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Lectures of Col. R.G. Ingersoll, Volume 1

INGERSOLL'S LECTURE ON GHOSTS.


Ladies and Gentlemen: In the first place, allow me to tender my sincere thanks to the clergy of this city. I feel that I am greatly indebted to them for this magnificent audience. It has been said, and I believe it myself, that there is a vast amount of intolerance in the church of today, but when twenty-four clergymen, three of whom, I believe, are bishops, act as my advance agents, without expecting any remuneration, or reward in this world, I must admit that perhaps I was mistaken on the question of intolerance. And I will say, further, that against those men I have not the slightest feeling in the world; every man is the product of his own surroundings; he is the product of every circumstance that has ever touched him; he is the product to a certain degree of the religion and creed of his day, and when men show the slightest intolerance I blame the creed, I blame the religion, I blame the superstition that forced them to do so. I do not blame those men.

Allow me to say, further, that this world is not, in my judgment, yet perfect. I am doing, in a very feeble way, to be sure, but I am still endeavoring, according to my Idea, to make this world just a little better; to give a little more liberty to men, a little more liberty to women. I believe in the government of kindness; I believe in truth, in investigation, in free thought. I do not believe that the hand of want will be eternally extended in the world; I do not believe that the prison will forever scar the ground; I do not believe that the shadow of the gallows will forever curse the earth; I do not believe that it will always be true that the men who do the most work will have the least to wear and the least to eat. I do believe that the time will come when liberty and morality and justice, like the rings of Saturn, will surround the world; that the world will be better, and every true man and every free man will do what he can to hasten the coming of the religion of human advancement.

I understand that for the thousands and thousands of years that have gone by, all questions have been settled by religion. I understand that during all this time the people have gotten their information from the sacerdotal class—from priests. I know that when India was supreme they worshipped Brahma and Vishnu, and that when Rome held in its hand the red sword of war they worshipped Jove, and I know now that our religion has swept to the top. Any man living in India a few hundred or thousand years ago would have said, this is the only true religion. Why? Because here is the only true civilization. A man afterward living in Egypt would have said, this is the only true religion, because we have the best civilization; a Greek in Athens would have said this is the only true religion, and a Roman would have said we have the true religion, and now those religions all having died, although they were all true religions, we say ours is the only religion, because we are the greatest commercial nation in the world.

There will come other nations; there will come other religions. Man has made every religion in this world, in my judgment, and the religion, has been good or bad according as the men who made it were good or bad. If they were savages and barbarians, they made a God like the Jehovah of the Jews; if they were civilized, if they were kind and tender, they filled the heavens with kindness and love. Every man makes his own God. Show me the God a man worships, and I will tell you what kind of a man he is. Every one makes his own God, every one worships his own God; and if you are a civilized man you will have a civilized God, and we have been civilizing ours for hundreds and hundreds of years. He is getting better every day.

I am going to tell you tonight just exactly what I think. The other lecture I delivered here was my conservative lecture; this is my radical one! We even hear it suggested that our religion, our Bible, has given us all we have of prosperity and greatness and grandeur. I deny it! We have become civilized in spite of it, and I will show you tonight that the obstruction that every science has had is what we have been pleased to call our religion—or superstition. I had a conversation with a gentleman once—and these gentlemen are always mistaking something that goes along with a thing for the cause of the thing—and he stated to me that his particular religion was the cause of all advancement. I said to him: "No, Sir; the causes of all advancement, in my judgment, are plug hats and suspenders." And I said to him: "You go to Turkey, where they are semi-barbarians, and you won't find a pair of suspenders or a plug hat in all that country; you go to Russia, and you will find now and then a pair of suspenders at Moscow or St. Petersburg; you go on down till you strike Austria, and black hats begin; then you go on to Paris, Berlin and New York, and you will find everybody wears suspenders and everybody wears black hats. Wherever you find education and music there you will find black hats and suspenders." He said that any man who said to him that plug hats and suspenders had done more for mankind than the Bible and religion he would not talk to.

