by Joseph Lewis
Gems Concerning Origin, Design and Destiny
Religious people see nothing but design everywhere, and personal, intelligent interference in everything. They insist that the universe has been created, and that the adaptation of means to ends is perfectly apparent. They point us to the sunshine, to the flowers, to the April rain, and to all there is of beauty and of use in the world. Did it ever occur to them that a cancer is as beautiful in its development as is the reddest rose? That what they are pleased to call the adaptation of means to ends, is as apparent in the cancer as in the April rain? How beautiful the process of digestion! By what ingenious methods the blood is poisoned so that the cancer shall have food! By what wonderful contrivances the entire system of man is made to pay tribute to this divine and charming cancer! See by what admirable instrumentalities it feeds itself from the surrounding quivering, dainty flesh! See how it gradually but surely expands and grows! By what marvelous mechanism it is supplied with long and slender roots that reach out to the most secret nerves of pain for sustenance and life! What beautiful colors it presents! Seen through the microscope it is a miracle of order and beauty. All the ingenuity of man cannot stop its growth. Think of the amount of thought it must have required to invent a way by which the life of one man might be given to produce one cancer? Is it possible to look upon it and doubt that there is design in the universe, and that the inventor of this wonderful cancer must be infinitely powerful, ingenious and good?
If a god created the universe, then, there must have been a time when he commenced to create. Back of that time there must have been an eternity, during which there had existed nothing -- absolutely nothing -- except this supposed god. According to this theory, this god spent an eternity, so to speak, in an infinite vacuum, and in perfect idleness.
Admitting that a god did create the universe, the question then arises, of what did he create? It certainly was not made of nothing. Nothing, considered in the light of raw material, is a most decided failure. It follows, then, that the god must have made the universe out of himself, he being the only existence. The universe is material, and if it was made of god, the god must have been material.
Like causes, producing like effects, is what we mean by law and order. Then we have matter, force, effect, law and order without a being superior to nature. Now, we know that every effect must also be a cause, and that every cause must be an effect. The atoms coming together did produce an effect, and as every effect must also be a cause, the effect produced by the collision of the atoms, must as to something else have been a cause. Then we have matter, force, law, order, cause and effect without a being superior to nature. Nothing is left for the supernatural but empty space. His throne is a void, and his boasted realm is without matter, without force, without law, without cause, and without effect.
But what put all this matter in motion? If matter and force have existed from eternity, then matter must have always been in motion. There can be no force without motion. Force is forever active, and there is, and there can be no cessation. If, therefore, matter and force have existed from eternity, so has motion. In the whole universe there is not even one atom in a state of rest.
A deity outside of nature exists in nothing, and is nothing. Nature embraces with infinite arms all matter and all force. That which is beyond her grasp is destitute of both, and can hardly be worth the worship and adoration even of a man.
If matter cannot be destroyed, cannot be annihilated, it could not have been created.
The indestructible must be uncreateable.
And then I asked myself: What is force?
We cannot conceive of the creation of force, or of its destruction. Force may be changed from one form to another -- from motion to heat -- but it cannot be destroyed -- annihilated.
If force cannot be destroyed it could not have been created. It is eternal.
Another thing -- matter cannot exist apart from force. Force cannot exist apart from matter. Matter could not have existed before force. Force could not have existed before matter. Matter and force can only be conceived of together. This has been shown by several scientists, but most clearly, most forcibly by Büchner.
Thought is a form of force, consequently it could not have caused or created matter. Intelligence is a form of force and could not have existed without or apart from matter. Without substance there could have been no mind, no will, no force in any form, and there could have been no substance without force.
Matter and force were not created. They have existed from eternity. They cannot be destroyed.
In nature I see, or seem to see, good and evil -- intelligence and ignorance -- goodness and cruelty -- care and carelessness -- economy and waste. I see means that do not accomplish ends -- designs that seem to fail.
To me it seems infinitely cruel for life to feed on life -- to create animals that devour others.
The teeth and beaks, the claws and fangs, that tear and rend, fill me with horror. What can be more frightful than a world at war? Every leaf a battlefield -- every flower a Golgotha -- in every drop of water pursuits, capture and death. Under every piece of bark, life lying in wait for life. On every blade of grass, something that kills, -- something that suffers. Everywhere the strong living on the weak -- the superior on the inferior. Everywhere the weak, the insignificant, living on the strong -- the inferior on the superior -- the highest food for the lowest -- man sacrificed for the sake of microbes. Murder universal. Everywhere pain, disease and death -- death that does not wait for bent forms and gray hairs, but clutches babes and happy youths. Death that takes the mother from her helpless, dimpled child -- death that fills the world with grief and tears.
How can the orthodox Christian explain these things?
I read Paley's Evidences and found that the evidence of ingenuity in producing the evil, in contriving the hurtful, was at least equal to the evidence tending to show the use of intelligence in the creation of what we call good.
You know the watch argument was Paley's greatest effort. A man finds a watch and it is so wonderful that he concludes that it must have had a maker. He finds the maker and he is so much more wonderful than the watch that he says he must have had a maker. Then he finds God, the maker of the man, and he is so much more wonderful than the man that he could not have had a maker. This is what the lawyers call a departure in pleading.
According to Paley there can be no design without a designer -- but there can be a designer without a design. The wonder of the watch suggested the watchmaker, and the wonder of the watchmaker, suggested the creator, and the wonder of the creator demonstrated that he was not created -- but was uncaused and eternal.
I think it was Sir William Thomson who, in his effort to account for the origin of life upon this earth, stated that it might have come from some meteoric stone falling from some other planet having in it the germs of life. What would you think of a farmer who would prepare his land and wait to have it planted by meteoric stones? So, what would you think of a Deity who would make a world like this, and allow it to whirl thousands and millions of years, barren as a gravestone, waiting for some vagrant comet to sow the seeds of life?
I believe that back of animal life is the vegetable, and back of the vegetable, it may be, is the mineral. It may be that crystallization is the first step toward what we call life, and yet I believe life is back of that. In my judgment, if the earth ever was in a gaseous state, it was filled with life. These are subjects about which we know but little. How do you account for chemistry? How do you account for the fact that just so many particles of one kind seek the society of just so many particles of another, and when they meet they instantly form a glad and lasting union? How do you know but atoms have love and hatred? How do you know that the vegetable does not enjoy growing, and that crystallization itself is not an expression of delight? How do you know that a vine bursting into flower does not feel a thrill? We find sex in the meanest weeds -- how can you say they have no loves?
After all, of what use is it to search for a creator? The difficulty is not thus solved. You leave your creator as much in need of a creator as anything your creator is supposed to have created. The bottom of your stairs rests on nothing, and the top of your stairs leans upon nothing. You have reached no solution.
The word "God" is simply born of our ignorance. We go as far as we can, and we say the rest of the way is "God." We look as far as we can, and beyond the horizon, where there is nought so far as we know but blindness, we place our Deity. We see an infinitesimal segment of a circle, and we say the rest is "God."
We are satisfied that all organized things must have had a beginning, but we cannot conceive that matter commenced to be. Forms change but substance remains eternally the same.
A beginning of substance is unthinkable.
It is just as easy to conceive of anything commencing to exist without a cause as with a cause. There must be something for cause to operate upon. Cause operating upon nothing -- were such a thing possible -- would produce nothing. There can be no relation between cause and nothing.
