In 1888-89 Willis John Dean and Walter Wirt Felts engaged in a lengthy exchange on the merits of Christianity.
Click here for much more on W. J. Dean and his circle.
EDITOR TIDINGS:--I ask no forbearance of criticism from foes, nor the apology of friends of Christianity in their review of this article, since in sustaining that which has contributed more to the upbuilding and elevation of human character, and in repelling its most formidable adversary, no man should fear the criticism of the one nor court the apology of the other. In the outset let it be understood that the writer is only a moralist, and, therefore, speaks from a purely unprejudiced standpoint. I have often wondered, however, why Christianity has not found more fearless champions in its own ranks, for it would seem a pleasant task to stand up for a cause that has Christianized, and therefore civilized, wherever civilization exists. We have often heard it remarked that the teachings (if we should lend the dignity of the word teachings to the fallacy) of infidelity are too absurd to survive the final and just judgment of the people; and that sooner or later they will be forced to the wall by the bare evidences of Christian worth, work and experience. While this, in some measure, is true, yet all experience has proven that error should be combated from the outset, lest it work injury to the thousands ere the light of truth reveals the nakedness of its pretensions.
I am prompted to write this article by the demands of "honest inquirers after truth," and for the sake of those who would be led to renouncing Christian teachings and examples by the sophistry of [Robert G.] Ingersoll, who, we understand, lectured to the people of Ashland some four years ago. I have learned that the glib-tongued orator left the seeds of unbelief, uncertainty and pious discontent in our midst, and that they are springing up to ripen into empty husks of scorn and contempt for all that raises the human mind "through nature up to nature's God."
It is not my purpose to argue the divinity of the Bible; I shall write from a purely practical standpoint, having nothing in view but the overthrow of misleading theories.
Let me express my surprise that intelligent men should be deceived by this illogical and trashy eloquence of Ingersoll. Touching the existence of a God and the immortality of the soul, he has no fixed belief or opinion, yet by ridiculing the Christian's idea of God he casts a shadow of doubt over the supreme hope of the Christian that amounts to an absolute denial of His existence. He leads no good one to hope for the immortality of the soul, and yet, in the trying hour of death when at his brother's grave, he said: "From the voiceless lips of the unreplying dead there comes no word; but in the night of death hope sees a star and listening love can hear the rustle of a wing." The dying words of his brother were: "I am better now." To which Ingersoll said, "Let us believe, in spite of doubts and dogmas and tears and fears, that these dear words are true of all the countless dead." These thoughts, coming from one who has made himself notorious by ridiculing everything that is sacred and divine, shows a demoralized state of mind that is anything but enviable. It is evident that, like many defiant men, in trying hours, he gives the existence of a God and the immortality of the soul the benefit of the doubt.
But he and his followers go on to tear down the splendid superstructure of Christianity without promising to build in its place anything that would compensate for the loss. The moral precepts which the man feigns to teach are plagiarized from the teachings of Christ. He dare not attempt to improve upon the Decalogue or the counsel and character of their Author. Compare the life, character and teachings of Christ with the empty prattle of the scheming lawyer and politician, Ingersoll, who, though ridiculing preachers, travels and lectures for--glory? No; for pay! Compare this man with Paul--but no; "comparisons are odious," especially in these connections.
This is, indeed, a free country, where every man is and should, by right, be entitled to a free expression of opinion. Ingersoll's unbridled pen and tongue have had the full benefit of this privilege, although he has grossly abused it by scattering the seeds of doubt, and, therefore, demoralization in the minds of those who would be dazzled by his tricks of speech and play upon words.
In a future article I shall attempt to show the value of the Bible, churches and the Christian religion to the world.
W. W. FELTS.
Ashland, November 5.
