About The Holy Bible
A Reply To The New York Clergy On Superstition
A Thanksgiving Sermon
An Intimate View
Heretics And Hericies
How To Be Saved
Huxley And Agnosticism
Robert Green Ingersoll Interviews
Is Divorce Wrong?
On Tolstoy And The Kreutzer Sonata
ome Mistakes Of Moses
The Henry M Field Robert Green Ingersoll Debate
What Would You Substitute for the Bible as a Moral Guide?
Why I Am Agnostic
Archive for the Robert Ingersoll Category
About The Holy Bible
Robert Green Ingersoll
For the most part we inherit our opinions. We are the heirs of habits and mental customs. Our beliefs, like the fashion of our garments, depend on where we were born. We are molded and fashioned by our surroundings.
Environment is a sculptor — a painter.
If we had been born inConstantinople, the most of us would have said: “There is no God but Allah, and Mohammed is his prophet.” If our parents had lived on the banks of theGanges, we would have been worshipers of Siva, longing for the heaven of Nirvana.
As a rule, children love their parents, believe what they teach, and take great pride in saying that the religion of mother is good enough for them.
Most people love peace. They do not like to differ with their neighbors. They like company. They are social. They enjoy traveling on the highway with the multitude. They hate to walk alone.
The Scotch are Calvinists because their fathers were. The Irish are Catholics because their fathers were. The English are Episcopalians because their fathers were, and the Americans are divided in a hundred sects because their fathers were. This is the general rule, to which there are many exceptions. Children sometimes are superior to their parents, modify their ideas, change their customs, and arrive at different conclusions. But this is generally so gradual that the departure is scarcely noticed, and those who change usually insist that they are still following the fathers.
It is claimed by Christian historians that the religion of a nation was sometimes suddenly changed, and that millions of Pagans were made into Christians by the command of a king. Philosophers do not agree with these historians. Names have been changed, altars have been overthrown, but opinions, customs and beliefs remained the same. A Pagan, beneath the drawn sword of a Christian, would probably change his religious views, and a Christian, with a scimitar above his head, might suddenly become a Mohammedan, but as a matter of fact both would remain exactly as they were before –except in speech.
Belief is not subject to the will. Men think as they must. Children do not, and cannot, believe exactly as they were taught. They are not exactly like their parents. They differ in temperament, in experience, in capacity, in surroundings. And so there is a continual, though almost imperceptible change. There is development, conscious and unconscious growth, and by comparing long periods of time we find that the old has been almost abandoned, almost lost in the new. Men cannot remain stationary. The mind cannot be securely anchored. If we do not advance, we go backward. If we do not grow, we decay. If we do not develop, we shrink and shrivel.
Like the most of you, I was raised among people who knew –who were certain. They did not reason or investigate. They had no doubts. They knew that they had the truth. In their creed there was no guess — no perhaps. They had a revelation from God. They knew the beginning of things. They knew that God commenced to create one Monday morning, four thousand and four years before Christ. They knew that in the eternity — back of that morning, he had done nothing. They knew that it took him six days to make the earth –all plants, all animals, all life, and all the globes that wheel in space. They knew exactly what he did each day and when he rested.
They knew the origin, the cause of evil, of all crime, of all disease and death.
They not only knew the beginning, but they knew the end. They knew that life had one path and one road. They knew that the path, grass-grown and narrow, filled with thorns and nettles, infested with vipers, wet with tears, stained by bleeding feet, led to heaven, and that the road, broad and smooth, bordered with fruits and flowers, filled with laughter and song and all the happiness of human love, led straight to hell. They knew that God was doing his best to make you take the path and that the Devil used every art to keep you in the road.
They knew that there was a perpetual battle waged between the great Powers of good and evil for the possession of human souls. They knew that many centuries ago God had left his throne and had been born a babe into this poor world — that he had suffered death for the sake of man — for the sake of saving a few. They also knew that the human heart was utterly depraved, so that man by nature was in love with wrong and hated God with all his might.
At the same time they knew that God created man in his own image and was perfectly satisfied with his work. They also knew that he had been thwarted by the Devil, who with wiles and lies had deceived the first of human kind. They knew that in consequence of that, God cursed the man and woman; the man with toil, the woman with slavery and pain, and both with death; and that he cursed the earth itself with briers and thorns, brambles and thistles. All these blessed things they knew. They knew too all that God had done to purify and elevate the race. They knew all about the Flood –knew that God, with the exception of eight, drowned all his children — the old and young — the bowed patriarch and the dimpled babe — the young man and the merry maiden — the loving mother and the laughing child — because his mercy endureth forever. They knew too, that he drowned the beasts and birds — everything that walked or crawled or flew — because his loving kindness is over all his works. They knew that God, for the purpose of civilizing his children, had devoured some with earthquakes, destroyed some with storms of fire, killed some with his lightnings, millions with famine, with pestilence, and sacrificed countless thousands upon the fields of war. They knew that it was necessary to believe these things and to love God. They knew that there could be no salvation except by faith, and through the atoning blood of Jesus Christ.
All who doubted or denied would be lost. To live a moral and honest life — to keep your contracts, to take care of wife and child — to make a happy home — to be a good citizen, a patriot, a just and thoughtful man, was simply a respectable way of going to hell.
God did not reward men for being honest, generous and brave, but for the act of faith. Without faith, all the so-called virtues were sins. and the men who practiced these virtues, without faith, deserved to suffer eternal pain.
All of these comforting and reasonable things were taught by the ministers in their pulpits — by teachers in Sunday schools and by parents at home. The children were victims. They were assaulted in the cradle — in their mother’s arms. Then, the schoolmaster carried on the war against their natural sense, and all the books they read were filled with the same impossible truths. The poor children were helpless. The atmosphere they breathed was filled with lies — lies that mingled with their blood.
In those days ministers depended on revivals to save souls and reform the world.
In the winter, navigation having closed, business was mostly suspended. There were no railways and the only means of communication were wagons and boats. Generally the roads were so bad that the wagons were laid up with the boats. There were no operas, no theaters, no amusement except parties and balls. The parties were regarded as worldly and the balls as wicked. For real and virtuous enjoyment the good people depended on revivals.
The sermons were mostly about the pains and agonies of hell, the joys and ecstasies of heaven, salvation by faith, and the efficacy of the atonement. The little churches, in which the services were held, were generally small, badly ventilated, and exceedingly warm. The emotional sermons, the sad singing, the hysterical amens, the hope of heaven, the fear of hell, caused many to lose the little sense they had. They became substantially insane. In this condition they flocked to the “mourner’s bench” –asked for the prayers of the faithful — had strange feelings, prayed and wept and thought they had been “born again.” Then they would tell their experience — how wicked they had been — how evil had been their thoughts, their desires, and how good they had suddenly become.
They used to tell the story of an old woman who, in telling her experience, said: — “Before I was converted, before I gave my heart to God, I used to lie and steal, but now, thanks to the grace and blood of Jesus Christ, I have quit ’em both, in a great measure.”
Of course all the people were not exactly of one mind. There were some scoffers, and now and then some man had sense enough to laugh at the threats of priests and make a jest of hell. Some would tell of unbelievers who had lived and died in peace.
When I was a boy I heard them tell of an old farmer inVermont. He was dying. The minister was at his bed-side – asked him if he was a Christian — if he was prepared to die. The old man answered that he had made no preparation, that he was not a Christian — that he had never done anything but work. The preacher said that he could give him no hope unless he had faith in Christ, and that if he had no faith his soul would certainly be lost.
The old man was not frightened. He was perfectly calm. In a weak and broken voice he said: “Mr. Preacher, I suppose you noticed my farm. My wife and I came here more than fifty years ago. We were just married. It was a forest then and the land was covered with stones. I cut down the trees, burned the logs, picked up the stones and laid the walls. My wife spun and wove and worked every moment. We raised and educated our children — denied ourselves. During all these years my wife never had a good dress, or a decent bonnet. I never had a good suit of clothes. We lived on the plainest food. Our hands, our bodies are deformed by toil. We never had a vacation. We loved each other and the children. That is the only luxury we ever had. Now I am about to die and you ask me if I am prepared. Mr. Preacher, I have no fear of the future, no terror of any other world. There may be such a place as hell — but if there is, you never can make me believe that it’s any worse than oldVermont.”
So, they told of a man who compared himself with his dog. “My dog,” he said, “just barks and plays — has all he wants to eat. He never works — has no trouble about business. In a little while he dies, and that is all. I work with all my strength. I have no time to play. I have trouble every day. In a little while I will die, and then I go to hell. I wish that I had been a dog.”
Well, while the cold weather lasted, while the snows fell, the revival went on, but when the winter was over, when the steamboat’s whistle was heard, when business started again, most of the converts “backslid” and fell again into their old ways. But the next winter they were on hand, ready to be “born again.” They formed a kind of stock company, playing the same parts every winter and backsliding every spring.
The ministers, who preached at these revivals, were in earnest. They were zealous and sincere. They were not philosophers.To them science was the name of a vague dread — a dangerous enemy.They did not know much, but they believed a great deal. To them hell was a burning reality — they could see the smoke and flames. The Devil was no myth. He was an actual person. a rival of God, an enemy of mankind. They thought that the important business of this life was to save your soul — that all should resist and scorn the pleasures of sense, and keep their eyes steadily fixed on the golden gate of the New Jerusalem. They were unbalanced, emotional,
hysterical, bigoted, hateful, loving, and insane. They really believed the Bible to be the actual word of God — a book without mistake or contradiction. They called its cruelties, justice — its absurdities, mysteries — its miracles, facts, and the idiotic passages were regarded as profoundly spiritual. They dwelt on the pangs, the regrets, the infinite agonies of the lost, and showed how easily they could be avoided, and how cheaply heaven could be obtained. They told their hearers to believe, to have faith, to give their hearts to God, their sins to Christ, who would bear their burdens and make their souls as white as snow.
All this the ministers really believed. They were absolutely certain. In their minds the Devil had tried in vain to sow the seeds of doubt.
I heard hundreds of these evangelical sermons – heard hundreds of the most fearful and vivid descriptions of the tortures inflicted in hell, of the horrible state of the lost. I supposed that what I heard was true and yet I did not believe it. I said: “It is,” and then I thought: “It cannot be.”
These sermons made but faint impressions on my mind. I was not convinced.
I had no desire to be “converted,” did not want a “new heart” and had no wish to be “born again.”
But I heard one sermon that touched my heart, that left its mark, like a scar, on my brain.
One Sunday I went with my brother to hear a Free Will Baptist preacher. He was a large man, dressed like a farmer, but he was an orator. He could paint a picture with words.
He took for his text the parable of “the rich man and Lazarus.” He described Dives, the rich man — his manner of life, the excesses in which he indulged, his extravagance, his riotous nights, his purple and fine linen, his feasts, his wines, and his beautiful women.
Then he described Lazarus, his poverty, his rags and wretchedness, his poor body eaten by disease, the crusts and crumbs he devoured, the dogs that pitied him. He pictured his lonely life, his friendless death.
Then, changing his tone of pity to one of triumph – leaping from tears to the heights of exultation — from defeat to victory– he described the glorious company of angels, who with white and outspread wings carried the soul of the despised pauper toParadise– to the bosom of Abraham.
Then, changing his voice to one of scorn and loathing, he told of the rich man’s death. He was in his palace, on his costly couch, the air heavy with perfume, the room filled with servants and physicians. His gold was worthless then. He could not buy another breath. He died, and in hell he lifted up his eyes, being in torment.
Then, assuming a dramatic attitude, putting his right hand to his ear, he whispered, “Hark! I hear the rich man’s voice. What does he say? Hark! ‘Father Abraham! Father Abraham! I pray thee send Lazarus that he may dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my parched tongue, for I am tormented in this flame.'”
“Oh, my hearers, he has been making that request for more than eighteen hundred years. And millions of ages hence that wail will cross the gulf that lies between the saved and lost and still will be heard the cry: ‘Father Abraham! Father Abraham! I pray thee send Lazarus that he may dip the tip of his finger. in water and cool my parched tongue, for I am tormented in this flame.'”
For the first time I understood the dogma of eternal pain –appreciated “the glad tidings of great joy.” For the first time my imagination grasped the height and depth of the Christian horror.
Then I said: “It is a lie, and I hate your religion. If it is true, I hate your God.”
From that day I have had no fear, no doubt. For me, on that day, the flames of hell were quenched. From that day I have passionately hated every orthodox creed. That Sermon did some good.
From my childhood I had heard read, and read the Bible myself. Morning and evening the sacred volume was opened and prayers were said. The Bible was my first history, the Jews were the first people, and the events narrated by Moses and the other inspired writers, and those predicted by prophets were the all important things. In other books were found the thoughts and dreams of men, but in the Bible were the sacred truths of God.
Yet in spite of my surroundings, of my education, I had no love for God. He was so saving of mercy, so extravagant in murder, so anxious to kill, so ready to assassinate, that I hated him with all my heart. At his command, babes were butchered, women violated, and the white hair of trembling age stained with blood. This God visited the people with pestilence — filled the houses and covered the streets with the dying and the dead — saw babes starving on the empty breasts of pallid mothers, heard the sobs, saw the tears, the sunken cheeks, the sightless eyes, the new made graves, and remained as pitiless as the pestilence.
This God withheld the rain — caused the famine, saw the fierce eyes of hunger — the wasted forms, the white lips, saw mothers eating babes, and remained ferocious as famine.
It seems to me impossible for a civilized man to love or worship, or respect the God of the Old Testament. A really civilized man, a really civilized woman, must hold such a God in abhorrence and contempt.
But in the old days the good people justified Jehovah in his treatment of the heathen. The wretches who were murdered were idolaters and therefore unfit to live.
According to the Bible, God had never revealed himself to these people and he knew that without a revelation they could not know that he was the true God. Whose fault was it then that they were heathen?
The Christians said that God had the right to destroy them because he created them. What did he create them for? He knew when he made them that they would be food for the sword. He knew that he would have the pleasure of seeing them murdered.
As a last answer, as a final excuse, the worshipers of Jehovah said that all these horrible things happened under the “old dispensation” of unyielding law, and absolute justice, but that now under the “new dispensation,” all had been changed — the sword of justice had been sheathed and love enthroned. In the Old Testament, they said. God is the judge — but in the New, Christ is the merciful. As a matter of fact, the New Testament is infinitely worse than the Old. In the Old there is no threat of eternal pain.Jehovah had no eternal prison — no everlasting fire. His hatred ended at the grave. His revenge was satisfied when his enemy was dead.
In the New Testament, death is not the end, but the beginning of punishment that has no end. In the New Testament the malice of God is infinite and the hunger of his revenge eternal.
The orthodox God, when clothed in human flesh, told his disciples not to resist evil, to love their enemies, and when smitten on one cheek to turn the other, and yet we are told that this same God, with the same loving lips, uttered these heartless, these fiendish words; “Depart ye cursed into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels.”
These are the words of “eternal love.”
No human being has imagination enough to conceive of this infinite horror.
All that the human race has suffered in war and want, in pestilence and famine, in fire and flood, — all the pangs and pains of every disease and every death — all this is as nothing compared with the agonies to be endured by one lost soul.
This is the consolation of the Christian religion. This is the justice of God — the mercy of Christ.
This frightful dogma, this infinite lie, made me the implacable enemy of Christianity. The truth is that this belief in eternal pain has been the real persecutor. It founded the Inquisition, forged the chains, and furnished the fagots. It has darkened the lives of many millions. It made the cradle as terrible as the coffin. It enslaved nations and shed the blood of countless thousands. It sacrificed the wisest, the bravest and the best. It subverted the idea of justice, drove mercy from the heart, changed men to fiends and banished reason from the brain.
Like a venomous serpent it crawls and coils and hisses in every orthodox creed.
It makes man an eternal victim and God an eternal fiend. It is the one infinite horror. Every church in which it is taught is a public curse. Every preacher who teaches it is an enemy of mankind.Below this Christian dogma, savagery cannot go. It is the infinite of malice, hatred, and revenge.
Nothing could add to the horror of hell, except the presence of its creator, God.
While I have life, as long as I draw breath, I shall deny with all my strength, and hate with every drop of my blood, this infinite lie.
Nothing gives me greater joy than to know that this belief in eternal pain is growing weaker every day — that thousands of ministers are ashamed of it. It gives me joy to know that Christians are becoming merciful, so merciful that the fires of hell are burning low — flickering, choked with ashes, destined in a few years to die out forever.
For centuries Christendom was a madhouse. Popes, cardinals,bishops, priests, monks and heretics were all insane.
Only a few — four or five in a century were sound in heart and brain. Only a few, in spite of the roar and din, in spite of the savage cries, heard reason’s voice. Only a few in the wild rage of ignorance, fear and zeal preserved the perfect calm that wisdom gives.
We have advanced. In a few years the Christians will become –let us hope — humane and sensible enough to deny the dogma that fills the endless years with pain. They ought to know now that this dogma is utterly inconsistent with the wisdom, the justice, the goodness of their God. They ought to know that their belief in hell, gives to the Holy Ghost — the Dove — the beak of a vulture, and fills the mouth of the Lamb of God with the fangs of a viper.
In my youth I read religious books — books about God, about the atonement — about salvation by faith, and about the other worlds. I became familiar with the commentators — with Adam Clark, who thought that the serpent seduced our mother Eve, and was in fact the father of Cain. He also believed that the animals, while in the ark, had their natures’ changed to that degree that they devoured straw together and enjoyed each other’s society – thus prefiguring the blessed millennium. I read Scott, who was such a natural theologian that he really thought the story of Phaeton — of the wild steeds dashing across the sky — corroborated the story of Joshua having stopped the sun and moon. So, I read Henry and MacKnight and found that God so loved the world that he made up his mind to damn a large majority of the human race. I read Cruden, who made the great Concordance, and made the miracles as small and probable as he could.
I remember that he explained the miracle of feeding the wandering Jews with quails, by saying that even at this day immense numbers of quails crossed theRed Sea, and that sometimes when tired, they settled on ships that sank beneath their weight. The fact that the explanation was as hard to believe as the miracle made no difference to the devout Cruden.
To while away the time I read Calvin’s Institutes, a book calculated to produce, in any natural mind, considerable respect for the Devil.
I read Paley’s Evidences and found that the evidence of ingenuity in producing the evil, in contriving the hurtful, was at least equal to the evidence tending to show the use of intelligence in the creation of what we call good.
You know the watch argument was Paley’s greatest effort. A man finds a watch and it is so wonderful that he concludes that it must have had a maker. He finds the maker and he is so much more wonderful than the watch that he says he must have had a maker. Then he finds God, the maker of the man, and he is so much more wonderful than the man that he could not have had a maker. This is what the lawyers call a departure in pleading.
According to Paley there can be no design without a designer — but there can be a designer without a design. The wonder of the watch suggested the watchmaker, and the wonder of the watchmaker, suggested the creator, and the wonder of the creator demonstrated that he was not created — but was uncaused and eternal.
We had Edwards on The Will, in which the reverend author shows that necessity has no effect on accountability — and that when God creates a human being, and at the same time determines and decrees exactly what that being shall do and be, the human being is responsible, and God in his justice and mercy has the right to torture the soul of that human being forever. Yet Edwards said that he loved God.
The fact is that if you believe in an infinite God, and also in eternal punishment, then you must admit that Edwards and Calvin were absolutely right. There is no escape from their conclusions if you admit their premises. They were infinitely cruel, their premises infinitely absurd, their God infinitely fiendish, and their logic perfect.
And yet I have kindness and candor enough to say that Calvin and Edwards were both insane.
We had plenty of theological literature. There was Jenkyn on the Atonement, who demonstrated the wisdom of God in devising a way in which the sufferings of innocence could justify the guilty. He tried to show that children could justly be punished for the sins of their ancestors, and that men could, if they had faith, be justly credited with the virtues of others. Nothing could be more devout, orthodox, and idiotic. But all of our theology was not in prose. We hadMiltonwith his celestial militia with his great and blundering God, his proud and cunning Devil — his wars between immortals, and all the sublime absurdities that religion wrought within the blind man’s brain.
The theology taught byMiltonwas dear to the Puritan heart.It was accepted byNew Englandand it poisoned the souls and ruined the lives of thousands. The genius of Shakespeare could not make the theology ofMiltonpoetic. In the literature of the world there is nothing, outside of the “sacred books,” more perfectly absurd.
We had Young’s Night Thoughts, and I supposed that the author was an exceedingly devout and loving follower of the Lord. Yet Young had a great desire to be a bishop, and to accomplish that end he electioneered with the king’s mistress. In other words, he was a fine old hypocrite. In the “Night Thoughts” there is scarcely a genuinely honest, natural line. It is pretence from beginning to end. He did not write what he felt, but what he thought he ought to feel.
We had Pollok’s Course of Time, with its worm that never dies, its quenchless flames, its endless pangs, its leering devils, and its gloating God. This frightful poem should have been written in a madhouse. In it you find all the cries and groans and shrieks of maniacs, when they tear and rend each other’s flesh. It is as heartless, as hideous, as hellish as the thirty-second chapter of Deuteronomy.
We all know the beautiful hymn commencing with the cheerful line: “Hark from the tombs, a doleful sound.” Nothing could have been more appropriate for children. It is well to put a coffin where it can be seen from the cradle. When a mother nurses her child, an open grave should be at her feet. This would tend to make the babe serious, reflective, religious and miserable.
God hates laughter and despises mirth. To feel free, untrammeled, irresponsible, joyous, — to forget care and death –to be flooded with sunshine without a fear of night — to forget the past, to have no thought of the future, no dream of God, or heaven, or hell — to be intoxicated with the present — to be conscious only of the clasp and kiss of the one you love — this is the sin against the Holy Ghost.
But we had Cowper’s poems. Cowper was sincere. He was the opposite of Young. He had an observing eye, a gentle heart and a sense of the artistic. He sympathized with all who suffered – with the imprisoned, the enslaved, the outcasts. He loved the beautiful. No wonder that the belief in eternal punishment made this loving soul insane. No wonder that the “tidings of great Joy” quenched Hope’s great star and left his broken heart in the darkness of despair.
We had many volumes of orthodox sermons, filled with wrath and the terrors of the judgment to come — sermons that had been delivered by savage saints.
We had the Book of Martyrs, showing that Christians had for many centuries imitated the God they worshiped.
We had the history of the Waldenses — of the reformation of the Church. We had Pilgrim’s Progress, Baxter’s Call andButler’s Analogy.
To use a Western phrase or saying, I found that Bishop Butler dug up more snakes than he killed — suggested more difficulties than he explained — more doubts than he dispelled.
Among such books my youth was passed. All the seeds of Christianity — of superstition, were sown in my mind and cultivated with great diligence and care.
All that time I knew nothing of any science — nothing about the other side — nothing of the objections that had been urged against the blessed Scriptures, or against the perfect Congregational creed. Of course I had heard the ministers speak of blasphemers, of infidel wretches, of scoffers who laughed at holy things. They did not answer their arguments, but they tore their characters into shreds and demonstrated by the fury of assertion that they had done the Devil’s work. And yet in spite of all I heard — of all I read. I could not quite believe. My brain and heart said No.
For a time I left the dreams, the insanities, the illusions and delusions, the nightmares of theology. I studied astronomy, just a little — I examined maps of the heavens — learned the names of some of the constellations — of some of the stars — found something of their size and the velocity with which they wheeled in their orbits — obtained a faint conception of astronomical spaces — found that some of the known stars were so far away in the depths of space that their light, traveling at the rate of nearly two hundred thousand miles a second, required many years to reach this little world — found that, compared with the great stars, our earth was but a grain of sand — an atom – found that the old belief that all the hosts of heaven had been created for the benefit of man, was infinitely absurd.
I compared what was really known about the stars with the account of creation as told in Genesis. I found that the writer of the inspired book had no knowledge of astronomy — that he was asignorant as a Choctaw chief — as an Eskimo driver of dogs. Does any one imagine that the author of Genesis knew anything about the sun — its size? that he was acquainted with Sirius, the North Star, with Capella, or that he knew anything of the clusters of stars so far away that their light, now visiting our eyes, has been traveling for two million years?
If he had known these facts would he have said that Jehovah worked nearly six days to make this world, and only a part of the afternoon of the fourth day to make the sun and moon and all the stars?
Yet millions of people insist that the writer of Genesis was inspired by the Creator of all worlds.
Now, intelligent men, who are not frightened, whose brains have not been paralyzed by fear, know that the sacred story of creation was written by an ignorant savage. The story is inconsistent with all known facts, and every star shining in the heavens testifies that its author was an uninspired barbarian.
I admit that this unknown writer was sincere, that he wrote what he believed to be true — that he did the best he could. He did not claim to be inspired — did not pretend that the story had been told to him by Jehovah. He simply stated the “facts” as he understood them.
After I had learned a little about the stars I concluded that this writer, this “inspired” scribe, had been misled by myth and legend, and that he knew no more about creation than the average theologian of my day. In other words, that he knew absolutely nothing.
And here, allow me to say that the ministers who are answering me are turning their guns in the wrong direction. These reverend gentlemen should attack the astronomers. They should malign and vilify Kepler, Copernicus,Newton, Herschel andLaplace. These men were the real destroyers of the sacred story. Then, after having disposed of them, they can wage a war against the stars, and against Jehovah himself for having furnished evidence against the truthfulness of his book.
Then I studied geology — not much, just a little – Just enough to find in a general way the principal facts that had been discovered, and some of the conclusions that had been reached. I learned something of the action of fire — of water — of the formation of islands and continents — of the sedimentary and igneous rocks — of the coal measures — of the chalk cliffs, something about coral reefs — about the deposits made by rivers, the effect of volcanoes, of glaciers, and of the all surrounding sea — just enough to know that the Laurentian rocks were millions of years older than the grass beneath my feet — just enough to feel certain that this world had been pursuing its flight about the sun, wheeling in light and shade, for hundreds of millions of years — just enough to know that the “inspired” writer knew nothing of the history of the earth — nothing of the great forces of nature — of wind and wave and fire — forces that have destroyed and built, wrecked and wrought through all the countless years.
And let me tell the ministers again that they should not waste their time in answering me. They should attack the geologists. They should deny the facts that have been discovered. They should launch their curses at the blaspheming seas, and dash their heads against the infidel rocks.
Then I studied biology — not much — just enough to know something of animal forms, enough to know that life existed when the Laurentian rocks were made — just enough to know that implements of stone, implements that had been formed by human hands, had been found mingled with the bones of extinct animals, bones that had been split with these implements, and that these animals had ceased to exist hundreds of thousands of years before the manufacture of Adam and Eve.
Then I felt sure that the “inspired” record was false – that many millions of people had been deceived and that all I had been taught about the origin of worlds and men was utterly untrue. I felt that I knew that the Old Testament was the work of ignorant men — that it was a mingling of truth and mistake, of wisdom and foolishness, of cruelty and kindness, of philosophy and absurdity — that it contained some elevated thoughts, some poetry, — a good deal of the solemn and commonplace, — some hysterical, some tender, some wicked prayers, some insane predictions, some delusions, and some chaotic dreams.
Of course the theologians fought the facts found by the geologists, the scientists, and sought to sustain the sacred Scriptures. They mistook the bones of the mastodon for those of human beings, and by them proudly proved that “there were giants in those days.” They accounted for the fossils by saying that God had made them to try our faith, or that the Devil had imitated the works of the Creator.
They answered the geologists by saying that the “days” in Genesis were long periods of time, and that after all the flood might have been local. They told the astronomers that the sun and moon were not actually, but only apparently, stopped. And that the appearance was produced by the reflection and refraction of light.
They excused the slavery and polygamy, the robbery and murder upheld in the Old Testament by saying that the people were so degraded that Jehovah was compelled to pander to their ignorance and prejudice.
In every way the clergy sought to evade the facts, to dodge the truth, to preserve the creed.
At first they flatly denied the facts — then they belittled them — then they harmonized them — then they denied that they had denied them. Then they changed the meaning of the “inspired” book to fit the facts. At first they said that if the facts, as claimed, were true, the Bible was false and Christianity itself a superstition. Afterward they said the facts, as claimed, were true and that they established beyond all doubt the inspiration of the Bible and the divine origin of orthodox religion.
Anything they could not dodge, they swallowed and anything they could not swallow, they dodged.
I gave up the Old Testament on account of its mistakes, its absurdities, its ignorance and its cruelty. I gave up the New because it vouched for the truth of the Old. I gave it up on account of its miracles, its contradictions, because Christ and his disciples believe in the existence of devils — talked and made bargains with them. expelled them from people and animals.
This, of itself, is enough. We know, if we know anything, that devils do not exist — that Christ never cast them out, and that if he pretended to, he was either ignorant, dishonest or insane.
These stories about devils demonstrate the human, the ignorant origin of the New Testament. I gave up the New Testament because it rewards credulity, and curses brave and honest men, and because it teaches the infinite horror of eternal pain.
Having spent my youth in reading books about religion – about the “new birth” — the disobedience of our first parents, the atonement, salvation by faith, the wickedness of pleasure, the degrading consequences of love, and the impossibility of getting to heaven by being honest and generous, and having become somewhat weary of the frayed and raveled thoughts, you can imagine my surprise, my delight when I read the poems of Robert Burns.
I was familiar with the writings of the devout and insincere, the pious and petrified, the pure and heartless. Here was a natural honest man. I knew the works of those who regarded all nature as depraved, and looked upon love as the legacy and perpetual witness of original sin. Here was a man who plucked joy from the mire, made goddesses of peasant girls, and enthroned the honest man. One whose sympathy, with loving arms, embraced all forms of suffering life, who hated slavery of every kind, who was as natural as heaven’s blue, with humor kindly as an autumn day, with wit as sharp as Ithuriel’s spear, and scorn that blasted like the simoon’s breath. A man who loved this world, this life, the things of every day, and placed above all else the thrilling ecstasies of human love.
I read and read again with rapture, tears and smiles, feeling that a great heart was throbbing in the lines.
The religious, the lugubrious, the artificial, the spiritual poets were forgotten or remained only as the fragments, the half remembered horrors of monstrous and distorted dreams.
I had found at last a natural man, one who despised his country’s cruel creed, and was brave and sensible enough to say: “All religions are auld wives’ fables, but an honest man has nothing to fear, either in this world or the world to come.”
One who had the genius to write Holy Willie’s Prayer — a poem that crucified Calvinism and through its bloodless heart thrust the spear of common sense — a poem that made every orthodox creed the food of scorn — of inextinguishable laughter.
Burns had his faults, his frailties. He was intensely human.Still, I would rather appear at the “Judgment Seat” drunk, and be able to say that I was the author of “A man’s a man for ‘a that,” than to be perfectly sober and admit that I had lived and died a Scotch Presbyterian.
I read Byron — read his Cain, in which, as in Paradise Lost, the Devil seems to be the better god — read his beautiful, sublime and bitter lines — read his prisoner of Chillon — his best — a poem that filled my heart with tenderness, with pity, and with an eternal hatred of tyranny.
I read Shelley’s Queen Mab — a poem filled with beauty, courage, thought, sympathy, tears and scorn, in which a brave soul tears down the prison walls and floods the cells with light. I read
his Skylark — a winged flame — passionate as blood — tender as tears — pure as light.
I read Keats, “whose name was writ in water” — read St. Agnes Eve, a story told with such an artless art that this poor common world is changed to fairy land — the Grecian Urn, that fills the soul with ever eager love, with all the rapture of imagined song –the Nightingale — a melody in which there is the memory of morn –a melody that dies away in dusk and tears, paining the senses with its perfectness.
And then I read Shakespeare, the plays, the sonnets, the poems — read all. I beheld a new heaven and a new earth; Shakespeare, who knew the brain and heart of man — the hopes and fears, the loves and hatreds, the vices and the virtues of the human race: whose imagination read the tear-blurred records, the blood-stained pages of all the past, and saw falling athwart the outspread scroll the light of hope and love; Shakespeare, who sounded every depth –while on the loftiest peak there fell the shadow of his wings.
I compared the Plays with the “inspired” books — Romeo and Juliet with the Song of Solomon, Lear with Job, and the Sonnets with the Psalms, and I found that Jehovah did not understand the art of speech. I compared Shakespeare’s women — his perfect women — with the women of the Bible. I found that Jehovah was not a sculptor, not a painter — not an artist — that he lacked the power that changes clay to flesh — the art, the plastic touch, that molds the perfect form — the breath that gives it free and joyous life — the genius that creates the faultless.
The sacred books of all the world are worthless dross and common stones compared with Shakespeare’s glittering gold and gleaming gems.
Up to this time I had read nothing against our blessed religion except what I had found in Burns, Byron and Shelley. By some accident I read Volney, who shows that all religions are, and have been, established in the same way — that all had their Christs, their apostles, miracles and sacred books, and then asked how it is possible to decide which is the true one. A question that is still waiting for an answer.
I read Gibbon, the greatest of historians, who marshaled his facts as skillfully as Caesar did his legions, and I learned that Christianity is only a name for Paganism — for the old religion, shorn of its beauty — that some absurdities had been exchanged for others — that some gods had been killed — a vast multitude of devils created, and that hell had been enlarged.
And then I read the Age of Reason, by Thomas Paine. Let me tell you something about this sublime and slandered man. He came to this country just before the Revolution. He brought a letter of introduction from Benjamin Franklin, at that time the greatest American.
InPhiladelphia, Paine was employed to write for the Pennsylvania Magazine. We know that he wrote at least five articles. The first was against slavery, the second against duelling, the third on the treatment of prisoners — showing that the object should be to reform, not to punish and degrade – the fourth on the rights of woman, and the fifth in favor of forming societies for the prevention of cruelty to children and animals.
From this you see that he suggested the great reforms of our century.
The truth is that he labored all his life for the good of his fellow-men, and did as much to found theGreatRepublicas any man who ever stood beneath our flag.
He gave his thoughts about religion — bout the blessed Scriptures, about the superstitions of his time. He was perfectly sincere and what he said was kind and fair.
The Age of Reason filled with hatred the hearts of those who loved their enemies, and the occupant of every orthodox pulpit became, and still is, a passionate malinger of Thomas Paine.
No one has answered — no one will answer, his argument against the dogma of inspiration — his objections to the Bible.
He did not rise above all the superstitions of his day. While he hated Jehovah, he praised the God of Nature, the creator and preserver of all. In this he was wrong, because, as Watson said in his Reply to Paine, the God of Nature is as heartless, as cruel as the God of the Bible.
But Paine was one of the pioneers — one of the Titans, one of the heroes, who gladly gave his life, his every thought and act, to free and civilize mankind.
I read Voltaire — Voltaire, the greatest man of his century, and who did more for liberty of thought and speech than any other being, human or “divine.” Voltaire, who tore the mask from hypocrisy and found behind the painted smile the fangs of hate. Voltaire, who attacked the savagery of the law, the cruel decisions of venal courts, and rescued victims from the wheel and rack. Voltaire, who waged war against the tyranny of thrones, the greed and heartlessness of power. Voltaire, who filled the flesh of priests with the barbed and poisoned arrows of his wit and made the pious jugglers, who cursed him in public, laugh at themselves in private. Voltaire, who sided with the oppressed, rescued the unfortunate, championed the obscure and weak, civilized judges, repealed laws and abolished torture in his native land.
In every direction this tireless man fought the absurd, the miraculous, the supernatural, the idiotic, the unjust. He had no reverence for the ancient. He was not awed by pageantry and pomp, by crowned Crime or mitered Pretence. Beneath the crown he saw the criminal, under the miter, the hypocrite.
To the bar of his conscience, his reason, he summoned the barbarism and the barbarians of his time. He pronounced judgment against them all, and that judgment has been affirmed by the intelligent world. Voltaire lighted a torch and gave to others the sacred flame. The light still shines and will as long as man loves liberty and seeks for truth.
I read Zeno, the man who said, centuries before our Christ was born, that man could not own his fellow-man.
“No matter whether you claim a slave by purchase or capture, the title is bad. They who claim to own their fellow-men, look down into the pit and forget the justice that should rule the world.”
I became acquainted with Epicurus, who taught the religion of usefulness, of temperance, of courage and wisdom, and who said:”Why should I fear death? If I am, death is not. If death is. I am not. Why should I fear that which cannot exist when I do?”
I read about Socrates, who when on trial for his life, said, among other things, to his judges, these wondrous words: “I have not sought during my life to amass wealth and to adorn my body, but I have sought to adorn my soul with the jewels of wisdom, patience, and above all with a love of liberty.”
So, I read about Diogenes, the philosopher who hated the superfluous — the enemy of waste and greed, and who one day entered the temple, reverently approached the altar, crushed a louse between the nails of his thumbs, and solemnly said: “The sacrifice of Diogenes to all the gods.” This parodied the worship of the world — satirized all creeds, and in one act put the essence of religion.
Diogenes must have know of this “inspired” passage — “Without the shedding of blood there is no remission of sins.”
I compared Zeno, Epicures and Socrates, three heathen wretches who had never heard of the Old Testament or the Ten Commandments,with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, three favorites of Jehovah, and I was depraved enough to think that the Pagans were superior to the Patriarchs — and to Jehovah himself.
My attention was turned to other religions, to the sacred books, the creeds and ceremonies of other lands — ofIndia,Egypt,Assyria,Persia, of the dead and dying nations.
I concluded that all religions had the same foundation – a belief in the supernatural — a power above nature that man could influence by worship — by sacrifice and prayer.
I found that all religions rested on a mistaken conception of nature — that the religion of a people was the science of that people, that is to say, their explanation of the world — of life and death — of origin and destiny.
I concluded that all religions had substantially the same origin, and that in fact there has never been but one religion in the world. The twigs and leaves may differ, but the trunk is the same.
The poor African that pours out his heart to deity of stone is on an exact religious level with the robed priest who supplicates his God. The same mistake, the same superstition, bends the knees and shuts the eyes of both. Both ask for supernatural aid, and neither has the slightest thought of the absolute uniformity of nature.
It seems probable to me that the first organized ceremonial religion was the worship of the sun. The sun was the “Sky Father,” the “All Seeing,” the source of life — the fireside of the world.
The sun was regarded as a god who fought the darkness, the power of evil, the enemy of man.
There have been many sun-gods, and they seem to have been the chief deities in the ancient religions. They have been worshiped in many lands, by many nations that have passed to death and dust.
Apollo was a sun-god and he fought and conquered the serpent of night. Baldur was a sun-god. He was in love with the Dawn – a maiden. Chrishna was a sun-god. At his birth the Ganges was thrilled from its source to the sea, and all the trees, the dead as well as the living, burst into leaf and bud and flower. Hercules was a sun-god and so was Samson, whose strength was in his hair — that is to say, in his beams. He was shorn of his strength by Delilah, the shadow — the darkness. Osiris, Bacchus, and Mithra, Hermes, Buddha, and Quetzalcoatl, Prometheus, Zoroaster, and Perseus, Cadom, Lao-tsze, Fo-hi, Horus and Rameses, were all sun-gods.
All of these gods had gods for fathers and their mothers were virgins. The births of nearly all were announced by stars, celebrated by celestial music, and voices declared that a blessing had come to the poor world. All of these gods were born in humble places — in caves, under trees, in common inns, and tyrants sought to kill them all when they were babes. All of these sun-gods were born at the winter solstice — on Christmas. Nearly all were worshiped by “wise men.” All of them fasted for forty days – all of them taught in parables — all of them wrought miracles – all met with a violent death, and all rose from the dead.
The history of these gods is the exact history of our Christ.
This is not a coincidence — an accident. Christ was a sun-god. Christ was a new name for an old biography — a survival –the last of the sun-gods. Christ was not a man, but a myth — not a life, but a legend.
I found that we had not only borrowed our Christ — but that all our sacraments, symbols and ceremonies were legacies that we received from the buried past. There is nothing original in Christianity.
The cross was a symbol thousands of years before our era. It was a symbol of life, of immortality — of the god Agni, and it was chiseled upon tombs many ages before a line of our Bible was written.
Baptism is far older than Christianity — than Judaism. The Hindus, Egyptians, Greeks and Romans had Holy Water long before a Catholic lived. The eucharist was borrowed from the Pagans. Ceres was the goddess of the fields — Bacchus of the vine. At the harvest festival they made cakes of wheat and said: “This is the flesh of the goddess.” They drank wine and cried: “This is the blood of our god.”
The Egyptians had a Trinity. They worshiped Osiris, Isis and Horus, thousands of years before the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost were known.
The Tree of Life grew inIndia, inChina, and among the Aztecs, long before the Garden of Eden was planted.
Long before our Bible was known, other nations had their sacred books.
The dogmas of the Fall of Man, the Atonement and Salvation by Faith, are far older than our religion.
In our blessed gospel, — in our “divine scheme,” — there is nothing new — nothing original. All old — all borrowed, pieced and patched.
Then I concluded that all religions had been naturally produced, and that all were variation, modifications of one, –then I felt that I knew that all were the work of man.
THE theologians had always insisted that their God was the creator of all living things — that the forms, parts, functions, colors and varieties of animals were the expressions of his fancy, taste and wisdom — that he made them all precisely as they are to-day — that he invented fins and legs and wings — that he furnished them with the weapons of attack, the shields of defence — that he formed them with reference to food and climate, taking into consideration all facts affecting life.
They insisted that man was a special creation, not related in any way to the animals below him. They also asserted that all the forms of vegetation, from mosses to forests, were just the same to-day as the moment they were made.
Men of genius, who were for the most part free from religious prejudice, were examining these things — were looking for facts.They were examining the fossils of animals and plants – studying the forms of animals — their bones and muscles — the effect of climate and food — the strange modifications through which they had passed.