The universe, according to my idea, is, always was, and forever will be. It did not "come into being," it is the one eternal being, -- the only thing that ever did, does, or can exist. It did not "make its own laws." We know nothing of what we call the laws of nature except as we gather the idea of law from the uniformity of phenomena springing from like conditions. To make myself clear: Water always runs down-hill. The theist says that this happens because there is behind the phenomenon an active law. As a matter of fact, law is this side of the phenomenon. Law does not cause the phenomenon, but the phenomenon causes the idea of law in our minds; and this idea is produced from the fact that under like circumstances the same phenomenon always happens. Mr. Black [the Attorney General] probably thinks that the difference in the weight of rocks and clouds was created by law; that parallel lines fail to unite only because it is illegal; that diameter and circumference could have been so made that it would be a greater distance across than around a circle; that a straight line could enclose a triangle if not prevented by law, and that a little legislation could make it possible for two bodies to occupy the same space at the same time. It seems to me that law cannot be the cause of phenomenon, but is an effect produced in our minds by their succession and resemblance. To put a God back of the universe, compels us to admit that there was a time when nothing existed except this God; that this God had lived from eternity in an infinite vacuum, and in absolute idleness. The mind of every thoughtful man is forced to one of these two conclusions: either that the universe is self-existent, or that it was created by a self-existent being. To my mind, there are far more difficulties in the second hypothesis than in the first.
It will not do to say that the universe was designed, and therefore there must be a designer. There must first be proof that it was "designed." It will not do to say that the universe has a "plan," and then assert that there must have been an infinite maker. The idea that a design must have a beginning and that a designer need not, is a simple expression of human ignorance.
In other words, all things a little wonderful must have been created, but it is possible for something to be so wonderful that it always existed. One would suppose that just as the wonder increased the necessity for a creator increased, because it is the wonder of the thing that suggests the idea of creation. Is it possible that a designer exists from all eternity without design? Was there no design in having an infinite designer? For me, it is hard to see the plan or design in earthquakes and pestilences. It is somewhat difficult to discern the design or the benevolence in so making the world that billions of animals live only on the agonies of others. The justice of God is not visible to me in the history of this world. When I think of the suffering and death, of the poverty and crime, of the cruelty and malice, of the heartlessness of this "design" and "plan," where beak and claw and tooth tear and rend the quivering flesh of weakness and despair, I cannot convince myself that it is the result of infinite wisdom, benevolence, and justice.
Let it be understood that by the term Law is meant the same invariable relations of succession and resemblance predicated of all facts springing from like conditions. Law is a fact -- not a cause. It is a fact, that like conditions produce like results: this fact is Law. When we say that the universe is governed by law, we mean that this fact, called law, is incapable of change; that it is, has been, and forever will be, the same inexorable, immutable Fact, inseparable from all phenomena. Law, in this sense, was not enacted or made. It could not have been otherwise than as it is. That which necessarily exists has no creator.
Credulity, as a rule, believes everything except the truth. The semi-civilized believe in astrology, but who could convince them of the vastness of the astronomical spaces, the speed of light, or the magnitude and number of suns and constellations? If Hermann, the magician, and Humboldt, the philosopher, could have appeared before savages, which would have been regarded as a god?
When men knew nothing of mechanics, nothing of the correlation of force, and of its indestructibility, they were believers in perpetual motion. So when chemistry was a kind of sleight-of-hand, or necromancy, something accomplished by the aid of the supernatural, people talked about the transmutation of metals, the universal solvent, and the philosopher's stone. Perpetual motion would be a mechanical miracle; and the transmutation of metals would be a miracle in chemistry; and if we could make the result of multiplying two by two five, that would be a miracle in mathematics. No one expects to find a circle the diameter of which is just one fourth of the circumference. If one could find such a circle, then there would be a miracle in geometry.
Is man involved in the "general scheme of things"? Is there no pity, no mercy? Can man become intelligent enough to be generous, to be just; or does the same law or fact control him that controls the animal and vegetable world? The great oak steals the sunlight from the smaller trees. The strong animals devour the weak -- everything eating something else -- everything at the mercy of beak and claw and hoof and tooth -- of hand and club, of brain and greed -- inequality, injustice, everywhere.
Think of these vast deposits caused by the slow falling of infinitesimal atoms of impalpable dust through the silent depths of ancient seas! Think of the microscopical forms of life, constructing their minute houses of lime, giving life to others, leaving their mansions beneath the waves, and so through countless generations building the foundations of continents and islands.
Go back of all life that we know -- back of all the flying lizards, the armored monsters, the hissing serpents, the winged and fanged horrors -- back to the Laurentian rocks -- to the eozóon, the first of living things that we have found -- back of all mountains, seas and rivers -- back to the first incrustation of the molten world -- back of wave of fire and robe of flame -- back to the time when all the substance of the earth blazed in the glowing sun with all the stars that wheel about the central fire.
Think of the days and nights that lie between! -- think of the centuries, the withered leaves of time, that strew the deserts of the past!
Nature does not hurry.
Time cannot be wasted -- cannot be lost.
The future remains eternal and all the past is as though it had not been -- as though it were to be. The infinite knows neither loss nor gain.
We cannot conceive of the destruction of substance. The stone can be crushed to powder, and the powder can be ground to such a fineness that the atoms can only be distinguished by the most powerful microscope, and we can then imagine these atoms being divided and subdivided again and again and again; but it is impossible for us to conceive of the annihilation of the least possible imaginable fragment of the least atom of which we can think. Consequently the mind can imagine neither creation nor destruction. From this point it is very easy to reach the generalization that the indestructible could not have been created.
Nature is but an endless series of efficient causes. She cannot create, but she eternally transforms. There was no beginning, and there can be no end.
How a man can perceive the inalterable succession of facts in Nature and at the same time believe in a supernatural providence, is beyond my imagination.
I agree that the world is a mystery, not only, but that everything in nature is equally mysterious, and that there is no way of escape from the mystery of life and death. To me, the crystallization of the snow is as mysterious as the constellations. But when you endeavor to explain the mystery of the universe by the mystery of God, you do not even exchange mysteries -- you simply make one more.
Nothing can be mysterious enough to become an explanation.
The mystery of man cannot be explained by the mystery of God. That mystery still asks for explanation. The mind is so that it cannot grasp the idea of an infinite personality. That is beyond the circumference. This being so, it is impossible that man can be convinced by any evidence of the existence of that which he cannot in any measure comprehend. Such evidence would be equally incomprehensible with the incomprehensible fact sought to be established by it, and the intellect of man can grasp neither the one nor the other.
You admit that the God of Nature -- this is to say, your God -- is as inflexible as nature itself. Why should man worship the inflexible? Why should he kneel to the unchangeable? You say that your God "does not bend to human thought any more than to human will," and that "the more we study him, the more we find that he is not what we imagined him to be." So that, after all, the only thing you are really certain of in relation to your God is, that he is not what you think he is. Is it not almost absurd to insist that such a state of mind is necessary to salvation, or that it is a moral restraint, or that it is the foundation of social order?
All the natural things in the world are not sufficient to establish the supernatural.
Even an infinite God cannot change a fact.
Truth is neither young nor old, is neither ancient nor modern, but is the same for all times and places and should be sought for with ceaseless activity, eagerly acknowledged, loved more than life, and abandoned -- never.
In the world of Science, a fact is a legal tender. Assertions and miracles are base and spurious coins.
A few years ago the Deists denied the inspiration of the Bible on account of its cruelty. At the same time they worshiped what they were pleased to call the God of Nature. Now we are convinced that Nature is as cruel as the Bible; so that, if the God of Nature did not write the Bible, this God at least has caused earthquakes and pestilence and famine, and this God has allowed millions of his children to destroy one another. So that now we have arrived at the question -- not as to whether the Bible is inspired and not as to whether Jehovah is the real God, but whether there is a God or not.
