Tuesday, 28 May 2013

THE RELIGION OF JESUS AND SOCIALISM. (Continued from our last.)

 And as they were debauched and enervated so they blindly rested themselves upon "such divinity as doth hedge a king," the sacredness of their persons and the prestige of their birth and titles. J. J. Rousseau might write his Contrat Social book to be laughed at by these nobles as mere sentiment, but of which, as Carlyle remarked, the second edition was bound in the skins of this laughing nobility. The Revolution, of which Robespierre, Danton and Barere were merely the executive, was a stern and brutal teacher, but its lessons will never be forgotten.
 The tares sown by Louis XIV were harvested is 1789, and the nobility, as they were unfit and ceased to govern, so were they unfit to be governed, and passed away amidst anarchy and other horrors hitherto unknown to civilization, and with new views to startled Europe on the divine rights of kings and the sacred heredities of the nobility. "Equality, fraternity, liberty !" was the cry of a people maddened by the abuses of three quarters of a century, and of these three the greatest was equality, not the right of each to an equal start to pursue his mission in life, but such an equality as neither then came or can ever come. The Communism, of which Baboeuf was the most notable apostle, was founded on the idea : "The aim of society is happiness, and happiness consists in equality." All men born free were to continue equal in rights, since all social distinctions were purely conventional. That an equal division of property would not last a year, or even an hour, it required little knowledge of human nature to foresee, and this difficulty was to be met by a community of goods. The State was to be the sole proprietor, the sole director of labour, and the distributor to all according to their needs. The man who had more than a sufficiency was guilty of theft against the community. But France, though it was prepared for much, and Democracy had scored an undoubted triumph, was not ready for Baboeuf's communism. But communism, though it failed then, partly from its form, and partly from its surroundings, which were after all entirely unsuited to it, and no great change can come until men's minds are prepared for it, was no new and untried social scheme.
 During the two centuries which preceded the destruction of Jerusalem the Essenes, a small but remarkable brotherhood lived in Judea, whose constitution, though not really on the track of the democracy of to-day, is sufficiently important to deserve some notice in connection with communism. Having much in common with the Monastic orders of the Church of Rome, it differed from these in that while both disapproved of marriage among their brotherhoods, the Monastic orders absolutely prohibited it, while the Essenes, under certain circumstances, permitted it. Judaism was the general basis of their religion, but some of the old sun-worship was engrafted upon it, and though much of the Judaistic ceremonialism was thrown aside, this only made place for another ceremonialism quite as intense, and just as inexplicable. To a severe and rigid asceticism it added a rare benevolence, and while it despised pleasure, it equally despised riches. Upon admission to the order each member put all his goods into the common stock, and the object of the brotherhood was the support of the community, and the deserving poor and the destitute outside of it. Happiness, as we saw, was the aim of the French communists, so no doubt it was the result of the self-denial of these Essenes, but the conception of happiness itself must have been singularly different.
 At the time when Baboeuf was formulating and trying to give effect to his communistic ideas in Paris, England had unwittingly commenced the destruction of probably the longest-lived, and certainly the most perfect socialism which ever existed. Essenism, Monasticism, and Owenism were but partial experiments in centres of opposed social life ; in France, Baboeufism was but an impracticable dream ; in Australia communism was a living reality, which answered the requirements of a whole race occupying a sea-girt world of its own. The entire continent was divided into communes, the number of inhabitants occupying each of which depended on the quantity of food which it produced, and this balance was fairly adjusted everywhere, for though in certain areas in some seasons of the year, or in years of plenty, the blacks might have abundant food, such periods would be followed by others of corresponding scarcity. The boundaries of these communes were carefully defined, and the land itself and all that it produced was the property of the collective community. Personal property was confined to weapons, ornaments, and such scanty coverings as the climate in the more elevated and southern districts, or the season enforced. Marriage, hedged in with laws and obligations compared with which those affecting European marriages are common place, was itself communal. Descent was through the mother, and so hereditary chiefs had no existence, nor, to such ultimate point was communism carried, were there any chiefs at all. The State was composed of the male adults who had been admitted to the mysteries of the "Bora," and though the grave and white-bearded seniors had preponderating weight in their councils, that was merely in virtue of the deference paid to their experience and age. Political economists of the English school neither lay down rules, nor even make suggestions, for the distribution of any of their defined forms of wealth, but the Austral economy was based on laws by which certain quantities of food should reach every member of the community. The captor, as such, was only entitled to certain portions of his game, while the residue was divided in determined proportions among all those more immediately connected with him. Though the laws regulating the distribution varied in different communes, just as the kind of food predominating in them varied, the principle of the division was everywhere the same. While there were no poor for whom special provision could, or had to be made, certain kinds of food, such as birds' eggs, were reserved for the aged, and even apart from such special rules, every care was taken of the helpless. On the Clarence, in 1865, I saw a black who, old and blind at the time of the exploration of that river in 1839, was still a fairly well nurtured, though a very helpless and an exceedingly old man. But an examination of Austral Communism, what it did and what it failed to do; its points of resemblance to and difference from corresponding schemes elsewhere; and how it became a necessity in a fully-peopled world, would form ample matter for a lengthy paper.