Ashland Tidings, November 16, 1888, page 1
Christianity Sustained.Ashland Tidings, November 30, 1888, page 2
In my article last week I promised to show the value of the Bible, churches and Christianity to the world, but before I proceed I wish to call the attention of the reader to the underlying principle of Christianity, its relation to, and influence over, the morals of mankind. The mainspring and origin of every system and form of worship is the instinct of reverence for a Supreme Being which is as much a part of human nature as any that animates its being. All races and tribes of human beings, without regard to conditions, have this common instinct. The varied, and sometimes absurd, manifestations of this instinct of worship is the strongest testimony against the truth of the proposition that all religion is a matter of teaching or tradition. Could a race of men be found who were entirely devoid of all feeling of reverence for an overruling Providence, then we would be in doubt as to the instinctiveness of that feeling. Now if it be true that the feeling of worship is an inborn principle of human nature, then we have the surest evidence that the Object of that feeling of adoration and worship exists. If every other known instinct has a tangible counterpart in which it is in exact harmony, then can it be logically argued that the instinct of reverence for a Supreme Being is an exception and a contradiction to this universal law of our being? Forms of worship may, indeed, be a matter of invention or education, but the feeling that prompts the mind to conceive of those forms is not born of the intellect but is an attribute of the soul. The culinary art of the present day is a matter of invention, but the feeling of hunger that prompts the intellect to devise ways and means for its gratification is not intellectual but instinctive. The purpose of the erection of a church building is as manifest as that which prompts the erection of a dwelling. In the one it is the instinct of worship; in the other the instinct that leads to the creation of a home. In each the instinct is a desire, and each has its appropriate gratification and the means and methods in which case are equally varied. For, though the central idea or instinct of home is the same everywhere and all over the world, yet the style of architecture--varying from the rude to the most imposing--the home discipline, the social environments vary as greatly if, indeed, not more universally, than do the forms and ceremonies of worship.Christianity Sustained.
Accepting these self-evident truths as a basis for argument, we come to the influence exerted by this instinct or feeling of reverence over the human mind. Though neglected, scorned and trampled underfoot by multitudes, yet I assert, without a fear or the denial of any sane and truthful mind, that there is no absolute escape from the influence of the "still, small voice within" that will rise up through conscious sin, vice and error and smite its victim with the thought of God, immortality and the possibility (at least) of being called to an account "for the deeds done in the body." We cannot chin, dodge or scratch out from under the proposition that wrongdoing brings remorse and that right thinking and doing brings a feeling of moral security and contentment. This is a striking proof that the human mind instinctively bends to the divine law. Our ideas and notions of morality may all be traced to the one source--the instinctive source of our accountability to God.
The writer has passed through all the cold and barren fields of skepticism and looked over into the dreary waste of infidelity. Guided by the false theory that, with wings of philosophy, man could soar about the mist and clouds of "religious superstition" and bask in the sunlight of the scintillations of "higher truths"; he soared, but after a long and lonely flight, he, like the dove that winged her weary flight over the deluge that covered every resting place, returned to the ark of security from doubt and demoralization. I stand today a living witness against the reality of infidelity, and a lighthouse (though dimly it may shine) along the shores of time to warn, whomsoever will heed the glittering torch of truth, from off the shoals and jagged rocks of skepticism. Reader, whatever you may do, strive not to turn from the belief in the existence of a God, the immortality of the soul and human accountability to Him who created the instinct of reverence and worship within you. You cannot become thoroughly established in the disbelief of these sacred truths, and even if you could, you would find yourself morally demented--a curse to yourself and a reproach to the world. Further discussion is deferred to another article. Respectfully,
W. W. FELTS.Ashland Tidings, November 23, 1888, page 1
Ashland, Nov. 15th.
