Tuesday, 15 October 2013


Sir—In your issue of the 22nd inst. there appeared a letter signed "B. T. Finnis," purporting to be a criticism upon my own, and apparently a quasi-defence of what are termed Freethought principles. In justice to myself I should like to have the privilege of reply. Your correspondent says that "Moses, the founder of Christianity, and the reformer Luther were all to be found upon the roll of Freethought." Why did he not say that two and two make four? Liberty to think for himself is the birthright of every man, and the right of private judgment is a principle that divine revelation inculcates. It is true that the persons referred to, in the true sense of the word, were Freethinkers, but then they were not Secularists. Moses, Luther, and the Founder of the Christian religion did not teach that right and wrong were only quibbles of the imagination; that passion and lust were no more blameworthy than hunger or thirst. They did not teach that man was not a responsible being ; that there was no future state of punishments and rewards, no soul, or no God. They taught the very antithesis of these assumptions. The true definition of Freethought, as expounded by Secularists, is—"License to think contradictorily, and to do wrongly." This I will prove to a demonstration, and to the satisfaction of every unbiassed reader of the Advertiser.
Proposition 1. Freethought (as thought by secularists) is—License to think contradictorily. Secularists have no defined system of thought; they have no creed. To define such a system, or to formulate a creed would be to violate their fundamental principle. The members of the fraternity can believe just what they choose, so long as they reject the Bible as a divine revelation; one secularist can pull down what another has built up. For instance, Sarah Giddings, the Freethought lecturess can teach—I believe in God, and in a divine standard of right and wrong. Her confrere. Thomas Brown, can assert—I am both godless and creedless; the idea of God is a mind creation; a divine standard of right and wrong is a myth. Another so-called Freethought exponent can affirm—I believe in a soul. His fellow associate can teach—I believe not in a soul Mind is only a modification of matter. That is my sole belief. Another comes along and asserts—I believe in a future state. His confrere teaches—I believe not in a future state. The only future state that I believe in is annihilation. Lastly one says—I believe in neither God, devil, heaven, hell, angel, spirit, right, wrong, good, nor evil. I am a Freethinker ! I am a Freethinker ! ! My creed is, " Eat, drink, and be merry, for to-morrow we die." Alas for our poor world and hapless humanity, if such belief were to become general. I think the first proposition has been established. Now let as turn to the second.
Proposition 2. Freethought (as expounded by Secularists) is—license to do wrongly. We may regard the following as an axiom— Whatever is contrary to right most be wrong. Then I ask—is it right to call a place set apart for the worship of God a "Gospel Shop?" Is it right to stigmatise a religious body, who are doing more good in a month, than Secularists will do till doomsday, a "Damnation Army!" Is it right to speak of churches, built by the liberality and devotion of our colonists, as "talking shops for clergymen?" Is it right to speak of the Bible—loved and referenced by millions—as the "house that Jack built ?" Is it right to treat with blasphemous ridicule the most sacred convictions of Christians ? Is it right to indulge in such coarseness that an Adelaide daily paper describes it as "an outrage upon decency and an offence to religion. The blasphemy is foul and offensive?" Is it right to caricature the character of Christ, and to blaspheme the Maker and Ruler of the universe? As the Earl of Chatham said in his reply to Lord Suffolk—"Such notions (we will add expressions) shock every precept of morality, every feeling of humanity, every sentiment of honor. Such abominable principles, and this more abominable avowal of them, demand the most decisive indignation." I think that the truth of my second proposition has been sufficiently proved. In concluding this part of my letter, let me say that any truly philosophical sceptic would turn away with utter disgust, and feelings of loathing, from such vulgarities and blasphemies as have been indulged in by a trio of so-called Freethought lecturers. Now let me turn more especially to "B. T. F.'s" letter.—In my original letter I laid down this proposition. The faculty for deciding between right and wrong is innate. The human mind is so constituted that upon the presentation of proper evidence it naturally developes a consciousness of right and wrong. Now there are so-called Freethinkers who deny that there is such a thing as right and wrong, which the mind naturally predicates. Hence, from my proposition I deduced the following :—That those who do so violate their consciences, pervert their reasoning faculties ; therefore Freethought become forced-thought. In opposition deciding between right and wrong is innate, and enters into a long harangue derived from some evolutionary philosophers, to sustain his assumption. This was altogether beside the question. If the faculty for deciding between right and wrong be not innate, how can we have a consciousness of right and wrong, which, undoubtedly we have? You cannot develope something out of nothing. You cannot evolve life from the dead. The moral faculty for deciding between right and wrong must be innate, or consciousness of these two contrarieties would have been an absolute impossibility. The moral sense in human nature is innate, just like the germ of life in the seed is. It is there, but it requires developing, and just as the genial rays of the sun and the refreshing showers develop the dormant germ of life in the seed, so the human ruled, by tuition and moral instinct, develops the innate consciousness of right and wrong; and whoever denies the existence of these two contrary senses must violate his conscience, and pervert his reasoning faculties. This some Freethinkers do, therefore Freethought becomes forced-thought.