You must admit [If you believe in Design] that an infinitely wise and merciful God designed the fangs of serpents, the machinery by which the poison is distilled, the ducts by which it is carried to the fang, and that the same intelligence impressed this serpent with a desire to deposit this deadly virus in the flesh of man. You must believe that an infinitely wise God so constructed this world, that in the process of cooling, earthquakes were caused -- earthquakes that devour and overwhelm cities and states. Do you see any design in the volcano that sends its rivers of lava over the fields and the homes of men? Do you really think that a perfectly good being designed the invisible parasites that infest the air, that inhabit the water and that finally attack and destroy the health and life of man? Do you see the same design in cancers that you do in wheat and corn? Did God invent tumors for the brain? Was it his ingenuity that so designed the human race that millions of people should be born deaf and dumb, that millions should be idiotic? Did he knowingly plant in the blood or the brain the seeds of insanity? Did he cultivate those seeds? Do you see any design in this?
So far as we know, there is no intelligence apart from matter. We cannot conceive of thought, except as produced within a brain.
Every thought must have had an efficient cause. Every motive, every desire, every fear, hope and dream must have been necessarily produced. There is no room in the mind of man for providence or chance. The facts and forces governing thought are as absolute as those governing the motions of the planets.
The present moment is the child, and the necessary child, of all the past.
No one infers a god from the simple, from the known, from what is understood, but from the complex, from the unknown, and incomprehensible. Our ignorance is God; what we know is science.
The believers in the supernatural insist that matter is controlled and directed entirely by powers from without; while naturalists maintain that Nature acts from within; that Nature is not acted upon; that the universe is all there is; that Nature with infinite arms embraces everything that exists, and that all supposed powers beyond the limits of the material are simply ghosts. You say, "Oh, this is materialism!" What is the matter? I take in my hand some earth -- in this dust put seeds. Let the arrows of light from the quiver of the sun smite upon it; let the rain fall upon it. The seeds will grow and a plant will bud and blossom. Do you understand this? Can you explain it better than you can the production of thought? Have you the slightest conception of what it really is? And yet you speak of matter as though acquainted with its origin, as though you had torn from the clenched hands of the rocks the secrets of material existence. Do you know what force is? Can you account for molecular action? Are you really familiar with chemistry, and can you account for the loves and hatreds of the atoms? Is there not something in matter that forever eludes? After all, can you get beyond, above or below appearances? Before you cry "materialism!" had you not better ascertain what matter really is? Can you think even of anything without a material basis? Is it possible to imagine the annihilation of a single atom? Is it possible for you to conceive of the creation of an atom? Can you have a thought that was not suggested to you by what you call matter?
You take in your hand a little earth -- little dust. Do you know what it is? In this dust you put a seed; the rain falls upon it; the light strikes it; the seed grows; it bursts into blossom; it produces fruit.
What is this dust -- this womb? Do you understand it? Is there anything in the wide universe more wonderful than this?
Take a grain of sand, reduce it to powder, take the smallest possible particle, look at it with a microscope, contemplate its every part for days, and it remains the citadel of a secret -- an impregnable fortress. Bring all the theologians, philosophers, and scientists in serried ranks against it; let them attack on every side with all the arts and arms of thought and force. The citadel does not fall. Over the battlements floats the flag, and the victorious secret smiles at the baffled hosts.
It may be that the fabric of our civilization will crumbling fall to unmeaning chaos and to formless dust, where oblivion broods and even memory forgets. Perhaps the blind Samson of some imprisoned force, released by thoughtless chance, may so wreck and strand the world that man, in stress and strain of want and fear, will shudderingly crawl back to savage and barbaric night. The time may come in which this thrilled and throbbing earth, shorn of all life, will in its soundless orbit wheel a barren star, on which the light will fall as fruitlessly as falls the gaze of love upon the cold, pathetic face of death.
I know that life is good. I remember the sunshine and rain. Then I think of the earthquake and flood. I do not forget health and harvest, home and love -- but what of pestilence and famine? I cannot harmonize all these contradictions -- these blessings and agonies -- with the existence of an infinitely good, wise and powerful God.
The theologian says that what we call evil is for our benefit -- that we are placed in this world of sin and sorrow to develop character. If this is true I ask why the infant dies? Millions and millions draw a few breaths and fade away in the arms of their mothers. They are not allowed to develop character.
The theologian says that serpents were given fangs to protect themselves from their enemies. Why did the God who made them, make enemies? Why is it that many species of serpents have no fangs?
The theologian says that God armored the hippopotamus, covered his body, except the under part, with scales and plates, that other animals could not pierce with tooth or tusk. But the same God made the rhinoceros and supplied him with a horn on his nose, with which he disembowels the hippopotamus.
The same God made the eagle, the vulture, the hawk, and their helpless prey.
Laughter is a test of character. When we know what a man laughs at, we know what he really is. Does he laugh at misfortune, at poverty, at honesty in rags, at industry without food, at the agonies of his fellow-men? Does he laugh when he sees the convict clothed in the garments of shame -- at the criminal on the scaffold? Does he rub his hands with glee over the embers of an enemy's home? Think of a man capable of laughing while looking at Marguerite in the prison cell with her dead babe by her side. What must be the real character of a God who laughs at the calamities of his children, mocks at their fears, their desolation, their distress and anguish? Would an infinitely loving God hold his ignorant children in derision? Would he pity, or mock? Save, or destroy? Educate, or exterminate? Would he lead them with gentle hands toward the light, or lie in wait for them like a wild beast? Think of the echoes of Jehovah's laughter in the rayless caverns of the eternal prison. Can a good man mock at the children of deformity? Will he deride the misshapen? Your Jehovah deformed some of his own children, and then held them up to scorn and hatred. These divine mistakes -- these blunders of the infinite -- were not allowed to enter the temple erected in honor of him who had dishonored them. Does a kind father mock his deformed child? What would you think of a mother who would deride and taunt her misshapen babe?
The scientists tell us that there is a little microscopic animal, one who is very particular about his food -- so particular, that he prefers to all other things the optic nerve, and after he has succeeded in destroying that nerve and covering the eye with the mask of blindness, he has intelligence enough to bore his way through the bones of the nose in search of the other optic nerve. Is it not somewhat difficult to discover "the signature of beauty with which God has stamped" this animal? For my part, I see but little beauty in poisonous serpents, in man-eating sharks, in crocodiles, in alligators. It would be impossible for me to gaze with admiration upon a cancer. Think, for a moment, of a God ingenious enough to feed a cancer with the quivering flesh of a human being, and to give for the sustenance of that cancer the life of a mother.
There is no more personal Creator than there is a personal destroyer.
God is a guess.
It is impossible for me to conceive of something being created from nothing. Nothing, regarded in the light of a raw material, is a decided failure. I cannot conceive of matter apart from force. Neither is it possible to think of force disconnected with matter. You cannot imagine matter going back to absolute nothing. Neither can you imagine nothing being changed into something. You may be eternally damned if you do not say that you can conceive these things, but you cannot conceive them. Such is the constitution of the human mind that it cannot even think of a commencement or an end of matter, or force.
As a matter of fact it is impossible for a man to conceive of a personal God, other than as a being having the human form. No one can think of an infinite being having the form of a horse, or of a bird, or of any animal beneath man. It is one of the necessities of the mind to associate forms with intellectual capacities. The highest form of which we have any conception is man's, and consequently, his is the only form that we can find in imagination to give to a personal God, because all other forms are, in our minds, connected with lower intelligences.
