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Religious Dogma Versus Common Sense
Part 2 - A Debate
This debate (Part 2) is between a Protestant theologian, Dr. Henry M. Field and Robert G. Ingersoll, an orator who was known in 19th Century America as The Silver-Tongued Infidel. Their exchanges were first printed in 1887-88 in The North American Review.
A Last Word to Robert G. Ingersoll
By Dr. Henry M. Field
My Dear Colonel Ingersoll:
I have read your Reply to my Open Letter half a dozen times, and each time with new appreciation of your skill as an advocate. It is written with great ingenuity, and furnishes probably as complete an argument as you are able to give for the faith (or want of faith) that is in you. Doubtless you think it unanswerable, and so it will seem to those who are predisposed to your way of thinking. To quote a homely saying of Mr. Lincoln, in which there is as much of wisdom as of wit, "For those who like that sort of thing, no doubt that is the sort of thing they do like." You may answer that we, who cling to the faith of our fathers, are equally prejudiced, and that it is for that reason that we are not more impressed by the force of your pleading. I do not deny a strong leaning that way, and yet our real interest is the same -- to get at the truth; and, therefore, I have tried to give due weight to whatever of argument there is in the midst of so much eloquence; but must confess that, in spite of all, I remain in the same obdurate frame of mind as before. With all the candor that I can bring to bear upon the question, I find on reviewing my Open Letter scarcely a sentence to change and nothing to withdraw; and am quite willing to leave it as my Declaration of Faith -- to stand side by side with your Reply, for intelligent and candid men to judge between us. I need only to add a few words in taking leave of the subject.
You seem a little disturbed that "some of my brethren should look upon you as "a monster" because of your unbelief. I certainly do not approve of such language, although they would tell me that it is the only word which is a fit response to your ferocious attacks upon what they hold most sacred. You are a born gladiator, and when you descend into the arena, you strike heavy blows, which provoke blows in return. In this very Reply you manifest a particular animosity against Presbyterians. Is it because you were brought up in that Church, of which your father, whom you regard with filial respect and affection, was an honored minister? You even speak of "the Presbyterian God! "as if we assumed to appropriate the Supreme Being, claiming to be the special objects of His favor. Is there any ground for this imputation of narrowness? On the contrary, when we bow our knees before our Maker, it is as the God and Father of all mankind and the expression you permit yourself to use, can only be regarded as grossly offensive. Was it necessary to offer this rudeness to the religious denomination in which you were born?
And this may explain, what you do not seem fully to understand, why it is that you are sometimes treated to sharp epithets by the religious press and public. You think yourself persecuted for your opinions. But others hold the same opinions without offence. Nor is it because you express your opinions. Nobody would deny you the same freedom which is accorded to Huxley or Herbert Spencer. It is not because you exercise your liberty of judgment or of speech, but because of the way in which you attack others, holding up their faith to all manner of ridicule, and speaking of those who profess it as if they must be either knaves or fools. It is not in human nature not to resent such imputations on that which, however incredible to you, is very precious to them. Hence it is that they think you a rough antagonist; and when you shock them by such expressions as I have quoted, you must expect some pretty strong language in return. I do not join them in this, because I know you, and appreciate that other side of you which is manly and kindly and chivalrous. But while I recognize these better qualities, I must add in all frankness that I am compelled to look upon you as a man so embittered against religion that you cannot think of it except as associated with cant, bigotry, and hypocrisy. In such a state of mind it is hardly possible for you to judge fairly of the arguments for its truth.
I believe with you, that reason was given us to be exercised, and that when man seeks after truth, his mind should be, as you say Darwin's was, "as free from prejudice as the mariner's compass." But if he is warped by passion so that he cannot see things truly, then is he responsible. It is the moral element which alone makes the responsibility. Nor do I believe that any man will be judged in this world or the next for what does not involve a moral wrong. Hence your appalling statement, "The God you worship will, according to your creed, torture (!) through all the endless years the man who entertains an honest doubt," does not produce the effect intended, simply because I do not affirm nor believe any such thing. I believe that, in the future world, every man will be judged according to the deeds done in the body, and that the judgment, whatever it may be, will be transparently just. God is more merciful than man. He desireth not the death of the wicked. Christ forgave, where men would condemn, and whatever be the fate of any human soul, it can never be said that the Supreme Ruler was wanting either in justice or mercy. This I emphasize because you dwell so much upon the subject of future retribution, giving it an attention so constant as to be almost exclusive. Whatever else you touch upon, you soon come back to this as the black thunder-cloud that darkens all the horizon, casting its mighty shadows over the life that now is and that which is to come. Your denunciations of this "inhuman" belief are so reiterated that one would be left to infer that there is nothing else in Religion; that it is all wrath and terror, But this is putting a part for the whole. Religion is a vast system, of which this is but a single feature: it is but one doctrine of many; and indeed some whom no one will deny to be devout Christians, do not hold it at all, or only in a modified form, while with all their hearts they accept and profess the Religion that Christ came to bring into the world.
Archdeacon Farrar, of Westminster Abbey, the most eloquent preacher in the Church of England, has written a book entitled Eternal Hope, in which he argues from reason and the Bible, that this life is not "the be-all and end-all" of human probation; but that in the world to come there will be another opportunity, when countless millions, made wiser by unhappy experience, will turn again to the paths of life; and that so in the end the whole human race, with the exception of perhaps a few who remain irreclaimable, will be recovered and made happy forever. Others look upon "eternal death" as merely the extinction of being, while immortality is the reward of pre-eminent virtue, interpreting in that sense the words, "The wages of sin is death but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord." The latter view might recommend itself to you as the application of "the survival of the fittest" to another world, the worthless, the incurably bad, of the human race being allowed to drop out of existence (an end which can have no terrors for you, since you look upon it as the common lot of all men,) while the good are continued in being forever. The acceptance of either of these theories would relieve your mind of that "horror of great darkness" which seems to come over it whenever you look forward to retribution beyond the grave.
But while conceding all liberty to others I cannot so easily relieve myself of this stern and rugged truth. To me moral evil in the universe is a tremendous reality, and I do not see how to limit it within the bounds of time. Retribution is to me a necessary part of the Divine law. A law without a penalty for its violations is no law. But I rest the argument for it, not on the Bible, but on principles which you yourself acknowledge. You say, "There are no punishments, no rewards: there are consequences." Very well, take the "consequences," and see where they lead you. When a man by his vices has reduced his body to a wreck and his mind to idiocy, you say this is the "consequence" of his vicious life. Is it a great stretch of language to say that it is his "punishment," and none the less punishment because self-inflicted?
