Joseph McCabe

On this date in 1867, former priest and freethought scholar Joseph McCabe was born in Macclesfield, England, to a Roman Catholic father and Protestant mother who converted to Catholicism. As the second son in the large and poor family, Joseph, at 16, was sent to a preparatory college at the Gorton Franciscan monastery. He was ordained a priest at age 23. As a teacher of philosophy at a Catholic school, McCabe began to doubt religion. In 1895, his moment of no-faith came on Christmas Eve after weighing a list of pro and con arguments for the belief in a god (see quote). MCCabe wrote Twelve Years in a Monastery (1897), which sold 100,000 copies. Among his 200 published books were many biographies, including books about Goethe, George Jacob Holyoake, Robert Owen, and others. He also translated about 50 works, including Ernest Haeckel's Riddle of the Universe (1902), and popularized science and history. His critiques of religion include The Rise and the Fall of the Gods (1930). Toward the end of his life he wrote primarily about the unholy alliance between fascism and other governments with religion, in such books as The Papacy in Politics Today (1937), and A History of the Second World War (1946). Although his acquaintances were a "who's who" in freethinkers and reformers, McCabe's testy personality got him expelled from the British Rationalist Association. He maintained a longterm relationship with American paperback magnate E. Haldeman-Julius, who published 121 "Little Blue Books" by McCabe and 122 larger books, earning McCabe $100,000 in royalties. McCabe requested that his epitaph read: "He was a rebel to his last breath." D. 1955.

“I took a sheet of paper, divided it into debt and credit columns on the arguments for and against God and immortality. On Christmas Eve I wrote 'bankrupt' at the foot. And it was on Christmas morning 1895, after I had celebrated three Masses, while the bells of the parish church were ringing out the Christmas message of peace, that, with great pain, I found myself far out from the familiar land--homeless, aimlessly drifting. But the bells were right after all; from that hour on I have been wholly free from the nightmare of doubt that had lain on me for ten years.”

—Joseph McCabe, Twelve Years in a Monastery (1897)

Compiled by Annie Laurie Gaylor

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