KING AND BRADLAUGH DEBATE - PART 24
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 THIRD REPLY
MR. KING: - Last evening I intimated a desire to repeat, in Mr. Bradlaugh's hearing, all that in my former lectures here I had charged upon and quoted against Secularists. In accordance with that desire I have been careful to read from the Elements of Social Science everything important which I then quoted, as also the testimony of Mr. Barker and that of Mr. Holyoake, against the course taken by my opponent, thus putting forth in his presence all that I urged in his absence. You who were present at the lectures know that I have put the case in this debate even stronger than I did then. There is, however, one other witness whom I have not yet cited, but whom we heard on the former occasion. I mean John Henry Gordon, former Secular lecturer, but now a Baptist minister. He describes the process by which he was led to abandon Secularism, and his experience is worthy your notice. I read from his Repudiation of Secular Principles, published 1862. He says:-
"Although, brief as my career had been, comparatively speaking, I had lectured in most parts of the country, North, South, East, and West, it was not until last April that I lectured in London, where, if there is not such a pretence of organization as prevails in the provinces, all the professional advocates of popular unbelief, or Secularism, reside. Now, I am not going to say anything personal of those six advocates, one lady and five gentlemen, except that, if you want to know anything about any one of them, ask all the rest, and you will very soon find out something curiously irregular, if not directly immoral; but I am going to say that, intensely to my sorrow as a Secularist, or, rather, intensely to my sorrow as an earnest and devout well-wisher for human progress and peace, I found all those persons, more or less, tearing each other to parts and pieces, just like so many Celtic cats. Mark you, I am saying nothing against, or about, their character as individuals; nor am I associating with them those many estimable unbelievers who, in London and elsewhere, refuse to have anything to do with one or other of them, as they may happen to be acquainted with the parties. ... Need I tell you - surely not - that these things set me athinking once more. At any rate, be it known unto you that these things did set me athinking again; and that, on returning to my own home, into which it was my ambition that no corruption should ever enter, I questioned myself, and that with a fearful sharpness: - 'John Henry Gordon, what is it, after all, to which you have allied yourself, your name, your all? Is it possible that you have connected yourself with the advocacy of a principle, or principles, which, when and where best appreciated, and best, or worst, practised, do not prevent, but provoke, the committal of those actions which, otherwise considered, are looked upon as false and foul? You saw so-and-so do so-and-so, and so-and-so, so-and-so - you know that such a person did such a thing, and such another person such another thing - and so on, and so on; but, at the same time, you know that the same people were loud and active in the same movement, so called, as that with which you have allied yourself. Consider, then, whether or not such things, so foul and false, were done by virtue of, or by violence to, those principles which the committers of them profess to maintain, and which you, in common with them, profess and maintain also.' Even so, I say, I questioned myself day after day and week after week until, in good time I clearly saw that, however virtuous and worthy might be the lives of the great mass of those professing Secularists, who knew next to nothing about Secularism, the man who reduced Secularism to its logical conclusions, the man who practised the philosophy of its precepts, was a man who could justify any action it was his pleasure to commit, and who, under cover of that justification, could make any action pleasing in his sight! Believe me I started, and that with horrible dread, at this discovery. I could not believe it, and with throbbing brow and burning throat I resolved to consider the matter again and see if I could not put it right, and by putting it right put myself right too. Again and again, therefore, I considered the matter. I looked at it this way, and that way, and every way. I looked at it all round, indeed; but here, there, and everywhere, on its surface and in its centre, I found nothing but repetitions of the horrid discovery I had already made. You must excuse me, however, if in addition to my mere statement I take the very case I took, and carry you through the very process of mind through which I went, in coming to the conclusion already stated. You will then be able to judge for yourselves whether or not that conclusion is a righteous one; and all that I ask you to do is, first, to remember the statements of Secular doctrine already made; and second, to give me your strictest attention. Our illustration, then, shall be one of an action which, ordinarily speaking, would be called murder, and which, ordinarily judging, would be accounted a crime, and that of the foulest dye. In the way of Secularist A's advancement there stands a man, of whom could he but get rid, his future success would be not only more speedy but more successful; and, mark you, 'the good of this life' is A's 'primary object of pursuit.' He knows of no other, he does not acknowledge any other, he sneers when you hint at another; and his whole energies and abilities are concentrated in the present pursuit of present pleasure. But, then, as we have already supposed, B stands in his way, and A cannot get on so long as B does stand in his way! What can A do, however? B is hale and hearty, and actually promises to survive the man who wants him away; but, as Secularist A believes 'that material means constitute the true method of human improvement,' certain material agencies speedily suggest themselves to him. Say, for instance, the thrust of a knife, or the quenching draught of poison! 'Ah,' says his reason, 'but you may be found out, and that will certainly not promote the good of your present life! However, there is no other life, you know; and, therefore, your risk is only that between losing a little and winning a good deal. I would try, then; but, you know, you must not be found out.' For that, indeed, is the only crime known to Secular, or natural, morality - the crime of not being able to avoid discovery! Do what you like, but do not be found out in doing what you like! Lie, steal, or kill, but do not be known to be a liar, thief, or murderer! If you get found out, indeed, you are a fool, and, as such, deserve to be confined; but, if you can avoid being found out, you are a successful man - you have promoted your good in this life - you have, by material means, improved yourself - and, as such, you are entitled to all praise and honour."
