And in our own day, the ridiculous assumption that "mysteries" (a special form of ignorance) are the special province of the Church. Considering these few examples as well as all ecclesiastical endeavor, no rational mind can escape the fact that that primeval curse, religion, has had for its object, down through the centuries, the sadistic desire to enslave and trample on the mind of man. It has been a defensive measure on the part of the Church, for she well recognizes that once the mind is free, it will free itself of the shackles of religion also.
Nor is this all. I execrate the enslavement of the mind of our young children by the ecclesiastics. Is anything so pitiful to behold as the firm grasp that the Church places on the mind of the youngest of children? Children at play, children of four and five years of age, will be heard to mention with fearful tones various religious rites, such as baptism and confirmation, and to perform in their manner these rites with their dolls. Fear! Fear! instilled into the minds of the impressionable children! Think of the degradation that the ecclesiastics practice when they insist that from the time a child is out of its infancy its instruction shall be placed in their hands. They take the most precious possession of man, his mind, and mould it to their desire. The mind of a child is plastic, it is like a moist piece of clay and they mould it and form it to their desire. Warped and poured into the ecclesiastic mould of fear, the mind of the child becomes set and fixed with the years. Then it is too late for rational thinking, as far as religious matters go, the mind of the adult is firmly set in the form that the ecclesiastic has fashioned for him in his youth. It is impossible for the adult so taught to reason clearly and rationally concerning his religion; the mould is too strong, the clay has set, reason cannot penetrate into that hardened form. That is why it is almost impossible for the adult who has been exposed to this mental moulding from his infancy to break away from the fears and superstitions learned on his mother's knee.
If Christianity, Hebrewism, Mohammedanism, or any other creed is true, its truth must be more apparent at the age of twenty-five than it is at the age of five. Why does the ecclesiastic not leave off his advances until the child reaches a mature age, an age when he can reason? Then, if theism is true, he can accept it with a reasoning mind, not a blindly faithful mind. The theist realizes, however, that belief is at one pole, reason at the other. Belief, creed, religion, are ideations of the primitive mind and the mind of the child; reason is the product of mature thought. Schopenhauer remarked that, "The power of religious dogma when inculcated early is such as to stifle conscience, compassion, and finally every feeling of humanity."
It is an undeniable fact that if the clergy would but leave their tainted hands off the minds of our children until they would have reached a mature age, there would be no religious instinct. Religious instinct is a myth. Give me but two generations of men who have not been subjected to this religious influence in childhood, and there will be a race of atheists.
The ecclesiastic has from earliest times taken the standpoint that the masses of people are of crude susceptibility and clumsy intelligence, "sordid in their pursuits and sunk in drudgery; and religion provides the only means of proclaiming and making them feel the high import of life." (Schopenhauer.) Thus the theist is led to the conclusion that the end justifies the means.
Theism is a hypothesis which, among other things, attempts an explanation of the universe. The theist recognizes a creator who created the universe and is responsible for its operation. The atheist clearly perceives that the assumption of a creator does not advance him in the slightest degree towards the solution of the mysterious problem of the universe. The oft-repeated question still admits of no answer, "Who created the creator"?
It is an absurd answer to reply that the creator created himself, yet, even if this is granted, may not the universe have created itself? If the theist puts forward the statement that God has always existed, the atheist may well reply that if God has always existed, why can he not say that the universe has always existed? The atheist is not concerned with the creation of the universe; to him it presents a problem which is beyond the comprehension of his present mental capacities. He comprehends the fact of its being, and that is as far as he or any rational mind can go. Atheism confines itself to a refutation of theism, and avoids the theistic fallacy of assuming without any proofs or reasonable arguments to substantiate the assumption of an intelligent, omnipotent, omniscient, anthropomorphic, and anthropocentric creator. The theistic assumption has but retarded the advance of practical knowledge, and prepared the soil for superstition and the countless terrors of religious beliefs.
Atheism, as far as a rational explanation of the universe is covered, although it does not offer an explanation of the "ultimate," or "the riddle of the universe," does insist that any view held be one that shall be based on truth and conformity to reality. It further maintains that if a view be propagated it should be held in the same position that any scientific proposition is held. It must be open to verification; if it be verified as any scientific theory is verified, it will be accepted in part, or in toto, and be proven to be true or displaced by a closer approximation to the truth. To certain types of men there may be a negative attitude expressed in this credo, which leaves the mind unsatisfied. This is but an emotional bias and has nothing to do whatsoever with the attainment of truth. A delusion may be more comforting than the truth, but that does not necessitate the conclusion that a delusion may be of more ultimate benefit than a constant striving for the truth. It has often been said that atheism, in that negative aspect, places a question mark upon our problems. However, while a question mark may indicate a negative value, it may also prove to be a mental provocative. A period placed at the end of a problem denotes that it has been definitely solved. In connection with the origin of the universe, no period can be placed at the end of that problem, and since we are awaiting the solution, it is much more to the interest of further advances to place the question mark there, than to consider the matter solved. Surely, sufficient instances have been enumerated in this discussion to show the stultification and retardation that ensues when an institution maintains an insistence that a problem be held to conform in any of its explanatory aspects to a preconceived infallible statement, or considers a problem not to exist, or closes its eyes to the inconsistencies in an explanation which is being maintained by mental persuasion and force. When the Bible was considered as containing the answer to all our problems we have seen what the result was. If atheism places a question mark upon the problem of the universe, it does so in a constructive manner; for that mark points to the direction in which a logical solution may be possible. Such is the mental attitude of the scientist. He places an interrogation point upon his problems and that mark is the impetus, the mental stimulus, that leads him on to take infinite pains in his labors and, as time passes, each question mark is replaced by knowledge; it is knowledge and knowledge alone, reason not faith, that furnishes the period.
It was Haeckel who asserted that, "The most dangerous of the three great enemies of reason and knowledge is not malice, but ignorance, or perhaps, indolence." The question mark as applied to a problem that is recognizably not solved is a signpost to the knowledge that time must bring. The spurious period placed at the end of a problem is the death warrant for that problem and there it must lie devitalized by ignorance and indolence.
