Robert Green Ingersoll
Let them cover their Eyeless Sockets with their
Fleshless Hands and fade forever from the imagination of Men.
There are three theories by which men account for all phenomena, for
everything that happens: First, the Supernatural; Second, the Supernatural
and Natural; Third, the Natural. Between these theories there has been,
from the dawn of civilization, a continual conflict. In this great war,
nearly all the soldiers have been in the ranks of the supernatural. The
believers in the supernatural insist that matter is controlled and
directed entirely by powers from without; while naturalists maintain that
Nature acts from within; that Nature is not acted upon; that the universe
is all there is; that Nature with infinite arms embraces everything that
exists, and that all supposed powers beyond the limits of the material are
simply ghosts. You say, "Oh, this is materialism!" What is matter? I take
in my hand some earth: -- in this dust put seeds. Let the arrows of light
from the quiver of the sun smite upon it; let the rain fall upon it. The
seeds will grow and a plant will bud and blossom. Do you understand this?
Can you explain it better than you can the production of thought? Have you
the slightest conception of what it really is? And yet you speak of matter
as though acquainted with its origin, as though you had torn from the
clenched hands of the rocks the secrets of material existence. Do you know
what force is? Can you account for molecular action? Are you really
familiar with chemistry, and can you account for the loves and hatreds of
the atoms? Is there not something in matter that forever eludes? After
all, can you get beyond, above or below appearances? Before you cry
"materialism!" had you not better ascertain what matter really is? Can you
think even of anything without a material basis? Is it possible to imagine
the annihilation of a single atom? Is it possible for you to conceive of
the creation of an atom? Can you have a thought that was not suggested to
you by what you call matter?
Our fathers denounced materialism, and accounted for all phenomena by
the caprice of gods and devils.
For thousands of years it was believed that ghosts, good and bad,
benevolent and malignant, weak and powerful, in some mysterious way,
produced all phenomena; that disease and health, happiness and misery,
fortune and misfortune, peace and war, life and death, success and
failure, were but arrows from the quivers of these ghosts; that shadowy
phantoms rewarded and punished mankind; that they were pleased and
displeased by the actions of men; that they sent and withheld the snow,
the light, and the rain; that they blessed the earth with harvests or
cursed it with famine; that they fed or starved the children of men; that
they crowned and uncrowned kings; that they took sides in war; that they
controlled the winds; that they gave prosperous voyages, allowing the
brave mariner to meet his wife and child inside the harbor bar, or sent
the storms, strewing the sad shores with wrecks of ships and the bodies of
Formerly, these ghosts were believed to be almost innumerable. Earth,
air, and water were filled with these phantom hosts. In modem times they
have greatly decreased in number, because the second theory, -- a mingling
of the supernatural and natural, -- has generally been adopted. The
remaining ghosts, however, are supposed to perform the same offices as the
hosts of yore.
It has always been believed that these ghosts could in some way be
appeased; that they could be flattered by sacrifices, by prayer, by
fasting, by the building of temples and cathedrals, by the blood of men
and beasts, by forms and ceremonies, by chants, by kneeling and
prostrations, by flagellations and maiming, by renouncing the joys of
home, by living alone in the wide desert, by the practice of celibacy, by
inventing instruments of torture, by destroying men, women and children,
by covering the earth with dungeons, by burning unbelievers, by putting
chains upon the thoughts and manacles upon the limbs of men, by believing
things without evidence and against evidence, by disbelieving and denying
demonstration, by despising facts, by hating reason, by denouncing
liberty, by maligning heretics, by slandering the dead, by subscribing to
senseless and cruel creeds, by discouraging investigation, by worshiping a
book, by the cultivation of credulity, by observing certain times and
days, by counting beads, by gazing at crosses, by hiring others to repeat
verses and prayers, by burning candles and ringing bells, by enslaving
each other and putting out the eyes of the soul. All this has been done to
appease and flatter these monsters of the air.
In the history of our poor world, no horror has been omitted, no infamy
has been left undone by the believers in ghosts, -- by the worshipers of
these fleshless phantoms. And yet these shadows were born of cowardice and
malignity. They were painted by the pencil of fear upon the canvas of
ignorance by that artist called superstition.
