KING AND BRADLAUGH DEBATE - PART 19
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 SECOND REPLY
MR. BRADLAUGH: - If my opponent will leave out prophesying from his speeches and confine himself to facts, it would prove infinitely better. If he doesn't give over prophesying, I won't prophesy what I shall or what I shall not do in the course of this debate. Therefore any sort of slur in that innuendo may fairly fall back on the Christian which uttered it. But my view on morality is supplemented by a better man than myself, whose words, to the extent they go, I shall adopt. The creed which he accepted as to morals is Utility, or "The greatest happiness principle - that actions are right in proportion as they tend to promote happiness, wrong as they tend to produce the reverse of happiness. By happiness is intended pleasure and the absence of pain; but unhappiness, pain and the privation of poverty. The theory of life in which this theory of morality is grounded is that pleasure and freedom from pain are the only things desirable as ends: and that all desirable things are desirable either for the pleasure inherent in themselves, or as means to the promotion of pleasure and the prevention of pain." Now, I shall undertake, if challenged on any particular line of conduct, to apply that rule to it, and the way I shall apply it applies to a variety of human relations promoting pleasure and presenting pain; whereas the Bible injunctions in this respect promote pain and prevent pleasure. [Hear, hear]. I will now follow through the rest of the speech of my opponent. Mr. King stated that the only right which Secularists have is that of propagating and asserting Atheism. He further stated that I admitted that the principles of the Secular Society did not go to that extent, but that no man, unless an Atheist, can accept the principles. Logic, indeed! What I said was, that the logical result of doubt is Atheism. There were many men in the world who thought differently. Some thought it was Unitarianism, and other men landed in Mohammedanism or other "isms" of the world. My view is the logical result - Atheism. But so far from declaring that every man must be an Atheist, all I want men to recognize is the utility principle - the promotion of human happiness and human improvement as indispensable duty; and hence all the theological teachings of the world are positive barriers. But Mr. King says that some theological teachings are bad, but we declare that all are bad. I am not going to contrast Mohammedanism with Secularism, but I am prepared to show that Secularism can do that which Christianity cannot. [Hear, hear]. And mark, my opponent has not replied to my arguments on the condition of woman, slavery, and upon education, but he introduced Mr. Barker, Mr. Holyoake and "Social Science." But let us see what Mr. King says about the co-operative institutions being atheistical. How did I introduce co-operative stores? Mr. King states that Secularism is a renewal of Socialism which failed. I stated that Robert Owen's Socialism did not fail, for the result of it is the co-operative societies you have today. [Applause]. Can Mr. King venture to show that during the 1800 years Christianity has been established stores were first set on foot through the influence of Christian teaching? Robert Owen did not fail; no man fails who leaves so large an impress as Mr. Owen did on the world, so as to modify some of its future thought - who leaves so much of an impress on the world to guide to some extent its action. And I claim that you have the result of Robert Owen's teachings in the co-operative stores, and that Christian teachings never brought them, and never could or would have brought them. [Applause]. Well, then Mr. King states that the right to think and to utter thought, claimed by Secularists is not exclusive - Christians admit it, and, I suppose with some little qualm, he added - at least in theory. But they do not admit it in theory. I think they admit a little more in practice than they do in theory. The right to think is positively denied, through Christian Acts of Parliament absolutely forbidding us to deny the truth of Christianity. And I ask you, what is the use of truth if you must not utter it? Mr. Justice Montague Smith pleaded against me at Exeter, and said, "Mr. Bradlaugh has a right to hold any opinions he pleases, on condition that he keeps them to himself." [Laughter]. I won't condescend to waste more time in debating this point. Christianity, Mr. King says, teaches you to "Prove all things, and to hold fast that which is good." Yes, but it also teaches, "He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved, and he that believeth not shall be damned." What is the use of proving all things when, if you do not believe certain things, you shall be damned. Well, then, Mr. King was good enough to take up the Secularist programme of work, and he says, "What is there in this work that I cannot endorse?" That is not the question - What is in the work that Christianity cannot do? The question for debate is, "What is Secularism, and what can it do that Christianity cannot?" And no doubt it would be extremely convenient for my friend to avoid it, but I shall not allow him. Curiously there were only two things that Mr. King commented upon; the others he seemed purposely to leave out. Now I shall have to come out, because he dealt with these terrible "Elements" in what he knows to be a wickedly false way. I do not want to fasten harder or harsher terms, but depend upon it if that sort of language is to go on, there will only be one man in the audience who will have cause to remember it by the time the debate is closed. [Hear, hear, and hisses]. Why hiss? Am I to be charged with all kings of violence - with a wife and grown up daughters, and not retaliate? I will show you how I will retaliate before I have done. [Cheers, and renewed hissing]. What! To hiss -
MR. SLATER (interposing): - If you who hiss and you who cheer will cease we may expect to maintain order. Unless this is done I will show you an example of making a noise. We intend to have order; in fact, we must have it. [Hear, hear].