EDITOR TIDINGS:--The question, What have the Bible, churches and Christianity done for the world? may be answered by the question, What is the condition of civilization in every enlightened land? This question suggests to the mind of the reader the grandeur of nations rising higher in the scale of intellectual and moral worth until, in the grand review, his mental vision falls upon our own fair land of free institutions, where religious liberty is held inviolate by the glorious conceptions of unbridled thought. Here he is awestruck by the splendor of achievements equaled only by the combined wisdom, worth and power of all other nations. He beholds a land dedicated to the worship of God, and a people who rule by the scepter of divine law. He reads from the pen of the chosen ruler and from the governor of each state an annual Thanksgiving proclamation, calling upon the people throughout the length and breadth of the land to set apart a certain day for thanksgiving to the Almighty Ruler of the universe for blessings bestowed upon them through the past year. He reads in their jurisprudence the principles of divine law and injunctions as gleaned from the sacred pages of the Bible. He sees millions worshiping God, led by men whose lives are consecrated to the work of raising the fallen, encouraging the faltering and stimulating all with an ambition that transcends the range of earthly honors and glory. Oh, turn and look with me over our grand republic, where Christianity bears away in spite of every opposing force. See a Christian nation towering in matchless grandeur above every other that has survived the ravages of vice and error. How God-like the wisdom of its founders; how grand the result of their labors and self-sacrifices! Thundering through the ages we heard the warning words of Washington in his farewell address, which all should read. Touching our moral and religious duty he said: "Let it simply be asked, where is the security for property, for reputation, for life if the sense of religious obligation deserts the oaths which are the instruments of investigation in courts of justice? And let us with caution indulge the supposition that morality can be maintained without religion. Whatever may be conceded to the influence of refined education on minds of peculiar structure, reason and experience both forbid us to expect that national morality can prevail in exclusion of religious principles. It is substantially true that virtue or morality is a necessary spring of popular government. Who, that is a sincere friend to it, can look with indifference upon attempts to shake the foundation of its fabric?"
And so, down from the father of his country to the present day, the great political pillars of our country have reflected the same spirit as shines forth in the sentiments quoted above. The people look with just suspicion upon one who would be a leader whose writings and teachings how a reckless disregard of sacred things. The constitution of the human mind is such that when every sense of religious obligation deserts a people they become demoralized and dissolute. France burned her Bibles and renounced all belief in sacred things, but history attests that a reign of anarchy and corruption followed. This is invariably the tendency of infidelity. Its prevalence in any country undermines its moral, social and political security. This is because it is the foe of Christianity, and Christianity is the embodiment of everything that lifts the soul from the dust of lusts, passions and appetites to the republic. Who but Christians have taught by precept and example the grandest principles known to mortal man, and sealed their faith in them with their blood? Who but Jesus Christ set the example and established a system of morals that has survived the ravages of time? What doctrine but His has engrafted itself into the very souls of men, and inspiring them with a zeal for religious liberty caused them to break the fetters of political bondage? Who are and have been the most beloved and noblest characters that have ever guided and guarded the destinies of nations--Christians or infidels? Who prints and reads the Bible and religious books? Who prints and reads works on infidelity? We will allow that there are honorable men who have drifted into infidelity, but they must be ashamed of a majority of their brethren.
But to come more closely to the subject matter of this article, let us reflect upon the consolation and comfort enjoyed by the true Christian. Step into his home and there you will see a happy family living in conscious security from sin and in the blessed anticipation of a bright hereafter. Here you will find the essence of moral purity nowhere else to be found. Here you will find the faith that, in trying hours, raises the soul above the vanities and weaknesses of human nature and endows it with herculean strength. A spectacle no more sublime can be witnessed than the last hours of a Christian consecrated by the blessings of Christian fiends. Ah! here is the unanswerable argument of Christianity. It is the point where infidelity can find no advocate--where its theories are unsought and its followers are either silent or hopeful. Even poor Ingersoll chanted at his brother's grave, "Hope sees a star and listening love can hear the rustle of a wing." The so-called "philosophy" of the world may do to soothe the disquiet of a sinful and rebellious heart; it may raise a noble spirit high above his fellows, yet at the last he dies, bravely it may be, but not triumphantly. The grandest spirit of which philosophy can boast was Socrates, who "died like a philosopher, but Jesus Christ, like a God!"
Respectfully, W. W. FELTS.
IS THIS A CHRISTIAN GOVERNMENT?
Answer to W. W. Felts' Articles Entitled "Christianity Sustained."
EDITOR TIDINGS:--Believing that no moral or intellectual injury should result from hearing all sides, I ask the privilege of replying to a series of articles recently published in the Tidings under the heading of "Christianity Sustained." The score of affirmations involved in the articles alluded to may be condensed to a few, to which I will reply as briefly as possible.
Proposition first.--"Our country is dedicated to the worship of God, and the people rule by the scepter of divine law." Making this a "Christian land."