To the poor sufferer raving in a madhouse, it matters little what it is called, so long as he is experiencing the agonies of hell. And here your theory of "consequences." if followed up, will lead you very far. For if man lives after death, and keeps his personal identity, do not the "consequences" of his past life follow him into the future? And if his existence is immortal, are not the consequences immortal also? And what is this but endless retribution?
But you tell me that the moral effect of retribution is destroyed by the easy way in which a man escapes the penalty. He has but to repent, and he is restored to the same condition before the law as if he had not sinned. Not so do I understand it. "I believe in the forgiveness of sins," but forgiveness does not reverse the course of nature; it does not prevent the operation of natural law. A drunkard may repent as he is nearing his end, but that does not undo the wrong that he has done, nor avert the consequences. In spite of his tears, he dies in an agony of shame and remorse. The inexorable law must be fulfilled.
And so in the future world. Even though a man be forgiven, he does not wholly escape the evil of his past life. A retribution follows him even within the heavenly gates; for if he does not suffer, still that bad life has so shriveled up his moral nature as to diminish his power of enjoyment. There are degrees of happiness, as one star differeth from another star in glory; and he who begins wrong, will find that it is not as well to sin and repent of it as not to sin at all. He enters the other world in a state of spiritual infancy, and will have to begin at the bottom and climb slowly upward.
We might go a step farther, and say that perhaps heaven itself has not only its lights but its shadows, in the reflections that must come even there. We read of "the book of God's remembrance," but is there not another book of remembrance in the mind itself -- a book which any man may well fear to open and to look thereon? When that book is opened, and we read its awful pages, shall we not all think "what might have been?" And will those thoughts be wholly free from sadness? The drunken brute who breaks the heart that loved him may weep bitterly, and his poor wife may forgive him with her dying lips; but he cannot forgive himself, and never can he recall without grief that bowed head and that broken heart. This preserves the element of retribution, while it does not shut the door to forgiveness and mercy.
But we need not travel over again the round of Christian doctrines. My faith is very simple; it revolves around two words; GOD and CHRIST. These are the two centers, or, as an astronomer might say, the double-star, or double-sun, of the great orbit of religious truth.
As to the first of these, you say "There can be no evidence to my mind of the existence of such a being, and my mind is so that it is incapable of even thinking of an infinite personality;" and you gravely put to me this question: "Do you really believe that this world is governed by an infinitely wise and good God? Have you convinced even yourself of this?" Here are two questions -- one as to the existence of God, and the other as to His benevolence. I will answer both in language as plain as it is possible for me to use.
First, Do I believe in the existence of God? I answer that it is impossible for me not to believe it. I could not disbelieve it if I would. You insist that belief or unbelief is not a matter of choice or of the will, but of evidence. You say "the brain thinks as the heart beats, as the eyes see." Then let us stand aside with all our prepossessions, and open our eyes to what we can see.
When Robinson Crusoe in his desert island came down one day to the seashore, and saw in the sand the print of a human foot, could he help the instantaneous conviction that a man had been there? You might have tried to persuade him that it was all chance, -- that the sand had been washed up by the waves or blown by the winds, and taken this form, or that some marine insect had traced a figure like a human foot, -- you would not have moved him a particle. The imprint was there, and the conclusion was irresistible: he did not believe -- he knew that some human being, whether friend or foe, civilized or savage, had set his foot upon that desolate shore. So when I discover in the world (as I think I do) mysterious footprints that are certainly not human, it is not a question whether I shall believe or not: I cannot help believing that some Power greater than man has set foot upon the earth.
It is a fashion among atheistic philosophers to make light of the argument from design; but "my mind is so that it is incapable" of resisting the conclusion to which it leads me. And (since personal questions are in order) I beg to ask if it is possible for you to take in your hands a watch, and believe that there was no "design" in its construction; that it was not made to keep time, but only "happened" so; that it is the product of some freak of nature, which brought together its parts and set it going. Do you not know with as much positiveness as can belong to any conviction of your mind, that it was not the work of accident, but of design; and that if there was a design, there was a designer? And if the watch was made to keep time, was not the eye made to see and the ear to hear? Skeptics may fight against this argument as much as they please, and try to evade the inevitable conclusion, and yet it remains forever entwined in the living frame of man as well as imbedded in the solid foundations of the globe. Wherefore I repeat, it is not a question with me whether I will believe or not -- I cannot help believing; and I am not only surprised, but amazed, that you or any thoughtful man can come to any other conclusion. In wonder and astonishment I ask, "Do you really believe" that in all the wide universe there is no Higher Intelligence than that of the poor human creatures that creep on this earthly ball? For myself, it is with the profoundest conviction as well as the deepest reverence that I repeat the first sentence of my faith: "I believe in God the Father Almighty."
And not the Almighty only, but the Wise and the Good. Again I ask, How can I help believing what I see every day of my life? Every morning, as the sun rises in the East, sending light and life over the world, I behold a glorious image of the beneficent Creator. The exquisite beauty of the dawn, the dewy freshness of the air, the fleecy clouds floating in the sky -- all speak of Him. And when the sun goes down, sending shafts of light through the dense masses that would hide his setting, and casting a glory over the earth and sky, this wondrous illumination is to me but the reflection of Him who "spreadeth out the heavens like a curtain; who maketh the clouds His chariot; who walketh upon the wings of the wind."
How much more do we find the evidences of goodness in man himself: in the power of thought; of acquiring knowledge; of penetrating the mysteries of nature and climbing among the stars. Can a being endowed with such transcendent gifts doubt the goodness of his Creator?
Yes, I believe with all my heart and soul in One who is not only Infinitely Great, but Infinitely Good; who loves all the creatures He has made; bending over them as the bow in the cloud spans the arch of heaven, stretching from horizon to horizon; looking down upon them with a tenderness compared to which all human love is faint and cold. "Like as a father pitieth his children, so the Lord pitieth them that fear Him; for He knoweth our frame, He remembereth that we are dust."
On the question of immortality you are equally "at sea." You know nothing and believe nothing; or, rather, you know only that you do not know, and believe that you do not believe. You confess indeed to a faint hope, and admit a bare possibility, that there may be another life, though you are in an uncertainty about it that is altogether bewildering and desperate. But your mind is so poetical that you give a certain attractiveness even to the prospect of annihilation. You strew the sepulcher with such flowers as these:
I have said a thousand times, and I say again, that the idea of immortality, that like a sea has ebbed and flowed in the human heart, with its countless waves of hope and fear beating against the shores and rocks of time and fate, was not born of any book, nor of any creed, nor of any religion. It was born of human affection. and it will continue to ebb and flow beneath the mists and clouds of doubt and darkness as long as love kisses the lips of death.
