Ladies and Gentlemen: For thousands of years men have been asking the questions: "How shall we civilize the world? How shall we protect life, liberty, property and reputations? How shall we do away with crime and poverty? How clothe, and feed, and educate, and civilize mankind?" These are the questions that are asked by thoughtful men and thoughtful women. The question with them is not, "What will we do in some other world?" Time enough to ask that when we get there. The business we will attend to now is, how are, we to civilize the world? What priest shall I ask? What sacred volume shall I search? What oracle can I consult? At what shrine must I bow to find out what is to be done? Each church has a different answer; each has a different recipe for the salvation of the people, but not while they are in this world. All that is to be done in this world is to get ready for the next.
In the first place I am met by the theological world. Have I the right to inquire? They say, "Certainly; it is your duty to inquire." Each church has a recipe for the salvation of this world, but not while you are in this world—afterward. They treat time as a kind of pier—a kind of wharf running out into the great ocean of eternity; and they treat us all as though we were waiting there, sitting on our trunks, for the gospel ship.
I want to know what to do here. Have I the right to inquire? Yes. If I have the right to inquire, then I have the right to investigate. If I have the right to investigate, I have the right to accept. If I have the right to accept, I have the right to reject. And what religion have I the right to reject? That which does not conform with my reason, with my standard of truth, with my standard of common sense. Millions of men have been endeavoring to govern this world by means of the supernatural. Thousands and thousands of churches exist, thousands of cathedrals and temples have been built, millions of men have been engaged to preach this gospel; and what has been the result in this world? Will one church have any sympathy with another? Does the religion of one country have any respect for that of another? Or does not each religion claim to be the only one? And does not the priest of every religion, with infinite impudence, consign the disciples of all others to eternal fire?
Why is it the churches have failed to civilize this world? Why is it that the Christian countries are no better than any other countries? Why is it that Christian men are no better than any other men? Why is it that ministers as a class are no better than doctors, or lawyers, or merchants, or mechanics, or locomotive engineers? And a locomotive engineer is a thousand times more useful. Give me a good engineer and a bad preacher to go through this world with rather than a bad engineer and a good preacher; and there is this curious fact about the believers in the supernatural: The priests of one church have no confidence in the miracles and wonders told by the priests of the other churches. Maybe they know each other. A Christian missionary will tell the Hindoo of the miracles of the bible; the Hindoo smiles. The Hindoo tells the Christian missionary of the miracles of his sacred books; and the missionary looks upon him with pity and contempt. No priest takes the word of another.
I heard once a little story that illustrates this point: A gentleman in a little party was telling of a most wonderful occurrence, and when he had finished everybody said: "Is it possible? Why, did you ever hear anything like that?" All united in a kind of wondering chorus except one man. He said nothing. He was perfectly still and unmoved; and one who had been greatly astonished by the story said to him: "Did you hear that story?" "Yes." "Well, you don't appear to be excited." "Well no," he said; "I am a liar myself."
There is another trouble with the supernatural. It has no honesty; it is consumed by egotism; it does not think—it knows; consequently it has no patience with the honest doubter. And how has the church treated the honest doubter? He has been answered by force, by authority, by popes, by cardinals and bishops, and councils, and, above all, by mobs. In that way the honest doubter has been answered. There is this difference between the minister, the church, the clergy, and the men who believe in this world. I might as well state the question—I may go further than you. The real question is this: Are we to be governed by a supernatural being, or are we to govern ourselves? That is the question. Is God the source of power, or does all authority spring, in governing, from the consent of the governed? That is the question. In other words, is the universe a monarchy, a despotism, or a democracy? I take the democratic side, not in a political sense. The question is, whether this world should be governed by God or by man; and when I say "God" I mean the being that these gentlemen have treated and enthroned upon the ignorance of mankind.
Now let us admit, for the sake of argument, that the bible is true. Let us admit, for the sake of argument, that God once governed this world—not that He did, but let us admit it, and I intend to speak of no god but our God, because we all insist that of all the gods ours is the best, and if He is not good we need not trouble ourselves about the others. Let them take care of themselves.
