Joseph McCabe (1867-1955) was one of the most prolific authors of all time. He was brought up as a Roman Catholic, worked on Latin documents, and made himself very well-informed about Christianity, but turned against it. But he was extremely naive about Jews; bear this in mind.

Click for Detailed notes on McCabe - scroll down for selections from A Rationalist Encyclopaedia (1948).

Here's the full A Rationalist Encyclopaedia (about 1.3 MBytes; Word format; includes notes on some of its limits)


J. McCabe, Rationalists Encyclopaedia

The comparative relaxation during the last quarter of a century of the historic conflict of science and religion, which is due in part to the broad acceptance of scientific teaching by educated Christians and in part to the reluctance of scientific men to discuss the very important remaining issues [see Science and Religion], coincides with a graver abuse than ever by the apologists of the teaching of history. The traditional conception of the Bible and of Christian doctrines being no longer seriously defensible, the stress is transferred to social and moral values; and this is encouraged by the pragmatic spirit of the times. The older plea, that Christianity created, or was one of the primary influences in creating, the civilization of Europe, is now supported by an amazingly false version of its history and social effects. Hardly any professional historian ventures to point out to the public that the facts which he gives in academic works, which they never read, completely discredit the moral and social claims which the apologist makes [see Art; Baths; Chivalry; Dark Age; Education; Law; Middle Ages; Philanthropy; Slavery; Torture, etc.], and indeed some historians, especially in America, under Catholic influence, suppress the ugly facts and exaggerate the better elements in the mediaeval chronicles (which many of them cannot read). The sociological value of a creed or an institution must obviously be judged by its general effects, not by a partisan selection. Even non-Christian writers join sometimes in this selection of a few pleasant pages and polite reticence about the hundred malodorous pages; and the superficial literature of the millions, ignoring the fact that equally good results have been attained under all creeds and under purely humanitarian cultures (Buddhist, Confucian, or Modern), repeats that the Churches render an irreplaceable service in the maintenance of civilization. A hundred articles in this Encyclopaedia show upon what deplorable historical untruths this myth is based and how urgently a new social history of Christendom is needed. Here a few broad indications of the lines of criticism may be given.
      1. The origin of Christianity is still one of the most obscure problems of ancient history, yet the one which is most avoided by professional historians. On the question (which very few of them ever seriously discuss) whether the religion started from an historical personality see Jesus; but the more responsible or the few historically informed apologists (compare T. R. Glover's Influence of Christ in the Ancient World, 1929) admit that, instead of a new light appearing miraculously in a world of moral darkness, the age assigned to Jesus witnessed almost the culmination of a great advance in life and thought over the whole area of civilization from the seventh century B.C. onward. Christianity admittedly arose in maritime cities like Alexandria, Antioch, and Ephesus, where (as well as in Tarsus) every ethical philosophy and religion, including the new ethic and religious liberalism of the dispersed Jews, was familiar. [See Epicureanism; Essenes; Isis; Mithraism; Serapianism; Stoicism, etc.] There is not a single moral sentiment in the New Testament that is not found in later Judaism and contemporary cults and moralists. [See Gospels.] The Christian synthesis, instead of improving upon the contributory cultures, lowered the value of the best moral elements it borrowed by associating them with doctrines that were as abhorrent to the Greek as they are to the educated modern eternal torment, bloody atonement, inherited sin, ascetic exaggerations, approaching end of the world, etc. - and sacrificed the social ethic of the Stoic-Epicureans for a morbid moral individualism with bases in lingering superstitions. Hence very few men of intellectual strength such as Origen embraced it, and these few were generally persecuted as heretics.
      2. The claim that the new religion was hindered in its progress by repeated general persecutions in which thousands or tens of thousands perished is based upon a mass of forgeries which are so crude that even Catholic experts on the subject like Fr. Delehaye, Mgr. Duchesne, and Dr. Ehrhard have exposed them. [See Martyrs.] Only a few hundred martyrs in the course of 250 years are identifiable. The saying that "the blood of martyrs is the seed of Christians" is, in fact, doubly fraudulent, for the progress of the Church, as well as the number of martyrs, is grossly exaggerated. In the course of the 250 years from Paul, its real founder, to Constantine, Christianity made not one-tenth the progress that Atheism made in fifteen years in our time (1918-1933). Estimates of the number of Christians in the Greek-Roman world at the end of the third century vary from 5,000,000 (Gibbon and Bury) to the fantastic figure of 50,000,000 (Stäudlin). But even the elaborately calculated figure of 10,000,000 given by Schultze (Geschichte des Untergangs das griechisch-romischen Heidenthums, 2 vols., 1892) is vitiated because he greatly overestimates the proportion of members to priests and bishops. The correct figure is probably between 2,000,000 and 3,000,000 in a total population of 100,000,000. Eighty years later St. Chrysostom declared in a sermon (in the year 385) that, of the 500,000 people of Antioch (one of the most Christian cities), only one-fifth were Christians - he added that they were so vicious that he doubted if a hundred of them would be saved - and in the previous year Augustine had found Rome overwhelmingly pagan in spite of truculent imperial decrees (Confessions, VIII, 2).
