HOMER W. SMITH
Graphic Rule
MAN
AND HIS
GODS
Graphic Rule
FOREWORD BY ALBERT EINSTEIN

 

iii

It might be argued that Darwin, who highly approved Huxley's book, could have written its equivalent had he had the good health and the requisite anatomical knowledge. This is, however, very doubtful. Darwin delayed for ten unnecessary years in announcing his views on the transmutation of species and, when at last forced to publication by Wallace, he dismissed its major implication with the noncommittal 'light will be thrown on man.' When ultimately he wrote the Descent of Man and Selection in Relation to Sex (1871), those few pages which were devoted to the first topic were conservative in the extreme, the more so since they were prepared at a time when the thesis of the evolution of man had, on the basis of Huxley's work, been generally accepted by competent critics. Such is the force of mental conservatism that men can pioneer in new ideas only so far before they needs must rest, as though from failure of courage or aversion to novelty. Taking into account Darwin's nature and the animosities and bitterness with which the task was all too obviously beset, it seems unlikely that under any circumstances would he ever have ventured beyond the 'species problem' as applied to the lower animals. The theological conceptions which he held when he sailed in the Beagle were no more to be expunged from his personality by his experiences aboard that ship than was his native tongue. They led to a lifetime of conflict between Darwin the Unitarian and Darwin the explorer, and if they sdid not contribute significantly to his physical enfeeblement, they definitely limited the trajectory of his thoughts. Except for Huxley, man would have continued to enjoy the status of a fallen angel for some considerable period of time. With the subject of evolution in the position in which it was left by the Origin, the theologists would have quickly found an escape from applying it to man.

Shaw has somewhere said that a man can never get the chill of early poverty out of his bones. The same might be said of theology, though with notable exceptions. It was five ordained priests who contributed to Essays and Reviews; it was a bishop who prepared the devastating critique of the Pentateuch; it was a professional theologian, Canon Tristram, who was the first beyond Darwin's immediate circle to put his theory into practice -- in a paper published one month before the appearance of the Origin, Tristram explained by its aid the colors of desert birds. It was Buckland, a dean of the Anglican Church, who, after laboring hard for many years to reconcile Genesis and geology, after long contending against the antiquity of paleolithic artifacts, abandoned the orthodox view of the age of the earth in favor of Lyell's stratigraphic calendar. The paraphrase, none the less, has considerable warrant.

It was neither the reasonableness of Genesis nor the unreasonableness of geology that caused Cuvier to oppose Lamarck, Hutton and Lyell so bitterly. The antipathy of the geologist Sedgwick to the Origin -- 'a dish of rank materialism cleverly cooked up to make us independent of a creator' -- may be attributed to the fact that he was a professional cleric; but Murchison, after Lyell the leading geologist and paleontologist of the time, opposed Darwinism almost as vehemently to his dying day. It was the biblical bias of a layman that led Sir John Herschel to reject alike biological and astronomical evolution on the grounds that they dispensed with the creative act, and that impelled the American biologist Agassiz to defend the geology of Genesis at a time when many if not most of his young students were convinced evolutionists. Of all men the most surprisingly refractory was Lyell himself, who had been a pioneer in the new geology when young Darwin had sailed from England. Evolution was implicit in every line of his Principles and, on the publication of the Origin, he had written Darwin a highly approving letter; yet when his Antiquity of Man (1863) appeared, having been prepared and corrected with a full knowledge of Huxley's initial papers and lectures on the subject of man's anthropoid affinities, he hedged not only on the origin of man but on the less personal questions of the immutability of species and natural selection, and left the subject of evolution no farther advanced than it had been years before the appearance of Darwin's work. Lastly, Wallace, despite his brilliant start, abandoned the philosophy of biology when it came to man, and in his later years turned to spiritualism and vainly attempted to interest Huxley and Darwin in this subject.

In its professional aspects, theology, quite apart from the fear of hell, appears to impose upon the intellectual processes a measure of conservatism amounting sometimes to almost complete paralysis. Men trained to believe in original sin, grace, the Trinity, and similar dogmas seemed to lose a large measure both of rational judgment and sensitivity of conscience. Second only to Augustine's emphasis on the authority of scripture was his emphasis on the force, as an argument for truth, of what is 'believed everywhere, always and by all men'; consensus, however ignorant the masses whose opinions were involved, carried as much force as Holy Writ. That those who were shot by the epithets 'atheist,' 'infidel' and 'heretic' were frequently guilty only of reducing the argument from consensus to absurdity, or that as a general rule heresy consisted of an excursion into relative rationality, was adequately demonstrated by the fact that nearly every notable thinker from the second century onward had been branded as a heretic.

Those Christians who believed that there were Three Gods for three hundred years resisted with unmitigated bitterness those who believed that there was only One God, and succeeded in bringing to the fire in England alone over a dozen Unitarians, not to mention many who were imprisoned or otherwise injured in civil rights. It was not until 1813 that the English penal acts making denial of the Trinity a crime were repealed, and that the Unitarians and their property were made safe from apprehension by the law. Although the high court by its decision on Essays and Reviews deprived episcopal authority of the right of sentence, it could not simultaneously protect the eminent authors of this work from the penalties of official animus. Among churchmen it was a current aphorism that 'He may hold anything who will hold his tongue,' and for laymen who sought advancement in intellectual pursuits, intellectual inertia on all matters touching on the cosmos was imperative.