Humboldt had published his lectures — filled with great thoughts — with splendid generalizations — with suggestions that stimulated the spirit of investigation, and with conclusions that satisfied the mind. He demonstrated the uniformity of Nature – the kinship of all that lives and grows — that breathes and thinks.
Darwin, with his Origin of Species, his theories about Natural Selection, the Survival of the Fittest, and the influence of environment, shed a flood of light upon the great problems of plant and animal life.
These things had been guessed, prophesied, asserted, hinted by many others, but Darwin, with infinite patience, with perfect care and candor, found the facts, fulfilled the prophecies, and demonstrated the truth of the guesses, hints and assertions. He was, in my judgment, the keenest observer, the best judge of the meaning and value of a fact, the greatest Naturalist the world has produced.
The theological view began to look small and mean.
Spencer gave his theory of evolution and sustained it by countless facts. He stood at a great height, and with the eyes of a philosopher, a profound thinker, surveyed the world. He has influenced the thought of the wisest.
Theology looked more absurd than ever.
Huxley entered the lists forDarwin. No man ever had a sharper sword — a better shield. He challenged the world. The great theologians and the small scientists — those who had more courage than sense, accepted the challenge. Their poor bodies were carried away by their friends.
Huxley had intelligence, industry, genius, and the courage to express his thought. He was absolutely loyal to what he thought was truth. Without prejudice and without fear, he followed the footsteps of life from the lowest to the highest forms.
Theology looked smaller still.
Haeckel began at the simplest cell, went from change to change — from form to form — followed the line of development, the path of life, until he reached the human race. It was all natural. There had been no interference from without.
I read the works of these great men — of many others – and became convinced that they were right, and that all the theologians — all the believers in “special creation” were absolutely wrong.
The Garden of Eden faded away, Adam and Eve fell back to dust, the snake crawled into the grass, and Jehovah became a miserable myth.
I took another step. What is matter — substance? Can it be destroyed — annihilated? Is it possible to conceive of the destruction of the smallest atom of substance? It can be ground to powder — changed from a solid to a liquid — from a liquid to a gas — but it all remains. Nothing is lost — nothing destroyed.
Let an infinite God, if there be one, attack a grain of sand — attack it with infinite power. It cannot be destroyed. It cannot surrender. It defies all force. Substance cannot be destroyed.
Then I took another step.
If matter cannot be destroyed, cannot be annihilated, it could not have been created.
The indestructible must be uncreateable.
And then I asked myself: What is force?
We cannot conceive of the creation of force, or of its destruction. Force may be changed from one form to another – from motion to heat — but it cannot be destroyed — annihilated.
If force cannot be destroyed it could not have been created.
It is eternal.
Another thing — matter cannot exist apart from force. Force cannot exist apart from matter. Matter could not have existed before force. Force could not have existed before matter. Matter
and force can only be conceived of together. This has been shown by several scientists, but most clearly, most forcibly by Buchner.
Thought is a form of force, consequently it could not have caused or created matter. Intelligence is a form of force and could not have existed without or apart from matter. Without substance there could have been no mind, no will, no force in any form, and there could have been no substance without force.
Matter and force were not created. They have existed from eternity. They cannot be destroyed.
There was, there is, no creator. Then came the question; Is there a God? Is there a being of infinite intelligence, power and goodness, who governs the world?
There can he goodness without much intelligence — but it seems to me that perfect intelligence and perfect goodness must go together.
In nature I see, or seem to see, good and evil – intelligence and ignorance — goodness and cruelty — care and carelessness — economy and waste. I see means that do not accomplish the ends –designs that seem to fail.
To me it seems infinitely cruel for life to feed on life – to create animals that devour others.
The teeth and beaks, the claws and fangs, that tear and rend, fill me with horror. What can be more frightful than a world at war? Every leaf a battle-field — every flower aGolgotha– in every drop of water pursuit, capture and death. Under every piece of bark, life lying in wait for life. On every blade of grass, something that kills, — something that suffers. Everywhere the strong living on the weak — the superior on the inferior. Everywhere the weak, the insignificant, living on the strong – the inferior on the superior — the highest food for the lowest — man sacrificed for the sake of microbes.
Murder universal. Everywhere pain, disease and death – death that does not wait for bent forms and gray hairs, but clutches babes and happy youths. Death that takes the mother from her helpless, dimpled child — death that fills the world with grief and tears.
How can the orthodox Christian explain these things?
I know that life is good. I remember the sunshine and rain. Then I think of the earthquake and flood. I do not forget health and harvest, home and love — but what of pestilence and famine? I cannot harmonize all these contradictions — these blessings and agonies — with the existence of an infinitely good, wise and powerful God.
The theologian says that what we call evil is for our benefit — that we are placed in this world of sin and sorrow to develop character. If this is true I ask why the infant dies? Millions and millions draw a few breaths and fade away in the arms of their mothers. They are not allowed to develop character.
The theologian says that serpents were given fangs to protect themselves from their enemies. Why did the God who made them, make enemies? Why is it that many species of serpents have no fangs?
The theologian says that God armored the hippopotamus, covered his body, except the under part, with scales and plates, that other animals could not pierce with tooth or tusk. But the same God made the rhinoceros and supplied him with a horn on his nose, with which he disembowels the hippopotamus.
The same God made the eagle, the vulture, the hawk, and their helpless prey.
On every hand there seems to be design to defeat design.
If God created man — if he is the father of us all, why did he make the criminals, the insane, the deformed and idiotic?
Should the inferior man thank God? Should the mother, who clasps to her breast an idiot child, thank God? Should the slave thank God?
The theologian says that God governs the wind, the rain, the lightning. How then can we account for the cyclone, the flood, the drought, the glittering bolt that kills?
Suppose we had a man in this country who could control the wind, the rain and lightning, and suppose we elected him to govern these things, and suppose that he allowed whole States to dry and wither, and at the same time wasted the rain in the sea. Suppose that he allowed the winds to destroy cities and to crush to shapelessness thousands of men and women, and allowed the lightnings to strike the life out of mothers and babes. What would we say? What would we think of such a savage?
And yet, according to the theologians, this is exactly the course pursued by God.
What do we think of a man, who will not, when he has the power, protect his friends? Yet the Christian’s God allowed his enemies to torture and burn his friends, his worshipers.
Who has ingenuity enough to explain this?
What good man, having the power to prevent it, would allow the innocent to be imprisoned, chained in dungeons, and sigh against the dripping walls their weary lives away?
If God governs the world, why is innocence not a perfect shield? Why does injustice triumph?
Who can answer these questions?
In answer, the intelligent, honest man must say: I do not know.
This God must be, if he exists, a person — a conscious being. Who can imagine an infinite personality? This God must have force, and we cannot conceive of force apart from matter. This God must be material. He must have the means by which he changes force to what we call thought. When he thinks he uses force, force that must be replaced. Yet we are told that he is infinitely wise. If he is, he does not think. Thought is a ladder — a process by which we reach a conclusion. He who knows all conclusions cannot think. He cannot hope or fear. When knowledge is perfect there can be no passion, no emotion. If God is infinite he does not want. He has all. He who does not want does not act. The infinite must dwell in eternal calm.
It is as impossible to conceive of such a being as to imagine a square triangle, or to think of a circle without a diameter.
Yet we are told that it is our duty to love this God. Can we love the unknown, the inconceivable? Can it be our duty to love anybody? It is our duty to act justly, honestly, but it cannot be our duty to love. We cannot be under obligation to admire a painting — to be charmed with a poem — or thrilled with music. Admiration cannot be controlled. Taste and love are not the servants of the will. Love is, and must be free. It rises from the heart like perfume from a flower.
For thousands of ages men and women have been trying to love the gods — trying to soften their hearts — trying to get their aid.
I see them all. The panorama passes before me. I see them with outstretched hands — with reverently closed eyes — worshiping the sun. I see them bowing, in their fear and need, to meteoric stones — imploring serpents, beasts and sacred trees — praying to idols wrought of wood and stone. I see them building altars to the unseen powers, staining them with blood of child and beast. I see the countless priests and hear their solemn chants. I see the dying victims, the smoking altars, the swinging censers, and the rising clouds. I see the half-god men — the mournful Christs, in many lands. I see the common things of life change to miracles as they speed from mouth to mouth. I see the insane prophets reading the secret book of fate by signs and dreams. I see them all – the Assyrians chanting the praises of Asshur and Ishtar — the Hindus worshiping Brahma, Vishnu and Draupadi, the whitearmed – the Chaldeans sacrificing to Bel and Hea — the Egyptians bowing to Ptah and Fta, Osiris and Isis — the Medes placating the storm, worshiping the fire — the Babylonians supplicating Bel and Murodach — I see them all by the Euphrates, the Tigris, the Ganges and the Nile. I see the Greeks building temples for Zeus, Neptune and Venus. I see the Romans kneeling to a hundred gods. I see others spurning idols and pouring out their hopes and fears to a vague image in the mind. I see the multitudes, with open mouths, receive as truths the myths and fables of the vanished years. I see them give their toil, their wealth to robe the priests, to build the vaulted roofs, the spacious aisles, the glittering domes. I see them clad in rags, huddled in dens and huts, devouring crusts and scraps, that they may give the more to ghosts and gods. I see them make their cruel creeds and fill the world with hatred, war, and death. I see them with their faces in the dust in the dark days of plague and sudden death, when cheeks are wan and lips are white for lack of bread. I hear their prayers, their sighs, their sobs. I see them kiss the unconscious lips as their hot tears fall on the pallid faces of the dead. I see the nations as they fade and fail. I see them captured and enslaved. I see their altars mingle with the common earth, their temples crumble slowly back to dust. I see their gods grow old and weak, infirm and faint. I see them fall from vague and misty thrones, helpless and dead. The worshipers receive no help. Injustice triumphs. Toilers are paid with the lash, — babes are sold, — the innocent stand on scaffolds, and the heroic perish in flames. I see the earthquakes devour, the volcanoes overwhelm, the cyclones wreck, the floods destroy, and the lightnings kill.
The nations perished. The gods died. The toil and wealth were lost. The temples were built in vain, and all the prayers died unanswered in the heedless air.
Then I asked myself the question: Is there a supernatural power — an arbitrary mind — an enthroned God — a supreme will that sways the tides and currents of the world — to which all causes bow?
I do not deny. I do not know — but I do not believe. I believe that the natural is supreme — that from the infinite chain no link can be lost or broken — that there is no supernatural power that can answer prayer — no power that worship can persuade or change — no power that cares for man.
I believe that with infinite arms Nature embraces the all — that there is no interference — no chance — that behind every event are the necessary and countless causes, and that beyond every event will be and must be the necessary and countless effects.
Man must protect himself. He cannot depend upon the supernatural — upon an imaginary father in the skies. He must protect himself by finding the facts in Nature, by developing his brain, to the end that he may overcome the obstructions and take advantage of the forces of Nature.
Is there a God?
I do not know.
Is man immortal?
I do not know.
One thing I do know, and that is, that neither hope, nor fear, belief, nor denial, can change the fact. It is as it is, and it will be as it must be.
We wait and hope.
When I became convinced that the Universe is natural – that all the ghosts and gods are myths, there entered into my brain, into my soul, into every drop of my blood, the sense, the feeling,
the joy of freedom. The walls of my prison crumbled and fell, the dungeon was flooded with light and all the bolts, and bars, and manacles became dust. I was no longer a servant, a serf or a slave. There was for me no master in all the wide world — not even in infinite space. I was free — free to think, to express my thoughts — free to live to my own ideal — free to live for myself and those I loved — free to use all my faculties, all my senses — free to spread imagination’s wings — free to investigate, to guess and dream and hope — free to judge and determine for myself —
free to reject all ignorant and cruel creeds, all the “inspired” books that savages have produced, and all the barbarous legends of the past — free from popes and priests — free from all the “called” and “set apart” — free from sanctified mistakes and holy lies — free from the fear of eternal pain — free from the winged monsters of the night — free from devils, ghosts and gods. For the first time I was free. There were no prohibited places in all the realms of thought — no air, no space, where fancy could not spread her painted wings — no chains for my limbs — no lashes for my back — no fires for my flesh — no master’s frown or threat – no following another’s steps — no need to bow, or cringe, or crawl, or utter lying words. I was free. I stood erect and fearlessly, joyously, faced all worlds.
And then my heart was filled with gratitude, with thankfulness, and went out in love to all the heroes, the thinkers who gave their lives for the liberty of hand and brain — for the freedom of labor and thought — to those who fell on the fierce fields of war, to those who died in dungeons bound with chains –to those who proudly mounted scaffold’s stairs — to those whose bones were crushed, whose flesh was scarred and torn — to those by fire consumed — to all the wise, the good, the brave of every land, whose thoughts and deeds have given freedom to the sons of men. And then I vowed to grasp the torch that they had held, and hold it high, that light might conquer darkness still.
Let us be true to ourselves — true to the facts we know, and let us, above all things, preserve the veracity of our souls.
If there be gods we cannot help them, but we can assist our fellow-men. We cannot love the inconceivable, but we can love wife and child and friend.
We can be as honest as we are ignorant. If we are, when asked what is beyond the horizon of the known, we must say that we do not know. We can tell the truth, and we can enjoy the blessed freedom that the brave have won. We can destroy the monsters of superstition, the hissing snakes of ignorance and fear. We can drive from our minds the frightful things that tear and wound with beak and fang. We can civilize our fellow-men. We can fill our lives with generous deeds, with loving words, with art and song, and all the ecstasies of love. We can flood our years with sunshine — with the divine climate of kindness, and we can drain to the last drop the golden cup of joy.
by Robert G. Ingersoll
YOU ask me what I would “substitute for the Bible as a moral guide.”
I know that many people regard the Bible as the only moral guide and believe that in that book only can be found the true and perfect standard of morality.
There are many good precepts, many wise sayings and many good regulations and laws in the Bible, and these are mingled with bad precepts, with foolish sayings, with absurd rules and cruel laws.
But we must remember that the Bible is a collection of many books written centuries apart, and that it in part represents the growth and tells in part the history of a people. We must also remember. that the writers treat of many subjects. Many of these writers have nothing to say about right or wrong, about vice or virtue.
The book of Genesis has nothing about morality. There is not a line in it calculated to shed light on the path of conduct. No one can call that book a moral guide. It is made up of myth and miracle, of tradition and legend.
In Exodus we have an account of the manner in which Jehovah delivered the Jews from Egyptian bondage.
We now know that the Jews were never enslaved by the Egyptians; that the entire story is a fiction. We know this, because there is not found in Hebrew a word of Egyptian origin, and there is not found in the language of the Egyptians a word of Hebrew origin. This being so, we know that the Hebrews and Egyptians could not have lived together for hundreds of years.
Certainly Exodus was not written to teach morality. In that book you cannot find one word against human slavery. As a matter of fact, Jehovah was a believer in that institution.
The killing of cattle with disease and hail, the murder of the first-born, so that in every house was death, because the king refused to let the Hebrews go, certainly was not moral; it was fiendish. The writer of that book regarded all the people of Egypt, their children, their flocks and herds, as the property of Pharaoh, and these people and these cattle were killed, not because they had done anything wrong, but simply for the purpose of punishing the king. Is it possible to get any morality out of this history?
All the laws found in Exodus, including the Ten Commandments, so far as they are really good and sensible, were at that time in force among all the peoples of the world.
Murder is, and always was, a crime, and always will be, as long as a majority of people object to being murdered.
Industry always has been and always will be the enemy of larceny.
The nature of man is such that he admires the teller of truth and despises the liar. Among all tribes, among all people, truth- telling has been considered a virtue and false swearing or false speaking a vice.
The love of parents for children is natural, and this love is found among all the animals that live. So the love of children for parents is natural, and was not and cannot be created by law. Love does not spring from a sense of duty, nor does it bow in obedience to commands.
So men and women are not virtuous because of anything in books or creeds.
All the Ten Commandments that are good were old, were the result of experience. The commandments that were original with Jehovah were foolish.
The worship of “any other God” could not have been worse than the worship of Jehovah, and nothing could have been more absurd than the sacredness of the Sabbath.
If commandments had been given against slavery and polygamy, against wars of invasion and extermination, against religious persecution in all its forms, so that the world could be free, so that the brain might be developed and the heart civilized, then we might, with propriety, call such commandments a moral guide.
Before we can truthfully say that the Ten Commandments constitute a moral guide, we must add and subtract. We must throw away some, and write others in their places.
The commandments that have a known application here, in this world, and treat of human obligations are good, the others have no basis in fact, or experience.
Many of the regulations found in Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy, are good. Many are absurd and cruel.
The entire ceremonial of worship is insane.
Most of the punishment for violations of laws are unphilosophic and brutal. . . . The fact is that the Pentateuch upholds nearly all crimes, and to call it a moral guide is as absurd as to say that it is merciful or true.
Nothing of a moral nature can be found in Joshua or Judges. These books are filled with crimes, with massacres and murders. They are about the same as the real history of the Apache Indians.
The story of Ruth is not particularly moral.
In first and second Samuel there is not one word calculated to develop the brain or conscience.
Jehovah murdered seventy thousand Jews because David took a census of the people. David, according to the account, was the guilty one, but only the innocent were killed.
In first and second Kings can be found nothing of ethical value. All the kings who refused to obey the priests were denounced, and all the crowned wretches who assisted the priests, were declared to be the favorites of Jehovah. In these books there cannot be found one word in favor of liberty.
There are some good Psalms, and there are some that are infamous. Most of these Psalms are selfish. Many of them are passionate appeals for revenge.
The story of Job shocks the heart of every good man. In this book there is some poetry, some pathos, and some philosophy, but the story of this drama called Job, is heart-less to the last degree. The children of Job are murdered to settle a little wager between God and the Devil. Afterward, Job having remained firm, other children are given in the place of the murdered ones. Nothing, however, is done for the children who were murdered.
The book of Esther is utterly absurd, and the only redeeming feature in the book is that the name of Jehovah is not mentioned.
I like the Song of Solomon because it tells of human love, and that is something I can understand. That book in my judgment is worth all the ones that go before it, and is a far better moral guide.
There are some wise and merciful Proverbs. Some are selfish and some are flat and commonplace.
I like the book of Ecclesiastes because there you find some sense, some poetry, and some philosophy. Take away the interpolations and it is a good book.
Of course there is nothing in Nehemiah or Ezra to make men better, nothing in Jeremiah or Lamentations calculated to lessen vice, and only a few passages in Isaiah that can be used in a good cause.
In Ezekiel and Daniel we find only ravings of the insane.
In some of the minor prophets there is now and then a good verse, now and then an elevated thought.
You can, by selecting passages from different books, make a very good creed, and by selecting passages from different books, you can make a very bad creed.
The trouble is that the spirit of the Old Testament, its disposition, its temperament, is bad, selfish and cruel. The most fiendish things are commanded, commended and applauded.
The stories that are told of Joseph, of Elisha, of Daniel and Gideon, and of many others, are hideous; hellish.
On the whole, the Old Testament cannot be considered a moral guide.
Jehovah was not a moral God. He had all the vices, and he lacked all the virtues. He generally carried out his threats, but he never faithfully kept a promise.
At the same time, we must remember that the Old Testament is a natural production, that it was written by savages who were slowly crawling toward the light. We must give them credit for the noble things they said, and we must be charitable enough to excuse their faults and even their crimes.
I know that many Christians regard the Old Testament as the foundation and the New as the superstructure, and while many admit that there are faults and mistakes in the Old Testament, they insist that the New is the flower and perfect fruit.
I admit that there are many good things in the New Testament, and if we take from that book the dogmas, of eternal pain, of infinite revenge, of the atonement, of human sacrifice, of the necessity of shedding blood; if we throw away the doctrine of non-resistance, of loving enemies, the idea that prosperity is the result of wickedness, that Poverty is a preparation for Paradise, if we throw all these away and take the good, sensible passages, applicable to conduct, then we can make a fairly good moral guide, — narrow, but moral.
Of course, many important things would be left out. You would have nothing about human rights, nothing in favor of the family, nothing for education, nothing for investigation, for thought and reason, but still you would have a fairly good moral guide.
On the other hand, if you would take the foolish passages, the extreme ones, you could make a creed that would satisfy an insane asylum.
If you take the cruel passages, the verses that inculcate eternal hatred, verses that writhe and hiss like serpents, you can make a creed that would shock the heart of a hyena.
It may be that no book contains better passages than the New Testament, but certainly no book contains worse.
Below the blossom of love you find the thorn of hatred; on the lips that kiss, you find the poison of the cobra.
The Bible is not a moral guide.
Any man who follows faithfully all its teachings is an enemy of society and will probably end his days in a prison or an asylum.
What is morality?
In this world we need certain things. We have many wants. We are exposed to many dangers. We need food, fuel, raiment and shelter, and besides these wants, there is, what may be called, the hunger of the mind.
We are conditioned beings, and our happiness depends upon conditions. There are certain things that diminish, certain things that increase, well-being. There are certain things that destroy and there are others that preserve.
Happiness, including its highest forms, is after all the only good, and everything, the result of which is to produce or secure happiness, is good, that is to say, moral. Everything that destroys or diminishes well-being is bad, that is to say, immoral. In other words, all that is good is moral, and all that is bad is immoral.
What then is, or can be called, a moral guide? The shortest possible answer is one word: Intelligence.
We want the experience of mankind, the true history of the race. We want the history of intellectual development, of the growth of the ethical, of the idea of justice, of conscience, of charity, of self-denial. We want to know the paths and roads that have been traveled by the human mind.
These facts in general, these histories in outline, the results reached, the conclusions formed, the principles evolved, taken together, would form the best conceivable moral guide.
We cannot depend on what are called “inspired books,” or the religions of the world. These religions are based on the supernatural, and according to them we are under obligation to worship and obey some supernatural being, or beings. All these religions are inconsistent with intellectual liberty. They are the enemies of thought, of investigation, of mental honesty. They destroy the manliness of man. They promise eternal rewards for belief, for credulity, for what they call faith.
These religions teach the slave virtues. They make inanimate things holy, and falsehoods sacred. They create artificial crimes. To eat meat on Friday, to enjoy yourself on Sunday, to eat on fast-days, to be happy in Lent, to dispute a priest, to ask for evidence, to deny a creed, to express your sincere thought, all these acts are sins, crimes against some god, To give your honest opinion about Jehovah, Mohammed or Christ, is far worse than to maliciously slander your neighbor. To question or doubt miracles. is far worse than to deny known facts. Only the obedient, the credulous, the cringers, the kneelers, the meek, the unquestioning, the true believers, are regarded as moral, as virtuous. It is not enough to be honest, generous and useful; not enough to be governed by evidence, by facts. In addition to this, you must believe. These things are the foes of morality. They subvert all natural conceptions of virtue.
All “inspired books,” teaching that what the supernatural commands is right, and right because commanded, and that what the supernatural prohibits is wrong, and wrong because prohibited, are absurdly unphilosophic.
And all “inspired books,” teaching that only those who obey the commands of the supernatural are, or can be, truly virtuous, and that unquestioning faith will be rewarded with eternal joy, are grossly immoral.
Again I say: Intelligence is the only moral guide.
Robert Green Ingersoll
WHEN I was a child, I was taught that the Jews were an exceedingly hard-hearted and cruel people, and that they were so destitute of the finer feelings that they had a little while before that time crucified the only perfect man who had appeared upon the earth; that this perfect man was also perfect God, and that the Jews had really stained their hands with the blood of the Infinite.
When I got somewhat older, I found that nearly all people had been guilty of substantially the same crime — that is, that they had destroyed the progressive and the thoughtful; that religionists had in all ages been cruel; that the chief priests of all people had incited the mob, to the end that heretics — that is to say, philosophers — that is to say, men who knew that the chief priests were hypocrites — might be destroyed.
I also found that Christians had committed more of these crimes than all other religionists put together.
I also became acquainted with a large number of Jewish people, and I found them like other people, except that, as a rule, they were more industrious, more temperate, had fewer vagrants among them, no beggars, very few criminals; and in addition to all this, I found that they were intelligent, kind to their wives and children, and that, as a rule, they kept their contracts and paid their debts.
The prejudice was created almost entirely by religious, or rather irreligious, instruction. All children in Christian countries are taught that all the Jews are to be eternally damned who die in the faith of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, that it is not enough to believe in the inspiration of the Old Testament — not enough to obey the Ten Commandments — not enough to believe the miracles performed in the days of the prophets, but that every Jew must accept the New Testament and must be a believer in Christianity — that is to say, he must be regenerated — or he will simply be eternal kindling wood.
The church has taught, and still teaches, that every Jew is an outcast; that he is to-day busily fulfilling prophecy; that he is a wandering witness in favor of “the glad tidings of great joy;” that Jehovah is seeing to it that the Jews shall not exist as a nation — that they shall have no abiding place, but that they shall remain scattered, to the end that the inspiration of the Bible may be substantiated.
Dr. John Hall of this city, a few years ago, when the Jewish people were being persecuted in Russia, took the ground that it was all fulfillment of prophecy, and that whenever a Jewish maiden was stabbed to death, God put a tongue in every wound for the purpose of declaring the truth of the Old Testament.
Just as long as Christians take these positions, of course they will do what they can to assist in the fulfillment of what they call prophecy, and they will do their utmost to keep the Jewish people in a state of exile, and then point to that fact as one of the corner-stones of Christianity.
My opinion is that in the early days of Christianity all sensible Jews were witnesses against the faith, and in this way excited the hostility of the orthodox. Every sensible Jew knew that no miracles had been performed inJerusalem. They all knew that the sun had not been darkened, that the graves had not given up their dead, that the veil of the temple had not been rent in twain — and they told what they knew. They were then denounced as the most infamous of human beings, and this hatred has pursued them from that day to this.
There is no other chapter in history so infamous, so bloody, so cruel, so relentless, as the chapter in which is told the manner in which Christians — those who love their enemies — have treated the Jewish people. This story is enough to bring the blush of shame to the cheek, and the words of indignation to the lips of every honest man.
Nothing can be more unjust than to generalize about nationalities, and to speak of a race as worthless or vicious, simply because you have met an individual who treated you unjustly. There are good people and bad people in all races, and the individual is not responsible for the crimes of the nation, or the nation responsible for the actions of the few. Good men and honest men are found in every faith, and they are not honest or dishonest because they are Jews or Gentiles, but for entirely different reasons.
Some of the best people I have ever known are Jews, and some of the worst people I have known are Christians. The Christians were not bad simply because they were Christians, neither were the Jews good because they were Jews. A man is far above these badges of faith and race. Good Jews are precisely the same as good Christians, and bad Christians are wonderfully like bad Jews.
Personally, I have either no prejudices about religion, or I have equal prejudice against all religions. The consequence is that I judge of people not by their creeds, not by their rites, not by their mummeries, but by their actions.
In the first place, at the bottom of this prejudice lies the coiled serpent of superstition. In other words, it is a religious question. It seems impossible for the people of one religion to like the people believing in another religion. They have different gods, different heavens, and a great variety of hells. For the followers of one god to treat the followers of another god decently is a kind of treason. In order to be really true to his god, each follower must not only hate all other gods, but the followers of all other gods.
The Jewish people should outgrow their own superstitions. It is time for them to throw away the idea of inspiration. The intelligent Jew of to-day knows that the Old Testament was written by barbarians, and he knows that the rites and ceremonies are simply absurd. He knows that no intelligent man should care anything about Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, three dead barbarians. In other words, the Jewish people should leave their superstition and rely on science and philosophy.
The Christian should do the same. He, by this time, should know that his religion is a mistake, that his creed has no foundation in the eternal verities. The Christian certainly should give up the hopeless task of converting the Jewish people, and the Jews should give up the useless task of converting the Christians. There is no propriety in swapping superstitions — neither party can afford to give any boot.
When the Christian throws away his cruel and heartless superstitions, and when the Jew throws away his, then they can meet as man to man.
In the meantime, the world will go on in its blundering way, and I shall know and feel that everybody does as he must, and that the Christian, to the extent that he is prejudiced, is prejudiced by reason of his ignorance, and that consequently the great lever with which to raise all mankind into the sunshine of philosophy, is intelligence.
Part One by Dr. Henry M. Field
An Open Letter to Robert G. Ingersoll.
by Dr. Henry M. Field
Dear Sir: I am glad that I know you, even though some of my brethren look upon you as a monster because of your unbelief. I shall never forget the long evening I spent at your house inWashington; and in what I have to say, however it may fail to convince you, I trust you will feel that I have not shown myself unworthy of your courtesy or confidence.
Your conversation, then and at other times, interested me greatly. I recognized at once the elements of your power over large audiences, in your wit and dramatic talent — impersonating characters and imitating tones of voice and expressions of countenance — and your remarkable use of language, which even in familiar talk often rose to a high degree of eloquence. All this was a keen intellectual stimulus. I was, for the most part, a listener; but as we talked freely of religious matters, I protested against your unbelief as utterly without reason. Yet there was no offence given or taken, and we parted, I trust, with a feeling of mutual respect.
Still further, we found many points of sympathy. I do not hesitate to say that there are many things in which I agree with you, in which I love what you love and hate what you hate. A man’s hatreds are not the least important part of him; they are among the best indications of his character. You love truth, and hate lying and hypocrisy — all the petty arts and deceits of the world by which men represent themselves to be other than they are — as well as the pride and arrogance, in which they assume superiority over their fellow-beings. Above all, you hate every form of injustice and oppression. Nothing moves your indignation so much as “man’s inhumanity to man,” and you mutter “curses, not loud but deep,” on the whole race of tyrants and oppressors, whom you would sweep from the face of the earth. And yet, you do not hate oppression more than I, nor love liberty more. Nor will I admit that you have any stronger desire for that intellectual freedom, to the attainment of which you look forward as the last and greatest emancipation of mankind.
Nor have you a greater horror of superstition. Indeed, I might say that you cannot have so great, for the best of all reasons, that you have not seen so much of it; you have not stood on the banks of the Ganges, and seen the Hindoos by tens of thousands rushing madly to throw themselves into the sacred river, even carrying the ashes of their dead to cast them upon the waters. It seems but yesterday that I was sitting on the back of an elephant, looking down on this horrible scene of human degradation. Such superstition overthrows the very foundations of morality. In place of the natural sense of right and wrong, which is written in men’s consciences and hearts, it introduces an artificial standard, by which the order of things is totally reversed: right is made wrong, and wrong is made right. It makes that a virtue which is not a virtue, and that a crime which is not a crime. Religion consists in a round of observances that have no relation whatever to natural goodness, but which rather exclude it by being a substitute for it. Penances and pilgrimages take the place of justice and mercy, benevolence and charity. Such a religion, so far from being a purifier, is the greatest corrupter of morals; so that it is no extravagance to say of the Hindoos, who are a gentle race, that they might be virtuous and good if they were not so religious. But this colossal superstition weighs upon their very existence, crushing out even natural virtue. Such a religion is an immeasurable curse.
I hope this language is strong enough to satisfy even your own intense hatred of superstition. You cannot loathe it more than I do. So far we agree perfectly. But unfortunately you do not limit your crusade to the religions of Asia, but turn the same style of argument against the religion of Europe andAmerica, and, indeed, against the religious belief and worship of every country and clime. In this matter you make no distinctions: you would sweep them all away; church and cathedral must go with the temple and the pagoda, as alike manifestations of human credulity, and proofs of the intellectual feebleness and folly of mankind. While under the impression of that memorable evening at your house, I took up some of your public addresses, and experienced a strange revulsion of feeling. I could hardly believe my eyes as I read, so inexpressibly was I shocked. Things which I held sacred you not only rejected with unbelief, but sneered at with contempt. Your words were full of a bitterness so unlike anything I had heard from your lips, that I could not reconcile the two, till I reflected that in Robert Ingersoll (as in the most of us) there were two men, who were not only distinct, but contrary the one to the other — the one gentle and sweet-tempered; the other delighting in war as his native element. Between the two, I have a decided preference for the former. I have no dispute with the quiet and peaceable gentleman, whose kindly spirit makes sunshine in his home; but it is that other man over yonder, who comes forth into the arena like a gladiator, defiant and belligerent, that rouses my antagonism. And yet I do not intend to stand up even against him; but if he will only sit down and listen patiently, and answer in those soft tones of voice which he knows so well how to use, we can have a quiet talk, which will certainly do him no harm, while it relieves my troubled mind.
What then is the basis of this religion which you despise? At the foundation of every form of religious faith and worship, is the idea of God. Here you take your stand; you do not believe in God. Of course you do not deny absolutely the existence of a Creative Power: for that would be to assume a knowledge which no human being can possess. How small is the distance that we can see before us! The candle of our intelligence throws its beams but a little way, beyond which the circle of light is compassed by universal darkness. Upon this no one insists more than yourself I have heard you discourse upon the insignificance of man in a way to put many preachers to shame. I remember your illustration from the myriads of creatures that live on plants, from which you picked out, to represent human insignificance, an insect too small to be seen by the naked eye, whose world was a leaf, and whose life lasted but a single day! Surely a creature that can only be seen with a microscope, cannot know that a Creator does not exist!
This, I must do you the justice to say, you do not affirm. All that you can say is, that if there be no knowledge on one side, neither is there on the other; that it is only a matter of probability; and that, judging from such evidence as appeals to your senses and your understanding, you do not believe that there is a God. Whether this be a reasonable conclusion or not, it is at least an intelligible state of mind.
Now I am not going to argue against what the Catholics call “invincible ignorance” — an incapacity on account of temperament — for I hold that the belief in God, like the belief in all spiritual things, comes to some minds by a kind of intuition. There are natures so finely strung that they are sensitive to influences which do not touch others. You may say that it is mere poetical rhapsody when Shelley writes:
“The awful shadow of some unseen power,
Floats, through unseen, among us.”
But there are natures which are not at all poetical or dreamy, only most simple and pure, which, in moments of spiritual exaltation, are almost conscious of a Presence that is not of this world. But this, which is a matter of experience, will have no weight with those who do not have that experience. For the present, therefore, I would not be swayed one particle by mere sentiment, but look at the question in the cold light of reason alone.
The idea of God is, indeed, the grandest and most awful that can be entertained by the human mind. Its very greatness overpowers us, so that it seems impossible that such a Being should exist. But if it is hard to conceive of Infinity, it is still harder to get any intelligible explanation of the present order of things without admitting the existence of an intelligent Creator and Upholder of all. Galileo, when he swept the sky with his telescope, traced the finger of God in every movement of the heavenly bodies. Napoleon, when the French savants on the voyage to Egypt argued that there was no God, disdained any other answer than to point upward to the stars and ask, “Who made all these?” This is the first question, and it is the last. The farther we go, the more we are forced to one conclusion. No man ever studied nature with a more simple desire to know the truth thanAgassiz, and yet the more he explored, the more he was startled as he found himself constantly face to face with the evidences of MIND.
Do you say this is “a great mystery,” meaning that it is something that we do not know anything about? Of course, it is “a mystery.” But do you think to escape mystery by denying the Divine existence? You only exchange one mystery for another. The first of all mysteries is, not that God exists, but that we exist. Here we are. How did we come here? We go back to our ancestors; but that does not take away the difficulty; it only removes it farther off. Once begin to climb the stairway of past generations, and you will find that it is a Jacob’s ladder, on which you mount higher and higher until you step into the very presence of the Almighty.
But even if we know that there is a God, what can we know of His character? You say, “God is whatever we conceive Him to be.” We frame an image of Deity out of our consciousness — it is simply a reflection of our own personality, cast upon the sky like the image seen in theAlpsin certain states of the atmosphere — and then fall down and worship that which we have created, not indeed with our hands, but out of our minds. This may be true to some extent of the gods of mythology, but not of the God of Nature, who is as inflexible as Nature itself. You might as well say that the laws of nature are whatever we imagine them to be. But we do not go far before we find that, instead of being pliant to our will, they are rigid and inexorable, and we dash ourselves against them to our own destruction. So God does not bend to human thought any more than to human will. The more we study Him the more we find that He is not what we imagined him to be; that He is far greater than any image of Him that we could frame.
But, after all, you rejoin that the conception of a Supreme Being is merely an abstract idea, of no practical importance, with no bearing upon human life. I answer, it is of immeasurable importance. Let go the idea of God, and you have let go the highest moral restraint. There is no Ruler above man; he is a law unto himself — a law which is as impotent to produce order, and to hold society together, as man is with his little hands to hold the stars in their courses.
I know how you reason against the Divine existence from the moral disorder of the world. The argument is one that takes strong hold of the imagination, and may be used with tremendous effect. You set forth in colors none too strong the injustice that prevails in the relations of men to one another — the inequalities of society; the haughtiness of the rich and the misery of the poor; you draw lurid pictures of the vice and crime which run riot in the great capitals which are the centers of civilization; and when you have wound up your audience to the highest pitch, you ask, “How can it be that there is a just God in heaven, who looks down upon the earth and sees all this horrible confusion, and yet does not lift His hand to avenge the innocent or punish the guilty? “To this I will make but one answer: Does it convince yourself? I do not mean to imply that you are conscious of insincerity. But an orator is sometimes carried away by his own eloquence, and states things more strongly than he would in his cooler moments. So I venture to ask: With all your tendency to skepticism, do you really believe that there is no moral government of the world — no Power behind nature “making for righteousness?” Are there no retribution in history? When Lincoln stood on the field of Gettysburg, so lately drenched with blood, and, reviewing the carnage of that terrible day, accepted it as the punishment of our national sins, was it a mere theatrical flourish in him to lift his hand to heaven, and exclaim, “Just and true arc Thy ways, Lord God Almighty!”
Having settled it to your own satisfaction that there is no God, you proceed in the same easy way to dispose of that other belief which lies at the foundation of all religion — the immortality of the soul. With an air of modesty and diffidence that would carry an audience by storm, you confess your ignorance of what, perhaps, others are better acquainted with, when you say, “This world is all that I know anything about, so far as I recollect.” This is very wittily put, and some may suppose it contains an argument; but do you really mean to say that you do not know anything except what you “recollect,” or what you have seen with your eyes? Perhaps you never saw your grandparents; but have you any more doubt of their existence than of that of your father and mother whom you did see?
Here, as when you speak of the existence of God, you carefully avoid any positive affirmation: you neither affirm nor deny. You are ready for whatever may “turn up.” In your jaunty style, if you find yourself hereafter in some new and unexpected situation, you will accept it and make the best of it, and be “as ready as the next man to enter on any remunerative occupation!”
But while airing this pleasant fancy, you plainly regard the hope of another life as a beggar’s dream — the momentary illusion of one who, stumbling along life’s highway, sets him down by the roadside, footsore and weary, cold and hungry, and falls asleep, and dreams of a time when he shall have riches and plenty. Poor creature! let him dream; it helps him to forget his misery, and may give him a little courage for his rude awaking to the hard reality of life. But it is all a dream, which dissolves in thin air, and floats away and disappears. This illustration I do not take from you, but simply choose to set forth what (as I infer from the sentences above quoted and many like expressions) may describe, not unfairly, your state of mind. Your treatment of the subject is one of trifling. You do not speak of it in a serious way, but lightly and flippantly, as if it were all a matter of fancy and conjecture, and not worthy of sober consideration.
Now, does it never occur to you that there is something very cruel in this treatment of the belief of your fellow-creatures, on whose hope of another life hangs all that relieves the darkness of their present existence? To many of them life is a burden to carry, and they need all the helps to carry it that can be found in reason, in philosophy, or in religion. But what support does your hollow creed supply? You are a man of warm heart, of the tenderest sympathies. Those who know you best, and love you most, tell me that you cannot bear the sight of suffering even in animals; that your natural sensibility is such that you find no pleasure in sports, in hunting or fishing; to shoot a robin would make you feel like a murderer. If you see a poor man in trouble your first impulse is to help him. You cannot see a child in tears but you want to take up the little fellow in your arms, and make him smile again. And yet, with all your sensibility, you hold the most remorseless and pitiless creed in the world — a creed in which there is not a gleam of mercy or of hope. A mother has lost her only son. She goes to his grave and throws herself upon it, the very picture of woe. One thought only keeps her from despair: it is that beyond this life there is a world where she may once more clasp her boy in her arms. What will you say to that mother? You are silent, and your silence is a sentence of death to her hopes. By that grave you cannot speak; for if you were to open your lips and tell that mother what you really believe, it would be that her son is blotted out of existence, and that she can never look upon his face again. Thus with your iron heel do you trample down and crush the last hope of a broken heart.
When such sorrow comes to you, you feel it as keenly as any man. With your strong domestic attachments one cannot pass out of your little circle without leaving a great void in your heart, and your grief is as eloquent as it is hopeless. No sadder words ever fell from human lips than these, spoken over the coffin of one to whom you were tenderly attached: “Life is but a narrow vale, between the cold and barren peaks of two eternities!” This is a doom of annihilation, which strike a chill to the stoutest heart. Even you must envy the faith which, as it looks upward, sees those “peaks of two eternities,” not “cold and barren,” but warm with the glow of the setting sun, which gives promise of a happier tomorrow!
I think I hear you say, “So might it be! Would that I could believe it! “for no one recognizes more the emptiness of life as it is. I do not forget the tone in which you said: “Life is very sad to me; it is very pitiful; there isn’t much to it.” True indeed! With your belief, or want of belief, there is very little to it; and if this were all, it would be a fair question whether life were worth living. In the name of humanity, let us cling to all that is left us that can bring a ray of hope into its darkness, and thus lighten its otherwise impenetrable gloom.
