Will the unknown, the mysteries of life and death, the world that lies beyond the limitations of the mind, forever furnish food for superstition? Will the gods and ghosts perish or simply retreat before the advancing hosts of science, and continue to crouch and lurk just beyond the horizon of the known? Will darkness forever be the womb and mother of the supernatural?
A little while ago priests told peasants that the New Jerusalem, the celestial city was just above the clouds. They said that its walls and domes and spires were just beyond the reach of human sight. The telescope was invented and those who looked at the wilderness of stars, saw no city, no throne. They said to the priests: "Where is your New Jerusalem?" The priests cheerfully and confidently replied. "It is just beyond where you see."
At one time it was believed that a race of men existed "with their heads beneath their shoulders." Returning travelers from distant lands were asked about these wonderful people and all replied that they had not seen them. "Oh," said the believers in the monsters, "the men with heads beneath their shoulders live in a country that you did not visit." And so the monsters lived and flourished until all the world was known. We cannot know the universe. We cannot travel infinite distances, and so, somewhere in shoreless space there will always be room for gods and ghosts, for heavens and hells. And so it may be that superstition will live and linger until the world becomes intelligent enough to build upon the foundation of the known, to keep the imagination within the domain of the probable, and to believe in the natural--until the supernatural shall have been demonstrated.
Savages knew all about gods, about heavens and hells before they knew anything about the world in which they lived. They were perfectly familiar with evil spirits, with the invisible phantoms of the air, long before they had any true conception of themselves. So, they knew all about the origin and destiny of the human race. They were absolutely certain about the problems, the solution of which, philosophers know, is beyond the limitations of the mind. They understood astrology, but not astronomy, knew something of magic, but nothing about chemistry. They were wise only as to those things about which nothing can be known.
The poor Indian believed in the "Great Spirit" and saw "design" on every hand.--Trees were made that he might have bows and arrows, wood for his fire and bark for his wigwam--rivers and lakes to give him fish, wild beasts and corn that he might have food, and the animals had skins that he might have clothes.
Primitive peoples all reasoned in the same way, and modern Christians follow their example. They knew but little of the world and thought that it had been made expressly for the use of man. They did not know that it was mostly water, that vast regions were locked in eternal ice and that in most countries the conditions were unfavorable to human life. They knew nothing of the countless enemies of man that live unseen in water, food and air. Back of the little good they knew they put gods and back of the evil, devils. They thought it of the greatest importance to gain the good will of the gods, who alone could protect them from the devils. Those who worshiped these gods, offered sacrifices, and obeyed priests, were considered loyal members of the tribe or community, and those who refused to worship were regarded as enemies and traitors. The believers, in order to protect themselves from the anger of the gods, exiled or destroyed the infidels.
Believing as they did, the course they pursued was natural. They not only wished to protect themselves from disease and death, from pestilence and famine in this world but the souls of their children from eternal pain in the next. Their gods were savages who demanded flattery and worship not only, but the acceptance of a certain creed. As long as Christians believe in eternal punishment they will be the enemies of those who investigate and contend for the authority of reason, of those who demand evidence, who care nothing for the unsupported assertions of the dead or the illogical inferences of the living.
Science always has been, is, and always will be modest, thoughtful, truthful. It has but one object: The ascertainment of truth. It has no prejudice, no hatred. It is in the realm of the intellect and cannot be swayed or changed by passion. It does not try to please God, to gain heaven or avoid hell. It is for this world, for the use of man. It is perfectly candid. It does not try to conceal, but to reveal. It is the enemy of mystery, of pretence and cant. It does not ask people to be solemn, but sensible. It calls for and insists on the use of all the senses, of all the faculties of the mind. It does not pretend to be "holy" or "inspired." It courts investigation, criticism and even denial. It asks for the application of every test, for trial by every standard. It knows nothing of blasphemy and does not ask for the imprisonment of those who ignorantly or knowingly deny the truth. The good that springs from a knowledge of the truth is the only reward it offers, and the evil resulting from ignorance is the only punishment it threatens. Its effort is to reform, the world through intelligence.
