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Title: Individuality - From 'The Gods and Other Lectures'
Author: Ingersoll, Robert Green, 1833-1899
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

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By Robert G. Ingersoll



ON every hand are the enemies of individuality and mental freedom.
Custom meets us at the cradle and leaves us only at the tomb. Our first
questions are answered by ignorance, and our last by superstition. We
are pushed and dragged by countless hands along the beaten track, and
our entire training can be summed up in the word--suppression. Our
desire to have a thing or to do a thing is considered as conclusive
evidence that we ought not to have it, and ought not to do it. At every
turn we run against cherubim and a flaming sword guarding some entrance
to the Eden of our desire. We are allowed to investigate all subjects in
which we feel no particular interest, and to express the opinions of the
majority with the utmost freedom. We are taught that liberty of
speech should never be carried to the extent of contradicting the dead
witnesses of a popular superstition. Society offers continual rewards
for self-betrayal, and they are nearly all earned and claimed, and some
are paid.

We have all read accounts of Christian gentlemen remarking, when about
to be hanged, how much better it would have been for them if they had
only followed a mother's advice. But after all, how fortunate it is for
the world that the maternal advice has not always been followed. How
fortunate it is for us all that it is somewhat unnatural for a human
being to obey. Universal obedience is universal stagnation; disobedience
is one of the conditions of progress. Select any age of the world and
tell me what would have been the effect of implicit obedience. Suppose
the Church had had absolute control of the human mind at any time, would
not the words liberty and progress have been blotted from human speech?
In defiance of advice, the world has advanced.

Suppose the astronomers had controlled the science of astronomy; suppose
the doctors had controlled the science of medicine; suppose kings had
been left to fix the forms of government; suppose our fathers had taken
the advice of Paul, who said, "be subject to the powers that be, because
they are ordained of God;" suppose the Church could control the world
to-day, we would go back to chaos and old night. Philosophy would be
branded as infamous; Science would again press its pale and thoughtful
face against the prison bars, and round the limbs of liberty would climb
the bigot's flame.

It is a blessed thing that in every age some one has had individuality
enough and courage enough to stand by his own convictions,--some one
who had the grandeur to say his say. I believe it was Magellan who said,
"The Church says the earth is flat; but I have seen its shadow on the
moon, and I have more confidence even in a shadow than in the Church."
On the prow of his ship were disobedience, defiance, scorn, and success.

The trouble with most people is they bow to what is called authority;
they have a certain reverence for the old because it is old. They think
a man is better for being dead, especially if he has been dead a long
time. They think the fathers of their nation were the greatest and best
of all mankind. All these things they implicitly believe because it is
popular and patriotic, and because they were told so when they were very
small, and remember distinctly of hearing mother read it out of a book.
It is hard to over-estimate the influence of early training in the
direction of superstition. You first teach children that a certain book
is true--that it was written by God himself--that to question its truth
is a sin, that to deny it is a crime, and that should they die without
believing that book they will be forever damned without benefit of
clergy. The consequence is, that long before they read that book, they
believe it to be true. When they do read it their minds are wholly
unfitted to investigate its claims. They accept it as a matter of

In this way the reason is overcome, the sweet instincts of humanity
are blotted from the heart, and while reading its infamous pages even
justice throws aside her scales, shrieking for revenge and charity, with
bloody hands, applauds a deed of murder. In this way we are taught that
the revenge of man is the justice of God; that mercy is not the same
everywhere. In this way the ideas of our race have been subverted. In
this way we have made tyrants, bigots, and inquisitors. In this way the
brain of man has become a kind of palimpsest upon which, and over the
writings of nature, superstition has scrawled her countless lies.
One great trouble is that most teachers are dishonest. They teach as
certainties those things concerning which they entertain doubts. They
do not say, "we _think_ this is so," but "we _know_ this is so." They do
not appeal to the reason of the pupil, but they command his faith. They
keep all doubts to themselves; they do not explain, they assert. All
this is infamous. In this way you may make Christians, but you cannot
make men; you cannot make women. You can make followers, but no leaders;
disciples, but no Christs. You may promise power, honor, and happiness
to all those who will blindly follow, but you cannot keep your promise.

A monarch said to a hermit, "Come with me and I will give you power."

