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Note XXIII., page 232.
HISTORY OF SECULARISM.
Jeremy Bentham, James Mill, Thomas Paine, Robert Taylor, Richard Carlile, and Robert Owen, may be described as those who directly prepared the way for the secularist movement. Bentham and Mill did so by the manner in which they inculcated utilitarianism and political reform, not by the explicit avowal of their atheistical opinions. As to their attitude towards religion, see Professor Bain's remarks in ‘Mind,' vol. ii. p. 527, and J. S. Mill's Autobiography, pp. 38-44, 69, 70. The attacks of Paine, Taylor, and Carlile on Christianity were animated by a spirit which could not stop short of bitter antagonism to all religion. There is a memoir of Paine by Cheetham (1809), and another by Rickman (1815); an account of Taylor in Iconoclast, and Watts' 'Half-Hours with the Freethinkers;' and a notice of Carlile, by Holyoake (1853). Paine and Taylor professed to be deists; the latest creed of Carlile was a kind of naturalism presented in a strange semi-scriptural phraseology. Paine's views must be sought for in his Theological Works ; Taylor's in the ‘Devil's Pulpit' and 'Diegesis;' and Carlile's in the volumes of the Republican,''Lion,'Christian Warrior,' &c. The influence of the benevolent utopianist, Robert Owen, was decidedly secularist and anti-religious. He identified God with nature, or at least with “the mysterious power in nature which permeates every particle of the elements which compose the universe.” A list of his principal works will be found in Mr Holyoake's notice of his “Life and Last Days' (1859).
Perhaps the earliest periodical organ of popular atheism in this country was the “Oracle of Reason, the first number of which appeared in November 6, 1841, and the last on December 2, 1843. In the course of its brief existence it had four editors—Charles Southwell, George Jacob Holyoake, Thomas Paterson, and William Chilton, the first three being in rapid succession imprisoned for blasphemy. Mr Southwell, when his term of imprisonment was expired, started, in 1842, the 'Investigator ;' and in 1843 'The Movement' succeeded the ‘Oracle of Reason. These periodicals advocated opinions of the same kind as those which are at present maintained in more temperate and becoming language by the 'National Reformer,''Secular Review,' and ' Liberal.' Their chief contributors may be said to have been the representatives of the first generation of secularists. Mr Holyoake is probably the only one of them of any note still alive. In ‘Half-Hours with Freethinkers 'there is an account of Mr Charles Southwell; also of Mrs Emma Martin, who likewise belonged to the earliest secularist group.
In 1851 Mr Holyoake first made use of the term “Secularist,” as more appropriate and distinctive than “Atheist;" and in 1852 he commenced organising the English freethinkers according to the principles of secularism. For a short time he had an ally in the late Mr Thomas Cooper, but in 1856 this honest and courageous man became convinced of the truth of Christianity. Mr Holyoake edited for many years a periodical called the 'Reasoner. His most interesting work is ‘The Trial of Theism' (1858). I willingly acknowledge that it contains much which is suggestive, and much even which is true and important, although I naturally deem its criticism of theism very inconclusive. Of Mr Holyoake's
discussions the best known, perhaps, are the Cooper Street and the Glasgow discussions with the Rev. Brewin Grant, the discussion with the Rev. Mr Townley, and the discussion with Mr Bradlaugh. The biographical and critical essay of Sophia Dobson Collet, entitled “George Jacob Holyoake and Modern Atheism” (1855) is well worthy of perusal. Mr Austin Holyoake has aided his brother in attacking Christianity and theism, and is the author of “Thoughts on Atheism," “Does there Exist a Moral Governor of the Universe ?” and several other pamphlets.
Among the most active and prominent younger secularists the following may be mentioned : 1. Charles Bradlaugh, President of the National Secular Society, editor of the 'National Reformer,' author of 'The Freethinkers' Text-book,' pt. i. ; ‘A Plea for Atheism ;' and many political and anti-religious pamphlets. Mr Bradlaugh has displayed great controversial activity. Of his numerous discussions, I may mention these : (a) The Credibility and Morality of the Four Gospels. The authorised and verbatim Report of the Five Nights' Discussion, at Halifax, between the Rev. T. D. Matthias, Baptist Minister, and Iconoclast: London, 1860. (6) A Discussion on the question, Has Man a Soul? between the Rev. T. Lawson of Bacup, and Iconoclast of London : Manchester, 1861. (c) Christianity and Secularism; Report of a Public Discussion between Mr W. Hutchings and Mr C. Bradlaugh, held in the Public Hall, Wigan, on February 4 and 5, 1861, on the question, Whether is Christianity or Secularism best calculated to promote human happiness? Wigan, 1861. (d) A Full Report of the Discussion between Mr Mackie (editor of the ‘Warrington Guardian ') and Iconoclast (Mr Bradlaugh) in
the Music Hall, Warrington, April 10 and 11, 1861, on the question, What does the Bible teach about God? London: Ward & Co. (e) The Existence of God: A Discussion between Rev. Woodville Woodman, Minister of the New Jerusalem Church, Kersley, Lancashire, and Iconoclast, editor of the National Reformer,' held at Wigan, on February 18 to 21, 1861. London: J. S. Hodson. (f) Is the Bible a Divine Revelation? A Discussion between Rev. W. Woodman and Iconoclast, held at Ashton-under-Lyne, on October 21st, 22d, 28th, and 29th: London, 1861. (g) Modern Atheism and the Bible : Report of the Discussion between the Rev. W. Barker, Minister of Church Street Chapel, Blackfriars, and Iconoclast, editor of the National Reformer,' held at Cowper Street Schoolroom, September 1862: London. (h) Two Nights' Public Discussion between Thomas Cooper and Charles Bradlaugh, on the Being of a God as the Maker and Moral Governor of the Universe, at the Hall of Science, London, February 1 and 2, 1864. (i) What does Christian Theism Teach? verbatim Report of the Two Nights' Discussion between the Rev. A. J. Harrison and C. Bradlaugh : London, 1872. (j) South Place Debate between Rev. B. Grant and C. Bradlaugh : London, 1875. For a Church of England clergyman's view of Mr Bradlaugh and the Secular Movement, see 'Heterodox London,' by Dr Maurice Davies.
2. Charles Watts, editor of the Secular Review,' author of “Christian Evidences Criticised,” “Why am I an Atheist ?” “Secularism in its Various Relations," and other pamphlets. Of the discussions in which he has taken part, those of which I have seen reports are : (a) Debate on the Christian Evidences between Mr C.
Watts and B. H. Cooper, Esq., at Stratford, February
3. George William Foote, editor of the ‘Liberal,' and author of 'Secularism Restated,' &c. He seeks to follow a via media between the paths of Mr Holyoake and Mr Bradlaugh.
4. Annie Besant, who has written Part II. of the *Freethinkers' Text - book,' 'My Path to Atheism,' ‘History of the Great French Revolution,' “The Gospel of Atheism,' and various pamphlets. These works display talents which might have done much service in a good cause.
In some of the discussions to which I have referred the anti-secularist position is well defended—as, for example, by the Rev. Mr Adamson, Mr Hutchings, the Rev. T. Lawson, and the Rev. Mr Woodman. The 'Fallacies of Secularism,' by Dr Sexton, is judicious and able. I am not aware that there is any good account of the history of secularism.