Now, the first question is, whether this world shall be governed by God or man. Admitting that the being spoken of in the bible is God, He governed this world once. There was a theocracy at the start. That was the first government of the world. Now, how do you judge of a man? The best test of a man is, how does he use power? That is the supreme test of manhood. How does he treat those within his control? The greater the man, the grander the man, the more careful he is in the use of power—the tenderer he is, the nearer just, the greater, the more merciful, the grander, the more charitable. Tell me how a man treats his wife or his children, his poor debtors, his servants, and I will tell you what manner of a man he be. That, I say, is the supreme test, and we know tonight how a good and great man treats his inferiors. We know that. And a man endeavoring to raise his fellow-men higher in the scale of civilization—what will that man appeal to? Will he appeal to the lowest or to the highest that is in man? Let us be honest. Will he appeal to prejudice—the fortress, the armor, the sword and shield of ignorance? Will he appeal to credulity—the ring in the nose by which priests lead stupidity? Will he appeal to the cowardly man? Will he play upon his fears—fear, the capital stock of imposture, the lever and fulcrum of hypocrisy? Will he appeal to the selfishness and all the slimy serpents that crawl in the den of savagery? Or will he appeal to reason, the torch of the mind? Will he appeal to justice? Will he appeal to charity, which is justice in blossom? Will he appeal to liberty and love? These are the questions. What will he do? What did our God do? Let us see. The first thing we know of Him is in the Garden of Eden. How did He endeavor to make His children great, and strong, and good, and free? Did He say anything to Adam and Eve about the sacred relation of marriage? Did He say anything to them about loving children? Did He say anything to them about learning anything under heaven? Did He say one word about intellectual liberty? Did he say one word about reason or about justice? Did He make the slightest effort to improve them? All that He did in the world was to give them one poor little miserable, barren command, "Thou shalt not eat of a certain fruit." That's all that amounted to anything; and, when they sinned, did this great God take them in the arms of His love and endeavor to reform them? No; He simply put upon them a curse. When they were expelled He said to the woman: "I will greatly multiply thy sorrow. In sorrow shalt thou bring forth children. Thy husband shall rule over thee." God made every mother a criminal, and placed a perpetual penalty of pain upon human love. Our God made wives slaves—slaves of their husbands. Our God corrupted the marriage relation and paralyzed the firesides of this world. That is what our God did. And what did He say to poor Adam? "Cursed be the ground for thy sake; in sorrow shalt thou eat of it all the days of thy life; thorns and thistles shall it bring forth to thee; and thou shalt eat the herb of the field, and in the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread." Did He say one word calculated to make him a better man? Did He put in the horizon of the future one star of hope? Let us be honest, and see what this God did, and we will judge of Him simply by ordinary common sense.
After a while Cain murdered his brother, and he was detected by this God. And what did this God say to him? Did He say one word of the crime of shedding human blood? Not a word. Did He say one word calculated to excite in the breast of Cain the slightest real sorrow for his deed? Not the slightest. Did He tell him anything about where Abel was? Nothing. Did He endeavor to make him a better man? Not a bit. What had He ever taught him before on that subject? Nothing. And so Cain went out to the other sons and daughters of Adam, according to the bible, and they multiplied and increased until they covered the earth. God gave them no code of laws. God never built them a schoolhouse. God never sent a teacher. God never said a word to them about a future state. God never held up before their gaze that dazzling reward of heaven; never spoke about the lurid gulfs of hell; kept divine punishment a perfect secret, and without having given them the slightest opportunity, simply drowned the world. Splendid administration! Cleveland will do better than that. And, after the waters had gone away, then He gave them some commandments. I suppose that He saw by that time that they needed guidance.
And here are the commandments:
1. You may eat all kinds of birds, beasts and fishes.
2. You must not eat blood; if you do, I will kill you.
3. Whosoever sheddeth man's blood, by man shall his blood be shed.
Nothing more. No good advice; not a word about government; not a word about the rights of man or woman, or children; not a word about any law of nature; not a word about any science—nothing, not even arithmetic.
Nothing. And so He let them go on, and in a little while they came to the same old state; and began building the Tower of Babel; and he went there and confounded, as they said, their languages. Never said a word to them; never told them how foolish it was to try and reach heaven that way. And the next we find Him talking to Abraham, and with Abraham He makes a contract. And how did He do it? "I will bless them that bless thee, and curse them that curse thee." Fine contract for a God. And thereupon He made certain promises to Abraham—promised to give him the whole world, all the nations round about, and that his seed should be as the sands of the sea. Never kept one of His promises—not one. He made the same promises to Isaac, and broke every one. Then He made them all over to Jacob, and broke every one; made them again to Moses, and broke them all. Never said a word about anybody behaving themselves—not a word. Finally, these people whom He had taken under His special care became slaves in the land of Egypt. How ashamed God must have been! Finally He made up His mind to rescue them from that servitude, and He sent Moses and Aaron. He never said a word to Moses or Aaron that Pharaoh was wrong. He never said a word to them about how the women felt when their male children were taken and destroyed. He simply sent Moses before Pharaoh with a cane in his hand that he could turn into a serpent; and, when Pharaoh called in magicians and they did the same, Pharaoh laughed. And then they made frogs; and Pharaoh sent for his magicians, and they did the same, and Pharaoh still laughed. And this God had infinite power, but Pharaoh defeated Him at every point!
