Legacies: A History Journal for Dallas and North Central Texas, Volume 24, Number 2, Fall 2012 Page: 16
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Religious Non-Conformity in Dallas
BY STEVEN RI. BUTLER
"There is no God. There is nothing to man but what is in his own brain. "'
-Dr. David Mackay,
Dallas Physician and Freethinker, 1882
Sn 1879 a thirty-three-year-old printer named
John R. Spencer began publishing an unlikely
anti-religious periodical called The Agnostic--
unlikely not because of its title nor even its
purpose (to promote "the rise of Reason and the
downfall of Superstition") but rather because it
was published in Dallas,Texas.2
Late nineteenth century Dallas was a place
that stood "pre-eminently in the front rank of
Texas cities as to the number of its churches."
Every Sunday"the chimes of church bells...rising
heavenward in swelling volumes" called citizens
of nearly every faith "to join in the services of
God's teachers and to offer up...their prayers to
the Most High" (except for the city's tiny Jewish
congregation, of course, which worshipped on
Saturdays). Dallasites, remarked one observer,
were "a moral and religious people" who kept
"step with the civilization and progress of the
ages in all things."3
In view of this picture of religiosity, the
chances of a monthly journal called The Agnostic
being published in Dallas and furthermore
finding a readership there would seem slight.
Yet as implausible as it might appear, in addition
to its multitudes of the faithful, late nineteenth-
century Dallas also harbored a small band
of religious dissenters-atheists, agnostics,
spiritualists, and other self-styled "infidels" whose
unconventional beliefs, or rather disbeliefs, placed
them at odds with the majority.
The first known meeting of the "Dallas
Freethinkers," as this group of nonconformists
was generally termed, took place on Sunday
afternoon, December 27, 1885, at Crowdus
Hall-a rented venue located above a drugstore
at the southeast corner of Main and Field streets.4
Presided over by Dr. David Mackay, a
prominent local physician, the group's initial
gathering was "fairly attended" by men and
women alike. Its purpose, apparently, was simply to
see who was interested in forming such a society.
According to a local reporter, the gathering was
made up of "light seekers, spiritualists, and a few
atheists." When the reporter, who admitted that
he was "anchored in orthodoxy," asked Mackay
"if there was any objection to his presence," he
was assured that everyone was welcome and that
"nobody is required to crawl in through the eye
of a needle."5
Most of the meeting consisted of a lecture
given by Mackay on what he termed the "blight"
of Dualism-the idea that the mind or the "self"
and the human brain are two different things.
I6 LEGACIES Fall 2012
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Dallas Historical Society. Legacies: A History Journal for Dallas and North Central Texas, Volume 24, Number 2, Fall 2012, periodical, Autumn 2012; Dallas, Texas. (https://texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth308998/m1/18/: accessed August 13, 2020), University of North Texas Libraries, The Portal to Texas History, https://texashistory.unt.edu; crediting Dallas Historical Society.