KING AND BRADLAUGH DEBATE - PART 18
SIX NIGHTS' DISCUSSION
DAVID KING AND CHARLES BRADLAUGH
[The following section copied by permission of The British Library, No. 4018a2(1).]
WHAT IS SECULARISM? - WHAT CAN IT DO FOR MAN THAT CHRISTIANITY CANNOT?
Tuesday Evening, 25th October, 1870
MR. BRADLAUGH'S FIRST REPLY
MR. BRADLAUGH: - The advantage in having a speech, prepared beforehand, read without reference to the discussion is, I presume, that we have before us the matured thoughts of the other side, even supposing it is a matter of small thought for my opponent to make blundering statements of the arguments put very ably forward by Mr. Harrison, and to utterly misrepresent what I said in the Hutching's debate. The Hutching's debate you can buy and read for yourselves, so I won't weary you by reading it tonight. First, having written it down, Mr. King tells you that I did not tell you what Secularism is, and having read over the first two points quietly he shirked the others and went on to something else. First he told you that I explained nothing about Secularism, and then he gave you the answer fitting to it. He had prepared the different sheets of his paper, probably, without the remotest knowledge of the line of discussion for tonight, and that will account for the contradictory nature of his argument. I fancy that it would be as well if in a speech prepared beforehand he had left out the impertinences about "blind leaders" and all that kind of thing. I know how in the warmth of debate one might make use of rather strong sentiments; but, unless he desires to provoke retaliation, I do not think they should form part of a speech prepared in the quiet of a study, and particularly by a Christian. Mr. King says - asking what is Secularism? - that I have not told you what it is, and he takes upon himself to say that Mr. Bradlaugh will not have a Secularist who is not an Atheist. it would only have been fair had he quoted that portion of my introductory remarks to the Holyoake and Bradlaugh debate alluded to. Here it is - "If in the course of the debate I appear to have said anything to lead to the impression that I am only prepared to accept as co-workers in our free-thought propaganda men and women who are already Atheists, then I desire to be allowed to state clearly my views. I hold that Atheism is the logical result to all who are able to think the matter out, but I do not hold that every person with whom I come in contact is or need be expected to be so advanced. Some get rid of one or two of the shackles of superstition; some get rid of many; very few indeed get rid of all. So soon and so long as men and women are prepared to work for human improvement and recognize the fact that theological systems and teachings are barriers to its attainment which have to be broken through, so soon and so long are they eligible to be members and co-workers in our free-thought associations. There is no narrow church, or hand-and-fast line creed, for those who enrol themselves as co-workers. The only work we teach is work for human redemption." [Applause]. Now, I think it would have been only fair had Mr. King read you that quotation, for it is hardly worth while to attempt to misrepresent my views. Mr. King will probably find it somewhere stated that Mr. Holyoake and I separated from our debate, each saying that the other did not understand anything about Secularism, and therefore knew nothing about it, for I do not remember any such thing - [Laughter] - and I took part in the debate. Mr. King, when he rises, will perhaps inform us where he read this. But supposing Mr. Holyoake and I differ on certain points, is it an objection to a system because two prominent advocates in it were at difference? If so, then that will be an equal objection to Christianity. [Hear, hear, and hisses]. Why hiss? The question for dispute is "What is Secularism and what can it do that Christianity cannot?" and I am simply showing to you the ridiculous character of the argument adduced by the champion of Christianity. [Hear, hear, and hisses]. I would be extremely loth to suggest that there is not the most extreme unity between every clergyman of the Church of England in this neighbourhood and Mr. King, unless it will help my argument. How monstrous to put it as Mr. King has, because in twenty years' time the two principal men connected with Secularism or Infidelity have met in discussion? Were there not frequently little squabbles between Paul and other apostles in their teachings, within twenty years after the death of Christ? I think this kind of weak stupidities had better be left out of the debate. I do not pretend you will ever get two prominent free-thinkers to agree on all topics, and