The next proposition that I laid down in my original letter was—The idea of God is innate, and the human mind, upon the presentation of evidence, naturally develops a consciousness of the Divine existence. But some Freethinkers, so called, try to stifle all God-consciousness, and in opposition to the dictates of reason, the testimony of nature, and true scientific teaching, they assert—There is no God, therefore Freethought becomes forced thought. To this "B. T. F" replies—"The doctrine of innate ideas has perished; there fore, the early tribes of the human race could have no knowledge of God." To this I reply— That as far back as human history extends men have had a consciousness of the existence of the supernatural. As Bunsen says—" The religious consciousness, regarded as a sense of the presence of the Divine in the universe and among mankind, is found in all stages of human history." Let it be understood that the supernatural is only a disguised name for God. Now men universally have a consciousness of the existence of something supernatural. Throughout Europe, Asia, Africa, and America, and the islands of the sea, as far back as human history goes you find it, and if this consciousness be not the outcome of a mysterious truth inwrought by a Divine weaver in the constitution of man's moral nature, how do we account for its existence ? Where did it come from? When was it implanted in the human mind? By whom was it implanted? How is it that, although separated by oceans and continents, men everywhere and in all ages have had a consciousness of the existence of the supernatural? Let it be understood that when I speak of the idea of God as being innate, I do not mean that the human mind, independently of testimony, rises at once to a perception of God, but that the soul of man, from a realization of its wants, and the testimony of nature, naturally develops a consciousness of the existence of the supernatural. The idea is innate just as genius is. It is there, but it requires developing. The views here propounded are supported by Professor Max Muller, Drs. Reynolds and Pope, Joseph Cook, George Sargeant, and many other theological and philosophical writers. A man cannot deny the existence of the supernatural without doing violence to reason and to the spiritual instincts of his nature. Some so called Freethinkers do deny this existence; therefore, Freethought becomes forced-thought Mr.Finnis—after the fashion of his school—indulges in a sneer against the Christian religion. He hopes that I find happiness and enjoyment in the brighter light of Christianity. I beg to inform him that his hopes are realised, and that the fundamental truths taught by Christ have been demonstrated in my experience. The dreary negation of the school to which be belongs cannot be verified by experience. Therefore, in this respect I have the advantage. I should be sorry to forsake the Bread of Life for the cold, hard, dry, dead, disappointing stone of Secularism. I will close by giving Professor Max Muller's opinions of Christianity ;—" I make no secret," he says, "that true Christianity (I mean the religion of Christ) seems to me to become more and more exalted the more we know and the more we appreciate the treasures of truth hidden in the despised religions of the world."
I am, &c.,
  August 25, 1884.



