Men, Women, And Gods
By Helen H. Gardner
THE FRUIT OF THE TREE OF KNOWLEDGE
Some time ago I went to hear a noted minister, who preached a sermon about the "fruit of the tree of knowledge" to a congregation composed, as most congregations are, chiefly of women. Yet his sermon was a monument of insult, bigotry, and dogmatic intolerance that would have done honor to a witch-hunter several centuries ago. That women will subject themselves to such insults week after week, and that there are still men who will condescend to offer them, is a sad commentary upon their self-respect as well as upon the degrading influence of their religion.
Why will they listen to such nonsense? Perhaps woman was made of a rib and so should be held as flesh and blood only, devoid of intellect. But I don't know that she was; I was not there to see, and, in fact, none of my family were; and since they tell us that the only gentleman present upon that interesting occasion was asleep, I don't know who could have told the story in the first place.
It is always a surprise to me that women will sit, year after year, and be told that, because of a story as silly and childish as it is unjust, she is responsible for all the ills of life; that because, forsooth, some thousands of years ago a woman was so horribly wicked as to eat an apple she must and should occupy a humble and penitent position, and remain forever subject to the dictates of ecclesiastical pretenders. It is so silly, so childish, that for people of sense to accept it seems almost incredible.
According to the story, she was deceived. According to the story, she believed that she was doing a thing which would give greater knowledge and a broader life, and she had the courage to try for it. According to the story, she first evinced the desire to be more and wiser than a mere brute, and incidentally gave her husband an opportunity to invent the first human lie (a privilege still dear to the heart), a field which up to that time had been exclusively worked by the reptiles. But they never got a chance at it again. From the time that Adam entered the lists, competition was too lively for any of the lower animals to stand a ghost of a chance at it, and that may account for the fact that, from that time to this, nobody has ever heard a shake tell a lie or volunteer information to a woman. The Church has had a monopoly of these profitable perquisites ever since. The serpent never tried it again. He turned woman over to the clergy, and from that time to this they have been the instructors who have told her which apple to bite, and how big a bite to take. She has never had a chance since to change her diet. From that day to this she has had apple pie, stewed apple, dried apple, baked apple, apple-jack, and cider; and this clergyman that I heard, started out fresh on apple-sauce. He seemed to think -- "anything for a change." You would have thought to hear him, that the very worst thing that ever happened to this world was the birth of the desire for knowledge, and that such desire in woman had been the curse of all mankind.
But it seems to me that if in this day of intelligence a minister preaches or acts upon such dogmas, women should scorn him both as a teacher and as a man. If a creed or Church upholds such doctrines they should shun it as they would a pest-house. If all system or any book of religion teaches such principles they should exert every effort to utterly destroy its influence. I want to do what I can to show woman that the mercury of self-respect must fall several degrees at the church door, and that the light of reason must go out.
In this sermon that I speak of, we were warned "not to be wise above that which is written." As if a man should bind his thoughts and knowledge down to what was known, believed, or written in ages past! As though a man should fear and tremble, should hesitate to reach out after, to labor to know, all that his intellect and energy can compass. As though to be good he must accept situations, sentiments, ideas ready-made, and dwarf his intellect and bind his mental ability by the capacity of somebody else.
"He that hath ears to hear, let him hear.
He that hath eyes to see, let him see."
And he that hath a brain to think, let him think. What is his intellect for! Why is his mind one vast interrogation point? Why should not Eve have grasped with eagerness the fruit of the tree of knowledge?
A taste of the fruit of the tree of knowledge does drive man from the paradise of ignorance, does send him forth a laborer in the vast fields of speculation and thought, where there is no rest, and no possibility of the cessation of labor so long as his energies and his love of truth remain to impel him to the conquest of the infinite domain that lies unexplored beyond.
But would any man sell what is gained in liberty, in strength, in breadth, in conscious superiority, for the delights which every brute has left him in his stagnant paradise of ignorance and rest? What man in this nineteenth century can unblushingly say he would not choose the labor with all its pain, the effort with all its failure, the struggle with all its exhaustion? Why try to bind the human mind by the silly theory that a God requires man to crush out or subject the intellect he has given him? Whatever religion may have gained by such a course, think what morality and progress have lost by it!
What has not woman lost by that silly fable which made her responsible for transgression? Honor her for it! Honor her the more if it was she who first dared the struggle rather than lose her freedom or crush her reason. If she learned first that the price of ignorance and slavery was too great to pay for the luxury of idleness -- honor her for it. The acceptance of such contemptible stories, as told by the clergy in all ages and in all religions as the "word of God," has done more to enslave and injure women's intellects, and to brutalize men, than has been done by any other influence; and our boasted superior civilization is not the result of the Christian religion, but has been won step by step in despite of it. For the Church has fought progress with a vindictive bitterness and power found in no other antagonist -- from the time, long ago, when it crushed Galileo for daring to know more than its "inspired" leaders could ever learn, down to yesterday, when it raised a wild howl against Prof. Tyndall for making a simple statement, in itself absolutely incontrovertible.
It had to yield to Galileo as the people grew beyond its power to blind them to his truth. It is yielding every hour to-day to Tyndall from the same dire necessity; while its nimble devotees vie with each other in proclaiming that they thought that way all the time; had neglected to say so (through an oversight); but that it was one of their very strongest holds from the beginning. They have recently told us that modern scientific doctrines (evolution included) are "plainly indicated in the Bible," and that Science has at last worked up towards the comprehension of scriptural truths.
It used to be the fashion to burn the man who got up a new theory or discovered a new law of nature that interfered with the "revelation" theory; but the style now is to go into the mental gymnastic business and "reconcile" the old dogma with the now truth. The only kind of reconciling the Church ever thought of in the days of her power, was to become reconciled to the death of the scientist or thinker. To-day she can take evolution and revelation, shake them up in a theological bag, and then bring them forth so marvelously alike in appearance that their own father would not know them apart. And the rest of us can't recognize them at all.
To-morrow, when she has to yield her whole field to science, she will hasten to assure us that it was only a few mistaken souls who ever objected to Col. Ingersoll's style of theology; and that if we would only interpret the Bible aright (and understood Hebrew) we should at once discover that Col. Ingersoll was the "biggest card" they had had yet.
You may not live until that to-morrow; I may not live until that to-morrow; but it is as sure to come as it is certain that the old tenets have yielded one by one before the irresistible march of an age of intelligence and freedom, in which a priest or a Church can no longer be judge, jury, and counsel.
Not long ago I heard two gentlemen -- one a very devout Christian -- talking about what use the Church could make of Col. Ingersoll's teachings. One said he was such a moral man, and always insisted so strongly upon right action in this world, that it was a pity he did not have more faith. He said, "What a power he would be in the Church! What a preacher he would make! He would be a second St. Paul -- I have been praying for years for his conversion." "Well," said the other, "you needn't waste your time any longer; softening of the brain doesn't run in Robert's family."
KNOWLEDGE NOT A CRIME
Let man rid himself of the pernicious idea that knowledge is a crime, and then let only the man who is afraid to enter the world of thought go back to his native paradise of ignorance and rest. Let him cling to his old ideas. Humanity can do better without such a man, and humanity will be better without him. The time is past when his type is needed, and let us hope that it is nearly past when it can be found. He may have been abreast of the time in 1840, but his grave was dug, his epitaph written, in 1841. Science did not wait for him, and the world forgot his name!Do you think the world has any further use for the man who can gravely tell those stories about Samson, for instance as truth -- as the word of God? Do you think they do honor to most attenuated intellect? Now just stop and think of it. Just think of one thousand able-bodied men (1,000 is a good many men) quietly standing around waiting for Samson to knock them on the head with a bone! And how does the durability of that bone strike you?
If prowess with arms were estimated, I should say that was about the most effective piece of generalship on record. If the gentleman who conducted that neat little skirmish were living to-day there would not be a question as to his eligibility for a third term, unit rule or no unit rule. If we could provide our generals with a bone like that, we might reduce the standing army sufficiently to reassure the most timid congressman of the whole lot. It would not take more than four or five generals and a captain to guard the whole frontier. Then we might keep a private to keep the peace at the polls, and that would give us sufficient force to readily murder several thousand people any morning before breakfast, and I don't see how you could ask for anything better than that. Two live men and one dead mule could raise a siege in a quarter of an hour. Now, if there is anybody who wants to start "a brilliant foreign policy," here is his chance. He could at the same time make a record for economy, for it would be an enormous saving to this country in arms and ammunition alone. For durability, cheapness, and certainty not to miss fire there is simply no comparison at all.
