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Where They Blew The Light Out

( Originally Published 1912 )

THE destruction of religion in a nation must carry with it what has been in all times and among all nations a part of religion. Morality has been always the content of religion; and this is not surprising, because morality is truth and religion is truth, and truth is true in all directions. So you cannot say to a man : "It is true that virtue is a real thing, but it is not true that God is a real thing." "If there is no God," the man will say back to you, "then what is virtue?" And you will be put to it for an answer. Never in the history of the world has there been a definition of virtue comprehensible by any considerable number of human beings which was not predicated upon the existence of a God. Never in the world has there been a law behind which was not a force. Never in physics or logic has there been an effect without a precedent cause.

It is a law of motion that the initial impetus will always hold in a moving body; matter in progression may be deflected from its course by the intervention of other forces, but the impulse imparted at the beginning will incline eternally toward the original direction. The initial impulse of Socialism was materialistic. It was projected in that line. Efforts have been made by politicians here and elsewhere, but particularly here, to change its direction, but these efforts have always been futile because the impulse was stronger than the politicians. Christian ministers have tried to draw Socialism into coincidence with Christianity, but the result has been invariably that they have been drawn away from Christianity. Their little disclaimers have been drowned in the great materialistic chorus of the movement. The economic philosophy builded upon "the materialistic conception of history" cannot be wrenched from that foundation. You may find here and there a Socialist who protests that Socialism does not clash with the family ideal, but you will have to seek him among thousands of writers and speakers who frankly denounce marriage as a bourgeois arrangement altogether incompatible with economic freedom and quite incapable of surviving capitalism. The Socialist who tries to reconcile his economic creed and his religion will be found to have so modified his religious beliefs in the process of assimilation as to make such a reconciliation possible only at the expense of his religion. It is never his Socialism that is strained; it is always his belief in a personal Creator and Ruler of the universe. Among the most paraded of the so-called Christian Socialists is the Rev. George D. Lunn, mayor of the city of Schenectady. Dr. Lunn has vigorously asserted many times that they are unfair who assert that Socialism undermines religion. He made such a declaration in a debate at Hartford, Connecticut, when I was his opponent; but with questions and quotations I was able to force from him the admission that if compelled to choose between religion and Socialism, he would choose Socialism. What kind is the Christianity of a Christian minister who admits his willingness to relinquish what must be infinite and eternal truth in order that he may retain what he him-self describes as a mere economic programme? If Christian be an adjective of any meaning at all, then Dr. Lunn is not a Christian Socialist, for no man, knowing what Christianity is, and what Socialism is, can be both. It does not answer the argument to say that there are many kinds of Christians. There is no kind of Christian who is an atheist. There can be no kind of Christian who believes in the "materialistic conception of history." Catholic and Protestant may differ as to the meaning of some things Christ said, but between them there can be no difference of opinion as to what he meant when he said he was the Son of God. Catholic and Protestant believe what Christ said—that is what makes both of them Christians—but no man who does not believe what Christ said has any right to be called a Christian. Having ceased to believe, he has ceased to be a Christian; he has be-come a mere Socialist bell-wether.

Virtue can be understood only in terms of religion. Granted that there is a God, and the conception of certain things in violation of his law being evil and certain other things in harmony with his law being virtuous becomes a necessary consequence. But you cannot destroy a belief in God and retain your conception of morality any more than you can hang your hat on a hook if there be no hook.

It is often pointed out that some atheists live virtuous lives. But that is sorry evidence. Men are not all alike temperamentally. Some have an inclination toward one vice, some toward another; some find pleasure in the mere fact that there is less danger in abstinence than in indulgence. But when temptation comes to the atheist, he has no rational ground for resistance. If it be in the form of a fair face, how easily can he convince himself that matrimony, or whatever obstacle may intervene, is but a mere conventional superstition—a convention to bend before which is unworthy a bold modern spirit living in an age that has outgrown its intellectual swaddling-clothes!

The believer in God may sin—and human nature, being weak, does sin—but he knows he sins, and knows that his religion has no sympathy for such euphemisms as "soul-mates" and "affinities." The law of God is the law of God—to obey, it may be hard, but to obey it is not impossible.

The destruction of religion in a nation must carry with it, then, all the fruits of religion. You can't grow apples without a tree. But a vast attempt to destroy religion may have a secondary consequence: it may produce reaction. I think this is just what we are beholding in the French nation. It was in France that infidelity became a philosophy first. It was Voltairism and Encyclopedism that found political expression in the French Revolution. It went the mad length of its tether, through blood and bombast, to the length of exalting a poor painted girl of the streets -and worshiping her. Poor tinselled hysteric—they called her the Goddess of Reason, but the world will laugh at her for generations as the Goddess of Rationalism !

Then came the reaction—Robespierre's Supreme Being festival, then constitutionalism, then absolutism—extreme to extreme ! So run things in France.

