A Spirited Criticism

Strange Manifestations in “Two Worlds”

The May 17th issue of Two Worlds, a weekly Spiritualist paper, carries an article headed “Red Flag Makes Him See Red About Spiritualism.” Under this bright, economical title “Two Worlds Reporter,” makes a vigorous attack on the article “The Sad Religion,” in the May Socialist Standard.

It is to be expected that Spiritualists, or any other body of people whose beliefs are criticized, should want to defend them. In fact, it is a pity that “Two Worlds Reporter” has not defended them. Instead, he directs scorn at the writer: “puerile,” “babyish,” and so on. His readers are given few or false ideas of the subject-matter of the Socialist Standard article, and if there are counter-arguments he never makes them known.

“The Sad Religion” briefly outlined the history, beliefs and practices of Spiritualism. The view it mainly expressed was that Spiritualism rests upon the loneliness and disconsolation of bereaved people, and thus reflects much of the suffering caused by Capitalism’s wars and poverty. “Two Worlds Reporter” says not a word of any of this, and thereby misleads his readers as to the nature of the article he criticizes.

The article contains the following sentence: “Why, one wonders, are they not all prosecuted and locked up under the Witchcraft Act? ” Leaping forward, “Two Worlds Reporter” trumpets eagerly: “If he (the writer) had done only elementary research, he would have known that the Witchcraft Act was repealed in 1951.” “Two Worlds Reporter” should be more cautious. To say without qualification that an Act has been repealed is to convey that what it stood for has been wiped off the books. The fact is that the Witchcraft Act was brought up to date in 1951. The old Act of 1735—”so far as still in force “—was replaced by one called the Fraudulent Mediums Act.

In any case, however, by quoting one sentence in isolation “Two Worlds Reporter” again gives his readers a false impression—i.e., that “The Sad Religion” was saying mediums ought to be “locked up under the Witchcraft Act.” That is not so. The sentence was simply a reference to a fairly common reaction to Spiritualism, as anyone may see from a reading of the passage in which it occurs.

Most of “Two Worlds Reporter’s” comments are no replies at all. The writer, “ has his own version of history,” he says, and his account is ” divorced from the facts”; but he makes no attempt to show wherein that “version” is wrong and what the “facts” are. His remarks about extra-sensory perception are beside the point:—

“Even scientifically conducted experiments in extra-sensory perception are ruled out. According to Coster they just did not happen.”

This is misrepresentation, of course; but, more important, it evades the real question. Have the experiments established extra-sensory perception as a fact, verifiable and predictable in the same way as light or sound waves? Of course they haven’t—as “Two Worlds Reporter” knows.

The same applies to the “fact that Sir William (Crookes) had himself photographed with the materialised Katie King.” This “fact” was not even acceptable to other Spiritualists in its day, which was eighty-four years ago. The Rev. C. Maurice Davies, a member of the British National Association of Spiritualists, described the stagecraft of Katie’s appearances in his book Mystic London, and added that the behaviour of Sir William gave “the final death blow to my belief that there might be something in the manifestations.”

Two Worlds Reporter” takes up the reference to Robert Blatchford as a “sad, aged figure,” and says, jeeringly: “If, however, Blatchford had continued to be a materialist, then, of course, his age would have made no difference.” Curiously enough, Blatchford first began calling himself “a convinced materialist” when he wrote More Things in Heaven and Earth, after he had become a Spiritualist. In his God and My Neighbour, an attack on the Churches published in 1904, the term ” materialist” is never used. Blatchford calls himself there a Humanist, a Rationalist and an Agnostic: he also says, “I am rather a religious man.” His Merrie England, first published in 1894, has heavy religious overtones: “God’s creatures,” etc.

The other main theme of “The Sad Religion,” the social rôle of Spiritualism, is summed up by “Two Worlds Reporter,” thus:—

“He is a very class-conscious writer, who believes that Spiritualism is part of a capitalist plot to serve the interests of the ‘ruling classes ’ and to make the working class submissive! . . . This, of course, may be the doctrine according to Karl Marx. but to attempt to apply it to Spiritualism makes it seem more like the doctrine of the Marx Brothers.”

Where “Two Worlds Reporter” thinks he read about this plot, it is difficult to say. The Socialist criticism of all religious forms, including Spiritualism, is part of the case against Capitalism, in which there is no supposition of conspiracy. Indeed, if capitalists could plot this, presumably they would be able also to plot better things—including how to avoid commercial crises and the destruction of their property in war.

What Socialists argue is that supernatural beliefs, by their promise of a better world beyond the grave, make for acceptance of this world as it is. Because of that, they have always played a large part in maintaining the status quo (if “Two Worlds Reporter” does not believe it he had better look in the history books); and because of that, they serve the interests—consciously or otherwise—of those who have a stake in maintaining the status quo, the ruling class.

Finally, “Two Worlds Reporter” complains of the drawing which accompanied “The Sad Religion.” He says it isn’t funny. One has to admit that it does not compare for sheer uproarious fun with the illustration to “Two Worlds Reporter’s” piece. This is a portrait of Mr. Hannen Swaffer who, the writing says, “ makes nonsense of critic’s charges” by his contention that “Spiritualism and Socialism are two halves of one whole.”

Mr. Swaffer is, of course, a supporter of the Labour Party, which has been making nonsense of the word “Socialism” for fifty-odd years. In that light, his contention is probably true.


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