"I have all the power that I know how to use," replied the hermit
"Come," said the king, "I will give you wealth."

"I have no wants that money can supply," said the hermit "I will give
you honor," said the monarch.

"Ah, honor cannot be given, it must be earned," was the hermit's answer.

"Come," said the king, making a last appeal, "and I will give you

"No," said the man of solitude, "there is no happiness without liberty,
and he who follows cannot be free."

"You shall have liberty too," said the king.

"Then I will stay where I am," said the old man.

And all the king's courtiers thought the hermit a fool.

Now and then somebody examines, and in spite of all keeps his manhood,
and has the courage to follow where his reason leads. Then the pious
get together and repeat wise saws, and exchange knowing nods and most
prophetic winks. The stupidly wise sit owl-like on the dead limbs of the
tree of knowledge, and solemnly hoot. Wealth sneers, and fashion laughs,
and respectability passes by on the other Side, and scorn points with
all her skinny fingers, and all the snakes of superstition writhe and
hiss, and slander lends her tongue, and infamy her brand, and perjury
her oath, and the law its power, and bigotry tortures, and the Church

The Church hates a thinker precisely for the same reason a robber
dislikes a sheriff, or a thief despises the prosecuting witness. Tyranny
likes courtiers, flatterers, followers, fawners, and superstition wants
believers, disciples, zealots, hypocrites, and subscribers. The Church
demands worship--the very thing that man should give to no being,
human or divine. To worship another is to degrade yourself. Worship is
awe and dread and vague fear and blind hope. It is the spirit of worship
that elevates the one and degrades the many; that builds palaces for
robbers, erects monuments to crime, and forges manacles even for its
own hands. The spirit of worship is the spirit of tyranny. The worshiper
always regrets that he is not the worshiped. We should all remember that
the intellect has no knees, and that whatever the attitude of the
body may be, the brave soul is always found erect Whoever worships,
abdicates. Whoever believes at the command of power, tramples his own
individuality beneath his feet, and voluntarily robs himself of all that
renders man superior to the brute.

The despotism of faith is justified upon the ground that Christian
countries are the grandest and most prosperous of the world. At one time
the same thing could have been truly said in India, in Egypt, in Greece,
in Rome, and in every other country that has, in the history of the
world, swept to empire. This argument proves too much not only, but
the assumption upon which it is based is utterly false. Numberless
circumstances and countless conditions have pro-duced the prosperity
of the Christian world. The truth is, we have advanced in spite of
religious zeal, ignorance, and opposition. The Church has won no
victories for the rights of man. Luther labored to reform the
Church--Voltaire, to reform men. Over every fortress of tyranny has
waved, and still waves, the banner of the Church. Wherever brave blood
has been shed, the sword of the Church has been wet. On every chain has
been the sign of the cross. The altar and throne have leaned against and
supported each other.

All that is good in our civilization is the result of commerce, climate,
soil, geographical position, industry, invention, discovery, art, and
science. The Church has been the enemy of progress, for the reason
that it has endeavored to prevent man thinking for himself. To prevent
thought is to prevent all advancement except in the direction of faith.

Who can imagine the infinite impudence of a Church assuming to think for
the human race? Who can imagine the infinite impudence of a Church that
pretends to be the mouthpiece of God, and in his name, threatens to
inflict eternal punishment upon those who honestly reject its claims and
scorn its pretensions? By what right does a man, or an organization
of men, or a god, claim to hold a brain in bondage? When a fact can be
demonstrated, force is unnecessary; when it cannot be demonstrated, an
appeal to force is infamous. In the presence of the unknown all have an
equal right to think.