It puts me in mind of the story that great Fenian told when the great excitement was about Ireland. An Irishman was telling about the condition of Ireland. He said: "We have got in Ireland now over 300,000 soldiers, all equipped. Every man of them has got a musket and ammunition. They are ready to march at a minute's notice." "But," said the other man, "why don't they march?" "Why," said the other man, "the police won't let them." How admirable! Imagine the infinite God endeavoring to liberate the Hebrews, and prevented by a king, who would not let the children of Israel go until he had done some little miracles with sticks! Think of it! But, said Christians, "you must wait a little while if you wish to find the foundation of law."
Christians now assert that from Sinai came to this world all knowledge of right and wrong, and that from its flaming top we received the first ideas of law and justice. Let us look at those ten commandments. Which of those ten commandments were new, and which of those ten commandments were old? "Thou shalt not kill." That was as old as life. Murder has been a crime; also, because men object to being murdered. If you read the same bible you will find that Moses, seeing an Israelite and an Egyptian contending together, smote the Egyptian and hid his body in the sand. After he had committed that crime Moses fled from the land. Why? Simply because there was a law against murder. That is all. "Honor thy father and thy mother." That is as old as birth. "Thou shalt not commit adultery." That is as old as sex. "Thou shalt not steal." That is as old as work, and as old as property. "Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor." That is as old as the earth. Never was there a nation, never was there a tribe on the earth that did not have substantially, those commandments. What, then, were new? First, "Thou shalt worship no other God; thou shalt have no other God." Why? "Because I am a jealous God." Second, "Thou shalt not make any graven image." Third, "Thou shalt not take My name in vain." Fourth, "Thou shalt not work on the Sabbath day." What use were these commandments? None—not the slightest. How much better it would have been if God from Sinai, instead of the commandments, had said: "Thou shalt not enslave thy fellow-man; no human being is entitled to the results of another's labor." Suppose He had said: "Thou shalt not persecute for opinion's sake; thought and speech must be forever free." Suppose He had said, instead of "Thou shalt not work on the Sabbath day," "A man shall have but one wife; a woman shall have but one husband; husbands shall love their wives; wives shall love their husbands and their children with all their hearts and as themselves"—how much better it would have been for this world.
Long before Moses was born the Egyptians taught one God; but afterwards, I believe, in their weakness, they degenerated into a belief in the Trinity. They taught the divine origin of the soul, and taught judgment after death. They taught as a reward for belief in their doctrine eternal joy, and as a punishment for non-belief eternal pain. Egypt, as a matter of fact, was far better governed than Palestine. The laws of Egypt were better than the laws of God. In Egypt woman was equal with man. Long before Moses was born there were queens upon the Egyptian throne. Long before Moses was born they had a written code of laws, and their laws were administered by courts and judges. They had rules of evidence. They understood the philosophy of damages. Long before Moses was born they had asylums for the insane and hospitals for the sick. Long before God appeared on Sinai there were schools in Egypt, and the highest office next to the throne was opened to the successful scholar. The Egyptian married but one wife. His wife was called the lady of the house. Women were not secluded; and, above all and over all, the people of Egypt were not divided into castes, and were infinitely better governed than God ever thought of. I am speaking of the God of this bible. If Moses had remembered more of what he saw in Egypt his government would have been far better than it was. Long before these commandments were given, Zoroaster taught the Hindoos that there was one infinite and supreme God. They had a code of laws, and their laws were administered by judges in their courts. By those laws, at the death of a father, the unmarried daughter received twice as much of his property as his son. Compare those laws with the laws of Moses.
So, too, the Romans had their code of laws. The Romans were the greatest lawyers the world produced. The Romans had a code of civil laws, and that code today is the foundation of all law in the civilized world. The Romans built temples to Truth, to Faith, to Valor, to Concord, to Modesty, to Charity and to Chastity. And so with the Grecians. And yet you will find Christian ministers today contending that all ideas of law, of justice and of right came from Sinai, from the ten commandments, from the Mosaic laws. No lawyer who understands his profession will claim that is so. No lawyer who has studied the history of law will claim it. No man who knows history itself will claim it. No man will claim it but an ignorant zealot.
Let us go another step—let us compare the ideas of this God with the ideas of uninspired men. I am making this long preface because I want to get it out of your minds that the bible is inspired.
