Author of "THE OLD NEST," "WITHIN THESE WALLS,"
EXCUSE ME," Etc.
Freethought Press Association
There was a time in this country when I should have been punished for not going to church. In the good old Puritan and Pilgrim days, though only a third or a sixth of the citizens were church members, the parsons were in power and they fined people and put them in the stocks if they stayed away or if the pastor did not like their expressions.
They whipped more than one for criticizing a sermon. They tried to sell two Boston children into slavery because they could not pay their fine for staying away from the church. And they would have done it, too, if the ungodly shipmasters had not refused to carry the children off.
It is incessantly astonishing how often the laity have had to restrain the clergy from cruelty. The Puritan elders held that "the gathering of sticks on the Sabbath may be punished with death." Sometimes a mob would rescue Quaker women from the whips, but in Cambridge, Benanuel Bower, a Quaker who obstinately stayed away from the Puritan church, was fined annually for twenty years, hauled down a flight of steps by the heels, kept in prison for more than a year, and with his wife publicly whipped several times.
But in these wicked and degenerate times, not only can I stay away from church without getting arrested, but I can tell why without being any more than reviled.
I did not quit going to church because I was lazy or frivolous or poetically inclined to "worship God in the Great Outdoors near to Nature's Heart." I don't believe that nature has a heart.
I quit because I came to believe that what is preached in the churches is mainly untrue and unimportant, tiresome, hostile to genuine progress, and in general not worth while. As for the necessity of paying homage to the deity, I began to feel that I did not know enough about God to pay him set compliments on set days. As for the God who is preached in the churches, I ceased to worship him because I could no longer believe in him or respect what is alleged of him.
I cannot respect a deity who would want or even endure the hideous monotony and mechanism of most of the worship paid him by hired men, hired prayer-makers and their supporters. When I think of the millions of repetitions of the same phrases of prayer and song smoking up to a helpless deity I feel sorry for him. No wonder he gets farther away each year. No wonder the ex-priest Alfred Loisy says (in his "My Duel with the Vatican") that "the eternal immutable, omniscient, omnipotent, etc.," who created the universe "by a caprice very imperfectly benevolent ... begins to be conceived with increasing difficulty."
As for the picture of God in heaven, "sitting on the Cherubim" or riding on a cherub (2 Samuel xxii, 11), and listening to everlasting praises of himself, it is simply appalling. I can no longer adore in a god what I despise in a man.
I say this in no spirit of cheap defiance, like Ajax defying the lightning, for the statement puts me with such an enormous majority that it carries no distinction. The God of the Christians never has been believed in by as much as a tenth of the world's population. Two or three other religions have today far more followers; and, even in this country, a great many millions less than half of the population is even "affiliated" with any of the churches. About 40 per cent. of the free population is affiliated with one church or another, and about 90 per cent of the criminals in the penitentiaries. That is the only place where the church people have a pronounced majority.
In our nation of over 110 million inhabitants, the latest church census claimed less than 48 million church members of all denominations, including all Catholic children over seven years of age. all Jews, Mormons, Unitarians, etc.
Church mathematics is almost as unreliable as church history. Some enthusiasts have claimed that the church is gaining on the population, having increased 118 per cent. in the last 32 years, while the population increased only 68 per cent.
Thus they say (using their own wild figures for the church and the government's censuses for the population) that in 1890 there were 21,500,000 church members in a nation of 63,000,000 people; in 1922, there were all of 47,500,000 church members in a population of only 108,000,000.
They overlook the fact that according to their own figures there were in this country only 42 million People outside the church in 1890 and in 1922 sixty million outside; or practically as many outside the church now as there were in the entire nation in 1890.
The trick of percentages is dangerous. I joined a club in 1904 that had only ten members. In twenty years it has increased 3,000 per cent. while the population has increased only 68 per cent. The club now numbers 300 members and the population only 112 million.
An important point to remember also is that while the governmental censuses are fairly accurate, the church figures are ridiculous by their own admission.
The Rector of Trinity Church recently quoted with approval a statement that "the membership claims, in all honesty, are about 50 per cent. too high. In other words, millions of names are on the church rolls because the churches keep them there, and not because their owners by any legitimate right claim membership."
This would reduce the membership to 24 million, still including all Catholic children over seven.
The Christian Herald recently requested 1200 newspapers to gather data on church attendance, and the results indicated that 36 per cent. of the population are regular attendants, 64 per cent. casual or non-attendants.
Exhaustive studies just made by the Institute of Social and Religious Research show that the rural attendance is now only half as great as it was a generation ago. In a typical Vermont community, in spite of an increase of population, attendance has decreased 52 per cent. Reading an old church magazine of 1808 the other night, I learned that even back there the churches were almost deserted and that the country was in a godless condition.
The World Service Commission of the Methodist Church notes a decrease of $4,000,000 in its receipts last year. The gifts to the Presbyterian missionary causes decreased $50,000 in the first half of the year. The deficit for the Methodist publications was nearly $750,000. In the Christian Advocate, which lost a hundred thousand dollars, it was stated that there is not a single Christian left in one of the very homes of early Christianity in the Orient.
As for those who are affiliated, I cannot believe that a very large percentage is sincerely convinced. Recently in New York a pastor read the Apostles' Creed through to a large congregation and asked everybody who believed it to stand up. Not one person arose! The anonymous author of a recent magazine article called "Why I Go to Church" admitted that he did not believe any of the creed.
I once knew that creed by heart, repeated it aloud with sincerity, and believed that I believed it. Now while I recognize the music, poetry, and eloquence of it, I do not believe a word of it, and it offends such intelligence and information as I happen to have.
From numberless conversations with church-members and church- goers I am honestly assured that very, very few of them really believe in their heart of hearts one-quarter of what their church- creeds assert -- not to emphasize the fact that nobody really knows what most of the high-sounding theological phrases mean. I know that countless ministers are driven by all sorts of pressure from within and without to continue preaching what they no longer believe. They do it for the imaginary good of their poor congregations, as nice people go on telling infants that there is a Santa Claus.
I do not believe in a Santa Claus for grown-ups, and I do not believe that the vast number of church-people are doing the world any good by promulgating false ideas and false ideals.
They say, and doubtless believe, that their motives are good, but I am of such poor moral fibre that I do not believe in telling lies for the glory of God. I am not up to the standard of the Apostle Paul who asks (Romans iii, 7): "For if the truth of God hath more abounded through my lie, why yet am I also judged as a sinner?" Well, I am just mean enough to judge him a sinner and to consider Christian lies as peculiarly ugly sins. Furthermore, I dislike St. Paul even more than St. Peter did, and I consider him one of the greatest purveyors of falsehood and mischief that ever lived.
It seems to my perverted brain not quite honest, for instance, to pretend that Christianity has only one God. The Christian religion is polytheistic if ever a religion were, for it includes God the Father, Christ the Son, the Holy Ghost, Mary the Mother, an almost omnipotent God of Evil known as Satan, and an infinite number of invisible angels and devils with superhuman powers, not to mention the saints, who have all performed miracles and are to be prayed to for special favors.
The Christian religion is intensely polytheistic. Gods warred with gods in heaven as on Mount Olympus, and hosts of angels were thrown over the walls. The god Michael fought with the god Devil for Moses' body (Jude 9). Christ is quoted as saying that he himself saw Satan fall from heaven (Luke x, 18). Yet Satan disputed with God the sway over the earth and had the power to pick Christ up and carry him to the pinnacle of God's (or Christ's) own temple, then to the top of a mountain, and to tempt him until be was repulsed. Think of it: Satan offered to give the Son of God what already belonged to him! Then the devil left Christ and "behold, angels came and ministered unto him."
If this was not a duel of wits between two gods, what was it?
If there is anything more polytheistic in Greek or any other mythology, where is it? If Apollo, Mars, Pluto, and Mercury were gods, so were Satan and Michael and Gabriel. It seems to me unutterably dishonest for Christians to denounce other religions for having many gods and to pretend that the Christians believe in only one. The Book of Job (i, 6) refers to the "sons of God" in the plural, and I know of nothing in heathendom more pagan or more cruel than this story of Job, according to which Satan bets God that he can make the "perfect and upright" Job curse his maker. God thereupon takes the bet and delivers his faithful worshiper over to all the fiendish cruelty and torture that the devil can devise, cruelty involving the burning alive of Job's sheep and shepherds and the slaughter of all his children. If this tremendous story is only fiction, what is it doing in the Holy Bible? If it is truth, how can one deny the existence of two rival gods, and wherein is Jehovah any kinder or more reliable than Satan?
Is not Jehovah the lesser, feebler god, since Satan wins infinitely more victories and prisoners, and constantly makes Christ's sacrifice a failure, according to the admissions of the Christians?
As for idolatry, either Christianity is idolatrous or no religion ever was, for the Christian churches are, with certain exceptions, full of images and emblems. The Buddhist does not believe that each of his innumerable little statues is the real god. He prays to it or runs his water-wheel of prayers just as many Christians tell their beads or give jewels to Madonnas or burn candles or have their prayers said for them by paid clergymen. Jehovah was carried in a cart and kept in an ark.
As for his omnipresence, it is several times stated that he walked in a garden and brought people up on mountains to see him. When the rumor of the Tower of Babel finally reached him, he could not have been all-knowing as alleged, because he went down to find out what was going on, then went back "up" and said, "Go to, let us go down and there confound their language."
Who were "us"? Where was "up"? Did God not know that the world is a globe?
The Bible itself destroys the claim of God's omnipotence, for in judges i, 19, it states, "The Lord was with Judah and he drave out the inhabitants of the mountain; but could not drive out the inhabitants of the valley because they had chariots of iron."