It has often been affirmed that what we see in this universe is phenomena, and all explanations but interpret the manifestations of these phenomena. What is in back of and beyond these phenomena may never be known, and if it be known, would be of no further use to us. It is equally as true that if we but see phenomena and our mental capacities deny us a conception of the reality beyond phenomena, yet, we have a growing knowledge of the laws that govern these phenomena. And it is a comprehensive knowledge of these invariable laws that govern the universe that are of universal value. These laws have been ascertained by the questioning mental attitude, and not by a futile reliance on faith.
Human knowledge has expanded immensely in the last fifty years, and this by the purely scientific method, the materialistic method, and the questioning attitude. The value of these findings when they can be converted into practical applications in industry are well known to all.
We have added nothing to our store of knowledge except by the exercise of our mentality and reason. The application of the scientific method to the workings of the mind has made more progress in explaining the mind in the brief period of fifty years than philosophical deductions had made in the past two thousand years. Every new fact that has been discovered has fitted into the mechanistic scheme of the universe, and not one new fact has been disclosed that suggested anything beyond nature. The theistic interpretation of the universe has been completely discredited by the scientific investigations. Science has brought to the confines of invariable laws multitudes of problems that had hitherto been supposed to point to "spiritual" interference. Theology has been driven out of the open spaces of reason and still persists in clinging to the twilight zone of the present unknown, only to be driven from its precarious position constantly by our increasing knowledge and with increasing rapidity from shadow to shadow.
There has been an increasing tendency shown by physicists to consider that matter and energy are interchangeable, and that the one ultimate reality is energy. If this be so, we are still dealing with an ultimate that is a material reality. The Nobel prize in medicine for the year 1932 was awarded to two British investigators, Sir Charles Scott Sherrington, professor of physiology at Oxford University, and Dr. Edgar Douglas Adrian, professor of physiology at Cambridge University. Their researches seem to have settled definitely a problem that has long been a bone for contention. Nerve energy has been shown conclusively to be of an electric type of energy. The old question of whether mind was part of the material world has been shown by these experiments to be answered in the affirmative. There is no duality, mind and matter are one, and mind is but a special property of highly specialized matter.
It is with a great deal of regret that the freethinker contemplates the attitude of such scientists as Jeans, Eddington, Millikan, and the philosopher Professor Whitehead. Their hesitation to divorce themselves completely from all conceptions of a supernatural force leads to a great deal of confusion. An acquaintance with the writings of Einstein brings one the certainty that he is as much in accordance with the attitude of freethought as is the most militant atheist. The "cosmic sense" and "totality of existence" of Einstein is as far removed from the conception of a Yahveh as is the mentality of an Australian black man from that of Einstein's mental grasp. Similarly with the cosmic consciousness expressed in the writings of Jeans, Eddington, and Whitehead. With characteristic disregard for the truth certain modern theologians have grasped this cringing attitude of the above-mentioned men and have stressed their viewpoints by a dishonest interpretation that these men actually give a scientific certitude to their own theologic creeds and dogmas. Nothing can be further from the truth. The freethinker would have each theologian who tells his adherents that these men lend credence to their beliefs to consider the following: if the above-named men would be asked if they believed in a deity who actively interposed his will and influence in the lives of men, as is commonly expressed in the term "Providence," if they ascribed to the belief in personal immorality, if they themselves believed in the existence of a "soul," if they ascribed to the statement that "prayer" influenced the opinion of an all-powerful being to intercede for them in their problems and grief, if they believed that the Bible was a book dictated by God, or that a god caused to be written for him his "revelations"; that heaven and hell exist in the meaning that theologians assure their adherents that they do; that sin and morality is what theologians still hold it to be; that there has been a "fall" and therefore the necessity for a "redemption" of man; and that creed and dogma are necessary factors in the worship of a deity,—what would their answers be? Eddington, Jeans, Einstein, and Whitehead would answer these questions exactly as would the most militant atheists.
The mental attitude of these men can best be explained when one considers certain similarities between theological asceticism and scientific asceticism. And it is the duty of the freethinker clearly to point out why this confusion has arisen. During the ages of faith, the world beheld a swarm of men and women who retired from the grim realities of a world which at that time was made abhorrent to all sensitive men by the most exacting insistence of theologians that "faith" was the all necessary ingredient of life, and that closed its eyes completely to the degrading actualities of life that this insistence led to. Multitudes of men retired to the desert and to the protective walls of monasteries. There, by constant privations, fastings, continual prayer, flagellation, and introspection, they spent their lives. These ascetic individuals by these means were enabled to enter what may be called a "theologic trance" and their subsequent hallucinations, illusions, and delusions gave to them what they deemed to be a transcendental insight into the construction of the universe and what was expected between "fallen" and debased man and his omnipotent creator. These men keenly apprehended what some today, in a gentler age, have called "cosmic consciousness."
I do not mean to imply that these before-mentioned scientists have applied such a rigor to their lives. What is meant to be stated is that these men by their research and comprehension of the vastness of the universe stand in awe and fear before this brain-benumbing aspect. Modern astrophysics, to one who attempts to comprehend its vastness, imposes on the mind but a faint comprehension of the vastness of the universe in space, time, and size; but imposes a deep conviction of the infinitesimal meaning of our planet Earth, both as to size and its relation to the millions of related heavenly bodies. The evolution of man on our planet in this broad conception of space and time is most infinitesimal. It has been just a few hours ago in this widened conception of time that Halley's comet was excommunicated from the skies by Pope Calixitus III, who looked upon this comet as one of unheard-of magnitude and from the tail of which was flung down upon the earth, disease, pestilence, and war.
Most certainly the minds of Jeans and Eddington carry in their recesses a vast amount of knowledge that was not common to men living in 1456, the year in which the above-mentioned comet caused such consternation. Much as one admires the superiority of the minds of these present-day physicists, yet one cannot help but think that if our present rate of progress meets no serious obstacle, then in another five hundred years, the attitude of awe of Jeans and Eddington towards the vastness of our universe will be held in some similar position to which Jeans and Eddington now hold the misguided conception of Halley's comet in the year 1456. The mind of man is just beginning to emerge from its swaddling clothes and we cannot assume to judge what its broadest capabilities may be. Certain great modern minds, therefore, when they contemplate this vastness of astrophysics are apt to dwell a bit too literally on the "music of the heavenly spheres," and under the influence of these celestial harmonies fall into the trance of scientific asceticism. Men who can no longer seriously hold to a belief in an anthropomorphic god, the soul and immortality are apt to allow themselves when in this mood to emotionalize their knowledge; and these same men are the ones who would in their scientific endeavors be the first to eliminate all emotions from their reasoning efforts in their laboratories. One seems justified, therefore, in stating that this conception of "cosmic consciousness" is but another instance of the mere illusions of a craving heart.
