do not like it. Naturally. The Daytonites give the game away. But those who value honesty of mind, and sincerity of character have reason to thank them. It is well that the people of this generation should now and again be reminded from within the Christian fold what genuine Christianity is. And one can at least pay more respect to honest ignorance than to a time-serving knowledge that is eager to distort truth in the interests of an ESTABLISHED SUPERSTITION [CHRISTIANISM ("CHRISTIANITY")]." [45-46]. [End of text].

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Jesus Christ, 1290-1294, 1299-1300, 1302, 1304-1326, 1329, 1333-1335, 1337-1339, 1342-1343, 1352, 1355, 1358, 1365

New Testament, 1291-1293, 1302, 1305, 1307-1311, 1313-1314, 1316-1320, 1323, 1325, 1334, 1343-1344, 1347, 1357

Old Testament, 1356-1357

Paul, 1312, 1321, 1327, 1329, 1362



Additional Reference


Dictionary of Deities and Demons in the Bible, DDD, Edited by Karel van der Toorn, Bob Becking, Pieter W. van der Horst, Second Extensively Revised Edition, Brill 1999 (1995). [See: Helios; Jesus; etc.].

PAGE 1290


from: Essays in Freethinking, Chapman Cohen, Third Series, London: The Pioneer Press, 1928.

'The Christian Myth (January 1927)


In one of the London evening papers, Canon Storr [apparently, Vernon Faithfull Storr 1869 - 1940], of Westminster, deals with what he calls a challenge to the Churches. The challenge is the publication of Dr. Brandes' [Georg Morris Cohen Brandes 1842 - 1927] [prolific author. see Nat. Union Cat.] work on Jesus a Myth [1926 (earlier?) (c1925 German) (1925 Danish)], a book which states the not at all new theory that the Jesus of the New Testament is a wholly fictitious character of no other, and no greater, historical reality than that of the many saviour gods the world has known. It is something to find a prominent and recognized spokesman of the Church, such as Canon Storr, dealing with the topic in a newspaper; and the pleasure would be wholly unalloyed if the policy of the British Press permitted any straightforward criticism of Christianity to appear in reply. As it is, THE GAME OF ALLOWING ONLY ONE SIDE TO BE HEARD is so well understood by our newspapers that it appears to be accepted as a matter of course, and no one seems to think it at all wrong. Where religion is concerned our newspapers are among the most cowardly in the world, and the policy of suppression is the worse because it is pursued under the cloak of concern for morality and a burning desire for truth and justice. And that gives to Canon Storr a great advantage. He is writing for readers who, in the main, will hear only one side of the case. The ignorance of the average Christian concerning the nature and origin of his religious beliefs is colossal; and he remains undisturbed because no one is permitted to enlighten him. IN THE HEYDAY OF ITS POWER THE CHRISTIAN CHURCH FOUND IT CONVENIENT TO BURN THE MAN WHO CRITICIZED ITS TEACHING. But the flames were as likely to serve as a beacon as they were to act as a warning. The policy of securing an avowedly open platform, and then excluding one side altogether, promised far greater safety. For perpetuating ignorance--the Mother of Devotion--no better plan could be devised. The military method of creating a desert and calling it peace is paralleled by THE CHRISTIAN POLICY OF REFUSING THE OPPOSITION A HEARING AND THEN ASSUMING ITS NON-EXISTENCE.

I do not observe that anything Canon Storr has written by way of a defence of Christianity--when one observes the conditions of its publication--is likely to disturb that ignorance. For example, Canon Storr says:--

There are few people who are not utterly obsessed, who will deny that Jesus was a real historical personage...It is just the strength of the evidence for the historical Jesus which marks the difference between Christianity and the cults of Adonis, Attis, and the like...Christianity is rooted in history. Unless such a man as Jesus existed you cannot explain satisfactorily the existence of the Christian Church.

PAGE 1291


WHAT IS THIS APPARENTLY CONCLUSIVE EVIDENCE FOR THE HISTORICAL JESUS? We will give the Christian advocate all he asks; that is, we will assume that all the testimonies to the actual existence of Jesus are quite genuine, and then see what they are worth.

The average Christian reader, when he hears about "evidence," thinks of it as adequate in both quantity and quality. Remember, we are not dealing with an ordinary individual, a mere teacher of morals and philosophy, whose name might well have been unknown outside his own circle, and whose fame grew up after his death as the result of a series of lucky accidents. We are dealing with one [Jesus] whose whole existence, from conception to death, challenged the attention of the whole world. He was miraculously conceived, he performed miracles and wonders, he made the blind to see, and raised the dead from the grave, he was killed amid a series of natural convulsions, which do not occur down a back street, and, after his death, was raised from the dead, and spoke to those who knew him. Such a life and death must have challenged the widest possible notice. And yet, if all the relevant references to Jesus were admitted to be beyond question, instead of every one of them being open to suspicion, they would not fill a single column of a newspaper. How does Canon Storr account for that? Will he plead that the events narrated of Jesus were such commonplace things in those days, were so familiar to the people, that no one noticed their association with Jesus more than we in this country would notice a rainy day? To admit that is to strain credulity to breaking point. And the only alternative hypothesis is that we are actually dealing with mythology and not with historical fact.

NOW, I DO NOT PUT IT FORWARD AS A THEORY TO BE INVESTIGATED THAT PROBABLY THE JESUS CHRIST OF THE NEW TESTAMENT NEVER EXISTED.

I SAY DEFINITELY AND CATEGORICALLY THAT I KNOW HE DID NOT EXIST. The legitimacy of this is only ignored because of the confusion set up by theologians when dealing with Jesus. Canon Storr speaks of the Church as having been built upon the perfect figure of Jesus. The Christian Church is built upon nothing of the kind; and, so far as it is concerned, it will not benefit it in the least to prove that, once upon a time, there lived a very, very good man, who taught some very, very good morals, and that certain myths gathered round this figure. It is the historic actuality of the myth upon which the Church depends. IT IS NOT THE GOOD MAN CHRISTIANITY REQUIRES, BUT THE INCARNATE GOD. It is the miraculously conceived, miracle working, resurrected God upon which Christianity is founded. AND THERE IS NO GREATER NEED TO PROVE THAT THIS KIND OF BEING [JESUS CHRIST] DID NOT EXIST THAN THERE IS TO PROVE THAT ADONIS, OR OSIRIS, OR BEELZEBUB NEVER EXISTED. Christians might realize that if their preachers dealt fairly with them. But they do not. They put forward the reasonableness of belief in the existence of the human Jesus, orate about the moral grandeur of Jesus (which I am certainly far from admitting), and then quietly substitute the mythological Christ. But the good man Jesus is not enough for the Church; and the mythological Christ is a scientific absurdity. Christianity falls between the useless man and the impossible God.

PAGE 1292


Canon Storr's way of putting the case does not disturb the placid ignorance in which the mass of the Christian world lives. I do not say that it is intentional, but his writing certainly gives the general reader no conception whatever of the strength of the case for THE PURELY MYTHOLOGICAL CHARACTER OF THE FIGURE OF JESUS. There is no mention of the volume of evidence for the existence of a Jesus sect before the New Testament; or for the fact that every one of the characteristics of the Gospel Christ is to be found in connexion with other saviour gods, for whom no reality is claimed, nor for the worship of the mother-goddess and child which existed round the Mediterranean long before the Christian era; nor of the general identity of Christian practices with those of pre-Christian cults. Had he indicated these things, some of his readers might have realized that the real problem before scientific thinkers is, not that of determining how the New Testament story could exist in the absence of an historical character, but simply that of their determining the precise sociological and psychological conditions which brought a number of widespread myths to a focus in what became known to the world as Christianity. Certainly, if Christian laymen were actually acquainted with the fact that these Christian stories, right from the miraculous birth to the slain Saviour God and his resurrection, were widely-held religious doctrines long before Christianity was heard of, it would be too much to expect them to believe that, although they had figured for centuries as myths, they were suddenly re-enacted as historic fact in the person of Jesus, and that hardly anyone took notice of the remarkable occurrence. Christian credulity is capable of much, but it would hardly rise to this. The early Christians got over this difficulty by asserting that the devil, in order to discredit the Christian mysteries, copied them in advance [an amusing (annoying) orthodox classic!]. But I do not think that Canon Storr would suggest this theory to the readers of his article. It is true he admits that certain mythological conceptions may have crept into Christianity. But they did not creep in; they were there from the first; if they are eliminated, what is there left? Nothing but the mouther of moral platitudes and homely maxims. And what kind of world religion can one build upon that?

Canon Storr does not appear to understand the Freethinker's case at all. He presents it as consisting in the belief that at a given time a certain number of people sat down, elaborated a mythology, and then fixed it upon some alleged, or real, historic character. That view is quite wrong. The Freethinker's case is that the incidents which go to make up the New Testament story were already existent as part and parcel of world-wide mythologies; that a conjunction of political and other conditions brought these rival cults into competition, and finally synthesized them into the system known to the world as Christianity. The early Christians neither asked for nor received any evidence for the truth of their doctrines--evidence, that is, such as moderns would ask for. The doctrines were already believed in; and, at most, it meant the substitution of one name for another, with perhaps a slight modification of doctrine, but without the least change of mental attitude. The historical and legal enquiry arose later, and then THE CHURCH MET IT WITH ITS WEAPONS OF SUPPRESSION, FALSIFICATION, AND INVENTION.

PAGE 1293


IT IS NOT FOR US TO-DAY SERIOUSLY TO DISCUSS WHETHER A MAN WAS BORN OF A VIRGIN, AND WAS RAISED FROM THE DEAD. We know that these things never occurred. It is an insult to civilized intelligence to ask that such an issue shall be discussed. THE QUESTION IS NOT HISTORICAL BUT PSYCHOLOGICAL, THAT OF UNDERSTANDING THE MENTAL STATES WHICH GIVE SUCH BELIEFS VITALITY. And I am not convinced that we need go back many centuries for an answer to that question. When we find Canon Storr's own Church rent in twain over the question of how far, and in what sense, the actual body and blood of Jesus Christ is present in a mixture of flour and water once it has had an incantation mumbled over it by a Christian priest, I do not think we need travel far afield to find an answer to the psychological question. Make that type of mind commoner than it is, saturate the intellectual atmosphere with credulity, and eliminate scientific knowledge, multiply superstition a thousandfold, diminish scientific criticism to almost vanishing point, picture a society in which the question is, not whether a man shall accept superstition, but only which form of it he shall embrace, and we need not wonder at the ready acceptance and rapid spread of a mythology so gross that, to-day, even its paid professors hesitate to proclaim it openly.' ["78"-84] [End of Essay].

_____ _____ _____

from: Challenge to Religion, Chapman Cohen, London: The Pioneer Press, 1942. ["Four Lectures delivered in the Secular Hall, Leicester, on November 4, 11, 18 and 25, 1928." (from the 1928 edition, entitled: Four Lectures on Freethought and Life)].



"Chapter I


The Meaning and Value of Freethought"


'....THE TERRORISM OF THE CHRISTIAN CHURCH HAS NOT YET EXHAUSTED ITSELF. Officially, it may be disestablished, but THE EVIL OF ITS LONG REIGN is still plainly to be traced in the behaviour of men and women.

It is precisely the same in municipal affairs. Candidates for public honours confess privately--a confession that requires very little confirmation--that it is not politic to avow non-religious opinions if they wish to secure election. Once these are known, the energies of Church and Chapel in the locality are given to secure their defeat. Not because the candidates would not make good public servants, but simply because they are bold enough to confess their real convictions on matters of religion. In these directions it is the fear of the vote that decides whether a man shall or shall not be intellectually honest. Journalism and the press offer the same evidence. No one who knows the newspaper world, or who has many acquaintances in the ranks of journalists, can persuade themselves that honesty lies behind the religious "stunts" that are run from time to time by papers anxious to improve their circulation, and so to raise the advertisement charges. Privately, many of the writers laugh at the whole thing. But there is a public to be exploited, and there is also a public to be feared. And the two things together go a long way to explain why direct attacks on religion are not permitted in the press, and why the most stupid of religious defences receive full hospitality.

The more serious aspect of this is that THERE IS a DIRECT ENCOURAGEMENT TO INTELLECTUAL DISHONESTY, AND A DIRECT DISCOURAGEMENT TO SINCERITY AND MENTAL STRAIGHT-FORWARDNESS. A religion-soaked community says in effect to all aspirants for public honours, "WE DO NOT CARE WHAT YOUR OPINIONS ON RELIGION MAY BE SO LONG AS YOU KEEP THEM TO YOURSELF. REMAIN QUIET, AND YOU MAY GET WHERE YOU WILL. FIGURE AT RELIGIOUS GATHERINGS AND CHURCH AND CHAPEL WILL UNITE IN YOUR HELP. But determine to be honest whatever happens, let your anti-religious opinions be known, be quite fearless in what you say, do nothing that will give the lie to what you say, and you will have to pay the price. If you are a shopkeeper we will do what we can to ruin you. If you aspire to public life we will do what we can to drive you out of it. In all directions we will inflict whatever pains and penalties are possible, until you are content to tell the lie, the whole lie, and nothing but the lie for Christ's sake, Amen!" ["CHRISTIAN LOVE"--AT WORK!]

PAGE 1295


This is at least one of the disadvantages which the development of democracy has brought about in making the vote a deciding factor. It has given mere numbers importance in a direction in which number has no legitimate place. "Get votes!" cries the politician, "No matter how, but get them. Five hundred fools are very much better at your back than fifty philosophers." IT IS QUANTITY, NOT QUALITY, THAT IS DESIRED [see #23, 485 (Mencken, on Nietzsche)]. I do not in the least complain of the advance of democracy, it brings more good than evil in its train, but the good it brings ought not to blind us to the existence of the evil, or doing what can be done to diminish it. For so far as the vast mass of the people are concerned, whether they act along lines of intellectual integrity or not will depend mainly upon environmental influences. Other things equal, it is, for most, more difficult to act a lie than it is to be oneself. Make it tolerably easy to be honest and straightforward and the ruck ["heap", etc.] of mankind will react accordingly. But make it difficult to be intellectually honest, and the ruck of mankind will react in another manner. ALL THAT THE MAJORITY OF MANKIND DESIRE IS TO GET THROUGH LIFE AS EASILY AND AS COMFORTABLY AS POSSIBLE. It is only the few who will speak out at any cost, who see beyond the moment the vision of a better day and of a more upright man and woman. Unfortunately Christianity has all along seen to it that this type of person shall live as uncomfortably as possible, and die with no better epitaph than "Here lies a crank."' [20-22].

"Fifteen [now, SIXTEEN] HUNDRED YEARS OF UNQUESTIONED CHRISTIAN RULE MADE THIS HABIT OF INTOLERANCE A CHARACTERISTIC OF THE EUROPEAN MIND [see: Appendix X, 828 (Mencken) (Marx)]. And from religion men carried it into social life. It is a misleading metaphor which asserts that the mind acts in water-tight compartments. The mind functions as a whole; man is an organism, not a bundle of disconnected parts, and qualities developed in the one direction are soon applied, more or less thoroughly, in other directions. That is one reason why tyranny all over the world has so eagerly and so successfully availed itself of the help religion gave. Thanks to the Church, criticism and revolt were made, not merely intellectually wrong, they were given the characteristics of a crime. It is not without significance that the first sin that man committed, according to the Christian Bible, was that of disobedience. He ate of the Tree of Knowledge and the gods could never forgive that. For it is by knowledge that man has helped himself, it is by knowledge that man has raised himself to the position of understanding the gods, and A GOD UNDERSTOOD IS A GOD DETHRONED." [24] [End of Chapter I].

PAGE 1296


"Chapter II


Freethought and God"


"the Freethinker has no difficulty at all in explaining the existence of the believer. This is not merely because most of us have been where the believer now is, and that his state of mind represents a stage through which we have passed. It is not because the symptoms displayed by the believer are no more puzzling to the scientific Freethinker than are the symptoms of some well-known disorder to a skilled medical man. It is really because our philosophy allows for the existence of the believer in gods, just as it allows for the existence of a belief in fairies, in demons, in lucky and unlucky days, in mascots and medicine men. Religion is no puzzle to the Freethinker. We know how it began, we can trace with considerable accuracy the various steps in its development, and we can indicate the stages by which it decays and disappears. RELIGION IS NO MORE THAN A CHAPTER IN THE NATURAL HISTORY OF THE HUMAN MIND." [26].



"Chapter III


Freethought and Death"


'One might fill a volume with the lurid description of the terrors of the future life as depicted by leading Christian writers, from the earliest down to Charles Haddon Spurgeon. I content myself with a single example drawn from a little book published under the authority of the Roman Catholic Church, intended for young children and depicting a "Sight of Hell" for their benefit:--

Look into this room. What a dreadful place it is. The roof is red-hot; the walls are red-hot; the floor is like a thick sheet of red-hot iron. See, on the middle of that red-hot floor stands a girl. Her feet are bare, she has neither shoes nor stockings on her feet. Her bare feet stand on the red-hot floor. Now she sees that the door is opening. She rushes forward. She has gone down on her knees on the red-hot floor. Now she sees that the door is opening. She rushes forward. She has gone down on her knees on the red-hot floor. Listen! she speaks. She says, "I have been standing with my bare feet on this red-hot floor for years. Day and night my only standing place has been this red-hot floor. Sleep never comes to me for a moment, that I might forget this horrible burning floor." "Look," she says, "at my burnt and bleeding feet. Let me go off this burning floor for one moment, only for one single short moment. Oh, that in the endless eternity of years I might forget the pain only for one single moment." The devil answers her question: "Do you ask," he says, "for a moment, for one moment to forget your pain? No, not for one moment during the never ending eternity of years shall you ever leave this red-hot floor."

PAGE 1297


Remember that this is still the doctrine of the Roman Catholic Church, the largest, the most authoritative Church in Christendom. It is still the doctrine of the Salvation Army, it is still the belief of large numbers of Christians outside these bodies, it is the doctrine which is carried to the "heathen" by missionaries as "GLAD TIDINGS OF GREAT JOY." Remember, also, what I have read is specially written for children. I say plainly that the man who could write, and the Church that could place this before children, for deliberate brutality beats anything else that the world has to offer in the shape of calculated villainy [HEINOUSNESS!!!].' [46-47].



"Chapter IV


Freethought and Morals"


"What now is the association between religion and morals, and what is that association worth? It is urged that it has always existed. Agreed, but then in every primitive society religion is associated with everything, and so the mere fact of association cannot prove much. And on the other side, it may be pointed out that if religion has been associated with the good in life, it has also been associated with the bad. Indeed, most of the things that are brutal and revolting in uncivilised and semi-civilised life are found to have their origin in religion, while religious belief has acted as a force to prevent their removal. Cannibalism is religious in origin. The custom of killing off old people finds its sanction in the religious desire to see them enter the ghost world as well preserved as is possible. The slaughter of servants on the death of a chief, the burning of widows in India [like the Inquisition, acquisition of property, is major motivation], the practice of human sacrifice, are ALL ROOTED IN RELIGIOUS BELIEF. Most of the customs of which our missionaries complain in the lower races owe their existence to the influence of religious beliefs...." [65].

'A well known Christian writer, Mr. A.C. Benson, has written that in reading the "Confessions" of St. Augustine [354 - 430], he was struck by the fact of how little aspiration for the welfare of humanity figured in his consciousness compared with concern for his personal relationship with God [see #23, 486 (Nietzsche)]. In that famous Christian classic, about which so many yards of rubbish has been written of late, Bunyan's Pilgrim Progress, there is the same feature, with a striking absence of a recognition of the value of social and family life on character. Principal Donaldson and Dean Milman [Henry Hart Milman 1791 - 1868] have also stressed the evil effects of this ignoring of the value on character of the social and domestic qualities as a very powerful cause of the hardening and coarsening of life during the Dark and Middle Ages. Men became so obsessed in self, that nothing else appeared of any consequence.' [67-68].

