Jesus Teachings, Christ, Devil, Atheism
What Did Jesus Teach?
The language in which Jesus taught has not been preserved to us. Who recorded his actual words, or if any real record ever existed, is all matter of guess. Who translated the words of Jesus into the Greek no one knows. In the compass of four pamphlets, attributed to four persons, of whose connexion with the Gospels, as we have them, little or nothing whatever can be ascertained, we have what are, by the orthodox, supposed to be the words in which Jesus actually taught.
What did he teach? Manly, self-reliant resistance of wrong, and practise of right? No; the key-stone of his whole teaching may be found in the text: “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” [Matthew. v. 3.] Is poverty of spirit the chief amongst virtues, that Jesus gives it prime place in his teachings? Is it even a virtue at all? Surely not. Manliness of spirit, honesty of spirit, fullness of rightful purpose, these are virtues; poverty of spirit is a crime. When men are poor in spirit, then the proud and haughty in spirit oppress them. When men are true in spirit and determined (as true men should be) to resist, and as far as possible prevent wrong, then is there greater opportunity for present happiness, and, as even Christians ought to admit, no lesser fitness for the enjoyment of further happiness in some may-be heaven. Are you poor in spirit, and are you smitten; in such case what did Jesus teah? — “Unto him that smiteth thee on the one cheek offer also the other.” [Luke vi. 29.] Surely better to teach that “he who courts oppression shares the crime II; and if smitten once to take careful measure to prevent a future smiting. Jesus teaches actual invitation of injury. Shelley breathed higher humanity:
“Stand ye calm and resolute,
Like a forest close and mute,
With folded arms, and looks which are
Weapons of an unvanquished war.”
There is a wide distinction between passive resistance to wrong, and courting further injury at the hands of the wrongdoer.
In the teaching of Jesus, poverty of spirit is enforced to the fullest conceivable extent: “Him that taketh away thy cloak, forbid not to take thy coat also. Give to every man that asketh of thee, and of him that taketh away thy goods, ask them not again.” [“Luke vi. 29, 30.] Poverty of person is the only possible sequence to this extraordinary manifestation of poverty of spirit. Poverty of person is attended with many unpleasantnesses; and Jesus, who knew that poverty would result from his teaching, says, as if he wished to keep the poor content through their lives with Poverty. “Blessed be ye poor, for yours is thekingdomofGod.” [Luke vi. 20.] But woe unto you that are rich, for ye have received your consolation.” [Luke vi. 24.] He pictures one in hell, whose only related vice is that in life he was rich; and another in heaven, whose only related virtue is that in life he was poor. [Luke xvi. 19-31.] He affirms it is more difficult for a rich man to get into heaven, than for a camel to go through the eye of a needle. [Luke xviii. 25.] The only intent of such teaching could be to induce the poor to remain content in this life with the want and misery of their wretched state in the hope of higher recompense in some future life. Is it good to be content with poverty? Is it not far better to investigate the causes of poverty, with a view to its cure and prevention? The doctrine is most horrid which declares that the poor shall not cease from the face of the earth. Poor in spirit and poor in pocket, with no courage to work for food, or money to purchase it, we might well expect to find the man with empty stomach also who held these doctrines; and what does Jesus teach? “Blessed are ye that hunger now, for ye shall be filled.” [Luke vi. 21.] He does not say when the filling shall take place. The date is evidently postponed until men will have no stomachs to replenish. It is not in this life that the hunger is to be sated. “Woe unto you that are full, for ye shall hunger.” [I Luke vi. 25.] It would but little advantage the hungry man to bless him by filling him, if a curse awaited the completion of his repast. Craven in spirit, with an empty purse and hungry mouth — what next? The man who has not manliness enough to prevent wrong, will probably bemoan his hard fate, and cry bitterly that sore are the misfortunes he endures. And what does Jesus teach? “Blessed are ye that weep now, for ye shall laugh,” [Luke vi. 21.] Is this true, and, if true, when shall the laughter come? “Blessed are they that mourn, for they shall be comforted.” [Matthew v. 4.] Aye, but when? Not while they mourn and weep. Weeping for the past is vain: a deluge of tears will not wash away its history. Weeping for the present is worse than vain — it obstructs your sight. In each minute of your life the aforetime future is present born, and you need dry and keen eyes to give it and yourself a safe and happy deliverance. When shall they that mourn be comforted? Are slaves that weep salt teardrops on their chains comforted in their weeping? Each pearly overflowing as it falls rusts mind, as well as fetter. Ye who are slaves and weep, will never be comforted until you dry your eyes, and nerve your arms, and, in the plenitude of manliness:
“Shake your chains to earth, like dew
Which in sleep hath fallen on you.”
Jesus teaches that the poor, the hungry, and the wretched shall be blessed. But blessing only comes when they cease to be poor, hungry, and wretched. Contentment under poverty, hunger, and misery is high treason, not to yourself alone, but to your fellows. Slavery spreads quickly wherever humanity is stagnant and content with wrong.
What did Jesus teach? “Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.” [Matthew xix. 19.] But how if thy neighbour will not hear thy doctrine when thou preachest the “glad tidings of great joy” to him? Then forgetting all your love, and with the bitter hatred that a theological disputant alone can manifest, you shall shake off the dust from your feet,” and by so doing make it more tolerable in the day of judgment for the land of Sodom and Gomorrah, than for your unfortunate neighbour who has ventured to reject your teaching. [Matthew x. 14, 15.] It is mockery to speak as if love could rally result from the dehumanizing and isolating faith required from the disciple of Jesus. Ignatius Loyola in this, at least, was more consistent than his Protestant brethren. “If any man come unto me, and hate not his father, and mother, and wife, and children, and brethren, and sisters, yea, and his own life also, he cannot be my disciple” [Luke xiv. 26.] “Think not that I am come to send peace bn earth; I came not to send peace, but a, sword. For I am come to set a man at variance against his father, and the daughter against her mother, and the daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law, and a man’s foes they shall be of his own household.” [Matthew x. 34-36.] “Every one that hath forsaken houses, or brethren, or sisters, or father, or mother, or wife, or children, or lands for my sake, shall receive an hundred fold, and shall inherit everlasting life.” [Matthew xix. 29.] The teaching of Jesus is, in fact, save yourself by yourself. The teaching of humanity should be, to save yourself save your fellow. The human family is a vast chain, each man and woman a link. There is no snapping off one link and preserving for it, isolated from the rest, an entirety of happiness; our joy depends on our brother’s also. Jesus teaches that “many are called, but few are chosen”; that the majority will inherit an eternity of misery, while but the minority obtain eternal happiness. And on what is the eternity of bliss to depend? On a truthful course of life? Not so. Jesus puts Father Abraham in Heaven, whose reputation for faith outstrips his character for veracity. The passport through Heaven’s portals is faith. “He that believeth and is bapiized shall be saved, but he that believeth not, shall be damned.”? [Mark xvi. 16.] Are you marred? You love your wife? Both die. You from first to last had said, “I believe,” much as a well-trained parrot might say it. You had never examined your reasons for your faith as a true believer should, you distrusted the efficacy of your carnal reason. You said, “I believe in God and Jesus Christ,” because you had been taught to say it, and you would have as glibly said, “I believe in Allah, and in Mahomet his prophet,” had your birth-place been a few degrees eastward, and your parents and instructors Turks. You believed in this life, and after death awake in Heaven. Your much- loved wife did not think as you did — she could not. Her organization, education, and temperament were all different from your own. She disbelieved because she could not believe. She was a good wife, but she disbelieved. A good and affectionate mother, but she disbelieved. A virtuous and kindly woman, but she disbelieved. And you are to be happy for an eternity in Heaven, with the knowledge that she is writhing in agony in Hell. If this be true, Shelley was right in declaring that your Christianity
“Peoples earth with demons, hell with men,
And heaven with slaves.”
It is urged that Jesus is the saviour of the world, who brought redemption without let or stint to the whole human race. But what did Jesus teach? “Go not into any way of the Gentiles, and into any city of the Samaritans enter ye not,” [Matthew x. 5.] were his injunctions to those whom he first sent out to preach “I am not sent but unto the lost sheep of the house of Israel,” is his hard answer to the poor Syrophenician woman who entreated succour for her child. Christianity, as first taught by Jesus, was for the Jews alone; it was only when rejected by them that the world at large had the opportunity of salvation afforded it. “He came unto his own and his own received him not.” [John i. 11.] Why should the Jews be more God’s own than the Gentiles? Is God the creator of all? Did he create the descendant of Abraham with greater right and privilege than all other men? Then, indeed, is grievous injustice. You had no choice whether to be born Jew or Gentile; yet to the accident of such a birth is attached the first offer of a salvation which, if accepted, shuts out all beside.
TheKingdomofHeavenis a prominent feature in the teachings of Jesus. Examine the picture drawn by God incarnate of his own special domain. ‘Tis likened to a wedding feast, [Matthew xxii. 2.] to which the invited guests coming not, servants were sent out into the highways to gather all they can find — both good and bad. The King, examining his motley array of guests, and finding one without a wedding garment, inquired why he came in to the feast without one. The man, whose attendance had been compulsorily enforced, was speechless. And who can wonder? He was a guest from necessity, not choice; he chose neither the fashion of his coming, nor that of his attiring. Then comes the King’s decree, the command of the all-merciful and loving King of Heaven. ‘Bind him hand and foot, and cast him into outer darkness; there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” Commentators urge that it was the custom to provide wedding garments for all guests, and that this man was punished for his non-acceptance of the customary and ready robe. The text does not warrant this explanation, but gives as moral of the parable, that an invitation to the heavenly feast will not ensure partakal of it, for that “many are called, but few are chosen.” What more of theKingdomofHeaven? “Joy shall be in Heaven over one sinner that repenteth, more than over ninety and nine just persons which need no repentance.” [Luke xv. 7.] The greater sinner one has been, the better saint he makes, and the more he has sinned, so much the more he loves God. “To whom little is forgiven the same loveth little.” [Luke vii. 47.] Thus asserting that a life of vice, with its stains washed away by a death-bed repentance, is better than a life of consistent and virtuous conduct. Why should the fatted calf be killed for the prodigal son? [Luke xv. 27.] Why should men be taught to make to themselves friends of the mammon of unrighteousness? [Luke xvi. 9.] These ambiguities, these assertions of punishment and forgiveness of crime, instead of directions for its prevention and cure, are serious blots on a system alleged to have been inculcated by one for whom his followers claim divinity.
Will you urge the love of Jesus as the redeeming feature of the teaching? Then read the story of the fig tree [Matthew xxi. 18-22.; Mark xi. 12-24.] withered by the hungry Jesus. The fig tree was, if he were all-powerful God, made by him; he limited its growth and regulated its development; he prevented it from bearing figs, expected fruit where he had rendered fruit impossible, and in his infinite love was angry that the tree had not upon it that it could not have. What love is expressed in that remarkable speech which follows one of his parables: “For, I say unto you, that unto every one which hath shall be given, and from him that hath not, even that which he hath shall be taken away from him. But those, mine enemies, which would not that I should reign over them, bring them hither, and slay them before me.” [Luke xix. 26, 27.] What love is expressed by that Jesus who, if he were God, represents himself as saying to the majority of his unfortunate creatures (for it is the few that are chosen): “Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels.” [Matthew xxv. 41.] There is no love in this horrid doctrine of eternal torment. And yet the popular preachers of to-day talk first of the love of God and then of
“Hell, a red gulf of everlasting fire,
Where poisonous and undying worms prolong
Eternal misery to those hapless slaves
Whose life has been a penance for its crimes.”
