Does the bible teach you freedom of religion? To day we say that every man has a right to worship God or not, to worship him as he pleases. Is it the doctrine of the bible? Let us see.
"If thy brother, the son of thy mother, or thy son, or thy daughter, or the wife of thy bosom, or thy friend, which is as thine own soul, entice thee secretly, saying. Let us go and serve other gods, which thou has not known, thou, nor thy fathers;
"Namely, of the gods of the people which are round about you, nigh unto thee, or far off from thee, from the one end of the earth even unto the other end of the earth;
"Thou shalt not consent unto him, nor hearken unto him; neither shall thine eye pity him, neither shalt thou spare, neither shalt thou conceal him;
"But thou shalt surely kill him; thine hand shall be first upon him to put him to death, and afterwards the hand of all the people.
"And thou shalt stone him with stones, that he die; because he has sought to thrust thee away from the Lord thy God, which brought thee out of the land of Egypt, from the house of bondage." (Deut. xiii, 6-10.)
And do you know, according to that, if your wife—your wife that you love as your own soul—if you had lived in Palestine, and your wife had said to you, "Let us worship a sun whose golden beams clothe the world in glory; let us worship the sun, let us bow to that great luminary; I love the sun because it gave me your face; because it gave me the features of my babe; let us worship the sun," it was then your duty to lay your hands upon her, your eye must not pity her, but it was your duty to cast the first stone against that tender and loving breast! I hate such doctrine! I hate such books! I hate gods that will write such books! I tell you that it is infamous!
"If there be found among you, within any of thy gates which the Lord thy God giveth thee, man or woman that hath wrought wickedness in the sight of the Lord thy God, in transgressing his covenant,
"And hath gone and served other gods, and worshiped them, either the sun, or moon, or any of the host of heaven, which I have not commanded;
"And it be told thee, and thou hast heard of it, and inquired diligently, and behold, it be true, and the thing certain, that such abomination is wrought in Israel;
"Then shalt thou bring forth that man or that woman, which have committed that wicked thing, unto thy gates even that man or that woman, and shalt stone them with stones till they die." (Deut. xvii, 2-5.)
That is the religious liberty of the bible—that's it. And this god taught that doctrine to the Jews, and said to them, "Any one that teaches a different religion, kill him!" Now, let me ask, and I want to do it reverently, if, as is contended, God gave these frightful laws to the flesh, and come among the Jews, and taught a different religion, and these Jews, in accordance with the laws which this same God gave them, crucified him, did he not reap what he had sown? The mercy of all this comes in what is called "the plan of salvation." What is that plan? According to this great plan, the innocent suffer for the guilty to satisfy a law.
What sort of a law must it be that would be satisfied with the suffering of innocence? According to this plan, the salvation of the whole world depends upon the bigotry of the Jews and the treachery of Judas. According to the same plan, we all would have gone to eternal hell. According to the same plan, there would have been no death in the world if there had been no sin, and if there had been no death you and I would not have been called into existence, and if we did not exist we could not have been saved, so we owe our salvation to the bigotry of the Jews and the treachery of Judas, and we are indebted to the devil for our existence. I speak this reverently. It strikes me that what they call the atonement is a kind of moral bankruptcy. Under its merciful provisions man is allowed the privilege of sinning credit, and whenever he is guilty of a mean action he says, "Charge it." In my judgment, this kind of bookkeeping breeds extravagance in sin. Suppose we had a law in New York that every merchant should give credit to every man who asked it, under pain and penitentiary, and that every man should take the benefit of the bankruptcy statute any Saturday night? Doesn't the credit system in morals breed extravagance in sin? That's the question. Who's afraid of punishment which is so far away? Whom does the doctrine of hell stop? The great, the rich, the powerful? No; the poor, the weak, the despised, the mean. Did you ever hear of a man going to hell who died in New York worth a million of dollars, or with an income of twenty-five thousand a year? Did you? Did you ever hear of a man going to hell who rode in a carriage? Never. They are the gentlemen who talk about their assets, and who say: "Hell is not for me; it is for the poor. I have all the luxuries I want, give that to the poor." Who goes to hell? Tramps!