that is why I was careful in putting it that there is no hard-and-fast line by which every free-thinker can be bound. If anything of that kind can be put it is simply the grossest absurdity. It is utterly untrue for Mr. King to say that Socialism and the communistic system failed, for the co-operative institutions in Lancashire and elsewhere today are solely the result of Robert Owen's propaganda in this country. I am not, and never professed to be, a disciple of Robert Owen. I admire him as one of the great men of the world, living a pure and true life, and working hard and honestly for the redemption of mankind. Mr. King says that Socialism was tried in various forms and did not succeed. If the endeavour to apply a principle, unless it succeed in every instance, is to be taken as proof of the utter failure of the principle, what a tremendous argument that is against Christianity, because the diversity of sects have failed in every instance except one. What comes of its schisms and squabbles? Take the Roman phase, or the Protestant phase, or the Nonconformist phase, or any other phase or proof positive. I don't stand here to defend Socialism any more than it is one of the heretic Secularistic movements of the time, which, as I have already pointed out, are always considered more infidel at the time they exist than they are afterwards. Why, what audacity of the speaker on the other side to ask if Bacon was an Atheist. I did not say that Bacon was an Atheist, though Bacon had that charge made against him by one writer; all that I meant is that bigoted men charge men with Atheism who are more advanced than themselves. But, says Mr. King, the Socialistic movement having failed, Secularism aims in a new name given to it, to deceive the public. Well, I do not care to take the trouble to defend that. All I can say is this, that nothing within Mr. King's own knowledge can be more unfair or more untrue, because whether the men who adopted the name of Secularism adopted it wisely or unwisely, it is quite certain that the men who went to gaol for the utterance of their views were men who could not have done it deceptively or dishonestly - they were men who left their wives and children sick, sad and dying, enduring the cold misery of the world and poverty. I say, without respect to the choice of the word Secularism being wise or not, that the man does not know Mr. Holyoake who pretends to say that it was a dishonest one. [Applause]. I will tell you why I don't think it is a wise word. Let the name be the best that could be chosen. If the word Infidel or any other harder word had been selected, it were better to move it out and knock it back. Mr. Holyoake perhaps calculated upon a greater amount of humanity amongst the religious bodies than they can possibly have. But, says Mr. King, notwithstanding Mr. Holyoake invented this name, Mr. Bradlaugh is as exclusive as the veriest bigot. With the statement of Mr. Bradlaugh in his hand he says so. Well, can anything be more wickedly untrue as a representation of my opinion? Having made a distinct declaration, in so many words, setting forth my views, Mr. King stated precisely the opposite of what my views are. I suppose that arises from writing out his speech beforehand. Mr. King made a wonderful attempt at being funny, when he said that Mr. Holyoake contradicted Mr. Bradlaugh, Mr. Watts contradicted both, and also contradicts himself. Unfortunately, Mr. King in all these cases gave his own views. The debate is printed and can stand for itself. I do not care to be dragged into any sort of a discussion as to what are Mr. Watts' or Mr. Holyoake's views, because I quite admit the possibility of every second free-thinker expressing different views and general thoughts on the subject; but what I contend is this - that we have a basis of morality as distinct as you can possibly wish, and that basis of morality I have put to you. Mr. King says that that is changing about, and that the greatest happiness for the greatest number is only a play upon words. That is not so, because in the Hutching's debate the question followed - "How are you to know what will promote the happiness of the greatest number?" and the answer was clear and distinct - "By the best knowledge of the best men of their times, which changes every hour of the day, and by which you alter your conduct." In proof of this, look at moral legislation which is far different now to what it was 200 years ago, and must necessarily be so. It is the merest pretence to say it doesn't. My opponent took the trouble to say that Thomas Paine could not be a Secularist. That is not true. But I will take up the subject from the point at which I leave off, having exhausted my time.