In the sayings attributed to Jesus there is the passage which influenced so extraordinarily the famous Origen. [Matthew xix. 12.] If he understood it wrongly, what of the wisdom of teaching which expresses itself so vaguely? The general intent of Christ’s teaching seems to be an inculcation of neglect of this life in search for another. “Labour not for the meat which perisheth, but for that meat which endureth unto everlasting life.” [John vi. 27.] take no thought for your life, what ye shall eat, or what ye shall drink; nor yet for your body, what ye shall put on … take no thought saying, what shall we eat? or what shall we drink? or wherewithal shall we be clothed? … But seek ye first theKingdomofGodand his righteousness, and all these things shall be added unto you.” [Matthew vi. 25-33.] These texts, if fully observed, would be most disastrous; they would stay all scientific discoveries, prevent all development of man’s energies. In the struggle for existence, men are compelled to become acquainted with the conditions which compel happiness or misery. It is only in the practical application of that knowledge that the wants of society are ascertained, and disease, poverty, hunger, and wretchedness prevented, or at any rate lessened.
Jesus substitutes “I believe” for “I think,” and puts “watch and pray” instead of “think, then act.” Belief is the prominent doctrine which pervades and governs all Christianity. It is represented that, at the judgment, the world will be reproved “Of sin, because they believe not.” This teaching is most disastrous; man should be incited to active thought: Christian belief would bind him to the teachings of a stagnant past.
Fit companion to blind belief is slave-like prayer. Men pray as though God needed most abject entreaty ere he would grant justice. What does Jesus teach on prayer? “After this manner pray ye — Our Father which art in heaven.” Do you think that God is the Father of all, when you pray that he will enable you to defeat some others of his children, with whom your nation is at war? And why “which art in Heaven”? Where is your Heaven? you look upward, and if you were at theAntipodes, would look upward still. But that upward would be downward to us. Do you localize Heaven? Why say “which art in Heaven”? Is God infinite, then he is also in earth. “Hallowed be thy name.” What is God’s name? if you know it not how can you hallow it? How can God’s name be hallowed even if you know it? “Thy kingdom come.” What is God’s kingdom, and will your praying bring it quicker? Is it the judgment day? and do you say “Love one another,” pray for the more speedy arrival of that day, on which God may say to your fellow “depart ye cursed into everlasting fire”? “Thy will be done on earth, as it is in heaven.” How is God’s will done in heaven? If the Devil be a fallen angel there must have been rebellion even there. “Give us this day our daily bread.” Will the prayer get it without work? No. Will work get it without prayer? Yes. Why pray, then, for bread to God, who says, “Blessed be ye that hunger … woe unto you that are full”? “And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors.” [Matthew vi. 12.] What debts have we to God? Sins? Coleridge writes: “A sin is an evil which has its ground or origin in the agent, and not in the compulsion of circumstances. Circumstances are compulsory, from the absence of a power to resist or control them; and if the absence likewise be the effect of circumstances … the evil derives from the circumstances … and such evil is not sin.” [“Aids to Reflection,” 1843, P. 200.] Do you say that you are independent of all circumstances, that you can control them, that you have a free will? Buckle replies that the assertion of a free will “involves two assumptions, of which the first, though possibly true, has never been proved, and the second is unquestionably false. These assumptions are that there is an independent faculty, called consciousness, and that the dictates of that faculty are infallible.” [“History of Civilization,” vol. 1, p. 14] “And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.” [Matthew vi. 13.] Do you think God may lead you into temptation? If so, you cannot think him all-good; if not all-good, he is not God. If God, the prayer is blasphemy.
Jesus, according to the general declaration of Christian divines, came to die, and what does he teach by his death? The Rev. F.D. Maurice well said, “That he who kills for a faith must be weak, that he who dies for a faith must be strong.” How did Jesus die? Giordano Bruno and Julius Caesar Vanini were burned, charged with heresy. They died calm, heroic, defiant of wrong. Jesus, who could not die, courted death, that he, as God, might accept his own atonement, and might pardon man for a sin which the pardoned man had not committed, and in which he had no share. The death Jesus courted came, and when it came he could not face it, but prayed to himself that he might not die. And at last, when on the cross, if two gospels do him no injustice, his last words were a bitter cry of deep despair. “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” The Rev. Enoch Mellor, writing on the Atonement, says: “I seek not to fathom the profound mystery of these words. To understand their full import would require one to experience the agony of desertion they express.” Do the words, “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” express an agony caused by a consciousness of desertion? If this be not the meaning conveyed by the despairing death-cry, then there is in it no meaning whatever. And if these words do express a “bitter agony of desertion,” then they emphatically contradict the teachings of Jesus. “Before Abraham was, I am.” “I and my father are one.” “Thou shalt not tempt the Lord thy God.” These were the words of Jesus — words conveying an impression that divinity was claimed by the one who uttered them.
If Jesus had indeed been God, the words, “My God, my God,” would have been a mockery most extreme. God could not have deemed himself forsaken by himself. The dying Jesus, in that despair, confessed himself either the dupe of some other teaching, a self- deluded enthusiast, or an arch-impostor, who in that bitter cry, with the wide-opening of the flood-gates through which life’s stream ran out, confessed aloud that he, at least, was no deity, and deemed himself a God-forsaken man. The garden scene of agony is fitting prelude to this most terrible act. Jesus, who is God, prays to himself; in “agony he prayed most earnestly.” [Luke xxii. 44.] He refuses to hear his own prayers, and he, the omnipotent, is forearmed against his coming trial by an angel from heaven, who “strengthened ” the great Creator.
Was Jesus the Son of God? Praying, he said, Father, the hour is come, glorify thy Son, that thy Son also may glorify thee.” [Jolan xvii. 2.] And was he glorified? His death and resurrection most strongly disbelieved in the very city where they are alleged to have happened. His doctrines rejected by the only people to whom he preached them. His miracles denied by the only nation amongst whom they are alleged to have been performed; and he himself thus on the cross crying out, “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?
Nor is it true that the teachings of Jesus are generally received. Jesus taught: “And these signs shall follow them that believe; In my name shall they cast out devils; they shall speak with new tongues; they shall take up serpents; and if they drink any deadly thing, it shall not hurt them; they shall lay hands on the sick, and they shall recover.” How many of those who profess to believe in Jesus would be content to be tested by these signs? Any person claiming that each sign was to be found manifested in her or his case would be regarded as mad. Illustrations of faith-healing occasionally arise, but are not always reliable, nor are such cures limited to those who profess faith in Jesus. The gift of speaking with new tongues has been the claim of a very small sect. Serpent- charming is more practised among Hindus than among Christians.
Peace and love are alleged to be the special characteristics of Christianity. Yet the whole history of Christian nations has been blurred by war and hate. Now and for the past thirty years the most civilized amongst Christian nations have been devoting enorihous sums and huge masses of men to the preparation for war. Torpedoes and explosive shells, one hundred ton guns and melinite, are by Christian rulers accounted better aids than faith in Jesus.
Who Was Jesus Christ?
Many persons will consider the question one to which the Gospels give a sufficient answer and that no further inquiry is necessary. But while the general Christian body affirm that Jesus was God incarnate on earth, the Unitarian Christians, less in numerical strength but numbering a large proportion of the more intelligent and humane, absolutely deny his divinity; the Jews, of whom he is alleged to have been one, do not believe in him at all; and the enormous majority of the inhabitants of the earth have never accepted the Gospels. Even in the earliest ages of the Christian Church heretics were found, amongst Christians themselves, who denied that Jesus had ever existed in the flesh. Under these circumstances the most pious should concede that it is well to prosecute the inquiry to the uttermost, that their faith may rest on sure foundations. The history of Jesus Christ is contained in four books or gospels; outside these it cannot be pretended that there is any reliable narrative of his life. We know not with any certainty, and have now no means of knowing, when, where, or by whom these Gospels were written. The name at the head of each Gospel affords no clue to the real writer. Before A.D. 160 no author mentions any Gospels by Matthew, Mark, Luke, or John, and there is no sufficient evidence to identify the Gospels we have with even the writings to which Irenaeus refers towards the close of the second century. The Church has provided us with an author for each Gospel, and some early Fathers have argued that there ought to be four Gospels, because there are four seasons, four principal points to the compass, and four corners to the earth. Bolder speculators affirm twelve apostles because there are twelve signs of the Zodiac. With regard to the Gospel first in order, divines disagree as to the language written. Some allege that the original was in Hebrew, others deny that our Greek version has any of the characters of a translation.
We neither know the hour, nor day, nor month, nor year of Jesus’s birth; divines generally agree that he was not born on Christmas Day, and yet on that day the anniversary of his birth is observed. The Oxford Chronology places the matter in no clearer light, and more than thirty learned authorities give a period of over seven years’ difference in their reckoning. The place of his birth is also uncertain. The Jews, in the presence of Jesus, reproached him that he ought to have been born atBethlehem, and he never replied “I was born there “, (John vii. 41, 42, 52).
Jesus was the son of David, the son of Abraham (Matt. i.), from whom his descent is traced through Isaac — born of Sarai (whom the writer of the epistle to Galatians [iv. 24] says was a covenant and not a woman) — and ultimately through Joseph, who was not only not his father, but is not shown to have had any kind of relationship to him, and through whom therefore the genealogy should not be traced. There are two genealogies in the Gospels which contradict each other, and these in part may be collated with the Old Testament genealogy, which differs from both. The genealogy of Matthew is self-contradictory, counts thirteen names as fourteen, and omits the names of three kings. Matthew says Abiud was the son of Zorobabel (i. 13). Luke says Zorobabel’s son was Rhesa (iii. 27). The Old Testament contradicts both, and gives Meshullam and Hananiah, and Shelomith, their sister (1 Chron. iii. 19), as the names of Zorobabel’s children. The reputed father of Jesus, Joseph, had two fathers, one named Jacob, the other Heli. The divines suggest that Heli was the father of Mary, by reading the word “Mary” in Luke iii. 23, in lieu of “Joseph,” and the word “daughter” in lieu of “son,” thus correcting the evident blunder made by inspiration. The birth of Jesus was miraculously announced to Mary and to Joseph by visits of an angel, but they so little regarded the miraculous annunciation that they marvelled soon after at much less wonderful things spoken by Simeon.
Jesus was the son of God, or God manifest in the flesh, and his birth was first discovered by some wise men or astrologers, a class described in the Bible as an abomination in God’s sight. These men saw his star in the East, but it did not tell them much, for they were apparently obliged to ask information from Herod the King. Herod in turn inquired of the chief priests and scribes; and it is evident Jeremiah was right if he said, “The prophets prophesy falsely, and the priests bear rule by their means,” for these chief priests either misread the prophets or misquoted the Scripture, which is claimed to be a revelation from God, and invented a false prophecy (Matt. ii. 5, 6; cf. Micah v. 2) by omitting a few words from, and adding a few words to, a text until it suited their purpose. The star — after the wise men knew where to go, and no longer required its aid — led and went before them, until it came and stood over where the young child was. This story will be better understood if the reader will walk out some clear night, notice a star, and then try to fix the one house it will be exactly over. The writer of the Third Gospel, silent on the star story, speaks of an angel who tells some shepherds of the miraculous; but this does not appear to have happened in the reign of Herod.
