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Title: Is Life Worth Living Without Immortality? - A Lecture Delivered Before the Independent Religious Society, Chicago
Author: Mangasarian, M. M. (Mangasar Mugurditch), 1859-1943
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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 _Sacrificing the earth for paradise is giving up
 the substance for the shadow._

 --Victor Hugo.

 Is Life Worth Living
 Without Immortality?

 A Lecture Delivered Before
 the Independent Religious
 Society, Chicago

 By
 M. M. MANGASARIAN

     I may be doing you an injustice, Bertie, but it seemed to me in
     your last that there were indications that the free expression of
     my religious views had been distasteful to you. That you should
     disagree with me I am prepared for; but that you should object to
     free and honest discussion of those subjects which above all others
     men should be honest over, would, I confess, be a disappointment.
     The Free-thinker is placed at this disadvantage in ordinary
     society, that whereas it would be considered very bad taste upon
     his part to obtrude his unorthodox opinion, no such consideration
     hampers those with whom he disagrees. There was a time when it took
     a brave man to be a Christian. Now it takes a brave man not to be.

 SIR A. CONAN DOYLE,
 The Stark Munro Letters--Fourth Letter.



Is Life Worth Living Without Immortality?


Is life worth living? If we are in good health, it certainly is. In a
certain sense, even to ask such a question implies that we are not at
our best. It is the sick, mentally as well as physically, who question
the value of life. We cannot appreciate health too highly. Our
philosophy of life is more profoundly affected by the condition of our
body than we have any idea. If I were composing a new set of beatitudes,
one of them would be in exaltation of health:

_Blessed are they that have health, for they shall take pleasure in
life._

Health also inspires _faith_ in life. The first commandment of the
decalogue, instead of reading, "Thou shalt have no other gods before
me," which is metaphysical and without definite meaning, could with much
advantage be altered to read:

_Thou shalt not trifle with thy health._

How fortunate it would have been for man had the "Deity" given that as
his first and best thought to the world! Then, indeed, would he have
been the friend of man. We cannot preserve our health without observing
all the other commandments--of temperance, purity, sanity, self
possession, contentment, and serenity of mind. "Behold I bring unto you
health" ought to be the glad tidings of salvation. Give us that, and all
the rest will be added unto us. Health is the foundation of character.
If the foundation is insecure--if we have inherited disease and
corruption, we can be sound, neither in our thoughts nor in our actions.
The time may come when to be sickly will be considered a crime. A
revolution in our feelings in this matter is already taking place.
Formerly it was thought that the path to self-development is through
sorrow and suffering, and that the sick were the saints. The verdict of
science today, which has been confirmed by the growing experience of
man, is that pleasurable activity is the most wholesome environment for
man. Happiness has upon human nature the same effect that the sunshine
has upon the soil. Man is a failure if he is not happy. The highest
accomplishment is the ability to enjoy life. To those who say that
service or usefulness is the noblest aim of life, we answer, "Why should
those who serve the noblest ends of life be unhappy?"

But let me first present to you the answer which one of America's best
known psychologists, Prof. William James, of Harvard, gives to this most
interesting question. Prof. James is a teacher not only of the young men
in one of our leading Universities, but his ideas have become a part of
the furniture of the American mind. Both his thought and the candor with
which he expresses himself have secured for him a large following. Prof.
James has an engaging style. Not that he is not also a profound thinker,
but his sentences are as symmetrical as they are solid. He writes to be
understood. That, I take it, is the secret of the masters of style. The
gods always speak from behind "clouds and darkness." That explains why
it is so difficult to understand what they say. But the great teachers
permit no screens, draperies, curtains, or hangings of any sort to come
between them and the public. There is nothing hidden about their
thoughts. Neither do they speak in parables. Whoever can not make
himself understood should hold his peace.

The parents of this renowned psychologist were Swedenborgians, and I
believe the professor is still, nominally, at least, a member of the
Swedenborgian church. Swedenborg, as you know, was a mystic; he was,
indeed, a sort of a medium, who claimed to have seen and conversed with
God face to face, and to have received from him a supplementary
revelation, in some such sense that Mrs. Eddy or Joseph Smith received
one. Of course, Swedenborg was also a philosopher, which Smith and Eddy
are not. The early connections and training of Prof. James explain in
part his interest in the work of the Psychical Research Society, of
which he is one of the officers. So-called spiritist or occult
phenomena, such as automatic slate writing, table tipping and telepathy,
have always interested Prof. James, but he is by no means an easy
victim, though he looks forward hopefully to the time when science will
definitely locate the undiscovered country whose bourne has not yet been
sighted.