Now let us go along a little and see what is God's opinion of liberty. Nothing is of more value in this world today than liberty—liberty of body and liberty of mind. Without liberty, the universe would be as a dungeon into which human beings are flung like poor and miserable convicts. Intellectual liberty is the air of the soul, the sunshine of the mind. Without it we should be in darkness. Now, Jehovah commanded the Jewish people to take captives the strangers and sojourners amongst them, and ordered that they and their children should be bondsmen and bondswomen for ever.
Now let us compare Jehovah to Epictetus—a man to whom no revelation was ever made—a man to whom this God did not appear. Let us listen to him: "Remember your servants are to be treated as your own brothers—children of the same God." On the subject of liberty is not Epictetus a better authority than Jehovah, who told the Jews to make bondsmen and bondswomen of the heathen round about? And He said they were to make them their bondsmen and bondswomen forever. Why? Because they were heathen. Why? Because they were not children of the Jews. He was the God of the Jews and not of the rest of mankind. So He said to His chosen people: "Pillage upon the enemy and destroy the people of other gods. Buy the heathen round about." Yet Cicero, a poor pagan lawyer, said this—and he had not even read the old testament—had not even had the advantage of being enlightened by the prophets: "They who say that we should love our fellow-citizens, and not foreigners, destroy the universal brotherhood of mankind, and with it benevolence and justice would perish forever." Is not Cicero greater than Jehovah? The bible, inspired by Jehovah, says: "If a man smite his servant with a rod and he die under his hand he shall be punished. It he continue a day or two and then die, he shall not be punished." Zeno, the founder of the stoics, who had never heard of Jehovah, and never read a word of Moses, said this: "No man can be the owner of another, and the title is bad. Whether the slave became a slave by conquest or by purchase, the title is bad." Let us come and see whether Jehovah has any humanity in Him. Jehovah ordered the Jewish general to make war, and this was the order: "And when the Lord thy God shall deliver them before thee, thou shalt smite them and utterly destroy them; thou shalt make no covenant with them, nor show mercy unto them." And yet Epictetus, whom I have already quoted, said: "Treat those in thy power as thou wouldst have thy superiors treat thee."
I am on the side of the pagan. Is it possible that a being of infinite goodness said: "I will heap mischief upon them; I will send My arrows upon them. They shall be burned with hunger; they shall be devoured with burning heat and with bitter destruction. I will also send the teeth of locusts upon them, with the poisonous serpent of the desert. The sound without and the terror within, shall destroy both the young men and the virgins, the sucklings also, and the men with gray hairs." While Seneca, a poor uninspired Roman, said: "A wise man will not pardon any crime that ought to be punished, but will accomplish in other way all that is sought. He will spare some; he will pardon and watch over some because of their youth; he will pardon these on account of their ignorance. His clemency will not fail what is sought by justice, but his clemency will fulfill justice." That was said by Seneca. Can we believe that this Jehovah said: "Let his children be fatherless and his wife a widow. Let his children be continually vagabonds, and beg. Let them seek their bread out of desolate places. Let the extortioner catch all that he hath, and let the stranger spoil his labor. Let no one extend mercy unto them, neither let any favor his fatherless children." Did Jehovah say this? Surely He had never heard this line—this plaintive music from the Hindoo: "Sweet is the lute to those who have not heard the voices of their own children." Let us see the generosity of Jehovah out of the cloud of darkness on Mount Sinai. He said to the Jews: "Thou shalt have no other God before Me. Thou shalt not bow down to any other gods, for the Lord thy God is a jealous God, visiting the iniquities of the fathers upon the children to the third an fourth generation of them that hate Me." Just think of God saying to people: "If you do not love Me I will damn you." Contrast this with the words put by the Hindoo poet into the mouth of Brahma: "I am the same to all mankind. The who honestly worship other gods involuntarily worship me. I am he that partaketh of all worship. I am the reward of worship." How perfectly sublime! Let me read it to you again: "I am the same to all mankind. They who honestly worship other gods involuntarily worship me. I am he that partaketh of all worship. I am the reward of worship." Compare these passages. The first is a dungeon, which crude hands have digged with jealous slime. The other is like the dome of the firmament, inlaid with constellations. Is it possible God ever said: "If a prophet deceive when he hath spoken a thing, I, the Lord, hath deceived that prophet?" Compare that passage with the poet, a pagan: "Better remain silent the remainder of life than speak falsely."