Discussing the question as to whether science and religion conflict, the physicist Professor Bazzoni, of the University of Pennsylvania, in a recent work "Energy and Matter," makes the following pointed comment: "Some scientists resort to metaphysics and make contact with a kind of mysticism which may be taken for a religious belief at precisely that point where ignorance prevents further progress along sound scientific lines. The primitive medicine man appealed to the gods to explain the precipitation of rain and the phase changes of the moon, and some modern scientists appeal to metaphysics and mysticism to explain the limits of the infinite and the nature of electricity."
He further cautions theologians against placing undue emphasis on the opinions of scientists when they express their minds on religious topics, and he remarks: "They (the laity) should realize that in the spiritual field the opinion of an eminent scientist has exactly the same weight as the opinion of any other cultivated and thoughtful individual."
When the scientist examines with the impartial mind of the laboratory the science of the origin of religious beliefs and delves into the complicated intricacies of religious history, he becomes as convinced as any other thoughtful individual that the facts of science and history are deadly to religion. Moreover, as man contemplates the construction and forces at work in the universe he still must exclaim, "end, beginning, or purpose, it knows not of."
The theologians are devoting a great deal of their time to the writings of physicists who venture into the field of theology. It may be that in this manner they can divert attention from the drastic findings concerning all religious beliefs that the anthropologists and psychologists are patiently accumulating. "Many physicists and biologists like Pupin, Millikan, Oliver Lodge, J. Arthur Thomson, and Henry Fairfield Osborn, have recently blossomed forth as liberal theologians. They are still emotionally attached to the older religious faith. They are aware that modern physics and biology have abandoned doctrines that once were hostile to religious claims. They, therefore, proclaim that there is no further conflict between religion and science. In so doing, however, they show themselves abysmally ignorant of all that anthropology and psychology have done to study religion and religious man scientifically. They show their ignorance of the philosophy that has built upon such data. They do not realize that the present-day conflict between religious faith and science is no longer with a scientific explanation of the world, but with a scientific explanation of religion." (J. H. Randall and J. H. Randall, Jr.: "Religion and the Modern World.")
The cultured Greeks and Romans had their omnipotent gods and these have long ago died a death of ridicule. At a time when beauty and sculpture were at their height the religion of these ancient artists was absurd. Similarly, with some of our modern scientists, their religion has not kept pace with their intellect. Their emotions have overbalanced their reason in this field. Professor H. Levy, of the University of London, tersely remarks: "The assertion of contemporary scientists, who state that the universe is a fickle collection of indeterminate happenings, and a great thought in the Mind of its Architect, a Pure Mathematician, serves merely to divert the activity of the scientific brain from its concentration on the contradictions and confusions of the all too real outward world to a state of passive and unreal contemplation." (Professor H. Levy: "The Universe of Science.")
Among the theologians, some at least have learned the futility of waxing indignant at each new scientific hypothesis that encroached, as they thought, within their domain. A great many liberal theologians have as yet not learned the extreme danger to their theology in grasping at some concept of science that for the present moment does not appear to be detrimental to their theology, or, as they think, seems to bolster up their particular creed. "The enthusiasm aroused in certain theological circles by recent developments in mathematical physics," states Dr. M. C. Otto, "seems to me to indicate just one thing, that these theologians felt themselves to be in so desperate a state that a floating straw assumed the appearance of a verdure-clad island. I am of the opinion that all persons who would work for a more decent and happy existence for themselves and for their fellows must turn their backs upon religion just to the extent that religious leadership seeks spiritual renewal in these hallucinations of despair." (Drs. Wieman, Macintosh, and Otto: "Is There a God?")
It is only proper to point out that what certain emancipated minds are trying to reconstruct as a basis of religious belief is not what is held by the masses as their conception of religion. In a recent clear and frank statement of the religious revolution, John Herman Randall and John Herman Randall, Jr., state: "Such beliefs, even so fundamental a one as belief in God, must stand their chances with the philosophic interpretation men give their experience.... The really revolutionary effect of the scientific faith, so far as religion is concerned, has been not its new view of the world, but its new view of religion. Reinterpretations of religious belief have been unimportant compared with reinterpretations of religion itself. For those who have come to share the scientific world-view, even more for those who have absorbed the spirit of scientific inquiry, it has been impossible to view religion as a divine revelation entrusted to man. It has even been impossible to see it as a relation between man and a cosmic deity. Religion has rather appeared a human enterprise, an organization of human life, an experience, a social bond, and an inspiration." (J. H. Randall and J. H. Randall, Jr.: "Religion and the Modern World.") To the man who literally entreats his deity, "Our Father, who art in Heaven, grant us our daily bread," the above reinterpretation of what is meant by religion can have no meaning. To the cultivated mind that comprehends what is meant, the above interpretation is what he conceives of as his social secular activities for the betterment of his fellowmen. A living philosophy of life is a much better name for this attitude than is the misnomer "religion," and avoids a great deal of confusion.
Some of our "scientists on a holiday," as they have been facetiously called when they stepped into a field in which they had not become well acquainted with the ground, have proceeded to lend assurance that God is by subtracting so drastically from what is generally attributed to the conception of God, that there is nothing much left to what they conceive as what God means. They have stripped the conception of what has been heretofore regarded as fundamental, namely, the conception that God is a superhuman personality or mind.
In Mr. Whitehead's philosophy, God is spoken of as, "God is not concrete, but He is the ground for concrete actuality." I believe such confusion of language may have been in the mind of Dr. M. C. Otto when he remarked: "Some persons endeavor more than ever to make necessary distinctions to keep meanings as clear as possible; and to have an eye on the tendency of language to become its own object. Other persons repudiate these obligations. They act as if it were a virtue to love darkness rather than light if your intentions are good. Under their manipulations conceptions are dimmed or replaced by vague intimations. One boundary line after another is obliterated until the whole substance of things swims in mists."
History has illustrated that the greatest source of evil on this planet has arisen from the fact that physical phenomena for which our limited mental capacities were not able to formulate a logical solution, were ascribed to preternatural causes.