It bears upon the phenomenon of theological conservatism, in its effects both on the professional and lay mind, that with rare exceptions orthodoxy had ever been preserved at the bottom by the inculcation of beliefs of an awesome if not fearsome quality into children at an age when they do not and cannot appraise the value of evidences and arguments. The disciplines imposed upon young minds varied of course between wide extremes, but the general intent was invariably one of humorless terrification. An example was Father Furniss's Sight of Hell (1861) which is said to have been 'a great commercial success,' and from which Mew quotes the following moral lessons:

'Of two little maids of sixteen, one cared only for dress, and went to a dancing school, and dared to disport in the park on Sunday instead of going to mass: that little maid stands now, and forever will stand, with bare feet upon a red-hot floor. The other walked through the streets at night, and did very wicked things; now she utters shrieks of agony in a burning oven. A very severe torment -- immersion up to the neck in a boiling kettle -- agitates a boy who kept bad company, and was too idle to go to mass, and a drunkard; avenging flames now issue from his ears. For like indecencies, the blood of a girl, who went to the theatre, boils in her veins; you can hear it boil, and her marrow is seething in her bones and her brain bubbles in her head. "Think," says the compassionate father, "what a headache that girl must have!" '

This Catholic example is admittedly more literal than is required for an imaginative child, but Protestant morality was leavened with scarcely more human kindness, being still heavy with the Puritanism that had divided the Church of England in Elizabeth's day. This ascetic, almost sadistic religious discipline had from the beginning been deeply concerned with inculcating righteousness into the very young by alarming and, if necessary, painful measures, and it pervaded the post-Darwinian decades like sulphurous vapor issuing from the open doors of hell every Sunday.

It will be recalled that among the clouds shrouding the summit of the Mountain of the Law, Yahweh had commanded Moses to 'Remember the sabbath day, to sanctify it'; but inasmuch as Christianity had been in revolt against Jewish legalism and holiness, the Christians had refused to sanctify the Jewish Sabbath or to recognize in it anything other than a convenient day on which to hold their weekly love feast and to discuss the latest word from other churches. Jesus omitted the Mosaic commandment, 'Keep holy the sabbath day,' and attacked the Galatians for observing any special day as holy. The Christian seven-day interval, rather than reflecting acceptance of any holy day, actually reflected the Babylonian-Graeco-Roman secular week, and Paul vigorously remonstrated against any special religious observance on this day or any other. Ultimately, however, the Christians, anxious on the one hand to avoid identification with the Jews and, on the other, to ingratiate themselves with the Mithraists, changed their weekly love feast from Saturn's day, the traditional Jewish Sabbath, to the first day of the week, which among the Romans generally was dedicated to the sun. Gradually Sunday became a day of religious congregation, Origen apologizing for the special gathering as a concession to the weaker brethren who required 'some sensible memorials to prevent spiritual things from passing altogether away from their minds.' Soon the Christians, noting that the pagans had many holidays on which labor was set aside, resisted the wishes of the bishops and insisted upon making Sunday a day of rest. So in 321, Constantine made the 'venerable day of the sun' a public holiday because it pleased the pagans as much as the Christians.

In subsequent centuries the pendulum swung widely between the extremes of Sabbatarianism and pagan neglect; Charlemagne prohibited all ordinary labor on Sunday, and Anglo-Saxon kings at one time or another prohibited ploughing, marketing, law, fairs, hunting, and traveling; yet down to the fifteenth century there was no prohibition of recreation of any kind except dancing and singing of ribald songs, and the people were left free to amuse themselves. They had long fallen into the habit of attending church in the morning and giving the rest of the day to recreation.

The first reaction of the Reformation was toward increased license. In Elizabeth's time the Sabbatarians complained that 'The Lord was more dishonoured and the Devill better served on Sunday than upon all dayes in the weeke besides,' and it had been to resist this criticism that James I, in his Book of Sports (1618), defended the liberty of the people to enjoy all pastimes on Sunday except bull and bear baiting. John Knox said, 'Christians should have nothing to do with the superstitious observances of days,' while Luther denounced those who kept Sunday as a holy day and advised his followers to dance and feast on that day if only to oppose its sacred observance.

It was out of the ecclesiastic turmoil that attended and followed Elizabeth's reign, that Sabbatarianism won at least a partial victory and that Puritanism was spawned to set its grip upon the middle classes of Scotland and England.

Not the least of Elizabeth's troubles on coming to the throne was the problem of unifying the English Protestants in order the better to resist Catholic Philip of Spain, who was conniving with Mary of Scotland to gain the English crown. In so far as Elizabeth possessed any theologic conceptions the Protestants were less to her liking than the Catholics, being in general uncouth and not so well represented in sophisticated royal circles. None the less she had a very complicated foreign situation on her hands and, recognizing that uniformity of religion was necessary in order to preserve the unity of the state, she took steps to put together what her predecessor, Catholic Mary, had broken into almost unjoinable pieces.

To solve the conflict between Catholics and Protestants she made the English church as conservative and Catholic in outward appearance as possible, while preserving in it the patently liberal features of the Reformation. She insisted that her clergy wear the vestments of the Roman church and observe many of its traditional rituals, thus giving the semblance of Catholicism to their radical beliefs, yet leaving to each man the liberty of his private opinion.

Among those who survived Mary's persecution because they were lucky enough to be in exile were some of the most zealous Reformers such as Cartwright, Knox and Sandys, who by national loyalty were bound to the Anglican church, but who utterly disliked Elizabeth's compromise with popish practices. Under their criticism there soon separated from the parent church the Presbyterian branch which, with the passing years, came to esteem all popish practices the less and the authority of scripture and the necessity of personal good works the more. Despite an unshakable conviction in predestination, that God had in the beginning foreseen and foreordained every man his fate whether in heaven or hell, and therefore that good works per se could not save the damned, the Presbyterians, or Puritans as they were also called, held firmly to the faith that it was the duty of God's favored man to prove God's omniscience correct by living up to the punctuation of his Ten Commandments. Under Charles I the conflict with the Reformers led to civil war and, after a momentary victory under Cromwell, when England was officially Presbyterian, the Puritan movement, strongest among the Scots, suffered political defeat. A century of conflict was required, when votaries of one or the other religion pursued their opponents like criminals across the moors and valleys, inflicting them with branding, mutilation, scourging, exposure in the pillory, imprisonment or exile to Barbados, before, in a spirit of ill-suppressed animosity, Roman Catholicism, Anglicanism and Puritanism could live side by side without the recurrent letting of blood. During this period Puritanism, by its perpetual reiteration that a man's deeds are more important than his altar offerings, implanted within each of its competitors, within almost every English mind, the piety, asceticism and other virtues which it held to be the necessary substitutes for the despised Catholic rituals.