It may be objected that our soldiers are not so strong as Samson; but I am told by those who are intimately acquainted with mules, that they have not deteriorated. They have simply transferred their superior strength and durability from their jaw- bones to their heals -- and they engineer them themselves. So if our men can stand his voice and aim him right, they won't have to wear long hair.
But seriously, if it is necessary to believe such stories as that in order to go to heaven, don't you think the admission fee is a trifle high? It is entirely beyond my means, and that is not one of the big stories either.
The one that comes right after it is just as absurd. It is the second scene of the same performance, and Samson only went out between acts for a drink, and then he playfully walked off with a building about the size of the capitol at Washington.
They say we must believe these tales or be damned; and that a woman has not even a right to say, "I object." But it always did seem to me that anybody who could believe them would not have brains enough to know whether he was damned or not. They say we must not laugh at such very solemn things as that. They also say that even if we don't believe them ourselves we should show respect for those, who do.
That is a very good theory, but I should like to know how any human being with a sense of humor could sit and look solemn, and feel very respectful, with that sort of chaff rattling down his back. It can't be done unless he is scared. Fear will convince a man the quickest of anything on earth. Even a shadow is provocative of solemnity if the light is dark enough and the man is sufficiently seared.
Ignorance and Fear made the Garden of Eden, they created Jehovah, gave Samson his wonderful strength, and Solomon his wisdom; they divided the Red Sea, and raised Lazarus from the dead.
It is not strange, therefore that they have compelled women to cling to the Church, and slaves to cling to slavery. There were many black men in the South who voluntarily went back and offered to remain in bondage. And that is one of the strongest arguments against the institution of slavery -- that it can so far degrade its victims that they lose even the ambition to be free! [NOTE: "It was quite an ordinary fact in Greece and Rome for slaves to submit to death by torture rather than betray their masters. Yet we know how cruelly many Romans treated their slaves. But in truth these intense individual feelings nowhere rise to such a luxuriant height as under the most atrocious institutions. It is part of the irony of life, that strongest feelings of devoted gratitude of which human nature seems susceptible, are called forth in human beings toward those who, having the power entirely to crush their earthly existence, voluntarily refrain from using that power. How great a place in most men this sentiment fills, even in religious devotion, it would be cruel to inquire. We daily see how much their gratitude to Heaven appears to be stimulated by the contemplation of fellow- creatures to whom God has not been so merciful as he has to themselves." -- Mill.]
The time is not far distant when a bondage of the intellect to the Church will receive no more respectful consideration than a bondage of the body to a master. This nineteenth century cannot much loner be bound by the ignorance and intolerance of an age when might was the highest law and force the only appeal. We need to recognize that the broadest possible liberty is the greatest possible good; and that the liberty to think is the highest good of all. So don't let people make you afraid to think, or to laugh at nonsense wherever you see it.
Solomon saying it cannot make a silly thing wise, nor Moses doing it a cruel thing kind. David cannot make brutality gentle, nor Paul injustice just; and that the Bible sustains a wrong can never make it right.
Don't you know that if the leading men of the Old Testament were living to-day, they would be known as liars, thieves, and murderers -- some indeed as monsters to whom even these terms would be base flattery. Despoilers of those who had not injured them; infamous liars in the name of God; murderers of men; butchers of children; debauchers of women; if they were living in the nineteenth century they would be unanimously elected to the gallows -- that is if they escaped Judge Lynch long enough. And yet they are held up to us, who have outgrown their morals, as authorities on the subject of God's will to man, as Prophets, Saints, Mediators!
Do you want your children taught to believe in the purity and honor of such men? Do you want your children taught to worship a God who sanctioned, commanded, and gloried (and usually participated) in their worst crimes? Do you want them to believe that at any time, in any age, a God was the director in the most heinous crimes, in the vilest plots, in the most cruel, vulgar, cowardly acts of vice that were ever recorded? Either he was or else Moses' word is not worth a copper, and theology is the invention of ignorance. He did these hideous things or the Bible is mistaken about it. There is to-day that kind of a God somewhere in space waiting around to pounce on anybody who doesn't admire him, or else the Church is founded upon the ignorance and fear of its dupes, and teaches them what is not true.
They say it is wicked to inquire into the facts. I say it is wrong not to. It seems to me that in a matter like this the most important thing is to be honest all round, and that if the claims of the Church are true no inquiry can injure them. They say, "Oh, well, drop all the bad part, and only take the good. There is a great deal of good in it too." But if I don't know what is good myself I won't go to Moses and that class of men to find out. I'll go to somebody who has got a clean record. I won't go to men who robbed and murdered in the name of God; I won't go to men who bought and sold their fellow-men; I won't go to men who gave their own daughters over to the hate and lust of others, even bargaining for them with sons and brothers. Such men cannot tell me what is good. Such men cannot make a religion for me to live by, or a God that I can accept.
I am sometimes told that intelligent ministers nowadays do not believe in the inspiration of the Bible and do not teach it. Yet every minister who, like the Rev. R. Heber Newton, dares to suggest mildly that even the apple story is a fable, is silenced by his bishop or hounded down for "heresy." And still they go right on telling little children that it is the "word of God" and the only guide of life, For truth, better give them AEsop's Fables or the Arabian Nights; for purity the Decameron or Don Juan; for examples of justice the story of Blue-Beard or the life of Henry the Eighth.
I wish you would read the Bible carefully just as you would any other book, and see what you think of its morals. I am debarred from touching the parts of it that are the greatest insult to purity and the most infamous travesties of justice, I can only say to you, read it, and if you are lover's of purity you will find that it teaches respect for a God who taught the most degrading impurity and defended those who forced it upon others. If you believe in the sacredness of human life, he gave the largest license to murder. It does not matter that Moses said he told him to tell somebody else "Thou shalt not kill;" for the same gentleman remarked upon several other occasions that God told him not only to kill, but to steal, to lie, to commit arson, to break pretty much all the other commandments -- and to be a professional tramp besides. (I am told that he followed this latter occupation for forty years, which I should think would give him the belt.) So you see we have the same gentleman's word for all of it; and at times, I must confess, it does not seem to me absolutely reliable authority. There is one thing certain, if the returns are correct, and that is that Moses did not take his own medicine in the little matter of keeping the commandments. The were for his enemies and his slaves.
If you love liberty remember that the Bible teaches slavery in every form, Not only the buying of slaves, but the stealing them into bondage. How any man or woman who censured slavery in our Southern States can permit their children to be taught that the Bible is a book of authority, and think they are consistent, I cannot understand. Ever slave-whip had for its lash the Bible. Every slave-holder had its teachings for his guide. Every slave- driver found his authority there. When the sword of the North severed the thongs of the black man, it destroyed the absolute control of the Bible in America and gave a fatal blow to Jehovah the God of oppression. Only in the South is it that the Bible still holds its own. Freedom has outgrown it; and the young South is reading it, for the first time, with an eraser!
If you respect your mother, if you wish your children to respect theirs, you will find that the Bible teaches not only disrespect for her, but abject slavery and the most oppressive degradation. If you love your young sister, your beautiful pure daughter, remember that Jehovah taught that, whenever men could do so, they were to abuse, ruin, degrade them; and remember, further, that his "prophets" -- The men who made our religion -- did these things and gloried in. the work.
It is for this reason that I say it is right and peculiarly fitting that women should object to his teaching. After you have read the 31st chapter of Numbers, with its "thus saith the Lord," think then if you want to follow such teachings. Decide then whether or not the words, the acts, the commands, or the religion of such men is good enough for you. Think then whether or not you want your daughters, your sons, to believe that the Bible has one grain of authority, or is in any sense a revelation of the divine will."
Don't allow ministers to palm off platitudes on you for "revelation;" and don't let them make you believe that anything that Moses or David or Solomon said was the command of God to women. Neither one of those men was fit to speak of a respectable woman. With the superior morals of our time neither one of them would be considered fit to live outside of a brothel.