 Though I spoke of Nihilism as a form of Socialism, I did so merely because anti-socialists are fond of so considering it, and of parading it as a bug-bear. But it is not entitled to such a classification since it is not constructive, and its objects are no more ambitious than the destruction of existing governments, and the creation of anarchy in their stead. Out of the resultant chaos some new form of government would no doubt arise, which, since none could be so bad as that which had been displaced, must give some amelioration to the worse than slavery of the masses. In England or America, Nihilism would be an impossibility; in Russia, where the governing classes are utterly bad, and the people utterly miserable, it is none other than the inevitable. Kept in check as yet, though with difficulty, by the military, the copious use of the scaffold, and, worse than death, the horrors of imprisonment in Siberia, it nevertheless seethes throughout the empire, finding its adherents as well in the palace and the universities as among the wretched peasantry whose liberation from serfdom has been an empty farce. The Nihilistic programme is explicit enough, and we may accept Bakunin's exposition of it as sufficiently comprehensive. "Every genuine revolutionist, he says, 'has but one science—simple destruction—and to this end he studies mechanics, physics, chemistry, and perhaps also medicine. With the same object he studies the science of living—men, characters, relationships as well as all conditions of existing social order in all possible directions. The object is ever the same, the quickest and surest destruction of this disgusting arrangement of the world. He despises public opinion, and hates the present social ethics in all their motives and  manifestations. For him everything is moral which favours the triumph of revolution, everything immoral and criminal which hinders it. War to the knife is declared between him and society, open or secret, as the case may be, but never-ending, implacable war.
 * * * The future organization will doubtless be developed from the movement and life of the people, but that is the business of future generations. Our work is frightful, complete, implacable, and universal destruction." This is the ideal "New Moral World" which Bakunin sketches in his Catechism of Revolution, a work which, so says Hyndman in a note, is "very pretty reading for comfortable fathers of snug, respectable, middle class households."
 Between Nihilism in Russia, and petroleuses in Paris, or dynamitards in London; or landlord-shooters in Ireland there is little comparison. The former is the expression of the governed class of a territorially great empire, the latter rather that of individual propagandists who, existing in small numbers everywhere, and in all ages, had their representative in the man who, stepping out of the multitude, said to Jesus :—" Master, bid my brother divide the inheritance with me. But he said unto him, Man, who made me a judge or a divider over you? And he said unto them, Take heed, and keep yourself from all covetousness; for a man's life consisteth not in the abundance of the things which he possesseth."
 As we had to come to Australia to find the most perfect communism, so in it we also find the most advanced form of modern socialism. That the main direction of modern legislation is for the amelioration of the conditions of the democracy is as patent as it is natural. When the state was composed of a king and barons,or a king and landed proprietors and property owners, it followed that the laws were primarily for the protection of the interests of the classes who made them, but as the franchise was extended, so later laws conserved the interests of wider classes. Out of necessity England has done much to widen the area of the state, but Victoria, where the people are the state, has done much more, and is at this moment in the van of social legislation. We have manhood suffrage, with vote by ballot, and we have abolished the English law of primogeniture. We have a land tax which only commencing with estates of 640 acres, has some pretensions to being progressive ; progressive legacy duties ; free and compulsory education; and Factory and Shops' Acts limiting the ages of the employees, the number to be employed in each factory, and the hours during which their places of employment are to be open. We have heavy protective import duties fostering any and every industry which can be he carried on in the colony. Without any statute every government for the past ten or fifteen years has felt itself compelled to find employment for any even inconsiderable number of people who report that they have been unable to find work. And thus in the hands of the democracy—for the shepherd-kings are now only units under the franchise, and their conservative and class privileges have already well nigh disappeared—while the state has done so much, the Trade Unions are doing much of what the state has left undone. Owners of factories are only allowed—and this in practice is just as imperative as if the obligation were on the Statute-book—to employ a certain number of apprentices to a relative number of journeymen, while the hours of labour and the rates of wages are fixed. We have new battles ahead, of course, but we are the state, all power is in our hands ; we are as hopeful of the future as we are certain of the present, and who will say that Victoria, despite its limited area of country, has not flourished under its democratic government?