Socialism has had a try in Paris. Men still living remember the Commune. True, it wasn't a fair trial; even if it had been a decent system, it couldn't have done much under the circumstances. So the Commune didn't do much or go far—the murder of some nuns and priests was its most notable accomplishment before MacMahon's guns blasted it out.

But of later years Socialism has had a fairer chance. It did get a foothold among the people, particularly in the cities. It elected deputies from the departments—numerously, so that it gained control of the governing chamber. It made its spokesmen premiers; it seized the French schools; it confiscated the churches; it had its mad way, and passed resolutions denying the existence of God. This is what Socialism meant in France ; this is what it did. There is an impression in America that the separation of church and state in France meant what the same term means to us. Protestant America accepted what was done as the expropriation of the Roman Catholic Church from public benefices. Protestant writers who were on the scene have striven in vain to show how false is this idea. Protestant ministers in France know bet-ter what Socialism has done than do those of America, and from Protestant no less than Catholic sources in France has come the indignant protest against what there appears in its true light—that of an attack, not on Catholicity alone, but upon belief in God.

Mr. Vance Thompson, Protestant journalist, long resident in Paris, long-time lover and student and interpreter of France, wrote these words for Every-body's Magazine in 1907:

" .. . By a vote of nearly three to one the representatives of the French nation turned out the light in heaven. It was a prodigious event. Two thousand years a star stood over Bethlehem. `We have put out that star forever!' cried the orator. He was Viviani, a desperate lawyer, politician, journalist, a Socialist who had fought his way to power with the ruthless courage of a medieval bravo. Having been personally informed of the non-existence of God, he announced the fact simply and frankly: `Aye, there was a deceptive light in heaven, but we have put it out forever!' By `we' he meant the brawling cohort grouped at the left of the chamber—the cohort of Socialistic Greeds. By `we' Viviani meant all the Voices and Appetites round the swill-trough of the state. When the French chamber passes a new law it orders it printed on huge posters and posted up all over France —at every street corner, in every hamlet, on wayside barns and fences. I have forgotten which Juarez rose and demanded that Viviani's speech should be placarded over France; but by a vote of nearly three to one the order was made. And for weeks after—even to this day—the walls and boardings proclaimed the interesting fact that the French Assembly had decreed the non-existence of God and turned out the light that shone once upon a time overhead. . . . The only worship they have is that of the trough; immediately after banishing God from heaven (by a vote of nearly three to one) they decided (by a nearly unanimous vote) to double their own salaries. Thus, having disposed of the necessary preliminaries, the Chamber of Deputies went on about the business of passing laws for the confiscation of what property it had not yet taken from the church."

This is the evidence of one Protestant authority. It was written early in 1907; it was published in the March number of Everybody's of that year. Two years later a series of articles on France and the "Separation Law" appeared in the Boston Traveller. They were written by Mr. Alvan F. Sanborn, who is described by the Traveller as "a Protestant in religion, a native of Massachusetts, who has devoted all his life to the study of social problems, and whose book, Paris and the Social Revolution, is accepted as being the last word on the description of the social forces at work in the French capital."

Because Mr. Sanborn's articles would occupy more space than this little work can afford, I shall merely take from them paragraphs here and there. The following is the first that arrests my attention:

"A former principal of an American normal school, who had made a life study of the educational methods of his own and foreign countries, told me in 1897 or 18g8 that a certain Dominican school, not a hundred leagues from Paris, was the best boys' school he had ever seen. So convinced was he of its superiority that, stern Protestant though he was, he confided his grandson to it for a couple of years. He never saw cause to regret his action. The worthy man, who is dead now, would be uneasy in his grave if he knew that this very school had been closed by an order of the state."

Here is the second paragraph of my selection :

"Illiteracy is increasing in France at a surprising rate in consequence of the closing of the schools of the religious orders, which the state is unable to replace, and will be unable to replace for a long while to come."

Mr. Sanborn bases this assertion upon a statistical table issued by the Minister of War. In 1905 there were 321,000 conscripts. In 1907 there were 314,000 conscripts. The decrease in the number of conscripts is two per cent. In 1905 the number of absolute illiterates recruited was 10,644. In 1907 it was 11,062. The increase is nearly four per cent. Mr. Sanborn points out that prior to 1906 the rate of illiteracy had been diminishing; that after 1906 it increased; and that it was in 1906 that the French army began to recruit from the boys who were at school when the war on religious education broke out.