_____ _____ _____

from: The Foundations of Religion, A Lecture delivered before the Fellowship of Youth at Manchester College, Oxford, on Monday, April 21st 1930, New Edition, by Chapman Cohen, Printed and Published by The Pioneer Press (G.W. Foote Ltd.) for the Secular Society Ltd., 41, Grays Inn Road, London, W.C.1.

"The Foundations of Religion


By Chapman Cohen


I must confess to experiencing a little surprise when I received an invitation from your Secretary to deliver in this place an address on Religion. My opinions on Religion are fairly well known, and I happen to be the editor [1915 - 1951] of the only weekly Freethought paper in this country, a journal [Freethinker 1881 - present] which I am proud to say--even though the saying is not without its sad aspect--is the only paper that dares say what it thinks, careless alike of the opinions of its friends and of its enemies. In these circumstances, such invitations as this one, while they are not altogether outside my experience, are, let us say, unusual. Most believers in religion do not want to know what can be said against their beliefs, but only what can be said for them. If they do happen to desire information on Atheism they go to a parson or to someone who is a parson in outlook, and in either case they are acting as though one were to apply to a brewer for information as to what could be said on behalf of total abstinence. As a consequence of seeking illumination in this manner the knowledge of the ordinary layman about religion is of little value. He does not understand it because he does not know what can be said against it. In a world where all things are related, to know only one term of a relation is not to know anything worth bothering about...." [1].

"....It is not a question of whether witches existed, but how people came to believe they existed. If we are rational we discuss a demonstrated delusion as a delusion, not as a probable truth. For that reason I do not discuss whether, some two thousand years ago, a baby ["Jesus"] was born in Judea who had never a father. I know it is not true. I do not discuss whether this man cured the blind by bathing their eyes in his spittle, or raised men from the dead, or turned water into wine, or fed 5,000 with a few loaves and fishes, and then had more food left than when he started, or that he himself was raised from the dead. I know that none of these things ever happened; that they are no nearer historic reality than is the life of the old lady who kept a fabulously large family in a shoe, or the tale of the adventurous young person who climbed to the top of a beanstalk and found there a giant in an embattled castle.

PAGE 1299


Now what reason is there that anyone can give why we should approach the question of the belief in God in a spirit different from that in which we approach the belief in witches and fairies? Knowing the natural history of the one ["witches and fairies"] we all say that the problem before us is to discover the psychological and sociological conditions that induced men and women to believe in it ["witches and fairies"]. Why may we not adopt the same attitute [attitude] with regard to the other [God]? What is the substantial difference between belief in the spirit of the air and his attendant demons, and the spirit of heaven and his attendant angels? Unless one happens to belong to the Society for Psychical Research one does not rush off to the West of Ireland because someone reports having seen a ghost, and then come back with an elaborate dossier containing the evidence of persons who have seen it, and which are about as valuable as the evidence of a dipsomaniac who has seen green elephants walking round his bedroom. Questions as to the truth of these visions are decided the moment we are aware of the nature of their origin. We need only continue with a study of the conditions of their survival.

Observe that in all this I am only putting into operation the very common and very general principle of judging the nature of what has been in the light of our knowledge of the nature of things that are. If we wish to find the answer to some historical personage's behaviour in the seventeenth century, we take us a guide the knowledge of human motive we have to-day and its re-action to a given environment. When we wish to know what was really the matter with the demoniacs over whom the gospel Jesus and the African medicine man mutter their incantations, we take the symptoms as presented and contrast them with similar symptoms to-day. If we wish to understand the nature of the vision seen by the early Christian monks, and note the way in which they starved and ill-used their bodies, the way in which they cultivated morbid and unhealthy frames of mind, and then took the consequences of these things for divine illumination, we base our judgment on what we know actually occurs to-day, and carrying our principle to its logical issue decide that there is no essential difference to science between the illusions that may be induced by opium or alcohol or starvation and those which meet us in religious ecstasy. After all, the nervous system is the nervous system, and whether it functions in relation to religion or alcohol, whatever be the stress or strain to which it is exposed, the consequences of a given kind of excitation are the same. What earlier generations thought of the nature of their experiences is one thing; but what we think of that experience in the light of the better knowledge of to-day is quite another thing". [10-11].

PAGE 1300


"I said in commencing that the very worst person to whom you may go in order to get an understanding of religion is a parson. Whatever else he may understand, religion is certainly the one thing he does not understand. His training does not tell him anything reliable about the origin of religious ideas, he is not put through a course of training that would enable him to detect what is obvious to many laymen with no more than a mere cursory reading in general science--his ["a parson"] chief aim in life is to stifle doubt, to evade enquiry and to induce a child-like credulity." [13].

_____ _____ _____

from: Essays in Freethinking, Fourth Series, Chapman Cohen, The Pioneer Press, London, 1938.

'Christ and Christmas


All my life I have been a firm believer in the divinity of Jesus Christ. I do not believe he was half man and half God; neither do I believe that he was all man. He was just a God, all of him and all the time. In this matter I am a wholehogger. I will have no half-measures. My faith in the complete divinity of Jesus Christ is without compromise of any sort. I will not yield an inch to the ethical culturist, who is inclined to follow him because of his alleged unapproachable moral teaching, or to the half-sceptical Christian who will attribute the faults of Jesus to the God who took on the nature of a man. Without the slightest shadow of compromise or qualification I assert that Jesus Christ was God, and never anything else. No man could have been born as he was born; no man could have done what he did; no mere man could have risen from the dead and ascended to heaven, the abode of the Gods, and remained there to judge both the living and the dead. Only a God could have accomplished these things. Only Gods have done these things. Let us therefore keep to the one sure fact about Jesus Christ. He was a God.

When I speak of Jesus Christ I do not mean the one who is a probable chairman of the Independent Labour Party, or the mongrel figure that is drawn in the numerous up-to-date lives of Jesus, the authors of which apparently base their knowledge on the kind of "inside information" that figures so largely in newspapers. I mean the Jesus Christ of the New Testament, the one who was born of a virgin, whose birth created a disturbance in heaven and an uproar on earth, who fought with the prince of demons, who raised men from the dead, and who after being completely and thoroughly killed, rose from the dead and went straightway to heaven. I believe that "never man spake" as he did, that never man was born as he was, that never man rose from the dead as he did. These stories can be true only of a God; they are manifestly impossible with man.

Why am I so certain that Jesus Christ belongs to the order of the Gods, and to the gods only? Well, my reasoning is of precisely the kind that leads me to class an animal as belonging to either the vertebrate or the invertebrate class. Looking at Christianity as a form of religion, and in the same way that a zoologist would look at a new specimen that was brought before him, the first thing that emerges is that CHRISTIANITY BELONGS TO A VERY WIDE GROUP OF RELIGIOUS BELIEFS. If, indeed, we can imagine ourselves living in a time when everyone knows the truth about religion, we can imagine one who holds the post of Professor of the History of Religion in one of our universities, beginning an examination of Christianity along these lines:--

PAGE 1302


Gentlemen,--We have now to examine a religious system which presents no difficult of classification because its essential structure and characteristics are clearly marked, well-known, and fall easily into their place in that vast network of superstitions that meet us in the early history of humanity. The main features of the specimen before us is made up of the following features. A God who takes on the form of a man through being born of a virgin. The God then in his man-like form delivers certain teachings to men, performs miracles of various descriptions, enters into conflict with the spirit of evil and overcomes it, and is finally ceremonially sacrificed, by crucifixion or otherwise, and then rises again from the dead to resume his godhead. Chief among the teachings attributed to the God, and which afterwards figure prominently in the cult devoted to him, is that of purification by initiation. There are a number of subsidiary features but these are the main ones which enable us to place this particular mythology in its appropriate place in the history of the world.

Of course, taking the sum of the characteristics of this myth, we have always to allow for local alterations, modifications and additions. There is in these changes a strict analogy with what takes place in the animal world. Science shows that in the development of animal life, the same primal structure gives birth to fur, feather and hair; the bony structure is modified into paddles, or legs, or arms and legs; the skeleton is broader or narrower, shorter or longer, more or less erect. But anatomists and physiologists count these differences as of small importance at the side of the fact of fundamental identity.

So it is with religions. New situations involve fresh modifications. The contact of one superstition with another superstition often involves a modification or a rejection of one or of both. Sometimes there is an amalgamation of the two, as when the Sun-God is joined to a purely vegetation-God, and then the two combined with a teaching-God. Or when social development has brought new forms of social life, there is a translation of the old forms of superstition into terms of a more advanced social and ethical life. But these no more affect the fundamental features of the superstition we are studying than modifications in the structure of an animal, due to changing conditions of temperature, etc., affect the place of an animal in a scientific scheme of classification. THE CHRISTIAN RELIGION IS as SURELY ONE WITH THE REST OF THE WORLD'S SUPERSTITIONS as animal life is one from the single cell to man.

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Gentlemen,--These conclusions rest upon a basis of fact so well-known and so completely understood that only ignorance can excuse or self-interest explain their non-recognition. Take the Virgin birth. Without going back for its probable origin to a time when every birth was thought of as due to an incarnation of one of the tribal spirits, this belief is almost universal in the classic religions of the pre-Christian world. Sometimes both father and mother belong to the divine order, but more usually it is the father alone, as in Egypt, India, Greece, China, and elsewhere. The belief was so deeply-rooted that a virgin birth was ascribed to many great historical or semi-mythical figures round whom the story did not originally centre. The fixing of December 25 [see #13, 263-328, passim] as the birthday of the God Jesus, is in line with the birthday of all the solar gods of antiquity. It was the date of the winter solstice [see #13, 263-328, passim], when the sun began to regain power and gave the promise of renewed vegetative life. The miracles are, of course, common to all religions, and are characteristic of all Gods. The resurrection falls into line with the birth. It marks the appearance of the new vegetation just as Christmas marks its beginning.

The ceremonial sacrifice of the Divine king or Divine man is as old as any superstition. In addition to the crowd of illustrations given by Sir James Frazer [1854 - 1941], Professor E.O. James [1886 - ], Professor of the History of Religion in Leeds University, has just given us Christian Myth and Ritual, in which ALMOST EVERY ITEM OF THE CHRISTIAN RITUAL IS TRACED BACK TO ITS PAGAN PROTOTYPE. And a whole chapter is devoted to the sacrifice of the King-Saviour, on whom depends the health and welfare of the world. The king-worship which meets us in secular life to-day has thus a deeper basis than many imagine, and witnesses to the strength of sheer superstition in many who regard themselves as free from its influence. In these early, but persistent, myths as Professor James says, the theme of the God who dies and is restored to life again, so that the initiate in union with him may be raised to the blessedness of heaven, is constant.

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Gentlemen,--Nothing is more evident in the Christian religion than the belief in the union of the saved with the God through a process of mystical initiation. In this connexion I would like to call your attention to a remarkably interesting and informative work by Professor Willoughby, Professor of New Testament literature in the University of Chicago, published in 1929, and which received but scanty notice in our own press. The title of the work is Pagan Regeneration, and it traces the doctrine of the rebirth, or the new birth, to the pre-Christian, Graeco-Roman world, in what have now come to be known as the "Mystery Religions." I have only time for but a few illustrative instances. The actual phrase used of the initiates is that they are "as of those who have been born again," a form of speech common to Christian usage. In some of the mysteries there is a blood bath for the initiate, either actual or symbolic. Initiation is by some sort of baptism, and all that the early Christians could say against it was "They washed themselves with water that is widowed. For washing is the channel through which they are initiated into the sacred rites of some notorious Isis or Mithra." In the Mithraic ceremonies "Before the Communicant stands a tripod supporting tiny loaves of bread, each distinctly marked with a cross. One of the standing figures...presents the communicants with a drinking cup. These mystery religions, says Professor Willoughby, "were popular. They told men of saviour gods that were very human, who had come to earth and toiled and suffered with men, experiencing to an intensified degree the sufferings to which flesh is heir....The great need which the mystery initiation supplied was that of EMOTIONAL STIMULATION THROUGH THE MYSTICAL EXPERIENCE OF CONTACT WITH A SYMPATHETIC SAVIOUR."

Gentlemen,--I do not know that anything that has been said would have been denied by the earliest generations of Christians. They could not do so, for the beliefs were functioning all around them; JESUS CHRIST WAS JUST A COMPETING GOD IN A WORLD WHERE GODS WERE PLENTIFUL [see 1290]. A favourite explanation of the likeness was that "the Devil, whose business it is to pervert the truth, mimics the exact circumstances of the divine sacrifice in the mysteries of idols." Justin Martyr, in defending Christianity from the pagan criticisms, takes a different line. He argues that the pagans have no ground for criticizing Christian beliefs since the pagan religious contain identical ones. He points to the virgin-born gods, and to the sacrificed saviours, and takes the main pagan beliefs point by point in order to prove that if the Christian beliefs are rejected on the score of their irrationality pagan beliefs must fall before the same criticism. Quite a good argument against a fellow-believer, but a very weak one against anyone else. Finally, to take a great jump, and to come to a present-day writer, Bishop Gore [Charles Gore 1853 - 1932], we find him saying of the period of the alleged birth of Jesus, the world was dreaming of saviours--incarnations or avatars of the divine Soul, born maybe of a virgin, or nature gods dying and rising again, through whose mysteries initiates could be freed from the bonds of matter. And "in Jesus the dream came true."

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Of course, the proper reading should be "in Jesus we see another form of myth." And when we add to the bald outline of facts given, the further consideration of the alteration in general conditions brought about by the conquests of Alexander the Great [King of Macedonia 336 - 323 B.C.E. (356 - 323)], and of the existence of the Roman Empire, with the disappearance of the old city States, and a welter of world beliefs in the then centres of travel and intercourse, we have all the conditions for the rise of that synthesis of superstitions which the world came to know as Christianity.

This, I take it, might well form the introductory address of a course on the origins of Christianity, to be delivered some time in the future, when Professors in our universities show a little more thoroughness than they dare to show at present. To-day the most that has been done by them was well expressed by Sir James Frazer [1851 - 1941], who, in spite of his great and valuable work, confessed that he had only dragged the guns into position. He left it to others to fire them.

CHRISTIANITY OFFERS NOTHING THAT CANNOT BE FOUND IN OTHER SYSTEMS OF MYTHOLOGY, AND VERY OFTEN IT IS A MERE REVERSION TO LOWER FORMS OF BELIEF. Christmas itself is no exception to the general rule of affiliation to earlier beliefs. And we can see in that one of the ways in which the human gradually displaces the supernatural. For the very young, Christmas speaks far more eloquently of Santa Claus than of Jesus Christ, plum-pudding is to all more enjoyable than the Communion bread and wine, jolly songs are better responded to than melancholy hymns, the price of turkeys is more in the general mind than the birth of Gods, and a box of cigars or a case of wine more acceptable than an assurance of eternity with Jesus.

Certainly I believe in the divinity of Jesus Christ, just as firmly as I believe in the divinity of Mithras, of Isis, of Horus, of Jove, of Ishtar and of Mumbo Jumbo. A difference of size, or colour, or name makes no more difference than the mere size or colour of an animal lifts it out of one class and places it in another. I do not say that I believe Jesus Christ was God. I am more emphatic than most Christians, I say that I know he was a God. I am as certain of this as I can be of anything. THE ONE THING I DO NOT BELIEVE ABOUT JESUS IS THAT HE WAS A MAN. A God is quite good in his proper place; a man is good enough in his. But the two make a most horrible mixture.' ["154"-161] [End of Essay].

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from: Pamphlets for the People, Nos. 1-18, No. 1, Did Jesus Christ Exist? Chapman Cohen, The Pioneer Press. ["c. 1938" (Freethought in the United Kingdom and the Commonwealth, Gordon Stein, 1981, 115)].

[First seen 8/24/99 (on this date, I received 8 Chapman Cohen works, from Canada)]. [this copy: no bolding, etc.]. [See: 1316-1326 (same Pamphlet, bolding, etc.)].



'Did Jesus Christ Exist?


I.


There is a common impression abroad that the question of whether Jesus Christ was an historical character is a very complex subject, involving a degree of scholarship to which the average man or woman can lay no claim.

One may take as a specimen of this a passage from a lecture on "Why I am not a Christian," by a very fearless thinker, Bertrand Russell. He says:--

Historically it is quite doubtful whether Christ ever existed at all, and if he did, we do not know anything about him, so that I am not concerned with the historical question, which is a very difficult one.

I think this is the common attitude of the majority of those who cannot be called believers in Christianity. This majority may be divided into two groups--the larger one believing that some person actually existed at the time given for the life of the New Testament character, the other and smaller group declaring that they cannot arrive at a definite conclusion on the subject.

It must be remembered that the personage about whom the question is asked is a definitely described character. It is the Jesus Christ of the New Testament with whom we are concerned. If he were merely a human being there is no real importance in the question. Jesus was quite a commonplace name in Judea. It is the Greek form of the Jewish Joshua; it is likely there were thousands of Joshuas in existence; and that one of these may have taken to the life of a wandering preacher is of no great consequence. Indeed, Mr. J.M. Robertson and others have given good reasons for believing that there was actually a Joshua (Son of the Father) cult in existence long before the date given for the birth of the New Testament character.

The only Jesus about whom we are concerned, the only Jesus about whom the Christian religion is concerned, is the virgin-born incarnate God who worked miracles, who was crucified and rose again from the dead. This is the character that is essential to the Christian creed. If it is said that there may have been some one named Jesus (Joshua) and that around him there gathered a lot of religious stories that were common to a number of gods, this is quite beside the point. It is only another way of saying that the Jesus Christ of the New Testament was really a fictional character, and never had an existence other than that enjoyed by a host of pagan deities.

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The simple question, then, that is at issue, is whether it is reasonable to believe that a character such as that depicted in the New Testament existed. If he did not, if his existence is inherently incredible, if there is no evidence for his existence, the question of whether Jesus Christ lived is answered in the negative. And as a matter of fact it is so answered in substance by the vast majority of educated Christians to-day.

II.


Let us approach the question in a very simple way.

Suppose that for the first time an educated person of to-day picked up a book which professed to be a biography of one Jesus Christ, and read this account of the subject of the book: "Now the birth of Jesus was on this wise. When his mother Mary was espoused to Joseph, before they were espoused she was found to be with child." An angel "came in unto" Mary, and informed her that she was about to become a mother. Surprised, Mary asked, "How shall this be, seeing that I know not a man? And the angel answered and said unto her, the Holy Ghost shall come upon thee, and the power of the highest shall overshadow thee. There also the holy thing which shall be born of thee shall be called the Son of God."

Joseph, discovering the condition of Mary, was inclined quietly to "put her away" in order to avoid making her a "public example"; but while he slept an angel came to him and told him that he need have no fear, the expected child was born of the Holy Ghost.

In due course the child was born, and directly on his birth, some shepherds who were tending their flocks by night, were approached by an angel, who informed them that Jesus Christ was born, and immediately there came a "multitude" of angels singing songs of thankfulness. There were also some "wise men," who heard of the birth of the child and who went in search of it. They were led by a star, which went before them to show the way, and finally stood over the stable in which Jesus was born, to indicate that the wise men had reached the end of their journey.

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The child grew up, and his after life was as full of wonders as his birth. Among other things he:--

Raised people from the dead.

Cured the sick by a word or a touch.

Cured epileptics and insane people by casting out the devils that were the cause of the complaints.

Fed a multitude of people with a few handfuls of food, and had seven basketfuls when they had finished eating.

He held intercourse with devils, and was offered control of the world if he would fall down and worship Satan.

A fish brought money in its mouth to him.