I am unable to find satisfactory evidence upon which to base such a statement. Neither the Declaration of Independence nor the Constitution of the United States is a religious document. The first merely recognizes the existence of a Creator or "Nature's God," but has no reference to Christ or Christianity. The second ignores even the existence of a God, and recognizes no sovereign higher than "we, the people." Is it not strange that a country "dedicated to the worship of God" should be so ungrateful as to thus ignore His name in its chief document?
Nothing can be more clear to the impartial student of American history than that this government is founded on secular principles. It was the aim of our national fathers to establish a government for humanity; not for a particular sect a government which offers equal rights to Jew, Mohammedan, Buddhist, heathen, infidel, atheist or Christian.
Washington declares that "the government is not in any sense founded on the Christian religion." (Treaty with Tripoli) Again he says: "The United States is not a Christian nation any more than it is a Jewish or Mohammedan nation." In his Farewell Address he does not mention the Christian religion but simply recommends a cultivation of the religious sentiment. So the omission of all mention of God or religion in the Constitution of the United States was intentional and not as has been claimed an accident. Mr. Felts eulogizes the wisdom of our forefathers. So do I. They were wise enough to heed the lessons of history and avoid the baneful results of blending church and state. They knew too well the intolerant, domineering nature of most religions. They knew that a purely secular government was the only one that could ensure equal rights to the people. All this is clear enough when we acquaint ourselves with the religious belief or disbelief of those grand men who contributed most to make this country "so great and glorious."
Washington, not inaptly styled the "father of his country," did not recognize the divinity of Christ; therefore he was not an orthodox Christian. He was a deist--an infidel, if you will. Jefferson, who wrote the Declaration of Independence, was a materialist. During his eight years as President no Thanksgiving proclamation was issued.
Thomas Paine, the author-hero, and Franklin, the diplomatist, were, like Washington, deists.
Have our chosen rulers all been devoted Christians as Mr. F. would imply? He may remember how some leading church organs, especially the Christian Union in 1880, urged the election of Garfield for the reason that not one of his predecessors, with the possible exception of Washington, had been a bona fide member of any evangelical church; that their piety, if they assumed any, consisted more of "policy than genuine faith." Indeed, there is ample evidence of the lack of White House Christianity. My friend may not be aware that there is in this country an organized society known as the National Reform Association, numbering thousands of zealous workers, whose lecturers are continually proclaiming that this is a "Godless land" and appealing to the people to so amend the Constitution as to recognize "God as the author, and Christ as the ruler" of this nation. Let him read its principal organ, the Christian Statesmen, and he will find candid admissions from hundreds of clergy that this country is not now and never has been "dedicated to the worship of God." On the contrary that our Constitution is an open insult to the Deity, and if it is not amended so as to recognize His name, He will ere long visit upon this people a terrible vengeance.
No, my friend, this is not and should not be a "Christian country"; is not and should not be "dedicated to the worship of God"; is not and should not be "ruled by the scepter of divine law." There was an early attempt to intervene religion with national law, but it not only failed but resulted in our first amendment to the Constitution, in 1791, to the effect that "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof, or abridging the freedom of speech or the press," etc. Do you suppose that a genuine orthodox Presbyterian or Methodist voted for that amendment--for free speech and free press? Not one. It was conceived and championed by heretics. As a result it is possible for [the] Tidings to publish this article without incurring any legal penalty. Therefore it would be far more appropriate to render thanks to our wise forefathers for establishing, and to "we, the people" for thus making doubly sure the liberty of free thought, free speech and free press; and we should give an extra "thanks" when when another amendment will enable us to add--free women. Does my friend regard that first amendment as evidence that "Christianity bears away in our grand republic in spite of every opposing force."
While the liberty-loving founders of our "grand republic" were struggling in the interests of tyrannized humanity, Wesley, the founder of Methodism, was giving the influence of his pen and voice to the aid of our oppressors, declaring that the colonists were acting against the will of God in opposing their "rightful sovereign," that the "colonists would never rise above their troubles till they feared God and honored the king."
In his "Thoughts Concerning the Origin of Power" he says: "The supposition that the people are the origin of power is every way indefensible." He even recognized the right of the king to "dispose, without their consent, of the lives, liberties and properties of his subjects." Wesley was consistent. He read in the Christian Bible: "All power is of God; he that resisteth the powers, resisteth the ordinance of God," etc.
