“Civil Grounds of Religious Intolerance” American Sentinel 11, 18, pp. 137, 138.

April 30, 1896

IN all ages and in every country religious intolerance has been defended on the ground of public policy.

Dissenters have ever been stigmatized as enemies of the State, subverters of social order, and disturbers of the public peace.

Ahab’s wicked accusation, contained in the question to Elijah: “Art thou he that troubleth Israel?” has been repeated in various forms in every country and in every age from that time until the present.

When Daniel was accused to the king because he prayed three times a day contrary to the royal mandate, the accusation was in these words: “Daniel, which is of the children of the captivity of Judah, regardeth not thee, O king, nor the decree that thou hast signed.” His violation of the king’s decree was held to be subversive of social order, and his example to be pernicious in the extreme.

The Son of God was accused “as one that perverteth the people,” and the prevailing argument with Pilate for his condemnation was, “If thou let this man go, thou art not Cesar’s friend: whosoever maketh himself a king speaketh against Cesar.” Religious bigotry simply invoked against Christ the penalties of the civil law; he suffered ostensibly, not as a defamer of religion, but as an enemy of the State.

The apostles were also accused of being disturbers of the peace. At Thessalonica the cry was, “These that have turned the world upside down are come hither also; whom Jason hath received; and these all do contrary to the decrees of Cesar, saying that there is another king, one Jesus.” And at Ephesus, [138] the silversmiths raised a tumult because their craft was endangered by the preaching of the apostles. Nor were their fears groundless. The danger which they saw threatening their business really existed; so close was the relation between the prevailing faith and the social and commercial customs of the people. Thus they plausibly argued that there existed a substantial civil basis for the legal prohibition of the preaching of the doctrine of Christ.

Human Nature Intolerant.

It is said that “times change and men change with them;” but there is really little truth in the supposed maxim. The grace of God is the only thing that really changes anybody. Men are naturally intolerant, and we still find them invoking the power of the State to enforce religious dogmas, and to bolster up religious creeds; and at the same time justifying their action on “civil” grounds.

In our own country the attempt has been made to justify various measures of religious legislation on the ground that the stability of our institutions and even of the Government itself depends upon the maintenance of our religion. This is especially true of Sunday laws. In a tract, “The American Sabbath,” published by the Presbyterian Board of Publication, Rev. Robert Patterson, D.D., says:—

It is the right of the State to protect by law such a fundamental support of government. This attack on the sabbath is treason against the very foundation of government. As such, let it be resisted by every American citizen. The American sabbath is essential to American liberty, to our Republic, and to God’s religion.

In his book, “The Sabbath for Man,” Mr. Crafts says:—

It is the conviction of the majority that the nation can not be preserved without religion, nor religion without the sabbath, nor the sabbath without laws; therefore sabbath laws are enacted by the right of self-preservation, not in violation of liberty, but for its protection.—Page 248.

The “argument” may seem plausible to many, but it is unsound. It would justify all the persecutions of the past, and revive the bloody scenes of the Dark Ages.

A Case in Point.

In harmony with this theory honest American citizens have within a year toiled in the chain-gang for no offense against their fellowmen, but only for refusing to honor a statute-intrenched religious institution; and to-day J. W. Lewis, a Seventh-day Adventist, swelters in a Tennessee jail like a common criminal for the same reason.

An exact parallel to it is found in Russia. There the faith of the Orthodox Church is the established religion; and the theory of the government is, as stated by Lady Herbert, in the Dublin Review, January, 1893, that “that which makes the body and strength of the Russian Government is its national religion.” It follows, according to Mr. Crafts’ and Dr. Patterson’s logic, that the Russian Government is perfectly justifiable in maintaining that religion at any cost.

The statement quoted from Lady Herbert was made upon the authority of Father Vanutelli, a Dominican monk, who was invited by the Russian Government to visit the principal religious establishments in that country. “He was everywhere cordially received,” remarked the Review of Reviews, “and had an interview with Pobidonotezeff,” the famous procurator of the Holy Snod. Pobiedonotezeff, it appears, expressed his views very freely to his guest, saying, as Lady Herbert put it, “that society in the West was going to ruin, and that its decay was owing to the want of religion and the revolutionary and social principles which were being so widely enunciated.” “In Russia,” he said, “we have preserved the principle of authority and the deepest respect for the Christian religion. The people are attached to the government and thoroughly good at the bottom, and t hey enjoy a state of prosperity which in other countries does not exist. Here there are no political parties, no parliaments or rival authorities, and we wish to avoid any contact with what might disturb the tranquility of the masses.”