He was at last put to death by being crucified, and at the moment of his death a dense blackness overspread the land, while the graves opened and the dead walked about the streets of Jerusalem.

After his death and burial he appeared three times to some of his followers, and finally ascended to heaven in the full sight of five hundred of them.

So far the New Testament. But this is not all the curious stranger might find concerning this wonderful character. He would get no information from contemporary historians concerning these remarkable events, but he would soon learn that the New Testament is only a selection made from a number of similar writings. The larger portion of these are lost, but a number survive and are gathered together under the general heading of the "Apocryphal New Testament," which consists of about two dozen "books," similar in nature to the authorized New Testament, of which, historically, they are an obvious part in both nature and date of origin. Our student would find that these "apocryphal" (doubtful or without authority) documents are only lacking authority because at some date it was decided by the Church that they were not to be included in the official collection of writings, although they are of an obviously similar character and belong to the same period. Moreover, they contain accounts of the life of Jesus over a period concerning which the official documents are silent.

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Anxious to see what information these writings contained concerning this remarkable baby, the reader would learn, first of all, that virgin births ran in the family to which Mary belonged. For when the father of Mary was troubled by the fact that his wife was "barren," an angel appeared to him, and told him his wife would bring forth a child, who was to be called Mary, and that Mary should, "while yet a virgin, in a way unparalleled, bring forth the son of the most high God, who shall be called Jesus, and according to the Scriptures...be the Saviour of all nations."

The "Gospel of the Infancy of Jesus Christ" supplies an account of the early years of Jesus Christ, and continues the record of remarkable happenings. Thus, while yet an infant, the clothes in which the baby was wrapped, and the water in which he was washed had the power to cure other children of disease. In a desert place, while yet a young child, Jesus caused a well to spring up so that Mary might wash his clothes. When seven years of age, and playing with other boys at making some birds from clay, Jesus astonished his playmates by clapping his hands and causing his birds to fly away. Working with Joseph, who was a carpenter, and finding that an article just made was too narrow by "two spans on each side," Jesus stretched it to the required size. Some of his playmates being bitten by a serpent Jesus commanded the serpent to suck the poison from the wound, which the serpent did, and the boy recovered. When at school, and the teacher went to whip Jesus, the teacher's arm was paralysed.

There are a number of other wonders related, and the reader would soon learn, not only that the distinction between the inspired New Testament, and the uninspired other gospels, rest entirely upon a Church decision, but in structure and in nature they are both of the same class, and bear the same intellectual stamp.

The unbiased reader would be compelled to decide that there is no substantial difference between the two sets of documents, that both bear evidence as to the nature of the environment in which this class of writing originates. It was an environment in which stories of miraculous births and deaths were accepted with little question, each writer "capping" the other like story-tellers at a modern convivial party. And there is the indisputable fact that the inspiration of the New Testament was decided by the same method that on a modern parish council decides the question of repainting the village pump or putting a penny on the rates--by a majority vote.

But the matter would not stop at the point we have reached. Continuing his investigations our enquirer would discover that this narrative of the appearance on earth of a God born of a virgin, minus an earthly father, does not stand alone. He would discover that in ancient Egypt, ages before the name of Christianity was heard of, the God Horus was born of the virgin Isis, and in the Egyptian sculptures she is presented, as the Virgin Mary is presented, nursing the infant on her knees. There are other virgin-born gods in Egypt. In Phrygia, Attis, the vegetation god, was born of the virgin Nana. In Rome the founder of the city Romulus was born of the virgin Rhea Sylvia. In China, Fo-Hi was born of a virgin who conceived through eating the fruit of the lotus. In India, the God Krishna was born of the virgin Devaki. In Greece, Hercules, the son of Jupiter was born of a virgin. There were numerous sons of Jupiter born of other virgins. Perseus was miraculously born of the virgin Danae;

PAGE 1310


Aesculapius of the virgin Coronis. Dionysis [Dionysus] was called the "First-born of God," and over his shrine was placed the letters I.H.S., which became the Christian emblem Jesus Hominum Salvator. The ritual of the birth of Mithra was carried out on December 25, and at midnight the cry was raised by the priests "The Virgin has brought forth." Mithra was called the "Unconquered Sun." And in Mexico the saviour-god Quetzalcoatle was born of a virgin. Versions of the same story are found among the North American Indians, and in many other parts of the world. In some of these stories, particularly in Egypt, the accompanying circumstances and the language used might have been lifted from the New Testament, were it not for the fact that they antedate the Christian version by many centuries.

What would our enquirer make of it all? Would he say that all these stories of virgins bearing gods were false, with the exception of the Christian version? Or would he say that they were all versions of the same belief?

Going further, this unprejudiced enquirer would discover that these virgin-born saviour gods were nearly all born on December 25, in some kind of cave or underground chamber, that they set out to save mankind, they were called the Son of God and worshipped as a divinity, that most of them had conflicts with the Prince of Evil and vanquished him, they founded a Church, and men and women were enrolled therein by initiatory and baptismal rites, and that most of them had a sacred (Eucharistic) meal in which the body of the God was symbolically eaten.

Proceeding on his intellectual journey, he would find that before the date given for the birth of the Christian god-man the religious bodies that held the above beliefs were elaborately organized with set doctrines of salvation, mystical re-birth, and so forth, and that with some of them, as with the Essenes, the followers of Mithras and the Orphic cult, the identity between them and Christianity is so close that many have found it difficult to discover a real difference, while De Quincey went so far as to put forward the hypothesis concerning the Essenes, an hypothesis based on the identity of their methods of teaching and life with that of the early Christians, that they were actually the earliest body of Christians masquerading in order to avoid persecution. And if he referred to such modern works as F. Legge's Forerunners and Rivals of Christianity, he would find there described the political and social conditions that led to a synthesis of these curious pre-Christian religious bodies that appeared later in the world as the Christian Church.

Probing deeper our enquirer would find that the basic ideas of the Christian creed were derived, through such sects as those described, from very primitive savage religious beliefs, examples of which are found among existing uncivilized tribes. The virgin-birth idea he would find to have its origin in the ignorance of primitive people of the part played by the male in human procreation. At that stage all births are due to an incarnation of a tribal spirit, and only as a knowledge of the nature of procreation is gained, is this incarnation of a tribal joss reserved for certain people. The eating of the god, present in many of the pre-Christian sects named, and surviving in the Christian Mass and the eating of the sacred wafer and drinking of the sacred wine, which miraculously becomes the body and blood of Jesus Christ, would be traced back to the primitive belief that in eating the man who was converted into a god by being ceremoniously killed, the devotees were partaking of the qualities of the god.

PAGE 1311


If our investigator put to himself the question as to how the idea that Christianity was an original creed ever took root, he would find, probably to his surprise, that this is not an original Christian idea at all. It belongs to a later period of Christianity, when the Christian Church, having gained control, took care to stamp out the knowledge and practice of the pagan religions, so far as it was possible for it to do so.

But the first generations of Christians never denied the likeness of their own beliefs to those of the pagan world. They were too near to it, and the facts were too well known for them ever to put forward such a ridiculous claim. A theory held to account for this likeness was that the Devil, knowing the god-man, Jesus Christ, would come, had forestalled him by arranging for similar gods to appear beforehand. As a matter of fact the reality of the pagan gods was not questioned by the Christians for many centuries. It was not until the end of the seventeenth century that a Dutch writer first specifically questioned the reality of the pagan gods. Until then the general theory was that of St. Paul--they were devils.

The substantial identity of the Christian and pagan beliefs was actually very early used as a method of overcoming pagan criticism of Christian teaching. Thus, Justin Martyr, writing in defence of Christianity in the first half of the second century, says:--

By declaring our Master Jesus Christ to be born of a virgin without any human mixture, and to be crucified and dead and to have risen again, and ascended into heaven, we may say no more in this than what you say of those whom you style the Sons of Love [Jove (also translated, Jupiter)]. For you need not be told what a number of sons the writers among you assign to Jove. Mercury, the interpreter of Jove, is worshipped among you. You have Aesculapius, the physician, stricken by a thunderbolt, and afterwards ascended into heaven. You have Bacchus torn to pieces and Hercules burnt. You have Pollux and Castor, the sons of Jove by Leda, and Perseus by Danae. Not to mention others I would fain know why you always deify the emperors, and have a fellow at hand to testify that he saw Caesar mount to heaven. As to the Son of God, called Jesus, should we allow him to be no more than a man, yet the title of the Son of God is very justifiable on account of his wisdom, considering you have your Mercury in worship under the title of the Logos and the Messenger of God. As to the objections of our Jesus being crucified, I say that suffering was common to all the fore-mentioned sons of Jove, only they suffered another kind of death. As to his being born of a virgin, you have your Perseus to balance that. As to his curing the lame, and the paralytic and such as were cripples from their birth, this is little more than what you say of your Aesculapius.

I am afraid that an independent enquirer, after studying all available data, would not be inclined to agree with Bertrand Russell that the decision as to whether Jesus Christ ever existed is a very difficult one. He might well enquire at what other conclusion could he arrive?

PAGE 1312


Such an enquirer would be too level-headed to be fobbed off with the theory that there probably existed someone named Jesus (Joshua) who was accepted as a god, and around whom these mythological stories gathered. That theory represents the twisted mentality that generations of Christian influence have produced. For the whole point of the New Testament, and the very foundation of the Christian Church is that Jesus Christ was a god, that he was born of a virgin, that he came from heaven to be offered as a sacrifice for the sins of men, that he worked miracles, that he was resurrected from the dead and ascended to heaven, and that he now sits at the right hand of the Father as an intercessory between man and God. To say that Jesus was a real character, but that he was none of these things and did none of these things, is to say that the Jesus Christ of the New Testament never existed.

This apology, a favourite one with those who have grown enough to throw off an honest orthodoxy, but have stopped short, where religion is concerned, at full mental maturity, reminds one of the famous definition of a crab as a fish that had six legs and walks backwards. To which the teacher properly replied that the definition was correct, save that a crab is not a fish, it has not six legs, and it does not walk backwards. So one may accept the theory that the Jesus Christ of the New Testament existed, but he was not born of a virgin, he was not the only begotten Son of God, he was not crucified, he worked no miracles, he did not rise from the dead, and he was not "very God of very God." In other words, it was another person with the same name. Adopt the same method and one could say that the hero of the New Testament was Napoleon Bonaparte, the founder of the Salvation Army or Ramsay Macdonald. If the same things are different things, then anything is possible.

The enquirer would also note that, outside the New Testament, nothing is known of the existence of Jesus Christ. The few notices of him are all under suspicion, and many of them are given up as obvious forgeries. But history knows nothing of the virgin-birth of Jesus, nothing whatever of such notable occurrences as the dead rising from their graves and walking about the City of Jerusalem, nothing about the massacre of the innocents, nothing of the darkness that overspread the land at the time of the resurrection. There are events that cannot be hidden in a back street. If they occurred they must have attracted wide notice. As they did not, one of the hypotheses is inevitable. Either they never happened, or if they were talked about they were so much like the stories of gods already in vogue that intelligent men treated them with the contempt they deserved.

The enquirer would, so far as the historical existence of Jesus Christ is concerned, close his investigation. He would say that all there is remaining is the enquiry as to the precise conditions, sociological and psychological, that gave rise to these mythical characters, and to the fantastic beliefs their assumed existence implies. That is too large a theme to deal with in a small pamphlet, but the general outline of it is to-day well marked out. And to further enquiry as to how a belief in Jesus as an historical character could have arisen without a nucleus of fact, the reply is, how did the belief in the historical existence of other saviour-gods arise? Find the answer to one question and you have the answer to the other. Repudiate the explanation with regard to Jesus Christ and you must logically reject the explanation by which the other gods are banished to the world of mythology.

PAGE 1313


III.


Christianity commenced with the belief that Jesus Christ was a god who had taken on the form of a man. He was not held up as the only god; gods of his type were, as we have seen, too common for this to be done. He was a god among gods, and the subsequent victory of the Church did not so much destroy other gods as relegate them to the status of devils, or, in some cases, as is known, transform them into "Saints." Gods were then endemic in all societies, a fact that is partly responsible for the ease with which a new god could get established. It is always easier to modify something that is in fashion, than it is to throw over a fashion altogether.

But in course of time, principally within the last century, when so much light has been thrown on the origin and nature of all the gods, a god has become rather more of a liability than an unquestionable asset, and so a marked change has taken place. It is still Jesus Christ the God who is officially worshipped. It is still Jesus Christ to whom prayers are offered, and whose name is used as a kind of letter of recommendation to God Almighty by those seeking favours. But in apologetics another kind of policy is adopted. It is Jesus the moral teacher, the social reformer who is put forward. The "artful dodgers" of the religious world combine with the weak-kneed unbelievers, muddle-headed would-be reformers, and those curious folk who write essays showing that Jesus was a poor man who led the "proletariat" in a revolt against the existing capitalistic overlordship, in the endeavour to show that the sole aim of Jesus was to teach morals and to establish a new kind of Socialistic or Communistic Society.

The first thing to be noted here is that no such claim was ever made on behalf of the New Testament character by those who lived nearest to his time. It was the god whom they followed, not the man, and he was followed, not because he advocated a better society on earth, but because he would reward men in heaven. It was not by the beauty of his moral teachings that he was known, but by his miraculous birth and resurrection, and by this he proved to his followers that he was not a man at all. It was the approaching end of the world the early Christians expected, not the inauguration of a world-wide Labour Party. Jesus was the head of a religious sect, as Mithra and Osiris were the heads of a religious creed.

Only a notice of the various considerations against this ridiculous theory of the modern Christian can be given here; but it should be conclusive.

First, miracles are as incredible in the mental as in the physical world, and it is impossible to believe that Jesus Christ, who in no respect showed himself the intellectual superior of the peasants around him, who accepted every superstition that flourished among his most ignorant contemporaries, and who was intellectually overshadowed by scores of Roman, Greek and Alexandrian writers, should have impressed the world with his moral grandeur.

Second, there is not a single moral saying attributed to Jesus that is not to be found in the old Bible or, in a better form, among the Jewish Rabbinical writings. His sayings were among the accepted common-places of his time. The New Testament character is as unoriginal as a moral teacher as he is as a god.

PAGE 1314


Third, there is no evidence that contemporary pagans were at all impressed by the moral excellence of Christians. They saw in them only a fanatical, ignorant, intolerant sect, of whom some very strange stories were afloat.

Fourth, if one goes carefully through the teachings of Jesus they will note that there is a complete ignoring of a social problem and also of the civilizing influence of family life. Children are introduced only to be held up as an example for men to follow with regard to their ignorance and helplessness. (Except ye become as little children ye cannot enter the kingdom of heaven.) There is nothing of art, or science or education. There is no consciousness of the value of social life, there is nothing concerning the nature or function of the State. All these things were admirably given in the Greek and Roman writers. There was nothing about them in the teachings of Jesus.

Jesus as a sun-god, or as a vegetation-god, or as a saviour-god, is an interesting study. As a social reformer the picture is as ridiculous as it may well be. And the plea is riddled with rank hypocrisy when we bear in mind that those parsons who use it are receiving payment for teaching that Jesus Christ is "very God of very God."

It is a strange turn of the wheel this conversion of a god into a man, when the whole insistence has been that the man was a god. We must, however, keep the Christian to his faith. We must act as defenders of the faith and insist that Jesus Christ was a god, always a god, and never can be anything but a god. The Christian Church has shed rivers of blood to force upon the world the belief that Jesus was a god, and in its defence, as Clifford said, wiped out two civilizations and came near to wiping out a third. So we must keep the Christians true to their faith. We cannot condone "backsliding." We must insist that Jesus Christ was a god. He is quite impossible as a man.' ["2"-16]. [End of Pamphlet].

_____ _____ _____



from: Pamphlets for the People, Nos. 1-18, No. 1, Did Jesus Christ Exist? Chapman Cohen, The Pioneer Press. ["c. 1938" (Freethought in the United Kingdom and the Commonwealth, Gordon Stein, 1981, 115)].

[First seen 8/24/99 (on this date, I received 8 Chapman Cohen works, from Canada)]. [this copy: bolding, etc.]. [See: 1307-1315 (same Pamphlet, no bolding, etc.)].



'Did Jesus Christ Exist?


I.


There is a common impression abroad that the question of whether Jesus Christ was an historical character is a very complex subject, involving a degree of scholarship to which the average man or woman can lay no claim.

One may take as a specimen of this a passage from a lecture on "Why I am not a Christian," by a very fearless thinker, Bertrand Russell [1872 - 1970]. He says:--

Historically it is quite doubtful whether Christ ever existed at all, and if he did, we do not know anything about him, so that I am not concerned with the historical question, which is a very difficult one. [see 1322-1326]

I think this is the common attitude of the majority of those who cannot be called believers in Christianity. This majority may be divided into two groups--the larger one believing that some person actually existed at the time given for the life of the New Testament character, the other and smaller group declaring that they cannot arrive at a definite conclusion on the subject.

It must be remembered that the personage about whom the question is asked is a definitely described character. It is the Jesus Christ of the New Testament with whom we are concerned. If he were merely a human being there is no real importance in the question. Jesus was quite a commonplace name in Judea. It is the Greek form of the Jewish Joshua; it is likely there were thousands of Joshuas in existence; and that one of these may have taken to the life of a wandering preacher is of no great consequence. Indeed, Mr. J.M. Robertson [1856 - 1933] and others have given good reasons for believing that there was actually a Joshua (Son of the Father) cult in existence long before the date given for the birth of the New Testament character.

PAGE 1316


THE ONLY JESUS ABOUT WHOM WE ARE CONCERNED, THE ONLY JESUS ABOUT WHOM THE CHRISTIAN RELIGION IS CONCERNED, IS THE VIRGIN-BORN INCARNATE GOD WHO WORKED MIRACLES, WHO WAS CRUCIFIED AND ROSE AGAIN FROM THE DEAD. This is the character that is essential to the Christian creed. If it is said that there may have been some one named Jesus (Joshua) and that around him there gathered a lot of religious stories that were common to a number of gods, this is quite beside the point. It is only another way of saying that the Jesus Christ of the New Testament was really a fictional character [see #1, 1 (interesting (to me): identical wording: "Fictional character")], and never had an existence other than that enjoyed by a host of pagan deities.

The simple question, then, that is at issue, is whether it is reasonable to believe that a character such as that depicted in the New Testament existed. If he did not, if his existence is inherently incredible, if there is no evidence for his existence, the question of whether Jesus Christ lived is answered in the negative. And as a matter of fact it is so answered in substance by the vast majority of educated Christians to-day.

II.


Let us approach the question in a very simple way.

SUPPOSE THAT FOR THE FIRST TIME AN EDUCATED PERSON OF TO-DAY PICKED UP A BOOK WHICH PROFESSED TO BE A BIOGRAPHY OF ONE JESUS CHRIST, AND READ THIS ACCOUNT OF THE SUBJECT OF THE BOOK:

"Now the birth of Jesus was on this wise. When his mother Mary was espoused to Joseph, before they were espoused she was found to be with child." An angel "came in unto" Mary, and informed her that she was about to become a mother. Surprised, Mary asked, "How shall this be, seeing that I know not a man? And the angel answered and said unto her, the Holy Ghost shall come upon thee, and the power of the highest shall overshadow thee. There also the holy thing which shall be born of thee shall be called the Son of God."

Joseph, discovering the condition of Mary, was inclined quietly to "put her away" in order to avoid making her a "public example"; but while he slept an angel came to him and told him that he need have no fear, the expected child was born of the Holy Ghost.

In due course the child was born, and directly on his birth, some shepherds who were tending their flocks by night, were approached by an angel, who informed them that Jesus Christ was born, and immediately there came a "multitude" of angels singing songs of thankfulness. There were also some "wise men," who heard of the birth of the child and who went in search of it. They were led by a star, which went before them to show the way, and finally stood over the stable in which Jesus was born, to indicate that the wise men had reached the end of their journey.

