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´╗┐Title: The Christian Religion - An Enquiry
Author: Ingersoll, Robert Green, 1833-1899
Language: English
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By R. G. Ingersoll


ENGLAND is now for the first time offering to the toiling portion of
its people a fair modicum of the education which was in old time the
exclusive privilege of the rich. In doing so it has acted with a keen
eye to self-preservation, for the history of every fallen nation shows
that the unaided ignorance of the masses has been a principal and fatal
element in its downfall.

This truth would seem to be not yet fully realized by all of higher
education in the country; for the teaching that many of them counsel
for the poor is clogged with ignorance and clouded with error from which
their own higher culture has long been free. It is distressing to see
men who no longer regard the Bible as anything more than a curious
and interesting record, a compound of reflections of ancient myths and
poetry, commingled with a considerable amount of fabulous history and
absurd theology--to see any such man still arguing that for the poor
and for the young it is a necessary subject of study, and (for them) a
useful article of belief!

Do those who argue thus deem the light of reason too clear, too pure,
too delightful, for mankind at large; or is it that they trust that
the useful ignorance of the workers will continue to supply them with
unmerited or unworthy luxuries?

In neither case can the position endure. The refinement of Rome might
loftily echo

     Odi profanum vulgus et arceo:

but Rome has herself fallen; and not on the portals of future science or
of humanity shall any such motto be written. Freedom of Knowledge is
the corollary to Freedom of Thought: in the society of the future
no hierarchy or oligarchy of intellect will close its doors upon the
masses; none will find delight in either sensuous or intellectual
pleasure obtained at the cost of the baser condition of others.

The following Reprint will be found a clear exposition of the
incongruities of creed and record and dogma taught to the poor as a
system of ethics for the whole of their life; and held as a convenient
thing up to a certain age for the young, and especially the female
young, of the moneyed classes.

It is time that such warfare as this should be aggressive; that such
books as the present should be part of the food of our children. Our
truest feelings and our tenderest years have been enslaved to blind
faith, unreasoning credulity and degrading fear; our infant lips have
been trained to link in loving accents the gentle and holy names of
Mother and of Father with that of a God of jealousy, of vengeance, and
brutality; our growing mind has been warned to look to a Hebrew ascetic
as the noblest type of the divine, and to a Hebrew profligate and
murderer as the highest type of the human. As the opening thought of
youth has striven to turn to the light of reason, it has been constantly
threatened back and thrust back into the dark of superstition. It has
been told that eternal misery is the doom of those who leave the
paths of dogma; and it has been falsely and persistently taught that
Free-thinkers are evil and unclean, men without care for right, scoffers
at every good thing.

But it is not scoffers who wage this war of the rational against the
supernatural: let none deceive themselves with that vain thought, or
perpetuate the incorrect assertion. Of such books as the present, such
writings as the present, some at least are the words of men and women
who have been born to, and striven toward a godly life, with intense
effort, with groanings not to be uttered: who, nursed in the bosom of
the Church, and partakers in all her most sacred ordinances, crushed
down as unholy the first and the repeated breathings of doubt and
of reasoning their minds; who held to the falseness of their early
teachings,--till there came that final struggle, when they wrestled with
God,--to hold him,--not to lose him; gasping with fevered lips and shut
teeth and scalding eyelids, "I will not let thee go ": and who won a
blessing they knew not of in that they proved the Jehovah of Hebraism,
the God of Christianity, to be an Apollyon of Superstition: who cast him
off in disgust, in loathing, in half despair; who lay faint and bleeding
through a night of darkness: but to whom, with the dawn, has come the
free and bracing air of reason, and then the deep warm glow of true
life, and humanity, and universal love,--love given this time not to a
fetish, but to every fellow being, to man and beast, to tree and moss,
to stone and star.

With a great price obtained we this freedom, and we will that our Sons
and that our Daughters be free born. To such a liberator as Robert G.
Ingersoll the thanks of present parents are lovingly offered; his
name will be cherished by our children, and his memory hallowed in the
gratitude of generations yet unborn.

B. E.


9th Month, 1881.


     It is the curse of England that its intellect can see truths
     which its heart will not embody.
     --Laurence Oliphant

     The root of all tyranny and oppression, of all social and
     human ills, is found in witholding from the masses of each
     community mental culture, or knowledge that may be conferred
     on all.
     --Rd. Carlile.

     Atheism leaves to man reason, philosophy, natural piety,
     laws, reputation, and every thing that can serve to conduct
     him to virtue; but superstition destroys all these, and
     erects itself into tyranny over the understandings of men.

     A healthy poetic nature wants, as you yourself say, no Moral
     Law, no Rights of Man, no Political Metaphysics. You might
     have added as well, it wants no Deity, no Immortality, to
     stay and uphold itself withal.
     --Letter from Schiller to Goethe.

     Never to blend our pleasure or our pride With sorrow of the
     meanest thing that feels.

          * A Bouquet Garni is a little bundle of herbs, some bitter
          some sweet, but all salutary.



A PROFOUND change has taken place in the world of thought, The pews are
trying to set themselves somewhat above the pulpit. The layman discusses
theology with the minister, and smiles. _Christians_ excuse themselves
for belonging to the Church, by denying a part of the creed. The idea
is abroad that they who know the most of nature believe the least about
theology. The sciences are regarded as infidels, and facts as scoffers.
Thousands of most excellent people avoid churches, and, with few
exceptions, only those attend prayer-meetings who wish to be alone. The
pulpit is losing because the people are growing.