As a matter of fact, we are controlled today by men who do not exist. We are controlled today by phenomena that never did exist. We are controlled by ghosts and dead men, and in the grasp of death is a scepter that controls the living present. I propose that we shall govern ourselves! I propose that we shall let the past go, and let the dead past bury the dead past. I believe the American people have brains enough, and nerve enough, and courage enough, to control and govern themselves, without any assistance from dust or ghosts. That is my doctrine, and I am going to do what I can while I live to increase that feeling of independence and manhood in the American people.—We can control ourselves. I believe in the gospel of this world; I believe in happiness right here; I do not believe in drinking skim milk all my life with the expectation of butter beyond the clouds. I believe in the gospel, I say, in this world. This is a mighty good world. There are plenty of good people in this world. There is lots of happiness in this world and, I say, let us, in every way we can, increase it. I envy every man who is content with his lot, whether he is poor or whether he is rich. I tell you, the man that tries to make somebody else happy, and who owns his own soul, nobody having a mortgage or deed of trust upon his manhood or liberty—this world is a pretty good world for such a man. I do not care: I am going to say my say, whether I make money or grow poor; no matter whether I get high office or walk along the dusty highway of the common. I am going to say my say, and I had rather be a farmer and live on forty acres of land—live in a log cabin that I built myself, and have a little grassy path going down to the spring, so that I can go there and hear the waters gurgling, and know that it is coming out from the lips of the earth, like a poem, whispering to the white pebbles—I would rather live there, and have some hollyhocks at the corner of the house, and the larks singing and swinging in the trees, and some lattice over the window, so that the sunlight can fall checkered on the babe in the cradle. I had rather live there, and have the freedom of my own brain; I had rather do that than live in a palace of gold, and crawl, a slimy hypocrite, through this world. Superstition has done enough harm already; every religion, nearly, suspects everything that is pleasant, everything that is joyous, and they always have a notion that God feels best when we feel worst. They have chained the Andromeda of joy to the cold rock of ignorance and fear, there to be devoured by the dragon of superstition. Church and State are two vultures that have fed upon the heart of chained Prometheus. I say, let the human race have a chance let every man think for himself and express that thought. There is no wrath in the serene heavens; there is no scowl in the blue of the sky. Upon the throne of the universe tyranny does not sit as a king.

The speaker here took from his pocket a pair of spectacles, and adjusted them, saying: I am sorry to admit it; I have got to come to it. I hate to put on a pair of spectacles, but the other day, as I was putting them on, a thought struck me. I see progress in this. To progress is to overcome the obstacles of nature, and in order to overcome this obstacle of the loss of sight man invented spectacles. Spectacles led men to the telescope, with which he read all the starry heavens; and had it not been for the failure of sight we wouldn't have seen a millionth part that we have. In the first place, we owe nothing but truth to the dead. I am going to tell the truth about them. There are three theories by which men account for all phenomena—for everything that happens: First, the supernatural. In the olden time, everything that happened some deity produced, some spirit, some devil, some hobgoblin, some dryad, some fairy, some spook, something except nature. First, then, the supernatural; and a barbarian, looking at the wide, mysterious sea, wandering through the depths of the forest, encountering the wild beasts, troubled by strange dreams, accounted for everything by the action of spirits, good and bad. Second, the supernatural and natural. There is where the religious world is today—a mingling of the supernatural and natural, the idea being that God created the world and imposed upon men certain laws, and then let them run, and if they ever got into any trouble then he would do a miracle, and accomplish any good that he desired to do. Third—and that is the grand theory—the natural. Between these theories there has been from the dawn of civilization a conflict. In this great war nearly all the soldiers have been in the ranks of the supernatural. The believers in the supernatural insist that matter is controlled and directed entirely by powers from without. The naturalists maintain that nature acts from within; that nature is not acted upon; that the universe is all there is; that nature, with infinite arms, embraces everything that exists, and that the supposed powers beyond the limits of the materially real are simply ghosts.