PAGE 1317


The child grew up, and his after life was as full of wonders as his birth. Among other things he [Jesus]:--

Raised people from the dead.

Cured the sick by a word or a touch.

Cured epileptics and insane people by casting out the devils that were the cause of the complaints.

Fed a multitude of people with a few handfuls of food, and had seven basketfuls when they had finished eating.

He held intercourse with devils, and was offered control of the world if he would fall down and worship Satan.

A fish brought money in its mouth to him.

He was at last put to death by being crucified, and at the moment of his death a dense blackness overspread the land, while the graves opened and the dead walked about the streets of Jerusalem.

After his death and burial he appeared three times to some of his followers, and finally ascended to heaven in the full sight of five hundred of them.

So far the New Testament. But this is not all the curious stranger might find concerning this wonderful character. He would get no information from contemporary historians concerning these remarkable events, but he would soon learn that the New Testament is only a selection made from a number of similar writings. The larger portion of these are lost, but a number survive and are gathered together under the general heading of the "Apocryphal New Testament," which consists of about two dozen "books," similar in nature to the authorized New Testament, of which, historically, they are an obvious part in both nature and date of origin. Our student would find that these "apocryphal" (doubtful or without authority) documents are only lacking authority because at some date it was decided by the Church that they were not to be included in the official collection of writings, although they are of an obviously similar character and belong to the same period. Moreover, they contain accounts of the life of Jesus over a period concerning which the official documents are silent.

PAGE 1318


Anxious to see what information these writings contained concerning this remarkable baby, the reader would learn, first of all, that virgin births ran in the family to which Mary belonged. For when the father of Mary was troubled by the fact that his wife was "barren," an angel appeared to him, and told him his wife would bring forth a child, who was to be called Mary, and that Mary should, "while yet a virgin, in a way unparalleled, bring forth the son of the most high God, who shall be called Jesus, and according to the Scriptures...be the Saviour of all nations."

The "Gospel of the Infancy of Jesus Christ" supplies an account of the early years of Jesus Christ, and continues the record of remarkable happenings. Thus, while yet an infant, the clothes in which the baby was wrapped, and the water in which he was washed had the power to cure other children of disease. In a desert place, while yet a young child, Jesus caused a well to spring up so that Mary might wash his clothes. When seven years of age, and playing with other boys at making some birds from clay, Jesus astonished his playmates by clapping his hands and causing his birds to fly away. Working with Joseph, who was a carpenter, and finding that an article just made was too narrow by "two spans on each side," Jesus stretched it to the required size. Some of his playmates being bitten by a serpent Jesus commanded the serpent to suck the poison from the wound, which the serpent did, and the boy recovered. When at school, and the teacher went to whip Jesus, the teacher's arm was paralysed.

There are a number of other wonders related, and the reader would soon learn, not only that the distinction between the inspired New Testament, and the uninspired other gospels, rest entirely upon a Church decision, but in structure and in nature they are both of the same class, and bear the same intellectual stamp.

The unbiased reader would be compelled to decide that there is no substantial difference between the two sets of documents, that both bear evidence as to the nature of the environment in which this class of writing originates. It was an environment in which stories of miraculous births and deaths were accepted with little question, each writer "capping" the other like story-tellers at a modern convivial party. And there is the indisputable fact that the inspiration ["Best Seller" features] of the New Testament was decided by the same method that on [delete "on"] a modern parish council decides the question of repainting the village pump or putting a penny on the rates--by a majority vote.

PAGE 1319


But the matter would not stop at the point we have reached. Continuing his investigations our enquirer would discover that this narrative of the appearance on earth of a God born of a virgin, minus an earthly father, does not stand alone. He would discover that in ancient Egypt, ages before the name of Christianity was heard of, the God Horus was born of the virgin Isis, and in the Egyptian sculptures she is presented, as the Virgin Mary is presented, nursing the infant on her knees. There are other virgin-born gods in Egypt. In Phrygia, Attis, the vegetation god, was born of the virgin Nana. In Rome the founder of the city Romulus was born of the virgin Rhea Sylvia. In China, Fo-Hi was born of a virgin who conceived through eating the fruit of the lotus. In India, the God Krishna was born of the virgin Devaki. In Greece, Hercules, the son of Jupiter was born of a virgin. There were numerous sons of Jupiter born of other virgins. Perseus was miraculously born of the virgin Danae; Aesculapius of the virgin Coronis. Dionysis [DIONYSUS] WAS CALLED THE "FIRST-BORN OF GOD," AND OVER HIS SHRINE WAS PLACED THE LETTERS I.H.S., WHICH BECAME THE CHRISTIAN EMBLEM JESUS HOMINUM SALVATOR. The ritual of the birth of Mithra was carried out on December 25, and at midnight the cry was raised by the priests "The Virgin has brought forth." Mithra was called the "Unconquered Sun." And in Mexico the saviour-god Quetzalcoatle was born of a virgin. Versions of the same story are found among the North American Indians, and in many other parts of the world. In some of these stories, particularly in Egypt, the accompanying circumstances and the language used might have been lifted from the New Testament, were it not for the fact that they antedate the Christian version by many centuries.

What would our enquirer make of it all? Would he say that all these stories of virgins bearing gods were false, with the exception of the Christian version? Or would he say that they were all versions of the same belief?

Going further, this unprejudiced enquirer would discover that these virgin-born saviour gods were nearly all born on December 25 [see #13, 263-328, passim], in some kind of cave or underground chamber, that they set out to save mankind, they were called the Son of God and worshipped as a divinity, that most of them had conflicts with the Prince of Evil and vanquished him, they founded a Church, and men and women were enrolled therein by initiatory and baptismal rites, and that most of them had a sacred (Eucharistic) meal in which the body of the God was symbolically eaten.

PAGE 1320


Proceeding on his intellectual journey, he would find that before the date given for the birth of the Christian god-man the religious bodies that held the above beliefs were elaborately organized with set doctrines of salvation, mystical re-birth, and so forth, and that with some of them, as with the Essenes, the followers of Mithras and the Orphic cult, the identity between them and Christianity is so close that many have found it difficult to discover a real difference, while De Quincey went so far as to put forward the hypothesis concerning the Essenes, an hypothesis based on the identity of their methods of teaching and life with that of the early Christians, that they were actually the earliest body of Christians masquerading in order to avoid persecution. And if he referred to such modern works as F. Legge's Forerunners and Rivals of Christianity [see #24, 499-508], he would find there described the political and social conditions that led to a synthesis of these curious pre-Christian religious bodies that appeared later in the world as the Christian Church.

Probing deeper our enquirer would find that the basic ideas of the Christian creed were derived, through such sects as those described, from very primitive savage religious beliefs, examples of which are found among existing uncivilized tribes. The virgin-birth idea he would find to have its origin in the ignorance of primitive people of the part played by the male in human procreation. At that stage all births are due to an incarnation of a tribal spirit, and only as a knowledge of the nature of procreation is gained, is this incarnation of a tribal joss reserved for certain people. The eating of the god, present in many of the pre-Christian sects named, and surviving in the Christian Mass and the eating of the sacred wafer and drinking of the sacred wine, which miraculously becomes the body and blood of Jesus Christ, would be traced back to the primitive belief that in eating the man who was converted into a god by being ceremoniously killed, the devotees were partaking of the qualities of the god.

If our investigator put to himself the question as to how the idea that Christianity was an original creed ever took root, he would find, probably to his surprise, that this is not an original Christian idea at all. It belongs to a later period of Christianity, when the Christian Church, having gained control, took care to stamp out the knowledge and practice of the pagan religions, so far as it was possible for it to do so.

But the first generations of Christians never denied the likeness of their own beliefs to those of the pagan world. They were too near to it, and the facts were too well known for them ever to put forward such a ridiculous claim. A theory held to account for this likeness was that the Devil, knowing the god-man, Jesus Christ, would come, had forestalled him by arranging for similar gods to appear beforehand. As a matter of fact the reality of the pagan gods was not questioned by the Christians for many centuries. It was not until the end of the seventeenth century that a Dutch writer first specifically questioned the reality of the pagan gods. Until then the general theory was that of St. Paul--they were devils.

PAGE 1321


The substantial identity of the Christian and pagan beliefs was actually very early used as a method of overcoming pagan criticism of Christian teaching. Thus, Justin Martyr [c. 100 - c. 165], writing in defence of Christianity in the first half of the second century, says:--

By declaring our Master Jesus Christ to be born of a virgin without any human mixture, and to be crucified and dead and to have risen again, and ascended into heaven, we may say no more in this than what you say of those whom you style the Sons of Love [Jove (also translated, Jupiter)]. For you need not be told what a number of sons the writers among you assign to Jove. Mercury, the interpreter of Jove, is worshipped among you. You have Aesculapius, the physician, stricken by a thunderbolt [Martin Luther reported a "near miss" (see Addition 15, 948)], and afterwards ascended into heaven. You have Bacchus torn to pieces and Hercules burnt. You have Pollux and Castor, the sons of Jove by Leda, and Perseus by Danae. Not to mention others I would fain know why you always deify the emperors, and have a fellow at hand to testify that he saw Caesar [Augustus Caesar, died 14 C.E.] mount to heaven [see #9, 225]. As to the Son of God, called Jesus, should we allow him to be no more than a man, yet the title of the Son of God is very justifiable on account of his wisdom, considering you have your Mercury in worship under the title of the Logos and the Messenger of God. As to the objections of our Jesus being crucified, I say that suffering was common to all the fore-mentioned sons of Jove, only they suffered another kind of death. As to his being born of a virgin, you have your Perseus to balance that. As to his curing the lame, and the paralytic and such as were cripples from their birth, this is little more than what you say of your Aesculapius [see #26, 1221-1222].



I am afraid that an independent enquirer, after studying all available data, would not be inclined to agree with Bertrand Russell [1872 - 1970] that the decision as to whether Jesus Christ ever existed is a very difficult one. He might well enquire at what other conclusion could he arrive?

Such an enquirer would be too level-headed to be fobbed off with the theory that there probably existed someone named Jesus (Joshua) who was accepted as a god, and around whom these mythological stories gathered.

THAT THEORY REPRESENTS THE TWISTED MENTALITY THAT GENERATIONS OF CHRISTIAN INFLUENCE HAVE PRODUCED. [see: Appendix X, 828 (Mencken) (Marx)]

PAGE 1322


For the whole point of the New Testament, and the very foundation of the Christian Church is that Jesus Christ was a god, that he was born of a virgin, that he came from heaven to be offered as a sacrifice for the sins of men, that he worked miracles, that he was resurrected from the dead and ascended to heaven, and that he now sits at the right hand of the Father as an intercessory between man and God.

TO SAY THAT JESUS WAS A REAL CHARACTER, BUT THAT HE WAS NONE OF THESE THINGS AND DID NONE OF THESE THINGS, IS TO SAY THAT THE JESUS CHRIST OF THE NEW TESTAMENT NEVER EXISTED.

This apology, a favourite one with those who have grown enough to throw off an honest orthodoxy, but have stopped short, where religion is concerned, at full mental maturity, reminds one of the famous definition of a crab as a fish that had six legs and walks backwards. To which the teacher properly replied that the definition was correct, save that a crab is not a fish, it has not six legs, and it does not walk backwards. SO ONE MAY ACCEPT THE THEORY THAT THE JESUS CHRIST OF THE NEW TESTAMENT EXISTED, BUT HE WAS NOT BORN OF A VIRGIN, HE WAS NOT THE ONLY BEGOTTEN SON OF GOD, HE WAS NOT CRUCIFIED, HE WORKED NO MIRACLES, HE DID NOT RISE FROM THE DEAD, and he was not "very God of very God." IN OTHER WORDS, IT WAS ANOTHER PERSON WITH THE SAME NAME. Adopt the same method and one could say that the hero of the New Testament was Napoleon Bonaparte, the founder of the Salvation Army or Ramsay Macdonald. If the same things are different things, then anything is possible.

THE ENQUIRER WOULD ALSO NOTE THAT, OUTSIDE THE NEW TESTAMENT, NOTHING IS KNOWN OF THE EXISTENCE OF JESUS CHRIST. THE FEW NOTICES OF him [JESUS CHRIST] ARE ALL UNDER SUSPICION, AND MANY OF THEM ARE GIVEN UP AS OBVIOUS FORGERIES.

But history knows nothing of the virgin-birth of Jesus, nothing whatever of such notable occurrences as the dead rising from their graves and walking about the City of Jerusalem, nothing about the massacre of the innocents, nothing of the darkness that overspread the land at the time of the resurrection. There are events that cannot be hidden in a back street. If they occurred they must have attracted wide notice. As they did not, one of the hypotheses is inevitable. Either they never happened, or if they were talked about they were so much like the stories of gods already in vogue that intelligent men treated them with the contempt they deserved.

PAGE 1323


 

The enquirer would, so far as the historical existence of Jesus Christ is concerned, close his investigation. He would say that all there is remaining is the enquiry as to the precise conditions, sociological and psychological, that gave rise to these mythical characters, and to the fantastic beliefs their assumed existence implies. That is too large a theme to deal with in a small pamphlet, but the general outline of it is to-day well marked out. And to further enquiry as to how a belief in Jesus as an historical character could have arisen without a nucleus of fact, the reply is, HOW DID THE BELIEF IN THE HISTORICAL EXISTENCE OF OTHER SAVIOUR-GODS ARISE? Find the answer to one question and you have the answer to the other. Repudiate the explanation with regard to Jesus Christ and you must logically reject the explanation by which the other gods are banished to the world of mythology, [meaning: then, the gods of mythology, would be historical characters].

III.


CHRISTIANITY COMMENCED WITH THE BELIEF THAT JESUS CHRIST WAS A GOD WHO HAD TAKEN ON THE FORM OF A MAN. He was not held up as the only god; gods of his type were, as we have seen, too common for this to be done. He was a god among gods, and the subsequent victory of the Church did not so much destroy other gods as relegate them to the status of devils, or, in some cases, as is known, transform them into "Saints." Gods were then endemic in all societies, a fact that is partly responsible for the ease with which a new god could get established. It is always easier to modify something that is in fashion, than it is to throw over a fashion altogether.

But in course of time, principally within the last century, when so much light has been thrown on the origin and nature of all the gods, a god has become rather more of a liability than an unquestionable asset, and so a marked change has taken place. It is still Jesus Christ the God who is officially worshipped. It is still Jesus Christ to whom prayers are offered, and whose name is used as a kind of letter of recommendation to God Almighty by those seeking favours. But in apologetics another kind of policy is adopted. It is Jesus the moral teacher, the social reformer who is put forward. The "artful dodgers" of the religious world combine with the weak-kneed unbelievers, muddle-headed would-be reformers, and those curious folk who write essays showing that Jesus was a poor man who led the "proletariat" in a revolt against the existing capitalistic overlordship, in the endeavour to show that the sole aim of Jesus was to teach morals and to establish a new kind of Socialistic or Communistic Society.


PAGE 1324





The first thing to be noted here is that no such claim was ever made on behalf of the New Testament character by those who lived nearest to his time. It was the god whom they followed, not the man, and he was followed, not because he advocated a better society on earth, but because he would reward men in heaven. It was not by the beauty of his moral teachings that he was known, but by his miraculous birth and resurrection, and by this he proved to his followers that he was not a man at all. It was the approaching end of the world the early Christians expected, not the inauguration of a world-wide Labour Party. JESUS WAS THE HEAD OF A RELIGIOUS SECT, AS MITHRA AND OSIRIS WERE THE HEADS OF A RELIGIOUS CREED.

Only a notice of the various considerations against this ridiculous theory of the modern Christian can be given here; but it should be conclusive.

First, miracles are as incredible in the mental as in the physical world, and it is impossible to believe that Jesus Christ, who in no respect showed himself the intellectual superior of the peasants around him, who accepted every superstition that flourished among his most ignorant contemporaries, and who was intellectually overshadowed by scores of Roman, Greek and Alexandrian writers, should have impressed the world with his moral grandeur.

Second, there is not a single moral saying attributed to Jesus that is not to be found in the old Bible or, in a better form, among the Jewish Rabbinical writings. His sayings were among the accepted common-places of his time. The New Testament character is as unoriginal as a moral teacher as he is as a god.

Third, there is no evidence that contemporary pagans were at all impressed by the moral excellence of Christians. They saw in them only a fanatical, ignorant, intolerant sect, of whom some very strange stories were afloat.

Fourth, if one goes carefully through the teachings of Jesus they will note that there is a complete ignoring of a social problem and also of the civilizing influence of family life. Children are introduced only to be held up as an example for men to follow with regard to their ignorance and helplessness. (Except ye become as little children ye cannot enter the kingdom of heaven.) There is nothing of art, or science or education. There is no consciousness of the value of social life, there is nothing concerning the nature or function of the State. All these things were admirably given in the Greek and Roman writers. There was nothing about them in the teachings of Jesus.

Jesus as a sun-god, or as a vegetation-god, or as a saviour-god, is an interesting study. As a social reformer the picture is as ridiculous as it may well be. And the plea is riddled with rank hypocrisy when we bear in mind that those parsons who use it are receiving payment for teaching that Jesus Christ is "very God of very God."

PAGE 1325


It is a strange turn of the wheel [convenient regression (see 1322)] this conversion of a god into a man, when the whole insistence has been that the man was a god. We must, however, keep the Christian to his faith. We must act as defenders of the faith and insist that Jesus Christ was a god, always a god, and never can be anything but a god. THE CHRISTIAN CHURCH HAS SHED RIVERS OF BLOOD TO FORCE UPON THE WORLD THE BELIEF THAT JESUS WAS A GOD, and in its defence, as Clifford said, wiped out two civilizations and came near to wiping out a third. So we must keep the Christians true to their faith. We cannot condone "backsliding." We must insist that Jesus Christ was a god. HE [JESUS] IS QUITE IMPOSSIBLE AS A MAN .' ["2"-16]. [End of Pamphlet].

_____ _____ _____



from: Pamphlets for the People, No. 3, What is the Use of Prayer?



'What is the Use of Prayer?


I.


"Without Prayer there would be no Religion."

Dr. R.W. Inge, late Dean of St. Paul's.

"Men would not pray unless they expected to get something by it, and that their prayers would have the effect of securing it."--Archdeacon Paley.



[Comment: One form of prayer, is attempted control, from a distance. The psychology (physiology, etc.) of prayer, obviously, is complex]

Why do men pray? The obvious reason is that given by Archdeacon Paley: they hope to get something which they would not get without it. Whether we pray for a change in the weather, for safety while at sea, or for recovery from sickness, the same thing holds. Mankind has produced quite a number of varieties of the genus "fool," but there has never existed that kind of a fool who would pray while convinced that it would make no difference to the course of events.

But when man prays he must pray to some one, to one that is able to listen and respond. No one prays to a volcano to stop erupting, or to the rain to stop falling. There is, of course, the childish rhyme.

Rain, rain, go away, come again another day

but no adult now believes the petition has any effect on the weather. Yet, put the child's rhyme in the form [see Appendix X, 830-831 (Mencken)] of a solemn prayer, say it in proper form, recite it in a church, and it is believed that some one listens and stops the rain, although he might not have done so had the prayer remained unsaid. We should like someone to try to establish a real difference between the child's incantation and the adult's prayer.

PAGE 1327


 Prayer is a matter of a transaction between two persons. Man asks and God grants. If either of the two terms is wiped out prayer is impossible. Or if things would happen as they do whether one prays or not, then prayer becomes a manifest absurdity.

Paley is right. Dr. Inge [William Ralph Inge 1860 - 1954] is also right when he says that WITHOUT PRAYER THERE WOULD BE NO RELIGION. The practice of PRAYER IS BASED ON THE BELIEF THAT GODS EXIST and that they ["Gods"] manipulate events in the interests of those who pray.