And don't lot them toll you what "Saint" Paul said either. What did he know about women anyway? He was a brilliant but erratic old bachelor who fought on whichever side he happened to find himself on. He could accommodate himself to circumstances and accept the situation almost as gracefully as that other biblical gentleman who quietly went to housekeeping inside of a whale, and held the fort for three days.
AS MUCH INSPIRED AS ANY OF IT
Did it ever occur to you that those absurd tales have as much claim to be called the "word of God" as any of the rest of it? How can people say they believe such nonsense? And how can they think it is evidence of goodness to believe it? They say it takes a horribly wicked man to doubt one of those yams; and to come right out and say honestly, "I don't believe it," will elect you, on the first ballot, to a permanent seat in the lower house. Mr. Talmage says four out of five Christians "try to explain away" these tales by giving them. another meaning, and he urges them not to do it. He says, stick to the original story in all its literal bearings. The advice
is certainly honest, but it would take a brave man to follow it. And four out of five of even professed Christians is a pretty heavy balance on the side of
intellectual integrity; and even Mr. Talmage's mammoth credulity fails to tip the scale.
They simply can't believe these biblical stories, so they try to explain the marvelous part entirely away. It has about come to this, in this day of thought an intelligence, that when a thinking man claims to believe these tales, and says it is an evidence of righteousness to believe them, there are just two things to examine, his intellect and his integrity. If one is all right the other is pretty sure to be out of repair. Defective intellect or doubtful integrity is what he suffers from. He has got one of them sure, and he may have both.
Now I should just like to ask you one honest question. Why should any book bind us to sentiments that we would not tolerate if they came from any other source? And why tolerate them coming from it? Do you know who compiled the Bible? Do you know it was settled by vote which manuscripts God did and which he did not write? The ballot is a very good thing to have; but I decline to have it extend its power into eternity, and bind my brain by the capacity of a ballot-box hold by caste and saturated with blood.
There can be but slow progress while we are weighted down by the superstitions of ages past. The brain of the nineteenth century should not be bound down to the capacity of the third, nor its moral sentiment dwarfed to fit Jehovah.
But so long as the theories of revelation and vicarious atonement are taught, we shall not need to be surprised that every murderer who is hanged to-day says that he is going, with bloody hands, directly into companionship with the deity of revelation. He has had ample time in prison to re-read in the Bible (what he had previously been taught in Sunday school), of many worse crimes than his which his spiritual adviser assures him (to the edification and encouragement of all his kind outside) were not only forgiven, but were actually ordered and participated in, by the God he is going to.
That is what orthodoxy tolls him! Just think of it! Do you think that is a safe doctrine to teach to the criminal classes? Aside from its being dishonest, is it safe? Does it not put a premium on crime? I maintain that it is always a dangerous religion where faith in a given dogma, and not continuous uprightness of life, is the standard of excellence. It is a cruel religion where force is king and immorality God. It is an unjust religion which seeks to make women serfs and men tyrants. It is an unreasonable religion where credulity usurps the place of intellect and judgment. It is an immoral religion where vice is deified and virtue strangled. It is a cowardly religion where an innocent man, who was murdered 1,800 years ago, is asked to bear the burden of your wrong acts to-day. Aside from its impossibility that is cowardly.
Man should be taught that for every wrong he does, he must himself be responsible -- not that some one else stands between him and absolute personal responsibility -- not that Eve caused him to sin, nor that Christ stands between him and full accountability for his every act.
And he should be taught that for every noble deed, for every act of justice or mercy, he deserves the credit himself; that Christ does not need it; that Christ cannot want it; and that Christ does not deserve it.
And you will not want to "wash your hands in the blood of Christ," nor to shed that of any other innocent man, if your motives are pure and your lives clean.
In an art collection in Boston there is a god -- a redeemer -- the best illustration I have ever seen of the vicarious atonement theory. It is a perfect representation of the agony endured by a helpless and innocent being in order to relieve the guilty of their guilt. This god was captured in Central Africa before his mission was complete, and there is still suffering-space upon his body unused.
It is a wooden image of some frightful beast, and it is represented as suffering the most intense physical agony. Nails are driven into its head, body, legs, and feet. Each wrong-doer who wanted to relieve himself of his own guilt drove a nail, a tack, a brad, or a spike into the flesh of his god. The god suffered the pain; the man escaped the punishment. He cast his burdens on his god, and went on his way rejoicing. Here is vicarious atonement in all its pristine glory. The god is writhing and distorted with pain; the criminal has relieved himself of further responsibility, and his faith has made him whole. his sins are forgiven, and his god will assume his load.
It is carious to examine the various illustrations of human nature as represented by the size and shape of the nails. A sensitive man had committed a trifling offence, and he drove a great spike into the head of the god. A thick-skinned criminal inserted a small tack where it would do the least harm -- in the hoof. An honest, or an egotistic penitent drove his nail in where it stands out prominently; while the secretive devotee placed his among a mass of others of long standing and inconspicuous location.
One day I stood with a friend looking at this god. My friend, who was a devout believer in the vicarious theory of justification and punishment as explained away by the ethical divines of Boston, was unable to see anything but the most horrible brutality and willingness to inflict pain on the part of these African devotees, and was equally unwilling to recognize the same principle when applied to orthodoxy. She said, "Is it not horrible, the ignorance and superstition of these poor people? What a vast field of labor our missionaries have."
To her the idea of justification by faith in a suffering god meant only superstition and brutality when plainly illustrated in somebody else's religion; but the same idea, the same morality, the same justice, she thought beautiful when applied to Christianity.
I said, "There is the whole vicarious theory in wood and iron. That is exactly the same as the Christian idea; and the same human characteristics are plainly traceable in the size and location of these nails.
A Presbyterian or Methodist drives his nail in the most conspicuous spot, where the flesh is tender and the suffering plainly visible. The Episcopalian or Catholic uses a small tack, and drives it as much out of sight as possible, covering it over with stained glass, and distracting the attention with music; but the bald, cruel, unjust, immoral, degrading, and dishonest principle is there just the same.
"Faith in blind acts of devotion; the suffering of innocence for guilt; transferring of crime; comfort and safety purchased for self by the infliction of pain and unmerited torture upon another; premiums offered for ignorance and credulity; punishments guaranteed for honest doubt and earnest protest -- all these beautiful provisions of the vicarious theory are as essential to our missionary's belief as to that of his African converts; and it seems to me simply a choice between thumbs up and thumbs down."
While we were talking my friend's pastor joined us, and she told him what I had said, and asked him what was the difference between the Christian and the heathen idea of a suffering god. He said he could explain it in five minutes some morning when he had time. He said that the one was the true and living faith, and the other was blind superstition. He also said that he could easily make us see which was which. Then he gracefully withdrew with the air of one who says: "In six days God made the heavens and the earth, and on the seventh day he and I rested." He has not called since to explain. While he stayed, however, his manner was deeply solemnly, awfully impressive; and of course I resigned on the spot.
The theory of vicarious atonement is the child of cowardice and fear. It arranges for a man to be a criminal and to escape the consequences of his crime. It destroys personal responsibility, the most essential element of moral character. It is contrary to every moral principle.
The Church never has been and never will be able to explain why a god should be forced to resort to such injustice to rectify a mistake of his own. To earnest questions and honest thoughts it has always replied with threats. It has always silenced inquiry and persecuted thought. Past authority is its god, present investigation its devil. With it brains are below par, and ignorance is at a premium. It has never learned that the most valuable capital in this world is the brain of a scholar.
Every earnest thought, like every earnest thinker, adds something to the wealth of the world. Blind belief in the thought of another produces only hopeless mediocrity. Individual effort, not mere acceptance, marks the growth of the mind. The most fatal blow to progress is slavery of the intellect. The most sacred right of humanity is the right to think, and next to the right to think is the right to express that thought without fear.
Fear is the nearest approach to the ball and chain that this age will permit, and it should be the glorious aim of the thinkers of to-day that so refined and cruel a form of tyranny shall not be left for those who come after us. We owe physical freedom to the intellectual giants of the lost past; let us leave mental freedom to the intellectual children of the future.