From this original stem arose religion and the Church, the two greatest obstacles which have been a burden to mankind for 2000 years and a barrier to all progress which has made life endurable and desirable.
The lower man is in the scale of civilization, the more does he call in the supernatural to explain all the happenings and experiences of his life. When he had been beset by an intellectual failure he had been thrown back to religion. Lacking the courage and mental capacity to proceed further against obstacles he succumbed to the drug of religious explanations. The need was not for a narcotic, but for a stimulant.
The mental stimulant was provided for man in the form of science. Science is but organized knowledge, and it is this knowledge that has elevated man to the position where he is now, his own god. When difficulties confront him in this age, he blames them upon his own ignorance and incompetence. And, when he sets about to overcome these difficulties, he does not rely on divine revelation or supernatural aid or on miracles; he relies on his reason. He knows that when a problem eludes his mental capacity, it is not the supernatural which eludes him but some natural force, some law which he has not been able to grasp as yet. There is no resignation in this attitude; only resolute, peaceful patience. The problem that he cannot solve at present will yield to his reason eventually. The ecclesiastic is well aware that science is his natural and implacable enemy. He knows that every time the bounds of exact knowledge are widened, the domain of religion is narrowed.
Man's knowledge of the universe is still incomplete, but it is certainly more complete than it was fifty years ago; and when we consider what that knowledge was a few thousand years ago, it is no breach of logic to state that all natural processes, in the course of time, will be brought into the confines of invariable laws.
Sir Arthur Keith clearly states: "The ancient seeker, to explain the kingdom of life, with man as its Regent, had to call in the miracle of creation. The modern seeker finds that although life has the appearance of the miraculous, yet all its manifestations can be studied and measured, and that there is a machinery at work in every living thing which shapes, evolves, and creates. His inquiries have led him to replace the miracle of creation by the laws of evolution.
"Whichever department of the realm of Nature the man of science has chosen for investigation, the result has always been the same; the supernatural has given place to the natural, superstition is succeeded by reason. The world has never had such armies of truth seekers as it now has. Those equipped with ladders of science have so often scaled the walls which surround cities of ignorance that they march forward in the sure faith that none of Nature's battlements are impregnable."
In the last analysis, if we reach a point in thinking where we cannot proceed further, a fathomless landmark, must we revert to the theological error of "thinking," and assume it must be of supernatural character? Because the unknown in the past has been assigned to the supernatural is no indication for us also, in the present age, to relegate the unknown to divine cause. It is unseemly that minds that have emancipated themselves should go just so far—as far as their own reason can explain the unknown—and when their limited reason can go no further to revert back to the primitive stage where solution is considered impossible to man save it be "revealed to him by God." If man's mind is free, if no coercion of any kind is placed on its exercise, it will expand and unravel what at present is still fathomless. Give man endless centuries and ample opportunities and he will unravel the miracles of development and growth just as he has done other miracles which at first seemed impossible of rational solution.
For how much longer will man be a slave to his inferiority complex with regard to his own rational capacities? If faith is vital to man, why not relate it to that which at least holds a promise of solution? Man's mind has not as yet arrived at the point which might give even the slightest indication of its ultimate exhaustion. We cannot assume the knowledge of what man's fullest capacities are. All things must unravel themselves with the progress of his mind, those things that he cannot explain now, he must not assign to a superhuman force; man must use his reasoning faculties to investigate and search for the truth so that these unknown may become part of the known.
Again to quote Sir Arthur Keith: "Only eighty years have come and gone since the anatomist obtained his first glimpse of the structural complexity of the human brain; it will take him eight thousand years and more to find out the exact part played by every departmental unit of this colossal system of government which carries on the mental life of a human being. We have no reason to think there is anything supernatural in its manifestation. As our knowledge of the brain accumulates, the names and terms we now use will give place to others which have a more precise meaning. In our present state of ignorance we have to use familiar and loose terms to explain the workings of the brain—such words as "soul," "spirit," "heart," "superstition," and "prejudice." These manifestations of the mind will be dissected and made understandable."
Science has as yet not fully explained the origin of life on earth, but there is reason to believe that it will do so in the future. The laws governing the production of life itself are under investigation in the laboratories and it is highly probable that this law will be unraveled at some future date. It will be interesting for our posterity to witness the confusion of the ecclesiastics and their attempted confirmation of this fact in the Bible; their finding of some obscure phrase that will be interpreted by them as a prediction of the fact in the Bible.
The theists have maintained, as we have seen, many false beliefs that have cost the lives of innumerable men and suffering incalculable; beliefs which they themselves have subsequently recognized as false but relinquished only by the onslaught of rising secular knowledge. It was the ecclesiastic who pointed to the God-dictated phrase, "Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live," and the various precepts that have been enumerated in the preceding chapters. Surely sufficient evidence has been noted to convince a thinking being that reason is a better guide than theism. Belief is the antithesis of reason; reason is rationality; religious belief is clearly mental abnormality.
If a religionist is asked what he thinks of a secular institution which vigorously condemns and persecutes inquiry, experiment, and truth, he will reply with the logical answer. When it is pointed out to him that religion has done and still is doing this, he will hem and haw until he manufactures some illogical answer. It has been stated that the more we think, the less we believe; and that the less we think, the more we believe. The Christian will analyze the creed of the Mohammedan and find it ridiculous; the Mohammedan analyzes the creed of the Christian and in turn finds it ridiculous. That is thinking. But does the Mohammedan or the Christian analyze as critically each his own belief? Will he endeavor to analyze it at all? That is believing. The ecclesiastic concerns himself not with truth or knowledge; it is creed which is his shrine. He definitely is at war with knowledge and he wants to learn only such things as fit in with his preconceived notions and prejudices. When the minds of men are from infancy perverted with these ideals, how can mankind build a virile race?
It is often asserted that the alleged universality of the belief in God is an argument for its truth. But what of the fact that men had everywhere come to the conclusion that the earth was flat, and yet a wider and truer knowledge proved that universal belief to be false! In the discussion of witchcraft, it has been shown that a delusion may be as widespread as a truth. During the tenth and eleventh centuries, the Spanish Moors had recognized the sphericity of the earth and were teaching geography from globes in their common schools. Rome, during the same ages, was asserting in all its absurdity the flatness of the earth. It was not until almost five hundred years later that Rome was forced to see its absurdity and then only when the enlightened world mocked at its error.