From these ghosts, our fathers received information. They were the
schoolmasters of our ancestors. They were the scientists and philosophers,
the geologists, legislators, astronomers, physicians, metaphysicians and
historians of the past. For ages these ghosts were supposed to be the only
source of real knowledge. They inspired men to write books, and the books
were considered sacred. If facts were found to be inconsistent with these
books, so much the worse for the facts, and especially for their
discoverers. It was then, and still is, believed that these books are the
basis of the idea of immortality; that to give up these volumes, or rather
the idea that they are inspired, is to renounce the idea of immortality.
This I deny.
The idea of immortality, that like a sea has ebbed and flowed in the
human heart, with its countless waves of hope and fear, beating against
the shores and rocks of time and fate, was not born of any book, nor of
any creed, nor of any religion. It was born of human affection, and it
will continue to ebb and flow beneath the mists and clouds of doubt and
darkness as long as love kisses the lips of death. It is the rainbow --
Hope shining upon the tears of grief.
From the books written by the ghosts we have at last ascertained that
they knew nothing about the world in which we live. Did they know anything
about the next? Upon every point where contradiction is possible, they
have been contradicted.
By these ghosts, by these citizens of the air, the affairs of
government were administered; all authority to govern came from them. The
emperors, kings and potentates all had commissions from these phantoms.
Man was not considered as the source of any power whatever. To rebel
against the king was to rebel against the ghosts, and nothing less than
the blood of the offender could appease the invisible phantom or the
visible tyrant. Kneeling was the proper position to be assumed by the
multitude. The prostrate were the good. Those who stood erect were
infidels and traitors. In the name and by the authority of the ghosts, man
was enslaved, crushed, and plundered. The many toiled wearily in the storm
and sun that the few favorites of the ghosts might live in idleness. The
many lived in huts, and caves, and dens, that the few might dwell in
palaces. The many covered themselves with rags, that the few might robe
themselves in purple and in gold. The many crept, and cringed, and
crawled, that the few might tread upon their flesh with iron feet.
From the ghosts men received, not only authority, but information of
every kind. They told us the form of this earth. They informed us that
eclipses were caused by the sins of man; that the universe was made in six
days; that astronomy, and geology were devices of wicked men, instigated
by wicked ghosts; that gazing at the sky with a telescope was a dangerous
thing; that digging into the earth was sinful curiosity; that trying to be
wise above what they had written was born of a rebellious and irreverent
They told us there was no virtue like belief, and no crime like doubt;
that investigation was pure impudence, and the punishment therefor,
eternal torment. They not only told us all about this world, but about two
others; and if their statements about the other worlds are as true as
about this, no one can underestimate the value of their information.
For countless ages the world was governed by ghosts, and they spared no
pains to change the eagle of the human intellect into a bat of darkness.
To accomplish this infamous purpose; to drive the love of truth from the
human heart; to prevent the advancement of mankind; to shut out from the
world every ray of intellectual light; to pollute every mind with
superstition, the power of kings, the cunning and cruelty of priests, and
the wealth of nations were exhausted.
During these years of persecution, ignorance, superstition and slavery,
nearly all the people, the kings, lawyers, doctors, the learned and the
unlearned, believed in that frightful production of ignorance, fear, and
faith, called witchcraft. They believed that man was the sport and prey of
devils. They really thought that the very air was thick with these enemies
of man. With few exceptions, this hideous and infamous belief was
universal. Under these conditions, progress was almost impossible.
Fear paralyzes the brain. Progress is born of courage, Fear believes --
courage doubts. Fear falls upon the earth and prays -- courage stands
erect and thinks. Fear retreats -- courage advances. Fear is barbarism --
courage is civilization. Fear believes in witchcraft, in devils and in
ghosts. Fear is religion courage is science.
The facts, upon which this terrible belief rested, were proved over and
over again in every court of Europe. Thousands confessed themselves guilty
-- admitted that they had sold themselves to the devil. They gave the
particulars of the sale; told what they said and what the devil replied.
They confessed this, when they knew that confession was death; knew that
their property would be confiscated, and their children left to beg their
bread. This is one of the miracles of history -- one of the strangest
contradictions of the human mind. Without doubt, they really believed
themselves guilty. In the first place, they believed in witchcraft as a
fact, and when charged with it, they probably became insane. In their
insanity they confessed their guilt. They found themselves abhorred and
deserted -- charged with a crime that they could not disprove. Like a man
in quicksand, every effort only sunk them deeper. Caught in this frightful
web, at the mercy of the spiders of superstition, hope fled, and nothing
remained but the insanity of confession. The whole world appeared to be
In the time of James the First, a man was executed for causing a storm
at sea with the intention of drowning one of the royal family. How could
he disprove it? How could he show that he did not cause the storm? All
storms were at that time generally supposed to be caused by the devil --
the prince of the power of the air -- and by those whom he assisted.
