KING AND BRADLAUGH DEBATE - PART 23

CHRISTIANITY

VERSUS

SECULARISM

SIX NIGHTS' DISCUSSION

BETWEEN

DAVID KING AND CHARLES BRADLAUGH

[The following section copied by permission of The British Library,]


WHAT IS SECULARISM? - WHAT CAN IT DO FOR MAN THAT CHRISTIANITY CANNOT?

Wednesday Evening, 26th October, 1870

MR. KING'S SECOND REPLY

MR. KING: - Returning to the Elements of Social Science, we read - "Whether the children have been born in marriage or not is a matter of comparatively little importance.

"Marriage is based upon the idea that constant and unvarying love is the only one which is pure and honourable, and which should be recognized as morally good. Love is like all other human passions and appetites, subject to change, deriving a great part of its force and continuance from variety in its objects; and to attempt to fix it to an invariable channel is to try to alter the laws of its nature. Youth, when the passion is strongest, is especially prone to change, according to the beautiful command of nature, who intends that our experience should be varied, and our different faculties and emotions called forth." (353, 354).

"Marriage is one of the chief instruments in the degradation of women." (355).

"The icy formality of the marriage idea is a constant damper to the enjoyments of youth; it spoils the social pleasures between the young of both sexes, and casts a chill upon that intimacy and close sympathy which they should have for each other." (356.)

"The complete exclusiveness of marriage gives rise to very great evils. Both men and women, but especially the latter, often fall desperately in love with one object, and if they cannot have the full and sole possession of this they resign themselves to despair." (357, 358).

"Let those who will marry; but those who do not wish to enter upon so indissoluble a contract (either on account of their early age, or from a disapproval of the whole ceremony), should deem it perfectly honourable and justifiable to form a temporary connection. If they refrain from undue procreation, rear their children carefully, etc." (376, 377).

"If a woman is to have only two, or at most, and in comparatively rare cases, three children, she can easily gain a livelihood for herself, and, therefore, requires no protection nor aid beyond what the laws afford to each of us. Why should she tie herself indissolubly to one man for life; or, on the other hand, why should a man do so?" (375.)

"The noblest sexual conduct, in the present state of society, appears to me to be that of those who, while endeavouring to fulfil the real sexual duties, enumerated in a former essay, live together openly and without disguise, but refuse to enter into an indissoluble contract of which they conscientiously disapprove." (505.)

Here you have inculcated variable love and marriage terminable at will to accommodate it. Marriage also is characterized as spoiling the pleasures of the young of both sexes, and marriage is denounced as a chief degradation of women. You have it declared perfectly honourable to form temporary sexual connections, and that it is a matter of no particular importance whether children are born in wedlock or otherwise, and that the noblest sexual conduct is that which dispenses with marriage. In addition to this (263, 270) it is stated of prostitution that it is "A mode of life which is by no means void of virtue, and of value to mankind." "It should be regarded as a valuable temporary substitute for a better state of things." Now, this is the morality that the President and the recognized organ of the National Secular Society are chief agents in bringing home to the firesides of Secularists! Can anything be more debasing or more subversive of true morality? It was in view of these and similar horrible perversions that that cautious thinker and writer, W.H. Gillespie, wrote, on page 24 of his "Argument for the Moral Attributes of the Supreme Being" the following note: -

"Indeed, had it not been that our Atheists are at work in practically defending, yea, actively pleading for the right to be the doers of unnatural impurities (though the idea of guilt, as attachable to such enormities, is, in company with the idea of sin, out of the question in their case), a motive bracing me up to the required pitch might have been awanting. But our British infidels and their American cousins have been busy for a good while in theorizing and philosophizing speculatively in behalf of doctrines leading directly to the actual commission of deeds which we believers account unnatural vices; and a sufficient reason for my utmost effort in opposition was not to seek. A sufficient reason, a reason more than sufficient, lay at my door, in the shape of unmentionable pollution on system. When crimes against nature are sought to be reduced to system, and are recommended for practice, who, having the ability to utter a telling protest against the iniquity, shall dare to be silent."

