Are We Becoming Less Religious? (7 august 1906)

From The Arthur Conan Doyle Encyclopedia

Are We Becoming Less Religious? is a letter written by Arthur Conan Doyle first published in the Daily Express No. 1969 on 7 august 1906.

Are We Becoming Less Religious?

Daily Express No. 1969 (p. 1)

Sir A. Conan Doyle's analysis of the question

The lesson of life

What is the test of real religion?

In printing a further selection from the letters we have received from all parts of the country upon the subject "Are we less religious?" we may draw special attention to the careful analysis of the question which Sir A. Conan Doyle makes in his thoughtful letter.


To the Editor of the "Express."

Sir, — It appears to me that one fallacy runs through a great deal of the correspondence about religion in your columns, and that is the postulate that any form of ritual, including the ritual of going to a large stone building for the purpose of communion with the great Unseen, has any bearing upon true religion.

The lesson which life has taught me is that it has none.

I have known most admirable people who did those practices, and I have known most wicked ones. I have known most admirable people who did not do such things, and I have known most wicked ones. Never yet have I known a person who was good because he went to church, or evil because he did not. And yet in most of your letters such practices are taken as a last whether religion is waning or increasing. There is no relation between them.

The true deals of progress in true religion are (1) Is there a kinder and broader view of such subjects, enabling all men of all creeds to live in amity and charity? (2) Are the criminal statistics better? (3) Are the drink returns better, showing that man is requiring greater animal self-control? (4) Are the illegitimacy returns better, showing the same thing? (5) Is there more reading, more demand for lectures, more interest in science, showing that the mind is gaining upon the body? (6) Are the savings bank returns better, showing thrift and self-denial? (7) Are the trade returns better, showing greater industry and efficiency? (8) Are there more charitable institutions, and does man show more clearly his sense of duty towards the lower animals?


Such practical tests as these, which do actually for the most part show progress, are worth more than tho ritual observances which may or may not go with a good life.

There is an aggressive form of religion, calling itself Dogmatic Faith, which has done far more harm to the human race than pestilence or famine. Directly to its door must be laid, not only all the bloodstained history of Mahometanism, but all the murderous doings which have in turn disgraced every sect of Christianity.

In the name of Christ, the Apostle of Peace, this dreadful school of thought, within a few centuries of His death, brought about such quarrels and such murders as had never been heard of in pagan dawn. Over the Homoiousian question, a theological point depending upon a diphthong, it has been reckoned that a hundred thousand people lost their lives, champions and victims of Faith. The Crusades, the murders of the Albigenses and of the Cevennes, the Thirty Years' War, the Inquisition, the outrages of Catholics on Protestants, the no less delestable outrages of Protestants on Catholics, the persecution of Nonconformists by the Church, the persecutions of Quakers by the Nonconformists, the manifold domestic tragedies and tyrannies, embittering the lives of countless numbers — surely when all these are considered, the reader must admit that Faith, in the positive aggressive sense, has wrought more mischief than famine or pestilence.


All sects have been misled by men of the same acrid frame of mind, and have incurred the same blood-guiltiness. I only known four cults - the original Buddhists, the Quakers, the Unitarians, and the Agnostics who can, I think, say that they have no blood on their hands. Certainly the Atheists cannot, for their excesses in France - in the Revolution, and also in 1870 - have been as bad as those of the Churches.

And what has been the root cause of it all? Saying you believe what your mind cannot grasp, and what your fine reason would frequently reject. A makes his proofless assertion and calls it his faith, B has the right to do the same. Then A and B hate each other with a holy hatred, and then is the epitome of the blackest chapter of the history of the world. We, who are like ship-wrecked mariners upon this little raft of the world, moving upon the face of the infinite ocean, have enough to do to live kindly among ourselves without quarrelling bitterly about that which is beyond the horizon.

Perhaps you say that even in these very words I myself show religious want of charity. But surely it is not so. If the Catholic finds the Pope, or the Anglican the bishop, or the Nonconformist the minister a help upon his path, then is every case it is a good thing - a splendid thing - if it causes that man to be a better, more noble, human creature. Every form of belief is admirable so far as it does that. But when as in the letters of some of your correspondents, it turns to want of charity, and the reviling of those who have other methods, then it is a petty twentieth century exhibition of that which ranks in history among the gravest and most bloodthirsty of human crimes.

Ashdown Forest Hotel, Aug. 3.

See also