Some years ago when Prof. James and I were summer neighbors in New
Hampshire--near Chocorua lake--I heard the professor deliver a lecture
on hypnotism in the village church of Tamworth. An incident occurred at
the time which has its bearing on the experience our Society is having
with the directors of the Orchestral Association. While Prof. James was
explaining the phenomena of hypnotism from the pulpit, I saw, from where
I was sitting, an elderly woman showing signs of restlessness in her
seat. Presently she rose to her feet, walked up the aisle slowly, and
taking her stand directly in front of Prof. James on the platform, she
upbraided him for desecrating the House of God by delivering in it a
lecture on hypnotism. In clear, though trembling tones, she ordered him
out of the church. Naturally the professor was greatly embarrassed, as
was also his audience. The old woman, however, was soon prevailed upon
by the elders of the church to resume her seat and keep the peace. But
she was trying to oust Prof. James from the church, as the trustees of
this building are trying to oust our Society from this hall, on account
of religious differences. The old woman of New Hampshire was not
successful, and I trust that the old woman of Chicago will not fare any
better. To close a hall to a movement is an easy thing, but to close the
ear of the world to its message is not so easy.

I have spoken of the early education of Prof. James in order to explain
the metaphysical bent of his mind. As a psychologist, he has an
international reputation, but his greatest vogue is among, what are
called, the liberal Christians. The orthodox have no use for him, but to
those who are endeavoring to interpret Christianity so as to make it
harmonize with modern thought--who are filling the ancient skins with
wine newly pressed--he is a defender and a champion of the faith. Prof.
James seems to have discovered a way by which one can be a scientist and
a supernaturalist at the same time. He appears to be of the opinion that
a person may deny or reject many of the orthodox dogmas, and still be
justified in calling himself a Christian. He is, in fact, one of the
New Theologians, who are supposed to have reconstructed Christianity,
and saved the supernatural. For this service, Prof. James and his
_confreres_ are held in high esteem by those who would have had to give
up Christianity but for their timely help.

In his lecture on, "Is Life Worth Living," the professor admits that he
is writing for the pessimists. It is they who are in the "to be or not
to be" mood of mind. The optimist does not need consolation, for he is
incapable of even suspecting that life is not worth living. Some
temperaments are as incapable of depression or gloom, as others are of
happiness. If there are parts of the world on which the sun never goes
down, so there are natures which know no night. We make a mistake,
however, if we think that the pessimist represents a lower type of
mental evolution. On the contrary, pessimism comes with civilization,
and it generally attacks men and women of a higher culture. Suicide is
rare among the negroes or the less advanced races; but in the United
States, representing the most perfect type of civilization, dowered
magnificently, and rich in the possession of the treasures of art and
nature; in America, the home of hope and opportunity--with its immense
prairies, its great West, its army of earth-subduers, empire-builders,
large-natured, generous, daring, enduring, restless, resistless
pioneers--more than three thousand people every year kill themselves. If
we were to seek for an explanation of this strange phenomenon, the
nearest we can come to it would be to say that these people prefer death
to life because they do not find life worth their while. There is not
enough in it to satisfy them. To use an Emersonian phrase, life is to
them no more than "a sucked orange." When the perfume, the aroma, the
taste, the tints, and the juices have been extracted from the fruit--who
cares for what is left.

Of course, these remarks have no reference to the cases of sudden
suicide, committed in a moment of frenzy--when a man driven, as it were,
by a storm in the brain, lets go of his hold and slips into the
darkness. The professor has in mind rather those who even though they do
not commit suicide, live on reluctantly, under protest, and who treat
life as we would a guest who has overstaid his welcome, and to whose
final departure we look forward with pleasure.

But there is still another class of pessimists who need to be reasoned
with. These are the people who brood over the existence of evil in the
world, and feel the misery of the many so keenly, that they think it
involves a point of honor to consent to be happy in such a world. The
contemplation of human sorrow, the surging waves of which break upon
every shore; and the cry of human anguish rising like the blind cry of
all the seas that roll, has a tendency to slacken the hold of the
reflective mind upon life. Prof. James admits that pessimism is
essentially a religious disease, in the sense that it results from the
inability of man to entertain two contradictory thoughts at the same
time: A father in heaven, whose tender mercies are over all his
children, and children dying of hunger and neglect! Infinite wisdom
enthroned in heaven, and a world running topsy-turvy. The refined mind
cannot contemplate this contradiction without distress. If God is
everywhere, why is there darkness anywhere? If there is within reach an
ocean of truth, why is it doled out to us in driblets which hardly wet
our lips, when we are burning with thirst? Religion provokes desires
which it cannot satisfy, and makes promises which it will not fulfil. It
is this contradiction which bites the soul black and blue. God is
infinite! and behold we are starving. God is light! and we grope in
darkness. God is great! and we cannot budge without crutches. It is this
thought which teases us out of our peace of mind. The idea of a God,
gifted with infinite parts, measured against the helplessness of man,
makes for pessimism.

But in the opinion of Prof. James, religion alone can cure the disease
which religion creates. By religion, he does not mean merely loving
one's neighbor and being loyal to one's best thoughts. Religion,
according to Prof. James, means the belief that beyond this present
life, "there is an unseen world of which we now know nothing positive
but in its relation to which the significance of our mundane life
consists." If this is the first act of an unending drama, it would have
great worth and significance, but if it is a detached and disconnected
piece, upon which the curtain will soon fall never to rise again--if it
is never going to be finished--it loses, according to Prof. James, its
seriousness. In other words, it is the belief that man is an eternal
being whom no catastrophe can crush or annihilate, which makes our
present existence worth while, and which also reconciles us to the
discipline of pain and evil. Life is worth living, in short, if man is
immortal. This is the drift of Prof. James' teaching, as it is also that
of all supernaturalists.

