CONFESSIONS OF LEADING MODERN INFIDELS
THE EMERSON FAMILY arrived early. “Well,” Remarked George, looking around the already-crowded lecture hall, “the interest is as great as ever. And dad seems worried.”
Lucile nodded. “I’d be worried, too, if I were in his place. He’s the champion of what looks to be a losing cause. Here are more than eight hundred adults, at least half of whom are unbelievers, and all of them together can’t answer the evidence produced by one man. Mr. Dare is slowly but surely backing them all into a corner.”
“That’s true,” responded Mrs. Emerson.
Mr. Emerson regarded his wife in surprise. “So you think the sceptics’ cause is lost?”
“Don’t you?” she countered. He hesitated.
“Come now, Dad, ‘fess up,” teased Lucile.
“Is my whole family against me?” he smiled. “I’ll answer you some other time, for Mr. Dare is beckoning me to join him on the platform.”
After a few words of greeting, the lecturer went straight into his subject. “I had planned to quote from many noted unbelievers of recent times: Carlyle and Blatchford of England, Goethe and Strauss of Germany, Rousseau and Renan of France, and Tom Paine and Robert Ingersoll of America. All these, though famous the world over for their agnosticism, have written words of ardent praise concerning Christ.
“But you ask for the opinions of modern sceptics. You shall have them. Let us turn to that famous unbelieving radical, H. G. Wells. It is not necessary to identify him for this audience. Will you read, Mr. Emerson, the passages from his pen, marked in this July, 1922, issue of the American Magazine?”
“With pleasure,” replied Mr. Emerson, as he took the magazine:
“ ‘Jesus of Nazareth . . . is easily the dominant figure in history. I am speaking of Him, of course, as a man, for I conceive that the historian must treat Him as a man, just as the painter must paint Him as a man. . . . To assume that he never lived, that the accounts of His life are inventions, is more difficult and raises more problems in the path of the historian than to accept the essential elements of the Gospel stories as fact.
“ ‘Of course you and I live in countries where, to millions of men and women, Jesus is more than a man. But the historian must disregard that fact; he must adhere to the evidence which would pass unchallenged if his book were to be read in every nation under the sun.’ “
“Notice the limits Wells sets for himself,” interrupted the lecturer. “He speaks solely as a historian; he accepts only evidence that is unchallenged and that would be accepted by every nation in the world, and yet observe the amazing conclusions he reaches. Will you please continue reading, Mr. Emerson?”
“ “Now, it is interesting and significant — isn’t it? that a historian, setting forth in that spirit, without any theological bias whatever, should find that he simply cannot portray the progress of humanity honestly without giving the foremost place to a penniless Teacher from Nazareth.
“ ‘The old Roman historians ignored Jesus entirely; they ignored the growth and spread of His teaching, regarding it as something apart from life. . . . He left no impress on the historical records of His time. Yet, more than nineteen hundred years later, a historian like myself, who does not even call himself a Christian, finds the picture centring irresistibly around the life and character of this simple, lovable Man. . .
“ ‘We sense the magnetism that induced men who had seen Him only once to leave their business and follow Him. He filled them with love and courage. Weak and ailing people were heartened by His presence. He spoke with a knowledge and authority that baffled the wise and subtle. . . .
“ ‘So the historian, disregarding the theological significance of His life, writes the name of Jesus of Nazareth at the top of the world’s greatest characters.’ “
“How different are these statements from those one would expect avowed unbelievers to make,” said David Dare, as Mr. Emerson returned the magazine and sat down. “They are forced by the stern facts to pay such astounding homage to Christ and Christianity. If even half of what the sceptics say of Christ and Christianity is true, it is clear that there is nothing else, no other influence in the whole wide world, that is worthy to be named in the same breath.
“I could quote in detail from the writings of unbelievers themselves how Christianity has freed the slave, stopped infanticide as a common public practice, established hospitals, raised the position of women, brought liberty, and changed the lives of millions for the better. All these things we may infer from the statements of H. G. Wells. Now, Mr. Emerson, who would you say has taken the place of Ingersoll, as a leading doubter?”
Mr. Emerson considered a minute. “Well, H. L. Mencken, editor of American Mercury, and author of a number of very modernly rationalistic, sophisticated books, not only fills his place, I would say, but has made a definite place of his own. He is certainly much better educated than Ingersoll, as sneering as Voltaire, and as modern as Bernard Shaw.”
“I have here a book of Mencken’s published in 1930, called ‘Treatise on the Gods.’ I have marked a number of passages for you to read, if you will,” said David Dare.
