Socialism and Religion


Sir,—The S.P.G.B. booklet “Socialism and Re­ligion” has been placed in my hands in the hope that I would make some defence of the Christian position. I cannot—not because no defence is possible, but because one cannot defend unless there is an attack. I would have treated the booklet as a piece of light comedy but for the evident seriousness which is breathed out from cover to cover.

With admirable frankness it appeals to “facts” which do not exist, and by that appeal it stands condemned. Facts, plain facts which can be verified in any decently-equipped public library, disprove the premises on which the case which it advocates rests.

I admire the grit of your little Party in boldly trying to play the part of Athanasius contra Mundum, but no one can do that successfully unless he has the Truth on his side.

There is much that is controversial in the booklet, e.g., whether Christianity is or is not linked indissolubly with Socialism ; but my task at present is the easy one of showing your readers a few facts which I hope they will test as rigorously as they possibly can. For the statements which I make in this paper are not what I would were true, but what are actually correct.


I quote: “It is generally accepted that the earliest form is ancester-worship, to which Her­bert Spencer’s ghost theory has given us the master-key” (p. 9). Now this is quite untrue. Caspier and Le Bon alone agree with Spencer; while de Brosses, Comte and Tylor claim fetichism, Tholuck, Ulrici and Caird claim pantheism, Schelling, Max Müller and Von Hartmann claim henotheism, Rawlinson Creuzer and Cook, mono­theism, as the earliest form. Paulsen reckons all these theories to be inadequate singly, and claims that some combination of them must be assumed. Flint is of the opinion that the data is insufficient for a decision. Where, then, is the “general acceptance”?

On the same point I would remark that a statement, however accurate, concerning the primary historical form of religion in no way explains the origin of religion. To say that the hen was originally an embryo in the egg in no way explains the existence of the fowl. Whence came the egg ? Similarly, even supposing an­cestor-worship was the primary form of religion, what caused it ? And if you can find a cause for that, what caused this prior cause ? Since Something can never come from Nothing, the whole contention of this section of the booklet, even if its premises were true, would be quite irrelevant.


I quote : “The fundamental idea of religion is a belief in the persistence of life after death” (p. 9). Is it, indeed ! I have examined ten definitions of religion by leaders of every shade of creed or no-creed, and not one of them offered such a definition. Why ? Because it would be so obviously inaccurate. In actual fact this belief is so far from being fundamental that it is not even essential to religion. Several religions and creeds (e.g., the Hebrew) had no such belief, while an irreligious man may hold this belief quite reasonably.

Under the same head let me show up another misrepresentation. “Thus religious legends of miracle, when adduced as proofs of the divine origin of religion . .” (p. 11). Yet the copy of the pamphlet which I hold in my hand bears the date 1911 ! Who nowadays adduces “mira­cles” as a proof of the divinity of religion ? Even the most youthful scientist does not know what a “miracle” is ; the whole matter of mira­cles remains in suspense, except among the ignorant, who elect to believe, or disbelieve, on insufficient evidence. Until historical research and scientific experiment have shewn that “miracles” are either impossible, or can be per­formed only by the pure, or by all, no judgment can be made, and case deduced, for or against.


There are two errors, gross and palpable, in the booklet. On p. 17 one reads : “Christianity . . . its cardinal ethic of submission” ; and on p. 38 : “The Christian doctrine means sub­mission and slavery.” Does it ! Let your readers pick up their Bibles and read them ; or if they would like a simpler way, let them look up in a Concordance the headings “Overcome,” “Strive,” and the like. Then let them find out the actual modern English equivalent of the Greek word in each case. Let them do this, and they will find that the New Testament gives the lie to this statement. Then let them take a bird’s-eye view of Church history, and they will find that the statement quoted has no historical support. Even the quotation from Prof. Seeley (on p. 21) quoted in support of it, turns against it and rends it to shreds, as anyone pausing to note the connotation of “plausibly” can see.

I turn to error second in this section. On p. 38 we read of “the asceticism, self-abnegation, and professed other worldliness of Christian teaching, which regards this world as a vale of tears and a painful preparation for a life in the clouds.” “Socialism and Religion” proclaims this earth to be a “vale of tears” as loudly as the most dolorous Christian possibly could do. But does Christianity teach that it is simply “a painful preparation,” etc. ? No. The old country grannie may remember a time in the dim, distant past when, a young lass, she lis­tened to the village cobbler preaching thus. We ourselves may detect these thoughts underlying some of the 18th century poems and hymns, notably Cowper’s ; but if the author of the pam­phlet had “sat under” any modern minister of average education for any reasonable period, he would not have penned the above words, sin­cerely, at any rate. No one can study the New Testament intelligently and say that the quota­tion is a correct summary of Christian teaching.

