Thursday, 16 May 2013


MR. Charles Bright, who has recently been lecturing here on free-thought subjects on Sunday evenings, delivered a farewell lecture at the Temperance Hall, last evening, before a large audience. The Hon. T Bowie Wilson occupied the chair. The subject of the lecture was "The four P's—the Pulpit, Parliament, Press and Platform." About an hour was occupied in dealing with the first part of the subject that of the Pulpit, which was treated from a free thought stand-point. While on all other subjects, said the lecturer, mankind demanded satisfactory demonstration, that of theology was presented for acceptance on no firmer basis than faith. But it was a notable sign of the times in which we live that side by side with the worship of wealth, there is an awakening of human thought, so that every subject no matter how apparently sacred, must now be subjected to revision. Nothing, in fact at the present day was regarded by a large section of thinkers as settled, unless it could bring itself palpably and plainly before the public mind and stand the severest criticism and the most open discussion. How, he asked, were we to account for the fact that the profession of theology made such extraordinary claims? He did not agree with the materialist view, that the priests based their assumption upon imposition. He believed rather that they were based upon a peculiar characteristic of humanity which was not yet properly figured out that, in fact, the human mind or spirit had a capacity far beyond that which anything in the shape of science had yet indicated. Speaking of priests, he said he believed that there were many— he knew of some from his own knowledge—who did not believe in the doctrines they taught. They were trained to reach a certain goal, the doctrines to the system to which they belonged—and, though they might see that the truth went beyond that goal, they dared not to follow it, unless they were prepared to give up their means of livelihood and cast them selves upon the world. But now a large section of the best portion of the world—the scientific and thinking portion were beginning to investigate everything held sacred, so that those who had been trained to the clerical profession were finding their position more and more difficult every day. So long as the Bible was kept from lay criticism, no one doubted that all the assumptions of the priesthood had a solid basis, and for any one to venture to assail it was to assail Providence itself.     

Now, however, the extraordinary claims made for it were submitted to keen criticism. Clerical authority, he considered, was based upon Bible infallibility, and Bible infallibility was based upon the belief in eternal torment for those who would not follow the priestly dictates. Religious men he considered, were those who earnestly and conscientiously acted according to their highest and best impulses. In this view he divided the religious world into five classes, namely—the Materialists, the Agnostics, the Theists or Deists, the Spiritualists (who had palpable proof of a Divine Providence and of an after-life), and lastly, and by far the largest section, those whom he would call Mythologists. These seemed to him to embrace the whole of the religious thinking world. The first and the last he looked upon as dogmatists—the Materialists, because they asserted that there was no God, and the Mythologists, because all their ideas depended on dogma, and who, when they were called upon for proof, always declined the call. He used the term mythology in preference to theology, because we had only to compare the different systems of religious belief together to see them destroy one another. The Agnostics, Theists, and Spiritualists were freethinkers, who believed all that they had proof of, and left a large margin for advancement. He defended science from attacks which had been made against it on the ground that it intruded upon the domain of faith and morals where it had no right. Science simply ignored the pulpit. It went on proving fact after fact by demonstration, and it any of those demonstrated facts conflicted with the doctrines of the priesthood, it could not help it. Mr. Bright then came to the second part of the subject of his lecture—"the Parliament." Religion, in its true sense, he observed, embraced more than the priesthood. It embraced also systems of Government, and one with which it would have to deal was that of representative institutions.  Our present system of Parliamentary representation was supposed to be a sort of mirror or photograph of the people, but he did not think it fulfilled that idea, and he regretted that improvements—such, for example, as the proposed system of Mr Hare—were not tried for the purpose of bettering it. He looked upon representative government as a transition state between despotism and some better form of government to which we had not yet attained. The lecturer's remarks in regard to the Press consisted chiefly of a complaint against the Herald for not noticing his Sunday evening discourses in the Theatre Royal and so aiding in the dissemination of that free-thought which, like a mighty wave, is now passing over the world. What he said further upon the subject was mainly, that the Press had this defect in common with the Pulpit, that it set itself in opposition to any advancement, any progress in the growth of the world. To a free platform he looked as the corrective of this. The platform was now in a sort of Bohemian condition, such as the Press was in a century ago, but it would advance in power and influence, and would be of great service in reversing the pyramid of society which had been set up on its apex instead of on its base—on the supernatural instead of on the natural.
 The lecture was listened to with great interest throughout, and portions of it were warmly applauded. At its conclusion, Mr Bright replied to some questions which were put to him on the subject of free thought and spiritualism

The Sydney Morning Herald 3 January 1878,

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