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Bigotry: Ally of Religion

ORVILLE PRESCOTT, book commentator for the New York Times, in reviewing the late Mr. Gustavus Myers' "History Of Bigotry in the United States", opens his article, with the following remark:
"In every man there is an element of cruelty and bigotry that can be aroused by appeals to fear and self-interest if controls of religion, idealism, and codes of character are once relaxed".


Here Mr. Prescott presents a diagnosis of bigotry that is remote from the facts: he presupposes that religion itself offers a restraint on bigotry, and that once its "controls" are: "relaxed" men become bigots. He is hopelessly wrong, both from the evidence of history and from the evidential nature of bigotry itself. Bigotry is defined in Funk and Wagnalls' Dictionary as "obstinate and intolerant attachment to a creed". The man who is "religious". and not a bigot is merely one who does not take his religion too seriously or seriously enough; he is restrained from bigotry, not by religion, but by lack of it. Let him become thoroughly obsessed by the idea that his religion is divinely inspired, its teachings undeniably true, and all other religions false and an affront to God, and he will flare into a fanatic at the first opportunity, He is restrained from asserting his bigotry through acts of violence only when he is not in power. Give him power to suppress the opinions of others and he will become intolerant of those who flout or question his creed. Zealotry in religion has never been restrained by religion; it is, on the contrary, religion itself which is responsible for the`fanatic's bigotry and intolerance.


If these religious "controls" of which Mr. Prescott speaks were anything but a myth, they would have manifested themselves conspicuously during that period of history when Christianity was at the zenith of its power. 'Instead, what do we find? A thousand years of bigotry and tyranny under the banner of the Cross, with liberty of thought suppressed; and humanity groaning under the yoke of unspeakable barbarism. History shows, if it shows us anything, that the most religious ages have been the most bigoted and cruel, and that intolerance flourished and brutality triumphed in direct ratio to the increase of religion and the power and influence of the Church. Where, in the eyes of Mr. Prescott, were his alleged religious restraints during the days of the Spanish Inquisition, the burning of Bruno, and our own Christian witch hunts in America? Where were they when a Pope of Rome struck off a medallion in commemoration of a butchery of Protestants? Where, indeed, were they during the Dark Ages of Christian despotism, when the sword, the rack, and the faggot raged against heresy? Precisely where they always are to be found when religious fanaticism and intolerance break loose: in the pious imagination of those who preach that religion is a boon to the race.


Mr. Prescott knows this, of course, as a well-informed literary man.. But how can one who is writing for the New York Times or any other newspaper say frankly and bluntly that Christianity breeds bigotry? He can't. To so much as intimate that Christianity is a breeding-hole for bigotry would antagonize the Christian mob. And so, instead, we are treated to his rhapsodical little sop that religion serves as a brake on bigotry. His judicious readers will smile, knowing how panicky our press becomes when an archbishop frowns and how expedient it is for our Four Freedom editors and freedom-from-fear newspapers to conciliate the saps. Alone in his study, with history books around him, he can, laugh it off by himself.


The book is advertised as 'the whole shocking story of bigotry in America". It isn't the complete story, nor even, the half of it. It isn't even an authentic or carefully compiled record. It is a garbled and uncritical approach to the subject of bigotry, with everything lumped together and indiscriminately labeled bigotry which criticizes or attacks the major religious faiths. Prof. Samuel F.B. Morse's "propaganda against Jesuits and Catholicism", for example, is classified as "bigotry". Anyone acquainted with the criminal record of the Roman Catholic Church and the long history of the political intrigues and cunning of the Jesuits, has read history in vain if he can temporize with any attempt to exonerate the scoundrelisms of the Church. Every humbuggery and sanctified fraud which goes under the name of religion is a victim of "bigotry" according to Mr. Myers, if it is criticized or opposed. He has succeeded merely in presenting a badly digested mass of data and labeling it "bigotry". As to the book under review, Mr. Prescott observes:


"The largest portion of this book describes the various scurrilous, false, defamatory and sometimes riotous and murderous attacks made upon Catholicism during the nineteenth century". Nothing is said, it seems, in this supposed "history" of bigotry in America, concerning the scurrilous, false, defamatory and sometimes riotous and murderous attacks made by Catholicism. Not a line is devoted to the condemnation of Catholic fanaticism and intolerance, which here in America would justify a substantial volume by itself. Such treatment of Catholic infamy is quite beyond the range of a lop-sided and biasly conceived examination of bigotry. "The whole shocking story of bigotry in America has not yet been written. It will take another Lecky or Lea,or another Gibbon or Buckle, or perhaps a John Bagnell Bury, writing with high-mindedness and integrity and a judicial regard for facts, to write a real history of bigotry in America. Perhaps it may some day be written by Joseph McCabe. Not one, but several volumes could be written on Catholic bigotry right here in America. Catholicism's braggadocio claim to rule by divine right (observe how even in nominal Catholic countries people scorn the "infallibility" of the Pope and laugh right in the Catholic Fuehrer's face!); its incitements to mob action against every form of heresy; its vicious denunciations of ex-priests and of Catholics who secede from the Church; its ranting Coughlinites; its lobbying and political thimble-rigging in matters of State; its Index Expurgatorius; its systematic pollution and suppression of scientific truth; its-bombastic encyclicals against our public schools; its purgatorial swindle; its colossal gall and pompous pronouncements on matters of which it is as ignorant as Paddy's pig, stamp it as an insidious institution, totalitarian in character and governed by the same goose-step regimentation and "big lie" policy that makes the Nazi regime execrable in the eyes of every decent American. A "History of Bigotry in the United States" which fails to indict the Vatican Dictatorship is no history at all.


After devoting "the largest portion" of his book to the chronicling of what Mr. Prescott calls "anti-Catholic bigotry", Mr. Myers turns to the ever-present problem of the Jews, which throughout history, in every age and dime, has been a persistent one. "Next to the bigotry of American anti-Catholicism," says his reviewer,"comes that of anti-Semitism." No doubt, Mr. Myers has extended his theme here by devoting a generous amount of space to the Chosen People of God, and given even fresh material and a new impetus to those who would establish another Wailing Wall in America. But if he had anywhere hinted in his book that there is bigotry among the Jews, or that Judaism is an intolerant and narrow-minded cult, steeped in clannishness and cunning and with a history of cruelty and cupidity behind it, he could have established for his book an all-time reputation for historical accuracy. But such things just aren't mentioned by our truth-loving, run-of-the-mill sleuth-hounds and haters of bigotry. So out went a substantial part of the record, with three or four chapters less for Mr. Myers to worry about in planning his "history" of bigotry. As for the "age-long martyrdom" of the Jew, it is, as the Jewish writer Benjamin DeCasseres remarks; a "pure racial whine. He has not been butchered and oppressed anymore than Christian has butchered and oppressed Christian". For the most part, Christian bigotry has been no harder on the Jew than on anybody else and less of a hardship than to the outspoken freethinker who has defied the Church. It is the atheist who has borne the full brunt of Catholic and Protestant bigotry, along with the bigotry of Judaism. This, of course, is something which Mr. Myers does not mention.


From all indications the book is not likely to occupy an exalted place of honor in the field of historical criticism. It can hardly aspire to this distinction, since it is largely a scissors-and-paste record, presented in scrap-book style, and for all its seventeen years of preparation, "dull and tedious as literature". Not even Mr. Prescott is over-impressed by it, for, in summing up the work, he calls it "a mediocre job of organization" and "a sloppy one of writing'". These apparently are not the least of its recommendations. It is a Guggenheim Foundation book, sponsored in part by institutional funds, which means, of course, that meticulous care was taken to see that nothing was said in it to provoke the anger or roil the bigotry of the major religious faiths. The three great humbugs, Catholicism, Protestantism, and Judaism, are treated with almost kid-glove daintiness, as if they were the Innocent victims of bigotry rather than its outstanding promoters. Each, in its own way, has instilled into followers the pious delusion that outside itself there is no salvation and that heresy is iniquitous to God.


The slip-shoddiness of the book is at once apparent to anyone acquainted with the larger aspects of bigotry in America. Imagine an historian writing a "History of Bigotry in the United States" and failing to feature Catholic bigotry as the most insidious of all! Bigotry, whether Catholic, Protestant, or Jewish, is of religious origin, and so satiates its malevolence by a blind zeal to wipe out opposing opinion by coercion or suppression. It finds its most powerful expression when allied with government.


Where could more flagrant bigotry be found than in the recent seizure and impounding of freethought books imparted from England, which just now is a matter of court action by The Truth Seeker? Mr. Prescott, of course, as a newspaper reader, could hardly have known about this, as our daily press contracted a violent case of throat paralysis when the matter was brought to its attention. But what are American liberties and freedom of the press to the post-war glories promised by the New Deal bureaucracy?

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