You say, ah! this is materialism! this is the doctrine of matter! What is matter? I take a handful of earth in my hands, and into that dust I put seeds, and arrows from the eternal quiver of the sun smite it, and the seeds grow and bud and blossom, and fill the air with perfume in my sight. Do you understand that? Do you understand how this dust and these seeds and that light and this moisture produced that bud and that flower and that perfume? Do you understand that any better than you do the production of thought? Do you understand that any better than you do a dream? Do you understand that any better than you do the thoughts of love that you see in the eyes of the one you adore? Can you explain it? Can you tell what matter is? Have you the slightest conception? Yet you talk about matter as though you were acquainted with its origin; as though you had compelled, with clenched hands, the very rocks to give up the secret of existence? Do you know what force is? Can you account for molecular action? Are you familiar with chemistry? Can you account for the loves and the hatreds of the atoms? Is there not something in matter that forever excludes you? Can you tell what matter really is? Before you cry materialism, you had better find what matter is. Can you tell of anything without a material basis? Is it possible to imagine the annihilation of a single atom? Is it possible for you to conceive of the creation of a single atom? Can you have a thought that is not suggested to you by what you call matter? Did any man or woman or child ever have a solitary thought, dream or conception, that was not suggested to them by something they had seen in nature? Can you conceive of anything the different parts of which have been suggested to you by nature? You can conceive of an animal with the hoofs of a bison, with the pouch of a kangaroo, with the head of a buffalo, with the tail of a lion, with the scales of a fish, with the wings of a bird, and yet every part of this impossible monster has been suggested to you by nature. You say time, therefore you can think eternity. You say pain, therefore you can think hell. You say strength, therefore you can think omnipotence. You say wisdom, therefore you can think infinite wisdom. Everything you see, everything you can dream of or think of, has been suggested to you by your surroundings, by nature. Man cannot rise above nature; below nature man cannot fall. Imagine, if you please, the creation of a single atom. Can any one here imagine the creation out of nothing of one atom? Can any one here imagine the destruction of one atom? Can you imagine an atom being changed to nothing? Can you imagine nothing being changed to an atom? There is not a solitary person here with an imagination strong enough to think either of the creation of an atom or of the annihilation of an atom.

Matter and the universe are the same yesterday, today and forever. There is just as much matter in the universe today as there ever was, and as there ever will be; there is just as much force and just as much energy as there ever was or ever will be; but it is continually taking different shapes and forms; one day it is a man, another day it is animal, another day it is earth, another day it is metal, another day it is gas, it gains nothing and it loses nothing. Our fathers denounced materialism and accounted for all phenomena how? By the caprice of gods and devils. For thousands of years it was believed that ghosts, good ghosts, bad ghosts, benevolent and malevolent, in some mysterious way produced all phenomena; that disease and health, happiness and misery, fortune and misfortune, peace and war, life and death, success and failure, were but arrows shot by those ghosts or shadowy phantoms, to reward or punish mankind; that they were displeased or pleased by our actions, that they blessed the earth with harvest or cursed it with famine; that they fed or starved the children of men; that they crowned or uncrowned kings; that they controlled war; that they gave prosperous voyages, allowing the brave mariner to meet his wife and children inside the harbor bar, or strewed the sad shore with wrecks of ships and the bodies of men. Formerly these ghosts were believed to be almost innumerable. Earth, air and water were filled with these phantoms, but in modern times they have greatly decreased in number, because the second proposition that I stated, the supernatural and the natural, has generally been adopted, but the remaining ghosts are supposed to perform the same functions as of yore.

Let me say right here that the object of every religion ever made by man has been to get on the good side of supposed powers; has been to petition the gods to stop the earthquakes, to stop famine, to stop pestilence. It has always been something that man should do to prevent being punished by the powers of the air or to get from them some favors. It has always been believed that these ghosts could in some way be appeased; that they could be bettered by sacrifices, by prayer, by fasting, by the building of temples and cathedrals, by shedding the blood of men and beasts, by forms, by ceremonies, by kneelings, by prostrations and flagellations, by living alone in the wild desert, by the practice of celibacy, by inventing instruments of torture, by destroying men, women and children, by covering the earth with dungeons, by burning unbelievers and by putting chains upon the thoughts and manacles upon the lips of men, by believing things without evidence, by believing things against evidence, by disbelieving and denying demonstrations, by despising facts, by hating reason, by discouraging investigation, by making an idiot of yourself—all these have been done to appease the winged monsters of the air.