Even a cursory glance over the pages of history will disclose the fact to any unbiased thinker that the church has ever been the foe to liberty. It held aloft the black flag. Its persecutions were only measured by its power. The civil power was held as subordinate to the spiritual, and the church sought to control it. When it did, the most unjust and intolerant laws were enacted, all orthodox churches firmly believing that people could be legislated into religion. In the reign of Henry the Eighth the parliament of England passed an act entitled "An act for abolishing difference of opinion." This act set forth what a man must believe. Think of that!--establishing a belief by law!
The people were told that God wrote the Bible and founded the church, and not to believe the former and obey the latter was to insult the Deity and become an ally of the devil. Therefore it was the duty of true followers of the cross to torture and destroy all such enemies of God. Church history is reddened with blood. The middle ages was the zenith of church power and the "midnight of liberty." According to one authority, philosophers and thinkers were destroyed at the rate of a thousand a year for three centuries.
In Europe, those nations lowest intellectually and morally are those most governed by the church, as Spain and Portugal, and the most enlightened are those in which religion has least influence--England, Germany and France. Civilization is in inverse ratio to the power of the church.
Says the historian [W. E. H.] Lecky: "For more than three centuries the decadence of theological influence has been one of the most invariable signs and measures of our progress." It is said that there are more unbelievers--liberals--infidels--in the United States according to the population than in any other country. This is why ours is so "grand" a "republic."
W. J. DEAN.
(Concluded next week.)
Ashland Tidings, December 14, 1888, page 1
DOES CHRISTIANITY PROMOTE MORALITY?
Answer to W. W. Felts' "Christianity Sustained."
"Invariably the tendency of infidelity is to anarchy and corruption. Its prevalence in any country undermines its moral, social and political security. This is because it is the foe of Christianity, and Christianity is the embodiment of everything that lifts the soul from the dirt of lusts, passions and appetites to the realization of the possibilities of a glorious immortality. It inspires its followers with a love of humanity that puts to shame the empty pretensions of infidelity."
I would ask my friend to inform himself as to the moral condition of many countries where Christianity is not and never has been known. The advanced morality of the people of certain parts of India has been attested by numerous travelers and missionaries. Note the high conceptions of morality in Greece and Rome centuries before the advent of Christianity.
W. F. Hornady, chief taxidermist at Washington, lately gave a lecture about the Dyaks of Borneo. He makes the following statement from personal observation:
"Although the Dyak has no religion whatever, and worships nothing, he has profound regard for the rights of property, respects his wife, and treats her and his children with the highest consideration." He says further: "The Dyaks are happy and contented. Their wants are few, their diseases fewer, and their crimes fewer still. In hospitality, human sympathy and charity, they are not outranked by any people living, as far as I know, and their morals are as much superior to ours as our intelligence is beyond theirs." This only one among numerous instances that might be given showing that religion is not necessary to morality.
The golden rule was not born of any book or creed.
It may be doubted that Christianity even tends to decrease vice and crime.
Lecky, the historian, says of the Byzantine Empire, which was founded by Constantine and existed over a thousand years:
"The universal verdict of history is that it constitutes, with scarcely an exception, the most thoroughly base and despicable form that civilization has yet assumed. . . . There has been no other enduring civilization so absolutely destitute of all the forms and elements of greatness, and none to which the epithet 'mean' may be so emphatically applied. The Byzantine Empire was pre-eminently the age of treachery. Its vices were the vices of men who ceased to be brave without learning to be virtuous. . . . The history of the empire is a monotonous story of the intrigues of priests, eunuchs and women, of poisonings, of conspiracies, of uniform ingratitude, of perpetual fratricides."
Of the Western Empire he says: "She (the church) exercised for many centuries an almost absolute empire over the thoughts and actions of mankind, and created a civilization which was permeated in every part with ecclesiastical influence." Then, after giving the church credit for many excellencies, he says: "On the other hand, they rank immeasurably below the best pagan civilizations in civic and patriotic virtues, in the love of liberty, in the number and splendor of the great characters they produced, in the dignity and beauty of the type of character they formed."
Now here was an instance in which Christianity had uninterrupted sway for centuries over millions of people, and even if it had the rawest of material to start with, it should have produced splendid results.