Fear scatters the blossoms of genius to the winds, and superstition buries truth beneath the incrustation or inherited mediocrity. Fear puts the fetters of religious stagnation on every child of the brain. It covers the form of purity and truth with the contagion of contumely and I distrust. It warps and dwarfs every character that it touches. It is the father, mother, and nurse of hypocrisy. It is the one great disgrace of our day, the one incalculable curse of our time; and its nurse and hot-bed is the Church.
Because I, a woman, have dared to speak publicly against the dictatorship of the Church, the Church, with its usual force and honor, answers argument with personal abuse. One reply it gives. It is this. If a woman did not find comfort and happiness in the Church. she would not cling to it. If it were not good for her, she in her purity and truth would not uphold it in the face of the undeniable fact that the present generation of thinking men have left it utterly.
Yon will find, however, that in every land, under every form of faith, in each phase of credulity it is the woman who clings closest and longest to the religion she has been taught; yet no Christian will maintain that this fact establishes the truth of any other belief. [NOTE: "Exactly the same thing may be said of the women in the harem of an Oriental. They do not complain. ... They think our women insufferably unfeminine." -- Mill]
They will not argue from this that women know more of and heave a clearer insight into the divine will! If she knows more about it, if she understands it all better than men, why does she not occupy the pulpit? Why does she not hold the official positions in the Churches? Why has she not received even recognition in our system of religion? Who ever heard of a minister being surprised that God did not reveal any of the forms of belief through a woman? If she knows and does the will of God so much better than men, why did he not reveal himself to her and place his earthly kingdom in her hands?
That argument won't do! As long as creed and Church held absolute power there was no question but that woman was a curse, that she was an inferior being, an after-thought. No Church but the Roman Catholic has the decency to recognize even the so-called mother of God! The Church has never offered women equality or justice. Its test of excellence is force. The closer a Church or creed clings to its spirit, the more surely does it assume to dictate to and control woman and to degrade her. The more liberal the creed the nearer does it come to offering individual justice and liberty.
The testimony of our own missionaries, as well as that of many others, assures us that it is not the Turk but his wives who hold fastest to their faith. The woman of the harem, whom we pity because of the injustice of their religious training, are the last to relinquish their god, the most bitter opponents of the infidel or skeptic in their Church, the most devout and constant believers of the faith, and the most content with its requirements. They are the ones who cling to the form even when the substance has departed -- and it is so with us!
Among the "heathen" it is the women who are most shocked and offended by the attacks made upon their superstitions by the missionaries whom we pay to go to them and blaspheme their gods and destroy their idols.
Go where you will, read history as you may, and you will find that it is the men who invented religion, and the women who believed in it. They are the last to give it up. The physically weak dread change. Inexperience fears the unknown. Ignorance shuns thought or development. The dependent cannot be brave.
We are all prepared to admit, I think, that, with but few marked exceptions here and there the women of most countries are physically and mentally undeveloped. They have had fear and dependence, the dread enemies of progress and growth, constantly to retard them. Fear of physical harm, fear of social ostracism, fear of eternal damnation. With rare exceptions a child, with a weak body, or any other dependent, will do as he is told; and women have believed to order. They have done so not only in Christianity but in Buddhism, Mohammedanism, Mormonism, and Fetichism -- in each and all of them. Each and all of them being matter of faith, religion was the one subject in which every Church alike claimed ignorance as a virtue; and the women understood that the men understood it as little as they did. It was a field where credulity and a solemn countenance placed all on an intellectual level -- and the altitude of the level was immaterial.
Women have never been expected to understand anything; hence jargon about the "testimony of the spirit," the "three in one" absurdity, the "horns of the altar," or the widow's oil miracle was not more empty or unmeaning to her than a conversation about Bonds and Stocks, Political Economy, or Medical Science. She swallowed her religion just as She did her pills, because the doctor told her to, and said there was something wrong with her head -- and usually there was.
BEGINNING TO THINK
The past education of woman gave her an outlook which simply embraced a husband or nothing at all, which was often only a choice between two of a kind.
There are a great many women to-day who think that orthodoxy is as great nonsense as I do, but who are afraid to say so. They whisper it to each other. They are afraid of the slander of the Church.
I want to help make it so that they will dare to speak. I want to do what I can to make it so that a mother wont have to evade the questions of her children about the Bible.
I am sometimes asked, "What do you propose to give in place of this comforting faith? It makes people so happy. You take away all this blessing and you give no other in its place. What is your creed?"
It has never seemed to me, that a creed was the staff of life. Man cannot live by creeds alone. I should not object, however, to one that should read something like this:
- I believe in honesty.
- I believe that a Church has no right to teach what it does not know.
- I believe that a clean life and a tender heart are worth more to this world than all the faith and all the gods of Time.
- I believe that this world needs all our best efforts and earnest endeavors twenty-four hours every day.
- I believe that if our labors were needed in another world we should be in another world; so long as we are in this one I believe in making the best and the most of the materials we have on hand.
- I believe that fear of a god cripples men's intellects more than any other influence. I believe that Humanity needs and should have all our time, efforts, love, worship, and tenderness.
- I believe that one world is all we can deal with at a time.
- I believe that, if there is a future life, the best possible preparation for it is to do the very best we can here and now.
- I believe that love for our fellow-men is infinitely nobler, better, and more necessary than love for God.
- I believe that men, women, and children need our best thoughts, our tenderest consideration, and our earnest sympathy.
- I believe that God can get on just as well without any of these as with them. If he wants anything he can get it without our assistance. it is people with limitations, not gods without limitations, who need and should have our aid.
- I believe that it is better to build one happy home here than to invest in a thousand churches which deal with a hereafter.
If a life that embraces this line of action does not fit a man for heaven, and if faith in vicarious atonement will, then such a heaven is not worth going to, and its god would be unworthy to make a good man's acquaintance.
But suppose that faith in a myth is destroyed and another mysticism be not set up in its place, what then? If a mother takes her child away from the fire, which it finds beautiful, and believes to be a nice toy, is it necessary for her to give it a kerosene lamp in its place? She destroys a pleasant delusion -- a faith and a delightful hope and confidence -- because she knows its danger and recognizes its false foundation. It is surely not necessary that she should give to the child another delusion equally dangerous and false. She gives it something she knows to be safe; something she understands will not burn; something which, though not so bright and attractive to the child at first, gives pleasure without pain, occupation without disaster. Is she cruel or only sensible? If I were to pretend to a knowledge of a divine creed, a superhuman system, I should be guilty of the same dishonesty, the same deception of which I complain in the Church.
I do not know of any divine commands. I do know of most important human ones. I do not know the needs of a god or of another world. I do not know anything about "a land that is fairer than day." I do know that women make shirts for seventy cents a dozen in this one. I do know that the needs of humanity and this world are infinite, unending, constant, and immediate. They will take all our time, our strength, our love, and our thoughts and our work here will be only then began.
Why not, if you believe in a God at all, give him credit for placing you where he wanted you? Why not give him credit for giving you brains and sympathies, as well as the courage to use them. Even if Eve did eat that apple, why should we insist upon having the colic?
SELF-CONTROL WHAT WE NEED
I want to see the time come when mothers won't have to explain to their children that God has changed his mind about goodness and right since he used to incite murder; that eighteen hundred years ago he was a criminal with bloody hands and vile, polluted breath; that less than three hundred years ago his greatest pleasure was derived from witnessing the agony of pure young girls burning alive, whose only crime was beauty of face or honesty of thought.
I want it so that she won't allow her children to hear and believe such a statement as Bishop Fallows made not long ago. He said, in effect, that sins of omission are as heinous as those of commission; that Saul committed two sins in his life, and that one of them was a refusal to commit a cold-blooded murder! He spared the life of a conquered enemy! Out of a whole nation he saved one life -- and that was a crime, a sin! Bishop Fallows said that God expressly commanded Saul to utterly exterminate that whole nation, and not only the nation but its flocks; and that God took Saul's kingdom from him because he saved the life of one fallen enemy.
That story, I think, is a libel; and I believe that if there is a God he was never such a fiend! And I want it so that no mother will allow her child to hear such an infamous travesty of the character of a Deity who is called good.
