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


March, 1889.

"Is there any thing whereof it may be said, See, this is new? it hath been already of old times, which was before us."
—Ecclesiastes i. 10.

Everybody is talking about the flight of Pigott. The flight into Egypt never caused half such a sensation. Pigott has gone off into the infinite. He was shadowed, but he has performed the feat of running away from his own shadow. Where he will turn up next, or if he will turn up anywhere, God only knows. But wherever he re-appears—in the South Pacific as a missionary, in America as a revivalist, or in India as an avatar—it will be the same old Pigott, lying, shuffling, forging and blackmailing, with an air of virtue and benevolence.

The edifice of calumny on Mr. Parnell and his closest colleagues rested on the foundation of Pigott, and Pigott is exploded. He has entirely vanished. Not a hair of him is visible. He is gone like last winter's snow or last summer's roses. He is in the big list of things Wanted. But advertisements will not bring him back, and considering who is in power, it is very problematical if the officers of justice will be any more successful.

We have no wish to be disrespectful to the Commission, and it is far from our intention to pronounce judgment on a case which is sub judice, though who can help sundry exclamations when the chief witness on one side bolts, leaving no trace but a few more lies and counter lies? Our object, indeed, is not political but religious. We desire to make the noble Pigott point a moral and adorn a tale. He and his achievements in connection with the Times splendidly illustrate the process by which Christianity was built up. Pigottism was at work for centuries, forging documents, manufacturing evidence, and telling the grossest lies with an air of truth. What is still worse, Pigottism was so lucky as to get into the seat of despotic power, and to crush out all criticism of its frauds; so that, at length, everyone believed what no one heard questioned. It was Pigottism in excelsis. The liar gave evidence in the witness box, stifled or murdered the counsel for the opposite side, then mounted the bench to give judgment in his own favor, and finally pronounced a decree of death against all who refused to own him the pink of veracity.

Just look for a moment at these Parnell letters. They were printed in facsimile in the Times, published in Parnellism and Crime, circulated among millions of people, and accepted as genuine by half the population of England. And on what ground? Solely on the ground that Parnellism was heterodox and the Times was a respectable journal. That was enough. The laws of evidence were treated with contempt. Investigation was thought unnecessary. Thousands of people fatuously said, "Oh, the letters are in print." And all this in an age of Board schools, printing presses, daily papers, and unlimited discussion; nay, in despite of the solemn declaration of Mr. Parnell and his colleagues, backed up by a demand for investigation, that the letters were absolute concoctions.

Now if such things can happen in an age like this, how easily could they happen in ages like those in which Christianity produced its scriptures. Credulity was boundless, fraud was audacious, and lying for the profit of the Church was regarded as a virtue. There was no printing press, no free inquiry, no keen investigation, no vivid conception of the laws of evidence; and the few brilliant critics, like Celsus and Porphyry, who kept alive in their breasts the nobler spirit of Grecian scepticism, were answered by the destruction of their writings, a process which was carried out with the cunning scent of a sleuth-hound and the remorseless cruelty of a tiger.

The Church produced, quite as mysteriously as the Times, certain documents which it said were written by Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, Peter, Paul, and James. Others were written by Pagans like Pilate, and one at least by Jesus Christ himself. No commission sat to examine and investigate, no Sir Charles Russell cross-examined the witnesses. The Pigotts, the Houstons, and the Macdonalds kept quietly in the background, and were never dragged forth into the light of day. The Mr. Walters took the full responsibility, which was very trifling; and as Englishmen relied on the respectability of the Times, so the illiterate and fanatical Christians relied on the respectability of the Mother Church.

Some of those documents, so mysteriously produced, were as mysteriously dropped when they had served their turn. Hence the so-called Apocryphal New Testament, a collection of writings as ancient, and once as accepted, as those found in the Canon. Hence also the relics, either in name or in fragments, of a host of gospels, epistles, and revelations, which primitive Pigottism manufactured for the behoof of Christianity, Every single scrap no doubt subserved a useful end. But whatever was no longer required was discarded like the scaffolding of a house. The real, permanent work, all the while, was going on inside; and when the Church faced the world with its completed edifice, it thought itself provided with something that would stand all winds and weathers. It was found, however, in the course of time, that Pigottism was still necessary. Hence the Apostolic Constitutions, the Decretals, the Apostles' and the Athanasian Creeds, and all the profitable relics of saints and martyrs.

About two hundred years ago an informal Commission began to sit on these Christian documents. The precious letter of Jesus Christ to Abgarus soon flew off with the Veronica handkerchief, and many other products of Christian Pigottism shared the same fate. The witnesses were examined and cross-examined, and the longer the process lasted the sorrier was the spectacle they presented. Paul's epistles have been shockingly handled. The Commission has positively declared that all but four of them are forgeries, and is still investigating the claim of the remnant under reprieve. Nor is the judgment on the gospels less decisive. The Court has decided that they were not written by Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. Who wrote them, when they were written, or where, is left to the Day of Judgment.

Unfortunately the press has given little attention to the proceedings in this Court of Commission. Its reports are published in expensive volumes for scholars and gentlemen of means and leisure. Some of the results, indeed, are given in a few journals written for the people; but these journals are boycotted as vulgar, unless they go too far, when they are prosecuted for blasphemy. Yet the truth is gradually leaking out. People shake their heads ominously, especially when there is anything in them; and parsons are looked upon with a growing suspicion. They look bland, they assume the most virtuous airs, and sometimes they affect a preternatural goodness. But in all this they are excelled by the noble Pigott, whose bald head, venerable beard, and benevolent appearance, qualified him to sit for a portrait of God the Father. Gentlemen, it won't do. You will have to bolt or confess. The documents you have palmed off on the world are the products of unadulterated Pigottism. You know it, we know it, and by and bye everyone will know it.

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