Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Joseph McCabe

Here's an interesting chap. Described by New Humanist magazine as an "astonishing one-man book factory," Joseph McCabe (1867–1955) wrote "prolifically on science, religion, politics, history and culture, writing nearly 250 books during his life." Most intriguingly, Joseph was once a Catholic priest, but sadly, in his case, there was to be no Technicolour Dreamcoat:

When his Christian faith deserted him towards the end of the nineteenth century he turned himself into what you might call a pious atheist, a zealous crusader in a holy war against religion. For the next six decades he would denounce the Catholic Church with a vehemence that often sounded more like Protestant fanaticism than cool rational atheism. He had managed to rid himself of the Christian attitude of humble reverence while retaining a fixed attitude of righteous indignation, and he never surrendered to the embraces of humour, let alone wit.

McCabe claimed that he was interested not in 'personal valuations or hopes' but only in plain 'historical facts'. He believed he had discovered a 'historical law' – let’s call it McCabe’s Law – which states that 'atheism grows in proportion to the growth of knowledge and freedom.' At the beginning of the twentieth century, he reckoned, atheism was expanding 'a hundred times more rapidly than any religion ever grew', and only a fool could doubt that the coming decades would witness 'a development of atheism immeasurably greater than has ever been known before'. His faith in the progress of reason would then provide the scaffolding for his Biographical Dictionary of Freethinkers (1920) and his Rationalist Encyclopedia (1948), works that provide a kind of roll-call of the saints of rationalism, ranked by their degree of conformity to McCabe’s law.


Anonymous said...

Joseph McCabe was certainly prolific - at one stage in the mid-1920s he was producing one book every week or so. I think he has a fair claim to being the most prolific non-fiction writers of his age. Not surprisingly some of his books were worthless pot-boilers, but many were really valuable studies. It's good to see him celebrated in this blog.

Dixie said...

You write very well.