The Ruin of Christ


For nearly two thousand years people have been told that Jesus Christ came to the earth for the well-being of humanity, left a stock of immortal truths and after great sorrows returned to his Heavenly Father. From the Scriptures we read that The Man of Sorrows worked miracles, put beautiful parables into his public speeches, and was superior to the powers of Death and the Sea. In history we learn that his parentage was so obscure, the evidence of either his existence or his work so debatable, that opinion drift between two extremes, Renan believing him to be a humble, considerate man and Shelley an ambitious man who aspired to the throne of Judea.

Interest was centred on Christ until quite recently because of the nature of the claims on his behalf ; the divine power with which his name was invested, the singularity of his birth, the lowliness of his habits, his nobility and his patience. If, when we consider Jesus in the most favourable light, we find his parables not entirely uninstructive, we also see that under the care of the Church they have become either wretched or villainous. Jesus, like King Lear, gave his property into cruel hands. By popes and archbishops his ethics have been falsified ; by philosophers he has been stript of his divinity ; his Godliness has become the faith of the fool and the target of Historians. In the future, interest will centre on Christ chiefly in consequence of some articles and letters which lately appeared in the “Daily Chronicle.”

The editor of that newspaper is urging the adherents of the two-and-seventy jarring sects to unite into a common brotherhood. He thinks that with a little trimming of faiths, a modification of the gospel to meet the advancements of science, and sundry other things, that Christianity might still be a power in the land. Alas ! why do not your friends tell you, poor ”Chronicle” Editor, that a writer on such a theme may nowadays wear out a mine of nibs and use a sea of ink before a sceptic will even smile. Am I alone to tell you that you should close the lid of your pot and pack up your pens ? Your God has made another error in judgment ; you are born too late in the day. Somewhere in the sixteenth century your kith and kin in Spain did not use pens. I learn on good authority that the founder of the Spanish Inquisition, Torquemada, was never the editor of a newspaper.

But as I do not wish to be thought inconsiderate, or in any unworthy way to gloat over the downfall of Christ and his Church, I would like to openly consider some of the reasons for your proposals. Although I am an Atheist I see something infinitely pathetic in the fact that a people once so prosperous and proud, with abilities, as they once had, to construct their old giant crusades, with energy to war, with cunning enough to arrest the growth of science and art, should at last lose the power of their science-riddled Jesus and become dependent upon London newspapers.

In your columns you hint, as we have been told so often before, that religion is a necessity of national life : that God’s hand is in the work of the scholar and his influence felt in the life of the savage. With the latter half of your contention I am in complete agreement. Knowing something of the history of Christianity, and a little of the life of savages, it is difficult to see how they would lose anything by exchanging a crucifix of Christ for the images of wood and hobgoblins of stone to which they are devoted. But whatever loss they sustained, or whatever hostility the substitution aroused among the base Indians or the cannibals of Tierra del Fuego, the proposal should be insisted on English manufacturers would thus be able to export a large number of ivory Christs which are lying stagnant in the workshops. The other of your contentions I cannot so easily endorse. Voltaire, Tom Paine, Marx, Spencer, Darwin, were all great men ; so if it is true that the scholar cannot work without God’s help, then God alone is responsible for some of the deadliest arguments against his own existence and some of the wittiest satires on his own son.

We learn also that the Christian has worked and does work in the service of God. As a little pamphlet which we issue, entitled “Socialism and Religion,” deals with the birth, life, and death of the Idea of God, it will not be necessary for me to speak of it here ; I will alone consider the world’s work of his servants.

What has the Christian done in the world which the Atheist has not ? Point to an achievement of a saint who has the advantage of intimacy with the Almighty and I will counterbalance it with an important work of a Freethinker who is on no friendly footing with a divinity. Against the literary value of the Bible I place Shakespeare ; against “Genesis” and the “Book of Job” I place “King Lear” and “The Tempest.” We are told that St. Francis of Assisi held conversation with the sparrows and by the sea-side lectured the fishes. In contrast to these second-hand records of this laughable saint I place the beautiful lament of Burns over the field-mouse, written in subtle sweetness, not for the instruction of the simple creature which lost its nest under the ploughshare, but for the enjoyment of humanity. In the Psalms God gets praised in choice language, but no more tremendous melody of praise and sorrow has been penned than Shelley’s elegy on the Death of Keats—”Adonais.” Blake was intimate with the Almighty and kept in touch with the events of Paradise. Blake saw Eden and Hell. Blake had God as a model in his studio. Blake, so Blake claimed and many believed, passed through all the celestial and infernal valleys. He claimed that he had a special invitation, but I am inclined to think that it was just the result of an unsettled disposition. In any case his work has little artistic value or topographical importance. They are neither pictures nor maps of hell, so we must conclude that Blake was utterly foolish and could not learn, or that his divine instructor was out of touch with the modern French artists. I incline to the latter view after having read a biography of Blake by G. K. Chesterton. You may now agree with me, nearly-forgotten editor, that in works of beauty the saints are not supreme. But still the question remains—what have the religionists done which the sceptics have not ? For an answer we must look slightly at the noble work of the world.