In this twentieth century, certain enlightened men are teaching the absurdity and harmfulness of a belief in a deity. Must it take five hundred years for all mankind to come to a similar conclusion? May it not well be that in a few centuries our posterity will view belief in a deity in the same light that we in this age view the Church's insistence that the earth was flat?
The God idea has been one of the most divisive and anti-social notions cherished by mankind. In fact it has been asserted that the idea of God has been the enemy of man. It has driven multitudes of men and women into the unnatural asceticisms and wasted lives of the convent and abbey. It has taxed the economic resources of every nation. Every church, no matter of what creed, is a pathetic monument of God-ridden humanity which has been built by the pennies sweated by the poor, and wrested from them by fraudulent promises of reward, appeals to fear, and the pathetic human tendency to sacrifice.
The theologians have in their arguments resorted to philosophy. The consequence of this transference of the idea of God to the sphere of philosophy is the curious position that the god in which people believe is not the god whose existence is made the product of an experimental argument, and the god of the argument is not the god of belief.
"It is a nice question," remarks Walter Lippmann, "whether the use of God's name is not misleading when it is applied by modernists to ideas so remote from the God men have worshipped. Plainly the modernist churchman does not believe in the God of Genesis who walked in the garden in the cool of the evening and called for Adam and his wife who had hidden themselves behind a tree; nor in the God of Exodus who appeared to Moses and Aaron and seventy of the Elders of Israel, standing with his feet upon a paved walk as if it were a sapphire stone; nor even in the God of the fifty-third chapter of Isaiah who in his compassion for the sheep who had gone astray, having turned everyone to his own way, laid on the Man of Sorrows the iniquity of us all." (Walter Lippmann: "A Preface to Morals.")
It is one kind of god that is being set up in argument, and it is really another god that is being depended upon and believed. The philosophical conception of a deity that may be in control of phenomena is an impersonal physical law, and has nothing to do with the conception of a personal deity to whom people pray for active intervention in their troubles. Religious belief is a monstrous apparition; the philosophy of atheism is a solid structure laboriously founded on solid rock.
The philosophy of atheism had temporarily failed in previous ages, since the knowledge of those ages did not furnish facts enough upon which to build. At the present, although our knowledge is far from complete and the surface has only been scratched, yet sufficient facts have been unearthed to reveal that there is no supernatural and the greatest hope of advancement lies in the philosophy of atheism. A philosophy that builds upon a foundation of purely secular thought, that leaves the idea of God completely discarded as a useless and false relic of bygone days, is the essence of atheism. "Atheism is more than the speculative philosophy of a few, that it is in sober truth the logical outcome of mental growth. So far as any phase of human life can be called inevitable, atheism may lay claim to being inescapable. All mental growth can be seen leading to it, just as we can see one stage of social development giving a logical starting point for another stage, and which could have been foretold had our knowledge of all the forces in operation been precise enough. Atheism is, so to speak, implicit in the growth of knowledge, its complete expression is the consummation of a process that began with the first questionings of religion. And the completion of the process means the death of supernaturalisms in all forms. Circumstances may obstruct its universal acceptance as a reasoned mental attitude, but that merely delays, it does not destroy the certainty of its final triumph." (C. Cohen.)
The philosophy of atheism leads man to a critical, analytical, and logical examination of his environment, and it is this that has lead to all of our advances. Religion creates a stunted standard of reasoning. The pathetic cry of St. Augustine, "But if I was shapen in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me, where I pray thee, O my God, where, Lord, or when was I, thy servant innocent?" typifies the major concern of the narrow, egotistical mystic. From the time that the ideas of the later Greek philosophers had been forgotten until the present time, man has floundered in a sea of supernaturalism. It is high time that man faced his realities with fortitude in his own mentality, and when he does this, there will be produced a race of men who will seek for truth, for truth's sake, a race of supermen who will lead the world intellectually.
It is to Russia that all eyes will turn in the next few generations. At the present, she is going through the throes of childbirth. She is immature, and as a child she staggers. The abuse and ridicule heaped upon her now is but the repetition of that given by all frightened societies of past ages, when they contemplated new ideas which their immature minds could not fathom. But Russia will emerge in the not too distant future, and the infant will shortly reach maturity; and that maturity may set a standard for those timid and frightened societies that at present look with dilated eyes upon her daring.
The age is approaching when the god idea in its entirety will be classed with the gods of the Egyptians and Babylonians, when surplices and sacramental plate will be exhibited in museums; when nurses will relate to children the legends of the Christian mythology, as they now tell them fairy tales. The gods of monotheism will join the gods of polytheism and Yahveh and his associates will occupy in the minds of men the position now held by the gods of Olympus. To our ancestors Jupiter and Yahveh will have the same significance. "In a little time the cathedrals and churches will have taken upon themselves the proud, poetical glamour of abandoned temples. Men and women will enter them with reverent indulgence as they now in meditative mood visit the few remaining pantheons of the pagan worship." (Llewelyn Powys: "An Hour On Christianity.")
The age is approaching when the current idea of the hereafter will be accounted a strange and selfish idea, just as we smile at the savage chief who believes that his station will be continued in the world beneath the ground, and that he will there be attended by his concubines and slaves. The age is fast approaching when love, not fear, will unite the human race. In that age, the ideal, not the idol, will be truth, and the one faith, not religion, but a sincere and lofty conception of the dignity and resourcefulness of the human mind; and an overwhelming desire to aid in the progress of all mankind, the extinction of disease, the perfection of genius, the perfection of love, and, therefore, the abolition of war, the exploration of the infinite, and the conquest of creation.
Such an age can never come to be during the maljurisdiction of a theistic philosophy. It can only come into being when the vast majority of men are by the force of advancing knowledge made aware of the truth of the atheistic philosophy.
An English observer, C. E. M. Joad, remarks: "The churches, no doubt, will continue to function for a time, but they will be attended increasingly, and in the end exclusively, by ignorant men, women, and children. Already, a stranger attending an average church of England service would almost be justified in assuming that the churches, like theatre matinees, were kept up for the benefit of women and children. So far as present indications go, it seems not unlikely that science will deliver the coup de grace to organized Christianity within the next hundred years."