The Puritan ideal was one of extreme personal righteousness, the Puritan consciousness an ever-present sense of the all-pervading and innate character of sin. Emphasis on Augustine's theory of concupiscence and infant damnation made mortification of the flesh one of the central duties of life, and gave to all true Puritans a somber and gloomy character scarcely to be surpassed for miserable self-deprecation except by those early Christian ascetics who had spent their lives in sackcloth and ashes. The Puritan lived every moment in such fear of God that he had nothing else to fear, and hence he could face the most trying physical vicissitudes with complacent fortitude. Puritanism suspected all forms of beauty as a devilish device; it viewed all personal decoration as sinful conceit; and since it held unchastity to be one of the deadly sins it quarantined itself from all possibility of sensual temptation with a vigor second only to its avoidance of blasphemy, herein leaving its mark on the English middle classes in the form of prudery and fantastic delicacy of thought and speech with regard to all the elementary facts of life. It distrusted all works of the imagination, all poetry and romance, all art and music, as artifices of the devil, except in such instances as long tradition authorized the vehicle and the mood was consonant with the Descent from the Cross. The theater was utterly damned, humor was not fully condoned, laughter was looked upon askance. Its emphasis on original sin led it to distrust the child: infants are bound by their own innate fault, and though they may not have given evidence of their iniquity, they have the seed shut up in them, their whole nature is a sort of seed of sin, and therefore it cannot but be hateful and abominable to God. Hence the child's naturally evil will must, if necessary, be broken by the rod as early in life as possible and its mind from infanthood nourished on the all-important themes of personal guilt and duty.

Puritanism admittedly had social values: compensating for what at times amounted to vicious parental sadism, it simultaneously developed parental responsibility, since through concupiscence the parent was the source of the child's faults; and when others were disdaining the education of youth the Puritans were everywhere establishing free schools and utilizing printing in elementary if excessively righteous education, chiefly in order that their children might read the Bible and be guided out of their sinful ways. Puritanism saw the importance of self-discipline as against imposed restraint, of obligation as against compulsion, and thus laid the foundations without which political liberty cannot exist. And if Puritanism admonished men against wasteful expenditures, worldly pleasures and idleness, as implying a fall from grace, by its emphasis on the responsibility of the individual in the eyes of God it promoted personal initiative. No Puritan who was not both self-supporting and self-respecting could be beloved by God.

However, as Macaulay said, if the Puritans suppressed bull baiting, it was not because it gave pain to the bull but because it gave pleasure to the spectators. From the beginning the name was applied in a derogatory sense because of the extreme unpopularity of its sectaries, who persistently asserted that they were merely seeking religious freedom among the Romans and Anglicans, while in fact they were endeavoring to impose their frigidity and intolerance upon others. A particular instance for complaint against them lay in the question of what the righteous should or should not do on Sunday. In 1643, a Puritan dominated Parliament ordered the hangman to burn King James's irreligious Book of Sports, and in 1648 this official body adopted, in the Westminster Confession, the admonition: 'The sabbath is to be sanctified by a holy resting all that day even from such worldly employments and recreations as are lawful on other days; and spending the whole time in the public and private exercises of God's worship, except so much as is to be taken up in the works of necessity and mercy.' With the further increase of Puritan strength there came men who claimed for Sunday all the authority and strict observances of the Jewish Sabbath, and who would have had complete idleness enforced by law; and by successive enactments between 1644 and 1656 Parliament prohibited every kind of Sunday recreation, even 'vainly and profanely' walking for pleasure. Persons were punished for carrying coal on Sunday, for hanging out clothes to dry, and for traveling on horseback. Presbyterian clergymen taught their congregations that on that day it was sinful to save a vessel in distress, that it was proof of virtue to leave the ship and crew to perish.

With the Restoration, the English reaction against the austere rigidity of the Commonwealth produced a sudden outburst of derisive incredulity. The cavaliers, and even the High Church clergy, went to the extreme of trading and attending the theater on Sunday, mockingly affecting the solemn gait and nasal twang of the Puritans, and ridiculing their doctrines. Scotland, however, remained bridled and repressed, cowering in helpless subjection before her clergy. The misery of man, the anger of the Almighty, the fearful power of Satan, the agonies of the damned in hell, were fused into a system of religious terrorism overawing all opposition. Sunday remained a day of amazingly ascetic rigor. A ban was put upon all entertainment and frivolity, and upon all reading except of a strictly religious nature. No recreation remained lawful except whiskey drinking, whence drunkenness became the Sunday rule. For everyone except those who narcotized themselves with alcohol the Lord's Day was at best a day of unmitigated gloom: industry or physical exertion, even when economically imperative, were abhorrent; children might not play except with a Noah's ark, and then not noisily; levity and all music except that of a religious sort were banned; boys and girls might not go out together, or take exercise except perhaps for a sedate walk in the afternoon, but must sit wearily at home while their elders, after a heavy meal, found refuge in righteous sleep. On Sunday, not only for Puritans but for all whom Puritanism touched, the world was rigidly divided into the sacred and profane, as it had been divided for the Jews twenty-odd centuries before.

The invention of mechanical transportation, more than any other single factor, broke the Sabbatarian restraint and simultaneously weakened the paralytic grip that theology had on the popular intellect. Sunday was the only day when most people could leave their work in search of recreation and, with the development of rapid and cheap transportation, the impulse was to travel farther away from home, into strange places and new temptations. 'It is impossible to lay down a railway without creating an intellectual influence. It is probable that Watt and Stephenson will eventually modify the opinions of mankind almost as profoundly as Luther and Voltaire.' Lecky's prediction was on its way to fulfilment.