In the history of our poor world no horror has been omitted, no infamy has been left undone by believers in ghosts, and all the shadows were born of cowardice and malignity; they were painted by the pencil of fear upon the canvas of ignorance by that artist called Superstition. From these ghosts our fathers received their information. These ghosts were the schoolmasters of our ancestors. They were the scientists, the philosophers, the geologists, the legislators, the astronomers, the physicians, the metaphysicians and historians of the past.

Let me give you my definition of metaphysics, that is to say, the science of the unknown, the science of guessing. Metaphysics is where two fools get together, and each one admits that neither can prove, and both say, "Hence we infer." That is the science of metaphysics. For this these ghosts were supposed to have the only experience and real knowledge; they inspired men to write books, and the books were sacred. If facts were found to be inconsistent with these books, so much the worse for the facts, and especially for the discoverers of these facts. It was then and still is believed that these sacred books are the basis of the idea of immortality, to give up the idea that these books were inspired is and to renounce the idea of immortal life. I deny it! Men existed before books; and all the books that were ever written were written, in my judgment, by men, and the idea of immortality was not born of a book, but was born of the man who wrote the book. The idea of immortality, like the great sea, has ebbed and flowed in the human heart, beating its countless waves of hope and joy against the shores of time, and was not born of any book, nor of any religion, nor of any creed; it was born of human affection, and it will continue to ebb and flow beneath the clouds and mists of doubt and darkness as long as love kisses the lips of death. It is the rainbow of hope shining upon the tears of grief. We love, therefore we wish to live, and the foundation of the idea of immortality is human affection and human love, and I have a thousand times more confidence in the affections of the human heart, in the deep and splendid feelings of the human soul than I have in any book that ever was or ever can be written by mortal man.

From the books written by those ghosts we have at least ascertained that they knew nothing whatever of the world in which we live. Did they know anything about any other? Upon every point where contradiction is possible, the ghosts have been contradicted. By these ghosts, by these citizens of the air, by this aristocracy of the clouds the affairs of government were administered all authority to govern came from them. The emperors, kings and potentates, every one of them, had the divine petroleum poured upon his head, the kerosene of authority.

The emperors, king and potentates had communications from the phantoms. Man was not considered as the source of power; to rebel against the king was to rebel against the ghosts, and nothing less than the blood of the offenders could appease the invisible phantoms and by the authority of the ghosts man was crushed and slayed and plundered. Many toiled wearily in the sun and storm that a few favorites of the ghosts might live in idleness, and many lived in huts and caves and dens that the few might dwell in palaces, and many clothed themselves with rags that a few might robe themselves in purple and gold, and many crept and cringed and crawled that a few might tread upon their necks with feet of iron. From the ghosts men received not only authority but information. They told us the form of the earth; they informed us that eclipses were caused by the sins of man, especially the failure to pay tithes that the universe was made in six days; that gazing at the sky with a telescope was dangerous; that trying to be wise beyond what they had written was born of a rebellious and irreverent spirit; they told us there was no virtue like belief; no crime like doubt, that investigation was simply impudence, and the punishment therefore violent torment; they not only told us all about this world but about two others, and if their statements about the other two are as true as they were about this, no one can estimate the value of their information.

For countless ages the world was governed by ghosts, and they spared no pains to change the eagle of the human intellect into a bat of darkness. To accomplish this infamous purpose, to drive the love of truth from the human heart; to prevent the advancement of mankind to shut out from the world every ray of intellectual light to pollute every mind with superstition, the power of kings, the cunning and cruelty of priests, and the wealth of nations were used.

In order to show you the information we got from the ghosts, and the condition of the world when the ghosts were the kings, let me call your attention to this: During these years of persecution, ignorance, superstition and slavery, nearly all the people, the kings, lawyers and doctors, learned and unlearned, believed in that frightful production of ignorance, of fear and faith, called witchcraft. Witchcraft today is religion carried out. They believed that man was the sport and prey of devils; that the very air was thick with these enemies of man, and, with few exceptions, this hideous belief was universal. Under these conditions progress was almost impossible. Fear paralyzed the brain.