Are we (some of us, I mean) not justified in considering that a well-tried experiment?
You may say that it was an impure Christianity, but what is its influence now in relation to vice in crime?
In 1873 Sir John Trelauney moved for a return of the religious persuasions of all the criminals of England and Wales. The result gives us about the following proportion of criminals in every 100,000 inhabitants:
Roman Catholics 2500 per 100,000At that time there were in England about 7,000,000 belonging to the Church of England, and of this number 96,097 were in the prisons. There were about the same number of "no religion," but only 279 were in prisons. Two hundred and seventy-nine against 96,000! Comment is unnecessary.
Church of England 1400 per 100,000
Dissenters 150 per 100,000
No religion 5 per 100,000
Of the religious belief of French criminals, according to DeBow's review of the census, we have the following:
Roman Catholics 18,939No atheists in the prisons of France! Yet it has been claimed by a Christian writer that one-fourth of the people in France "deny God!"
A few years ago there were reported 1902 Christians in the prisons of Ontario, and only eight who professed no religion. Nineteen hundred and two Christians to eight freethinkers!
In the Ohio state prison, according to the chaplain's report for 1879, of the males registered 557 were of parental Christian belief; forty-four of no religious belief.
In 1880 the Kansas state prison chaplain reported 605 convicts, and only one infidel, and "his infidelity was of a very mild form," too mild to keep him out of prison!
A long array of such statistics might be given. How is it with the clergy? We might look for the highest morality among them. Let us see. There were, according to a compilation from newspaper reports, during a period of five years, 917 crimes committed by clergymen in that part of the United States east of the Rocky Mountains. Of these 917 crimes 544 were against women, and 456 against women by way of breaking the 7th commandment.
By this record we have another very significant fact--that the most orthodox are the most criminal. Methodists rank highest, the lowest being Universalists.
The noted historian, Macaulay, says in his History of England: "It is an unquestionable and a most instructive fact that the years during which the political power of the Church of England was in the zenith were precisely the years during which national virtue was at the lowest point." "An instructive fact," truly! The same may be said of other European countries. If the verdict of history can be relied on, Christianity cannot be considered synonymous with virtue.
Mr. Felts tells us that "Christianity inspires its followers with love for humanity." Then this love has been expressed in the perpetration of as infamous cruelties as were ever conceived in the brain of a madman. That "love" has caused the fairest fields in Europe to run red with innocent blood. By the exercise of that wondrous "love" untold thousands have suffered death after the most excruciating torture. Over 10,000 were burned at the stake and 97,000 otherwise punished during the first eighteen years of the Holy Inquisition.
It is estimated that throughout Europe 100,000 met death at the stake, and that 3,000,000 were otherwise punished by death, torture, imprisonment, exile or fines. For what?
For being so dull of comprehension as not to see clearly that 3, rightly added together, make one, and that 1 properly cyphered out makes three.
For not believing in total depravity.
For doubting that the first woman was made out of a man's rib.
For being shaky on predestination.
For discovering that the earth is round.
For inventing the telescope.
For not believing in witches.
For not going to church.
For doubting the existence of hell.
For going fishing on Sunday.
For not believing that the wine drunk at the Eucharist is the real blood of Christ.
For not duly appreciating the Christian's "love" so generously bestowed upon all unbelievers.
We, some of us, believe that the Atonement doctrine directly leads to vice instead of virtue. Think of it: inspiring a man with the idea that it is right to shuffle off onto an innocent person the penalty of his own crimes! Can such a doctrine inspire its followers with brotherly love?
Infidels have no such comfortable doctrine--no such incentive to do wrong. No scapegoat stands around ready and anxious to be loaded with infidel sins. The intelligent freethinker knows that he must bear the responsibilities of his own evil acts. No, is it not as clear as the sun at noonday that such a knowledge or belief would tend to deter the wrongdoer from repeating his evil acts? Most assuredly. This is the reason that so few unbelievers get into prison.
I should like to examine into the moral tendency of other Christian doctrines--Forgiveness, Total Depravity, Faith vs. Good Works, etc.--but space will not permit.