After the wise men had left Jesus an angel warned Joseph to flee with Jesus and Mary into Egypt; and Joseph did fly, and remained there with the young child and his mother until the death of Herod; and this it is alleged was done to fulfil a prophecy. The words (Hos. xi. 1) are not prophetic and have no reference whatever to Jesus. The Jesus of the Third Gospel never went intoEgyptat all in his childhood.
When Jesus began to be about thirty years of age he was baptized by John in the River Jordan. John, who knew him, according to the First Gospel, forbade him directly he saw him; but, according to the Fourth Gospel, he knew him not, and had, therefore, no occasion to forbid him. God is an “invisible spirit,” whom no man hath seen (John i. 18) or can see (Exod. xxxiii. 20); but the man John saw the spirit of God descending like a dove. God is everywhere, but at that time was in heaven, from whence he said, “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.” Although John heard this from God’s own mouth, he did not always act as if he believed it, but some time after sent two of his disciples to Jesus to inquire if he were really the Christ (Matt. xi. 2, 3).
Immediately after the baptism Jesus was led up of the spirit into the wilderness to be tempted of the Devil. Jestis fasted forty days and forty nights, and in those days he did eat nothing. Moses twice fasted that period. Such fasts are nearly miraculous. The modern fasting men, and the Hindoo fasters, only show that under very abnormal conditions long abstinence from food is possible. Absolutely miraculous events are events which never happened in the past, do not take place in the present, and never will occur in the future. Jesus, it is said, was God, and by his power as God fasted. On the hypothesis of his divinity it is difficult to understand how he became hungry. When hungry the Devil tempted Jesus by offering him stones, and asking him to make them bread. Stones offered to a hungry man for bread-making hardly afford a probable temptation. Which temptation came next is a matter of doubt. Matthew and Luke relate the story in different order. According to one, the Devil next taketh Jesus to the pinnacle of the temple and tempts him to throw himself to the bottom, by quoting Scripture that angels should bear him in their arms. Jesus either disbelieved this Scripture or remembered that the Devil, like other pillars of the Church, grossly misquoted to suit his purpose, and the temptation failed. The Devil then took Jesus to an exceeding high mountain, from whence he showeth him all the kingdoms of the world and the glory thereof, in a moment of time. It is urged that this did not include a view of the Antipodes, but only referred to the kingdoms then known; even then it must have been a long look from Judea toChina. The mountain must have been very high — much higher than the diameter of the earth, Origen, a learned and pious holy father, suggests that no man in his senses will believe this to have really happened. If Origen had to defend his language before a modem judge of the type of Mr. Justice North, the Christian Father would have sore risk of Holloway jail. The Devil offered Jesus — who it is declared was one with God and therefore omnipotent — all the kingdoms of the world if he, Jesus, the omnipotent God, would fall down and worship his own creature, the Devil. Some object that if God is the creator and omnipotent ruler of the world, then the Devil would have no control over the kingdoms of the world, and that the offer could be no temptation as it was made to Jesus, who was God omnipptent and all-wise. Such objectors rely on natural reason.
After the temptation Jesus worked many miracles, casting out devils and otherwise doing marvels amongst the inhabitants ofJudea, who seem as a body to have been very unbelieving. If a second Jesus of Nazareth were in this heretical age to boast that he possessed the power of casting out devils, he would stand a fair chance of expiating his offence by a three months’ imprisonment with hard labour. It is true that the 72nd Canon of the Church of England recognizes that ministers can cast out devils, but forbids them to do this unless licensed by the Bishop, “under pain of the imputation of imposture or cozenage.” Now, if sick men have a little wisdom the physician is resorted to that he may cure the disease. If men have much wisdom they study physiology while they have health, in order to prevent sickness. In the time of the early Christians prayer and faith (James v. 14, I5) occupied the position since usurped by medicine and experience. Men who had lost their senses in the time of Christ were regarded as attacked not by disease but by the Devil. In the days of Jesus one spirit would make a man blind, or deaf, or dumb; occasionally a number of devils would get into a man and drive him mad. On one occasion Jesus met either one man (Mark V. 2) or two men (Matt. Viii. 28) possessed with devils. The devils knew Jesus and addressed him by name. Jesus, not so familiar with the imp or imps, inquired the name of the particular devil he was addressing. The answer, given in Latin, would induce a belief, possibly corroborated by the writings of the monks, that devils communicated in that tongue. Jesus wanted to cast out the devils from the man; this they did not contest, but they expressed a decided objection to being cast out of the country. A compromise was agreed to, and at their own request the devils were transferred to a herd of swine. The swine ran into the sea and were drowned. There is no record of any compensation to the owner.
Jesus fed large multitudes of people under circumstances of a most ultra-thaumatirgic character. To the first book ofEuclidis prefixed an axiom “that the whole is greater than its part.” John Wesley was wise if it be true that he eschewed mathematics lest it should lead him to infidelity. If any man be irreligious enough to acceptEuclid’s axiom he will be compelled to reject the miraculous feeding of 5,000 people with five loaves and two small fishes. The original difficulty of the miracle, though not increased, is made hard to the common mind by the assertion that after the multitude had been fed twelve baskets full of fragments remained.
Jesus is related to have walked on the sea whan it was very stormy, and when “the sea arose by reason of a great wind that blew.” Walking on the water is a great feat even if the sea be calm, but when the waves run high it is still more wonderful.
The miracle of turning water into wine at Cana, inGalilee, is worthy of attention when considering the question, Who was Jesus Christ? Jesus and his disciples had been called to a marriage feast, and when there the company fell short of wine. The mother of Jesus, to whom the Catholics offer worship, and to whom they pay great adoration, informed Jesus of the deficiency and was answered, “Woman, what have I to do with thee? mine hour is not yet come.” His mother seemed to have expected a miracle, yet in the Fourth Gospel theCanawonder was the beginning of miracle-working by Jesus; the apocryphal gospels assert that Jesus practised miracle- working as a child. Jesus having obtained six water-pots full of water, turned them into wine. Teetotallers who cannot believe God would specially provide means of drunkenness urge that this wine was not of intoxicating quality, though there is nothing in the text to justify their hypothesis. The curious connexion between the phrase “well drunk” and the time at which the miracle was performed would rather warrant the supposition that the guests were already in such a state as to render it difficult for them to critically appreciate the new vintage. The moral effects of this miracle are not easily appreciable.
Shortly after this Jesus went to the temple with a scourge of small cords, and drove thereout the cattle-dealers and money- changers who had assembled there in the ordinary coarse of their business. The writer of the Fourth Gospel places this event very early in the public life of Jesus. The writer of the Third Gospel fixes the occurrence much later.
Jesus being hungry went to a fig-tree to gather figs, though the season of figs was not yet come. Of course there were no figs upon the tree, and Jesus then caused the tree to wither away. This is specially interesting as a problem for a true orthodox trinitarian who will believe, first, that Jesus was God, who made the tree, and prevented it from bearing figs; second, that God the all-wise, who is not subject to human passions, being hungry, went to the fig-tree, on which he knew there could be no figs, expecting to find some there; third, that God, the all-just, then punished the tree because it did not bear figs in opposition to God’s eternal ordination.
Jesus had a disciple named Peter, who, having much Christian faith, was a great coward, and denied his leader in his hour of need. Jesus, though previously aware that Peter would be a traitor, yet gave him the keys of thekingdomofHeaven, and told him that whatsoever he bound on earth should be bound in Heaven. Peter was to have denied jesus three times before the cock should crow (Matt. xxvi. 34). The cock crowed before Peter’s second denial (Mark xiv. 68). Commentators urge that the words used do not refer to the crowing of any particular cock, but to a special hour of the morning called “cock-crow” But if the Gospel be true the explanation is false. Peter’s denial becomes the more extraordinary when we remember that he had seen Moses, Jesus, and Ellas talking together, and had heard a voice from a cloud say, “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.” As Peter could thus deny Jesus after having heard God vouch his divinity, and Peter not only escapes punishment but gets the office of gate-keeper to Heaven, how much more should those escape punishment and obtain reward who only deny because they cannot help it, and who have been left without any corroborative evidence of sight or hearing!
The Jesus of the First Gospel promised that, as Jonah was three days and three nights in the whale’s belly, so he (Jesus) would be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth. Yet he was buried on Friday evening and was out of the grave before Saturday night was over. Some say that the Jews reckoned part of a day as a whole one.
The translators have made Jesus perform a curious equestrian feat on his entry intoJerusalem. The text (Matt. xxi. 7) says they “brought the ass and the colt and put on them their clothes and set him thereon.” This does not mean that he rode on both at one time; it only says so. On the Cross the Jesus of the Four Gospels, who was God, cried out ” My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” God cannot forsake himself, Jesus was God himself. Yet God forsook Jesus, and the latter cried out to know why he was forsaken. Any able divine will explain that of course he knew, and that he was not forsaken. The explanation renders it difficult to believe the dying cry, and the passage becomes one of the mysteries of the holy Christian religion, which, unless a man rightly believe, “without doubt he shall perish everlastingly.” At the crucifixion of Jesus wonderful miracles took place. “The graves were opened, and many bodies of the samts which slept arose and came out of the grave after his resurrection and appeared unto many.” Which saints were these? They “appeared unto many,” but there is not the slightest evidence outside the Bible that anyone ever saw them. Their “bodies came out of the graves. Do not the bodies of the saints decompose like those of ordinary human beings?
Jesus must have much changed in the grave, for his disciples did not know him when he stood on the shore (John xxi. 4), and Mary, most attached to him, knew him not, but supposed that he was the gardener. According to the First Gospel, Jesus appeared to two women after his resurrection, and afterwards met eleven of his disciples by appointment on a mountain inGalilee. When was this appointment made? The text on which divines rely is Matthew xxvi. 32; this makes no such appointment. According to the Second Gospel he appeared first to one woman, and when she told the disciples they did not believe it. Yet, on pain of indictment now and damnation hereafter, we are bound to unhesitatingly accept that which the disciples of Jesus rejected. By the Second Gospel we learn that instead of the eleven going toGalileeafter Jesus he came to them as they sat at meat. In the Third Gospel he first appeared to two of his disciples at Emmaus, and they did not know him until they had been a long time in his company — it was evening before they recognized him. Unfortunately, directly they knew him they did not see him, for as soon as they knew him he vanished out of their sight. He immediately afterwards appeared to the eleven atJerusalem, and not atGalilee, as stated in the First Gospel. Jesus asked for some meat, and the disciples gave him a portion of a broiled fish and of a honeycomb, and he did eat. Jesus was afterwards taken up into Heaven, a cloud received him, and he was missed. God is everywhere, and Heaven no more above than below, but it is necessary we should believe that Jesus has ascended into Heaven to sit on the right hand of God, who is infinite and has no right hand.
Was Jesus Christ a man? If limited for our answer to the mere Gospel Jesus — surely not. His whole career is, on any literal reading, simply a series of improbabilities or contradictions.
Who was Christ? born of a virgin, and of divine parentage? So too were many of the mythic Sungods and so was Krishna, whose story, similar in many respects with that of Jesus, was current long prior to the Christian era.
Was Jesus Christ man or myth? His story being fable, is the hero a reality? That a man named Jesus really lived and performed some special actions attracting popular attention, and thus became the centre for a hundred myths, may well be true; but beyond this what is there of solid fact?
A Few Words About The Devil
To have written under this head in the reign of James Rex, of pious memory, would have, probably, procured for me, without even the perusal of my pamphlet, the reputation of Dr. Faustus, and a too intimate acquaintance with some of the pleasant plans of torturing to death practiced by the clever witch-finders of that day. I profess, however, no knowledge of the black art, and am entirely unskilled in “diablerie”, and feel quite convinced that the few words I shall say about his Satanic Majesty will not be cause of any unholy compacts in which bodies or souls are signed away in ink suspiciously red.