Primitive peoples pray for rain and for success in life exactly as Christians do to-day, but with more logic and sincerity. Roman Catholic papers out of England--they are carefully trimmed for the British public--give numerous accounts of recoveries from sickness, of jobs gained, of good business deals done, as a result of prayers to God or the Saints. In continental churches stacks of crutches are exhibited which are said to belong to those who have been cured by prayer. So medicine-men of a savage tribe pray for their chief, exactly as the Archbishop in this country prays for the King, and with equal results. All Churches, Synagogues, Mosques and other places of worship have their set prayers, and in the long run they all boil down to the identical petition, "OH, LORD GIVE US SOMETHING." It may be that God made man so that man might worship him, it is equally certain that the worship would not continue for long unless it was believed that God did something in return. Gods are not worshipped for merely existing. They are believed in and worshipped as an investment, and the dividends received are duly published. The reason for prayer is that God does something for those who pray. Without this belief prayer would die, and "without prayer there would be no religion."

There is no real doubt why men pray; neither is there any doubt as to why mankind developed the practice of and the belief in prayer. Prayer originates at that stage of human development when man thinks of the forces around him as akin to himself. So far as he thinks about what is going on in the world outside himself, he reasons as a child would, if it faced the world without the stored-up knowledge and experience which is the heritage of all in a civilised society. Man feels that somehow or other he must get on terms with these powers that are angry with him in the storm, and pleased with him in the smile of the sunshine. If the rain does not fall or if the crops wither, or if a disease breaks out, it is because the gods are angry with man. In these circumstances he ["man"] reacts to the different aspects of nature as he does to those men who are stronger [see #4, 146 (Schopenhauer)] than himself, or who exert authority. He praises, he flatters, he worships. In other words he ["Man"] gives the gods service, and he expects something solid in return.

But unlike the modern religionist, primitive man, or even semi-civilised man, is not above "talking back" to his gods. If the gods fail him he may turn to others. In a more advanced stage even the temple of a defaulting god may be closed. He very easily, as missionaries among primitive peoples find, swaps one god for another, if greater benefits are promised.

PAGE 1328


Many amusing instances of this are given in that great encyclopaedia of primitive customs, The Golden Bough, by Sir James Frazer [1851 - 1941]. Here is one of them concerning an incident that occurred in Sicily as recently as 1893.

There had been a very long drought. The earth was parched, processions of priests and people had marched through the streets of Palermo, and consecrated candles had been burned in the churches in honour of certain selected saints. At last the peasants lost patience. Many of the saints were banished altogether. At Palermo they threw St. Joseph into a garden, so that he might see for himself how bad things were, and threatened to leave him there till the rain fell. The golden wings of St. Michael were taken from his shoulders and replaced with pasteboard. His purple mantle was taken from him, and he was given a mere clout for a covering. At Liacto, the patron saint was reviled, put in irons and threatened with drowning or hanging if he did not soon send rain. "Rain or the rope," was the cry of the people.

But it is not often that the modern believers thus stand up to their gods. The worse they are treated the lower they grovel. The more the gods punish them, the louder they declare their unworthiness, and the more vehemently they proclaim the greatness and the justice of the god who is afflicting them....' ["2"-5].

Excursus


from: The Pioneers of Johnson's Court  A History of the Rationalist Press Association from 1899 onwards, Frederick James Gould, London: Watts & Co., 5 & 6 Johnson's Court, Fleet Street, E.C. 4, Revised edition, October, 1935 (1929).

'Crisp and readable, Couchoud's [Paul Louis Couchoud 1879 - 1959] Enigma of Jesus (translated from the French by Mrs. Winifred Whale) was supported in an Introduction by that master of style and eminent anthropologist, Sir James Frazer [1854 - 1941]. COUCHOUD travelled over the familiar ground of the Gospels and Pauline epistles, and PRONOUNCED JESUS MYTHICAL:--

"His [Jesus] sole reality is spiritual. Everything else is an illusion. He will mislead those who follow him to the shore of the Lake of Galilee or to the steps of sorrowful Jerusalem. They will find there nothing but his followers. He is elsewhere; has been from the beginning. He [JESUS] DWELLETH NOWHERE, SAVE IN HUMAN SOULS."' [126-127].


PAGE 1329





'J.A. FARRER [1849 - 1925] highly valued the religious philosophy of Greece and Rome, and REGARDED THE TRIUMPH OF CATHOLICISM OVER PAGANISM AS A MISFORTUNE:

"the student has only to read, side by side with one another, the early Christian Fathers and their contemporaries the Pagan philosophers to perceive that the inferiority of the former to the latter reaches, not merely to the language and style, but to the reasoning and moral sentiment."' [77] [See: #2, 19, 104. (Augustine)].

End of Excursus




'History endorses the dictum of wise old Montaigne [1533 - 1592], "We pray only by custom and habit."' [14].

"The belief in prayer was once the greatest asset of the religious world. To-day it is ceasing to be an asset and is fast becoming a liability. And when the Churches are called upon to liquidate this liability, the prospect is--Bankruptcy." [15]

[End of Pamphlet].

_____ _____ _____





from: Pamphlets for the People, No. 13, Thou Shalt Not Suffer a Witch to Live

'One of the most horrible of these pious, BIBLE-SANCTIONED, EXECUTIONS took place at Wurtzburg in 1629. One hundred and sixty were burned in a succession of autos-de-fe. The reports disclose the fact that many of the victims were children. Here are some of the figures which are taken from Wright's History of Sorcery and Magic:-- [see 1349 (same chart)]

Burning Number Ages of Children
7th 7 Girl aged 12.
13th 4 One girl of ten and another.
15th 2 One a boy of twelve.
18th 6 Two boys of ten, one girl of 14.
19th 6 Two boys ten and twelve.
20th 6 Two boys.
23rd 9 Three boys, nine, ten and 14.
24th 7 Two boys brought from hospital
26th 8 Little boy and girl.
27th 7 Two boys, eight and nine.
28th 6 Blind girl and infant.


The majority of the victims were women, and King James, in his Demonologia [see (King James I): #24, 528-530; Appendix II, 698], supplies the reason and the justification. He says:--

For as the sex ["the female sex"] is frailer than man is, so it is easier to be entrapped in the gross snares of the devil, as was over-well proved to be true by the serpent's deceiving Eve at the beginning, which makes him [apparently: "the devil"] the homelier [apparently: "intimate", etc.] with the sex ["the female sex"] sensine [sensyne: "Since then, from or after that time." (O.E.D.)].




Catholic and Protestant vied with each other in the extent to which this fear of witchcraft could be developed, and the cruelty that could be exercised in connexion with it. The English settlers took it with them to America, and one of the earliest steps was to appoint a commission to root out witches and wizards. A plentiful supply of victims was soon forthcoming. The absurdity of the charges was only surpassed by their brutality. A woman was charged with "giving a look towards the great meeting-house of Salem, and immediately a demon entered into the house and tore down part of it." It turned out that a bit of the decayed wainscoting had broken down. In the case of one, Giles Corey, who refused to plead guilty, torture was applied. He was pressed to death, and when his tongue protruded from his mouth the sheriff thrust it back with his walking-stick. A shipmaster making for Boston encountered very rough weather. An old woman was accused of raising the storm and was drowned as a witch [see #24, 528-530; etc.]. Another woman walked over muddy roads without soiling her dress. She was burned as a witch. George Burroughes could lift a barrel by inserting his finger in the bung-hole. He was hanged as a wizard. So one may run through hundreds of reported cases with a monotonous repetition of credulity, superstition, and brutality. Those who wish for fuller details of the witch-mania in America may consult American History Told By Contemporaries (1898), particularly Vol. II., pp. 35-48, and Eggleston's Transit of Civilization, (1901). It will help one to appreciate the point in Ingersoll's [Robert Ingersoll 1833 - 1899] witticism that when the Pilgrim Fathers landed on Plymouth Rock, it would not have been bad had Plymouth Rock landed on the Pilgrim Fathers. They brought with them to the new world the most primitive and the most dangerous of superstitions, brutalized and institutionalized as only the Christian Church was capable of doing, and the development of witch-hunting was marked there as elsewhere by the torture of epileptics, hysterics, and insane people, a crusade that spared neither age, sex, nor social condition.

We have already said that the belief in witchcraft is not peculiarly Christian. But it must also be said that no other religion developed it to such an extent, or was so elaborately brutal in its methods of suppression....' [11-12].





from: Pamphlets for the People, No. 17, Christianity and Slavery [see 1130-1166].

'In antiquity...slavery was accepted as a social fact, but carried with it rather a sense of misfortune than anything else, and was regarded as contrary to natural law. In North America it [slavery] became an ordained Christian institution. To attack it was regarded as an assault on the Christian religion. In antiquity slaves were often educated men, musicians, philosophers, etc. In the United States it became an offence to teach a slave to read or write and very heavy penalties were imposed. In Rome many laws were made to protect the slave from ill-treatment. In Christian America in the nineteenth century it was decided that the owner of a slave cannot be indicted for "malicious, cruel and excessive beating of his own slave." Slaves were bred as cattle are bred, and between the breeding of animals and the breeding of slaves, less than a century since, the difference was not very great.' [12].

"Pamphlets for the People


By Chapman Cohen


(The purpose of this series is to give a bird's eye view of the bearing of Freethought on numerous theological, sociological and ethical questions.)

1. Did Jesus Christ Ever Live?

2. Morality Without God.

3. What is the Use of Prayer?

4. Christianity and Woman.

5. Must We Have a Religion?

6. The Devil.

7. What is Freethought?

8. Gods and Their Makers.

9. Giving 'em Hell.

10. The Church's Fight for the Child.

11. Deity and Design.

12. What is the Use of a Future Life?

13. Thou Shalt Not Suffer a Witch to Live.

14. Freethought and the Child.

15. Agnosticism or...?

16. Atheism.

17. Christianity and Slavery.

Price Twopence Postage One Penny

Issued for the Secular Society Limited, and

Printed and Published by

The Pioneer Press (G.W. Foote & Co., Ltd.)

2 & 3, Furnival Street, London, E.C. 4,

England" [16].

 

 
Pamphlets for the People, No. 18, Christianity and Ethics

"CHRISTIANITY HAS ALWAYS SERVED MORE AS A CAUSE OF SOCIAL DIVISION THAN OF SOCIAL UNION [see 1288 (Schopenhauer)]....

The legitimate fruit of the Christian conception of social duty was seen in the advice of Luther given to the princes, that they might shoot, stab, poison, or put out of the way like made dogs, those peasants who had risen against the hereditary feudalism of their time [see Addition 15, 985-986]." [11].

"In truth, the intellectual insight and foresight necessary to frame a satisfactory moral or social code is quite lacking, both in Christianity and in its titular founder ["Jesus"]. TAKING THE CHARACTER OF JESUS AS IT STANDS IN THE NEW TESTAMENT, ITS INTELLECTUAL CALIBRE IS FAR BELOW THAT OF ZOROASTER, CONFUCIUS, OR BUDDHA. In the case of either of these we encounter flashes of wisdom, deep insight into many of the problems of life. In the case of the Gospel Jesus we never leave the region of moral platitude. Instead of the thinker wrestling with the world's problems, we have the religious enthusiast exhorting the people to submit to the will of God. We find him insisting on the value of blind faith, while ignoring the need of right enquiry and the conditions of rational belief, and threatening vengeance against such as reject his message....

Surrounded by all forms of superstition, Jesus rejected none. All were accepted without question. Outside Judea, Pagan science had propounded correct theories as to the shape of the earth, the true nature of disease, the causes of many natural phenomena, while the conception of natural law was steadily gaining ground. Never for a moment does Jesus show himself superior to the ignorance of the Jewish peasantry amidst whom he moved. The belief in legions of angels and devils and in demoniacal possession is held with a gravity that would be laughable but for its sorrowful after-consequences. For it was his example that gave a fuller measure of authority to the witch hunts of the 16th and 17th centuries, and to the practice of exorcism as a cure for lunacy. The teachings upon this head are plain and unmistakable. No one doubts their meaning, and no one believes them. And yet THE TEACHER ["JESUS"] WHO LAID DOWN THIS IGNORANT DOCTRINE, who looked for legions of angels to carry out his bidding, and who walked with, talked with, and cast out devils, whose whole teaching was based upon a discredited supernaturalism, is held up before us as an ideal social reformer and perfect moral guide!


 



What do we really find when we carefully and honestly test Christian morality? We have a founder [Jesus] who has nothing to do with civilisation, with culture, with work, or industry. We have an ideal character, himself a celibate and encouraging celibacy in others, its greatest apostle recommending celibacy as the more desirable state, and celibacy upheld by the greatest of Christian Churches throughout the whole of its existence. We have the whole question of the State ignored, with a complete absence of any recognition of the fact that man is a member of a social organism, whose salvation is only to be gained through the salvation of the whole. We find slavery endorsed, and women deliberately relegated to an inferior position, with an absence of an adequate code for the rearing of a family. We have a number of moral maxims, largely useless because of their vague character, some harmful because of the extravagant form in which they are cast, and all without the intellectual perception of the conditions that make a sane morality possible. And finally, we have the whole of these teachings crystalised in organisations that have admittedly acted with disastrous influence on the world's welfare. People of all shades of political and social opinion, it is sometimes said, look to Jesus for guidance. They may, but their doing so is surely evidence that no clear rule of guidance is to be found in that quarter. For real help, man is thrown back upon himself, and although many--some for interested purposes, some for other reasons--continue to cloak the fruits of human experience with a religious covering, one day we may hope the non-essential will be discarded, and honour given where it is due." [14-16] [End of Pamphlet].

_____ _____ _____

from: Selected Heresies, From the Writings of Chapman Cohen, Issued for the Secular Society, Limited, by the Pioneer Press, London, 1931.

'Christianity and Persecution.


I am convinced that when the history of Christianity is scientifically and impartially written, its ill-effects in the world of mental life will be found to be one of its greatest evils. It commenced with a theory which damned people for wrong belief and so made the critical use of the intellect the most dangerous of occupations. And so soon as it gained power it added terrestrial punishment to celestial damnation. It suppressed truth and circulated lies. It burned, it tortured, it imprisoned, it slandered, it boycotted. It made heaven secure for the fool and hell certain for the thinker. The thousands who died at the stake or in Christian prisons for heresy deserve the world's sympathy, and they have had it. So far as they are concerned the wrong ended with their death. But the millions who remained alive suffered in a still more terrible manner. They were left fully exposed to the influence of a creed which exalted the worst intellectual qualities and ostracised the better ones. Christianity created and perpetuated an environment which lowered the level of mental life, and it is the effects of this policy we are still feeling to-day. We can have a better press when we are enlightened enough to demand it. We can have politicians more completely honest when we make it possible for them to tell the truth. We can have public men with freer speech when we create an atmosphere favourable to it. We can have journalists more conscientious than they are when we make it possible for them to be so. But to accomplish these things we have to break the official and unofficial control of A CREED [CHRISTIANISM ("CHRISTIANITY")] WHOSE RULE HAS BEEN ONE OF THE GREATEST BLIGHTS IN THE HISTORY OF THE RACE [see 1288 (Schopenhauer)].

The "Freethinker," October, 1925.' [38-39].



'Christianity and Paganism.


Christian misrepresentation, aided by its control of education and the instruments of publicity, has set on foot the legend that whatever its faults Christianity represented an advance on the religions of the Pagan world. But this is simply not true. The conquest of the Christian religion represented an all-round triumph of reaction and retrogression. It carried the world not forward, but backward. It enthroned intolerance where tolerance had been established. It glorified ignorance where knowledge had been appraised at high value. Can anyone seriously maintain that the Christian story of an after life, with its pantomime heaven and brutal hell, was an advance on the pagan conception of another life? Was the Christian pantheon, with its emasculated, anaemic saints, a genuine improvement on the pantheon of the pagan world? At the side of the old Greek Gods, with their representations of physical strength and beauty, the pain-drawn figure of an emaciated Jesus show [sado-masochism] to but [no] small advantage [this clause?]. Was the world really the better for the exchange? What benefit did the world gain in dethroning the pagan philosopher and enthroning the Christian theologian? It seems a poor game to swap Plato for Tertullian, or Socrates for Torquemada [see #19, 380, 382]. Take the pagan writers on such questions as the existence of God or of a soul, and you have wise men struggling with obvious absurdities. Take the Christian writers who succeeded them--and to make the comparison just and deadly, take them on the same topics, and you have a crowd of foolish fanatics making absurdities doubly apparent by their own incurable folly. No one who was not a monk or a fool would have preferred to live in Europe for the first thousand years after the establishment of Christianity rather than live in the Rome of the Antonines or the Athens of Socrates.

The "Freethinker," December, 1919.' [39-40].



"Freethought and the Church.


It was inevitable that in the western world Freethought should have come into prominence in relation to the Christian religion and its claims. In the Christian Church there existed an organization which not alone worked with the avowed intention of determining what men should think, but finally proceeded to what was, perhaps, the logical conclusion, TO SAY WHAT THEY SHOULD NOT THINK.


 



NO GREATER TYRANNY THAN THE CHRISTIAN CHURCH HAS

EVER EXISTED.


And this applies, not to the Roman Church alone, but to every church within the limits of its opportunities. In the name and in the interests of religion the Christian Church took some of the worst passions of men and consecrated them. The killing of heretics became one of the most solemn of duties, and it was urged upon rulers as such. The greatest instrument of oppression ever forged, the Inquisition, was fashioned for no other purpose than to root out opinions that were obnoxious to the Church. It would have been bad enough had the attempts of the Church to control opinion been limited to religion. But that was not the case. It aimed at taking under its control all sorts of teaching on all kinds of subjects. Nothing would have surprised an inhabitant of ancient Rome more, could he have visited the earth some dozen centuries after the establishment of Christianity, than to have found men being punished for criticizing doctrines that were in his day openly laughed at. And nothing would have given an Ancient Athenian greater cause for wonder than to have found men being imprisoned and burned for teaching cosmical theories that were actually debated in Athens nearly two thousand years before. Well might they have wondered what had happened to the world, and well might they have come to the conclusion that it had been overtaken with universal insanity. And the explanation would not have been so very wide of the truth.

A Grammar of Freethought." [62-63].



"Shakespeare [1564 - 1616] and Jesus Christ."


"When we deal with him ["Jesus Christ"] WE ARE NOT MOVING IN THE REGION OF HISTORY, BUT IN THAT OF MYTH. All the events of his life--from the miraculous birth to the equally miraculous resurrection--demonstrate this. Historical characters are not born without fathers, although it is not without analogy that the father should be unknown. They do not pass through life amid a succession of miracles, and they do not rise from the dead--except poetically. The greatest of of [sic] historical characters once dead remains dead. He does not confound sense and outrage probability by permitting his corpse to wander about the public streets. The coincidence of the date of Shakespeare's death with the celebration of Christ's resurrection proves the myth. For three hundred years the date of the anniversary of Shakespeare's death has remained the same. That of the resurrection varies from year to year. It ["CHRIST'S RESURRECTION"] HAS NOTHING TO DO WITH AN HISTORICAL OCCURRENCE. IT IS DEPENDENT UPON THE MOVEMENTS OF THE SUN AND THE MOON. IT IS MOONSHINE AND ROMANCE...." [128].




