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- God and my Neighbour - 1/41 -
First published 1903.
Transcribed by The Freethought Archives
GOD AND MY NEIGHBOUR by ROBERT BLATCHFORD ("Nunquam")
To My Son ROBERT CORRI BLATCHFORD This book is dedicated
I put the word in capitals, because it is my new name, and I want to get used to it.
The name has been bestowed on me by several Christian gentlemen as a reproach, but to my ears it has a quaint and not unpleasing sound.
Infidel! "The notorious infidel editor of the _Clarion_" is the form used by one True Believer. The words recurred to my mind suddenly, while I was taking my favourite black pipe for a walk along "the pleasant Strand," and I felt a smile glimmer within as I repeated them.
Which is worse, to be a Demagogue or an Infidel? I am both. For while many professed Christians contrive to serve both God and Mammon, the depravity of my nature seems to forbid my serving either.
It was a mild day in mid-August, not cold for the time of year. I had been laid up for a few days, and my back was unpropitious, and I was tired. But I felt very happy, for so bad a man, since the sunshine was clear and genial, and my pipe went as easily as a dream.
Besides, one's fellow-creatures are so amusing: especially in the Strand. I had seen a proud and gorgeously upholstered lady lolling languidly in a motor car, and looking extremely pleased with herself-- not without reason; and I had met two successful men of great presence, who reminded me somehow of "Porkin and Snob"; and I had noticed a droll little bundle of a baby, in a fawn-coloured woollen suit, with a belt slipped almost to her knees, and sweet round eyes as purple as pansies, who was hunting a rolling apple amongst "the wild mob's million feet"; and I had seen a worried-looking matron, frantically waving her umbrella to the driver of an omnibus, endanger the silk hat of Porkin and disturb the complacency of Snob; and I felt glad.
It was at that moment that there popped into my head the full style and title I had earned. "Notorious Infidel Editor of the _Clarion_!" These be brave words, indeed. For a moment they almost flattered me into the belief that I had become a member of the higher criminal classes: a bold bad man, like Guy Fawkes, or Kruger, or R. B. Cuninghame Graham.
"You ought," I said to myself, "to dress the part. You ought to have an S.D.P. sombrero, a slow wise Fabian smile, and the mysterious trousers of a Soho conspirator."
But at the instant I caught a sight of my counterfeit presentment in a shop window, and veiled my haughty crest. _That_ a notorious Infidel! Behold a dumpy, comfortable British _paterfamilias_ in a light flannel suit and a faded sun hat. No; it will not do. Not a bit like Mephisto: much more like the Miller of the Dee.
Indeed, I am not an irreligious man, really; I am rather a religious man; and this is not an irreligious, but rather a religious, book.
Such thoughts should make men humble. After all, may not even John Burns be human; may not Mr. Chamberlain himself have a heart that can feel for another?
Gentle reader, that was a wise as well as a charitable man who taught us there is honour among thieves; although, having never been a member of Parliament himself, he must have spoken from hearsay.
"For all that, Robert, you're a notorious Infidel." I paused--just opposite the Tivoli--and gazed moodily up and down the Strand.
As I have remarked elsewhere, I like the Strand. It is a very human place. But I own that the Strand lacks dignity and beauty, and that amongst its varied odours the odour of sanctity is scarce perceptible.
There are no trees in the Strand. The thoroughfare should be wider. The architecture is, for the most part, banal. For a chief street in a Christian capital, the Strand is not eloquent of high national ideals.
There are derelict churches in the Strand, and dingy blatant taverns, and strident signs and hoardings; and there are slums hard by.
There are thieves in the Strand, and prowling vagrants, and gaunt hawkers, and touts, and gamblers, and loitering failures, with tragic eyes and wilted garments; and prostitutes plying for hire.
And east and west, and north and south of the Strand, there is London. Is there a man amongst all London's millions brave enough to tell the naked truth about the vice and crime, the misery and meanness, the hypocrisies and shames of the great, rich, heathen city? Were such a man to arise amongst us and voice the awful truth, what would his reception be? How would he fare at the hands of the Press, and the Public--and the Church?
As London is, so is England. This is a Christian country. What would Christ think of Park Lane, and the slums, and the hooligans? What would He think of the Stock Exchange, and the music hall, and the racecourse? What would he think of our national ideals? What would He think of the House of Peers, and the Bench of Bishops, and the Yellow Press?
Pausing again, over against Exeter Hall, I mentally apostrophise the Christian British people. "Ladies and Gentlemen," I say, "you are Christian in name, but I discern little of Christ in your ideals, your institutions, or your daily lives. You are a mercenary, self-indulgent, frivolous, boastful, blood-guilty mob of heathen. I like you very much, but that is what you are. And it is you--_you_ who call men 'Infidels.' You ridiculous creatures, what do you mean by it?
If to praise Christ in words, and deny Him in deeds, be Christianity, then London is a Christian city, and England is a Christian nation. For it is very evident that our common English ideals are anti-Christian, and that our commercial, foreign and social affairs are run on anti-Christian lines.
Renan says, in his _Life of Jesus_, that "were Jesus to return amongst us He would recognise as His disciples, not those who imagine they can compress Him into a few catechismal phrases, but those who labour to carry on His work."
My Christian friends, I am a Socialist, and as such believe in, and work for, universal freedom, and universal brotherhood, and universal peace.
And you are Christians, and I am an "Infidel."
Well, be it even so. I am an "Infidel," and I now ask leave to tell you why.
It is impossible for me to present the whole of my case in the space at my command; I can only give an outline. Neither can I do it as well as it ought to be done, but only as well as I am able.
To make up for my shortcomings, and to fortify my case with fuller evidence, I must refer the reader to books written by men better equipped for the work than I.
To do justice to so vast a theme would need a large book where I can only spare a short chapter, and each large book should be written by a specialist.
For the reader's own satisfaction, then, and for the sake of justice to my cause, I shall venture to suggest a list of books whose contents will atone for all my failures and omissions. And I am justified, I think, in saying that no reader who has not read the books I recommend, or others of like scope and value, can fairly claim to sit on the jury to try this case.
And of these books I shall, first of all, heartily recommend the series of cheap sixpenny reprints now published by the Rationalist Press Association, Johnson's Court, London, E.C.
R.P.A. REPRINTS Huxley's _Lectures and Essays._ Tyndall's _Lectures and Essays._ Laing's _Human Origins._ Laing's _Modern Science and Modern Thought._ Clodd's _Pioneers of Evolution._ Matthew Arnold's _Literature and Dogma._ Haeckel's _Riddle of the Universe._ Grant Allen's _Evolution of the Idea of God._ Cotter Morrison's _Service of Man._ Herbert Spencer's _Education._
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