I shall pass over what Mr. Sanborn has to say relative to the "laicization" of the hospital and charitable institutions, and quote him with reference to the suppression of the industrial schools :

"The World's Fair of 'goo," he says, "furnished even more convincing proof of the importance of the part played by the church in providing manual and industrial training. The jury which passed judgment on the institutions for the development of the working-people [a jury of which, by the way, Jane Addams of Hull House was the American member] awarded the greater part of the prizes to Catholic institutions. The member of the jury to whom fell the labor of preparing its report said, among other things : `The jury made just as pressing appeals to lay as to the religious societies. It did its utmost to enlist the cooperation of both the unsectarian and the sectarian enterprises, and its surprise was great to discover the zeal of the Catholics and the indifference of the laity. We have no need to seek the cause of the abstention of some and the enthusiasm of others. Our task consists solely of judging freely the exhibits which have been presented for our examination, and it is my duty, after ridding myself of every political and religious preoccupation and influence, to give the impression made upon me by the exhibits sent to the Palace of Social Economy and to the Catholic Pavilion at Vincennes. In the conflict with the sufferings of the people, it is the Catholics who have been the leaders of the vanguard. The ameliorations we owe them have been inspired by sentiments of humanity to which only a narrow sectarianism can refuse to do justice. We may hold opinions quite different from those of the promoters of all the works which are the subject of this report regarding the interpretation of the religion of charity and love whose treasure of compassion Christ spread over the world, but there is not a person of good faith who does not recognize the beneficent virtue of their institutions and the extent of their influence.

"Barely a year," Mr. Sanborn continues, "after this brilliant demonstration at the Paris Exposition of the tremendous value of the church schools in the training of industrial workers, came the attempt to suppress them by the law against the congregations. The broad-minded and ordinarily gentle president of the jury referred to above, Anatole Leroy-Beaulieu, was roused to indignation and exclaimed : `What societies exhibited most in this class; what enterprises were the most rewarded—and God knows that the jury named by M. Millerand was in no wise tainted with clericalism? The exhibits which were the most numerous, the exhibits which obtained the first prizes or the gold medals, were mainly religious and especially Catholic exhibits. The greatest number of prizes given to institutions for the improvement of the working-people were given, willy-nilly, by a lay jury to Christian undertakings, to the very societies, to the very congregations accused of fomenting ignorance in the people; and it is to these associations, inspired by evangelical charity, that the spirit of intolerance and sectarianism pretends to refuse the liberty and even the right to exist, as if they were immoral and anti-social institutions!' "

Mr. Sanborn's fifth article opens with this paragraph :

"The withdrawal of religious instruction from the public schools, and the closing of the schools of the religious orders, have been followed by an appalling increase in crime, particularly juvenile crime. The at-tempt to substitute the teaching of morals for the teaching of religion is a failure."

Mr. Sanborn says the chairman of the committee on judiciary reform "recently reported"—this was in 1909—"an increase of eighty per cent. since 1901 in the total number of crimes in the country." He quotes this from Dr. Gustave Lebon, scientist and sociologist: "Criminality has augmented in proportions that are veritably terrifying : thirty per cent. for the murders, while the sum for the criminality has doubled in five years." Remember that this is in 1909 —the school-boy of 1901, when the law against the church schools was promulgated, is now from sixteen to twenty-three years of age. "The average age of criminals," says Mr. Sanborn, "is getting to be younger and younger. More than sixty per cent. of the inmates of the `maisons centrales' are under twenty-nine years of age. Many of the bands of `Apaches' consist of boys of from fourteen to seventeen, and their chiefs are often not more than nineteen or twenty."

Readers of newspapers will consider that matters in France have not improved much since Mr. Sanborn wrote the paragraphs just quoted. Twice or three times a week the newspapers contain despatches relative to the reign of terror from "Apaches" in the French capital. The following table is from an article on the automobile bandits of Paris, published in the New York Sun of April 14, 1912:


Nov. 27, 1911. Chatelet-en-Brie. Chauffeur murdered and automobile stolen.

Dec. 14, 1911. Boulogne-sur-Seine. Automobile of M. Norman stolen.

Dec. 21, 1911. Paris. Attempt to murder Caby, bank messenger, in the Rue Ordener.

Jan. 31, 1912. Paris. Bank messenger named Gouy-Paillet robbed of $30,000.

Jan. 31, 1912. Les Aubrais, near Orléans. Freight station robbed ; two men wounded.

Jan. 31, 1912. Angerville. Revolver battle with burglars in which a policeman was killed and his murderer committed suicide.

Feb. 27, 1912. St. Mande. M. Buisson's automobile stolen.

Feb. 27, 1912. Paris. Policeman Gamier shot in the Rue du Havre in trying to stop auto containing bandits.

Feb. 29, 1912. Pontoise. Attempt to rob the office of a notary named Tuitant.

Mar. 20, 1912. Chaton. Attempt to rob automobile garage.

Mar. 25, 1912. Montgeron. Chauffeur named Nathille murdered on the road by men who stole the automobile.

Mar. 25, 1912. Chantilly. Société Générale's bank robbed ; two clerks killed ; $10,000 stolen.

As we consider the number and character of these crimes of violence, we cannot exclude from our minds a not dissimilar situation in New York. Here, too, we have had secularization of the schools. Here, too, we have developed a class of young criminals who possess nerve and cunning and utter contempt for human life and all law, human and divine. Our police arrest youths in the commission of burglary and find them students in a Brooklyn college of medicine. Bank messengers and jewellers are robbed in the very heart of the Borough of Manhattan by automobile bandits.

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