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Joseph McCabe (1867-1955) was one of the most prolific authors of all timethe British Library Catalogue listed about 200 entries under his name, though the new computerised version does not list him at all. After twelve years as a monk, in Killarney, then Louvain in Belgium, and then Forest Gate in London, he left the church in 1896, writing Twelve Years in a Monastery which sold many copies and was often described, without supporting evidence, as a 'best-seller', as, of course, it may have been. He became interested in science, and, for example, translated Haeckel's Riddle of the Universe and The Evolution of Man. His translation of Haeckel (for a lump sum) sold nearly 80,000 copies, he stated in Haeckel's Critics Answered (1903). This sum helped establish the Rationalist Press Association, according to Bill Cooke, a New Zealand academic, working at the time I write this [July 1999] on a biography. McCabe wrote on Augustine (1903), Talleyrand (1906), Treitschke (1914). He wrote A Candid History of the Jesuits. His book on Ferrer (1910), recording an event in Spain comparable with the Dreyfus affair, caused him to be escorted by an armed guard while visiting Australia. At that time the Catholic opposition resorted to abuse; later their technique was to ignore him, Cooke tells me. McCabe was deliberately left off the Index to avoid drawing attention to him.
In the inter-war period he wrote (for example) The Story of Religious Controversy, Spain in revolt 1814-1931, The Social Record of Christianity, The Splendour of Moorish Spain and A History of the Popes, as well as The Evolution of Civilization, The Evolution of Mind, 1825-1925: a Century of Stupendous Progress, The Marvels of Modern Physicsamong others. He wrote against spiritualism, and Lourdes. Another book, The Papacy in Politics Today, first published in 1937, revised in 1943, records aspects of the Catholic Church which are usually censored today. His The Testament of Christianity has this blurb:.. large numbers of documents that the historian shrinks from noticing are for the first time translated into English. ..
He was an appointed lecturer at South Place from 1907-1955.
According to Al Richardson, a Marxist schoolteacher, in the Ethical Record of May 1993, perhaps his most eminent contribution to historical truth was his demonstration that it was not the Christian church that kept alive.. the legacy of the ancient world in the Middle Ages, but the civilisation of Muslim Spain.. (NB It's possible this was an anti-Christian hoax - RW.) Richardson also states that McCabe joined the Rationalist Press Association in 1899, and resigned in 1954, criticising its insufficient militancy. In fact, he resigned much earlier than this. As this incident suggests, he never lost his antipathy to superstitions.
McCabe influenced H. G. Wells, who removed an inaccurate reference to the church opposing slavery from his volumes on world history. Wells also wrote 'Crux Ansataan Indictment of the Roman Catholic Church' during the Second World War, borrowing largely from McCabe; one of its chapters is headed 'Why Do We Not Bomb Rome?'. Another rationalist who must certainly have been aware of McCabe was Bertrand Russell, whose criticisms of the history of religion however always remained tiresomely vague.
I was told by Barbara Smoker that he became embittered and acrid in his old age; also by Harold Hillman that someone threw 'acid' at him. Hillman's late brother Ellis recalled seeing McCabe in the British Museum Reading Room, as it then was, in Bloomsbury.
There's a character, a 'murderer', in one of Samuel Beckett's plays, called McCabe, who might, I think, be this author, as Beckett achieved such effects as he was able to obtain largely through imposing what a Catholic would regard as scandalous things upon his characters.
McCabe's work is still in copyright, at least in Europe where there is now a 70-years-after-death rule. However, the R.P.A. have given me permission to reproduce some of his writings here. In the U.S. McCabe was published by E. Haldeman-Julius, of Girard, Kansas and some of his works have been scanned in and are on Internet: search for these with keywords Bank of Wisdom, Internet Infidels, and Freethought Web. Also online is a biography by Issac [sic] Goldberg. For his brief autobiographical notice Click here. McCabe has been comprehensively ignored, partly because he was uncompromising: after an early start with judiciously balanced prose, he decided on the blunt and straightforward approach. A recent biography of Hilaire Belloc, for example, omits McCabe.
A number of descendants of McCabe are alive. However, so far as I can tell, his personal papers and effects were mostly destroyed after his death.
Below are selected references from McCabe's A Rationalist Encyclopaedia of 1948, a work of approaching half a million words. His original work was in reading and translating Latin documents; he claimed great familiarity with these. He mingled the knowledge thus acquired with that from then-modern historians. He also had some scientific knowledge, theoretical rather than technical. The possibilities of systematic bias by Protestants, scientists, Jews, scholars, and non-Catholic groups generally seem never to have occurred to him. So he's less critical of them. For example, he seems never to have written a comprehensive piece on Western Protestant churches and their behaviour; nor has he much criticism of the behaviour of scientists and technologists. He tends to project Catholic beliefs into any 'primitive' societies, no doubt because of his upbringing. He overdoes myths, totems, rituals, and indirect explanations generally; e.g. rather than saying churches made money from prostitutes he talks of 'sacred prostitution'. Perhaps he's too easily scandalised by sex and corruption. He accepts various more or less legendary thingsChrist, Piltdown Man, Darwin as an originator, Margaret Murray on witchcraft. And his generalisations leave one uneasy; were the Samurai really more brutal than medieval knights, for example? Nevertheless, McCabe remains one of the very few people taking an explicitly rationalistic line and deserves credit for making this attempt. - Rae West
Note added late 2013: I should add that McCabe was pro-Jewish, or, perhaps more accurately, was simply unaware of the many discreditable facts about Jews and for example the U.S.S.R. The Rationalist Press Association was of course more or less a Jewish publishing front. The same sort of comment applies to Islam, but this must have been a reflection of Jewish attitudes as there was negligible Islamic influence in Britain at that time.
This encyclopaedia is concerned with the world of thought .. Hitherto, most works in this field have been compilations by .. writers who had one object .. - the defence of traditional creeds and of orthodox historical judgments. The present work.. is an uncompromising challenge to conventional views. .. Here, in 1, 800 .. articles, facts usually glossed over or ignored are revealed in their full significance, and beliefs commonly accepted without question are examined afresh. ..
N I H I L O B S T A T: ST. RAE WEST
I M P R I M A T U R: COGITATIONES
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