The astounding and inconsistent God of the Bible calls Moses up into the mountains to see him -- has him brought up on eagle's wings. Later he lets not only Moses but seventy-three others see him (Exodus xxiv, 9, 10). Still later, forgetting this, God says, "There shall no man see me and live." Seventy-four people have seen him and he is exactly described, yet a little later he covers Moses' face with his hand till he has passed.
Yet Christian preachers make fun of the anthropomorphic gods of the heathen and prate of the glory of our religion with its one God, all-Wise, all-knowing, all-powerful, unchanging and ubiquitous!
According to the Bible, God was ignorant, a ruthless liar and cheat; he broke his pledges, changed his mind so often that he grew weary of repenting. He was a murderer of children, ordered his people to slay, rape, steal, and lie and commit every foul and filthy abomination in human power. In fact, the more I read the Bible the less I find in it that is either credible or admirable.
I do not go to church because I find no honesty in the pulpit toward the religion preached or the religions preached against. I am constantly horrified by the extreme unfairness of Christians toward men of other religions. There is no distortion or concealment that they will not stoop to in their zeal.
It is no wonder that the foreign missionaries have such difficulties and are losing ground generally all over the world, by their own admission. Also the church is losing ground in its own countries. It nowhere grows so fast as the population and it is torn everywhere by virulent dissensions.
As for those who "keep the faith" I know that many of them are holding on for dear life by shutting their souls up against any appeals to their reason for fear they may be compelled to let go.
A man recently told me of a conversation he held with a woman who spoke of the Virgin Mary. She expressed amazement when he referred to Christ's brothers and sisters. She ridiculed such an idea and he asked her to look up Matthew xii, 46, and xiii, 55, 56 (where it speaks of Christ's mother and his brethren, and names James and Joses and Simon and Judas and refers to "all his sisters"). But the horrified woman exclaimed:
"I don't want to look it up! It might destroy my dear faith. And I don't want to lose my belief."
Of how many million members must it be true, that they are afraid to examine their own Bible?
While I think this a hopelessly dishonest and almost sacrilegious frame of mind, I sympathize with it completely, for I went through just such a mental phase when my own faith was in the last throes and I desperately refused to argue.
For only a while, however, was my faith able to believe two or more contradictory things at once. One simply cannot ride two horses going in opposite directions very long.
I remember having occasion to quote what Pilate had put over Christ's head on the cross. I looked it up in Matthew, and it was not as I remembered it. I looked further and found that each of the four gospels gives a different version of this inscription.
In the matter of the companions in the crucifixion John simply says that there were "two other with him, on either side one." Matthew and Mark say that they were thieves and that both reviled him. Luke, however, makes the striking statement that only one of the malefactors railed on him, and was rebuked by the other. Whereupon Christ said, "Today shalt thou be with me in paradise."
Yet elsewhere it is stated that Christ descended into hell for three days, then rose from the dead as he himself prophesied in Matthew xii, 40: "For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the whale's belly; so shall the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth."
This shows that Christ believed the Jonah story and that hell was in the earth underneath him.
In every detail concerning the birthplace, birth date, and the death of the Messiah, the four gospels are in complete contradiction. It is not agreed whether Christ was born 3 B.C. or 6 A.D. In "The New Archaeological Discoveries" by C.M. Cobern, D.D., it is stated that recent excavations definitely place Christ's birth between 9 B.C. and 6 B.C., and his death on April 3, A.D. 33, making him between 39 and 42 when he died. This means that he was nearly 40 when he began his ministry of one or three years, though his virgin birth was announced by an angel and a star, as were most of the twenty-six virgin-born Savors who preceded him.
The dates and hour of the crucifixion do not agree in the gospels. These four gospels were selected from fifty gospels and one of the early fathers, Irenaeus, says that there are four gospels because the world has four corners, The Book of Revelation says that four angels stood on the four corners of the earth, and 1 Chronicles xvi, 30, says that "the world also shall be stable, that it be not moved." Does Mr. Bryan believe this?
The names of the twelve apostles are differently given in Matthew x and Luke vi. According to John, Christ was not at the Last Supper -- at least the three Synoptic gospels say that he celebrated the Passover and was crucified the day after, while John, though describing a supper, states that Christ was crucified the day before the Passover. This caused a great debate among the church fathers.
Everywhere I turn I find the same flat contradictions. One proverb says, "Answer a fool according to his folly;" the next says, "Answer not a fool according to his folly" (Proverbs xxvi, 4, 5). When a skeptic mentioned this to me as a schoolboy, I laughed off the difficulty as mere quibbling. Yet I was terribly disturbed to find God giving his children two directly opposite bits of advice.
An awful task for a believer is a touch of arithmetic. It is hard to disbelieve arithmetic. Since there were 600,000 men in the throng that Moses took out of Egypt, there would have been about three million people all told. And they crossed the opening in the Red Sea (the bottom of which was doubtless quickly dried for them) in a few hours. They took with them also their flocks of cattle, which were incredibly large. It must have made the angels sweat to herd that livestock over. Now it took Napoleon, with just 300,000 trained soldiers, three days and nights to cross the Niemen on three bridges in 1812.
Of course Napoleon did not have a million miracles worked for him, but the miracles required in Moses' case are too numerous to face -- especially as they did not accomplish any good and the Israelites turned to the golden calf as soon as they were amazingly wafted across the split sea. I can't understand a god who would fumble things so -- always performing miracles that got him nowhere.
It is a mere detail that all of Pharaoh's horses were drowned, though a plague had previously destroyed them, but it is not confusing that God should have had to perform so many miracles to persuade Pharaoh to let the Israelites go, since he had peculiarly hardened Pharaoh's heart in advance -- so that he could destroy all the first-born children in the land except where the kindly angels found blood smeared on the door-posts as a sign.
Almost stranger than the Mosaic miracles was the fact that it took 150,000 of Solomon's workmen seven years to build a little temple 96 feet long, 32 feet wide, and 48 feet high -- about the size of a moderate Union Depot.
In 2 Chronicles xiii it is told that God let his beloved people be slaughtered by Abijah, who killed 500,000 chosen men. Jeroboam thereupon retreated! At the greatest battle in the Civil War Lee had 80,000 men, Meade somewhat more. After three days of fierce conflict Lee retreated, having only 2,500 killed, and Meade with 3,000 killed dared not pursue for a day. That was the greatest battle in the history of this big nation, and we lost only one one- hundredth as many men as the half-king of a country whose area was about the size of our littlest state, Rhode Island.
I am tempted to say rudely that anybody who says he believes the Bible to be all true either lies or is ignorant of what he says. How can anybody believe contradictory statements, -- and there are three hundred downright mathematical contradictions in the Bible. Jehoshaphat's death is given sixteen different dates!
The God of the Bible punishes all who do not believe, including those who never heard of him. Trillions of them must be screaming somewhere for mercy. What then must be waiting for me? for I have not their excuse. I have heard the gospel. I had it put before me. I accepted it, and then let it slip!
Still, since I must pass into the flames with no promise of being a Shadrach or an Abednego, it is surely better for me to go there honestly, having told the truth as I see it, than to sneak into hell by the back-door of lip-service or of hypocritical assent by silence -- or to enter it by that gate reserved for preachers who have preached what they doubted.
I am no longer of the Christian faith, but this should not affect my standing as a citizen of the American republic which is dedicated to a churchless state and so declared by Washington. In the Senate treaty made with the Tripolitan Mohammedans in 1796 it is specifically announced that "the United States of America is not in any sense founded on the Christian religion" and has no enmity to the laws or religion of the Mohammedans.
Theoretically this nation is free for all; as a matter of fact, persecutions are heaped upon those who honestly state their doubts and incessant pressure is brought to bear on our law-makers to give police power to the special tenets of Christian sects.
Because certain gentlemen on this fly-speck of an earth elect to play golf on a certain day called the Sabbath (though nobody pretends that our Sunday is the actual day on which God "rested"), the village constable in many of these non-Christian United States must arrest them for "sacrilege!" Pulpits are pounded in horror all over the country, and a society for Sabbath observance spends vast moneys and efforts and bullies the life out of Congress to deprive the free citizens of their freedom once a week.
What difference it could possibly make to any imaginable god what I do on Sunday, I cannot for the life and soul of me conceive. Why I should rest because God rested, I cannot see. Why he should want me to be eternally kow-towing to him and praising him, I cannot see. And if I fail, isn't it his business rather than a clergyman's to punish me?
My early life was, however, one of intense religions conviction. I had a lot of fun and did a normal amount of mischief, but I studied as hard as I played and I prayed and believed with my whole soul. I not only said my prayers every night but I prayed incessantly throughout the day; and I prayed publicly at prayer meetings and tried to convert other people to the faith.
At the age of thirteen I joined the Congregational Church because I happened to like the boys who went to that church. Besides, I enjoyed the Sunday school picnics. Then one of the Sunday school teachers got after my immortal soul and "saved" it -- temporarily. If I had died in my youth I should now be safe in heaven; but unless I am one of those elect who cannot damn themselves no matter what they do I am on my way to hell "from now on."
When I was fourteen I went to a preparatory school and was swept away by a fiery evangelist of the Methodist persuasion. He kindled my faith to great heat and I went up and down the aisle night after night pleading with white-bearded old gentlemen and others to come to the anxious bench. As I look back upon myself now, that solemn little fourteen-year-old looks rather amusing than glorious, and I wonder that some of the nice old gentlemen I nagged did not spank me.
The next year I went to another preparatory school and was active in the Y.M.C.A. work, giving public testimonials of my faith and praying fervently in the meetings as well as at my bedside.