What evidence does the professor offer to prove the existence of an
unseen world and the immortality of man? He offers none. He admits that
science has not as yet demonstrated the reality of an invisible world.
Perhaps it never will, but what of that? "You have got a right to
believe in an unseen world," declares the professor. Is it not
interesting? It will be seen that if the professor has no evidence, he
has many arguments. One of his arguments is that, since, we must either
believe or disbelieve in a future life, neutrality in the matter being
an unattainable thing, why not take our choice, and while we are at it,
choose immortality. Another argument is, that as our longings and
yearnings in other directions have turned out to be prophetic, we have
every reason to believe that the desire for eternal life also will be
fulfilled. Art, science, music, health, have come to us because of an
inner impulse which prompted us to go after them. A similar impulse
urges us to seek the divine, which is a sort of proof that the divine
exists. Still another argument is this: All the great successes or
achievements of life came as a result of the courage that takes risks.
Without audacity, man would never have crossed the ocean, or invented
the aeroplane. If the belief in immortality requires the taking of
risks, if it is hazardous even to hold it, we should not hesitate on
that account, since some of the best things have come to us by taking
risks. Start out for God and immortality; and some day you may cast
anchor in the shining waters that lap the shores of a divine continent.
"We are free to trust at our own risk anything that is not impossible,"
concludes the professor. Finally, there is the argument from analogy,
which I may explain by a personal experience. In the Pasteur Institute
in Paris, last summer, I saw in the vivisection room, physicians in
their white aprons, operating upon live rabbits, cutting and dissecting
them, while the helpless creatures were so fastened to the tables that
they could not move a muscle. Now all this must seem very cruel to the
rabbit. It must think the physician a butcher, devoid of all feeling,
or justice, and it must perforce denounce the world in which such wanton
torture is inflicted by the strong upon the weak. But if the rabbit
could take a larger view, if it could be made to see that its sufferings
are contributing to the progress of science and the amelioration of the
conditions of life upon this planet, and thereby helping to hasten the
day when disease shall be conquered, would it not be reconciled to the
physician's knife and the operating table? The larger view which would
embrace the world unseen will help to give to evil, suffering and
misery, which now we do not understand, a _raison d'être_. The part of
wisdom as well as of courage then, is to "believe what is in the line of
our needs, for only by the belief is the need fulfilled. Refuse to
believe, and you shall indeed be right, for you shall irretrievably
perish. But believe, and again you shall be right, for you shall save
yourself."

It will be seen by what has preceded, that Prof. James of Harvard
University, throws the weight of his influence on the side of those who
have always maintained that God and immortality are indispensable to the
happiness of man. In his opinion, what a man would be if deprived of his
reason, the universe would be if deprived of a God, and life, of a
future existence. The eminent psychologist takes the further position
that it is immaterial whether or not there is any evidence to prove the
existence of a God or of a life after death. If the belief is essential
to our happiness and usefulness, he thinks we have got the right to
entertain it, irrespective of the question of evidence. "If there is a
belief of any kind to which you have taken a special fancy, or one that
you feel like crying for," the professor seems to say, "help yourself to
it; you have only yourself to suit." Even if such a belief should
involve an element of risk, we are urged to take the risk. If it
requires audacity even to believe in a God and immortality, we are told
to have the audacity. It is his idea that when we are dealing with the
unknown, the important thing is the heart's desire, and not the question
of evidence. In passing, I might suggest that Prof. James would never
have thought of pushing aside with such nonchalance, the question of
evidence, were it not for an irrepressible suspicion that the evidence
is against him. He hopes to do without the evidence because the evidence
will not help him. This reminds us of the saying of the philosopher
Hobbes, that, men are generally against reason when reason is against
_them_.

As already intimated, the liberal party in the church regards Prof.
James as a defender of the faith. He is classed with such men as Sir
Oliver Lodge and Lord Kelvin, who though scientists still believe in the
supernatural, and by their example have made such a belief respectable.
It must be borne in mind, however, that these distinguished men are
Christians only, if at all, in a very loose sense of the word. All the
cardinal doctrines of revelation, such as the creation, the atonement,
the incarnation, and a personal God--even one, to say nothing of a
trinity--they reject. These gentlemen have not enough faith to be
baptised to-day, had they not been baptised in their childhood,--or to
be received into any Christian church without greatly stretching the
rules in their behalf. It remains then quite true, and the argument has
not yet been answered, that there is not a single eminent thinker in
the world to-day who will subscribe to the creed of Christendom
without first going through it with a blue pencil, or a pair of
scissors. But Prof. James, as also Lodge and Kelvin, if they are
not supernaturalists in the ordinary sense of the word, neither are they
anti-supernaturalists. They are between and betwixt, if I may use that
phrase--not quite ready to part with supernaturalism altogether, nor yet
able to hold on to it in its entirety, and so they linger somewhere on
the borders or the edge of it.