I have said a thousand times, and I say again, that we do not know, we cannot say, whether death is a wall or a door; the beginning or end of a day; the spreading or pinions to soar, or the folding forever of wings; the rise or the set of a sun, or an endless life that brings rapture and love to every one.
Beautiful words! but inexpressibly sad! It is a silver lining to the cloud, and yet the cloud is there, dark and impenetrable. But perhaps we ought not to expect anything clearer and brighter from one who recognizes no light but that of Nature. That light is very dim. If it were all we had, we should be just where Cicero was, and say with him, and with you, that a future life was "to be hoped for rather than believed." But does not that very uncertainty show the need of a something above Nature, which is furnished in Him who "was crucified, dead and buried, and the third day rose again from the dead?" It is the Conqueror of Death who calls to the fainthearted: "I am the Resurrection and the Life." Since He has gone before us, lighting up the dark passage of the grave, we need not fear to follow, resting on the word of our Leader: "Because I live, ye shall live also."
This faith in another life is a precious inheritance, which cannot be torn from the agonized bosom without a wrench that tears every heartstring; and it was to this I referred as the last refuge of a poor, suffering, despairing soul, when I asked: "Does it never occur to you that there is something very cruel in this treatment of the belief of your fellow-creatures, on whose hope of another life hangs all that relieves the darkness of their present existence?" The imputation of cruelty you repel with some warmth, saying (with a slight variation of my language): "When I deny the existence of perdition, you reply that there is something very cruel in this treatment of the belief of my fellow-creatures." Of course, this change of words, putting perdition in the place of immortal life and hope, was a mere inadvertence. But it was enough to change the whole character of what I wrote. As I described "the treatment of the belief of my fellow-creatures," I did think it "very cruel," and I think so still.
While correcting this slight misquotation, I must remove from your mind a misapprehension, which is so very absurd as to be absolutely comical. In my Letter referring to your disbelief of immortality, I had said: "With an air of modesty and diffidence that would carry an audience by storm, you confess your ignorance of what perhaps others are better acquainted with, when you say, 'This world is all that I know anything about, so far as I recollect'" Of course "what perhaps others are better acquainted with "was a part of what you said, or at least implied by your manner (for you do not convey your meaning merely by words, but by a tone of voice, by arched eyebrows, or a curled lip') and yet, instead of taking the sentence in its plain and obvious sense, you affect to understand it as an assumption on my part to have some private and mysterious knowledge of another world (!), and gravely ask me, "Did you by this intend to say that you know anything of any other state of existence; that you have inhabited some other planet; that you lived before you were born; and that you recollect something of that other world or of that other state? "No, my dear Colonel! I have been a good deal of a traveler, and have seen all parts of this world, but I have never visited any other. In reading your sober question, if I did not know you to he one of the brightest wits of the day, I should be tempted to quote what Sidney Smith says of a Scotchman, that "you cannot get a joke into his head except by a surgical operation!"
But to return to what is serious: you make light of our faith and our hopes, because you know not the infinite solace they bring to the troubled human heart. You sneer at the idea that religion can be a "consolation." Indeed! Is it not a consolation to have an Almighty Friend? Was it a light matter for the poor slave mother, who sat alone in her cabin, having been robbed of her children, to sing in her wild, wailing accents:
Nobody knows the sorrows I've seen:
Nobody knows but Jesus?
Would you rob her of that Unseen Friend -- the only Friend she had on earth or in heaven?
But I will do you the justice to say that your want of religious faith comes in part from your very sensibility and tenderness of heart. You cannot recognize an overruling Providence, because your mind is so harassed by scenes that you witness. Why, you ask, do men suffer so? You draw frightful pictures of the misery which exists in the world, as a proof of the incapacity of its Ruler and Governor, and do not hesitate to say that "any honest man of average intelligence could do vastly better." If you could have your way, you would make everybody happy; there should be no more poverty, and no more sickness or pain.
This is a pleasant picture to look at, and yet you must excuse me for saying that it is rather a child's picture than that of a stalwart man. The world is not a playground in which men are to be petted and indulged like children: spoiled children they would soon become. It is an arena of conflict, in which we are to develop the manhood that is in us. We all have to take the "rough-and-tumble" of life, and are the better for it -- physically, intellectually, and morally. If there be any true manliness within us, we come out of the struggle stronger and better; with larger minds and kinder hearts; a broader wisdom and a gentler charity.
Perhaps we should not differ on this point if we could agree as to the true end of life. But here I fear the difference is irreconcilable. You think that end is happiness: I think it is CHARACTER. I do not believe that the highest end of life upon earth is to "have a good time;" to get from it the utmost amount of enjoyment; but to be truly and greatly good; and that to that end no discipline can he too severe which leads us "to suffer and be strong." That discipline answers its end when it raises the spirit to the highest pitch of courage and endurance. The splendor of virtue never appears so bright as when set against a dark background. It was in prisons and dungeons that the martyrs showed the greatest degree of moral heroism, the power of "Man's unconquerable mind."
But I know well that these illustrations do not cover the whole case. There is another picture to be added to those of heroic struggle and martyrdom -- that of silent suffering, which makes of life one long agony, and which often comes upon the good, so that it seems as if the best suffered the most. And yet when you sit by a sick bed, and look into a face whiter than the pillow on which it rests, do you not sometimes mark how that very suffering refines the nature that bears it so meekly? This is the Christian theory: that suffering, patiently borne, is a means of the greatest elevation of character, and, in the end, of the highest enjoyment. Looking at it in this light, we can understand how it should be that "the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared [or even to be named] with the glory which shall be revealed." When the heavenly morning breaks, brighter than any dawn that blushes "o'er the world," there will be "a restitution of all things:" the poor will be made rich, and the most suffering the most serenely happy; as in the vision of the Apocalypse, when it is asked "What are these which are arrayed in white robes, and whence came they?" the answer is, "These are they which came our of great tribulation."
In this conclusion, which is not adopted lightly, but after innumerable struggles with doubt, after the experience and the reflection of years, I feel "a great peace." It is the glow of sunset that gilds the approach of evening. For (we must confess it) it is towards that you and I are advancing. The sun has passed the meridian, and hastens to his going down. Whatever of good this life has for us (and I am far from being one of those who look upon it as a vale of tears) will soon be behind us. I see the shadows creeping on; yet I welcome the twilight that will soon darken into night, for I know that it will be a night all glorious with stars. As I look upward, the feeling of awe is blended with a strange, overpowering sense of the Infinite Goodness, which surrounds me like an atmosphere:
And so beside the Silent Sea,
I wait the muffled oar;
No harm from Him can come to me
On ocean or on shore.