Leaving, then, this matter, we come to the Bible, and I say that we Christians do not object to Secularists quoting from the Bible, but what they quote must appertain to Christianity and be a constituent thereof. The laws and institutions of the former economy were never given to us. They were given, under peculiar circumstances, only for a time, and were afterwards repealed. I am asked how I, as a Christian, claim the ten commandments if the Jewish law is not enforced upon us. I claim nothing of the sort. [Hear, hear]. One of the ten commandments enacts that the Sabbath day is holy, and is to be kept holy. Now, that is the Saturday, and I never attempt to keep it. [Applause]. I have, as a Christian, all the great principles of those commandments (with the exception of the purely ceremonial one of the Sabbath day) binding upon me by re-enactment. If you ask whether I am allowed to steal, I reply, "No, for the act is forbidden in the law of Christ," and to commit adultery is a sin against the laws of the kingdom of Christ. [Hear, hear]. As a Christian, am I not under the commandment which forbids theft? I answer, no! not so far as the Jewish law is concerned. But I am under the law of Christ, which requires that men steal no more, and which, in various ways, forbids all dishonesty. [Applause]. If you ask whether, by not acknowledging myself under the Jewish law, I escape the prohibition against adultery, I answer, that I am under law to Christ in this particular also, as he forbids, not only the overt act, but also the state of desire which leads to it. [Hear, hear]. so with murder and other sins forbidden by the ten commands. Thus, then, the great principles of these commands are re-enacted under the Christian dispensation, and it is because the observance of the Sabbath day on a Saturday is not re-enacted that I do not observe it and never intend to do so. [Applause]. My opponent asked why I, as a Christian, do not assist in certain work he alludes to? How does he know what I have done? If he presume to know, why does he not give evidence that I have done nothing to promote such work? What right has he thus to presume, when he can know nothing of what I have been engaged in? For years I have been connected with men in Birmingham who are bound together in the determination to send representatives to Parliament to work out the just liberties of the people. [Hear, hear]. We are working in that direction, and have sent to Parliament the men most likely to give effect to our desires. [Applause]. He then asks why we have not send independent petitions for the repeal of the Oath Laws. We have sent up to Parliament, on several occasions, petitions praying for the amendment of the Oath Laws, and none of these petitions we presented came from the Secularists. This agitation for the repeal of the Oath Laws was taken up long before Mr. Bradlaugh took part in the movement, and Mr. Holyoake told Mr. Bradlaugh that very much had been done in the matter before he put his hand to it. [Applause]. Then we are told that the old Socialist movement has not failed, because some element of Robert Owen's advocacy has taken root and survived in co-operative societies. But granting that (but no one can show that present co-operative societies in any way emanated from Robert Owen), still the question remains - Where did Robert Owen obtain the benevolent and co-operative elements of his system? If existing co-operative societies are to be attributed to him because he urged the idea, must we not go a little further back? And if by so doing we find that Owen did not originate, but merely adopted what Christianity had suggested and led others to adopt, then, I suppose, we shall have to give the credit otherwise than to him. I ask, then, from whence Owen obtained much of the good that existed in his system? And I answer, unquestionably from Christianity. [Hear, hear]. Now let me read from the debate between Alexander Campbell and Robert Owen. On page 161 Mr. Campbell says: - "I will, therefore, ask Mr. Owen to answer this question, - Did he, or did he not, some forty years ago, originate this theory from his own observations of human nature; or was it suggested to him by circumstances which Christianity threw around him in Scotland? That his theory originated in the religious circumstances at that time existing in Lanark, we have good reason to believe. It was the Christian benevolence of Mr. Dale which prompted him to invent a plan for the education of the children of the poor by instituting a system of co-operation. Mr. Dale was thus enabled to sustain five hundred children at one time, who were collected in the manufactories which he controlled, and were there maintained and educated by his philanthropy. And to these circumstances, instituted by Mr. Dale, is Mr. Owen indebted for his new views of society." Thus, then, co-operation was exhibited to Mr. Owen by an eminent believer in Christ and, therefore, Owen merely adopted and carried forward what Christians had used before him. But my opponent may say that I have only given Mr. Campbell's account and that Mr. Owen would not have admitted his indebtedness to Christianity. But if Mr. Bradlaugh is prepared thus to respond he may save himself the trouble, as I have Mr. Owen's own admission. In reply to Mr. Campbell he says (p. 163), "I deem it my duty to concede everything I can to an opponent. I, therefore, most readily concede to Mr. Campbell that the Christian religion was the foundation of the Social system." Thus, then, we have Mr. Owen against Mr. Bradlaugh, and proof that co-operative enterprise neither commenced with Socialism nor Secularism. What, then, shall we say of this Secularism, which clothes itself in our garments and boasts of work that is not in any way distinctive of it? We will say, that when born, its parents had not provided for it a rag of clothing and, consequently, its nurses steal our raiment to hide its nakedness. They lay hold of our deeds and claim, as distinctively their work, that which is common to us as men, and in the doing of which Christians have been the most laborious and successful labourers. They claim the men who have suffered as the pioneers of liberty. But while we do not deny that some Infidels have suffered in the struggle to gain for the many their rights, I insist that they are but few in comparison with the believers who have endured confiscation of property, imprisonment, exile, poverty and death as a result of their heroic determination to wage conflict against wrong and oppression. [Applause]. Let us now turn to Mr. Bradlaugh's endorsement of the demoralizing book to which you have been referred. I read his own words from his tract "Shelley, Malthus, and Jesus." He says of the author of the book - "His work I especially recommend. From its price it is within the reach of most working men, and it is from the pen of a man who is thoroughly versed in the subject he dealt with. I write more with a view of inducing Secularists to read his book, than with the notion that I can benefit them by the promulgation of my own views upon this important theme." [Hear, hear, from Mr. Bradlaugh]. Now in that recommendation we have not one word of caution, none of reservation; not a sentence warning the reader that most demoralizing elements are therein contained. Mr. Bradlaugh denies having given unqualified commendation, but I could never desire a commendation of any book of mine more unqualified than that contained in the words I have read. There is not a hint of exception on his part to any portion of it, and no one could possibly suppose from his words, that its practices carried out, would reduce society to the utmost degradation. He sends it forth, by his commendation, without a single implied exception to the licentious doctrines it contains. He will, perhaps, insist that he has not given unqualified commendation, but I have read you such commendation in his own words. But he should know that nothing less than unqualified repudiation on his part of the immoral portions I have read, will at all meet the requirements of the case, so as to clear him. [Applause]. If he will not give that unqualified condemnation of the parts in question (and then he could no longer recommend the book at all) he must remain branded by the strong language of Mr. Holyoake, who, on account of the treatment of this wretched literature by Mr. Bradlaugh in the National Reformer, called upon Secularists to sustain a new paper, that the public might not come to the conclusion that Secularism was in process of suffocation from the immoral literature of Holywell Street. [Applause].