  So far I have spoken of a Socialism chiefly in connexion with its schemes, but as all these are necessarily imperfect, it will still better bear looking at apart from them, and simply as a principle. "While we repudiate," says J. S. Mill, in his Autobiography, "with the greatest energy that tyranny of society over the individual which most socialistic systems are supposed to involve, we yet looked forward to a time when society will no longer be divided into the idle and the industrious, when the rule that they who do not work shall not eat will be applied, not to paupers only, but impartially to all; when the division of the produce of labour, instead of depending, as in so great a degree it now does, on the accident of birth, will be made by consent on an acknowledged principle of justice, and when it will no longer be, or be thought to be impossible for human beings to exert themselves strenuously in procuring benefits which are not to be exclusively their own, but to be shared with the society they belong to." Now Mill was no revolutionist or anarchist; on the contrary, he belonged rather to the orthodox economical schools, and his views on this matter are those of a large number of representatives of modern thought. Far as he went, he might have gone still further by telling us that not only in the future will, but ever in the past has, all noble and great work been done without prospect of pay or reward.
  Since the religion of Jesus was the proclamation of "good tidings to the poor," and Socialism is an aspiration of democracy for the attainment of the natural and just amount of happiness for all, how comes it that between the Christian Church—meaning by that term not the large body of professing Christians, but the ecclesia—there should be no bond of sympathy, and that the democracy should denounce and hate the Church? Between the Gospel itself and the aspirations of the people, if these be right—and we have seen that, in the main, they are—there should be entire harmony, and, as there is much hatred instead, it follows either that the religion is not generally understood by the people, or that the teaching of the Church is not in accord with that of its founder, or that the practice of the ecclesia does not follow the lines of God's eternal justice which Jesus revealed. Unfortunately, we find that all these reasons exist to an extent which is as alarming as it should be unexpected.
 Nominally, the office of the Church is to teach the religion of its founder, but, before doing so, it first formulates a theology, which the late Dr. Tulloch defines as "a philosophical expression of the spiritual consciousness." Though, therefore, religions precede theologies, theologies take the place of, and absorb, the religions. The spiritual consciousness is one thing ; a scientific and philosophical expression of it is another and the latter must necessarily depend upon what the formulators knew of science and metaphysics. Nor did the difficulty end there. We have no knowledge of an era in the history of the human race in which there was no system of theology, and as each previous system satisfied its age and its followers, so the construction of a new one would also depend upon what had preceded it; it may be out of what it had sprung ; and what surrounded it. Judaism, after its gradual growth of two thousand years, was the natural basis of Christian theology; but Greek philosophy, with some Greek pantheism, and Alexandrian gnosticism, permeated "the world known to the ancients." The types which Judaism had taken from without, robbing them of much of their objectionableness, it is true, and giving them a nobility which made them its own, again re-appear ; and, sublime and beautiful as our Christian theology is, and while we stand before it in awe at what has been achieved, we do so equally at its failure to reach the grander and more sublime results which might have been expected from the teaching of Jesus.
 Having made its philosophical expression, the Church set to work to teach it, as a preliminary to teaching the religion—and it is at its preliminary work still. What it calls the "fundamental principles" and "eternal verities," it does indeed teach—that is its self-constituted office; but then these are often no part of the religion of Jesus, and the Church further forgets that a man might keep the whole law, and still be "an unprofitable servant." Of the Christ in the triple Messianic offices of Prophet, Priest, and King, you may learn much from the Church; but, of Him who went about doing good, and who brake bread for the multitude, very little.
 In its earlier days, the Church was a temporal, as well as a moral and spiritual, power in the world, and did good work in fighting the battle of the democracy against its then tyrants ; but, as it split up into sects, its power passed away—and, perhaps, this was well, for much of the will to do good had gone before the power to do it on existing ecclesiastical lines was lost. The early Church, which was of the people and within the people, has long since disappeared in an immense ecclesiastical organisation, with an exclusiveness and conservatism which have never been equalled. Gathering around it endowments from lands and tithes, it became independent of the voluntary offerings of the people, and, nestling under the state, the king, or power, of the day was much more important than the people. Take the Church of England, in Victoria, for an example. What is its connexion with the poor; for whom are its pews intended; to whom are its lessons addressed? Is the mendicant ushered into its churches as if his life were of as much importance as that of a millionaire? Is there, indeed, encouragement for the attendance of the poor at all? State-aid has been withdrawn, but the church put aside part of its endowment, and, lending it out on usury and gathering rents from commercial buildings on its lands, is again an endowed body. To the rich, to whom no Gospel was sent, they do indeed preach; but "ye cannot serve two masters," and such sections of the Christian Church as work on the dead lines of Anglicanism have really no connexion with the religion of Jesus—nay, rather they are the veritable Anti-Christ. Yet the influence of Anglicanism was once great; some effects of its teaching we can still see—and it is by its fruit, after all, that we can know it. Your rich man of to-day, attending his church each Sunday morning and dropping his accustomed coin into its treasury, cannot well have been so occupied for a number of years without learning something. The purple and fine linen have been worn as of yore; the sumptuous fare will be eaten after service without the distressing presence of any pauper crumb-picker; and the rich man, kneeling in his pew, listens to the clergyman saying:—" That it may please Thee to defend, and provide for, the fatherless children, and widows, and all that are desolate and oppressed ;" to which he responds: —"We beseech Thee to hear us, good Lord !" You will notice with what extreme delicacy and consideration the Church has thrown off the obligation to the poor—except in the matter of prayer—from the shoulders of its adherents. And the rich man is quite as good as his church, and pities the poor after his own fashion; but then the old obligation of "Sell that ye have, and give alms" is forgotten, and, even if it were not, poverty now-a-days is looked upon as a crime, and indiscriminating charity as a vice. But charity is symbolised in stained-glass windows; the Church quotes from St. Paul in reference to it; and it is somehow associated in the rich man's mind with religion; and he who had never helped his brother, discharges all his obligations to religion—to God, and his brother man—by completing an unfinished church, or by putting a new stained-glass window in it, or by giving a sum of money to a theological college, or to the building fund of Bishop Moorhouse's cathedral.