It is impossible to think of a personal God as a spirit without form. We can use these words, but they do not convey to the mind any real and tangible meaning. Every one who thinks of a personal God at all, thinks of him as having the human form. Take from God the idea of form; speak of him simply as an all pervading spirit -- which means an all pervading something about which we know nothing -- and Pantheism is the result.
Confronted with the universe, with fields of space sown thick with stars, with all there is of life, the wise man, being asked the origin and destiny of all, replies: "I do not know. These questions are beyond the powers of my mind." The wise man is thoughtful and modest. He clings to facts. Beyond his intellectual horizon he does not pretend to see. He does not mistake hope for evidence or desire for demonstration. He is honest. He neither deceives himself nor others.
As a matter of fact, the questions of origin and destiny are beyond the grasp of the human mind. We can see a certain distance; beyond that, everything is indistinct; and beyond the indistinct is the unseen. In the presence of these mysteries -- and everything is a mystery so far as origin, destiny, and nature are concerned -- the intelligent, honest man is compelled to say, "I do not know."
In the great midnight a few truths like stars shine on forever, and from the brain of man come a few struggling gleams of light, a few momentary sparks.
Some have contended that everything is spirit; others that everything is matter; and again, others have maintained that a part is matter and a part is spirit; some that spirit was first and matter after; others that matter was first and spirit after; and others that matter and spirit have existed together.
In the search for truth, -- everything in nature seems to hide, -- man needs the assistance of all his faculties. All the senses should be awake. Humor should carry a torch, Wit should give its sudden light, Candor should hold the scales, Reason, the final arbiter, should put his royal stamp on every fact, and Memory, with a miser's care, should keep and guard the mental gold.
Only the very ignorant are perfectly satisfied that they know. To the common man the great problems are easy. He has no trouble in accounting for the universe. He can tell you the origin and destiny of man and the why and wherefore of things. As a rule, he is a believer in special providence, and is egotistic enough to suppose that everything that happens in the universe happens in reference to him.
The agnostic does not simply say, "l do not know." He goes another step, and he says, with great emphasis, that you do not know. He insists that you are trading on the ignorance of others, and on the fear of others. He is not satisfied with saying that you do not know, -- he demonstrates that you do not know, and he drives you from the field of fact -- he drives you from the realm of reason -- he drives you from the light, into the darkness of conjecture -- into the world of dreams and shadows, and he compels you to say, at last, that your faith has no foundation in fact.
I admit that I do not know whether there is any infinite personality or not, because I do not know that my mind is an absolute standard. But according to my mind, there is no such personality; and according to my mind, it is an infinite absurdity to suppose that there is such an infinite personality. But I do know something of human nature; I do know a little of the history of mankind; and I know enough to know that what is known as the Christian faith, is not true. I am perfectly satisfied, beyond all doubt and beyond all peradventure, that all miracles are falsehoods. I know as well as I know that I live -- that others live -- that what you call your faith, is not true.
There may be a God for all I know. There may be thousands of them. But the idea of an infinite Being outside and independent of nature is inconceivable. I do not know of any word that would explain my doctrine or my views upon that subject. I suppose Pantheism is as near as I could go. I believe in the eternity of matter and in the eternity of intelligence, but I do not believe in any Being outside of nature. I do not believe in any personal Deity. I do not believe in any aristocracy of the air. I know nothing about origin or destiny. Between these two horizons I live, whether I wish to or not, and must be satisfied with what I find between these two horizons. I have never heard any God described that I believe in. I have never heard any religion explained that I accept. To make something out of nothing cannot be more absurd than that an infinite intelligence made this world, and proceeded to fill it with crime and want and agony, and then, not satisfied with the evil he had wrought, made a hell in which to consummate the great mistake.
Gems Concerning Myth and Miracle
We must remember that there is a great difference between a myth and a miracle. A myth is the idealization of a fact. A miracle is the counterfeit of a fact. There is the same difference between a myth and a miracle that there is between fiction and falsehood -- between poetry and perjury. Miracles belong to the far past and the far future. The little line of sand, called the present, between the seas, belongs to common sense, to the natural.
If you should tell a man that the dead were raised two thousand years ago, he would probably say: "Yes, I know that." If you should say that a hundred thousand years from now all the dead will be raised, he might say: "Probably they will." But if you should tall him that you saw a dead man raised and given life that day, he would likely ask the name of the insane asylum from which you had escaped.
Our Bible is filled with accounts of miracles and yet they always fail to convince.
Jehovah, according to the Scriptures, wrought hundreds of miracles for the benefit of the Jews. With many miracles he rescued them from slavery, guided them on their journey with a miraculous cloud by day and a miraculous pillar of fire by night -- divided the sea that they might escape from the Egyptians, fed them with miraculous manna and supernatural quails, raised up hornets to attack their enemies, caused water to follow them wherever they wandered and in countless ways manifested his power, and yet the Jews cared nothing for these wonders. Not one of them seems to have been convinced that Jehovah had done anything for the people.
In spite of all these miracles, the Jews had more confidence in a golden calf, made by themselves, than in Jehovah. The reason for this is, that the miracles were never performed, and never invented until hundreds of years after those, who had wandered over the desert of Sinai, were dust.
The miracles attributed to Christ had no effect. No human being seems to have been convinced by them. Those whom he raised from the dead, cured of leprosy, or blindness, failed to become his followers. Not one of them appeared at his trial. Not one offered to bear witness of his miraculous power.
To this there is but one explanation: The miracles were never performed. These stories were the growth of centuries. The casting out of devils, the changing of water into wine, feeding the multitude with a few loaves and fishes, resisting the devil, using a fish for a pocketbook, curing the blind with clay and saliva, stilling the tempest, walking on the water, the resurrection and ascension, happened and only happened, in the imaginations of men, who were not born until several generations after Christ was dead.
In those days the world was filled with ignorance and fear. Miracles happened every day. The supernatural was expected. Gods were continually interfering with the affairs of the world. Everything was told except the truth, everything believed except the facts. History was a circumstantial account of occurrences that never occurred. Devils and goblins and ghosts were as plentiful as saints. The bones of the dead were used to cure the living. Cemeteries were hospitals and corpses were physicians. The saints practiced magic, the pious communed with God in dreams, and the course of events was changed by prayer. The credulous demanded the marvelous, the miraculous, and the priests supplied the demand. The sky was full of signs, omens of death and disaster, and the darkness thick with devils endeavoring to mislead and enslave the souls of men.
Our fathers thought that everything had been made for man, and that demons and gods gave their entire attention to this world. The people believed that they were the sport and prey, the favorites or victims, of these phantoms. And they also believed that the creator, the God, could be influenced by sacrifice, by prayers and ceremonies.
This has been the mistake of the world. All the temples have been reared, all the altars erected, all the sacrifices offered, all the prayers uttered in vain. No god has interfered, no prayer has been answered, no help received from heaven. Nothing was created, nothing has happened for, or with reference to man. If not a human being lived -- if all were in their graves, the sun would continue to shine, the wheeling world would still pursue its flight, violets would spread their velvet bosoms to the day, the spendthrift roses give their perfume to the air, the climbing vines would hide with leaf and flower the fallen and the dead, the changing seasons would come and go, time would repeat the poem of the year, storms would wreck and whispering rains repair, Spring with deft and unseen hands would weave her robes of green, life with countless lips would seek fair Summer's swelling breasts, Autumn would reap the wealth of leaf and fruit and seed, Winter, the artist, would etch in frost the pines and ferns, while Wind and Wave and Fire, old architects, with ceaseless toil would still destroy and build, still wreck and change, and from the dust of death produce again the throb and breath of life.