MR. BRADLAUGH (resuming): - What about the compulsory system of education? Could Christianity have introduced that? No. For the last 1800 years it left the mass of the people in ignorance, and whether it be infidel work or not, it was certainly infidels who were the chief leaders in movements for encouraging it. Why is it if you take up, as I have done, the bulk of the literature of the last 60 years on the education subject, that you find that the opponents of Secular education have been the principal representatives of religious bodies? It is no use pretending to say that those religious people were in favour of national education, because the very end of Secular education is to give men the ability to think, and to think perhaps differently from their teachers; while the end of the Church is to limit the whole of thought within the lines of particular creeds. Take next the question of the dis-establishment and dis-endowment of State Churches - a measure for placing all religious bodies on an equal footing - and our friend had the coolness to tell you that the Liberation Society went for that measure. When did it go for the repeal of the Blasphemy Laws? Never. Whether Establishment or Nonconformist they never were more liberal than when they went for those things touching their own Church, and within the narrow bounds of their creeds. They never advocated that all should have the same civil rights; but there never will be freedom until all have equal civil rights. [Hear, hear]. The Secular Society is the only society agitating for the repeal of that law. There are no leading religious societies in England, except some of the Unitarian body, who can be replied upon to defend a measure in Parliament for the repeal of the Blasphemy Laws; and they were under them until they became so strong that a Special Act exempted them. Why did not Mr. King deal with the question of the condition of the agricultural classes? Was it because I dealt with it in my first speech, or was it one of the things he had not written down, or was it that it did not suit? He told us that there was not much new in it, and yet this is one of the things he had not told. Where is there anything in Christianity to improve the agricultural classes? According to my code you must try to improve them, because if one class in the country is ignorant and depraved, it will be for our injury; and it is part of our morality to redeem them for our benefit. Each elevation of their condition is an elevation and an improvement of our own. [Applause].
MR. KING'S THIRD REPLY
MR. KING: - I was wishful to meet Mr. Bradlaugh on this question, and should have been exceedingly dissatisfied if our discussion had not embraced it. I wanted to say, in his presence, all that I have said elsewhere on this matter of morals. In Manchester, since my lecture here, Mr. Bradlaugh denounced me before a public meeting as a slinking coward, as having been, here and in other places, saying things in reference to his moral position that I would not dare to say before his face.*
MR. DUCKWORTH: - I would rather you did not introduce such matters.
MR. KING: - It has already been introduced by the other side.
MR. BRADLAUGH: - I was just going to rise to order, and say that what I said in Manchester was said in Mr. King's presence and when he was able to answer, and I have never anywhere said anything in his absence derogatory to him at all.
MR. DUCKWORTH: - What I wish to put before the meeting is, that it is what is said here and here only that I wish the disputants during the time allotted to them to deal with, and, therefore, I must object to anything being brought forward from any other public meeting.
DR. SCOTT: - I submit that Mr. King, without preface, can tell us what he knows about this morality.
MR. KING: - I was merely expressing my gratification at having this question under discussion tonight, because I am determined to say in his presence whatever I have said before in his absence. What I have said, I have said in good faith, believing it to be the simple truth, and I shall repeat it with that conviction, and I pledge myself to this, that if I am shown that I have, in any particular, misunderstood or misrepresented the matter, that I will stand wherever I have intimated anything of the kind and recall it. I only want the subject fairly before us, and fairly understood. I then return to my reading from Mr. Holyoake, and as I was interrupted in the middle of a paragraph, I will repeat the last part of it. In retiring from the National Reformer he speaks thus:- "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, which shall enable it to take its place in the press of the country, in terms which shall raise no blush if they command no assent. If we are to be broken up and extinguished as a party, let it be by our own act. Let Secularists first take their character into their own hands, and if they choose to die, let them die self indicated, and not be ignominiously suffocated by what the public must regard as the carbonic gas of vituperation and Holywell Street. Not to establish a paper now, which represents the principles and defends the interest of the Secular party, will amount to the public abdication of that party in England, and would seem like the desertion of the ancient party of supporters of freethought in England in the hour when it is publicly compromised."
