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Heresy: Its Utility And Morality A Plea And A Justification   By: (1833-1891)

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By Charles Bradlaugh

London: Austin & Co., 17, Johnson's Court, Fleet Street, E.C.

Price Ninepence.




What is heresy that it should be so heavily punished? Why is it that society will condone many offences, pardon many vicious practices, and yet have such scant mercy for the open heretic, who is treated as though he were some horrid monster to be feared and hated? Most religionists, instead of endeavouring with kindly thought to provide some solution for the difficulties propounded by their heretical brethren, indiscriminately confound all inquirers "in one common category of censure; their views are dismissed with ridicule as sophistical and fallacious, abused as infinitely dangerous, themselves denounced as heretics and infidels, and libelled as scoffers and Atheists." With some religonists all heretics are Atheists. With the Pope of Rome, Garibaldi and Mazzini are Atheists. With the Religious Tract Society, Voltaire and Paine were Atheists. Yet in neither of the above named cases is the allegation true. Voltaire and Paine were heretics, but both were Theists. Garibaldi and Mazzini are heretics, but neither of them is an Atheist. With few exceptions, the heretics of one generation become the revered saints of a period less than twenty generations later. Lord Bacon, in his own age, was charged with Atheism, Sir Isaac Newton with Socinianism, the famous Tillotson was actually charged with Atheism, and Dr. Burnet wrote against the commonly received traditions of the fall and deluge. There are but few men of the past of whom the church boasts to day, who have not at some time been pointed at as heretics by orthodox antagonists excited by party rancour. Heresy is in itself neither Atheism nor Theism, neither the rejection of the Church of Rome, nor of Canterbury, nor of Constantinople; heresy is not necessarily of any ist or ism. The heretic is one who has selected his own opinions, or whose opinions are the result of some mental effort; and he differs from others who are orthodox in this: they hold opinions which are often only the bequest of an earlier generation unquestioningly accepted; he has escaped from the customary grooves of conventional acquiescence, and sought truth outside the channels sanctified by habit.

Men and women who are orthodox are generally so for the same reason that they are English or French they were born in England or France, and cannot help the good or ill fortune of their birth place. Their orthodoxy is no higher virtue than their nationality. Men are good and true of every nation and of every faith; but there are more good and true men in nations where civilisation has made progress, and amongst faiths which have been modified by high humanising influences. Men are good not because of their orthodoxy, but in spite of it; their goodness is the outgrowth of their humanity, not of their orthodoxy. Heresy is necessary to progress; heresy in religion always precedes an endeavour for political freedom. You cannot have effectual political progress without wide spread heretical thought. Every grand political change in which the people have played an important part, has been preceded by the popularisation of heresy in the immediately earlier generations.

Fortunately, ignorant men cannot be real heretics, so that education must be the hand maiden to heresy. Ignorance and superstition are twin sisters. Belief too often means nothing more than prostration of the intellect on the threshold of the unknown. Heresy is the pioneer, erect and manly, striding over the forbidden line in his search for truth. Heterodoxy develops the intellect, orthodoxy smothers it. Heresy is the star twinkle in the night, orthodoxy the cloud which hides this faint gleam of light from the weary travellers on life's encumbered pathway. Orthodoxy is well exemplified in the dark middle ages, when the mass of men and women believed much and knew little, when miracles were common and schools were rare, and when the monasteries on the hill tops held the literature of Europe... Continue reading book >>

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