CHRISTIANITY AND COMMON SENSE.
THERE are two things in the world that can never get on together -- religion and common sense. Religion deals with the next life, common sense with this; religion points to the sky, common sense to the earth; religion is all imagination, common sense all reason; religion deals with what nobody can understand, common sense with what everybody can understand; religion gives us no return for our investments but flash notes on the bank of expectation, common sense gives us good interest and full security for our capital. They are as opposite as two things can possibly be, and they are always at strife. Religion is always trying to fill the world with delusions, and common sense is always trying to drive them away. Religion says Live for the next world, and common sense says Live for this.
It is in the very nature of things that religion and common sense should hate and oppose each other. They are rivals for the same prize -- aspirants to the same throne. In every age a conflict has been going on between them; and although common sense is fast getting the upper hand to-day, the war is far from ended, and we may see some fierce struggles before the combat closes. There can, however, be no doubt as to the issue; for science has appeared on the scene with the most deadly weapons of destruction, and science is the sworn ally of common sense. Nay, is not Science the mighty child of common sense -- the fruit of Reason from the lusty embrace of Nature?
Common sense is primitive logic. It does not depend on books, and it is superior to culture. It is the perception of analogy -- the instinct of causation. It guides the savage through trackless forests, and the astronomer through infinite space. It makes the burnt child dread the fire, and a Darwin see in a few obvious facts the solution of a mystery. It built the first hut and the last palace; the first canoe and the last ocean steamer. It constructed docks, and laid down railways, applied steam to machinery and locomotion, prompted every mechanical discovery, instigated all material progress, and transformed an ape-like beast into a civilised man.
Even the highest art is full of common sense. Sanity and simplicity are the distinguishing marks of the loftiest genius, which, may be described as inspired common sense. The great artist never loses touch of fact; he may let his imagination soar as high as the stars, but he keeps his feet firm-planted on the ground. All the world recognises the sublimity of Greek sculpture and Shakespeare's plays, because they are both true to nature and fact and coincident with everlasting laws. The true sublime is not fantastic; it is solid and satisfying, like a mighty Alp, deep-rooted first of all in the steadfast earth, and then towering up with its vineyards, its pastures, its pine-forests, its glaciers, its precipices, and last of all the silence of infinitude brooding over its eternal snows.
Common sense, the civiliser, has had an especially hard fight with that particular form of religion known as Christianity. When Tertullian said that Christianity was to be believed because it was incredible, he spoke in the true spirit of faith; just as old Sir Thomas Browne did when he found the marvels of religion too weak for his credulity. David Hume expressed the same truth ironically at the conclusion of his Essay on Miracles, when he said that it was not reason that persuaded any Christian of the truth of his creed, which was established on the higher ground of faith, and could not be accepted without a miracle.
Common sense is blasphemy. It is the thing which religion dreads most, and which the priests most mortally hate. Common sense dispenses with learned disquisitions, and tries everything with simple mother wit. If, for instance, it hears that a whale swallowed a man, and vomited him up safe and sound three days after, it does not want to know all the physiology of men and whales before deciding if the story is true; it just indulges in a hearty laugh and blows the story to Hades. Miracle-mongers are quite helpless when a man turns round and says, "My dear sir, that story's just a trifle too thin." They see his case is a hopeless one, and leave him to the tender mercies of the Lord of Hosts.
Learning is all very well in its way, but common sense is a great deal better. It is infinitely the best weapon to use against Christianity. Without a knowledge of history, without being acquainted with any science but that of daily life, without a command of Hebrew, Latin and Greek, or any other language than his own, a plain man can take the Bible in his hand and easily satisfy himself it is not the word of God. Common sense tells him not to believe in contradictory statements; common sense tells him that a man could not have found a wife in a land where there were no women; common sense tells him that three millions of people never marched out of any country in one night; common sense tells him that Jesus Christ could not have "gone up" from two places at once; common sense tells him that turning devils out of men into pigs is a fable not half as good as the poorest of Aesop's; common sense tells him that nobody but a skunk would consent to be saved from the penalty of his own misdeeds by the sufferings of an innocent man; common sense tells him that while men object to having their pockets picked and their throats cut, they want no divine command against theft and murder; common sense tells him that God never ordered the committal of such atrocities as those ascribed to him in the Bible; and common sense tells him that a God of mercy never made a hell.
Yes, all this is perfectly clear, and the priests know it. That
is why they cry out Blasphemy! every time they meet it. But that is
also precisely the reason why we should employ it against them. The
best antidote to superstition, the worst enemy of priestcraft, and
the best friend of man, is (to parody Danton's famous formula)
Common Sense, and again Common Sense, and for ever Common