Of course it is still claimed that we are a _Christian_ people, indebted
to something called _Christianity_ for all the progress we have made.
There is still a vast difference of opinion as to what _Christianity_
really is, although many warring sects have been discussing that
question, with fire and sword, through centuries of creed and crime.
Every new sect has been denounced at its birth as illegitimate, as a
something born out of orthodox wedlock and that should have been allowed
to perish on the steps where it was found. Of the relative merits of the
various denominations, it is sufficient to say that each claims to be
right Among the evangelical churches there is a substantial agreement
upon what they consider the fundamental truths of the _Gospel_. These
"fundamental truths," as I understand them, are:

That there is a personal _God_, the creator of the material universe;
that he made man of the dust, and woman from part of the man; that the
man and woman were tempted by the _Devil_; that they were turned out
of the garden of _Eden_; that, about fifteen hundred years afterward,
_God's_ patience having been exhausted by the wickedness of mankind, he
drowned his children with the exception of eight persons; that afterward
he selected from their descendants _Abraham_, and through him the
_Jewish_ people; that he gave laws to these people, and tried to govern
them in all things; that he made known his will in many Ways; that he
wrought a vast number of miracles; that he inspired men to write the
_Bible_; that, in the fulness of time, it having been found impossible
to reform man, this _God_ came upon earth as a child born of the _Virgin
Mary_; that he lived in _Palestine_; that he preached for about three
years, going from place to place, Occasionally raising the dead, curing
the blind and the halt; that he was crucified--for the crime of
blasphemy, as the _Jews_ supposed, but that, as a matter of fact, he was
offered as a sacrifice for the sins of all who might have faith in him;
that he was raised from the dead and ascended into heaven where he now
is, making intercession for his followers; that he will forgive the sins
of all who believe on him, and that those who do not believe will be
consigned to the dungeons of eternal pain. These--it may be with the
addition of the sacraments of _Baptism_ and the _Last
Supper_--constitute what is generally known as the _Christian_ religion.

It is most cheerfully admitted that a vast number of people not only
believe these things, but hold them in exceeding reverence, and imagine
them to be of the utmost importance to mankind. They regard the Bible as
the only light that God has given for the guidance of his children; that
it is the one star in nature's sky--the foundation of all morality, of
all law, of all order, and of all individual and national progress. They
regard it as the only means we have for ascertaining the will of God,
the origin of man, and the destiny of the soul.

It is needless to enquire into the causes that have led so many people,
to believe in the inspiration of the Scriptures. In my opinion, they
were and are mistaken, and the mistake has hindered, in countless ways,
the civilization of man. The Bible has been the fortress and defence of
nearly every crime. No civilized country could re-enact its laws, and in
many respects its moral code is abhorrent to every good and tender man.
It is admitted that many of its precepts are pure, that many of its laws
are wise and just, and that many of its statements are absolutely true.

Without desiring to hurt the feelings of anybody, I propose to give
a few reasons for thinking that a few passages, at least, in the _Old
Testament_ are the product of a barbarous people, In all civilized
countries it is not only admitted, but it is passionately asserted, that
slavery is and always was a hideous crime; that a war of conquest
is simply murder; that polygamy is the enslavement of woman, the
degradation of man, and the destruction of home; that nothing is more
infamous than the slaughter of decrepit men, of helpless women, and of
prattling babes; that captured maidens should not be given to soldiers;
that wives should not be stoned to death on account of their religious
opinions, and that the death penalty ought not to be inflicted for
a violation of the _Sabbath_. We know that there was a time, in the
history of almost every nation, when slavery, polygamy, and wars of
extermination were regarded as divine institutions; when women were
looked upon as beasts of burden, and when, among some people, it was
considered the duty of the husband to murder the wife for differing
with him on the subject of religion. Nations that entertain these views
to-day are regarded as savage, and, probably, with the exception of the
_South Sea Islanders_, the _Feejees_, some citizens of _Delaware_, and
a few tribes in _Central Africa_, no human beings can be found degraded
enough to agree upon these subjects with the _Jehovah_ of the ancient
_Jews_. The only evidence we have, or can have, that a nation has ceased
to be savage is the fact that it has abandoned these doctrines. To every
one, except the theologian, it is perfectly easy to account for
the mistakes, atrocities, and crimes of the past, by saying that
civilization is a slow and painful growth; that the moral perceptions
are cultivated through ages of tyranny, of want, of crime, and of
heroism; that it requires centuries for man to put out the eyes of
self and hold in lofty and in equal poise the scales of justice;
that conscience is born of suffering; that mercy is the child of the
imagination---of the power to put oneself in the sufferer's place, and
that man advances only as he becomes acquainted with his surroundings,
with the mutual obligations of life, and learns to take advantage of the
forces of nature.

But the believer in the inspiration of the Bible is compelled to declare
that there was a time when slavery was right--when men could buy, and
women could sell, their babes. He is compelled to insist that there
was a time when polygamy was the highest form of virtue; when wars
of extermination were waged with the sword of mercy; when religious
toleration was a crime, and when death was the just penalty for having
expressed an honest thought. He must maintain that Jehovah is just as
bad now as he was four thousand years ago, or that he was just as
good then as he is now, but that human conditions have so changed that
slavery, polygamy, religious persecutions, and wars of conquest are now
perfectly devilish. Once they were right--once they were commanded by
God himself; now, they are prohibited. There has been such a change in
the conditions of man that, at the present time, the Devil is in favour
of slavery, polygamy, religious persecution, and wars of conquest. That
is to say, the Devil entertains the same opinion to-day that Jehovah
held four thousand years ago, but in the meantime Jehovah has remained
exactly the same--changeless and incapable of change.