Progress is born of courage. Fear believes, courage doubts. Fear falls upon the earth and prays; courage stands erect and thinks. Fear retreats; courage advances. Fear is barbarism, courage is civilization. Fear believes in witchcraft; courage in science and in eternal law. The facts upon which this terrible belief rested were proved over and over again in nearly every court in Europe. Thousands confessed themselves guilty, admitted they had sold themselves to the devil. They gave the particulars of the sale; told what they said and what the devil replied. They confessed themselves guilty when they knew that confession was death; knew that their property would be confiscated and their children left to beg their bread. This is one of the miracles of history, one of the strangest contradictions of the human mind. Without doubt they really believed themselves guilty.

In the first place, they believed in witchcraft as a fact, and when charged with it, they became insane. They had read the account of the witch of Endor calling up the dead body of Samuel. He is an old man; he has his mantle on. They had read the account of Saul stooping to the earth and conversing with the spirit that had been called from the region of space by a witch. They had read a command from the Almighty, "Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live," and they believed the world was full of witches, or else the Almighty Would not have made a law against them. They believed in witchcraft, and when they were charged with it, they probably became insane, and in their insanity they confessed their guilt. They found themselves abhorred and deserted, charged with a crime they could not disprove. Like a man in quicksand, every effort only sunk them deeper. Caught in this frightful web, at the mercy of the devotees of superstition, hope fled and nothing remained but the insanity of confession.

The whole world appeared insane. In the time of James I, a man was burned for causing a storm at sea, with the intention of drowning one of the royal family, but I do not think it would have been much of a crime if he had been really guilty. How could he disprove it? How could he show that he did not cause a storm at sea? All storms were at that time supposed to be inspired by the devil; the people believed that all storms were caused by him, or by persons whom he assisted. I implore you to remember that the men who believed these things wrote our creeds and our confessions of faith, and it is by their dust that I am asked to kneel and pay implicit homage, instead of investigating; and I implore you to recollect that they wrote our creeds.

A woman was tried and convicted before Sir Matthew Hale, one of the greatest judges and lawyers of England, for having caused children to vomit crooked pins. Think of that! The learned judge charged the intelligent jury that there was no doubt as to the existence of witches, that it was established by all history and expressly taught by the Bible. The woman was hung and her body was burned. Sir Thomas Moore declared that to give up witchcraft was to throw away the sacred scriptures. John Wesley, too, was a firm believer in ghosts, and insisted upon their existence after all laws upon the subject had been repealed in England, and I beg of you to remember that John Wesley was the founder of the Methodist Church. In New England a woman was charged with being a witch and with having changed herself into a fox; while in that condition she was attacked and bitten by some dogs, and a committee of three men was ordered by the Court to examine this woman. They removed her clothing, and searched for what they were pleased to call witch-spots—that is to say, spots into which a needle could be thrust without giving pain; they reported to the Court that such spots were found. She denied that she had ever changed herself into a fox. On the report of the committee she was found guilty, and she was actually executed by our Puritan fathers, the gentlemen who braved the danger of the deep for the sake of worshiping God and persecuting their fellow men. I belong to their blood, and the best thing I can say about them, and that which rises like a white shaft to their eternal honor, is that they were in favor of education.

A man was attacked by a wolf; he defended himself and succeeded in cutting off one of the animal's paws, and the wolf ran away; he put it in his pocket and carried it home; there he found his wife with one of her hands gone, and he took that paw from his pocket and put it upon her arm, and it assumed the appearance of a human hand, and he charged his wife with being a witch. She was tried, she confessed her guilt, and she was hung and her body was burned! My! is it possible? Did not somebody say something against such an infamous proceeding? Yes, they did! There was a Young Men's Association who invited a man to come and give his ideas upon the subject.

He denounced it. He said it was outrageous, that it was nonsensical, that it was infamous and the moment he went away the young men met and passed a resolution that he had deceived them; and the clergy at that time protested and said, of course, let the man think, if you call that kind of stuff thinking.

But there was one man belonging to this Association who had the courage to stand by the truth.

Whether he believed in what the speaker said or not, he had that manliness; and I take this opportunity to thank from the bottom of my heart a man. I have no idea he agrees with me except in this: Whatever you do, do it like a man and be honest about it.

People were burned for causing frost in summer; for destroying crops with hail; for causing storms—for making cows go dry; for souring beer; for putting the devil in emptyings so that they would not rise. The life of no one was secure. To be charged was to be convicted. Every man was at the mercy of every other. This infamous belief was so firmly seated in the minds of the people, that, to express a doubt as to its existence was to be suspected yourself. They believed that animals were often taken possession of by devils, and they believed that the killing of the animal would destroy the devil. They absolutely tried, convicted and executed dumb beasts.

