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The Limits Of Atheism Or, Why should Sceptics be Outlaws?   By:

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THE LIMITS OF ATHEISM

Or, Why should Sceptics be Outlaws?

BY G. J. HOLYOAKE.

"It is historically true that a large proportion of Infidels in all ages have been persons of distinguished integrity and honour." John Stuart Mill 'On Liberty, ' p. 80.

LONDON: J. A. BROOK & CO., 282, STRAND, W.C

1874.

PRICE TWOPENCE.

REVEREND RICHARD WILLIAM JELF, D.D.,

PRINCIPAL OF KING'S COLLEGE, LONDON, WHO HAS LATELY ALARMED CONVOCATION

BY CONNECTING

THE 'ESSAYS AND REVIEWS' WITH ATHEISM

THESE PAGES,

WRITTEN IN ARREST OF THE PARLIAMENTARY JUDGMENT WHICH PLACES THE WORD OF THE ATHEIST BELOW THAT OF THE FELON,

Are Respectfully Inscribed,

BY

GEORGE JACOB HOLYOAKE.

PREFACE.

The object of these pages is not to defend the intellectual accuracy of Atheism (which could not be attempted in this brief space), the object is to explain its case, to vindicate its moral rectitude, and the right of those who hold these views, to legal equality. There are two Atheisms in literature the ancient one of mere negation; and the affirmative form, whose relevant name is Cosmism, and of which Humboldt, in his 'Cosmos,' is a great illustrator, and Comte, in his 'Positive Philosophy,' an expounder. The term Cosmism ought to supersede the misleading term Atheism; just as Secularism has superseded the libellous term Infidelity. Cosmism, as well as Secularism, expresses a new form of Freethought, and I use the term Atheism, as the subject of a Lecture, for the first time here. It is a worn out word, used by Theists in hateful senses. I employ it, as a title, to day for political reasons, in order to show those who make it a ground of civil exclusion, that it is a thing of law and limits: that the reputed Atheism of English working men, so far as it prevails, is no longer the old Atheism of mere negation, but the Cosmism of modern science; neither dissolute, anarchical, nor impious recognises that the universe is, without theorising why it is. Negative Atheism says there is nothing beyond the universe. Cosmism says it cannot explain anything beyond, and pauses where its knowledge ends.

A report of a Lecture delivered in Bendall's Assembly Rooms, City Road, London, March 8rd, 1861.

Atheism questions Cosmism affirms. The language of Cosmism is that of the poet in the 'Purgatory of Suicides':

'I do not say there is no God, But this I say I know not.'

I prefer Secularism, which concerns itself with the moral life of man, and maintains a well advised neutrality upon these speculative questions. My sympathies are with 'Adam Bede,' that striking and greatest creation of modern genius, in which the National Review recognised 'The strong headed, manly, sharp tempered, secular carpenter, with his energetic satisfaction in his work, and impatience of dreamers.' But as I stated in the York Debate, in 1858, at which the Reverend Canons Hey and Robinson presided, it is an act of self defence in England to question the assumed infallibility of Theism to prove that Atheists are entitled to civil recognition, as persons having legitimate, actual, and conscientious views, and who, therefore, ought not to be outlawed as they are now. So long as sceptics of Theism are refused the right of affirmation in courts of law, and their lives and property consequently placed at the mercy of every ruffian and knave, so long will a Sceptical propaganda be a parliamentary necessity, to justify these opinions, and to spread them, that those who hold them may, like the Quakers, win by pertinacity what is denied to reason. And while this state of things lasts, I confess that I listen to arguments of opponents with distrust, for I see in them, not so much the confutation of my opinions, as the limitation of my freedom, and the justification of my political exclusion. In the present state of theological liberty in England, for the alleged Atheist to be silent, is to be a slave consenting to his own degradation.

G. J. H.

147, Fleet Street, London, E... Continue reading book >>




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