      3. Gibbon's famous chapter (XV) on the spiritual causes of such progress as was made is outdated. Even Catholic historians like Mgr. Duchesne (Early History of the Christian Church, 3 vols., 1904-29) admit, besides the spurious character of the martyrs, that the discipline of the early years was relaxed by the end of the second century, and, as St. Cyprian and other Fathers describe, a remarkable amount of vice and violence crept into the Church. The wealth and privileges which the conversion of the Emperors brought to it in the fourth century led to a further demoralization. After the middle of the century we find every contemporary Christian leader - Jerome for Rome, Augustine for Africa, Chrysostom for the Greeks, Salvianus for the whole of Christendom - bitterly complaining of the general depravity of clergy and laity. The apologist is here quite dishonest. He quotes Jerome's praise of a dozen ladies of Rome and conceals Jerome's scorching indictment of the priests and people as a body; he dilates on the piety of Augustine's mother and refuses to notice Augustine's painful accounts of the monks and the people. That Christianity converted the Greeks and Romans to a higher life is a fiction that is discredited by all contemporary Christian evidence. The Greek-Roman world was not, in fact, converted to a new religion, but compelled to embrace it. We have still in the Theodosian Code imperial decrees or rescripts of the years 341, 345, 356, 381, 383, 386, and 394 which were won by the bishops from the Emperors. They suppress all rival religions, order the closing of the temples, and impose fines, confiscation, imprisonment, or death upon any who cling to the older religions. [See Paganism.]
      4. Still more extravagant is the claim that civilization gained by the establishment of Christianity. The Dark Age of six centuries (about A.D. 450-1050) which followed is attributed by apologists to the barbarians. The fact that nearly all these were Christians is ignored, but the claim is decisively refuted by the equal barbarization of the Greek or Byzantine civilization , which the Hum and Goths did not devastate, and the fact that all the chief attempts to sustain or restore civilization in Europe were made by Teutonic monarchs [see Barbaric Invasions, Goths, Lombards, etc.] and thwarted by the Popes. Moreover, the Arabs, who were at first as barbaric as the Goths and Vandals, created a high civilization in Syria and Spain in less than a century [see Arabs]. Historians who are susceptible to Catholic influence try, therefore, to prove that the Dark Age was less dark than the Rationalist historians (Buckle, etc.) of the last century represented. The fallacy of these recent works Prof. G.B. Adams, Civilization During the Middle Ages, 1922, Prof. L. Thorndike, Short History of Civilization, 1926, and a few others) is that they either extend the Dark Age to the sixteenth century, which no critic does, or they stress occasional bright pages in the Dark Age, which no one ever denied. [See Dark Age.]
      5. The chief fallacies about the later Middle Ages (roundly 1050-1550) are to claim for the Church the credit of having inspired the Guilds and the artistic and scholastic movements [see Art; Cathedrals; Classics; Education; Universities] to sustain the completely baseless legend of an Age of Chivalry ; to give a dishonestly romantic account of the Crusades ; to obscure the comprehensive corruption of the clergy, monks, and nuns by enlarging upon the virtue of an occasional and rare saint or strict abbey [see Monasticism]; to expatiate on the theory of the work of a few strict Popes like Gregory VII and Innocent III and suppress the actual general depravity to which those Popes and all contemporary witnesses testify [see Papacy]; and to ignore or deny the excellence of the Arab civilization in Spain and Sicily, which, together with normal economic evolution, really roused Europe to a sense of decency in some respects.
      6. In the Post-Reformation period there was no general improvement of character [see Reformation and Counter-Reformation] and no advance in the realization of social justice. The state of Europe at the beginning of the nineteenth century [see Crime and Religion; Education; Justice; Philanthropy; etc.] fully proves this. Most of the vices of the Middle Ages persisted until the last century, when the growth of Rationalist criticism compelled the Churches to turn to moral and social interests; and during the first half of the century, when agitation for reform was most dangerous, the great majority of the pioneers and leaders were Rationalists, though the Churches still counted nine-tenths of the community. See McCabe's Social Record of Christianity (Thinker's Library, 1935) and articles on Bentham; Burdett; Owen; Place, etc. Until the second half of the century the Catholic Church still allied itself with feudal monarchs and supported them in a ghastly struggle against reform in which 400,000 unarmed men, women, and children were done to death [see Democracy]. From 1870 onward public life was increasingly secularized - completely so in advanced countries by the end of the century - and reform proceeded on humanitarian lines and made more rapid progress than ever before in history. The late intrusion into the work of Church leaders and organizations was admittedly a self-defensive measure. The present position of Christianity will be discussed in Statistics of Religion and articles on each of the leading countries.


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