My reading of 18th and 19th century freethinkers continues apace. Charles Southwell – radical bookseller, socialist “missionary,” publisher, lecturer, Shakespearean actor – is an interesting read. He’s not quite as polished as many of the folks I’ve read, but once you’ve settled in and got up to speed, it’s a pleasant ride.
I’ve begun with Superstition Unveiled. I particularly loved this bit, where he takes off after those folks who absolutely insist on some kind of god being the eternal something that got the universe started:
It has always struck the author as remarkable that men should so obstinately refuse to admit the possibility of matter’s necessary existence, while they readily embrace, not only as possibly, but certainly, true, the paradoxical proposition that a something, having nothing in common with anything, is necessarily existent. Matter is everywhere around and about us. We ourselves are matter—all our ideas are derived from matter—and yet such is the singularly perverse character of human intellect that, while resolutely denying the possibility of matter’s eternity, an immense number of our race embrace the incredible proposition that matter was created in time by a necessarily existing Being, who is without body, parts, passions, or positive nature!
Also, this bit, which reminds me so much of the Christians I see today, screaming at atheists (which Southwell bundles together with universalists) that we haven’t got any morals, but they have, and then:
Oh yes, Christians are forward to judge of every tree by its fruit, except the tree called Christianity.
The vices of the universalist they ascribe to his creed. The vices of the Christian to anything but his creed. Let professors of Christianity be convicted of gross criminality, and lo its apologists say such professors are not Christian. Let fanatical Christians commit excesses which admit not of open justification, and the apologist of Christianity coolly assures us such conduct is mere rust on the body of his religion—moss which grows on the stock of his piety.
Has a familiar ring, doesn’t it just?