The first remark I have to make on the position of these newly recruited
defenders of supernaturalism--even though the supernaturalism which they
defend be of the attenuated kind--is, that their argument is not even an
improvement on that of the theologian. I like the dogmatic and
autocratic, "thus saith the Lord," of theology, much better than the
"suit yourself" of these gentlemen. The one position is as destructive
of intellectual integrity, as the other. The theologian starts with the
fallacy that God can make a thing true by an act of his will--that his
_say so_ makes all need of evidence superfluous. Prof. James and the men
of his school start with a proposition equally fatal to the
truth--namely; that whatever we wish to be true concerning the unknown
is true. All that is needed, for instance, to give the universe a God is
to wish for one. All that is necessary to make a man immortal is to
desire and believe that he is. "The Will to Believe," which is the
title of one of the professor's writings, makes truth the creature of
man, as theology makes it the creature of God. You see that after all,
the theologian and the "scientific" supernaturalist pull together. That
is to say, when science lends itself to theology, it ceases to be
scientific. It is not theology that goes over to science, but science
that goes over to theology. As soon as science appears at the camp of
theology, it is forthwith swallowed up. When Prof. James speaks of the
"will to believe," and never mind the evidence, he is borrowing from
theology, the "will to create" of God.

Even as the Deity in creating did not have to consider anything but his
glory and pleasure, likewise man in believing does not have to consider
anything but his needs and desires. Ask, "What is Truth?" and the
theologian answers: "Whatever God wants it to be." Ask now the scientist
allies of the supernatural, "What is Truth," and they answer: "Whatever
man desires or craves it to be." Of course, it may be objected that it
is only concerning the unknown that man is permitted to dispense with
evidence and consult his will. But there is no merit, for instance, in a
man not telling any falsehoods where he is sure of being found out; his
character is tested by his refusal to lie where he is sure he never will
be found out. It is concerning the unknown about which we can say
anything and everything we please without the fear of ever being caught,
that we should restrain ourselves and show our loyalty to the
everlasting law of honor, never to depart from veracity. To make any
assertions about the unknown is to take an undue advantage of one's
neighbors. "Truth is not mine to do with it as I please," said Giordano
Bruno, "I must obey the truth, not command it." But the
theologico-scientific position is the very reverse of this. If a god
were to ask the question, "What is Truth?" His priests would answer,
"Lord, suit thyself." If men asked, "What is Truth?" the Harvard
professor and his colleagues would reply, "It depends upon your will to
believe."

The name given to this "free and easy philosophy," if I may use such
an expression--is pragmatism, which is a word from the Greek root
_pragmatikos_, whence our word "practice" and "practical." The idea
at the basis of this philosophy is that whatever is practical and
business-like--whatever is necessary to a given program, is
authoritative. The philosopher, Kant, was one of the first to urge that
we have a right to believe as we please concerning the things which we
can neither prove nor disprove by evidence, if such beliefs are
necessary to morality. His modern disciples following his leadership,
take the position that it is the usefulness of a hypothesis or a belief,
and not its truth, that should concern us. "Does it work," is the test,
they say, of the value of a scheme or statement, and not, "Is it true?"
If it works, what do we care whether or not it be true. If it does not
work, it is of no help to us even if it were true. This is identically
the same argument which is advanced by the Roman Catholics, to justify
for instance, the belief in the existence, somewhere in the universe, of
a place called purgatory. "The doctrine of purgatory works," argues the
priest, and therefore, it makes no difference whether or not such a
place really exists. It is a useful, consoling and profitable doctrine.
Therefore it is as good as true. In the phraseology of pragmatism,
millions of people want a purgatory, therefore, there is one. And once
again, to the question, "What is Truth," the answer of both the
theologian and the pragmatist is, "Do not bother about it." And this
describes the attitude of the Protestant as well as of the Catholic
toward truth. They do not bother about it. Yes, _they do not bother
about it_. That is why progress limps and the darkness lingers. People
have been brought up not to bother about truth, which explains why error
is still king of more than half of the world. I cannot find the
words--all words fail me to express my disappointment that a teacher of
the youth in one of our great institutions, who are to be the America of
tomorrow, should in any way contribute to the impression that truth is
secondary; that our needs, our interests, our inclinations, or our
whims, come first, and that if we have not the courage to look the truth
in the face, we can turn around and make terms with myth and fable.

If we were disposed to trip the professor, or by one single thrust to
disqualify him for further action in the arena of thought, we could say
that even from the point of view of the pragmatist, truth comes first,
and that by no imaginable manoeuvring can truth be shifted to a
subordinate rank. It cannot be done. Listen! You may not have to prove
the existence of a God, or of a future, or of a purgatory, before
believing in it. Granted: but you have to prove and you are trying to
prove, that it is _true_ that you do not have to prove them. Even
pragmatists who say that utility is before truth, labor to prove that it
is _true_ that utility is before truth. In other words, they have got to
prove the truth of their theory, whatever that may be, before they can
make it have any value, or before it can command our respect. Things
have to be true else they cannot exist. All the labor of Prof. James has
for its object the demonstration of what he considers to be a truth,
namely: that the truth of the belief concerning the unknown is not
essential. In other words, God may be true or not, a future life may be
true or not, but it has to be true that it makes no difference whether
they are true or not. Wiggle as we may, we cannot escape the ring of
reason that embraces life. This is what I mean when I say that the stars
fight for Rationalism. Truth is so tightly screwed and made fast to the
top of the flag-pole that even hands of iron and steel cannot pull it
down to a lower notch.