At college I was again an eager church-goer; played the organ at the Y.M.C.A. assemblies and I prayed publicly and privately.
Then I began to slip in my belief and to get a little dubious about the value of my prayers, their value either to me or to the infinite intelligence I was annoying with my unimportant chatter. It was a terrible step I took when I stopped praying, but I gave it up because it ceased to mean anything.
My faith in the Bible as an inspired work went from me slowly, like sand slipping down a hill. I was reading the Bible from cover to cover, and being young and curious I was tempted to dip into the Song of Solomon. But I had read that it was considered by the old Israelites such delicate matter that Hebrews were not permitted to read it until they were thirty-five years old, though little American boys and girls were given rewards for reading it along with the entire Bible. I was sorely troubled, but I did what I thought very heroic and virtuous: I refrained from peeking into the Song of Solomon until I had read everything preceding it including every last one of the "begats" and all the filthy stories. Then I read Solomon's Song with what solemnity I could muster.
Such literature for a boy to read! a compendium of the most lusciously lascivious amorous anatomy that could be devised. And at the top of each erotic chapter some such legend as "The Church and Christ congratulate one another," "The Church having a taste of Christ's love is sick of love," "A Description of Christ by his graces." I do not dare quote the text here; it is too voluptuous; yet it is given into the hands of children and it is left in the rooms of hotels by a society!
This now strikes me as the most appalling hypocrisy, indecency, dishonesty, and fanaticism, but when I first read it I was merely hurt and bewildered.
It confused me to find nothing in the early part of the Old Testament about a future life and to learn that the Hebrews did not apparently consider the matter till after captivity among the Assyrians, who did believe in a future life.
It terrified me to learn that the heresy of the Egyptians from which Moses saved the Israelites was a belief in a future life of rewards and punishments. I did not know which way to turn. And the Egyptians believed that a god came to earth, was born of a virgin and slain for the redemption of the faithful -- not only long before Christ but before Moses led his sacred band from the heresy of immortality. Here was my beautiful sacred belief in the Divine Book destroyed by the Book itself!
I read every word of it from cover to cover, but try as I would, my feeble mind could not hang on to its early faith. When I got to the end of the Bible I was confronted by the 'Book of Revelation. That shook me loose with a jolt. It seemed to me that its mental chaos matched the physical chaos of the beginning of the world.
How can anyone defend that picture of graves opening, hells yawning, sheep, goats, trumpets blaring, scarlet women riding; a city coming down from the sky dressed like a bride with twelve gates for the twelve tribes of Jews? How can the Christians hope to get into the New Jerusalem since it contains only entrances for Jews -- and Christ himself said he came only to the lost sheep of Israel?
According to Revelation, God wipes away all tears from the chosen, but there is a lake of brimstone for the unbelievers; there are seven angels with seven vials full of seven plagues, and an angel with a reed who measures the city and proves it to be a cubical city -- twelve thousand furlongs in length, in height and breadth. Just why this measurement should be necessary at that late date is not explained, Each gate is one solid pearl, the streets are gold transparent as glass. There is a bride there called "the Lamb's wife." Who was the Lamb and who his wife? Some say that the Lamb was Christ and his wife the Church. But Christ is elsewhere referred to independently, and there was no church yet.
The kings of the nations bring their glory to the city and the gates will never be shut; yet only those shall enter whose names are written in the Lamb's book of life! A strange Lamb, with a wife and a directory! There is a river coming from the Thrones of God and of the Lamb; a tree bearing twelve fruits and leaves of healing power. Outside are dogs and idolaters and liars, but within there is Jesus "the offspring of David," also a Spirit and a Bride that say Come, and whosoever will may come, yet plagues await any who change the Book.
What all this means I can't imagine, and I can't imagine anybody else explaining it except by explanations that do not explain. I don't believe anybody living believes that the Lamb had a wife. And if anybody says he believes it, I don't believe him.
The Bible begins with two stories of creation by two different gods of two different names in two different orders -- two ill- edited clumsy myths told by two ignorant barbarians; and ends with the clamorous hysteria of a color-mad, blood-thirsty lunatic with a magnificent literary style.
Nobody has more admiration for the literary beauties of the Bible than I. And nobody has less respect for the Scientific or historical value of literary beauty.
Between these two extremes is almost every conceivable kind of writing, including every known atrocity, indecency, degeneracy, nobility, a cyclopedia of anecdotes, genealogy, mythology, criminology, stories of incest, of sodomy, of bestiality; of angels, "sons of God," coming to earth and taking women; of daughters having children by their fathers.
There is the sainted patriarch Abraham, whose ancient wife was so pretty that he was afraid her admirers would fancy her and kill him, so he told her to pretend to be his sister, whereupon Pharaoh enjoyed her and loaded Abraham with presents (Genesis xii). Pharaoh was horrified when he learned what Abraham had done.
There is only one dirty word in our language for this man, in whose bosom the blessed rest. After this experience the foul old creature played the same trick on Abimelech, but the Lord warned him in a dream just in time (Genesis xx). Abimelech was disgusted, but Abraham lost none of the Lord's favor and his name is holy in all Christian teachings.
There is the story of the brother pretending to be sick in order to rape his sitter; of the harlot who saves spies and is sanctified for it; of chosen people who commit all known abominations; of a man Onan who is cursed for refusing to beget children upon his brother's widow (and ever since wears a bad name for what he did not do) of a giant who carries off a gate and slays a multitude with a bone, loses his strength when his hair is cut, and is able to pull down a crowded temple when his hair grows out again; of children eaten by bears sent by God because they merely made fun of a bald man; of a runaway prophet who is brought back inside a fish -- in short, an utterly amazing gallimaufry of events and fancies presided over by a god who does not know his own mind, is constantly defeated by his own cast-out angels and by his stubborn worshipers; who performs miracle after miracle only to fail of his purpose, and whose total record of infamies staggers the imagination.
This Israelitish god calls Moses up into the mountains and lets Moses see his "back parts" (Exodus xxxiii, 20-23). Think of it, the god of this infinite universe has back parts! But then he also sits on a throne, he has bowels, eyes, ears, nostrils, hair, loins, lips, tongue, feet. He begets, drinks, eats, smells, walks, rides, grows tired, is afraid, jealous, loves, hates, lies, cheats, enjoys wine, makes coats and shoes, laughs, sleeps and gets tired. And how he changes his mind! This god actually exclaims, in Jeremiah xv, 6, "I am weary with repenting."
These Biblical accounts of God are not metaphor or poetic symbolism, as many pretend. They are given out as inspired fact, and it was once fatal to question them.
This god writes his laws on pieces of stone and gives them to Moses to govern the people for whom God has destroyed numberless Egyptians after annoying them with the most cruel plagues, and all in vain. These children whom he brought through a divided ocean, go back to heathen worship in spite of all the miracles they have seen, and Moses is so angry that be spitefully breaks the stone book he has received in God's own autograph!
When I realize that I once accepted this, and that millions still say they accept it and are horrified if it is spoken of with doubt, I am tempted to think that in this silly world only the impossible can win belief.
If you give up Adam's apple and his Fall and the sin of all his posterity, you rob Christ of his mission of atonement. Christ is repeatedly claimed to be of the seed of David; and to prove it, two genealogies are given, each contradictory of the other and of itself. But it was Joseph and not Mary who descended from David, and the Bible repeatedly states that Joseph was Christ's father. Yet it also states that Mary was a virgin, There is absolutely nothing in the Bible of religious importance that it does not itself annul by its own contradictions.
And this David! He was such a villain as I should never dare use in the most melodramatic novel. His crimes are peculiarly despicable and versatile, from his earliest exploits to his later sex-manias, including the foul treatment of a soldier whose wife he desired, and his habit of warming his chill frame with a fresh girl every night. He was a traitor, an indefatigable liar, he drove women and children through burning brick kilns or tore them to pieces with harrows, he sawed them in two, and on his death-bed left instructions to kill a devoted man whom he had sworn to protect.
Yet this infamous perjurer, murderer, adulterer, butcher, was chosen for the peculiar favor of God, who in 2 Samuel vii, 14, adopts him as his son and promises that his house and his kingdom shall be established forever. It is a small matter, of course, that this promise, was forgotten and the kingdom perished. Where are his house and his kingdom now? "Where are the snows of yesteryear?"
At times even God could not stomach David. Once God grew so angry that he slew seventy thousand Jews by a pestilence just for spite; then suddenly, as on many other occasions, he "repented" and let David die "in a good old age, full of days, riches and honor; and Solomon his son reigned in his stead."
Solomon was the son of a murderous adulterer. His mother was Bathsheba, wife of Uriah. David saw her washing herself, fell in love with her and sent for her. She bore him a child and went back to her faithful husband, a brave and religious soldier whose death David treacherously arranged. Then David added Bathsheba to his group of wives and concubines and eventually she bore Solomon, who improved on his father's mania for women and became an idolater -- after the Lord had chosen him and "magnified him exceedingly."
And these two terrible creatures were the particular stars of the history of the chosen people!
My college studies taught me that the Bible was absolutely unbelievable as a book of fact. Its astronomy, geology, zoology, geography, hygiene, ethnology -- what not? were simply ludicrous. It does not claim to be a text book, but it claims to be the inspired word of an all-knowing God, and there is ferocious pressure to put it in our public schools as a text book and to drive out all scientific treatises that contradict it. Mr. Bryan has fought for this purpose; but would even he trust himself on a ship whose captain believed in a four-cornered earth, as did the authors of Revelation and other portions of the Bible?
