The Signs of the Time
Theosophist, March, 1881
How rapidly the salutary leaven of Freethought is working its way into every class of society throughout Europe and America, may be seen in the rapidly succeeding events of the day.
The great goddess of intellectual Freedom is destined to become the final saviour, the last avatar, to countless millions of bright intellects. Hitherto enslaved, chained by the shackles of enforced and degrading dogmas to the doorsill of the Temple of Superstition, such freed minds are joyously proclaiming the “good tidings,” causing others to welcome that noble, inspiring genius, and each day multiplying their conquests. Many a theological fortress until now believed impregnable, has been shaken to its very foundations by the repeated blasts of the magic-working trumpet of the Joshuas of the day; and its walls like those of old Jericho in the Old Testament fable, have crumbled to the dust. The domain, held for ages by the “Lord’s Elect,” is now invaded from all sides, and no Jehovah appears to wither the sacrilegious hand and say in voice of thunder “touch not mine anointed.” This domain is now reclaimed and soon will be torn forever from the daily weakening grasp of theology. The multi-coloured monks and Jesuits are being driven out of France in crowds. They who have poisoned for ages the young plastic minds of children, tying them for life to the arid path of one narrow belief, a path hemmed in as by two granite walls by the double belief in a personal national deity and a personal national devil—are gone, and with them their pernicious influence. According to the returns published by the French Government, and which we copy from the Pioneer, the religious orders which were dissolved during the past year comprised 2,464 Jesuits 409 Franciscans, 406 Capuchins, 294 Dominicans, 240 Oblates, 239 Benedictines, 176 Carmelites, 170 Fathers of the Company of Mary, 168 Brothers of St. Jean de Dieu, 153 Eudists, 126 Redemptorists, 91 Fathers of St. Bertin, 80 Basilians, 75 Carthusians, 68 Fathers of the Assumption, 53 Missionary Fathers, 53 Fathers of the Missions Almshouses, 51 Priests of the Immaculate Conception, 45 Fathers of the Enfant de Marie, 41 Brothers of St. Peter-in-Vinculis, 32 Barnabites, 31 Passionists, 30 Fathers of St. Joseph’s Refuge, 28 Fathers of St. Sauveur, 27 Canons of the Lateran, 25 Monks of St. Eden, 20 Fathers of the Company of Mary, 20 Marists, 20 Fathers of Our Lady of Sion, 20 Fathers of the Company of St. Irenae, 18 Bernardins, 14 Somasque Fathers, 12 Fathers of the Congregation of St. Thomas, 11 Trinitarians, 10 Camelians, 9 Fathers of the Christian Doctrine, 8 Missionaries of St. François-de-Sales, 4 Pères Minimes, 4 Camuldians, and 3 Priests of “the Holy Countenance”; or 5,339 in all. In addition, the Decrees apply to 1,450 Trappists who have not yet been expelled. What Bradlaugh has for years been doing in England by elevating the standard of Freethought among the working classes; and the fearless, indomitable Colonel Robert Ingersoll has done for America, now a whole party does in the hitherto bigoted Papist France. The latest news is about their doings among the young, and it may be seen in the following extract from the Pioneer:—
The group of Freethinkers of the Nineteenth Arrondissement convoked their adherents on the 23rd January to a festival, in the shape of a distribution of New Year’s gifts to the children of the members of the association, and some 1,500 people responded to the appeal, assembling at the Salle Favier at Belleville. Before the proceedings, commenced, the children present feasted their eyes on several tables covered with presents, consisting of playthings, books, and bonbons. The chair was taken by M. Rochefort, who was surrounded by several shining lights of the party, including Trinquet and the Laureate, Clovis Hugues. The President’s opening speech was short and characteristic. It ran as follows:—‘Citoyennes, Citoyens’—Until now the words ‘childhood and freethought’ have appeared incompatible. The Catholic Church understands childhood to mean the transfer of an infant from the arms of the nurse into the hands of the priest. Their playthings are replaced by holy Virgins of wax, while instead of the wolf they are frightened with the devil. With such an education children, prepared for servility, by means of superstition, are ready on entering life to become clericals. It is because you have wished to free yourselves from all stupid traditions that you also wish to keep your children from entering any church. Priests of every sect all row in the same boat—their one doctrine is rascality.” When the applause which greeted these words had subsided, M. Rochefort read a letter from Mdlle. Louise Michel, and a speech was delivered by Madame Rousade, a Socialist, and a clever speaker, whose tirades against religion were received with enthusiasm. The children, for whose benefit the fête was got up, and who had anxiously awaited the end of the speechifying, were then called to the platform, where a present was handed to each by M. Rochefort, the poorest in appearance receiving also tickets for clothes and boots.
