Page images
PDF
EPUB
[blocks in formation]

We have produced a sufficient number of instances of immorality, ignorance, cruelty, contradictions and discrepancies, contained in the Bible, particularly in the character of the God of the Bible, to disprove its pretended inspiration. And what remains ?

Christian advocates still do strive, and doubtless will strive for some time longer, to twist together and furbish this flimsy, rusty chain of the evidences. Though its most essential links have so often been crushed and shattered, they still flatter themselves that it will hang together; and some even imagine that it has withstood every attack. They cannot and will not believe that so plain a tale can put down a religion that has been venerated for so many ages and by so many nations, and defended by the elaborate and learned works of so many eminent and dignified scholars and divines. Unable to explain away the ludicrous horrors of some of the Bible stories and doctrines, they avail themselves of the plea of “relative wisdom,” or of “sacred mystery,” triumphantly expatiate on the undesigned coincidences of the Acts and Epistles, or some other equally irrelevant triviality, or break away out of all bounds into a strain of extravagant and blustering declamation.

“ It is no doubt,” says Mr. Henry Rogers, in his “ Reason and Faith,” “ much easier to insist on individual objections, which no man can effectually answer, than it is to appreciate the total effect of many lines of argument and many sources of evidence, all bearing on one point.” Now it will surely be granted that six, or ten, or any number of sophisms or erroneous arguments, “all bearing on one point,” can never establish that point; that no amount of fallacious logic or suspicious evidence, however amalgamated and intertwined, can ever form a'cogent and harmonious mass of proof; and that if " individual objections, which no man can effectually answer,” can be advanced against each line of argument and source of evidence, those arguments and evidences, in a collective form, must be of very small weight. Bishop Butler, in a passage quoted by Mr. Rogers with great approbation, maintains that “the truth of religion, like the truth of common matters, is to be judged of by all the evidence taken

CHRISTIAN SOCIALISM.

97

together.” And “it is easy to show, in a short and lively manner, that such and such things are liable to objection ; but impossible to show, in like manner, the united force of the whole argument in one view.”* The strength and force of a mass of arguments surely must depend upon the integrity of its parts; arguments cannot be examined, or appreciated, or attacked, or defended, in a lump; they must necessarily be taken in detail. And what is the value of “all the evidence taken together,” in the face of so many " individual objections which do man can effectually answer ?

The Christian Socialists, those sincere and nobly benevolent men, whom no one unembittered by religious or political bigotry can refrain from loving and “blessing unawares,” are vainly trying to reconcile those great living truths of human equality, brotherhood, and mutual service, with the dead language of the gospel of Christot Vainly-for the violent outburst of abuse and ridicule, and the reasonable arguments, with which both the Evangelical and High Church parties have denied and rejected their sanitary and social interpretation of scripture, go very far to prove the impracticability of preserving this unnatural compound, not to mention the clearer and more general insight into the falsity of the origin and claims of Christianity, which is becoming more and more conspicuous in every rank of society.

CHAPTER THE FOURTEENTH,

OMNIPOTENCE.

(1.) It has been sarcastically urged against the atheist that his opinions are at once the meanest and the most arrogant possible, since he degrades man to the level of the beasts by denying his

Analogy, part ii., chap. vii., quoted in Reason and Faith, p. 27. † Meanwhile they are doing much good by promoting associations among workmen, and by bringing higher and lower classes into friendly and confidential relations.

98

TWO ACCUSATIONS ANSWERED.

immortality;* and exalts him to the summit of the universal scale by refusing to recognise the existence of any higher intelli. gences—such as a God, angels, and immaterial spirits. These objections are easily refuted. To the first, it may be replied that the contemplation of nature's common law of death onght not to humiliate man any more than his non-exemption from the common manner of entering the world, a manner at once so undignified and so distressing. · Truth will always be found in the end to be more honourable and more beneficial than the most darling fiction—and the acknowledgment by man of a truth of nature, if a truth it be, cannot tend to degrade him in his undoubted position as the highest of the known inhabitants of this world, but will lead him to seek by the honest investigation of the true laws of his nature, and by earnest work among the realities of life, to improve and exalt the physical, intellectual, and moral condition of the great human brotherhood.

