Reviews. Socialism versus Religion

“The Inner Mission,” J. B. Paton, D.D. J. Clarke & Co., Fleet Street. 1s. 6d. net.
“Christ or Socialism?” H. Musgrave Reede. Marshall Brothers. 6d.
“The Basis of Christian Socialism.” H. C. Thompson. Hendersons. 3d.
“Positivism and Socialism : a Discourse given at the Church of Humanity, Holborn, on the second day of the month Bichet in the fifty-sixth year of the Religion of Humanity,” by Philip Thomas. Walls & Co. 2d.

The above are four religious publications, all concerned with the burning question that is dealt with in the latest pamphlet of the Socialist Party ; and, lot me add, all showing religion in its various phases as an obstacle to working-class emancipation,

The first need not detain one long. It will suffice to indicate its scope. It is blessed (and herein lies its value) by the Right Reverend Lord Bishop of Hereford. It is a new edition of an old appeal for union between the non-Catholic churches for “social work.” The bishop tells us in his foreword that this Christian Social Service is “destined to be the strongest and most pervading influence and safeguard against materialistic Socialism.” So now you know.

In the body of the book one reads, amongst much other wearisome matter, that

“to track the causes that give such power to Communism in our day must be the study of Christian men ; for to encounter the foe we must know the springs of its strength. Communism also assails the other ordinances of property and labour, annulling the one and degrading the other to a mechanical uniformity, whilst it deprives the labourer of the reward that spurs and cheers him (sic). But its strange and delusive potency has arisen only from the sins of that society which it would destroy. And now Christian men and women have to assuage the evils which these sins have induced, and to assail the sins from which they spring. Communism would destroy society it is given to Christianity to save it.”

Tell me the old, old story !

My only excuse for quoting the above is that there exist men who are ignorant enough, or dishonest enough, to maintain that Christianity and Socialism are practically synonymous.

* * *

The second booklet is more amusing. It is the life story of a “wandering soul.” Like the previous book it is blessed by a bishop—perhaps to ward off evil spirits. And the Bishop of Durham laments that “the work of definite soul-awakening is far less frequently witnessed than say thirty years ago.”

The author, Mr. Musgrave Reede, is stated to have been for twenty years an atheist and a Socialist, to have been associated with. Charles Bradlaugh, and to have been one of the seven founders of the Independent Labour Party, and seconder of Blatchford’s “fourth clause.”

However, after much wandering in the wilderness, he was sent to America by his employers, and while crossing the Rockies the grandeur of the panorama so affecled him that he suddenly “saw God.” How strange that he never “beheld the glory of God and His wondrous works” in the factories, the slums, and the haggard millions of his native town !

On his return to England it was evident that his appetite for travel had been whetted, for he endeavoured to get a situation in the foreign missionary field. At last success came. Someone in India wanted, “not an ordinary missionary, but one who had received a business education” ; and Mr. Reede modestly adds :

“at the very time that I was feeling the need of a helper, God was indeed preparing such an one for that purpose. I therefore resigned my position at Messrs. Rylands, . . and turned myself to the living God. In faith I launched out, and in answer to prayer the Lord inclined the hearts of the late Rev. Francis Paynter and Mrs. Paynter to meet tne entire expenses of outfit, and passage to Madras.”

There are no half measures about Mr. Reede. When he got converted he cutely went the whole hog. He swallowed the Bible story of creation without blinking. He believes in “possession” by a “personal devil,” in original sin, and in all the rest of the dogmas of Christianity, and eays that “In the Sermon on the Mount, and in the letters to the Apostles, were included all that was necessary to the welfare of mankind !”

Mr. Reede’s acceptance of Biblical prophecy puts him in a peculiar position. He says :

“Ultimately Jesus Christ will reign as king on this earth ; but the Scriptures prophesy that before this takes place there will be a vast “apostasy” or “falling away” from revealed Truth, principally through Sacerdotalism and Rationalism.”

and he adds :

“I have never before been able to see how the conflicting nationalities of Europe could federate into one State ; but I now see that the power that is going to accomplish this is Socialism. This Godless system of society will be the leaven that will leaven all conflicting interests, and so weld together into one whole the myriad forms of rebellion against God. As soon as this occurs we may expect the second coming of the Lord . . and the universal kingdom of God upon earth.”

Now, if our converted atheist takes himself seriously and really wants the “Kingdom of God” to come quickly, is it reasonable on his part to fight against Socialism and oppose the fulfilment of prophesy ? Should he not rather — but there, a wink is as good as a nod to a donkey that won’t see.