Sir—As there seems to be a great deal of ignorance abroad on the subject of Freethought principles and Freethought morality, I shall feel obliged if you will insert this letter, which is a reply to one which appealed in your issue of August 27, signed "A Freethinker." That the nom de plum is altogether out of place if self-evident throughout the whole letter, that to, according to the proper definition of the term, which means a person who claims to think apart from, or untrammelled by religious beliefs. In that sense of the word Jesus of Nazareth was a Freethinker. He on several occasions denied theism of the Old Testament. "It hath been said in the olden times an eye for an eye." . . . "But I say unto you,"so forth. To such an extent was Jesus a Freethinker that he was accused of blasphemy by the priests of his time. "A Freethinker" says in his letter that "liberty to think for himself is the birthright of every man. " "A Freethinker" evidently clings to the antiquated dogma of freewill. He speaks as though a person were free to think what he should believe and what he should reject. Sir W. Hamilton writing on this subject says :— "How the will can possibly be free must under the present limitations of human faculties be wholly incomprehensible." Free thought is a term used relatively. In the ultimate sense of the word there is really no such thing as Freethought. Beliefs are determined by hereditary predispositions to particular lines of thought, by inculcated prejudices, by habits, passions, customs, the intellectual and religious training which a person has received. What Mr. Herbert Spencer would call all the super organ in facts of life. Darwin, Spencer, and Wallace declare that race, climate, soil, and food modify and change human beliefs, and that these beliefs or modes of thought are transmissible from parent to child. J. E. Mill says:-"Everything in the universe exhibits a fixed certain and constant accession of events which bear to each other the relation of causes and effects." A study of ethnology would teach "A Freethinker" differently. Has physical constitution nothing to do with modes of thought? Can the simple brain of a savage grasp a complex idea? Is an Australian aboriginal free to think according to the modes of thought of a Darwin, Spenser, or Mill? Is "A Freethinker" not aware that a subjective examination of the mind through consciousness reveals the fact that a belief is a state of the mind—a development of thought and not an act of the wits? Is a person who has never heard of Christianity free to think according to the doctrines of that belief? "A Freethinker" says "Freethought as taught by Secularists is "licence to think contradictorily and do wrongly." Would "A Freethinker" oblige by giving his authority for that quotation? I never heard of such teaching, and do not believe such a statement was ever made by any Secular authority. "A Freethinker" says "Secularists have no defined system of thought; they have no creed." It is a pity that a person making such pretensions to piety should not become thoroughly acquainted with facts before scattering false accusations broadcast amongst the public. Our creed is a very simple one. 1st. To live our very best to this world. 2nd. To do all the good we can to ourselves and others. 3rd. To promote happiness as far as lies in our power; to have every enjoyment that is not detrimental to ourselves or others. 4th. That every enjoyment which is innocent is lawful, because such enjoyments prolong life and develop a kindly spirit in human nature. 5th. That reason is the criterion of truth, and that instead of sacrificing reason on the shrine of faith we must do our best to increase the sacred light. 6th. That when a truth is found it should be given unreservedly to the world, 7th. That human beings must bear the consequences of their own misdeeds. Therefore it behoves them to be careful of their actions if they wish to escape real punishment in this world instead of an imaginary punishment in the next.
"A Freethinker," and others of his order of mind, seem to think that Freethinkers possess no moral sense, and have no code of morality. Would it surprise him to hear that freethinkers possess a higher moral sense than Christians, and that they have a code of morality far superior to that of Christianity. In a secular catechism for children, Mr. O. F. Holyoake teaches under the head of moral sense, "What is the greatest power you have? Answer—The power of doing my duty; when I do a right thing I do that which is noblest and best. What is your duty ? Obedience to the laws of nature. What is your duty to your own   body? To keep it pure and stainless by cleanliness, exercise, and honest work, by not eating and drinking that which will do me harm, in order to gratify my appetite, and being temperate in the enjoyment of all pleasant things. For what purpose should you use your tongue? I should use my tongue to gain knowledge by asking explanations of what I do not understand and to make known my true thoughts in the gentlest way. I should never deceive with my tongue even in uttering a single word; never speak unkindly, but be honest and loving in all I say. Should you ever prefer bodily pain to bodily pleasure? Yes; it is better to be honest and truthful, even when bodily pain will be the consequence, than tell a lie or be dishonest. It is my duty to help those who are unfortunate and miserable, and to make glad those who are desolate and sad." In fact, the sum total of our morality is we are to do good, not through fear of punishment or hope of reward, but because it is right to do good. That is a far superior morality to doing good or being good through fear of punishment or hope of reward in this world or the next, as the Christian religion teaches. No man is strictly moral who is moral through fear of consequences or hope of gain.