Can we believe a being of infinite mercy gave this command: "Put every man his sword by his side; go from the gate throughout the camp, and slay every man his brother, every man his companion, and every man his neighbor. Consecrate it, yourselves this day. Let every man lay his sword even upon his son, upon his brother, that he bestow blessing upon Me this day." Surely that was not the outcome of a great, magnanimous spirit, like that of the Roman emperor, who declared: "I had rather keep a single Roman citizen alive than slay a thousand enemies." Compare the last command given to the children of Israel with the words of Marcus Aurelius: "I have formed an ideal of the State, in which there is the same law for all, and equal rights and equal liberty of speech established for all—an Empire where nothing is honored so much as the freedom of the citizens." I am on the side of the Roman emperor.
What is more beautiful than the old story from Sufi? There was a man who for seven years did every act of good, every kind of charity, and at the end of the seven years he mounted the steps to the gate of heaven and knocked. A voice cried, "Who is there?" He cried, "Thy servant, O Lord;" and the gates were shut. Seven other years he did every good work, and again mounted the steps to heaven and knocked. The voice cried, "Who is there?" He answered, "Thy slave, O God;" and the gates were shut. Seven other years he did every good deed, and again mounted the steps to heaven, and the voice said: "Who is there?" He replied "Thyself, O God;" and the gates wide open flew. Is there anything in our religion so warm or so beautiful as that? Compare that story from a pagan with the Presbyterian religion.
Take this story of Endesthora, who was a king of Egypt, and started for the place where the horizon touched the earth, where he was to meet God. With him followed Argune and Bemis and Traubation. They were taught that, when any man started after God in that way, if he had been guilty of any crime he would fall by the way. Endesthora walked at the head and suddenly he missed Argune. He said, "He was not always merciful in the hour of victory." A little while after he missed Bemis, and said, "He fought not so much for the rights of man as for his own glory." A little farther on he missed Traubation. He said, "My God, I know no reason for his failing to reach the place where the horizon touches the earth;" and the god Ram appeared to him, and opening the curtains of the sky, said to him: "Enter." And Endesthora said: "But where are my brethren? Where are Argune and Beinis and Traubation?" And the god said: "They sinned in their time, and they are condemned to suffer below." Then said Endestbora: "I do not wish to enter into your heaven without my friends. If they are below, then I will join them." But the god said: "They are here before you; I simply said this to try your soul." Endesthora simply turned and said: "But what of my dog?" The god said, "Thou knowest that if the shadow of a dog fall upon the sacrifice, it is unclean. How, then, can a dog enter heaven?" And Endesthora replies: "I know that, and I know another thing; that ingratitude is the blackest of crimes, whether it be to man or beast. That dog has been my faithful friend. He has followed me and I will not desert even him." And the god said: "Let the dog follow." Compare that with the bible stories.
Long before the advent of Christ, Aristotle said: "We should conduct ourselves toward others as we would have them conduct themselves toward us." Seneca said: "Do not to your neighbor what you would not have your neighbor do to you." Socrates said: "Act toward others as you would have others act toward you. Forgive your enemies, render good for evil, and kiss even the hand that is upraised to smite." Krishna said: "Cease to do evil; aim to do well; love your enemies. It is the law of love that virtue is the only thing that has strength." Poor, miserable pagans! Did you ever hear anything like this? Is it possible that one of the authors of the new testament was inspired when he said that man was not created for woman, but woman for man? Epictetus said: "What is more delightful than to be so dear to your wife as to be on her account dearer even to yourself?" Compare that with St. Paul: "But I would have you know that the head of every man is Christ, and the head of the woman is the man, and the head of Christ is God. Wives, submit yourselves unto your husbands as unto the Lord." That was inspiration. This was written by a poor, despised heathen: "In whatever house the husband is contented with the wife and the wife with the husband, in that house will fortune dwell. In the house where the woman is not honored, let the curse be pronounced. Where the wife is honored, there God is truly worshiped." I wish Jehovah had said something like that from Sinai. Is there anything as beautiful as this in the new testament: "Shall I tell you where nature is more blest and fair? It is where those we love abide. Though the space be small, it is ample as earth; though it be a desert, through it run the rivers of Paradise."
Compare these things with the curses pronounced in the old testament, where you read of the heathen being given over to butchery and death, and the women and babes to destruction; and, after you have read them, read the chapters of horrors in the new testament, threatening eternal fire and flame; and then read this, the greatest thought uttered by the greatest of human beings:
The quality of mercy is not strained. It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven Upon the place beneath. It is twice blessed: It blesseth him that gives and him that takes; 'Tis mightiest in the mighty; It becomes the throned monarch better this his crown.