Over the vast plain, called life, we are all travelers, and not one
traveler is perfectly certain that he is going in the right direction.
True it is that no other plain is so well supplied with guide-boards. At
every turn and crossing you will find them, and upon each one is written
the exact direction and distance. One great trouble is, however, that
these boards are all different, and the result is that most travelers
are confused in proportion to the number they read. Thousands of people
are around each of these signs, and each one is doing his best to
convince the traveler that his particular board is the only one upon
which the least reliance can be placed, and that if his road is taken
the reward for so doing will be infinite and eternal, while all the
other roads are said to lead to hell, and all the makers of the other
guide-boards are declared to be heretics, hypocrites and liars. "Well,"
says a traveler, "you may be right in what you say, but allow me at
least to read some of the other directions and examine a little into
their claims. I wish to rely a little upon my own judgment in a matter
of so great importance." "No, sir," shouts the zealot, "that is the
very thing you are not allowed to do. You must go my way without
investigation, or you are as good as damned already." "Well," says the
traveler, "if that is so, I believe I had better go your way." And so
most of them go along, taking the word of those who know as little as
themselves. Now and then comes one who, in spite of all threats, calmly
examines the claims of all, and as calmly rejects them all. These
travelers take roads of their own, and are denounced by all the others,
as infidels and atheists.

Around all of these guide-boards, as far as the eye can reach, the
ground is covered with mountains of human bones, crumbling and bleaching
in the rain and sun. They are the bones of murdered men and
women--fathers, mothers and babes.

In my judgment, every human being should take a road of his own. Every
mind should be true to itself--should think, investigate and conclude
for itself. This is a duty alike incumbent upon pauper and prince. Every
soul should repel dictation and tyranny, no matter from what source they
come--from earth or heaven, from men or gods. Besides, every traveler
upon this vast plain should give to every other traveler his best idea
as, to the road that should be taken. Each is entitled to the honest
opinion of all. And there is but one way to get an honest opinion upon
any subject whatever. The person giving the opinion must be free from
fear. The merchant must not fear to lose his custom, the doctor his
practice, nor the preacher his pulpit There can be no advance without
liberty. Suppression of honest inquiry is retrogression, and must end in
intellectual night. The tendency of orthodox religion to-day is toward
mental slavery and barbarism. Not one of the orthodox ministers dare
preach what he thinks if he knows a majority of his congregation think
otherwise. He knows that every member of his church stands guard over
his brain with a creed, like a club, in his hand. He knows that he
is not expected to search after the truth, but that he is employed to
defend the creed. Every pulpit is a pillory, in which stands a hired
culprit, defending the justice of his own imprisonment.

Is it desirable that all should be exactly alike in their religious
convictions? Is any such thing possible? Do we not know that there are
no two persons alike in the whole world? No two trees, no two leaves,
no two anythings that are alike? Infinite diversity is the law. Religion
tries to force all minds into one mould. Knowing that all cannot
believe, the Church endeavors to make all say they believe. She longs
for the unity of hypocrisy, and detests the splendid diversity of
individuality and freedom.

Nearly all people stand in great horror of annihilation, and yet to
give up your individuality is to annihilate yourself. Mental slavery is
mental death, and every man who has given up his intellectual freedom
is the living coffin of his dead soul. In this sense, every church is a
cemetery and every creed an epitaph.

We should all remember that to be like other people is to be unlike
ourselves, and that nothing can be more detestable in character than
servile imitation. The great trouble with imitation is, that we are apt
to ape those who are in reality far below us. After all, the poorest
bargain that a human being can make, is to give his individuality for
what is called respectability.

There is no saying more degrading than this: "It is better to be the
tail of a lion than the head of a dog." It is a responsibility to think
and act for yourself. Most people hate responsibility; therefore they
join something and become the tail of some lion. They say, "My party
can act for me--my church can do my thinking. It is enough for me to
pay taxes and obey the lion to which I belong, without troubling myself
about the right, the wrong, or the why or the wherefore of anything
whatever." These people are respectable. They hate reformers, and
dislike exceedingly to have their minds disturbed. They regard
convictions as very disagreeable things to have. They love forms, and
enjoy, beyond everything else, telling what a splendid tail their lion
has, and what a troublesome dog their neighbor is. Besides this natural
inclination to avoid personal responsibility, is and always has been,
the fact, that every religionist has warned men against the presumption
and wickedness of thinking for themselves. The reason has been denounced
by all Christendom as the only unsafe guide. The Church has left nothing
undone to prevent man following the logic of his brain. The plainest
facts have been covered with the mantle of mystery. The grossest
absurdities have been declared to be self-evident facts. The order of
nature has been, as it were, reversed, that the hypocritical few might
govern the honest many. The man who stood by the conclusion of his
reason was denounced as a scorner and hater of God and his holy Church.
From the organization of the first Church until this moment, to think
your own thoughts has been inconsistent with membership. Every member
has borne the marks of collar, and chain, and whip. No man ever
seriously attempted to reform a Church without being cast out and hunted
down by the hounds of hypocrisy. The highest crime against a creed is to
change it. Reformation is treason.