The persecuting spirit of Christianity has a traceable cause. It may be found in the doctrine taught by the church, that those who persistently deny its teachings are placed under the wrath of God and doomed to eternal punishment. Therefore it is the duty of true believers to persuade, by force if need be, those around them to accept the truth and be saved. If the church had the power it would establish the strictest Sunday laws. It would compel attendance to church. It never fails to go to the full limits of its power. It has succeeded in most states exempting church property from taxation, therefore every liberal who pays a tax helps to maintain an institution whose doctrines and teachings he regards as inimical to the welfare and happiness of man. Is this right? Is it just? Is it progressive? Does it tend to morality and virtue? Is it in accordance with American ideas?
Is it true that the prevalence of infidelity in any country undermines its moral, social and political security?
My friend would hardly consider the system of human slavery as particularly moral and elevating in its tendencies; yet it was accepted by Christian nations and maintained for centuries as a "divine institution." In the Bible the authority was found. The first ship that ever brought human beings to this continent to be sold as slaves was named Jesus.
Who were the chief leaders in the grand movement to destroy that giant evil? Infidels: Garrison, Garrett, Smith, Parker, Pillsbury, Elizur Wright, Wendell Phillips, Lucretia Mott, Frances Wright:--Not omitting our own Uncle Sam Colver. While these noble reformers were going to and fro in the land pleading for human liberty, the clergy were denouncing them as enemies of our country and offering up fervent prayers that God would thwart their designs against His divine institution. The Emancipation Proclamation will ever be considered one of the noblest documents ever performed by human hands. Who was its author? An infidel. Who was its greatest defender? Charles Sumner, another infidel.
The Church South was a unit in opposing the antislavery reform. The Church North at first opposed it, and did not endorse the movement until forced to do so by public sentiment, and then such skeptics as Henry Ward Beecher and Theodore Parker were the first to fall in line. Thousands of living witnesses can testify how difficult it was for opponents of slavery to obtain the use of churches in which to hold their meetings.
The temperance movements were inaugurated by skeptics. I find in temperance literature that the editor of the first temperance periodical published in Europe was a "disciple of Hume," Joseph Lindsay, and it is well known that Wm. Lloyd Garrison published the first temperance paper in America. Temperance advocates found the strongest opposing influence in the Bible authority. The use of wine sanctioned, permitted, commended and commanded by many Bible writers and by the example of Christ himself, whose first miracle was turning water into wine to be used in increasing and prolonging the hilarity at a wedding feast. The old patriarchs of the Bible were great lovers of wine. A profane writer in commenting on this fact says that in all his Bible reading he knows of but one instance in which a man called for water--and he was in hell.
The greatest scientists in the world today are infidels. Science gives us exact knowledge, and knowledge is the basis of the greatest happiness to man; yet the church has been most bitter in its opposition to scientific investigation. Why? Because newfound facts might not, as the church feared they might not, accord with Bible teachings. If facts fail to agree with Moses' philosophy, so much the worse for the facts and those who discovered them. New discoveries were denounced and the discoverers were killed. This is the way the church preserved "Mosaic truth." A long array of historic facts might be presented to prove the church's opposition to science and learning.
Is there a daring thought she has not crushed?Christianity "binds back" to faith and creeds. Free thought urges progression. Freethinkers are not hampered by creeds, dogmas or forms. We are free to doubt. We roam at will over the bright breeze common of the intellectual universe. We say to truth lead the way and we will follow. "One world at a time" is our motto; and when our time comes to die, we would "wrap the drapery of our couch about us," and, undismayed by the fear of eternal punishment, "lie down to pleasant dreams."
Is there a generous faith she has not cursed?
Is there a whisper howe'er low and hushed,
Breathed for the future, but she was the first
To silence with her tortures?
W. J. DEAN.
Ashland Tidings, December 21, 1888, page 1
An Open Letter to W. J. Dean.
DEAR SIR:--It devolves upon the affirmative in a discussion to make the closing remarks, but in this case I would be pleased to hear from you on the arguments set forth in my first and second articles. You have carefully avoided the most essential points under discussion and have gone into history and statistics, which you have perverted to match the purpose of your articles. Bringing up the deeds of Catholics in their persecution of Christians, and going into state prisons to find followers of Christ, are points altogether too threadbare to wear long in the public mind. The people do not accept such glaring absurdities as argument. You may consider these my closing remarks if you do not come closer to the point under discussion and give some better reasons why Christianity should not be sustained. I reaffirm all the propositions put forth in my articles, and when you meet them fairly and squarely you will find me in the field battling for God and the truth.