We find that other nations beside the Jews had similar laws and ideas;
that they believed in and practised slavery and polygamy, murdered women
and children, and exterminated their neighbours to the extent of their
power. It is not claimed that they received a revelation. It is admitted
that they had no knowledge of the true God. And yet, by a strange
coincidence, they practised the same crimes, of their own motion, that
the Jews did by the command of Jehovah. From this it would seem that man
can do wrong without a special revelation. It will hardly be claimed,
at this day, that the passages in the Bible upholding slavery, polygamy,
war, and religious persecution are evidences of the inspiration of that
book. Suppose that there had been nothing in the Old Testament upholding
these crimes, would any modern Christian suspect that it was not
inspired, on account of the omission? Suppose that there had been
nothing in the Old Testament but laws in favour of these crimes, would
any intelligent Christian now contend that it was the work of the
true God? If the Devil had inspired a book, will some believer in the
doctrine of inspiration tell us in what respect, on the subjects of
slavery, polygamy, war, and liberty, it would have differed from some
parts of the Old Testament? Suppose that we should now discover a Hindu
book of equal antiquity with the Old Testament, containing a defence
of slavery, polygamy, wars of extermination, and religious persecution,
would we regard it as evidence that the writers were inspired by an
infinitely wise and merciful God? As most other nations at that time
practised these crimes, and as the Jews would have practised them all,
even if left to themselves, one can hardly see the necessity of any
inspired commands upon these subjects. Is there a believer in the Bible
who does not wish that God, amid the thunders and lightnings of Sinai,
had distinctly said to Moses that man should not own his fellow-man;
that women should not sell their babes; that men should be allowed to
think and investigate for themselves, and that the sword should never be
unsheathed to shed the blood of honest men? Is there a believer in
the world, who would not be delighted to find that every one of these
infamous passages are interpolations, and that the skirts of God
were never reddened by the blood of maiden, wife, or babe? Is there a
believer who does not regret that God commanded a husband to stone his
wife to death for suggesting the worship of the sun or moon? Surely,
the light of experience is enough to tell us that slavery is wrong, that
polygamy is infamous, and that murder is not a virtue. No one will now
contend that it was worth God's while to impart the information to Moses
or to Joshua, or to anybody else, that the Jewish people might purchase
slaves of the heathen, or that it was their duty to exterminate the
natives of the Holy Land. The deists have contended that the Old
Testament is too cruel and barbarous to be the work of a wise and loving
God, To this, the theologians have replied, that nature is just as
cruel; that the earthquake, the volcano, the pestilence and storm,
are just as savage as the Jewish God; and to my mind this is a perfect

Suppose that we knew that after "inspired" men had finished the Bible,
the Devil got possession of it, and wrote a few passages; what part of
the sacred Scriptures would Chris-tians now pick out as being probably
his work? Which of the following passages would naturally be selected as
having been written by the Devil--"Love thy neighbour as thyself," or,
"Kill all the males among the little ones, and kill every woman; but all
the women children keep alive for yourselves"?

It may be that the best way to illustrate what I have said of the Old
Testament is to compare some of the supposed teachings of Jehovah with
those of persons who never read an "inspired" line, and who lived and
died without having received the light of revelation. Nothing can be
more suggestive than a comparison of the ideas of Jehovah--the inspired
words of the one claimed to be the infinite God, as recorded in the
Bible--with those that have been expressed by men who, all admit,
received no help from heaven.