Thousands of young men are being educated at this moment by the various
Churches. What for? In order that they may be prepared to investigate
the phenomena by which we are surrounded? No! The object, and the only
object, is that they may be prepared to defend a creed; that they may
learn the arguments of their respective churches, and repeat them in
the dull ears of a thoughtless congregation. If one, after being thus
trained at the expense of the Methodists, turns Presbyterian or Baptist,
he is denounced as an ungrateful wretch. Honest investigation is utterly
impossible within the pale of any Church, for the reason, that if you
think the Church is right you will not investigate, and if you think it
wrong, the Church will investigate you. The consequence of this is,
that most of the theological literature is the result of suppression, of
fear, tyranny and hypocrisy.

Every orthodox writer necessarily said to himself,

"If I write that, my wife and children may want for bread. I will be
covered with shame and branded with infamy; but if I write this, I will
gain position, power, and honor. My Church rewards defenders, and burns

Under these conditions all your Scotts, Henrys, and McKnights have
written; and weighed in these scales, what are their commentaries worth?
They are not the ideas and decisions of honest judges, but the sophisms
of the paid attorneys of superstition. Who can tell what the world has
lost by this infamous system of suppression? How many grand thinkers
have died with the mailed hand of superstition upon their lips? How many
splendid ideas have perished in the cradle of the brain, strangled in
the poison-coils of that python, the Church!

For thousands of years a thinker was hunted down like an escaped
convict. To him who had braved the Church, every door was shut, every
knife was open. To shelter him from the wild storm, to give him a crust
when dying, to put a cup of water to his cracked and bleeding lips;
these were all crimes, not one of which the Church ever did forgive;
and with the justice taught of her God, his helpless children were
exterminated as scorpions and vipers.

Who at the present day can imagine the courage, the devotion to
principle, the intellectual and moral grandeur it once required to be an
infidel, to brave the Church, her racks, her fagots, her dungeons, her
tongues of fire,--to defy and scorn her heaven and her hell--her
devil and her God? They were the noblest sons of earth. They were
the real saviors of our race, the destroyers of superstition and the
creators of Science. They were the real Titans who bared their grand
foreheads to all the thunderbolts of all the gods.

The Church has been, and still is, the great robber. She has rifled not
only the pockets but the brains of the world. She is the stone at the
sepulchre of liberty; the upas tree, in whose shade the intellect of man
has withered; the Gorgon beneath whose gaze the human heart has turned
to stone. Under her influence even the Protestant mother expects to be
happy in heaven, while her brave boy, who fell fighting for the rights
of man, shall writhe in hell.

It is said that some of the Indian tribes place the heads of their
children between pieces of bark until the form of the skull is
permanently changed. To us this seems a most shocking custom; and yet,
after all, is it as bad as to put the souls of our children in the
strait-jacket of a creed? to so utterly deform their minds that they
regard the God of the bible as a being of infinite mercy, and
really consider it a virtue to believe a thing just because it seems
unreasonable? Every child in the Christian world has uttered its
wondering protest against this outrage. All the machinery of the Church
is constantly employed in corrupting the reason of children. In every
possible way they are robbed of their own thoughts and forced to accept
the statements of others. Every Sunday school has for its object the
crushing out of every germ of individuality. The poor children are
taught that nothing can be more acceptable to God than unreasoning
obedience and eyeless faith, and that to believe God did an impossible
act, is far better than to do a good one yourself. They are told that
all religions have been simply the John-the-Baptists of ours; that all
the gods of antiquity have withered and shrunken into the Jehovah of the
Jews; that all the longings and aspirations of the race are realized in
the motto of the Evangelical Alliance, "Liberty in non-essentials;" that
all there is, or ever was, of religion can be found in the apostles'
creed; that there is nothing left to be discovered; that all the
thinkers are dead, and all the living should simply be believers; that
we have only to repeat the epitaph found on the grave of wisdom; that
grave-yards are the best possible universities, and that the children
must be forever beaten with the bones of the fathers.