At Vail, in 1470, a rooster was tried upon the charge of having laid an egg, and the clergy said they had no doubt of it. Rooster eggs were used only in making witch-ointment. This everybody knew. The rooster was convicted, and with all due solemnity, he was burned in the public square.

So a hog and six pig died for having killed and partially eaten a child. The hog was convicted, but the pigs, on account of their extreme youth, were acquitted.

As late as 1740, a cow, charged with being possessed of a devil, was tried and was convicted. They used to exorcise rats, snakes and vermin; they used to go through the alleys and streets and fields and warn them to leave within a certain number of days, and if they did not leave, they threatened them with certain pains and penalties which they proceeded to recount.

But let us be careful how we laugh about those things; let us not pride ourselves too much on the progress of our age. We must not forget that some of our people are yet in the same intelligent business. Only a little while ago the Governor of Minnesota appointed a day of fasting and prayer to see if the Lord could not be induced to kill the grasshoppers—or send them into some other State.

About the close of the fifteenth century was the excitement in regard to witchcraft, and Pope Innocent the Eighth issued a bull directing the inquisitors to be vigilant in searching out and punishing all guilty of this crime. Forms for the crime were regularly issued. For two hundred and fifty years the church was busy in punishing the impossible crime of witchcraft by burning, hanging and torturing men, women and little children.

Protestants were as active as Catholics; and in Geneva five hundred witches were burned at the stake in three months, and one thousand were executed in one year in the diocese of Couro; at least one hundred thousand victims suffered in Germany, the last execution being in Galesburgh, and taking place in 1794, and the last in Switzerland, 1780. In England statutes were passed from Henry VI to James I, defining the crime and punishment, and the last act passed in the British Parliament was when Lord Bacon was a member of the house.

In 1716 Mrs. Hicks and daughter, nine years of age, were hung for selling their souls to the devil; and raising a storm at sea by pulling off their stockings and making a lather of soap. In England it has been estimated that at least 30,000 were hung or burned. The last victim executed in Scotland was 1722. She was an innocent old woman who had so little idea of her condition, that she rejoiced at the sight of the fire destined to consume her to ashes. She had a daughter, lame in her hands, a circumstance accounted for from the fact that the witch had been used to transfer her daughter into a pony and get her shod by the devil! Intelligent ancestors!

In 1692 nineteen persons were executed in Salem, Massachusetts, for the crime of witchcraft. It was thought in those days that men and women made contracts with the devil, and those contracts were confirmed at a meeting of witches and ghosts, over which the devil presided; these contracts in some cases were for a few years, others for life. General assemblages of witches were held once a year. To these they rode from great distances on brooms and dogs, and there they did homage to the prince of hell and offered him sacrifices.

In 1836 the populace of Holland plunged into the sea a woman reputed to be a sorceress, and as the miserable woman persisted in rising to the surface, she was pronounced guilty, and was beaten to death. It was believed that the devil could transform people into any shape he pleased, and whoever denounced this idea was denounced as an Infidel; that the believers in witchcraft appealed to the devil; that with the devil were associated innumerable spirits, who ranged over the world endeavoring to torment mankind; that these spirits possessed a power and wisdom transcending the limits of human faculties. They believed the devil could carry persons hundreds of miles in a few seconds; they believed this because they knew that Christ had been carried by the devil, in the same manner, into a high mountain, and placed upon a pinnacle. According to their account, the prince of the air had absolutely taken the God of this infinite Universe, the Creator of all its shining, wheeling stars—he had been absolutely taken by the devil to a pinnacle of the temple, and there had been tempted by the devil to cast himself to the earth.

Take from the church itself the threat and fear of hell and it becomes an extinct volcano. With the doctrine of hell taken from the Church, that is the end of the fall of man, that is the end of the scheme of atonement. Take from them the idea of an eternal place of torment, and the Church is thrown back simply upon facts.

