Morality and Immortality
A GRAVESTONE MARKS THE END OF THEOLOGY
Question. I see that the clergy are still making all kinds of charges against you and your doctrines.
Answer. Yes. Some of the charges are true and some of them are not. I suppose that they intend to get in the vicinity of veracity, and are probably stating my belief as it is honestly misunderstood by them. I admit that I have said and that I still think that Christianity is a blunder.
But the question arises, What is Christianity? I do not mean, when I say that Christianity is a blunder, that the morality taught by Christians is a mistake. Morality is not distinctively Christian, any more than it is Mohammedan. Morality is human, it belongs to no ism, and does not depend for a foundation upon the supernatural, or upon any book, or upon any creed. Morality is itself a foundation.
When I say that Christianity is a blunder, I mean all those things distinctively Christian are blunders. It is a blunder to say that an infinite being lived in Palestine, learned the carpenter’s trade, raised the dead, cured the blind, and cast out devils, and that this God was finally assassinated by the Jews. This is absurd. All these statements are blunders, if not worse. I do not believe that Christ ever claimed that he was of supernatural origin, or that he wrought miracles, or that he would rise from the dead. If he did, he was mistaken—honestly mistaken, perhaps, but still mistaken.
The morality inculcated by Mohammed is good. The immorality inculcated by Mohammed is bad. If Mohammed was a prophet of God, it does not make the morality he taught any better, neither does it make the immorality any better or any worse.
By this time the whole world ought to know that morality does not need to go into partnership with miracles. Morality is based upon the experience of mankind. It does not have to learn of inspired writers, or of gods, or of divine persons. It is a lesson that the whole human race has been learning and learning from experience. He who upholds, or believes in, or teaches, the miraculous, commits a blunder.
Now, what is morality? Morality is the best thing to do under the circumstances. Anything that tends to the happiness of mankind is moral. Anything that tends to unhappiness is immoral. We apply to the moral world rules and regulations as we do in the physical world. The man who does justice, or tries to do so—who is honest and kind and gives to others what he claims for himself, is a moral man.
All actions must be judged by their consequences. Where the consequences are good, the actions are good. Where the consequences are bad, the actions are bad; and all consequences are learned from experience. After we have had a certain amount of experience, we then reason from analogy. We apply our logic and say that a certain course will bring destruction, another course will bring happiness. There is nothing inspired about morality—nothing supernatural. It is simply good, common sense, going hand in hand with kindness.
Morality is capable of being demonstrated. You do not have to take the word of anybody; you can observe and examine for yourself. Larceny is the enemy of industry, and industry is good; therefore larceny is immoral. The family is the unit of good government; anything that tends to destroy the family is immoral. Honesty is the mother of confidence; it united, combines and solidifies society. Dishonesty is disintegration; it destroys confidence; it brings social chaos; it is therefore immoral.
I also admit that I regard the Mosaic account of the creation as an absurdity—as a series of blunders. Probably Moses did the best he could. He had never talked with Humboldt or Laplace. He knew nothing of geology or astronomy. He had not the slightest suspicion of Kepler’s Three Laws. He never saw a copy of Newton’s Principia. Taking all these things into consideration, I think Moses did the best he could.
The religious people say now that “days” did not mean days. Of these “six days” they make a kind of telescope, which you can push in or draw out at pleasure. If the geologists find that more time was necessary they will stretch them out. Should it turn out that the world is not quite as old as some think, they will push them up. The “six days” can now be made to suit any period of time. Nothing can be more childish, frivolous or contradictory.
Only a few years ago the Mosaic account was considered true, and Moses was regarded as a scientific authority. Geology and astronomy were measured by the Mosaic standard. The opposite is now true.
The church has changed; and instead of trying to prove that modern astronomy and geology are false, because they do not agree with Moses, it is now endeavoring to prove that the account by Moses is true, because it agrees with modern astronomy and geology. In other words, the standard has changed; the ancient is measured by the modern, and where the literal statement in the Bible does not agree with modern discoveries, they do not change the discoveries, but give new meanings to the old account. We are not now endeavoring to reconcile science with the Bible, but to reconcile the Bible with science.
Nothing shows the extent of modern doubt more than the eagerness with which Christians search for some new testimony. Luther answered Copernicus with a passage of Scripture, and he answered him to the satisfaction of orthodox ignorance.