We have caught a glimpse of what theism has done, and what the philosophy of atheism might have done, and will yet achieve. Has man profited by having remained in his mental infancy so long? Atheism is an emancipating system of thought that frees the mind from myths, fables, and childish fancies. There can be no inquisition, no witchcraft delusion, no religious wars, no persecutions of one sect by another, no impediment to science and progress, no stultification of the mind, as a result of its teachings.
The philosophy of atheism teaches man to stand on his own feet, instills confidence in his reasoning powers, and forces him to conquer his environment. It teaches him not to subject himself and debase himself before mythical superhuman powers, for his reason is his power. The march from faith to reason is the march on which dwells the future hope of a really civilized mankind.
Atheism teaches man to endeavor constantly to better his own condition and that of all of his fellowmen, to make his children wiser and happier; it supplies the powerful urge to add something new to the knowledge of mankind. And all this, not in the vain hope of being rewarded in another world, but from a pure sense of duty as a citizen of nature, as a patriot of the planet on which he dwells. This is no cold and cheerless philosophy; it is an elevating and ennobling ideal which may console him in his afflictions and teach him how to live and how to die. It is a self-reliant philosophy that makes a man intellectually free, and this mental emancipation allows him to face the world without fear of ghosts and gods. It relates solely to facts, while theism resorts to opinions that are grounded only upon emotionalism. Joseph Lewis has well noted that, "Atheism does not believe that man's mission on earth is to love and glorify God, but it does believe in living this life so that when you pass on, the world will be better for your having lived."
The history of the past ages informs us what the world was like with God. The progress of secular knowledge and science have given us measures by which we could produce a better society than has ever existed under the obstructionism of the Gods.
"The knowledge exists by which universal happiness can be secured, the chief obstacle to its utilization for that purpose is the teaching of religion. Religion prevents our children from having a rational education; religion prevents us from removing the fundamental causes of war; religion prevents us from teaching the ethics of scientific cooperation in place of the old fierce doctrines of sin and punishment. It is possible that mankind is on the threshold of a golden age, but if so, it will be necessary to slay the dragon that guards the door, and this dragon is religion." (Bertrand Russell.)
It is interesting to contemplate the changes that may occur in our civilization in the next few centuries. On the one hand we have that long period of sterile time, 15,000 years, for the stage of neolithic man, and on the other the vast material progress of the past three hundred years. We may not be able to discern with clarity in what direction changes will occur, but in one aspect we can discern a well-marked tendency. That is the inevitable conquest of the philosophy of atheism. And with this conquest can be clearly seen that it would give to this earth a much sounder foundation upon which to build our progress, and that long-delayed freedom, the emancipation of the mind from all myths and fables. The inevitableness of atheism has been well summed up by Chapman Cohen:
"Looking at the whole course of Human History, and noting how the vilest and most ruinous practices have been ever associated with religion, and have ever relied upon religion for support, the cause for speculation is, not what will happen to the world when religion dies out, but how human society has managed to flourish while the belief in the Gods ruled....
"Substantially, we have by searching found out God. We know the origin and history of one of the greatest delusions that ever possessed the human mind. God has been found out; analytically and synthetically we understand the God-idea as previous generations could not understand it. It has been explained, and the logical consequence of the explanation is Atheism."
Man is fast attaining a mastery of his environment, and his religious creeds are becoming as irrational to him as the witchcraft delusion. Religion with its burden of fear ties him to the dead ages. But knowledge not only supplies him with power, but also furnishes him with courage, and that courage will aid him in freeing himself from that fear—religion. Religion is doomed to occupy the same place in history as the institution of slavery. Lies and imposture, no matter how powerfully sustained, can be dispelled by knowledge. The Church will destroy itself with its own poison. Knowledge and courage spell the doom of religion.
Let us make no mistake—great minds are skeptical.... The strength and the freedom which arise from exceptional power of thought express themselves in skepticism.... A mind which aspires to great things and is determined to achieve them is of necessity skeptical.
My own view on religion is that of Lucretius. I regard it as a disease born of fear and as a source of untold misery to the human race. I cannot, however, deny that it has made some contributions to civilization. It helped in early days to fix the calendar, and it caused Egyptian priests to chronicle eclipses with such care that in time they became able to predict them. These two services I am prepared to acknowledge, but I do not know of any others.
MAX CARL OTTO
It is my conviction that the happiest and noblest life attainable by men and women is jeopardized by reliance upon a superhuman, cosmic being for guidance and help. I know, of course, that God has been defined in various terms. I do not choose among them. For it seems to me indisputable that those who turn to God, however God be defined, do so because, consciously or unconsciously, they seek there the satisfaction of wants, the worth of living, and security for what they passionately prize, which they have not found and despair of finding in the human venture as they know it. Reliance upon God for what life does not afford, has, in my opinion, harmful consequences. It diverts attention from the specific conditions upon which a better or a worse life depends; it leads men to regard themselves as spectators of a course of events which they in reality help to determine; it makes the highest human excellence consist in acquiescence in the supposed will of a being that is defined as not human, a being that is above the driving force of impulse, that does not experience vacillating moods or conflicting desires, that is never harassed by doubts or misled by ignorance.... Theism is in essence repressive, prohibitory, ascetic. The outcome of its influence is that expertness in practical living and expertness in evaluating life, instead of uniting to take advantage of a common opportunity, are set against each other. This is the profound dualism which remains to be mastered. It can be mastered by the concentration upon human needs and powers.
The method we term "scientific" forms for the modern man (and a man is not modern merely because he lives in 1931) the sole, dependable means of disclosing the realities of existence. It is the sole authentic mode of revelation. This possession of a new method, to the use of which no limits can be put, signifies a new idea of the nature and possibilities of experience. It imports a new morale of confidence, control, and security.
C. E. M. JOAD
All through the century (nineteenth), whenever and wherever there is a movement for change and betterment, the clergy are found opposing it. In this they are merely carrying on the tradition of their order. When one looks back over history, one realizes that there is scarcely any discovery which science has made for human advancement and happiness which churchmen and theologians have not violently opposed. Not content with burning each other, they burnt the men who discovered the earth's motion, burnt the men who made the first tentative beginnings of physics and chemistry, burnt the men who laid the foundations of our medical knowledge.... Bad as has been the church's record in the past, it is not greatly improved in the present.... For two thousand years teachers and preachers have striven, by inculcating the principles and precepts of Christianity, to mould men's character and to improve their conduct; yet we still have our prisons, our judges, and our wars, and it remains today, as it has done for two thousand years past, an arguable question whether men are better or worse than they were before Christianity was introduced.
