Freethought Archives > G.W. Foote > Flowers of Freethought Vol. II (1894)

ARE ATHEISTS CRUEL?

April 26, 1891.

There seems to be an ineradicable malignancy in the heart of professional Christianity. St. Paul, indeed in a fine passage of his first epistle to the Corinthians, speaks with glowing eloquence of the "charity" which "thinketh no evil." But the hireling advocates and champions of Christianity have ever treated the apostle's counsel with contempt in their dealings with sceptics and heretics. Public discussion is avoided by these professors of the gospel of love and practisers of the gospel of hatred. They find it "unprofitable." Consequently they neglect argument and resort to personalities. They frequently insinuate, and when it is safe they openly allege, that all who do not share their opinions are bad husbands, bad fathers, bad citizens, and bad men. Thus they cast libellous dust in the eyes of their dupes, and incapacitate them from seeing the real facts of the case for themselves. A notable illustration of this evil principle may be found in a recent speech by the Bishop of Chester. Dr. Jayne presided at a Town Hall meeting of the local branch of the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children, and took advantage of the occasion to slander a considerable section of his fellow citizens. With a pious arrogance which is peculiar to his boastful faith, he turned what should have been a humanitarian assembly into a receptacle for his discharge of insolent fanaticism. Parentage is a natural fact, and the love of offspring is a well-nigh universal law of animal life. It would seem, therefore, that a Society for preventing cruelty to children by parents of perverted instincts, might live aloof from sectarian squabbles. But the Bishop of Chester is of a different opinion. He is a professional advocate of one form of faith, and his eye is strictly bent on business. He appears to be unable to talk anything but "shop." Even while pressing the claims of poor, neglected, ill-used children on the sympathy and assistance of a generous public, he could not refrain from insulting all those who have no love for his special line of business. And the insult was not only gratuitous; it was groundless, brutal, and malignant; so much so, indeed, that we cherish a hope that the Bishop has overreached himself, and that his repulsive slander will excite a re-action in favor of the objects of his malice.

Dr. Jayne told the meeting that "the persons who were most liable to be guilty of cruelty to their children were those artisans who had taken up Secularist opinions, and who looked upon their children as a nuisance, and were glad to get them out of the way."

Now, on the face of it, the statement is positively grotesque in its absurdity. If Secular principles tend to make parents hate their own children, why should their evil influence be confined to artisans? And if Secular principles do not produce parental hatred in the wealthier classes, why does Dr. Jayne hurl this disgraceful accusation at the poorer class of unbelievers? It cannot be simply because they are poorer, for he was delighted to know that "poverty by no means necessarily meant cruelty." What, then, is the explanation? It seems to us very obvious. Dr. Jayne was bent on libelling sceptics, and, deeming it safer to libel the poorer ones, he tempered his valor with a convenient amount of discretion. He is not even a brave fanatic. His bigotry is crawling, cowardly, abject, and contemptible.

Dr. Jayne relied upon the authority of Mr. Waugh, who happened to be present at the meeting. This gentleman jumped up in the middle of the Bishop's speech, and said "it was the case, that the class most guilty of cruelty to children were those who took materialistic, atheistic, selfish and wicked views of their own existence." Surely this is a "fine derangement of epitaphs." It suggests that Mr. Waugh is less malignant than foolish. What connection does he discover between Secularism and selfishness? Is it in our principles, in our objects, or in our policy? Does he really imagine that the true character of any body of men and women is likely to be written out by a hostile partisan? Such a person might be a judge of our public actions, and we are far from denying his right to criticise them; but when he speaks of our private lives, before men of his own faith, and without being under the necessity of adducing a single scrap of evidence, it is plain to the most obtuse intelligence that his utterances are perfectly worthless.

We have as much right as Mr. Waugh to ask the world to accept our view of the private life of Secularists. That is, we have no right at all. Nevertheless we have a right to state our experience and leave the reader to form his own opinion. Having entered the homes of many Secularists, we have been struck with their fondness for children The danger lies, if it lies anywhere, in their tendency to "spoil" them. It is a curious fact—and we commend it to the attention of Dr. Jayne and Mr. Waugh—that the most sceptical country in Europe is the one where children are the best treated, and where there is no need for a Society to save them from the clutches of cruelty. There is positively a child-cultus in the great French cities, and especially in Freethinking Paris. In this Bible-and-beer-loving land the workman, like his social "superior," stands or sits drinking in a public-house with male cronies; but the French workman usually sits at the cafe table with his wife, and on Sundays with his children, and takes his drink, whatever it may be, under the restraining eyes of those before whom a man is least ready to debase himself.

One Secular home, at least, is known to us intimately. It is the home of the present writer, who for the moment drops the editorial "we" and speaks in the first person. My children are the children of an Atheist, yet if they do not love me as heartily as Dr. Jayne's or Mr. Waugh's children love their father, "there's witchcraft in it." There is no rod, and no punishment in my home. We work with the law of love. Striking a child is to me a loathsome idea. I shrink from it as I would from a physical pollution. Strike a child once, be brutal to it once, and there is gone forever that look of perfect trust in the child's eyes, which is a parent's dearest possession, and which I would not forfeit for all the prizes in the world.

I know Christians who are less kind to their children than I am to mine. They are not my natural inferiors. Humanity forbid that I should play the Pharisee! But they are degraded below their natural level by the ghastly notion of parental "authority" I do not say there are no rights in a family. There are; and there are also duties. But all the rights belong to the children, and all the duties belong to the parents.

Personally I am not fond of talking about myself. Still less am I anxious to make a public exhibition of my home. But if the Dr. Jaynes and the Mr. Waughs of the Christian world provoke comparisons, I have no fear of standing with my little ones opposite them with theirs, and letting the world judge between us.

Dropping again into the editorial style, we have a question to ask of the Bishop of Chester, or rather of Mr. Waugh. It is this. Where are the statistics to justify your assertion? Men who are sent to gaol, for whatever reason, have their religions registered. Give us, then, the total number of convictions your Society has obtained, and the precise proportion of Secularists among the offenders. And be careful to give us their names and the date and place of their conviction.

We have a further word to all sorts and conditions of libellous Christians. Where are the evidences of Atheistic cruelty? The humanest of the Roman emperors were those who were least under the sway of religion. Julius Caesar himself, the "foremost man of all this world," who was a professed Atheist, was also the most magnanimous victor that ever wore the purple. Akbar, the Freethinker, was the noblest ruler of India. Frederick the Great was kind and just to his subjects. But, on the other hand, who invented and who applied such instruments of cruelty as racks, wheels, and thumbscrews? Who invented separate tortures for every part of the sensitive frame of man? Who burnt heretics? Who roasted or drowned millions of "witches"? Who built dungeons and filled them? Who brought forth cries of agony from honest men and women that rang to the tingling stars? Who burnt Bruno? Who spat filth over the graves of Paine and Voltaire? The answer is one word—Christians. Yet with all this blood on their hands, and all this crime on their consciences, they turn round and fling the epithet of "cruel" at the perennial victims of their malice.


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