Compare that with your doctrine of the new testament! If Jehovah was an infinite God and knew things from the beginning, He knew that His bible would be a breast-work behind which tyranny and hypocrisy would crouch, and knew His bible would be the auction-block on which the mother would stand while her babe was sold from her, because He knew His bible would be quoted by tyrants; that it would be quoted in defense of robbers called kings, and by hypocrites called priests. He knew that He had taught the Jewish people; He knew that He had found them free and left them slaves; He knew that He had broken every single promise made to them; He knew that, while other nations advanced in knowledge, in art, in science, His chosen people were subjects still. He promised them the world; He gave them a desert. He promised them liberty, and made them slaves. He promised them power; He gave them exile, and any one who reads the old testament is compelled to say that nothing could add to their misery.
Let us be honest. How do you account for this religion? This world; where did it come from? You hear every minister say that man is a religious animal—that religion is natural. While man is an ignorant animal man will be a theological animal, and no longer. Where did we get this religion? The savage knew but little of nature, but thought that everything happened in reference to him. He thought his sins caused earthquakes, and that his virtues made the sunshine.
Nothing is so egotistical as ignorance. You know, and so do I, that if no human being existed, the sun would shine, and that tempests would now and then devastate the earth; violets would spread their velvet bosoms to the sun, daisies would grow, roses would fill the air with perfume, and now and then volcanoes would illuminate the horizon with their lurid glare; the grass would grow, the waters would run, and so far as nature is concerned, everything would be as joyous as though the earth were filled with happy homes. We know the barbarian savage thinks that all this was on his account. He thinks that there dwelt two very powerful deities; that there was a good one, because he knows good things happen to him; and that there was a bad one, because he knows bad things happen to him. Behind the evil influence he puts a devil, and behind the good, an intention of God; and then he imagines both these beings are in opposition, and that, between them, they struggle for the possession of his ignorant soul. He also thinks that the place where the good deity lives is heaven, and that the place where the other deity keeps himself is a place of torture and punishment. And about that time other barbarians have chosen too keep the ignorant ones in subjection by means of the doctrine of fear and punishment.
There is no reforming power in fear. You can scare a man, maybe, so bad that he won't do a thing, but you can't scare him so bad he won't want to do it. There is no reforming power in punishment or brute force; but our barbarians rather imagined that every being would punish in accordance with his power, and his dignity, and that God would subject them to torture in the same way as those who made Him angry. They knew the king would inflict torments upon one in his power, and they supposed that God would inflict torture according to His power. They knew the worst torture was a slow, burning fire; added to it the idea of eternity, and hell was produced. That was their idea. All meanness, revenge, selfishness, cruelty, and hatred of which men here are capable burst into blossom and bore fruit in that one word, "Hell."
In this way a God of infinite wisdom experimented with man, keeping him between an outstretched abyss beneath and a heaven above; and in time the man came to believe that he could please God by having read a few sacred books, could count beads, could sprinkle water, eat little square pieces of bread, and that he could shut his eyes and say words to the clouds; but the moment he left this world nothing remained except to damn him. He was to be kept miserable one day in seven, and he could slander and persecute other men all the other days in the week. That was the chance that God gave a man here, but the moment he left this world that settled it. He would go to eternal pain or else to eternal joy. That was the way that the supernatural governed this world—through fear, through terror, through eternity of punishment; and that government, I say tonight, has failed. How has it been kept alive so long? It was born in ignorance. Let me tell you, whoever attacks a creed will be confronted with a list of great men who have believed in it. Probably their belief in that creed was the only weakness they had. But he will be asked, "So you know more than all the great men who have taught and all the respectable men who have believed in that faith?" For the church is always going about to get a certificate from some governor, or even perhaps members of the Legislature, and you are told, because so-and-so believed all these things, and you have no more talents than they, that you should believe the same thing. But I contend, as against this argument, that you should not take the testimony of these men unless you are willing to take at the same time all their beliefs on other subjects. Then, again, they tell you that the rich people are all on their side, and I say so, too. The churches today seek the rich, and poverty unwillingly seeks them. Light thrown from diamonds adorns the repentant here. We are told that the rich, the fortunate, and the holders of place are Christians now; and yet ministers grow eloquent over the poverty of Christ, who was born in a manger, and say that the Holy Ghost passed the titled ladies of the world and selected the wife of a poor mechanic for the mother of God. Such is the difference between theory and practice. The church condemns the men of Jerusalem who held positions and who held the pretensions of the Savior in contempt. They admit that He was so little known that they had to bribe a man to point Him out to the soldiers. They assert that He performed miracles; yet He remained absolutely unknown, hidden in the depth of obscurity. No one knew Him, and one of His disciples had to be bribed to point Him out. Surely He and His disciples could have met the arguments which were urged against their religion at that time.