The uniformity of Nature denies the supernatural and demonstrates that there is no interference from without. There is no place, no office left for gods. Ghosts fade from the brain and the shrivelled deities fall palsied from their thrones.
The uniformity of Nature renders a belief in "special providence" impossible. Prayer becomes a useless agitation of the air, and religious ceremonies are but motions, pantomimes, mindless and meaningless.
The naked savage, worshiping a wooden god, is the religious equal of the robed pope kneeling before an image of the Virgin. The poor African who carries roots and bark to protect himself from evil spirits is on the same intellectual plane of one who sprinkles his body with "holy water."
Ignorance is the soil in which belief in miracles grows.
Why is a miracle any more necessary to account for yesterday than for to-day or for tomorrow?
It would be delightful to know that angels hover in the air; that they guard the innocent, protect the good; that they bend over the cradles and give health and happy dreams to pallid babes; that they fill dungeons with the light of their presence and give hope to the imprisoned; that they follow the fallen, the erring, the outcasts, the friendless, and win them back to virtue, love and joy. But we have no more evidence of the existence of good spirits than of bad. The angels that visited Abraham and the mother of Samson are as unreal as the ghosts and goblins of the Middle Ages. The angel that stopped the donkey of Balaam, the one who walked in the furnace flames with Meshech, Shadrack and Abednego, the one who slew the Assyrians and the one who in a dream removed the suspicions of Joseph, were all created by the imagination of the credulous, by the lovers of the marvelous, and they have been handed down from dotage to infancy, from ignorance to ignorance, through all the years. Except in Catholic countries, no winged citizen of the celestial realm has visited the world for hundreds of years. Only those who are blind to facts can see these beautiful creatures, and only those who reach conclusions without the assistance of evidence can believe in their existence. It is told that the great Angelo, in decorating a church, painted some angels wearing sandals. A cardinal looking at the picture said to the artist: "Whoever saw angels with sandals?" Angelo answered with another question: "Whoever saw an angel barefooted?"
But the angels come no more. They bring no balm to any wounded heart. Long ago they folded their pinions and faded from the earth and air. These winged guardians no longer protect the innocent; no longer cheer the suffering; no longer whisper words of comfort to the helpless. They have become dreams -- vanished visions.
The dogmas of the past no longer reach the level of the highest thought, nor satisfy the hunger of the heart. While dusty faiths, embalmed and sepulchered in ancient texts, remain the same, the sympathies of men enlarge; the brain no longer kills its young; the happy lips give liberty to honest thoughts; the mental firmament expands and lifts; the broken clouds drift by; the hideous dreams, the foul, misshapen children of the monstrous night, dissolve and fade.
At last the old creeds are becoming cruel and vulgar. We now have imagination enough to put ourselves in the place of others. Believers in hell, in eternal pain, like murderers, lack imagination. The murderer has not imagination enough to see his victim dead. He does not see the sightless and pathetic eyes. He does not see the widow's arms about the corpse, her lips upon the dead. He does not hear the sobs of children. He does not see the funeral. He does not hear the clods as they fall on the coffin. He does not feel the hand of arrest, the scene of the trial is not before him. He does not hear the awful verdict, the sentence of the court, the last words. He does not see the scaffold, nor feel about his throat the deadly noose.
Let us develop the brain, civilize the heart, and give wings to the imagination.
Every brain was a field in which Nature sowed the seeds of thought. The rise and set of sun, the birth and death of day, the dawns of silver and the dusks of gold, the wonders of the rain and snow, the shroud of Winter and the many colored robe of Spring, the lonely moon with nightly loss or gain, the serpent lightning and the thunder's voice, the tempest's fury and the zephyr's sigh, the threat of storm and promise of the bow, cathedral clouds with dome and spire, earthquake and strange eclipse, frost and fire, the snow-crowned mountains with their tongues of flame, the fields of space sown thick with stars, the wandering comets hurrying past the fixed and sleepless sentinels of night, the marvels of the earth and air, the perfumed flower, the painted wing, the waveless pool that held within its magic breast the image of the startled face, the mimic echo that made a record in the viewless air, the pathless forests and the boundless seas, the ebb and flow of tides -- the slow, deep breathing of some vague and monstrous life -- the miracle of birth, the mystery of dream and death, and over all the silent and immeasurable dome. These were the warp and woof, and at the loom sat Love and Fancy, Hope and Fear, and wove the wondrous tapestries whereon we find pictures of gods and fairy lands and all the legends that were told when Nature rocked the cradle of the infant world.
In all these myths and legends of the past we find philosophies and dreams and efforts, stained with tears, of great and tender souls who tried to pierce the mysteries of life and death, to answer the questions of the whence and whither, and who vainly sought with bits of shattered glass to make a mirror that would in very truth reflect the face and form of Nature's perfect self. These myths were born of hopes and fears, of tears and smiles, and they were touched and colored by all there is of joy and grief between the rosy dawn of birth and death's sad night. They clothed even the stars with passion, and gave to gods the faults and frailties of the sons of men. In them the winds and waves were music, and all the springs, the mountains, woods and perfumed dells were haunted by a thousand fairy forms. They thrilled the veins of Spring with tremulous desire, made tawny Summer's billowy breast the throne and home of love, filled Autumn's arms with sun-kissed grapes and gathered sheaves, and pictured Winter as a weak old king, who felt, like Lear, upon his withered face, Cordelia's tears.
These myths, though false in fact, are beautiful and true in thought, and have for many ages and in countless ways enriched the heart and kindled thought.
We have found that we do not depend on the imagination for wonders -- there are millions of miracles under our feet.
Nothing can be more marvelous than the common and everyday facts of life. The phantoms have been cast aside. Men and women are enough for men and women. In their lives is all the tragedy and all the comedy that they can comprehend.
We are no longer misled by myths and legends. We rely upon facts. The world is our witness and the stars testify for us.
We need no myths, no miracles, no gods, no devils.
We read the pagan sacred books with profit and delight. With myth and fable we are ever charmed, and find a pleasure in the endless repetition of the beautiful, poetic and absurd.
But if the world were taught that all these things are true and all inspired of God, and that eternal punishment will be the lot of him who dares deny or doubt, the sweetest myth of all the Fable World would lose its beauty, and become a scorned and hateful thing to every brave and thoughtful man.
Two Ways of Life --
The Natural and The Supernatural
There are two ways, -- the natural and the supernatural.
One way is to live for the world we are in, to develop the brain by study and investigation, to take, by invention, advantage of the forces of nature, to the end that we may have good houses, raiment and food, to the end that the hunger of the mind may be fed through art and science.
The other way is to live for another world that we expect, to sacrifice this life that we have for another that we know not of. The other way is by prayer and ceremony to obtain the assistance, the protection of some phantom above the clouds.
One way is to think -- to investigate, to observe, and follow the light of reason. The other way is to believe, to accept, to follow, to deny the authority of your own senses, your own reason, and bow down to those who are impudent enough to declare that they know.
One way is to live for the benefit of your fellowmen -- for your wife and children -- to make those you love happy and to shield them from the sorrows of life.
The other way is to live for ghosts, goblins, phantoms and gods with the hope that they will reward you in another world.
One way is to enthrone reason and rely on facts, the other to crown credulity and live on faith.
One way is to walk by the light within -- by the flame that illumines the brain, verifying all by the senses -- by touch and sight and sound.