I want it so that all the lessons of the week, all the careful training of a wise father or a good mother, will not be antagonized on Sunday by such a statement as the Rev. Mr. Williamson made at a large church convention recently. Speaking of prayer, he said: "We should offer to God, by prayer, our virtue, our purity, and our pious aspirations" (so far I do not object, for if it means anything I fail to grasp it), "for by not doing so we claim self- control, which is displeasing to God!"
I object! The lesson of self-control is precisely what we need. And when we control ourselves and regulate our lives on principles of right and truth, instead of allowing a Church to regulate them through a fear of hell, we shall be a better people, and character will have a chance to grow.
Then this same gentleman added: "We should also give him our vices, our worry, our temper, and our passions, so that he may dispose of them."
Dispose of them yourselves! Don't try to shift your responsibilities on to somebody else. Don't drive your tack into the brain of justice, expecting to save your own soft skull. Don't enervate your strength to do right by accepting the fatal doctrine of vicarious atonement. It weakens every character that it touches.
VICARIOUS ATONEMENT NOT A CHRISTIAN INVENTION
The doctrine of vicarious atonement is found in some form in most religions, and it is the body an soul of ours. The idea is not a Christian invention. It caused the Carthaginians to put to death their handsomest prisoners if a battle were won,
the most promising children of their own nobility if it were lost. They were offerings to appease the gods.
In old times there were peoples who believed that if a chief was guilty of a misdemeanor it was just to punish or enslave any one of his tribe. That was their idea of liberty and justice. If a father committed a crime it could be expiated by the murder of his son. That was the doctrine of vicarious atonement in all its pristine glory. So they adopted that style of justice in our religion, and condemned the whole lot of us to the eternal wrath of God on account of that little indiscretion attributed to Eve. It seems a very little thing for anybody to get so angry at us all about and stay angry so long! It doesn't seem to me that if one of you were to eat every apple I had in my orchard, I should want to murder all the folks that live in Asia Minor. Do you think you would?
In the 11th verse of the 12th chapter of the second book of Samuel it is claimed that God said he was going to be revenged for the crimes of some men by a vile punishment of their wives.
Only a short time ago a man tried that same style of justice in one of our Western towns. He claimed that Smith had alienated the affections of his wife, so he went over to Smith's house and whipped Mrs. Smith! And do you know that the judge who tried that case (not being a good Bible student) actually sent that good, pious man to the house of correction -- that man who not only believed in his Bible but lived by it! And just as likely as not that judge will be elected again. Truly we have fallen on degenerate times.
Legal minds outgrew the idea of vicarious punishment long ago. Physical liberty came to have a new meaning, and punishment was awarded more and more where it was due. But the religious mind never outgrows anything. It is born as big as it ever gets. Development is its terror. It abhors a change. It forces you to sin by proxy. to be redeemed by proxy; and the only thing it does permit you to receive at first hand is Hell. That is the only one thing you can't delegate to somebody else.
If you commit no sin, you are responsible for the sins of other people -- dead people, too, that yon can't look after. If you are good and true and noble -- even if you are a Christian -- you don't get any credit for it. If there is any one thing above another that God detests it is to have a man try to be grand and noble and true, and then got the credit of it. "To Christ belongs all the honor, the praise, and the glory -- world without end, Amen."
But when it comes to the punishment, the vicarious notion doesn't seem to work. There is the one point where you are welcome to your own, and no discount allowed to heavy takers. Hell is always at par and no bail permitted. Even ignorance of the requirements is no excuse. If you did not know any better, somebody else did, and you've got to pay for it.
Now if the vicarious principle is not big enough to go clear round, I'll leave my share off at the other end. If the Church wants to take my hell (vicariously) it is welcome to it. I will let it go cheap.
Awhile ago a man stayed some time at a hotel in New York, and when the time came for him to pay his bill he hadn't the money. Well, the proprietor felt sorry for him and said, "I tell you what I'll do about that bill, I'll throw off half." His guest was overwhelmed by this liberality, and with tears of gratitude said, "I cannot permit yon to out do me in generosity; I'll throw off the other half and we'll call it square."
So if the Church desires all the credit, it is also welcome to all the blame. I cannot permit it to outdo me in generosity. But I'd rather be responsible for just my own sins, and then I can regulate them better, and I can take care of my own reward when I got it. I shall not want to deposit it with the clergy. A profit and loss system that is chiefly loss will not pay me.
The doctrines of vicarious atonement and original or inherited sin are the most infamously unjust dogmas that ever clouded the brain of man.
TWIN MONSTERS INHERITED FROM INTELLECTUAL PYGMIES
They are twin monsters inherited from intellectual pygmies.
Let me read you a little prayer based upon this idea of right. I heard it offered as a thanksgiving tribute. "Oh, God, we do thank thee that thou didst give thy only son to die for us! We thank thee that the innocent has suffered for the guilty, and that through the suffering and death of thy most holy son our sins are blotted out!"
Monstrous! How would that work in a court of justice? What would you think of a person who coolly thanked a judge who had knowingly allowed the wrong man to be hung? What do you think of a code of morals that offers as one of its beautiful provisions the murder of the innocent instead of the punishment of the guilty?
People ask what good I expect to come of an attack on Christianity. They ask me if I think Christianity does any direct harm. Yes! It makes a man unjust to believe in unjust doctrines. Any man who honestly believes in the righteousness of a system of vicarious rewards and punishments is ripe for any form of tyranny. And the more honestly he believes in it the less will he be a good man from principle.
I want men and women to be good and true because it is right towards each other, and not because they are afraid of Hell. Honor towards people in this world, not fear of a fiend in the next -- that is my doctrine. That is the way to make men and women strong and brave and noble. Stop telling them they can't be good themselves; teach them that they must do right themselves. Make them self-dependent. Teach them to stand alone. Honor towards others, kindness, and love -- these are what make a man a good husband, a noble father -- king in his household.
Fear never made any man a gentleman. Fear never made any woman a true wife or a good mother. Fear never covered the pitfalls of vice with anything stronger than the gloss of hypocrisy.
When Reason's torch burned low, Faith led her victims by chains of ignorance into the land of hopeless superstition, and built her temple there.
A religion of faith is simply a question in geography. Keep your locality in mind and you are all right. On the banks of the Red Sea murder and slavery were a religious duty. On the Ganges infanticide is a virtue. In Rome you may steal or lie; you may deceive an innocent young girl and blast her life forever; you may stab your friend in the dark, and you are all right: but if you eat a piece of fried pork on Friday you are a lost man! China arranges her prayers in a machine, and turns her obligations to Deity off with a crank. There is usually more or less intimate relationship between prayer and a
crank. Our God loved human sacrifice in Galilee, and rewarded Abraham for it. He abhors it in Pocasset, America, and his followers threaten to hang the only consistent follower of Jehovah who has come amongst them.
If you live in Utah, or had lived in Jerusalem, your most certain hope of salvation would have been the possession of numerous wives. In England or New York more than one is sure damnation.
Lose your bearings and you are a lost man! Make a mistake in your country and your soul is not worth a copper. A traveler is not safe five minutes, and I doubt if an accident policy would cover his case.
God and the Devil have been held accountable for about every crime that ever has been committed, and it has been very largely a geographical question which of the two was responsible. If it was longitude 35 degrees 14' east it was the Lord! If you shifted to longitude 70 degrees 58' west it was the Devil.
When locality becomes the all-important question, we do not wonder at the old lady who felt relieved when the new survey threw her house just across the state line into Ohio, after she had been under the impression that she lived in Indiana. "Well," said she, "I am glad we don't live in Indiana; I always did say it was a very unhealthy state. Now, our doctor's bills won't be so high.
Pocasset, Mass., is in the devil's country, and murder is not safe; it is a crime. Abraham and Saul lived in a healthier climate -- in God's congressional district, where murder was above par and decency was out of fashion. Take it all in all, and the devil seems to make the best Governor.
Now it seems to me that Sunday-schools should teach nothing so much as geography, so that a man may not be in doubt as to who is his Secretary of State, and when an order comes from head-quarters he may fairly be expected to know whether it is safe to obey -- whether obedience means glorification on earth and a home in heaven, or a sprained neck and a bright fire. It seems now that Pocasset is over the line and out of the Lord's clearing.