Let me tell you a story. There was once a frightful rain, and all the animals held a convention, to see whose fault it was, and the fox nominated the lion for chairman. The wolf seconded the motion, and the hyena said "that suits." When the convention was called to order the fox was called upon to confess his sins. He stated, however, that it would be much more appropriate for the lion to commence first. Thereupon the lion said: "I am not conscious of having committed evil. It is true I have devoured a few men, but for what other purpose were men made?" And they all cheered, and were satisfied. The fox gave his views upon the goose question, and the wolf admitted that he had devoured sheep, and occasionally had killed a shepherd, "but all acquainted with the history of my family will bear me out when I say that shepherds have been the enemies of my family from the beginning of the world." Then way in the rear there arose a simple donkey, with a kind of Abrahamic countenance. He said: "I expect it's me. I had eaten nothing for three days except three thistles. I was passing a monastery, the monks were at mass. The gates were open leading to a yard full of sweet clover. I knew it was wrong but I did slip in and I took a mouthful, but my conscience smote me and I went out;" and all the animals shouted, "He's the fellow!" and in two minutes they had his hide on the fence. That's the kind of people that go to hell.
Now this doctrine of hell, that has been such a comfort to my race, which so many ministers are pleading for, has been defended for ages by the fathers of the church. Your preacher says that the sovereignty of God implies that He has an absolute, unlimited and independent right to dispose of His creatures as He will, because He made them. Has He? Suppose I take this book and change it immediately into a servient human being. Would I have a right to torture it because I made it? No; on the contrary, I would say, having brought you into existence, it is my duty to do the best for you I can. They say God has a right to damn me because He made me. I deny it. Another one says God is not obliged to save even those who believe in Christ, and that he can either bestow salvation upon his children or retain it without any diminution of his glory. Another one says God may save any sinner whatsoever, consistently with his justice. Let a natural person—and I claim to be one—moral or immoral, wise or unwise; let him be as just as he can, no matter what his prayers may be, what pains he may have taken to be saved, or whatever circumstances he may be in. God, according to this writer, can deny him salvation, without the least disparagement of His glory. His glories will not be in the least obscured—there is no natural man, be his character what it may, but God may cast down to hell without being charged with unfair dealing in any respect with regard to that man. Theologians tell us that God's design in the creation was simply to glorify himself. Magnificent object!
"The same shall drink of the wine of the wrath of God, which is poured out without mixture into the cup of his indignation; and he shall be tormented with fire and brimstone in the presence of the holy angels, and in the presence of the Lamb." (Rev. xiv, 1-10.)
Do you know nobody would have had an idea of hell in this world if it hadn't been for volcanoes? They were looked upon as the chimneys of hell. The idea of eternal fire never would have polluted the imagination of man but for them. An eminent theologian, describing hell, says: "There is no recounting the millions of ages the damned shall suffer. All arithmetic ends here"—and all sense, too! "They shall have nothing to do in passing away this eternity but to conflict with torments. God shall have no other use or employment for them." These words were said by gentlemen who died Christians, and who are now in the harp business in the world to come. Another declares there is nothing to keep any man or Christian out of hell except the mere pleasure of God, and their pains never grow any easier by their becoming accustomed to them. It is also declared that the devil goes about like a lion, ready to doom the wicked. Did it never occur to you what a contradiction it is to say that the devil will persecute his own friends? He wants all the recruits he can get; why then should he persecute his friends? In my judgment he should give them the best hell affords.
It is in the very nature of things that torments inflicted have no tendency to bring a wicked man to repentance. Then why torment him if it will not do him good? It is simply unadulterated revenge. All the punishment in the world will not reform a man, unless he knows that he who inflicts it upon him does it for the sake of reformation, and really and truly loves him, and has his good at heart. Punishment inflicted for gratifying the appetite makes man afraid, but debases him.
Various reasons are given for punishing the wicked; first, that God will vindicate his injured majesty. Well, I am glad of that! Second, He will glorify his justice—think of that. Third, He will show and glorify his grace. Every time the saved shall look upon the damned in hell it will cause in them a lively and admiring sense of the grace of God. Every look upon the damned will double the ardor and the joy of the saints in heaven. Can the believing husband in heaven look down upon the torments of the unbelieving wife in hell and then feel a thrill of joy? That's the old doctrine—not of our days; we are too civilized for that. O, but it is the doctrine that if you saw your wife in hell—the wife you love, who, in your last sickness, nursed you, that, perhaps supported you by her needle when you were ill; the wife who watched by your couch night and day, and held your corpse in her loving arms when you were dead—the sight would give you great joy. That doctrine is not preached to-day. They do not preach that the sight would give you joy; but they do preach that it will not diminish your happiness. That is the doctrine of every orthodox minister in New York, and I repeat that I have no respect for men who preach such doctrines. The sight of the torments of the damned in hell will increase the ecstasy of the saints forever! On this principle man never enjoys a good dinner so much as when a fellow-creature is dying of famine before his eyes, or he never enjoys the cheerful warmth of his own fireside so greatly as when a poor and abandoned wretch is dying on his doorstep. The saints enjoy the ecstasy and the groans of the tormented are music to them. I say here to-night that you cannot commit a sin against an infinite being. I can sin against my brother or my neighbor, because I can injure them. There can be no sin where there is no injury. Neither can a finite being commit infinite sin.