Look to the early days of astronomy and you will find religion there as a worm in the bud. The slightest slip from the ritual of the Church, the publication of the feeblest heresy or the mightiest truth, was followed by hellish punishment. From the time when the priests first got power until the time when they lost it they struck right and left in a mad, blind fury. Up till the time when Voltaire lived eight million people had perished in Holy Crusades. There is no doubt the biblical God made priests in his own image.

Bruno suffered after Copernicus ; homes were ruined, arts and sciences enslaved ; authors, reformers, philosophers were blinded, branded, tortured, poisoned, or burned. Blind with the love of Christ, the Inquisitors did not know their own kith and kin. The friend of superstition died with its enemy. The poet was exiled and the astronomer murdered. Not a soul must breathe a syllable of any fresh thought. Those among our friends who know the joy of listening to or uttering fresh truths will understand the deep gloom of this enslavement. It is not alone to those rare and lonely martyrs of the cause of progress that we must always feel grateful, but also to those nameless thousands who have gone to their graves with the fire of truth in their hearts, with wonderful thoughts unpublished. Well we may remember the intellect and honesty of those olden mortals who braved the smiles, bribes, and fury of Christ’s ministers and dealt the first mortal blow to superstition, but we shall never know the details of the unhappy lives of those who were forced to let their poetry wither away—not so much as whispered—hide their yearnings, stifle their young dreams, as a mother the child she loves and yet fears to keep. We shall never be able to count the lost lives of the people, nor measure the infamies of the Church during those miserable years. The Church may do good by stealth, the rest of its work is on record,

Yet I am not of a spiteful nature, so I will offer Christians a few words of advice on how they may, if they will, become united. Do not write books, do not distribute crusts of bread, do not wage wars, for the love of God ; but sow and gather corn, weave clothes, build houses, on communal principles, for the love of humanity. Study the poets, historians, scientists, and architects, then in the music of their sentiments you will forget old hells, conjurors, and tricky heavens. In the knowledge of architecture and the love of nature which follow you will burn all the churches that have corrugated iron roofs ; in the strength of character which follows you will possess the foundations of future happiness.

No doubt you will often be told that an Atheist’s life is black and vacant. The men who repeat this stale nonsense are all men of less brain than Bacon, who says in his “Moral Essays” that “Atheism leaves to man reason, philosophy, natural piety, laws, reputation, and everything that can serve to conduct him to virtue ; but superstition destroys all these and erects itself into a tyranny over the understanding of men.” Irreligion certainly accompanies an understanding of Socialism, but we Socialists can enjoy the picturesque parts of all religions, from the beautiful mythology of old Greece to that of the “Daily Chronicle.” We may enjoy the beauties of the country, the wonders of the cities, the solitude of the sea, or its commerce. The riddle of the universe is still with us to test our wits and keep them keen. Books, music, and art are now strongly established as the elements. It is not much that we lose when we lose a Christ, a priest, and an iron chapel. We are progressing. The Bible can no longer be used as a weapon against us. It is rapidly becoming an entertaining book in our hands. With our complete freedom from superstition, political and industrial as well as religious, we shall have reached the time when the Chapters of Genesis may be raised to the superb dignity of the “Midsummer Night’s Dream.”

The religion of Christ was no more fit for the guidance of the world’s workers than the fishing boat of Peter was fit for the circumnavigation of the world or the sandals of Joseph fit for a journey from Bethlehem to the North Pole.

But the old Church, the old slave-ship of Christ, last century was sinking fast and the wish to sail in solitary triumph was gone. Truth has been treated by their flinty clerics as a wolf with a small belly and a moderate appetite whose pursuit may be delayed with morsels of flesh. But Truth, instead, is like the sea on which no unprincipled ship can sail for long in security. The billows have been hammering at the old hulk of the Church for some ages now. Starting a voyage from Galilee, Christianity sailed smoothly for a thousand years or so, gathering up the slaves, stealing the treasures of free thought ; its blight was terrible, absolute, and swift. Thus astronomy rose like a whirlwind ; geology was as lightning. The surrounding sea beat harder and faster. The crumbling ship’s sails were ruined, its masts were snapped at the roots. The passengers and slaves rebelled and after much turmoil managed to get some kind of a Reformation. No one cared what was tossed to the sea so long as the crippled ship was saved. Year after year the storm grew worse and Christ’s compass led it astray. When their provisions were gone they turned cannibals : sect devoured sect. Last century the “Origin of Species” and the Socialist Philosophy were published and fell like thunderbolts in the old, rotten, rat-riddled, shattered ship. Amid the howling billows and gusts of wind the vessel sunk. In the wilderness of the waves it was lost with all its pretentions, tyrants, conundrums of Heaven, spectres of Hell, and the rest of its ghastly cargo.

I am afraid you cut a miserable figure, London Editor, as you stand on the shores of Fleet Street crying pitifully to the tempest: “Peace, be still !” Yet it will be interesting to see for how long an editor may sit by a grave trying to restore a corpse to health and strength, and remain free from pity and contempt.

H. M. M.

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