Such is the testimony of one who has passed through the inner temple of Secularism, and who, consequently, speaks from experience. Mr. Bradlaugh turns upon two of my quotations. Well, I think it must be admitted that the quotations were fair and very accurate if not very acceptable, inasmuch as only two passages have been challenged. It is not in the later case at all implied that I have in any way changed the reading. Mr. Bradlaugh was pleased to read a previous portion, and to leave off where I began. [Laughter]. The statement is here, and the case is self-evident - "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." That is as I read, and there is nothing preceding it which casts the shadow of a doubt on the sentiments expressed in those words. I am asked why I did not return to the former, as there, as alleged, I omitted two words from the lines I read. I omitted no words. I read a few words from the preceding portion, and I passed to the other passages, intimating that I had passed from the one to other. We have, therefore, the quotations practically unchallenged, and you have a fair sample of what the book contains. But Mr. Bradlaugh said there were various matters in the book with which he did not agree. Will Mr. Bradlaugh be good enough to inform us what he repudiates and also what he agrees with in the passages I have read to you? [Hear, hear]. I have understood him as not repudiating any passage I have read. And I ask him to say, when he next rises, what portions of the book he does repudiate. [Hear, hear]. He says that there are matters of medical science, and upon which medical gentlemen might differ. But the passages I have read are not such, but clear and distinct in themselves. Let him tell us which of the passages I have read be denounced as tending to demoralization, and which he would expunge from the book? He refers to the marriage of the Rev. Morley Punshon with his deceased wife's sister. Of course there is a difference between the marriage laws of America and those of England, but in England there is an agitation for alteration in the marriage law, as many see no reason why a man should not marry the sister of his former wife. But what has that to do with the advocacy of temporary sexual arrangements? There are no such temporary alliances legal in America. What has Punshon's case to do with it? He did not go to America to marry a wife for three weeks and then come back to marry somebody else. [Hear, hear]. Nothing of the kind. [Applause]. Then I am again asked, in reference to the petitions to Parliament for the repeal of the Oaths Laws. I did not imply that I had anything to do with the last petition. But I told you, in my former speech, that petitions were sent up signed by the people with whom I worship. Mr. Bradlaugh told us that all those petitions were issued by the National Secular Society. We have only Mr. Bradlaugh's word for that. I told you that independent petitions had been presented to Parliament, and I also told you that some members in connection with us have suffered because they would not take an oath. I have never taken what I consider to be an oath, and Mr. Holyoake would not take an oath, but Mr. Bradlaugh was willing to swear on the Bible in which he did not believe. [Laughter]. Thus you see that oaths are no security, and hence my desire to abolish them. Then he tells us about people who went to gaol for the privileges we now enjoy. I know that a good many thus suffered to establish the liberty we now enjoy in this country, but the great proportion of them were not Atheists, nor Secularists, nor infidels of any sort. I know what the Pilgrim Fathers suffered for conscience sake, when, after suffering here, their perilous crossing the ocean led to the planting of that great Republic on the other side of the Atlantic. [Hear, hear]. I know that men like John Bunyan suffered imprisonment because they would not yield to the forcing upon them the domination of the State Church. And I know that it is to those men that we owe, to a large extent, the liberty we now possess. If some men, not believers in the Bible, came forward and asserted their right to express their opinion, and suffered in consequence, then I honour them and their work. I honour them for their manliness, but I do not honour them for their irreligious principles. I honour all who have suffered in the defence of truth and right. Mr. Bradlaugh, in alluding to the ten commandments, asked where the commandment in reference to not worshipping graven images is re-enacted. It is re-enacted in all the prohibitions to idolatry which are to be found in the New Testament. [Applause]. It is not re-enacted in the words of the Jewish Law, but we have the thing prohibited in the New Testament which that law forbade. There we have the prohibition renewed. Idolatry is clearly forbidden in the New Testament. The worship of images is idolatry, and, therefore, the worship of images is forbidden; and consequently, the making of images, to fall down and worship them, is clearly and absolutely prohibited. [Hear, hear, and continued applause].