In many countries, dealing with the Devil has been a perilous experiment. In 1790, an unfortunate named Andre Dubuisson was confined in the Bastile, charged with raising the Devil. To prevent even the slightest apprehension on the part of my reader that I have any desire or intent toward placing him unpleasantly near a black-visaged, sulphureous-constitutioned individual, horned like an old goat, with satyr-like legs, a tail of unpleasant length, and a disposition to buy a body from any unfortunate wight ready to dispose of it, I have only to assert my intention of treating the subject entirely from a biblical point of view. Doubtless I ought to do this; the Christian Devil is a bible institution. I say, advisedly, the Christian Devil, because other religions have boasted their Devil, and it is well to prevent confusion. But I frankly admit that none of these religions have the honor of a Devil so devilish as our own. Indeed our Devil ought to be the best: it costs the most. No other religion besides our own can boast the array of Popes, Bishops, Conferences, Rectors, Incumbents, and paid preachers of various titles. And all these to preach against the Devil!
It is necessary, before entering upon my subject, that I should confess my little ability to do it justice. I am unable to say, certainly, whether I am writing about a singular Devil or a plurality of Devils. In one text “Devils” are mentioned (Lev 17:7), recognizing a plurality; in another, “the Devil,” as if there was but one (Luke 4:2). We may, however, fairly assume that either there is one Devil, more than one, or less than one; and, having thus cleared our path from mere numerical difficulties we will proceed to give the Devil his due. Satan appears either to have been a child of God, or, at any rate, a most intimate acquaintance of the family; for we find that on “a day when the children of God came to present themselves before the Lord, that Satan came also among them (Job 1:6);” and no surprise or disapprobation is manifested at his presence. The conversation narrated in the Book of Job as occurring between God and the Devil has, for us, a value proportioned to the rarity of the scene, and to the high character of the personages concerned. We are, therefore, despite the infidel criticism of Martin Luther, who condemns the Book of Job as “a sheer argumentum fabulae,” determined to examine carefully the whole particulars for ourselves; and, in so doing, we are naturally surprised to find God, the omniscient, putting to Satan the query, Whence comest thou? We can not suppose God, the all-wise, ignorant upon the subject, and we can not avoid a feeling of astonishment that such an interrogatory should have been made. Satan’s reply, assuming its correctness — and this the text leaves us no reason to doubt — increases our surprise and augments our astonishment. The answer given is, “From going to and fro in the earth, and from going up and down it.” In remarking on this answer, I do not address myself to those wretched persons who, relying on their reason and common sense, ignore the divine truth. I address myself to the true believer, and I ask, is he not astonished to find, from his bible, that Satan could have gone to and fro in the earth, and walked up and down, and yet not have met God, the omnipresent, occasionally during his journeying? The Lord makes no comment on Satan’s reply, but says, “Hast thou not considered my servant Job, that there is none like him in the earth, a perfect and an upright man, one that feareth God and escheweth evil?” It is rather extraordinary that God should wish to have the Devil’s opinion on the only good man recorded as then living in the world: the more extraordinary when we know that God is all-wise, and knew Satan’s opinion without asking it, and that God is immutable, and, therefore, would not be influenced by the expression of the Devil’s opinion when uttered. Satan’s answer is, “Doth Job fear God for naught? Hast thou not made an hedge about him, and about all that he hath on every side? Thou hast blest the work of his hand, and his substance is increased in the land; but put forth thine hand now and touch all that he hath, and he will curse thee to thy face.” What is God’s reply to this audacious assertion? Does he express his determination to protect the righteous Job? Does he use his power to rebuke the evil tempter? No. “The Lord said unto Satan, Behold all that he hath is in thy power; only upon himself put forth not thine hand.” And this was Job’s reward for being a perfect and upright man, one that feared God and eschewed evil. He was not sent to the Devil, but the Devil was sent to all that he had. And he lost all without repining — sons, daughters, oxen, asses, camels and sheep, all destroyed, and yet Job sinned not. Some divines have urged that we here get a beautiful picture of patience and contentment under wrong and misfortune. But I reply that it is not good to submit patiently to wrong, or to rest contented under misfortune. I urge that it is manlier far to resist wrong, nobler far to wage war against wrong, better far to carefully investigate the causes of wrong and misfortune, with a view to their removal. Contentment under wrong is a crime, voluntary submission under oppression is not the virtue some would have it to be.
“Again there was a day when the sons of God came to present themselves before the Lord [as if God’s children could ever be absent from him], and Satan came also among them to present himself before the Lord. And the Lord said unto Satan, From whence comest thou? And Satan answered the Lord and said, From going to and fro in the earth, and from walking up and down in it. And the Lord said unto Satan, Hast thou considered my servant Job, that there is none like him in the earth? a perfect and an upright man, one that feareth God and escheweth evil? and still he holdeth fast his integrity, Although Thou Movedst Me Against Him To Destroy Him Without Cause.”
Can God be moved against a man to destroy him without a cause? If so, God is neither immutable nor all-wise. Yet the bible puts into God’s mouth the terrible admission that the Devil had moved God against Job to destroy him without cause. If true, it destroys God’s goodness; if false, then the bible is no revelation.
But Satan answered the Lord and said, “Skin for skin, yea, all that a man hath will he give for his life; put forth thine hand now and touch his bone and his flesh, and he will curse thee to thy face.”
Does the Lord now drive the Devil from his presence? Is there any expression of wrath or indignation against his tempter? Not so. “The Lord said unto Satan, Behold, he is in thine hand, but save his life.” And Job, being better than everybody else, finds himself smitten in consequence with sore boils from the sole of his foot unto his crown. The ways of the Lord are not as our ways, or this would seem the reverse of an encouragement to virtue.
We turn over the pages of our bibles for further information on this diabolic theme.
After reading the account of the numbering by David attentively, one is puzzled by the apparent contradiction, that in one place “God” and in another “Satan” occurs (1Chr 21:1; 2Sam 24:1). But it may be that there is more harmony between God and the Devil than ordinary men are aware. Unfortunately, we have not the advantage of great scholarship, but one erudite commentator on the bible tells us, in speaking of the Hebrew word Azazel: “This terrible and venerable name of God, through the pens of biblical glossers, has been a Devil, a mountain, a wilderness, and a he-goat (G.R. Gliddon’s extract from “Lanci’s Sagra Scritura,” chap. 3, sec. 1). Well may incomprehensibility be an attribute of Deity, when, even to holy and reverend fathers, God has been sometimes undistinguishable from a he-goat or a Devil. Goats and Devils are alike represented with horns and tails. We trust that profanity will not enlarge on this sad confusion of ideas. Not possessing great lingual acquirements, we adhere to the English bible, believing that religion can never be improved by mere common sense, or human effort. We admire, without understanding, the skill of the Missionary, who makes the word “Mooigniazimoongo” an equivalent for God in the Sooahelee dialect, and who represents “original sin” to the Ottomi Indian by the word “Teacatzintiliztlatlacolli,” and who recommends theDelawareto repentance as “Schiwelendamowitchewagan.” We do not wonder that in these translating thaumaturgic exploits God and Devil get mistaken for each other.
God is a spirit. Jesus was led up of the Spirit to be tempted of the Devil; and it is also true that spirits are very likely to lead men to the Devil. Too intimate acquaintance with whisky toddy overnight is often followed by the delirium tremens and blue-devils on the morrow. We advise our readers to eschew alike spirituous and spiritual mixtures. They interfere sadly with sober thinking, and play the Devil with your brains.
The history of the temptation of Jesus by the Devil has been dealt with in another essay. Yet it may be well to add the opinion of a Church of England divine in this place: “That the Devil should appear personally to the Son of God is certainly not more wonderful than that he should, in a more remote age, have appeared among the sons of God, in the presence of God himself, to tempt and torment the righteous Job. But that Satan should carry Jesus, bodily and literally, through the air — first to the top of a high mountain, and then to the topmost pinnacle of the temple — is wholly inadmissible, it is an insult to our understanding (“Christian Records,” by the Rev. Dr. Giles, p.144).” It is pleasant to be able to find so many clergymen, in these days, zealously repudiating their own creeds. I am not prepared to speak strongly as to the color of the Devil; white men paint him black, black men white; but, allowing for the prejudices of dark-colored and fair-skinned believers, an invisible green would not be an unreasonable tint. We presume that he is not colorless, as otherwise the Evangelists or the persons present would have labored under considerable difficulties in witnessing the casting out of the Devil from the man in the synagogue (Luke 4:35-36). This Devil is described as an unclean Devil, and it is, therefore, a fair inference that there are some clean Devils as well as dirty Devils. Printer’s Devils are mostly unclean Devils, but then they are only little Devils, and we must not make too much of them. Nearly all the Devils seem to talk, and it has therefore been conjectured by some bachelor metaphysicians that they are of the feminine gender, but I see no reason to agree in this, and my wife is of a contrary opinion. The Devils are probably good Christians — one text tells us that they believe and tremble. It is a fact with some poor Devils that the more they believe the more they tremble. We are told in another text that the Devil goeth about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour. He will have extremely bad taste, however, if he eat up the lean and bony working-classes, while so many fit bishops and stout archdeacons remain unconsumed. Devils should be a sort of eternal salamander, for we are told there is everlasting fire prepared for the Devil and his angels (Mat 25:41), and that there is a lake of brimstone and fire, into which the Devil was cast (Rev 20:10). Perhaps instead of being salamander they will, while in the fire, be rather of the ‘otter tribe; but this is a question which Mr. C. H. Spurgeon, who is a far better judge of brimstone than myself, would be more competent to settle. The Devil has, at least upon one occasion, figured as a controversialist. He disputed with the archangel Michael, contending about the body of Moses (Jude 9); and in these degenerate days of personality in debate it is pleasant to know that the religious champion, unlike the Grants, Coopers, and Brindleys of the present period, was very civil toward his Satanic opponent. The Devil was once imprisoned for 1,000 years in a bottomless pit (Rev 20:2). If a pit has no bottom, it seems but little confinement to shut the top; but with faith and prayer, even a good foundation may be obtained for a bottomless pit.
It is urged by some that the Devil was the serpent of Genesis — that is, that it was really Satan who, in this guise, tempted Eve. There is this difficulty in the matter: the Devil is a liar (John 8:44), but in the interview with Eve the serpent seems to have confined himself to the strict truth (Gen 3:4,5,22). There is, in fact, no point of resemblance — no horns, no hoof, nothing except the tail — which can be in any way identified.
The Old Testament speaks a little of the Devils, sometimes of Satan, but never of “The Devil,” and it seems almost too much, in Matthew, to usher him in, in the temptation scene, without introduction, and as if he were an old acquaintance. I do not remember reading, in the Old Testament, anything about the lake of brimstone and fire; this feature of faith was reserved for the warmth of Christian love to inspire; the Pentateuch makes no reference to it. Zechariah, in a vision, saw “Joshua, the High-Priest, standing before the angel of the Lord, and Satan standing at his right hand to resist him (Zec 3:1).” Why the Devil wanted to resist Joshua is not clear; but as Joshua’s garments were in a very filthy state, it may be that he was preaching to the Priest the virtues of cleanliness. It is often said that cleanliness is next to godliness; I honestly confess that I should prefer a clean sinner to a dirty saint. Jesus said that one of the twelve disciples was a Devil (John 6:70), but I am not prepared to say whether he meant the unfaithful and cowardly Peter, to whom he intrusted the keys of Heaven, or Judas who sold him for money, just as would nearly any bishop of the present day. The bishops preach that it is as difficult for a rich man to get into Heaven as for a camel to go through the eye of a needle; yet they enrich themselves, and their families, as greedily and carelessly as if they, at any rate, never expected to smell brimstone as a consequence. You are told to resist the Devil, and he will flee from you (James 4:7); if this be true, he is a cowardly Devil, and thus does not agree quite withMilton’s picture of his grand, defiant, almost heroism. But thenMiltonwas a poet, and true religion has but little poetry in it.