As one who intended to be an author, I was dazed by the facts, admitted by all honest theologians, that practically none of the books of the Bible were written by the authors ascribed to them; that the texts are infinitely corrupt and contradictory and far distant copies of copies of copies, with never an original in existence. The oldest manuscript of the New Testament dates from the fourth century after Christ; the oldest manuscript of the Old Testament dates from the tenth century after Christ! And the ancient texts differ so much that they are almost original.
Reading such a book as "The God of the Early Christians," by Dr. A.C. McGiffert, reveals to an honest mind that Christ himself was uncertain of his identity and mission and that the doctrines now preached were arrived at after centuries of groping and disputation in which the rival theorists often butchered each other.
In a fascinating volume recently published by the Oxford Press, "The Last Journey of Jesus to Jerusalem," the learned author, a doctor of theology, Wm. H. Cadman, minutely examining and comparing the texts, comes to the conclusion that Christ did not know what was before him and that his intended mission was thwarted by the unforeseen betrayal of Judas; he did not die for our sins; he died in vain: History confirms this view.
Such a book as Symes' "The Evolution of the New Testament," written by a believer, reveals the chaos and conflict among the apostles, and the amazing condition of the manuscripts. I cannot see how any honest man can read Remsburg's fine work "The Bible," Doane's "Bible Myths," or Robert Blatchford's beautiful "God and my Neighbor," and continue to preach the Bible as a divine work.
Always devoted to Greek art, history, and literature, I was dazed to find that hundreds of years before Christ there were people who believed more in brotherly love and gracious kindliness and democracy than many of the Christians did -- or do. It somehow humiliated me to learn that the Greeks knew that the earth was round; that they had figured its circumference out almost exactly. They knew that the insane are only sick people to be treated kindly, though Christ apparently believed the earth to be four- cornered and flat and that insanity was caused by intrusive devils who could be evicted or transferred to somebody's convenient drove of swine. Greeks had advanced far in surgery, and the temples of AEsculapius were true hospitals.
There is an impediment in my soul that has always prevented me from believing in devils or ghosts. I never did as a child, though I tried to pretend I did and I prayed the Lord nightly not to commit the astounding cruelty of leading me into temptation, Yet Christ believed in devils and not only cast them out but gave his apostles and seventy others the power to cast out devils. On the other hand, he implies in Luke xi, 24-26, that it is unwise to cast a devil out of a man, since after a time the devil will decide to go back and finding the man's soul "swept and garnished, taketh to him seven other spirits more wicked than himself; and they enter in and dwell there: and the last state of that man is worse than the first."
I say in all meekness that if Christ really said this, he spoke as arrant nonsense as was ever uttered. For eighteen centuries because Christ said that they were inhabited by devils, the Christians treated the insane with devilish cruelty. As late as 1810 George III, King of England, was horse-whipped daily by his butler because of his devilish insanity. Because of this devil- theory, Christianity gave the poor deluded wretches torture, whippings, revilings, neglect, while other religions gave them either superstitious deference or at least gentleness. What an infinity of undeniable kindnesses Christians must show to atone for this inconceivable torture of innumerable invalids!
Liberal clergymen and believers protest against a literal reading of the Bible and speak of the sublimity of Christ's wisdom and the glorious model of his life.
But what is that model? Shall each of us forbear to marry, hate his family, gain a reputation as a wine-bibber, deny the value of industry, neither toil nor spin nor save, and utter alternately protestations of lowliness and boasts of equality with God? Yet that was exactly "the Christ-life."
And where is there a saying of Christ's that is possible and important and new? Where is a vital utterance that he did not himself contradict? What hid he really know about himself? In one saying, he was the only one that ever rose from the dead; yet the dead were raised before him, and he raised them himself. He promised in Matthew xix, 28, that his twelve apostles should sit on twelve thrones in heaven and judge the twelve tribes. This gives Judas a throne in heaven. Yet in John vi, 70, he said, "Have I not chosen you twelve, and one of you is a devil?"
How much did he know? In Mark v, 8, Christ said to a devil, "Come out of the man, thou unclean spirit." And he asked him, "What is thy name?" and he answered, saying, "My name is Legion; for we are many." Thereupon the devils filled a whole herd of swine and ran into the sea. No wonder the herdsmen besought Christ to depart.
But how did it come that Christ thought the poor man had only one devil in him when he really had two thousand?
In spite of all Christ's healing of the sick, the halt, the blind, and his highly remarkable gift of raising the dead, he grew increasingly unpopular and was more or less lynched. Nowadays a man who really cured people of even the disease of death would be exceedingly popular.
There are many good people who can say that these things do not matter. But I cannot accept as an infinite eternal god a man of such ignorance, impotence, and uncertainty as to his own nature. How can any honest soul deny that Christ was guilty of promulgating an odious savage superstition contrary to science as to humanity? And what can we say of Christ's celebrated tenderness and mercy after we read what he says in Mark iv, 12, that be used parables in order to deceive those "without the mysteries" lest they should understand them and "lest at any time they should be converted and their sins should be forgiven them"? I was taught that the parables were beautiful stories told in that form so that simple souls could understand. But Christ says he told them in order to hoodwink those whom he didn't want to save. It is ghastly! It makes my blood run cold! And then there grows a wonder at the whole existence of the tremendous industry of Christianity among the Gentiles. In spite of all the atrocities committed upon the Jews by the Gentiles, only the Gentiles are Christians. They rely upon Christ as the Savior of the world though Christ definitely stated that he came only to save the Jews and considered all others dogs!
What could be plainer? In Matthew xv, 24, it tells how a woman of Canaan came to Christ and he refused to be bothered with her (as he often refused to be bothered with the throngs imploring his miracles). He said: "I am not sent but unto the lost sheep of Israel. It is not meet to take the children's bread and to cast it to the dogs."
Didn't Christ himself know what he was here for? The Jews would not have him, and Paul rearranged his gospel to convert the Gentiles. Yet Christ said he came only to Israel.
And in the Book of Revelation, to repeat, it is plainly stated that the New Jerusalem has only twelve gates, one for each of the tribes of Israel.
Where do the Gentiles come in? How is it possible that this incredible building of churches, waging of crusades, butchery of millions, expenditure of billions for centuries, should have been carried on by Gentiles whom Christ was not interested in? If he was, where and when did he say so?
The whole matter of Christ was a spiritual crucifixion for me at first. In spite of his cursing a fig-tree for not bearing fruit out of season and in spite of his running away from the crowds that besought him for cures; in spite of his implying that Gentiles are dogs not worth healing (Mark vii, 27), there is something so adorable about his gentler moods and his poetic promises and his pitiful fate that I clung to a kind of frantic belief in him long after I lost the ability to accept the Old Testament. But finally I yielded to the appalling contradictions in his two genealogies, in the accounts of his mother's estate and his birth, and his own ideas as to his divinity.
Hell went next. I simply could not stomach a god who could devise and conduct such an infamous institution. Yet Christ believed in hell, in actual fires and eternal torments.
Whatever my fault may be, the cogs of my poor brain simply lock when I try to understand the central theme of Christianity: the theory of vicarious atonement. I can't even understand the beginning of it. God created a man, then a woman, and forbade them the fruit of a certain tree, which when his children ate with childish curiosity and at the suggestion of a snake (which God never warned them against) eternal damnation was apportioned to them and to all their descendants for thousands of years. I could not tolerate such a god and his revolting sense of persecution. I could not understand his logic: because Adam sinned, we are all born in sin and as Cotton Mather says, "man's best works are a stench in God's nostrils."
After 4004 years of almost universal damnation, something happened in heaven, the details of which the churches have never quite agreed upon: God decided to beget a son upon a virgin. It makes a pretty picture, but why a virgin is better than an honest wife I can't see, though there is alleged to be such peculiar virtue in female sterility that according to certain creeds Mary not only was a virgin but always will be one to the final eternity and beyond.
There is much confusion among theologians as to whether Christ was in heaven originally or was begotten for a special purpose. If Christ existed from primeval times I can not see how God could beget him again. In fact, I cannot find any two Christians who agree on all the details of this infinitely important matter.
Furthermore, why was Christ born as an infant and why did he live thirty or forty years before he began saving the world, and then only spend a year or two at it, leaving it so unutterably bewildered that one of his disciples betrayed him and one of them denied him? Why is it that Christ himself was not a Christian and that St. Paul, who never saw him, had to invent Christianity? Why did Christ say he was coming back in the life-time of his apostles and let them all die without seeing him again? Why has he never come back?
But waiving all these stupefying riddles, I could not understand how it helped God's sense of justice to put his own and only son on earth and let him be condemned to a shameful death so painful that Christ himself thought that he was abandoned on the cross and died long before the two thieves died. In any case, I could not, and I cannot, see what Christ's death has to do with the salvation of the human race.
Beyond that difficulty lies another: only those are saved who believe that he saved them. This implies that belief is a voluntary matter and disbelief a thing of malicious meditation.
Christ said he came to save the Jews; yet to this day they are not saved. Since the World War among the Christians a few Jews are going back to Palestine, but as Jews, not as Christians. The number of Jews who accepted the sacrifice of God's own son was so small that Paul decided to take the religion to the Gentiles, which brought about a furious quarrel with Peter. The Romans had to save Paul from the Jews. Christ was a circumcised Jew, and yet circumcision is not practiced by the Christians.
The doctrines of election and of infant damnation struck me as absolutely perfect logical deductions from the Bible, and yet as so intolerably revolting to any idea of justice or mercy that I would rather reject a dozen religions than believe them.
I began to wonder if it were not a higher compliment to God to let him alone altogether than to ascribe to him such fiendishness as no maniac in human history ever approached.