Among the temptations afforded by the railway was the seduction of sea-bathing at the coastal resorts, which served to reawaken interest in the bath as a hygienic measure. From the earliest times ancient people had bathed almost instinctively in the Nile, the Euphrates and the Jordan, and the Romans had raised the bath to the level of a fine art. Public baths came to Rome with the Appian aqueduct and, after Maecenas, emperors who wished to ingratiate themselves with the people lavished state revenues in their construction. The baths of Diocletian were of such size that one room could be transmuted into a church of imposing proportions, while the walls of the baths of Caracalla were a quarter-of-a-mile long on each side. Scarcely less imposing were the public baths of Agrippa, Nero, Titus, Domitian, Commodus, Diocletian and Constantine. In the largest of these there were open colonnades and benches where philosophers and literary men could recline to discourse, to read aloud their literary productions or to discuss the latest news. These piscinae or thermae were generally adorned with beautiful marble, the halls crowded with fine statuary and the walls covered with exquisite mosaics. 'To such a pitch of luxury have we reached,' says Seneca, 'that we are dissatisfied if we do not tread on gems in our baths.'

Wherever the Romans settled they built public baths, and wherever they found hot springs they used them until at the peak of the Empire frequent bathing became a widespread custom. With the spread of Christian doctrine bathing came to be regarded as an evidence of personal conceit, as a concern for the flesh. The most admired saints were those who had become a clotted mass of filth. Athanasius relates with enthusiasm that St. Anthony had never in his long life been guilty of washing his feet. St. Simeon Stylites lived with a rope bound round him and imbedded in his flesh, and it is said that 'a horrible stench, intolerable to the bystanders, exhaled from his body, and worms dropped from him whenever he moved, and they filled his bed.' Christian ascetics lived in deserted dens of wild beasts, or in tombs, disdaining all clothes and crawling about like animals covered only by their matted hair. Though this extreme of virtue could not be universally imitated, it was recognized by the fathers that gratification of any worldly desire is sinful, and that the flesh should be degraded and made the spirit's abject slave. Throughout the monastic period cleanliness of either the clothes or the body was regarded as a pollution of the soul, a sign of sinful pride.

The early Christians had, in addition, strong grounds for condemning the Roman custom of admitting both sexes to the public baths and proscribed the practice. Gregory the Great saw no objection to the use of the bath on Sunday for the sake of cleanliness, but about the fifth century the Roman baths fell into decay, and the practice of regular bathing, so far as the record shows, became restricted to the peoples of the East, and largely to the Mohammedans, from whom the crusaders learned it. The custom was reintroduced into Europe in the form of the hot vapor, or Turkish, bath, the popularity of which, either because of technical difficulties or unexpected discomforts, seems to have been short-lived. After several abortive efforts to introduce hydropathic baths in England in the guise of therapy, the establishment for the 'health, comfort and welfare' of the inhabitants of towns or populous districts of urban baths was authorized by a Parliamentary act of 1846. By 1875, when steam trains were weekly carrying thousands to the seashore, salt-water bathing had come into vogue. The divided skirt with loose trousers gathered around the ankles, named after the American dress-reformer, suffragist and temperance worker, Amelia Jenks Bloomer, helped greatly to solve the difficulties of mixed sexes bathing in a common water which had offended the early Christians. In 1910 an informed chronicler computed that on a hot Sunday twenty-five thousand people bathed in London's Victoria Park, some starting as early as four o'clock in the morning. 'These returns,' he adds, 'show how great is the increase of the habit of bathing, but they also show how even now the habit is limited to a comparatively small part of the population. People require to be tempted to the use of water, at any rate at the beginning.'

Apart from the circumstance that a change in habit is frequently reflected in a change of opinion, increasing Sunday travel diminished church attendance, diverted attention to new interests, and facilitated the spread, first of apathy, and then of unbelief. Especially among the middle classes where social convention exerted light restraints, and where increasing numbers were profiting by the spread of education, the convictions that had hitherto been impressed by the force of repeated admonitions began to assume the form of debatable propositions.

iv

The multiple origins of the Pentateuch, suspected in the eighteenth century, had passed in the early decades of the nineteenth from speculation into conviction for all critical scholars. As the authority of Moses yielded before the discoveries of the geologist's pick, so the tradition of inspiration in any part of the Old Testament yielded to textual and literary studies. The New Testament, however, more forcibly resisted critical approach since it dealt, except for the miraculous elements, with spiritual matters that were in essence beyond criticism.

Hume's essay, 'Of Miracles' (1748) had pointed out that in no case could the miraculous be proved to be such, in the sense of a controversion of natural law, unless a different course of events would be more miraculous than the alleged miracle itself. Middleton's Free Inquiry (1748) had argued the improbability of miracles, and asserted that the writers of the third century had habitually applauded falsehood and practiced wholesale forgery, that they had grossly falsified history and given themselves over to pious frauds to stimulate the devotion of the people.

The denial of the miraculous might have been more difficult had not the church been so indulgent, for miracles remained commonplace until in their frequency they presented a danger to ecclesiastic authority. Miraculous images and pictures operated throughout Christendom, apparitions and miscellaneous prodigies occurred in every country. The Bollandist Collection contains some twenty-five thousand lives of saints whose miracles merited their canonization, and this represented only one rigidly scrutinized official department. Protestantism looked upon miracles with aversion and distrust, chiefly because the miraculous had been the speciality of the devotion which it now stigmatized as erroneous, idolatrous and superstitious. Under critical pressure, Catholicism in time came to withhold its official sanction and then to disapprove, since each miracle was a source of embarrassment, if not a scandal, and among intelligent Catholics required an apology on the grounds that it was unfair to judge the enlightened members of the church by the superstitious beliefs of the unenlightened.

In answer to the truism that in exact proportion as a people advance in education, the accounts of new miracles become rarer and rarer, until at last they cease entirely, was offered the argument that this is not due to a decrease in credulity, but to the circumstance that God had chosen the dark and ignorant ages wherein to manifest himself in this manner; when natural knowledge prevails there is no need for extraordinary signs since men will be diligent in his works and attentive to his wishes. The argument, reasonable enough for those who held to a priori faith in the miraculous and who failed to read in history a refutation of the alleged moral sequence, remained unconvincing for the incredulous who, with the realignment of the New Testament in its proper historic background, interpreted the gospel miracles in the same light as those of the pagan wonder-workers. Strauss, in the introduction to his Leben Jesu, calmly remarked, 'We may summarily reject all miracles, prophecies, narratives of angels and demons, and the like, as simply impossible and irreconcilable with the known and universal laws which govern the course of events.'