An old saint believed that hell was in the interior of the earth, and that the rotation of the earth was caused by the souls trying to get away from the fire. The old church at Stratford-on-Avon, Shakespeare's home, in adorned with pictures of hell and the like. One of the pictures represents resurrection morning. People are getting out of their graves, and devils are catching hold of their heels. In one place there is a huge brass monster, and devils are driving scores of lost souls into his mouth. Over hot fires hang caldrons with fifty or sixty people in each, and devils are poking the fires. People are hung up on hooks by their tongues, and devils are lashing them. Up in the right hand corner are some of the saved, with grins on their faces stretching from ear to ear. They seem to say: "Aha, what did I tell you?"
Some of the old saints—gentlemen who died in the odor of sanctity, and are now in the harp business—insisted that heaven and hell would be plainly in view of each other. Only a few years ago, Rev. J. Furness (an appropriate name) published a little pamphlet called "A Sight in Hell." I remember when I first read that. My little child, seven years old, was ill and in bed. I thought she would not hear me, and I read some of it aloud. She arose and asked, "Who says that?" I answered, "That's what they preach in some of the churches." "I never will enter a church as long as I live!" she said, and she never has.
The doctrine of orthodox Christianity is that the damned shall suffer torment forever and forever. And if you were a wanderer, footsore, weary, with parched tongue, dying for a drop of water, and you met one who divided his poor portion with you, and died as he saw you reviving—if he was an unbeliever and you a believer, and you died and went to heaven, and he called to you from hell for a draught of water, it would be your duty to laugh at him.
Rev. Mr. Spurgeon says that everywhere in hell will be written the words "for ever." They will be branded on every wave of flame, they will be forged in every link of every chain, they will be seen in every lurid flash of brimstone—everywhere will be those words "for ever." Everybody will be yelling and screaming them. Just think of that picture of the mercy and justice of the eternal Father of us all. If these words are necessary why are they not written now everywhere in the world, on every tree, and every field, and on every blade of grass? I say I am entitled to have it so. I say that it is God's duty to furnish me with the evidence. Here is another good book read in every Sunday-school—a splendid book—Pollok's "Course of Time." Every copy in the world of such books as that ought to be burned. Well, the author pretends to have gone to hell, and I think that he ought to have stopped there.
[The lecturer read the passage from the work descriptive of the torments of the damned, and proceeded:] And that book is put into the hands of children in order that they may love and worship the most merciful God. In old time they had to find a place for hell and they found a hundred places for it. One says that it was under Lake Avernus, but the Christians thought differently. One divine tells us that it must be below the earth because Christ descended into hell. Another gives it as his opinion that hell is in the sun, and he tells us that nobody, without an express revelation from God, can prove that it is not there. Most likely. Well, he had the idea at all events of utilizing the damned as fuel to warm the earth. But I will quote from another poet—if it is lawful to call him a poet. I mean Tupper.
[Colonel Ingersoll quoted from that orthodox author, and continued:] Another divine preached a sermon no further back than 1876, in which he said that the damned will grow worse; and the same divine says that the devil was the first Universalist. Then I am on the side of the devil.
The fact is, that you have got not merely to believe the bible; but you must also believe in a certain interpretation of it, and, mind you, you must also believe in the doctrine of the trinity. I want to explain what that is, so that you may never have an excuse for not knowing it.