They say that if you find a watch, you are sure it had a maker; therefore the universe must have had a maker. Even if it had, it could not have had such a maker as the Christian God. And after that one must still ask, who made the maker? It is no solution of a mystery to call it God. It is a vast increase of the mystery.
It is easy enough to laugh this off as beyond finite understanding. All right. So it must be. Then so is the whole problem, and I will drop it from my thoughts.
While I was still a troubled youth the Revised Version of the Bible came along and met with ferocious hostility. It seemed that religious people not only disagreed in their interpretations but resented correct translations. The revisers tried to keep as close as they could to the King James Version, but they had to make one hundred thousand changes! And the English and the American committees got out separate versions.
When I left college I was in a state of collapse as a Christian. I did not know what to believe but I had a vast baggage of disbeliefs that I could not shake off. I went out into the world and found that a man's religion had no apparent relation to his character. I learned of the huge amount of crime committed by religious people. I met with a huge amount of goodness among irreligious people.
I simply let religion slide and went about my business, trying to be as decent and honest and kindly as I could. Finally a tremendous thing came to me: the offer of a job as assistant editor of a great history of the world in twenty-five volumes. I was actually paid a salary to sit at a desk and read or go to a great library and delve among books. For four years I read history from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily. The history of every nation went through my head. It was paradise on earth. But a serpent seems to be part of the furniture of every paradise.
So now I had to read the religious history of every country. And I was unutterably dismayed to find that the worst crimes in every nation were committed in the name of religion by religious people. In every country the blackest pages were the religious pages, and of all the religions, savage or civilized, the Christian religion had the most horrible record.
By "religion" I do not mean the ingrained instincts of goodness, bravery, love, and loyalty that influence all mankind and many of the animals. I mean the belief in and obedience to a definite superhuman power. It seems to me as dishonest to use the word "religion" for everything decent as it is to pretend that "God-fearing" people are any more honest, pure, or kindly than anybody else.
I know and love and revere many intensely religious people, priests, clergymen, and church-workers, but I know, detest, and despise many in tensely religious people, priests, clergymen and church-workers, and life has deeply convinced me that religion is not to credit for the humanity of good people, but is to blame for the worst inhumanities of mankind.
Where in all the grisly records of human cruelty is there anything to match the Inquisition of Spain, the Crusade against the Albigenses, and the religious tortures of all the Christian nations? I shudder and ache to think of the screams of tortured myriads, the smell of burning flesh, the crackle of broken bones, the mad appeals for mercy, the vain protestations of belief.
In the name of Christ, Christian potentates sat with their women and children and watched helpless Christians burn; great vicars of Christ sat and gloated while Christians bound to stakes shrieked amid slow flames purposely kept at a distance. They screamed as their flesh seared and cackled: "In the name of the sweet Jesus whom I worship, bring the fire closer." But their appeals were mocked. Not once, not twice, but tens of thousands of times!
The preachers do not preach of this nowadays. It is old- fashioned, old stuff. But it must have hurt to be burned alive even in the name of Christ.
There were good women of pure life who were enmeshed in the infamous nets of doctrinal dispute and after hours of loathsome ritual and pious humiliation were seated in public squares and cooked over slow fires that gradually consumed the hinder parts first. Carefully handled, a strong woman would live for two hours as she baked.
This was not the work of illiterates in the jungle. It was the careful, prayerful work of the most enlightened Christians, and the infamy was committed not upon one or two poor souls but upon thousands, upon myriads. It was committed in all the cities and towns of Christendom.
Voltaire, who ardently believed in a God though not in Christianity, quotes the remarkable summing up of arguments against Christianity by Freret:
"His most terrible argument is, that if God had deigned
to make himself a man and a Jew, and to die in Palestine by an
infamous punishment, to expiate the crimes of mankind and to
banish sin from the earth, there ought no longer to have been
any sin or crime on the face of it; whereas, says he, the
Christians have been more abominable monsters than all the
sectaries of the other religions put together.
"He brings, for an evident proof of this, the massacres,
the wheels, the gibbets, and the burnings at the stake, in the
Cevennes, and near a hundred thousand human creatures that
perished under our eyes in that province; the massacres in the
valleys of Piedmont; the massacres of the Valteline, in the
time of Charles Borromeo; the massacre of the Anabaptists,
massacred and massacrers; the massacres of the Lutherans and
Papists, from the Rhine to the extremities of the North; the
massacres in Ireland, England, and Scotland in the times of
Charles I who was himself massacred; the massacres ordered by
Mary and by her father Henry VIII; the massacres on St.
Bartholomew's, in France, and forty years more of other
massacres between Francis II and the entry of Henry IV into
Paris; the massacres by the Inquisition; massacres, perhaps,
yet more execrable as being judicially committed; in short,
the Massacre of twelve millions of the inhabitants of the new
world, executed crucifix in hand; and this without reckoning
all the massacres previously committed in the name of Jesus
Christ, without reckoning above twenty schisms and twenty wars
of Popes against Popes and Bishops against Bishops; without
reckoning the poisons, the assassinations, the rapines of the
Popes John XI, John XII, John XVIII, John XXII, of a Gregory
VIII, of a Boniface VIII, of an Alexander VI, and of so many
other Popes who exceeded in wickedness a Nero or a Caligula.
"In short, he claims that this horrid and almost
uninterrupted chain of religious wars for fourteen centuries
never subsisted but among Christians, and that no people but
themselves ever spilt a drop of human blood for theological
"He brings, for an evident proof of this, the massacres, the wheels, the gibbets, and the burnings at the stake, in the Cevennes, and near a hundred thousand human creatures that perished under our eyes in that province; the massacres in the valleys of Piedmont; the massacres of the Valteline, in the time of Charles Borromeo; the massacre of the Anabaptists, massacred and massacrers; the massacres of the Lutherans and Papists, from the Rhine to the extremities of the North; the massacres in Ireland, England, and Scotland in the times of Charles I who was himself massacred; the massacres ordered by Mary and by her father Henry VIII; the massacres on St. Bartholomew's, in France, and forty years more of other massacres between Francis II and the entry of Henry IV into Paris; the massacres by the Inquisition; massacres, perhaps, yet more execrable as being judicially committed; in short, the Massacre of twelve millions of the inhabitants of the new world, executed crucifix in hand; and this without reckoning all the massacres previously committed in the name of Jesus Christ, without reckoning above twenty schisms and twenty wars of Popes against Popes and Bishops against Bishops; without reckoning the poisons, the assassinations, the rapines of the Popes John XI, John XII, John XVIII, John XXII, of a Gregory VIII, of a Boniface VIII, of an Alexander VI, and of so many other Popes who exceeded in wickedness a Nero or a Caligula.
"In short, he claims that this horrid and almost uninterrupted chain of religious wars for fourteen centuries never subsisted but among Christians, and that no people but themselves ever spilt a drop of human blood for theological dispute."
I do not believe in Buddhism, yet it is older and purer than Christianity and has made enormously more converts without bloodshed or persecution.
Wherein lies this so much trumpeted beauty of Christianity, when it is plain, indisputable fact that no other religion ever approached or attempted to approach the unbearable beastliness of Christianity? It stings me to think of it. I could break down and sob with pity for the poor dear people that were caught in those traps of theology and tormented slowly into their graves. Yet these things happened at the very zenith of the power of the Christian religion.
Montezuma was a heathen and his religion included, like the early Christian religion, human sacrifices and hideous cruelty. Yet when the Christians conquered him their cruelties made him seem merciful by contrast. This American continent of ours, discovered and colonized by Christians, was largely depopulated by the lust for murder that seemed inherent in the faith. The pages of Las Casas can hardly be read without agony; yet according to Lea's "Inquisition in the Spanish Dependencies" the whole object of the Spanish conquest of America was the propagation of the Christian faith, and it was so stated in a bull of Pope Alexander VI.
After the New World was rid of its primitive peoples, after the beautiful civilization of the Incas was destroyed, after the Mayas and all their books were annihilated and their country restored to the jungle, the Christians had only themselves to practice on.
Then I read what my own Congregationalists did in this country -- those noble Pilgrims and Puritans of whom so much good is spoken and so little truth told. My historical research led me to an acquaintance with their fiendish brutality. Tears filled my eyes for the anguishes of harmless old Quaker women stripped and whipped and driven through the snow of village after village with their blood freezing on their half-flayed backs. I read of Baptists lashed "till their skin hung in bloody rags," of all manner of cruel tyranny inflicted on the minds and bodies of their own people and their visitors.
Believing that freedom of soul, mind and body is the most important privilege of humanity and the one hope of progress, I was stunned to find on reading the history of the world that the religious mind has always been opposed to liberty and equality.
Religious men as individuals have lived and fought and died for liberty, but the various churches have never failed to oppose it until it was established, then tried to seize on the new reins of power.
The United States of America was inspired and led by men of little or no religion, and the clergymen protested fiercely against the republic as godless. John Wesley in 1777 wrote that letters from New York showed him that all the Methodists there were firm for the government and on that account persecuted by the rebels. He preached against our forefathers as rebels against God. When Washington drove the British out of Boston, every Episcopal clergyman there sailed away, except one who was persuaded to remain.
After the war was won, Patrick Henry led a successful movement to prevent clergymen from being eligible as members of the Assembly of Virginia. Long debates over the mention of God in the Constitution ended in a negative decision. For fifty years vain efforts were made to force it in by amendment.
Of the first Presidents, Jefferson was a notorious Infidel. Washington was vestryman in a church because he had to be as a tax- payer; but he never was a communicant and would not stay in the church during communion. The story of his kneeling in prayer on the battlefield is an admitted fable; he never would kneel in church, never recognized Christ in any statement, made contracts on Sunday and went fox-hunting.