MR. BRADLAUGH'S FOURTH REPLY
MR. BRADLAUGH: - I say that in no part of the New Testament do you find any re-enactment by Jesus of any portion of that commandment about graven images, and I say that that is just one of the class of arguments that we have had all through. They are statements of the wildest nature possible. Now we have something supposed to be very clever innuendo about the oath. He says Mr. Bradlaugh did not mind swearing by a God whom he did not believe in. But I will tell you what Mr. Bradlaugh did mind doing, and that was telling a lie about it; and he told the Judges of the Court of Common Pleas that if they insisted upon his keeping his hat on, or any other stupid form, and would by that consider him as pledged to speak the truth he would do it, but he would prefer any sensible form. The law was that I should go to prison if I did not take the oath. It was not the same for Mr. King, because the law has been for many years, that if I have a religious objection to taking the oath I need not take it, but that if I did not take it, from any other than a religious objection, I was incompetent for a witness. It was not alone the oath; it was a question of the competency of an infidel witness. And see how carefully that question of blasphemy was dealt with while we were under the question of the repeal of the law. Then Mr. King tells you that the Pilgrim Fathers went to found a Republic. I believe they went to do nothing of the kind. They went out and there was great unpleasantness between them and the Quakers, but I think the Great Republic came long after. Did it not?
MR. KING: - Certainly it did.
MR. BRADLAUGH: - It was rather a late issue. I think most of them were rather in favour of a monarchy than against it. Were the Fathers justified in going against the king? Must they not obey the powers that be? Mr. King will have nothing from the Old Testament but what suits him, and there is much in the New that he won't refer to. I have read you passages about obedience, etc., and all these he has treated with the greatest unconcern. In fact Mr. King has read through a lot of writing and print and hasn't paid the smallest attention to anything that has fallen from me. But he says that Mr. Bradlaugh has only objected to two quotations. I ask you to go home, and read page by page, and you will find in many instances lines selected without reference to the context. I showed that Mr. King commenced one reading from a previous section. Now he says it is much the same. That is not my way of dealing with it. I made a distinct statement that he read a passage omitting a portion of the words from it. Now he wants to know how much of the Elements I will repudiate. I tell him at once - if the book teaches that a man has a right to take a woman for three weeks, and then get rid of her without her consent, I repudiate that. If the book teaches that a woman having a child is living with a man, the man had a right to get rid of them I repudiate that, distinctly and thoroughly. But I don't believe it does teach it. Now to enter on the marriage question, and to ask how much I repudiate of the book, after I have repudiated it as a Secularist book, is grossly unfair; and the only reason why I have expressed the opinions I have about it was to show that although Mr. King was cowardly enough to try to fasten upon the Secular party a book which they had nothing to do with, I had my own views about it, independent of Secularism, and was prepared to say what I had always said about it. I have never said anything about it that I am ashamed to own before my own wife and daughters, and what is contended by many writers, that it is unfair that there should be an indissoluble tie for the poor, which is easily dissoluble by the rich. It is contended that there should not be one law of morality for the one and another for the other. It is contended that there should not be one marriage law for England and another for Scotland. It is contended that there should be one law to regulate these unions all through the land. It is contended that if people find themselves unfit for one another, there ought to be a means of putting an end to the union, and that is contended by some of the men of high positions in Christian life, as well as by this author; and I urge that nothing could be more unfair, nothing could be more unmanly, nothing could be more untrue, than to call this book the Secularists' Bible, or the Secularists' text book. The Secularists have no one book as their Bible, no one book as their text book, but, as I intimated in my first speech - and that has never been dealt with - they gather from the best men of the world, of every nation, and