Jeroboam, one of the Jewish monarchs, ordained priests for the Devils (2Chr 11:15), and this may be the reason why, at the present day, all the orthodox clergy are gentlemen in black. In the time of Jesus, Satan must, when not in the body of some mad, deaf, dumb, blind, or paralytic person, have been in Heaven; for Jesus, on one occasion, told his disciples that he saw Satan, as lightning, fall from Heaven (Luke 10:18). Of course, this would betoken a rapid descent, but although a light affair, it is no laughing matter, and we reverently leave it to the clergy to explain the text. Jesus told Simon Peter that Satan desired to have him, that he might sift him as wheat (Luke 22:31); in this text it may be urged that Jesus was chaffing his disciple. Paul, the apostle, seems to have looked on the Devil much as the magistrates of Guernsey, Devonport, and Yarmouth look on the police, for Paul delivered Hymeneus and Alexander unto Satan, that they may learn not to blaspheme (1Tim 1:20).
Revivalists are much indebted for their evanescent successes to Hell and the Devil, if the following extract from the experience of a Christian preacher be reliable:
“Thomas English was one of those very noisy and active preachers who do so much in promoting revivals.” He would tell his hearers of “dwelling with devouring fire, bearing everlasting burning, roasting on the Devil’s spit, broiling on his gridiron, being pitched about with his fork, drinking the liquid fire, breathing the brimstone fumes, drowning in a red-hot sea, lying on fiery beds (“Pilgrim’s Progress from Methodism to Christianity”),” etc.
In the present year the vulgar tirades of Reginald Radcliffe, Richard Weaver, and C. H. Spurgeon (some of them delivered in Exeter Hall) will serve to evidence that the above quotation is not the exaggeration which some might think. InLondon, before crowded audiences, Mr. Weaver, without originality, and with only the merit of copied coarseness, has called upon the Lord to “shake the ungodly for five minutes over the mouth of Hell.” Mr. Spurgeon has drawn pictures of Hell which, if true and revealed to him by God, are most disgustingly frightful, and which being, as we believe, false, and but the creation of his own vulgar, morbid fancies, induce, on our part, a feeling of contempt as well as disgust.
The Wesleyans, some years since, made the Devil a prominent feature in the famous “Fly-Sheet” controversy, so much so that a Wesleyan, speaking and writing on the subject, suggested that the authors of the “Fly-Sheets” were Devils, and another once-Wesleyan writer says: “The first thing which made me inquire about the Devil was that I thought him abused. I thought him bad enough, but could not help fearing that people told lies about him. R.S., a very zealous prayer-leader, stole some oats, and imputed the blame to the Devil. T.C. got drunk, and complained in the love-feast that the Devil had been very busy with him for some time, and then took him in an unguarded moment. B.S. was detected in lying, and complained that Satan had gained the advantage over him. Old George White burned his fingers in lighting his pipe, and declared that it was the Devil that caused him to do it; and Farmer Duffy horsewhipped his wife, and said that he did it to beat the Devil out of her. This make me desirous to know what influence the Devil really had, and I was stimulated to this inquiry by my friend, Mr. Trelevan, who assured me that the Devil was as necessary as the Almighty to the orthodox faith (“Pilgrim’s Progress from Methodism to Christianity”).” The fashionable preachers in the neighborhood ofBelgraviamostly eschew the Devil, and avoid the taint of brimstone; treacle is the commodity they dispense.
For myself, the only Devil I know is that black Devil ignorance, fostered by knavery and tyranny; a Devil personified by the credulous many, and kept up in the past by the learned but treacherous few, who preferred to rule the masses by their fears, rather than to guide them through their love. This devil has, indeed, not been a roaring lion, but a cowardly and treacherous boa constrictor; it has enveloped in its massive folds glorious truths, and in the fierceness of its brute power has crushed them in its writhings. But oh! a glorious day is coming: amid the heretofore gloom of night the bright rays of the rising sun are piercing, the light of truth dispels the mists of ignorance. Bright facts drive out dark delusion; might truths triumph over pious frauds, and no longer need men be affrighted by the notion of an omnipotent fiend, wandering through the earth, ever seeking their damnation.
Yes — to partially adopt the phraseology of a writer in “Macmillan’s Magazine” — I do refuse to see in God a being omniscient as omnipotent, who puts us into this world without our volition, leaves us to struggle through it as we can, unequally pitted against an almost omnipotent and supersubtile Devil, and then, if we fail, finally drops us out of this world into Hell-fire, where a legion of inferior Devils find constant and never-ending employment in inventing fresh tortures for us; our crime being that we have not succeeded where success was rendered impossible. No high, no manly, no humane thinkings are developed in the doctrine of Devils and damnation. If a potent faith, it degrades alike the teacher and the taught, by its abhorrent mercilessness; and if a form, instead of a faith, then is the Devil doctrine a misleading sham, which frightens weak minds and never developes strong men.
A Plea For Atheism
This essay is issued in the hope that it may succeed in removing some of the many prejudices prevalent, not only against the actual holders of Atheistic opinions, but also against those wrongfully suspected of Atheism. Men who have been famous for depth of thought, for excellent wit, or great genius, have been recklessly assailed as Atheists by those who lack the high qualifications against which the malice of the calumniators was directed. Thus, not only have Voltaire and Paine been, without ground, accused of Atheism, but Bacon, Locke, and Bishop Berkeley himself, have, amongst others, been denounced by thoughtless or unscrupulous pietists as inclining to Atheism, the ground for the accusation being that they manifested an inclination to push human thought a little in advance of the age in which they lived.
It is too often the fashion with persons of pious reputation to speak in unmeasured language of Atheism as favouring immorality, and of Atheists as men whose conduct is necessarily vicious, and who have adopted Atheistic views as a desperate defiance against a Deity justly offended by the badness of their lives. Such persons urge that amongst the proximate causes of Atheism are vicious training, immoral and proffigate companions, licentious living, and the like. Dr. John Pye Smith, in his “Instructions on Christian Theology,” goes so far as to declare that “nearly all the Atheists upon record have been men of extremely debauched and vile conduct.” Such language from the Christian advocate is not surprising, but there are others who, while professing great desire for the spread of Freethought and having pretensions to rank amongst acute and liberal thinkers, declare Atheism impracticable, and its teachings cold, barren, and negative. Excepting to each of the above allegations, I maintain that thoughtful Atheism affords greater possibility for human happiness than any system yet based on, or possible to be founded on, Theism, and that the lives of true Atheists must be more virtuous — because more human — than those of the believers in Deity, the humanity of the devout believer often finding itself neutralized by a faith with which that humanity is necessarily in constant collision. The devotee piling the faggots at the ‘auto da fe’ of a heretic, and that heretic his son, might notwithstanding be a good father in every other respect (see Deut. xiii. 6-10). Heresy, in the eyes of the believer, is highest criminality, and outweighs all claims of family or affection.
Atheism, properly understood, is no mere disbelief; is in no wise a cold, barren negative; it is, on the contrary, a hearty, fruitful affirmation of all truth, and involves the positive assertion of action of highest humanity.
Let Atheism be fairly examined, and neither condemned — its defence unheard — on the ‘ex parte’ slanders of some of the professional preachers of fashionable orthodoxy, whose courage is bold enough while the pulpit protects the sermon, but whose valour becomes tempered with discretion when a free platform is afforded and discussion claimed; nor misjudged because it has been the custom to regard Atheism as so unpopular as to render its advocacy impolitic. The best policy against all prejudice is to firmly advocate the truth. The Atheist does not say “There is no God,” but he says: “I know not what you mean by God; I am without idea of God; the word ‘God’ is to me a sound conveying no clear or distinct affirmation. I do not deny God, because I cannot deny that of which I have no conception, and the conception of which by its affirmer, is so imperfect that he is unable to define it to me. If, however, ‘God’ is defined to mean an existence other than the existence of which I am a mode, then I deny ‘God,’ and affirm that it is impossible such ‘God’ can be. That is, I affirm one existence, and deny that there can be more than one.” The Pantheist also affirms one existence, and denies that there can be more than one but the distinction between the Pantheist and the Atheist is, that the Pantheist affirms infinite attributes for existence, while the Atheist maintains that attributes are the characteristics of mode — i.e., the diversities enabling the conditioning in thought.
When the Theist affirms that his God is an existence other than, and separate from, the so-called material universe, and when he invests this separate, hypothetical existence with the several attributes of personality, omniscience, omnipresence, omnipotence, eternity, infinity, immutability, and perfect goodness, then the Atheist in reply says I deny the existence of such a being”; and he is entitled to say this because this Theistic definition is self- contradictory, as well as contradictory of every-day experience.
If you speak to the Atheist of God as creator, he answers that the conception of creation is impossible. We are utterly unable to construe it in thought as possible that the complement of existence has been either increased or diminished, much less can we conceive an absolute origination of substance. We cannot conceive either, on the one hand, nothing becoming something, or on the other, something becoming nothing. The words “creation” and “destruction” have no value except as applied to phenomena. You may destroy a gold coin, but you have only destroyed the condition, you have not affected the substance. “Creation” and “destruction” denote change of phenomena; they do not denote origin or cessation of substance. The Theist who speaks of God creating the universe must either suppose that Deity evolved it out of himself, or that he produced it from nothing. But the Theist cannot regard the universe as evolution of Deity, because this would identify Universe and Deity, and be Pantheism rather than Theism. There would be no distinction of substance — no creation. Nor can the Theist regard the universe as created out of nothing, because Deity is, according to him, necessarily eternal and infinite. Gods existence being eternal and infinite precludes the possibility of the conception of vacuum to be filled by the universe if created. No one can even think of any point in extent or duration and say: Here is the point of separation between the creator and the created. It is not possible for the Theist to imagine a beginning to the universe. It is not possible to conceive either an absolute commencement, or an absolute terminltion of existence; that is, it is impossible to conceive beginning, before which you have a period when the universe has yet to be; or to conceive an end, after which the universe, having been, no longer exists. The Atheist affirms that he cognizes to-day effects; that these are, at the same time, causes and effects — causes to the effects they precede, effects to the causes they follow. Cause is simply everything without which the effect would not result, and with which it must result. Cause is the means to an end, consummating itself in that end. Cause is the word we use to include all that determines change. The Theist who argues for creation must assert a point of time — that is, of duration, when the created did not yet exist. At this point of time either something existed or nothing; but something must have existed, for out of nothing nothing can come. Something must have existed, because the point fixed upon is that of the duration of something. This something must have been either finite or infinite; if finite it could not have been God, and if the something were infinite, then creation was impossible: it is impossible to add to infinite existence.