And Dean Stanley, the leading ecclesiastic of Great Britain, only the other day in Winchester Abbey, said science will be the only theology of the future. Morality is the only religion of the years to come. Not withstanding all the infamous things laid to the charge of the Church, we are told that the civilization of today is the child of what we are pleased to call superstition. Let me call your attention to what they received from their fears of these ghosts. Let me give you an outline of the sciences as taught by those philosophers. There is one thing that a man is interested in, if he is in anything, and that is in the science of medicine. A doctor is, so to speak, in partnership with Nature. He is a preserver if he is worthy of the name. And now I want to show what they have gotten from these ghosts upon the science of medicine.

According to them, all of the diseases were produced as a punishment by the good ghosts, or out of pure malignity by the bad ones. There were, properly speaking, no diseases; the sick were simply possessed by ghosts. The science of medicine consisted in knowing how to persuade these ghosts to vacate the premises and for thousands of years all diseases were treated with incantations, hideous noises, with the beating of drums and gongs; everything was done to make the position of a ghost as unpleasant as possible; and they generally succeeded in making things so disagreeable that if the ghost did not leave, the patient died. These ghosts were supposed to be different in rank, power and dignity. Now, then, a man pretended to have won the favor of some powerful ghost who gave him power over the little ones. Such a man became a very great physician. It was found that a certain kind of smoke was exceedingly offensive to the nostrils of your ordinary ghost. With this smoke the sick room would be filled until the ghost vanished or the patient died. It was also believed that certain words, when properly pronounced, were the most effective weapons, for it was for a long time supposed that Latin words were the best, I suppose because Latin was a dead language. For thousands of years medicine consisted in driving the devils out of men. In some instances bargains and promises were made with the ghosts. One case is given where a multitude of devils traded a man off for a herd of swine. In this transaction the devils were the losers, the swine having immediately drowned themselves in the sea. This idea of disease appears to have been almost universal and is not yet extinct. The contortions of the epileptic, the strange twitching of those afflicted with cholera, were all seized as proof that the bodies of men were filled with vile and malignant spirits. Whoever endeavored to account for these things by natural causes; whoever endeavored to cure disease by natural means was denounced as an Infidel. To explain anything was a crime. It was to the interest of the sacerdotal class that all things should be accounted for by the will and power of God and the devil. The moment it is admitted that all phenomena are within the domain of the natural, and that all the prayers in the world cannot change one solitary fact, the necessity for the priest disappears. Religion breathes the idea of miracles. Take from the minds of men the idea of the supernatural, and superstition ceases to exist; for this reason the Church has always despised the man who explains the wonderful. The moment that it began to be apparent that prayer could do nothing for the body, the priest shifted his ground and began praying for the soul.

After the devil was substantially abandoned in the practice of medicine, and when it was admitted that God had nothing to do with ordinary coughs and colds, it was still believed that all the diseases were sent by Him as punishment for the people; it was thought to be a kind of blasphemy to even stay the ravages of pestilence. Formerly, when a pestilence fell upon a people, the arguments of the priest were boundless. He told the people that they had refused to pay their tithes, and they had doubted some of the doctrines of the church, that in their hearts they had contempt for some of the priests of the Lord, and God was now taking his revenge, and the people, for the most part, believed this issue of falsehood, and hastened to fall upon their knees and to pour out their wealth upon the altars of hypocrisy.

The Church never wanted disease to be absolutely under the control of man. Timothy Dwight, president of Yale College, preached a sermon against vaccination. His idea was that if God had decreed that through all eternity certain men should die of small pox, it was a frightful sin to endeavor to prevent it; that plagues and pestilence were instruments in the hands of God with which to gain the love and worship of mankind; to find the cure for the disease was to take the punishment from the Church. No one tries to cure the ague with prayer because quinine has been found to be altogether more reliable. Just as soon as a specific is found for a disease, that disease is left out of the list of prayer. The number of diseases with which God from time to time afflicts mankind is continually decreasing, because the number of diseases that man can cure is continually increasing. In a few years all diseases will be under the control of man. The science of medicine has but one enemy—superstition. Man was afraid to save his body for fear he would lose his soul. Is it any wonder that the people in those days believed in and taught the infamous doctrine of eternal punishment, that makes God a heartless monster and man a slimy hypocrite and slave?