The truth is that the Jews adopted the stories of Creation, the Garden of Eden, Forbidden Fruit, and the Fall of Man. They were told by older barbarians than they, and the Jews gave them to us.
I never said that the Bible is all bad. I have always admitted that there are many good and splendid things in the Jewish Scriptures, and many bad things. What I insist is that we should have the courage and the common sense to accept the good, and throw away the bad. Evil is not good because found in good company, and truth is still truth, even when surrounded by falsehood.
Question. I see that you are frequently charged with disrespect toward your parents—with lack of reverence for the opinions of your father?
Answer. I think my father and mother upon several religious questions were mistaken. In fact, I have no doubt that they were; but I never felt under the slightest obligation to defend my father’s mistakes. No one can defend what he thinks is a mistake, without being dishonest. That is a poor way to show respect for parents. Every Protestant clergyman asks men and women who had Catholic parents to desert the church in which they were raised. They have no hesitation in saying to these people that their fathers and mothers were mistaken, and that they were deceived by priests and popes.
The probability is that we are all mistaken about almost everything; but it is impossible for a man to be respectable enough to make a mistake respectable. There is nothing remarkably holy in a blunder, or praiseworthy in stubbing the toe of the mind against a mistake.
Is it possible that logic stands paralyzed in the presence of paternal absurdity? Suppose a man has a bad father; is he bound by the bad father’s opinion, when he is satisfied that the opinion is wrong? How good does a father have to be, in order to put his son under obligation to defend his blunders? Suppose the father thinks one way, and the mother the other; what are the children to do? Suppose the father changes his opinion; what then? Suppose the father thinks one way and the mother the other, and they both die when the boy is young; and the boy is bound out; whose mistakes is he then bound to follow? Our missionaries tell the barbarian boy that his parents are mistaken, that they know nothing, and that the wooden god is nothing but a senseless idol. They do not hesitate to tell this boy that his mother believed lies, and hugged, it may be to her dying heart, a miserable delusion. Why should a barbarian boy cast reproach upon his parents?
I believe it was Christ who commanded his disciples to leave father and mother; not only to leave them, but to desert them; and not only to desert father and mother, but to desert wives and children. It is also told of Christ that he said that he came to set fathers against children and children against fathers. Strange that a follower of his should object to a man differing in opinion from his parents! The truth is, logic knows nothing of consanguinity; facts have no relatives but other facts; and these facts do not depend upon the character of the person who states them, or upon the position of the discoverer. And this leads me to another branch of the same subject.
The ministers are continually saying that certain great men—kings, presidents, statesmen, millionaires—have believed in the inspiration of the Bible. Only the other day, I read a sermon in which Carlyle was quoted as having said that “the Bible is a noble book.” That all may be and yet the book not be inspired. But what is the simple assertion of Thomas Carlyle worth?
If the assertion is based upon a reason, then it is worth simply the value of the reason, and the reason is worth just as much without the assertion, but without the reason the assertion is worthless.
Thomas Carlyle thought, and solemnly put the thought in print, that his father was a greater man than Robert Burns. His opinion did Burns no harm, and his father no good. Since reading his “Reminiscences,” I have no great opinion of his opinion. In some respects he was undoubtedly a great man, in others a small one.
No man should give the opinion of another as authority and in place of fact and reason, unless he is willing to take all the opinions of that man. An opinion is worth the warp and woof of fact and logic in it and no more. A man cannot add to the truthfulness of truth.
In the ordinary business of life, we give certain weight to the opinion of specialists—to the opinion of doctors, lawyers, scientists, and historians. Within the domain of the natural, we take the opinions of our fellow-men; but we do not feel that we are absolutely bound by these opinions. We have the right to re- examine them, and if we find they are wrong we feel at liberty to say so. A doctor is supposed to have studied medicine; to have examined and explored the questions entering into his profession; but we know that doctors are often mistaken. We also know that there are many schools of medicine; that these schools disagree with one another, and that the doctors of each school disagree with one another. We also know that many patients die, and so far as we know, these patients have not come back to tell us whether the doctors killed them or not. The grave generally prevents a demonstration.