In all ages of which any record has been preserved, there have been
those who gave their ideas of justice, charity, liberty, love, and
law. Now, if the Bible is really the work of God, it should contain the
grandest and sublimest truths. It should, in all respects, excel the
works of man. Within that book should be found the best and loftiest
definitions of justice; the truest conceptions of human liberty; the
clearest outlines of duty; the tenderest, the highest, and the noblest
thoughts,--not that the human mind has produced, but that the human mind
is capable of receiving. Upon every page should be found the luminous
evidence of its divine origin. Unless it contains grander and more
wonderful things than man has written, we are not only justified in
saying, but we are compelled to say, that it was written by no being
superior to man. It may be said that it is unfair to call attention
to certain bad things in the Bible, while the good are not so much as
mentioned. To this it may be replied that a divine being would not put
bad things in a book. Certainly a being of infinite intelligence,
power, and goodness could never fall below the ideal of "depraved and
barbarous" man. It will not do, after we find that the Bible upholds
what we now call crimes, to say that it is not verbally inspired. If the
words are not inspired, what is? It may be said that the thoughts are
inspired. But this would include only the thoughts expressed without
words If ideas are inspired they must be contained in and expressed only
by inspired words; that is, to say, the arrangement of the words, with
relation, to each other, must have been inspired For the purpose of
this perfect; arrangement, the writers, according to the Christian
world, were inspired. Were some sculptor inspired, of God to make a
statue perfect in its every part, we would not say that the marble was
inspired, but the statue--the relation of part to part, the married;
harmony of form and function. The language, the words, take the place
of the marble, and it is the arrangement of these words that Christians
claim to be inspired. If there is one uninspired word,--that is, one
word in the wrong place, or a word that ought not to be there,--to that
extent the Bible is an uninspired book. The moment it is admitted that
some words are not, in their arrangement as to other words, inspired,
then, unless with absolute certainty these words can be pointed out, a
doubt is cast on all the words the book contains. If it was worth God's
while to make a revelation to man at all, it was certainly worth his
while to see to it that it was correctly made. He would not have allowed
the ideas and mistakes of pretended prophets and designing priests to
become so mingled with the original text that it is impossible to tell
where he ceased and where the priests and prophets began. Neither
will it do to say that God adapted his revelation to the prejudices of
mankind. Of course it was necessary for an infinite being to adapt
his revelation to the intellectual capacity of man; but why should God
confirm a barbarian in his prejudices? Why should he fortify a heathen
in his crimes? If a revelation is of any importance whatever, it is
to eradicate prejudices from the human mind. It should be a lever
with which to raise the human race. Theologians have exhausted their
ingenuity in finding excuses for God. It seems to me that they would be
better employed in finding excuses for men. They tell us that the Jews
were so cruel and ignorant that God was compelled to justify, or nearly
to justify, many of their crimes, in order to have any influence with
them whatever. They tell us that if he had declared slavery and
polygamy to be criminal, the Jews would have refused to receive the ten
commandments. They insist that, under the circumstances, God did the
best he could; that his real intention was to lead them along slowly,
step by step, so that, in a few hundred years, they would be induced to
admit that it was hardly fair to steal a babe from its mother's breast.
It has always seemed reasonable that an infinite God ought to have
been able to make man grand enough to know, even without a Special
revelation, that it is not altogether right to steal the labour, or the
wife, or the child, of another. When the whole question is thoroughly
examined, the world will find that Jehovah had the prejudices, the
hatreds and the superstitions of his day.

If there is anything of value, it is liberty. Liberty is the air of the
soul, the sunshine of life, Without it the world is a prison and the
universe an infinite dungeon.

If the Bible is really inspired Jehovah commanded the Jewish people to
buy the children of the strangers that sojourned among them, and ordered
that the children thus bought should be an inheritance for the children
of the Jews, and that they should be bondmen and bondwomen forever. Yet
Epictetus, a man to whom no revelation was ever made, a man whose soul
followed only the light of nature, and who had never heard of the Jewish
God, was great enough to say: "Will you not remember that your servants
are by nature your brothers, the children of God? In saying that you
have bought them, you look down on the earth, and into the pit, on the
wretched law of men long since dead, but you see not the laws of the

We find that Jehovah, speaking to his chosen people, assured them that
their bondmen and their bondmaids must be "of the heathen that were
round about them." "Of them," said Jehovah, "shall ye buy bondman
and bondmaid." And yet Cicero, a pagan, Cicero, who had never been
enlightened by reading the Old Testament, had the moral grandeur to
declare: "They who say that we should love our fellow-citizens, but not
foreigners, destroy the universal brotherhood of mankind, with which
benevolence and justice would perish forever."

If the Bible is inspired, Jehovah God of all worlds, actually said: "And
if a man smite his servant or his maid with a rod, and he die-under his
hand, he shall be surely punished; notwithstanding, if he continue a day
or two, he shall not be punished, for he is his money." And yet Zeno,
founder of the Stoics, centuries before Christ was born, insisted
that no man could be the owner of another, and that the title was bad,
whether the slave had become so by conquest, or by purchase. Jehovah
ordered a Jewish general to make war, and gave, among others, this
command: "When the Lord thy God shall drive them before thee, thou shalt
smite them and utterly destroy them; thou shalt make no covenant with
them, nor show mercy unto them." And yet Epictetus whom we have already
quoted, gave this marvellous rule for the guidance of human conduct:
"Live with thy inferiors as thou wouldst have thy superiors live with

Is it possible, after all, that a being of infinite goodness and wisdom
said: "I will heap mischief upon them; I will send my arrows upon them;
they shall be burned with hunger, and devoured with burning heat, and
with bitter destruction. I will send the tooth of beasts among them,
with the poison of serpents of the dust. The sword without, and terror
within, shall destroy both the young man and the virgin, the suckling,
also, with the man of grey hairs;" while Seneca, an uninspired Roman,
said: "The wise man will not pardon any crime that ought to be
punished, but he will accomplish, in a nobler way, all that is sought
in pardoning. He will spare some and watch over some, because of their
youth, and others on account of their ignorance. His clemency will not
fall short of justice, but will fulfil it perfectly."

Can we believe that God ever said of any one: "Let his children be
fatherless and his wife a widow; let his children be continually
vagabonds, and beg; let them seek their bread also out of their desolate
places; let the extortioner catch all that he hath and let the stranger
spoil his labour; let there be none to extend mercy unto him, neither
let there be any to favour his fatherless children." If he ever said
these words, surely he had never heard this line, this strain of music,
from the Hindu: "Sweet is the lute to those who have not heard the
prattle of their own children."

Jehovah, "from the clouds and darkness of Sinai" said to the Jews: "Thou
shalt have no other gods before me.... Thou shalt not bow down thyself
to them nor serve them; for I, the Lord thy God, am a jealous God,
visiting the iniquities of the fathers upon the children, unto the third
and fourth generation of them that hate me." Contrast these with the
words put by the Hindu in the mouth of Brahma: "I am the same to all
mankind. They who honestly serve other gods, involuntarily worship me.
I am he who partaketh of all worship, and I am the reward of all

Compare these passages. The first, a dungeon where crawl the things
begot of jealous slime; the other, great as the domed firmament inlaid
with suns.