I observe that you not infrequently entertain yourself and your audiences by caricaturing certain doctrines of the Christian religion. The “Atonement,” as you look upon it, is simply “punishing the wrong man” — letting the guilty escape and putting the innocent to death. This is vindicating justice by permitting injustice. But is there not another side to this? Does not the idea of sacrifice run through human life, and ennoble human character? You see a mother denying herself for her children, foregoing every comfort, enduring every hardship, till at last, worn out by her labor and her privation, she folds her hands upon her breast. May it not be said truly that she gives her life for the life of her children? History is full of sacrifice, and it is the best part of history. I will not speak of “the noble army of martyrs, “but of heroes who have died for their country or for liberty — what is it but this element of devotion for the good of others that gives such glory to their immortal names? How then should it be thought a thing without reason that a Deliverer of the race should give His life for the life of the world?
So, too, you find a subject for caricature in the doctrine of “Regeneration.” But what is regeneration but a change of character shown in a change of life? Is that so very absurd? Have you never seen a drunkard reformed? Have you never seen a man of impure life, who, after running his evil course, had, like the prodigal, “come to himself” — that is, awakened to his shame, and turning from it, come back to the path of purity, and finally regained a true and noble manhood? Probably you would admit this, but say that the change was the result of reflection, and of the man’s own strength of will. The doctrine of regeneration only adds to the will of man the power of God. We believe that man is weak, but that God is mighty; and that when man tries to raise himself, an arm is stretched out to lift him up to a height which he could not attain alone. Sometimes one who has led the worst life, after being plunged into such remorse and despair that he feels as if he were enduring the agonies of hell, turns back and takes another course: he becomes “a new creature,” whom his friends can hardly recognize as he “sits clothed and in his right mind.” The change is from darkness to light, from death to life; and he who has known but one such case will never say that the language is too strong which describes that man as “born again.”
If you think that I pass lightly over these doctrines, not bringing out all the meaning which they bear, I admit it. I am not writing an essay in theology, but would only show, in passing, by your favorite method of illustration, that the principles involved are the same with which you are familiar in everyday life.
But the doctrine which excites your bitterest animosity is that of Future Retribution. The prospect of another life, reaching on into an unknown futurity, you would contemplate with composure were it not for the dark shadow hanging over it. But to live only to suffer; to live when asking to die; to “long for death, and not be able to find it” — is a prospect which arouses the anger of one who would look with calmness upon death as an eternal sleep. The doctrine loses none of its terrors in passing through your hands; for it is one of the means by which you work upon the feelings of your hearers. You pronounce it “the most horrible belief that ever entered the human mind: that the Creator should bring beings into existence to destroy them! This would make Him the most fearful tyrant in the universe — a Moloch devouring his own children!” I shudder when I recall the fierce energy with which you spoke as you said, “Such a God I hate with all the intensity of my being!”
But gently, gently, Sir! We will let this burst of fury pass before we resume the conversation. When you are a little more tranquil, I would modestly suggest that perhaps you are fighting a figment of your imagination. I never heard of any Christian teacher who said that “the Creator brought beings into the world to destroy them! ” Is it not better to moderate yourself to exact statements, especially when, with all modifications, the subject is one to awaken a feeling the most solemn and profound?
Now I am not going to enter into a discussion of this doctrine. I will not quote a single text. I only ask you whether it is not a scientific truth that the effect of everything which is of the nature of a cause is eternal. Science has opened our eyes to some very strange facts in nature. The theory of vibrations is carried by the physicists to an alarming extent. They tell us that it is literally and mathematically true that you cannot throw a ball in the air but it shakes the solar system. Thus all things act upon all. What is true in space may be true in time, and the law of physics may hold in the spiritual realm. When the soul of man departs out of the body, being released from the grossness of the flesh, it may enter on a life a thousand times more intense than this: in which it will not need the dull senses as avenues of knowledge, because the spirit itself will be all eye, all ear, all intelligence; while memory, like an electric flash, will in an instant bring the whole of the past into view; and the moral sense will be quickened as never before. Here then we have all the conditions of retribution — a world which, however shadowy it may be seem, is yet as real as the homes and habitations and activities of our present state; with memory trailing the deeds of a lifetime behind it, and conscience, more inexorable than any judge, giving its solemn and final verdict.
With such conditions assumed, let us take a case which would awaken your just indignation — that of a selfish, hardhearted, and cruel man; who sacrifices the interests of everybody to his own; who grinds the faces of the poor, robbing the widow and the orphan of their little all; and who, so far from making restitution, dies with his ill-gotten gains held fast in his clenched hand. How long must the night be to sleep away the memory of such a hideous life? If he wakes, will not the recollection cling to him still? Are there any waters of oblivion that can cleanse his miserable soul? If not — if he cannot forget — surely he cannot forgive himself for the baseness which now he has no opportunity to repair. Here, then, is a retribution which is inseparable from his being, which is a part of his very existence. The undying memory brings the undying pain.
Take another case — alas! too sadly frequent. A man of pleasure betrays a young, innocent, trusting woman by the promise of his love, and then casts her off, leaving her to sink down, down, through every degree of misery and shame, till she is lost in depths, which plummet never sounded, and disappears. Is he not to suffer for this poor creature’s ruin? Can he rid himself of it by fleeing beyond “that borne from whence no traveler returns”? Not unless he can flee from himself: for in the lowest depths of the under-world — a world in which the sun never shines — that image will still pursue him. As he wanders in its gloomy shades a pale form glides by him like an affrighted ghost. The face is the same, beautiful even in its sorrow, but with a look upon it as of one who has already suffered an eternity of woe. In an instant all the past comes back again. He sees the young, unblessed mother wandering in some lonely place, that only the heavens may witness her agony and her despair. There he sees her holding up in her arms the babe that had no right to be born, and calling upon God to judge her betrayer. How far in the future must he travel to forget that look? Is there any escape except by plunging into the gulf of annihilation?
Thus far in this paper I have taken a tone of defence. But I do not admit that the Christian religion needs any apology, — it needs only to be rightly understood to furnish its own complete vindication. Instead of considering its “evidences,” which is but going round the outer walls, let us enter the gates of the temple and see what is within. Here we find something better than “towers and bulwarks” in the character of Him who is the Founder of our Religion, and not its Founder only, but its very core and being. Christ is Christianity. Not only is He the Great Teacher, but the central subject of what He taught, so that the whole stands or falls with Him.
In our first conversation, I observed that, with all your sharp comments on things sacred, you professed great respect for the ethics of Christianity, and for its author. “Make the Sermon on the Mount your religion,” you said, “and there I am with you.” Very well! So far, so good. And now, if you will go a little further, you may find still more food for reflection.
All who have made a study of the character and teachings of Christ, even those who utterly deny the supernatural, stand in awe and wonder before the gigantic figure which is here revealed. Renan closes his “Life of Jesus” with this as the result of his long study: “Jesus will never be surpassed. His worship will be renewed without ceasing; his story [legend] will draw tears from beautiful eyes without end; his sufferings will touch the finest natures; ALL THE AGES WILL PROCLAIM THAT AMONG THE SONS OF MEN THERE HAS NOT RISEN A GREATER THAN JESUS, “SOCRATES DIED LIKE A PHILOSOPHER, BUT JESUS CHRIST LIKE A GOD!”
Here is an argument for Christianity to which I pray you to address yourself. As you do not believe in miracles, and are ready to explain everything by natural causes, I beg you to tell us how came it to pass that a Hebrew peasant, born among the hills of Judea, had a wisdom above that of Socrates or Plato, of Confucius or Buddha? This is the greatest of miracles, that such a Being has lived and died on the earth.
Since this is the chief argument for Religion, does it not become one who undertakes to destroy it to set himself first to this central position, instead of wasting his time on mere outposts? When you next address one of the great audiences that hang upon your words, is it unfair to ask that you lay aside such familiar topics as Miracles or Ghosts, or a reply to Talmage, and tell us what you think of JESUS CHRIST; whether you look upon Him as an impostor, or merely as a dreamer — a mild and harmless enthusiast; or are you ready to acknowledge that He is entitled to rank among the great teachers of mankind?
But if you are compelled to admit the greatness of Christ, you take your revenge on the Apostles, whom you do not hesitate to say that you “don’t think much of” In fact, you set them down in a most peremptory way as “a poor lot.” It did seem rather an unpromising “lot,” that of a boat-load of fishermen, from which to choose the apostles of a religion — almost as unpromising as it was to take a rail-splitter to be the head of a nation in the greatest crisis of its history! But perhaps in both cases there was a wisdom higher than ours, that chose better than we. It might puzzle even you to give a better definition of religion than this of the Apostle James: “Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this: to visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep himself unspotted from the world;” or to find among those sages of antiquity, with whose writings you are familiar, a more complete and perfect delineation of that which is the essence of all goodness and virtue, than Paul’s description of the charity which “suffereth long and is kind;” or to find in the sayings of Confucius or of Buddha anything more sublime than this aphorism of John: “God is love, and he that dwelleth in love dwelleth in God, and God in him.”
And here you must allow me to make a remark, which is not intended as a personal retort, but simply in the interest of that truth which we both profess to seek, and to count worth more than victory. Your language is too sweeping to indicate the careful thinker, who measures his words and weighs them in a balance. Your lectures remind me of the pictures of Gustave Dore, who preferred to paint on a large canvas, with figures as gigantesque as those of Michael Angelo in his Last Judgment. The effect is very powerful, but if he had softened his colors a little, — if there were a few delicate touches, a mingling of light and shade, as when twilight is stealing over the earth, — the landscape would be more true to nature. So, believe me, your words would be more weighty if they were not so strong. But whenever you touch upon religion you seem to lose control of yourself, and a vindictive feeling takes possession of you, which causes you to see things so distorted from their natural appearance that you cannot help running into the broadest caricature. You swing your sentences as the woodman swings his axe. Of course, this “slashing” style is very effective before a popular audience, which does not care for nice distinctions, or for evidence that has to be sifted and weighed. but wants opinions off hand, and likes to have its prejudices and hatreds echoed back in a ringing voice. This carries the crowd, but does not convince the philosophic mind. The truth-seeker cannot cut a road through the forest with sturdy blows; he has a hidden path to trace, and must pick his way with slow and cautious step to find that which is more precious than gold.
But if it were possible for you to sweep away the “evidences of Christianity,” you have not swept away Christianity itself; it still lives, not only in tradition, but in the hearts of the people, entwined with all that is sweetest in their domestic life, from which it must be torn out with unsparing hand before it can be exterminated. To begin with, you turn your back upon history. All that men have done and suffered for the sake of religion was folly. The Pilgrims, who crossed the sea to find freedom to worship God in the forests of theNew World, were miserable fanatics, There is no more place in the world for heroes and martyrs. He who sacrifices his life for a faith, or an idea, is a fool. The only practical wisdom is to have a sharp eye to the main chance. If you keep on in this work of demolition, you will soon destroy all our ideals. Family life withers under the cold sneer — half pity and half scorn — with which you look down on household worship, Take from our American firesides such scenes as that pictured in the Cotter’s Saturday Night, and you have taken from them their most sacred hours and their tenderest memories.
The same destructive spirit which intrudes into our domestic as well as our religious life, would take away the beauty of our villages as well as the sweetness of our homes. In the weary round of a week of toil, there comes an interval of rest; the laborer lays down his burden, and for a few hours breathes a serener air. The Sabbath morning has come:
“Sweet day! so cool, so calm, so bright,
The bridal of the earth and sky.”
At the appointed hour the bell rings across the valley, and sends its echoes among the hills; and from all the roads the people come trooping to the village church. Here they gather, old and young, rich and poor; and as they join in the same act of worship, feel that God is the maker of them all? Is there in our national life any influence more elevating than this one which tends more to bring a community together; to promote neighborly feeling; to refine the manners of the people; to breed true courtesy, and all that makes a Christian village different from a cluster of Indian wigwams — a civilized community different from a tribe of savages?
All this you would destroy: you would abolish the Sabbath, or have it turned into a holiday; you would tear down the old church, so full of tender associations of the living and the dead. or at least have it “ruzeed,” cutting off the tall spire that points, upward to heaven; and the interior you would turn into an Assembly room — a place of entertainment, where the young people could have their merry-makings, except perchance in the warm Summer-time, when they could dance on the village green! So far you would have gained your object. But would that be a more orderly community, more refined or more truly happy?
You may think this a mere sentiment — that we care more for the picturesque than for the true. But there is one result which is fearfully real: the destructive creed, or no creed, which despoils our churches and our homes, attacks society in its first principles by taking away the support of morality. I do not believe that general morality can be upheld without the sanctions of religion. There may be individuals of great natural force of character, who can stand alone — men of superior intellect and strong will. But in general human nature is weak, and virtue is not the spontaneous growth of childish innocence. Men do not become pure and good by instinct. Character, like mind, has to be developed by education; and it needs all the elements of strength which can be given it, from without as well as from within, from the government of man and the government of God, To let go of these restraints is a peril to public morality.
You feel strong in the strength of a robust manhood, well poised in body and mind, and in the center of a happy home, where loving hearts cling to you like vines round the oak. But many to whom you speak are quite otherwise, You address thousands of young men who have come out of country homes, where they have been brought up in the fear of God, and have heard the morning and evening prayer. They come into a city full of temptations, but are restrained from evil by the thought of father and mother, and reverence for Him who is the Father of us all — feeling which, though it may not have taken the form of any profession, is yet at the bottom of their hearts, and keeps them from many a wrong and wayward step. A young man, who is thus “guarded and defended” as by unseen angels, some evening when he feels very lonely, is invited to “go and hear Ingersoll,” and for a couple of hours listens to your caricatures of religion, with descriptions of the prayers and the psalm-singing, illustrated by devout grimaces and nasal tones, which set the house in roars of laughter, and are received with tumultuous applause. When it is all over, and the young man finds himself again under the flaring lamps of the city streets, he is conscious of a change; the faith of his childhood has been rudely torn from him, and with it “a glory has passed away from the earth;” the Bible which his mother gave him, the morning that he came away, is “a mass of fables;” the sentence which she wished him to hang on the wall, “Thou, God, seest me,” has lost its power, for there is no God that sees him, no moral government, no law and no retribution. So he reasons as he walks slowly homeward, meeting the temptations which haunt these streets at night — temptations from which he has hitherto turned with a shudder, but which he now meets with a diminished power of resistance. Have you done that young man any good in taking from him what he held sacred before? Have you not left him morally weakened? From sneering at religion, it is but a step to sneering at morality, and then but one step more to a vicious and profligate career, How are you going to stop this downward tendency? When you have stripped him of former restraints, do you leave him anything in their stead, except indeed a sense of honor, self-respect, and self-interest? — worthy motives, no doubt, but all too feeble to withstand the fearful temptations that assail him. Is the chance of his resistance as good as if was before? Watch him as he goes along that street at midnight! He passes by the places of evil resort, of drinking and gambling — those open mouths of hell; he hears the sound of music and dancing, and for the first time pauses to listen. How long will it be before he will venture in?
With such dangers in his path, it is a grave responsibility to loosen the restraints which hold such a young man to virtue. These gibes and sneers which you utter so lightly, may have a sad echo in a lost character and a wretched life. Many a young man has been thus taunted until he has pushed off from the shore, under the idea of gaining his “liberty,” and ventured into the rapids, only to be carried down the stream, and left a wreck in the whirlpool below.
You tell me that your object is to drive fear out of the world. That is a noble ambition; if you succeed, you will be indeed a deliverer. Of course you mean only irrational fears. You would not have men throw off the fear of violating the laws of nature; for that would lead to incalculable misery. You aim only at the terrors born of ignorance and superstition. But how are you going to get rid of these? You trust to the progress of science, which has dispelled so many fears arising from physical phenomena, by showing that calamities ascribed to spiritual agencies are explained by natural causes. But science can only go a certain way, beyond which we come into the sphere of the unknown, where all is dark as before. How can you relieve the fears of others — indeed how can you rid yourself of fear, believing as you do that there is no Power above which can help you in any extremity; that you are the sport of accident, and may be dashed in pieces by the blind agency of nature? If I believed this, I should feel that I was in the grasp of some terrible machinery which was crushing me to atoms, with no possibility of escape.
Not so does Religion leave man here on the earth, helpless and hopeless — in abject terror, as he is in utter darkness as to his fate — but opening the heaven above him, it discovers a Great Intelligence, compassing all things, seeing the end from the beginning, and ordering our little lives so that even the trials that we bear, as they call out the finer elements of character, conduce to our future happiness. God is our Father. We look up into His face with childlike confidence, and find that “His service is perfect freedom.” “Love casts out fear.” That, I beg to assure you, is the way, and the only way, by which man can be delivered from those fears by which he is all his lifetime subject to bondage.
In your attacks upon Religion you do violence to your own manliness. Knowing you as I do, I feel sure that you do not realize where your blows fall, or whom they wound, or you would not use your weapons so freely. The faiths of men are as sacred as the most delicate manly or womanly sentiments of love and honor. They are dear as the beloved faces that have passed from our sight. I should think myself wanting in respect to the memory of my father and mother if I could speak lightly of the faith in which they lived and died. Surely this must be mere thoughtlessness, for I cannot believe that you find pleasure in giving pain. I have not forgotten the gentle hand that was laid upon your shoulder, and the gentle voice which said, “Uncle Robert wouldn’t hurt a fly.” And yet you bruise the tenderest sensibilities, and trample down what is most cherished by millions of sisters and daughters and mothers, little heeding that you are sporting with “human creatures’ lives.”
You are waging a hopeless war — a war in which you are certain only of defeat. The Christian Religion began to be nearly two thousand years before you and I were born, and it will live two thousand years after we are dead. Why is it that it lives on and on, while nations and kingdoms perish? Is not this “the survival of the fittest?” Contend against it with all your wit and eloquence, you will fail, as all have failed before you. You cannot fight against the instincts of humanity. It is as natural for men to look up to a Higher Power as it is to look up to the stars. Tell them that there is no God! You might as well tell them that there is no Sun in heaven, even while on that central light and heat all life on earth depends.
I do not presume to think that I have convinced you, or changed your opinion; but it is always right to appeal to a man’s “sober second thought” — to that better judgment that comes with increasing knowledge and advancing years; and I will not give up hope that you will yet see things more, clearly, and recognize the mistake you have made in not distinguishing Religion from Superstition — two things as far apart as “the hither from the utmost pole.” Superstition is the greatest enemy of Religion. It is the nightmare of the mind, filling it with all imaginable terrors — a black cloud which broods over half the world. Against this you may well invoke the light of science to scatter its darkness. Whoever helps to sweep it away, is a benefactor of his race. But when this is done, and the moral atmosphere is made pure and sweet, then you as well as we may be conscious of a new Presence coming into the hushed and vacant air, as Religion, daughter of the skies, descends to earth to bring peace and good will to men.
HENRY M. FIELD.
Part 2 — Field – Ingersoll Debate.
A REPLY TO THE REV. HENRY M. FIELD, D.D.
“Doubt is called the beacon of the wise.”
My Dear Mr. Field:
I answer your letter because it is manly, candid and generous. It is not often that a minister of the gospel of universal benevolence speaks of an unbeliever except in terms of reproach, contempt and hatred. The meek are often malicious. The statement in your letter, that some of your brethren look upon me as a monster on account of my unbelief, tends to show that those who love God are not always the friends of their fellow-men.
Is it not strange that people who admit that they ought to be eternally damned, that they are by nature totally depraved, and that there is no soundness or health in them, can be so arrogantly egotistic as to look upon others as “monsters”? And yet “some of your brethren,” who regard unbelievers as infamous, rely for salvation entirely on the goodness of another, and expect to receive as alms an eternity of joy.
The first question that arises between us, is as to the innocence of honest error — as to the right to express an honest thought.
You must know that perfectly honest men differ on many important subjects. Some believe in free trade, others are the advocates of protection. There are honest Democrats and sincere Republicans. How do you account for these differences? Educated men, presidents of colleges, cannot agree upon questions capable of solution — questions that the mind can grasp, concerning which the evidence is open to all and where the facts can be with accuracy ascertained. How do you explain this? If such differences can exist consistently with the good faith of those who differ, can you not conceive of honest people entertaining different views on subjects about which nothing can be positively known?
You do not regard me as a monster. “Some of your brethren” do. How do you account for this difference? Of course, your brethren — their hearts having been softened by the Presbyterian God — are governed by charity and love. They do not regard me as a monster because I have committed an infamous crime, but simply for the reason that I have expressed my honest thoughts.
What should I have done? I have read the Bible with great care, and the conclusion has forced itself upon my mind not only that it is not inspired, but that it is not true. Was it my duty to speak or act contrary to this conclusion? Was it my duty to remain silent? If I had been untrue to myself, if I had joined the majority, — if I had declared the book to be the inspired word of God, — would your brethren still have regarded me as a monster? Has religion had control of the world so long that an honest man seems monstrous?
According to your creed — according to your Bible — the same Being who made the mind of man, who fashioned every brain, and sowed within those wondrous fields the seeds of every thought and deed, inspired the Bible’s every word, and gave it as a guide to all the world. Surely the book should satisfy the brain. And yet, there are millions who do not believe in the inspiration of the Scriptures. Some of the greatest and best have held the claim of inspiration in contempt. No Presbyterian ever stood higher in the realm of thought than Humboldt. He was familiar with Nature from sands to stars, and gave his thoughts, his discoveries and conclusions, “more precious than the tested gold,” to all mankind. Yet he not only rejected the religion of your brethren, but denied the existence of their God. Certainly, Charles Darwin was one of the greatest and purest of men, — as free horn prejudice as the mariner’s compass, — desiring only to find amid the mists and clouds of ignorance the star of truth. No man ever exerted a greater influence on the intellectual world. His discoveries, carried to their legitimate conclusion, destroy the creeds and sacred Scriptures of mankind. In the light of “Natural Selection,” “The Survival of the Fittest,” and “The Origin of Species,” even the Christian religion becomes a gross and cruel superstition. YetDarwinwas an honest, thoughtful, brave and generous man.
Compare, I beg of you, these men, Humboldt and Darwin, with the founders of the Presbyterian Church. Read the life of Spinoza, the loving pantheist, and then that of John Calvin, and tell me, candidly, which, in your opinion, was a “monster.” Even your brethren do not claim that men are to be eternally punished for having been mistaken as to the truths of geology, astronomy, or mathematics. A man may deny the rotundity and rotation of the earth, laugh at the attraction of gravitation, scout the nebular hypothesis, and hold the multiplication table in abhorrence, and yet join at last the angelic choir. I insist upon the same freedom of thought in all departments of human knowledge. Reason is the supreme and final test.
If God has made a revelation to man, it must have been addressed to his reason. There is no other faculty that could even decipher the address. I admit that reason is a small and feeble flame, a flickering torch by stumblers carried in the starless night, — blown and flared by passion’s storm, — and yet it is the only light. Extinguish that, and nought remains.
You draw a distinction between what you are pleased to call “superstition” and religion. You are shocked at the Hindoo mother when she gives her child to death at the supposed command of her God. What do you think of Abraham, of Jephthah? What is your opinion of jehovah himself? Is not the sacrifice of a child to a phantom as horrible inPalestineas inIndia? Why should a God demand a sacrifice from man? Why should the infinite ask anything from the finite? Should the sun beg of the glow-worm, and should the momentary spark excite the envy or the source of light?
You must remember that the Hindoo mother believes that her child will be forever blest — that it will become the especial care of the God to whom it has been given. This is a sacrifice through a false belief on the part of the mother. She breaks her heart for the love of her babe. But what do you think of the Christian mother who expects to be happy in heaven, with her child a convict in the eternal prison — a prison in which none die, and from which none escape? What do you say of those Christians who believe that they, in heaven, will be so filled with ecstasy that all the loved of earth will be forgotten — that all the sacred relations of life, and all the passions of the heart, will fade and die, so that they will look with stony, unreplying, happy eyes upon the miseries of the lost?
You have laid down a rule by which superstition can be distinguished from religion. It is this: “It makes that a crime which is not a crime, and that a virtue which is not a virtue.” Let us test your religion by this rule.
Is it a crime to investigate, to think, to reason, to observe? Is it a crime to be governed by that which to you is evidence, and is it infamous to express your honest thought? There is also another question: Is credulity a virtue? Is the open mouth of ignorant wonder the only entrance toParadise?
According to your creed, those who believe are to be saved, and those who do not believe are to be eternally lost. When you condemn men to everlasting pain for unbelief — that is to say, for, acting in accordance with that which is evidence to them — do you not make that a crime which is not a crime? And when you reward men with an eternity of joy for simply believing that which happens to be in accord with their minds, do you not make that a virtue which is not a virtue? In other words, do you not bring your own religion exactly within your own definition of superstition?
The truth is, that no one can justly be held responsible for his thoughts. The brain thinks without asking our consent. We believe, or we disbelieve, without an effort of the will. Belief is a result. It is the effect of evidence upon the mind. The scales turn in spite of him who watches. There is no opportunity of being honest or dishonest in the formation of an opinion. The conclusion is entirely independent of desire. We must believe, or we must doubt, in spite of what we wish.
That which must be, has the right to be.
We think in spite of ourselves. The brain thinks as the heart beats, as the eyes see, as the blood pursues its course in the old accustomed ways.
The question then is, not have we the right to think, — that being a necessity, — but have we the right to express our honest thoughts? You certainly have the right to express yours, and you have exercised that right. Some of your brethren, who regard me as a monster, have expressed theirs. The question now is, have I the right to express mine? In other words, have I the right to answer your letter? To make that a crime in me which is a virtue in you, certainly comes within your definition of superstition. To exercise a right yourself which you deny to me is simply the act of a tyrant. Where did you get your right to express your honest thoughts? When, and where, and how did I lose mine?
You would not burn, you would not even imprison me, because I differ with you on a subject about which neither of us knows anything. To you the savagery of the Inquisition is only a proof of the depravity of man. You are far better than your creed. You believe that even the Christian world is outgrowing the frightful feeling that fagot, and dungeon, and thumb-screw are legitimate arguments, calculated to convince those upon whom they are used, that the religion of those who use them was founded by a God of infinite compassion. You will admit that he who now persecutes for opinion’s sake is infamous. And yet, the God you worship will, according to your creed, torture through all the endless years the man who entertains an honest doubt. A belief in such a God is the foundation and cause of all religious persecution. You may reply that only the belief in a false God causes believers to be inhuman. But you must admit that the Jews believed in the true God, and you are forced to say that they were so malicious, so cruel, so savage, that they crucified the only Sinless Being who ever lived. This crime was committed, not in spite of their religion, but in accordance with it. They simply obeyed the command of Jehovah. And the followers of this Sinless Being, who, for all these centuries, have denounced the cruelty of the Jews for crucifying a man on account of his opinion, have destroyed millions and millions of their fellow-men for differing with them. And this same Sinless Being threatens to torture in eternal fire countless myriads for the same offence. Beyond this, inconsistency cannot go. At this point absurdity becomes infinite.
Your creed transfers the Inquisition to another world, making it eternal. Your God becomes, or rather is, an infinite Torquemada, who denies to his countless victims even the mercy of death. And this you call “a consolation.”
You insist that at the foundation of every religion is the idea of God, According to your creed, all ideas of God, except those entertained by those of your faith, are absolutely false. You are not called upon to defend the Gods of the nations dead, nor the Gods of heretics. It is your business to defend the God of the Bible — the God of the Presbyterian Church. When in the ranks doing battle for your creed, you must wear the uniform of your church. You dare not say that it is sufficient to insure the salvation of a soul to believe in a god, or in some god. According to your creed, man must believe in your God. All the nations dead believed in gods, and all the worshipers of Zeus, and Jupiter, and Isis, and Osiris, and Brahma prayed and sacrificed in vain. Their petitions were not answered, and their souls were not saved. Surely you do not claim that it is sufficient to believe in any one of the heathen gods.
What right have you to occupy the position of the deists, and to put forth arguments that even Christians have answered? The deist denounced the God of the Bible because of his cruelty, and at the same time lauded the God of Nature. The Christian replied that the God of Nature was as cruel as the God of the Bible. This answer was complete.
I feel that you are entitled to the admission that none have been, that none are, too ignorant, too degraded, to believe in the supernatural; and I freely give you the advantage of this admission. Only a few — and they among the wisest, noblest, and purest of the human race — have regarded all gods as monstrous myths. Yet a belief in “the true God” does not seem to make men charitable or just. For most people, theism is the easiest solution of the universe. They are satisfied with saying that there must be a Being who created and who governs the world. But the universality of a belief does not tend to establish its truth. The belief in the existence of a malignant Devil has been as universal as the belief in a beneficent God, yet few intelligent men will say that the universality of this belief in an infinite demon even tends to prove his existence. In the world of thought, majorities count for nothing. Truth has always dwelt with the few.
Man has filled the world with impossible monsters, and he has been the sport and prey of these phantoms born of ignorance and hope and fear. To appease the wrath of these monsters man has sacrificed his fellow-man. He has shed the blood of wife and child; he has fasted and prayed; he has suffered beyond the power of language to express, and yet he has received nothing from these gods — they have heard no supplication. they have answered no prayer.
You may reply that your God “sends his rain on the just and on the unjust,” and that this fact proves that he is merciful to all alike. I answer, that your God sends his pestilence on the just and on the unjust — that his earthquakes devour and his cyclones rend and wreck the loving and the vicious, the honest and the criminal. Do not these facts prove that your God is cruel to all alike? In other words, do they not demonstrate the absolute impartiality of divine negligence?
Do you not believe that any honest man of average intelligence, having absolute control of the rain, could do vastly better than is being done? Certainly there would be no droughts or floods; the crops would not be permitted to wither and die, while rain was being wasted in the sea. Is it conceivable that a good man with power to control the winds would not prevent cyclones? Would you not rather trust a wise and honest man with the lightning?
Why should an infinitely wise and powerful God destroy the good and preserve the vile? Why should he treat all alike here, and in another world make an infinite difference? Why should your God allow his worshipers, his adorers, to be destroyed by his enemies? Why should he allow the honest, the loving, the noble, to perish at the stake? Can you answer these questions? Does it not seem to you that your God must have felt a touch of shame when the poor slave mother — one that had been robbed of her babe — knelt and with clasped hands, in a voice broken with sobs, commenced her prayer with the words “Our Father”?
It gave me pleasure to find that, notwithstanding your creed, you are philosophical enough to say that some men are incapacitated, by reason of temperament, for believing in the existence of a God. Now, if a belief in God is necessary to the salvation of the soul, why should God create a soul without this capacity? Why should he create souls that he know would be lost? You seem to think that it is necessary to be poetical, or dreamy, in order to be religious, and by inference, at least, you deny certain qualities to me that you deem necessary. Do you account for the atheism of Shelley by saying that he was not poetic, and do you quote his lines to prove the existence of the very God whose being he so passionately denied? Is it possible that Napoleon — one of the most infamous of men — had a nature so finely strung that he was sensitive to the divine influences? Are you driven to the necessity of proving the existence of one tyrant by the words of another? Personally, I have but little confidence in a religion that satisfied the heart of a man who, to gratify his ambition, filled half the world with widows and orphans. In regard toAgassiz, it is just to say that he furnished a vast amount of testimony in favor of the truth of the theories of Charles Darwin, and then denied the correctness of these theories — preferring the good opinions of Harvard for a few days to the lasting applause of the intellectual world.
I agree with you that the world is a mystery, not only, but that everything in nature is equally mysterious, and that there is no way of escape from the mystery of life and death. To me, the crystallization of the snow is as mysterious as the constellations. But when you endeavor to explain the mystery of the universe by the mystery of God, you do not even exchange mysteries — you simply make one more.
Nothing can be mysterious enough to become an explanation.
The mystery of man cannot be explained by the mystery of God. That mystery still asks for explanation. The mind is so that it cannot grasp the idea of an infinite personality, That is beyond the circumference. This being so, it is impossible that man can be convinced by any evidence of the existence of that which he cannot in any measure comprehend. Such evidence would be equally incomprehensible with the incomprehensible fact sought to be established by it, and the intellect of man can grasp neither the one nor the other.
You admit that the God of Nature — that is to say, your God — is as inflexible as nature itself. Why should man worship the inflexible? Why should he kneel to the unchangeable? you say that your God “does not bend to human thought any more than to human will,” and that “the more we study him, the more we find that he is not what we imagined him to be.” So that, after all, the only thing you are really certain of in relation to your God is, that he is not what you think he is. Is it not almost absurd to insist that such a state of mind is necessary to salvation, or that it is a moral restraint, or that it is the foundation of social order?
The most religious nations have been the most immoral, the cruelest and the most unjust.Italywas far worse under the Popes than under the Casars. Was there ever a barbarian nation more savage than theSpainof the sixteenth century? Certainly you must know that what you call religion has produced a thousand civil wars, and has severed with the sword all the natural ties that produce “the unity and married calm of States.” Theology is the fruitful mother of discord; order is the child of reason. If you will candidly consider this question — if you will for a few moments forget your preconceived opinions — you will instantly see that the instinct of self-preservation holds society together. Religion itself was born of this instinct. People, being ignorant, believed that the Gods were jealous and revengeful. They peopled space with phantoms that demanded worship and delighted in sacrifice and ceremony, phantoms that could be flattered by praise and changed by prayer. These ignorant people wished to preserve themselves. They supposed that they could in this way avoid pestilence and famine, and postpone perhaps the day of death. Do you not see that self-preservation lies at the foundation of worship? Nations, like individuals, defend and protect themselves. Nations, like individuals, have fears, have ideals, and live for the accomplishment of certain ends. Men defend their property because it is of value. Industry is the enemy of then. Men, as a rule, desire to live, and for that reason murder is a crime. Fraud is hateful to the victim. The majority of mankind work and produce the necessities, the comforts, and the luxuries of life. They wish to retain the fruits of their labor. Government is one of the instrumentalities for the preservation of what man deems of value. This is the foundation of social order, and this holds society together.
Religion has been the enemy of social order, because it directs the attention of man to another world. Religion teaches its votaries to sacrifice this world for the sake of that other. The effect is to weaken the ties that hold families and States together. Of what consequence is anything in this world compared with eternal joy?
You insist that man is not capable of self-government, and that God made the mistake of filling a world with failures — in other words, that man must be governed not by himself, but by your God, and that your God produces order, and establishes and preserves all the nations of the earth. This being so, your God is responsible for the government of this world. Does he preserve order inRussia? Is he accountable forSiberia? Did he establish the institution of slavery? Was he the founder of the Inquisition?
You answer all these questions by calling my attention to “the retributions of history.” What are the retributions of history? The honest were burned at the stake; the patriotic, the generous, and the noble were allowed to die in dungeons; whole races were enslaved; millions of mothers were robbed of their babes. What were the retributions of history? They who committed these crimes wore crowns, and they who justified these infamies were adorned with the tiara.
You are mistaken when you say thatLincolnatGettysburgsaid: “Just and true are thy judgments, Lord God Almighty.” Something like this occurs in his last inaugural, in which he says, — speaking of his hope that the war might soon be ended, — “If it shall continue until every drop of blood drawn by the lash shall be paid by another drawn with the sword, still it must be said, ‘The judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether.'” But admitting that you are correct in the assertion, let me ask you one question: could one standing over the body ofLincoln, the blood slowly oozing from the madman’s wound, have truthfully said: “Just and true are thy judgments, Lord God Almighty”?
Do you really believe that this world is governed by an infinitely wise and good God? Have you convinced even yourself of this? Why should God permit the triumph of injustice? Why should the loving be tortured? Why should the noblest be destroyed? Why should the world be filled with misery, with ignorance, and with want? What reason have you for believing that your God will do better in another world than he has done and is doing in this? Will he be wiser? Will he have more power? Will he be more merciful?
When I say “your God,” of course I mean the God described in the Bible and the Presbyterian Confession of Faith. But again I say, that in the nature of things, there can be no evidence of the existence of an infinite being.
An infinite being must be conditionless, and for that reason there is nothing that a finite being can do that can by any possibility affect the well-being of the conditionless. This being so, man can neither owe nor discharge any debt or duty to an infinite being. The infinite cannot want, and man can do nothing for a being who wants nothing. A conditioned being can be made happy, or miserable, by changing conditions, but the conditionless is absolutely independent of cause and effect.
I do not say that a God does not exist, neither do I say that a God does exist; but I say that I do not know — that there can be no evidence to my mind of the existence of such a being, and that my mind is so that it is incapable of even thinking of an infinite personality. I know that in your creed you describe God as “without body, parts, or passions.” This, to my mind, is simply a description of an infinite vacuum. I have had no experience with gods. This world is the only one with which I am acquainted, and I was surprised to find in your letter the expression that “perhaps others are better acquainted with that of which I am so ignorant.” Did you, by this, intend to say that you know anything of any other state of existence — that you have inhabited some other planet — that you lived before you were born, and that you recollect something of that other world, or of that other state?
Upon the question of immortality you have done me, unintentionally, a great injustice. With regard to that hope, I have never uttered “a flippant or a trivial” word. I have said a thousand times, and I say again, that the idea of immortality, that, like a sea, has ebbed and flowed in the human heart, with its countless waves of hope and fear beating against the shores and rocks of time and fate, was not born of any book, nor of any creed, nor of any religion. It was born of human affection, and it will continue to ebb and flow beneath the mists and clouds of doubt and darkness as long as love kisses the lips of death.
I have said a thousand times, and I say again, that we do not know, we cannot say, whether death is a wall or a door — the beginning, or end, of a day — the spreading of pinions to soar, or the folding forever of wings — the rise or the set of a sun, or an endless life, that brings rapture and love to every one.
The belief in immorality is far older than Christianity. Thousands of years before Christ was born billions of people had lived and died in that hope. Upon countless graves had been laid in love and tears the emblems of another life. The heaven of the New Testament was to be in this world. The dead, after they were raised, were to live here. Not one satisfactory word was said to have been uttered by Christ — nothing philosophic, nothing clear, nothing that adorns, like a bow of promise, the cloud of doubt.
According to the account in the New Testament, Christ was dead for a period of nearly three days. After his resurrection, why did not some one of his disciples ask him where he had been? Why did he not tell them what world he had visited? There was the opportunity to “bring life and immortality to light.” And yet he was as silent as the grave that he had left — speechless as the stone that angels had rolled away.
How do you account for this? Was it not infinitely cruel to leave the world in darkness and in doubt, when one word could have filled all time with hope and light?
The hope of immortality is the great oak round which have climbed the poisonous vines of superstition. The vines have not supported the oak — the oak has supported the vines. As long as men live and love and die, this hope will blossom in the human heart.
All I have said upon this subject has been to express my hope and confess my lack of knowledge. Neither by word nor look have I expressed any other feeling than sympathy with those who hope to live again — for those who bend above their dead and dream of life to come. But I have denounced the selfishness and heartlessness of those who expect for themselves an eternity of joy, and for the rest of mankind predict, without a tear, a world of endless pain. Nothing can be more contemptible than such a hope — a hope that can give satisfaction only to the hyenas of the human race.
When I say that I do not know — when I deny the existence of perdition, you reply that “there is something very cruel in this treatment of the belief of my fellow-creatures.”
You have had the goodness to invite me to a grave over which a mother bends and weeps for her only son. I accept your invitation. We will go together. Do not, I pray you, deal in splendid generalities. Be explicit. Remember that the son for whom the loving mother weeps was not a Christian, not a believer in the inspiration of the Bible nor in the divinity of Jesus Christ. The mother turns to you for consolation, for some star of hope in the midnight of her grief. What must you say? Do not desert the Presbyterian creed. Do not forget the threatenings of Jesus Christ. What must you say? Will you read a portion of the Presbyterian Confession of Faith? Will you read this?
“Although the light of Nature. and the works of creation andProvidence. do so far manifest the goodness, wisdom. and power of God as to leave man inexcusable, yet they are not sufficient to give that knowledge of God and of his will which is necessary to salvation.”
Or, will you read this?
“By the decree of God, for the manifestation of his glory, some men and angels are predestined unto everlasting life and others foreordained to everlasting death. These angels and men, thus predestined and foreordained, are particularly and unchangeably destined, and their number is so certain and definite that it cannot be either increased or diminished.”
Suppose the mother, lifting her tear-stained face, should say: “My son was good, generous, loving and kind. He gave his life for me. Is there no hope for him?” Would you then put this serpent in her breast?
“Men not professing the Christian religion cannot be saved in any other way whatsoever, be they ever so diligent to conform their lives according to the light of Nature. We cannot by our best works merit pardon of sin. There is no sin so small but that it deserves damnation. Works done by unregenerate men, although, for the matter of that, there may be things which God commands, and of good use both to themselves and others, are sinful and cannot please God or make a man meet to receive Christ or God”
And suppose the mother should then sobbingly ask: “What has become of my son? Where is he now?” Would you still read from your Confession of Faith, or from your Catechism this?
“The souls of the wicked are cast into hell, where they remain in torment and utter darkness, reserved to the judgment of the great day. At the last day the righteous shall come into everlasting life, but the wicked shall be cast into eternal torment and punished with unspeakable torment, both of body and soul, with the devil and his angels forever.”
If the poor mother still wept, still refused to be comforted, would you thrust this dagger in her heart?
“At the Day of Judgment you, being caught up to Christ in the clouds, shall be seated at his right hand and there openly acknowledged and acquitted, and you shall join with him in the damnation of your son.”
If this failed to still the beatings of her aching heart, would you repeat these words which you say came from the loving soul of Christ?
“They who believe and are baptized shall be saved, and they who believe not shall be damned: and these shall no away into everlasting fire prepared for the devil and his angels.”