I implore you to remember that the believers in such impossible things
were the authors of our creeds and confessions of faith.
A woman was tried and convicted before Sir Matthew Hale, one of the
great judges and lawyers of England, for having caused children to vomit
crooked pins. She was also charged with having nursed devils. The learned
Judge charged the intelligent jury that there was no doubt as to the
existence of witches; that it was established by all history, and
expressly taught by the Bible.
The woman was hanged and her body burned.
Sir Thomas More declared that to give up witchcraft was to throw away
the sacred Scriptures. In my judgment, he was right.
John Wesley was a firm believer in ghosts and witches, and insisted
upon it, years after all laws upon the subject had been repealed in
England. I beg of you to remember that John Wesley was the founder of the
In New England, a woman was charged with being a witch, and with having
changed herself into a fox. While in that condition she was attacked and
bitten by some dogs. A committee of three men, by order of the court,
examined this woman. They removed her clothing and searched for "witch
spots." That is to say, spots into which needles could be thrust without
giving her pain. They reported to the court that such spots were found.
She denied, however, that she ever had changed herself into a fox. Upon
the report of the committee she was found guilty and actually executed.
This was done by our Puritan fathers, by the gentlemen who braved the
dangers of the deep for the sake of worshiping God and persecuting their
In those days people believed in what was known as lycanthropy -- that
is, that persons, with the assistance of the devil, could assume the form
of wolves. An instance is given where a man was attacked by a wolf. He
defended himself, and succeeded in cutting off one of the animal's paws.
The wolf ran away. The man picked up the paw, put it in his pocket and
carried it home. There he found his wife with one of her hands gone. He
took the paw from his pocket. It had changed to a human hand. He charged
his wife with being a witch. She was tried. She confessed her guilt, and
People were burned for causing frosts in summer -- for destroying crops
with hail -- for causing storms -- for making cows go dry, and even for
souring beer. There was no impossibility for which some one was not tried
and convicted. The life of no one was secure. To be charged, was to be
convicted. Every man was at the mercy of every other. This infamous belief
was so firmly seated in the minds of the people, that to express a doubt
as to its truth was to be suspected. Whoever denied the existence of
witches and devils was denounced as an infidel.
They believed that animals were often taken possession of by devils,
and that the killing of the animal would destroy the devil. They
absolutely tried, convicted, and executed dumb beasts.
At Basle, in 1470, a rooster was tried upon the charge of having laid
an egg. Rooster eggs were used only in making witch ointment, -- this
everybody knew. The rooster was convicted and with all due solemnity was
burned in the public square. So a hog and six pigs were tried for having
killed and partially eaten a child. The hog was convicted, -- but the
pigs, on account probably of their extreme youth, were acquitted. As late
as 1740, a cow was tried and convicted of being possessed by a devil.
They used to exorcise rats, locusts, snakes and vermin. They used to go
through the alleys, streets, and fields, and warn them to leave within a
certain number of days. In case they disobeyed, they were threatened with
pains and penalties.
But let us be careful how we laugh at these things. Let us not pride
ourselves too much on the progress of our age. We must not forget that
some of our people are yet in the same intelligent business. Only a little
while ago, the governor of Minnesota appointed a day of fasting and
prayer, to see if some power could not be induced to kill the
grasshoppers, or send them into some other state.
About the close of the fifteenth century, so great was the excitement
with regard to the existence of witchcraft that Pope Innocent VIII. issued
a bull directing the inquisitors to be vigilant in searching out and
punishing all guilty of this crime. Forms for the trial were regularly
laid down in a book or a pamphlet called the "Malleus Maleficorum" (Hammer
of Witches), which was issued by the Roman See. Popes Alexander, Leo, and
Adrian, issued like bulls. For two hundred and fifty years the church was
busy in punishing the impossible crime of witchcraft; in burning, hanging
and torturing men, women, and children. Protestants were as active as
Catholics, and in Geneva five hundred witches were burned at the stake in
a period of three months. About one thousand were executed in one year in
the diocese of Como. At least one hundred thousand victims suffered in
Germany alone: the last execution (in Wurtzburg) taking place as late as
1749. Witches were burned in Switzerland as late as 1780.
In England the same frightful scenes were enacted. Statutes were passed
from Henry VI. to James I., defining the crime and its punishment. The
last act passed by the British parliament was when Lord Bacon was a member
of the House of Commons; and this act was not repealed until 1736.