'The claims of Jesus rest on his being a god. The glory and greatness of Shakespeare is that he was a man. And, character for character, the man is greater than the god. Because of his divinity, multitudes of people, we are told, have blessed the name of Jesus; but, alas! the blessings have, as their counterpart, the equally GREAT MULTITUDE TO WHOM THE NAME OF JESUS HAS MEANT SUFFERING, AND HORROR, AND BLOODSHED. For centuries the world grew grey at the approach of the Galilean; the rack, the stake, and the prison were used in his name and to consummate his rule. No such dark cloud has accompanied the career of the "gentle" Shakespeare. No man, or woman, or child has ever had cause to shrink from his name, none have found it possible to use it as a cloak or excuse for tyranny or cruelty. THE GOD ["JESUS"] HAS RULED BY THE EXCLUSION OF LIGHT AND LIBERTY. The man has conquered by the gracious humanity of his message. Man and god they stand on the day of their anniversary; and ever the figure of the man grows greater and that of the god declines. And this may well stand as symbolic of that age-long process which, by banishing the gods and their influence, leaves purer and stronger the humanity which gave them birth.

The "Freethinker," April, 1916.' [130-131].

 

 
from: Primitive Survivals in Modern Thought, Chapman Cohen, Arno, 1972 (1935).

"Introduction


It was, I think, Matthew Arnold who said that if we are doomed to perish it is because of our want of patience with ideas. The statement is solidly true, for even though our habitual contempt for ideas may not result in complete disaster, we shall yet on that account live the less joyously and the less profitably. Impatience with ideas is still a very marked feature of the general life. Take haphazardly any given number of people and all but a very small proportion will treat ideas, if not as things to be suppressed, at least as things to be kept out of sight as much as possible. Sport and personalities, a royal marriage or a film-star's divorce, a murder or a political scandal--all these may serve as permissible topics of general conversation, but the man who tries to introduce a discussion of ideas soon finds himself treated as a crank...." ["vii"].

"Why Agnosticism?"


'On the whole I do not think that Sir Leslie Stephen [1832 - 1904] fares any better than other apologists, or is more successful than Huxley in justifying "Agnosticism." IN ALL OF THEM THE DESIRE TO AVOID BREAKING WITH RELIGION IS PAINFULLY OBVIOUS. All of them might have gone to the Rev. Professor Flint for the information, that:--

The word Atheism is a thoroughly honest, unambiguous term. It means that one does not believe in God, and it means neither more nor less.

Strange that one has to send certain unbelievers to a Christian clergyman for a lesson in intellectual straightforwardness. Not that the average Christian is so easily fooled as the Agnostic appears to believe. The Christian knows that Agnosticism means, finally, Atheism. But it suits his game to pit the Agnostic against the Atheist, and to ignore the evident truth that the Agnostic is, as G.W. Foote [1850 - 1915] once put it, merely an Atheist with a top-hat. The Christian is able to hold up the Agnostic as the good boy of the non-religious family. But, the Atheist once out of the way, a very different position would arise. The Agnostic would be without an Atheist behind whom he now shelters; and he would get the cuffs the latter now receives. And for those who are eternally looking round for some name other than Atheist that would be more acceptable to Christians, and would not incur so much obloquy, I commend the words of Bradlaugh [Charles Bradlaugh 1833 - 1891], "I do not care what kind of a character religious men have put round the word Atheist, I would fight until men respect it." Whatever may be the case with charity it is eternally and universally true that intellectual self-respect must begin at home, and also that the respect which we may gain from others is a rough and ready measure of the respect we pay ourselves.' [62-63] [End of Essay].


"Are Miracles Impossible?"


"When Hume [David Hume 1711 - 1776] said that the man who believed in Christianity believed in a constant miracle in his own person, he expressed a truth that he might well have developed further. It was indeed another example of Voltaire's [1694 - 1778] difficulty in accepting the tale of the saint who walked a hundred paces with his head under his arm [see 1262]. Ninety-nine of the steps are quite credible--it is the first one that raises the whole problem. The rest is easy. BELIEVE IN A GOD, SWALLOW THE FIRST MIRACLE AND OTHER MIRACLES FOLLOW IN DUE SEQUENCE. Hume's great mistake lay in treating miracles as mainly a question of credibility. It is nothing of the kind. Discuss miracles on the basis of credibility and their possibility is admitted, and it is notorious that what is enough evidence to satisfy one person is not enough to satisfy another. The scientific case against miracles is not that they are incredible, but that they are impossible, and for the reason that the known conditions for the appearance of the phenomena called miraculous are not present.

The question, in short, of THE BELIEF IN MIRACLES has ceased to be an historical one, and HAS BECOME ONE OF PSYCHOLOGY. It is not a question of whether miracles occur, but solely that of discovering the conditions, social and psychological which makes such a belief possible. One does not argue whether Old Mother Hubbard really lived in a shoe, or whether fairies actually dance on a summer's night in the shadow of forest trees. If we discover adults who believe in these things, we still do not discuss their possibility. We are only interested in the curious problem as to what are the conditions that result in such a belief. I see no reason whatever why this argument does not apply with equal force to THE ONCE UNIVERSAL BELIEF IN MIRACLES." [140-141] [End of essay] [End of text].

_____ _____ _____
 

from: Christianity--What is It?, (Part I), Chapman Cohen, Pioneer Press, London, 1943.

"Chapter VI.


Christian Origins"


"Unfortunately for the world, when the Christian Church developed it took its stand upon the more primitive stratum of primitive thought, and so merely gave the world a mass of superstitions that the civilised people of the pagan world was beginning to shake off. But THE CHURCH, BY ITS HITLER METHODS, ESTABLISHED TEACHINGS THAT ACTED AS A SUCCESSFUL BAR TO SCIENTIFIC DEVELOPMENT FOR WELL OVER A THOUSAND YEARS, AND FROM THE INFLUENCE OF WHICH WE HAVE NOT YET RECOVERED." [60].



'Chapter VIII.


God and the Witches


We cannot charge the Christian religion with inventing witches and wizards. They were common with primitive peoples long before the Bible and the Bible God were heard of. Even to-day among what we rather loosely call "civilised communities" the belief in witches has its adherents. It may be found in many parts of Britain, and it crops up even in the centres of large towns and cities. Those who really wish to understand religion, particularly the Christian variety, must bear constantly in mind Tylor's dictum that "the thoughts and principles of modern Christianity are attached to intellectual clues that run back through far pre-Christian ages to the very origin of human worship, perhaps even to human existence." It is these clues to the inner significance of Christianity that defenders of the faith dread most. One may find Christians ready enough to discuss the age of documents, the significance of the alleged sayings of Jesus and so forth. They help to DISTRACT ATTENTION from more fundamental aspects of religion. So far as an understanding of religion in general and Christianity in particular goes, these discussions do not in the least touch the vastly larger body of believers. What the leaders of the Churches dread is the discovery of the common Christian that the key to an understanding of their religion lies with the savage.

Here is what the Bible--the "Oracles of God," as an ex-Archbishop called it--has to say about witches and wizards:--

"Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live." (Exodus xxii. 18.)

"A man also or woman that hath a familiar spirit, or that is a wizard, shall surely be put to death." (Leviticus xviii. 27.)

 


 



There it is--short, sharp and precise. It is as realistic as anything in the Bible; and its after-effects were as damnable as "Thou shalt have no other God before me." There is no room for metaphor; nor any possibility of honest misunderstanding. The belief in the activity of evil spirits was emphasised by Jesus Christ, endorsed by all the Christian Churches until recent times. The greatest of Christian organisations, the Roman Catholic Church, still holds to the activity of evil spirits. The text we are dealing with ["THE BIBLE"] IS, IN ITS CONSEQUENCES, ONE OF THE MOST DAMNABLE THINGS THAT THE BRAINS OF MAN HAS EVER CONCEIVED.' [79].

'The belief in good and evil spirits is a heritage from the lower stratum of human history, but it had weakened considerably with the cultural development of the ancient world. The best Greek writers openly derided the belief in them; and in imperial Rome it was said that two priests could not meet each other without a smile. Our modern priesthoods appear to have better control of their facial muscles. THE OLD AND NEW TESTAMENTS ARE SATURATED WITH THE BELIEF IN GOOD AND EVIL SPIRITS [see 1290]. The early Christian leaders never indicate the slightest doubt in their existence; spiritual agencies are everywhere and were responsible for almost everything [see #1, 1, 6., 7.; etc].

FIVE CENTURIES BEFORE THE DATE GIVEN FOR THE IMPOSSIBLE BIRTH OF THE GOD JESUS, Hippocrates [c. 460 - c. 377 B.C.E.] was laying it down as a scientific fact that every disease had a natural cause. Five hundred years later the New Testament God was equally certain that epilepsy and all other diseases were due to an evil spirit taking possession of a human being's body and laid down rules for casting out the disease demons, so setting back the understanding of the cause and cure of disease for over a thousand years.

In this direction the influence of the Christian Church was wholly and irretrievably bad. It offered not a single redeeming feature. It was not a frame of mind that was created and nourished by the ignorant. IT ["FRAME OF MIND"] WAS FORCED UPON ALL BY THE CHURCH, WITH PENALTIES IN THIS WORLD AND THE NEXT FOR THOSE WHO DID NOT ACCEPT ITS TEACHING ["its" propaganda!].

The number of evil spirits in contact with mankind was incalculable, but one of the early Jewish Rabbis said that each man had 10,000 demons on his right hand and 1,000 on his left. They might be found in a fountain and swallowed by a person drinking; they revelled in lonely places, in and about graves or concealed in plants. [early germ theory?]

Jesus, it will be remembered, brought a number of evil spirits out of a man after bargaining with them that they should inhabit a number of pigs. THE PIGS, IT SHOULD BE NOTED, WERE NOT HIS [Jesus] PROPERTY. Jesus also cast out seven devils from Mary Magdalene.

 




Christians of the highest authority among the early teachers of Christianity endorsed the superstition. Tertullian [c. 160 - c. 220 C.E.] explained that demons were the offspring of fallen angels. St. Jerome [c. 347 - 419 or 420] said the air was filled with demons. The belief was backed by the first man of genius the Church captured--Augustine [354 - 430]. And much later St. Thomas Aquinas [1225 - 1274] solemnly declared that disease and tempests were the direct work of evil spirits.

We shall deal more fully with Christian demonology when we come to the New Testament. But it was necessary to touch upon the general subject of demonism in order to understand the significance and consequences of "Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live."' [80-82].

'There was one very plain impetus to increase the number of charges for witchcraft. This was that the PROPERTY OF THE CONVICTED PERSON, male or female, WAS forfeited [GRABBED!]. Of this ["property of the convicted person"] both the secular authority and THE CHURCH TOOK THEIR SHARE. This was one reason why the charge generally led to a conviction. In France Philippe la Bon was openly accused of fostering charges of sorcery for the sake of the booty derived. There was nothing new either in the matter of confiscation or of the Church grabbing a share of the plunder. There was the same method in action in Spain with the Jews after the reconquest of the country by the Spaniards. In many directions Hitler [1889 - 1945] might have taken the Christian Church as an example, even though he carried the lesson further.

There is one feature of this persecution for witchcraft that is worthy of notice. In the first place it naturalised torture. As an instrument of "justice," torture, of course, existed before the birth of Christianity. But it was Christianity that so to speak, naturalised it ["torture"] as an instrument of legal procedure. It gave witch-hunting that veneer of righteousness, or at least justification, without which continuous brutality is almost impossible. Man is after all, a social animal, and is always more or less affected by the opinions and sentiments of those around him. Lecky [W.E.H. Lecky 1838 - 1903] has, in his "Rise and Fall of Rationalism in Europe [History of the Rise and Influence of the Spirit of Rationalism in Europe]," put the situation plainly and forcibly, in a way that does not admit of serious contradiction. After a more or less perfunctory apology for what he has to say, he [Lecky] points out as an incontestible truth:--

 


 



"For many centuries the Christian priesthood pursued a policy--at least towards those who differed from their opinions--implying a callousness and absence of the emotional part of humanity which has seldom been paralleled, and perhaps never surpassed. From Julian [Emperor 361 - 363 (331 - 363)], who observed that no wild beasts were so ferocious as angry theologians [a Classic!], to Montesquieu [1689 - 1755], who discussed witchcraft as a psychological phenomenon, the inhumanity of the monks, the fact has been generally recognised [something awry (and, I have not found this quotation, in Lecky)]. The monks, the Inquisitors, and in general the medieval clergy, present a type that is singularly well defined and is in many respects exceeding noble, but which is continually marked by a total absence ["Christian love"! (see Addition 15, 989)] of mere natural affection....These were the men who chanted their Te Deums [Te Deum: "Loosely, any expression of praise or thanksgiving." (Webster's 2nd. ed.); etc.] over the massacre of the Albigenses or of Bartholomew....These were the men who were at once the instigators and the agents of that HORRIBLE DETAILED PERSECUTION that STAINED ALMOST EVERY PROVINCE OF EUROPE WITH THE BLOOD OF JEWS AND HERETICS, AND WHICH EXHIBITS AN AMOUNT OF COLD, PASSIONATE, STUDIED AND DELIBERATE BARBARITY UNRIVALLED IN THE HISTORY OF MANKIND."

It is a pity that our historians are so timid where the Church is concerned and that they will mar a plain, justifiable indictment of the influence of the Christian Church with quite lame and unwarranted compliments. It is rather puzzling to see how a body of men of the character depicted can at the same time be said to be "exceedingly noble." "Nobility" and brutality, deliberate cruelty and unquenchable intolerance do not run well together. And when he [Lecky] comes to the influence of the Churches on such things as the witch mania and the use of torture in general, Lecky [W.E.H. Lecky 1838 - 1903] writes the following concerning the Christian Churches. After saying THE CHRISTIAN CLERGY SHOWED THEMSELVES QUITE INDIFFERENT TO THE TORTURE OF THEIR OPPONENTS, he [Lecky] remarks:--

"Nor was it only towards the heretic that this inhumanity was displayed. We have a striking example of this in the history of torture. In ancient Greece torture was never employed except in cases of treason....In medieval Christendom it was made use of to an extent that was probably unexampled in any earlier period, and in cases that fell under the cognisances of the clergy it was applied to every class of the community. And what strikes us most in considering the medieval tortures is not so much their diabolical barbarity, they displayed a condition of thought in which men had pondered long and carefully on the forms of suffering, and had compared and combined the different kinds of torture, till they had become the most consummate masters of their art, had expended on the subject all the resources of the utmost ingenuity, and pursued it with the ardour of a passion....IN EVERY PRISON THE CRUCIFIX AND THE RACK STOOD SIDE BY SIDE, and in almost every country the abolition of torture was at last effected by a movement which the Church opposed, and by men whom she had cursed."

 


 



It remains only to point out that the greatest opposition to torture began with the Freethinking Montaigne [1533 - 1592], and was followed up by Voltaire [1694 - 1778], Montesquieu [1689 - 1755], Diderot [1713 - 1784], and others famed for their intelligence and cursed by the Churches for their want of religion.' [80-89].

"DEMONOLOGY WAS ALSO STRENGTHENED BY THE RISE OF PROTESTANTISM. Catholic and Protestant, each saw the agency of Satan in the power of the other. The Roman Church saw nothing in the rise of Protestantism but the endeavour of Satan to destroy the power of the Church; and Protestants openly declared that the Papacy was working for the interests of the Devil. One is reminded of Boccaccio's story of the Jew who, after visiting Rome, joined the Church because he felt that nothing so wicked could exist for so long if God had not been behind it. But the historic fact is that, instead of Protestantism weakening the grossest of superstitions, it gave to demonism a new lease of life. At any rate, so far as belief in witches is concerned, there is little to choose between the two Christian bodies." [91].

'In many things Luther [Martin Luther 1483 - 1546] betrayed a rough and ready common sense. [But] In the matter before us he could write that:--

"Witchcraft is the devil's proper work wherewith, when God permits, he not only hurts people but makes away with them; for in this world we are as guests and strangers, body and soul under the devil; idiots, the lame, the blind, the dumb, are men in whom ignorant devils have established themselves, and all the physicians who attempt to heal these infirmities as though they proceeded from natural causes, are ignorant blockheads who know nothing about the power of demons."

In his "Table Talk," Luther [Martin Luther 1483 - 1546] says: "I know the devil thoroughly well; he has overpassed me so close that I scarcely knew whether I was alive or dead." Luther, in fact, saw the activity of the devil whichever way he turned. A singing in the ear was proof that the devil was its author attempting to prevent his writing. A violent headache had its origin in the same source. When a storm raged it had its origin in satanic activity, for "the winds are nothing but good or bad spirits." [see #24, 529] Suicides he believed were often men who had been strangled by evil spirits. "The devil," he said, "can so completely assume the human form that we may very well lie with what seems to be a woman of real flesh and blood, and yet all the while 'tis only a devil in the shape of a woman." The devil might easily become the father of a child, unsuspected by both husband and wife. He says that he knew such a case, and said: "I would have that thrown into the Moldau at the risk of being held its murderer." [see (Luther): Addition 15, 930-1005]

 






These examples might be multiplied indefinitely, but that would be a tiresome repetition of substantially identical statements. Here and there one meets with a Christian of eminence who raises a mild protest against the method of conducting prosecutions of witchcraft, but with very rare exceptions these consisted of doubts as to the legal method adopted rather than a questioning of witchcraft itself. To doubt the reality of demonism invited a charge of being in league with the devil, and few were bold enough to risk that.

When the question of the reality of witchcraft came, it was raised from the Freethinking side. How could it be otherwise? Nothing was clearer than that the Old and New Testaments were saturated with belief in the activity of evil spirits and of man's commerce with them. From Genesis to Revelations there is no break. Church doctrines, Roman Catholic and Protestant, insisted on the existence of evil spirits and their intercourse with human beings.

Wherever Christian influence prevailed, right up to the end of the seventeenth century, this murderous superstition prevailed. Those who have read Cotton Mather's "Wonders of the Invisible World" (there was an edition of that work published in London in 1862) will be well aware of the evil consequences that followed the ENGLISH SETTLERS IN THE NEW WORLD. They TOOK THEIR CHRISTIAN DEMONISM WITH THEM, and the consequences of that were the same as had darkened the lives of millions of human beings in the Old World.

Never until the launching of the Hitlerite crusade for the extermination of the Jews, was there anything witnessed quite so savage as that which, in America and Europe, is known as the Witch Mania. Its victims came from the highest and lowest in the land. Neither age nor sex was any guard against brutal torture and death. The number of victims equalled that of a plague. The Christian God had spoken, "Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live," and not one of his commandments were obeyed so loyally. The belief in witches has weakened, but it is still with us. Every parson in the Established Church may exercise the power of exorcism, and the Roman Church has power to cast out devils. In high heaven the Christian God must reflect with pride how loyally his followers once executed his commands.

Let us also note that the instigation and the maintenance of the outbreak of witch-hunting went side by side with the development of modern science. It was as though the witch mania was the reply of the Church to its enemies. Of course, there were bursts of witch-hunting before the period we are considering. It is also true that some of the indictments for witchcraft may have covered other than religious ends. The indictment of Christianity is not removed by that plea. The reality of the superstition had to live beforehand. The belief in witchcraft, if not original with the Churches, was adopted by them, and by the plain command of their God. We may sum up the facts by quoting from Lecky's "Rise and Influence of Rationalism in Europe," and though the excerpt may be lengthy, it will take less space than separate statements:--

 






"FOR MORE THAN 1,500 YEARS IT WAS UNIVERSALLY BELIEVED THAT THE BIBLE ESTABLISHED, IN THE CLEAREST MANNER, THE REALITY OF THE CRIME [WITCHCRAFT] and the amount of evidence...attested its continuance and its prevalence. The clergy demanded (the death penalty for witchcraft) with all the emphasis of authority. The legislators of every land enacted laws for its punishment....TENS OF THOUSANDS OF VICTIMS PERISHED BY THE MOST AGONISING AND THE MOST PROTRACTED TORMENTS....Nations that were completely separated by interests and by character, on this one question were united....The persecution raged with a fearful intensity....Seven thousand victims are said to have been burned at Treves, 6,000 by a single Bishop in Bamburg, and 900 in one year in the bishopric of Wurzburg. In France decrees were passed on the subject by the Parliaments of Paris, Toulouse, Bordeaux, Rheims, Dijon and Rennes, and they were all followed by a harvest of blood. At Toulouse, the seat of the Inquisition, 400 persons perished for sorcery....Remy, a Judge of Nancy, boasted that he had put to death 800 witches in 18 years [in Spain]. The persecution spread to the smallest towns, and the belief was so deeply rooted in the popular mind that a sorcerer was burnt as late as 1780. In Flanders, the persecution of witches raged through the whole of the 16th and the greater part of the 17th centuries....In Italy 1,000 persons were executed in a single year in the province of Como. The same scenes were enacted in the wild valleys of Switzerland and of Savoy. In Geneva, which was then ruled by a Bishop, 500 were executed in three months....The Church of Rome proclaimed in every way that was in her power, the reality...of the crime....She taught by all her organs that to spare a witch was a direct insult to the Almighty."