MR. KING'S SECOND REPLY
MR. KING: - I did not put Mr. Bradlaugh before you as holding that men could not be members of the National Secularist Society unless they were Atheists; not for one moment did I state or entertain such an idea. I read from Mr. Watts a widely different statement. I know, and everyone knows, that a large number of Secularists, probably the majority, do not declare themselves Atheists. It is one thing to admit men into a society who are not Atheists, and it is another thing to do so logically. Mr. Bradlaugh clearly laid it down that Secularism includes Atheism. Then, if the principles of Secularism include Atheism, that person is not a Secularist, according to Mr. Bradlaugh's definition, who does not embrace Atheism; and therefore, if you admit him into your society he is not what he professes to be, and not what your President's definition requires him to be, because he does not accept the principle of Secularism as avowed by Mr. Bradlaugh. Leaving that point I am somewhat surprised to learn that the various Lancashire Co-operative Societies are infidel institutions. I did not know it, and I think the leaders, committees, and members of those Co-operative Institutions will be equally surprised at the information given by Mr. Bradlaugh. The socialistic, communistic arrangements of R. Owen were essentially infidel, and they failed. They are not to be found in the Lancashire Co-operations of this day, and Secularists cannot claim the present institutions. They are not associated with Atheism, nor are they essentially infidel. I recommend Co-operative Societies, and when they were started in Birmingham I gave what little assistance I could by dealing with them, and so on, in order to support and encourage them. They are good, they progress considerably, but they are not essentially, nor necessarily, atheistic, nor infidel, and I know not an association of the kind in Lancashire, which is an avowedly atheistic or socialistic institution. The enterprises entered upon by the Socialists failed - were abandoned; whilst those without Socialism, without the infidel element have succeeded. I insist that Socialism has failed entirely. Why, if ten years hence you find the National Secular Society disbanded; if ten years hence you found no halls open for lectures under the designation of Secularism, you will be justified in saying that Secularism has either died out or been put down. Now the Socialistic propaganda came entirely to an end. The thing was done with. There was a lull in infidel advocacy - a period of quiet - and then came forth the Secularistic attempt at re-organization. I need not attempt to tell you what progress has been made in that direction. Socialism as propounded by Robert Owen completely failed - its very name was abandoned, its advocates betook themselves to other employments. After a time Secularism came forward. Was it the old infidelity with a new name? I suggested that it was the old thing with a new term, but that my opponent indignantly denies. Very well, let him have it his own way for the present. But then, if Secularism was a new thing what became of the old one? If it had not failed why did Infidels set it aside and bring in the other? [Applause]. Was it because it was too successful - were they getting on so well and so fast that they could not stand the success? No, no! the whole thing was smashed up so soon as its true character was known and men set themselves to expose and oppose it; and so it will be with the present Secularism. [Applause]. My opponent tells you that my speech was prepared beforehand. Yes, and I have a good deal more prepared beforehand, because I did not expect to hear so much that is new. But I did not commence, nor did I conclude with what I had before prepared. Still, I am somewhat surprised to find so little that my before-prepared speech does not completely cover. Mr. Holyoake has most certainly intimated that Mr. Bradlaugh does not understand what Secularism is. Why did they debate if they were agreed? And certainly the debate did not end in an agreement. Mr. Holyoake continues to assert that Secularism does not, necessarily, contain Atheism. Mr. Bradlaugh, on the other hand, does not give up the opposite position. Then, Mr. Holyoake did, in that discussion, denounce Mr. Bradlaugh as not understanding Secularism, and as taking in regard to it a decidedly injurious course. Turning to the question of morals, we have asked for Mr. Bradlaugh's moral code. He will not give it. We have demanded it, and he meets us with a general declaration concerning "the greatest happiness to the greatest number." Very well. But we ask, what that is which will produce that result? We demand an answer. Let him give it in his next speech, and let us grapple with it. But our demand will not be answered. He said it is - what? Why what it will not be ten years hence and therefore he will not tell us what it is today. [Hear and