And this brings us to the second accusation—that the atheist arrogates for mankind the highest position in the universe. It is not his business to decide or to consider whether any being or beings exist more powerful or wiser than man: he knows that .countless worlds and suns roll through space far superior in mag. nitude and beauty to this earth and to the luminary of our system; he sees gradations in every department of nature, and he has no reason to believe that man displays the highest possible organisation. If an expression of his opinion were necessary, he would probably say that he hardly entertains a doubt that innumerable beings, superior in power, beauty, and wisdom to mankind, exist in other localities and other worlds, although we may for ever remain incapable of any communication with them. But the atheist, silent and perhaps indifferent on this subject, which cannot be said to have any practical or logical importance at present, does most emphatically declare his dissent and reprobation of the belief in an Omnipotent God, which he considers to involve many absurdities and contradictions, and by its inevitable ten

* As a revealed or known truth, and as a motive to submission and resignation.

GOD'S REMEDIES FOR HIS BAD WORK.

99

dency to divert men from self-reliance and brotherly co-operation to be most mischievous and obstructive to the cause of moral and social improvement.

Christians believe in an Almighty God, and yet their ideas of his moral government of the world are inextricably confused, and irreconcileable with their doctrine of his Infinite power. Whatever man's nature is, such as it is God made it, Adam and Eve are said to have been created innocent, yet on their first and only temptation they became infidels, intemperate, disobedient, and liars. God made them, says the Bible; and it cannot be denied that he must have known that he had made their will so weak that it would give way on the first trial. Every individual man's depravity must be caused either by a bad natural disposition, or a bad education. Now the circumstances of every man's birth and life must be ordained by God, if such a being exist, and he must be the cause of all the wickedness and misery of the world. If any other cause of evil be admitted, God is no longer omnipotent.

But, says the Christian, you forget God's merciful remedial measures, which will lead men to happiness in this world, and secure their eternal salvation in the next. You might as well tell me of the merciful remedial measures of a father who, having inoculated his twenty children with a deadly disease, administers to five of them a remedy which effects the cure of only one ! Why did he give them the deadly disease? Why does he not apply an efficacious remedy to them all? Christian doctrine declares that they cannot cure themselves. And yet Christians say that man has free-will; and between free-will and necessity, the foreknowledge of God and the responsibility of man, God's omnipotence and the existence of evil, they have lost themselves in a maze of contradictions. The real insurmountable difficulty lies in the idea of Omnipotence. Let us see if the fundamental religious doctrine of an Almighty Creator be not entirely irrational and untenable.

(2.) The material universe must either have been in some shape co-eternal with God, in which case he is not omnipotent-or else there must have been a time when nothing existed but God. Now

200

OMNIPOTENCE DENIES ALL LAWS.

wbat idea are we compelled to form of the creation which, after a passive eternity, was at last commenced by the Deity ? Omnipotence cannot increase itself, it cannot fill itself; it is All, it is Infinite, there is nothing beside it. Omnipotence has nothing to work with, and to work on. Nihil ex nihilo fit.” It will not assist us in our inquiry to say that the universe and the great known material powers are manifestations of God's power, which before the creation was latent and inactive, and to point to the manifestations of man's physical and intellectual power in the construction of a ship or a steam-engine, because man only discovers the fixed eternal properties of matter, and intelligently adapts them to his purpose—he creates no properties. But on the first day of creation an Almighty God can have had no chaos of raw materials to work on, and if there be an omnipotent power in existence there can be no intrinsic properties in matter, there can be no laws of nature, there can be no power but God's will. In fact, you cannot separate omnipotence from his works. Either you must believe that God has delegated his power to material agents, and has placed his creations above himself by making them real powers, after having elaborated them out of his own substance, or you must believe that God himself animates his own works, and that the universe is in fact a vast animal which has contrived itself! One or other of these absurdities the believer in a Creator will find himself compelled to adopt, if he ever dares to think on the subject at all. The theist is, and must be, a pantheist.

But, indeed, most theists do not think deeply on the subject; a general and vague belief in an omnipotent contriver and creator, under a sort of implied understanding that no farther inquiry is to be or can be made, seems to hold a firm position in many minds which have seen the falsity and evil of all other religious dogmata. When once the word “design” or “contrivance” is allowed to be introduced into the argument, the doctrine becomes plausible enough, and serves well to check summarily those rising speculations on the origin and destiny of the world within and the world around us which so frequently occupy and distress every thoughtful and earnest mind. Men have always preferred the peaoe and

« PreviousContinue »