Sir William Blackstone, in his Commentaries on the Laws of England,
says: "To deny the possibility, nay, actual existence of witchcraft and
sorcery, is at once flatly to contradict the word of God in various
passages both of the Old and New Testament; and the thing itself is a
truth to which every nation in the world hath in its turn borne testimony,
either by examples seemingly well attested, or by prohibitory laws, which
at least suppose the possibility of a commerce with evil spirits."
In Brown's Dictionary of the Bible, published at Edinburgh, Scotland,
in 1807, it is said that: "A witch is a woman that has dealings with
Satan. That such persons are among men is abundantly plain from Scripture,
and that they ought to be put to death."
This work was re-published in Albany, New York, in 1816. No wonder the
clergy of that city are ignorant and bigoted even unto this day.
In 1716, Mrs Hicks and her daughter, nine years of age, were hanged for
selling their souls to the devil, and raising a storm by pulling off their
stockings and making a lather of soap.
In England it has been estimated that at least thirty thousand were
hanged and burned. The last Victim executed in Scotland, perished in 1722.
"She was an innocent old woman, who had so little idea of her situation as
to rejoice at the sight of the fire which was destined to consume her. She
had a daughter, lame both of hands and of feet -- a circumstance
attributed to the witch having been used to transform her daughter into a
pony and getting her shod by the devil."
In 1692, nineteen persons were executed and one pressed to death in
Salem, Massachusetts, for the crime of witchcraft.
It was thought in those days that men and women made compacts with the
devil, orally and in writing. That they abjured God and Jesus Christ, and
dedicated themselves wholly to the devil. The contracts were confirmed at
a general meeting of witches and ghosts, over which the devil himself
presided; and the persons generally signed the articles of agreement with
their own blood. These contracts were, in some instances, for a few years;
in others, for life. General assemblies of the witches were held at least
once a year, at which they appeared entirely naked, besmeared with an
ointment made from the bodies of unbaptized infants. "To these meetings
they rode from great distances on broomsticks, pokers, goats, hogs, and
dogs. Here they did homage to the prince of hell, and offered him
sacrifices of young children, and practiced all sorts of license until the
break of day."
"As late as 1815, Belgium was disgraced by a witch trial; and guilt was
established by the water ordeal." "In 1836, the populace of Hela, near
Dantzic, twice plunged into the sea a woman reputed to be a sorceress; and
as the miserable creature persisted in rising to the surface, she was
pronounced guilty, and beaten to death."
"It was believed that the bodies of devils are not like those of men
and animals, cast in an unchangeable mould. It was thought they were like
clouds, refined and subtle matter, capable of assuming any form and
penetrating into any orifice. The horrible tortures they endured in their
place of punishment rendered them extremely sensitive to suffering, and
they continually sought a temperate and somewhat moist warmth in order to
allay their pangs. It was for this reason they so frequently entered into
men and women."
The devil could transport men, at his will, through the air. He could
beget children; and Martin Luther himself had come in contact with one of
these children. He recommended the mother to throw the child into the
river, in order to free their house from the presence of a devil.
It was believed that the devil could transform people into any shape he
Whoever denied these things was denounced as an infidel. All the
believers in witchcraft confidently appealed to the Bible. Their mouths
were filled with passages demonstrating the existence of witches and their
power over human beings. By the Bible they proved that innumerable evil
spirits were ranging over the world endeavoring to ruin mankind; that
these spirits possessed a power and wisdom far transcending the limits of
human faculties; that they delighted in every misfortune that could befall
the world; that their malice was superhuman. That they caused tempests was
proved by the action of the devil toward Job; by the passage in the book
of Revelation describing the four angels who held the four winds, and to
whom it was given to afflict the earth. They believed the devil could
carry persons hundreds of miles, in a few seconds, through the air. They
believed this, because they knew that Christ had been carried by the devil
in the same manner and placed on a pinnacle of the temple. "The prophet
Habakkuk had been transported by a spirit from Judea to Babylon; and
Philip, the evangelist, had been the object of a similar miracle; and in
the same way Saint Paul had been carried in the body into the third
"In those pious days, they believed that Incubi and Succubi were
forever wandering among mankind, alluring, by more than human charms, the
unwary to their destruction, and laying plots, which were too often
successful, against the virtue of the saints. Sometimes the witches
kindled in the monastic priest a more terrestrial fire. People told, with
bated breath, how, under the spell of a vindictive woman, four successive
abbots in a German monastery had been wasted away by an unholy flame."