I know not where His Islands lift:
Their fronded palms in air;
I only know I cannot drift
Beyond His love and care.
Would that you could share with me this confidence and this hope! But you seem to be receding farther from any kind of faith. In one of your closing paragraphs, you give what is to you "the conclusion of the whole matter." After repudiating religion with scorn, you ask, "Is there not room for a better, for a higher philosophy?" and thus indicate the true answer to be given, to which no words can do justice but your own:
After all, is it not possible that we may find that
everything has been necessarily produced; that all religions and
superstitions, all mistakes and all crimes, were simply
necessities? Is it not possible that out of this perception may
come not only love and pity for others, but absolute justification
for the individual? May we not find that every soul has, like
Mazeppa, been lashed to the wild horse of passion, or like
Prometheus to the rocks of fate?
If this be the end of all philosophy, it is equally the end of "all things." Not only does it make an end of us and of our hopes of futurity, but of all that makes the present life worth living -- of all freedom, and hence of all virtue. There are no more any moral distinctions in the world -- no good and no evil, no right and no wrong; nothing but grim necessity. With such a creed, I wonder how you can ever stand at the bar, and argue for the conviction of a criminal. Why should he be convicted and punished for what he could not help? Indeed he is not a criminal, since there is no such thing as crime. He is not to blame. Was he not "lashed to the wild horse of passion," carried away by a power beyond his control? What cruelty to thrust him behind iron bars! Poor fellow! he deserves our pity. Let us hasten to relieve him from a position which must be so painful, and make our humble apology for having presumed to punish him for an act in which he only obeyed an impulse which he could not resist. This will be "absolute justification for the individual." But what will become of society, you do not tell us.
Are you aware that in this last attainment of "a better, a higher philosophy" (which is simply absolute fatalism), you have swung round to the side of John Calvin, and gone far beyond him? That you, who have exhausted all the resources of the English language in denouncing his creed as the most horrible of human beliefs -- brainless, soulless, heartless; who have held it up to scorn and derision; now hold to the blackest Calvinism that was ever taught by man? You cannot find words sufficient to express your horror of the doctrine of Divine decrees; and yet here you have decrees with a vengeance -- predestination and damnation, both in one. Under such a creed, man is a thousand times worse off than under ours: for he has absolutely no hope. You may say that at any rate he cannot suffer forever. You do not know even that; but at any rate he suffers as long as he exists. There is no God above to show him pity, and grant him release; but as long as the ages roll, he is "lashed to the rocks of fate," with the insatiate vulture tearing at his heart!
In reading your glittering phrases, I seem to be losing hold of everything, and to be sinking, sinking, till I touch the lowest depths of an abyss; while from the blackness above me a sound like a death-knoll tolls the midnight of the soul. If I believed this I should cry, God help us all! Oh no -- for there would be no God, and even this last consolation would be denied us: for why should we offer a prayer which can neither be heard nor answered? As well might we ask mercy from "the rocks of fate" to which we are chained forever!
Recoiling from this Gospel of Despair, I turn to One in whose face there is something at once human and divine -- an indescribable majesty, united with more than human tenderness and pity; One who was born among the poor, and had not where to lay His head, and yet went about doing good; poor, yet making many rich; who trod the world in deepest loneliness, and yet whose presence lighted up every dwelling into which He came; who took up little children in His arms, and blessed them; a giver of joy to others, and yet a sufferer himself; who tasted every human sorrow, and yet was always ready to minister to others' grief; weeping with them that wept; coming to Bethany to comfort Mary and Martha concerning their brother; rebuking the proud, but gentle and pitiful to the most abject of human creatures; stopping amid the throng at the cry of a blind beggar by the wayside; willing to be known as "the friend of sinners," if He might recall them into the way of peace; who did not scorn even the fallen woman who sank at His feet, but by His gentle word, "Neither do I condemn thee; go and sin no more," lifted her up, and set her in the path of a virtuous womanhood; and who, when dying on the cross, prayed: "Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do," In this Friend of the friendless, Comforter of the comfortless, Forgiver of the penitent, and Guide of the erring, I find a greatness that I had not found in any of the philosophers or teachers of the world. No voice in all the ages thrills me like that which whispers close to my heart, "Come unto me and I will give you rest," to which I answer: THIS IS MY MASTER, AND I WILL FOLLOW HIM.
Henry M. Field.
A Letter of Reply to Reverend Henry M. Field, D.D.
By Robert G. Ingersoll
My Dear Mr. Field:
With great pleasure I have read your second letter, in which you seem to admit that men may differ even about religion without being responsible for that difference; that every man has the right to read the Bible for himself, state freely the conclusion at which he arrives, and that it is not only his privilege, but his duty to speak the truth; that Christians can hardly be happy in heaven, while those they loved on earth are suffering with the lost; that it is not a crime to investigate, to think, to reason, to observe, and to be governed by evidence; that credulity is not a virtue, and that the open mouth of ignorant wonder is not the only entrance to Paradise; that belief is not necessary to salvation, and that no man can justly be made to suffer eternal pain for having expressed an intellectual conviction. You seem to admit that no man can justly be held responsible for his thoughts; that the brain thinks without asking our consent, and that we believe or disbelieve without an effort of the will.
I congratulate you upon the advance that you have made. You not only admit that we have the right to think, but that we have the right to express our honest thoughts. You admit that the Christian world no longer believes in the fagot, the dungeon, and the thumbscrew. Has the Christian world outgrown its God? Has man become more merciful than his maker? If man will not torture his fellow-man on account of a difference of opinion, will a God of infinite love torture one of his children for what is called the sin of unbelief? Has man outgrown the Inquisition, and will God forever be the warden of a penitentiary? The walls of the old dungeons have fallen, and light now visits the cell where brave men perished in darkness. Is Jehovah to keep the cells of perdition in repair forever, and are his children to be the eternal prisoners?
It seems hard for you to appreciate the mental condition of one who regards all gods as substantially the same; that is to say, who thinks of them all as myths and phantoms born of the imagination, -- characters in the religious fictions of the race. To you it probably seems strange that a man should think far more of Jupiter than of Jehovah. Regarding them both as creations of the mind, I choose between them, and I prefer the God of the Greeks, on the same principle that I prefer Portia to Iago; and yet I regard them, one and all, as children of the imagination, as phantoms born of human fears and human hopes.
