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)

Workers, The Churches and the.

J. McCabe, Rationalists Encyclopaedia

It was one of the inevitable results of modern developments, until the Vatican felt it safe to turn to Fascism, that apologists of the Church of Rome, confronted with an advancing Socialism, should claim that the Church had in all ages secured justice to the workers, and Protestant writers (for the workers), being mostly in anti-Fascist countries, continue to make the claim. Since one of the outstanding events of the last hundred years, if not since the outbreak of the French Revolution, has been the world-struggle of the workers to get rid of an age-old injustice, just in the time when Church influence decayed and the great majority of the leaders of the workers were strongly opposed to the Churches, the claim seems paradoxical. It would, indeed, be repudiated with disdain by the workers if the history of the last century and a half were truthfully told in our schools and general literature. It is not; and, as is shown in so many articles of this work, historical education has in our time so far departed from the comparative candour of the last century that these long-discredited claims to have succoured the slaves, the workers, the women, or the children, circulate in all their vigour in the church-going community and are too often regarded with respect by others. In serious history the claim is as preposterous as that of the astrologer. At the time when, in the fourth century, the Church first obtained any power to influence the social situation, the workers of the Roman world had a remarkable position. In Rome, and the other cities, they had, as every classical dictionary tells, free food (bread, and at different periods other grants), free schools for the children of all free workers, princely free entertainments (theatre, amphitheatre, and circus), palatial public baths at about one farthing each admittance, free medical service, trade unions (Colleges) and club-rooms, holidays on about 200 out of 365 days, and moderate hours of work. There were no "labour movements," and the Christian Church did not dream of doing or needing to do anything for the workers. It is difficult to compare the position of modern workers on account of the comprehensive changes of the conditions of life, but it is safe to say that in no part of the world except Arab Spain did the workers obtain conditions as good as those of the Greek-Roman worker of the fourth century until the latter part of the nineteenth century; and of the men who are named as leaders, in any history of the rise of the working class, four-fifths were Atheists or Agnostics. This historical truth is as little open to serious controversy as the truth in regard to the claim that Christianity abolished slavery, first founded schools or hospitals, improved the morals of Europe, or helped woman.
    The condition of the workers in the earlier ancient world does not concern us here, though we may recall that they had remarkable protection under the Hammurabi Code [see] in ancient Babylon, and that Egyptologists find their condition favourable in Egypt at the period in the second millennium B.C., which we know best (or 1500-1300). It is in the Roman world of the latter part of the fourth century of the Christian era that the social influence of the Church, if there was any, must be sought. Slavery [see] was now very greatly reduced, and mild in the cities, and, as the above description of the situation of the workers is not disputed, and there was certainly no improvement after A.D. 50, or any concern whatever of the Church leaders with the lot of the workers, we need not linger at this starting-point. Still less open to dispute is the collapse of the Empire and its institutions that speedily followed owing to the barbaric invasions, so that at least four-fifths of the people of Europe became serfs [see], which was a new form of slavery, living in universal dense ignorance and squalor. Our distinction between slaves and serfs has, in fact, no foundation in the literature of the Dark Age. Before Christianity triumphed, only one-third or one-fourth of the workers were servi, and these were generally foreign war-captives or their offspring; but, from about 600 to 1100, probably nine-tenths of the people of Europe were servi in the Latin literature of the time. In the course of the next two or three centuries, after 1100, the serfs were for the most part emancipated, and we saw [Serfdom] that this change is admitted to have been overwhelmingly due to political and economic developments. From this date the religious writer on the subject conveniently forgets that four-fifths of the workers remained agricultural, and he pays no attention to them. There was little or no improvement of their condition, and the knights and lords of the new civilization treated them with contemptuous brutality. [See Chivalry, the Age of, and Justice.] During war, which was almost chronic, the artisans of the towns were treated with the same brutality, and the Guilds [see], which in some ways protected them, were founded by them in defiance of the Church, and in so far as they did for some time help the workers owed nothing the Church or churchmen. The profound injustices which inspired the peasants' wars of the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries were no more attacked by the Catholic Church than those of the sixteenth century were denounced by Luther. Both Churches stood with the rich. The men who wanted to help the workers were heretics like Arnold of Brescia, Wyclif, some of the Hussites, and the Anabaptists. It is the consistent teaching of experts on the subject, especially of the highest authority, Thorold Rogers, Six Centuries of Work and Wages, 2 vols., 1884, that the injustice to the workers was worse after the Reformation. In England the Anti-Combination laws savagely prevented the workers from formulating their