The other way is to extinguish the sacred light and follow blindly the steps of another.
One way is to be an honest man, giving to others your thought, standing erect, intrepid, careless of phantoms and hells.
The other way is to cringe and crawl, to betray your nobler self, and to deprive others of the liberty that you have not the courage to enjoy.
So there have been for many centuries two philosophies of life: one in favor of the destruction of the passions -- the lessening of wants, -- and absolute reliance on some higher power; the other, in favor of the reasonable gratification of the passions, the increase of wants, and their supply by industry, ingenuity and invention, and the reliance of man on his own efforts. Diogenes, Epictetus, Socrates to some extent, Buddha and Christ, all taught the first philosophy. All despised riches and luxury, all were the enemies of art and music, the despisers of good clothes and good food and good homes. They were the philosophers of poverty and rags, of huts and hovels, of ignorance and faith. They preached the glories of another world and the miseries of this. They derided the prosperous, the industrious, those who enjoyed life, and reserved heaven for beggars.
This philosophy is losing authority, and now most people are anxious to be happy here in this life. Most people want food and roof and raiment -- books and pictures, luxury and leisure. They believe in developing the brain -- in making servants and slaves of the forces of Nature.
Now the intelligent men of the world have cast aside the teachings, the philosophy of the ascetics. They no longer believe in the virtue of fasting and self-torture. They believe that happiness is the only good, and that the time to be happy is now -- here, in this world.
We are on the eve of discovering that nothing should be done for the sake of gods, but all for the good of man -- nothing for another world -- everything for this.
Do not regret having lost yesterday; do not fear that you will lose tomorrow; enjoy to-day.
Religion makes enemies instead of friends. That one word, "religion," covers all the horizon of memory with visions of war, of outrage, of persecution, of tyranny, and death. That one word brings to the mind every instrument with which man has tortured man. In that one word are all the fagots and flames and dungeons of the past, and in that word is the infinite and eternal hell of the future.
The people also found that commerce made friends where religion made enemies, and that religious zeal was utterly incompatible with peace between nations or individuals.
The few have said, "Think!" The many have said, "Believe!"
In a little while religion will take its place with astrology, with the black art, and its ministers will take rank with magicians and sleight-of-hand performers.
Why do we make so many mistakes? Because there is only one right way, and there is an almost infinite number of wrong ways; and as long as we are not perfect in our intellects we must make mistakes.
Falsehoods like weeds flourish without care. Weeds care nothing for soil or rain. They not only ask no help but they almost defy destruction. In the minds of children, superstitions, legends, myths and miracles find a natural, and in most instances, a lasting home. Thrown aside in manhood, forgotten or denied, in old age they oft return and linger to the end.
This in part accounts for the longevity of religious lies.
It is a magnificent thing to be the sole proprietor of yourself.
Surely every human being ought to attain to the dignity of the unit. Surely it is worth something to be one, and to feel that the census of the universe would be incomplete without counting you. Surely there is grandeur in knowing that in the realm of thought, at least, you are without a chain; that you have the right to explore all heights and all depths; that there are no walls nor fences, nor prohibited places, nor sacred corners in all the vast expanse of thought; that your intellect owes no allegiance to any being, human or divine; that you hold all in fee and upon no condition and by no tenure whatever; that in the world of mind you are relieved from all personal dictation, and from the ignorant tyranny of majorities. Surely it is worth something to feel that there are no priests, no popes, no parties, no governments, no kings, no gods, to whom your intellect can be compelled to pay a reluctant homage. Surely it is a joy to know that all the cruel ingenuity of bigotry can devise no prison, no dungeon, no cell in which for one instant to confine a thought; that ideas cannot be dislocated by racks, nor crushed in iron boots, nor burned with fire. Surely it is sublime to think that the brain is a castle, and that within its curious bastions and winding halls the soul, in spite of all worlds and all beings, is the supreme sovereign of itself.
Thousands of persons believe in lucky and unlucky days, numbers, signs and jewels.
Many people regard Friday as an unlucky day -- as a bad day to commence a journey, to marry, to make any investment. The only reason given is that Friday is an unlucky day.
Starting across the sea on Friday could have no possible effect upon the winds, or waves, or tides, any more than starting on any other day, and the only possible reason for thinking Friday unlucky is the assertion that it is so.
So it is thought by many that it is dangerous for thirteen people to dine together. Now, if thirteen is a dangerous number, twenty-six ought to be twice as dangerous, and fifty-two four times as terrible.
It is said that one of the thirteen will die in a year. Now, there is no possible relation between the number and the digestion of each, between the number and the individual diseases. If fourteen dine together there is greater probability, if we take into account only the number, of a death within the year, than there would be if only thirteen were at the table.
Now no man in whose brain the torch of reason burns, no man who investigates, who really thinks, who is capable of weighing evidence, believes in signs, in lucky or unlucky days, in lucky or unlucky numbers. He knows that Fridays and Thursdays are alike; that thirteen is no more deadly than twelve. He knows that opals affect the wearer the same as rubies, diamonds or common glass. He knows that the matrimonial chances of a maiden are not increased or decreased by the number of leaves of a flower or seeds in an apple. He knows that a glance at the moon over the left shoulder is as healthful and lucky as one over the right. He does not care whether the first comer to a theatre is cross-eyed or hump-backed, bow-legged, or as well-proportioned as Apollo. He knows that a strange cat could be denied asylum without bringing any misfortune to the family. He knows that an owl does not hoot in the full of the moon because a distinguished man is about to die. He knows that comets and eclipses would come if all the folks were dead. He is not frightened by sun dogs, or the Morning of the North when the glittering lances pierce the shield of the night. He knows that all these things occur without the slightest reference to the human race. He feels certain that floods would destroy and cyclones rend and earthquakes devour; that the stars would shine; that day and night would still pursue each other around the world; that flowers would give their perfume to the air, and light would paint the seven-hued arch upon the dusky bosom of the cloud if every human being was unconscious dust.
A man of thought and sense does not believe in the existence of the Devil. He feels certain that imps, goblins, demons and evil spirits exist only in the imagination of the ignorant and frightened. He knows how these malevolent myths were made. He knows the part they have played in all religions. He knows that for many centuries a belief in these devils, these evil spirits, was substantially universal. He knows that the priest believed as firmly as the peasant. In those days the best educated and the most ignorant were equal dupes. Kings and courtiers, ladies and clowns, soldiers and artists, slaves and convicts, believed as firmly in the Devil as they did in God.
Back of this belief there is no evidence, and there never has been. This belief did not rest on any fact. It was supported by mistakes, exaggerations and lies. The mistakes were natural, the exaggerations were mostly unconscious and the lies were generally honest. Back of these mistakes, these exaggerations, these lies, was the love of the marvelous. Wonder listened with greedy ears, with wide eyes, and ignorance with open mouth.
The miraculous has nothing to do with the moral. Intelligence is of more value than inspiration. Brain is better than Bible. Reason is above all religion.
Beyond the truths that have been demonstrated is the horizon of the Probable, and in the world of the Probable every man has the right to guess for himself. Beyond the region of the Probable is the Possible, and beyond the Possible is the Impossible, and beyond the Impossible are the religions of this world. My idea is this: Any man who acts in view of the Improbable or of the Impossible -- that is to say, of the Supernatural -- is a superstitious man. Any man who believes that he can add to the happiness of the Infinite, by depriving himself of innocent pleasure, is superstitious. Any man who imagines that he can make some God happy, by making himself miserable, is superstitious. Any one who thinks he can gain happiness in another world, by raising hell with his fellow-men in this, is simply superstitious. Any man who believes in a Being of infinite wisdom and goodness, and yet believes that that being has peopled a world with failures, is superstitious. Any man who believes that an infinitely wise and good God would take pains to make a man, intending at the time that the man should be eternally damned, is absurdly superstitious. In other words, he who believes that there is, or that there can be, any other religious duty than to increase the happiness of mankind, in this world, now and here, is superstitious.