WAIVING the contradictory statements in the various books of the New
Testament; leaving out of the question the history of the manuscripts;
saying nothing about the errors in translation and the interpolations
made by the fathers; and admitting, for the time being, that the books
were all written at the times claimed, and by the persons whose names
they bear, the questions of inspiration, probability, and absurdity
still remain.

As a rule, where several persons testify to the same transaction, while
agreeing in the main points, they will disagree upon many minor things,
and such disagreement upon minor matters is generally considered as
evidence that the witnesses have not agreed among themselves upon the
story they should tell. These differences in statement we account for
from the facts that all did not see alike, that all did not have the
same opportunity for seeing, and that all had not equally good memories.
But when we claim that the witnesses were inspired, we must admit that
he who inspired them did know exactly what occurred, and consequently
there should be no contradiction, even in the minutest detail. The
accounts should be not only substantially, but they should be actually,
the same. It is impossible to account for any differences, or any
contradictions, except from the weaknesses of human nature, and these
weaknesses cannot be predicated of divine wisdom. Why should there
be more than one correct account of anything? Why were four gospels
necessary? One inspired record of all that happened ought to be enough.

One great objection to the Old Testament is the cruelty said to have
been commanded by God, but all the cruelties recounted in the Old
Testament ceased with death. The vengeance of Jehovah stopped at the
portal of the tomb. He never threatened to avenge himself upon the dead;
and not one word, from the first mistake in Genesis to the last curse
of Malachi, contains the slightest intimation that God will punish in
another world. It was reserved for the New Testament to make known the
frightful doctrine of eternal pain. It was the teacher of universal
benevolence who rent the veil between time and eternity, and fixed the
horrified gaze of man on the lurid gulfs of hell. Within the breast of
non-resistance was coiled the worm that never dies.

One great objection to the New Testament is that it bases salvation upon
belief. This, at least, is true of the Gospel according to John, and of
many of the epistles. I admit that Matthew never heard of the Atonement,
and died utterly ignorant of the scheme of salvation. I also admit that
Mark never dreamed that it was necessary for a man to be born again;
that he knew nothing of the mysterious doctrine of Regeneration, and
that he never even suspected that it was necessary to believe anything.
In the sixteenth chapter of Mark, we are told that "He that believeth
and is baptized shall be saved, but he that believeth not shall be
damned"; but this passage has been shown to be an interpolation, and,
consequently, not a solitary word is found in the Gospel according to
Mark upon the subject of salvation by faith. The same is also true
of the Gospel of Luke. It says not one word as to the necessity of
believing on Jesus Christy not one word as to the Atonement, not one
word upon the scheme of salvation, and not the slightest hint that it is
necessary to believe anything here in order to be happy hereafter.

And I here take occasion to say, that with most of the teachings of the
Gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke I most heartily agree. The miraculous
parts must, of course, be thrown aside. I admit that the necessity of
Belief, the Atonement, and the scheme of salvation are all set forth
in the Gospel of John,--a Gospel, in my opinion, not written until long
after the others.

According to the prevailing Christian belief, the Christian religion
rests upon the doctrine of the Atonement. If this doctrine is without
foundation, if it is repugnant to justice and mercy, the fabric falls.
We are told that the first man committed a crime for which all his
posterity are responsible,--in other words, that we are accountable,
and can be justly punished for a sin we never in fact committed. This
absurdity was the father of another, namely, that a man can be rewarded
for a good action done by another. God, according to the modern
theologians, made a law, with the penalty of eternal death for its
infraction. All men, they say, have broken that law. In the economy of
heaven, this law had to be vindicated. This could be done by damning the
whole human race. Through what is known as the Atonement, the salvation
of a few was made possible. They insist that the law--whatever that
is--demanded the extreme penalty, that justice called for its victims,
and that even mercy ceased to plead. Under these circumstances God, by
allowing the innocent to suffer, satisfactorily settled with the law,
and allowed a few of the guilty to escape. The law was satisfied with
this arrangement. To carry out this scheme, God was born as a babe into
this world. "He grew in stature and increased in knowledge." At the
age of thirty-three, after having lived a life filled with kindness,
charity, and nobility, after having practised every virtue, he was
sacrificed as an atonement for man. It is claimed that he actually took
our place, and bore our sins and our guilt; that in this way the justice
of God was satisfied, and that the blood of Christ was an atonement, an
expiation, for the sins of all who might believe on him.

Under the Mosaic dispensation, there was no remission of sin except
through the shedding of blood. If a man committed certain sins, he
must bring to the priest a lamb, a bullock, a goat, or a pair of
turtle-doves. The priest would lay his hands upon the animal, and the
sin of the man would be transferred. Then the animal would be killed in
the place of the real sinner, and the blood thus shed and sprinkled upon
the altar would be an atonement. In this way Jehovah was satisfied.
The greater the crime, the greater the sacrifice--the more blood, the
greater the atonement. There was always a certain ratio between the
value of the animal and the enormity of the sin. The most minute
directions were given about the killing of these animals, and about
the sprinkling of their blood. Every priest became a butcher, and every
sanctuary a slaughter-house. Nothing could be more utterly shocking to
a refined and loving soul. Nothing could have been better calculated to
harden the heart than this continual shedding of innocent blood. This
terrible system is supposed to have culminated in the sacrifice of
Christ. His blood took the place of all other. It is necessary to shed
no more. The law at last is satisfied, satiated, surfeited. The idea
that God wants blood is at the bottom of the Atonement, and rests
upon the most fearful savagery. How can sin be transferred from men to
animals, and how can the shedding of the blood of animals atone for the
sins of men?