demands and forcing concessions, and they had no fair share of the rapidly increasing wealth of the country. Little more than a hundred years ago the average wage was about ten shillings a week (for 14 to 16 hour's work a day on 6 days); and this was not due to the new Industrial Revolution, for, although the rush to the towns had made rural labour scarcer, agricultural workers got less than ten shillings a week and were still generally despised as clods or clowns. The chief writer on the development in Germany, Eccardus (Geschichte des Niederen Volks, 1907), tells the same story. After the Reformation, he says, "the arm of the prince and the noble everywhere became longer, swifter, and firmer," and the mass of the people then passed into the hell of the religious Thirty Years War. The chief writer on the development in France, P. Brisson (Histoire du travail, 1906), has, naturally, to agree, for the condition of the French workers on the eve of the Revolution is well known. Everywhere, after the sixteenth century, prices rose and wages did not. At the very time when Louis XIV was guilty of the colossal expenditure on his Court and capitals, which makes his reign shine in the eyes of superficial writers, there was almost unparalleled misery over vast stretches of rural France. See the documents in Martin's Histoire de France (appendix to Vol. XIII). The King's officers relentlessly pursued the starving people for taxes, and the Church was silent and corrupt; but because one Catholic, Vincent de Paul, was moved to pity, Catholic writers ask us to admire what the Church did for the poor workers and suppress the horrors and the callous corruption of the prelates.
    The workers, who were still four-fifths of every nation, were at their lowest level since the Dark Age, and more cruelly treated, in the latter part of the eighteenth century, after Christianity had held supreme power for fifteen centuries, than in the ancient civilizations. In the French Revolution, and its echoes in every country, began the fight for freedom and justice which continues in our time. That the leaders in France were overwhelmingly sceptics to our own time is not in dispute; nor is it open to question that the German leaders, after the futile liberal revolution of 1848, were the atheistic Socialists. In Great Britain, historians of the struggle give as leaders in the eighteenth century: Wilkes, Priestley, Godwin, Paine, Tooke, Mary Wollstonecraft, Holcroft, and Hardy - seven Deists or Atheists and one Unitarian (and he the least important to the workers). Wilberforce [see] was a sceptic when he took up a single reform (slavery), and in later years was a bitter opponent of the workers. The work was taken up in the years of reaction by Owen, Bentham, Shelley, Place, Cobbett, Mill, Ricardo, Burdett, Grote, and Brougham - nearly all Atheist - until it passed to the workers themselves in the (futile) Chartist movement. One clergyman, Raynor Stephens (who was unfrocked), was prominent in the movement until Kingsley raised the cry that it was necessary to save Christianity by co-operating in securing justice; though no one questions that Kingsley and the Christian Socialists sincerely sought justice. During all this period the Church of England sternly opposed the "radicals" - see The Bishops as Legislators, by the English (now Roman) Catholic J. Clayton (1906) - and the large progress from about 1870 onward was notoriously due to Trade Union pressure and the play of political interests. But the record of the Church of England, disgraceful as it is, does not approach, in injustice to the mass of the people, that of the Church of Rome.
    The condition of the workers in Italy, Spain, and Portugal was the lowest of all it was almost at its lowest in the Papal States [see] - yet here the Church cooperated intimately with the oppressors in so bloody a persecution that about 400,000 unarmed men, women, and children were done to death in little more than half a century. [See Democracy and Justice.] Since Italy emancipated itself from the Papal yoke, and France became a Republic, and Spain and Portugal had powerful Liberal parties by 1870, it would not be surprising if the Roman Church had reconsidered its position after that date. But the Catholic apologist's boasts of the share of recent Popes are seriously untruthful. Leo XIII still waited thirteen years after his accession before he would say a word about social justice, and, in the famous Encyclical Rerum Novarum (1891), his most radical demand was that the worker must have a "decent wage"; but he refused to define this when pressed to do so, and virtually retracted his encyclical before he died. His successors avoided the subject until they saw the rise of a powerful Nazi-Fascist movement which promised to overwhelm the democracies and restore reaction. Then, in 1931, Pius XI - or, more probably, his Secretary of State, now Pius XII - issued an Encyclical (Quadragesimo Anno) expressly recalling the Encyclical of Leo XIII and now calling upon all Catholic countries to set up the Fascist or Corporative State - a lead promptly followed by Spain, Portugal, Slovakia, and Vichy France, and the more Catholic Spanish-American Republics. Under the Papal-Fascist alliance everywhere the workers have returned to the serfdom of the Middle Ages, while in Great Britain and America, where the Catholic authorities refused to translate the Encyclical Quadragesimo Anno and gravely deceive the workers, the apologists continue to claim that their Church is, and always has been, the champion of justice to the workers. Further literature on each phase is recommended in the articles quoted in the text. For a summary survey of the entire history, with ample authorities, see McCabe's Social Record of Christianity - Thinker's Library, 1935), and for the recent phase the third edition of the same author's Papacy in Politics To-day (1942).


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