A second remark I would make on Prof. James' manner of reasoning is that
such arguments as he uses to prop up the belief in God and immortality
show, not confidence, but desperation, if it is not too strong a word to
use. Urging us to take risks, to have the audacity, to ignore the
question of evidence, to suit ourselves, and, not to mind the facts, is
not the language of sobriety, but of recklessness. To say to a man
standing on the edge of a precipice and looking down into a chasm of
unknown depth and darkness, to jump over, because, perchance, he may
discover his heart's desire at the bottom, is frantic advice, and a man
has to be in a panicky state of mind to let go of the sun and of the
green earth for a possible world at the bottom of the abyss. It was a
thought of Emerson that the humblest bug crawling in the dust with its
back to the sun, and shining with the colors of the rainbow, is a thing
more sublime than any possible angel. If there were the slightest
foundation for the belief in an unseen world, no one would think of
resorting to such extreme measures as our learned professor does, to
uphold it. When I see a man huffing and puffing, I do not conclude that
he has a strong case, on the contrary, I am apt to suspect that it is
the weakness of his cause which has disturbed his serenity. To tell us
that we can will ourselves immortal, or will God into existence, and
that all we need is the audacity to plunge into the unknown, whatever
the risks, reminds me of La Fontaine's parable of the frog--who thought
he could will himself into the size of a cow--with fatal results. The
beginning of wisdom is to recognize one's limitations. To tell a man
that he can _will_ things into existence is to do him an injury. Pitiful
is the God, and chimerical the immortality that has no better foundation
than the whim of man.

According to the doctrine of "The will to believe" there would be no God
if there were no men to "will" his existence, and no immortality if men
did not desire it. This is theology dressed up as philosophy or science.
How was the world made? And the theologians answer, God said, "Let there
be light, and there was light." How was God made? And the pragmatists
answer, "Man said, let there be a God, and there was one." This is
trifling. If the word is not too harsh, I shall call it sophistry, or
mental gymnastics, to which men never resort except when straight
reasoning will not help them.

Sophistry is a plea of guilty. I was debating the other evening in a
Milwaukee theater on the question of the responsibility for the burning
of Joan of Arc. While listening to the defense of the gentleman who was
trying to prove that the Catholic Church was not responsible for her
martyrdom, I said to myself that such a defense would never have been
thought of were it not for the fact that the old claim that the church
of God cannot err had not broken down. In the same way the defense that
the bible should be taken allegorically, proves that the old position
that the bible is from cover to cover the word of God with every letter
and punctuation, as well as word and meaning inspired, is no longer
tenable. To say that the bible must not be taken literally is but
another way of saying that the bible is not true, or that you can make
it mean what you please. Men never put up such a defense for anything
unless they are driven to it by sheer desperation.

My third remark on the pragmatic philosophy of Professor James is that,
besides doing violence to our reason, his doctrine that an unseen world
is indispensable to make life worth living, or to help make the world
moral, places man not only in an unenviable light, but it also does him
a great injustice. If it is true that a man will make a beast of himself
if he finds out that he is not a God, I take the position that he is
beyond hope. Nothing can save him. But it is not true. It is a priestly
tale that a man will not behave himself unless we can promise him the
moon, or the sun, or eternity. A man would only be a contemptible animal
if he must be given toys and trinkets and sawdust dolls to divert his
attention from mischief. The claim of the preachers that unless men are
assured of black-eyed houris and golden harps, or at least,--some sort
of a ghostly existence,--somewhere and at sometime in the future, they
will convert life into a debauch, is simply a falsehood. Man is not so
depraved as that. Indeed, the doctrine of total depravity was invented
by the priests to create a demand for the offices of the church. The
priest cannot afford to believe in human nature. If a man can save
himself, or if he can do good by his own effort, what need would there
be of the mysteries and the sacraments,--the rites and the dogmas?

I had occasion to tell you a few Sundays ago that if a lily can be
white, or a rose so wondrous fair, or a dog so loyal and heroic, without
dickering with the universe for a future reward, man can do, at least,
as much. Would this be expecting too much of him?