Now this God either did or he did not believe in and command murder and rapine in the, days when he used to sit around evenings and chat with Abraham and Moses and the rest of them. His especial plans and desires were "revealed" or they were not. The ideas of justice and right were higher in those days than they are now, or else we are wiser and better than God, or else the Bible is not his revealed will. You can take your choice. My choice is to keep my respect for divine justice and honor, and let the Bible bear the burden of its own mistakes.
If religion is a revelation, then it is not a growth, and it would have been most perfect in design and plan when it was nearest its birth. Now accepting the Bible theory of Jehovah, we find that when the communications of God were immediate and personal there could have been no mistake as to his will. To deal with it as a growth or evolution toward better things is to abandon the whole tenet of a revealed law of God. But to deal with it as a revelation is to make God a being too repulsive and brutal to contemplate for one moment with respect.
He either did or did not tell those men those things. Which will you accept?
He divided men into two classes. Of one he made tyrants and butchers; of the other, victims. He made woman weak in order that she might be the more easily overcome by vice; helpless, in order that she might the more easily be made the victim of brutal lust! He made children to be the beasts of burden, the human sacrifices, the defenseless property of criminals and fiends. He did these things or the prophets romanced about it, or some one else romanced about them. Which?
If I accept the former alternative. I can have nothing but loathing and contempt for the Deity and his followers. If the latter, it clouds the character of no one. It simply places the ignorance of the past on the same plane with the ignorance of the present. It rescues the reputation of the Infinite at the trifling expense of a few musty fables.
I choose the latter! I prefer to believe either that a few men were themselves deceived, or that they tried to deceive others -- it does not much matter which. I prefer to adopt this belief, and so keep the character of even a supposititious God above reproach.
If we accept a God at all let us accept an honest one.
EVIDENCE OF FAITH
We are asked to be as fair toward the evidence of Bible witnesses as we are toward other evidence. We are told that we believe a great deal that we have never seen, and that we accept it on the word of ethers; that we have never seen a man hung, but that we believe that men have been hung; we never saw Napoleon's great feats of generalship, but we believe in them because history records them. Why not believe in the Bible as well as in other history? Why not, on the testimony of witnesses, believe that Christ turned water into wine, as readily as that a man was hung? Why not accept the miracle of the loaves and fishes on evidence, as readily as the victories of Napoleon?
Now that line of argument, although it is the one used by and for theological students, is entirely illogical. It will not work with people who think. The cases are not parallel.
We believe the facts of history and the occurrences of to-day not solely on the testimony of others, but because they are in accord with common sense and experience and judgment; because they fall within the range of possibility, and do not antagonize the laws of nature. We know a man can be hung. We know one general may defeat another. We are asked to believe nothing outside of reasonable bounds. Here then the only thing to examine is the credibility of the witnesses.
If, however, our witnesses told us that whenever Napoleon wanted to know the strength of an enemy he flew up over their camp and counted their men; or that when he found too many he prayed down fire from heaven and burned them up, we should dismiss their testimony at once as unworthy of further notice. We should know that they were deceived, or that they were trying to deceive us. We should know that Napoleon's real means of estimating the strength of his enemy were of a different nature, and that he did not resort to the upper air and flit about at will. We should know that no fire was prayed down, and that although soldiers might be told to put their trust in God, the little addition -- "and keep your powder dry" -- would be the really important part of the command.
So when we are told that wine was made out of water, and bread and fish out of nothing in large quantities, we know that we are listening to statements that simply go out of the field of credible testimony into the realm of supreme credulity. Such assertions require you to believe not only what you have not seen, but what all experience and reason tell you you never can see. They ask you not only to believe in a past event, but in a past event outside of all reason, beyond all experience, incapable of demonstration, unsupported by nature, opposed to all natural laws -- beneath the realm of reason, out of the light of experience, under the shadow of superstition!
The great electric light of the intellect is turned off at the church. door. On one day out of every seven the human lamps enter in utter darkness a field of superstition. During six days the light is turned full on the world of commerce, science, art, and literature, and these glow and grow and are examined by its rays. When, however, the signal tolls from the steeple on the seventh day, the light is turned off for that day and for that topic alone; and then there is brought out once more the old tallow candle of ignorance that hides in shadow the cobwebs of undeveloped thought!
Use your noblest powers of thought freely in the bank; strain and develop your ability to improve and control in the engine-room; train and exert your judgment, in literature and art push and brighten and sharpen your reason in science or political economy.
In the practical affairs of life faith will not help you. It is childish and insecure. It will not honor your cheque; it will not prevent the broken engine from hurling its human companion into eternity. It will not prove the rotundity of the earth, nor establish a sound financial basis for a nation. In all such matters it to nothing but ignorance and disaster. In theology it is the one element of light.
As a test and an aid in this world, it is puerile and trifling; but the depths of the Great Beyond it fathoms to a nicety. It gives no grasp upon the truths of Time; but it is the all-sufficient hold on Eternity. It leads to the discovery of no important principle here; but it holds the keys to the secret chambers of divinity! It is an attribute of childish development now. It is to indicate infinite mental superiority hereafter!
It is a strange philosophy which asserts that a faculty which is a hindrance to superiority in this world is the one thing needful for the soul of man!
Give me the brain that dares to think! Give me the mind that grasps with herculean power the rocks that crush the treasures of intellectual growth, and tears them from their foundation! Give me the mind that dares to step from the fallen stones, that leaps from rock to rock past the dark rift torn in the superstitions of ages past, and that, standing on the farthest crag, waits and witches for the breaking light! He can trust his future whose present scorns stagnation.
DID HE TALK?
In olden times -- in the times of the Bible -- men believed that animals sometimes used human language, and that beasts were wiser than their masters. I'm not now going to question that belief, but still, I don't think that nowadays one-half of us would take the word of a horse on any important subject. You must remember, however, that it took an ass to know an angel at first sight in Baalim's time. Baalim never suspected that there was an angel in his path until that ass told him! In those days, on a little matter like that, the word of any beast seemed to be taken as good evidence.
But let a mule jam his rider's foot against a wall, nowadays, and then lie down under him, and there, is not one man in ten who would associate that fact in his mind with the presence of an angel. I suppose, however, there wasn't as much known about mules then as there is now; and most asses were of a more pious turn of mind.
I don't suppose there is one intelligent man in this city who believes that story, and yet he is not a good Christian if he questions it.
Show me a locality where actual belief -- where old time orthodoxy -- is looked upon as a requisite of good citizenship and standing in society, and you will show me a place where intellectual development and rapid progress have died or gone to sleep!
The most ignorant and backward parts of this great country, the localities where Congress is asking for better and more secular schools to be established as a means of safety to the state, are situated in the very States where orthodoxy holds absolute sway. In those status a man is looked upon as a very dangerous character if he questions the accuracy of that story about those, three hot- house plants, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. Yes, the people of that pious region would be afraid of a man who was wicked enough to laugh at that yarn; and yet do you believe there is a man in this city who could make you believe it? And you don't look dangerous either; and I don't think that I do.
It seems that when they used to run ashore for big scare- stories, they just poked up the fire and went into the blast- furnace business -- here and hereafter. But -- seeing that a furnace -- a real one -- heated seven times hotter than it takes to melt iron, did not injure those three tropical innocents -- did not even singe their eve-brows -- it does look a little as if we should stand a pretty fair show with the spiritual fuel they now promise us hereafter. Still I must say I don't believe I should like the climate.
Speaking of Bible arguments, I must tell you of a new one heard recently. A gentleman acquaintance of mine asked a colored woman, who had applied to him for money to help build a colored people's church, whether she thought God was black or white. She replied that the Bible implied that he was black -- that it said, "And his wool shall be whiter than snow;" and that white men don't have wool!
WHAT YOU MAY THINK
Show me a grade of society that buckles its little belt of belief and faith around its members, and you will show me a collection of hopeless mediocres. The thinkers move out or die out. They object to being fossilized. They decline to go down to history as physical members of the nineteenth century, and mental members of the third.
I would rather have the right to put on my monument "She was abreast of her time," than have all the sounding texts and all the feathered tribes chiseled upon it. I would prefer that it be said of me, "She was a good woman because she had a pure heart," than to have this record: "She was a Christian. She was afraid of Hell. She cast her burdens on the Lord, and went to heaven."