It has always seemed absurd to suppose that a god would choose for his
companions, during' all eternity, the dear souls whose highest and only
ambition is to obey. He certainly would now and then be tempted to make
the same remark made by an English gentleman to his poor guest. The
gentleman had invited a man in humble circumstances to dine with him.
The man was so overcome with the honor that to everything the gentleman
said he replied "Yes." Tired at last with the monotony of acquiescence,
the gentleman cried out, "For God's sake, my good man, say 'No,' just
once, so there will be two of us."

Is it possible that an infinite God created this world simply to be the
dwelling-place of slaves and serfs? simply for the purpose of raising
orthodox Christians? That he did a few miracles to astonish them; that
all the evils of life are simply his punishments, and that he is finally
going to turn heaven into a kind of religious museum filled with Baptist
barnacles, petrified Presbyterians and Methodist mummies? I want no
heaven for which I must give my reason; no happiness in exchange for
my liberty, and no immortality that demands the surrender of my
individuality. Better rot in the windowless tomb, to which there is no
door but the red mouth of the pallid worm, than wear the jeweled collar
even of a god.

Religion does not, and cannot, contemplate man as free. She accepts only
the homage of the prostrate, and scorns the offerings of those who stand
erect. She cannot tolerate the liberty of thought. The wide and sunny
fields belong not to her domain. The star-lit heights of genius and
individuality are above and beyond her appreciation and power. Her
subjects cringe at her feet, covered with the dust of obedience.

They are not athletes standing posed by rich life and brave endeavor
like antique statues, but shriveled deformities, studying with furtive
glance the cruel face of power.

No religionist seems capable of comprehending this plain truth. There
is this difference between thought and action: for our actions we
are responsible to ourselves and to those injuriously affected; for
thoughts, there can, in the nature of things, be no responsibility to
gods or men, here or hereafter. And yet the Protestant has vied with
the Catholic in denouncing freedom of thought; and while I was taught to
hate Catholicism with every drop of my blood, it is only justice to
say, that in all essential particulars it is precisely the same as every
other religion, Luther denounced mental liberty with all the coarse and
brutal vigor of his nature; Calvin despised, from the very bottom of his
petrified heart, anything that even looked like religious toleration,
and solemnly declared that to advocate it was to crucify Christ afresh.
All the founders of all the orthodox churches have advocated the same
infamous tenet. The truth is that what is called religion is necessarily
inconsistent with free thought.

A believer is a bird in a cage, a free-thinker is an eagle parting the
clouds with tireless wing.

At present, owing to the inroads that have been made by liberals and
infidels, most of the churches pretend to be in favor of religious
liberty. Of these churches, we will ask this question: How can a man,
who conscientiously believes in religious liberty, worship a God who
does not? They say to us: "We will not imprison you on account of your
belief, but our God will." "We will not burn you because you throw away
the sacred scriptures, but their author will." "We think it an infamous
crime to persecute our brethren for opinion's sake,--but the God,
whom we ignorantly worship, will on that account, damn his own children

Why is it that these Christians not only detest the infidels, but
cordially despise each other? Why do they refuse to worship in the
temples of each other? Why do they care so little for the damnation of
men, and so much for the baptism of children? Why will they adorn their
churches with the money of thieves and flatter vice for the sake of
subscriptions? Why will they attempt to bribe Science to certify to
the writings of God? Why do they torture the words of the great into an
acknowledgment of the truth of Christianity? Why do they stand with hat
in hand before presidents, kings, emperors, and scientists, begging,
like Lazarus, for a few crumbs, of religious comfort? Why are they so
delighted to find an allusion to Providence in the message of Lincoln?
Why are they so afraid that some one will find out that Paley wrote an
essay in favor of the Epicurean philosophy, and that Sir Isaac Newton
was once an infidel? Why are they so anxious to show that Voltaire
recanted; that Paine died palsied with fear; that the Emperor Julian
cried out "Galilean, thou hast conquered"; that Gibbon died a Catholic;
that Agassiz had a little confidence in Moses; that the old Napoleon
was once complimentary enough to say that he thought Christ greater
than himself or Cæsar; that Washington was caught on his knees at Valley
Forge; that blunt old Ethan Allen told his child to believe the religion
of her mother; that Franklin said, "Don't unchain the tiger," and that
Volney got frightened in a storm at sea?

