Monday, 27 May 2013

ON THE REVIVAL OF ATHEISM

 There is a profound political as well as religious significance in the general and simultaneous revival of atheism through out those countries of the world that aspire to stand in the van of modern civilisation. The fact of such revival is too patent to require any additional proof, while the avowed aims associated therewith are at once definite and destructive to a degree. The atheism of Lord Cherbury's time, of Voltaire, and Frederick the Great, of Wilkes, Paine, and others of that ilk, was either speculative and dilletante, or materialistic and debased, according to the idiosyncracies and habits of those directly concerned. It took on in every case individual characteristics, hung on to individual lives, derived its intermittent force from personal and isolated action, and began and ended in great degree with the influence of those who dominated the small, erratic, and vagabond coteries that adhered to them. In these days there is a new departure of unbelief and another development altogether. It assumes to represent the highest culture and the most advanced thought of the time, claims with unspeakable audacity the right to reverse that whole system of social order which it has taken so long and cost so much to organise and settle, and aspires to a radical and destructive political dominancy which would turn the world upside down with a terrific vengeance. For religion, it announces with sublime effrontery that there is no God ; for social order, that virtue is an impertinent sham and property a robbery ; and for good government, that all authority is but a braggart usurpation, and that all rulers are tyrants who must be swept without discrimination or pity from the face of the earth. The specially new thing in Atheism is that for the accomplishment of the ends it proposes it enters into subtle and comprehensive combinations, and makes sacrifices of time, money, and life, which it was thought, until now, could be inspired only by the high principle and transcendent hopes of virtue, patriotism, and religion. The determination is further defiantly announced that the war which has been entered upon shall never cease until society as we know it is utterly destroyed.
 If there should be any who are of the opinion that this statement is stronger than the case warrants, we can only say that they must be only imperfectly acquainted both with the literature and current history of the time to be able to entertain such a doubt. This revived cult has its schools, its creeds, its organisation, and its propagandists. The older atheism was coarse, ribald, gross, self-seeking, materialistic, and beastly. The new is no doubt all that in reality, but it comes in another form, and its pretensions and professions are those of an angel of light. It promises to lift the race to a higher level, substitute a true religion for a false, and to secure to men in this life the highest attainable felicity, not by the repression of their lower and the exercise of their higher faculties, but by the unrestricted gratification of the impulses and passions of nature. The inception of these new ideas is to be looked for principally on the continent of Europe ; and of all continental countries, despite the Socialism of Germany and the Nihilism of Russia—France, according to what has come to be the established custom, takes the lead. When M. Gambetta announced that the Republic was the enemy of clericalism he meant more directly that, as administered by himself, M. Paul Bert, and the rest of his motley colleagues, it was the enemy of Catholicism and of the Christian religion in every form. M. Edgar Monteil, of Paris, who by fiction, fly-sheets, newspaper articles, and other means, has approved himself one of the chiefest apostles of this new order, has been at the pains to publish what he calls "A Catechism of the Freethinker," which has the merit at least of explicitness. He shows his artistic discrimination by the mode which he adopts. The religion to which he is avowedly antagonistic rests on the idea of God. The first thought the Christian church instils into the mind of a child is the sense of his relationship to that Great Being whom he is taught to call "Our Father." From this initial and abiding relationship spring all the duties, obligations, and privileges of life. M. Monteil is wise enough in his generation to make this question the first point of attack. The opening interrogation of his catechism is orthodox in form, but in reply to the question—What is God? the answer is given that God is an "expression," the exact value of this expression being the exact value of the word nature, while nature is declared to be the totality of all that we know to exist in the material world—the ALL in matter. "I am persuaded that nature always has been and always will be republican, and consequently is fitted to govern herself." the divine individuality is a lie, and we ought not to believe in the individual named God. Nature, which is not a god at all, is the only God, and being by necessity an aggregation of atoms, every atom is a sort of godship in itself. "Neither the heaven, nor the earth, nor man, nor woman has been created." Topsy's shrewd guess that she was not made at all but that she "growed," unconsciously touched the highest point of the new philosophy in this respect. As for the soul, it is nothing; it does not exist in nature. The only distinction between it and the body is a simple analytical process. There is no thought independent of matter; for everything belongs to the material order, and it does not return to God, for God is formed of that which exists, and the soul does not exist. The creed on this subject is thus summed up:—
"I believe in the infinite universe, in the eternal earth, in nature, all powerful; I believe that all that which is, always has been, and always will be, and that life is eternal in its numberless variations. I believe that all is God."
 This intelligible and cheerful philosophy, this new scientific religion, constitutes the basis upon which ought to be constructed all the institutions, social and political, which are to usher in the new order and restore the long-lost and eagerly-looked for Golden Age. Leaving that dim and misty period to produce its own evidence and testimony when the time shall come, the thing of concernment to us is the present and presumptive outcome of a such a system. It is to be noted that this is at once a parody and an inversion of religion as we have been taught to understand it. Man is a religious animal; the history of all time proves that religion of some sort he must have ; that which is here furnished to him is an anti-religion, a religion without God, without a future life, and which ignores the higher self, the reason and moral faculties, and recognises only the lower self, the appetites and passions, the absolute self-will. It begins in the hatred of God, and that hatred, by an easy and inevitable transition, operates destructively in society and amongst men. Gustave Flourens said some years ago with blasphemous candor — "Our enemy is God. Hatred of God is the beginning of wisdom." The daily history of the world, stereotyped for our information by the electric telegraph, furnishes proofs too abundant that this hatred is not an abstract notion merely, that it is not confined to a Supreme Being, and that it takes on forms from time to time which galvanise the whole civilised world with horror.
 How deeply-rooted and widely extended this grotesque and occult new religion, so-called, is in France in particular, may be gathered from the fact that M. Paul Bert, "a bitter and blasphemous atheist, in comparison with whom Mr. Bradlaugh is tolerant and reverent," was the man chosen by the Liberals of France as the one of all others specially qualified to direct the Departments of Public Instruction and Public Worship. Will the French, it is asked, stop at that? Are they the people to rest anywhere? In that bloody revolution, of which Carlyle is the latest historian of note, they pushed their mad and erratic theories so far that for a god they placed a naked prostitute on the altar of Liberty, so called, and hailed her as the symbol of their sublimest conceptions. If it be a simple fact in mental science that conduct follows faith, the political disturbances of continental countries and the social cataclysms of Russia are by no means to be wondered at; and the anticipation is not at all without warrant that worse is to come. Bradlaugh and Miss Lecompte in England; Bob Ingersol and his confreres in America; M. Monteil, Mdlle. Louise Michel, and their hosts of compatriots in France ; Most, and his coadjutors of the Freiheit, with a whole region of helpers such as Kitz Hofman and others in Germany, and Hartman with his army of inveterate underground workers in Russia, will be heard of again and in terrible fashion, before their reckless and fanatic career comes to an end. It is, characteristic of all the political movements in which the element of diabolism is paramount, that they begin in atheism, work with indiscrimination and remorseless destructiveness, and end in anarchy. The new regenerators prove their love of the race by killing individuals, and their desire for perfect order by turning the world into a pandemonium. We on this side of the world may well be thankful that we are obscure enough to be allowed to live in peace ; that we are permitted to reserve our petroleum for legitimate uses and hold our dynamite for our foes ; that freethought with us has not developed into infernal practice ; and that we have an open opportunity of proving that goodwill at all times and neighborliness all round is the highest practical philosophy and the most productive in the long run of the greatest good to the greatest number.


The South Australian Advertiser 3 June 1882,

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