Would you not be compelled, according to your belief, to tell this mother that “there is but one name given under heaven and among men whereby” the souls of men can enter the gates ofParadise? Would you not be compelled to say: “Your son lived in a Christian land. The means of grace were within his reach. He died not having experienced a change of heart, and your son is forever lost. You can meet your son again only by dying in your sins; but if you will give your heart to God you can never clasp him to your breast again.”
What could I say? Let me tell you: “My dear madam, this reverend gentleman knows nothing of another world. He cannot see beyond the tomb. He has simply stated to you the superstitions of ignorance, of cruelty and fear. If there be in this universe a God, he certainly is as good as you are. Why should he have loved your son in life loved him, according to this reverend gentleman, to that degree that he gave his life for him; and why should that love be changed to hatred the moment your son was dead?
“My dear woman, there are no punishments, there are no rewards — there are consequences; and of one thing you may rest assured, and that is, that every soul, no matter what sphere it may inhabit, will have the everlasting opportunity of doing right.
“If death ends all, and if this handful of dust over which you weep is all there is, you have this consolation: Your son is not within the power of this reverend gentleman’s God — that is something. Your son does not suffer. Next to a life of joy is the dreamless sleep of death.”
Does it not seem to you infinitely absurd to call orthodox Christianity “a consolation”? Here in this world, where every human being is enshrouded in cloud and mist, — where all lives are filled with mistakes, — where no one claims to be perfect, is it “a consolation” to say that “the smallest sin deserves eternal pain”? Is it possible for the ingenuity of man to extract from the doctrine of hell one drop, one ray, of “consolation”? If that doctrine be true, is not your God an infinite criminal? Why should he have created uncounted billions destined to suffer forever? Why did he not leave them unconscious dust? Compared with this crime, any crime that man can by any possibility commit is a virtue.
Think for a moment of your God, — the keeper of an infinite penitentiary filled with immortal convicts, — your God an eternal turnkey, without the pardoning power. In the presence of this infinite horror, you complacently speak of the atonement, — a scheme that has not yet gathered within its horizon a billionth part of the human race, — an atonement with one-half the world remaining undiscovered for fifteen hundred years after it was made.
If there could be no suffering, there could be no sin. To unjustly cause suffering is the only possible crime. How can a God accept the suffering of the innocent in lieu of the punishment of the guilty?
According to your theory, this infinite being, by his mere will, makes right and wrong. This I do not admit. Right and wrong exist in the nature of things — in the relation they bear to man, and to sentient beings. You have already admitted that “Nature is inflexible, and that a violated law calls for its consequences. “I insist that no God can step between an act and its natural effects. If God exists, he has nothing to do with punishment, nothing to do with reward. From certain acts flow certain consequences; these consequences increase or decrease the happiness of man; and the consequences must be borne.
A man who has forfeited his life, to the commonwealth may be pardoned, but a man who has violated a condition of his own well- being cannot he pardoned — there is no pardoning power. The laws of the State are made, and, being made, can be changed; but the facts of the universe cannot be changed. The relation of act to consequence cannot be altered. This is above all power, and, consequently, there is no analogy between the laws of the State and the facts in Nature. An infinite God could not change the relation between the diameter and circumference of the circle.
A man having committed a crime may be pardoned, but I deny the right of the State to punish an innocent man in the place of the pardoned — no matter how willing the innocent man may be to suffer the punishment. There is no law in Nature, no fact in Nature, by which the innocent can be justly punished to the end that the guilty may go free. Let it be understood once for all: Nature cannot pardon.
You have recognized this truth. You have asked me what is to become of one who seduces and betrays, of the criminal with the blood of his victim upon his hands? Without the slightest hesitation I answer, whoever commits a crime against another must, to the utmost of his power in this world and in another, if there be one, make full and ample restitution, and in addition must bear the natural consequences of his offence. No man can be perfectly happy, either in this world or in any other, who has by his perfidy broken a loving and confiding heart. No power can step between acts and consequences — no forgiveness, no atonement.
But, my dear friend, you have taught for many years, if you are a Presbyterian, or an evangelical Christian, that a man may seduce and betray, and that the poor victim, driven to insanity, leaping from some wharf at night where ships strain at their anchors in storm and darkness — you have taught that this poor girl may be tormented forever by a God of infinite compassion. This is not all that you have taught. You have said to the seducer, to the betrayer, to the one who would not listen to her wailing cry, — who would not even stretch forth his hand to catch her fluttering garments, — you have said to him: “Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, and you shall be happy forever; you shall live in the realm of infinite delight, from which you can, without a shadow falling upon your face, observe the poor girl, your victim, writhing in the agonies of hell.” You have taught this. For my part, I do not see how an angel in heaven meeting another angel whom he had robbed on the earth, could feel entirely blissful. I go further. Any decent angel, no matter if sitting at the right hand of God, should he see in hell one of his victims, would leave heaven itself for the purpose of wiping one tear from the cheek of the damned.
You seem to have forgotten your statement in the commencement of your letter, that your God is as inflexible as Nature — that he bends not to human thought nor to human will. You seem to have forgotten the line which you emphasized with italics: “The effect of everything which is of the nature of a cause, is eternal.” In the light of this sentence, where do you find a place for forgiveness — for your atonement? Where is a way to escape from the effect of a cause that is eternal? Do you not see that this sentence is a cord with which I easily tie your hands? The scientific part of your letter destroys the theological. You have put “new wine into old bottles,” and the predicted result has followed. Will the angels in heaven, the redeemed of earth, lose their memory? Will not all the redeemed rascals remember their rascality? Will not all the redeemed assassins remember the faces of the dead? Will not all the seducers and betrayers remember her sighs, her tears, and the tones of her voice, and will not the conscience of the redeemed be as inexorable as the conscience of the damned?
If memory is to be forever “the warder of the brain,” and if the redeemed can never forget the sins they committed, the pain and anguish they caused, then they can never be perfectly happy; and if the lost can never forget the good they did, the kind actions, the loving words, the heroic deeds; and if the memory of good deeds gives the slightest pleasure, then the lost can never be perfectly miserable. Ought not the memory of a good action to live as long as the memory of a bad one? So that the undying memory of the good, in heaven, brings undying pain, and the undying memory of those in hell brings undying pleasure. Do you not see that if men have done good and bad, the future can have neither a perfect heaven nor a perfect hell?
I believe in the manly doctrine that every human being must bear the consequences of his acts, and that no man can be justly saved or damned on account of the goodness or the wickedness of another.
If by atonement you mean the natural effect of self-sacrifice, the effects following a noble and disinterested action; if you mean that the life and death of Christ are worth their effect upon the human race, — which your letter seems to show, — then there is no question between us. If you have thrown away the old and barbarous idea that a law had been broken, that God demanded a sacrifice, and that Christ, the innocent, was offered up for us, and that he bore the wrath of God and suffered in our place, then I congratulate you with all my heart.
It seems to me impossible that life should be exceedingly joyous to any one who is acquainted with its miseries, its burdens, and its tears. I know that as darkness follows light around the globe, so misery and misfortune follow the sons of men. According to your creed, the future state will be worse than this. Here, the vicious may reform; here, the wicked may repent; here, a few gleams of sunshine may fall upon the darkest life. But in your future state, for countless billions of the human race, there will be no reform, no opportunity of doing right, and no possible gleam of sunshine can ever touch their souls. Do you not see that your future state is infinitely worse than this? You seem to mistake the glare of hell for the light of morning.
Let us throw away the dogma of eternal retribution. Let us “cling to all that can bring a ray of hope into the darkness of this life.”
You have been kind enough to say that I find a subject for caricature in the doctrine of regeneration. If, by regeneration, you mean reformation, — if you mean that there comes a time in the life of a young man when he feels the touch of responsibility, and that he leaves his foolish or vicious ways, and concludes to act like an honest man, — if this is what you mean by regeneration, I am a believer. But that is not the definition of regeneration in your creed — that is not Christian regeneration. There is some mysterious, miraculous, supernatural, invisible agency, called, I believe, the Holy Ghost, that enters and changes the heart of man, and this mysterious agency is like the wind, under the control, apparently, of no one, coming and going when and whither it willeth. It is this illogical and absurd view of regeneration that I have attacked.
You ask me how it came to pass that a Hebrew peasant, born among the hills ofGalilee, had a wisdom above that of Socrates or Plato, of Confucius or Buddha, and you conclude by saying, “This is the greatest of miracle — that such a being should live and die on the earth.”
I can hardly admit your conclusion, because I remember that Christ said nothing in favor of the family relation. As a matter of fact, his life tended to cast discredit upon marriage. He said nothing against the institution of slavery; nothing against the tyranny of government; nothing of our treatment of animals; nothing about education, about intellectual progress; nothing of art. declared no scientific truth, and said nothing as to the rights and duties of nations.
You may reply that all this is included in “Do unto others as you would be done by;” and “Resist not evil.” More than this is necessary to educate the human race. It is not enough to say to your child or to your pupil, “Do right.” The great question still remains: What is right? Neither is there any wisdom in the idea of non-resistance. Force without mercy is tyranny. Mercy without force is but a waste of tears. Take from virtue the right of self-defence and vice becomes the master of the world.
Let me ask you how it came to pass that an ignorant driver of camels, a man without family, without wealth, became master of hundreds of millions of human beings? How is it that he conquered and overran more than half of the Christian world? How is it that on a thousand fields the banner of the cross went down in blood, while that of the crescent floated in triumph? How do you account for the fact that the flag of this impostor floats to-day above the sepulchre of Christ? Was this a miracle? Was Mohammed inspired? How do you account for Confucius, whose name is known wherever the sky bends? Was he inspired — this man who for many centuries has stood first, and who has been acknowledged the superior of all men by hundreds and thousands of millions of his fellow-men? How do you account for Buddha, — in many respects the greatest religious teacher this world has ever known, — the broadest, the most intellectual of them all; he who was great enough, hundreds of years before Christ was born, to declare the universal brotherhood of man, great enough to say that intelligence is the only lever capable of raising mankind? How do you account for him, who has had more followers than any other? Are you willing to say that all success is divine? How do you account for Shakespeare, born of parents who could neither read nor write, held in the lap of ignorance and love, nursed at the breast of poverty — how do you account for him, by far the greatest of the human race, the wings of whose imagination still fill the horizon of human thought; Shakespeare, who was perfectly acquainted with the human heart, knew all depths of sorrow, all heights of joy, and in whose mind were the fruit of all thought, of all experience, and a prophecy of all to be; Shakespeare, the wisdom and beauty and depth of whose words increase with the intelligence and civilization of mankind? How do you account for this miracle? Do you believe that any founder of any religion could have written “Lear” or “Hamlet”? DidGreeceproduce a man who could by any possibility have been the author of “Troilus and Cressida”? Was there among all the countless millions of almightyRomean intellect that could have written the tragedy of “Julius Caesar”? Is not the play of “Antonyand Cleopatra” as Egyptian as theNile? How do you account for this man, within whose veins there seemed to be the blood of every race, and in whose brain there were the poetry and philosophy of a world?
You ask me to tell my opinion of Christ. Let me say here, once for all, that for the man Christ — for the man who, in the darkness, cried out, “My God, why hast thou forsaken me!” — for that man I have the greatest possible respect. And let me say, once for all, that the place where man has died for man is holy ground. To that great and serene peasant ofPalestineI gladly pay the tribute of my admiration and my tears. He was a reformer in his day — an infidel in his time. Back of the theological mask, and in spite of the interpolations of the New Testament, I see a great and genuine man.
It is hard to see how you can consistently defend the course pursued by Christ himself. He attacked with great bitterness “the religion of others.” It did not occur to him that “there was something very cruel in this treatment of the belief of his fellow-creatures.” He denounced the chosen people of God as a “generation of vipers.” He compared them to “whited sepulchers.” How can you sustain the conduct of missionaries? They go to other lands and attack the sacred beliefs of others. They tell the people ofIndiaand of all heathen lands, not only that their religion is a lie, not only that their gods are myths, but that the ancestors of these people — their fathers and mothers who never heard of the God of the Bible, or of Christ — are all in perdition. Is not this a cruel treatment of the belief of a fellow-creature?
A religion that is not manly and robust enough to bear attack with smiling fortitude is unworthy of a place in the heart or brain. A religion that takes refuge in sentimentality, that cries out: “Do not, I pray you, tell me any truth calculated to hurt my feelings,” is fit only for asylums.
You believe that Christ was God, that he was infinite in power. While inJerusalemhe cured the sick, raised a few from the dead, and opened the eyes of the blind. Did he do these things because he loved mankind, or did he do these miracles simply to establish the fact that he was the very Christ? If he was actuated by love, is he not as powerful now as he was then? Why does he not open the eyes of the blind now? Why does he not with a touch make the leper clean? If you had the power to give sight to the blind, to cleanse the leper, and would not exercise it, what would be thought of you? What is the difference between one who can and will not cure, and one who causes disease?
Only the other day I saw a beautiful girl — a paralytic, and yet her brave and cheerful spirit shone over the wreck and ruin of her body like morning on the desert. What would I think of myself, had I the power by a word to send the blood through all her withered limbs freighted again with life, should I refuse?
Most theologians seem to imagine that the virtues have been produced by and are really the children of religion.
Religion has to do with the supernatural. It defines our duties and obligations to God. It prescribes a certain course of conduct by means of which happiness can be attained in another world. The result here is only an incident. The virtues are secular. They have nothing whatever to do with the supernatural, and are of no kindred to any religion. A man may be honest, courageous, charitable, industrious, hospitable, loving and pure, without being religious — that is to say, without any belief in the supernatural; and a man may be the exact opposite and at the same time a sincere believer in the creed of any church — that is to say, in the existence of a personal God, the inspiration of the Scriptures and in the divinity of Jesus Christ. A man who believes in the Bible may or may not be kind to his family, and a man who is kind and loving in his family may or may not believe in the Bible.
In order that you may see the effect of belief in the formation of character, it is only necessary to call your attention to the fact that your Bible shows that the devil himself is a believer in the existence of your God, in the inspiration of the Scriptures, and in the divinity of Jesus Christ. He not only believes these things, but he knows them, and yet, in spite of it all, he remains a devil still.
Few religions have been bad enough to destroy all the natural goodness in the human heart. In the deepest midnight of superstition some natural virtues, like stars, have been visible in the heavens. Man has committed every crime in the name of Christianity — or at least crimes that involved the commission of all others. Those who paid for labor with the lash, and who made blows a legal tender, were Christians. Those who engaged in the slave trade were believers in a personal God. One slave ship was called “The Jehovah.” Those who pursued with hounds the fugitive led by the Northern star prayed fervently to Christ to crown their efforts with success, and the stealers of babes, just before falling asleep, commended their souls to the keeping of the Most High.
As you have mentioned the apostles, let me call your attention to an incident.
You remember the story of Ananias and Sapphira. The apostles, having nothing themselves, conceived the idea of having all things in common. Their followers who had something were to sell what little they had, and turn the proceeds over to these theological financiers. It seems that Ananias and Sapphira had a piece of land.
They sold it, and after talking the matter over, not being entirely satisfied with the collateral, concluded to keep a little — just enough to keep them from starvation if the good and pious bankers should abscond.
When Ananias brought the money, he was asked whether he had kept back a part of the price. He said that he had not. Whereupon God, the compassionate, struck him dead. As soon as the corpse was removed, the apostles sent for his wife. They did not tell her that her husband had been killed. They deliberately set a trap for her life. Not one of them was good enough or noble enough to put her on her guard; they allowed her to believe that her husband had told his story, and that she was free to corroborate what he had said. She probably felt that they were giving more than they could afford, and, with the instinct of woman, wanted to keep a little. She denied that any part of the price had been kept back. That moment the arrow of divine vengeance entered her heart.
Will you be kind enough to tell me your opinion of the apostles in the light of this story? Certainly murder is a greater crime than mendacity.
You have been good enough, in a kind of fatherly way, to give me some advice. You say that I ought to soften my colors, and that my words would be more weighty if not so strong. Do you really desire that I should add weight to my words? Do you really wish me to succeed? It the commander of one army should send word to the general of the other that his men were firing too high, do you think the general would be misled? Can you conceive of his changing his orders by reason of the message?
I deny that “the Pilgrims crossed the sea to find freedom to worship God in the forests of the new world. “They came not in the interest of freedom. It never entered their minds that other men had the same right to worship God according to the dictates of their consciences that the Pilgrims themselves had. The moment they had power they were ready to whip and brand, to imprison and burn. They did not believe in religious freedom. They had no more idea of liberty of conscience than Jehovah.
I do not say that there is no place in the world for heroes and martyrs. On the contrary, I declare that the liberty we now have was won for us by heroes and by martyrs, and millions of these martyrs were burned, or flayed alive, or torn in pieces, or assassinated by the church of God. The heroism was shown in fighting the hordes of religious superstition.
Giordano Bruno was a martyr. He was a hero. He believed in no God, in no heaven, and in no hell, yet he perished by fire. He was offered liberty on condition that he would recant. There was no God to please, no heaven to expect, no hell to fear, and yet he died by fire, simply to preserve the unstained whiteness of his soul.
For hundreds of years every man who attacked the church was a hero. The sword of Christianity has been wet for many centuries with the blood of the noblest. Christianity has been ready with whip and chain and fire to banish freedom from the earth.
Neither is it true that “family life withers under the cold sneer — half pity and half scorn — with which I look down on household worship.”
Those who believe in the existence of God, and believe that they are indebted to this divine being for the few gleams of sunshine in this life, and who thank God for the little they have enjoyed, have my entire respect. Never have I said one word against the spirit of thankfulness. I understand the feeling of the man who gathers his family about him after the storm, or after the scourge, or after long sickness, and pours out his heart in thankfulness to the supposed God who has protected his fireside. I understand the spirit of the savage who thanks his idol of stone, or his fetich of wood. It is not the wisdom of the one or of the other that I respect, it is the goodness and thankfulness that prompt the prayer.
I believe in the family. I believe in family life; and one of my objections to Christianity is that it divides the family. Upon this subject I have said hundreds of times, and I say again, that the roof-tree is sacred, from the smallest fibre that feels the soft, cool clasp of earth, to the topmost flower that spreads its bosom to the sun, and like a spendthrift gives its perfume to the air. The home where virtue dwells with love is like a lily with a heart of fire, the fairest flower in all this world.
What did Christianity in the early centuries do for the home? What have nunneries and monasteries, and what has the glorification of celibacy done for the family? Do you not know that Christ himself offered rewards in this world and eternal happiness in another to those who would desert their wives and children and follow him? What effect has that promise had upon family life?
As a matter of fact, the family is regarded as nothing. Christianity teaches that there is but one family, the family of Christ, and that all other relations are as nothing compared with that. Christianity teaches the husband to desert the wife, the wife to desert the husband, children to desert their parents, for the miserable and selfish purpose of saving their own little, shriveled souls.
lt is far better for a man to love his fellow-men than to love God. It is better to love wife and children than to love Christ. It is better to serve your neighbor than to serve your God -even if God exists. The reason is palpable. You can do nothing for God. You can do something for wife and children, You can add to the sunshine of a life. You can plant flowers in the pathway of another.
It is true that I am an enemy of the orthodox Sabbath. It is true that I do not believe in giving one-seventh of our time to the service of superstition. The whole scheme of your religion can be understood by any intelligent man in one day. Why should he waste a seventh of his whole life in hearing the same thoughts repeated again and again?
Nothing is more gloomy than an orthodox Sabbath. The mechanic who has worked during the week in heat and dust, the laboring man who has barely succeeded in keeping his soul in his body, the poor woman who has been sewing for the rich, may go to the village church which you have described. They answer the chimes of the bell, and what do they hear in this village church? Is it that God is the Father of the human race; is that all? If that were all, you never would have heard an objection from my lips. That is not all. If all ministers said: Bear the evils of this life; your Father in heaven counts your tears; the time will come when pain and death and grief will be forgotten words; I should have listened with the rest. What else does the minister say to the poor people who have answered the chimes of your bell? He says: “The smallest sin deserves eternal pain.” “A vast majority of men are doomed to suffer the wrath of God forever.” He fills the present with fear and the future with fire. He has heaven for the few, hell for the many. He describes a little grass-grown path that leads to heaven, where travelers are “few and far between,” and a great highway worn with countless feet that leads to everlasting death.
Such Sabbaths are immoral. Such ministers are the real savages. Gladly would I abolish such a Sabbath. Gladly would I turn it into a holiday, a day of rest and peace, a day to get acquainted with your wife and children, a day to exchange civilities with your neighbors; and gladly would I see the church in which such sermons are preached changed to a place of entertainment. Gladly would I have the echoes of orthodox sermons — the owls and bats among the rafters, the snakes in crevices and corners — driven out by the glorious music of Wagner and Beethoven. Gladly would I see the Sunday school where the doctrine of eternal fire is taught, changed to a happy dance upon the village green.
Music refines. The doctrine of eternal punishment degrades. Science civilizes. Superstition looks longingly back to savagery.
You do not believe that general morality can be upheld without the sanctions of religion.
Christianity has sold, and continues to sell, crime on a credit. It has taught, and it still teaches, that there is forgiveness for all. Of course it teaches morality. It says: “Do not steal, do not murder;” but it adds, “but if you do both, there is a way of escape: believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and thou shalt be saved. “I insist that such a religion is no restraint. It is far better to teach that there is no forgiveness, and that every human being must bear the consequences of his acts.
The first great step toward national reformation is the universal acceptance of the idea that there is no escape from the consequences of our acts. The young men who come from their country homes into a city filled with temptations, may be restrained by the thought of father and mother. This is a natural restraint. They may be restrained by their knowledge of the fact that a thing is evil on account of its consequences, and that to do wrong is always a mistake. I cannot conceive of such a man being more liable to temptation because he has heard one of my lectures in which I have told him that the only good is happiness — that the only way to attain that good is by doing what he believes to be right. I cannot imagine that his moral character will be weakened by the statement that there ia no escape from the consequences of his acts. You seem to think that he will be instantly led astray — that he will go off under the flaring lamps to the riot of passion. Do you think the Bible calculated to restrain him? To prevent this would you recommend him to read the lives of Abraham, of Isaac, and of Jacob, and the other holy polygamists of the Old Testament? Should he read the life of David, and of Solomon? Do you think this would enable him to withstand temptation? Would it not be far better to fill the young man’s mind with facts so that he may know exactly the physical consequences of such acts? Do you regard ignorance as the foundation of virtue? Is fear the arch that supports the moral nature of man?
You seem to think that there is danger in knowledge, and that the best chemists are most likely to poison themselves.
You say that to sneer at religion is only a step from sneering at morality, and then only another step to that which is vicious and profligate.
The Jews entertained the same opinion of the teachings of Christ. He sneered at their religion. The Christians have entertained the same opinion of every philosopher. Let me say to you again — and let me say it once for all — that morality has nothing to do with religion. Morality does not depend upon the supernatural. Morality does not walk with the crutches of miracles. Morality appeals to the experience. of mankind. It cares nothing about faith, nothing about sacred books. Morality depends upon facts, something that can be seen, something known, the product of which can be estimated. It needs no priest, no ceremony, no mummery. It believes in the freedom of the human mind. It asks for investigation. It is founded upon truth. It is the enemy of all religion, because it has to do with this world, and with this world alone.
My object is to drive fear out of the world. Fear is the jailer of the mind. Christianity, superstition — that is to say, the supernatural — makes every brain a prison and every soul a convict. Under the government of a personal deity, consequences partake of the nature of punishments and rewards. Under the government of Nature, what you call punishments and rewards are simply consequences. Nature does not punish. Nature does not reward. Nature has no purpose. When the storm comes, I do not think: “This is being done by a tyrant.” When the sun shines. I do not say: “This is being done by a friend. “Libertymeans freedom from personal dictation. It does not mean escape from the relations we sustain to other facts in Nature. I believe in the restraining influence of liberty. Temperance walks hand in hand with freedom. To remove a chain from the body puts an additional responsibility upon the soul.Libertysays to the man: You injure or benefit yourself; you increase or decrease your own well-being. It is a question of intelligence You need not bow to a supposed tyrant, or to infinite goodness. You are responsible to yourself and to those you injure, and to none other.
I rid myself of fear, believing as I do that there is no power above which can help me in any extremity, and believing as I do that there is no power above or below that can injure me in any extremity. I do not believe that I am the sport of accident, or that I may be dashed in pieces by the blind agency of Nature. There is no accident, and there is no agency, That which happens must happen. The present is the necessary child of all the past, the mother of all the future.
Does it relieve mankind from fear to believe that there is some God who will help them in extremity? What evidence have they on which to found this belief? When has any God listened to the prayer of any man? The water drowns, the cold freezes, the flood destroys, the fire burns, the bolt of heaven falls — when and where has the prayer of man been answered?
Is the religious world to-day willing to test the efficacy of prayer? Only a few years ago it was tested in theUnited States. The Christians of Christendom, with one accord, fell upon their knees and asked God to spare the life of one man. You know the result. You know just as well as I that the forces of Nature produce the good and bad alike. You know that the forces of Nature destroy the good and bad alike. You know that the lightning feels the same keen delight in striking to death the honest man that it does or would in striking the assassin with his knife lifted above the bosom of innocence.
Did God hear the prayers of the slaves? Did he hear the prayers of imprisoned philosophers and patriots? Did he hear the prayers of martyrs, or did he allow fiends, calling themselves his followers, to pile the fagots round the forms of glorious men? Did he allow the flames to devour the flesh of those whose hearts were his? Why should any man depend on the goodness of a God who created countless millions, knowing that they would suffer eternal grief?
The faith that you call sacred — “sacred as the most delicate manly or womanly sentiment of love and honor” — is the faith that nearly all of your fellow-men are to be lost. Ought an honest man to be restrained from denouncing that faith because those who entertain it say that their feelings are hurt? You say to me: “There is a hell. A man advocating the opinions you advocate will go there when he dies.” I answer: “There is no hell. The Bible that teaches it is not true.” And you say: “How can you hurt my feelings?”
You seem to think that one who attacks the religion of his parents is wanting in respect to his father and his mother.
Were the early Christians lacking in respect for their fathers and mothers? Were the Pagans who embraced Christianity heartless sons and daughters? What have you to say of the apostles? Did they not heap contempt upon the religion of their fathers and mothers? Did they not join with him who denounced their people as a “generation of vipers”? Did they not follow one who offered a reward to those who would desert fathers and mothers? Of course you have only to go back a few generations in your family to find a Field who was not a Presbyterian. After that you find a Presbyterian. Was he base enough and infamous enough to heap contempt upon the religion of his father and mother? All the Protestants in the time of Luther lacked in respect for the religion of their fathers and mothers. According to your idea, Progress is a Prodigal Son. If one is bound by the religion of his father and mother, and his father happens to be a Presbyterian and his mother a Catholic, what is he to do? Do you not see that your doctrine gives intellectual freedom only to foundlings?
If by Christianity you mean the goodness, the spirit of forgiveness, the benevolence claimed by Christians to be a part, and the principal part, of that peculiar religion, then I do not agree with you when you say that “Christ is Christianity and that it stands or falls with him.” You have narrowed unnecessarily the foundation of your religion. If it should be established beyond doubt that Christ never existed, all that is of value in Christianity would remain, and remain unimpaired. Suppose that we should find thatEuclidwas a myth, the science known as mathematics would not suffer. It makes no difference who painted or chiseled the greatest pictures and statues, so long as we have the pictures and statues. When he who has given the world a truth passes from the earth, the truth is left. A truth dies only when forgotten by the human race. Justice, love, mercy, forgiveness, honor, all the virtues that ever blossomed in the human heart, were known and practiced for uncounted ages before the birth of Christ.
You insist that religion does not leave man in “abject terror” — does not leave him “in utter darkness as to his fate.”
Is it possible to know who will be saved? Can you read the names mentioned in the decrees of the Infinite? Is it possible to tell who is to be eternally lost? Can the imagination conceive a worse fate than your religion predicts for a majority of the race? Why should not every human being be in “abject terror” who believes your doctrine? How many loving and sincere women are in the asylums to-day fearing that they have committed “the unpardonable sin” — a sin to which your God has attached the penalty of eternal torment, and yet has failed to describe the offence? Can tyranny go beyond this — fixing the penalty of eternal pain for the violation of a law not written, not known, but kept in the secrecy of infinite darkness? How much happier it is to know nothing about it, and to believe nothing about it! How much better to have no God!
You discover a “Great Intelligence ordering our little lives, so that even the trials that we bear, as they call out the finer elements of character, conduce to our future happiness.” This is an old explanation — probably as good as any. The idea is, that this world is a school in which man becomes educated through tribulation — the muscles of character being developed by wrestling with misfortune. If it is necessary to live this life in order to develop character, in order to become worthy of a better world, how do you account for the fact that billions of the human race die in infancy, and are thus deprived of this necessary education and development? What would you think of a schoolmaster who should kill a large proportion of his scholars during the first day, before they had even had the opportunity to look at A?
You insist that “there is a power behind Nature making for righteousness.”
If Nature is infinite, how can there be a power outside of Nature? If you mean by “a power making for righteousness that man, as he becomes civilized, as he becomes intelligent, not only takes advantage of the forces of Nature for his own benefit, but perceives more and more clearly that if he is to be happy he must live in harmony with the conditions of his being, in harmony with the facts by which he is surrounded, in harmony with the relations he sustains to others and to things; if this is what you mean, then there is “a power making for righteousness.” But if you mean that there is something supernatural back of Nature directing events, then I insist that there can by no possibility be any evidence of the existence of such a power.
The history of the human race shows that nations rise and fall. There is a limit to the life of a race; so that it can be said of every dead nation, that there was a period when it laid the foundations of prosperity, when the combined intelligence and virtue of the people constituted a power working for righteousness, and that there came a time when this nation became a spendthrift, when it ceased to accumulate, when it lived on the labors of its youth, and passed from strength and glory to the weakness of old age, and finally fell palsied to its tomb.
The intelligence of man guided by a sense of duty is the only power that makes for righteousness.
You tell me that I am waging “a hopeless war,” and you give as a reason that the Christian religion began to be nearly two thousand years before I was born, and that it will live two thousand years after I am dead.
Is this an argument? Does it tend to convince even yourself? Could not Caiaphas, the high priest, have said substantially this to Christ? Could he not have said: “The religion of Jehovah began to be four thousand years before you were born, and it will live two thousand years after you are dead”? Could not a follower of Buddha make the same illogical remark to a missionary fromAndoverwith the glad tidings? Could he not say: “You are waging a hopeless war. The religion of Buddha began to be twenty-five hundred years before you were born, and hundreds of millions of people still worship at Great Buddha’s shrine”?
Do you insist that nothing except the right can live for two thousand years? Why is it that the Catholic Church “lives on and on, while nations and kingdoms perish”? Do you consider that the “survival of the fittest”?
Is it the same Christian religion now living that lived during the Middle Ages? Is it the same Christian religion that founded the Inquisition and invented the thumbscrew? Do you see no difference between the religion of Calvin and Jonathan Edwards and the Christianity of to-day? Do you really think that it is the same Christianity that has been living all these years? Have you noticed any change in the last generation? Do you remember when scientists endeavored to prove a theory by a passage from the Bible, and do you now know that believers in the Bible are exceedingly anxious to prove its truth by some fact that science has demonstrated? Do you know that the standard has changed? Other things are not measured by the Bible, but the Bible has to submit to another test. It no longer owns the scales. It has to be weighed, — it is being weighed, — it is growing lighter and lighter every day. Do you know that only a few years ago “the glad tidings of great joy” consisted mostly in a description of hell? Do you know that nearly every intelligent minister is now ashamed to preach about it, or to read about it, or to talk about it? Is there any change? Do you know that but few ministers now believe in the “plenary inspiration” of the Bible, that from thousands of pulpits people are now told that the creation according to Genes’s is a mistake, that it never was as wet as the flood, and that the miracles of the Old Testament are considered simply as myths or mistakes?
How long will what you call Christianity endure, if it changes as rapidly during the next century as it has during the last? What will there be left of the supernatural?
It does not seem possible that thoughtful people can, for many years, believe that a being of infinite wisdom is the author of the Old Testament, that a being of infinite purity and kindness upheld polygamy and slavery, that he ordered his chosen people to massacre their neighbors, and that he commanded husbands and fathers to persecute wives and daughters unto death for opinion’s sake.
It does not seem within the prospect of belief that Jehovah, the cruel, the jealous, the ignorant, and the revengeful, is the creator and preserver of the universe.
Does it seem possible that infinite goodness would create a world in which life feeds on life, in which everything devours and is devoured? Can there be a sadder fact than this: Innocence is not a certain shield?
It is impossible for me to believe in the eternity of punishment. If that doctrine be true, Jehovah is insane.
Day after day there are mournful processions of men and women, patriots and mothers, girls whose only crime is that the word Liberty burst into flower between their pure and loving lips, driven like beasts across the melancholy wastes of Siberian snow. These men, these women, these daughters, go to exile and to slavery, to a land where hope is satisfied with death. Does it seem possible to you that an “Infinite Father” sees all this and sits as silent as a god of stone?
And yet, according to your Presbyterian creed, according to your inspired book, according to your Christ, there is another procession, in which are the noblest and the best, in which you will find the wondrous spirits of this world, the lovers of the human race, the teachers of their fellow-men, the greatest soldiers that ever battled for the right; and this procession of countless millions, in which you will find the most generous and the most loving of the sons and daughters of men, is moving on to the Siberia of God, the land of eternal exile, where agony becomes immortal.
How can you, how can any man with brain or heart, believe this infinite lie?
Is there not room for a better, for a higher philosophy? After all, is it not possible that we may find that everything has been necessarily produced, that all religions and superstitions, all mistakes and all crimes, were simply necessities? Is it not possible that out of this perception may come not only love and pity for others, but absolute justification for the individual? May we not find that every soul has, like Mazeppa, been lashed to the wild horse of passion, or like Prometheus to the rocks of fate?
You ask me to take the “sober second thought.” I beg of you to take the first, and if you do, you will throw away the Presbyterian creed; you will instantly perceive that he who commits the “smallest sin” no more deserves eternal pain than he who does the smallest virtuous deed deserves eternal bliss; you will become convinced that an infinite God who creates billions of men knowing that they will suffer through all the countless years is an infinite demon; you will be satisfied that the Bible, with its philosophy and its folly, with its goodness and its cruelty, is but the work of man, and that the supernatural does not and cannot exist.
For you personally, I have the highest regard and the sincerest respect, and I beg of you not to pollute the soul of childhood, not to farrow the cheeks of mothers, by preaching a creed that should be shrieked in a mad-house. Do not make the cradle as terrible as the coffin. Preach, I pray you, the gospel of Intellectual Hospitality — the liberty of thought and speech. Take from loving hearts the awful fear. Have mercy on your fellow-men. Do not drive to madness the mothers whose tears are falling on the pallid faces of those who died in unbelief. Pity the erring, wayward, suffering, weeping world. Do not proclaim as “tidings of great joy” that an Infinite Spider is weaving webs to catch the souls of men.
Robert G. Ingersoll.
Part 3 — Field – Ingersoll Debate.
A Last Word To Robert G. Ingersoll.
by Dr. Henry M. Field
My Dear Colonel Ingersoll:
I have read your Reply to my Open Letter half a dozen times, and each time with new appreciation of your skill as an advocate. It is written with great ingenuity, and furnishes probably as complete an argument as you are able to give for the faith (or want of faith) that is in you. Doubtless you think it unanswerable, and so it will seem to those who are predisposed to your way of thinking. To quote a homely saying of Mr. Lincoln, in which there is as much of wisdom as of wit, “For those who like that sort of thing, no doubt that is the sort of thing they do like.” You may answer that we, who cling to the faith of our fathers, are equally prejudiced, and that it is for that reason that we are not more impressed by the force of your pleading. I do not deny a strong leaning that way, and yet our real interest is the same — to get at the truth; and, therefore, I have tried to give due weight to whatever of argument there is in the midst of so much eloquence; but must confess that, in spite of all, I remain in the same obdurate frame of mind as before. With all the candor that I can bring to bear upon the question, I find on reviewing my Open Letter scarcely a sentence to change and nothing to withdraw; and am quite willing to leave it as my Declaration of Faith — to stand side by side with your Reply, for intelligent and candid men to judge between us. I need only to add a few words in taking leave of the subject.
You seem a little disturbed that “some of my brethren should look upon you as “a monster” because of your unbelief. I certainly do not approve of such language, although they would tell me that it is the only word which is a fit response to your ferocious attacks upon what they hold most sacred. You are a born gladiator, and when you descend into the arena, you strike heavy blows, which provoke blows in return. In this very Reply you manifest a particular animosity against Presbyterians. Is it because you were brought up in that Church, of which your father, whom you regard with filial respect and affection, was an honored minister? You even speak of “the Presbyterian God! “as if we assumed to appropriate the Supreme Being, claiming to be the special objects of His favor. Is there any ground for this imputation of narrowness? On the contrary, when we bow our knees before our Maker, it is as the God and Father of all mankind and the expression you permit yourself to use, can only be regarded as grossly offensive. Was it necessary to offer this rudeness to the religious denomination in which you were born?
And this may explain, what you do not seem fully to understand, why it is that you are sometimes treated to sharp epithets by the religious press and public. You think yourself persecuted for your opinions. But others hold the same opinions without offence. Nor is it because you express your opinions. Nobody would deny you the same freedom which is accorded to Huxley or Herbert Spencer. It is not because you exercise your liberty of judgment or of speech, but because of the way in which you attack others, holding up their faith to all manner of ridicule, and speaking of those who profess it as if they must be either knaves or fools. It is not in human nature not to resent such imputations on that which, however incredible to you, is very precious to them. Hence it is that they think you a rough antagonist; and when you shock them by such expressions as I have quoted, you must expect some pretty strong language in return. I do not join them in this, because I know you, and appreciate that other side of you which is manly and kindly and chivalrous. But while I recognize these better qualities, I must add in all frankness that I am compelled to look upon you as a man so embittered against religion that you cannot think of it except as associated with cant, bigotry, and hypocrisy. In such a state of mind it is hardly possible for you to judge fairly of the arguments for its truth.
I believe with you, that reason was given us to be exercised, and that when man seeks after truth, his mind should be, as you sayDarwin’s was, “as free from prejudice as the mariner’s compass.” But if he is warped by passion so that he cannot see things truly, then is he responsible. It is the moral element which alone makes the responsibility. Nor do I believe that any man will be judged in this world or the next for what does not involve a moral wrong. Hence your appalling statement, “The God you worship will, according to your creed, torture (!) through all the endless years the man who entertains an honest doubt,” does not produce the effect intended, simply because I do not affirm nor believe any such thing. I believe that, in the future world, every man will be judged according to the deeds done in the body, and that the judgment, whatever it may be, will be transparently just. God is more merciful than man. He desireth not the death of the wicked. Christ forgave, where men would condemn, and whatever be the fate of any human soul, it can never be said that the Supreme Ruler was wanting either in justice or mercy. This I emphasize because you dwell so much upon the subject of future retribution, giving it an attention so constant as to be almost exclusive. Whatever else you touch upon, you soon come back to this as the black thunder-cloud that darkens all the horizon, casting its mighty shadows over the life that now is and that which is to come. Your denunciations of this “inhuman” belief are so reiterated that one would be left to infer that there is nothing else in Religion; that it is all wrath and terror, But this is putting a part for the whole. Religion is a vast system, of which this is but a single feature: it is but one doctrine of many; and indeed some whom no one will deny to be devout Christians, do not hold it at all, or only in a modified form, while with all their hearts they accept and profess the Religion that Christ came to bring into the world.
Archdeacon Farrar, of Westminster Abbey, the most eloquent preacher in the Church of England, has written a book entitled “Eternal Hope,” in which he argues from reason and the Bible, that this life is not “the be-all and end-all” of human probation; but that in the world to come there will be another opportunity, when countless millions, made wiser by unhappy experience, will turn again to the paths of life; and that so in the end the whole human race, with the exception of perhaps a few who remain irreclaimable, will be recovered and made happy forever. Others look upon “eternal death” as merely the extinction of being, while immortality is the reward of pre-eminent virtue, interpreting in that sense the words, “The wages of sin is death but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.” The latter view might recommend itself to you as the application of “the survival of the fittest” to another world, the worthless, the incurably bad, of the human race being allowed to drop out of existence (an end which can have no terrors for you, since you look upon it as the common lot of all men,) while the good are continued in being forever. The acceptance of either of these theories would relieve your mind of that “horror of great darkness” which seems to come over it whenever you look forward to retribution beyond the grave.
But while conceding all liberty to others I cannot so easily relieve myself of this stern and rugged truth. To me moral evil in the universe is a tremendous reality, and I do not see how to limit it within the bounds of time. Retribution is to me a necessary part of the Divine law. A law without a penalty for its violations is no law. But I rest the argument for it, not on the Bible, but on principles which you yourself acknowledge. You say, “There are no punishments, no rewards: there are consequences.” Very well, take the “consequences,” and see where they lead you. When a man by his vices has reduced his body to a wreck and his mind to idiocy, you say this is the “consequence” of his vicious life. Is it a great stretch of language to say that it is his “punishment,” and none the less punishment because self-inflicted?
To the poor sufferer raving in a madhouse, it matters little what it is called, so long as he is experiencing the agonies of hell. And here your theory of “consequences.” if followed up, will lead you very far. For if man lives after death, and keeps his personal identity, do not the “consequences” of his past life follow him into the future? And if his existence is immortal, are not the consequences immortal also? And what is this but endless retribution?