MR. BRADLAUGH'S THIRD REPLY

MR. BRADLAUGH: - Mr. King objects to quoting what does not belong to Christianity, but he does not object to quoting from books not belonging to Secularism. I don't object to his quoting any book he pleases, but I object to his quoting what does not belong to Secularism. He has given you a novel and charming view of the ten commandments. He did not hold the ten as the ten commandments. He holds all of them except one, which has not been re-enacted, "Thou shalt not make to thyself any graven image," etc. I dare say that is re-enacted, as Mr. King says so, by Jesus, but, perhaps, he will find me the particular part of Scripture where that has taken place, and then we shall understand the ground he has taken. These ten commandments don't apply to you unless they are re-enacted, and particularly this one about the Sabbath, so that all this about in six days the Lord made heaven and the earth and rested the Seventh-day which was thenceforth hallowed, has nothing to do with Mr. King, and all the clergy who rail at you as Sabbath-breakers, your champion tells you are only guilty of impertinence, for the law applied to the Jews, and does not apply to you in any fashion at all. [Hear, hear]. Now I am not going to read to you the whole of the passages Mr. King read from the Elements, but I'll ask you to read the whole at your leisure. I am not going to read any, but permit me to say that I am not going to repudiate the Elements. I have no connection with the book which needs repudiation. I believe it to be one of the very best books I ever read, written by a man more competent to write upon the subject than any man I have ever seen. I believe that the book was written in a pure and honest spirit, and I don't intend to retract one syllable that I have ever said about it. I say that it is not, and never has been, a Secular Text Book; I say that my views on Malthusianism are not held by the general body of Secularists any more than other of my views, but I urge that certainly there is much less ground for Mr. King quoting this book, than there would be for my quoting the Old Testament, because the Church of England by its official representatives and by the statutes of the realm, declares the Old and New Testaments part and parcel of Christianity. So that if I am not justified, and Mr. King objects to my quoting anything but what belongs to Christianity, how much less is he justified in quoting from this book? "Oh," but he says, "I'll read from 'Jesus, Shelley and Malthus.'" What was the object of that pamphlet? Nothing but to put before you that population has a tendency to increase faster than the means of existence, and it shows the views of Jesus, Shelley, and Malthus upon it, and I take the book in question up in the course of my investigations, as a cheap and good one. Necessarily, in a book dealing so much with medicine, with the whole in fact with this question, there is much that is utterly unfit to read before a mixed audience, and I do not say anything about that, for I do not understand it. But Mr. King did not say whether I was right, when I stamped down the lie as to page 425. Perhaps he will remember that at page 505 he began again in the middle of a sentence. "On the contrary" being omitted. I read this in justification of the author, who was misrepresented, not in justification of Secularism. I read from the author views about which I can give no opinion, but with the general statements he makes as to the condition of society in England, and in France, Germany, Italy, and Spain I agree, and if this book is, in any sort of fashion, an exemplification of the endeavour to promote human happiness which Secular principles have taught, the question comes, how is it that Christianity has not remedied the evils of poverty and prostitution? How is it that it has left them to be dealt with, in the nineteenth century, in such works as this? It is, to say the least, extraordinary, but let us take the author. He is answering Professor Newman, and he says: "With respect to professor Newman's strictures, I shall only remark that in one place he makes the assertion that I have denied chastity to be a virtue. But this depends upon the definition given to the word. In the popular sense of the word, chastity is usually understood to mean complete sexual abstinence for however prolonged a period, except during the married state. Benjamin Franklin, however, defined chastity to mean, 'the regulated and strictly temperate satisfaction, without