If you leave the question of creation, and deal, with the government of the universe, the difficulties of Theism are by no means lessened. The existence of evil is then a terrible stumbling- block to the Theist. Pain, misery, crime, poverty confront the advocate of eternal goodness, and challenge with unanswerable potency his declaration of Deity as all-good, all-wise, and all- powerful. A recent writer in the ‘Spectator’ admits that there is what it regards “as the most painful, as it is often the most incurable, form of Atheism — the Atheism arising from a sort of horror of the idea of an Omnipotent Being permitting such a proportion of misery among the majority of his creatures.” Evil is either caused by God or exists independently; but it cannot be caused by God, as in that case he would not be all-good; nor can it exist hostilely, as in that case he would not be all-powerful. If all-good he would desire to annihilate evil, and continued evil contradicts either God’s desire, or God’s ability, to prevent it. Evil must either have had a beginning or it must have been etemal; but, according to the Theist, it cannot be eternal, because God alone is etemal. Nor can it have had a beginning, for if it had it must either have originated in God, or outside God; but, according to the Theist, it cannot have: originated in God, for he is all- good, and out of all-goodness evil cannot originate; nor can evil have originated outside God, for, according to the Theist, God is infinite, and it is impossible to go outside of or beyond infinity.
To the Atheist this question of evil assumes an entirely different aspect. He declares that each evil is a result, but not a result from God nor Devil. He affirms that conduct founded on knowledge of the laws of existence may ameliorate each present form of evil, and, as our knowledge increases, prevent its future recurrence.
Some declare that the belief in God is necessary as a check. to crime. They allege that the Atheist may commit murder, lie, or steal without fear of any consequences. To try the actual value of this argument, it is not unfair to ask: Do Theists ever steal? If yes, then in each such theft the belief in God and his power to punish has been insufficient as a preventive of the crime. Do Theists ever lie or murder? If yes, the same remark has again force — Theism , failing against the lesser as against the gearer crime. Those who use such an argument overlook that all men seek happiness, though in very, diverse fashions. ignorant and miseducated men often mistake the true path to happiness, and commit crime in the endeavour to obtain it. Atheists hold that by teaching mankind the real road to human happiness it is possible to keep them from the by-ways of criminality and error. Atheists would teach men to be moral now, not because God offers as an inducement reward by and by, but because in the virtuous act itself immediate good is ensured to the doer and the circle surrounding him. Atheism would perserve man from lying, stealing, murdering, not from fear of an eternal agony after death, but because these crimes make this life itself a course of misery.
While Theism, asserting God as the creator and govemor of the universe, hinders and checks man’s efforts by declaring God’s will to be the sole directing and controlling power, Atheism, by declaring all events to be in accordance with natural laws — that is, happening in certain ascertainable sequences. — stimulates man to discover the best conditions of life, and offers him the most powerful inducements to morality. While the Theist provides future happiness for a scoundrel repentent on his death-bed, Atheism affirms present and certain happiness for the man who does his best to live here so well as to have little cause for repenting hereafter.
Theism declares that God dispenses health and infficts disease, and sickness and illness are regarded by the Theists as visitations from an angered Deity, to be borne with meekness and content. Atheism declares that physiological knowledge may preserve us from disease by preventing us from infringing the law of health, and that sickness results not as the ordinance of offended Deity, but from ill-ventilated dwellings and workshops, bad and insufficient food, excessive toil, mental suffering, exposure to inclement weather, and the like — all these finding root in poverty, the chief source of crime and disease; that prayers and piety afford no protection against fever, and that if the human being be kept without food he will starve as quickly whether he be Theist or Atheist, theology being no substitute for bread.
It is very important, in order that injustice may not be done to the Theistic, argument, that we should have — in lieu of a clear definition, which it seems useless to ask for — the best possible clue to the meaning intended to be conveyed by the word “God.” If it were not that the word is an arbitrary term, maintained for the purpose of influencing the ignorant, and the notions suggested by which are vague and entirely contingent upon individual fancies, such a clue could probably be most easily, and satistactorily obtained by tracing back the word “God,” and ascertaining the sense in which it was used by the uneducated worshippers who have gone before us, and collating this with the more modem Theism, qualified as it is by the superior knowledge of to-day. Dupuis says: “Le mot Dieu parait destine a exprimer l’idde de la force universelle et eternellement active qui imprime le mouvement a tout dans la Nature, suivant les lois d’une harmonie constante et admirable, qui se developpe dans les diverses formes que prend la matiere organisee, qui se mele a tout, anime tout, et qui semble etre une dans ses modifications infiniment variees, et n’appartenir qu’a elle-meme.” “The word God appears intended to express the universal and etemally active force which endows all nature with motion according to the laws of a constant and admirable harmony; which develops itself in the diverse forms of organized matter, which mingles with all, gives life to all; which seems to be one through all its infinitely varied modifications, and inheres in itself alone.”
In the “Bon Sens” of Cure Meslier, it is asked: Qu’est-ce que Dieu? “and the answer is: “C’est un mot abstrait fait pour designer la force cachee de la nature; ou c’est un point mathematique qui n’a ni longueur, ni largeur, ni profondetir.” “It is an abstract word coined to designate the hidden force of nature; or it is a mathematical point having neither length, breadth, nor depth.”
The orthodox fringe of the Theism of to-day is Hebraistic in its origin — that is, it finds its root in the superstition and ignorance of a petty and barbarous people nearly destitute of literature, poor in language, and almost entirely wanting in high conceptions of humanity. It might, as Judaism is the foundation of Christianity, be fairly expected that the ancient Jewish records would aid us in our search after the meaning to be attached to the word “God.” The most prominent words in Hebrew rendered God or Lord in English are @@@@@ ‘Ieue,’ and ##### ‘Aleim.’ The first word Ieue, called by our orthodox Jehovah, is equivalent to “that which exists,” and indeed embodies in itself the only possible trinity in unity i.e., past, present, and future. There is nothing in this Hebrew word to help us to any such definition as is required for the sustenance of modem Theism. The most we can make of it by any stretch of imagination is equivalent to the declaration “I am, I have been, I shall be.” The word ***** is hardly ever spoken by the religious Jews, who actually in reading substitute for it, Adonai, an entirely different word. Dr. Wall notices the close resemblance in sound between the word ‘lehowa’ or leue, or Jehovah and Jove. In fact %%%%% Jupiter and leue-pater (God the father) present still closer resemblance in sound. Jove is also $$$$$ or @@@@@ or ##### whence the word Deus and our Deity. The Greek mythology, far more ancient than that of the Hebrews, has probably found for Christianity many other and more important features of coincidence than that of a similarly sounding name. The word ***** traced back, affords us no help beyond that it identifies Deity with the universe. Plato says that the early Greeks thought that the only Gods (%%%%%) were the sun, moon, earth, stars, and heaven. The word $$$$$, Aleim, assists us still less in defining the word God, for Parkhurst translates it as a plural noun signifying “the curser,” deriving it from the verb @@@@@ (Ale), to curse. Dr. Colenso has collected for us a store of traditional meanings for the ##### of the Greek, and the ***** of the Hebiew; but, though these are interesting to the student of mythology, they give no help to the Theistic demonstrator. Finding that philology aids us but little, we must endeavour to arrive at the meaning of the word “God” by another rule. It is utterly impossible to fix the period of the rise of Theism amongst any particular people; but it is, notwithstanding, comparatively easy, if not to trace out the development of Theistic ideas, at any rate to point to their probable course of growth amongst all peoples.
Keightley, in his “Origin of Mythology,” says: “Supposing, for the sake of hypothesis, a race of men in a state of total or partial ignorance of Deity, their belief in many Gods may have thus commenced: They saw around them various changes brought about by human agency, and hence they knew the power of intelligence to produce effects. When they beheld other and greater effects, they ascribed them to some unseen being, similar but superior to man.” They associated particular events with special unknown beings (Gods), to each of whom they ascribed either a peculiarity of power, or a sphere of action not common to other Gods. Thus, one was God of the sea, another God of war, another God of love, another ruled the thunder and lightning; and thus through the various then known elements of the universe, and the passions of human-kind.
This mythology became modified with the com mencement of human knowledge. The ability to think has proved itself oppugnant to, and destructive of, the reckless desire to worship, characteristic of semi-barbarism. Science has razed altar after altar heretofore erected to the unknown Gods, and has pulled down Deity after Deity from the pedestals on which ignorance and superstition had erected them. The priest, who had formerly spoken as the oracle of God, lost his sway just in proportion as the scientific teacher succeeded in impressing mankind with a knowledge of the facts around them. The ignorant, who had hitherto listened unquestioning during centuries of abject submission to their spiritual precaptors, at last commenced to search and examine for themselves, and were guided by experience rather than by church doctrine. To- day advancing intellect challenges the reserve guard of the old armies of superstition, and compels a conflict in which human-kind must in the end have great gain by the forced enunciation of the truth.
From the word “God” the Theist derives no argument in his favour; it teaches nothing, defines nothing, demonstrates nothing, explains nothing. The Theist answers that this is no sufficient objection that there are many words which are in common use to which the same objection applies. Even if this were true, it does not answer the Atheist’s objection. Alleging a difficulty on the one side is not a removal of the obstacle already pointed out on the other.
The Theist declares his God to be not only immutable, but also infinitely intelligent, and says: “Matter is either essentially intelligent or essentially non-intelligent; if matter were essentially intelligent, no matter could be without intelligence; but matter cannot be essentially intelligent, because some matter is not intelligent, therefore matter is essentially non- intelligent; but there is intelligence, therefore there must be a cause for the intelligence, independent of matter — this must be an intelligent being — i.e., “God.” The Atheist answers: I do not know what is meant, in the mouth of the Theist, by “matter.”
“Matter,” “nature,” “substance,” “existence,” are words having the same signification in the Atheist’s vocabulary. Lewes used “matter” as the symbol of all the known properties, statical and dynamical, passive and active; i.e., subjectively, as feeling and change of feeling, or objectively, as agent and action”; and Mill defined “nature” as “the sum of all phenomena, together with the causes which produce them, including not only all that happens, but all that is capable of happening.” It is not certain that the Theist expresses any very clear idea to himself when he uses the words “matter” and “intelligence”; it is quite certain that he has not yet shown himself capable of communicating this idea, and that any effort he makes is couched in terms which are self-contradictory. Reason and understanding are sometimes treated as separate faculties, yet it is not unfair to presume that the Theist would include them both under the word intelligence. Perception is the foundation of the intellect. The perceptive ability differs in each animal; yet, in speaking of matter, the Theist uses the word “intelligence” as though the same meaning were to be understood in every case. The recollection of the perceptions is the exercise of a different ability from the perceptive ability, and occasionally varies disproportionately; thus, an individual may have great perceptive abilities, and very little memory, or the reverse; yet memory, as well as perception, is included in intelligence. So also the comparing between two or more perceptions; the judging and the reflecting; all these are subject to the same remarks, and all these and other phases of the mind, are included in the word intelligence. We answer then, that “God” (whatever that word may mean) cannot be intelligent. He can never perceive; the act of perception results in the obtaining a new idea, but if God be omniscient, his ideas have been eternally the same. He has either been always, and always will be, perceiving, or he has never perceived at all. But God cannot have been always perceiving, because, if he had, he would always have been obtaining fresh knowledge, in which case he must at some time have had less knowledge than now; that is, he would have been less perfect; that is, he would not have been God. He can never recollect nor forget; he can never compare, reflect, nor judge. There cannot be perfect intelligence without understanding; but following Coleridge, understanding is the faculty of judging according to sense.” The faculty of whom? Of some person, judging according to that person’s senses. But has “God” senses? Is there anything beyond “God” for God to sensate? There cannot be perfect intelligence without reason. By reason we mean that phase of the mind which avails itself of past and present experience to predicate more or less accurately of possible experience in the future. To God there can be neither past nor future, therefore to him reason is impossible. There cannot be perfect intelligence without will; but has God will? If God wills, the will of the all-powerful must be irresistible; the will of the infinite must exclude all other wills.