But you tell me that the moral effect of retribution is destroyed by the easy way in which a man escapes the penalty. He has but to repent, and he is restored to the same condition before the law as if he had not sinned. Not so do I understand it. “I believe in the forgiveness of sins,” but forgiveness does not reverse the course of nature; it does not prevent the operation of natural law. A drunkard may repent as he is nearing his end, but that does not undo the wrong that he has done, nor avert the consequences. In spite of his tears, he dies in an agony of shame and remorse. The inexorable law must be fulfilled.
And so in the future world. Even though a man be forgiven, he does not wholly escape the evil of his past life. A retribution follows him even within the heavenly gates; for if he does not suffer, still that bad life has so shriveled up his moral nature as to diminish his power of enjoyment. There are degrees of happiness, as one star differeth from another star in glory; and he who begins wrong, will find that it is not as well to sin and repent of it as not to sin at all. He enters the other world in a state of spiritual infancy, and will have to begin at the bottom and climb slowly upward.
We might go a step farther, and say that perhaps heaven itself has not only its lights but its shadows, in the reflections that must come even there. We read of “the book of God’s remembrance,” but is there not another book of remembrance in the mind itself — a book which any man may well fear to open and to look thereon? When that book is opened, and we read its awful pages, shall we not all think “what might have been?” And will those thoughts be wholly free from sadness? The drunken brute who breaks the heart that loved him may weep bitterly, and his poor wife may forgive him with her dying lips; but he cannot forgive himself, and never can he recall without grief that bowed head and that broken heart. This preserves the element of retribution, while it does not shut the door to forgiveness and mercy.
But we need not travel over again the round of Christian doctrines. My faith is very simple; it revolves around two words; GOD and CHRIST. These are the two centers, or, as an astronomer might say, the double-star, or double-sun, of the great orbit of religious truth.
As to the first of these, you say “There can be no evidence to my mind of the existence of such a being, and my mind is so that it is incapable of even thinking of an infinite personality;” and you gravely put to me this question: “Do you really believe that this world is governed by an infinitely wise and good God? Have you convinced even yourself of this?” Here are two questions — one as to the existence of God, and the other as to His benevolence. I will answer both in language as plain as it is possible for me to use.
First, Do I believe in the existence of God? I answer that it is impossible for me not to believe it. I could not disbelieve it if I would. You insist that belief or unbelief is not a matter of choice or of the will, but of evidence. You say “the brain thinks as the heart beats, as the eyes see.” Then let us stand aside with all our prepossessions, and open our eyes to what we can see.
When Robinson Crusoe in his desert island came down one day to the seashore, and saw in the sand the print of a human foot, could he help the instantaneous conviction that a man had been there? You might have tried to persuade him that it was all chance, — that the sand had been washed up by the waves or blown by the winds, and taken this form, or that some marine insect had traced a figure like a human foot, — you would not have moved him a particle. The imprint was there, and the conclusion was irresistible: he did not believe — he knew that some human being, whether friend or foe, civilized or savage, had set his foot upon that desolate shore. So when I discover in the world (as I think I do) mysterious footprints that are certainly not human, it is not a question whether I shall believe or not: I cannot help believing that some Power greater than man has set foot upon the earth.
It is a fashion among atheistic philosophers to make light of the argument from design; but “my mind is so that it is incapable” of resisting the conclusion to which it leads me. And (since personal questions are in order) I beg to ask if it is possible for you to take in your hands a watch, and believe that there was no “design” in its construction; that it was not made to keep time, but only “happened” so; that it is the product of some freak of nature, which brought together its parts and set it going. Do you not know with as much positiveness as can belong to any conviction of your mind, that it was not the work of accident, but of design; and that if there was a design, there was a designer? And if the watch was made to keep time, was not the eye made to see and the ear to hear? Skeptics may fight against this argument as much as they please, and try to evade the inevitable conclusion, and yet it remains forever entwined in the living frame of man as well as imbedded in the solid foundations of the globe. Wherefore I repeat, it is not a question with me whether I will believe or not — I cannot help believing; and I am not only surprised, but amazed, that you or any thoughtful man can come to any other conclusion. In wonder and astonishment I ask, “Do you really believe” that in all the wide universe there is no Higher Intelligence than that of the poor human creatures that creep on this earthly ball? For myself, it is with the profoundest conviction as well as the deepest reverence that I repeat the first sentence of my faith: “I believe in God the Father Almighty.”
And not the Almighty only, but the Wise and the Good. Again I ask, How can I help believing what I see every day of my life? Every morning, as the sun rises in the East, sending light and life over the world, I behold a glorious image of the beneficent Creator. The exquisite beauty of the dawn, the dewy freshness of the air, the fleecy clouds floating in the sky — all speak of Him. And when the sun goes down, sending shafts of light through the dense masses that would hide his setting, and casting a glory over the earth and sky, this wondrous illumination is to me but the reflection of Him who “spreadeth out the heavens like a curtain; who maketh the clouds His chariot; who walketh upon the wings of the wind.”
How much more do we find the evidences of goodness in man himself: in the power of thought; of acquiring knowledge; of penetrating the mysteries of nature and climbing among the stars. Can a being endowed with such transcendent gifts doubt the goodness of his Creator?
Yes, I believe with all my heart and soul in One who is not only Infinitely Great, but Infinitely Good; who loves all the creatures He has made; bending over them as the bow in the cloud spans the arch of heaven, stretching from horizon to horizon; looking down upon them with a tenderness compared to which all human love is faint and cold. “Like as a father pitieth his children, so the Lord pitieth them that fear Him; for He knoweth our frame, He remembereth that we are dust.”
On the question of immortality you are equally “at sea.” You know nothing and believe nothing; or, rather, you know only that you do not know, and believe that you do not believe. You confess indeed to a faint hope, and admit a bare possibility, that there may be another life, though you are in an uncertainty about it that is altogether bewildering and desperate. But your mind is so poetical that you give a certain attractiveness even to the prospect of annihilation. You strew the sepulchre with such flowers as these:
“I have said a thousand times, and I say again, that the idea of immortality, that like a sea has ebbed and flowed in the human heart, with its countless waves of hope and fear beating against the shores and rocks of time and fate, was not born of any book, nor of any creed, nor of any religion. It was born of human affection. and it will continue to ebb and flow beneath the mists and clouds of doubt and darkness as long as love kisses the lips of death.
“I have said a thousand times, and I say again, that we do not know, we cannot say, whether death is a wall or a door; the beginning or end of a day; the spreading or pinions to soar, or the folding forever of wings; the rise or the set of a sun, or an endless life that brings rapture and love to every one.”
Beautiful words! but inexpressibly sad! It is a silver lining to the cloud, and yet the cloud is there, dark and impenetrable. But perhaps we ought not to expect anything clearer and brighter from one who recognizes no light but that of Nature. That light is very dim. If it were all we had, we should be just whereCicerowas, and say with him, and with you, that a future life was “to be hoped for rather than believed.” But does not that very uncertainty show the need of a something above Nature, which is furnished in Him who “was crucified, dead and buried, and the third day rose again from the dead?” It is the Conqueror of Death who calls to the fainthearted: “I am the Resurrection and the Life.” Since He has gone before us, lighting up the dark passage of the grave, we need not fear to follow, resting on the word of our Leader: “Because I live, ye shall live also.”
This faith in another life is a precious inheritance, which cannot be torn from the agonized bosom without a wrench that tears every heartstring; and it was to this I referred as the last refuge of a poor, suffering, despairing soul, when I asked: “Does it never occur to you that there is something very cruel in this treatment of the belief of your fellow-creatures, on whose hope of another life hangs all that relieves the darkness of their present existence?” The imputation of cruelty you repel with some warmth, saying (with a slight variation of my language): “When I deny the existence of perdition, you reply that there is something very cruel in this treatment of the belief of my fellow-creatures.” Of course, this change of words, putting perdition in the place of immortal life and hope, was a mere inadvertence. But it was enough to change the whole character of what I wrote. As I described “the treatment of the belief of my fellow-creatures,” I did think it “very cruel,” and I think so still.
While correcting this slight misquotation, I must remove from your mind a misapprehension, which is so very absurd as to be absolutely comical. In my Letter referring to your disbelief of immortality, I had said: “With an air of modesty and diffidence that would carry an audience by storm, you confess your ignorance of what perhaps others are better acquainted with, when you say, ‘This world is all that I know anything about, so far as I recollect'” Of course “what perhaps others are better acquainted with “was a part of what you said, or at least implied by your manner (for you do not convey your meaning merely by words, but by a tone of voice, by arched eyebrows, or a curled lip’) and yet, instead of taking the sentence in its plain and obvious sense, you affect to understand it as an assumption on my part to have some private and mysterious knowledge of another world (!), and gravely ask me, “Did you by this intend to say that you know anything of any other state of existence; that you have inhabited some other planet; that you lived before you were born; and that you recollect something of that other world or of that other state? “No, my dear Colonel! I have been a good deal of a traveler, and have seen all parts of this world, but I have never visited any other. In reading your sober question, if I did not know you to he one of the brightest wits of the day, I should be tempted to quote what Sidney Smith says of a Scotchman, that “you cannot get a joke into his head except by a surgical operation!”
But to return to what is serious: you make light of our faith and our hopes, because you know not the infinite solace they bring to the troubled human heart. You sneer at the idea that religion can be a “consolation.” Indeed! Is it not a consolation to have an Almighty Friend? Was it a light matter for the poor slave mother, who sat alone in her cabin, having been robbed of her children, to sing in her wild, wailing accents:
“Nobody knows the sorrows I’ve seen:
Nobody knows but Jesus?”
Would you rob her of that Unseen Friend — the only Friend she had on earth or in heaven?
Bat I will do you the justice to say that your want of religious faith comes in part from your very sensibility and tenderness of heart. You cannot recognize an overrulingProvidence, because your mind is so harassed by scenes that you witness. Why, you ask, do men suffer so? You draw frightful pictures of the misery which exists in the world, as a proof of the incapacity of its Ruler and Governor, and do not hesitate to say that “any honest man of average intelligence could do vastly better.” If you could have your way, you would make everybody happy; there should be no more poverty, and no more sickness or pain.
This is a pleasant picture to look at, and yet you must excuse me for saying that it is rather a child’s picture than that of a stalwart man. The world is not a playground in which men are to be petted and indulged like children: spoiled children they would soon become. It is an arena of conflict, in which we are to develop the manhood that is in us. We all have to take the “rough-and-tumble” of life, and are the better for it — physically, intellectually, and morally. If there be any true manliness within us, we come out of the struggle stronger and better; with larger minds and kinder hearts; a broader wisdom and a gentler charity.
Perhaps we should not differ on this point if we could agree as to the true end of life. But here I fear the difference is irreconcilable. You think that end is happiness: I think it is CHARACTER. I do not believe that the highest end of life upon earth is to “have a good time;” to get from it the utmost amount of enjoyment; but to be truly and greatly good; and that to that end no discipline can he too severe which leads us “to suffer and be strong.” That discipline answers its end when it raises the spirit to the highest pitch of courage and endurance. The splendor of virtue never appears so bright as when set against a dark background. It was in prisons and dungeons that the martyrs showed the greatest degree of moral heroism, the power of “Man’s unconquerable mind.”
But I know well that these illustrations do not cover the whole case. There is another picture to be added to those of heroic struggle and martyrdom — that of silent suffering, which makes of life one long agony, and which often comes upon the good, so that it seems as if the best suffered the most. And yet when you sit by a sick bed, and look into a face whiter than the pillow on which it rests, do you not sometimes mark how that very suffering refines the nature that bears it so meekly? This is the Christian theory: that suffering, patiently borne, is a means of the greatest elevation of character, and, in the end, of the highest enjoyment. Looking at it in this light, we can understand how it should be that “the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared [or even to be named] with the glory which shall be revealed.” When the heavenly morning breaks, brighter than any dawn that blushes “o’er the world,” there will be “a restitution of all things:” the poor will be made rich, and the most suffering the most serenely happy; as in the vision of the Apocalypse, when it is asked “What are these which are arrayed in white robes, and whence came they?” the answer is, “These are they which came our of great tribulation.”
In this conclusion, which is not adopted lightly, but after innumerable struggles with doubt, after the experience and the reflection of years, I feel “a great peace.” It is the glow of sunset that gilds the approach of evening. For (we must confess it) it is towards that you and I are advancing. The sun has passed the meridian, and hastens to his going down. Whatever of good this life has for us (and I am far from being one of those who look upon it as a vale of tears) will soon be behind us. I see the shadows creeping on; yet I welcome the twilight that will soon darken into night, for I know that it will be a night all glorious with stars. As I look upward, the feeling of awe is blended with a strange, overpowering sense of the Infinite Goodness, which surrounds me like an atmosphere:
“And so beside theSilentSea,
I wait the muffled oar;
No harm from Him can come to me
On ocean or on shore.
I know not where His Islands lift:
Their fronded palms in air;
I only know I cannot drift
Beyond His love and care.”
Would that you could share with me this confidence and this hope! But you seem to be receding farther from any kind of faith. In one of your closing paragraphs, you give what is to you “the conclusion of the whole matter.” After repudiating religion with scorn, you ask, “Is there not room for a better, for a higher philosophy?” and thus indicate the true answer to be given, to which no words can do justice but your own:
“After all, is it not possible that we may find that everything has been necessarily produced; that all religions and superstitions, all mistakes and all crimes, were simply necessities? Is it not possible that out of this perception may come not only love and pity for others, but absolute justification for the individual? May we not find that every soul has, like Mazeppa, been lashed to the wild horse of passion, or like Prometheus to the rocks of fate?”
If this be the end of all philosophy, it is equally the end of “all things.” Not only does it make an end of us and of our hopes of futurity, but of all that makes the present life worth living — of all freedom, and hence of all virtue. There are no more any moral distinctions in the world — no good and no evil, no right and no wrong; nothing but grim necessity. With such a creed, I wonder how you can ever stand at the bar, and argue for the conviction of a criminal. Why should he be convicted and punished for what he could not help? Indeed he is not a criminal, since there is no such thing as crime. He is not to blame. Was he not “lashed to the wild horse of passion,” carried away by a power beyond his control? What cruelty to thrust him behind iron bars! Poor fellow! he deserves our pity. Let us hasten to relieve him from a position which must be so painful, and make our humble apology for having presumed to punish him for an act in which he only obeyed an impulse which he could not resist. This will be “absolute justification for the individual.” But what will become of society, you do not tell us.
Are you aware that in this last attainment of “a better, a higher philosophy” (which is simply absolute fatalism), you have swung round to the side of John Calvin, and gone far beyond him? That you, who have exhausted all the resources of the English language in denouncing his creed as the most horrible of human beliefs — brainless, soulless, heartless; who have held it up to scorn and derision; now hold to the blackest Calvinism that was ever taught by man? You cannot find words sufficient to express your horror of the doctrine of Divine decrees; and yet here you have decrees with a vengeance — predestination and damnation, both in one. Under such a creed, man is a thousand times worse off than under ours: for he has absolutely no hope. You may say that at any rate he cannot suffer forever. You do not know even that; but at any rate he suffers as long as he exists. There is no God above to show him pity, and grant him release; but as long as the ages roll, he is “lashed to the rocks of fate,” with the insatiate vulture tearing at his heart!
In reading your glittering phrases, I seem to be losing hold of everything, and to be sinking, sinking, till I touch the lowest depths of an abyss; while from the blackness above me a sound like a death-knoll tolls the midnight of the soul. If I believed this I should cry, God help us all! Oh no — for there would be no God, and even this last consolation would be denied us: for why should we offer a prayer which can neither be heard nor answered? As well might we ask mercy from “the rocks of fate” to which we are chained forever!
Recoiling from this Gospel of Despair, I turn to One in whose face there is something at once human and divine — an indescribable majesty, united with more than human tenderness and pity; One who was born among the poor, and had not where to lay His head, and yet went about doing good; poor, yet making many rich; who trod the world in deepest loneliness, and yet whose presence lighted up every dwelling into which He came; who took up little children in His arms, and blessed them; a giver of joy to others, and yet a sufferer himself; who tasted every human sorrow, and yet was always ready to minister to others’ grief; weeping with them that wept; coming to Bethany to comfort Mary and Martha concerning their brother; rebuking the proud, but gentle and pitiful to the most abject of human creatures; stopping amid the throng at the cry of a blind beggar by the wayside; willing to be known as “the friend of sinners,” if He might recall them into the way of peace; who did not scorn even the fallen woman who sank at His feet, but by His gentle word, “Neither do I condemn thee; go and sin no more,” lifted her up, and set her in the path of a virtuous womanhood; and who, when dying on the cross, prayed: “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do,” In this Friend of the friendless, Comforter of the comfortless, Forgiver of the penitent, and Guide of the erring, I find a greatness that I had not found in any of the philosophers or teachers of the world. No voice in all the ages thrills me like that which whispers close to my heart, “Come unto me and I will give you rest,” to which I answer:
THIS IS MY MASTER, AND I WILL FOLLOW HIM.
Henry M. Field.
Part 4 — Field – Ingersoll Debate.
Letter To Dr. Field.
My Dear Mr. Field:
With great pleasure I have read your second letter, in which you seem to admit that men may differ even about religion without being responsible for that difference; that every man has the right to read the Bible for himself, state freely the conclusion at which he arrives, and that it is not only his privilege, but his duty to speak the truth; that Christians can hardly be happy in heaven, while those they loved on earth are suffering with the lost; that it is not a crime to investigate, to think, to reason, to observe, and to be governed by evidence; that credulity is not a virtue, and that the open mouth of ignorant wonder is not the only entrance to Paradise; that belief is not necessary to salvation, and that no man can justly be made to suffer eternal pain for having expressed an intellectual conviction.
You seem to admit that no man can justly be held responsible for his thoughts; that the brain thinks without asking our consent, and that we believe or disbelieve without an effort of the will.
I congratulate you upon the advance that you have made. You not only admit that we have the right to think, but that we have the right to express our honest thoughts. You admit that the Christian world no longer believes in the fagot, the dungeon, and the thumbscrew. Has the Christian world outgrown its God? Has man become more merciful than his maker? If man will not torture his fellow-man on account of a difference of opinion, will a God of infinite love torture one of his children for what is called the sin of unbelief? Has man outgrown the Inquisition, and will God forever be the warden of a penitentiary? The walls of the old dungeons have fallen, and light now visits the cell where brave men perished in darkness. Is Jehovah to keep the cells of perdition in repair forever, and are his children to be the eternal prisoners?
It seems hard for you to appreciate the mental condition of one who regards all gods as substantially the same; that is to say, who thinks of them all as myths and phantoms born of the imagination, — characters in the religious fictions of the race. To you it probably seems strange that a man should think far more of Jupiter than of Jehovah. Regarding them both as creations of the mind, I choose between them, and I prefer the God of the Greeks, on the same principle that I prefer Portia to Iago; and yet I regard them, one and all, as children of the imagination, as phantoms born of human fears and human hopes.
Surely nothing was further from my mind than to hurt the feelings of any one by speaking of the Presbyterian God. I simply intended to speak of the God of the Presbyterians. Certainly the God of the Presbyterian is not the God of the Catholic, nor is he the God of the Mohammedan or Hindoo. He is a special creation suited only to certain minds. These minds have naturally come together, and they form what we call the Presbyterian Church. As a matter of fact, no two churches can by any possibility have precisely the same God; neither can any two human beings conceive of precisely the same Deity. In every man’s God there is, to say the least, a part of that man. The lower the man, the lower his conception of God. The higher the man, the grander his Deity must be. The savage who adorns his body with a belt from which hang the scalps of enemies slain in battle, has no conception of a loving, of a forgiving God; his God, of necessity, must be as revengeful, as heartless, as infamous as the God of John Calvin.
You do not exactly appreciate my feeling. I do not hate Presbyterians; I hate Presbyterianism. I hate with all my heart the creed of that church, and I most heartily despise the God described in the Confession of Faith. But some of the best friends I have in the world are afflicted with the mental malady known as Presbyterianism. They are the victims of the consolation growing out of the belief that a vast majority of their fellow-men are doomed to suffer eternal torment, to the end that their Creator may be eternally glorified. I have said many times, and I say again, that I do not despise a man because he has the rheumatism; I despise the rheumatism because it has a man.
But I do insist that the Presbyterians have assumed to appropriate to themselves their Supreme Being, and that they have claimed, and that they do claim, to be the “special objects of his favor.” They do claim to be the very elect, and they do insist that God looks upon them as the objects of his special care. They do claim that the light of Nature, without the torch of the Presbyterian creed, is insufficient to guide any soul to the gate of heaven. They do insist that even those who never heard of Christ, or never heard of the God of the Presbyterians, will be eternally lost; and they not only claim this, but that their fate will illustrate not only the justice but the mercy of God. Not only so, but they insist that the morality of an unbeliever is displeasing to God, and that the love of an unconverted mother for her helpless child is nothing less than sin.
When I meet a man who really believes the Presbyterian creed, I think of the Laocoon. I feel as though looking upon a human being helpless in the coils of an immense and poisonous serpent. But I congratulate you with all my heart that you have repudiated this infamous, this savage creed; that you now admit that reason was given us to be exercised; that God will not torture any man for entertaining an honest doubt, and that in the world to come “every man will be judged according to the deeds done in the body.”
Let me quote your exact language: “I believe that in the future world every man will be judged according to the deeds done in the body.” Do you not see that you have bidden farewell to the Presbyterian Church? In that sentence you have thrown away the atonement, you have denied the efficacy of the blood of Jesus Christ, and you have denied the necessity of belief. If we are to be judged by the deeds done in the body, that is the end of the Presbyterian scheme of salvation. I sincerely congratulate you for having repudiated the savagery of Calvinism.
It also gave me great pleasure to find that you have thrown away, with a kind of glad shudder, that infamy of infamies, the dogma of eternal pain. I have denounced that inhuman belief; I have denounced every creed that had coiled within it that viper; I have denounced every man who preached it, the book that contains it, and with all my heart the God who threatens it; and at last I have the happiness of seeing the editor of the New York Evangelist admit that devout Christians do not believe that lie, and quote with approbation the words of a minister of the Church of England to the effect that all men will be finally recovered and made happy.
Do you find this doctrine of hope in the Presbyterian creed? Is this star, that sheds light on every grave, found in your Bible? Did Christ have in his mind the shining truth that all the children of men will at last be filled with joy, when he uttered these comforting words: “Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire prepared for the devil and his angels”? Do you find in this flame the bud of hope, or the flower of promise?
You suggest that it is possible that “the incurably bad will be annihilated,” and you say that such a fate can have no terrors for me, as I look upon annihilation as the common lot of all. Let us examine this position. Why should a God of infinite wisdom create men and women whom he knew would be “incurably bad”? What would you say of a mechanic who was forced to destroy his own productions on the ground that they were “incurably bad”? Would you say that he was an infinitely wise mechanic? Does infinite justice annihilate the work of infinite wisdom? Does God, like an ignorant doctor, bury his mistakes?
Besides, what right have you to say that I “look upon annihilation as the common lot of all”? Was there any such thought in my Reply? Do you find it in any published words of mine? Do you find anything in what I have written tending to show that I believe in annihilation? Is it not true that I say now, and that I have always said, that I do not know? Does a lack of knowledge as to the fate of the human soul imply a belief in annihilation? Does it not equally imply a belief in immortality?
You have been — at least until recently — a believer in the inspiration of the Bible and in the truth of its every word. What do you say to the following: “For that which befalleth the sons of men befalleth beasts; even one thing befalleth them: as the one dieth, so dieth the other; yea, they have all one breath; so that a man hath no pre-eminence above a beast.” You will see that the inspired writer is not satisfied with admitting that he does not know. “As the cloud is consumed and vanisheth away; so he that goeth down to the grave shall come up no more.” Was it not cruel for an inspired man to attack a sacred belief?
You seem surprised that I should speak of the doctrine of eternal pain as “the black thunder-cloud that darkens all the horizon, casting its mighty shadows over the life that now is and that which is to come.” If that doctrine be true, what else is there worthy of engaging the attention of the human mind? It is the blackness that extinguishes every star. It is the abyss in which every hope must perish. It leaves a universe without justice and without mercy — a future without one ray of light, and a present with nothing but fear. It makes heaven an impossibility, God an infinite monster, and man an eternal victim. Nothing can redeem a religion in which this dogma is found. Clustered about it are all the snakes of the Furies.
But you have abandoned this infamy, and you have admitted that we are to be judged according to the deeds done in the body. Nothing can be nearer self-evident than the fact that a finite being cannot commit an infinite sin; neither can a finite being do an infinitely good deed. That is to say, no one can deserve for any act eternal pain, and no one for any deed can deserve eternal joy. If we are to be judged by the deeds done in the body, the old orthodox hell and heaven both become impossible.
So, too, you have recognized the great and splendid truth that sin cannot be predicated of an intellectual conviction. This is the first great step toward the liberty of soul. You admit that there is no morality and no immorality in belief — that is to say, in the simple operation of the mind in weighing evidence, in observing facts, and in drawing conclusions. You admit that these things are without sin and without guilt. Had all men so believed there never could have been religious persecution — the Inquisition could not have been built, and the idea of eternal pain never could have polluted the human heart.
You have been driven to the passions for the purpose of finding what you are pleased to call “sin” and “responsibility”; and you say, speaking of a human being, “but if he is warped by passion so that he cannot see things truly, then is he responsible.” One would suppose that the use of the word “cannot” is inconsistent with the idea of responsibility. What is passion? There are certain desires, swift, thrilling, that quicken the action of the heart — desires that fill the brain with blood, with fire and flame — desires that bear the same relation to judgment that storms and waves bear to the compass on a ship. Is passion necessarily produced? Is there an adequate cause for every effect? Can you by any possibility think of an effect without a cause, and can you by any possibility think of an effect that is not a cause, or can you think of a cause that is not an effect? Is not the history of real civilization the slow and gradual emancipation of the intellect, of the judgment, from the mastery of passion? Is not that man civilized whose reason sits the crowned monarch of his brain — whose passions are his servants?
Who knows the strength of the temptation to another? Who knows how little has been resisted by those who stand, how much has been resisted by those who fall? Who knows whether the victor or the victim made the braver and the more gallant fight? In judging of our fellow-men we must take into consideration the circumstances of ancestry, of race, of nationality, of employment, of opportunity, of education, and of the thousand influences that tend to mold or mar the character of man. Such a view is the mother of charity, and makes the God of the Presbyterians impossible.
At last you have seen the impossibility of forgiveness. That is to say, you perceive that after forgiveness the crime remains, and its children, called consequences, still live. You recognize the lack of philosophy in that doctrine. You still believe in what you call “the forgiveness of sins,” but you admit that forgiveness cannot reverse the course of nature, and cannot prevent the operation of natural law. You also admit that if a man lives after death, he preserves his personal identity, his memory, and that the consequences of his actions will follow him through all the eternal years. You admit that consequences are immortal. After making this admission, of what use is the old idea of the forgiveness of sins? How can the criminal be washed clean and pure in the blood of another? In spite of this forgiveness, in spite of this blood, you have taken the ground that consequences, like the dogs of Actreon, follow even a Presbyterian, even one of the elect, within the heavenly gates. If you wish to be logical, you must also admit that the consequences of good deeds, like winged angels, follow even the atheist within the gates of hell.
You have had the courage of your convictions, and you have said that we are to be judged according to the deeds done in the body. By that judgment I am willing to abide. But, whether willing or not, I must abide, because there is no power, no God that can step between me and the consequences of my acts. I wish no heaven that I have not earned, no happiness to which I am not entitled. I do not wish to become an immortal pauper; neither am I willing to extend unworthy hands for alms.
My dear Mr. Field, you have outgrown your creed — as every Presbyterian must who grows at all. You are far better than the spirit of the Old Testament; far better, in my judgment, even than the spirit of the New. The creed that you have left behind, that you have repudiated, teaches that a man may be guilty of every crime — that he may have driven his wife to insanity, that his example may have led his children to the penitentiary, or to the gallows, and that yet, at the eleventh hour, he may, by what is called “repentance,” be washed absolutely pure by the blood of another and receive and wear upon his brow the laurels of eternal peace. Not only so, but that creed has taught that this wretch in heaven could look back on the poor earth and see the wife, whom he swore to love and cherish, in the mad-house, surrounded by imaginary serpents, struggling in the darkness of night, made insane by his heartlessness — that creed has taught and teaches that he could look back and see his children in prison cells, or on the scaffold with the noose about their necks, and that these visions would not bring a shade of sadness to his redeemed and happy face. It is this doctrine, it is this dogma — so bestial, so savage as to beggar all the languages of men — that I have denounced. All the words of hatred, loathing and contempt, found in all the dialects and tongues of men, are not sufficient to express my hatred, my contempt, and my loathing of this creed.
You say that it is impossible for you not to believe in the existence of God. With this statement, I find no fault. Your mind is so that a belief in the existence of a Supreme Being gives satisfaction and content. Of course, you are entitled to no credit for this belief, as you ought not to be rewarded for believing that which you cannot help believing; neither should I be punished for failing to believe that which I cannot believe.
You believe because you see in the world around you such an adaptation of means to ends that you are satisfied there is design. I admit that when Robinson Crusoe saw in the sand the print of a human foot, like and yet unlike his own, he was justified in drawing the conclusion that a human being had been there. The inference was drawn from his own experience, and was within the scope of his own mind. But I do not agree with you that he “knew” a human being had been there; he had only sufficient evidence upon which to found a belief. He did not know the footsteps of all animals; he could not have known that no animal except man could have made that footprint. In order to have known that it was the foot of man, he must have known that no other animal was capable of making it, and he must have known that no other being had produced in the sand the likeness of this human foot.
You see what you call evidences of intelligence, in the universe, and you draw the conclusion that there must be an infinite intelligence. Your conclusion is far wider than your premise. Let us suppose, as Mr. Hume supposed, that there is a pair of scales, one end of which is in darkness, and you find that a pound weight, or a ten-pound weight, placed upon that end of the scale in the light is raised; have you the right to say that there is an infinite weight on the end in darkness, or are you compelled to say only that there is weight enough on the end in darkness to raise the weight on the end in light?
It is illogical to say, because of the existence of this earth and of what you can see in and about it, that there must be an infinite intelligence. You do not know that even the creation of this world, and of all planets discovered, required an infinite power, or infinite wisdom. I admit that it is impossible for me to look at a watch and draw the inference that there was no design in its construction, or that it only happened. I could not regard it as a product of some freak of nature, neither could I imagine that its various parts were brought together and set in motion by chance. I am not a believer in chance. But there is a vast difference between what man has made and the materials of which he has constructed the things he has made. You find a watch, and you say that it exhibits, or shows design. You insist that it is so wonderful it must have had a designer — in other words, that it is too wonderful not to have been constructed. You then find the watchmaker, and you say with regard to him that he too must have had a designer, for he is more wonderful than the watch. In imagination you go from the watchmaker to the being you call God, and you say he designed the watchmaker, but he himself was not designed because he is too wonderful to have been designed. And yet in the case of the watch and of the watchmaker, it was the wonder that suggested design, while in the case of the maker of the watchmaker the wonder denied a designer. Do you not see that this argument devours itself? If wonder suggests a designer, can it go on increasing until it denies that which it suggested?
You must remember, too, that the argument of design is applicable to all. You are not at liberty to stop at sunrise and sunset and growing corn and all that adds to the happiness of man; you must go further. You must admit that an infinitely wise and merciful God designed the Fangs of serpents, the machinery by which the poison is distilled, the ducts by which it is carried to the fang, and that the same intelligence impressed this serpent with a desire to deposit this deadly virus in the flesh of man. You must believe that an infinitely wise God so constructed this world, that in the process of cooling, earthquakes would be caused — earthquakes that devour and overwhelm cities and states. Do you see any design in the volcano that sends it:s rivers of lava over the fields and the homes of men? Do you really think that a perfectly good being designed the invisible parasites that infest the air, that inhabit the water, and that finally attack and destroy the health and life of man? Do you see the same design in cancers that you do in wheat and corn? Did God invent tumors for the brain? Was it his ingenuity that so designed the human race that millions of people should be born deaf and dumb, that millions should be idiotic? Did he knowingly plant in the blood or brain the seeds of insanity? Did he cultivate those seeds? Do you see any design in this?
Man calls that good which increases his happiness, and that evil which gives him pain. In the olden time, back of the good he placed a God; back of the evil a devil; but now the orthodox world is driven to admit that the God is the author of all.
For my part, I see no goodness in the pestilence — no mercy in the bolt that leaps from the cloud and leaves the mark of death on the breast of a loving mother. I see no generosity in famine, no goodness in disease, no mercy in want and agony. And yet you say that the being who created parasites that live only by inflicting pain — the being responsible for all the sufferings of mankind — you say that he has “a tenderness compared to which all human love is faint and cold.” Yet according to the doctrine of the orthodox world, this being of infinite love and tenderness so created nature that its light misleads, and left a vast majority of the human race to blindly grope their way to endless pain.
You insist that a knowledge of God — a belief in God — is the foundation of social order; and yet this God of infinite tenderness has left for thousands and thousands of years nearly all of his children without a revelation. Why should infinite goodness leave the existence of God in doubt? Why should he see millions in savagery destroying the lives of each other, eating the flesh of each other, and keep his existence a secret from man? Why did he allow the savages to depend on sunrise and sunset and clouds? Why did he leave this great truth to a few half-crazed prophets, or to a cruel, heartless and ignorant church? The sentence “There is a God” could have been imprinted on every blade of grass, on every leaf, on every star. An infinite God has no excuse for leaving his children in doubt and darkness.
There is still another point. You know that for thousands of ages men worshiped wild beasts as God. You know that for countless generations they knelt by coiled serpents, believing those serpents to be gods. Why did the real God secrete himself and allow his poor, ignorant, savage children to imagine that he was a beast, a serpent? Why did this God allow mothers to sacrifice their babes? Why did he not emerge from the darkness? Why did he not say to the poor mother, Do not sacrifice your babe; keep it in your arms; press it to your bosom; let it be the solace of your declining years. I take no delight in the death of children; I am not what you suppose me to be; I am not a beast; I am not a serpent; I am full of love and kindness and mercy, and I want my children to be happy in this world”? Did the God who allowed a mother to sacrifice her babe through the mistaken idea that he, the God, demanded the sacrifice, feel a tenderness toward that mother “compared to which all human love is faint and cold”? Would a good father allow some of his children to kill others of his children to please him?
There is still another question. Why should God, a being of infinite tenderness, leave the question of immortality in doubt? How is it that there is nothing in the Old Testament on this subject? Why is it that he who made all the constellations did not put in his heaven the star of hope? How do you account for the fact that you do not find in the Old Testament, from the first mistake in Genesis, to the last curse in Malachi, a funeral service? Is it not strange that some one in the Old Testament did not stand by an open grave of father or mother and say: “We shall meet again”? Was it because the divinely inspired men did not know?
You taunt me by saying that I know no more of the immortality of the soul thanCiceroknew. I admit it. I know no more than the lowest savage, no more than a doctor of divinity — that is to say, nothing.
Is it not, however, a curious fact that there is less belief in the immortality of the soul in Christian countries than in heathen lands — that the belief in immortality, in an orthodox church, is faint and cold and speculative, compared with that belief in India, in China, or in the Pacific Isles? Compare the belief in immortality inAmerica, of Christians, with that of the followers of Mohammed. Do not Christians weep above their dead? Does a belief in immortality keep back their tears? After all, the promises are so far away, and the dead are so near — the echoes of words said to have been spoken more than eighteen centuries ago are lost in the sounds of the clods that fall on the coffin. And yet, compared with the orthodox hell, compared with the prison-house of God, how ecstatic is the grave — the grave without a sigh, without a tear, without a dream, without a fear. Compared with the immortality promised by the Presbyterian creed, how beautiful annihilation seems. To be nothing — how much better than to be a convict forever. To be unconscious dust — how much better than to be a heartless angel.
There is not, there never has been, there never will be, any consolation in orthodox Christianity. It offers no consolation to any good and loving man. I prefer the consolation of Nature, the consolation of hope, the consolation springing from human affection. I prefer the simple desire to live and love forever.
Of course, it would be a consolation to know that we have an “Almighty Friend” in heaven; but an “Almighty Friend” who cares nothing for us, who allows us to be stricken by his lightning, frozen by his winter, starved by his famine, and at last imprisoned in his hell, is a friend I do not care to have.
I remember “the poor slave mother who sat alone in her cabin, having been robbed of her children;” and, my dear Mr. Field, I also remember that the people who robbed her justified the robbery by reading passages from the sacred Scriptures. I remember that while the mother wept, the robbers, some of whom were Christians, read this: “Buy of the heathen round about, and they shall be your bondmen and bondwomen forever.” I remember, too, that the robbers read: “Servants be obedient unto your masters;” and they said, this passage is the only message from the heart of God to the scarred back of the slave. I remember this, and I remember, also, that the poor slave mother upon her knees in wild and wailing accents called on the “Almighty Friend,” and I remember that her prayer was never heard, and that her sobs died in the negligent air.
You ask me whether I would “rob this poor woman of such a friend?” My answer is this: I would give her liberty; I would break her chains. But let me ask you, did an “Almighty Friend” see the woman he loved “with a tenderness compared to which all human love is faint and cold,” and the woman who loved him, robbed of her children? What was the “Almighty Friend” worth to her? She preferred her babe.
How could the “Almighty Friend” see his poor children pursued by hounds — his children whose only crime was the love of liberty — how could he see that, and take sides with the hounds? Do you believe that the “Almighty Friend” then governed the world? Do you really think that he “Bade the slave-ship speed from coast to coast, Fanned by the wings of the Holy Ghost”?
Do you believe that the “Almighty Friend” saw all of the tragedies that were enacted in the jungles of Africa — that he watched the wretched slave-ships, saw the miseries of the middle passage, heard the blows of all the whips, saw all the streams of blood, all the agonized faces of women, all the tears that were shed? Do you believe that he saw and knew all these things, and that he, the “Almighty Friend,” looked coldly down and stretched no hand to save?
You persist, however, in endeavoring to account for the miseries of the world by taking the ground that happiness is not the end of life. You say that “the real end of life is character, and that no discipline can be too severe which leads us to suffer and be strong.” Upon this subject you use the following language: “If you could have your way you would make everybody happy; there would be no more poverty, and no more sickness or pain.” And this you say, is a “child’s picture, hardly worthy of a stalwart man.” Let me read you another “child’s picture,” which you will find in the twenty-first chapter of Revelation, supposed to have been written by St. john, the Divine: “And I heard a great voice out of heaven saying, behold the tabernacle of God is with men, and he will dwell with them, and they shall be his people, and God himself shall be with them, and be their God; and God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes, and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain.”
If you visited some woman living in a tenement, supporting by her poor labor a little family — a poor woman on the edge of famine, sewing, it may be, her eyes blinded by tears — would you tell her that “the world is not a playground in which men are to he petted and indulged like children”? Would you tell her that to think of a world without poverty, without tears, without pain, is “a child’s picture”? If she asked you for a little assistance, would you refuse it on the ground that by being helped she might lose character? Would you tell her: “God does not wish to have you happy; happiness is a very foolish end; character is what you want, and God has put you here with these helpless, starving babes, and he has put this burden on your young life simply that you may suffer and he strong. I would help you gladly, but I do not wish to defeat the plans of your Almighty Friend”? You can reason one way, but you would act the other.
I agree with you that work is good, that struggle is essential; that men are made manly by contending with each other and with the forces of nature; but there is a point beyond which struggle does not make character; there is a point at which struggle becomes failure.
Can you conceive of an “Almighty Friend” deforming his children because he loves them? Did he allow the innocent to languish in dungeons because he was their friend? Did he allow the noble to perish upon the scaffold, the great and the self-denying to be burned at the stake, because he had the power to save? Was he restrained by love? Did this “Almighty Friend” allow millions of his children to he enslaved to the end that the “splendor of virtue might have a dark background” You insist that “suffering patiently borne, is a means of the greatest elevation of character, and in the end of the highest enjoyment.” Do you not then see that your “Almighty Friend” has been unjust to the happy — that he is cruel to those whom we call the fortunate — that he is indifferent to the men who do not suffer — that he leaves all the happy and prosperous and joyous without character, and that in the end, according to your doctrine, they are the losers?
But, after all, there is no need of arguing this question further. There is one fact that destroys forever your theory — and that is the fact that millions upon millions die in infancy. Where do they get “elevation of character”? What opportunity is given to them to “suffer and be strong”? Let us admit that we do not know. Let us say that the mysteries of life, of good and evil, of joy and pain, have never been explained. Is character of no importance in heaven? How is it possible for angels, living in “a child’s picture,” to “suffer and be strong”? Do you not see that, according to your philosophy, only the damned can grow great — only the lost can become sublime?
You do not seem to understand what I say with regard to what I call the higher philosophy. When that philosophy is accepted, of course there will be good in the world, there will be evil, there will still be right and wrong. What is good? That which tends to the happiness of sentient beings. What is evil? That which tends to the misery, or tends to lessen the happiness of sentient beings. What is right? The best thing to be done under the circumstances — that is to say, the thing that will increase or preserve the happiness of man. What is wrong? That which tends to the misery of man.
What you call liberty, choice, morality, responsibility, have nothing whatever to do with this. There is no difference between necessity and liberty. He who is free, acts from choice. What is the foundation of his choice? What we really mean by liberty is freedom from personal dictation — we do not wish to be controlled by the will of others. To us the nature of things does not seem to be a master — Nature has no will.
