Fellow of Jesus College, Cambridge.



Prophecy is a revolving searchlight that puts us on our guard against foes lurking in the shadows, otherwise invisible except to the shrewdest eyes.  Mr. Bernard Manning, addressing the Protestant Dissenting Deputies of the Three Denominations (Baptist, Congregational and Presbyterian), unmasks a peril of coming persecution in England to which our evangelical leaders, either unfortified by prophecy or ungifted with exceptional insight, seem strangely blind.  We add some appalling words * by Lord Russell (Bertrand Russell) which show that Secularism already advances its own philosophy of persecution. – Ed.


* The Scientific Outlook, p. 241.



Our Three Denominations to-day are more than tolerated.  We have not merely the right to worship according to our conscience: we own, as independent corporations, a very considerable amount of property.  We are able to influence public opinion by any kind of social and educational service we like; that is to say, we may give our strictly religious opinions the most favourable background and attractive setting according as we are trying to influence children, boys in their teens, mothers, clubbable men, and so on.  In such protection as the law affords to Sunday observance, to Christian ideas of marriage and morals, to religion as a part of education; we, not less than the Anglicans, are, socially and educationally, most happily placed.



There is no reason to think these fortunate arrangements eternal or even durable.  There is much to be said for the opinion that the happy position of our religious bodies, this independence of the State, this semi-established position, was a temporary product of the nineteenth century and must soon pass away.  The nineteenth century, you remember; did not believe much in State activities of any kind.  It took State action only when absolutely necessary.  The Free Church in the Free State suited its mood.  We Free Churches live still in the results of that period.  Our status was fixed when such ideas were dominant everywhere.  What has happened?  In the atmosphere of political science and political thought, not less than in economic thought, they have changed all that.  Freedom is not sure of commanding the respect that once it did.  Men ask:- does freedom produce, the result we want?



In the last twenty-five years men have become gradually more aware of the possibility of manufacturing public opinion in the mass.  By the Press, by the wireless, by education you can produce any desired opinion.  We have not begun to do it seriously in this country.  Every one in England gets his chance as yet, and one cancels out another.  But get a Government with an axe which it seriously wishes to grind - Italy, for example, or Russia - and you see what can be done to manufacture and maintain opinion.  As the form of government becomes more and more democratic, the formation of what the dominant clique are pleased to consider the right opinions in the masses of men becomes more and more important to the Government.  It is idle to suppose that Governments will not take effective steps to influence opinion in what it considers desirable directions.  This, of course, may be good or it may be bad; the point is that the days when public opinion was left malleable under the haphazard influence of free institutions are probably numbered.  We are in for an era of control; control of opinion not less than in other things.  The price of our freedom in the future will be vigilance, ceaseless vigilance.



There is abroad, especially among us Free Churchmen, a mischievous notion that truth cannot be suppressed, that good causes must flourish under persecution, that the blood of the martyrs is always the seed of the Church.  It may be true that in the long run, taking the world as a whole, it is impossible ultimately to suppress truth.  It may be true that under a little persecution badly applied the blood of martyrs may become the seed of the Church.  But it is not a general rule.  There are plenty of examples to the contrary.  In Spain, in Italy, Governments successfully framed public opinion in such a way as to crush Protestantism.  In Russia the Government has cut off the recruits to Christian population by its educational campaign; and is producing a new generation as innocent of Christianity as eighteenth-century Spain was of Protestantism.



Granted then that opinion even in England may not be so free in the future, it is your peculiar responsibility to keep an eye on any forces which will mould it as a shape harmful to evangelical religion.  If you are forewarned, you are forearmed.  Meanwhile I commend to your attention two forces already at work with enthusiasm on public opinion; two forces unlike in some ways, but both persistent enemies of Reformed religion, eager to undo the work you have done, anxious to bring about conditions which, as in Russia and in Italy, would make it almost impossible for Reformed religion to win public opinion.



First, Roman Catholicism.  Now I yield to no one in my dislike of, and contempt for, a certain type of so-called Protestant propaganda.  But the Roman danger is real -  Democratic institutions like ours give enormous power to a well-organized block-vote under effective control, as the Roman vote is.  The recent education scuffles showed that Labour is even less able than the other parties to ignore the crack of the Roman whip.  In some parts of Great Britain - not the pleasantest - in parts of Glasgow and in parts of Liverpool, there is a definite Roman majority.  Contrast life there for the Protestant minority with the agreeable conditions of life for the Roman minority in the rest of Great Britain; and you have an indication of the way in which the scales will be weighted against evangelical religion whenever and wherever Rome gets a majority.  There are more ways of reducing Protestantism than by the stake.  You recall Clough’s modern version of the Commandment: “Thou shalt not kill”: Thou shalt not kill; but needst not strive officiously to keep alive.



The factors of birth-control, mixed marriage, social prestige the exclusion of Protestants from employment by public bodies as an insult to the conscience of the Roman Catholic majority: by such means Reformed religion is suffocated; and the whole trend of the modern state and its control over opinion will make it increasingly easy for such a majority once in the saddle to perpetuate itself.



The second force in public life militating against the present favourable conditions for Reformed religion is Communism.  I am not thinking of Communism as an economic system.  But I now refer to Communism as a definitely anti-Christian party.  You may smile at the tiny number of votes cast for Communism at the general election: I only ask you to compare them with the number cast for Labour a generation ago.  Not every minority, I know, becomes a majority: but you must not underrate a minority merely because it is small.  The point is that you now have in England a definitely anti-religious party: one which has shown in Russia that it knows well how to use brute force to make its opinion dominant.



The main reason why we ought to oppose the growth of Roman influence in public life is not for its own sake. I have no fear of Roman Catholics making the whole of our people Roman Catholic.  What they can do here is what they have done everywhere else; they can make half the people Roman Catholic and half anti-Christian. By destroying Evangelical religion here they can give our people, as they give people on the Continent, no choice but clerical religion and anti-clerical materialism.  Rome and Communism work hand in hand to sink us to the level of Continental nations.



Christian ethics is in certain fundamental respects opposed to the scientific ethic which is gradually growing up.  Christianity emphasizes the importance of the individual soul, and is not prepared to sanction the sacrifice of an innocent man for the sake of some ulterior good to the majority.  The new ethic which is gradually up-growing in connection with scientific technique will have its eye upon society rather than upon the individual. It will have little use for the superstition of guilt and punishment, but will be prepared to make individuals suffer for the public good without inventing reasons purporting to shew that they deserve to suffer.  In this sense it will be ruthless, and according to traditional ideas immoral, but the change will have come about naturally through the habit of viewing society as a whole rather than as a collection of individuals.  We view a human body as a whole, and if, for example, it is necessary to amputate a limb we do not consider it necessary to prove first that the limb is wicked.  We consider the good of the whole body a quite sufficient argument. Similarly the man who thinks of society as a whole will sacrifice a member of society for the good of the whole, without much consideration for the individual's welfare. - BERTRAND RUSSELL.