The literary investigation of the New Testament had been initiated in the early eighteenth century by the English deists, philosophers by profession rather than historians, for no purely historical interest could have induced Christian Europe to apply criticism to those sacred books which were peculiarly its own. John Locke, the Scottish philosopher who was seeking a natural conception for moral law, and who first emphasized the existence of different strata and diverse tendencies in the New Testament; Toland, who argued the identity of the first Christians with the Nazarene and Hebrew heretics; Chubb and Morgan who distinguished the teachings of Jesus from the personal opinions of the apostles -- were among the forerunners of what came to be called, because it was the work of ecclesiastic scholars, the Higher Criticism, the modern apologetic effort to make Christianity reasonable and to avoid the now difficult-to-accept presuppositions of revelation and inspiration. Where others had with meager success sought by combining the four gospels to obtain a single coherent narrative of Jesus's life, Griesbach in 1776 substituted the 'synopsis' that frankly presented side by side the contrasting and often contradictory passages in Matthew, Mark and Luke, setting apart as wholly alien the mystical gospel of John; while Lessing in 1778 treated the evangelists as purely human writers and formulated the hypothesis of a primitive document from which the three synoptics had been derived. These and following studies culminated in Strauss's Leben Jesu (1835), in which the conception of 'myth' was applied systematically to the gospel tradition. Strauss never treated as doubtful the historic reality of Jesus and the main events of his earthly career, but he accepted that a historic nucleus had been worked over and reshaped into an ideal form by the first Christians under the influence of Old Testament models and the idea of the messiah found in Daniel. Nevertheless, this work for the first time posed the question, what in the New Testament was history, and what was myth? Strauss's book, translated into English by George Eliot in 1843, displayed the accumulating critical movement as a serious and major attack upon the theological position, and the first effects of his work were to secure for him an offer of the professorship of theology at the University of Zurich, which he accepted; but so violent was the reaction of the church that the appointment had to be cancelled and he was forced to accept a pension in lieu of the career of teaching and investigation for which he was ably fitted, but which now was permanently closed to him.

In the Reformation the Protestant faith had cast away all authority other than that of the Bible and personal inspiration; by the late nineteenth century the labors of three generations of critics, many of them Protestant theologians of outstanding repute, had so far exposed the contradictory threads of both Testaments as to have utterly undermined biblical authority. Bishop Colenso's first influential book appeared only two years after Essays and Reviews and at the same moment Draper's History of the Intellectual Development of Europe, published in New York in 1862 and in London in 1864, presented broadly massed pictures of historical change dominated by the concept of evolution and based on the postulate that 'the equilibrium and movement of humanity are altogether physiological phenomena.' This writer's History of the Conflict between Religion and Science (1874), reached its eighteenth edition within ten years. When Cassels's Supernatural Religion (1874-1877) collected for general readers the substance of biblical research, particularly as related to the New Testament, and displayed the superstition, ignorance, and credulity from which the gospels had emerged, the insecurity of the orthodox position became widely apparent among the laity. The distinguished Fortnightly Review began to admit freethinking writers to its pages and editorially supported a campaign for unrestricted secular education. In an essay in this magazine entitled 'The Unseen Universe,' Clifford in 1872 drove home the arguments of Darwin and Huxley with a vengeance, saying, 'Scientific thought does not mean thought about scientific subjects with long names. There are no scientific subjects. The subject of science is the human universe, that is to say, everything that is, or has been, or may be related to man .... Only for another half-century let us keep our hells and heavens and gods .... Take heed lest you have given soil and shelter to the seed of that awful plague which has destroyed two civilizations, and but barely failed to slay such promise of good as is now struggling to live among men.'

Sir John Lubbock in his Prehistoric Times (1865) and Origin of Civilization (1870) had framed a naturalistic picture of social and moral beginnings, and Lecky's History of the Rise and Influence of the Spirit of Rationalism in Europe (1865), although piously avoiding the implications of Darwinism, indeed perhaps aided by its piety, imparted to its readers some knowledge of magic and witchcraft and a more critical attitude toward the miraculous. The new field of comparative religion had been founded by Tylor's Researches into the Early History of Mankind (1878), and his more elaborate Primitive Culture (1871), which bore the sub-title, Researches into the Development of Mythology, Philosophy, Religion, Language, Art and Custom, became not only a standard source work of anthropology but was very popular among general readers who discovered in its fascinating pages that there were as many gods as there were peoples. On the appearance of this book Darwin, who had worried about the animal-like state of the savages of Tierra del Fuego, wrote the author, 'It will make me for the future look on religion -- a belief in the soul, etc. -- from a different point of view.'

While Gibbon at the close of the eighteenth century could see in Christianity 'an effete and old-fashioned edifice,' seven decades later there remained a badly shaken structure in which scarcely one part was firmly cemented to another. Social and political condemnation of what the orthodox variously called unsettled faith, infidelity, free thought, unbelief or atheism was fast losing its force as an effective deterrent to intellectual inquiry. Without the traditional observance of Sunday, the continued pressure of Puritanical prejudices, the emotional stimuli of ritual, ornaments and sacred hypnos, even nominal adherence to the creed would have suffered seriously. Gentlemen remained outwardly orthodox for social reasons, even when privately, though generally to the exclusion of their children's confidence, holding to heretical opinions. The younger generation, not likely to be informed on the precedents of the virgin birth or the technicalities of the Trinity, were admonished to silence when inquiring into subjects upon which experts were known to have disagreed.

