They tell me that the next terrible thing I do is to take away the hope of immortality! I do not, I would not, I could not. Immortality was first dreamed of by human love; and yet the church is going to take human love out of immortality. We love, therefore we wish to live. A loved one dies and we wish to meet again; and from the affection of the human heart grew the great oak of the hope of immortality. Around that oak has climbed the poisonous vines of superstition. Theologians, pretenders, soothsayers, parsons, priests, popes, bishops, have taken advantage of that. They have stood by graves and promised heaven. They have stood by graves and prophesied a future filled with pain. They have erected their toll-gates on the highway of life and have collected money from fear.
Neither the Bible nor the church gave us the idea of immortality. The Old Testament tells us how we lost immortality, and it does not say a word about another world, from the first mistake in Genesis to the last curse in Malachi. There is not in the Old Testament a burial service.
No man in the Old Testament stands by the dead and says, "We shall meet again." From the top of Sinai came no hope of another world.
And when we get to the New Testament, what do we find? "They that are accounted worthy to obtain that world and the resurrection of the dead." As though some would be counted unworthy to obtain the resurrection of the dead. And in another place. "Seek for honor, glory, immortality." If you have it, why seek it? And in another place, "God, who alone hath immortality." Yet they tell us that we get our idea of immortality from the Bible. I deny it.
I would not destroy the faintest ray of human hope, but I deny that we got our idea of immortality from the Bible. It existed long before Moses. We find it symbolized through all Egypt, through all India. Wherever man has lived and loved he has made another world in which to meet the lost of this.
The history of this belief we find in tombs and temples wrought and carved by those who wept and hoped. Above their dead they laid the symbols of another life.
We do not know. We do not prophesy a life of pain. We leave the dead with Nature, the mother of us all. Under the bow of hope, under the sevenhued arch, let the dead sleep.
If Christ was in fact God, why did he not plainly say there is another life? Why did he not tell us something about it? Why did he not turn the tearstained hope of immortality into the glad knowledge of another life? Why did he go dumbly to his death and leave the world in darkness and in doubt? Why? Because he was a man and did not know.
What consolation has the orthodox religion for the widow of the unbeliever, the widow of a good, brave, kind man? What can the orthodox minister say to relieve the bursting heart of that woman? What can he say to relieve the aching hearts of the orphans as they kneel by the grave of that father, if that father did not happen to be an orthodox Christian? What consolation have they? When a Christian loses a friend the tears spring from his eyes as quickly as from the eyes of others. Their tears are as bitter as ours. Why? The echoes of the words spoken eighteen hundred years ago are so low, and the sounds of the clods upon the coffin are so loud; the promises are so far away, and the dead are so near.
We do not know, we cannot say, whether death is a wall or a door; the beginning or end of a day; the spreading of pinions to soar, or the folding forever of wings; the rise or the set of a sun, or an endless life that brings the rapture of love to every one.