The great Southern Presbyterian theologian Robert Lewis Dabney has been mentioned a number of times on this site. It is a very telling indication of our times that such a visionary man is so little known, and usually slandered when mentioned at all. You can find the entire collection of his written works at the Dabney Archive, all of which are well worth reading. However, such a massive undertaking can be a bit overwhelming, and so on Sundays I have begun posting bite-sized excerpts from Dabney’s works with perhaps a little bit of my own commentary. This will be done in hopes of promoting wider readership for this great man. You can find links to all the previous “Dabney on Sunday” posts at the bottom of this post.
The following excerpt is taken from an article Dabney wrote for the The Land We Love in December 1866, entitled “The Crimes of Philanthropy.”
If this phrase [“the crimes of philanthropy”] appear to any reader paradoxical, a very little reflection will convince him that it is only so in appearance. For, the greatest organized wrongs which the civilized world has seen perpetrated in modern times, upon the well-being of mankind, have been committed under the amiable name of humanity. No despotic government now avows the ruthless purpose of self-aggrandizement and of the gratification of hatred and the lust of power; but its pretense is always the good of society, and the welfare of the governed. The wars of the “Holy Alliance,” which drenched Europe in blood at the beginning of this century were all undertaken nominally for the peace and liberties of Europe. No demagogue confesses, in popular governments, the greedy ambition or avarice which proves to be his secret motive: but he seeks only the good of the “dear people,” while he betrays them into mischievous anarchy or legislative atrocities. . . .
This recent type of Jacobinism illustrates the cruelty of humanitarian philanthropy in our day, by two of its favorite schemes, abolition of negro slavery, and the Peace Society. . . . [The Peace Society] have been engaged for thirty years, in painting the horrors of war, in describing with moving words, the prodigal waste of human happiness and life which attends it, and in denouncing even defensive war, as an invention oif the devil, utterly unworthy of a Christian nation. It is also the same men usually, who declaim against the harshness and barbarity of the capital punishments denounced against the chief crimes by our criminal laws. Now the plain people amongst us, who draw their maxims of common sense from the Bible, have questioned, from the first, the genuineness of this humanity; it appeared to them a little queer, that those special advocates of forbearance, were almost always peculiarly overbearing in their temper towards dissentients, that they were very intolerant in their advocacy of tolerance, and very belligerent in the tone in which they urged peace. The true animus of the party was correctly foreshadowed by the spirit of one of its members, who appeared, a quarter of a century ago, to advocate the Peace Principles, at the bar of a dignified ecclesiastical assemblage in America, and to enlist its support for them. In his bustling labors in the lobby, he declared that Christianity forbade to the individual, and to society, all violent resistance of injury; that to retort the intended suffering on the aggressor was inconsistent with true humanity: and that all which was necessary to disarm assault, was, for everybody to practice a determined passivity and non-resisting love. The members of the body which he addressed were then characterized by a sturdy, old-fashioned sense, for which it has unfortunately not been since so conspicuous. They attempted to induce the ardent man to bring his principles home to his own person, in such a case as the following: “Suppose that some son of Belial should attack you without provocation, in the absence of all legal protection, and with evident purpose of injury to life or limb: what would you do?” “I should declare my purpose of non-resistance,” he replied, “and appeal with confidence to his conscience. It is the sight of resistance, which gives resolution to the rising impulses of aggression; a thoroughly peaceful attitude will surely awaken the better nature of an assailant, and make him relent, before he strikes.” “Yea, but,” said they, “there are men in whom conscience and the better nature are effectually seared, who would only be encouraged by the prospect of non-resistance.” “Still,” answered he, “I would retain my passive attitude, and display the majesty of meekness, so that it would be impossible for him actually to strike.” And these boastful words he uttered with an air of angry assumption, as foreign from his professed meekness as it was evidently adapted to provoke assault. The next day, the ecclesiastical body agreed, out of respect for the cause of humanity which he professed to advocate, to hear his views. He urged them with much warmth and self-confidence, to adopt resolutions committing themselves to his theory; and when the objections of sober good sense were urged, flew into a furious passion, denounced his opponents, and flung himself out of the house in true fighting temper.
This incident gives a correct type of the combined ignorance of their own hearts and of other men’s, and errors of reasoning, by which this sect is infested. And it foreshadowed precisely, the fiendish temper with which they have themselves met the shock of real resistance. When they found a people who begged to be excused from the intrusions of their unauthorized meddling, and the propagation of their pet schemes of philanthropy, these peace-society men, who denounced even defensive war an inhuman crime; who—shuddered, sweet souls!—at the sight of a drop of the criminal aggressor’s blood, and preferred that it should be spared even at the cost of the blood of the innocent ; who were busy sending committees to the Czar as the head of the first military monarchy of Europe, to teach him how wicked bayonets were, and remonstrating with the King of Dahomey against his royal slave-hunts; these opponents of capital punishments, who, more merciful than the “Father of Mercies,” declared that it was quite cruel that he who sheds man’s blood should have his blood shed by man; these superfine sentimentalists, paused in their sanctimonious pastimes, and, almost to a man, passionately joined the clamor of the party, who demanded the extermination of their fellow citizens, for the high crimes of daring to have opinions of their own, and asserting their own prescriptive rights. It was precisely from this quarter that the loudest howl for plunder, murder, famine and conflagration came! Abundant proof this, that the ruling motive of such philanthropy is not love, but an intensely selfish love of power, mental conceit, and hunger for applause.
I think Dabney’s assertion that humanist philanthropy attempts to be “more merciful than the ‘Father of Mercies'” is spot on. Many of today’s problems stem from people trying to be nicer, more loving, and more compassionate than God – and tyranny, injustice, and anarchy is the result.
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