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

CONVERTED INFIDELS.

Christian logic is a curious thing. There is nothing like it, we should imagine, in the heavens above or the waters under the earth. Certainly there is nothing like it on the earth itself, unless we make an exception in the case of Christian veracity, which is as much like Christian logic as one cherry is like another.

It is a long time since Christians began arguing—it would be an outrage on the dictionary to call it reasoning. They have been at it for nearly two thousand years. Their founder, Jesus Christ, seldom argued. He uttered himself dogmatically at most times; occasionally he spoke in parables; and whenever he was cornered he escaped on a palpable evasion. His great disciple, Paul, however, was particularly fond of arguing. His writings abound in "for" and "whereas." The argument he most affected was the circular one. He could run round a horseshoe, skip over from point to point, and run round again as nimbly as any man on record. In a famous chapter in Corinthians, for instance, he first proves the resurrection of the dead by the resurrection of Jesus Christ, and then proves the resurrection of Jesus Christ by the resurrection of the dead. It is in the same chapter that he enunciates the botanical truth (a truth of Bible botany, observe) that a seed does not bear anything unless it dies. Altogether the great Apostle is a first-rate type of the Christian logician, and there are some who declare him to be a first-rate type of the Christian truth-teller.

Speeding down the stream of time to the present age, we see that Christian logic (yes, and Christian veracity) has undergone little if any alteration. It is as infantile and as impudent as ever. Arguments that would look fallacious in the nursery are used in the pulpit, generation after generation, with an air of solemn profundity, as though they were as wise as the oracles of omniscience. To select from such a plethora is almost impossible; the difficulty is where to begin. But happily we are under no necessity of selection. A case is before us, and we take it as it comes. It is a "converted infidel" case, in the report of a recent sermon—the last of a series on "Is Christianity Played Out?"—by the Rev. Dr. Hiles Hitchens; the gentleman referred to in one of our last week's paragraphs as wishing for an old three-legged stool or something made by Jesus Christ. Dr. Hitchens, alas! cannot find the stool, and has to put up with the creed instead; though, perhaps, he gets as much out of the creed as he would make by selling the stool to the British Museum.

Dr. Hitchens preached from the text, "The earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord"—a statement which, after the lapse of so many centuries, has still to be couched in the future tense. The delay has been excessive, but Dr. Hitchens is hopeful. He believes in the ultimate and speedy fulfilment of the prophecy. One of his grounds for so believing is this (we quote from the Christian Commonwealth), that "Out of 20 leading lecturers, authors, editors, and debaters on the side of Infidelity 17 have been brought to Christ within the last 30 years, have left their infidel associations, openly professed the religion of Jesus, and engaged in Christian work." The last he named, we are told, was "the case of a National Secular lecturer, of whom the sceptics were greatly proud, who has recently been received by, and now lectures for, the Christian Evidence Society."

We leave the consideration of these "facts" for a moment, and deal in the first place with Dr. Hitchens's peculiar logic. It is truly Christian. The species is unmistakable. Seventeen Freethinkers have been converted to Christianity! Wonderful! But how many Christians have been converted to Freethought? Ay, there's the rub. For every specimen Dr. Hitchens produces we will produce a thousand. Not only were the rank and file of the Freethought party very largely brought up as Christians, but its leaders are of the same category. Charles Bradlaugh was brought up as a Christian, so was Colonel Ingersoll. Can Dr. Hitchens produce two names among his "converts" of the same weight, or a half, a quarter, or a tithe of it? Every leader of Freethought in England, we believe, is a convert from Christianity. As to the "leading" men Dr. Hitchens refers to, we presume they are the persons initialed in the late Mr. Whitmore's tract, and those among them who were leaders were not converted, and those who were converted were not leaders. The real leaders of the Freethought party, those who were long in its service, and were entrusted with power and responsibility, were never converted. And the cases on Mr. Whitmore's list are old. They have an ancient and fish-like smell. Dr. Hitchens will perhaps be good enough to tell us the name of any man of real distinction in the Freethought party who has been "converted" during the last twenty years. We defy him to do so. If he goes back far enough he will find a few men who were not trusted in our party, and a few weaklings who could not fight an uphill battle, who went over to the enemy. Real leaders of our party fought, suffered, and starved, but they never deserted the flag. Christianity could not convert a Bradlaugh or a Holyoake; it could only bribe or allure a Sexton or a Gordon, or others of the "illustrious obscure" in Mr. Whitmore's fraudulent catalogue. In short, the "conversions" to Christianity so trumpeted are mostly dubious, generally insignificant, and all ancient. If the prophecy which Dr. Hitchens preached from is to be accomplished, it will have to quicken its rate of fulfilment during the past twenty years. We convert tremendously more Christians than you do Freethinkers; the balance is terribly to your disadvantage; you can only make out a promising account by setting down your infinitesimal gains and making no entry of your tremendous losses.

The only recent case that Dr. Hitchens refers to is that of "a National Secular lecturer, of whom the sceptics were greatly proud." Dr. Hitchens evidently takes this gentleman at his own estimate. That he thinks the sceptics were greatly proud of him is intelligible; it is quite in keeping with his shallow, vulgar, And egotistical nature. But the truth is "the sceptics," in any general sense, were not proud of him. He was a very young man, with a great deal to learn, who had a very brief career as a Secularist in East London. In a thoughtless moment a local Secular Society gave him office, and that fact is his entire stock-in-trade as a "converted Freethinker." He was never one of the National Secular Society's appointed lecturers; he was neither "author, editor, or debater"; and he was utterly unknown to the party in general. Dr. Hitchens has, in fact, discovered a mare's nest. We are in a position to speak with some authority, and we defy him to name any Freethinker "of whom the sceptics were greatly proud" who has of late years been converted to Christianity. It is easy enough to impose on an ignorant congregation, and Dr. Hitchens is probably aware of the lengths to which a reckless pulpiteer may carry his mendacity. But candid investigators will conclude that "converted infidels" cannot be very plentiful, when the majority of them are so ancient; nor very important, when an obscure youth has to be advertised as "a leader" of whom the sceptics (nine out of ten of them never having heard of him) were "greatly proud."

We should imagine that Dr. Hitchens is rather new to this line of advocacy. In the course of time he will learn—if indeed he has not already learnt, and is concealing the fact—that the "converted infidels" will not stand a minute's scrutiny. The only safe method is to drop questionable cases and resort to sheer invention. Even that method, however, is not devoid of peril, as one of its practitioners has recently discovered. The Rev. Hugh Price Hughes must by this time be extremely sorry he circulated that false and foolish story of the converted Atheist shoemaker. The exposure of it follows him wherever he goes, and illustrates the truth of at least one Bible text—"Be sure your sin will find you out."


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