Society has the right to protect itself by imprisoning those who prey upon its interests; but it has no right to punish. It may have the right to destroy the life of one dangerous to the community; but what has freedom to do with this? Do you kill the poisonous serpent because he knew better than to bite? Do you chain a wild beast because he is morally responsible? Do you not think that the criminal deserves the pity of the virtuous?
I was looking forward to the time when the individual might feel justified — when the convict who had worn the garment of disgrace might know and feel that he had acted as he must.
There is an old Hindoo prayer to which I call your attention: “Have mercy, God, upon the vicious; Thou hast already had mercy upon the just by making them just.”
Is it not possible that we may find that everything has been necessarily produced? This, of course, would end in the justification of men. Is not that a desirable thing? Is it not possible that intelligence may at last raise the human race to that sublime and philosophic height?
You insist, however, that this is Calvinism. I take it for granted that you understand Calvinism — but let me tell you what it is. Calvinism asserts that man does as he must, and that, notwithstanding this fact, he is responsible for what he does — that is to say, for what he is compelled to do — that is to say, for what God does with him; and that, for doing that which he must, an infinite God, who compelled him to do it, is justified in punishing the man in eternal fire; this, not because the man ought to be damned, but simply for the glory of God.
Starting from the same declaration, that man does as he must, I reach the conclusion that we shall finally perceive in this fact justification for every individual. And yet you see no difference between my doctrine and Calvinism. You insist that damnation and justification are substantially the same; and yet the difference is as great as human language can express. You call the justification of all the world “the Gospel of Despair,” and the damnation of nearly all the human race the “Consolation of Religion.”
After all, my dear friend. do you not see that when you come to speak of that which is really good, you are compelled to describe your ideal human being? It is the human in Christ, and only the human, that you by any possibility can understand. You speak of one who was born among the poor, who went about doing good, who sympathized with those who suffered. You have described, not only one, but many millions of the human race, Millions of others have carried light to those sitting in darkness; millions and millions have taken children in their arms; millions have wept that those they love might smile. No language can express the goodness, the heroism, the patience and self-denial of the many millions, dead and living, who have preserved in the family of man the jewels of the heart. You have clad one being in all the virtues of the race, in all the attributes of gentleness, patience, goodness, and love, and yet that being, according to the New Testament, had to his character another side. True, he said, “Come unto me and I will give you rest;” but what did he say to those who failed to come? You pour our your whole heart in thankfulness to this one man who suffered for the right, while I thank not only this one, but all the rest. My heart goes out to all the great, the self-denying and the good, — to the founders of nations, singers of songs, builders of homes; to the inventors, to the artists who have filled the world with beauty, to the composers of music, to the soldiers of the right, to the makers of mirth, to honest men, and to all the loving mothers of the race.
Compare, for one moment, all that the Savior did, all the pain and suffering that he relieved, — compare all this with the discovery of anaesthetic. Compare your prophets with the inventors, your Apostles with the Keplers, the Humboldts and the Darwins.
I belong to the great church that holds the world within its starlit aisles; that claims the great and good of every race and clime; that finds with joy the grain of gold in every creed, and floods with light and love the germs of good in every soul.
Most men are provincial, narrow, one sided, only partially developed. In a new country we often see a little patch of land, a clearing in which the pioneer has built his cabin. This little clearing is just large enough to support a family, and the remainder of the farm is still forest, in which snakes crawl and wild beasts occasionally crouch. It is thus with the brain of the average man. There is a little clearing, a little patch, just large enough to practice medicine with, or sell goods, or practice law; or preach with, or do some kind of business, sufficient to obtain bread and food and shelter for a family, while all the rest of the brain is covered with primeval forest, in which lie coiled the serpents of superstition and from which spring the wild beasts of orthodox religion.
Neither in the interest of truth, nor for the benefit of man, is it necessary to assert what we do not know. No cause is great enough to demand a sacrifice of candor. The mysteries of life and death, of good and evil, have never yet been solved.
I combat those only who, knowing nothing of the future, prophesy an eternity of pain — those only who sow the seeds of fear in the hearts of men — those only who poison all the springs of life, and seat a skeleton at every feast.
Let us banish the shriveled hags of superstition; let us welcome the beautiful daughters of truth and joy.
Robert G. Ingersoll.
Robert Green Ingersoll
An honest God is the Noblest Work of Man.
Each nation has created a god, and the god has always resembled his creators. He hated and loved what they hated and loved, and he was invariably found on the side of those in power. Each god was intensely patriotic, and detested all nations but his own. All these gods demanded praise, flattery, and worship. Most of them were pleased with sacrifice, and the smell of innocent blood has ever been considered a divine perfume. All these gods have insisted upon having a vast number of priests, and the priests have always insisted upon being supported by the people, and the principal business of these priests has been to boast about their god, and to insist that he could easily vanquish all the other gods put together.
These gods have been manufactured after numberless models, and according to the most grotesque fashions. Some have a thousand arms, some a hundred heads, some are adorned with necklaces of living snakes, some are armed with clubs, some with sword and shield, some with bucklers, and some have wings as a cherub; some were invisible, some would show themselves entire, and some would only show their backs; some were jealous, some were foolish, some turned themselves into men, some into swans, some into bulls, some into doves, and some into Holy Ghosts, and made love to the beautiful daughters of men. Some were married — all ought to have been — and some were considered as old bachelors from all eternity. Some had children, and the children were turned into gods and worshiped as their fathers had been. Most of these gods were revengeful, savage, lustful, and ignorant. As they generally depended upon their priests for information, their ignorance can hardly excite our astonishment.
These gods did not even know the shape of the worlds they had created, but supposed them perfectly flat. Some thought the day could be lengthened by stopping the sun, that the blowing of horns could throw down the walls of a city, and all knew so little of the real nature of the people they had created, that they commanded the people to love them. Some were so ignorant as to suppose that man could believe just as he might desire, or as they might command, and that to be governed by observation, reason, and experience was a most foul and damning sin. None of these gods could give a true account of the creation of this little earth. All were woefully deficient in geology and astronomy. As a rule, they were most miserable legislators, and as executives, they were far inferior to the average of American presidents.
These deities have demanded the most abject and degrading obedience. In order to please them, man must lay his very face in the dust. Of course, they have always been partial to the people who created them, and have generally shown their partiality by assisting those people to rob and destroy others, and to ravish their wives and daughters.
Nothing is so pleasing to these gods as the butchery of unbelievers. Nothing so enrages them, even now, as to have someone deny their existence.
Few nations have been so poor as to have but one god. Gods were made so easily, and the raw material cost so little, that generally the god market was fairly glutted, and heaven crammed with these phantoms. These gods not only attended to the skies, but were supposed to interfere in all the affairs of men. They presided over everybody and everything. They attended to every department. All was supposed to be under their immediate control. Nothing was too small — nothing too large; the falling of sparrows and the motions of the planets were alike attended to by these industrious and observing deities. From their starry thrones they frequently came to earth for the purpose of imparting information to man. It is related of one that he came amid thunderings and lightnings in order to tell the people that they should not cook a kid in its mother’s milk. Some left their shining abodes to tell women that they should, or should not, have children, to inform a priest how to cut and wear his apron, and to give directions as to the proper manner of cleaning the intestines of a bird.
When the people failed to worship one of these gods, or failed to feed and clothe his priests, (which was much the same thing,) he generally visited them with pestilence and famine. Sometimes he allowed some other nation to drag them into slavery — to sell their wives and children; but generally he glutted his vengeance by murdering their firstborn. The priests always did their whole duty, not only in predicting these calamities, but in proving, when they did happen, that they were brought upon the people because they had not given quite enough to them.
These gods differed just as the nations differed; the greatest and most powerful nations had the most powerful gods, while the weaker ones were obliged to content themselves with the very off- scourings of the heavens. Each of these gods promised happiness here and hereafter to all his slaves, and threatened to eternally punish all who either disbelieved in his existence or suspected that some other god might be his superior; but to deny the existence of all gods was, and is, the crime of crimes. Redden your hands with human blood; blast by slander the fair fame of the innocent; strangle the smiling child upon its mother’s knees; deceive, ruin and desert the beautiful girl who loves and trusts you, and your case is not hopeless. For all this, and for all these you may be forgiven. For all this, and for all these, that bankrupt court established by the gospel, will give you a discharge; but deny the existence of these divine ghosts, of these gods, and the sweet and tearful face of Mercy becomes livid with eternal hate. Heaven’s golden gates are shut, and you, with an infinite curse ringing in your ears, with the brand of infamy upon your brow, commence your endless wanderings in the lurid gloom of hell — an immortal vagrant — an eternal outcast — a deathless convict.
One of these gods, and one who demands our love, our admiration and our worship, and one who is worshiped, if mere heartless ceremony is worship, gave to his chosen people for their guidance, the following laws of war: “When thou comest nigh unto a city to fight against it, then proclaim peace unto it. And it shall be if it make thee answer of peace, and open unto thee, then it shall be that all the people that is found therein shall be tributaries unto thee, and they shall serve thee. And if it will make no peace with thee, but will make war against thee, then thou shalt besiege it. And when the Lord thy God hath delivered it into thy hands, thou shalt smite every male thereof with the edge of the sword. But the women and the little ones, and the cattle, and all that is in the city, even all the spoil thereof, shalt thou take unto thyself, and thou shalt eat the spoil of thine enemies which the Lord thy God hath given thee. Thus shalt thou do unto all the cities which are very far off from thee, which are not of the cities of these nations. But of the cities of these people which the Lord thy God doth give thee for an inheritance, thou shalt save alive nothing that breatheth.”
Is it possible for man to conceive of anything more perfectly infamous? Can you believe that such directions were given by any being except an infinite fiend? Remember that the army receiving these instructions was one of invasion. Peace was offered upon condition that the people submitting should be the slaves of the invader; but if any should have the courage to defend their homes, to fight for the love of wife and child, then the sword was to spare none — not even the prattling, dimpled babe.
And we are called upon to worship such a God; to get upon our knees and tell him that he is good, that he is merciful, that he is just, that he is love. We are asked to stifle every noble sentiment of the soul, and to trample under foot all the sweet charities of the heart. Because we refuse to stultify ourselves — refuse to become liars — we are denounced, hated, traduced and ostracized here, and this same god threatens to torment us in eternal fire the moment death allows him to fiercely clutch our naked helpless souls. Let the people hate, let the god threaten — we will educate them, and we will despise and defy the god.
The book, called the Bible, is filled with passages equally horrible, unjust and atrocious. This is the book to be read in schools in order to make our children loving, kind and gentle! This is the book they wish to be recognized in our Constitution as the source of all authority and justice!
Strange! that no one has ever been persecuted by the church for believing God bad, while hundreds of millions have been destroyed for thinking him good. The orthodox church never will forgive the Universalist for saying “God is love.” It has always been considered as one of the very highest evidences of true and undefiled religion to insist that all men, women and children deserve eternal damnation. It has always been heresy, to say, “God will at last save all”
We are asked to justify these frightful passages, these infamous laws of war, because the Bible is the word of God. As a matter of fact, there never was, and there never can be, an argument even tending to prove the inspiration of any book whatever. In the absence of positive evidence, analogy and experience, argument is simply impossible, and at the very best, can amount only to a useless agitation of the air. The instant we admit that a book is too sacred to be doubted, or even reasoned about, we are mental serfs. It is infinitely absurd to suppose that a god would Address a communication to intelligent beings, and yet make it a crime, to be punished in eternal flames, for them to use their intelligence for the purpose of understanding his communication. If we have the right to use our reason, we certainly have the right to act in accordance with it, and no god can have the right to punish us for such action.
The doctrine that future happiness depends upon belief is monstrous. It is the infamy of infamies. The notion that faith in Christ is to be rewarded by an eternity of bliss, while a dependence upon reason, observation and experience merits everlasting pain, is too absurd for refutation, and can be relieved only by that unhappy mixture of insanity and ignorance, called “faith.” What man, who ever thinks, can believe that blood can appease God? And yet, our entire system of religion is based upon that believe. The Jews pacified Jehovah with the blood of animals, and according to the Christian system, the blood of Jesus softened the heart of God a little, and rendered possible the salvation of a fortunate few. It is hard to conceive how the human mind can give assent to such terrible ideas, or how any sane man can read the Bible and still believe in the doctrine of inspiration.
Whether the Bible is true or false, is of no consequence in comparison with the mental freedom of the race.
Salvation through slavery is worthless. Salvation from slavery is inestimable.
As long as man believes the Bible to be infallible, that book is his master. The civilization of this century is not the child of faith, but of unbelief — the result of free thought.
All that is necessary, as it seems to me, to convince any reasonable person that the Bible is simply and purely of human invention — of barbarian invention — is to read it. Read it as you would any other book; think of it as you would of any other; get the bandage of reverence from your eyes; drive from your heart the phantom of fear; push from the throne of your brain the coiled form of superstition — then read the Holy Bible, and you will be amazed that you ever, for one moment, supposed a being of infinite wisdom, goodness and purity, to be the author of such ignorance and of such atrocity.
Our ancestors not only had their god-factories, but they made devils as well. These devils were generally disgraced and fallen gods. Some had headed unsuccessful revolts; some had been caught sweetly reclining in the shadowy folds of some fleecy cloud, kissing the wife of the god of gods. These devils generally sympathized with man. There is in regard to them a most wonderful fact: In nearly all the theologies, mythologies and religions, the devils have been much more humane and merciful than the gods. No devil ever gave one of his generals an order to kill children and to rip open the bodies of pregnant women. Such barbarities were always ordered by the good gods. The pestilences were sent by the most merciful gods. The frightful famine, during which the dying child with pallid lips sucked the withered bosom of a dead mother, was sent by the loving gods. No devil was ever charged with such fiendish brutality.
One of these gods, according to the account, drowned an entire world with the exception of eight persons. The old, the young, the beautiful and the helpless were remorsely devoured by the shoreless sea. This, the most fearful tragedy that the imagination of ignorant priests ever conceived, was the act, not of a devil, but of a god, so-called, whom men ignorantly worship unto this day. What a stain such an act would leave upon the character of a devil! One of the prophets of one of these gods, having in his power a captured king, hewed him in pieces in the sight of all the people. Was ever any imp of any devil guilty of such savagery?
One of these gods is reported to have given the following directions concerning human slavery: “If thou buy a Hebrew servant, six years shall he serve, and in the seventh he shall go out free for nothing. If he came in by himself, he shall go out by himself; if he were married, then his wife shall go out with him. If his master have given him a wife, and she have borne him sons or daughters, the wife and her children shall be her master’s, and he shall go out by himself. And if the servant shall plainly say, I love my master, my wife and my children; I will not go out free. Then his master shall bring him unto the judges: he shall also bring him unto the door, or unto the doorpost; and his master shall bore his ear through with an awl; and he shall serve him forever.”
According to this, a man was given liberty upon condition that he would desert forever his wife and children. Did any devil ever force upon a husband, upon a father, so cruel and so heartless an alternative? Who can worship such a god? Who can bend the knee to such a monster? Who can pray to such a fiend?
All these gods threatened to torment forever the souls of their enemies. Did any devil ever make so infamous a threat? The basest thing recorded of the devil, is what he did concerning Job and his family, and that was done by the express permission of one of these gods, and to decide a little difference of opinion between their serene highnesses as to the character of “my servant Job.”
The first account we have of the devil is found in that purely scientific book called Genesis, and is as follows: “Now the serpent was more subtle than any beast of the field which the Lord God had made, and he said unto the woman, Yea, hath God said, Ye shall not eat of the fruit of the trees of the garden? And the woman said unto the serpent, We may eat of the fruit of the trees of the garden; but of the fruit of the tree which is in the midst of the garden God hath said, Ye shall not eat of it, neither shall ye touch it, lest ye die. And the serpent said unto the woman, Ye shall not surely die. For God doth know that in the day ye eat thereof, then your eyes shall be opened and ye shall be as gods, knowing good and evil. And when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was pleasant to the eyes, and a tree to be desired to make one wise, she took of the fruit thereof and did eat, and gave also unto her husband with her, and he did eat. * * And the Lord God said Behold the man is become as one of us, to know good and evil; and now, lest he put forth his hand, and take also of the tree of life: and eat, and live forever. Therefore the Lord God sent him forth from the Garden of Eden to till the ground from which he was taken. So he drove out the man, and he placed at the east of the Garden of Eden cherubim and a flaming sword, which turned every way to keep the way of the tree of life.”
According to this account the promise of the devil was fulfilled to the very letter, Adam and Eve did not die, and they did become as gods, knowing good and evil.
The account shows, however, that the gods dreaded education and knowledge then just as they do now. The church still faithfully guards the dangerous tree of knowledge, and has exerted in all ages her utmost power to keep mankind from eating the fruit thereof. The priests have never ceased repeating the old falsehood and the old threat: “Ye shall not eat of it, neither shall ye touch it, lest ye die.” From every pulpit comes the same cry, born of the same fear: “Lest they eat and become as gods, knowing good and evil.” For this reason, religion hates science, faith detests reason, theology is the sworn enemy of philosophy, and the church with its flaming sword still guards the hated tree, and like its supposed founder, curses to the lowest depths the brave thinkers who eat and become as gods.
If the account given in Genesis is really true, ought we not, after all, to thank this serpent? He was the first schoolmaster, the first advocate of learning, the first enemy of ignorance, the first to whisper in human ears the sacred word liberty, the creator of ambition, the author of modesty, of inquiry, of doubt, of investigation, of progress and of civilization.
Give me the storm and tempest of thought and action, rather than the dead calm of ignorance and faith! Banish me fromEdenwhen you will; but first let me eat of the fruit of the tree of knowledge!
Some nations have borrowed their gods; of this number, we are compelled to say, is our own. The Jews having ceased to exist as a nation, and having no further use for a god, our ancestors appropriated him and adopted their devil at the same time. This borrowed god is still an object of some adoration, and this adopted devil still excites the apprehensions of our people. He is still supposed to be setting his traps and snares for the purpose of catching our unwary souls, and is still, with reasonable success, waging the old war against our God.
To me, it seems easy to account for these ideas concerning gods and devils. They are a perfectly natural production. Man has created them all, and under the same circumstances would create them again. Man has not only created all these gods, but he has created them out of the materials by which he has been surrounded. Generally he has modeled them after himself, and has given them hands, heads, feet, eyes, ears. and organs of speech. Each nation made its gods and devils speak its language not only, but put in their mouths the same mistakes in history, geography, astronomy, and in all matters of fact, generally made by the people. No god was ever in advance of the nation that created him. The negroes represented their deities with black skins and curly hair. The Mongolian gave to his a yellow complexion and dark almond-shaped eyes. The Jews ware not allowed to paint theirs, or we should have seen Jehovah with a full beard, an oval face, and an aquiline nose. Zeus was a perfect Greek, and Jove looked as though a member of the Roman senate. The gods ofEgypthad the patient face and placid look of the loving people who made them. The gods of northern countries were represented warmly clad in robes of fur; those of the tropics were naked. The gods ofIndiawere often mounted upon elephants; those of some islanders were great swimmers, and the deities of the Arctic zone were passionately fond of whale’s blubber. Nearly all people have carved or painted representations of their gods, and these representations were, by the lower classes, generally treated as the real gods, and to these images and idols they addressed prayers and offered sacrifice.
In some countries, even at this day, if the people after long praying do not obtain their desires, they turn their images off as impotent gods, or upbraid them in a most reproachful manner, loading them with blows and curses ‘How now, dog of a spirit,’ they say, ‘we give you lodging in a magnificent temple, we gild you with gold, feed you with the choicest food, and offer incense to you; yet, after all this care, you are so ungrateful as to refuse us what we ask.’ Hereupon they will pull the god down and drug him through the filth of the street. If, in the meantime, it happens that they obtain their request, then, with a great deal of ceremony, they wash him clean, carry him back and place him in his temple again, where they fall down and make excuses for what they have done. ‘Of a truth,’ they say, ‘we were a little too hasty, and you were a little too long in your grant. Why should you bring this beating on yourself. But what is done cannot be undone. Let us not think of it any more. If you will forget what is past we will gild you over brighter again than before.”
Man has never been at a loss for gods. He has worshiped almost everything, including the vilest and most disgusting beasts. He has worshiped fire, earth, air, water, light, stars, and for hundreds of ages prostrated himself before enormous snakes. Savage tribes often make gods of articles they get from civilized people. The Todas worship a cow-bell. The Kotas worship two silver plates, which they regard as husband and wife, and another tribe manufactured a god out of a king of hearts.
Man, having always been the physical superior of woman, accounts for the fact that most of the high gods have been males. Had woman been the physical superior, the powers supposed to be the rulers of Nature would have been women, and instead of being represented in the apparel of man, they would have luxuriated in trains, low necked dresses, laces and back hair.
Nothing can be plainer than that each nation gives to its god its peculiar characteristics, and that every individual gives to his god his personal peculiarities.
Man has no ideas, and can have none, except those suggested by his surroundings. He cannot conceive of anything utterly unlike what he has seen or felt. He can exaggerate, diminish, combine, separate, deform, beautify, improve, multiply and compare what he sees, what he feels, what he hears, and all of which he takes cognizance through the medium of the senses; but he cannot create. Having seen exhibitions of power, he can say, omnipotent. Having lived, he can say, immortality. Knowing something of time, he can say, eternity. Conceiving something of intelligence, he can say, God. Having seen exhibitions of malice, he can say, devil. A few glean’s of happiness having fallen athwart the gloom of his life, he can say, heaven. Pain, in its numberless forms, having been experienced, he can say, hell. Yet all these ideas have a foundation in fact, and only a foundation. The superstructure has been reared by exaggerating, diminishing, combining, separating, deforming, beautifying, improving or multiplying realities, so that the edifice or fabric is but the incongruous grouping of what man has perceived through the medium of the senses. It is as though we should give to a lion the wings of an eagle, the hoofs of a bison, the tail of a horse, the pouch of a kangaroo, and the trunk of an elephant. We have in imagination created an impossible monster, and yet the various parts of this monster really exist. So it is with all the gods that man has made.
Beyond nature man cannot go even in thought — above nature he cannot rise — below nature he cannot fall.
Man, in his ignorance, supposed that all phenomena were produced by some intelligent powers, and with direct reference to him. To preserve friendly relations with these powers was, and still is, the object of all religions. Man knelt through fear and to implore assistance, or though gratitude for some favor which he supposed had been rendered. He endeavored by supplication to appease some being who, for some reason, had, as he believed, become enraged. The lightning and thunder terrified him. In the presence of the volcano he sank upon his knees. The great forests filled with wild and ferocious beasts, the monstrous serpents crawling in mysterious depths, the boundless sea, the flaming comets, the sinister eclipses, the awful calmness of the stars, and, more than all, the perpetual presence of death, convinced him that he was the sport and prey of unseen and malignant powers. The strange and frightful diseases to which he was subject, the freezing and burnings of fever, the contortions of epilepsy, the sudden palsies, the darkness of night, and the wild, terrible and fantastic dreams that filled his brain, salified him that he was haunted and pursued by countless spirits of evil. For some reason he supposed that these spirits differed in power — that they were not all alike malevolent — that the higher controlled the lower, and that his very existence depended upon gaining the assistance of the more powerful. For this purpose he resorted to prayer, to flattery, to worship and to sacrifice. These ideas appear to have been almost universal in savage man.
For ages all nations supposed that the sick and insane were possessed by evil spirits. For thousands of years the practice of medicine consisted in frightening these spirits away. Usually the priests would make the loudest and most discordant noises possible. They would blow horns, beat upon rude drums, clash cymbals, and in the meantime utter the most unearthly yells. If the noise remedy failed, they would implore the aid of some more powerful spirit.
To pacify these spirits was considered of infinite importance. The poor barbarian, knowing that men could be softened by gifts, gave to these spirits that which to him seemed of the most value. With bursting heart he would offer the blood of his dearest child. It was impossible for him to conceive of a god utterly unlike himself, and he naturally supposed that these powers of the air would be affected a little at the sight of so great and so deep a sorrow. It was with the barbarian then as with the civilized now — one class lived upon and made merchandise of the fears of another. Certain persons took it upon themselves to appease the gods, and to instruct the people in their duties to these unseen powers. This was the origin of the priesthood. The priest pretended to stand between the wrath of the gods and the helplessness of man. He was man’s attorney at the court of heaven. He carried to the invisible world a flag of truce, a protest and a request. He came back with a command, with authority and with power. Man fell upon his knees before his own servant, and the priest, taking advantage of the awe inspired by his supposed influence with the gods, made of his fellowman a cringing hypocrite and slave. Even Christ, the supposed son of God, taught that persons were possessed of evil spirits, and frequently, according to the account, gave proof of his divine origin and mission by frightening droves of devils out of his unfortunate countrymen. Casting out devils was his principal employment, and the devils thus banished generally took occasion to acknowledge him as the true Messiah; which was not only very kind of them, but quite fortunate for him. The religious people have always regarded the testimony of these devils as perfectly conclusive and the writers of the New Testament quote the words of these imps of darkness with great satisfaction.
The fact that Christ could withstand the temptations of the devil was considered as conclusive evidence that he was assisted by some god, or at least by some being superior to man. St. Matthew gives an account of an attempt made by the devil to tempt the supposed son of God; and it has always excited the wonder of Christians that the temptation was so nobly and heroically withstood. The account to which I refer is as follows:
“Then was Jesus led up of the spirit into the wilderness to be tempted of the devil. And when the tempter came to him, he said: ‘If thou be the son of God, command that these stones be made bread.’ But he answered, and said: ‘It is written: man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God. Then the devil taketh him up into the holy city and setteth him upon a pinnacle of the temple and saith unto him: “If thou be the son of God, cast thyself down; for it is written, He shall give his angels charge concerning thee, lest at any time thou shalt dash thy foot against a stone.’ Jesus said unto him: ‘It is written again, thou shalt not tempt the Lord thy God.’ Again the devil taketh him up into an exceeding high mountain and sheweth him all the kingdoms of the world and the glory of them, and saith unto him: ‘All these will I give thee if thou wilt fall down and worship me.”
The Christians now claim that Jesus was God. If he was God, of course the devil knew that fact, and yet, according to this account, the devil took the omnipotent God and placed him upon a pinnacle of the temple, and endeavored to induce him to dash himself against the earth. Failing in that, he took the creator, owner and governor of the universe up into an exceeding high mountain and offered him this world — this grain of sand — if he, the God of all the worlds, would fall down and worship him, a poor devil, without even a tax title to one foot of dirt! Is it possible the devil was such an idiot? Should any great credit be given to this deity fear not being caught with such chaff? Think of it! The devil — the prince of sharpers — the king of cunning — the master of finesse, trying to bribe God with a grain of sand that belonged to God!
Is there in all the religious literature of the world anything more grossly absurd than this?
These devils, according to the Bible, were of various kinds — some could speak and hear, others were deaf and dumb. All could not be cast out in the same way. The deaf and dumb spirits were quite difficult to deal with. St. Mark tells of a gentleman who brought his son to Christ. The boy, it seems, was possessed of a dumb spirit, over which the disciples had no control, “Jesus said unto the spirit: ‘Thou dumb and deaf spirit, I charge thee come out of him, and enter no more into him.” Whereupon, the deaf spirit (having heard what was said) cried out (being dumb) and immediately vacated the premises. The ease with, which Christ controlled this deaf and dumb spirit excited the wonder of his disciples, and they asked him privately why they could not cast that spirit out. To whom he replied: “This kind can come forth by nothing but prayer and fasting” Is there a Christian in the whole world who would believe such a story if found in any other book? The trouble is, these pious people shut up their reason, and then open their Bible.
In the olden times the existence of devils was universally admitted. The people had no doubt upon that subject, and from such belief it followed as a matter of course, that a person, in order to vanquish these devils, had either to be a god, or to be assisted by one. All founders of religions have established their claims to divine origin by controlling evil spirits and suspending the laws of nature. Casting out devils was a certificate of divinity. A prophet, unable to cope with the powers of darkness was regarded with contempt. The utterance of the highest and noblest sentiments, the most blameless and holy life, commanded but little respect, unless accompanied by power to work miracles and command spirits.
This belief in good and evil powers had its origin in the fact that man was surrounded by what he was pleased to call good and evil phenomena. Phenomena affecting man pleasantly were ascribed to good spirits, while those affecting him unpleasantly or injuriously, were ascribed to evil spirits. It being admitted that all phenomena were produced by spirits. the spirits were divided according to the phenomena, and the phenomena were good or bad as they affected man. Good spirits were supposed to be the authors of good phenomena, and evil spirits of the evil — so that the idea of a devil has been as universal as the idea of a god.
Many writers maintain that an idea to become universal must be true; that all universal ideas are innate, and that innate ideas cannot he false. If the fact that an idea has been universal proves that it is innate, and if the fact that an idea is innate proves that it is correct. then the believers in innate ideas must admit that the evidence of a god superior to nature, and of a devil superior to nature, is exactly the same, and that the existence of such a devil must be as self-evident as the existence of such a god. The truth is, a god was inferred from good, and a devil from bad, phenomena. And it is just as natural and logical to suppose that a devil would cause happiness as to suppose that a god would produce misery. Consequently, if an intelligence, infinite and supreme, is the immediate author of all phenomena, it is difficult to determine whether such intelligence is the friend or enemy of man. If phenomena were all good, we might say they were all produced by a perfectly beneficent being. If they were all bad, we might say they were produced by a perfectly malevolent power; but, as phenomena are as they affect man, both good and bad, they must be produced by different and antagonistic spirits; by one who is sometimes actuated by kindness, and sometimes by malice; or all must be produced of necessity, and without reference to their consequences upon man.
The foolish doctrine that all phenomena can be traced to the interference of good and evil spirits, has been, and still is, almost universal. That most people still believe in some spirit that can change the natural order of events, is proven by the fact that nearly all resort to prayer. Thousands, at this very moment, are probably imploring some supposed power to interfere in their behalf. Some want health restored; some ask that the loved and absent be watched over and protected, some pray for riches, some for rain, some want diseases stayed, some vainly ask for food, some ask for revivals, a few ask for more wisdom, and now and then one tells the Lord to do as he may think best. Thousands ask to be protect from the devil; some, like David, pray for revenge, and some implore even God, not to lead them into temptation. All these prayers rest upon, and are produced by, the idea that some power not only can, but probably will, change the order of the universe. This belief has been among the great majority of tribes and nations. All sacred books are filled with the accounts of such interferences, and our own Bible is no exception to this rule.
If we believe in a power superior to nature, it is perfectly natural to suppose that such power can and will interfere in the affairs of this world. If there is no interference, of what practical use can such power be? The Scriptures give us the most wonderful accounts of divine interference: Animals talk like men; springs gurgle from dry bones; the sun and moon stop in the heavens in order that General Joshua may have more time to murder; the shadow on a dial goes back ten degrees to convince a petty king of a barbarous people that he is not going to die of a boil; fire refuses to burn; water positively declines to seek its level, but stands up like a wall; grains of sand become lice; common walking- sticks, to gratify a mere freak, twist themselves into serpents, and then swallow each other by way of exercise, murmuring streams, laughing at the attraction of gravitation, run up hill for years, following wandering tribes from a pure love of frolic; prophecy becomes altogether easier than history; the sons of God become enamored of the world’s girls; women are changed into salt for the purpose of keeping a great event fresh in the minds of man an excellent article of brimstone is imported from heaven free of duty; clothes refuse to wear out for forty years; birds keep restaurants and feed wandering prophets free of expense; bears tear children in pieces for laughing at old men without wigs; muscular development depends upon the length of one’s hair; dead people come to life, simply to get a joke on their enemies and heirs; witches and wizards converse freely with the souls of the departed, and God himself become a stone-cutter and engraver, after having been a tailor and dressmaker.
The veil between heaven and earth was always rent or lifted. The shadows of this world, the radiance of heaven, and the glare of hell mixed and mingled until man became uncertain as to which country he really inhabited. Man dwelt in an unreal world. He mistook his ideas, his dreams, for real things. His fears became terrible and malicious monsters. He lived in the midst of furies and fairies, nymphs and maids, goblins and ghosts, witches and wizards, sprites and spooks, deities and devils. The obscure and gloomy depths were filled with claw and wing — with beak and hoof — with leering looks and sneering mouths — with the malice of deformity with the cunning of hatred, and with all the slimy forms that fear can draw and paint upon the shadowy canvas of the dark.
It is enough to make one almost insane with pity to think what man in the long night has suffered; of the tortures he has endured, surrounded, us he supposed, by malignant powers and clutched by the fierce phantoms of the air. No wonder that he fell upon his trembling knees that he built altars and reddened them even with his own blood. No wonder that he implored ignorant priests and impudent magicians for aid. No wonder that he crawled groveling in the dust to the temple’s door, and there, in the insanity of despair, besought the deaf gods to hear his bitter cry of agony and fear.
The savage as he emerges from a state of barbarism, gradually loses faith in his idols of wood and stone, and in their place puts a multitude of spirits. As he advances in knowledge, he generally discards the petty spirits, and in their stead believes in one, whom he supposes to be infinite and supreme. Supposing this great spirit to be superior to nature, he offers worship or flattery in exchange for assistance. At last, finding that he obtains no aid from this supposed deity — finding that every search after the absolute must of necessity end in failure — finding that man cannot by any possibility conceive of the conditionless — he begins to investigate the facts by which he is surrounded, and to depend upon himself.
The people are beginning to think, to reason and to investigate. Slowly, painfully, but surely, the gods are being driven from the earth. Only upon rare occasions are they, even by the most religious, supposed to interfere in the affairs of men. In most matters we are at last supposed to be free. Since the invention of steamships and railways, so that the products of all countries can be easily interchanged, the gods have quit the business of producing famine. Now and then they kill a child because it is idolized by its parents. As a rule they have given up causing accidents on railroads, exploding boilers, and bursting kerosene lamps. Cholera, yellow fever, and small-pox are still considered heavenly weapons; but measles, itch and ague are now attributed to natural causes. As a general thing, the gods have stopped drowning children, except as a punishment for violating the Sabbath. They still pay some attention to the affairs of kings, men of genius and persons of great wealth; but ordinary people are left to shirk for themselves as best they may. In wars between great nations, the gods still interfere; but in prize fights, the best man with an honest referee, is almost sure to win.
The church cannot abandon the idea of special providence. To give up that doctrine is to give up all. The church must insist that prayer is answered — that some power superior to nature hears and grants the request of the sincere and humble Christian, and that this same power in some mysterious way provides for all.
A devout clergyman sought every opportunity to impress upon the mind of his son the fact that God takes care of all his creatures; that the falling sparrow attracts his attention, and that his loving kindness is over all his works. Happening, one day, to see a crane wading in quest of food. the good man pointed out to his son the perfect adaptation of the crane to get his living in that manner. “See,” said he, “how his legs are formed for wading! What a long slender bill he has! Observe how nicely he folds his feet when putting them in or drawing them out of the water! He does not cause the slightest ripple. He is thus enabled to approach the fish without giving them any notice of his arrival” “My son,” said he, “it is impossible to look at that bird without recognizing the design, as well as the goodness of God, in thus providing the means of subsistence.” “Yes,” replied the boy, “I think I see the goodness of God, at least so far as the crane is concerned; but after all, father, don’t you think the arrangement a little tough on the fish?”
Even the advanced religionist, although disbelieving in any great amount of interference by the gods in this age of the world, still thinks that in the beginning, some god made the laws governing the universe. He believes that in consequence of these laws a man can lift a greater weight with, than without, a lever; that this god so made matter, and so established the order of things, that two bodies cannot occupy the same space at the same time; so that a body once put in motion will keep moving until it is stopped; so that it is a greater distance around, than across a circle; so that a perfect square has four equal sides, instead of five or seven. He insists that it took a direct interposition of Providence to make the whole greater than a part, and that had it not been for this power superior to nature, twice one might have been more than twice two, and sticks and strings might have had only one end apiece. Like the old Scotch divine, he thanks God that Sunday comes at the end instead of in the middle of the week, and that death comes at the close instead of at the commencement of life, thereby giving us time to prepare for that holy day and that most solemn event. These religious people see nothing but design everywhere, and personal intelligent interference in everything. They insist that the universe has been created, and that the adaptation of means to ends is perfectly apparent They point us to the sunshine, to the flowers, to the April rain, and to all there is of beauty and of use in the world. Did it ever occur to them that a cancer is as beautiful in its development as is the reddest rose? That what they are pleased to call the adaptation of means to ends, is as apparent in the cancer as in the April rain? How beautiful the process of digestion! By what ingenious methods the blood is poisoned so that the cancer shall have food! By what wonderful contrivances the entire system of man is made to pay tribute to this divine and charming cancer! See by what admirable instrumentalities it feeds itself from the surrounding quivering, dainty flesh! See how it gradually but surely expands and grows! By what marvelous mechanism it is supplied with long and slender roots that reach out to the most secret nerves of pain for sustenance and life! What beautiful colors it presents! Seen through the microscope it is a miracle of order and beauty. All the ingenuity of man cannot stop its growth. Think of the amount of thought it must have required to invent a way by which the life of one man might be given to produce one cancer? Is it possible to look upon it and doubt that there is design in the universe, and that the inventor of this wonderful cancer must be infinitely powerful, ingenious and good?
We are told that the universe was designed and created, and that it is absurd to suppose that matter has existed from eternity, but that it is perfectly self-evident that a god has.
If a god created the universe, then, there must have been a time when he commenced to create. Back of that time there must have been an eternity, during which there had existed nothing — absolutely nothing — except this supposed god. According to this theory, this god spent an eternity, so to speak, in an infinite vacuum, and in perfect idleness.
Admitting that a god did create the universe, the question then arises, of what did he create it? It certainly was not made of nothing. Nothing considered in the light of a raw material is a most decided failure. It follows, then that the god must have made the universe out of himself, he being the only existence. The universe is material, and if it was made of god, the god must have been material. With this very thought in his mind, Anaximander of Miletus said: “Creation is the decomposition of the infinite.”
It has been demonstrated that the earth would fall to the sun, only for the fact, that it is attracted by other worlds, and those worlds must be attracted by other worlds still beyond them, and so on, without end. This proves the material universe to be infinite. If an infinite universe has been made out of an infinite god, how much of the god is left?
The idea of a creative deity is gradually being abandoned, and nearly all truly scientific minds admit that matter must have existed from eternity. It is indestructible, and the indestructible cannot be created. It is the crowning glory of our century to have demonstrated the indestructibility and the eternal persistence of force. Neither matter nor force can be increased nor diminished. Force cannot exist apart from matter. Matter exists only in connection with force, and consequently, a force apart from matter, and superior to nature, is a demonstrated impossibility.
Force, then, must have also existed from eternity, and could not have been created. Matter in its countless forms, from dead earth to the eyes of those we love, and force, in all its manifestations, from simple motion to the grandest thought deny creation and defy control.
Thought is a form of force. We walk with the same force with which we think. Man is an organism. that changes several forms of force into thought-force. Man is a machine into which we put what we call food, and produce what we call thought. Think of that wonderful chemistry by which bread was changed into the divine tragedy of Hamlet!
A god must not only be material, but he must be an organism, capable of changing other forms of force into thought-force. This is what we call eating. Therefore, if the god thinks, he must eat, that is to say, he must of necessity have some means of supplying the force with which to think. It is impossible to conceive of a being who can eternally impart force to matter, and yet have no means of supplying the force thus imparted.
If neither matter nor force were created, what evidence have we, then, of the existence of a power superior to nature? The theologian will probably reply, “We have law and order, cause and effect, and beside all this, matter could not have put itself in motion.”
Suppose, for the sake of the argument, that there is no being superior to nature, and that matter and force have existed from eternity. Now, suppose that two atoms should come together, would there be an effect? Yes. Suppose they came in exactly opposite directions with equal force, they would be stopped, to say the least. This would be an effect. If this is so, then you have matter, force and effect without a being superior to nature. Now, suppose that two other atoms, just like the first two, should come together under precisely the same circumstances, would not the effect be exactly the same? Yes. Like causes, producing like effects, is what we mean by law and order. Then we have matter, force, effect, law and order without a being superior to nature. Now, we know that every effect must also be a cause, and that every cause must be an effect. The atoms coming together did produce an effect, and as every effect must also be a cause, the effect produced by the collision of the atoms, must as to something else have been a cause. Then we have matter, force, law, order, cause and effect without a being superior to nature. Nothing is left for the supernatural but empty space. His throne is a void, and his boasted realm is without matter, without force, without law, without cause, and without effect.
But what put all this matter in motion? If matter and force have existed from eternity, then matter must have always been in motion, there can be no force without motion. Force is forever active, and there is, and there can be no cessation. If, therefore, matter and force have existed from eternity, so has motion. In the whole universe there is not even one atom in a state of rest.
A deity outside of nature exists in nothing, and is nothing. Nature embraces with infinite arms all matter and all force. That which is beyond her grasp is destitute of both, and can hardly be worth the worship and adoration even of a man.
There is but one way to demonstrate the existence of a power independent of and superior to nature, and that is by breaking, if only for one moment, the continuity of cause and effect. Pluck from the endless chain of existence one little link; stop for one instant the grand procession and you have shown beyond all contradiction that nature has a master. Change the fact, just for one second, that matter attracts matter, and a god appears.
The rudest savage has always known this fact, and for that reason always demanded the evidence of miracle. The founder of a religion must be able to turn water into wine — cure with a word the blind and lame, and raise with a simple touch the dead to life. It was necessary for him to demonstrate to the satisfaction of his barbarian disciple, that he was superior to nature. In times of ignorance this was easy to do. The credulity of the savage was almost boundless. To him the marvelous was the beautiful, the mysterious was the sublime. Consequently, every religion has for its foundation a miracle — that is to say, a violation of nature — that is to say, a falsehood.