Is it because the foundation of their temple is crumbling, because the
walls are cracked, the pillars leaning, the great dome swaying to its
fall, and because Science has written over the high altar its mené,
mené, tekel, upharsin--the old words, destined to be the epitaph of
all religions?

Every assertion of individual independence has been a step toward
infidelity. Luther started toward Humboldt,--Wesley, toward John Stuart
Mill. To really reform the Church is to destroy it. Every new religion
has a little less superstition than the old, so that the religion of
Science is but a question of time I will not say the Church has been an
unmitigated evil in all respects. Its history is infamous and glorious.
It has delighted in the production of extremes. It has furnished
murderers for its own martyrs. It has sometimes fed the body, but
has always starved the soul. It has been a charitable highwayman--a
profligate beggar--a generous pirate. It has produced some angels and a
multitude of devils. It has built more prisons than asylums. It made a
hundred orphans while it cared for one. In one hand it has carried the
alms-dish and in the other a sword. It has founded schools and endowed
universities for the purpose of destroying true learning. It filled the
world with hypocrites and zealots, and upon the cross of its own Christ
it crucified the individuality of man. It has sought to destroy the
independence of the soul and put the world upon its knees. This is its
crime. The commission of this crime was necessary to its existence. In
order to compel obedience it declared that it had the truth, and all the
truth; that God had made it the keeper of his secrets; his agent and
his vicegerent. It declared that all other religions were false
and infamous. It rendered all compromise impossible and all thought
superfluous. Thought was its enemy, obedience was its friend.
Investigation was fraught with danger; therefore investigation was
suppressed. The holy of holies was behind the curtain. All this was upon
the principle that forgers hate to have the signature examined by an
expert, and that imposture detests curiosity.

"He that hath ears to hear, let him hear," has always been the favorite
text of the Church.

In short, Christianity has always opposed every forward movement of the
human race. Across the highway of progress it has always been building
breastworks of bibles, tracts, commentaries, prayer-books, creeds,
dogmas and platforms, and at every advance the Christians have gathered
together behind these heaps of rubbish and shot the poisoned arrows of
malice at the soldiers of freedom.

And even the liberal Christian of to-day has his holy of holies, and in
the niche of the temple of his heart has his idol. He still clings to a
part of the old superstition, and all the pleasant memories of the old
belief linger in the horizon of his thoughts like a sunset. We associate
the memory of those we love with the religion of our childhood. It
seems almost a sacrilege to rudely destroy the idols that our fathers
worshiped, and turn their sacred and beautiful truths into the fables of
barbarism. Some throw away the Old Testament and cling to the New, while
others give up everything except the idea that there is a personal God,
and that in some wonderful way we are the objects of his care.

Even this, in my opinion, as Science, the great iconoclast, marches
onward, will have to be abandoned with the rest The great ghost will
surely share the fate of the little ones. They fled at the first
appearance of the dawn, and the other will vanish with the perfect
day. Until then the independence of man is little more than a dream.
Overshadowed by an immense personality, in the presence of the
irresponsible and the infinite, the individuality of man is lost, and
he falls prostrate in the very dust of fear. Beneath the frown of the
absolute, man stands a wretched, trembling slave,--beneath his smile
he is at best only a fortunate serf. Governed by a being whose arbitrary
will is law, chained to the chariot of power, his destiny rests in the
pleasure of the unknown. Under these circumstances, what wretched object
can he have in lengthening out his aimless life?

And yet, in most minds, there is a vague fear of the gods--a shrinking
from the malice of the skies. Our fathers were slaves, and nearly all
their children are mental serfs. The enfranchisement of the soul is
a slow and painful process. 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.

When women reason, and babes sit in the lap of philosophy, the victory
of reason over the shadowy host of darkness will be complete.

In the minds of many, long after the intellect has thrown aside as
utterly fabulous the legends of the Church, there still remains a
lingering suspicion, born of the mental habits contracted in childhood,
that after all there may be a grain of truth in these mountains of
theological mist, and that possibly the superstitious side is the side
of safety.