You do not exactly appreciate my feeling. I do not hate Presbyterians; I hate Presbyterianism. I hate with all my heart the creed of that church, and I most heartily despise the God described in the Confession of Faith. But some of the best friends I have in the world are afflicted with the mental malady known as Presbyterianism. They are the victims of the consolation growing out of the belief that a vast majority of their fellow-men are doomed to suffer eternal torment, to the end that their Creator may be eternally glorified. I have said many times, and I say again, that I do not despise a man because he has the rheumatism; I despise the rheumatism because it has a man.
But I do insist that the Presbyterians have assumed to appropriate to themselves their Supreme Being, and that they have claimed, and that they do claim, to be the "special objects of his favor." They do claim to be the very elect, and they do insist that God looks upon them as the objects of his special care. They do claim that the light of Nature, without the torch of the Presbyterian creed, is insufficient to guide any soul to the gate of heaven. They do insist that even those who never heard of Christ, or never heard of the God of the Presbyterians, will be eternally lost; and they not only claim this, but that their fate will illustrate not only the justice but the mercy of God. Not only so, but they insist that the morality of an unbeliever is displeasing to God, and that the love of an unconverted mother for her helpless child is nothing less than sin.
When I meet a man who really believes the Presbyterian creed, I think of the Laocoon. I feel as though looking upon a human being helpless in the coils of an immense and poisonous serpent. But I congratulate you with all my heart that you have repudiated this infamous, this savage creed; that you now admit that reason was given us to be exercised; that God will not torture any man for entertaining an honest doubt, and that in the world to come "every man will be judged according to the deeds done in the body."
Let me quote your exact language: I believe that in the future world every man will be judged according to the deeds done in the body. Do you not see that you have bidden farewell to the Presbyterian Church? In that sentence you have thrown away the atonement, you have denied the efficacy of the blood of Jesus Christ, and you have denied the necessity of belief. If we are to be judged by the deeds done in the body, that is the end of the Presbyterian scheme of salvation. I sincerely congratulate you for having repudiated the savagery of Calvinism.
It also gave me great pleasure to find that you have thrown away, with a kind of glad shudder, that infamy of infamies, the dogma of eternal pain. I have denounced that inhuman belief; I have denounced every creed that had coiled within it that viper; I have denounced every man who preached it, the book that contains it, and with all my heart the God who threatens it; and at last I have the happiness of seeing the editor of the New York Evangelist admit that devout Christians do not believe that lie, and quote with approbation the words of a minister of the Church of England to the effect that all men will be finally recovered and made happy.
Do you find this doctrine of hope in the Presbyterian creed? Is this star, that sheds light on every grave, found in your Bible? Did Christ have in his mind the shining truth that all the children of men will at last be filled with joy, when he uttered these comforting words: "Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire prepared for the devil and his angels"? Do you find in this flame the bud of hope, or the flower of promise?
You suggest that it is possible that "the incurably bad will be annihilated," and you say that such a fate can have no terrors for me, as I look upon annihilation as the common lot of all. Let us examine this position. Why should a God of infinite wisdom create men and women whom he knew would be "incurably bad"? What would you say of a mechanic who was forced to destroy his own productions on the ground that they were "incurably bad"? Would you say that he was an infinitely wise mechanic? Does infinite justice annihilate the work of infinite wisdom? Does God, like an ignorant doctor, bury his mistakes?
Besides, what right have you to say that I "look upon annihilation as the common lot of all"? Was there any such thought in my Reply? Do you find it in any published words of mine? Do you find anything in what I have written tending to show that I believe in annihilation? Is it not true that I say now, and that I have always said, that I do not know? Does a lack of knowledge as to the fate of the human soul imply a belief in annihilation? Does it not equally imply a belief in immortality?
You have been -- at least until recently -- a believer in the inspiration of the Bible and in the truth of its every word. What do you say to the following: For that which befalleth the sons of men befalleth beasts; even one
thing befalleth them: as the one dieth, so dieth the other; yea, they have
all one breath; so that a man hath no pre-eminence above a beast. You will see that the inspired writer is not satisfied with admitting that he does not know. As the cloud is consumed and vanisheth away; so he
that goeth down to the grave shall come up no more. Was it not cruel for an inspired man to attack a sacred belief?
You seem surprised that I should speak of the doctrine of eternal pain as "the black thunder-cloud that darkens all the horizon, casting its mighty shadows over the life that now is and that which is to come." If that doctrine be true, what else is there worthy of engaging the attention of the human mind? It is the blackness that extinguishes every star. It is the abyss in which every hope must perish. It leaves a universe without justice and without mercy -- a future without one ray of light, and a present with nothing but fear. It makes heaven an impossibility, God an infinite monster, and man an eternal victim. Nothing can redeem a religion in which this dogma is found. Clustered about it are all the snakes of the Furies.
But you have abandoned this infamy, and you have admitted that we are to be judged according to the deeds done in the body. Nothing can be nearer self-evident than the fact that a finite being cannot commit an infinite sin; neither can a finite being do an infinitely good deed. That is to say, no one can deserve for any act eternal pain, and no one for any deed can deserve eternal joy. If we are to be judged by the deeds done in the body, the old orthodox hell and heaven both become impossible.
So, too, you have recognized the great and splendid truth that sin cannot be predicated of an intellectual conviction. This is the first great step toward the liberty of soul. You admit that there is no morality and no immorality in belief -- that is to say, in the simple operation of the mind in weighing evidence, in observing facts, and in drawing conclusions. You admit that these things are without sin and without guilt. Had all men so believed there never could have been religious persecution -- the Inquisition could not have been built, and the idea of eternal pain never could have polluted the human heart.
You have been driven to the passions for the purpose of finding what you are pleased to call "sin" and "responsibility"; and you say, speaking of a human being, "but if he is warped by passion so that he cannot see things truly, then is he responsible." One would suppose that the use of the word "cannot" is inconsistent with the idea of responsibility. What is passion? There are certain desires, swift, thrilling, that quicken the action of the heart -- desires that fill the brain with blood, with fire and flame -- desires that bear the same relation to judgment that storms and waves bear to the compass on a ship. Is passion necessarily produced? Is there an adequate cause for every effect? Can you by any possibility think of an effect without a cause, and can you by any possibility think of an effect that is not a cause, or can you think of a cause that is not an effect? Is not the history of real civilization the slow and gradual emancipation of the intellect, of the judgment, from the mastery of passion? Is not that man civilized whose reason sits the crowned monarch of his brain -- whose passions are his servants?