In France, there is, in one of the close-by suburbs of Paris, a cemetery
for dogs. Of course, no priest or pastor would think of officiating at
the interment of a dog, however useful or faithful the animal may have
been. They are brought here by their owners and quietly buried. The
visitor finds here, however, many tokens of appreciation and gratitude
for the services and value of the dog to man. Little monuments are
raised over the remains of some of the occupants of the modest graves.
One of these bears the inscription: "He saved forty lives, and lost his
own in the attempt to save the forty-first." He did his best without the
hope of a future reward. Is man lower than the animal? Does he require
the help of the Holy Ghost, the holy angels, the holy Trinity, the holy
infallible church, and all the terrors of hell fire to make him prefer
sense to nonsense, cleanliness to dirt, honor to disgrace, the respect
of his fellows to their contempt, and a peaceful mind to one full of
scorpions? Do we have to swing into existence fabled and mythical beings
and worlds before we can induce a human being to be as natural as a
plant and as faithful as a dog? The doctrine of total depravity is a
disgrace to those who have invented it, and a blight to those who
believe in it. It is not true that we have to be put through acrobatic
exercises,--make our reason turn somersaults, resort to
sophistry,--become frantic with fear about our future,--postulate the
existence of ghosts, Gods, and celestial abodes before we can prefer the
good to the bad and the light to darkness. Supernaturalism is both
negative and destructive. It denies goodness, and it destroys in man the
power of self-help. Von Humboldt's indignation seems pardonable, when he
used the word "infamous," to characterize the theologian's attempt to
make the well-being of the human race depend upon such supernatural
gossip as he had to market.

And what is the verdict of history on this question? Does the belief in
God and immortality make for morality? How then shall we explain the
dark ages which were ages of faith, and why are not the Moslems, whose
faith in Allah and in a future life is very much stronger than ours, a
more moral people than the Europeans or Americans? Why was King Leopold,
the Christian, a moral leper to the hour of his death, while Socrates,
the pagan, who was uncertain about the future, has perfumed the
centuries with his virtues? Has the belief in the supernatural prevented
the criminal waste of human life, protected the child from the
sweat-shop and the factory, or even robbed religion of its sting--the
sting whose bite is mortal to tolerance, brotherhood and intellectual
honesty? There are excellent people who believe in the supernatural and
equally excellent people who ignore the supernatural, from which it
would follow that excellence of character is independent of one's
speculations about either the eternal past, or the eternal future. It is
not true then that we have to prove to man that he has always existed,
or that he shall always exist before we can make him see that the sunset
is beautiful, or that the sea is vast, or that love is the greatest
thing in the world.

A man will be careful of his health whether he expects to live again or
not. He will avoid headaches, fevers, colds, anaemia, nervous
prostrations and diseases of every kind which rack the body and make
life a misery, irrespective of his attitude to the question of survival
after death. The question of health, then, which is a very important
one, is independent of any supernatural belief. It would not affect our
health a particle were the heavens empty or full of gods. In the same
way, men will continue the culture of the mind irrespective of
theological beliefs. Will a man neglect the pleasures of the mind,
despise knowledge and remain content in his ignorance, if he cannot be
sure that he is going to live forever? But if neither the culture of the
body nor that of the mind is in danger of being neglected, is there any
reason to fear that the culture of the affections and the conscience
will suffer without a belief in an unseen world? We have only to look
into the motives which govern human actions to recover our confidence in
the essential soundness of human nature, and in the ability of morality
to take care of itself without the help of ghosts and gods. You love
your country and you are willing to defend its institutions, if need be,
with your life, but is it because your country is immortal? Is America
going to live forever? Is it going to have a future existence? And yet
Washington and his soldiers loved it dearly and risked their lives for
it. Were the ancient Greeks and Romans, to whom patriotism was a
religion, and who loved and fought for their country--fools, because
they did not first make sure that their country was going to live
forever? You are devoted to art, you have built palaces for the
treasures of the brush and the chisel. You have paid fabulous prices for
the works of a Rembrandt and a Titian. Is it because these paintings are
never going to perish? Is the canvas which you adore immortal? You prize
the works of genius--of a Shakespeare, a Goethe, a Voltaire, a Darwin.
You have edifices of marble and steel in which to house the great books
of the world. And yet a fire tomorrow may wipe them out of
existence--they may become lost, as many great works have been lost in
the past. Nevertheless, are they not precious while we have them? If a
humane society will interest itself in the welfare of the horse and the
cat and the dog, which live but a few years; if the flower which blooms
in the morning and fades in the evening can command our attention and
devotion--must a man be a god before we can take any interest in him?
Must somebody be always whispering in our ears, "Ye are gods; ye are
gods," to prevent us from doing violence to ourselves or to our fellows?
And men seek health for the present, not for the future. And they
cultivate the mind to make life richer now and here. And love is desired
because it makes each passing moment a thrill and an ecstasy. What then
is the value of any speculation about the unseen world, since man can
care for his body, mind and heart, without venturing out on an ocean for
which he has neither the sails nor the compass?