You have been told, "Blessed are they who die in the Lord." Rather let us say, "Blessed are they who live clean lives."
But the Church does not allow you to regulate your lives by what you believe to be right. It always did and it always will hate a thinker. It proposes to do the mental labor for great minds by means of brains large enough to hold nothing but Faith. It says, "I cannot and you shall not outgrow the past. The measure of my capacity shall be the limit of your attainment."
the laws of a nation presume to regulate only what you may do. The Church is kind enough to say what you may think. It proposes to control the mental condition of every man and woman for time and eternity, and its first command is that we shall not grow.
It seems to me rather a queer admission to make, but the Church says that a child or a fool knows quite enough for its purpose -- and it does not seem to be my place to question that fact. Now that may be all very well for the child and the fool, but it is rather binding on the rest of us.
Once in a while a minister outgrows the doctrines that were big enough for him in his youth; but that minister, though his life be as pure and his character as sweet as a flower, would be safer to be cast into the sea than that this instrument of torture, this court of injustice, should discover that he had laid aside the outfit of his undeveloped years. His mind may have grown to be a giant in strength, but it must be compressed into the nut-shell of superstition -- dwarfed to the capacity of intellectual pygmies.
Christ was a thinker, a man of progress, an infidel, a man who outgrow the Church of his time; and the Church of his time crucified him. Those who oppose the spirit of religious stagnation to-day meet the same spirit in the Church that Christ met, and receive the same treatment so far as the law will permit.
It is a sentiment as true as it is beautiful that asks us to reverence the great men, the thinkers of the past; but it is no mark of respect to them to rest forever over their graves. We show our respect and our appreciation better by a spirit of research that reaches beyond them, than by a simple admiration which takes their gifts and dies. The lessons they left were not alone lessons of memory and acceptance, but examples of effort and progress.
A pupil who stops content with his teacher's last words is no great credit either to himself or to his master. If he has learned only to accept, his lesson is only begun; and until he knows that he must investigate, his education is that of a child, his development that of a clown.
it is no compliment to Christ, the man of progress 1800 years ago, that his followers clip the whigs of thought. He struck for freedom from ecclesiastical bondage. The added a now link to the chain of intellectual growth, and his followers have riveted it back to the immovable rock of superstition. He offered a key to open the door of individual liberty. They have wrapped it in the folds of ignorance and laid it in the closet of fear. He said in effect, "When you have outgrown the Church, leave it and bless the world." They say, "Leave it and be damned." For what is a Christian to-day without his hell? The chief objection I hear offered to the last arrangements made for us by the revisers is that they left out some of the hell, and gave the part they kept a poetical name.
When the day comes when offenses against the intellect are deemed as great crimes as offenses against the person, intellectual gag-law will meet with no more respect than lynch-law does to-day, and will be recognized as the expression of an undeveloped moral and social condition. Choking an opinion into or out of a man's mind is no more respectable than the same argument applied to his body.
Any form of faith, any religion, that has the vicarious element in it, is an insult to the intellect. It is based upon the idea of a God of revenge, a ruler infamously unjust. It is a system utterly ineffectual without the wanton sacrifice of helpless innocence under fangs of beastly cruelty -- a revenge that has no thought of the redress of wrong by its punishment -- a revenge that simply requires a victim -- and blood!
Even with those two elements of the plan it is still impotent until it has appealed to the bassist element in every human breast -- the willingness to accept happiness that is bought by the agony of another! It is too abjectly selfish and groveling to command the least respect from a noble character or a great, tender soul. It severs the ties of affection without compunction. It destroys all loyalty. It says, "No matter what becomes of my loved ones -- those who would die to help me -- I must save my soul." Without the use of the microscope, however, such a soul would never know whether if was saved or not.
What sort of a soul would it be that could have a heaven apart from those it loved? It would not be big enough to save, and its heaven would not be good enough to have.
I prefer the philosophy, the dignified loyalty and love for the dead of the old Goth, the captive warrior whom the Christians persuaded to be baptized. As he stood by the font he asked the bishop, "Where are the souls of my heathen ancestors?" The bishop, with great alacrity, replied, "In hell." The brave old warrior, the loyal Goth, drew his skins about him and said, "I would prefer, if you do not object, to go to my people;" and he left unbaptized.
That was heathen philosophy; but I think I prefer it to the Christianity of a devout man, a Sunday-school superintendent, whom I know. He is a great light in a Christian church today. He worships the beautiful provisions of vicarious atonement. He refused his mother her dying wish, and on the following Sunday atoned for the inhuman act by singing with unusual unction, "How gentle God's commands," and reading with devout fervor, "The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want." His mother, who had the same shepherd, had wanted for much. She even wanted for a stone to mark her grave, because the money she had left for that purpose her holy son thought best to use, vicariously, upon himself. That man believes in the Bible absolutely. He is a good Christian, and he abhors an infidel! He knows he is going to heaven because he has faith in Christ, and Christ had an extra stab on his account. He is willing to take his heavenly home through the blood of Christ, and his earthly one, out of the pockets of a dead mother. The blood of the murdered Nazarene obliterates the infamy of his acts over her dishonored grave.
And this is perfectly consistent! A religion of faith, a religion that gets its good vicariously and shifts its sins and responsibilities on to the past, is a religion that can never elevate character; it simply makes a man more intensely what he was before. It is all self, self, self. Think of the infinitesimal smallness, the irredeemable worthlessness, the unutterable meanness of a soul that could forsake those it had loved, and be happy believing that they were suffering and eternally lost!
Yet who does not know men who go tramping about the country, living on the charity of their dupes, and declaring that "the Lord is their Shepherd, they shall not want,!' whose families want for almost every comfort of life? And this is true orthodox doctrine. "Ye shall forsake father, mother, wife, and children," for what? -- to "follow me Think of the infamy of it!
If that is the kind of souls that go to heaven, I shall do all I can to keep mine amongst more respectable spirits. I will go with the Goth. I could suffer in hell (if there were such a place) with those I love, and keep my self-respect.
If I believed I could be happy in heaven with my loved ones in agony below -- if I believed it of myself -- there is no vile, slime-covered reptile on earth that I would so loathe! Forsake father, mother, husband, children to save my soul! Never! I will go with my people!
THE VICARIOUS THEORY THE CAUSE OF CRIME
This idea of vicarious atonement has encouraged injustice and crime of every kind. Out of eighty-four men who have been hanged recently, seventy-one have gone directly to heaven. They asked the assembled spectators to be as good as they conveniently could, and meet them on the other shore. Their spiritual advisers administered the holy sacrament, and assured them that they were "lambs of the fold," and that a robe and a harp awaited them at the right hand of God.
Just imagine a lamb in a robe, playing on a harp! A lamb with wings, a harp, a long white robe, and golden slipper's seems to me an object to arouse the sympathy of a demon. Poor lamb! He would wish himself a goat every hour of the day.
There is an implied crime in the very word vicarious. If it means anything it means the suffering of innocence to atone for guilt. It means that one crime is condoned by the commission of another -- a deliberate one. It means that truth must die in order that dishonor may live. It substitutes vengeance for justice. It does not seek to protect society by checking villainy; it seeks the safety of the criminal by a shifting of responsibility. If the framers of human laws were no wiser that the revealers of divine law, no nation could live, no family would be secure, no justice possible.
Not long ago the New York 'Independent' contained an article against Sarah Bernhart, calling her "a lewd woman," and against her play because it did not contain good morals. The same paper contained an article against George Eliot's works, and said that the Mormon Congressman is a disgrace to all America because he is a polygamist. All these things by a man who swallows David and Lot whole, and has Solomon pose as the summit of all wisdom! All this by a man who builds his life on the word of Moses, and denies to others the right to object to his code of morals or his version of heavenly wisdom and divine direction!
I should like a little consistency. The Christian who rails against polygamy, and at the same time poses in morals with a bible in his hand, is a man who saws his own legs from under him, and still expects us to believe that he has legs, which we might possibly do if only our sight were aided by faith. As long as my eyes hold out, I'll stick to unaided vision; after that, spectacles or faith according to circumstances.