WILLIAM PEPPERELL MONTAGUE
If we will for a moment imagine the Bible to have come suddenly to our attention today, unencumbered by a tradition of divine authority, and with no more sacredness than a newly discovered writing of ancient China or Egypt, we can see quite readily that it would occur to nobody who took the work merely on its merits either to accept it as scientifically and historically true, or to twist its statements into a far-fetched allegory of the truth.
Religion will be outmoded; and its tidings of escape to another and better world will ring cold in the ears of those who love this. The new worldliness that religion must face is based on the faith that there is not only no place for heaven, but no need for it. Humanity, adolescent at last, has tasted the first fruits of the victory of secular intelligence over nature, and dreams grandly of far greater victories to come.
The hope of the world certainly lies in intelligence. Certainly, there is no hope anywhere else. I cannot look to anything so remotely definable as God for aid, nor do I ever regret not being able to do so.
Many reasons have been adduced to explain why people do not go to church as much as they once did. Surely the most important reason is that they are not so certain that they are going to meet God when they go to church. If they had that certainty they would go. If they really believed that they were being watched by a Supreme Being who is more powerful than all the kings of the earth put together, if they really believed that not only their actions but their secret thoughts were known and would be remembered by the creator, and ultimate judge of the universe, there would be no complaint whatever about church attendance. The most worldly would be in the front pews, and preachers would not have to resort so often to their rather desperate expedients to attract an audience. If the conviction were there that the creed professed was invincibly true, the modern congregation would not come to church, as they usually do today, to hear the preacher and to listen to the music. They would come to worship God.
H. L. MENCKEN
Alone among the great nations of history we have got rid of religion as a serious scourge, and by the simple process of reducing it to a petty nuisance. For men become civilized, not in proportion to their willingness to believe, but in proportion to their readiness to doubt. The more stupid the man, the larger his stock of adamantine assurances, the heavier his load of faith. When Copernicus proved that the earth revolved around the sun, he did not simply prove that the earth revolved around the sun, he also proved that the so-called revelation of God, as contained in the Old Testament, was rubbish. The first fact was relatively trivial: it made no difference to the average man then, as it makes no difference to him today. But, the second fact was of stupendous importance, for it disposed at one stroke of a mass of bogus facts that had been choking the intelligence and retarding the progress of humanity for a millennium and a half....
I believe that religion, generally speaking, has been a curse to mankind; that its modest and greatly overestimated services on the ethical side have been more than overborne by the damage it has done to clear and honest thinking.
HORACE M. KALLEN
It is a significant trait of history that the times and nations most distinguished for piety are also most distinguished for backwardness. Czarist Russia, and contemporary Spain are near examples, but illustrations may be drawn from any part of the world; the Southern States of the United States of America, for instance. Everywhere the scope and intensity of belief in the supernatural seem to be directly proportional to the misery and weakness of the believer (one compensates for the other). Freedom of speech and of press and discussion which means generally restraint of all interference in the amicable threshing out of conflicting opinions, means, with respect to religious beliefs, refraining from talking, writing or discussing candidly at all. In every society belief in the supernatural is privileged belief, and there accrue to it all the advantages and disadvantages of privilege.... But mystics and religionists are not silent. On the contrary, they become, having passed through a religious experience, voluble.
I do not believe we can have any freedom at all in the philosophical sense, for we act not only under external compulsion, but also by inner necessity.... I cannot imagine a God who rewards and punishes the objects of his creation, whose purposes are modelled after our own, a God, in short, who is but a reflection of human frailty. Neither can I believe that the individual survives the death of his body, although feeble souls harbor such thoughts through fear or ridiculous egotism. It is enough for me to contemplate the mystery of conscious life perpetuating itself through all eternity, to reflect upon the marvelous structure of the universe which we can dimly perceive, and to try humbly to comprehend even an infinitesimal part of the intelligence manifested in nature.
Our lives as we live them are passed on to others, whether in physical or mental forms tinging all future lives forever. This should be enough for one who lives for truth and service to his fellow passengers on the way. No avenging Jewish God, no satanic devil, no fiery hell is of any interest to him. The scientist is a lover of truth for the very love of truth itself, wherever it may lead. Every normal human being has ideals, one or many, to look up to, to reach up to, to grow up to. Religion refers to the sentiments and feelings; science refers to the demonstrated everyday laws of nature. Feelings are all right, if one does not get drunk on them. Prayer may be elevating if combined with works, and they who labor with head, hands, or feet have faith and are generally quite sure of an immediate and favorable reply.
Those who take refuge behind theological barbed wire fences, quite often wish they could have more freedom of thought, but fear the change to the great ocean of scientific truth as they would a cold bath plunge.
SIR ARTHUR KEITH
Certainly the creative power which is at work bears no resemblance to the personal God postulated by the Hebrews, and the modern man of science cannot fit Him into the scheme of the world as he knows it. He has to try to reconceive God, and when he has done so, nothing but an unsatisfying abstraction is left. It is unsatisfying because even the greatest men of science, although they possess the intellects of giants, have still the hearts of children. And children cling to that which is endowed with a human shape and has been given the warmth of living flesh.
A structure of absolute moral and religious beliefs erected initially as beyond criticism, imposed upon a changing society from above rather than emerging from below, has no affinity with science, whatever personal solace and comfort it may provide, for it assumes that the facts of life, including the material facts of the world, can be compassed within a rigidly prescribed framework. It has taken several centuries of history for the scientific movement to be emancipated from just these cramping human assumptions. The writings of many scientists show, alas, that the emancipation has not yet been completed.
J. B. S. HALDANE
We know very little about what may be called the geography of the invisible world. The religions, if I may continue the metaphor, have covered the vacant spaces of its map with imaginary monsters; the philosophies have ruled them with equally imaginary parallels of latitude. But both have affirmed, in opposition to the so-called practical man, that the meaning of the visible world is to be found in the invisible. That has been the secret of their success. They have failed when they tried either to describe the details of the visible world or to dictate the details of conduct in it. The churches are half empty today because their creeds are full of obsolete science, and their ethical codes are suited to a social organization far simpler than that of today.
HOWARD W. HAGGARD, M. D.