Who knows the strength of the temptation to another? Who knows how little has been resisted by those who stand, how much has been resisted by those who fall? Who knows whether the victor or the victim made the braver and the more gallant fight? In judging of our fellow-men we must take into consideration the circumstances of ancestry, of race, of nationality, of employment, of opportunity, of education, and of the thousand influences that tend to mold or mar the character of man. Such a view is the mother of charity, and makes the God of the Presbyterians impossible.
At last you have seen the impossibility of forgiveness. That is to say, you perceive that after forgiveness the crime remains, and its children, called consequences, still live. You recognize the lack of philosophy in that doctrine. You still believe in what you call "the forgiveness of sins," but you admit that forgiveness cannot reverse the course of nature, and cannot prevent the operation of natural law. You also admit that if a man lives after death, he preserves his personal identity, his memory, and that the consequences of his actions will follow him through all the eternal years. You admit that consequences are immortal. After making this admission, of what use is the old idea of the forgiveness of sins? How can the criminal be washed clean and pure in the blood of another? In spite of this forgiveness, in spite of this blood, you have taken the ground that consequences, like the dogs of Actreon, follow even a Presbyterian, even one of the elect, within the heavenly gates. If you wish to be logical, you must also admit that the consequences of good deeds, like winged angels, follow even the atheist within the gates of hell. You have had the courage of your convictions, and you have said that we are to be judged according to the deeds done in the body. By that judgment I am willing to abide. But, whether willing or not, I must abide, because there is no power, no God that can step between me and the consequences of my acts. I wish no heaven that I have not earned, no happiness to which I am not entitled. I do not wish to become an immortal pauper; neither am I willing to extend unworthy hands for alms.
My dear Mr. Field, you have outgrown your creed -- as every Presbyterian must who grows at all. You are far better than the spirit of the Old Testament; far better, in my judgment, even than the spirit of the New. The creed that you have left behind, that you have repudiated, teaches that a man may be guilty of every crime -- that he may have driven his wife to insanity, that his example may have led his children to the penitentiary, or to the gallows, and that yet, at the eleventh hour, he may, by what is called "repentance," be washed absolutely pure by the blood of another and receive and wear upon his brow the laurels of eternal peace. Not only so, but that creed has taught that this wretch in heaven could look back on the poor earth and see the wife, whom he swore to love and cherish, in the mad-house, surrounded by imaginary serpents, struggling in the darkness of night, made insane by his heartlessness -- that creed has taught and teaches that he could look back and see his children in prison cells, or on the scaffold with the noose about their necks, and that these visions would not bring a shade of sadness to his redeemed and happy face. It is this doctrine, it is this dogma -- so bestial, so savage as to beggar all the languages of men -- that I have denounced. All the words of hatred, loathing and contempt, found in all the dialects and tongues of men, are not sufficient to express my hatred, my contempt, and my loathing of this creed.
You say that it is impossible for you not to believe in the existence of God. With this statement, I find no fault. Your mind is so that a belief in the existence of a Supreme Being gives satisfaction and content. Of course, you are entitled to no credit for this belief, as you ought not to be rewarded for believing that which you cannot help believing; neither should I be punished for failing to believe that which I cannot believe.
You believe because you see in the world around you such an adaptation of means to ends that you are satisfied there is design. I admit that when Robinson Crusoe saw in the sand the print of a human foot, like and yet unlike his own, he was justified in drawing the conclusion that a human being had been there. The inference was drawn from his own experience, and was within the scope of his own mind. But I do not agree with you that he "knew" a human being had been there; he had only sufficient evidence upon which to found a belief. He did not know the footsteps of all animals; he could not have known that no animal except man could have made that footprint. In order to have known that it was the foot of man, he must have known that no other animal was capable of making it, and he must have known that no other being had produced in the sand the likeness of this human foot.
You see what you call evidences of intelligence, in the universe, and you draw the conclusion that there must be an infinite intelligence. Your conclusion is far wider than your premise. Let us suppose, as Mr. Hume supposed, that there is a pair of scales, one end of which is in darkness, and you find that a pound weight, or a ten-pound weight, placed upon that end of the scale in the light is raised; have you the right to say that there is an infinite weight on the end in darkness, or are you compelled to say only that there is weight enough on the end in darkness to raise the weight on the end in light?
It is illogical to say, because of the existence of this earth and of what you can see in and about it, that there must be an infinite intelligence. You do not know that even the creation of this world, and of all planets discovered, required an infinite power, or infinite wisdom. I admit that it is impossible for me to look at a watch and draw the inference that there was no design in its construction, or that it only happened. I could not regard it as a product of some freak of nature, neither could I imagine that its various parts were brought together and set in motion by chance. I am not a believer in chance. But there is a vast difference between what man has made and the materials of which he has constructed the things he has made. You find a watch, and you say that it exhibits, or shows design. You insist that it is so wonderful it must have had a designer -- in other words, that it is too wonderful not to have been constructed. You then find the watchmaker, and you say with regard to him that he too must have had a designer, for he is more wonderful than the watch. In imagination you go from the watchmaker to the being you call God, and you say he designed the watchmaker, but he himself was not designed because he is too wonderful to have been designed. And yet in the case of the watch and of the watchmaker, it was the wonder that suggested design, while in the case of the maker of the watchmaker the wonder denied a designer. Do you not see that this argument devours itself? If wonder suggests a designer, can it go on increasing until it denies that which it suggested?
You must remember, too, that the argument of design is applicable to all. You are not at liberty to stop at sunrise and sunset and growing corn and all that adds to the happiness of man; you must go further. You must admit that an infinitely wise and merciful God designed the Fangs of serpents, the machinery by which the poison is distilled, the ducts by which it is carried to the fang, and that the same intelligence impressed this serpent with a desire to deposit this deadly virus in the flesh of man. You must believe that an infinitely wise God so constructed this world, that in the process of cooling, earthquakes would be caused -- earthquakes that devour and overwhelm cities and states. Do you see any design in the volcano that sends 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 brain the seeds of insanity? Did he cultivate those seeds? Do you see any design in this?
Man calls that good which increases his happiness, and that evil which gives him pain. In the olden time, back of the good he placed a God; back of the evil a devil; but now the orthodox world is driven to admit that the God is the author of all.
For my part, I see no goodness in the pestilence -- no mercy in the bolt that leaps from the cloud and leaves the mark of death on the breast of a loving mother. I see no generosity in famine, no goodness in disease, no mercy in want and agony. And yet you say that the being who created parasites that live only by inflicting pain -- the being responsible for all the sufferings of mankind -- you say that he has "a tenderness compared to which all human love is faint and cold." Yet according to the doctrine of the orthodox world, this being of infinite love and tenderness so created nature that its light misleads, and left a vast majority of the human race to blindly grope their way to endless pain.