A gentleman, walking among the ruins of Athens, came upon a fallen
statue of Jupiter; making an exceedingly low bow he said: "O Jupiter!
I salute thee." He then added: "Should you ever sit upon the throne of
heaven again, do not, I pray you, forget that I treated you politely
when you were prostrate."

We have all been taught by the Church that nothing is so well calculated
to excite the ire of the Deity as to express a doubt as to his
existence, and that to deny it is an unpardonable sin. Numerous
well-attested instances are referred to of atheists being struck dead
for denying the existence of God. According to these, religious people,
God is infinitely above us in every respect, infinitely merciful, and
yet he cannot bear to hear a poor finite man honestly question his
existence. Knowing, as he does, that his children are groping in
darkness and struggling with doubt and fear; knowing that he could
enlighten them if he would, he still holds the expression of a sincere
doubt as to his existence, the most infamous of crimes. According to
orthodox logic, God having furnished us with imperfect minds, has a
right to demand a perfect result.

Suppose Mr. Smith should overhear a couple of small bugs holding a
discussion as to the existence of Mr. Smith, and suppose one should have
the temerity to declare, upon the honor of a bug, that he had examined
the whole question to the best of his ability, including the argument
based upon design, and had come to the conclusion that no man by the
name of Smith had ever lived. Think then of Mr. Smith flying into an
ecstacy of rage, crushing the atheist bug beneath his iron heel, while
he exclaimed, "I will teach you, blasphemous wretch, that Smith is a
diabolical fact!" What then can we think of a God who would open the
artillery of heaven upon one of his own children for simply expressing
his honest thought? And what man who really thinks can help repeating
the words of Ennius: "If there are gods they certainly pay no attention
to the affairs of man." Think of the millions of men and women who have
been destroyed simply for loving and worshiping this God. Is it possible
that this God, having infinite power, saw his loving and heroic children
languishing in the darkness of dungeons; heard the clank of their chains
when they lifted their hands to him in the agony of prayer; saw them
stretched upon the bigot's rack, where death alone had pity; saw the
serpents of flame crawl hissing round their shrinking forms--saw all
this for sixteen hundred years, and sat as silent as a stone?

From such a God, why should man expect assistance? Why should he waste
his days in fruitless prayer? Why should he fall upon his knees and
implore a phantom--a phantom that is deaf, and dumb, and blind?

Although we live in what is called a free government,--and politically
we are free,--there is but little religious liberty in America.
Society demands, either that you belong to some church, or that you
suppress your opinions. It is contended by many that ours is a Christian
government, founded upon the bible, and that all who look upon that book
as false or foolish are destroying the foundation of our country. The
truth is, our government is not founded upon the rights of gods, but
upon the rights of men. Our Constitution was framed, not to declare and
uphold the deity of Christ, but the sacredness of humanity. Ours is the
first government made by the people and for the people. It is the only
nation with which the gods have had nothing to do. And yet there are
some judges dishonest and cowardly enough to solemnly decide that this
is a Christian country, and that our free institutions are based upon
the infamous laws of Jehovah.

Such judges are the Jeffries of the Church. They believe that decisions,
made by hirelings at the bidding of kings, are binding upon man forever.
They regard old law as far superior to modern justice. They are what
might be called orthodox judges. They spend their days in finding out,
not what ought to be, but what has been. With their backs to the sunrise
they worship the night. There is only one future event with which they
concern themselves, and that is their reelection. No honest court ever
did, or ever will, decide that our Constitution is Christian. The bible
teaches that the powers that be, are ordained of God. The bible teaches
that God is the source of all authority, and that all kings have
obtained their power from him. Every tyrant has claimed to be the agent
of the Most High. The Inquisition was founded, not in the name of man,
but in the name of God. All the governments of Europe recognize the
greatness of God, and the littleness of the people. In all ages,
hypocrites, called priests, have put crowns upon the heads of thieves,
called kings.

The Declaration of Independence announces the sublime truth, that all
power comes from the people. This was a denial, and the first denial of
a nation, of the infamous dogma that God confers the right upon one man
to govern others. It was the first grand assertion of the dignity of the
human race. It declared the governed to be the source of power, and
in fact denied the authority of any and all gods. Through the ages of
slavery--through the weary centuries of the lash and chain, God was the
acknowledged ruler of the world. To enthrone man, was to dethrone Him.