When in the fifth century the Roman Empire fell at the hands of the barbarians, rational medicine ceased altogether in Europe. Although the Christian religion survived, the Christian theology of that time denied liberty of conscience and taught superstitions and dogma. It was bitterly hostile to the scientific spirit. All knowledge necessary to man's salvation, physical as well as spiritual, was to be found in the Bible as the Church interpreted the Bible. Since the teachings of the Church were supposed to be sufficient for all needs, there was no excuse for observations and experimental investigations. The inquisitive spirit was wholly suppressed, the rigorous methods of Greek logic were for many centuries lost from European civilization, and intelligent thought was replaced by revelation, speculation, tradition, and subservience to the written word of the Bible, to the writings of saints, and later, in medical matters, to the work of Galen. The theological beliefs of the time became the controlling influence in Western civilization.
HARRY ELMER BARNES
There has never been any religious crisis of this kind before, and any attempt at exact comparisons with the past are here bound to be misleading and distorting. Even the extreme assailant of pagan religions, like Lucretius, had no basis for the critical attitude as the contemporary sceptic. The bitter attack of Lucretius upon supernatural religion was based mainly upon assumptions and intuitions, as incapable of proof at the time as were the most extreme pietistic views of his age. Today the situation has been profoundly altered. Contemporary science, especially astrophysics, renders the whole set of assumptions underlying the anthropomorphic and geocentric supernaturalism of the past absolutely archaic and preposterous. Our scientific knowledge has undermined the most precious tales in the holy books of all peoples. The development of biblical criticism has discredited the dogma of direct revelation and unique nature of the Hebrew Bible. Textual scholarship has been equally devastating to the sacred scriptures which form the literary basis of the other world religions. It avails one nothing to deny these things, for they are actually undeniable. We must face the implied intellectual revolution honestly and see what is to be done about it.
GEORGE JEAN NATHAN
To be thoroughly religious, one must, I believe, be sorely disappointed. One's faith in God increases as one's faith in the world decreases. The happier the man, the farther he is from God.
It is important that the truth be known. Is religion, is church membership a help to virtue? The careless will answer without hesitation, "Yes!" Of course. The statistics, when they are not smothered, cry, "No!"
On the basis of biological, sociological, and historical knowledge, we should recognize that the individual self is subject to death and decay, but the sum total of individual achievement, for better or for worse, lives on in the immortality of the Larger Self; that to live for the sake of the species and posterity is religion of the highest kind; and that those religions which seek a future life either in Heaven or in the Pure Land, are selfish religions.
DR. FRANKWOOD E. WILLIAMS
In these difficult times we are told that we should go to the temple, that we should get in touch with God. We do not need the temple. We do not need to get in touch with "God." We need to get in touch with each other.
This Bible bears every evidence of being a book like every other book, conceived by man, written by man, altered by man, translated by man, printed by man, but—and this is where it differs from every other book—the Bible is swallowed by man. And it has disagreed with him; man has not digested it properly through lack of sufficient dissection of its parts. It has been taken with a spiritual sauce that has disguised its real flavor. Anything in the Bible, no matter how raw, is taken as God's food. It is used to demonstrate problems of diet which do not provide a balanced ration; it is accepted by the gullible though contradicted by the revelations of Geology, Astronomy, Anthropology, Zoology, and Biology. Taken as prescribed by the doctors of divinity, the Bible is a poisonous book.
The idea of an incarnation of God is absurd: why should the human race think itself so superior to bees, ants, and elephants as to be put in this unique relation to its maker? Christians are like a council of frogs in a marsh or a synod of worms on a dung hill croaking and squeaking, "For our sakes was the world created."
And why again, composed though we may be of this, that, and the other proton, electron, etc., etc., why should we not in some way be able to sense why we are as we are—assembled as we are of the same ultimate atoms and doing as we do? Why? Good God—surely in the face of all this sense of aliveness and motion, and this and that, there should be some intimation of WHY? But no—none.
It is a fact, the significance of which cannot be exaggerated, that the measure of the civilization which any nation has attained is the extent to which it has curtailed the power of institutionalized religion. There are a score of great religions in the world, each with scores or hundreds of sects, each with its priestly orders, its complicated creed and ritual, its heavens and hells. Each has its thousands or millions or hundreds of millions of "true believers"; each damns all the others, with more or less heartiness, and each is a mighty fortress of Graft.
* * * * *
The Middle Guard
It is terrible to die of thirst at sea. Is it necessary that you should salt your truth that it will no longer quench thirst?
* * * * *
ALFRED NORTH WHITEHEAD
Indeed, history, down to the present day, is a melancholy record of the horrors which can attend religion: human sacrifice, and, in particular, the slaughter of children, cannibalism, sensual orgies, abject superstition, hatred as between races, the maintenance of degrading customs, hysteria, bigotry, can all be laid at it's charge. Religion is the last refuge of human savagery.
ROBERT ANDREWS MILLIKAN
The anthropomorphic God of the ancient world—the God of human passions, frailties, caprices, and whims is gone, and with him the old duty to propitiate him, so that he might be induced to treat you better than your neighbor. Can anyone question the advance that has been made in diminishing the prevalence of these medieval, essentially childish, and essentially selfish ideas? The new God is the God of law and order; the new duty, to know that order and to get into harmony with it, to learn how to make the world a better place for mankind to live in, not merely how to save your individual soul. However, once destroy our confidence in the principle of uniformity, our belief in the rule of law, and our effectiveness immediately disappears, our method ceases to be dependable, and our laboratories become deserted.
ALBERT C. DIEFFENBACH
The plain truth is, thousands upon thousands of men and women have gone out of the Church. They take no stock in its obsolete teachings to which they once subscribed in order to become members. After great tribulation, they have made their declaration of religious independence. They have taken the right turn for their own salvation. The churches as a whole do not know that today there is a violent intellectual revolution among all people who think. The so-called theism that is embalmed in the old theology and is still preached is utterly defunct for many persons of this generation. Like it or not, that is a fact.
DR. CHARLES W. ELIOT
The creeds of the churches contain conceptions of God's nature and of his action toward the human race which are intolerable to the ethical mind of the twentieth century. The conception of one being, human or divine, suffering, though innocent, for the sins of others, is revolting to the universal sense of justice and fair dealing. No school, no family, no court, would punish the innocent when the guilty were known. This conception of God is hideous, cruel, insane, and no Christian church which tolerates it can be efficient in the promotion of human welfare and happiness.