You insist that a knowledge of God -- a belief in God -- is the foundation of social order; and yet this God of infinite tenderness has left for thousands and thousands of years nearly all of his children without a revelation. Why should infinite goodness leave the existence of God in doubt? Why should he see millions in savagery destroying the lives of each other, eating the flesh of each other, and keep his existence a secret from man? Why did he allow the savages to depend on sunrise and sunset and clouds? Why did he leave this great truth to a few half-crazed prophets, or to a cruel, heartless and ignorant church? The sentence "There is a God" could have been imprinted on every blade of grass, on every leaf, on every star. An infinite God has no excuse for leaving his children in doubt and darkness.
There is still another point. You know that for thousands of ages men worshiped wild beasts as God. You know that for countless generations they knelt by coiled serpents, believing those serpents to be gods. Why did the real God secrete himself and allow his poor, ignorant, savage children to imagine that he was a beast, a serpent? Why did this God allow mothers to sacrifice their babes? Why did he not emerge from the darkness? Why did he not say to the poor mother, Do not sacrifice your babe; keep it in your arms; press it to your bosom; let it be the solace of your declining years. I take no delight in the death of children; I am not what you suppose me to be; I am not a beast; I am not a serpent; I am full of love and kindness and mercy, and I want my children to be happy in this world"? Did the God who allowed a mother to sacrifice her babe through the mistaken idea that he, the God, demanded the sacrifice, feel a tenderness toward that mother "compared to which all human love is faint and cold"? Would a good father allow some of his children to kill others of his children to please him?
There is still another question. Why should God, a being of infinite tenderness, leave the question of immortality in doubt? How is it that there is nothing in the Old Testament on this subject? Why is it that he who made all the constellations did not put in his heaven the star of hope? How do you account for the fact that you do not find in the Old Testament, from the first mistake in Genesis, to the last curse in Malachi, a funeral service? Is it not strange that some one in the Old Testament did not stand by an open grave of father or mother and say: "We shall meet again"? Was it because the divinely inspired men did not know?
You taunt me by saying that I know no more of the immortality of the soul than Cicero knew. I admit it. I know no more than the lowest savage, no more than a doctor of divinity -- that is to say, nothing.
Is it not, however, a curious fact that there is less belief in the immortality of the soul in Christian countries than in heathen lands -- that the belief in immortality, in an orthodox church, is faint and cold and speculative, compared with that belief in India, in China, or in the Pacific Isles? Compare the belief in immortality in America, of Christians, with that of the followers of Mohammed. Do not Christians weep above their dead? Does a belief in immortality keep back their tears? After all, the promises are so far away, and the dead are so near -- the echoes of words said to have been spoken more than eighteen centuries ago are lost in the sounds of the clods that fall on the coffin. And yet, compared with the orthodox hell, compared with the prison-house of God, how ecstatic is the grave -- the grave without a sigh, without a tear, without a dream, without a fear. Compared with the immortality promised by the Presbyterian creed, how beautiful annihilation seems. To be nothing -- how much better than to be a convict forever. To be unconscious dust -- how much better than to be a heartless angel.
There is not, there never has been, there never will be, any consolation in orthodox Christianity. It offers no consolation to any good and loving man. I prefer the consolation of Nature, the consolation of hope, the consolation springing from human affection. I prefer the simple desire to live and love forever.
Of course, it would be a consolation to know that we have an "Almighty Friend" in heaven; but an "Almighty Friend" who cares nothing for us, who allows us to be stricken by his lightning, frozen by his winter, starved by his famine, and at last imprisoned in his hell, is a friend I do not care to have.
I remember "the poor slave mother who sat alone in her cabin, having been robbed of her children;" and, my dear Mr. Field, I also remember that the people who robbed her justified the robbery by reading passages from the sacred Scriptures. I remember that while the mother wept, the robbers, some of whom were Christians, read this: "Buy of the heathen round about, and they shall be your bondmen and bondwomen forever." I remember, too, that the robbers read: "Servants be obedient unto your masters;" and they said, this passage is the only message from the heart of God to the scarred back of the slave. I remember this, and I remember, also, that the poor slave mother upon her knees in wild and wailing accents called on the "Almighty Friend," and I remember that her prayer was never heard, and that her sobs died in the negligent air.
You ask me whether I would "rob this poor woman of such a friend?" My answer is this: I would give her liberty; I would break her chains. But let me ask you, did an "Almighty Friend" see the woman he loved "with a tenderness compared to which all human love is faint and cold," and the woman who loved him, robbed of her children? What was the "Almighty Friend" worth to her? She preferred her babe.
How could the "Almighty Friend" see his poor children pursued by hounds -- his children whose only crime was the love of liberty -- how could he see that, and take sides with the hounds? Do you believe that the "Almighty Friend" then governed the world? Do you really think that he
Bade the slave-ship speed from coast to coast,
Fanned by the wings of the Holy Ghost?
Do you believe that the "Almighty Friend" saw all of the tragedies that were enacted in the jungles of Africa -- that he watched the wretched slave-ships, saw the miseries of the middle passage, heard the blows of all the whips, saw all the streams of blood, all the agonized faces of women, all the tears that were shed? Do you believe that he saw and knew all these things, and that he, the "Almighty Friend," looked coldly down and stretched no hand to save?
You persist, however, in endeavoring to account for the miseries of the world by taking the ground that happiness is not the end of life. You say that "the real end of life is character, and that no discipline can be too severe which leads us to suffer and be strong." Upon this subject you use the following language: "If you could have your way you would make everybody happy; there would be no more poverty, and no more sickness or pain." And this you say, is a "child's picture, hardly worthy of a stalwart man." Let me read you another "child's picture," which you will find in the twenty-first chapter of Revelation, supposed to have been written by St. john, the Divine: "And I heard a great voice out of heaven saying, behold the tabernacle of God is with men, and he will dwell with them, and they shall be his people, and God himself shall be with them, and be their God; and God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes, and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain."
If you visited some woman living in a tenement, supporting by her poor labor a little family -- a poor woman on the edge of famine, sewing, it may be, her eyes blinded by tears -- would you tell her that "the world is not a playground in which men are to he petted and indulged like children"? Would you tell her that to think of a world without poverty, without tears, without pain, is "a child's picture"? If she asked you for a little assistance, would you refuse it on the ground that by being helped she might lose character? Would you tell her: "God does not wish to have you happy; happiness is a very foolish end; character is what you want, and God has put you here with these helpless, starving babes, and he has put this burden on your young life simply that you may suffer and he strong. I would help you gladly, but I do not wish to defeat the plans of your Almighty Friend"? You can reason one way, but you would act the other.