Lincoln wrote an atheistic essay as a young man and was called "the atheist Congressman." His widow said "he lived and died without faith or hope."
Yet only recently a clergyman broadcasted a sermon in praise of prayer and credited the successes of Washington and Lincoln to the fact that they were "men of prayer." The clergymen may be slow to accept a new scientific truth, but they never let go of an ancient fable. Where can one find fearless honesty or scientific candor in a pulpit? Every historian expects to find the minimum of truth in an ecclesiastical historian. As Renan says in his preface to the 13th edition of his "Life of Jesus": "There is one thing that a theologian can never be -- a historian."
The whole principle of human equality has always been fought by priestcraft. As the French republic was opposed by the religious, so were all the American republics. Only a few months ago the Turkish republic found it necessary to banish the sacred Caliphate. The other day the Persians trying to found a republic were told that it was a sacrilege to the Persian religion.
In the United States state churches clung to the revenue until they were pried off. My Congregational Church could not be shaken loose from state appropriations in Massachusetts until 1817. The Church of England still taxes the people. The churches of this country are immense and extravagant edifices, yet they pay no taxes though they meddle with politics at every turn.
The churches fought male suffrage, fought female suffrage, popular education. When a visiting countess introduced forks into France, a great churchman denounced her in a sermon, since God invented fingers. When she died a little later, he said her death was a judgment of God. What a multitude of things have been called "judgments of God," from boils to earthquakes! Every Sunday the preachers howl nonsensical diatribes against fashions and passing whims. What cyclones of wind they have wasted reviling youth and all its amusements, and all the arts and sciences!
Though churches have always been peculiarly liable to lightning, clergymen preached against lightning-rods as impious, because lightning was God's particular missile as thunder was his voice. They opposed quinine for malaria, and anesthetics for women in travail, since it was God's good pleasure that women should cry aloud at that time.
Today William Jennings Bryan goes about like a raging lion getting laws passed forbidding the teaching of evolution and demanding that Genesis be accepted as the final authority on the creation of man -- Genesis, that amazing chaos which tells how God created light four days before he made the "two great lights," the sun and the moon. Even Mr. Bryan knows that the moon is not a light.
Then God split the waters and put the sky in between. Surely Mr. Bryan does not believe that there is another ocean above the sky. In Genesis i, 27, it states that God created male and female in his own image and gave them "every tree." In Genesis ii, 5, it states that God found there was "not a man to till the ground." So he formed one out of dust and breathed life into its nostrils and made a garden for it and put in that garden the tree of life and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, also some rivers that cannot now be traced. Then God told Adam not to eat of the tree of knowledge, "for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die." The snake knew better, it seems, for he told Eve that she would not die if she ate, and she did not. Adam did not die for nine hundred and thirty years after he ate the fruit (Genesis v, 5). Did Jehovah ever guess right?
As someone has said: "The first lie man ever heard was spoken by God, and the first truth by the devil."
I cannot find when Eve died, but she lived till Cain and Able were grown up; for a hundred and thirty years after the Fall she bore Adam a son Seth, who, like Cain, found somewhere a wife in a world in which Eve the first woman had never borne a daughter. Cain after killing Able was afraid that "everyone that findeth me shall slay me," though there was nobody else in the world but his father and mother. He took a wife -- where? Some say he married his sister, but Adam begat no daughters till after Seth was born. It is all insanely mixed.
This incredible matter is what Mr. Bryan and millions of others insist upon as the sufficient mental pabulum of our children. It renders geology and biology and astronomy unnecessary and perilous, and the theory of evolution a thing to be mocked at and lied about outrageously. Mr. Bryan is so stubbornly unfair in his statements about evolution that he must be guilty of two sins: he is either ignorant of what he denounces or he is wilfully mendacious. I should like to know just what books he has read on the glorious and impregnable theory of evolution. Yet laws are being passed or urged all over the United States to force school teachers to accept what the intellect of man rejects with contempt as soon as the fear of churchly persecution is removed.
That fear is incessant. The ancient persecutions will come back the moment the religious fanatics recapture power. This very year a clergyman in New jersey made a bonfire of books -- they happened to be religious books, Unitarian and Christian Science books; but the spirit is there.
In this very year a Congressman from Brooklyn introduced a bill making it a penal offence to cast aspersions on any man's religion. If the bill had passed I might have had not only hell here-after, but several years in the penitentiary for writing this statement of views I can't help holding. It is hard to keep up a republic!
On May 21, 1924, the Presbyterian Church in its general assembly officially announced its belief that "Adam and Eve were created body and soul by immediate acts of almighty power" and that "any doctrine at any variance therewith is a dangerous error." Other churches followed suit.
Dr. John Roach Straton, the sweet-souled Baptist who thunders at nearly everything and everybody and who says even worse things of Baptist clergymen who are not Fundamentalists than be has said about the wicked theater and its vicious people -- Dr. Straton accuses the Museum of Natural History in New York of "treason to God Almighty and libel against the human race." He says: "It has been my terrible and woeful experience to witness thousands of little children flocking to the museum to have their juvenile minds poisoned by the foul miasma of evolution."
And all this typical pulpit-music because of a row of actual skulls of men of different periods tending to confirm the theory modestly and honestly recommended by Darwin and all other scientists as an explanation of what their researches disclose!
The pulpit bullies the politicians. The North Carolina Board of Education, headed by the Governor of the State, has this year barred from the State high schools "all books which in any way intimate an origin of the human race other than that described in the Bible."
Many people who doubt the creeds of Christianity have been so impressed by its prolonged and ingenious advertisements and the peculiar pressure brought upon them in their childhood that they say: Even if Christianity is not true, who would want to live in a town without a church? would you dare contemplate the closing of all the churches? what would happen if Christianity were removed from the nation?
For answer, consider the facts.
If you could prove by statistics that there are 68,000 Atheists and Infidels in the prisons of this country and only 150 church members, you would have marvelous evidence of the moral value of Christianity, wouldn't you? You would hear of those figures from the pulpit, in all probability.
Did you ever hear from any pulpit the true statistics? Franklin Steiner has compiled the figures obtained from the authorities concerned and they may be found in his book "Religion and Roguery" with its shocking appendix listing "Crimes of Preachers" and showing their addiction to murder and sex-crimes.
In the penal institutions of the United States and Canada he found 68,863 persons with church affiliation, 8,134 with no church preference, 5,389 Jews, and 150 Infidels, Atheists, and pagans. In 29 states there were only 15 downright unbelievers.
Curiously in striking confirmation of these figures, even as I revised this text (on November 8, 1924), the Crime Commission of Los Angeles completed a survey at the county jail and was surprised to find that "out of 200 prisoners interviewed, 184 professed adherence to some religious faith, only nine denied having any religious faith. Seven declined to answer the question."
Everywhere we turn we find just that proportion. In Europe as well as in America the churches that are represented by the most criminals are the ones that are most rigid in their creed and most evangelic in their nature. Try this on your own county jail or your state penitentiary or reform schools.
The most ruthless of the pirates and buccaneers observed the Sabbath and often shot dead the irreverent who interrupted divine service. They had their own churches. But the vilest pirates never approached the bloodiness, the perjury, the confiscatory frauds and treacheries of the Christian churches in certain times of power.
There is much of passion in religion as in crime; and even those religious people who keep out of jail are apt to be distinguished by a persecuting tendency, a meddlesome tyrannical spirit either to make rules or to break them. The Bible exploits a god of cruelty, rapacity, heathen ruthlessness, and makes saints of foul criminals. How could it save men from crime?
Furthermore, does not religion itself commit a crime whenever it endeavors to coerce a soul or a nation? Is not the crime of crimes the hostility to spiritual freedom and expression? Is there any influence today that so retards frank and honest study and facing of the facts of existence and of human welfare as the religious influence? Every time a scientist or philanthropist investigates the truth for its own sake, he encounters abuse from the defenders of dogma, which might be described as petrified theory.
In the words of Jacolliot's "The Bible in India" in which he shows the horrible effects of Hindu religion as well as of Christianity:
"We have seen human hecatombs on the burning piles of faith
and the altar reddened with blood. Ages have passed away; we are
but wakening to the progress of Freethought. But let us expect
struggles without end, until the day when we shall have the courage
to arraign all sacerdotalism at the bar of liberty."
I do not press this argument, but has it not far better foundation than the tremendously trumpeted falsehood that morals depend on religion and that Christianity is the only salvation? Does it not render ludicrous the plea that children should be taught to read the Bible -- the greatest collection of crime- inspiration and justification ever compiled?
How can we say that Christianity benefitted this continent -- especially when we read the appalling denunciations all the preachers make of the spiritual state of this continent today? If they would admit that we are good today -- if preachers had even once admitted that their own times were good -- there might be some argument. But they never did. They don't. They never will.
Yet they continue to insist that they have saved the world in the only way it can be saved. Offering a religion filled with Orientalism, modified by Greek principles, and full of stories forcibly borrowed from the worship of Mithra, they dare to pretend that Christians are somehow mystically better than the Greeks or the Orientals; that Christians of evil life are infinitely superior to non-believers however virtuous.
To sustain this outrageous and immoral doctrine they stop at nothing. They attack school-books that tell the children the truth. They commit the infamy of attacking the very souls of the infants and staining them with legends that can never be quite forgotten.
In California this year the clergy made an onslaught on the State Board of Education in an endeavor to drive from the schools no less than fifty text-books. All over the nation the same holy crusade is preached by fanatics. In one of the states school- teachers are compelled to take an oath annually that they believe in a literally inspired Bible, a personal devil, and a real hell.