laughter]. Now, we grant our Secularist friends full liberty to change their moral code when they are tired of it, but in the meantime let them tell us what it is today. [Applause]. Tell us the things that are held to be immoral because they produce evil and not good. Let us have their two tables of morals; one of the things we should do, and the other of the things we should not do. I do not ask him to tell us what will be the Secularist's moral code 100 years hence, when we have done our work, and left these things in the hands of our successors. But, as our opponent will not give us what we thus reasonably ask for, we must find it out for ourselves. We must take the testimony of those advocates of Secularism who have been admitted into the inner temple, and who know the secrets of the Sanctum Sanctorum. First, then, a few words from Joseph Barker. He was editor of one part of the National Reformer while Mr. Bradlaugh edited the other part - each having control over his own section. But Barker denounced Bradlaugh on account of the demoralizing tendency of the literature he recommended, and that not only subsequently to declaring his re-conversion to belief in Christ, but while he was yet printing against the Bible. In his Review, which he started after leaving the National Reformer, he speaks of the section of Secularists that then adhered to Mr. Bradlaugh as the "Unbounded Licence Party;" and he says, "The weekly organ of this party (National Reformer) is the most beastly and brutal, the most loathsome and revolting, paper we have seen. The books it recommends are the most demoralizing we ever read. That many of the party would commit murder, even to punish differences of opinion and freedom of speech, we have no doubt, if they could do so without risking their lives. We know they will swindle and rob, and as for profligacy, they not only practice it, but openly advocate it in its vilest forms. And if such men do not commit murder, it is not for want of a natural fitness for the work, but for want of the opportunity of doing it without danger to themselves." Now, concerning "Barker's Review," from which this quotation is made Mr. Holyoake wrote in his "Secular World," "We do not intend to exclude Mr. Barker's Review from the list of papers doing useful work on the side of Freethought, though the uncertainty of his views - repulsively Atheistical yesterday, half Wesleyan and half Tory today - make him difficult of classification." I cite this to show that Barker's testimony against the "Unbounded Licence Party" was given while he was yet editor of a paper classed by Mr. Holyoake as doing useful work on the side of Secularism. But at the very time that Mr. Holyoake this classed Barker's paper, he repudiated the National Reformer on account of its violation of decency and its tendency to destroy Secularism. Mr. Barker says that he ceased to edit his half of the Reformer in August 1861, having been editor about eighteen months, and that, in the Reformer itself, he repudiated the demoralising effects of the literature recommended by Mr. Bradlaugh in the other half of the paper. But what took place after Barker ceased to be connected with the Reformer? Why, Mr. Holyoake took his place, or, at least, became part editor, controlling one part, while Mr. Bradlaugh conducted the other. But what followed? In May 1862 (nine months later) Mr. Holyoake issued the first number of a new paper, The Secular World, and therein he sets forth, that in becoming part editor of the National Reformer he stipulated for the exclusion of all advocacy and introduction of that peculiar Social Science, which, as we have seen, had previously so called out the indignation of Mr. Barker. He also gives as his reason for terminating his connection with Mr. Bradlaugh, in conducting the paper, that the stipulation had been broken and the demoralizing elements again obtruded. In his first article Mr. Holyoake says "During our connection with the National Reformer we made it a primary condition, that all advocacy and introduction of the Elements of Social Science should be suspended, and that that book should in no way be put forward as a representative book of the Secular party. Our connection with the paper closed with No. 98. Up to that time the exclusion we stipulated for, was observed, but in No. 99 of that paper the editor hastened to feel the pulse of a correspondent, to prescribe fresh air, gentle exercise, careful diet, and a course of Sexual Religion." Passing over a few lines, Mr. Holyoake adds "This course must give the public the most unfortunate impression that the conductors, as the Author of the Biglow Papers would say,
'Have throwed to the wind all regard to wat's lawfle,
An' gone in for sumthin' promiscu'sly awfle.'
This unhappy and official prominence to that uncomfortable book, renders it both an act of duty and of decency to institute a new organ for the Secular party." [Time, Applause].
DAVID KING INDEX