I agree with you that work is good, that struggle is essential; that men are made manly by contending with each other and with the forces of nature; but there is a point beyond which struggle does not make character; there is a point at which struggle becomes failure.
Can you conceive of an "Almighty Friend" deforming his children because he loves them? Did he allow the innocent to languish in dungeons because he was their friend? Did he allow the noble to perish upon the scaffold, the great and the self-denying to be burned at the stake, because he had the power to save? Was he restrained by love? Did this "Almighty Friend" allow millions of his children to he enslaved to the end that the "splendor of virtue might have a dark background" You insist that "suffering patiently borne, is a means of the greatest elevation of character, and in the end of the highest enjoyment." Do you not then see that your "Almighty Friend" has been unjust to the happy -- that he is cruel to those whom we call the fortunate -- that he is indifferent to the men who do not suffer -- that he leaves all the happy and prosperous and joyous without character, and that in the end, according to your doctrine, they are the losers?
But, after all, there is no need of arguing this question further. There is one fact that destroys forever your theory -- and that is the fact that millions upon millions die in infancy. Where do they get "elevation of character"? What opportunity is given to them to "suffer and be strong"? Let us admit that we do not know. Let us say that the mysteries of life, of good and evil, of joy and pain, have never been explained. Is character of no importance in heaven? How is it possible for angels, living in "a child's picture," to "suffer and be strong"? Do you not see that, according to your philosophy, only the damned can grow great -- only the lost can become sublime?
You do not seem to understand what I say with regard to what I call the higher philosophy. When that philosophy is accepted, of course there will be good in the world, there will be evil, there will still be right and wrong. What is good? That which tends to the happiness of sentient beings. What is evil? That which tends to the misery, or tends to lessen the happiness of sentient beings. What is right? The best thing to be done under the circumstances -- that is to say, the thing that will increase or preserve the happiness of man. What is wrong? That which tends to the misery of man.
What you call liberty, choice, morality, responsibility, have nothing whatever to do with this. There is no difference between necessity and liberty. He who is free, acts from choice. What is the foundation of his choice? What we really mean by liberty is freedom from personal dictation -- we do not wish to be controlled by the will of others. To us the nature of things does not seem to be a master -- Nature has no will.
Society has the right to protect itself by imprisoning those who prey upon its interests; but it has no right to punish. It may have the right to destroy the life of one dangerous to the community; but what has freedom to do with this? Do you kill the poisonous serpent because he knew better than to bite? Do you chain a wild beast because he is morally responsible? Do you not think that the criminal deserves the pity of the virtuous?
I was looking forward to the time when the individual might feel justified -- when the convict who had worn the garment of disgrace might know and feel that he had acted as he must.
There is an old Hindu prayer to which I call your attention: Have mercy, God, upon the vicious; Thou hast already had mercy upon the just by making them just.
Is it not possible that we may find that everything has been necessarily produced? This, of course, would end in the justification of men. Is not that a desirable thing? Is it not possible that intelligence may at last raise the human race to that sublime and philosophic height?
You insist, however, that this is Calvinism. I take it for granted that you understand Calvinism -- but let me tell you what it is. Calvinism asserts that man does as he must, and that, notwithstanding this fact, he is responsible for what he does -- that is to say, for what he is compelled to do -- that is to say, for what God does with him; and that, for doing that which he must, an infinite God, who compelled him to do it, is justified in punishing the man in eternal fire; this, not because the man ought to be damned, but simply for the glory of God.
Starting from the same declaration, that man does as he must, I reach the conclusion that we shall finally perceive in this fact justification for every individual. And yet you see no difference between my doctrine and Calvinism. You insist that damnation and justification are substantially the same; and yet the difference is as great as human language can express. You call the justification of all the world "the Gospel of Despair," and the damnation of nearly all the human race the "Consolation of Religion."
After all, my dear friend, do you not see that when you come to speak of that which is really good, you are compelled to describe your ideal human being? It is the human in Christ, and only the human, that you by any possibility can understand. You speak of one who was born among the poor, who went about doing good, who sympathized with those who suffered. You have described, not only one, but many millions of the human race, Millions of others have carried light to those sitting in darkness; millions and millions have taken children in their arms; millions have wept that those they love might smile. No language can express the goodness, the heroism, the patience and self-denial of the many millions, dead and living, who have preserved in the family of man the jewels of the heart. You have clad one being in all the virtues of the race, in all the attributes of gentleness, patience, goodness, and love, and yet that being, according to the New Testament, had to his character another side. True, he said, "Come unto me and I will give you rest;" but what did he say to those who failed to come? You pour our your whole heart in thankfulness to this one man who suffered for the right, while I thank not only this one, but all the rest. My heart goes out to all the great, the self-denying and the good, -- to the founders of nations, singers of songs, builders of homes; to the inventors, to the artists who have filled the world with beauty, to the composers of music, to the soldiers of the right, to the makers of mirth, to honest men, and to all the loving mothers of the race.
Compare, for one moment, all that the Savior did, all the pain and suffering that he relieved, -- compare all this with the discovery of anaesthetic. Compare your prophets with the inventors, your Apostles with the Keplers, the Humboldts and the Darwins.
I belong to the great church that holds the world within its starlit aisles; that claims the great and good of every race and clime; that finds with joy the grain of gold in every creed, and floods with light and love the germs of good in every soul.
Most men are provincial, narrow, one sided, only partially developed. In a new country we often see a little patch of land, a clearing in which the pioneer has built his cabin. This little clearing is just large enough to support a family, and the remainder of the farm is still forest, in which snakes crawl and wild beasts occasionally crouch. It is thus with the brain of the average man. There is a little clearing, a little patch, just large enough to practice medicine with, or sell goods, or practice law; or preach with, or do some kind of business, sufficient to obtain bread and food and shelter for a family, while all the rest of the brain is covered with primeval forest, in which lie coiled the serpents of superstition and from which spring the wild beasts of orthodox religion.
Neither in the interest of truth, nor for the benefit of man, is it necessary to assert what we do not know. No cause is great enough to demand a sacrifice of candor. The mysteries of life and death, of good and evil, have never yet been solved.
I combat those only who, knowing nothing of the future, prophesy an eternity of pain -- those only who sow the seeds of fear in the hearts of men -- those only who poison all the springs of life, and seat a skeleton at every feast.
Let us banish the shriveled hags of superstition; let us welcome the beautiful daughters of truth and joy.
Robert G. Ingersoll