What harm does superstition do? What harm in believing in fables, in legends?
To believe in signs and wonders, in amulets, charms and miracles, in gods and devils, in heavens and hells, makes the brain an insane ward, the world a madhouse, takes all certainty from the mind, makes experience a snare, destroys the kinship of effect and cause -- the unity of nature -- and makes man a trembling serf and slave. With this belief a knowledge of nature sheds no light upon the path to be pursued. Nature becomes a puppet of the unseen powers. The fairy, called the supernatural, touches with her wand a fact, it disappears. Causes are barren of effects, and effects are independent of all natural causes. Caprice is king. The foundation is gone. The great dome rests on air. There is no constancy in qualities, relations or results. Reason abdicates and superstition wears her crown.
The heart hardens and the brain softens.
Let the priests be usefully employed. We want no overseers of the mind; no slave-drivers for the soul. We cannot afford to pay hypocrites for depriving us of liberty. It is a waste of money to pay priests to frighten our children, and paralyze the intellect of women.
Superstition, the mother of those hideous twins, Fear and Faith, from her throne of skulls, still rules the world, and will until the mind of woman ceases to be the property of priests.
It is hard, I know, to find an antidote for a poison that was mingled with a mother's milk.
Persons who have no such belief, who care nothing for popes or priests or churches or heavens or hells or devils or gods, have very little idea of the power of fear.
Theology, you know, is not a science. It stops at the grave; and faith is the end of theology. Ministers have not even the advantage of the doctors; the doctors sometimes can tell by a postmortem examination whether they killed the man or not; but by cutting a man open after he is dead, the wisest theologians cannot tell you what has become of his soul, and whether it was injured or helped by a belief in the inspiration of the Scriptures. Theology depends on assertion for evidence, and on faith for disciples.
We have already compared the benefits of theology and science. When the theologian governed the world, it was covered with huts and hovels for the many, palaces and cathedrals for the few. To nearly all the children of men, reading and writing were unknown arts. The poor were clad in rags and skins -- they devoured crusts, and gnawed bones. The day of Science dawned, and the luxuries of a century ago are the necessities of to-day. Men in the middle ranks of life have more of the conveniences and elegancies than the princes and kings of the theological times. But above and over all this, is the development of mind. There is more of value in the brain of an average man of to-day -- of a master-mechanic, of a chemist, of a naturalist, of an inventor, than there was in the brain of the world four hundred years ago.
These blessings did not fall from the skies. These benefits did not drop from the outstretched hands of priests. They were not found in cathedrals or behind altars -- neither were they searched for with holy candles. They were not discovered by the closed eyes of prayer, nor did they come in answer to superstitious supplication. They are the children of freedom, the gifts of reason, observation and experience -- and for them all, man is indebted to man.
The inventor of the plow did more good than the maker of the first rosary -- because, say what you will, plowing is better than praying; we can live by plowing without praying, but we cannot live by praying without plowing. So I put my faith in the plow.
There was an old fellow by the name of Socrates. He happened to be civilized, living in a barbarous time, and he was tried for his life. And in his speech in which he defended himself is a paragraph that ought to remain in the memory of the human race forever.
He said to those judges, "During my life I have not sought ambition, wealth. I have not sought to adorn my body, but I have endeavored to adorn my soul with the jewels of patience and justice, and above all, with the love of liberty." Such a man rises above all wealth.
Why should we envy the rich? Why envy a man who has no earthly needs? Why envy a man that carries a hundred canes? Why envy a man who has that which he cannot use? I know a great many rich men and I have read about a great many others, and I do not envy them. They are no happier than I am. You see, after all, few rich men own their property. The property owns them. It gets them up early in the morning. It will not let them sleep; it makes them suspect their friends. Sometimes they think their children would like to attend a first class funeral. Why should we envy the rich? They have fear; we have hope. They are on the top of the ladder; we are close to the ground. They are afraid of falling, and we hope to rise.
Why should we envy the rich? They never drank any colder water than I have. They never ate any lighter biscuits or any better corn bread. They never drank any better Illinois wine, or felt better after drinking it, than I have; than you have. They never saw any more glorious sunsets with the great palaces of amethyst and gold, and they never saw the heavens thicker with constellations; they never read better poetry. They know no more about the ecstasies of love than we do. They never got any more pleasure out of courting than I did. Why should we envy the rich? I know as much about the ecstasies of love of wife and child and friends as they. They never had any better weather in June than I have, or you have. They can buy splendid pictures. I can look at them. And who owns a great picture or a great statue? The man who bought it? Possibly, and possibly not. The man who really owns it, is the man who understands it, who appreciates it, the man into whose heart its beauty and genius come, the man who is ennobled and refined and glorified by it.
They have never heard any better music than I have.
When the great notes, winged like eagles, soar to the great dome of sound, I have felt just as good as though I had a hundred million dollars.
I respect no man because he is rich; I hold in contempt no man because he is poor.
I had rather be poor, with a little sympathy in my heart, than to be rich as all the mines of earth and not have that little flower of pity in my breast.
In all ages reason has been regarded as the enemy of religion.
Nothing so outrages the feelings of the church as a moral unbeliever -- nothing so horrible as a charitable Atheist.
I would rather be absolutely honest, and have everybody in the world think I was dishonest, than to be dishonest and have the whole world believe in my honesty.
A really and truly civilized man, would rather be cheated than to cheat.
What are the restraining influences of religion? Did anybody ever hear of a policeman being dismissed because a new church had been organized?
I believe in the restraining influences of intelligence. Intelligence is the only lever capable of raising mankind. If you wish to make men moral and prosperous develop the brain.
To supplicate the supernatural is a waste of time.
Man must learn to rely upon himself. Reading bibles will not protect him from the blasts of winter, but houses, fires, and clothing will. To prevent famine, one plow is worth a million sermons, and even patent medicines will cure more diseases than all the prayers uttered since the beginning of the world.
To plow is to pray -- to plant is to prophesy, and the harvest answers and fulfills.
I do not believe in putting out the sun because weeds grow. I should rather have some weeds than go without wheat and corn.
One world at a time is my doctrine.
I do not pretend to tell what all the truth is. I do not pretend to have fathomed the abyss, nor to have floated on outstretched wings level with the dim heights of thought. I simply plead for freedom. I denounce the cruelties and horrors of slavery. I ask for light and air for the souls of men. I say, take off those chains -- break those manacles -- free those limbs -- release that brain! I plead for the right to think -- to reason -- to investigate. I ask that the future may be enriched with the honest thoughts of men. I implore every human being to be a soldier in the army of progress.
My doctrine will rid the world of the abnormal monsters born of ignorance and superstition. My doctrine will give us health, wealth and happiness. That is what I want. That is what I believe in. Give us intelligence. In a little while a man will find that he cannot steal without robbing himself. He will find that he cannot murder without assassinating his own joy. He will find that every crime is a mistake. He will find that only that man carries the cross who does wrong, and that upon the man who does right the cross turns to wings that will bear him upward forever. He will find that even intelligent self-love embraces within its mighty arms all the human race.
The churches have no confidence in each other. Why? Because they are acquainted with each other.