The Church says that the sinner is in debt to God, and that the
obligation is discharged by the Saviour. The best that can possibly be
said of such a transaction is, that the debt is transferred, not paid.
The truth is, that a sinner is in debt to the person he has injured.
If a man injures his neighbour, it is not enough for him to get the
forgiveness of God, but he must have the forgiveness of his neighbour.
If a man puts his hand in the fire and God forgives him, his hand will
smart exactly the same. You must, after all, reap what you sow. No god
can give you wheat when you sow tares, and no devil can give you tares
when you sow wheat.

There are in nature neither rewards nor punishments--there are
consequences. The life of Christ is worth its example, its moral force,
its heroism of benevolence.

To make innocence suffer is the greatest sin; how then is it possible to
make the suffering of the innocent a justification for the criminal? Why
should a man be willing to let the innocent suffer for him? Does not
the willingness show that he is utterly unworthy of the sacrifice?
Certainly, no man would be fit for heaven who would consent that an
innocent person should suffer for his sin. What would we think of a
man who would allow another to die for a crime that he himself had
committed? What would we think of a law that allowed the innocent to
take the place of the guilty? Is it possible to vindicate a just law
by inflicting punishment on the innocent? Would not that be a second
violation instead of a vindication?

If there was no general Atonement until the crucifixion of Christ, what
became of the countless millions who died before that time? And it must
be remembered that the blood shed by the Jews was not for other nations.
Jehovah hated foreigners. The Gentiles were left without forgiveness.
What has become of the millions who have died since, without having
heard of the Atonement? What becomes of those who have heard but have
not believed? It seems to me that the doctrine of the Atonement is
absurd, unjust, and immoral. Can a law be satisfied by the execution
of the wrong person? When a man commits a crime, the laws demands his
punishment, not that of a substitute; and there can be no law, human
or divine, that can be satisfied by the punishment of a substitute. Can
there be a Jaw that demands that the guilty be rewarded? And yet, to
reward the guilty is far nearer justice than to punish the innocent.

According to the orthodox theology, there would have been no heaven had
no Atonement been made. All the children of men would have been cast
into hell forever. The old men bowed with grief, the smiling mothers,
the sweet babes, the loving maidens, the brave, the tender, and the
just, would have been given over to eternal pain. Man, it is claimed,
can make no Atonement for himself. If he commits one sin, and with
that exception lives a life of perfect virtue, still that one sin would
remain unexpiated, unatoned, and for that one sin he would be forever
lost To be saved by the goodness of another, to be a redeemed debtor
forever, has in it something repugnant to manhood.

We must also remember that Jehovah took special charge of the Jewish
people; and we have always been taught that he did so for the purpose
of civilizing them. If he had succeeded in civilizing the Jews, he would
have made the damnation of the entire human race a certainty; because,
if the Jews had been a civilized people when Christ appeared,--a
people whose hearts had not been hardened by the laws and teachings of
Jehovah,--they would not have crucified him, and, as a consequence,
the world would have been lost. If the Jews had believed in religious
freedom,--in the right of thought and speech,--not a human soul could
ever have been saved. If, when Christ was on his way to Calvary\ some
brave, heroic soul had rescued him from the holy mob, he would not
only have been eternally damned for his pains, but would have rendered
impossible the salvation of any human being; and, except for the
crucifixion of her son, the Virgin Mary, if the church is right, would
be to-day among the lost.

In countless ways the Christian world has endeavoured, for nearly two
thousand years, to explain the Atonement, and every effort has ended
in an admission that it cannot be understood, and a declaration that it
must be believed. Is it not immoral to teach that man can sin, that he
can harden his heart and pollute his soul, and that, by repenting
and believing something that he does not comprehend, he can avoid the
consequences of his crimes? Has the promise and hope of forgiveness ever
prevented the commission of a sin? Should men be taught that sin gives
happiness here; that they ought to bear the evils of a virtuous life in
this world for the sake of joy in the next; that they can repent between
the last sin and the last breath; that after repentance every stain
of the soul is washed away by the innocent blood of another; that the
serpent of regret: will not hiss in the ear of memory; that the saved
will not even pity the victims of their own crimes; that the goodness
of another can be transferred to them; and that sins forgiven cease to
affect the unhappy wretches sinned against?

Another objection is that a certain belief is necessary to save the soul
It is often asserted that to believe is the only safe way. If you wish
to be safe, be honest. Nothing can be safer than that. No matter what
his belief may be, no man, even in the hour of death, can regret having
been honest. It never can be necessary to throw away your reason to save
your soul. A soul without reason is scarcely worth saving. There is no
more degrading doctrine than that of mental non-resistance. The soul has
a right to defend its castle--the brain, and he who waives that right
becomes a serf and slave. Neither can I admit that a man, by doing me
an injury, can place me under obligation to do him a service. To render
benefits for injuries is to ignore all distinctions between actions. He
who treats his friends and enemies alike has neither love nor justice.
The idea of non-resistance never occurred to a man with power to protect
himself. This doctrine was the child of weakness, born when resistance
was impossible. To allow a crime to be committed when you can prevent
it, is next to committing the crime yourself. And yet, under the banner
of non-resistance, the Church has shed the blood of millions, and in the
folds of her sacred Vestments have gleamed the daggers of assassination.
With her cunning hands she wove the purple for hypocrisy, and placed
the crown upon the brow of crime. For a thousand years larceny held the
scales of justice, while beggars scorned the princely sons of toil, and
ignorant fear denounced the liberty of thought.

