For thousands of generations the myths have been taught and the miracles believed. Every mother was a missionary and told with loving care the falsehoods of "faith" to her babe. The poison of superstition was in the mother's milk. She was honest and affectionate and her character, her goodness, her smiles and kisses, entered into, mingled with, and became a part of the superstition that she taught. Fathers, friends and priests united with the mothers, and the children thus taught, became the teachers of their children and so the creeds were kept alive.
Childhood loves the romantic, the mysterious, the monstrous. It lives in a world where cause has nothing to do with effect, where the fairy waves her hand and the prince appears. Where wish creates the thing desired and facts become the slaves of amulet and charm. The individual lives the life of the race, and the child is charmed with what the race in its infancy produced.
There seems to be the same difference between mistakes and facts that there is between weeds and corn. Mistakes seem to take care of themselves, while the facts have to be guarded with all possible care. Falsehoods like weeds flourish without care. Weeds care nothing for soil or rain. They not only ask no help but they almost defy destruction. In the minds of children, superstitions, legends, myths and miracles find a natural, and in most instances a lasting home. Thrown aside in manhood, forgotten or denied, in old age they oft return and linger to the end.
This in part accounts for the longevity of religious lies. Ministers with clasped hands and uplifted eyes ask the man who is thinking for himself how he can be wicked and heartless enough to attack the religion of his mother. This question is regarded by the clergy as unanswerable. Of course it is not to be asked by the missionaries, of the Hindus and the Chinese. The heathen are expected to desert the religion of their mothers as Christ and his apostles deserted the religion of their mothers. It is right for Jews and heathen, but not for thinkers and philosophers.
A cannibal was about to kill a missionary for food. The missionary objected and asked the cannibal how he could be so cruel and wicked.
The cannibal replied that he followed the example of his mother. "My mother," said he, "was good enough for me. Her religion is my religion. The last time I saw her she was sitting, propped up against a tree, eating cold missionary."
But now the mother argument has mostly lost its force, and men of mind are satisfied with nothing less than truth.
The phenomena of nature have been investigated and the supernatural has not been found. The myths have faded from the imagination, and of them nothing remains but the poetic. The miraculous has become the absurd, the impossible. Gods and phantoms have been driven from the earth and sky. We are living in a natural world.
Our fathers, some of them, demanded the freedom of religion. We have taken another step. We demand the Religion of Freedom.
O Liberty, thou art the god of my idolatry! Thou art the only deity that hateth bended knees. In thy vast and unwalled temple, beneath the roofless dome, star-gemmed and luminous with suns, thy worshipers stand erect! They do not cringe, or crawl, or bend their foreheads to the earth. The dust has never borne the impress of their lips. Upon thy altars mothers do not sacrifice their babes, nor men their rights. Thou askest naught from man except the things that good men hate--the whip, the chain, the dungeon key. Thou hast no popes, no priests, who stand between their fellow men and thee. Thou carest not for foolish forms, or selfish prayers. At thy sacred shrine hypocrisy does not bow, virtue does not tremble, superstition's feeble tapers do not burn, but Reason holds aloft her inextinguishable torch whose holy light will one day flood the world.