The pulpiteers don't want researches made. They won't have the Bible examined or its interpretation or its manuscripts or its evolution considered. They won't have the rocks and the waters looked into. The won't have microscopes and telescopes believed. They have it all written down once for all in a book of which there are no two similar translations, and concerning which the pulpiteers themselves are at eternal war.
And not one of them obeys Christ's definite instructions not to pray in public (Matthew vi, 6) not one of them sells all his goods and gives to the poor; not one of them is meek and indifferent to blows.
One of my greatest reasons for giving up going to church is my belief that the pulpit is the greatest power ever known for persecution, bigotry, ignorance, dishonesty, and reaction.
It is well said that "eternal vigilance is the price of liberty," and I am confirmed every day in my intense conviction that the church as the church is the enemy of freedom. While protesting loudly its faith in the Truth with a capital T, "the truth that shall make us free," it fights at every step every effort to learn the truth and publish it and be guided by it.
I find that crime is encouraged by these haters of truth and freedom. Believing in, or at least proclaiming, the all- righteousness of such a criminal god, the list of infamies committed by clergymen is appalling. Clergymen are represented in the penitentiaries by far more than their quota and for every crime imaginable. I have a list of over six thousand crimes by clergymen, which I shall not attempt to quote.
Many of the newspapers suppress or minimize the crimes of the clergy. When recently a Detroit clergyman committed a murder and was tried and convicted for it, a Detroit paper devoted to the entire story one-quarter of a column, though it had published 114 columns concerning the still unexplained murder of a moving-picture director.
When the moving pictures were shaken up by this mysterious death and by the trial and acquittal of a comedian, nearly every pulpit in the land throbbed with demands for an investigation and governmental control of the pictures, for the expulsion from them of everybody whom scandal touched, and the suppression of all pictures in which anybody appeared against whom a charge should ever be made. Steps were taken, slanders shouted, and great injury done to the whole art and industry.
A little later, in the East and the West, two clergymen were shot dead with women known for some time to be their mistresses. I waited in vain to hear one clergyman mention this from the pulpit or in an interview. Not a synod or assembly called for investigation of all churches and choirs, not a step was taken for the censorship of the lives and utterances of preachers. I wrote an article about this and an editor said he would not dare to publish it, true as it was. Why must the religion of the infinite God fear fair play and the truth?
When the two young men Loeb and Leopold kidnapped and murdered a boy in Chicago, the reporters announced that the boys believed in evolution. That was enough. From almost every pulpit there rose a trumpeter who cried that this proved the horrid influence of the theory of evolution and the need of belief in the Bible. Almost all the ministers demanded the lives of these wretches and called their quite common-place atrocity "the unparalleled crime of the century." Always they want somebody's blood.
At the same time the far more appalling deeds of a Methodist minister, also of Illinois, came to light. He had indulged in long illicit relations with the wife of a miner. From his very pulpit he had exchanged signals with her for their rendezvous. He persuaded her to poison her husband and as the victim died, the minister prayed over him and announced that the miner had died "redeemed," the clergyman had saved his soul from hell. Later the clergyman's wife fell ill and he held her up in bed to drink the coffee in which he had put poison enough to kill her. She died, and investigations started. Confessions were dragged at last from the paramour and the parson and he begged to be made a chaplain in the penitentiary so that he might "save" other souls.
Did the preachers confess from their pulpits that one of their venerable number had far outdone the viciousness of the two young "evolutionists"? They did not! They never do! They never will!
Yet they continue to proclaim the unfailing merits of their cure-alls. They publish great advertisements in the papers announcing that the only way to be washed white is in the blood of the lamb. They struggle to keep from their natural victims, the ignorant children, all books of true knowledge, and fight incessantly to place in their hands as a divine model the Bible which showers the blessings of a heartless deity on the most frightful and contemptible scoundrels.
Innumerable sermons are preached, laying the blame for crime on the love of amusement. But there is silence concerning the crimes of people driven mad by religious ecstasy. A girl in Florida recently stamped her father to death as a religious offering; just as that unspeakable dog Abraham had the knife at the throat of his son (whom he had ordered to gather wood for his own funeral pyre) when the whimsical Lord told him to sacrifice a poor ram instead. I have a sermon in my library in which a minister denounced an Infidel as a man who would never have followed the beautiful example of Abraham even if God told him to!
A few months ago a young man burned his family alive in a gasoline-soaked bed because they were anti-Christ. No preacher pointed to his act as the result of religious training. We call him a maniac and feel sorry for him. Yet he did exactly what thousands of Christian potentates did publicly with prayers to tens of thousands of other Christians.
The conventions of clergymen are appallingly expensive and appallingly futile. They have recently gone in for a war against war; they will "outlaw war" because Christ was the Prince of Peace (though he truly boasted that he brought a sword into the world). Yet the Sunday School Times for November 8, 1924, calls upon "countless thousands of God's children throughout the world" to pray for the military success of the Chinese general Feng, not because they know anything about the war but because Feng is a Christian convert and his soldiers sing Christian hymns with Feng's own words. Feng has been called a traitor, a Benedict Arnold, because he betrayed his own allies, "but those who have followed the consecrated and sacrificial life of this Christian general cannot but believe that he acted in accordance with his own deepest convictions of God's will and after much prayer." So all Christians "who know how to pray" are asked to "be faithful to Feng." This is surely the very vomit of hypocrisy.
Indecency is the pulpiteer's prerogative. Every preacher discusses morals from the pulpit in a way that no one else is allowed to approach.
One of the best sellers of the day is Papini's "Life of Christ," in which he pronounces the Sermon in the Mount (which is made up of old proverbs and which no one understands, believes literally, or acts upon) to be the very highest achievement of divinity in mankind. Yet Papini refers to the Protestants as "the hemorrhoids of Luther" and calls them various other names of equal grace and Christian charity. Papini was once a violent Atheist and if I believed in prophecy I would prophesy that he will soon be denouncing his own Christianity. He is of the violent weather-wane type.
The churches talk glibly today of Christianity as the foundation of the brotherhood and equality of man, though the Greeks had a democracy hundreds of years before Christ, and all absolute monarchs, from Constantine to the Kaiser, have claimed to take their dominion from God.
The Christian church supported slavery for centuries. At a time when England forbade slavery, one of the greatest slave- traders to foreign ports was the head of the English church.
The Methodist, Baptist, and other churches in the United States took official steps to forbid their clergymen from favoring abolition. American clergymen used to stand at the auction block and tell the negro merchandise that it was God's will that they should be slaves and that they should find comfort in obedience. The Bible indeed is full of slavery with never a word against it. God himself told his people just how to put the slave against a door and drive a hole through his ear with an awl to mark him for life.
The present equality and freedom of women was secured in defiance of the orders of the Bible and the frantic opposition of all the churches. To this day eminent clergymen denounce women for throwing off their scriptural servitude.
In all my lifetime of history reading I find not one instance where the Christian creed of itself prevented a cruelty or an atrocity, but I find innumerable instances where it provoked the vilest evils and the most fiendish cruelties.
A year or two ago I read that the Presbyterian Church had voted from its funds $175,000 for the conversion of Jews to Christianity. This is absolutely amusing, and yet it is ghastly to realize that nearly two thousand years after Christ came to save the chosen people, after thousands of them were tortured to death, it should seem ridiculous to try to convert a Jew to Christianity.
The Christians have found it easier to convert them to the graveyard, and pogroms still break out and will break out. Chesterton, who is an ardent believer in Christianity, said that the crimes of Christianity must sicken the very sun.
I read recently that the church architects this year were to meet and consider the best way to take care of this year's budget of $200,000,000 which is to be devoted to building and rebuilding churches. Add to this the salaries of the church armies and the billions on billions invested in church property and tell me if it is a paying investment. It pays no taxes. Does it pay anything real?
No population is so at grips with poverty that its church element does not extract enough money to build some temple of worship and support a religious institution more expensive than it can afford and serving no really useful purpose. Servant girls, scrubwomen, poor farmers and half-starved villagers are everywhere frightened and cajoled into sacrificing their scant savings for the construction of vast edifices where superstition rears its gorgeous head.
General Grant in a presidential message to Congress in 1875, strongly urged "taxation of all property equally, whether church or corporation," and he gave the warning that there might be "sequestration through blood" if church property were not peacefully taxed. In a speech that same year he cried, "Keep the church and the state forever separate."
The churches ought either to be forced to pay taxes, or to allow their empty edifices to be used as schools during the week. This would save billions of taxpayers' money and save tens of thousands of children from going to school in tents or not at all.
The churches do not tell the truth and are not interested in facts as facts. They claim to be superior to facts. As if anybody could be! Surely if there is a God, facts are his most definite statements.
In the course of my four years' work as a historian I learned that no religious historian is reliable on a religious topic. The Protestant accounts of the Catholics are even fiercer than the Catholic accounts of the Protestants. If the outsider believes either of them, he must be afraid of both of them. Even when a theologian tries to include the crimes of his church, he veils them in language that conceals their horror, saving his strong words for the evils of his opponents.
Much that I attack here is also assailed by the more liberal and advanced among the clergy. They will feel that they are unjustly ignored. But they are themselves ferociously abused by the fundamentalists of their own sects and by the preachers of other sects. The peril from the fanatics is manifest; it is daily; it is everywhere.
The liberal theologian is chained to a corpse by a short chain that rattles as he struggles and drags him back when he would progress. I agree with the fundamentalists in their claim that the Bible must be taken entire or let alone; that you must take all of Christ or give him up as a supreme teacher and as a savior.
As for living the Christ life, it cannot be done, and it ought not to be done. Too much ugliness is included in the sweetness.
The church papers are always asking why people do not go to church. They have always been asking that. I will guarantee to find the query in any given year of the Christian history of which there is liberal record.
