Book Review from the January 1935 issue of the Socialist Standard
Arms and the Clergy, 1914-1918. By G. Bedborough. Price, 1s. (Pioneer Press, 64, Farringdon Street, E.C.4.)
The writer and publishers of this booklet are to be complimented upon presenting us with a few hundred of the many thousands of utterances made by the soldiers of Christ during the late war. In these days, when everyone is talking “peace" and will continue so doing until the next war, when the few who then talk peace will be persecuted or put into gaol, it is useful to have this record to hand. The followers of the “Prince of Peace" have ever been known to be on the side of the big guns; their allegiance and adhesion to the powers that be is as insistent as it is unctuous. “Divine sanction" for killing, maiming, persecuting and lying. And why not? Does not the Holy Bible give us this “sanction"? Of course, it does. Is not the “reason" for our ripping each other up in wartime always a "holy" one, which becomes “holier" according to the material advantages at stake? Read your Bible; it is a veritable chamber of horrors masquerading under the guise of “moral law." The secular arm of the capitalist state has at least in its favour the fact that it relies upon its own material organisation to win it victory in war.
But its religious limb presents us with the tragicomic scene of having the same “God" operating on all sides at one and the same time. But, as the nigger said, “Dere is no daht abaht it dat God am a good all-round man." If we could but impart the philosophy of that nigger into the general human mind we should be bidding a fair good-bye not only to Christianity, but all religions. For, expressed in psychological terms, “God" being a “good all-round man," in reality means that humanity makes its own gods; there are no others. They therefore think and do what humanity thinks and does, a fact well known to all scientific students of religion. “God" wills what man wills.
However, let us resume company with Mr. Bedborough and his parsons. He reminds us that from the moment of the outbreak of hostilities the clergy of England were anxious that they should not run the risk of becoming active participants in the trenches or other danger zones. Presumably they might avoid the risks if they became recruiting sergeants. So “Onward Christian soldiers” went to fight, but not parsons. Many of them preferred to sing their hymns of hate in safety and to counsel their sheep to the slaughter. After all, what does the loss of one’s life matter in the realms of Christian teaching? What is this life for but a preparation for the holy kingdom hereafter? The “spiritual world” of Christian fancy has ever been of more importance than the world of reality in which we have our being. The following are a few of the “lofty" or “spiritual" sayings cited by Mr. Bedborough, and taken at random.
The Bishop of London at St. Paul’s Cathedral, August 9th, 1914: —
May it not be that this cup of hardship which we drink together will turn out to be the very draught which we need. And at the bottom of the cup there will be joy.
The Rev. William Adams Brown, D.D., at Memorial Hall, London, October 16th, 1914: —
God is in history, and because He is, we may be sure that the ultimate outcome will be good. . . , How the Old Testament lives again in the light of contemporary events. What a grim commentary upon Isaiah and Jeremiah are the events which are even now transpiring in Belgium and France—the country desolate, the cities burned with fire, the land devoured by strangers. . . . What does the Christian see as he contemplates the mysteries of God’s Providence ? . . .
In the first place, he sees God at work. . . . What we see, so far from being a disproof of God’s moral government of men, is the most august demonstration the world has ever seen of the inexorableness of the moral laws. . . . Once again God is teaching us . . .
What a God and what a moral law! What a teaching! From the “Christian World Pulpit," October 30th, 1918, Rev. Lucius Bugbee: —
To those who fall I say you will not die but step into immortality. Your mothers will not lament your fate, but will be proud to have borne such sons. Your names will be reverenced for ever by your grateful country, and God will take you unto Himself.
We like that stepping into immortality. Most of the clergy kept a firm step on Mother Earth, and a firm hand on the pay envelope. The Archbishop of York: —
In my judgment, every Christian man may give his whole-hearted loyalty to King and country in this war, and earnestly believe that in so doing he is not disloyal to the Kingdom of God. We can carry this cause without shame to the presence of Him Who is Judge of the whole earth, and ask Him to bless it.
— (“Church Times," August 14th, 1914.)
For sheer bestiality, some of the American Christians would be hard to beat. Take this one, for example: —
Never miss an opportunity to destroy the eyes of the enemy. In all head-holds use the finger on the eyes. They are the most delicate points in the body, and easy to reach. The eye can easily be removed with the finger.
—A. E. Marriott, Y.M.C.A,physical director at Camp Sevier.
Here is another of like kind : —
(Pointing to the location of his vital organs.) Three inches are not enough, seven inches are too many, and twelve inches are more than too many, for while you are pulling out the bayonet you are losing the opportunity to drive it into another man five inches.
—Herbert S. Johnson, Pastor of WarrenAvenue Baptist Church, Boston.
And so of such things are Christians made. They have ever chanted of the “moral uplift" of Christianity, but the Socialist knows differently. Like all religions, this off-shoot of the holy Roman Empire has been a tool in the hands of those who are interested in human enslavement. Either as a guide to an understanding of social forces or a means of working-class emancipation from capitalist exploitation Christianity is more than useless.
To propagandists we recommend getting this booklet. Mr. Bedborough has provided us with a handy friend to help smash the false claims of our foes.