Then there began to circulate The Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyám, a collection of freely translated Persian verses that seemed theologically innocuous but that turned out to be highly subversive of the dogmatic position. The Rubáiyát was first published as an anonymous pamphlet in 1859, but received absolutely no attention until it had gravitated to the pennybox of the bookstalls. The poet Dante Gabriel Rossetti found one in a pennybox, and started the volume on its road to fame. Edward FitzGerald, by whom the Rubáiyát had been 'Rendered into English Verse,' remained anonymous during his lifetime, and it was not until 1885, when Tennyson dedicated his Tiresias to FitzGerald's memory, in the year of the latter's death, that the Rubáiyát and its translator came into universal appreciation.

Omar Khayyám (Omar the tent maker, d. ca. 1123) was a great Persian mathematician, astronomer, freethinker and epigrammatist, whose scientific genius has been almost overshadowed in history by the fame of his rubáis, or quatrains. These quatrains, of which he wrote some five hundred, were in many cases purely mystic and pantheistic, but the most notable constitute the breviary of a radical freethinker protesting against the narrowness, bigotry and unreasonableness of orthodox theology.

FitzGerald, lacking a profession, had devoted his life to flowers, music and literature (he called his talent 'the feminine of genius'). He began the study of poetry in 1850, and of Persian in 1853. An anonymous volume of Oriental verses published by him in 1856 received little attention, and the Rubáiyát, which he translated from a manuscript in the Bodleian Library, was probably ignored at first because, among other things, of its unorthodox philosophy. Reviewers would perforce touch such a work gingerly. However, after the verses were endorsed by Rossetti, Swinburne, Burton and others to whom Rossetti showed them, and particularly after a second edition (1868) appeared with more daring passages included, the book quickly took its place as an English classic.

The melody of the Rubáiyát is so exquisite, the thoughts are so profound, the poetic atmosphere so pure, that, it has been said, its admirers have almost transcended common sense in the extravagance of their praise. Certainly FitzGerald's volume had a tremendous circulation among English speaking peoples; the publishers have long since lost count of the number of volumes issued. More significant than the beauty of the verses, however, was their devastating iconoclasm. The Rubáiyát introduced irreligion to readers who had never heard of the Higher Criticism, and carried unbelief through doorways barred resolutely to any more explicit denial of conventional dogma. The keynote of the Rubáiyát is an ironical protest against Sufism, a priestly code of doctrine, ceremony and future rewards and punishment that pressed upon eleventh century Persia as priestly codes had pressed upon many another people in many other times.

Omar shocked a world that lived -- or so pretended -- chiefly for the world hereafter, by his philosophy that Today outlasts all Tomorrows:

 

Some for the Glories of this World; and some
Sigh for the Prophet's Paradise to come;
Ah, take the Cash, and let the Credit go,
Nor heed the rumble of a distant Drum!

Ah, make the most of what we yet may spend,
Before we too into the Dust descend;
Dust into Dust and under Dust to lie,
Sans Wine, sans Song, sans Singer, and -- sans End!

Omar sings the praises of wine, not, he says, to counter holiness, or even for delight, but to breathe a little, free from self -- no other cause could make him drink all night! Despite his ironic mood, as he is driven onward through this 'spangle of Existence' he is haunted by a desire to learn the Secret:

 

Myself when young did eagerly frequent
Doctor and Saint and heard great argument
About it and about: but evermore
Came out by the same door where in I went.

. . . . . . . .

Into this Universe, and Why not knowing
Nor Whence, like Water willy-nilly flowing;
And out of it, as Wind along the Waste,
I know not Whither, willy-nilly blowing.

What, without asking, hither hurried Whence?
And, without asking, Whither hurried hence!
Oh, many a Cup of this forbidden Wine
Must drown the memory of that insolence!

Omar's God, like Spencer's, was unknowable, but the poet rebelled against a doctrine of divine imperatives, sin and penitence:

 

What! out of senseless Nothing to provoke
A conscious Something to resent the yoke
Of unpermitted Pleasure, under pain
Of Everlasting Penalties, if broke!

What! from his helpless Creature be repaid
Pure Gold for what he lent him dross-allay'd --
Sue for a Debt he never did contract,
And cannot answer -- Oh the sorry trade!

. . . . . . . .

Oh Thou, who Man of baser Earth didst make,
And ev'n with Paradise devise the Snake:
For all the Sin wherewith the Face of Man
Is blacken'd -- Man's forgiveness give -- and take!

His is the despair born of the injustice of man's destiny, but his, too, is that faint if seemingly hopeless wish:

 

Ah Love! could you and I with Him conspire
To grasp this sorry Scheme of Things entire,
Would not we shatter it to bits -- and then
Re-mould it nearer to the Heart's Desire!

FitzGerald, a dilettante in both the Persian language and in poetry, unwittingly succeeded where countless poets had failed, in implanting in a multitude of readers, if not a constructive at least a startlingly new and analytic attitude. Other poets had failed because the art had remained innocent of either historic or philosophic perspective. On matters pertaining to the emotions, and where no restraints imposed by considerations other than affective sensibilities needed to be observed, poetry had well demonstrated its capabilities. It had established itself as the champion of the cavalier, the proper decoration of the complete library and the balanced literary magazine, the master of erotic, romantic and affective titillation, the graceful and perfumed companion of every boudoir; but it had failed to be a useful companion to philosophy because poets had been too concerned with their visceral sensations and too myopic to the more remote implications and consequences of their rhapsodies. Failing to succeed as an artisan, it had remained, however happily, the courtesan of the intellect. That FitzGerald should afford an adult intellectual performance in this medium was attributable to a summation of forces: his was the beauty of meter and rhyme, while the substance of what he had to say was the penetration and wisdom of the Naishápúr mathematician whose labors in algebra and astronomy were the basis of greatness in another day. To the deliquescence of faith the Rubáiyát made a significant and colorful contribution.

v

In 1873, in a letter to his wife, Huxley had written: 'We are in the midst of a gigantic movement greater than that which preceded and produced the Reformation, and really only the continuation of that movement. But there is nothing new in the ideas which lie at the bottom of the movement, nor is any reconcilement possible between freethought and traditional authority. One or the other will have to succumb after a struggle of unknown duration, which will have as side issues vast political and social troubles. I have no more doubt that freethought will win in the long run than I have that I sit here writing to you, or that this freethought will organize itself into a coherent system embracing human life and the world as one harmonious whole. But this organization will be the work of generations of man, and those who further it most will be those who teach men to rest in no lie, and to rest in no verbal delusions.'

