When the Church of England’s Rev. Robert Taylor (1784-1844) began preaching Bible mythicism – the view that significant biblical figures are mythical, not historical – from his popular pulpit during the 1820s, he was subjected to a sustained campaign of abuse that lasted for many years. He was convicted twice for “blasphemy” and imprisoned in a Dickens-style hellhole for three years. Unrepentant, Taylor wrote some of the best mythicist literature while in prison: The Syntagma, Diegesis and Devil’s Chaplain.
Taylor’s treatment was so infamous and egregious that a student at one of the colleges where the minister spoke before his imprisonment became unnerved at his own possible future treatment for his own heretical ideas. That student was named Charles Darwin, who obviously was aware of the scholarship evincing that Jesus and other biblical characters in reality were mythical, not historical.
After his release, Taylor became a medical doctor, but the abuse he endured was so traumatic that he supposedly recanted his views just so he could survive.
Taylor’s freethinking publisher, Richard Carlile (1790-1843) – who earlier had published the great Thomas Paine’s writings and who himself was prosecuted for “blasphemy” – kept the mythicist flame alive to be passed to others. A previous Deist like several important American founding fathers, Carlile declared himself an atheist in 1821, long before the era of the “New Atheists” and in a much more dangerous climate. Carlile’s reputation endures as a fighter for free speech and freedom of the press in England.
Like Darwin, I can relate to Rev. Robert Taylor, for the main reason that his passion and erudition are along the same lines of mine. Fortunately, I too live in an era where such great men have made life for intelligent, educated freethinkers much easier and safer.
Let us not return to the Dark Ages before the hard-fought Enlightenment of which we are the lucky heirs.