Thus Mr. Holyoake sought to save Secularism from the compromise and destruction Mr. Bradlaugh was bringing upon it. Now, I have given you no opinion of my own on this point, but solely what has been said by Mr. Holyoake. I do not say that he was mistaken. I have examined the book, and hold that he has rightly judged it. But, as I said before, let it be shown that I am wrong, and I will make any reparation, and now is the time for Mr. Bradlaugh to defend himself and exculpate the book. Mr. Holyoake's is a very serious indictment against Dr. Bradlaugh and the healing pages of his Family Deformer. Holywell Street is the London mart for filthy and obscene books and pictures, such as Lord Campbell's Act renders it criminal to sell, and Mr. Holyoake called upon Secularists to forsake the National Reformer and institute a new paper, rather than be suffocated by what the public must regard as the carbonic gas of vituperation and Holywell Street. He also says - "We are sorry to see the new edition defaced with the terms of which we complained before. If an author designed to bring Freethought into contempt, and to excite against it, and apparently justify, the accusations of critics, he could not do it more effectually than by the mischievous phrase, 'Sexual Religion.' What can you reply to those who charge materialism with grossness if this phrase be accepted? Any superstition is preferable to a 'Sexual Religion.' Surely physiological truths can be brought into respect without this reactionary exaggeration. Without in any way impugning the intentions or convictions of the anonymous author, we doubt now the moral tendency of his book. We agree with the principles subsequently enforced in these pages by Mr. Newman, that there are considerations higher than health. We doubt whether celibacy leads to disease to the extent this book appears to assume. Next, if it does, we agree with Mr. Newman, that physical disease is often preferable to moral. Both have to be avoided as far as possible; but, if we are limited to a choice of evils, the physical is the lesser. We wish some writer of wider knowledge and more judgment would treat these grave questions. The medical moral of this book has appeared to some (who are) eminently entitled to deference, to be, that seduction is a physiological virtue. If this be so, a more dangerous licence to vice has never been suggested." Reasoner, May 1857.
Next, Mr. Bradlaugh asks why I did not attend to other items of secular work. Well, I do not know how I could possibly deal with more than the whole of them. I said I could accept the whole, excepting only the advocacy of Atheism. He asks why I did not refer to the state of our agricultural labourers. I did refer to them. I am as anxious to improve their condition as he can be. If Mr. Bradlaugh demands a change in the Land Laws of this country, I also demand changes - if Mr. Bradlaugh demands the abolition of the Hereditary Chamber, I wish for a change in that direction too. I can plead for this kind of work, as my work, as much as Mr. Bradlaugh can claim it as his, and, therefore, I object to have it put down as peculiarly and expressly the work of Secularists. I have already been doing something in connection with it, and am willing to the utmost of my power to do more. [Applause]. Mr. Bradlaugh represented me as saying that Christians admit the right to think for oneself, but as also qualifying the admission by the words "at least in theory." But he mistakes. The qualifying words are not mine, but Mr. Holyoake's. I merely read them as he prints them. [Laughter and cheers]. I affirm the right to think, and I give it to every man - Atheist, Deist, or whatever he may be. If Mr. Bradlaugh hands to me a petition for the repeal of the Blasphemy Laws I will sign it. I stand intimately associated with 500,000 persons in Christian fellowship in this country, in our Colonies, and in America, and I believe there is not a man in the whole membership who would not do so, or who desires to prevent men from affirming their disbelief. I would not have a man inconvenienced for the utterance of his honest conviction - neither by the people nor by the government; and further, I would sweep from the statute book everything that interferes with proper freedom in the expression of opinion. Christianity does to authorize the putting of any man in a position which prevents him from expressing his opinion. It grants to all the right to think and bids us prove all things. It tells us the consequences of disregarding things that we are commanded to do, but still it says prove them - ascertain whether they are true or not. If they are not, then of course you will not accept them. You have, then, according to Christianity, a right to think, a right to contend - in an honest, fair, and truthful way, for what you hold as right. There is, then, nothing distinctive of Secularism here, and nothing but what as Christians we claim the right to exercise. Then I am asked why this Christian nation did not do the work of compulsory education. Because the nation is not Christian - that is why. At the time when the question "What is Christianity?" was discussed we had readings from the National Reformer which our friend seemed to like, which were declarations, not of Christians defining Christianity, but of men from his own side, pointing our that the groundwork of Christianity had been overrun by a priestly despotic system - an ecclesiastical despotism which took its place. And what has it done? It has brought men to the stake, imprisoned, fined, confiscated property, not only as regards the Atheist, but more so and chiefly in reference to true Christians who dared to stand up for Christianity in its primitive simplicity and original purity. You may just as well ask me why a certain effective medicine does not cure people who do not take it. We do not hold ourselves responsible for Christianity when adulterated by other systems. Unhappily we have had to do with that ecclesiastical despotism, which from the National Reformer I have shown has taken the place of Christianity in our land. [Applause].
DAVID KING INDEX