God can never perceive. Perception and sensation are identical. Every sensation is pleasurable or painful. But God, if immutable, can neither be pleased nor pained. Every fresh sensation involves a change in mental and perhaps in physical condition. God, if immutable cannot change. Sensation is the source of all ideas, but it is only objects external to the mind which can be sensated. If God be infinite there can be no objects external to him, and therefore sensation must be to him impossible. Yet without perception where is intelligence?
God cannot have memory nor reason — memoiy is of the past, reason for the future, but to God immutable there can be no past, no future. The words past, present, and future imply change: they assert progression of duration. If God be immutable, to him change is impossible. Can you have intelligence destitute of perception, memory, and reason? God cannot have the faculty of judgment — judgment implies in the act of judging a conjoining or dis-joining of two or more thoughts, but this involves change of mental condition. To God the immutable, change is impossible. Can you have intelligence, yet no perception, no memory, no reason, no judgment? God cannot think. The law of the thinkible is, that the thing thought must be separated from the thing which is not thought. To think otherwise would be to think of nothing — to have an impression with no distinguishing mark would be to have no impression. Yet this separation implies change, and to God, immutable, change is impossible. In memory, the thing remembered is distinguished from the thing temporarily or permanently forgotten. Can God forget? Can you have intelligence without thought? If the Theist replies to this, that he does not mean by infinite intelligence, as an attribute of Deity, an affinity of the intelligence found in a finite degree in humankind, then he is bound to explain, clearly and distinctly, what other “intelligence” he means; and until this be done the foregoing statements require answer.
The Atheist does not regard “substance” as either essentially intelligent or the reverse. Intelligence is the result of certain conditions of existence. Burnished steel is bright — that is, brightness is the characteristic of a certain condition of existence. Alter the condition, and the characteristic of the condition no longer exists. The only essential of substance is existence. Alter, the wording of the Theest’s objection: — Matter is either essentially bright, or essentially non-bright. If matter were essentially bright, brightness should be the essence of all matter; but matter cannot be essentially bright, because some matter is not bright, therefore matter is essenteally non-bright; but there is brightness therefore there must be a cause for this brightness independent of matter — that is, there must be an essentially bright being — i.e., God.
Another Theistic proposition is thus stated “Every effect must have a cause; the first cause universal must be eternal: ergo, the first cause universal must be God.” This is equivalent to saying that “God” is “first cause.” But what is to be understood by cause? Defined in the absolute the word has no real value. “Cause,” therefore, cannot be eternal. What can be understood by “first cause”? To us the two words convey no meaning greater than would be conveyed by the phrase “round triangle.” Cause and effect are correlative terms — each cause is the effect of some precedent; each effect the cause of its consequent. It is impossible to conceive existence terminated by a primal or initial cause. The “beginning,” as it is phrased, of the universe is not thought out by the Theist, but conceded without thought. To adopt the language of Montaigne: “Men make themselves believe that they believe.” The so-called belief in Creation is nothing more than the prostration of the intellect on the threshold of the unknown. We can only cognize the ever-succeeding phenomena of existence as a line in continuous and eternal evolution. This line has to us no beginning; we trace it back into the misty regions of the past but a little way, and however far we may be able to journey there is still the great beyond. Then what is meant by “universal cause”? Spinoza gives the following definition of cause, as used in its absolute signification: “By cause of itself I understand that, the essence of which involves existence, or that, the nature of which can only be considered as existent.” That is, Spinoza treats “cause” absolute and “existence” as two words having the same meaning. If this mode of defining the word be contested, then it has no meaning other than its relative signification of a means to an end. “Every effect must have a cause.” Every effect implies the plurality of effects, and necessarily that each effect must be finite; but how is it possible from finite effect to logically deduce a universal — i.e., infinite cause?
There are two modes of argument presented by Theists, and by which, separately or combined, they seek to demonstrate the being of a God. These are familiarly known as the arguments ‘a Priori’ and ‘a posterori’.
The ‘a posteriori’ argument has been popularized inEnglandby Paley, who has ably endeavoured to hide the weakness of his demonstration under an abundance of irrelevant illustrations. The reasoning of Paley is veiy deficient in the essential points where it most needed strength. It is utterly impossible to prove by it the eternity or infinity of Deity. As an argument founded on analogy, the design argument, at the best, could only entitle its propounder to infer the existence of a finite cause, or rather of a multitude of finite causes. It ought not to be forgotten that the illustrations of the eye, the watch, and the man, even if admitted as instances of design, or rather of adaptation, are instances of eyes, watches, and men, designed or adapted out of pre-existing substance, by a being of the same kind of substance, and afford, therefore, no demonstration in favour of a designer alleged to have actually created substance out of nothing, and also alleged to have created a substance entirely different from himself.
The illustrations of alleged adaptation or design in animal life in its embryonic stages are thus dealt with by the late George Henry Lewes: “What rational interpretation can be given to the succession of phases each embryo is forced to pass through? None of these phases has any adaptation to the future state of the animal; they are in positive contradiction to it, or are simply purposeless; many of them have no adaptation, even in its embryonic state. What doe’s the fact imply? There is not a single known organism which is not developed out of simpler forms. Before it can attain the complex structure which distinguishes it, there must be an evolution of forms which distinguish the structures of organisms lower in the series. On the hypothesis of a plan which prearranged the organic world, nothing could be more unworthy of a supreme intelligence than this inability to construct an organism at once, without making several tentative efforts, undoing to-day what was so carefully done yesterday, and repeating for centuries the same tentatives and the same corrections in the same succession. Do not let us blink this consideration. There is a traditional phrase which is in vogue amongst Anthropomorphists — a phrase which has become a sort of argument — ‘the Great Architect.’ But if we were to admit the human point of view, a glance at the facts of embryology must produce very uncomfortable reflexions. For what shall we say to an architect who was unable — or, being able, was obstinotely unwilling — to erect a palace, except by first his materials in the shape of a but, then pulling them down and rebuilding them as a cottage, then adding storey to storey, and room to room, not with any reference to the ultimate purposes of a palace, but wholly with reference to the way in which houses were constructed in ancient times? Would there be a chorus of applause from theInstituteofArchitects, and favourable notices in newspapers of this profound wisdom? Yet this is the sort of succession on which organisms are constructed. The fact has long been familiar; how has it been reconciled with infinite wisdom?”
The ‘a posteriori’ argument can never demonstrate infinity for Deity. Arguing from an effect finite in extent, the most it could afford would be a cause sufficient for that effect, such cause being possibly finite in extent and duration. Professor Flint in his late work in advocacy of Theism concedes that “we cannot deduce the infinite from the finite.” And as the argument does not demonstrate God’s infinity, neither can it, for the same reason, make out his omniscience, as it is clearly impossible to logically claim infinite wisdom for a God possibly only finite. God’s omnipotence remains unproved for the same reason, and because it is clearly absurd to argue that God exercises power where he may not be. Nor can the ‘a posteriori’ argument show God’s absolute freedom, for as it does nothing more than seek to prove a finite God, it is quite consistent with the argumefit that God’s existence is limited and controlled in a thousand ways. Nor does this argument show that God always existed; at the best, the proof is only that some cause, enough for the effect, existed before it, but there is no evidence that this cause differs from any other causes, which are often as transient as the effect itself. And as it does not demonstrate that God has always existed, neither does it demonstrate that he will always exist or even that he now exists. It is perfectly in accordance with the argument, and with the analogy of cause and effect, that the effect may remain after the cause has ceased to exist. Nor does the argument from design demonstrate one God. It is quite consistent with this argument that a separate cause existed for each effect, or mark of design discovered, or that several causes contributed to some or one of such effects. So that if the argument be true, it might result in a multitude of petty Deities, limited in knowledge, extent, duration, and power; and still worse, each one of this multitude of Gods may have had a cause which would also be finite in extent and duration, and would require another, and so on, until the design argument loses the reasoner amongst an innumerable crowd of Deities, none of whom can have the attributes claimed for God.
The design argument is defective as an argument from analogy, because it seeks to prove a Creator God who designed, but does not explain whether this God has been eternally designing, which would be absurd or, if he at some time commenced to design, what then induced him so to commence? It is illogical, for it seeks to prove an immutable Deity, by demonstrating a mutation on the part of Deity.
It is unnecessary to deal specially with each of the many writers who have used from different stand-points the ‘a posteriori’ form of argument in order to prove the existence of Deity. The objections already stated apply to the whole class; and, although probably each illustration used by the Theistic advocate is capable of an elucidation entirely at variance with his argument, the main features of objection are the same. The argument ‘a posteriori’ is a method of proof in which the premises are composed of some position of existing facts, and the conclusion asserts a position antecedent to those facts. The argument is from given effects to their causes. It is one form of this argument which asserts that a man has a moral nature, and from this seeks to deduce the existence of a moral governor. This form has the disadvantage that its premises are illusory. In alleging a moral nature for man, the Theist overlooks the fact that the moral nature of man differs somewhat in each individual, differs considerably in each nation, and differs entirely in some peoples. It is dependent on organization and education; these are influenced by climate, food, and mode of life. If the argument from man’s nature could demonstrate anything, it would prove a murdering God for the murderer, a lascivious God for the licentious man, a dishonest God for the thief, and so through the various phases of human inclination. The ‘a priori’ arguments are methods of proof in which the matter of the premises exists in the order of conception antecedently to that of the conclusion. The argument is from cause to effect. Amongst the prominent Theistic advocates relying upon the ‘a priori’ argument inEnglandare Dr. Samuel Clarke, the Rev. Moses Lowman, and William Gillespie.
An important contribution to Theistic literature has been the publication of the Baird lectures on Theism. The lectures are by Professor Flint, who asks: “Have we sufficient evidence for thinking that there is a self-existent, etemal being, infinite in power and wisdom, and perfect in holiness and goodness, the Maker of heaven and earth?”
“Theism,” he affirms, “is the doctrine that the universe owes its existence, and continuance in existence, to the reason and will of a self-existent Being, who is infinitely powerful, wise, and good. It is the doctrine that nature has a Creator and Preserver, the nations a Governor, men a heavenly Father and judge.” But he concedes that “Theism is very far from coextensive with religion. Religion is spread over the whole earth; Theism only over a comparatively small portion of it. There are but three Theistic religions — the Mosaic, the Christian, and the Muhammadan. They are connected historically in the closest manner — the idea of God having been transmitted to the two latter, and not independently originated by them. All other religions are Polytheistic or Pantheistic, or both together. Among those who, have been educated in any of these heathen religions, only a few minds of rare penetration and power have been able to rise by their own exertions to a consistent Theistic belief. The God of all those among us who believe in God, even of those who reject Christianity, who reject all revelation, is the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. From these ancient Jewish fathers the knowledge of him has historically descended through an unbroken succession of generations to us. We have inherited it from them. If it had not thus come down to us, if we had not been born into a society pervaded by it, there is no reason to suppose that we should have found it out for ourselves, and still less that we should merely have required to open our eyes in order to see it.”