There is one further error, more subtle, but none the less erroneous. ” ‘Individualism is of the very essence of Christianity’ (Church Con­gress, 1909). And Christianity, we may add, is ‘by the same token, the very antithesis of Social­ism.” Is it ! ! I don’t know in what sense the “eminent prelate” used the word Individualism,, and with equal lack of hesitation I would combat any one who made the wholly false deduction that ‘by the tame token” etc. For the true antithesis to Socialism is—would that the author had known it !— not Individual­ism, but Competitivism ! Individualism is the doctrine whose teaching is that the rights of the individual must be conserved. Whether these rights are more easily conserved under Competitivism or Socialism is an entirely different question.


“Religion . . . is ever found on the side of the oppressors” (p. 25). A sweeping state­ment, to disprove which it would be necessary to advance only one case of the opposite nature. But I will assume that the real meaning is : “Religion is usually on the side of the oppres­sors.” Is this true ? Let your readers scan any History which is free from bias (and most Histories are) ; better still, let them look up contemporary writings of any religious move­ment they please, if they can get access to them, and what will they find ? No corroboration of the above statement. Did Christianity toady to the corrupt governors in the Roman Empire ? Did Wycliffe denounce the poor peasant and flatter the lord ? Did Luther smilingly betray the masses of Germany and receive the favours of a Court ? Did Huss desert the Bohemian peasants and receive a title from Sigismund ? Did a Whitefield look at the Kingswood miners, and pass by on the other side to dine, say, at Badminton House ? No. Wycliffe was a peo­ple’s champion ; Luther was as much the friend of the poor as he was hated of the powers ; the only title Huss received for his services to the peasants was the stake ; Whitefield was scorned of the gentry and loved by the commons. If the Bishops, all of whom were of “noble blood,” naturally stood by the aristocracy in the French Revolution, no less did the humbler Shepherds stand by their oppressed flocks. Doubtless there have been sycophants, content to sell the shadow which they call their religion for a mess of pottage ; but I defy anyone to show that genuine religion has always remained deaf to the cry of the oppressed.


“Natural history has shown us that the struggle for the food supply is the fundamental principle of organic evolution” (p. 28) Indeed ! What is the actual fact ? Natural history has shown that there are two principles at work, and always have been, so far as investigations and reasonable conjectures can carry us : the one stated in the booklet, and another equally important, which has been named by one “the struggle for the life of others.” Self-preservation and Others-preservation have blended together to produce what may be called nowadays Pru­dence and Generosity (or Sacrifice). In short Evolution is a far more complex thing than “Socialism and Religion” would lead the unthoughtful reader to suppose.


“The concept of God as an explanation of the Universe is becoming entirely untenable in this age of scientific enquiry” (p. 32). This is mere assertion, absolutely denied by facts. Materialism has been shown to be illogical, and has been abandoned by almost every thinker. Modern scientists recognise to-day that it is not within the province of science, which deals only with phenomena, to examine or criticise the concept of God, which is not phenomenal but noumenal. Science is not opposed to religion, And if the idea of an uncaused God be difficult to accept, so also is the idea of an uncaused “matter,” about which, after all, we know no­thing (Spencer’s “First Principles” puts this more clearly than some of the better authorities) And so we have, I ask your readers to verify the statement, a body of scientists who, while fully and whole-heartedly following the light of science, recognise that philosophy has her light too, and that this light shews Materialism to be a found ationless scheme.


“Grant Allen has clearly shown . . that religion and ethics had distinct origins” (p. 35) But it is incorrect to suppose that they are independent. Two flowers on one branch may appear independent and have separate stalks, but they are allied so closely that the same root nourishes them. Why, the ethics of your Party are de­pendent on your worship of his Economic Interpretation of the World.

I have not attempted to give any detailed criticism of the booklet : I have aimed only at stating a few facts which it has not ob­served or understood. Much more could have been written, but my purpose will have been served and my case won, if I succeed in making my readers verify these points for themselves. Enquire with open mind ; let the facts decide ; and I say with confidence that the verdict will go against “Socialism and Religion.” Unless you say all science is vain but the Marxian Eco­nomy, all history untrue but the Marxian inter­pretation of it, all philosophy untrustworthy ; unless you throw over logic and reason and research as false lamps, the position advanced in ” Socialism and Religion” must collapse as soon as the cold eye of Scrutiny detects its false premises.


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