People do not go to church in large numbers, because, for all they may say and think they think, they know it is a waste of time.
In staying away from church I can't believe that I miss much. In the Monday morning papers I read the subjects of the sermons preached in many cities, and sometimes I read excerpts from the sermons. They seem to me to be mostly unimportant when true and as a rule appallingly false. The claims made by the various sects for their peculiar brands of cure-all; the amazing contradictions and inane recommendations; the ferocious injustices to one another, to fact, to the unbelievers, make the pulpit anything but a source of reliable information or of practical inspiration.
If "the supreme happiness of salvation" is an argument for belief, then happiness is as legitimate a pursuit as our Declaration proclaims. I do not find happiness in religion any more. I simply cannot believe any longer. I haven't the brain for it. To my perverted and muddy soul that sublime utterance of Tertullian's "I believe it because it is impossible" (Credo quia impossible est) would belong in "Alice in Wonderland" if it were not silly without being funny. The vast literature of the Church Fathers and their arguments on the subjects they chose simply disgust me with the human race.
I am so constituted that it strikes me as disgraceful for Christians to claim that their religion is so superior to others when the facts are plain that Christian countries are no better than other countries. In this country, for example, crime of all sorts exceeds that in all other countries to an overwhelming degree.
Nobody honestly believes that church-members are less likely to embezzle, flirt, or be brutal than non-church-members; or that Christians are more honest than Chinamen. On the testimony of the missionaries life is as safe in the African jungle as it is in the most Christian cities, and so is a woman's virtue. Before the Christians destroyed the Incas, a woman could walk the whole length of Peru without peril. Everybody knows that a man's creed has nothing whatever to do with his character or his conduct. To deny this is to deny everyday experience.
In my own case I know the loss of religion has not made the least difference in my character, either for good or evil, for sorrow or for happiness. People often say, "If I ceased to believe in God and a future life, I'd go mad." I say, "Oh no, you wouldn't. I didn't. I don't feel any change."
For if you believe in the Christian future life you must believe that hell is infinitely more crowded than heaven. I can't see how a decent human being could endure heaven knowing that most of his family and friends are in everlasting woe. Good old Christians used to say that the chief bliss of the saved will be in watching the tortures of the damned. That's good Christianity, but as humanity it is outrageous beyond endurance.
I do not believe that all I believe is true. Deeply as I am convinced of certain things, I am utterly afraid of my own opinions. I would not enforce them on any other person. I would not silence his contradictions of me. I want to keep my mind open to new aspects of truth and new opinions, I want my opponents to have every freedom to express everything whatsoever.
Sincerely as I dread and abhor the teachings of most of the churches and churchmen, I would not lift my little finger to prevent one of them from absolute freedom of utterance.
I do not believe in censorship of others or of myself. I could wish as much freedom as I grant. It seems to me that this republic has no more important task than to remember that it was the first nation, whose first government put the church out of political power. The church is always trying to get back in. In spite of the fearful history of religious power the ardent churchmen still will meddle with the government of men. This country has been spared the most horrible experiences of other nations. It can escape permanently only by an unceasing fear of letting religion acquire a foothold in the government, for the moment the churchman comes in at the door with power, that moment freedom flies out of the window.
The church has shown what it can do to its subjects: the gag, the thumbscrew, the dungeon, the fiery stake, excommunication, hell here and hereafter for those who question the divine will. Let us never forget, or we are lost.
The true freeman, the true American, realizes that his right to liberty and equality compels him to grant liberty and equality. He dreads above all things the coercion of another soul, the suppression of free thought and free speech.
The strangest, saddest thing about religious opposition to the freedom of the soul is the ferocity, the ruthlessness of it. Men dispute earnestly about many things and are good sports after the fight. Democrats, Republicans call names, make wild charges and are good friends afterwards. Scientists, historians, business men, artists wrangle violently and yet observe the code of the duel.
But religious disputes and wars are to the death and to hell afterwards. The truth is never sough regardless of consequences. The dogma is not based on examination and proof, with a day in court for the opponent. But faith is fanatic, conscienceless, and fatal. Where the clergy are all-powerful, liberalism is doomed in advance.
They even oppose those they should help most. When certain men tried to free the slaves in this country -- when earlier men tried to free this country, almost all the pulpits assailed them with anathema.
When Golden Rule Jones was Mayor of Toledo and tried to put the Golden Rule into practice the churches were solid against him. When the true saint Judge Ben Lindsey organized a children's court where he could suffer the little children to come to learn justice in words of one syllable, he began a lifelong martyrdom under the assaults of the churches. The politicians were bad enough, but the clergy almost unanimously waged unscrupulous war.
There are good, brave, glorious clergymen, and almost all of them are sincere, but most of them are prisoners on the treadmill of their own set creeds and rituals. I should think they would drive God mad with the eternal repetitiousness of their services, their groveling flatteries and insulting servilities. As a class they dread progress.
The thing that makes churchmen such dangerous citizens is their belief that they have a god directing them and that those who oppose them are opposing God. This is the secret origin of all the horrors. A man alone is subject to evil impulses enough, but a man and a god are a thousand times as dangerous.
Surely, surely the world has lived long enough and poured out enough blood and piled up enough corpses to make this one lesson final: that religion in power is the greatest curse of mankind.
And now for my lastly: If in anything I have written I have hurt or shocked any gentle soul or any cruel fanatic, let them both realize that I speak with simple sincerity, with ardor only for the truth, with doubt only of oppression.
It is because I am weak and silly that I fear those who are so confident of their beliefs that they will act upon them ruthlessly. I am afraid of the Christians because I have read too much about them and pondered them too long. I am so myopic that they look to me like the very devils in which I do not believe.
I am so womanish that I sicken at the very thought of the millions of poor, charred, broken, and slaughtered men, women, and children whom the Christians and the priests of other creeds have put to utter torment of flesh and spirit.
Christians have done and do beautiful, beautiful things. But so it is with savages and dogs and apes.
Christ is much praised for driving from the Temple the money- changers and them that sold doves; but he made no protest against the heartless slaughter of doves, the burning of lambs and all the age-long horror of cooking animals in order that the sweet savor of their flesh might tickle the nostrils of a god whom he imagined sitting within reach of the fragrant smoke, and willing to accept the death of a goat, an ox, or a child as an atonement for a sin. He even accepted the death of his own son as an expiation for the sins of all mankind!
God watches the sparrow fall, but does not rescue it from the hawk. If he is such a being as the Bible describes, he will put me in that inconceivably vast multitude of the damned whose cries must surely drown the harp music and the hallelujahs of the few whom he has elected to serve about his throne. He has a throne and sits on it with Christ at his right hand. Yet he is everywhere and hears everything. So he will hear me howl.
Many good souls protest against a destructive criticism of Christianity and demand a substitute. I do not feel any obligation to substitute a new god for the old ones. I should gladly let them all go. I do not approve of cancer, and yet I do not feel that I have no right to attack a quack who promises a false cure until I have a real cure to propose. As someone said: he who helps destroy the bollweevil has done as constructive work as he who plants the seed.
As for those who protest that I am robbing people of the great comfort and consolation they gain from Christianity, I can only say that Christianity includes hell, eternal torture for the vast majority of humanity, for most of your relatives and friends.
Christianity includes a devil who is really more powerful than God, and who keeps gathering into his furnaces most of the creatures whom God turns out and for whom he sent his son to the cross in vain.
If I could feel that I had robbed anybody of his faith in hell, I should not be ashamed or regretful.
For the present I am happier than any Christian I know. Now I have a wonderful peace of soul in letting the universe run itself and in trying to ride on it and keep out from under the wheels without trying to talk to the Motorman. If I have offended your God, your God is quick to punish when he is ready. He has room for me in his hell and fuel to spare. So let us go our separate ways: you to bliss, and I to blister.
If it shall prove to be true that my failure to believe is itself a crime against God; if my failure to pay him the kind of worship which I cannot, to save me, make sure he wants, is an offense against him, as against you, then you can surely leave my punishment to him.
Believers call me a Materialist and say that I miss the "spiritual significance," the loftiness of religious yearnings. But the true "materialist" seems to me the man who believes that a sprinkling of baptismal water has an effect on sins and on encircling devils; that sin can be washed in the blood of a lamb; that eating bread and drinking wine called the flesh and the blood of a god can have a cannibalistic virtue; that words and music can please the ears of god, and sweet smells, costly robes and loud shoutings can win his favor.
Browning said: "There may be heaven; there must be hell: meanwhile there is our earth here -- well?"
Our earth here! that is parish enough for us. Knowledge relieves miseries, brings comfort, saves lives, spreads beauty within the reach of the poorest. If the billions spent in huge empty buildings were devoted to housing the sick and the poor; if the billions spent on the wages of myriads of clergymen who waste their lives in calling aloud to their god Baal or whatever they call him, were spent in really useful human works, these often well-meaning and often gifted men would not squander so much history, so much power, so much eloquence on the hideous folly that "the fear of god is the beginning of wisdom" and the secret of virtue.
Two hundred million dollars spent this year in this country to adding to the number of half-empty warehouses of piety! Thousands of Ministers warring with one another and with common sense. If there is a god such as they insist on immortalizing from the fancies of ancient and ignorant nomads, what need has he of these innumerable dollars?
If there is a god and he is a god of love, God knows he must wish that his children's treasure and their toil and their fervor should be spent upon one another and on the countless miseries of this unhappy world, which might be made so beautiful. Instead of sanctifying piety, let us make a religion of pity, of mutual help, of the search for truth and power, and the increase of freedom.
Published in Cosmopolitan Magazine
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