KING AND BRADLAUGH DEBATE - PART 22
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?
Wednesday Evening, 26th October, 1870
MR. KING'S FIRST REPLY
MR. KING: - [Hearty cheering]. I do not like calling men liars. [Hear, hear]. There is a better way - prove the lie. [Applause]. And now let Mr. Bradlaugh take his book in hand, and we shall see who is the liar. My quotation is from page 425. He tells you I left out a clause. I read: "As the true moral principle is not 'Love this man and hate that one,' so it is not 'reverence this one and despise the other,' but have AN EQUAL REVERENCE FOR ALL, no matter what they are." Thus I read, and Mr. Bradlaugh stands up and charges me with leaving out a clause from that passage. [Mr. Bradlaugh: Hear, hear]. He can take the alleged lie back to himself. [Applause]. He commenced quoting from the previous page. The passage he referred to precedes the one I read. [Applause]. Well then, Mr. Bradlaugh talked about Lord Amberley. I do not like to call a man a liar, but I prefer to prove the lie. [Loud Applause]. My remark in reference to Lord Amberley last night had no special nor exclusive reference to Mr. Bradlaugh's remarks in this debate in reference to his lordship. I am not quite sure, but rather think, that Mr. Bradlaugh used it in reference to Lord Amberley chiefly in reference to things said previously and elsewhere. The names of Lord Amberley and Mr. John Stuart Mill have been associated with this abominable book. Then mark, you have not only been told that those gentlemen admire the book, but, in the case of Lord Amberley, Mr. Bradlaugh has here declared that his lordship has spoken of it most highly. I denounce this as false, and I do so on Lord Amberley's own authority, whose letter, addressed to myself, I hold in my hand. [Loud and prolonged cheers]. His lordship writes: -
"With the book you mention, 'The Elements of Social Science,' I am indeed acquainted but I regard it with the strongest disapproval. The author's ideal of society appears to be a state of unlimited licence, happiness being obtained by the indulgence of degrading passions. I contemplate such teaching with the utmost aversion and I consider the wide circulation of the work which contains it the more to be regretted because its pretensions to medical authority (to which I am convinced it has but little claim) may easily mislead unwary or uninstructed readers.
Should any one attribute to me in your presence any sort of agreement with this pernicious work, I authorize you to contradict the statement in the most emphatic manner."
Now, Sir (addressing Mr. Bradlaugh), what about your nailing down lies. [Laughter and continued cheers]. Let us have that nailed down, Sir, if you please. [Renewed cheers]. You make assertions in reference to Mr. Mills and others; but after the evidence adduced in the case of Lord Amberley the audience can believe your statements, can they not? [Laughter and cheers]. Then Mr. Bradlaugh tells us that I misquoted Mr. Watts. I did not quote from the book report, I quoted from the National Reformer. [Hear, hear and applause]. The words I quoted are here (holding up a copy of the National Reformer). Mr. Watts is an accredited lecturer of the National Secular Society, and he says very distinctly, that the question of the existence of God being one of conjecture Secularism does not exact Atheism. I shall again read his words as I read them before, that Mr. Bradlaugh may compare as I proceed. He says "That the question of the existence of God, being one of conjecture, Secularism leaves it for persons to decide for themselves. Atheism includes Secularism, but Secularism does not exact Atheistical profession as the basis of co-operation. It is not considered necessary that a man should advance as far as Atheism to be a Secularist." That is what I quoted from the National Reformer, before, and there it is. If it is not right Mr. Bradlaugh, I suppose, is responsible for putting it there. [Hear, hear]. Next he tells us that marriage in this country, in regard to its arrangements, is not what it should be. Very good. We shall be very happy to make improvements, but is the improvement to come in the shape of two persons agreeing to a temporary sexual connection and presently separating? Is this free love system to be the improvement? Does it follow, that because our marriage arrangements are not all they ought to be - that because there is diversity between the marriage laws of England, Ireland and Scotland - that is would be better to adopt his free love system and flood the national with demoralization. Then he stated that an injustice is done him because I suppress the fact that this book on Social Science, in its main features is devoted to the advocacy of the Malthusian Doctrine. I did no injustice there, because, for the purposes of this discussion - do not understand that I do so really - I accept all that Malthus taught on the subject. Well, taking the ground of Malthus, my abhorrence of this book is in no wise lessened. [Hear, hear]. The means recommended therein for the realization of the end which Malthus deemed desirable are entirely opposed to everything he wrote, and the whole difference is here. Malthus proposed no immoral means, this book proposes means the most degrading and demoralizing. That is the real difference, and when you understand that difference you understand what I have uttered in this debate and why I am justified in charging my opponent as I do. [Applause]. Then we have certain alleged features of Christianity presented as offsets to this abominable book. But I require that whatever is presented by my opponent on this score shall belong to Christianity - that is, that it shall be found in the teaching of Christ and His apostles. And with regard to this principle I shall have just about time to read and to adopt (so far as this discussion is concerned) a page or so upon the right use of Old Testament facts.