If Christ was in fact God, he knew all the future. Before him, like a
panorama, moved the history yet to be. He knew exactly how his words
would be interpreted. He knew what crimes, what horrors, what infamies
would be committed in his name. He knew that the fires of persecution
would climb around the limbs of countless martyrs. He knew that brave
men would languish in dungeons, in darkness, filled with pain; that the
Church would use instruments of torture, that his followers would appeal
to whip and chain. He must have seen the horizon of the future red with
the flames of the Auto-da-Fe. He knew all the creeds that would spring
like poison fungi from every text. He saw the sects waging war against
each other. He saw thousands of men, under the orders of priests,
building dungeons for their fellow-men. He saw them using instruments
of pain. He heard the groans, saw the faces white with agony, the tears,
the blood--heard the shrieks and sobs of all the moaning, martyred
multitudes. He knew that commentaries would be written on his words
with swords, to be read by the light of fagots. He knew that the
_Inquisition_ would be born of teachings attributed to him. He saw all
the interpolations and falsehoods that hypocrisy would write and
tell. He knew that above these fields of death, these dungeons, these
burnings, for a thousand years would float the dripping banner of the
cross. He knew that in his name his followers would trade in human
flesh, that cradles would be robbed, and women's breasts unbabed for
gold, and yet he died with voiceless lips. Why did he fail to speak?
Why did he not tell his disciples, and through them the world, that man
should not persecute, for opinion's sake, his fellow-man? Why did he not
cry, You shall not persecute in my name; you shall not burn and torment
those who differ from you in creed? Why did he not plainly say, I am the
Son of God? Why did he not explain the doctrine of the Trinity? Why did
he not tell the manner of baptism that was pleasing to him? Why did he
not say something positive, definite, and satisfactory about another
world? Why did he not turn the tear-stained hope of heaven to the glad
knowledge of another life? Why did he go dumbly to his death, leaving
the world to misery and to doubt?

He came, they tell us, to make a revelation, and what did he reveal?
"Love thy neighbour as thyself"? That was in the Old Testament, "Love
God with all thy heart"? That was in the Old Testament, "Return good
for evil "? That was said by _Buddha_ seven hundred years before he was
born, "Do unto others as ye would that they should do unto you"? This
was the doctrine of _Laotse_. Did he come to give a rule of action?
_Zoroaster_ had done this, long before: "Whenever thou art in doubt as
to whether an action is good or bad, abstain from it." Did he come to
teach us of another world? The immortality of the soul had been taught
by _Hindus, Egyptians, Greeks, and Romans_ hundreds of years before he
was born. Long before, the world had been told by _Socrates_ that: "One
who is injured ought not to return the injury, for on no account can it
be right to do an injustice; and it is not right to return an injury, or
to do evil to any man, however much we may have suffered from him." And
_Cicero_ had said: "Let us not listen to those who think that we ought
to be angry with our enemies and who believe this to be great and manly:
nothing is more praiseworthy, nothing so clearly shows a great and noble
soul, as clemency and readiness to forgive."

Is there anything nearer perfect than this from _Confucius_: "For
benefits return benefits; for injuries return justice without any
admixture of revenge"?

The dogma of eternal punishment rests upon passages in the _New
Testament_, This infamous belief subverts every idea of justice. Around
the angel of immortality the Church has coiled this serpent. A finite
being can neither commit an infinite sin, nor a sin against the
infinite. A being of infinite goodness and wisdom has no right,
according to the human standard of justice, to create any being destined
to suffer eternal pain. A being of infinite wisdom would not create
a failure, and surely a man destined to everlasting agony is not a

How long, according to the universal benevolence of the New Testament,
can a man be reasonably punished in the next world for failing to
believe something unreasonable in this? Can it be possible that any
punishment can endure forever? Suppose that every flake of snow that
ever fell was a figure nine, and that the first flake was multiplied by
the second, and that product by the third, and so on to the last flake.
And then suppose that this total should be multiplied by every drop of
rain that ever fell, calling each drop a figure nine; and that total by
each blade of grass that ever helped to weave a carpet for the earth,
calling each blade a figure nine, and that again by every grain of sand
on every shore, so that the grand total would make a line of nines so
long that it would require millions upon millions of years for light,
travelling at the rate of one hundred and eighty-five thousand miles per
second, to reach the end. And suppose, further, that each unit in this
almost infinite total stood for billions of ages--still that vast and
almost endless time, measured by all the years beyond, is as one flake,
one drop, one leaf, one blade, one grain, compared with all the flakes,
and drops, and leaves, and blades, and grains.

Upon love's breast the Church has placed the eternal asp. And yet, in
the same book in which is taught this most infamous of doctrines, we are
assured that "The Lord is good to all, and his tender mercies are over
all his works."