After the above prophetic outburst it is quite refreshing to come across the following wail two pages further on. I quote it for the figures, which are useful.

“Every church bears witness to arrested progress and falling off in attendance. In Liverpool, a sample city, in 1881, 40 seats out of every 100 were filled at morning worship in the Free Churches : in 1891, 31 ; in 1903, 25; in 1908, 12. So also evening attendance has fallen from 57 in every 100 seats in 1881 to 38 in 1908. The average morning attendance in 1881 Was 274; in 1891, 212; in 1902, 170; in 1908, 85. So also the average evening attendance has fallen from 392 in 1881 to 190 in 1908. Are not these figures appalling ? There is something wrong somewhere.”

After telling us that Scripture prophesies a vast apostasy or falling away, our author says there must be something wrong because this comes to pass ! Evidently Mr. Reede takes the Bible prophecies as seriously as I do.

The Bishop of Durham says that he “read this book with great interest, and often and again, with a greatly moved heart. Its value is manifold.” Its chief value to us is that it shows to what desperate straits the Christian Church is reduced, that it must rely on the dissemination of such piffle in its death struggle with Socialism. On any other ground one must apologise for dealing with it.

The book is, in essence, an advertisement for the Bible Booklets which happen to be the goods Mr. Reede is dealing in. These booklets are puffed on almost every other page, and the reader is urged to send for samples. The whole book reads like a quack medicine puff ; and, indeed, it is nothing else.

* * *

Mr. Thompson endeavours to find the “basis of Christian Socialism” in the Biblical denunciation of usury. But since usury was practically universally denounced previous to the capitalist system, there is nothing peculiarly Christian in this. The changed attitude of Christianity in this respect merely illustrates how religion is modified by economic conditions. Even Mr. Thompson is not opposed to commercial profit on a small scale. There is, moreover, an awkward parable in the New Testament which Mr. Thompson vainly tries to explain away. I refer to the parable of the talents. The slothful servant, it will be remembered, shamefacedly returned the one unused talent to his master, who made reply : “Thou wicked and slothful servant, thou knowest that I reap where I sowed not and gather where I have not strawed, thou oughtest therefore to have put my money to the exchangers, and then at my coming I should have received mine own with usury.” The faithful servant, on the other hand, “went and traded with the same and made other five talents.” He was commended by his “lord.” Our author, with more pluck than judgment, goes to great lengths in a vain attempt to show that Jesus meant the exact opposite of what he is reported to have said. Even were the booklet not otherwise entirely beside the question, this would suffice to condemn it. It makes it plain that the “Basis of Christian Socialism” is a false interpretation of the Scriptures.

* * *

The last of the four publications is perhaps the worst. The author claims to be a Socialist. Speaking of the wheat corner he says :

“My Socialism would stop that as a crime ; but I am content to call it Liberalism, and to regard the Liberal Party as the instrument which secures the largest amount of social control and social welfare realisable at any given moment.”

To this he adds :

“needless to say, such a Socialism as this cannot be regarded, for a moment, as a thing of greed and ferocity ; or even as subversive or destructive.”

I disagree. Liberalism that he calls Socialism is decidedly a thing of greed and ferocity against the working class, while it is subversive and destructive of the last poor remnants of proletarian liberty and well-being. Belfast and Tonypandy are but symptoms.

His Positivist ideal is a tragedy from any point of view but that of the capitalist. Comte’s system would place no restriction on capitalist greed and ferocity but that of “moral suasion,” which is to be exercised, under the forms of “counsel, exhortation, or rebuke,” by the “Positivist priesthood in Comte’s normal system.” Huxley well described Positivism as Catholicism minus Christianity. Like orthodox religion, it takes its stand in defence of capitalism and private property. In the propaganda of confusion its adherents use the word Socialism to an aspect of modern capitalism; and, like the rest of religions, it tries to lure the workers away from their useful material aims. The author says :

“It is the defect of Socialism today that it has too much of a material and not enough of a spiritual basis. It is here that Positivism and the Religion of Humanity offer a vast boon to the world.”

The world of capitalists, of course.

It were idle at this time of day to deal at length with the unscientific nature of Comte’s closed system, or with his premature classification of knowledge, or with the Utopian nature of Positivism as a whole. It suffices to class it with the nostrums just reviewed, as an agency of confusion, and a would-be obstacle to working-class supremacy.

F. C. W.

Leave a Reply