There was a time in New England when only church members were allowed to vote, and it may be instructive to state the fact that during that time Quakers were hanged, women were stripped, tied to carts, and whipped from town to town, and their babes sold into slavery, or exchanged for rum. Now in that same country, thousands and thousands of infidels vote, and yet the laws are nearer just, women are not whipped and children are not sold.
Ignorance is the mother of mystery and misery, of superstition and sorrow, of waste and want.
Intelligence is the only light. It enables us to keep the highway, to avoid the obstructions, and to take advantage of the forces of nature. It is the only lever capable of raising mankind.
To develop the brain is to civilize the world. Intelligence reeves the heavens of winged and frightful monsters -- drives ghosts and leering fiends from the darkness, and floods with light the dungeons of fear.
It is just as foolish to believe in a personal god as in a personal devil -- just as foolish to believe in great ghosts as little ones.
All should be taught that man must protect himself -- that there is no power superior to Nature that cares for man -- that Nature has neither pity nor hatred -- that her forces act without the slightest regard for man -- that she produces without intention and destroys without regret.
All should be taught that usefulness is the bud and flower and fruit of real religion. The popes and cardinals, the bishops, priests and parsons are all useless. They produce nothing. They live on the labor of others. They are parasites that feed on the frightened. They are vampires that suck the blood of honest toil. Every church is an organized beggar. Every one lives on alms -- on alms collected by force and fear. Every orthodox church promises heaven and threatens hell, and these promises and threats are made for the sake of alms, for revenue. Every church cries: "Believe and give."
A new era is dawning on the world. We are beginning to believe in the religion of usefulness.
The men who felled the forests, cultivated the earth, spanned the rivers with bridges of steel, built the railways and canals, the great ships, invented the locomotives and engines, supplying the countless wants of man; the men who invented the telegraphs and cables, and freighted the electric spark with thought and love; the men who invented the looms and spindles that clothe the world, the inventors of printing and the great presses that fill the earth with poetry, fiction and fact, that save and keep all knowledge for the children yet to be; the inventors of all the wonderful machines that deftly mould from wood and steel the things we use; the men who have explored the heavens and traced the orbits of the stars -- who have read the story of the world in mountain range and billowed sea; the men who have lengthened life and conquered pain; the great philosophers and naturalists who have filled the world with light; the great poets whose thoughts have charmed the souls, the great painters and sculptors who have made the canvas speak, the marble live; the great orators who have swayed the world, the composers who have given their souls to sound, the captains of industry, the producers, the soldiers who have battled for the right, the vast host of useful men -- these are our Christs, our apostles and our saints. The triumphs of science are our miracles. The books filled with the facts of Nature are our sacred scriptures, and the force that is in every atom and in every star -- in everything that lives and grows and thinks, that hopes and suffers, is the only possible god.
The absolute we cannot know -- beyond the horizon of the Natural we cannot go. All our duties are within our reach -- all our obligations must be discharged here, in this world. Let us love and labor. Let us wait and work. Let us cultivate courage and cheerfulness -- open our hearts to the good -- our mind to the truth. Let us live free lives. Let us hope that the future will bring peace and joy to all the children of men, and above all, let us preserve the veracity of our souls.
I am a believer in the eternity of progress. I do not believe that Want will forever extend its withered hand, its wan and shriveled palms, for charity. I do not believe that the children will forever be governed by cruelty and brute force. I do not believe that poverty will dwell with man forever. I do not believe that prisons will forever cover the earth, or that the shadow of the gallows will forever fall upon the ground. I do not believe that injustice will sit forever upon the bench, or that malice and superstition will forever stand in the pulpit.
I believe the time will come when there will be charity in every heart, when there will be love in every family, and when law and liberty and justice, like the atmosphere, will surround this world.
We have worshiped the ghosts long enough. We have prostrated ourselves before the ignorance of the past.
Let us stand erect and look with hopeful eyes toward the brightening future. Let us stand by our convictions. Let us not throw away our idea of justice for the sake of any book or of any religion whatever. Let us live according to our highest and noblest and purest ideal.
Living for God has filled the world with blood and flame.
There is another way. Let us live for man, for this world. Let us develop the brain and civilize the heart. Let us ascertain the conditions of happiness and live in accordance with them. Let us do what we can for the destruction of ignorance, poverty and crime. Let us do our best to supply the wants of the body, to satisfy the hunger of the mind, to ascertain the secrets of nature, to the end that we may make the invisible forces the tireless servants of the human race, and fill the world with happy homes.
Let the gods take care of themselves. Let us live for man. Let us remember that those who have sought for the truths of nature have never persecuted their fellow-men. The astronomers and chemists have forged no chains, built no dungeons. The geologists have invented no instrument of torture. The philosophers have not demonstrated the truth of their theories by burning their neighbors. The great infidels, the thinkers, have lived for the good of man.
It is noble to seek for truth, to be intellectually honest, to give to others a true transcript of your mind, a photograph of your thoughts in honest words.
Let us travel the broad and natural way.
To think of what the world has suffered from superstition, from religion, from the worship of beast and stone and god, is almost enough to make one insane. Think of the long, long night of ignorance and fear! Think of the agony, the sufferings of the past, of the days that are dead!
I look. In gloomy caves I see the sacred serpents coiled, waiting for their sacrificial prey. I see their open jaws, their restless tongues, their glittering eyes, their cruel fangs. I see them seize and crush in many horrid folds the helpless children given by fathers and mothers to appease the Serpent-God. I look again. I see temples wrought of stone and gilded with barbaric gold. I see altars red with human blood. I see the solemn priests thrust knives in the white breasts of girls. I look again. I see other temples and other altars, where greedy flames devour the flesh and blood of babes. I see other temples and other priests and other altars dripping with the blood of oxen, lambs and doves.
I look again. I see other temples and other priests and other altars on which are sacrificed the liberties of man. I look. I see the cathedrals of God, the huts of peasants, the robes of priests and kings, the rags of honest men. I look again. The lovers of God are the murderers of men. I see dungeons filled with the noblest and the best. I see exiles, wanderers, outcasts, millions of martyrs, widows and orphans. I see the cunning instruments of torture and hear the shrieks and sobs and moans of millions dead.
I see the dungeon's gloom, I hear the clank of chains. I see the fagot's flames, the scorched and blackened face, the writhing limbs. I hear the jeers and scoffs of pious fiends. I see the victim on the rack, I hear the tendons as they break. I see a world beneath the feet of priests, liberty in chains, every virtue a crime, every crime a virtue, intelligence despised, stupidity sainted, hypocrisy crowned and the white forehead of honor wearing the brand of shame. This was.
I look again, and in the East of hope's fair sky the first pale light shed by the herald star gives promise of another dawn. I look, and from the ashes, blood and tears the heroes leap to bless the future and avenge the past. I see a world at war, and in the storm and chaos of the deadly strife thrones crumble, altars fall, chains break, creeds change. The highest peaks are touched with holy light. The dawn has blossomed. I look again. I see discoverers sailing across mysterious seas. I see inventors cunningly enslave the forces of the world. I see the houses being built for schools. Teachers, interpreters of nature, slowly take the place of priests. Philosophers arise, thinkers give the world their wealth of brain, and lips grow rich with words of truth. This is.
I look again, but toward the future now. The popes and priests and kings are gone, -- the altars and the thrones have mingled with the dust, -- the aristocracy of land and cloud have perished from the earth and air, and all the gods are dead. A new religion sheds its glory on mankind. It is the gospel of this world, the religion of the body, of the heart and brain, the evangel of health and joy.
The world is free. This shall be.