Exit Hell-fire

“The work of the nineteenth century in the area of religious thought has, on the whole, been destructive. Ideas that had lived long because they had been protected from challenge have crumbled under the touch of modern thought. . . . The development of modern science has profoundly affected theological thought. First in astronomy, then in geology, and finally in biology and physics, the passionate desire to understand has been abundantly rewarded. But an irrational theology cannot exist side by side with a rational conception of nature, except at the cost of a disastrous dualism.”

In the above words Canon J. H. B. Masterman finally and completely throws over the fantastic superstitions that have been current for centuries with regard to our future life. Evangelists and salvation fanatics may cry “hands off the people’s religion !” but Canon Masterman and the theologists have agreed, in the columns of a capitalist daily newspaper, that the people’s religion must be modified. Who said the Socialist would destroy religion ? The mummers from Dean’s Yard are doing that before the very eyes of their congregations. For when the claim of revelation has gone, and when heaven and .hell no longer exist in the minds of the ignorant, the doctrines and beliefs that replace them are so obviously man-made, so plainly the creations of our day and generation, that even those devoid of even a superficial knowledge of science should, if possessed of the power of reasoning at all, be able to see that the new beliefs and prophesies are pure inventions.

Entire agreement, however, does not reign in the camp of the experts. Some find their congregations sufficiently gullible to swallow hell-fire as crude as Milton presented it; others need to have it drawn milder. Consequently there is division, and we find the Rev. Sylvester Home saying : “If a preacher to-day is fearless he is bound to preach moral discipline and punishment in a form which is more searching and powerful to the conscience than any mere materialistic punishment could be” ; while Canon Horsley gives support to the contention of the Rev. Chas. Brown and Silas Hocking, that no ministers or people of intelligence any longer believe in a material hell, he still advises that something of the kind should be taught. He says : “While vice exists, and not merely sin ; while hedonism perhaps increases ; the time is not when warnings are unneeded and the prophets should only prophesy smooth things.”

In other words, although intelligent people no longer believe in eternal punishment, because there is no evidence for such a belief, it should still be taught to those who can be imposed upon—because it may keep them honest when the man in blue is absent.

The conscience of the worker—quite distinct from the Nonconformist conscience, by the way, which is only political—must be a small voice within us mind that respects the ethics for the wage-slave, as imposed by capitalism. Some of the writers in the “Daily News,” of lesser calibre than the deans and canons, quite boldly declare that without hell-fire all restraint on the minds of the desperate would be gone, just when it was more than ever necessary. Scotland Yard, with all its records, police supervision, finger-prints, and photographs, is not powerful enough to cope with the desperate characters engendered by capitalist society. Penal servitude frightens some. Nonconformists—a working class infliction—would keep the fires of hell burning eternally before the imagination of their helpless victims. They claim that if the fear of hell is no longer instilled, crime will assuredly increase.

Capitalism breeds the criminal: the only question for the capitalist is how to secure his property from him. The theologian makes it his question too, because he comes in for a share of the larger plunder—the results of the robbery of the working class.

With the development of capitalism the number of unemployed increases with great rapidity. Not only so, but the low wages and rotten conditions imposed upon the workers grow more irksome and repulsive almost daily ; hence the increase of so-called crime, over ninety per cent, of which is directed against property.

Buckle, in his “History of Civilisation,” proves from statistics that a social system that changes only slightly from year to year reproduces faithfully each year almost the same crop of deaths from starvation, suicides, lunatics, and criminals. When the “struggle for existence” becomes more intense among the working class, there is a corresponding increase in these cases, proving conclusively that economic conditions are responsible for them.

When this question is honestly probed, as has been so frequently done in the columns of the ‘S.S.’ we find that poverty is entirely due to the fact that the working class are robbed of the wealth they produce. The self appointed prophets share this knowledge with us, but in consideration of their salaries they say in effect: continue the robbery ; we will do our best to frighten the robbed with a tale of some sort.

Some, like Dr. Garvie, for instance, expose their knowledge of the truth by their guarded language. He speaks of “what we may believe” or “what it is reasonable to believe,” thereby admitting lack of evidence to prove anything, unlike the Dean of St. Pauls, and sixteen other specialists who openly confess that they know nothing about it, as there have been no definite revelations as to a future life.

The question still faces the theologian how to frighten or beguile the working class into docility. Some can be cajoled by the pious humbug that “virtue brings its own reward,” while others, guileless and simple imbeciles that they are, say, with an assumption of cheerfulness and a heavenly expression that has a world of meaning say : ” This life is what we ourselves make it—heaven or hell.”

This, we are told, is the rationalist view. There is nothing rational in it. The capitalist who has nothing else to think about but how to secure heavenly conditions for himself, and who has flunkeys and white slaves to help him, may find it easy enough to make his heaven here. The average worker’s mind, however, is already in a chaotic state of worry and anxiety as the result of the struggle to live. The factory bell and the slum ; the overseer and the landlord ; low wages and rising prices, leave him no time for psychological gymnastics.

The capitalist has no need to lift his mind out of his environment to find contentment. The worker’s mind is only released from his environment when he sleeps and dreams—and his dreams, they are usually nightmares, parodies of his waking hours, and not far removed, in truth, from very hell fire itself.

F. F.

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