So long as the church honored philosophers she kept her great men in the majority. How is it now? I say tonight that no man of genius in the world is in the orthodox pulpit, so far as I know. Where are they? Where are the orthodox great men? I challenge the Christian church to produce a man like Alexander Humboldt. I challenge the world to produce a naturalist like Haeckel. I challenge the Christian world to produce a man like Darwin. Where in the ranks of orthodoxy are historians like Draper and Buckle? Where are the naturalists like Tyndall, philosophers like Mills and Spencer, and women like George Eliot and Harriet Martineau? You may get tired of the great-men argument; but the names of the great thinkers, and naturalists and scientists of our time cannot be matched by the supernatural world.
What is the next argument they will bring forward? The father and mother argument. You must not disgrace your parents. How did Christ come to leave the religion of His mother? That argument proves too much. There is one way every man can honor his mother—that is by finding out more than she knew. There is one way a man can honor his father—by correcting the old man's errors.
Most people imagine that the creed we have came from the brain and heart of Christ. They have no idea how it was made. They think it was all made at one time. They don't understand that it was a slow growth. They don't understand that theology is a science made up of mistakes, prejudices and falsehoods. Let me tell you a few facts: The Emperor Constantine, who lifted the Christian religion into power, murdered his wife and his eldest son the very year that he convened the Council of Nice to decide whether Jesus Christ was man or God; and that was not decided until the year of grace 325. Then Theodosius called a council at Constantinople in 381, and this council decided that the Holy Ghost proceeded from the Father. You see, there was a little doubt on that question before this was done. Then another council was called later to determine who the Virgin Mary really was, and it was solemnly decided that she was the mother of Christ. In 431, and then in 451, a council was held in Chalcedon, by the Emperor Marcian, and that decided that Christ had two natures—a human and a divine. In 680 another council was held at Constantinople; and in 1274 at Lyons, it was decided that the Holy Ghost proceeded not only from the Father but from the Son; and when you take into consideration the fact that a belief in the Trinity is absolutely essential to salvation, you see how important it was that these doctrines should have been established in 1274, when millions of people had dropped into hell in the interim solely because they had forgotten that question. At last we know how religions are made. We know how miracles are manufactured. We know the history of relics, and bones, and pieces of the true cross. And at last we understand apostolic succession. At last we have examined other religions, and we find them all the same, and we are beginning to suspect that ours is like the rest. I think we understand it.
I read a little story, a short time ago, from the Japanese, that throws light upon the question. There was an old priest at a monastery. This monastery was built over the bones of what he called a saint, and people came there and were cured of many diseases. This priest had an assistant. After the assistant grew up and got quite to understand his business, the old priest gave him a little donkey, and told him that henceforth he was to take care of himself. The young priest started out with his little donkey, and asked alms of those he met. Few gave to him. Finally he got very poor. He could not raise money enough to feed the donkey. Finally the donkey died; he was about to bury it when a thought occurred to him. He buried the donkey and sat down on the grave, and to the next stranger that passed he said: "Will you not give a little money to erect a shrine over the bones of a sinless one?" Thereupon a man gave money. Others followed his example, a shrine was raised, and in a little while a monastery was built over the bones of the sinless one. Down in the grave the young priest made an orifice, so that persons afflicted with any disease could reach down and touch the bones of the sinless one. Hundreds were thus cured, and persons left their crutches as testimonials to the miraculous power of the bones of the sinless one. Finally the priest became so rich that he thought he would visit his old master. He went to the old monastery with a fine retinue. His old master asked him how he became so rich and prosperous. He replied: "Old age is stupid, but youth has thought." Later on he explained to the old priest how the donkey had died, and how he had raised a monastery over the bones of the sinless one; and again reminded him that old age is stupid, but youth has thought. The old priest exclaimed: "Not quite so fast, young man; not quite so fast. Don't imagine you worked out anything new. This shrine of mine is built over the bones of the mother of your little donkey."
We have now reached a point in the history of the world when we know that theocracy as a form of government is a failure, and we see that theology as a foundation of government is an absolute failure. We can see that theocracy and theology created, not liberty, but despotism. We know enough of the history of the churches in this world to know that they never can civilize mankind; that they are not imbued with the spirit of progress; that they are not imbued with the spirit of justice and mercy. What I ask you tonight is: What has the church done to civilize mankind? What has the church done for us? How has it added to the prosperity of this world? Has it ever produced anything? Nothing. Why, they say, it has been charitable. How can a beggar be charitable? A beggar produces nothing. The church has been an eternal and everlasting pauper. It is not charitable. It is an object of charity, and yet it claims to be charitable. The giver is the charitable one. Somebody who has made something, somebody who has by his labor produced something, he alone can be charitable.