In England, under Protestant influence, the killing of witches went on as merrily, as religiously, as it did in Roman Catholic countries. From 1603 to 1680 it has been calculated that 70,000 people were tortured and killed for this imaginary offence. Grey, the editor of the famous "Hudibras," says that he himself saw a list of 3,000 that were put to death during the existence of the Long Parliament. The celebrated witch-finder, Matthew Hopkins [died 1647], was responsible for the death of 60 persons in the county of Suffolk. In Scotland, for 39 years, when the witch-hunt was at its fiercest, the number killed annually averaged about 200.

 






In Wurzburg, 1629, 162 burnings were staged, and T. Wright, in his "History of Sorcery and Magic," gives the following account of eleven of these executions, with the number of children and their ages:-- [see 1331 (same chart)]

Burning No. Children
7th 7 One girl aged twelve
13th 4 One girl aged ten
15th 2 One boy aged twelve
18th 6 Two boys of ten, girl of fourteen
19th 6 Two boys aged ten and twelve
20th 6 Two boys
23rd 9 Three boys, nine, ten, fourteen
24th 7 Two boys, brought from hospital
26th 6 Little boy and girl
27th 7 Two boys aged eight and nine
28th 6 Blind girl and infant


When one hears from clerical and lay pulpits to-day of the great good done by the Christian religion, one might give a little thought to another aspect of Christian rule. [see Addition 20, 1040; etc.]

In Scotland, the witch-hunt was more savagely maintained than in England. Those who are able to consult Dalyell's [Sir John Graham Dalyell 1775 - 1851] very scarce "Darker Superstitions of Scotland [see 1362-1364]," an authoritative work published in Glasgow and London in 1835, may read an almost unbelievable story of foolish religious beliefs and Christian brutality.

 






Witchcraft was declared by the Scotch Parliament of 1563 to be punishable by death. A few years later the Church Assemblies were ordering its presbyteries to proceed "in all severity" against such magistrates as liberated convicted witches. Evidently the civic powers were not brutal enough to satisfy the Church authorities. Boxes were placed in the churches to receive the names of persons who were suspected of witchcraft. When arrested, they were subject to all the brutal tortures of the day, and orders were given that the parents who were suspected of sorcery should have their children subjected to torture in their presence. Dalyell also notes the existence of a practice which became common, that of THE PROPERTY OF ANYONE FOUND GUILTY OF SORCERY BEING GIVEN TO THOSE WHO WERE RESPONSIBLE FOR THEIR DETECTION. Thus, much property was granted to William Johnstone, baron, "bailie of the regalitie and barronie of Broughton." We are not surprised to find Johnstone's convictions grew in numbers. As in England, a body of professionals sprang up whose duty it was to discover witches and wizards--and pocket the reward for so doing. Ministers preached from their pulpits the Christian duty of hounding down witches, and boxes were placed in the Church to receive anonymous accusations.

It was not necessary to inflict injury to be charged with witchcraft. Right through the history of the Christian Churches, one ran risks of accusation of sorcery if what he did was beneficial or true. The important point was that it was not regular. Sorcery was the charge against such men as Roger Bacon [c. 1220 - 1292], and a doctor who cured sickness without the help of the priest was running grave risks. Pitcairn [Robert Pitcairn 1793 - 1855], in his "Criminal Trials," cites the case of Thomas Grieve, who cured many sicknesses "by sorcery and witchcraft." He was brought to trial, found guilty and hanged on Castle Hill, Edinburgh.

The following bill of costs for burning two women in Aberdeen has its interest. The expense was incurred for the burning of Jane Wischert and Isabel Cocker:--

[pound; shilling; penny (denarius)] £ s. d.
Item for 20 loads of peatts 2 0 0
" " Ane boll of colles 1 4 0
" " Four tar barrels 0 6 8
" " Fir and win barrels 0 16 8
" " A staike and dressing of it 0 16 0
" " Four fathoms of towis 4 0 0
To Jon Justice for their execution 0 13 4
£9 3 4



 





The Scotch clergy were before Hitler [1889 - 1945] in torturing people to a desired confession. The difference in what was aimed at is immaterial. Dalyell cites the orders given in the case of one, William Spence, that his gaolers were "not to suffer him to sleep by night or by day and for that end to use all effectual means for keeping him awake." One suspect was kept awake for five days and nights by continuous pricking." If a prisoner confessed there was plain proof of guilt; if there was no confession that was also proof that the devil had sustained him or her. We are not surprised that "the minister and the baillies were well pleased." A favourite instrument of torture appears to have been, in both Scotland and England, the thumbscrew, an instrument which gradually compressed the thumbs to pulp. As in the continental cases, young children were often among those who were tortured.

Torture appeared to be commonly used in Scotland until the end of the 17th century, and there is on record (as cited by Dalyell) a woman burnt in the soles of the feet to extort a confession of sorcery. IN SCOTLAND, AS IN OTHER PARTS OF CHRISTENDOM, THE MAJORITY OF THE PEOPLE TORTURED AND BURNT WERE WOMEN. This fell into line with the Christian tradition that, as evidenced by the fall of Eve, Satan was always on more familiar terms with woman that he was with man [see 1331]. One visitor to Scotland, noted by Dalyell, says that in 1664, he saw nine burnt at one time in Leith Links. That crowned fool, James I. [of "The King James Bible" (see (King James I): #24, 528-530; Appendix II, 698)], actually had a woman burned for sailing from Leith to Berwick in a sieve.

SPEAKING OF THE POWER WHICH THE SCOTCH CHURCH EXERTED OVER THE PRIVATE LIFE OF PEOPLE AT THE CLOSE OF THE 16TH CENTURY, H.C. Lea [1825 - 1909] says:--

"The Kirk Sessions were the principal promoters of the fearful prosecutions for witchcraft, which were perhaps worse in Scotland than in any other country. They paid the 'Prickers' who tortured miserable old women to obtain proof, and they voted supplies of firewood for the resulting auto-da-fé. While they rigorously prohibited funerals and marriages on the Sabbath as a profanation of the sacredness of the day, witch-burnings were deemed a good work allowable on the Lord's Day, and committees of ministers attended them officially. Zealous ministers, indeed, sometimes did not content themselves with simply directing these proceedings. In 1650, Mr. John Aird, minister of Stow, reported to his kirk-session his success in personally convicting a witch by pricking her."

This from Lea's "Studies in Church History," and in his "Superstition and Force" the same author says of the witch persecutions:--



"Scotland rivalled the worst excesses of the Inquisition in Italy and Spain [?]; it was carried to a pitch of frightful cruelty which far transcended the limits assigned to it elsewhere. Thus the vigil, which we have seen consisted simply in keeping the accused awake for 40 hours by the simplest modes, in Scotland were fearfully aggravated by a witch-bridle, a band of iron fastened round the face with four diverging points thrust into the mouth. With this the accused was secured immovably against the wall, and cases are on record in which this torment was prolonged for five and even for nine days. In other cases an enormous weight of iron hoops and chains, amounting to 25 or 30 stone, would be accumulated on the body of the patient."

Lecky [W.E.H. Lecky 1838 - 1903] was correct when he said that "SCOTCH WITCHCRAFT WAS BUT THE RESULT OF SCOTCH PURITANISM," and it faithfully reflected the character of its parent.

We have still to deal with other phases of this witch mania. But it is well for readers to bear in mind the fact that these beastly cruelties and obscenities were raised to the height they achieved by their faith in the Christian religion. They were carrying out the plainest of God's commands: "Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live," and it is this Church, still relatively where it was in relation to human progress, that would have us believe, not merely that we owe the major part of the world's progress, but is also demanding substantial control of the rising situation [the history of this phenomenal parasite!]. We are not surprised that the bulwark of a dying creed and upholder of outworn ideas, the British Broadcasting Corporation [BBC], should take such care that no element of real Freethought reaches the ears of the people.

There is little essential variation in the religious sport of witch-hunting. The naked savage "smelling" out a witch or wizard and the seventeenth century searching for the mark that betrays commerce with Satan, the ideas in action are identical. The only difference is that the savage witch-doctor appears to be guided by the desire to protect the tribe from evil. The Christian witch-hunter is following the plainest orders of his God. But for the Christian the record is unbroken from Genesis to Revelations. The gentle Jesus smells out an evil spirit that has taken possession of a human being with all the skill that the celebrated Mathew Hopkins discovered the witch's mark in the time of the Commonwealth or a savage medicine man hunts down his prey.

Confining ourselves to the British Isles, we may note that it was not always the poor and the demented that fell under the charge of witchcraft. There was, for instance, Dowager Queen Joan who was punished for working magic against Henry V. A similar charge was brought against the Dutchess of Glouchester. In Scotland there were many in high places accused of witchcraft, and the Earl of Mar, towards the end of the 15th century, was bled to death for magical works against his brother. Twelve witches and four wizards were burnt in Edinburgh for the same offence. This was what a Red Indian would call "mighty magic." The modern savages had a more elaborate description for it.





In England, Henry VIII. and Queen Elizabeth were firm believers in the activity of witches, and then was a very rapid development in witchcraft in the closing years of the 16th century. To the same date belongs the case in which a whole family--father, mother and daughter--were executed for killing Lady Cromwell by witchcraft. Sir Samuel Cromwell [to this date (5/14/00), I have not found this personage] bequeathed an annual sum of £40 for the preaching of a solemn discourse against witchcraft. The Rev. M. Summers [1880 - 1948] says, in "History of Witchcraft and Demonology," that this sermon was preached in the early part of the last century, but it is not clear when it fell into disuse. In the 17th century a number of professional witch-finders were appointed, the best known of these being the famous Mathew Hopkins [died 1647]. He was paid a stated sum per head, travelled as far afield as Lancashire, a county which became notorious for the large number of witches that were executed. Hopkins received 20s. per head for witches--and with the result one might expect. The discovery of so many witches was clear evidence of God's approval; good Christians rejoiced that the other God (the devil) lost so many of his followers.

One of Hopkins' methods was by pricking--driving a long pin into the naked body of a woman until a spot was found that did not feel pain. That was sure evidence of commerce with the God of the nether world. But his favourite test was to tie the right hand of the suspected witch to her left foot and the left hand to the right foot. Stripped naked, she was then thrown into a river or pool. If she floated she was a witch; if she sank and was drowned she was innocent.

There is a story that the numerous witches Hopkins discovered roused suspicion. It was not the genuineness of his cases that were doubted; the charge was that the was also in the service of the Devil and so knew all the witches there were. As a result, Hopkins was seized, subjected to the water test--and floated. So runs the story; but, regretfully, there are doubts, for the Rev. Montague Summers, who has written largely on sorcery--and, like a good Roman Catholic, believes in it--says that Hopkins retired on his earnings, died comfortably in his bed, much respected by the people around him. Why not? God had said, "Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live"--and Hopkins was a good Christian.





When the English Pilgrims went to America they took with them all the superstitions to which they were accustomed. IT IS SIMPLE NONSENSE TO ACCEPT THE STEREOTYPED STORY THAT THEY WENT TO AMERICA BECAUSE THEY LOVED LIBERTY AND INDEPENDENCE. They went because in England they were being persecuted by other Christians; and so soon as they were settled, for the most part, they were quite as intolerant as the Christians in England with whom they disagreed. They had no objection to religious bigotry as such; THEY OBJECTED TO WHAT THEY CONSIDERED THE RIGHT KIND OF RELIGION BEING SUPPRESSED. Those who wish to see how devoted the new settlers were to the duty of wiping out witches and wizards may consult "Remarkable Providences," by Increase Mather (London, 1855), and the "Wonders of the Invisible World," by his son, Cotton Mather (London, 1862). Both the Mathers were very able men. Of the two, the son has the finer face, reminding one of another great man, Jonathan Swift [1667 - 1745]. It is obviously a picture of a man with a high sense of duty and nothing that would indicate brutality. Yet many scores of people were either tortured to death or made to live in fear and trembling as a consequence of the religious beliefs and fervour of the Mathers. The son, referring to his father's book, says, "There was a certain disbeliever in witchcraft who wrote against this book, but the man is dead; his book died before him." Probably an act of God,--for in Mather's time gods had to earn their living.

One of the cases belonging to Salem recalls an incident already noted. A sailor on board ship making for land stabbed a woman because he believed she had by witchcraft raised a storm. He was delivered over to the civil courts for judgment. The verdict was that he had acted in self-defence and was discharged.

Readers will find many reports of cases in A.B. Hart's [Albert Bushnell Hart 1845 - 1943] valuable source books, "American History told by Contemporaries." Of course, they follow the lines of English cases; naturally, they are derived from the same type of mind. But he cites the case of Samuel Sewell, a very eminent judge. He had taken an active part in some witch trials. Some years after he issued a public statement expressing regret for the part he had played in these condemnations. That is worth noting because of its unusual character. In this country the clergy very seldom make public acknowledgement of their having given the people lies for truth. They remain silent lest they should open the eyes of other people. In any case, their chief function appears to be that of substituting a new absurdity for an old one.

The last famous trial for witchcraft took place in the last quarter of the 17th century before a very famous English judge, [Sir] Mathew Hale [1609 - 1676], at Bury St. Edmunds in 1662. Two women were charged with bewitching seven persons. The usual evidence was given, and it is quite evident that Sir Mathew Hale had taken pains to see that accused had what was considered a fair trial. In directing the jury he said:--



"That there were such creatures (as witches) he made no doubt at all. For first, the Scriptures affirmed as much. Secondly, the wisdom of all nations had provided laws against such persons, which is an argument of their confidence of such a crime....

(He) desired them strictly to observe their evidence and desired the great God in Heaven to direct their hearts in this weighty thing they had in hand; for to condemn the innocent and let the guilty go free were both an abomination before the Lord."

The jury returned a verdict of Guilty and the two witches were hanged a fortnight later--for the glory of God and the confusion of the other Christian God who ruled in hell.

This trial became famous because of the trouble Hale took to deal justly with the accused women and because of the testimony given by one of the famous literary men of his day, Sir Thomas Browne [1605 - 1682]. Asked his opinion as to the reality of witchcraft, he was clearly of opinion that the persons were bewitched. He had no doubt "that the devil in such cases did work upon the bodies of men and women as on a natural foundation...whereby he did in an extraordinary manner afflict them with such distempers as their bodies were most subject to, as appeared in these children."

WE HAVE NOT THE SLIGHTEST DOUBT THAT IF IT HAD BEEN POSSIBLE TO BRING JESUS CHRIST INTO COURT HE WOULD HAVE GIVEN EXACTLY THE SAME ANSWER, for if commerce with Satan is not possible much that Jesus is reported to have said is obvious nonsense.

But this was not the end either of trials or belief in witchcraft. There were many other trials before the death penalty for witchcraft was repealed. There were three women in Exeter burnt for witchcraft in 1682, and others in Northampton in 1705 and 1722. The Act making the practice of witchcraft a capital offence was not abolished until 1736. Curiously enough, there seems to have been less witchcraft in Ireland than in England, although the Roman Catholic religion is saturated with the belief in good and evil spirits. Curiously, also, while witch laws fell into disuse earlier than in England, they were not removed from the Statute Books until 1826. But the removal of witchcraft from the criminal code was not brought about by any effort on the part of the Churches. They clung to it as long as they could. The Roman Church still holds to it.

Many prominent Christians openly denounced setting aside one of the plainest, the least disputable commands of God. Strong opposition to the rejection of witchcraft was given by John Wesley [1703 - 1791], the founder of the Methodist Church, who said, 32 years after the Act was repealed:--




[John Wesley] "It is true that the English in general, and indeed most men of learning in Europe, have given up all accounts of witches and apparitions as mere old wives' fables. I am sorry for it and willingly take this opportunity of entering my solemn protest against this violent compliment which so many who believe in the Bible do not pay to those who do not believe in it. I owe them no such service. I take that these are at the bottom of the outcry which has been raised, and with such insolence spread through the land, in direct opposition not only to the Bible, but to the suffrage of the wisest and best men of all ages and nations. They well know (whether Christians know it or not) that the GIVING UP OF WITCHCRAFT IS IN EFFECT GIVING UP THE BIBLE."

That is at least honest Christianity, however absurd the belief in witches. We may note the Rev. Dr. Rice, who writes in the 19th century in a "People's Dictionary of the Bible," under article "Devils":--

"As frequent accounts are given in the Old Testament, and in the New, of the devil and his demons entering into persons, there is no reason to doubt they ["Devils"] do it now."

That also is good evidence that there may be some Christian leaders in existence who, when they say they believe in the Bible, mean what they say. Better houses and bigger wages, better clothing and more open spaces are all that the archbishops say they are, although they may be very late in the day in making the discovery. But they should remember that God did not say witches did not exist. He accepted their existence. He did not say, "Do not believe that such things as witches really exist"; he said, "Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live"--and he left his followers to do the killing as a sign of their sincerity. In 1773 the Scotch Associated Presbytery passed a resolution declaring its belief in witchcraft and deplored unbelief concerning it.

["resolution"] Still, let us be merciful to God. For he made so many things, and made them in such a hurry, that when people began to deal with witches he may have been confused as to whether he made them or not--and the days of memorandum note books had not yet come.



How many men and women were tortured for the assumed practice of witchcraft and wizardry? Figures differ considerably. Lecky [W.E.H. Lecky 1838 - 1903], who quotes authorities, tells us that 7,000 were burned at Treves, 600 by one bishop at Bamburg, 900 in a single year in Wurtzburg, 400 at Douay. In Italy, 1000 killed in a year in the province of Como. In Geneva, 500 in a month. So the story runs from place to place. Luther [1483 - 1546] said he would have no compassion on witches--"I would burn them all." Lecky cites Hutchinson, the author of a famous treatise on witchcraft (1718), who claims to have collected reliable figures that run into thousands. C.H. [H.C.] Lea [1825 - 1909], cautious as ever in his statements, sums up by saying, with his usual wisdom of looking forward as to the social consequences of religious practices.

[Lea] "Hideous as are the details of the persecutions for witchcraft which we have been considering (up to the fifteenth century), they were but the prelude to the blind and senseless orgies of destruction which disgraced the next century and a half. Christendom seemed to have grown delirious, and Satan might well smile at the tribute to his power seen in the endless smoke of the holocausts which bore witness to his triumph over the Almighty. Protestant and Catholic rivalled each other in the madness of the hour. Witches were burned no longer in ones and twos, but in scores and hundreds....

The spring of 1586 was tardy in the Rhineland and the cold was prolonged until June; this could only be the result of witchcraft, and the Archbishop of Treves burned at Pfalz 118 women and two men from whom confessions had been extorted that their incantations had prolonged the winter....

Parano boasts that in a century and a half (dating from 1404) the Holy Office had burned at least 30,000 witches who, if they had been left unpunished, would easily have brought the whole world to destruction. No wonder Christians thanked God for his goodness in saying that witches must not be permitted to live."