Respectfully, W. W. FELTS.
Ashland Tidings, December 28, 1888, page 2
[Answers] W. W. Felts Open Letter.
[I agree] that the Tidings would
[be just]ified in granting space for a
[furtheranc]e of our discussion; but if I
[am to be able] to answer your most im-
[portant propositions, th]e discussion
[should take place at t]he rostrum. I
[propose a frank] and candid discussion,
[with two so we]ll versed in the causes
[as we are, t]he best means where-
[by to avoid f]alsity of any belief or
[error in thought p]resented to the pub-
[lic forum. In suc]h discussion truth
[ought to be the] object sought, not
[the final object] of a victory over an
[enemy. This sho]uld not be considered
[as a contest for a]n intellectual prize
[rather a steadfa]st yet earnest pre-
[cis to the popul]ace on both sides of
[the proposition. T]here should be no
[clouding the questi]on. Epithets are not
[arguments; pers]onal abuse is not evi-
[dence. We s]hould clash with rea-
[son and let logic] meet argument, logic
[offset logi]c facts offset facts. Dis-
[cussion c]ould commence in friend-
[ship and en]d in greater friendship.
[Under] the principles here set
[forth, I submit] following proposition:
[I will debate at the] U.M.L. Hall, Tal-
[ent, in front of a]courteous audience
[and off]er the hospitalities of my home
[to my] opponent if he will come here
[to en]gage in a 5 nights' discussion as
[1st] evening -- Mr. Felts' first two ar-
ticles condensed to brief proposi-
tions. 2d evening--Miracles.
If not convenient for Mr. Felts to
respond the substitution of any Ash-
land clergyman would be satisfactory.
Respectfully, W. J. DEAN.
Ashland Tidings, January 4, 1889, page 2 Text in brackets is [poorly] conjectured. Some letters not visible on the microfilm were visible in the original newspaper, in the collection of the Southern Oregon Historical Society.
W. J. Dean's Offer Declined.
To W. J. DEAN, Talent, Or.
I most respectfully decline your offer to take "our discussion" from the columns of the Tidings to the rostrum, for the following good and sufficient reasons:
First: Not having had any discussions with you I cannot see on what grounds I could meet you in public discussion, and still maintain the dignity of the cause I represent and the personal respect of its votaries. What you have written in the negative has not made the position of the affirmative so precarious that the argument already adduced should be taken to the rostrum to keep it from "caving down the bank." What I have written under the head of "Christianity Sustained" remains unanswered, and until a better attempt is made, I must insist that I have as yet had no discussion with you.
Second: I would gladly accept your offer to discuss the propositions you have submitted if I really believed any good would result from it. Judging from your failure to answer the arguments set forth in my first and second articles (which you tacitly admit in your reply to my open letter), I could hardly hope to keep you from "flying off at a tangent" in a public discussion. In conclusion let me say that I am now in a position to recommend to you the word of God in its fullness. Read it with half the credulity you have exercised in reading the shallow criticisms and denunciations of its enemies and I verily believe you would be struck to the ground, like Saul of Tarsus, by the divine light radiated from its sacred pages. I earnestly recommend all the counsel of Jesus Christ, but especially St. Mark, X:42, 43 and 44. Turn then to the legacy of advice left us by the grandest character of modern times, George Washington, and read the eighth paragraph in his inaugural address delivered April 30, 1789, then read the last paragraph of his "Letter to the Governors" issued June 18, 1783, and learn from these lessons that he was grand, only because he was Christ-like, in his character, counsel and administrations.
Respectfully, W. W. FELTS.
Ashland Tidings, January 11, 1889, page 2
Prof. Dean of Wagner Creek had quite a religious controversy with W. W. Felts of Ashland, and didn't come out second best.
"Here and There," Democratic Times, Jacksonville, January 31, 1889, page 3
Last revised July 1, 2013