It is exactly the same with the clergy. They have many schools of theology, all despising each other. Probably no two members of the same church exactly agree. They cannot demonstrate their propositions, because between the premise and the logical conclusion or demonstration, stands the tomb. A gravestone marks the end of theology.
In some cases, the physician can, by a post- mortem examination, find what killed the patient, but there is no theological post-mortem. It is impossible, by cutting a body open, to find where the soul has gone; or whether baptism, or the lack of it, had the slightest effect upon final destiny.
The church, knowing that there are no facts beyond the coffin, relies upon opinions, assertions and theories. For this reason it is always asking alms of distinguished people. Some President wishes to be re-elected, and thereupon speaks about the Bible as “the corner- stone of American Liberty.” This sentence is a mouth large enough to swallow any church, and from that time forward the religious people will be citing that remark of the politician to substantiate the inspiration of the Scriptures.
The man who accepts opinions because they have been entertained by distinguished people, is a mental snob. When we blindly follow authority we are serfs. When our reason is convinced we are freemen. It is rare to find a fully rounded and complete man. A man may be a great doctor and a poor mechanic, a successful politician and a poor metaphysician, a poor painter and a good poet.
The rarest thing in the world is a logician—that is to say, a man who knows the value of a fact. It is hard to find mental proportion. Theories may be established by names, but facts cannot be demonstrated in that way. Very small people are sometimes right, and very great people are sometimes wrong. Ministers are sometimes right.
In all the philosophies of the world there are undoubtedly contradictions and absurdities. The mind of man is imperfect and perfect results are impossible. A mirror, in order to reflect a perfect picture, a perfect copy, must itself be perfect. The mind is a little piece of intellectual glass the surface of which is not true, not perfect. In consequence of this, every image is more or less distorted. The less we know, the more we imagine that we can know; but the more we know, the smaller seems the sum of knowledge. The less we know, the more we expect, the more we hope for, and the more seems within the range of probability. The less we have, the more we want. There never was a banquet magnificent enough to gratify the imagination of a beggar.
The moment people begin to reason about what they call the supernatural, they seem to lose their minds. People seem to have lost their reason in religious matters, very much as the dodo is said to have lost its wings; they have been restricted to a little inspired island, and by disuse their reason has been lost.
In the Jewish Scriptures you will find simply the literature of the Jews. You will find there the tears and anguish of captivity, patriotic fervor, national aspiration, proverbs for the conduct of daily life, laws, regulations, customs, legends, philosophy and folly. These books, of course, were not written by one man, but by many authors. They do not agree, having been written in different centuries, under different circumstances.
I see that Mr. Beecher has at last concluded that the Old Testament does not teach the doctrine of immortality. He admits that from Mount Sinai came no hope for the dead. It is very curious that we find in the Old Testament no funeral service. No one stands by the dead and predicts another life.
In the Old Testament there is no promise of another world. I have sometimes thought that while the Jews were slaves in Egypt, the doctrine of immortality became hateful. They built so many tombs; they carried so many burdens to commemorate the dead; the saw a nation waste its wealth to adorn its graves, and leave the living naked to embalm the dead, that they concluded the doctrine was a curse and never should be taught.
Question. If the Jews did not believe in immortality, how do you account for the allusions made to witches and wizards and things of that nature?
Answer. When Saul visited the Witch of Endor, and she, by some magic spell, called up Samuel, the prophet said: “Why hast thou disquieted me, to call me up?” He did not say: Why have you called me from another world? The idea expressed is: I was asleep, why did you disturb that repose which should be eternal?
The ancient Jews believed in witches and wizards and familiar spirits; but they did not seem to think that these spirits had once been men and women. They spoke to them as belonging to another world, a world to which man would never find his way. At that time it was supposed that Jehovah and his angels lived in the sky, but that region was not spoken of as the destined home of man. Jacob saw angels going up and down the ladder, but not the spirits of those he had known.
There are two cases where it seems that men were good enough to be adopted into the family of heaven. Enoch was translated, and Elijah was taken up in a chariot of fire. As it is exceedingly cold at the height of a few miles, it is easy to see why the chariot was of fire, and the same fact explains another circumstance—the dropping of the mantle. The Jews probably believed in the existence of other beings—that is to say, in angels and gods and evil spirits —and that they lived in other worlds—but there is no passage showing that they