I quote from the best theologian that ever wrote. [Then he went on to give in substance the Athanasian definition of the trinity, winding up with a long string of adjectives, culminating in the description "entirely incomprehensible."] If you don't understand it after that, it is you own fault. Now, you must believe in that doctrine. If you do not, all the orthodox churches agree in condemning you to everlasting flames. We have got to burn through all our lives simply with the view of making them happy. We are taught to love our enemies, to pray for those that persecute us, to forgive. Should not the merciful God practice what he preaches? I say that reverently. Why should he say, "Forgive your enemies," if he will not himself forgive? Why should he say "Pray for those that despise and persecute you," but if they refuse to believe his doctrine he will burn them forever? I cannot believe it. Here is a little child, residing in the purlieus of the city—some boy who is taught that it is his duty to steal by his mother, who applauds his success and pats him on the head and calls him a good boy—would it be just to condemn him to an eternity of torture? Suppose there is a God; let us bring to this question some common sense.
I care nothing about the doctrines of religions or creeds of the past. Let us come to the bar of the nineteenth century and judge matter by what we know, by what we think, by what we love. But they say to us, "If you throw away the Bible what are we to depend on then?" But no two persons in the world agree as to what the Bible is, what they are to believe, or what they are not to believe. It is like a guidepost that has been thrown down in some time of disaster, and has been put up the wrong way. Nobody can accept its guidance, for nobody knows where it would direct him. I say, "Tear down the useless guidepost," but they answer, "Oh, do not do that or we will have nothing to go by." I would say, "Old Church, you take that road and I will take this." Another minister has said that the Bible is the great town-clock, at which we all may set our watches. But I have said to a friend of that minister: "Suppose we all should set our watches by that town-clock, there would be many persons to tell you that in old times the long hand was the hour hand, and besides, the clock hasn't been wound up for a long time." I say let us wait till the sun rises and set our watches by nature. For my part, I am willing to give up heaven to get rid of hell. I had rather there should be no heaven than that any solitary soul should be condemned to suffer forever and ever. But they tell me that the Bible is the good book. Now, in the Old Testament there is not in my judgment a single reference to another life. Is there a burial service mentioned in it in which a word of hope is spoken at the grave of the dead? The idea of eternal life was not born of any book. That wave of hope and joy ebbs and flows, and will continue to ebb and flow as long as love kisses the lips of death.
Let me tell you a tale of the Persian religion of a man who, having done good for long years of his life, presented himself at the gates of Paradise, but the gates remained closed against him. He went back and followed up his good works for seven years longer, and the gates of Paradise still remaining shut against him, he toiled in works of charity until at last they were opened unto him. Think of that, pursued the lecturer, and send out your missionaries among those people. There is no religion but goodness, but justice, but charity. Religion is not theory; it is life. It is not intellectual conviction; it is divine humanity, and nothing else. Colonel Ingersoll here told another tale from the Hindoo, of a man who refused to enter Paradise without a faithful dog, urging that ingratitude was the blackest of all sins. "And the God," he said, "admitted him, dog and all." Compare that religion with the orthodox tenets of the city of New York.
There is a prayer which every Brahmin prays, in which he declares that he will never enter into a final state of bliss alone, but that everywhere he will strive for universal redemption; that never will he leave the world of sin and sorrow, but remain suffering and striving and sorrowing after universal salvation. Compare that with the orthodox idea, and send out your missionaries to the benighted Hindoos.
The doctrine of hell is infamous beyond all power to express. I wish there were words mean enough to express my feelings of loathing on this subject. What harm has it not done? What waste places has it not made? It has planted misery and wretchedness in this world; it peoples the future with selfish joys and lurid abysses of eternal flame. But we are getting more sense every day. We begin to despise those monstrous doctrines. If you want to better men and women, change their conditions here. Don't promise them something somewhere else. One biscuit will do more good than all the tracts that were ever peddled in the world. Give them more whitewash, more light, more air. You have to change men physically before you change them intellectually. I believe the time will come when every criminal will be treated as we now treat the diseased and sick, when every penitentiary will become a reformatory, and that if criminals go to them with hatred in their bosoms, they will leave them without feelings of revenge. Let me tell you the story of Orpheus and Eurydice. Eurydice had been carried away by the god of hell, and Orpheus, her lover, went in quest of her. He took with him his lyre, and played such exquisite music that all hell was amazed. Ixion forgot his labors at the wheel, the daughters of Danaus ceased from their hopeless task, Tantalus forgot his thirst, even Pluto smiled, and, for the first time in the history of hell, the eyes of the Furies were wet with tears. As it was with the lyre of Orpheus, so it is to-day with the great harmonies of Science, which are rescuing from the prisons of superstition the torn and bleeding heart of man.