If “Theism is the doctrine that the universe owes its existence to the reason and will of a self-existing Being who is infinitely powerful, wise, and good,” then it is a doctrine which involves many difficulties and absurdities. It assumes that the universe has not always existed. The new existence added when the universe was originated was either an improvement or a deterioration on what had always existed; or it was in all respects precisely identical with what had therefore always existed. In the first, if the new universe was an improvement, then the previously self-existent being could not have been infinitely good. If the universe was a deterioration, then the creator could have scarcely been all-wise, or he could not have been all-powerful. If the universe was in all respects precisely identical with the self- existent being, then it must have been infinitely powerful, wise and good, and must have been self-existent. Any of the alternatives is fatal to Theism. Again, if the universe owes its existence to God’s reason and will, God must, prior to creation, have thought upon the matter until he ultimately determined to create; but, if the creation were wise and good, it would never have been delayed while the infinitely wise and good reasoned about it, and, if the creation were not wise and good, the infinitely wise and good would never have commenced it. Either God willed without motive, or he was influenced; if he reasoned, there was — prior to the definite willing — a period of doubt or suspended judgment, all of which is inconsistent with the attributes claimed for deity by Professor Flint. It is hard to understand how whole nations can have been left by their infinitely powerful, wise, and good governor — how many men can have been left by their infinitely powerful, wise, and good father — without any knowledge of himself. Yet this must be so if, as Professor Flint conceives, Theism is spread over only a comparatively small portion of the earth. The moral effect of Christian and Muhammadan Theism on the nations influenced was well shown in the recent Russo-Turkish War.
Every Theist must admit that, if a God exists, he could have so convinced all men of the fact of his existence that doubt, disagreement, or disbelief would be impossible. If he could not do this, he would not be omnipotent, or he would not be omniscient — that is, he would not be God. Every Theist must also agree that, if a God exists, he would wish all men to have such a clear consciousness of his existence and attributes, that doubt, disagreement, or disbelief on this subject would be impossible. And this, if for no other reason, because that out of doubts and disagreements on religion have too often resulted centuries of persecution, strife, and misery, which a good God would desire to prevent. If God would not desire this, then he is not all good — that is, he is not God. But as many men have doubts, as a large majority of mankind have disagreements, and as some men have disbeliefs as to God’s existence and attributes, it must follow that God does not exist, or that he is not all-wise, or that he is not all-powerful, or that he is not all-good.
Many Theists rely on the intuitional argument. It is, perhaps, best to allow the Baird Lecturer to reply to, these: “Man, say some, knows God by immediate intuition; he needs no argument for his existence, because he perceives Him directly — face to face — without any medium. It is easy to assert this, but obviously the assertion is the merest dogmatism. Not one man in a thousand who understands what he is affirming will dare to claim to have an immediate vision of God, and nothing can be more likely than that the man who makes such a claim is self-deluded.” And Professor Flint urges that “What seem intuitions are often really inferenices, and not unfrequently errondous inferences; what seem the immediate dictates of pure reason, or the direct and unclouded perceptions of a special spiritual faculty, may be the conceits of fancy, or the products of habits and association, or the reflexions of strong feeling. A man must prove to himself, and he must prove to others, that what he takes to be an intuition is an intuition. Is that proof in this case likely to be easier or more conclusive than the proof of the Divine existence? The so-called immediate perception of God must be shown to be a perception and to be immediate; it must be vindicated and verified; and how this is to be especially if there be no other reasons for believing in God than itself, it is difficult to conceive. The history of religion, which is what ought to yield the clearest confirmation of the alleged intuition, appears to be from beginning to end a conspicuous contradiction of it. If all men have the spiritual power of directly beholding their Creator — have an immediate vision of God — how happens it that whole nations believe in the most absurd and monstrous Gods? That millions of men are ignorant whether there be one God or thousands?” And still more strongly he adds: “The opinion that man has an intuition or immediate perception of God is untenable; the opinion that he has an immediate feeling of God is absurd.”
Every child is born into the world an Atheist, and, if he grows into a Theist, his Deity differs with the country in which the believer may happen to be born, or the people amongst whom he may happen to be educated. The belief is the result of education or organization. This is practically conceded by Professor Flint, where he speaks of the God-idea as transmitted from the Jews, and says: “We have inherited it from them. If it had not come down to us, if we had not been born into a society pervaded by it, there is no reason to suppose that we should have found it out for ourselves.” And, further, he maintains that a child is born “into blank ignorance, and, if left entirely to itself, would, probably, never find out as much religious truth as the most ignorant of parents can teach it.” Religious belief is powerful in proportion to the want of scientific knowledge on the part of the believer. The more ignorant the more credulous. In the mind of the Theist “God” is equivalent to the sphere of the unknown; by the use of the word he answers, without thought, problems which might otherwise obtain scientific solution. The more ignorant the Theist, the more numerous his Gods. Belief in God is not a faith founded on reason. Theism is worse than illogical; its teachings are not only without utility, but of itself it has nothing to teach. Separated from Chrisitanity with its almost innumerable sects, from Muhainmadanism with its numerous divisions, and separated also from every other preached system, Theism is a Will-o’-the-Wisp, without reality. Apart from orthodoxy, Theism is the veriest dreamform, without substance or coherence.
What does Christian Theism teach? That the first man, made perfect by the all-powerful, all-wise, all-good God, was nevertheless imperfect, and by his imperfection brought misery into the world, where the all-good God must have intended misery should never come; that this God made men to share this misery — men whose fault was their being what he made them; that this God begets a son, who is nevertheless his unbegotten self, and that by belief in the birth of God’s etemal son, and in the death of the undying who died as sacrifice to God’s vengeance, men may escape the consequences of the first man’s error. Christian Theism declares that belief alone can save men, and yet recognizes the fact that man’s belief results from teaching, by establishing missionary societies to spread the faith. Christian Theism teaches that God, though no respecter of persons, selected as his favourite one nation in preference to all others; that man can do no good of himself or without God’s aid, but yet that each man has a free will; that God is all-powerful, but that few go to heaven, and the majority to hell; that all are to love God, who has predestined from etemity that by far the largest number of human beings are to be burning in hell for ever. Yet the advocates for Theism venture to upbraid those who argue against such a faith.
Either Theism is true or false. If true, discussion must help to spread its influence; if false, the sooner it ceases to influence human conduct the better for human kind. This Plea for Atheism is put forth as a challenge to Theists to do battle for their cause, and in the hope that, the strugglers being sincere, truth may give laurels to the victor and the vanquished; laurels to the victor, in that he has upheld the truth; laurels which should be even more welcome to the vanquished, whose defeat crowns him with a truth he knew not of before.
A few years ago a Nonconformist minister invited me to debate the question, “Is Atheism the True Doctrine of the Universe?” and the following was in substance my opening statement of the argument, which for some reason, although many letters passed, was never replied to by my reverend opponent.
“By Atheism I mean the affirmation of one existence, of which existence I know only one mode; each mode being distinguished in thought by its qualities. This affirmation is a positive, not a negative, affirmation, and is properly describable as Atheism because it does not include in it any possibility of Theos. It is, being without God, distinctly an Atheistic affirmation. This Atheism affirms that the Atheist knows only qualities, and only knows these qualities as the characteristics of modes. By ‘existence’ I mean the totality of phenomena and all that has been, is, or may be necessary for the happening of any and every phenomenon. By ‘mode’ I mean each cognized condition (phenomenon or aggregation of phenomena). By ‘quality’ I mean that characteristic, or each of those characteristics, by which in thought I distinguish that which I think. The word ‘universe’ is with me an equivalent for ‘existence.’
Either Atheism or Theism must be the true doctrine of the Universe. I assume here that no other theory is thinkable. Theism is either Pantheism, Polytheism, or Monotheism. There is, I submit, no other conceivable category. Pantheism affirms one existence, but declares that some qualities are infinite — e.g., that existence is intelligent. Atheism only affirms qualities for phenomena. We know each phenomenon by its qualities; we know no qualities except as qualities of some phenomenon. By infinite I mean illimitable. Phenomena are, of coursd, finite. By intelligent I mean able to think. Polytheism affirms several Theistic existences — this affirmation being nearly self-contradictory — and so usually affirms at least one non-theistic existence. Monotheism affirms at least two existences: that is, the Theos and that which the Theos has created and rules. Atheism denies alike the reasonableness of Polytheism, Pantheism, and Monotheism. Any affirmation of more than one existence is on the force of the affirmation an absolute self- contradiction, if infinity be pretended for either of the existences affirmed. The word ‘Theos’ or ‘God’ has for me no meaning. I am obliged, therefore, to try to collect its meaning as expressed by Theists, who, however, do not seem to me to be either clear or agreed as to the words by which their Theism may be best expressed. For the purpose of this argument I take Monotheism to be the doctrine ‘that the universe owes its existence and continuance in existence to the wisdom and will of a supreme, self-existent, eternal, infinite, omnipotent, ormiscient, righteous, and benevolent personal being, who is distinct from and independent of what he has created.’ By wisdom and will I mean that which I should mean using the same words of any animal able to perceive, remember, reflect, judge, and determine, and active in that ability or those abilities. By supreme I mean highest in any relation of comparison. By self-existent I mean that the conception of which, if it be conceivable, does not involve the conception of antecedent or consequent. By eternal and infinite I mean illimitable in duration and extent. By ‘omnipotent’ I mean supreme in power over everything. By omniscient, knowing everything. By ‘righteous and benevolent’ I mean that which the best educated opinion would mean when applying those words to human beings. This doctrine of Monotheism appears to me to be flatly contradicted by the phenomena we know. It is inconsistent with that observed uniformity of happening usually described as law of nature. By law of nature I mean observed order of event. The word ‘nature’ is another equivalent for the worti universe or existence. By uniformity of happening I mean that, given certain conditions, certain results always ensue vary the conditions, the results vary. I do not attack specially either the Polytheistic, Pantheistic, or Monotheistic presentments of Theism. To me any pretence of Theism seems impossible if Monism be conceded, and, therefore, at present, I rest content in affir&uing one existence. If Monism be true, and Atheism be Monism, then Atheism is necessarily the true theory of the universe. I submit that ‘there cannot be more than one ultimate explanation’ of the universe. That any ‘tracing back to two or more’ existences is illogical, and that as it is only by ‘reaching unity’ that we can have a reasonable conclusion, it is necessary ‘that every form of Dualism should be rejected as a theory of the universe.’ If every form of Dualism be rejected, Monism — i.e., Atheism — alone remains, and is therefore the true and only doctrine of the universe.”
Speaking of the prevalence of what he describes as “a form of agnosticism,” the editor of the ‘Spectator’ writes: “We think we see signs of a disposition to declare that the great problem is insoluble, that whatever rules, be it a mind or only a force, he or it does not intend the truth to be known, if there is a truth, and to go on, both in action and speculation, as if the problem had no existence. That is the condition of mind, we know, of many of the cultivated who are not sceptics, nor doubters, nor inquirers, but who think they are as certain of their point as they are that the circle will not be squared. They are, they think, in the presence of a recurring decimal, and they are not going to spend life in the effort to resolve it. If no God exists, they will save their time; and if he does exist, he must have set up the impenetrable wall. A distinct belief of that kind, not a vague, pulpy impression, but a formulated belief, exists, we know, in the most unsuspected places, its holders not unfrequently professing Christianity, as at all events the best of the illusions; and it has sunk very far down in the ladder of society. We find it catch classes which have suddenly become aware that there is a serious doubt afloat and have caught something of its extent and force, till they fancy they have in the doubt a revelation as certainly true as they once thought the old certainty.” Surely an active, honest Atheism is to be preferred to the state of mind described in the latter part of the passage we have just quoted.