       *       *       *       *       *

But the unseen world is necessary, the professor seems to think, in
order to explain the suffering and the injustice in this. In my opinion,
such a belief has done more to postpone the reform of present abuses
than anything else. The time to suppress injustice and to relieve human
suffering is now, not in some distant future,--here and not in an
undiscovered country. The belief in God has tempted man to shirk his
responsibilities. He has left many things to be done by God which he
should have done himself. It is a nobler religion that tells man to do
all he can now, and to do it himself. Moreover, how can what is wrong
here be made right in the next world? What, for instance, can make Joan
of Arc's atrocious murder--a girl of nineteen, who had saved her
country, roasted over a slow fire--right in heaven? What explanation can
the Deity give to us which shall reconcile us to so infamous a crime. A
million eternities, it seems to me, cannot alter the character of that
act. The deed cannot be undone. That frightful page cannot be torn from
the book of life. You cannot destroy the memory of that injustice; you
cannot rub so foul a stain from the hands of even a God. Suppose God
were to say to us in the next world that this crime was necessary to the
progress of civilization. Would that satisfy us? Would we not still wish
for a God who could have contributed to the progress of civilization
without resorting to so unspeakable a murder? And there you are. Another
world can never reconcile us to a policy that required the commission
of crimes whose stench rises to our nostrils. What is wrong can never be
made right.

You remember that to illustrate the thought of Professor James, I spoke
of my visit to the Pasteur Institute in Paris, where, in the vivisection
hall, I saw the physicians operating on live rabbits. Professor James
thinks that if the rabbit could see everything, it might say to the
physician, "Thy will be done." But the rabbit might also say this: "It
is well to advance science and civilization; and if it is a part of the
_scheme_ to make me contribute to it by my sufferings, I am resigned;
but what about the character of the _schemer_ who must torture to death
some of his creatures--slaughter with excruciating pain a portion of his
family--in order to make secure the lives of the rest?" The existence of
evil in a world created by a perfect God is the rock upon which all
religions go to pieces. If God can prevent misery and crime, but prefers
to work through them, he is to be feared; if he cannot help himself,
then he is to be pitied. Who would not rather be the rabbit on the
operating table, with the knife in his flesh, than such a God! A God who
cannot make a rose red except by dipping it in human blood can be sure
that no human being would ever envy him his office. On the last day of
judgment, if such a day there be, it will not be the rabbit, or man, who
will fear the opening of the books; it will be God.

And how do we know that things will be better in the unseen world?
Suppose they should be worse? Jesus intimated that the next world would
be worse, for he says in Matthew 7:13-14, "Wide is the gate, and broad
is the way, that leadeth to destruction, and many there be which go in
thereat; because strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which
leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it."

Surely this is not an encouraging prospect. A future which offers
happiness to a small minority cannot be looked forward to with
enthusiasm. Neither is the thought of a few saved and the many damned a
consolation. One of the oft-repeated claims is that the belief in God
and immortality is such a happiness that he must be an enemy of his race
who would deprive people of it. Even Rationalists are said to envy the
believer his peace of mind. But the truth is the very opposite of this.
There is abundant testimony to prove that of all people the real and
consistent believer is the most unhappy being in the world. The
proverbial unhappiness of the Rationalist, like the proverbial death-bed
horrors of a Thomas Paine and a Voltaire, is a pure fabrication. While
there is absolutely nothing in Rationalism to make anybody miserable,
since it does away with fear, which is the only thing to fear,
Orthodoxy, on the other hand, starts by not only calling this a vale of
tears, but proceeds forthwith to make it so. If we were to place the
greatest known Christian saints on the stand to interrogate them on this
subject, they would one and all confirm our statement. Listen, for
instance, to the confession of Thomas à Kempis: "Lord, I am not worthy
of thy consolation.... Thou dealest justly with me when thou leavest me
poor and desolate, for if I could shed tears as the sea, yet should I
not be worthy of thy consolation. I am worthy only to be scourged and
punished."[A] These are not the words of a buoyant and happy soul. And
listen to the lamentation of John Bunyan: "Sometimes I could for whole
days together feel my very body as well as my mind to shake and totter
under the sense of this dreadful judgment of God.... I felt also such a
clogging and heat in my stomach by reason of this terror that I thought
my breast-bone would split asunder. Oh, how gladly would I have been
anything but a man."[B] I could quote long chapters from the biographies
of the saints to show the wretchedness, the despair and the agony of the
believer, shuddering upon the brink of eternity--uncertain whether
heaven or hell awaits to receive him. I could give you a similar chapter
from my own experience. When I was much younger, I had implicit faith in
the bible and the unseen world. What was the effect of this belief upon
me? Did it make me happy? I can never forget the moments of agony I
spent on my knees, at the "throne of grace." My pillow was often wet
with weeping over sins I had never committed, and fearing a depravity I
could never be guilty of. Christianity in its virile form took hold of
my young heart as the roots of a tree take hold of the earth in which
they grow. I was as sensitive and responsive to its influence as fire is
to the wind that fans it into flame. "Am I saved? How can I be sure that
God has forgiven me? Where would I open my eyes if I should die tonight?
Oh, God! what if I should after all be one of the reprobates--damned
forever." Such was the terrible superstition that cheated me out of a
thousand glorious moments, and made my youth a punishment to me. One day
a member of my church came to me in great distress of mind. He behaved
like one who had actually seen hell. "I am damned, I am damned," he
cried. "God has forsaken me; there is no hope for me." If a wild beast
had its paws in his hair, or a hound its teeth in his flesh, he could
not have been more scared. If he could have only laughed at the stupid
superstition, all the devils of his distorted imagination would have
melted into thin air.