And let me say another thing: The church is always on the wrong side. Let us take, first, the Episcopal church—if you call that a church. Let me tell you one thing about that church. You know what is called the rebellion in England in 1688? Do you know what caused it? I will tell you. King James was a Catholic, and notwithstanding that fact, he issued an edict of toleration for the Dissenters and Catholics. And what next did he do? He ordered all the bishops to have this edict of toleration read in the Episcopal churches. They refused to do it—most of them. You recollect that trial of the seven bishops? That is what it was all about; they would not read the edict of toleration. Then what happened? A strange thing to say, and it is one of the miracles of this world: The Dissenters, in whose favor that edict was issued, joined hands with the Episcopalians, and raised the rebellion against the king, because he wanted to give the Dissenters liberty, and these Dissenters and these Episcopalians, on account of toleration, drove King James into exile. This is the history of the first rebellion the Church of England ever raised against the king, simply because he issued an edict of toleration and the poor, miserable wretches in whose favor the edict was issued joined hands with their oppressors. I want to show you how much the Church of England has done for England. I get it from good authority. Let me read it to you to show how little influence the Christian church, the Church of England, had with the government of that country. Let me tell you that up to the reign of George I. there were in that country sixty-seven offenses punishable with death. There is not a lawyer in this city who can think of those offenses and write them down in one day. Think of it! Sixty-seven offenses punishable with death! Now, between the accession of George I. and the termination of the reign of George III. there were added 156 new crimes punishable with death, making in all 223 crimes in England punishable with death. There is no lawyer in this State who can think of that many crimes in a week. Now, during all those years the government was becoming more and more cruel; more and more barbarous; and we do not find, and we have not found, that the Church of England, with its 15,000 or 20,000 Ministers, with its more than a score of bishops in the House of Lords, has ever raised its voice or perfected any organization in favor of a more merciful code, or in condemnation of the enormous cruelty which the laws were continually inflicting. And was not Voltaire justified in saying that "The English were a people who murdered by law?" Now, that is an extract from a speech made by John Bright in May, 1883. That shows what the Church of England did. Two hundred and twenty-three offenses in England punishable with death, and no minister, no bishop, no church organization raising his or its voice, against the monstrous cruelty. And why? Even then it was better than the law of Jehovah.
And the Protestants were as bad as the Catholics. You remember the time of Henry IV. in France, when the edict of Nantes was issued simply to give the Protestants the right to worship God according to the dictates of their conscience. Just as soon as that edict was issued the Protestants themselves, in the cities where they had the power, prevented the Catholics from worshiping their God according to the dictates of their conscience, and it was on account of the refusal of those Protestants to allow the Catholics to worship God as they desired that there was a civil war lasting for seven years in France. Richelieu came into authority about the second or third year of that war. He made no difference between Protestants and Catholics; and it was owing to Richelieu that the Thirty Years' War terminated. It was owing to Richelieu that the peace of Westphalia was made in 1643, although I believe he had been dead a year before that time; but it was owing to him, and it was the first peace ever made between nations on a secular basis, with everything religious left out, and it was the last great religious war.
You may ask me what I want. Well, in the first place I want to get theology out of government. It has no business there. Man gets his authority from man, and is responsible only to man. I want to get theology out of politics. Our ancestors in 1776 retired God from politics, because of the jealousies among the churches, and the result has been splendid for mankind. I want to get theology out of education. Teach the children what somebody knows, not what somebody guesses. I want to get theology out of morality, and out of charity. Don't give for God's sake, but for man's sake.
I want you to know another thing; that neither Protestants nor Catholics are fit to govern this world. They are not fit to govern themselves. How could you elect a minister of any religion president of the United States. Could you elect a bishop of the Catholic church, or a Methodist bishop, or Episcopal minister, or one of the elders? No. And why? We are afraid of the ecclesiastic spirit. We are afraid to trust the liberties of men in the hands of people who acknowledge that they are bound by a standard different from that of the welfare of mankind.
The history of Italy, France, Spain, Portugal, Cuba, and Brazil all show that slavery existed where Catholicism was a power. I would suggest an education that would rule theology out of the government, and teach people to rely more on themselves and less on providence. There are two ways of living—the broad way of life lived for others, and the narrow theological way. It is wise to so live that death can be serenely faced, and then, if there is another world, the best way to prepare for it is to make the best of this; and if there be no other world, the best way to live here is to so live as to be happy and make everybody else happy.