Huxley used the term 'freethought' for lack of a better word. It had been publicized by the militant operators of the cellar printing presses in the early part of the century and several decades of bitter warfare had left unattractive scars upon it. The orthodox immediately equated it with atheism, birth control, socialism, anarchy, nihilism, blasphemy, and other criminal tendencies, a more charitable synonymy permitting 'unfaithfulness to the truth of God' or 'unbelief,' while at the extreme of tolerance it was identified, with a political shudder, as 'liberalism in religion.'

'Freethought' was too charged with prejudices to remain the designation of the 'gigantic movement' to which Huxley referred. Latterly, men who claimed the right to think things out in accordance with the evidences had taken to themselves the name of 'rationalists,' though they would have been hard pressed to defend their exclusive right to this attractive cognomen on etymological grounds, since reason could be and had been made to serve the ends of the most absurd and impossible premises. 'Secularism' for a while stood opposed to 'Sacredism,' but fell into disuse because of lack of force. 'Materialism' was employed only by the orthodox as a term of opprobrium, and it possessed significance only by contrast with something called 'spiritualism,' or as an antithesis to Platonic Idealism, and no defendant on the side of heterodoxy ever described himself as a 'materialist' or presumed to give an ultimate definition of 'matter.' 'Naturalism,' which bore no scars from ancient controversies, had a certain vogue in the beginning of the century, since by a connotation which stemmed from Descartes it could fairly be used to designate one who held solely to the presented evidences of nature, excluding all preconceptions relative to the supernatural, but it failed to attain recognition until after the end of the century when it came to be equated with the empirical or the exploratory and experimental method.

Huxley, once sitting amiably in the Metaphysical Society with men who could identify themselves as Catholics, Anglicans, Presbyterians, Unitarians, and the like, and feeling rather 'like the fox without a tail,' jovially dubbed himself an 'agnostic' -- one who has no preconceived faith -- and found the word so useful that he adhered to it. Agnosticism came to be identified among his friends as a sort of 'consecrated doubt,' and even Spencer accepted it as adequately descriptive of his philosophy of the Unknowable. Huxley, however, denied assertions about Spencer's Unknowable as vigorously as he denied assertions about the Christian God; whether the Unknowable 'exists or does not exist, I am quite clear I have no knowledge either way. I neither affirm or deny.' Originally the term 'agnostic' had perhaps signified for Huxley only an admitted ignorance concerning all metaphysical doctrines -- the conclusions of the atheist, the theist, the pantheist, the materialist, the idealist, being in his view equally unverifiable -- but he himself used it in many different senses, and it ultimately came to mean far more than was justified etymologically. In consequence of his antipathy to theology, and to Genesis in particular, he generally used the word as meaning scientific skepticism, though often he meant an antitheism which was to be equated with netheism (denial of God) as defined by Bradlaugh. He was no more interested in denying or disproving the existence of God than of an unknown planet in the solar system. But until the existence of God was demonstrated by evidence, as convincing as would be required to persuade astronomers of the existence of such a planet, and unless this or additional evidence demonstrated that God was immediately concerned with values, morals, and the like, it was as futile for men to attempt to guide their lives by the one, as for astronomers to attempt to set their clocks by the other. A biographer remarks that Huxley called himself an agnostic mostly to avoid wasteful discussion of the Unknown while he applied himself to the ascertainable facts of nature: 'agnosticism was a white flag which he and his small company carried as they walked through the country of orthodoxy and placed dynamite under offensive buildings.'

A signal occasion on which he was forced to fend for agnosticism was in 1888, when an annual church congress in Manchester devoted an afternoon session to 'Atheism, Agnosticism and Pessimism.' Dr. Henry Wace, prebendary of St. Paul's and Principal of King's College, took advantage of the occasion to call Huxley an infidel: 'He may prefer to call himself an agnostic, but his real name is an older one -- he is an infidel, that is to say, an unbeliever. The word, infidel, perhaps carries an unpleasant significance. Perhaps it is right that it should. It is, and ought to be, an unpleasant thing for a man to have to say plainly that he does not believe in Jesus Christ. It is, indeed, an awful thing to say.' In the discussion of Dr. Wace's remarks, Bishop Magee of Peterborough expressed himself as being wholly in agreement with the sentiments of his colleague, and added that to his mind the intellectual unrest of the time all reduced to 'cowardly agnosticism.'

Huxley, more irritated by the charge of cowardice than of infidelity, prepared a reply for publication in The Nineteenth Century, concentrating on a point which Wace had emphasized, namely the value of Christian 'authority.' He took as an example of this authority the miracle recounted by Mark, wherein Jesus exorcises evil spirits from a man and sends them into the Gadarene swine, which thereupon rush off to self-destruction. Though possession by evil spirits which could be transferred to pigs, he admitted, could not be denied on a priori grounds, no adequate evidence for their existence had ever been presented. Implicitly assuming that Dr. Wace and Bishop Magee were not prepared to defend the existence of devils which could be exorcised from a man and driven into swine, it followed that either Jesus said what was attributed to him with regard to evil spirits, in which case his authority on matters of the 'unseen world' was fatally shaken; or he did not say what was attributed to him, in which case the authority of the biblical text was shaken. As for Bishop Magee's charge of cowardice, and Dr. Wace's assertion that to avow disbelief in Jesus 'is, and ought to be, an unpleasant thing,' he replied: 'Whether it is so depends, I imagine, a good deal on whether the man was brought up in a Christian household or not. I do not see why it should be "unpleasant" for a Mohammedan or Buddhist to say so. But that "it ought to be" unpleasant for any man to say anything which he sincerely, and after due deliberation, believes, is, to my mind, a proposition of the most profoundly immoral character. I verily believe that the great good which has been effected in the world by Christianity has been largely counteracted by the pestilent doctrine on which all the churches have insisted, that honest disbelief in their more or less astonishing creeds is a moral offense, indeed a sin of the deepest dye, deserving and involving the same future retribution as murder and robbery. If we could only see, in one view, the torrents of hypocrisy and cruelty, the lies, the slaughter, the violations of every obligation of humanity, which have flowed from this source along the course of the history of Christian nations, our worst imaginations of Hell would pale beside the vision.'

