ABSTRACT

Looking on the freethinkers from outside, one cannot ignore the factors inside the freethinkers that colored their perception of the world. The historian might easily overemphasize the subjective element in their theologizing of explanations and remedies for the world’s ills. To the freethinkers themselves, the reasons for their positions were convincingly grounded in objective data external to themselves—data that were available to be examined by all men and that would yield the same interpretation to all men whose reason was free of the corrupting influence of tyranny and superstition. Their literature is replete with all manner of indictments against existing orthodox Christianity and its established position in the political, social, and economic structure of Victorian England. Not only did the freethinkers sincerely believe in the vileness of established religion; they held that the institution of organized Christianity was the disease of which the social, political, and economic Ills of human society were merely symptoms. The source of Infection must be dealt with if efforts to treat the symptoms were to be anything but band-aid measures. So, in looking for explanations of the religious element in freethought, one cannot Ignore the freethinkers’ own view of the situation. The church merited destruction. It was an enemy to be defeated. What quicker way to engage and foil the opponent than by taking the offensive on his territory?