"The biblical infidels, who follow, with less ability and more extravagance, the footsteps of Paine, ignorantly presume that their strength lies just where they are weakest: I mean in their attacks on Old Testament saints and the Bible character of God through them; together with the Jewish wars and national history. Now, if these constituted the Bible; if our argument were in defence of Judaism, and not of Christianity - to which Judaism is the historical introduction - there would be some colour of propriety in attacking such points; and then the contest would be on this subject - 'Whether they deal fairly by Judaism, - whether they state it as it really is; and then, whether Judaism was not fitted for the Jews in their circumstances?'
This discussion on Judaism had better be held with a learned and pious Hebrew, and would require on the part of the infidel four qualifications, which platform infidels seldom discover. First, an acquaintance with the state of the world when Judaism was instituted; secondly, a full knowledge of those circumstances in Jewish history, which are selected for criticism; third, an insight into the collateral and prospective uses of Judaism in relation to mankind at large; and lastly, - what infidels have never shown, - the objector would require to understand, and not to misrepresent, the character of God as revealed in Judaism, and the Old Testament generally.
The falsehood on which they invariably proceed, is the assumption that the entire life and actions of Old Testament heroes are accepted and endorsed by Jehovah as true morality, according to the Bible.
If Abraham is called a friend of God, then it is assumed that his failings must be regarded as Divinely approved; so with David, Solomon, and others.
The infidel never discovers, or never states, the respects in which those men are accepted of God, and having made the Bible endorse their sins, the infidels wickedly proceed upon this ignorance to assume, that the Bible teaches us what we can now follow the example of Old Testament saints, in their failings, and be accepted of God. In other words, they find our commandments in the sins of men under a former dispensation.
Thus their entire fallacy lies in taking Judaism for the Bible; the introductory history for the thing which is introduced; they do not stay to ask whether Christianity - which is the Bible in its completion - was not introduced just because the law of Moses failed; nor whether that law was not a mere parenthesis between the promise of Christ and His coming; for, if they enquired into this they would find that the imperfect historical development of the Jews is discovered by the perfect development of the gospel.
But they argue against Judaism as if we advocated it for us, and seldom come to Christianity; or when they do, they enter into such grotesque mistakes and absurd criticisms on figurative expressions of general principles, as to amaze the intelligent, and perplex the ignorant.
Since, therefore, their main stress is in attacking the Old Testament, and they are either incompetent or unwilling to give a sensible and candid moral criticism of the book in relation to its times; and do not understand or neglect to point out its temporary and introductory nature, as the history of a local religion and the foreshadowing of a universal and perfect one, to which all the Old Testament historically and prophetically tends; since they thus miss the mark, and live by misunderstanding and misrepresenting what is obsolete, or rather what never was the law of Christians, and never constituted the scope of the Bible as an entire revelation; - they confess by this course, that they object to what is laid aside, whilst they are incompetent, morally and intellectually, to appreciate the ends it served to those to whom it was given, and the proper use of it to us who read it as a historical and prophetical introduction to that which constitutes the complete Bible, the Gospel of God concerning His Son.
We need only remind them that we are not Patriarchs, not living in those times, nor accepting those examples as our complete standard; that we are not Jews, nor living in Judea under Moses; and that by 'the Bible as our rule of faith and practice,' we do not mean half of it, but the whole, and the whole only as it presents itself in its relation to us. We do not mean Judaism, is in the Bible, but it is abolished in the Bible; abolished for the Jews, it never was imposed on us, except by infidels and never was intended to be.
The Bible, as a whole, regarded as our present living rule of faith and practice, does itself supersede all Jewish rites, and all imperfect examples by giving us Christian principles and an example that is perfect.
How we are to judge morally of ancient heroes by their times, and how we are to judge of God in His acceptance of them, is a separate subject; that indeed would require no explanation, if freethinkers has used their common sense in Bible history." [Loud applause].