On the other hand theology is, always has been, and always will be, ignorant, arrogant, puerile and cruel. When the church had power, hypocrisy was crowned and honesty imprisoned. Fraud wore the tiara and truth was a convict. Liberty was in chains, Theology has always sent the worst to heaven, the best to hell.
Let me give you a scene from the day of judgment. Christ is upon his throne, his secretary by his side. A soul appears. This is what happens --
"What is your name?
"Were you a Christian?"
"Did you endeavor to convert your fellowmen?"
"I did. I tried to convert them by persuasion, by preaching and praying and even by force."
"What did you do?"
"I put the heretics in prison, in chains. I tore out their tongues, put out their eyes, crushed their bones, stretched them upon racks, roasted their feet, and if they remained obdurate I flayed them alive or burned them at the stake."
"And did you do all this for my glory?"
"Yes, all for you. I wanted to save some, I wanted to protect the young and the weak minded.
"Did you believe the Bible, the miracles--that I was God. that I was born of a virgin and kept money in the mouth of a fish?"
"Yes, I believed it all. My reason was the slave of faith.
"Well done, good and faithful servant, enter thou into the Joys of thy Lord. I was hungry and you gave me meat, naked and you clothed me."
Another soul arises.
"What is your name?"
"Were you a Christian?"
"At one time I was, but for many years I was a philosopher, a seeker after truth."
"Did you seek to convert your fellow-men?"
"Not to Christianity, but to the religion of reason. I tried to develop their minds, to free them from the slavery of ignorance and superstition. In my day the church taught the holiness of credulity--the virtue of unquestioning obedience, and in your name tortured and destroyed the intelligent and courageous. I did what I could to civilize the world, to make men tolerant and merciful, to soften the hearts of priests, and banish torture from the world. I expressed my honest thoughts and walked in the light of reason."
"Did you believe the Bible, the miracles? Did you believe that I was God, that I was born of a virgin and that I suffered myself to be killed to appease the wrath of God--that is, of myself--so that God could save the souls of a few?"
"No, I did not. I did not believe that God was ever born into my world, or that God learned the trade of a carpenter, or that he "increased in knowledge," or that he cast devils out of men, or that his garments could cure diseases, or that he allowed himself to be murdered, and in the hour of death "forsook" himself. These things I did not and could not believe. But I did all the good I could, enlightened the ignorant, comforted the afflicted, defended the innocent, divided even my poverty with the poor, and did the best I could to increase the happiness of my fellow-men. I was a soldier in the army of progress.--I was arrested, imprisoned, tried and convicted by the church--by the "Triumphant Beast." I was burned at the stake by ignorant and heartless priests and my ashes given to the winds.
Then Christ, his face growing dark, his brows contracted with wrath, with uplifted hands, with half averted face, cries or rather shrieks: "Depart from me ye cursed into everlasting fire prepared for the devil and his angels."
This is the justice of God--the mercy of the compassionate Christ. This is the belief, the dream and hope of the orthodox theologian--"the consummation devoutly to be wished."
Theology makes God a monster, a tyrant, a savage; makes man a servant, a serf, a slave; promises heaven to the obedient, the meek, the frightened, and threatens the self-reliant with the tortures of hell.
It denounces reason and appeals to the passions--to hope and fear. It does not answer the arguments of those who attack, but resorts to sophistry, falsehood and slander. It is incapable of advancement. It keeps its back to the sunrise, lives on myth and miracle, and guards with a miser's care the "sacred" superstitions of the past.
In the great struggle between the supernatural and the natural, between gods and men, we have passed midnight. All the forces of civilization, all the facts that have been found, all the truths that have been discovered are the allies of science--the enemies of the supernatural.
We need no myths, no miracles, no gods, no devils.