When goodness and virtue are measured, not by a book, but by our own acts toward each other; when a man's character is judged by the amount of joy he gives to his household; when a happy laugh from his children and a bright smile from his wife, greet him as often as he comes home; when these are taken as the evidence of a good man, deacons will go out of fashion. Meek, tired, persecuted -- looking wives will not listen to a canting husband and believe that he is a holy man, when they know that he is a bad husband and a tyrannical father.
There is not any way that I know of to make a home happy vicariously. No confession of faith can take pain out of a mother's heart. No "testimony of the spirit" can make love and beauty in a home where "the heathen" hold the first place, and foreign missions get tangled up in the children's hair. No man accustomed to a high intellectual temperature can keep warm by theological fires. No man whose brain is king can ever again recognize the authority of this mere undisciplined sentiment.
As a system Christianity has had its day. Long ago it may have served a good purpose, but after eighteen hundred years it is worn threadbare and useless. If some of its milder tenets still cling to and fit our vast mediocrity, it is equally certain that the intellectual giants have molted it as the birds moult their plumage in a dying year, and have taken on the
bright new garments of higher thought, the spring plumage of intellectual liberty.
When I heard that the Bible was going to be revised I felt very glad because I thought there was a wide field of usefulness open to somebody right there; and I concluded to do all I could to help it along. I understood that they wanted the substance retained as it was, with the language made more as we use language now.
So I began my revision in this way:
"Good morning, Moses, I hear that you have some gods in this country. Do you know anything about it?"
"Oh, yes, I'm the head god's head man."
"Yes, I had a talk with the head god -- the top one of the three (we are down to three here now), and he told me to tell people what a good god he is, and that they must all praise him up for it."
He did! Well is that all he said?
Oh, no, he told me to tell them that he is the only God, and is the kind father of all, and loves all alike, and that they must all just trust in him and he will take good care of them."
I thought you said a while ago that there were three of these gods; now this one says he is the only one. Is there trouble in the cabinet?"
"No, there are three, but there is one. See?
"Well, no, I can't say that I do. But no matter, the rest of that about the father business was pretty good. That was the best I ever heard. But do you know that the very last man I talked with said that this god was partial to some folks and treated some others pretty shabbily."
"Oh, that is not so; my god is no respecter of persons; that's his very strongest hold. He treats rich and poor just alike, only if anything he leans a little toward the poor."
"That is pretty clever. But what else did he tell you in that talk?"
"Well, he told me to tell the people, 'Thou shalt not kill and afterwards, at another time, he told me to take a lot of my men, and go over there to that town just across, and kill all the men and boys I could find, and if they fought hard for their homes, and I seemed to be getting the worst of it for a little while, not to be afraid, he'd be with me, and he'd see that I came out all right. Oh, he's the gayest old god you ever saw to help in a fight."
"Well, yes, that was pretty clever to you; but isn't he the god of that village too!"
"Oh, yes; but you see one of the men that lives over there went and worshipped another god one day, and this one didn't like it.
I see; but if he treats them all that way, don't you think it is rather natural that they should go and hunt up another god to admire?"
Well, while I was waiting for Moses to answer this question, I heard another man say that only a day or two previously this very fellow had burned up their homes, and murdered a good many people who had never injured him; and that he had dashed out the brains of the innocent children, and had actually sold the sweet, pure young girls to his brutal soldiers. Since I heard that, my mind has been so occupied with some other little matters that my revision has not gone any farther, and somebody else has got one out; so I don't know that I shall ever finish mine. It does not seem to be very encouraging work any way; and I am afraid that people would find fault with its scholarship if it should be finished. Theological scholarship and common-sense always did disagree. A man who is well vaccinated with either will never catch the other.
THE CHURCH'S MONEY-BOX
The Church used to keep a box about four feet long and two feet wide which it called the sacred ark of God. It was certain death for any man not a priest to touch that box. It is supposed that they kept in it gold and jewels which they extorted from their dupes, and that for fear of robbery they made superstition their banker. Well, they had to move that jewelry-box once for some reason, and it is not said that anything happened to the men who put it on the cart; but as the man who drove the oxen -- in one place it says that they were oxen, in another that they were cows with young calves, and you will be damned if you don't believe both -- anyhow, as the driver walked along in horrid fear lest something should happen to that ark of God, the oxen shied, and the ark toppled, and instinctively the driver put out his hand to steady the sacred thing. Well, you would think that any sane man, any reasonable being, would have commended him for it; but no! Jehovah struck him dead for his pains. Why? Because that box was so supremely sacred. Supreme nonsense! Suppose he had not touched it and it had fallen? What then? Most likely Jehovah would then have struck him dead for not touching it. It strikes me that the only reasonable, sensible being connected with that whole story was the driver, the man they abuse, the man the priests murdered, I suspect because he discovered what was in that ark, and threatened to expose the humbug.
Whenever any man uses judgment and common-sense the Church calls him wicked and dangerous. They say he "touches with unholy hands holy things;" and when he dies, whether his death was expedited or otherwise, they say God killed him.
Now, if God did kill that man for touching the ark to save it from falling, what do yon think of him -- as a God? I can tell you what you would think of him as a man. Yon would think he was a ruffian and a murderer that is what you would think of him as a man.
Truly gods are made of poor stuff. If I can't have a god that is nobler and better and truer and kinder than the very best man I ever saw, then I don't want any god at all. And candor forbids me to state that I ever saw, heard or read of any such a god. All the gods I ever read or heard of have fallen infinitely below a few men I know.
Jehovah, it seems to me, is hardly an average god, even as gods go. He believed in polygamy. He believed in slavery. He was a murderer -- killed 52,000 people once because somebody looked into that four-by-two box that he thought so much of. Human life was not worth a copper in his neighborhood. He was always in a rage about something, and you never knew when he would "get the drop on you" because somebody else had ruffled his temper. "Any man was liable," as the Irishman said, "to wake up any morning and find him-self burned to ashes in his bed," because one of his neighbors had been wicked enough to lend a five-dollar green-back to one of the Philistines, or had eaten a gum-drop in the dark of the moon, or committed some other awful crime like that.
SHALL PROGRESS STOP?
In its day the Bible was all very well, no doubt. It was the expression of the best that the Jewish people then knew in morals. In his time Christ was a great reformer and a brave man. His philosophy was then an onward spring, and he detested the shams of the Church.
But with the knowledge we have to-day we should call that man a lunatic who tried to bind medical science by the teachings of that age, and maintained that when a man was sick he had a devil, and that if he got worse he had a whole flock of them. Yet Christ thought that. We should call the man utterly insane who insisted that Joshua gave us the last light that is ever to be thrown on astronomy. We should simply look with pity on one who should try to convince us that the legal profession ought to be bound by the laws of Moses; and we know that any nation that attempted to act under his guidance would be soon convinced by the unerring voice of foreign cannon that somebody had made a mistake.
Science has grown. Philosophy has developed. International law has sprung up. In religion alone we are asked to accept the standard of morality and honor of ages that are dead -- to take as the last word of wisdom the reformer's code of eighteen hundred years ago. We may grow in all else; in this we must stand still. We may use a text-book on Nature, Medicine, Law, or Mechanics, until by its aid we pass beyond its knowledge to a higher; but in morals and religion the book that was a light to the ages of ignorance and superstition, and the production of its brain, must still be the sole illumator of a world made wise and critical and thoughtful by science and deep experience. The fisherman's lantern, although useful in its day, cannot guide us while we stand in the glare of electricity. Why stand persistently with our faces westward, and gaze at the declining light, crying out impotently and hopelessly as we see it grow dim and vanish?
Our wise men have kept steadily onward, guided by the light of the breaking dawn; and with their faces to the East their star has never set. The fishermen's light has sunk below the horizon, leaving behind it the glow of honest labor and earnest effort to keep their memory bright. The scientist's star has risen, and with no claim that it is even yet the highest light -- the final promise, it throws its rays of knowledge, its beams of hope, far into the future, and bids us follow, leaving the cold embers of the dead past for the warmth and light of the living future.
The hope of the past is the despair of the future. Stagnation is death. In movement and thought alone is progress. The wealth of the world is the brain of the scholar.
The past is dead; peace to its ashes. The future is ours to form on new models; models deformed by past superstitions, or models though faulty, instinct with true freedom. You are the jury, what is the verdict?
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