To Paine, Jefferson, and Franklin, are we indebted, more than to all
others, for a human government, and for a Constitution in which no God
is recognized superior to the legally expressed will of the people.

They knew that to put God in the Constitution was to put man out. They
knew that the recognition of a Deity would be seized upon by fanatics
and zealots as a pretext for destroying the liberty of thought. They
knew the terrible history of the Church too well to place in her
keeping, or in the keeping of her God, the sacred rights of man. They
intended that all should have the right to worship, or not to worship;
that our laws should make no distinction on account of creed. They
intended to found and frame a government for man, and for man alone.
They wished to preserve the individuality and liberty of all; to prevent
the few from governing the many, and the many from persecuting and
destroying the few.

Notwithstanding all this, the spirit of persecution still lingers in our
laws. In many of the States, only those who believe in the existence of
some kind of God, are under the protection of the law.

The supreme court of Illinois decided, in the year of grace 1856, that
an unbeliever in the existence of an intelligent First Cause could not
be allowed to testify in any court. His wife and children might have
been murdered before his very face, and yet in the absence of other
witnesses, the murderer could not have even been indicted. The atheist
was a legal outcast. To him, Justice was not only blind, but deaf. He
was liable, like other men, to support the government, and was forced to
contribute his share towards paying the salaries of the very judges
who decided that under no circumstances could his voice be heard in any
court. This was the law of Illinois, and so remained until the
adoption of the new Constitution. By such infamous means has the Church
endeavored to chain the human mind, and protect the majesty of her God.
The fact is, we have no national religion, and no national God; but
every citizen is allowed to have a religion and a God of his own, or
to reject all religions and deny the existence of all gods. The Church,
however, never has, and never will understand and appreciate the genius
of our government.

Last year, in a convention of Protestant bigots, held in the city of New
York for the purpose of creating public opinion in favor of a religious
amendment to the federal constitution, a reverend doctor of divinity,
speaking of atheists, said: "What are the rights of the atheist? I would
tolerate him as I would tolerate a poor lunatic. I would tolerate him as
I would tolerate a conspirator. He may live and go free, hold his lands
and enjoy his home--he may even vote; but for any higher or more
advanced citizenship, he is, as I hold, utterly disqualified." These are
the sentiments of the Church to-day.

Give the Church a place in the Constitution, let her touch once more
the sword of power, and the priceless fruit of all the ages will turn to
ashes on the lips of men.

In religious ideas and conceptions there has been for ages a slow and
steady development. At the bottom of the ladder (speaking of modern
times) is Catholicism, and at the top is Science. The intermediate
rounds of this ladder are occupied by the various sects, whose name is

But whatever may be the truth upon any subject has nothing to do with
our right to investigate that subject, and express any opinion we may
form. All that I ask, is the same right I freely accord to all others.

A few years ago a Methodist clergyman took it upon himself to give me a
piece of friendly advice.

"Although you may disbelieve the bible," said he, "you ought not to say
so. That, you should keep to yourself."

"Do you believe the bible," said I. He replied, "Most assuredly."

To which I retorted, "Your answer conveys no information to me. You may
be following your own advice. You told me to suppress my opinions.
Of course a man who will advise others to dissimulate will not always be
particular about telling the truth himself."

There can be nothing more utterly subversive of all that is really
valuable than the suppression of honest thought. No man, worthy of the
form he bears, will at the command of Church or State solemnly repeat
a creed his reason scorns. It is the duty of each and every one to
maintain his individuality. "This, above all, to thine ownself be true,
and it must follow as the night the day, thou canst not then be false
to any man." It is a magnificent thing to be the sole proprietor of
yourself. It is a terrible thing to wake up at night and say, "There is
nobody in this bed." It is humiliating to know that your ideas are all
borrowed; that you are indebted to your memory for your principles;
that your religion is simply one of your habits, and that you would have
convictions if they were only contagious. It is mortifying to feel that
you belong to a mental mob and cry "crucify him," because the others
do; that you reap what the great and brave have sown, and that you can
benefit the world only by leaving it.

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.

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