No one, in the world’s whole history, ever attempted to substantiate a truth by a miracle. Truth scorns the assistance of miracle. Nothing but falsehood ever attested itself by signs and wonders. No miracle ever was performed, and no sane man ever thought he had performed one, and until one is performed, there can be no evidence of the existence of any power superior to, and independent of nature.
The church wishes us to believe. Let the church, or one of its intellectual saints, perform a miracle, and we will believe. We are told that nature has a superior. Let this superior, for one single instant, control nature, and we will admit the truth of your assertions.
We have heard talk enough. We have listened to all the drowsy, idealess, vapid sermons that we wish to hear. We have read your Bible and the works of your best minds. We have heard your prayers, your solemn groans and your reverential amens. All these amount to less than nothing. We want one fact. We beg at the doors of your churches for just one little fact. We pass our hats along your pews and under your pulpits and implore you for just one fact. We know all about your mouldy wonders and your stale miracles. We want a ‘this year’s fact’. We ask only one. Give us one fact for charity. Your miracles are too ancient. The witnesses have been dead for nearly two thousand years. Their reputation for “truth and veracity” in the neighborhood where they resided is wholly unknown to us. Give us a new miracle, and substantiate it by witnesses who still have the cheerful habit of living in this world. Do not send us toJerichoto hear the winding horns, nor put us in the fire with Shadrach, Meshech and Abednego. Do not compel us to navigate the sea with Captain Jonah, nor dine with Mr. Ezekiel. There is no sort of use in sending us fox-hunting with Samson. We have positively lost all interest in that little speech so eloquently delivered by Balaam’s inspired donkey. It is worse than useless to show us fishes with money in their mouths, and call our attention to vast multitudes stuffing themselves with five crackers and two sardines. We demand a new miracle, and we demand it now. Let the church furnish at least one, or forever after hold her peace.
In the olden times the church, by violating the order of nature, proved the existence of her God. At that time miracles were performed with the most astonishing ease. They became so common that the church ordered her priests to desist. And now this same church — the people having found some little sense — admits, not only, that she cannot perform a miracle but insists that the absence of miracle, the steady, unbroken march of cause and effect, proves the existence of a power superior to nature. The fact is, however, that the indissoluble chain of cause and effect proves exactly the contrary.
Sir William Hamilton, one of the pillars of modern theology, in discussing this very subject, uses the following language: “The phenomena of matter taken by themselves, so far from warranting any inference to the existence of a god, would on the contrary ground even an argument to his negation. The phenomena of the material world are subjected to immutable laws; are produced and reproduced in the same invariable succession, and manifest only the blind force of a mechanical necessity.”
Nature is but an endless series of efficient causes. She cannot create, but she eternally transforms. There was no beginning, and there can be no end. The best minds, even in the religious world, admit that in material nature there is no evidence of what they are pleased to call a god. They find their evidence in the phenomena of intelligence, and very innocently assert that intelligence is above, and in fact, opposed to nature. They insist that man, at least, is a special creation; that he has somewhere in his brain a divine spark, a little portion of the “Great First Cause.” They say that matter cannot produce thought; but that thought can produce matter. They tell us that man has intelligence, and therefore there must be an intelligence greater than his. Why not say God has intelligence, therefore there must be an intelligence greater than his? So far as we know, there is no intelligence apart from matter. We cannot conceive of thought, except as produced within a brain.
The science, by means of which they demonstrate the existence of an impossible intelligence, and an incomprehensible power is called, metaphysics or theology. The theologians admit that the phenomena of matter tend, at least, to disprove the existence of any power superior to nature, because in such phenomena we see nothing but an endless chain of efficient causes — nothing but the force of a mechanical necessity. They therefore appeal to what they denominate the phenomena of mind to establish this superior power.
The trouble is, that in the phenomena of mind we find the same endless chain of efficient causes; the same mechanical necessity. Every thought must have had an efficient cause. Every motive, every desire, every fear, hope and dream must have been necessarily produced. There is no room in the mind of man for providence or chance. The facts and forces governing thought are as absolute as those governing the motions of the planets. A poem is produced by the forces of nature, and is as necessarily and naturally produced as mountains and seas. You will seek in vain for a thought in man’s brain without its efficient cause. Every mental operation is the necessary result of certain facts and conditions. Mental phenomena are considered more complicated than those of matter, and consequently more mysterious. Being more mysterious, they are considered better evidence of the existence of a god. No one infers a god from the simple, from the known, from what is understood, but from the complex, from the unknown, and incomprehensible. Our ignorance is God; what we know is science.
When we abandon the doctrine that some infinite being created matter and force, and enacted a code of laws for their government, the idea of interference will be lost. The real priest will then be, not the mouth-piece of some pretended deity, but the interpreter of nature. From that moment the church ceases to exist. The tapers will die out upon the dusty altar; the moths will eat the fading velvet of pulpit and pew; the Bible will take its place with the Shastras, Puranas, Vedas, Eddas, Sagas and Korans, and the fetters of a degrading faith will fall from the minds of men.
“But,” says the religionist, “you cannot explain everything; you cannot understand everything; and that which you cannot explain, that which you do not comprehend, is my God.”
We are explaining more every day. We are understanding more every day; consequently your God is growing smaller every day.
Nothing daunted, the religionist then insists that nothing can exist without a cause, except cause, and that this uncaused cause is God.
To this we again reply: Every cause must produce an effect, because until it does produce an effect, it is not a cause. Every effect must in its turn become a cause. Therefore, in the nature of things, there cannot be a last cause, for the reason that a so-called last cause would necessarily produce an effect, and that effect must of necessity becomes a cause. The converse of these propositions must be true. Every effect must have had a cause, and every cause must have been an effect. Therefore there could have been no first cause. A first cause is just as impossible as a last effect.
Beyond the universe there is nothing, and within the universe the supernatural does not and cannot exist.
The moment these great truths are understood and admitted, a belief in general or special providence become impossible. From that instant men will cease their vain efforts to please an imaginary being, and will give their time and attention to the affairs of this world. They will abandon the idea of attaining any object by prayer and supplication. The element of uncertainty will, in a great measure, be removed from the domain of the future, and man, gathering courage from a succession of victories over the obstructions of nature, will attain a serene grandeur unknown to the disciples of any superstition. The plans of mankind will no longer be interfered with by the finger of a supposed omnipotence, and no one will believe that nations or individuals are protected or destroyed by any deity whatever. Science, freed from the chains of pious custom and evangelical prejudice, will, within her sphere, be supreme. The mind will investigate without reverence, and publish its conclusions without fear.Agassizwill no longer hesitate to declare the Mosaic cosmogony utterly inconsistent with the demonstrated truths of geology, and will cease pretending any reverence for the Jewish Scriptures. The moment science succeeds in rendering the church powerless for evil, the real thinkers will be outspoken. The little flags of truce carried by timid philosophers will disappear, and the cowardly parley will give place to victory — lasting and universal.
If we admit that some infinite being has controlled the destinies of persons and peoples, history becomes a most cruel and bloody farce. Age after age, the strong have trampled upon the weak; the crafty and heartless have ensnared and enslaved the simple and innocent, and nowhere, in all the annals of mankind, has any god succored the oppressed.
Man should cease to expect aid from on high. By this time he should know that heaven has no ear to hear, and no hand to help. The present is the necessary child of all the past. There has been no chance, and there can be no interference.
If abuses are destroyed, man must destroy them. If slaves are freed, man must free them. If new truths are discovered, man must discover them. If the naked are clothed; if the hungry are fed; if justice is done; if labor is rewarded; if superstition is driven from the mind; if the defenseless are protected and if the right finally triumphs, all must be the work of man. The grand victories of the future must be won by man, and by man alone.
Nature, so long as we can discern, without passion and without intention, forms, transforms, and retransforms forever. She neither weeps nor rejoices. She produces man without purpose, and obliterates him without regret. She knows no distinction between the beneficial and the hurtful. Poison and nutrition, pain and joy, life and death, smiles and tears are alike to her. She is neither merciful nor cruel. She cannot be flattered by worship nor melted by tears. She does not know even the attitude of prayer. She appreciates no difference between poison in the fangs of snakes and mercy in the hearts of men. Only through man does nature take cognizance of the good, the true, and the beautiful; and, so far as we know, man is the highest intelligence.
And yet man continues to believe that there is some power independent of and superior to nature, and still endeavors, by form, ceremony, supplication, hypocrisy and sacrifice, to obtain its aid. His best energies have been wasted in the service of this phantom. The horrors of witchcraft were all born of an ignorant belief in the existence of a totally depraved being superior to nature, acting in perfect independence of her laws: and all religious superstition has had for its basis a belief in at least two beings, one good and the other bad, both of whom could arbitrarily change the order of the universe. The history of religion is simply the story of man’s efforts in all ages to avoid one of these powers, and to pacify the other. Both powers have inspired little else than abject fear. The cold, calculating sneer of the devil, and the frown of God, were equally terrible. In any event, man’s fate was to be arbitrarily fixed forever by an unknown power superior to all law, and to all fact. Until this belief is thrown aside, man must consider himself the slave of phantom masters — neither of whom promise liberty in this world nor in the next.
Man must learn to rely upon himself.Readingbibles will not protect him from the blasts of winter, but houses, fires. and clothing will. To prevent famine, one plow is worth a million sermons, and even patent medicines will cure more diseases than all the prayers uttered since the beginning of the world.
Although many eminent men have endeavored to harmonize necessity and free will, the existence of evil, and the infinite power and goodness of God, they have succeeded only in producing learned and ingenious failures. Immense efforts have been made to reconcile ideas utterly inconsistent with the facts by which we are surrounded, and all persons who have failed to perceive the pretended reconciliation, have been denounced as infidels, atheists and scoffers. The whole power of the church has been brought to bear against philosophers and scientists in order to compel a denial of the authority of demonstration, and to induce some Judas to betray Reason, one of the saviors of mankind.
During that frightful period known as the “Dark Ages.” Faith reigned, with scarcely a rebellious subject. Her temples were “carpeted with knees,” and the wealth of nations adorned her countless shrines. The great painters prostituted their genius to immortalize her vagaries, while the poets enshrined them in song. At her bidding, man covered the earth with blood, the scales of justice were turned with her gold, and for her use were invented all the cunning instruments of pain. She built cathedrals for God. and dungeons for men. She peopled the clouds with angels and the earth with slaves. For centuries the world was retracing its steps — going steadily back toward barbaric night! A few infidels — a few heretics cried; “Halt!” to the great rabble of ignorant devotion, and made it possible for the genius of the nineteenth century to revolutionize the cruel creeds and superstitions of mankind.
The thoughts of man, in order to be of any real worth, must be free. Under the influence of fear the brain is paralyzed, and instead of bravely solving a problem for itself, tremblingly adopts the solution of another. As long as a majority of men will cringe to the very earth before some petty prince or king, what must be the infinite abjectness of their little souls in the presence of their supposed creator and God? Under such circumstances, what can their thoughts be worth?
The originality of repetition, and the mental vigor of acquiescence, are all that we have any right to expect from the Christian world. As long as every question is answered by the word “God,” scientific inquiry is simply impossible. As fast as phenomena are satisfactorily explained the domain of the power, supposed to be superior to nature must decrease, while the horizon of the known must as constantly continue to enlarge.
It is no longer satisfactory to account for the fall and rise of nations by saying. “It is the will of God.” Such an explanation puts ignorance and education upon an exact equality, and does away with the idea of really accounting for anything whatever.
Will the religionist pretend that the real end of science is to ascertain how and why God acts? Science, from such a standpoint would consist in investigating the law of arbitrary action, and in a grand endeavor to ascertain the rules necessarily obeyed by infinite caprice.
From a philosophical point of view, science is knowledge of the laws of life; of the conditions of happiness; of the facts by which we are surrounded, and the relations we sustain to men and things by means of which, man, so to speak, subjugates nature and bends the elemental powers to his will, making blind force the servant of his brain.
A belief in special providence does away with the spirit of investigation, and is inconsistent with personal effort. Why should man endeavor to thwart the designs of God? Which of you by taking thought, can add one cubit to his stature? Under the influence of this belief, man, basking in the sunshine of a delusion, considers the lilies of the field and refuses to take any thought for the morrow. Believing himself in the power of an infinite being, who can, at any moment, dash him to the lowest hell or raise him to the highest heaven, he necessarily abandons the idea of accomplishing anything by his own efforts. As long as this belief was general, the world was filled with ignorance, superstition and misery. The energies of man were wasted in a vain effort to obtain the aid of this power, supposed to be superior to nature. For countless ages, even men were sacrificed upon the altar of this impossible god. To please him, mothers have shed the blood of their own babes; martyrs have chanted triumphant songs in the midst of flame; priests have gorged themselves with blood; nuns have forsworn the ecstasies of love; old men have tremblingly implored; women have sobbed and entreated; every pain has been endured, and every horror has been perpetrated.
Through the dim long years that have fled humanity has suffered more than can be conceived. Most of the misery has been endured by the weak, the loving and the innocent. Women have been treated like poisonous beasts, and little children trampled upon as though they had been vermin. Numberless altars have been reddened, even with the blood of babes; beautiful girls have been given to slimy serpents; whole races of men doomed to centuries of slavery, and everywhere there has been outrage beyond the power of genius to express. During all these years the suffering have supplicated; the withered lips of famine have prayed; the pale victims have implored, and Heaven has been deaf and blind.
Of what use have the gods been to man? It is no answer to say that some god created the world, established certain laws, and then turned his attention to other matters, leaving his children weak, ignorant and unaided, to fight the battle of life alone. It is no solution to declare that in some other world this god will render a few, or even all, his subjects happy. What right have we to expect that a perfectly wise, good and powerful being will ever do better than he has done, and is doing? The world is filled with imperfections. If it was made by an infinite being, what reason have we for saying that he will render it nearer perfect than it now is? If the infinite “Father” allows a majority of his children to live in ignorance and wretchedness now, what evidence is there that he will ever improve their condition? Will God have more power? Will he become more merciful? Will his love for his poor creatures increase? Can the conduct of infinite wisdom, power and love ever change? Is the infinite capable of any improvement whatever?
We are informed by the clergy that this world is a kind of school; that the evils by which we are surrounded are for the purpose of developing our souls, and that only by suffering can men become pure, strong, virtuous and grand.
Supposing this to be true, what is to become of those who die in infancy? The little children, according to this philosophy, can never be developed. They were so unfortunate as to escape the ennobling influences of pain and misery, and as a consequence, are doomed to an eternity of mental inferiority. If the clergy are right on this question, none are so unfortunate as the happy and we should envy only the suffering and distressed. If evil is necessary to the development of man, in this life, how is it possible for the soul to improve in the perfect joy ofParadise?
Since Paley found his watch, the argument of “design” has been relied upon as unanswerable. The church teaches that this world, and all that it contains, were created substantially as we now see them; that the grasses, the flowers, the trees, and all animals, including man, were special creations, and that they sustain no necessary relation to each other The most orthodox will admit that some earth has been washed into the sea; that the sea has encroached a little upon the land, and that some mountains may be a trifle lower than in the morning of creation. The theory of gradual development was unknown to our fathers; the idea of evolution did not occur to them. Our fathers looked upon the then arrangement of things as the primal arrangement. The earth appeared to them fresh from the hands of a deity. They knew nothing of the slow evolutions of countless years, but supposed that the almost infinite variety of vegetable and animal forms had existed from the first.
Suppose that upon some island we should find a man a million years of age, and suppose that we should find him in the possession of a most beautiful carriage, constructed upon the most perfect model. And suppose, further, that he should tell us that it was the result of several hundred thousand years of labor and of thought; that for fifty thousand years he used as flat a log as he could find, before it occurred to him, that by splitting the log, he could have the same surface with only half the weight; that it took him many thousand years to invent wheels for this log; that the wheels he first used were solid, and that fifty thousand years of thought suggested the use of spokes and tire; that for many centuries he used the wheels without linch-pins; that it took a hundred thousand years more to think of using four wheels, instead of two; that for ages he walked behind the carriage, when going down hill, in order to hold it back, and that only by a lucky chance he invented the tongue; would we conclude that this man, from the very first, had been an infinitely ingenious and perfect mechanic? Suppose we found him living in an elegant mansion, and he should inform us that he lived in that house for five hundred thousand years before he thought of putting on a roof, and that he had but recently invented windows and doors; would we say that from the beginning he had been an infinitely accomplished and scientific architect?
Does not an improvement in the things created, show a corresponding improvement in the creator?
Would an infinitely wise, good and powerful God, intending to produce man, commence with the lowest possible forms of life; with the simplest organism that can be imagined, and during immeasurable periods of time, slowly and almost imperceptibly improve upon the rude beginning, until man was evolved? Would countless ages thus be wasted in the production of awkward forms, afterwards abandoned? Can the intelligence of man discover the least wisdom in covering the earth with crawling, creeping horrors, that live only upon the agonies and pangs of others? Can we see the propriety of so constructing the earth, that only an insignificant portion of its surface is capable of producing an intelligent man? Who can appreciate the mercy of so making the world that all animals devour animals; so that every mouth is a slaughter house, and every stomach a tomb? Is it possible to discover infinite intelligence and love in universal and eternal carnage?
What would we think of a father, who should give a farm to his children, and before giving them possession should plant upon it thousands of deadly shrubs and vines; should stock it with ferocious beasts, and poisonous reptiles; should take pains to put a few swamps in the neighborhood to breed malaria; should so arrange matters, that the ground would occasionally open and swallow a few of his darlings, and besides all this, should establish a few volcanoes in the immediate vicinity, that might at any moment overwhelm his children with rivers of fire? Suppose that this father neglected to tell his children which of the plants were deadly; that the reptiles were poisonous; failed to say anything about the earthquakes, and kept the volcano business a profound secret; would we pronounce him angel or fiend?
And yet this is exactly what the orthodox God has done.
According to the theologians, God prepared this globe expressly for the habitation of his loved children, and yet he filled the forests with ferocious beasts; placed serpents in every path; stuffed the world with earthquakes, and adorned its surface with mountains of flame.
Notwithstanding all this, we are told that the world is perfect; that it was created by a perfect being, and is therefore necessarily perfect. The next moment, these same persons will tell us that the world was cursed; covered with brambles, thistles and thorns, and that man was doomed to disease and death, simply because our poor, dear mother ate an apple contrary to the command of an arbitrary God.
A very pious friend of mine, having heard that I had said the world was full of imperfections, asked me if the report was true. Upon being informed that it was, he expressed great surprise that any one could be guilty of such presumption. He said that, in his judgement, it was impossible to point out an imperfection “Be kind enough,” said he, “to name even one improvement that you could make, if you had the power.” “Well,” said I, “I would make good health catching, instead of disease.” The truth is, it is impossible to harmonize all the ills, and pains, and agonies of this world with the idea that we were created by, and are watched over and protected by an infinitely wise, powerful and beneficent God, who is superior to and independent of nature.
The clergy, however, balance all the real ills of this life with the expected joys of the next. We are assured that all is perfection in heaven, there the skies are cloudless — there all is serenity and peace. Here empires may be overthrown; dynasties may be extinguished in blood; millions of slaves may toil ‘neath the fierce rays of the sun, and the cruel strokes of the lash; yet all is happiness in heaven. Pestilences may strew the earth with corpses of the loved; the survivors may bend above them in agony — yet the placid bosom of heaven is unruffled. Children may expire vainly asking for bread; babes may be devoured by serpents, while the gods sit smiling in the clouds. The innocent may languish unto death in the obscurity of dungeons; brave men and heroic women may be changed to ashes at the bigot’s stake, while heaven is filled with song and joy. Out on the wide sea, in darkness and in storm, the shipwrecked struggle with the cruel waves while the angels play upon their golden harps. The streets of the world are filled with the diseased, the deformed and the helpless; the chambers of pain are crowded with the pale forms of the suffering, while the angels float and fly in the happy realms of day. In heaven they are too happy to have sympathy; too busy singing to aid the imploring and distressed. Their eyes are blinded; their ears are stopped and their hearts are turned to stone by the infinite selfishness of joy. The saved mariner is too happy when he touches the shore to give a moment’s thought to his drowning brothers. With the indifference of happiness, with the contempt of bliss, heaven barely glances at the miseries of earth. Cities are devoured by the rushing lava; the earth opens and thousands perish; women raise their clasped hands towards heaven, but the gods are too happy to aid their children. The smiles of the deities are unacquainted with the tears of men. The shouts of heaven drown the sobs of earth.
Having shown how man created gods, and how he became the trembling slave of his own creation, the questions naturally arise: How did he free himself even a little, from these monarchs of the sky, from these despots of the clouds, from this aristocracy of the air? How did he, even to the extent that he has, outgrow his ignorant, abject terror, and throw off the yoke of superstition?
Probably, the first thing that tended to disabuse his mind was the discovery of order, of regularity, of periodicity in the universe. From this he began to suspect that everything did not happen purely with reference to him. He noticed, that whatever he might do, the motions of the planets were always the same; that eclipses were periodical, and that even comets came at certain intervals. This convinced him that eclipses and comets had nothing to do with him, and that his conduct had nothing to do with them. He perceived that they were not caused for his benefit or injury. He thus learned to regard them with admiration instead of fear. He began to suspect that famine was not sent by some enraged and revengeful deity, but resulted often from the neglect and ignorance of man. He learned that diseases were not produced by evil spirits. He found that sickness was occasioned by natural causes, and could be cured by natural means. He demonstrated, to his own satisfaction at least, that prayer is not a medicine. He found by sad experience that his gods were of no practical use, as they never assisted him, except when he was perfectly able to help himself. At last, he began to discover that his individual action had nothing whatever to do with strange appearances in the heavens; that it was impossible for him to be bad enough to cause a whirlwind, or good enough to stop one. After many centuries of thought, he about half concluded that making mouths at a priest would not necessarily cause an earthquake. He noticed, and no doubt with considerable astonishment, that very good men ware occasionally struck by lightning, while very bad ones escaped. He was frequently forced to the painful conclusion (and it is the most painful to which any human being ever was forced) that the right did not always prevail. He noticed that the gods did not interfere in behalf of the weak and innocent. He was now and then astonished by seeing an unbeliever in the enjoyment of most excellent health. He finally ascertained that there could be no possible connection between an unusually severe winter and his failure to give a sheep to a priest. He began to suspect that the order of the universe was not constantly being changed to assist him because he repeated a creed. He observed that some children would steal after having been regularly baptized. He noticed a vast difference between religion and justice, and that the worshipers of the same god, took delight in cutting each other’s throats. He saw that these religious disputes filled the world with hatred and slavery. At last he had the courage to suspect, that no god at any time interferes with the order of events. He learned a few facts, and these facts positively refused to harmonize with the ignorant superstitions of his fathers. Finding his sacred books incorrect and false in some particulars, his faith in their authenticity began to be shaken; finding his priests ignorant upon some points, he began to lose respect for the cloth. This was the commencement of intellectual freedom.
The civilization of man has increased just to the same extent that religious power has decreased. The intellectual advancement of man depends upon how often he can exchange an old superstition for a new truth. The church never enabled a human being to make even one of these exchanges; on the contrary, all her power has been used to prevent them. In spite, however, of the church, man found that some of his religious conceptions were wrong. By reading his Bible, he found that the ideas of his God were more cruel and brutal than those of the most depraved savage. He also discovered that this holy book was filled with ignorance, and that it must have been written by persons wholly unacquainted with the nature of the phenomena by which we are surrounded; and now and then, some man had the goodness and courage to speak his honest thoughts. In every age some thinker, some doubter, some investigator, some hater of hypocrisy, some despiser of sham, some brave lover of the right, has gladly, proudly and heroically braved the ignorant fury of superstition for the sake of man and truth. These divine men were generally torn in pieces by the worshipers of the gods. Socrates was poisoned because he lacked reverence for some of the deities. Christ was crucified by a religious rabble for the crime of blasphemy. Nothing is more gratifying to a religionist than to destroy his enemies at the command of God. Religious persecution springs from a due admixture of love towards God and hatred towards man.
The terrible religious wars that inundated the world with blood tended at least to bring all religion into disgrace and hatred. Thoughtful people began to question the divine origin of a religion that made its believers hold the rights of others in absolute contempt. A few began to compare Christianity with the religions of heathen people, and were forced to admit that the difference was hardly worth dying for. They also found that other nations were even happier and more prosperous than their own. They began to suspect that their religion, after all, was not of much real value.
For three hundred years the Christian world endeavored to rescue from the “Infidel” the empty sepulchre of Christ. For three hundred years the armies of the cross were baffled and beaten by the victorious hosts of an impudent impostor. This immense fact sowed the seeds of distrust throughout all Christendom, and millions began to lose confidence in a God who had been vanquished by Mohammed. The people also found that commerce made friends where religion made enemies, and that religious zeal was utterly incompatible with peace between nations or individuals. They discovered that those who loved the gods most were apt to love men least, that the arrogance of universal forgiveness was amazing; that the most malicious had the effrontery to pray for their enemies, and that humility and tyranny were the fruit of the same tree.
For ages, a deadly conflict has been waged between a few brave men and women of thought and genius upon the one side, and the great ignorant religious mass on the other. This is the war between Science and Faith. The few have appealed to reason, to honor, to law, to freedom, to the known, and to happiness here in this world. The many have appealed to prejudice, to fear, to miracle, to slavery, to the unknown, and to misery hereafter. The few have said, “Think!” The many have said, “Believe!”
The first doubt was the womb and cradle of progress, and from the first doubt, man has continued to advance. Men began to investigate, and the church began to oppose. The astronomer scanned the heavens, while the church branded his grand forehead with the word, “Infidel,” and now not a glittering star in all the vast expanse bears a Christian name. In spite of all religion, the geologist penetrated the earth, read her history in books of stone, and found, hidden within her bosom, souvenirs of all the ages. Old ideas perished in the retort of the chemist, and useful truths took their places. One by one religious conceptions have been placed in the crucible of science, and thus far, nothing but dross has been found. A new world has been discovered by the microscope; everywhere has been found the infinite; in every direction man has investigated and explored and nowhere, in earth or stars, has been found the footstep of any being superior to or independent of nature. Nowhere has been discovered the slightest evidence of any interference from without.
These are the sublime truths that enabled man to throw off the yoke of superstition. These are the splendid facts that snatched the scepter of authority from the hands of priests.
In that vast cemetery, called the past, are most of the religions of men, and there, too, are nearly all their gods. The sacred temples ofIndiaware ruins long ago. Over column and cornice; over the painted and pictured walls, cling and creep the trailing vines. Brahma, the golden, with four heads and four arms; Vishnu, the somber, the punisher of the wicked, with his three eyes, his crescent, and his necklace of skulls; Siva, the destroyer, red with seas of blood; Kali, the goddess; Draupadi, the white-armed, and Chrishna, the Christ, all passed away and left the thrones of heaven desolate. Along the banks of the sacrad Nile,Isisno longer wandering weeps, searching for the dead Osiris. The shadow of Typhon’s scowl falls no more upon the waves. The sun rises as of yore, and his golden beams still smite the lips of Memnon, but Memnon is as voiceless as the Sphinx. The sacred fanes are lost in desert sands; the dusty mummies are still waiting for the resurrection promised by their priests, and the old beliefs, wrought in curiously sculptured stone, sleep in the mystery of a language lost and dead. Odin, the author of life and soul, Vili and Ye, and the mighty giant Ymir, strode long ago from the icy halls of the North; and Thor, with iron glove and glittering hammer, dashes mountains to the earth no more. Broken are the circles and cromlechs of the ancient Druids; fallen upon the summits of the hills, and covered with the centuries’ moss, are the sacredcairns. The divine fires ofPersiaand of the Aztecs, have died out in the ashes of the past, and there is none to rekindle, and none to feed the holy flames. The harp of Orpheus is still; the drained cup of Bacchus has been thrown aside; Venus lies dead in stone, and her white bosom heaves no more with love. The streams still murmur, but no naiads bathe; the trees still wave, but in the forest aisles no dryads dance. The gods have flown from highOlympus. Not even the beautiful women can lure them back, and Danae lies unnoticed, naked to the stars. Hushed forever are the thunders of Sinai; lost are the voices of the prophets, and the land once flowing with milk and honey, is but a desert waste. One by one, the myths have faded from the clouds: one by one, the phantom host has disappeared, and one by one, facts, truths and realities have taken their places. The supernatural has almost gone, but the natural remains. The gods have fled, but man is here.
Nations, like individuals, have their periods of youth, of manhood and decay. Religions are the same. The same inexorable destiny awaits them all. The gods created by the nations must perish with their creators. They were created by men, and like men, they must pass away. The deities of one age are the by-words of the next. The religion of our day, and country, is no more exempt from the sneer of the future than the others have been. WhenIndiawas supreme, Brahma sat upon the world’s throne. When the scepter passed toEgypt, Isis and Osiris received the homage of mankind.Greece, with her fierce valor, swept to empire, and Zeus put on the purple of authority. The earth trembled with the thread ofRome’s intrepid sons, and Jove grasped with mailed hand the thunderbolts of heaven.Romefell, and Christians from her territory, with the red sword of war, carved out the ruling nations of the world, and now Christ sits upon the old throne. Who will be his successor?
Day by day, religious conceptions grow less and less intense. Day by day, the old spirit dies out of book and creed. The burning enthusiasm, the quenchless zeal of the early church have gone, never, never to return. The ceremonies remain, but the ancient faith is fading out of the human heart. The worn-out arguments fail to convince, and denunciations that once blanched the faces of a race, excite in us only derision and disgust. As time rolls on, the miracles grow mean and small, and the evidences our fathers thought conclusive utterly fail to satisfy us. There is an “irrepressible conflict” between religion and science, and they cannot peaceably occupy the same brain nor the same world.
While utterly discarding all creeds, and denying the truth of all religions, there is neither in my heart nor upon my lips a sneer for the hopeful, loving and tender souls who believe that from all this discord will result a perfect harmony; that every evil will in some mysterious way become a good, and that above and over all there is a being who, in some way, will reclaim and glorify every one of the children of men; but for those who heartlessly try to prove that salvation is almost impossible; that damnation is almost certain; that the highway of the universe leads to hell; who fill life with fear and death with horror; who curse the cradle and mock the tomb, it is impossible to entertain other than feelings of pity, contempt and scorn.
Reason, Observation and Experience — the Holy Trinity of Science — have taught us that happiness is the only good; that the time to be happy is now, and the way to be happy is to make others so. This is enough for us. In this belief we are content to live and die. If by any possibility the existence of a power superior to, and independent of, nature shall be demonstrated, there will then be time enough to kneel. Until then, let us stand erect.
Notwithstanding the fact that infidels in all ages have battled for the rights of man, and have at all times been the fearless advocates of liberty and justice, we are constantly charged by the church with tearing down without building again. The church should by this time know that it is utterly impossible to rob men of their opinions. The history of religious persecution fully establishes the fact that the mind necessarily resists and defies every attempt to control it by violence. The mind necessarily clings to old ideas until prepared for the new. The moment we comprehend the truth, all erroneous ideas are of necessity cast aside.
A surgeon once called upon a poor cripple and kindly offered to render him any assistance in his power. The surgeon began to discourse very learnedly upon the nature and origin of disease; of the curative properties of certain medicines; of the advantages of exercise, air and light, and of the various ways in which health and strength could be restored. These remarks ware so full of good sense, and discovered so much profound thought and accurate knowledge, that the cripple, becoming thoroughly alarmed, cried out, “Do not, I pray you, take away my crutches. They are my only support, and without them I should be miserable indeed!” “I am not going,” said the surgeon, “to take away your crutches. I am going to cure you, and then you will throw the crutches away yourself.”
For the vagaries of the clouds the infidels propose to substitute the realities of earth; for superstition, the splendid demonstrations and achievements of science; and for theological tyranny, the chainless liberty of thought.
We do not say that we have discovered all; that our doctrines are the all in all of truth. We know of no end to the development of man. We cannot unravel the infinite complications of matter and force. The history of one monad is as unknown as that of the universe; one drop of water is as wonderful as all the seas; one leaf, as all the forests; and one grain of sand, as all the stars.
We are not endeavoring to chain the future, but to free the present. We are not forging fetters for our children, but we are breaking those our fathers made for us. We are the advocates of inquiry, of investigation and thought. This of itself, is an admission that we are not perfectly satisfied with all our conclusions. Philosophy has not the egotism of faith. While superstition builds walls and creates obstructions, science opens all the highways of thought. We do not pretend to have circumnavigated everything, and to have solved all difficulties, but we do believe that it is better to love men than to fear gods; that it is grander and nobler to think and investigate for yourself than to repeat a creed. We are satisfied that there can be but little liberty on earth while men worship a tyrant in heaven. We do not expect to accomplish everything in our day; but we want to do what good we can, and to render all the service possible in the holy cause of human progress. We know that doing away with gods and supernatural persons and powers is not an end. It is a means to an end: the real end being the happiness of man.
Felling forests is not the end of agriculture. Driving pirates from the sea is not all there is of commerce.
We are laying the foundations of the grand temple of the future not the temple of all the gods, but of all the people — wherein, with appropriate rites, will be celebrated the religion of Humanity. We are doing what little we can to hasten the coming of the day when society shall cease producing millionaires and mendicants — gorged indolence and famished industry — truth in rags, and superstition robed and crowned. We are looking for the time when the useful shall be the honorable; and when Reason, throned upon the world’s brain, shall be the King of Kings, and God of Gods.
Robert Green Ingersoll
I — If the Devil Should Die Would God Make Another?
A little while ago I delivered a lecture on “Superstition,” in which, among other things, I said that the Christian world could not deny the existence of the Devil; that the Devil was really the keystone of the arch, and that to take him away was to destroy the entire system.
A great many clergymen answered or criticized this statement. Some of these ministers avowed their belief in the existence of his Satanic Majesty, while others actually denied his existence; but some, without stating their own position, said that others believed, not in the existence of a personal devil, but in the personification of evil, and that all references to the Devil in the Scriptures could be explained on the hypothesis that the Devil thus alluded to was simply a personification of evil.
When I read these answers I thought of this line from Heine: “Christ rode on an ass, but now asses ride on Christ.”
Now, the questions are, first, whether the Devil does really exist; second, whether the sacred Scriptures teach the existence of the Devil and of unclean spirits, and third, whether this belief in devils is a necessary part of what is known as “orthodox Christianity.”
Now, where did the idea that a Devil exists come from? How was it produced?
Fear is an artist — a sculptor — a painter. All tribes and nations, having suffered, having been the sport and prey of natural phenomena, having been struck by lightning, poisoned by weeds, overwhelmed by volcanoes, destroyed by earthquakes, believed in the existence of a Devil, who was the king — the ruler — of innumerable smaller devils, and all these devils have been from time immemorial regarded as the enemies of men.
Along the banks of theGangeswandered the Asuras, the most powerful of evil spirits. Their business was to war against the Devas — that is to say, the gods — and at the same time against human beings. There, too, were the ogres, the Jakshas and many others who killed and devoured human beings.
The Persians turned this around, and with them the Asuras were good and the Devas bad. Ormuzd was the good — the god — Ahriman the evil — the devil — and between the god and the devil was waged a perpetual war. Some of the Persians thought that the evil would finally triumph, but others insisted that the good would be the victor.
InEgyptthe devil was Set — or, as usually called, Typhon — and the good god was Osiris. Set and his legions fought against Osiris and against the human race.
Among the Greeks, the Titans were the enemies of the gods. Ate was the spirit that tempted, and such was her power that at one time she tempted and misled the god of gods, even Zeus himself.
These ideas about gods and devils often changed, because in the days of Socrates a demon was not a devil, but a guardian angel.
We obtain our Devil from the Jews, and they got him fromBabylon. The Jews cultivated the science of Demonology, and at one time it was believed that there were nine kinds of demons: Beelzebub, prince of the false gods of the other nations; the Pythian Apollo, prince of liars; Belial, prince of mischief makers. Asmodeus, prince of revengeful devils; Satan, prince of witches and magicians; Meresin, prince of aerial devils, who caused thunderstorms and plagues; Abaddon, who caused wars, tumults and combustions; Diabolus, who drives to despair, and Mammon, prince of the tempters.
It was believed that demons and sorcerers frequently came together and held what were called “Sabbats;” that is to say, orgies. It was also known that sorcerers and witches had marks on their bodies that had been imprinted by the Devil.
Of course these devils were all made by the people, and in these devils we find the prejudices of their makers. The Europeans always represent their devils as black, while the Africans believed that theirs were white.
So, it was believed that people by the aid of the Devil could assume any shape they wished. Witches and wizards were changed into wolves, dogs, cats and serpents. This change to animal form was exceedingly common.
Within two years, between 1598 and 1600, in one district of France, the district of Jura, more than six hundred men and women were tried and convicted before one judge of having changed themselves into wolves, and all were put to death.
This is only one instance. There are thousands.
There is no time to give the history of this belief in devils. It has been universal. The consequences have been terrible beyond the imagination. Millions and millions of men, women and children, of fathers and mothers, have been sacrificed upon the altar of this ignorant and idiotic belief.
Of course, the Christians of to-day do not believe that the devils of the Hindus, Egyptians, Persians or Babylonians existed. They think that those nations created their own devils, precisely the same as they did their own gods. But the Christians of to-day admit that for many centuries Christians did believe in the existence of countless devils; that the Fathers of the church believed as sincerely in the Devil and his demons as in God and his angels; that they were just as sure about hell as heaven.
I admit that people did the best they could to account for what they saw, for what they experienced. I admit that the devils as well as the gods were naturally produced — the effect of nature upon the human brain. The cause of phenomena filled our ancestors not only with wonder, but with terror. The miraculous, the supernatural, was not only believed in, but was always expected.
A man walking in the woods at night — just a glimmering of the moon — everything uncertain and shadowy — sees a monstrous form. One arm is raised. His blood grows cold, his hair lifts. In the gloom he sees the eyes of an ogre — eyes that flame with malice. He feels that the something is approaching. He turns, and with a cry of horror takes to his heels. He is afraid to look back. Spent, out of breath, shaking with fear, he reaches his hut and falls at the door. When he regains consciousness, he tells his story and, of course, the children believe. When they become men and women they tell father’s story of having seen the Devil to their children, and so the children and grandchildren not only believe, but think they know, that their father — their grandfather — actually saw a devil.
An old woman sitting by the fire at night — a storm raging without — hears the mournful sough of the wind. To her it becomes a voice. Her imagination is touched, and the voice seems to utter words. Out of these words she constructs a message or a warning from the unseen world. If the words are good, she has heard an angel; if they are threatening and malicious, she has heard a devil. She tells this to her children and they believe. They say that mother’s religion is good enough for them. A girl suffering from hysteria falls into a trance — has visions of the infernal world. The priest sprinkles holy water on her pallid face, saying: “She hath a devil.” A man utters a terrible cry; falls to the ground; foam and blood issue from his mouth; his limbs are convulsed. The spectators say: “This is the Devils work.”
Through all the ages people have mistaken dreams and visions of fear for realities. To them the insane were inspired; epileptics were possessed by devils; apoplexy was the work of an unclean spirit. For many centuries people believed that they had actually seen the malicious phantoms of the night, and so thorough was this belief — so vivid — that they made pictures of them. They knew how they looked. They drew and chiseled their hoofs, their horns — all their malicious deformities.
Now, I admit that all these monsters were naturally produced. The people believed that hell was their native land; that the Devil was a king, and that he and his imps waged war against the children of men. Curiously enough some of these devils were made out of degraded gods, and, naturally enough, many devils were made out of the gods of other nations. So that frequently the gods of one people were the devils of another.
In nature there are opposing forces. Some of the forces work for what man calls good; some for what he calls evil. Back of these forces our ancestors put will, intelligence and design. They could not believe that the good and evil came from the same being. So back of the good they put God; back of the evil, the Devil.
II — The Atlas of Christianity is the Devil.
The religion known as “Christianity” was invented by God himself to repair in part the wreck and ruin that had resulted from the Devil’s work.
Take the Devil from the scheme of salvation — from the atonement — from the dogma of eternal pain — and the foundation is gone.
The Devil is the keystone of the arch.
He inflicted the wounds that Christ came to heal. He corrupted the human race.
The question now is: Does the Old Testament teach the existence of the Devil?
If the Old Testament teaches anything, it does teach the existence of the Devil, of Satan, of the Serpent, of the enemy of God and man, the deceiver of men and women.
Those who believe the Scriptures are compelled to say that this Devil was created by God, and that God knew when he created him just what he would do — the exact measure of his success; knew that he would be a successful rival; knew that he would deceive and corrupt the children of men; knew that, by reason of this Devil, countless millions of human beings would suffer eternal torment in the prison of pain. And this God also knew when he created the Devil, that he, God, would be compelled to leave his throne, to be born a babe inPalestine, and to suffer a cruel death. All this he knew when he created the Devil. Why did he create him?
It is no answer to say that this Devil was once an angel of light and fell from his high estate because he was free. God knew what he would do with his freedom when he made him and gave him liberty of action, and as a matter of fact must have made him with the intention that he should rebel; that he should fall; that he should become a devil; that he should tempt and corrupt the father and mother of the human race; that he should make hell a necessity, and that, in consequence of his creation, countless millions of the children of men would suffer eternal pain. Why did he create him?
Admit that God is infinitely wise. Has he ingenuity enough to frame an excuse for the creation of the Devil?
Does the Old Testament teach the existence of a real, living Devil?