In view of such an agitation and change in the drift of religious thought, we cannot but wonder at the tenacity, with which some Protestant Christians cling to the dead letter of the Bible, blind to the fact that, however sophistical and clever their arguments, it is impossible for anyone who does not wilfully shut his eyes to truth, not to see that the revised New Testament has thoroughly upset the most important theological strongholds. Even the just remark of the Brahmo Sunday Mirror—“If a book which is revelation and is considered infallible at the same time, is capable of revision, including significant omissions and changes, how can the world have faith in any book revelation, and how can Englishmen contentedly stick to the English Bible as an infallible authority on all things?”—has called out two earnest and lengthy protests from well-educated English gentlemen. There is one ominous fact, though. While the critical onslaught on the Old Testament has destroyed such pet theories as the “miracles” of Moses (opinion of Canon Cook), the prophecies of the coming of Christ in Psalms (Dean Johnson’s opinion) and others, it has reinforced, so to say, and legalized belief in the Devil. In the Lord’s Prayer the words “. . . and deliver us from evil,” are now made to read “. . . deliver us from the evil one” standing now in the Anglican as they stand in the Greek Church. The whole Christian world is now bound to believe in his Satanic Majesty more than ever! The Fiend has been legitimatised.
True, the Scriptures have been cut, added to, and revised since the days of Ezra, times innumerable. And so in a century or two they may be revised once more, until—if themselves are not wholly obliterated—the Devil at least may be made to retire to the cerebral solitudes of theological terrorists whence he ought never to have been conjured up to plague mankind.
It is amusing to find, how those who evidently must be young recruits in journalism, perhaps but of a few years’ standing, shrink horrified before the imprecations frothed at them by certain religious bigots! We almost expected to hear the classical ejaculation of Monstrum horrendum, informe, ingens, cui lumen ademptum! [A monster awful, shapeless, huge, bereft of light] at the end of the article signed “P.R.” in the Philosophic Inquirer, of Feb. 20. After treating his readers to thirty-two Billingsgate words (occuring in fifty-five lines) that had been lavished upon him by the editor of the Catholic Review, who proceeds to curse him with bell, book, and candle, P.R. gives up “the controversy in despair.” There certainly is but little hope that any “heathen Chinee,” Hindu, or, in fact, heathen of any sort could ever compete in vile abuse on equal terms with such a literary Polyphemus as this pious opponent seems to be. Yet, Mr. P.R., and the editor of that clever and highly honest little Madras weekly—the Philosophic Inquirer—ought not to be so selfish as to deprive their readers at once of such highly entertaining polemics. They must certainly see as clearly as they that any mere filth-throwing opponent is not formidable. He makes it only too plain that being utterly unable to offer a single good argument in defence of his cause, in hurling thirty-two fisherwomen’s objurgations instead, he must feel the ground very shaky under his feet. The shouter and curser is always in the wrong, and his noise is in proportion to his hurt. No amount of textual criticism upon the Bible or exposures of that most cunning of all human schemes—Theology—can disgust so many people perhaps ready to listen to the professed “Word of God,” as the frequent publication of such a defence of religious dogmas as the one under notice. Let then our esteemed colleague of Madras sacrifice himself by all means, for the instruction and good of humanity. For six years have we been collecting in six huge volumes the printed vituperations against us personally and the Theosophical Society by religious bigots. Were we but to compare notes, the epithets of “wretch,” “blockhead,” “fool,” “stupid, pedantic fool,” “incarnate devil,” “imp of iniquity,” and “offspring of the father of lies” that have stung P.R., would be found only weights, if into the other pan of the scale we were to throw the clerical and other ‘blessings’ bestowed upon us by the charitable Christians. Some years ago Mr. Gladstone took the trouble of collecting into a neat pamphlet under the title of the Speeches of Pope Pius IX, the “flowers of speech” as he calls the choice compliments showered on heretics by the late Vicegerent of God, in his Papal Discourses. The vituperations employed by the editor of the Catholic Review against P.R., as quoted in the Philosophic Inquirer, seem like the love whispers of a fair maiden by comparison with what His Holiness managed to get off. We recommend Mr. Gladstone’s pamphlet to the perusal of our colleague if he has not seen it. Let our Madrassee Brother take a veteran’s word and experience for it that unmerited abuse by an enemy is the best of advertisements for a paper.