 Yes, Church of England you may ask your attendants to so pray for charity from above—and that is well—but unless you practise it here below, and enforce its practice by every member of your congregations, ye are but a blind guide and know not the Master's religion. But the Christian Church should not thus stand divorced from the religion of its founder, nor has it always done so, since here and there, we find in connexion with it work which does approach the Christian ideal. Under the Church of Rome, which has most considered the poor, there are various monastic orders of which the Little Sisters of the Poor, at Northcote, may be taken as an example, whose members renouncing all personal gain and power, do their utmost with much self denial and self sacrifice to see that none should perish.
    The Church, in so far as is work is not the teaching and practice of the religion of Jesus, stands in the way. What is to be done with it? Will it reform itself and get, even at the eleventh hour, to its real work, or must it standing opposed to the spirit of its founder and to the spirit of our age be swept away as a hindrance to an advance there is no stopping.
  Wide spread as Socialistic ideas are, their reduction to universal practice will necessarily be a slow matter. Much of what may momentarily be gained by violent revolutions will always be lost by subsequent counter movements, because a large proportion of the people will find themselves unprepared for the practical working of the new order of things and their bondage, in consequence, under it will be greater than it was under that from which it had emerged. But shaped and varied by the whole history of civilization, by the form of government in different countries, and by the amount of population (as it may be scanty or congested) in certain areas, its progress, however much it may falter here or there, will in the main be towards a higher development. Education of the schools, fast getting universal, will lead to that higher and fuller education with which the continued existence and progress of man is bound up. Not with petroleum, nor dynamite, nor cries of "Death to all tyrants," nor programmes for "the destruction of all States, and all Churches, and all their institutions and laws "—for Nihilism is only possible under an utterly base state and among an equally debased people—is the real progress and destiny of man to be fulfilled. But as Socialism grows out of the conditions of the people and with their growth, and is the result of just demands on the part of the democracy and of just concessions on the part of the State, so will a new era unfold itself coming like the Kingdom of old "without observation," and without heralding of "Lo ! here," or "Lo! there." Of the justice and reasonableness of the demands there will always be absolute and final test in that consciousness which came to us eighteen-and-a-half centuries ago, and Jesus Hominam Salvator "drawing all men towards him" in an universal brotherhood, will also remain Jesus Hominum Corrector. The battle of the democracy is to be fought in detail and for ever; its victories will be but stepping stonecclesiaes in an endless march; and the goal is none other than that idea of the rights of manhood which came to us with our religion. You cannot stay the progress of democracy if you would, nor save in blind selfishness would you attempt to do so if you could. If you oppose and try to stamp out any and every attempt which it may, and, indeed must make for the legitimate and just assertion of the rights of an impoverished and, it may be, a starving majority of the human race, then indeed you may expect that what you sow in the storm you will reap in the whirlwind, and again you may have an abased and horror stricken Europe in the throes of another revolution which, no longer confined to France, may shatter all the States from the Atlantic to the Urals. But while you cannot give final arrest to the current, you may guide it and direct it. Like a river which has long since left its source at the mountain's foot, it has seethed and surged its way over many obstacles, but has still a long journey ahead in its course to the sea. If you stem it unwisely, it will break your artificial bounds and carry death with it in its wild and mad career of unbridled freedom, but if you train it and direct it, it will, clear as crystal, water in its course on either side the "Tree of Life"—the religion of Jesus—which yieldeth its fruit every month, and whose leases are for the healing of the nations.

Fitzroy City Press 18 September 1886,

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