injury to others, of those desires which are natural to all healthy adult beings.' The late Mr. Robert Owen defined it in a similar manner as 'sexual intercourse with affection.' If the word be understood according to the definition of Franklin and Mr. Owen, then I consider chastity to be a very great virtue; but chastity, in the sense of prolonged sexual abstinence, I cannot but regard as an infringement of the laws of health, and, therefore, a natural sin either in man or woman, though doubtless in the actual state of society there are certain cases in which it is unavoidable." And don't forget, Mr. Morley Punshon went to Canada to marry his deceased wife's sister. He was enabled to live honourably with her as his wife there, but a few thousand miles would have made all the difference, for had he done so in England it would have been regarded as fornication. I ask you to listen to this - "On the contrary, the noblest sexual conduct, in the present state of society, appears to me to be that of those who, while endeavouring to fulfil the real sexual duties, enumerated in a former essay, live together openly and without disguise, but refuse to enter into an indissoluble contract of which they conscientiously disapprove." Now, I don't stand here to defend the writer's view, but I declare that it is a great deal more vicious for people to stand before the altar and bind themselves to live together "till death do us part" for the sake of money or position. It is more honourable to live together without a marriage tie, so long as you do your duty fairly and honourably to one another. [Hisses]. The doctrine we lay down is that the man who, having a wife (and I call every woman a wife who lives with and has children to a man), turned her out to die, was a bad man, just as Abraham was a scoundrel; and the man who endeavours to fasten the Elements of Social Science upon a party, when he knows that it is only used in connection with the advocacy of these Malthusian questions, and reads lines taken out the the book without reference to the context, and passages without reference to the bearing of them, is a person whom it would be impossible to characterize too harshly, and I have already characterized him as he deserves. Let us see the position in which the thing stands. I ask if Mr. King did not convey a wrong impression as to the oath fight in which I have been engaged. I put it to him, and he said he had signed one petition, or so I thought he meant; but he says it is not within the last few years. He says that much was done before Mr. Bradlaugh put his hand to it. Well, I only pretend that I succeeded where others failed. I don't put it forward as a special thing for myself, but as the work of the party. They helped me to fight it. I only put it that the burden of the fight had fallen on me, as an illustration of what Secularism had done and Christianity failed in. Of course, Carlyle, Southwell, Watson, Hetherington, and Cleve had gone to gaol before. Seven hundred went to gaol in the early part of the century for opposition to the press laws, and to endeavour to circulate free thought. I don't pretend to take any other honour than that of a mere soldier in the fight, but I say that Christianity made the restriction which we have had to overthrow. [Hear, hear]. But let us see how, according to Mr. King himself, the question resolves itself. He says the question is "What is Secularism - what has it done that Christianity cannot do?" He won't permit me to put the whole of the Bible in as a Christian book, and yet despite the very curious way in which he speaks of it, seeing that he holds by it only as it relates to us. While he won't permit me to quote the Bible against him, he persists in quoting a book against me which has no principle that is brought into our principles at all, and only at worst one of those special principles that are held by me in common with other men. Well, but he says, you are the President of the Secular Society. And are not the Thirty-nine Articles and the Ten Commandments endorsed by the great Christian party? He asked me what I repudiate. I never repudiate until I find reason for it. Well, I don't agree with many of the views propounded by the writer here, because I have not been bold enough to profess to express an opinion on many of the facts on which it is based; but I am sure it is a pure book, and purely written book, and none but a filthy, evil-minded man would find anything filthy in it. [Cheers and hisses].


DAVID KING INDEX