MR. BRADLAUGH'S SECOND REPLY
MR. BRADLAUGH: - Mr. King commenced by stating that his quotation from the Elements of Social Science began with the tenth line on page 425, and that what I have read to you was from the previous page. I think I have accurately stated what he said. He began reading from the fourth line, omitting part; and I did not read from the page before. I began with the paragraph nearly at the bottom of the page, and read to the end of the paragraph, so that Mr. King was wrong in both of his statements, and if this debate is ever printed the matter will speak for itself, to those who like to look into it. The words are "The merit of all men is equal," and then all the words are omitted to the tenth line, when Mr. King went on again. Next with regard to Lord Amberley. What I said is, that I was present when Lord Amberley said what I have stated. I did not say what he has written since. [Laughter.] The evidence that I am not wrong is that the speech is reported. There is a powerful corporation called the British Medical Association, which has a journal called the British Medical Journal, and the speech was reported in this as I have stated; and it has been reported in fifty or sixty other papers. ["Question"]. I am not here to bandy words with every indecent person in the audience who chooses to interrupt me. The files of the journal in question will show how the matter stands, and if the speech is not there I shall simply have added one more lie. If it is there, Lord Amberley must have changed his opinions between the date of his speech and the date of that letter, or he has forgotten what he said. There can be no mistake about it because Mr. Laurie, Lord Amberley's tutor, read a paper, and I spoke during that debate, and the Elements having been referred to Lord Amberley left the chair to follow my speech, and used the language which I have mentioned, and which was reported in the British Medical Journal. If I have made an error it is a strange one, and was shared by the journal at the time, and I don't remember it, - and I only ask that the reporters will remember precisely what it was that Lord Amberley said about this book. He said he considered it one of the best books ever written on the subject, and that it ought to be in the hands of every working man. That, I know, was what he said, and what was attributed to him at the time.* Now, I don't know why Mr. King read Mr. Watt's speech, for he read exactly the words that I did. I suppose he had some point in it, but the words agree because the type is the same, the book having been printed from the Reformer. But we are told you ought not to quote any portion of the Bible that does not relate to Christianity. But how much does relate to it? The whole book, or only what Mr. King presents to us. And what does that mean? Why, that everything inconvenient must be thrown overboard. ["No"]. Then does it mean that everything that is not repealed by Jesus must be read? If so I will trouble Mr. King to say what it is. If not, who is to be the judge? I don't deal with the actions of the patriarchs, but with express enactments. I put it as distinctly as possible - that even in the New Testament there is language used which is so horrible that no person can read it. I refer to Rev. 17:4, as a sample of the abominable style to which I allude. But I object that no man has a right, so long as the law of this country declares that the Bible is to be believed as God's revelation to man, and his guide to salvation - no man has a right, in defining Christianity, to get up and say we must only take a part, as the other related only to the Jews. The ten commandments are not to apply to us today, and Exodus 2 is indefensible, it cannot be defended, it has to be abandoned; and, therefore, Mr. King says he has nothing to do with it. I put it to you, that this is one of the most monstrous ways of dealing with this question; because it really amounts to this, that in the early part of the debate we had prophecy quoted from the Old Testament when Mr. King thought it suited his purpose, but the moment I quote anything from it, he says that is Judaism and applies to the Jews, and it is too abominable to accept. Then we go on to the question whether Christianity can do Secular work. Mr. King says it can, and he says "I signed petitions for the repeal of the Oaths Laws." If you did, they were Secular petitions, because only those came from Birmingham. Then I ask why Christians did not originate such petitions themselves, and not leave Secularists to do the work; and why, after 1800 years, did they leave this work undone, if it were a kind of work that Christians could do? The work ought not to have been left to us to do at all if it were part of your mission to do it. It is of no use to say you endorse the action; it is work you have left the Secularists to do. If you endorsed the Secular view against the Land Laws, how is it that you have left no trace of your work? How is it that large estates are increasing and small farms diminishing, and poor people are becoming more pauperized? How is it that a powerful Christian community of 500,000 people, with whom you are connected, with others sufficiently numerous to carry any measure - (and I presume that some of the 500,000 are in this country) - how is it you have not got a change in the Land Laws and made your mark about it? If you have endorsed the action against the Land Laws and think it a right work to do, how is it that the Land Laws today are the worst possible? If it be true that this is your work, the Land Laws should not now want changing at all. If there are in the Christian sects some millions of people, why haven't they done the work, if it be a Christian work? Nay, will Mr. King quote me the text of Scripture in which they are to do the work? Because, as the Book is to be our guide, we must take the whole Bible as it applies to us. Will he point out where it will help you? Take the question of the extinction of the Chamber of Peers - Christianity will not help us to accomplish that, because Christianity tells you to be obedient to the powers that be, which are of God, and to submit yourselves to higher authorities, telling you, in fact, to be subservient, and put up with wrong here in the hope that it will be remedied hereafter. It is not enough for Mr. King to say I accept these things, I endorse these things. Here is this work, which Secularism, heresy, infidelity and free-thought does do, and which Christianity, as such, cannot do. I urge, further, that Christianity has made the very evils heresy has been called upon to reform. If it is true that Mr. King was as much against the Press Laws as I was, how was it that an infidel was the last to resist them and the last to remove the last shackles? How was it that Mr. King did not try it? It is utterly useless to say "I endorse what has been done," after you have left it for somebody else to do. Take the old struggle for an unstamped press, and you will find that it was such men as Robert Carlyle, Hetherington, Watson and Cleve who went to gaol to get for you the cheap press you have today. It is all very well to come here now and endorse such work, when you left infidels to do it. The thing is simply monstrous. Take the Test and Oath questions. Can you have any sort of notion that man can stand equal before the law, when at the present moment (and no sort of agitation is being carried on against it even by the party to which Mr. King belongs) there is an Act of Parliament rendering me, on conviction, incapable of being a party to or defendant in a suit - incapable of receiving a legacy - incapable of being a trustee even of my own children, or guardian for them; and yet Mr. King says, "I endorse the opposition." But why not do the work? I have been put to an expense of £1,480 to carry my cause, in consequence of these laws, and had to take my case to the highest court in the realm in order to carry it. If Christians agreed with me, why did they not carry the laws, and not talk about the country of starving me out when starvation enough if put upon me by this robbery. Only half a word more, and I have done. In this last speech I have refrained from any word that can be called coarse or vile, because there was refrainment on the other side. I shall shape my language by the language of my opponent. [Applause, and hisses].
DAVID KING INDEX