Nowhere Does Christ Reign as in Russia

Father Vanutelli himself said:—

I cannot understand how it is that so many persons who visit Russia write about it afterwards without alluding to the main characteristic of the people. Without an appreciation of their religious aspect any description of Russia must be incomplete. The Christian idea is predominant everywhere, and nowhere does Christ reign to such an extent as in Russia.

The following quotation from an article in the Century, for February, 1893, by Pierre Botkine, at that time secretary of the Russian Legation at Washington, will serve to throw some additional light upon this subject and show what Vanutelli meant by saying that “nowhere does Christ reign as in Russia.” Botkine said:—

The strength of Russia lies precisely in the unity of power, in the firm faith of the people in their church, and in their reliance upon and devotion to the high personality called to occupy the throne.

The Russian idea is that the Czar reigns by divine right. He is the acknowledged head of the church as well as of the civil government, and the fealty of the people to him is not simply that of subjects to a civil ruler, but to a spiritual lord as well, who has the power to close heaven against them or to admit them to all its enjoyments. Their patriotism and their religious veneration center in a single individual, namely, the Czar; hence his power over them, and the consequent strength of the government which is thus supported by the strongest sentiments of the human soul.

Religious Institutions and Political Stability

In view of what has already been said it is scarcely necessary to say that the union of Church and State in Russia is perfect. Nor is it strange that the government regards any effort to weaken the established church, or to draw away converts from it, much as it would an attempt to undermine the empire itself, or to destroy in the breasts of the people, that feeling of patriotism that is the strength of every stable government. All religious restrictions in Russia are in the interests of political stability. Mr. Botkine said:—

The Orthodox Church is the State Church in Russia; and, as I have explained, the strength and might of the empire are considered by us to depend to a great degree upon the firm faith of the people in its doctrines and discipline. Our history abounds in proofs of this. It is therefore natural that our government cherishes and supports the orthodox religion, and tries to prevent the members of that church or their children from heedlessly going off into other communions.

This is but putting in other phrase the sentiment already quoted from Mr. Crafts and Dr. Patterson, in justification of Sunday laws. In Russia it is the conviction, if not of the majority, at least of the rulers, that the nation can not be preserved without religion, nor religion without the Orthodox Church, nor the Orthodox Church without laws; that to dissent from the established religion is treason against the empire; therefore such laws are enacted by the right of self-preservation.

The Motive of Religious Intolerance.

It is the purpose of the Russian Government to crush out all religious dissent throughout the length and breadth of the empire in the interests of the ideal of Czar Nicholas, “One empire, one tongue, one church;” or in other words, perfect unity, and consequently, matchless strength; and it matters not how many conscientious men and women travel the weary road to Siberia as a result of this theory. The motive is not avowedly religious, but political. The Czar seeks to control the religion of his subjects, we are told, only that he may the more firmly cement and bind together the various parts and elements in the empire. The logic is just as good in the one case as in the other. The principle is the same in America as in Europe.

Mr. Botkine even denied that there was any restriction of religious liberty in Russia except where certain obnoxious sects propagated doctrines which the authorities considered subversive of morals or of good order in society. Of the Jews he said: “We did not expel the Jews from the empire, as is often mistakenly charged, though we did restrict their rights as to certain localities of domicile and as to kinds of occupations—police regulations.” This being the case, Mr. Botkine regarded the remonstrances sent to the Czar from other countries as most impertinent. “The principle we contend for,” said he, “is home rule.”

The “Justification” the Same in All Ages.

It will be observed that the arguments urged in justification of restrictions of religious liberty are the same in every country and in every age. Elijah was persecuted because he “troubled” Israel; Daniel was persecuted because he regarded not the king’s command; Christ was put to death as an enemy of the State; the apostles were denounced and persecuted as disturbers of the peace; Jews and Protestants in Russia are banished to Siberia because they propagate doctrines which the authorities consider subversive of morals and of good order, and tending to weaken the government; and in this country it is urged that the same thing should be done for the very same reasons: indeed, the same principle does prevail to a greater or less extent, especially in our Sunday legislation. In Tennessee and some other States, as before remarked, “otherwise good citizens” are fined, imprisoned, and worked in the chain-gang for daring to dissent, practically, from the prevailing religion—and this on the plea that their example is prejudicial to good morals! and their acts against the peace and dignity of the State!! Surely we are not so very far ahead of our neighbors or even of the ancients after all! If times do change, men do not change with them to the extent of abandoning the supposed right of the majority or of the rulers to cram their religion, or at least, a portion of it, down the throats of the minority, or of their subjects. No considerable part of the race has yet developed sufficient moral power to yield complete obedience to the acme of all social law: “All things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them.”

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