  [A] _Imitation_--III 52.

  [B] Quoted by Cotter Morrison, _Service of Man_--34.

       *       *       *       *       *

"Our religion does not trouble us that way," I hear the Christians say
in reply. Of course not, they no longer believe in it. They let art,
music, science, the drama, business, to divert their attention from this
Asiatic fetish. Rationalism has dissipated the terrors of the future,
and tinted the horizon with beauty and light. But let them believe in
Christianity as their fathers believed in it, let them be sincere with
it, and it will make life miserable for them as it has for thousands of
others. Yes, believe in Christianity as the Apostle Paul did, for
example, and you must agree with him, that, "If in this life only we
have a hope in Christ, we are of all men most miserable." And listen to
the cry of despair from the lips of the Son of God: "My God, My God, why
hast Thou forsaken me?" The nails in his hands and feet tore his flesh,
but it was the thought that he had been forsaken by God that broke his
heart. Surely, if a belief in a future life could make anybody happy, it
should have made the death of Jesus a symphony, instead of a tragedy.

       *       *       *       *       *

In conclusion: Not God, nor the unseen world, but Truth is the sovereign
good. There is nothing more excellent. If there be philosophies, they
shall pass away; if there be theologies, they shall pass away; if there
be creeds, cults, gods, they shall pass away. But Truth is _from_
everlasting _to_ everlasting.

     In my mind's eye, I see a wonderful building, something like the
     Coliseum of ancient Rome. The galleries are black with people; tier
     upon tier rise like waves the multitude of spectators who have come
     to see a great contest. A great contest, indeed! A contest in which
     all the world and all the centuries are interested. It is the
     contest--the fight to death--between Truth and Error.

     The door opens, and a slight, small, shy and insignificant looking
     thing steps into the arena. It is Truth. The vast audience bursts
     into hilarious and derisive laughter. Is this Truth? This
     shuddering thing in tattered clothes, and almost naked? And the
     house shakes again with mocking and hisses.

     The door opens again, and Error enters,--clad in cloth of gold,
     imposing in appearance, tall of stature, glittering with gems,
     sleek and huge and ponderous, causing the building to tremble with
     the thud of its steps. The audience is for a moment dazzled into
     silence, then it breaks into applause, long and deafening.
     "Welcome!" "Welcome!" is the greeting from the multitude.
     "Welcome!" shout ten thousand throats.

     The two contestants face each other. Error, in full armor,--backed
     by the sympathies of the audience, greeted by the clamorous
     cheering of the spectators; and Truth, scorned, scoffed at, and
     _hated_. "The issue is a foregone conclusion," murmurs the vast
     audience. "Error will trample Truth under its big feet."

     The battle begins. The two clinch, separate, and clinch again.
     Truth holds its own. The spectators are alarmed. Anxiety appears in
     their faces. Their voices grow faint. Is it possible? Look! See!
     There! Error recedes! It fears the gaze of Truth! It shuns its
     beauteous eyes! Hear it squeak and scream as it feels Truth's
     squeeze upon its wrists. Error is trying to break away from Truth's
     grip. It is making for the door. It is gone!

     The spectators are mute. Every tongue is smitten with the palsy.
     The people bite their lips until they bleed. They cannot explain
     what they have seen. "Who would have believed it?" "Is it
     possible?"--they exclaim. But they can not doubt what their eyes
     have seen. That puny and insignificant looking thing called Truth
     has put ancient and entrenched Error, backed by the throne, the
     altar, the army, the press, the people, and the gods--to rout.

The pursuit of truth! Is not that worth living for? To seek the truth,
to love the truth, to live the truth? Can any religion offer more?

What is the remedy for the pessimism that asks, "Is life worth living?"
A sound mind in a sound body. There is no better preventive of that
depression of spirits whence proceed the diseases which menace life,
and mar the happiness of man, than health--moral, intellectual,
physical--health; individual and social health. The highest ideal of
Christianity is a man of sorrows. The highest ideal of Rationalism is a
man of joy!



THE STORY OF MY MIND OR HOW I BECAME A RATIONALIST

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RATIONALISM

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Transcriber's Note:


The following is a list of changes made to the original. The first line
is the original line, the second the corrected one.

    other gods before me" which is metaphysical and without
    other gods before me," which is metaphysical and without

    a _raison d'etre_. The part of wisdom as well as of courage then,
    a _raison d'être_. The part of wisdom as well as of courage then,

    take an undue advantage of one's neighbors," "Truth is not
    take an undue advantage of one's neighbors. "Truth is not

    manoeuvreing can truth be shifted to a subordinate rank.
    manoeuvring can truth be shifted to a subordinate rank.

    frantic advice, and a man has to be in a panicy state of mind
    frantic advice, and a man has to be in a panicky state of mind

    because it makes each passing moment a thrill and an ecstacy.
    because it makes each passing moment a thrill and an ecstasy.

    straight is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth
    strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth

    instance, to the confession of Thomas A'Kempis: "Lord, I
    instance, to the confession of Thomas à Kempis: "Lord, I





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