"A Free thinker" calls attention in his letter to the different views held by freethinkers. That is to be expected. No number of persons will agree upon all subjects. One freethinker believes in a Supreme Being; another believes in a Supreme power, and so forth; it is for each according to his or her mental development. Do the Christians all agree relative to matters of belief? Are not the Christians divided into sects, and each one has bitterly opposed and persecuted the other when opportunity offered (except the Quakers, who have never been charged with persecution)? At any rate we shall not persecute each other, no matter how we may differ in matters of this sort.
"A Freethinker" demonstrates to his own satisfaction that it is the height of immorality for me to call churches talking shops, to speak of the Bible as the house that Jack built (which is untrue, what I said or demonstrated was there was no more science in the Bible than the house that Jack built); to call the Salvation Army a damnation army, who do more harm in a month than secular teachings will be able to undo in years, to, as he calls it, blaspheme the maker of the universe, to ridicule the sacred convictions of the Christians. A Freethinker is on a par with those Christian priests, who declared that heresy was more than murder, theft, or adultery. Blasphemy is always the cry of people who feel that argument cannot be answered. Common-sense in matters of religion is always blasphemy. The cry of blasphemy is an appeal to ignorance, prejudice, and passion; blasphemy in the olden times lighted fagots and sharpened instruments of torture. The Catholics have called the Protestants blasphemers, and the Protestants have returned the compliment to the Catholics. Blasphemy to a geographical question and a question of progress, what is blasphemy in in one country is not blasphemy in another. What is blasphemy in one age is not blasphemy in another. How can I blaspheme the Maker of the Universe when science has demonstrated that the universe never had a Maker? They blaspheme who impute crimes to a God that they would be ashamed to commit themselves; for instance, stoning a man to death for picking up a few sticks on a Sunday, and ordering the wholesale murder of the Canaanites by the Israelites, and other cruel, wicked commands said in the Bible to have come from a God.
As to ridiculing what Christians hold sacred. How do Christian missionaries treat the gods and religions of other countries. See Christian missionaries spit in the faces of the gods of other nations to show people how impotent their gods are to protect themselves from insult. "A Freethinker" further says, "That the faculty of deciding between right and wrong is innate.
That is a mistake which a knowledge of the different mental development of different races would soon dispel. There are people so low in the scale of humanity as not to have the remotest idea of morality in any force. There are people so low as to have scarcely any ideas beyond the mere gratification of physical instincts. Children do now show what moral ideas are innate; parents know that children require careful watching and training, to keep them from being immoral. Suppose a number of infants of both sexes, even isolated from human companionship and consequently allowed to grow up untrained, there would be abundant proof that the faculty of deciding between right and wrong was not innate. Morality is evoked from experiences for the well-being and preservation of the individual and society ; that is, of accumulated experiences handed down. If moral sense is innate, what is the faculty of deciding between right and wrong; how is it that human sacrifices are offered to idols, even the sacrifice of children by their patents. Is not much of what is called moral really immoral, and vice versa, and what the world calls morality is very often a geographical question, The inhabitants of Utah consider polygamy moral, and quote passages out of the Bible to prove it, and affirms that it is upheld by the lives of the patriarchs and the Israelitish kings. For a Hindoo to throw himself into the sacred River Ganges is considered moral in India, whilst it is considered highly immoral in England. If the faculty of deciding between right and wrong be innate, how ist it that much of what the Fijians consider highly moral, is shuddered at by those whose moral ideas are the outcome of European civilisation. The mistake which "A Freethinker" makes is thinking that consciousness is a faculty instead of a state of the mind. "A Freethinker" lays down false premises, and reasons from them into absurdity. "A Freethinker" has evidently not emerged from the anthropomorphic stage of human thought when he speaks of "truth inwrought by a Divine weaver." There we have the great man of theology shaping human consciousness out of pre-existing material, and doing his work so badly that no two races and no two ages agree as to what is truth and what constitutes morality. In dealing with the incongruous ideas bracketed together in "A Freethinker's" letter I have been led into trespassing further on your space than I intended.
I am, &c.,
 4 September 1884

 The South Australian Advertiser 27 August 1884,

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