SO FAR as we know, man is the author of all books. If a book had been
found on the earth by the first man, he might have regarded it as the
work of God; but as men were here a good while before any books were
found, and as man has produced a great many books, the probability is
that the Bible is no exception.

Most nations, at the time the Old Testament was written, believed in
slavery, polygamy, wars of extermination, and religious persecution;
and it is not wonderful that the book contained nothing contrary to such
belief. The fact that it was in exact accord with the morality of its
time proves that it was not the product of any being superior to man.
"The inspired writers" upheld or established slavery, countenanced
polygamy, commanded wars of extermination, and ordered the slaughter
of women and babes. In these respects they were precisely like the
uninspired savages by whom they were surrounded. They also taught and
commanded religious persecution as a duty, and visited the most trivial
offences with the punishment of death. In these particulars they were in
exact accord with their barbarian neighbours. They were utterly ignorant
of geology and astronomy, and knew no more of what had happened than of
what would happen; and, so far as accuracy is concerned, their history
and prophecy were about equal; in other words, they were just as
ignorant as those who lived and died in Nature's night.

Does any Christian believe that if God were to write a book now, he
would uphold the crimes commanded in the Old Testament? Has, Jehovah
improved? Has infinite mercy become more merciful? Has infinite wisdom
intellectually advanced? Will any one claim that the passages upholding
slavery have liberated mankind; that we are indebted for our modern
homes to the texts that made polygamy a virtue; or that religious
liberty found its soil, its light, and rain, in the infamous verse
wherein the husband is commanded to stone to death the wife for
worshipping an unknown God?

The usual answer to these objection is that no country has ever been
civilized without the Bible.

The Jews were the only people to whom Jehovah made his will directly
known,--the only people who had the Old Testament. Other nations were
utterly neglected by their Creator. Yet, such was the effect of the Old
Testament on the Jews, that they crucified a kind, loving, and perfectly
innocent man. They could not have done much worse without a Bible. In
the crucifixion of Christ, they followed the teachings of his Father.
If, as it is now alleged by the theologians, no nation can be civilized
without a Bible, certainly God must have known the fact six thousand
years ago, as well as the theologians know it now. Why did he not
furnish every nation with a Bible?

As to the Old Testament, I insist that all the bad passages were written
by men; that those passages were not inspired. I insist that a being of
infinite goodness never commanded man to enslave his fellow-man, never
told a mother to sell her babe, never established polygamy, never
ordered one nation to exterminate another, and never told a husband to
kill his wife because she suggested the worshipping of some other God.

I also insist that the Old Testament would be a much better book with
all of these passages left out; and, whatever may be said of the rest,
the passages to which attention has been drawn can with vastly more
propriety be attributed to a Devil than to a God.

Take from the New Testament all passages upholding the idea that belief
is necessary to salvation; that Christ was offered as an atonement for
the sins of the world; that the punishment of the human soul will go
on forever; that heaven is the reward of faith, and hell the penalty of
honest investigation; take from it all miraculous stories,--and I admit
that all the good passages are true. If they are true, it makes no
difference whether they are Inspired or not. Inspiration is only
necessary to give authority to that which is repugnant to human reason.

Only that which never happened needs to be substantiated by miracles.
The universe is natural.

The Church must cease to insist that the passages upholding the
institutions of savage men were inspired of God, The dogma of the
Atonement must be abandoned. Good deeds must take the place of faith.
The savagery of eternal punishment must be renounced. Credulity is not
a virtue, and investigation is not a crime. Miracles are the children
of mendacity. Nothing can be more wonderful than the majestic, unbroken,
sublime, and eternal procession of causes and effects.

Reason must be the final arbiter, "Inspired" books attested by miracles
cannot stand against a demonstrated fact. A religion that does not
command the respect of the greatest minds will, in a little while,
excite the mockery of all. Every civilized man believes in the liberty
of thought. Is it possible that God is intolerant? Is an act infamous in
man one of the virtues of the Deity? Could there be progress in heaven
without intellectual liberty? Is the freedom of the future to exist only
in perdition? Is it not, after all, barely possible that a man acting
like Christ can be saved? Is a man to be eternally rewarded for
believing according to evidence, with out evidence, or against evidence?
Are we to be saved because we are good, or because another was virtuous?
Is credulity to be winged and crowned, while honest doubt is chained ana

Do not misunderstand me. My position is that the cruel passages in
the Old Testament are not inspired; that slavery, polygamy, wars of
extermination, and religious persecution, always have been, are, and
forever will be, abhorred and cursed by the honest, the virtuous, and
the loving; that the innocent cannot justly suffer for the guilty,
and that vicarious vice and vicarious virtue are equally absurd; that
eternal punishment is eternal revenge; that only the natural can happen;
that miracles prove the dishonesty of the few and the credulity of the
many; and that, according to Matthew, Mark, and Luke, salvation does not
depend upon belief, nor the Atonement, nor a "second birth," but that
these gospel are in exact harmony with the declaration of the great
Persian: "Taking the first footstep with the good thought, the second
with the good word, and the third with the good deed, I entered

The dogmas of the past no longer reach the level of the highest thought,
nor satisfy the hunger of the heart. While dusty faiths, embalmed and
sepulchered in ancient texts, remain the same, the sympathies of men
enlarge; the brain no longer kills its young; the happy lips give
liberty to honest thoughts; the mental firmament expands and lifts; the
broken clouds drift by; the hideous dreams, the foul, misshapen children
of the monstrous night, dissolve and fade.

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