The first account of this being is found in Genesis, and in that account he is called the “Serpent.” He is declared to have been more subtle than any beast of the field. According to the account, this Serpent had a conversation with Eve, the first woman. We are not told in what language they conversed, or how they understood each other, as this was the first time they had met. Where did Eve get her language? Where did the Serpent get his? Of course, such questions are impudent, but at the same time they are natural.
The result of this conversation was that Eve ate the forbidden fruit and induced Adam to do the same. This is what is called the “Fall,” and for this they were expelled from the Garden of Eden.
On account of this, God cursed the earth with weeds and thorns and brambles, cursed man with toil, made woman a slave, and cursed maternity with pain and sorrow. How men — good men — can worship this God; how women — good women — can love this Jehovah, is beyond my imagination.
In addition to the other curses the Serpent was cursed — condemned to crawl on his belly and to eat dust. We do not know by what means, before that time, he moved from place to place — whether he walked or flew; neither do we know on what food he lived; all we know is that after that time he crawled and lived on dust. Jehovah told him that this he should do all the days of his life. It would seem from this that the Serpent was not at that time immortal — that there was somewhere in the future a milepost at which the life of this Serpent stopped. Whether he is living yet or not, I am not certain.
It will not do to say that this is allegory, or a poem, because this proves too much. If the Serpent did not in fact exist, how do we know that Adam and Eve existed? Is all that is said about God allegory, and poetic, or mythical? Is the whole account, after all, an ignorant dream?
Neither will it do to say that the Devil — the Serpent — was a personification of evil. Do personifications of evil talk? Can a personification of evil crawl on its belly? Can a personification of evil eat dust? If we say that the Devil was a personification of evil, are we not at the same time compelled to say that Jehovah was a personification of good; that the Garden of Eden was the personification of a place, and that the whole story is a personification of something that did not happen? Maybe that Adam and Eve were not driven out of the Garden; they may have suffered only the personification of exile. And maybe the cherubim placed at the gate ofEden, with flaming swords, were only personifications of policemen.
There is no escape. If the Old Testament is true, the Devil does exist, and it is impossible to explain him away without at the same time explaining God away.
So there are many references to devils, and spirits of divination and of evil which I have not the time to call attention to; but, in the Book of Job, Satan, the Devil has a conversation with God. It is this Devil that brings the sorrows and losses on the upright man. It is this Devil that raises the storm that wrecks the homes of Job’s children. It is this Devil that kills the children of Job. — Take this Devil from that book, and all meaning, plot and purpose fade away.
Is it possible to say that the Devil in Job was only a personification of evil?
In Chronicles we are told that Satan provoked David to numberIsrael. For this act of David, caused by the Devil, God did not smite the Devil, did not punish David, but he killed 70,000 poor innocent Jews who had done nothing but stand up and be counted.
Was this Devil who tempted David a personification of evil, or was Jehovah a personification of the devilish?
In Zachariah we are told that Joshua stood before the angel of the Lord, and that Satan stood at his right hand to resist him, and that the Lord rebuked Satan.
If words convey any meaning, the Old Testament teaches the existence of the Devil.
All the passages about witches and those having familiar spits were born of a belief in the Devil. When a man who loved Jehovah wanted revenge on his enemy he fell on his holy knees, and from a heart full of religion he cried; “Let Satan stand at his right hand.”
III –Take the Devil From the Drama of Christianity and the Plot is Gone.
The next question is: Does the New Testament teach the existence of the Devil?
As a matter of fact, the New Testament is far more explicit than the Old. The Jews, believing that Jehovah was God, had very little business for a devil. Jehovah was wicked enough and malicious enough to take the Devil’s place.
The first reference in the New Testament to the Devil is in the fourth chapter of Matthew. We are told that Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted of the Devil.
It seems that he was not led by the Devil into the wilderness, but by the Spirit; that the Spirit and the Devil were acting together in a kind of pious conspiracy.
In the wilderness Jesus fasted forty days, and then the Devil asked him to turn stones into bread. The Devil also took him toJerusalemand set him on a pinnacle of the temple, and tried to induce him to leap to the earth. The Devil also took him to the top of a mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and offered them all to him in exchange for his worship. Jesus refused. The Devil went away and angels came and ministered to Christ.
Now, the question is: Did the author of this account believe in the existence of the Devil, or did he regard this Devil as a personification of evil, and did he intend that his account should be understood as an allegory, or as a poem, or as a myth.
Was Jesus tempted? If he was tempted, who tempted him? Did anybody offer him the kingdoms of the world?
Did the writer of the account try to convey to the reader the thought that Christ was tempted by the Devil?
If Christ was not tempted by the Devil, then the temptation was born in his own heart. If that be true, can it be said that he was divine? If these adders, these vipers, were coiled in his bosom, was he the son of God? Was he pure?
In the same chapter we are told that Christ healed “those which were possessed of devils, and those which were lunatic, and those that had the palsy.”
From this it is evident that a distinction was made between those possessed with devils and those whose minds were affected and those who were afflicted with diseases.
In the eighth chapter we are told that people brought unto Christ many that were possessed with devils, and that he cast out the spirits with his word. Now, can we say that these people were possessed with personifications of evil, and that these personifications of evil were cast out? Are these personifications entities? Have they form and shape? Do they occupy space?
Then comes the story of the two men possessed with devils who came from the tombs, and were exceeding fierce. It is said that when they saw Jesus they cried out: “What have we to do with thee, Jesus, thou Son of God? Art thou come hither to torment us before the time?”
If these were simply personifications of evil, how did they know that Jesus was the Son of God, and how can a personification of evil be tormented?
We are told that at the same time, a good way off, many swine were feeding, and that the devils besought Christ, saying: “If thou cast us out, suffer us to go away into the herd of swine.” And he said unto them: “Go.”
Is it possible that personifications of evil would desire to enter the bodies of swine, and is it possible that it was necessary for them to have the consent of Christ before they could enter the swine? The question naturally arises: How did they enter into the body of the man? Did they do that without Christ’s consent, and is it a fact that Christ protects swine and neglects human beings? Can personifications have desires?
In the ninth chapter of Matthew there was a dumb man brought to Jesus, possessed with a devil. Jesus cast out the devil and the dumb man spoke.
Did a personification of evil prevent the dumb man from talking? Did it in some way paralyze his organs of speech? Could it have done this had it only been a personification of evil?
In the tenth chapter Jesus gives his twelve disciples power to cast out unclean spirits. What were unclean spirits supposed to be? Did they really exist? Were they shadows, impersonations, allegories?
When Jesus sent his disciples forth on the great mission to convert the world, among other things he told them to heal the sick, to raise the dead and to cast out devils. Here a distinction is made between the sick and those who were possessed by evil spirits.
Now, what did Christ mean by devils?
In the twelfth chapter we are told of a very remarkable case. There was brought unto Jesus one possessed with a devil, blind and dumb, and Jesus healed him. The blind and dumb both spoke and saw. Thereupon the Pharisees said: “This fellow doth not cast out devils but by Beelzebub, the prince of devils.”
Jesus answered by saying: “Every kingdom divided against itself is brought to desolation. If Satan cast out Satan, he is divided against himself.”
Why did not Christ tell the Pharisees that he did not cast out devils — only personifications of evil; and that with these personifications Beelzebub had nothing to do?
Another question: Did the Pharisees believe in the existence of devils, or had they the personification idea?
At the same time Christ said: “If I cast out devils by the Spirit of God, then thekingdomofGodis come unto you.”
If he meant anything by these words he certainly intended to convey the idea that what he did demonstrated the superiority of God over the Devil.
Did Christ believe in the existence of the Devil? In the fifteenth chapter is the account of the woman ofCanaanwho cried unto Jesus, saying: “Have mercy on me, O Lord, thou son of David. My daughter is sorely vexed with a devil.” On account of her faith Christ made the daughter whole.
In the sixteenth chapter a man brought his son to Jesus. The boy was a lunatic, sore vexed, oftentimes falling in the fire and water. The disciples had tried to cure him and had failed. Jesus rebuked the devil, and the devil departed out of him and the boy was cured. Was the devil in this case a personification of evil?
The disciples then asked Jesus why they could not cast that devil out. Jesus told them that it was because of their unbelief, and then added: “Howbeit this kind goeth not out but by prayer and fasting” From this it would seem that some personifications were easier to expel than others.
The first chapter of Mark throws a little light on the story of the temptation of Christ. Matthew tells us that Jesus was led up of the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted of the Devil. In Mark we are told who this Spirit was:
“And straightway coming up out of the water he saw the heavens opened, and the Spirit like a dove descending upon him.
“And there came a voice from heaven, saying: ‘Thou art my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.’
“And immediately the Spirit driveth him into the wilderness.”
Why the Holy Ghost should hand Christ over to the tender mercies of the Devil is not explained. And it is all the more wonderful when we remember that the Holy Ghost was the third person in the Trinity and Christ the second, and that this Holy Ghost was, in fact, God, and that Christ also was, in fact, God, so that God led God into the wilderness to be tempted of the Devil.
We are told that Christ was in the wilderness forty days tempted of Satan, and was with the wild beasts, and that the angels ministered unto him.
Were these angels real angels, or were they personifications of good, of comfort?
So we see that the same Spirit that came out of heaven, the same Spirit that said “This is my beloved son,” drove Christ into the wilderness to be tempted of Satan.
Was this Devil a real being? Was this Spirit who claimed to be the father of Christ a real being, or was he a personification? Are the heavens a real place? Are they a personification? Did the wild beasts live and did the angels minister unto Christ? In other words, is the story true, or is it poetry, or metaphor, or mistake, or falsehood?
It might be asked: Why did God wish to be tempted by the Devil? Was God ambitious to obtain a victory over Satan? Was Satan foolish enough to think that he could mislead God, and is it possible that the Devil offered to give the world as a bribe to its creator and owner, knowing at the same time that Christ was the creator and owner, and also knowing that he (Christ) knew that he (the Devil) knew that he (Christ) was the creator and owner?
Is not the whole story absurdly idiotic? The Devil knew that Christ was God, and knew that Christ knew that the tempter was the Devil.
It may be asked how I know that the Devil knew that Christ was God. My answer is found in the same chapter. There is an account of what a devil said to Christ:
“Let us alone. What have we to do with thee thou Jesus of Nazareth? An thou come to destroy us? I know thee. Thou art the holy one of God.
Certainly, if the little devils knew this, the Devil himself must have had like information. Jesus rebuked this devil and said to him: “Hold thy peace, and come out of him.” And when the unclean spirit had torn him and cried with a loud voice, he came out of him.
So we are told that Jesus cast out many devils, and suffered not the devils to speak because they knew him. So it is said in the third chapter that “unclean spirits, when they saw him, fell down before him and cried, saying, ‘Thou art the son of God.'”
In the fifth chapter is an account of casting out the devils that went into the swine, and we are told that the devils besought him saying, ‘Send us into the swine.’ And Jesus gave them leave.”
Again I ask: Was it necessary for the devils to get the permission of Christ before they could enter swine? Again I ask: By whose permission did they enter into the man?
Could personifications of evil enter a herd of swine, could personifications of evil make a bargain with Christ?
In the sixth chapter we are told that the disciples “cast out many devils and anointed with oil many that were sick.” Here again the distinction is made between those possessed by devils and those afflicted by disease. It will not do to say that the devils were diseases or personifications.
In the seventh chapter a Greek woman whose daughter was possessed by a devil besought Christ to cast this devil out. At last Christ said: “The devil is gone out of thy daughter.”
In the ninth chapter one of the multitude said unto Christ: “I have brought unto thee my son which hath a dumb spirit. I spoke unto thy disciples that they should cast him out, and they could not.”
So they brought this boy before Christ, and when the boy saw him, the spirit tare him, and he fell on the ground and “wallowed, foaming.”
Christ asked the father: “long is it ago since this came unto him? “And he answered: “Of a child, and ofttimes it hath cast him into the fire and into the waters to destroy him.”
Then Christ said: “Thou dumb and deaf spirit, I charge thee, come out of him, and enter no more into him.”
“And the spirit cried, and rent him sore, and came out of him; and he was as one dead; insomuch that many said, ‘He is dead.'”
Then the disciples asked Jesus why they could not cast them out, and Jesus said: “This kind can come forth by nothing but by prayer and fasting.”
Is there any doubt about the belief of the man who wrote this account? Is there any allegory, or poetry, or myth in this story? The devil, in this case, was not an ordinary, every-day devil. He was dumb and deaf; it was no use to order him out, because he could not hear. The only way was to pray and fast.
Is there such a thing as a dumb and deaf devil? If so, the devils must be organized. They must have ears and organs of speech, and they must be dumb because there is something the matter with the apparatus of speaking, and they must be deaf because something is the matter with their ears. It would seem from this that they are not simply spiritual beings, but organized on a physical basis. Now, we know that the ears do not hear. It is the brain that hears. So these devils must have brains; that is to say, they must have been what we call “organized beings.”
Now, it is hardly possible that personifications of evil are dumb or deaf. That is to say, that they have physical imperfections.
In the same chapter John tells Christ that he saw one casting out devils in Christ’s name who did not follow with them, and Jesus said: “Forbid him not.”
By this he seemed to admit that some one, not a follower of his, was casting out devils in his name, and he was willing that he should go on, because, as he said: “For there is no man which shall do a miracle in my name that can lightly speak evil of me”
In the fourth chapter of Luke the story of the temptation of Christ by the Devil is again told with a few additions. All the writers, having been inspired, did not remember exactly the same things.
Luke tells us that the Devil said unto Christ, having shown him all the kingdoms of the world in a moment of time: “All this power will I give thee and the glory of them, for that is delivered unto me and to whomsoever I will I give it. If thou wilt worship me, all shall be thine.”
We are also told that when the Devil had ended all the temptation he departed from him for a season. The date of his return is not given.
In the same chapter we are told that a man in the synagogue had a “spirit of an unclean devil.” This devil recognized Jesus and admitted that he was the Holy One of God.
As a matter of fact, the apostles seemed to have relied upon the evidence of devils to substantiate the divinity of their Lord.
Jesus said to this devil: “Hold thy peace and come out of him.” And the devil, after throwing the man down, came out.
In the forty-first verse of the same chapter it is said: “And devils also came out of many, crying out and saying, ‘Thou art Christ, the Son of God.'”
It is also said that Christ rebuked them and suffered them not to speak, for they knew that he was Christ. Now, it will not do to say that these devils were diseases, because diseases could not talk, and diseases would not recognize Christ as the Son of God. After all, epilepsy is not a theologian. I admit that lunacy comes nearer.
In the eighth chapter is told again the story of the devils and the swine. In this account, Jesus asked the devil his name, and the devil replied “Legion.”
In the ninth chapter is told the story of the devil that the disciples could not cast out, but was cast out by Christ, and in the thirteenth chapter it is said that the Pharisees came to Jesus, telling him to go away, because Herod would kill him, and Jesus said unto these Pharisees; “Go ye, and tell that fox, behold, I cast out devils.”
What did he mean by this? Did he mean that he cured diseases? No. Because in the same sentence he says, “And I do cures to-day,” making a distinction between devils and diseases.
In the twenty-second chapter an account of the betrayal of Christ by Judas is given in these words:
“Then entered Satan into Judas Iscariot, being of the number of the twelve.”
“And he went his way and communed with the chief priests and captains how he might betray him unto them.
“And they were glad, and covenanted to give him money.”
According to Christ the little devils knew that he was the Son of God. Certainly, then, Satan, king of all the fiends, knew that Christ was divine. And he not only knew that, but he knew all about the scheme of salvation. He knew that Christ wished to make an atonement of blood by the sacrifice of himself.
According to Christian theologians, the Devil has always done his utmost to gain possession of the souls of men. At the time he entered into Judas, persuading him to betray Christ, he knew that if Christ was betrayed he would be crucified, and that he would make an atonement for all believers, and that, as a result, he, the Devil, would lose all the souls that Christ gained.
What interest had the Devil in defeating himself? If he could have prevented the betrayal, then Christ would not have been crucified. No atonement would have been made, and the whole world would have gone to hell. The success of the Devil would have been complete. But, according to this story, the Devil outwitted himself.
How thankful we should be to his Satanic Majesty. He opened for us the gates ofParadiseand made it possible for us to obtain eternal life. Without Satan, without Judas, not a single human being could have become an angel of light. All would have been wingless devils in the prison of flame. InJerusalem, to the extent of his power, Satan repaired the wreck and ruin he had wrought in the Garden of Eden.
Certainly the writers of the New Testament believed in the existence of the Devil.
In the eighth chapter it is said that out of Mary Magdalene were cast seven devils. To me Mary Magdalene is the most beautiful character in the New Testament. She is the one true disciple. In the darkness of the crucifixion she lingered near. She was the first at the sepulcher. Defeat, disaster, disgrace, could not conquer her love. And yet, according to the account, when she met the risen Christ, he said: “Touch me not.” This was the reward of her infinite devotion.
In the Gospel of John we are told that John the Baptist said that he saw the Spirit descending from heaven like a dove, and that it abode upon Christ. But in the Gospel of John nothing is said about the Spirit driving Christ into the wilderness to be tempted by the Devil. Possibly John never heard of that, or forgot it, or did not believe it. But in the thirteenth chapter I find this:
“supper being ended, the Devil having now put into the heart of Judas Iscariot, Simon’s son, to betray him.” * * *
In John there are no accounts of the casting out of devils by Christ or his apostles. On that subject there is no word. Possibly John had his doubts.
In the fifth chapter of Acts we are told that the people brought the sick and those which were vexed with unclean spirits to the apostles, and the apostles healed them. Here again there is made a clear distinction between the sick and those possessed by devils. And in the eighth chapter we are told that “unclean spirits, crying with a loud voice, came out of them.
In the thirteen chapter Paul calls Elymas the child of the Devil, and in the sixteenth chapter an account is given of “a damsel possessed with a spirit of divination, who brought her masters much gain by soothsaying.”
Paul and Silas, it would seem, cast out this spirit, and by reason of that suffered great persecution.
In the nineteenth chapter certain vagabond Jews pronounced over those who had evil spirits the name of Jesus, and the evil spirits answered: “Jesus I know, and Paul I know, but who are ye?”
“And the man in whom the evil spirit was leaped on them so that they fled naked and wounded.”
Paul, writing to the Corinthians, in the eighth chapter says:
“I would not that ye should have fellowship with devils. Ye cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of devils. Ye cannot be partakers of the Lord’s table and the table of devils. Do we provoke the Lord to jealousy?”
In the eleventh chapter he says that long hair is the glory of woman, but that she ought to keep her head covered because of the angels.
In those intellectual days people believed in what were called the Incubi and the Succubi. The Incubi were male angels and the Succubi were female angels, and according to the belief of that time nothing so attracted the Incubi as the beautiful hair of women, and for this reason Paul said that women should keep their heads covered. Paul calls the Devil the “prince of the power of the air.”
So in Jude we are told “that Michael, the archangel, when contending with the devil he disputed about the body of Moses, durst not bring against him a railing accusation, but said, ‘The Lord rebuke thee.'”
Was this devil with whom Michael contended a personification of evil, or a poem, or a myth?
In First Peter we are told to be sober, vigilant, “because your adversary, the Devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour.”
Are people devoured by personifications or myths? Has an allegory an appetite, or is a poem a cannibal?
So in Ephesians we are warned not to give place to the Devil, and in the same book we are told: “Put on the whole armor of God, that ye may be able to stand against the wiles of the Devil.”
And in Hebrews it is said that “him that had the power of death — that is, the Devil;” showing that the Devil has the power of death.
And in James it is said that if we resist the Devil he will flee from us; and in first John we are told that he that committeth sin is of the Devil, for the reason that the Devil sinneth from the beginning; and we are also told that “for this purpose was the Son of God manifested, that he may destroy the works of the Devil.”
No Devil — no Christ.
In Revelation, the insanest of all books, I find the following: “And there was war in heaven. Michael and his angels fought against the dragon, and the dragon fought and his angels.
“And prevailed not; neither was their place found any more in heaven.
“And the great dragon was cast out, that old serpent, called the Devil, and Satan, which deceiveth the whole world: he was cast out into the earth, and his angels were cast out with him.
“Therefore, rejoice, ye heavens, and ye that dwell in them. Woe to the inhibitors of the earth and of the sea; for the devil is come down unto you, having great wrath, because he knoweth that he hath but a short time.”
from this it would appear that the Devil once lived in heaven, raised a rebellion, was defeated and cast out, and the inspired writer congratulates the angels that they are rid of him and commiserates us that we have him.
In the twentieth chapter of Revelation is the following:
“And I saw an angel come down from heaven, having the key of the bottomless pit and a great chain in his hand.
“And he laid hold on the dragon — that old serpent, which is the Devil and Satan — and bound him a thousand years.
“And cast him into the bottomless pit, and shut him up, and set a seal upon him, that he should deceive the nations no more till the thousand years should be fulfilled; and after he must be loosed a little season.”
It is hard to understand how one could be confined in a pit without a bottom, and how a chain of iron could hold one in eternal fire, or what use there would be to lock a bottomless pit; but these are questions probably suggested by the Devil.
We are further told that “when the thousand years are expired Satan shall be loosed out of his prison.”
“And the Devil was cast into the lake of fire and brimstone where the beast and the false prophet are, and shall be tormented day and night forever.”
In the light of the passages that I have read we can clearly see what the writers of the New Testament believed. About this there can be no honest difference. If the gospels teach the existence of God — of Christ — they teach the existence of the Devil. If the Devil does not exist — if little devils do not enter the bodies of men — the New Testament may be inspired, but it is not true.
The early Christians proved that Christ was divine because he cast out devils. The evidence they offered was more absurd than the statement they sought to prove. They were like the old man who said that he saw a grindstone floating down the river. Some one said that a grindstone would not float. “Ah,” said the old man, “but the one I saw had an iron crank in it.”
Of course, I do not blame the authors of the gospels. They lived in a superstitious age, at a time when Rumor was the historian, when Gossip corrected the “proof,” and when everything was believed except the facts.
The apostles, like their fellows, believed in miracles and magic. Credulity was regarded as a virtue.
The Rev. Mr. Parkhurst denounces the apostles as worthless cravens. Certainly I do not agree with him. I think that they were good men. I do not believe that any one of them ever tried to reformJerusalemon the Parkhurst plan. I admit that they honestly believed in devils — that they were credulous and superstitious.
There is one story in the New Testament that illustrates my meaning.
In the fifth chapter of John is the following:
“Now, there is atJerusalem, by the sheep market, a pool, which is called in the Hebrew tongue ‘Bethesda,’ having five porches.
“In these lay a great multitude of impotent folk — of blind, halt, withered — waiting for the moving of the water.
“For an angel went down at a certain season into the pool and troubled the water: whosoever then first after the troubling of the water stepped in was made whole of whatsoever disease he had.
“And a certain man was there which had an infirmity thirty and eight years.
“When Jesus saw him lie and knew that he had been now a long time in that case, he saith unto him: ‘Wilt thou be made whole?’
“The impotent man answered him: ‘Sir, I have no man when the water is troubled to put me into the pool; but while I am coming another steppeth down before me.’
“Jesus saith unto him; ‘Rise, take up thy bed and walk.’
“And immediately the man was made whole and took up his bed and walked.”
Does any sensible human being now believe this story? Was the water ofBethesdatroubled by an angel? Where did the angel come from? Where do angels live? Did the angel put medicine in the water — just enough to cure one? Did he put in different medicines for different diseases, or did he have a medicine, like those that are patented now, that cured all diseases Just the same?
Was the water troubled by an angel? Possibly, what apostles and theologians call an angel a scientist knows as carbonic acid gas.
John does not say that the people thought the water was troubled by an angel, but he states it as a fact. And he tells us, also, as a fact, that the first invalid that got in the water after it had been troubled was cured of what disease he had.
What is the evidence of John worth?
Again I say that if the Devil does not exist the gospels are not inspired. If devils do not exist Christ was either honestly mistaken, insane or an impostor.
If devils do not exist the fall of man is a mistake and the atonement an absurdity. If devils do not exist hell becomes only a dream of revenge.
Beneath the structure called “Christianity” are four cornerstones — the Father, Son, Holy Ghost and Devil.
IV — The Evidence of the Church.
All the fathers of the church believed in devils. All the saints won their crowns by overcoming devils. All the popes and cardinals, bishops and priests, believed in devils. Most of their time was occupied in fighting devils. The whole Catholic world, from the lowest layman to the highest priest, believed in devils. They proved the existence of devils by the New Testament. They knew that these devils were citizens of hell. They knew that Satan was their king. They knew that hell was made for the Devil and his angels.
The founders of all the Protestant churches — the makers of all the orthodox creeds — all the leading Protestant theologians, from Luther to the president ofPrincetonCollege– were, and are, firm believers in the Devil. All the great commentators believed in the Devil as firmly as they did in God.
Under the “Scheme of Salvation” the Devil was a necessity. Somebody had to be responsible for the thorns and thistles, for the cruelties and crimes. Somebody had to father the mistakes of God. The Devil was the scapegoat of Jehovah.
For hundreds of years, good, honest, zealous Christians contended against the Devil. They fought him day and night, and the thought that they had beaten him gave to their dying lips the smile of victory.
For centuries the church taught that the natural man was totally depraved; that he was by nature a child of the Devil, and that new-born babes were tainted by unclean spirits.
As late as the middle of the sixteenth century, every infant that was baptized was, by that ceremony, freed from a devil. When the holy water was applied the priest said: “I command thee, thou unclean spirit, in the name of the Father, of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, that thou come out and depart from this infant, whom our Lord Jesus Christ has vouchsafed to call to his holy baptism, to be made a member of his body, and of his holy congregation.” At that time the fathers — the theologians, the commentators — agreed that unbaptized children, including those that were born dead, went to hell.
And these same fathers — theologians and commentators — said: “God is love.”
These babes were pure as Pity’s tears, innocent as their mother’s loving smiles, and yet the makers of our creeds believed and taught that leering, unclean fiends inhabited their dimpled flesh. O, the unscarchable riches of Christianity!
For many centuries the church filled the world with devils — with malicious spirits that caused storm and tempest, disease, accident and death — that filled the night with visions of despair; with prophecies that drove the dreamers mad. These devils assumed a thousand forms — countless disguises in their efforts to capture souls and destroy the church. They deceived sometimes the wisest and the best, made priests forget their vows. They melted virtue’s snow in passion’s fire, and in cunning ways entrapped and smirched the innocent and good. These devils gave witches and wizards their supernatural powers, and told them the secrets of the future.
Millions of men and women were destroyed because they had sold themselves to the Devil.
At that time Christians really believed the New Testament. They knew it was the inspired word of God, and so believing, so knowing — as they thought — they became insane.
No man has genius enough to describe the agonies that have been inflicted on innocent men and women because of this absurd belief. How it darkened the mind, hardened the heart, and poisoned life! It made the Universe a madhouse presided over by an insane God.
Think! Why would a merciful God allow his children to be the victims of devils? Why would a decent God allow his worshipers to believe in devils, and by reason of that belief to persecute, torture and burn their fellow-men?
Christians did not ask these questions. They believed the Bible; they had confidence in the words of Christ.
V — Personifications of Evil.
The Orthodox Ostrich Thrusts His Head into The Sand.
Many of the clergy are now ashamed to say that they believe in devils. The belief has become ignorant and vulgar. They are ashamed of the lake of fire and brimstone. It is too savage.
At the same time they do not wish to give up the inspiration of the Bible. They give new meanings to the inspired words. Now they say that devils were only personifications of evil.
If the devils were only personifications of evil what were the angels? Was the angel who told Joseph who the father of Christ was, a personification? Was the Holy Ghost only the personification of a father? Was the angel who told Joseph that Herod was dead a personification of news?
Were the angels who rolled away the stone and sat clothed in shining garments in the empty sepulcher of Christ a couple of personifications? Were all the angels described in the Old Testament imaginary shadows — bodiless personifications? If the angels of the Bible are real angels, the devils are real devils.
Let us be honest with ourselves and each other and give to the Bible its natural, obvious meaning. Let us admit that the writers believed what they wrote. If we believe that they were mistaken, let us have the honesty and courage to say so. Certainly we have no right to change or avoid their meaning, or to dishonestly correct their mistakes. Timid preachers sully their own souls when they change what the writers of the Bible believed to be facts to allegories, parables, poems and myths.
It is impossible for any man who believes in the inspiration of the Bible to explain away the Devil.
If the Bible is true the Devil exists. There is no escape from this.
If the Devil does not exist the Bible is not true. There is no escape from this.
I admit that the Devil of the Bible is an impossible contradiction; an impossible being.
This Devil is the enemy of God and God is his. Now, why should this Devil, in another world, torment sinners, who are his friends, to please God, his enemy?
If the Devil is a personification, so is hell and the lake of fire and brimstone. All these horrors fade into allegories; into ignorant lies.
Any clergyman who can read the Bible and then say that devils are personifications of evil is himself a personification of stupidity or hypocrisy.
Does any intelligent man now, whose brain has not been deformed by superstition, believe in the existence of the Devil? What evidence have we that he exists? Where does this Devil live? What does he do for a livelihood? What does he eat? If he does not eat, he cannot think. He cannot think without the expenditure of force. He cannot create force; he must borrow it — that is to say, he must eat. How does he move from place to place? Does he walk or does he fly, or has he invented some machine? What object has he in life? What idea of success? This Devil, according to the Bible, knows that he is to be defeated; knows that the end is absolute and eternal failure; knows that every step he takes leads to the infinite catastrophe. Why does he act as he does?
Our fathers thought that everything in this world came from some other realm; that all ideas of right and wrong came from above; that conscience dropped from the clouds; that the darkness was filled with imps from perdition, and the day with angels from heaven; that souls had been breathed into man by Jehovah.
What there is in this world that lives and breathes was produced here. Life was not imported. Mind is not an exotic. Of this planet man is a native. This world is his mother. The maker did not descend from the heavens. The maker was and is here. Matter and force in their countless forms, affinities and repulsions produced the living, breathing world.
How can we account for devils? Is it possible that they creep into the bodies of men and swine? Do they stay in the stomach or brain, in the heart or liver?
Are these devils immortal or do they multiply and die? Were they all created at the same time or did they spring from a single pair? If they are subject to death what becomes of them after death? Do they go to some other world, are they annihilated, or can they get to heaven by believing on Christ?
In the brain of science the devils have never lived. There you will find no goblins, ghosts, wraiths or imps — no witches, spooks or sorcerers. There the supernatural does not exist. No man of sense in the whole world believes in devils any more than he does in mermaids, vampires, gorgons, hydras, naiads, dryads, nymphs, fairies or the anthropophagi — any more than he does in the Fountain of Youth, the Philosopher’s Stone, Perpetual Motion or Fiat Money.
There is the same difference between religion and science that there is between a madhouse and a university — between a fortune teller and a mathematician — between emotion and philosophy — between guess and demonstration.
The devils have gone, and with them they have taken the miracles of Christ. They have carried away our Lord. They have taken away the inspiration of the Bible, and we are left in the darkness of nature without the consolation of hell.
But let me ask the clergy a few questions: How did your Devil, who was at one time an angel of light, come to sin? There was no other devil to tempt him. He was in perfectly good society — in the company of God — of the Trinity. All of his associates were perfect. How did he fall? He knew that God was infinite, and yet he waged war against him and induced about a third of the angels to volunteer. He knew that he could not succeed; knew that he would be defeated and cast out; knew that he was fighting for failure.
Why was God so unpopular? Why were the angels so bad?
According to the Christens, these angels were spirits. They had never been corrupted by flesh, by the passion of love. Why were they so wicked?
Why did God create those angels, knowing that they would rebel? Why did he deliberately sow the seeds of discord in heaven, knowing that he would cast them into the lake of eternal fire — knowing that for them he would create the eternal prison, whose dungeons would echo forever the sobs and shrieks of endless pain?
How foolish is infinite wisdom!
How malicious is mercy!
How revengeful is boundless love!
Again, I say that no sensible man in all the world believes in devils.
Why does God allow these devils to enjoy themselves at the expense of his ignorant children? Why does he allow them to leave their prison? Does he give them furloughs or tickets-of-leave?
Does he want his children misled and corrupted so that he can have the pleasure of damning their souls?
VII — The Man of Straw.
Some of the preachers who have answered me say that I am fighting a man of straw.
I am fighting the supernatural — the dogma of inspiration — the belief in devils — the atonement, salvation by faith — the forgiveness of sins and the savagery of eternal pain. I am fighting the absurd, the monstrous, the cruel.
The ministers pretend that they have advanced — that they do not believe the things that I attack. In this they are not honest.
Who is the “man of straw”?
The man of straw is their master. In every orthodox pulpit stands this man of straw — stands beside the preacher — stands with a club, called a “creed,” in his upraised hand. The shadow of this club falls athwart the open Bible — falls upon the preacher’s brain, darkens the light of his reason and compels him to betray himself.
The man of straw rules every sectarian school and college — very orthodox church. He is the censor who passes on every sermon. Now and then some minister puts a little sense in his discourse — tries to take a forward step. Down comes the club, and the man of straw demands an explanation — a retraction. If the minister takes it back — good. If he does not, he is brought to book. The man of straw put the plaster of silence on the lips of Prof. Briggs, and he was forced to leave the church or remain dumb.
The man of straw closed the mouth of Prof. Smith, and he has not opened it since.
The man of straw would not allow the Presbyterian creed to be changed.
The man of straw took Father McGlynn by the collar, forced him to his knees, made him take back his words and ask forgiveness for having been abused.
The man of straw pitched Prof. Swing out of the pulpit and drove the Rev. Mr. Thomas from theMethodistChurch.
Let me tell the orthodox ministers that they are trying to cover their retreat.
You have given up the geology and astronomy of the Bible. You have admitted that its history is untrue. You are retreating still. You are giving up the dogma of inspiration; you have your doubts about the flood andBabel; you have given up the witches and wizards; you are beginning to throw away the miraculous; you have killed the little devils and in a little while you will murder the Devil himself.
In a few years you will take the Bible for what it is worth. The good and true will be treasured in the heart; the foolish, the infamous, will be thrown away.
The man of straw will then be dead.
Of course, the real old petrified, orthodox Christian will cling to the Devil. He expects to have all his sins charged to the Devil, and at the same time he will be credited with all the virtues of Christ. Upon this showing on the books, upon this balance, he will be entitled to his halo and harp. What a glorious, what an equitable, transaction! The sorcerer Superstition changes debt to credit. He waves his wand, and he who deserves the tortures of hell receives an eternal reward.
But if a man lacks faith the scheme is exactly reversed. While in one case a soul is rewarded for the virtues of another, in the other case a soul is damned for the sins of another. This is justice when it blossoms in mercy.
Beyond this idiocy cannot go.
VIII — Keep the Devil Out of Children.
William Kingdon Clifford, one of the greatest men of this century, said: “If there is one lesson that history forces upon us in every page, it is this: Keep your children away from the priest, or he will make them the enemies of mankind.”
In every orthodox Sunday school children are taught to believe in devils. Every little brain becomes a menagerie, filled with wild beasts from hell. The imagination is polluted with the deformed, the monstrous and malicious. To fill the minds of children with leering fiends — with mocking devils — is one of the meanest and basest of crimes. In these pious prisons — these divine dungeons — these Protestant and Catholic inquisitions — children are tortured with these cruel lies. Here they are taught that to really think is wicked; that to express your honest thought is blasphemy; and that to live a free and joyous life, depending on fact instead of faith, is the sin against the Holy Ghost.
Children thus taught — thus corrupted and deformed become the enemies of investigation — of progress. They are no longer true to themselves. They have lost the veracity of the soul. In the language of Prof. Clifford, “they are the enemies of the human race.”
So I say to all fathers and mothers, keep your children away from priests; away from orthodox Sunday schools; away from the slaves of superstition.
They will teach them to believe in the Devil; in hell in the prison of God; in the eternal dungeon, where the souls of men are to suffer forever. These frightful things are a part of Christianity. Take these lies from the creed and the whole scheme falls into shapeless ruin. This dogma of hell is the infinite of savagery — the dream of insane revenge. It makes God a wild beast — an infinite hyena. It makes Christ as merciless as the fangs of a viper. Save poor children from the pollution of this horror. Protect them from this infinite lie.
IX — Conclusion.
I admit that there are many good and beautiful passages in the Old and New Testament; that from the lips of Christ dropped many pearls of kindness — of love. Every verse that is true and tender I treasure in my heart. Every thought, behind which is the tear of pity, I appreciate and love. But I cannot accept it all. Many utterances attributed to Christ shock my brain and heart. They are absurd and cruel.
Take from the New Testament the infinite savagery, the shoreless malevolence of eternal pain, the absurdity of salvation by faith, the ignorant belief in the existence of devils, the immorality and cruelty of the atonement, the doctrine of non- resistance that denies to virtue the right of self-defence, and how glorious it would be to know that the remainder is true! Compared with this knowledge, how everything else in nature would shrink and shrivel! What ecstasy it would be to know that God exists; that he is our father and that he loves and cares for the children of men! To know that all the paths that human beings travel, turn and wind as they may, lead to the gates of stainless peace! How the heart would thrill and throb to know that Christ was the conquer of Death; that at his grave the all-devouring monster was baffled and beaten forever; that from that moment the tomb became the door that opens on eternal life! To know this would change all sorrow into gladness. Poverty, failure, disaster, defeat, power, place and wealth would become meaningless sounds. To take your babe upon your knee and say: “Mine and mine forever!” What joy! To clasp the woman you love in your arms and to know that she is yours and forever — yours though suns darken and constellations vanish! This is enough: To know that the loved and dead are not lost; that they still live and love and wait for you. To know that Christ dispelled the darkness of death and filled the grave with eternal light. To know this would be all that the heart could bear. Beyond this joy cannot go. Beyond this there is no place for hope.
How beautiful, how enchanting, Death would be! How we would long to see his fleshless skull! What rays of glory would stream from his sightless sockets, and how the heart would long for the touch of his stilling hand! The shroud would become a robe of glory, the funeral procession a harvest home, and the grave would mark the end of sorrow, the beginning of eternal Joy.
And yet it were better far that all this should be false than that: all of the New Testament should be true.
It is far better to have no heaven than to have heaven and hell; better to have no God than God and Devil. better to rest in eternal sleep than to be an angel and know that the ones you love are suffering eternal pain; better to live a free and loving life — a life that ends forever at the grave — than to be an immortal slave.
The master cannot be great enough to make slavery sweet. I have no ambition to become a winged servant, a winged slave. Better eternal sleep. But they say, “If you give up these superstitions, what have you left?”
Let me now give you the declaration of a creed.
DECLARATION OF THE FREE.
We have no falsehoods to defend
We want the facts;
Our force, our thought, we do not spend
In vain attacks.
And we will never meanly try
To save some fair and pleasing lie.
The simple truth is what we ask,
Not the ideal;
We’ve set ourselves the noble task
To find the real.
If all there is naught but dross,
We want to know and bear our loss.
We will not willingly be fooled,
By fables nursed;
Our hearts, by earnest thought, are schooled
To bear the worst;
And we can stand erect and dare
All things. all facts that really are.
We have no God to serve or fear,
No hell to shun,
No devil with malicious leer.
When life is done
An endless sleep may close our eyes.
A sleep with neither dreams nor sighs.
We have no master on the land —
No king in air —
Without a manacle we stand,
Without a prayer,
Without a fear of coming night,
We seek the truth, we love the light.
We do not bow before a guess,
A vague unknown;
A senseless force we do not bless
In solemn tone.
When evil comes we do not curse,
Or thank because it is no worse.
When cyclones rend — when lightning blights,
‘Tis naught but fate;
There is no God of wrath who smites
In heartless hate.
Behind the things that injure man
There is no purpose, thought, or plan.
We waste no time in useless dread,
In trembling fear;
The present lives, the past is dead,
And we are here,
All welcome guests at life’s great feast —
We need no help from ghost or priest.
Our life is joyous, jocund, free —
Not one a slave
Who bends in fear the trembling knee,
And seeks to save
A coward soul from future pain;
Not one will cringe or crawl for gain.
The jeweled cup of love we drain,
And friendship’s wine
Now swiftly flows in every vein
With warmth divine.
And so we love and hope and dream
That in death’s sky there is a gleam.
We walk according to our light,
Pursue the path
That leads to honor’s stainless height,
Careless of wrath
Or curse of God, or priestly spite,
Longing to know and do the right.
We love our fellow-man, our kind,
Wife, child, and friend.
To phantoms we are deaf and blind,
But we extend
The helping hand to the distressed;
By lifting others we are blessed.
Love’s sacred flame within the heart
And friendship’s glow;
While all the miracles of art
Their wealth bestow
Upon the thrilled and joyous brain,
And present raptures banish pain.
We love no phantoms of the skies,
But living flesh,
With passion’s soft and soulful eyes,
Lips warm and fresh,
And cheeks with health’s red flag unfurled,
The breathing angels of this world.
The hands that help are better far
Than lips that pray.
Love is the ever gleaming star
That leads the way,
That shines, not on vague worlds of bliss,
But on a paradise in this.
We do not pray, or weep, or wail;
We have no dread,
No fear to pass beyond the veil
That hides the dead.
And yet we question, dream, and guess,
But knowledge we do not possess.
We ask, yet nothing seems to know;
We cry in vain.
There is no “master of the show”
Who will explain,
Or from the future tear the mask;
And yet we dream, and still we ask
Is there beyond the silent night
An endless day;
Is death a door that leads to light?
We cannot say.
The tongueless secret locked in fate
We do not know. — We hope and wait.