of every clime, and endeavour to apply the best wisdom to searching out the best forces that shall promote human happiness. Has Mr. King touched the basis which I put for Secular morality? No! He has been challenging me to produce a code, but he has never ventured to say that the basis was a bad one or untrue, or that he has a better. What has he done? He has read from Gordon to show that crimes are committed; but did he venture to show it by any Secular principle? This was what Gordon said after he had gone over the other side, after he had broken faith with and left the Secularists, and wanted to conciliate the Christians. But if I attack this, he will say, Mr. Gordon is responsible, I am not; but a man who dresses himself in a filthy garment can have no excuse. I strike the coat, and I make the back that is under it flinch under the blow that I strike. Let us see what this debate has been, so far as it has gone. We have had six nights of it, and I ask if anyone can be brought to Christianity by it? What dignity, or bravery, or courage has it brought out? There has been nothing but filth all through. Mr King says, how am I to know about the petitions issued by the Secularist Society. Well, at any rate, until he knew differently, he might have taken my word. How does Mr. Bradlaugh know? Because he went to the House of Commons and looked them over week by week for the National Reformer; because the Committee of the House of Commons asked Mr. Bradlaugh which of the series of petitions he would prefer being printed, and they printed Mr. Bradlaugh's petition. Mr. King put it last night, that if Mr. Bradlaugh was giving up his other lectures he should be satisfied to postpone the completion of this debate. Now there should not be this continual looking down. Let him rise to the level of a man. I don't like giving filth for filth. Look bravely up, and you may leave the world better than you find it. I know nothing more cowardly than for Mr. King to shelter himself behind another man. I say what I have to say for myself; if I am attacked, I don't hide myself behind another. Well, will the debate bring anyone to Christianity? Will it bring anyone to the Church? Will it make anyone understand these questions better than before? When I asked for a statement of what had been re-enacted, you call it an infidel trick to crowd in so many questions, that time would not allow you to answer, and then you gabble over a lot of stuff that you wanted to go into the report. If you thought it a right style of debate I don't complain; you have done your best. It is a sorry best I admit. I entered on this discussion without any desire to enter it, and I shall leave it without regret. I am bound to take part in it for three nights more. I shall do it sorrowfully as I have done hitherto. I only want to meet the true, and the noble. I don't want to meet tricksters, who do no honour to their cause, and no honour to you. [Hisses]. In the last speech last night, I was called a cheat and a subterfuge, and my friends sat quiet; leave me to finish in a few minutes what I have to say. I have met men in debate whom I have learnt to respect, notwithstanding all their defects, Dr. Bailey at Birkenhead, and Mr. Harrison at Newcastle - both were brave and manly foes, and left behind them the impression that they were trying to promote the truth. But I ask if anybody listening to us these two nights would not see that there has been the greatest avoidance and getting away from everything manly. Mr. King says he does not allege anything immoral in Mr. Bradlaugh's conduct. He may be the most moral or he may be the most immoral - he knows nothing either way. But why this double edged innuendo of the worst kind? Then he said as to what he stated about Mrs. Cattle that he did not mean any harm, but she does keep a small bonnet shop. Well, I will take care that his advertisement of Mrs. Cattle's small bonnet shop shall be as good as has been given for the National Reformer. You have increased its circulation, you have sold many dozen copies of the Elements. I have counted fourteen in this hall; you have done good for that book anyhow; you have brought people here who would never have come otherwise to hear this debate. In all this there is a gain, and with that I leave the debate - the only redeeming feature for the six nights which I have had so sorrowfully to waste. [Applause and hisses].
Mr. Bradlaugh moved a vote of thanks to the Umpire and the Chairmen. The proposition having been seconded by Mr. King was passed.
* Originally there were apparently several appendices, presumably giving the disputed quotations in full, which were not attached to this copy.
DAVID KING INDEX