Mr. Emerson opened the book to page 227, and read:
“ ‘The historicity of Jesus is no longer questioned seriously by anyone, whether Christian or unbeliever. The main facts about Him seem to be beyond dispute.’ “
“Now turn to page 255,” directed the lecturer.
“ ‘It is not easy to account for His singular and stupendous success. How did it come about that One who, in His life, had only the bitter cup of contumely to drink, should lift it Himself, in death, to such vast esteem and circumstance, such incomparable and world-shaking power and renown?’ “
“Now, according to Mencken,” said Dare, “Jesus has power to shake the earth, and he admits frankly that he cannot account for His having this power. But that is not all. Please read pages 266 and 267.”
“ ‘Unless the whole New Testament is to be rejected as moonshine, it seems to be certain that many persons saw Him after His supposed death on the cross, including not a few who were violently disinclined to believe in His resurrection. . . . Upon that theory . . . the most civilized section of the human race has erected a strange structure of ideas and practices so vast in scope and so powerful in effect that the whole range of history showeth nothing parallel.’ “
“Mencken has a violent dislike for the Jews, and expresses it vigorously,” the lecturer went on to say. “I mention this because I do not agree with him, and also to show that he makes his own case more difficult by this attitude. The mystery of how the Jews could produce such literature as the Bible amazes us no less than it amazes Mencken. Now read pages 345, 346, and 347, please.”
“ ‘The Bible is unquestionably the most beautiful book in the world.’ “
“Just a minute, Mr. Emerson,” interrupted Mr. Dare. “To hear sceptics talk on the street corner and to hear them arguing with ministers, you would think the Bible the most revolting Book in the world. But here is America’s most noted modern agnostic telling us that without any question the Bible is the most beautiful Book in the world. This is an admission that sceptics can show nothing to compare with. But read on.”
“ ‘Allow everything you please, . . . no other literature, old or new, can offer a match for it.
“ ‘Nearly all of it comes from the Jews, and their making of it constitutes one of the most astounding phenomena in human history. For there is little in their character, as the modern world knows them, to suggest a talent for noble thinking. . . .
The Jews could be put down very plausibly as the most unpleasant race ever heard of. As commonly encountered, they lack many of the quantities that mark the civilized man: courage, dignity, incorruptibility, ease, confidence. They have vanity without pride, . . . and learning without wisdom. . . .
“ ‘Yet these same Jews, from time immemorial, have been the chief dreamers of that race, and beyond all comparison, its greatest poets. It was Jews who wrote the magnificent poems called the Psalms, the Song of Solomon, and the books of Job and Ruth; it was Jews who set platitudes to deathless music in Proverbs; and it was Jews who gave us the beatitudes, the sermon on the mount, the incomparable ballad of the Christ Child, and the twelfth chapter of Romans.
“ ‘I incline to believe that the scene recounted in John 8:3-11 is the most poignant drama ever written in the world, as the Song of Solomon is unquestionably the most moving love song, and the twenty-third psalm the greatest of hymns.
“ ‘All these transcendent riches Christianity inherits from a tribe of sedentary Bedouins, so obscure and unimportant that secular history scarcely knows them. No heritage of modern man is richer and none has made a more brilliant mark upon human thought, not even the legacy of the Greeks. . . .
“ ‘The story of Jesus . . . is touching beyond compare. It is indeed the most lovely story . . . ever devised. . . . Beside it the best that you will find in sacred literature of Moslem and Brahman, Parsee and Buddhist, seems flat, stale, and unprofitable.’ “
As Mr. Emerson returned the book and sat down, the lecturer stepped to the edge of the platform and spoke:
“There is much more from these agnostic writers. Wells and Mencken, that I would like to quote. But these extracts serve to show that these ultramodern sceptics admit that Jesus is the most powerful force in all the world.”
“But,” interrupted Mr. Emerson, “why is it that while it is true unbelievers make such statements, they still do not become Christians? If they put any great store by the views you have had me read, why haven’t they ceased their scepticism and become Christians?”
Murmured applause followed his questions. David Dare turned smiling to Mr. Emerson, then back to the audience:
“A very good question, and perfectly proper and logical. It is not my place to say why Wells, Mencken, Lecky, Mill, and others whom I have quoted, have still, in the face of these admissions, called themselves sceptics. But it is a fact that a large number who were unbelievers have left their scepticism and become ardent, professing believers. Next week it will be our privilege to consider some of them.”