H. G. Wells

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Wells, H(erbert) G(eorge) (21 September 1866 - 13 August 1946)

Wells was an author, historian, and social thinker who “strenuously championed during most of his career all of the main Humanist ethical and social goals,” according to Corliss Lamont.

A Unitarian, he also was an associate of the Fabian Society with George Bernard Shaw.

Wells wrote the highly successful Invisible Man (1897) and The War of the Worlds (1898).

He is said to have had a number of unusual sex affairs and is known to have had a child with Rebecca West. After one night of sex in 1924 with Margaret Sanger for instance, he wrote her, “Wonderful! Unforgettable!”, to which she responded that he was “a sort of naughty boy-man,” one who while at a conference would whisper ribald things in her ear that she feared were being heard over the PA system.

Intimate Lives of Famous People reports that once when depressed he wrote to his wife Rebecca,

  • I can’t - in my present state anyhow - bank on religion. God has no thighs and no life. When one calls to him in the silence of the night he doesn’t turn over and say, "What is the trouble, Dear?”

Outline of History (1920) listed Jesus as a non-supernatural human being:

  • Jesus was a penniless teacher who wandered about the dusty sun-bit country of Judea, living upon casual gifts of food; yet he is always represented clean, combed, and sleek, in spotless raiment, erect, and with something motionless about him as though he was gliding through the air. This alone has made him unreal and incredible to many people who cannot distinguish the core of the story from the ornamental and unwise additions of the unintelligently devout.

In Crux Ansata (1899), he tells how the church “stands for everything most hostile to the mental emancipation and stimulation of mankind” and details why he believes so.

In the 1930s, and as head of the International Association of Poets, Playwrights, Editors, Essayists, and Novelists (PEN), Wells interviewed Stalin and Roosevelt because of his concern over the dangerous divisions between state and private capitalism. Wells’s influence on his contemporaries, particularly on the younger generation, was pervasive and permanent.

In his Experiment in Autobiography (1934), Wells wrote,

  • Indeed Christianity passes. Passes - it has gone! It has littered the beaches of life with churches, cathedrals, shrines and crucifixes, prejudices and intolerances, like the sea urchin and starfish and empty shells and lumps of stinging jelly upon the sands here after a tide. A tidal wave out of Egypt. And it has left a multitude of little wriggling theologians and confessors and apologists hopping and burrowing in the warm nutritious sand. But in the hearts of living men, what remains of it now? Doubtful scraps of Arianism. Phrases. Sentiments. Habits.

His more than one hundred books significantly helped to shape the thinking of the 20th century, especially in the matters of popularizing science and liberalizing sexual mores. Those in the cognoscenti know that Wells had an excellent foundation in zoology, having studied at the London Royal College of Science as a youth. They knew, also that it was Wells who invented the term “atomic bomb” in his 1914 novel, The World Set Free. Leo Szilard has said that the work was his inspiration for having come up with the process that led to the Manhattan Project.

Wells also predicted the advent of tanks (“land ironclads”), aerial warfare, and an eventual Japanese attack on the United States. In his autobiography, Wells told of visiting the Portsmouth Roman Catholic Cathedral and hearing a sermon about Hell:

  • I realised as if for the first time, the menace of these queer shaven men in lace and petticoats who had been intoning, responding, and going through ritual gestures at me. I realised something dreadful about them. They were thrusting an incredible and ugly lie upon the world and the world was making no such resistance as I was disposed to make to this enthronement of cruelty. Either I had to come into this immense luminous coop and submit, or I had to declare the Catholic Church, the core and substance of Christendom with all its divines, sages, saints, and martyrs, with successive thousands of believers, age after age, wrong.

From that moment on, he found,

  • I found my doubt of his essential integrity, and the shadow of contempt it cast, spreading out from him to the whole Church and religion of which he with his wild spoutings about the agonies of Hell, had become the symbol. I felt ashamed to be sitting there in such a bath of credulity.

Wells was an honorary associate of the Rationalist Press Association, which published his First and Last Things (1908).

{CE; CL; EU, Warren Sylvester Smith; FFRF; Freethinker, July 1996; JM; RAT; RE; TRI; TYD