Warming with enthusiasm for his task he followed up with another article in the next number of The Nineteenth Century on 'The Value of Witness to the Miraculous,' recounting the superabundance of the miracles out of which Eginhard had spun his fantastic Carolingian history, and concluding that 'if Eginhard's calm and objective narrative of the historical events of his time is no guarantee for the soundness of his judgment where the supernatural is concerned, the fervid rhetoric of the Apostle to the Gentiles, his absolute confidence in the "inner light," and the extraordinary conceptions of the nature and requirements of logical proof which he betrays for page after page of his Epistles, afford still less security.'

In this same number were articles prepared by Dr. Wace and Bishop Magee to answer Huxley's arguments. Dr. Wace, after entangling himself in some misquotations, ended by accusing Huxley of unfairness, evasion and inaccuracy: in substance he said that the question of the divine authority of the scriptures could not be argued over evil spirits and pigs, but involved the teachings of Jesus as presented in the Lord's Prayer and the Sermon on the Mount. While Bishop Magee explained that by 'cowardly agnosticism' he had meant only one type of person who used the language of Huxley as an excuse for avoiding the fundamental problems and burdens of life.

'My position,' Huxley replied at once, 'reduced to its briefest form has been: In the first place, the evidence is such that the exact nature of the teachings and the convictions of Jesus is extremely uncertain, so that what ecclesiastics are pleased to call a denial of them may be nothing of the kind, and, in the second place, if Jesus taught the demonological system involved in the Gadarene story -- if a belief in that system formed a part of the spiritual convictions in which he lived and died -- then I, for my part unhesitatingly refuse to believe in that teaching, and deny the reality of those spiritual convictions. And I go further and add, that exactly in so far, for me, will his authority in any matter touching the spiritual world be weakened.'

It was perhaps because Huxley's position was stated with such blunt finality that the ecclesiastics decided to drop the argument over the miracle of Gadara. It is interesting, however, since the entire argument concerned the authority of the Christian texts, to find Bishop Magee later writing to a friend, 'The fact is that Huxley's bumptious air of omniscience imposes on feeble folk. He may be a great scientist, but he is a very poor historical critic. Wace, if he answers him, ought to knock him into a cocked hat. Then he is so thoroughly disingenuous. To call the Gadarene miracle "a part of the Christian faith," for instance, when he knows that no one of the creeds requires any Christian to believe in anyone of our Lord's miracles, or even in the inspiration of the Gospels.' This, from a Christian Bishop, within twenty-five years of the time when Essays and Reviews had stirred within the church such a storm as it had not known since the days of Henry VIII and Bloody Mary, advertised to the entire world that both Mosaic cosmology and the miracles of the New Testament were only quicksands to trap those of unwary faith, and showed how well that book had found its mark.

It was Prime Minister Gladstone who was determined to fire the last shot in the engagement over the Gadarene pigs. Educated at Eton and Oxford, Gladstone would have chosen holy orders but for his father's determination to make him a politician. Despite his liberal ideas in government, a contemporary noted that 'in the sphere of dogmatic faith Mr. Gladstone, by the time he was thirty, had become a man of settled questions,' while one biographer has said of him that 'his whole life was spent in unlearning the prejudices in which he was educated.'

In an interlude when the distinguished parliamentarian was out of office he found time to make a last but determined defense of orthodoxy in The Impregnable Rock of Scripture (1890). Under this mixed metaphor, the megalithic origin of which he little suspected, he collected a number of devious arguments which he had propounded in previous essays to prove that all modern knowledge could be reconciled with Genesis. Expressing renewed confidence in his 'organ of belief' and asserting that skepticism was on the wane, he tried in this book to deliver a killing blow to Huxley, by inquiring why it had been reserved for him to discover, after some thousand years, that in the Gadara affair, Jesus, by destroying an innocent man's property, had been no better than a law-breaker and evildoer. Gladstone asserted that he had carefully applied himself to scripture and discovered that Gadara was a Jewish and not a gentile city; hence the swine-keepers were Jews, who were forbidden to keep pork, and Jesus in destroying their herds was justly punishing them for breaking their own law.

Huxley replied that he had questioned not the actions of Jesus but the validity of the gospel story, and by quoting a number of authorities, he refuted the claim that Gadara was a Jewish city. Gladstone replied with a still greater show of authorities that Gadara was a Jewish city, and in effect made it appear that Huxley was now impugning his, the Prime Minister's, acumen, if not his honesty: 'I conceive it has been shown that to suppose the swineherds to have been punished by Christ for pursuing a calling which to them was an innocent one is to run counter to every law of reasonable historical interpretation.'

This free application of supposition to Mark's account irked Huxley to an article entitled 'Illustrations of Mr. Gladstone's Controversial Methods,' a ludicrous burlesque that set the entire world, already highly attentive to the fate of the possessed pigs, to laughing. To the suggestion that, at their time of life, he and Gladstone could better use their time than in debating over the Gadarene swine, Huxley replied that a principle was at stake: 'We are at the parting of the ways. Whether the twentieth century shall see a recrudescence of the superstitiousness of medieval papistry, or whether it shall witness the reverence of the living body of the ethical ideal of prophetic Israel or the carcass, foul with savage superstition and cankered with false philosophy, to which the theologians have bound it, turns upon their final judgment of the Gadarene tale.'

The controversy ended when Gladstone was drawn back into politics by a general election, but only, one historian notes, after the swine, 'in rushing down from the high place of revealed authority' under the impetus of Huxley's exorcism, 'had trampled their fateful and historic path across the pages of every serious publication in two hemispheres.'

Graphic RuleGraphic Rule 75Graphic Rule