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The Principles Of Secularism   By:

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By George Jacob Holyoake

"Do the duty nearest hand," Goethe.

[third edition, revised.]


Austin. & Co., 17, Johnson's court, Fleet Street. 1871.


"If you think it right to differ from the times, and to make a stand for any valuable point of morals, do it, however rustic, however antiquated, however pedantic it may appear; do it, not for insolence, but seriously as a man who wore a soul of his own in his bosom, and did not wait till it was breathed into him by the breath of fashion." The Rev. Sidney Smith, Canon of St Paul's.

IN a passage of characteristic sagacity, Dr. J. H. Newman has depicted the partisan aimlessness more descriptive of the period when this little book first appeared, sixteen years ago, than it is now. But it will be long before its relevance and instruction have passed away. I therefore take the liberty of still quoting his words:

"When persons for the first time look upon the world of politics or religion, all that they find there meets their mind's eye, as a landscape addresses itself for the first time to a person who has just gained his bodily sight. One thing is as far off as another; there is no perspective. The connection of fact with fact, truth with truth, the bearing of fact upon truth, and truth upon fact, what leads to what, what are points primary and what secondary, all this they have yet to learn. It is all a new science to them, and they do not even know their ignorance of it. Moreover, the world of to day has no connection in their minds with the world of yesterday; time is not a stream, but stands before them round and full, like the moon. They do not know what happened ten years ago, much less the annals of a century: the past does not live to them in the present; they do not understand the worth of contested points; names have no associations for them, and persons kindle no recollections. They hear of men, and things, and projects, and struggles, and principles; but everything comes and goes like the wind; nothing makes an impression, nothing penetrates, nothing has its place in their minds. They locate nothing: they have no system. They hear and they forget; or they just recollect what they have once heard, they cannot tell where. Thus they have no consistency in their arguments; that is, they argue one way to day, and not exactly the other way to morrow, but indirectly the other way at random. Their lines of argument diverge; nothing comes to a point; there is no one centre in which their mind sits, on which their judgment of men and things proceeds. This is the state of many men all through life; and miserable politicians or Churchmen they make, unless by good luck they are in safe hands, and ruled by others, or are pledged to a course. Else they are at the mercy of the wind and waves; and without being Radical, Whig, Tory, or Conservative, High Church or Low Church, they do Whig acts, Tory acts, Catholic acts, and Heretical acts, as the fit takes them, or as events or parties drive them. And sometimes when their self importance is hurt, they take refuge in the idea that all this is a proof that they are unfettered, moderate, dispassionate, that they observe the mean, that they are no 'party men;' when they are, in fact, the most helpless of slaves; for our strength in this world is, to be the subjects of the reason and our liberty, to be captives of the truth."

How the organization of ideas has fared with higher class societies others can tell: the working class have been left so much in want of initiative direction that almost everything has to be done among them, and an imperfect and brief attempt to direct those interested in Freethought may meet with some acceptance. To clamour for objects without being able to connect them with principles; to smart under contumely without knowing how to protect themselves; to bear some lofty name without understanding the manner in which character should correspond to profession this is the amount of the popular attainment... Continue reading book >>

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