It is useless citing the numbers killed, for no exact totals are forthcoming. Probably as many died from ill-treatment by those who took the law in their own hands as were executed after a former trial. To run the total into 30,000 from 1560 to the close of the 17th century would be a moderate estimate.

Demonism, it must be remembered, is very deeply imbedded in Christianity, and is more actively expressed in the New Testament than it is in the Old Testament. The Roman Church has never broken away from Demonism. It remains part of its official creed. Its priests have the power of exorcism, and we believe that power also follows the ordination of a clergymen of the Established Church. More will be said on this point when we come to deal with the New Testament--for the moment we wish to illustrate what we have said in connection with witchcraft and wizardism.



Fr. Montague Summers [1880 - 1948] is a priest of the Roman Catholic Church, and has not shrunk from announcing his belief in the real existence of commerce with the Devil. He has written introductions to a number of reprints of the early works in favour of witchcraft. In his "History of Witchcraft" (1926) he has given several examples of the forms of exorcism from which I cite the briefest. The priest speaks before the man or woman believed to be possessed by a Devil:--

"I exorcise thee, most foul spirit, every coming in of the enemy, every apparition, every legion; in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ be rooted out, and be put to flight from this creature of God. He commands thee, Who has bid thee be cast down from the highest heaven into the lower parts of the earth. He commands thee, Who has commanded the sea, the winds, and the storms. Hear therefore, and fear, Satan, thou injurer of the faith, thou enemy of the human race, thou procurer of death, thou destroyer of life, kindler of vices, seducer of men, betrayer of the nations, inciter of envy, origin of avarice, cause of discord, stirrer-up of troubles; why standest though, and resistest, when thou knowest that Christ the Lord destroyed thy ways? Fear Him, sacrifice in Isaac, Who was sold in Joseph, was slain in the Lamb, was crucified in man, thence was the triumpher over hell. Depart therefore in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, give place to the Holy Ghost, by this sign of the Holy Cross of Jesus Christ our Lord, who with the Father and the same Holy Ghost, liveth and reigneth ever one God, world without end."

There are other forms of exorcism of greater length, but the surplus matter is really made up by calling the Devil more names. Any one of them might have been summarised by resorting to the vernacular in four words--"Satan, go to Hell," but that would not have been so impressive. Perhaps Satan was too great a character in the Christian mythology to be received with anything but the highest honours.

Dealing with so primitive a phenomenon as witchcraft, many modern readers might imagine that a bare two or three centuries ago the belief in witches would exist only with the more ignorant section of the population. We have already cited a number of cases which should correct that fallacy. The existence of commerce with the Devil by human beings was held by some of the greatest names of the 17th century. Further, it must be borne in mind that such education as existed was then under the control of the Churches. For some years now many have marked the steady mental degradation of German youth since the beginning of the reign of Nazism. But that deals with the current generation only; continue that process generation after generation for 1,000 years, and to shake off ingrained feelings and ideas become an impossibility for the majority of human beings. To-day the more subtle--but perhaps the least intellectual--of our preachers tell us that we must believe in a moralising Jesus. The plain historic fact is that WITHOUT THE SUPERNATURAL CHRIST THE MORALISING JESUS WOULD NEVER HAVE EXISTED.







There need therefore be no surprise in finding so many eminent men in England and Scotland as late as the latter half of the 17th century holding firmly the belief in witches and wizards. Sir Thomas Browne [1605 - 1682], one of our favourite authors, has already been named, and also a very great legalist in the person of Lord Chief Justice Hale [Sir Mathew Hale 1609 - 1676]. Joseph Granville was a clergyman, but the was also a member of the Royal Society, with some credit as a scientific thinker. His book, "Saducisimus Triumphates: A full and plain evidence concerning Witches," running to nearly 600 pages, with drawings of some stones that had been placed in a human body by devilish agency, lies before us. Cudworth [apparently, Ralph Cudworth 1617 - 1688], a firm believer in witchcraft, could yet write a fine and learned book on Atheism, which almost cost him his church because he was accused of being an Atheist in disguise. He had forgotten to blackguard Atheism and calumniate Atheists. The great Sir William Blackstone [1723 - 1780] agreed with what John Wesley [1703 - 1791] was to say later, that to deny witchcraft was to contradict the revealed word of God. The very learned and subtle Selden defended the laws punishing witchcraft, although it is doubtful if he believed in them. The "gentle" Addison believed that there had been and were such things as witches, although he could give no particular instance of one having existed.

When Christians read or listen to accounts of the good Christianity has done, they might spare a thought for the women who were afraid--if they were spinsters--to grow to old age, and to the many thousands of women who were tortured hour after hour to confess their dealings with the Christian Devil. "Why," asked Topsy, "don't God kill the Devil?" Perhaps the answer is that in such a case the clergy would have gone out of commission.

As is usual, it was the Freethinkers of the day who led the way to a more reasonable view of this witch mania. In this matter no one did more than the great sceptic of his time, Montaigne [1533 - 1592]. It is curious and suggestive that Montaigne should have discussed both miracles and witchcraft in a chapter headed "Of Cripples," and it is certain that he was not thinking of physical cripples. He says (we are quoting from Hazlitt's translation):--

"The witches of my neighbourhood run a hazard of their lives upon the formation of every new author who will give a body to their dreams....I am plain and dull and stick to the main point, which is...MEN ARE APT TO BELIEVE WHAT THEY LEAST UNDERSTAND....How much more naturally and likely do I find it that two men should lie than that one man should fly with the wind from east to west? How much more natural that our understanding should be carried from its place by the volubility of our disordered minds than that one of us should be carried by a strange spirit upon a broomstick, flesh and bones as we are, up the funnels of a chimney."


Montaigne's influence was great in both France and England. He reminds us of the work of his great follower, Peter Charron [Pierre Charron 1541 - 1603]. Lecky [William Edward Hartpole Lecky 1838 - 1903] has well said "that which Montaigne [1533 - 1592] had thrown into the form of a doubt, Charron almost threw into the form of a denial." Perhaps his having been a priest caused him TO HATE THE CHRISTIAN SUPERSTITION MORE HEARTILY. His chief book, "On Wisdom," was translated into English and ran through several editions--certainly a dozen. Our own copy, a work of nearly 600 pages, small quarto, is dated 1670, but it is a late edition. To-day, while most readers know Montaigne, few appear to know Charron. He left no doubt as to his attitude towards such stupidities as witchcraft. Here is an outline of his [Peter Charron] position which will give the reader some idea of his breadth of thought. It was written at the very beginning of the 17th century. With ["200" years before] Coleridge [Samuel Taylor Coleridge 1772 - 1834 (see: 100 Years of Freethought, David Tribe, 66)], he [Peter Charron] sees that "Atheism cannot lodge but in a strong and bold soul."

"THE NATION, COUNTRY OR PLACE GIVES THE RELIGION; A MAN POSSESSETH THAT WHICH IS IN FORCE IN THAT PLACE...WHEREIN HE IS BORN [see #4, 125, 552. (Dawkins)]. He is circumcised, baptised, a Jew, a Christian, before he knows he is a man....

THEY MAKE THEMSELVES BELIEVE THEY BELIEVE IT, BUT IT IS NOTHING."

Of those who base morality upon religion he ["Peter Charron"] says:--

"They pervert all order....They think that religion is a generality of all goods and all virtues....These men assert that a man is an honest man because there is a paradise and a hell, so that if they did not fear God or fear to be damned, they would not make a goodly piece of work. Oh miserable honesty....Thou keepest thyself from wickedness because thou darest not be wicked....Now I desire that thou be an honest man, not because thou wouldst go to paradise, but because nature, reason and general policy of the world requireth it....He that is an honest man by scruple and a religious bridle, take heed of him and account him as he is. And he that hath religion without honesty, I will not say he is more wicked, but far more dangerous than he that hath neither one nor the other."



We fancy this will be read as something apart from witchcraft, but we have been tempted to print it because so few appear to have read Charron, and because of the influence he exerted in the 17th century. "On Wisdom" ran through a number of English editions and must have influenced many. At any rate, it came as a welcome ray of light, a clean, healthy atmosphere, after having said so much concerning CHRISTIAN WITCH-HUNTING AND BRUTALITY--ONE OF THE VILEST THINGS THAT DARKENS MODERN HISTORY. Yet it was the Christian God who said "Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live [see 1342-1343]." What has Christianity to set down as adequate compensation for the evil that was wrought, and is still being wrought, by those eight words ["Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live." (Exodus 22:18)] delivered to man by God himself?' [91-113] [End of Chapter VIII.] [End of text].

 



from: The Darker Superstitions of Scotland. By [Sir] John Graham Dalyell [1775 - 1851], Esq. F.A.S.E., Norwood Editions, 1973 (1835). [See: 1349, 1350, 1351].

"Superstitions"


'The supernatural faculties enjoyed by saints, were claimed by sorcerers: whence the similarity of their acts. When any thing surpassing belief is related, the first question that arises naturally, must be, "whether it is true?" But this does not seem to have been a lawful subject of enquiry; and narratives were advanced, marvellous in proportion to the strength of public credulity, and the imbecility of human intellect. To specify a few examples,--fountains sprung at command of St Bridgid and St Patrick; as Moses struck the rock for water in the wilderness, and as the apostles obtained water in prison for baptism; St Servan converted water to wine, to recover a sick monk; St Brigid converted water to milk, to cure a leprous woman; and St Patrick, to gratify the longing of his nurse, converted water to honey. Sorcery, we have seen, converted the milk of cows to blood. The same was alleged to produce husks or chaff like blood, from corn. When St Paul was beheaded, milk is alleged to have flowed from his veins. St Vynnin, provoked because the river Garnoch yielded none of its finny tenants to a comrade, pronounced a malediction, whereon "it left its bed, and followed another course adverse to nature." St Baldred, the associate of Kentigern, retired to solitary and desert places, on his decease, "and passed a long time in contemplation, on that islet, the Bass. Kentigern entrusted him with the government of the churches of Aldhame, Tunninghame, and Prestoun, where he instructed the parishioners devoutly, and recovered the sick by interposing only the sign of the cross. A huge rock, dangerous to marines, stood half way between the islet and the nearest shore. Here St Baldred piously set himself: when the rock rising up at his nod, approached the shore, like a boat wafted by a favouring gale, and remains still to the present day, under the name of St Baldred's tomb, or St. Baldred's boat".

But a creative and preservative faculty, to an extraordinary extent, was claimed for the sanctified.

The dry wood of an altar, where St Brigid, deceived by an earthly spouse, had offered her vows of celibacy, renewed its verdure on her touch. St Nathalanus having distributed all his corn during a famine, reserved none for seed in spring: but directing gravel to be scattered over his cultivated ground, it produced a remarkable crop of grain.

St Gilbert, who was bishop of Caithness in the thirteenth century, touching the tongue of a dumb man, restored him to speech. St Brigid having wounded her own head in falling, anointed two dumb women with the blood, who straightway began to speak.

 




THE FACULTIES OF THE SANCTIFIED EXTENDED EVEN TO THE RESURRECTION OF THE DEAD: and if the deceased happened to be maimed during life, he was revived entire. this most wonderful prerogative indeed, has not been considered peculiar to any country exclusively; and credulity in its certainty, prevails even unto the present date. A modern traveller in the interior of Africa, occupied a dwelling, the owner of which had deceased a few days previously: but it was declared publicly, "that HE HAD RISEN FROM THE DEAD," and he was carried about, exposed to the view of all who desired to be gratified by the sight. However, says the traveller, "it is generally supposed that he will die again tomorrow." The credulous Woodrow, in "April 1729," was informed that the daughter of a serious good man, having died, "her father fell under great damps and darkness, as to her well-being after her death, and betook himself to prayers, whether by necessity to quicken himself, I know not; but he was wrestling in the room where the corpse was lying, and after prayer, and much at liberty in it, the corpse sat up in the bed, and said audibly to him, 'Christ is all and all to me,' and then leaned down in the bed, and was cold and stiff as before. The good man was much astonished with this." More anciently, St Blaan, a native of the Isle of Bute, while passing through a town in the north of England, on his return from Rome, "took a deceased youth by the hand, and making the sign of the cross, restored his soul to his body."--Along with life, he restored an eye, of which he had been deprived previous to his decease. St Servanus revived two dead children, whom their mother, "almost distracted, laid at his feet." Having lost his cook during harvest, he commanded St Kentigern, yet a boy, to recover him to life, or to prepare the mess for his reapers himself,--"suscitat inde coquum puer almus morte sepultum.--The cook rose from the dead. Wherefore should examples be multiplied,--St Patrick--revived his own nurse--"he raised forty dead persons to life."!!

It is not difficult to discover the origin of these superstitious sentiments, or the belief that they could be actually effected, in the imitation of sanctified acts. Aaron and the Egyptian sorcerers were rivals for the creative power;--he struck the dust, and it was converted to loathsome insects. Though nothing can be more explicit than the narrative, the learned deny the conversion: but maintain a new creation at the moment.--"Itaque non fuit haec productio naturalis sed divina creatio, ut cum homo factus est ex terrae pulvere." But the soundest physical principles will not sanction any such theory as new creation. It does not appear that there are any new elements, but only that the concurrence of the necessary circumstances admits the evolution of those elements, which have been derived from the original creation of things. It is from combination, not from creation that the animated world is carried on by constant renovation, and will subsist until the foundations of the universe are shaken.

 


Subsequent enthusiasts, and their credulous admirers, believed in supernatural powers, and in the faculty of effecting resurgence. They had seen them ascribed to the relics of the sanctified, whence they must have had less hesitation in claiming and admitting them for themselves, in their belief of miraculous endowments, or for those whom they almost deified. "And it came to pass as they were burying a man, that behold they spied a band of men, and they cast the man into the sepulchre of Elisha; and when the man was let down, and touched the bones of Elisha, he revived and stood upon his feet." ["2 Kings, ch. xiii. v. 20."] History records, that the faculty of bringing the dead to life, was exercised by St Matthew, and by different other sanctified persons: whose prerogative was opposed to the power of magicians.

It was from such examples before them, that the EARLY APOSTOLIC MISSIONARIES, ADDRESSING THEIR DISCOURSE MORE TO THE IMAGINATION than to the judgment of the rude and ignorant people, SOUGHT TO OPERATE CONVERSION TO NOVEL DOCTRINES, AND INSPIRE THEM WITH VENERATION.' [274-279].

 



from: Faiths of Man Encyclopedia of Religions, J.G.R. Forlong [1824 - 1904], Introduction by Margery Silver, University Books, In Three Volumes, Volume 3, N-Z, 1964 (1906).

'Witch. This name, usually applied to a woman, while a male witch is called a wizard, comes from the Aryan root Vidh "to know" (whence Veda) and is found in the Icelandic Vitki a "cunning one," the Mid-English wieche a "clever person," and witega a "soothsayer." All early races have feared witches as being in league with devils, to their hurt; and Christians have committed as great cruelties in witch hunting as Zulus now perpetrate [?]. Wesley [John Wesley 1703 - 1791], as an Oxford clergyman, preached that "whoever denied the reality of witches was not a believer in the Bible," which was justifiable (see Ob [Ob.: entry: "A...spell, or a spirit...."]).

Dr Johnson [1709 - 1784] said: "No one should deny witches or devils for they could not disprove them," which is applicable to many other things [compare: "God"; "Jesus"; "etc."] once firmly believed, such as the existence of the "man in the moon." Belief in witches is still not quite extinct in any part of Europe. Mr Leland says that there is not a town in Italy where witchcraft is not extensively practised, though with wonderful secrecy: "no book is so extensively disseminated among the millions as the fortune teller" (see Gipsy Fortune-telling, 1891). A witch was crucified in Hungary in 1893.

The regular persecution of witches began in our 13th century, and increased in the 14th. Pope John XXII (1317-1327 A.C.) issued two bulls for the suppression of all witches, and wholesale charges were made against poor old women, who were whipped and burned with every kind of barbarous cruelty. Nor were the Reformed Churches behind the Romanist priests; and the Jesuits seem indeed to have been amongst the first to denounce these cruelties in 1630. Similar vile proceedings continued in Scotland down to the beginning of the 17th century (Proc. Scot. Socy. of Antiquaries, 1887, 1888) as witnessed by the records of our courts. There were said to be immoral orgies, midnight dances, drinking, and revelry, at the old sacred stones; and the assertions of deluded females recall those of the Asiatic witches of a thousand years earlier. Chrysostom [345? - 407] in our 4th century describes the terror of witchcraft at Antioch, and the cruelties inflicted on the suspected. Even such good men as the Lord Chief-Justice Matthew Hales (1650-1670) opened his inquiries, which resulted in horrible tortures, with prayer, proceeding "under the Divine Laws" of the Pentateuch, and an atrocious Act of 1620 due to the superstitious King James I of England [see (King James I): #24, 528-530; Appendix II, 698]. With the Restoration a more skeptikal spirit prevailed, and Lord Jeffreys laughed at witches though he butchered political offenders at the "Bloody Assize" of 1685. Yet it was not till 1736 that our [English] laws against witches were repealed.

 



Witch burning is still not unknown in Ireland. Poor Mrs M'Cleary was burnt by peasants in Tipperary in 1895 (as being possessed); and women at Clonmel in 1884 fried a naked child on a shovel. To the present day Danish and Scottish rustics scourge, drown, and burn, little naked infants supposed to be enchanted, though the last witch was drowned in England in 1838 (see Country Folk-lore, 1895, p. 50: Notes and Queries, 22nd June 1895, p. 9). Male devils escaped, while female victims suffered. During the 17th century some 70,000 to 80,000 poor demented persons perished under the laws of those who had been taught THE "GOSPEL OF LOVE." THE CONFESSIONS WERE WRUNG FROM THE VICTIMS BY TORTURE. The last judicial murder of this kind appears to have taken place in 1722. Scott (Discoverie of Witch Craft, 1584) says: "Our Reformers put rigorously in practice what the Papists did only in a halting manner...the severities depended very much on the temperament of those in power." England burned 30,000 persons in 200 years, and hanged a poor witch with her child 9 years old in 1716. Addison, and Blackstone, alike declared that certain persons held communion with evil spirits. The Swedes also continued to punish witches till about 1700 A.C., no less than 57 men and 23 women being burned alive on one occasion when there was an epidemic due to dirt and laziness in the village of Mohra. A case is reported in Scotland as late as 1887 (see Mr Bierly, Notes and Queries, 1st July 1893): the witch was placed in a coffin, and sunk head downwards in a deep hole. The grave was watched for three nights.

The Inquisition was equally busy abroad after the violent Bull of Pope Innocent VIII [Pope 1484 - 1492 (1432 - 1492)], and in the 15th century burned witches in batches of 50 or 100 at one time. Early in the 16th century 1000 were so burned by the authorities of Como, and 500 at Genoa in three months. Judge Remy put 800 witches to death in sixteen years. Luther says that 7000 were burned at Trves; 600 by one bishop of Bamburg; 800 in the bishopric of Wartzburg; 400 at Toulouse in a single execution. Sprenger makes the awful total amount to upwards of 9 million persons. Bacon, Erasmus, Hooker, Sir Thos. Browne, and Baxter, alike abetted such practices. "THESE THINGS," says Mrs E.C. Stanton, "WERE DONE, NOT BY SAVAGES, OR PAGANS; THEY WERE DONE BY THE CHRISTIAN CHURCH. Neither were they confined to the dark ages, but permitted by law in England far into the 18th century. THE CLERGY EVERYWHERE SUSTAINED WITCHCRAFT AS BIBLE DOCTRINE UNTIL THE SPIRIT OF RATIONALISM LAUGHED THE WHOLE THING TO SCORN, and science gave mankind a more cheerful view of life."'

[500-502] [End of entry].

 



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