The ghosts were also historians, and wrote the grossest absurdities. They wrote as though they had been eye witnesses of every occurrence. They told all the past, they predicted all the future, with an impudence that amounted to sublimity. They said that the Tartars originally came from hell, and that they were called Tartars because that was one of the names of hell. These gentlemen accounted for the red on the breasts of robins from the fact that those birds used to carry water to the unhappy infants in hell. Other eminent historians say that Nero was in the habit of vomiting frogs. When I read that, I said some of the croakers of the present day would be better for such a vomit. Others say that the walls of a city fell down in answer to prayer. They tell us that King Arthur was not born like other mortals; that he had great luck in killing giants; that one of the giants that he killed wore clothes woven from the beards of kings that he had slain, and, to cap the climax, the authors of this history were rewarded for having written the only reliable history of their country. These are the men from whom we get our creeds and our confessions of faith.

In all the histories of those days there is hardly a truth. Facts were not considered of any importance. They wrote, and the people believed that the tracks of Pharaoh's chariot were still visible upon the sands of the Red Sea, and that they had been miraculously preserved as perpetual witnesses of the miracles that had been performed, and they said to any man who denied it, "Go there and you will find the tracks still upon the sand." They accounted for everything as the work of good and evil spirits; with cause and effect they had nothing to do. Facts were in no way related to each other. God, governed by infinite caprice, filled the world with miracles and disconnected events, and from his quiver came the arrows of pestilence and death. The moment the idea is abandoned that everything in this universe is natural—that all phenomena are the necessary links in the endless chain of being—the conception of history becomes impossible that the ghost of the present is not the child of the past; the present is not the mother of the future. In the domain of superstition all is accident and caprice; and do not, I pray you, forget that the writers of our creeds and confessions of faith believed this to be a world of chance. Nothing happens by accident; nothing happens by chance. In the wide universe everything is necessarily produced, every effect has behind it a cause, every effect is in its turn a cause, and there is in the wide domain of the infinite not room enough for a miracle.

When I say this, I mean this is my idea. I may be wrong, but that is my idea. It was believed by our intelligent ancestors that all law derived its greatness and force from the fact that it had been communicated to man by ghosts. Of course, it is not pretended that the ghosts told everybody the law, but they told it to a few, and the few told it to the people, and the people, as a rule, paid them exceedingly well for the trouble. It was a long time before the people commenced making laws for themselves, and, strange as it may appear, most of their laws are vastly superior to the ghost article. Through the web and woof of human legislation gradually began to run and shine and glitter the golden thread of justice.

During these years of darkness it was believed that, rather than see an act of injustice done, rather than see the guilty triumph, some ghost would interfere and I do wish, from the bottom of my heart, that that was the truth. There never was forced upon my heart a more frightful conviction than this—the right does not always prevail; there never was forced upon my mind a more cruel conclusion than this—innocence is not always a sufficient shield. I wish it was. I wish, too, that man suffered nothing but that which he brings upon himself and yet I find that in nine districts in India, between the 1st day of last January and the 1st day of June, 2,800,000 people starved to death, and that little children, with their lips upon the breasts of famine, died, wasted away. And why, simply because a little while before the wind did not veer the one hundredth part of a degree, and send clouds over the country, freighted with rain, freighted with love and joy. But if that wind had just turned that way there would have been happy men, women and children, all clad in the garments of health. I wish that I could know in my heart that there was some power that would see to it that men and women got exact justice somewhere. I do wish that I knew—the right would prevail—that innocence was an infinite shield.

During these years it was believed that rather than see an act of injustice done some ghost would interfere. This belief, as a rule, gave great satisfaction to the victorious party, and, as the other man was dead, no complaint was ever made by him. This doctrine was a sanctification of brute force and chance. Prisoners were made to grasp hot irons, and if it burned them their guilt was established. Others were tied hands and feet and cast into the sea, and if they sank, the verdict of guilt was unanimous; if they did not sink then they said water is such a pure element that it refuses to take a guilty person, and consequently he is a witch or wizard. Why, in England, persons accused of crime could appeal to the cross, and to a piece of sacramental bread. If he could swallow this without choking he was acquitted. And this practice was continued until the time of King Edward, who was choked to death; after which it was discontinued.


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