An instance is given in which the devil not only assumed the appearance
of a holy man, in order to pay his addresses to a lady, but when
discovered, crept under the bed, suffered himself to be dragged out, and
was impudent enough to declare that he was the veritable bishop. So
perfectly had he assumed the form and features of the prelate that those
who knew the bishop best were deceived.
One can hardly imagine the frightful state of the human mind during
these long centuries of darkness and superstition. To them, these things
were awful and frightful realities. Hovering above them in the air, in
their houses, in the bosoms of friends, in their very bodies, in all the
darkness of night, everywhere, around, above and below, were innumerable
hosts of unclean and malignant devils.
From the malice of those leering and vindictive vampires of the air,
the church pretended to defend mankind. Pursued by these phantoms, the
frightened multitudes fell upon their faces and implored the aid of robed
hypocrisy and sceptered theft.
Take from the orthodox church of to-day the threat and fear of hell,
and it becomes an extinct volcano.
Take from the church the miraculous, the supernatural, the
incomprehensible, the unreasonable, the impossible, the unknowable, and
the absurd, and nothing but a vacuum remains.
Notwithstanding all the infamous things justly laid to the charge of
the church, we are told that the civilization of to-day is the child of
what we are pleased to call the superstition of the past.
Religion has not civilized man -- man has civilized religion. God
improves as man advances.
Let me call your attention to what we have received from the followers
of the ghosts. Let me give you an outline of the sciences as taught by
these philosophers of the clouds.
All diseases were produced, either as a punishment by the good ghosts,
or out of pure malignity by the bad ones. There were, properly speaking,
no diseases. The sick were possessed by ghosts. The science of medicine
consisted in knowing how to persuade these ghosts to vacate the premises.
For thousands of years the diseased were treated with incantations, with
hideous noises, with drums and gongs. Everything was done to make the
visit of the ghost as unpleasant as possible, and they generally succeeded
in making things so disagreeable that if the ghost did not leave, the
patient did. These ghosts were supposed to be of different rank, power and
dignity. Now and then a man pretended to have won the favor of some
powerful ghost, and that gave him power over the little ones. Such a man
became an eminent physician.
It was found that certain kinds of smoke, such as that produced by
burning the liver of a fish, the dried skin of a serpent, the eyes of a
toad, or the tongue of an adder, were exceedingly offensive to the
nostrils of an ordinary ghost. With this smoke, the sick room would be
filled until the ghost vanished or the patient died.
It was also believed that certain words, -- the names of the most
powerful ghosts, -- when properly pronounced, were very effective weapons.
It was for a long time thought that Latin words were the best, -- Latin
being a dead language, and known by the clergy. Others thought that two
sticks laid across each other and held before the wicked ghost would cause
it instantly to flee in dread away.
For thousands of years, the practice of medicine consisted in driving
these evil spirits out of the bodies of men.
In some instances, bargains and compromises were made with the ghosts.
One case is given where a multitude of devils traded a man for a herd of
swine. In this transaction the devils were the losers, as the swine
immediately drowned themselves in the sea. This idea of disease appears to
have been almost universal, and is by no means yet extinct.
The contortions of the epileptic, the strange twitchings of those
afflicted with chorea, the shakings of palsy, dreams, trances, and the
numberless frightful phenomena produced by diseases of the nerves, were
all seized upon as so many proofs that the bodies of men were filled with
unclean and malignant ghosts.
Whoever endeavored to account for these things by natural causes,
whoever attempted to cure diseases by natural means, was denounced by the
church as an infidel. To explain anything was a crime. It was to the
interest of the priest that all phenomena should be accounted for by the
will and power of gods and devils. The moment it is admitted that all
phenomena are within the domain of the natural, the necessity for a priest
has disappeared. Religion breathes the air of the supernatural. Take from
the mind of man the idea of the supernatural, and religion ceases to
exist. For this reason, the church has always despised the man who
explained the wonderful. Upon this principle, nothing was left undone to
stay the science of medicine. As long as plagues and pestilences could be
stopped by prayer, the priest was useful. The moment the physician found a
cure, the priest became an extravagance. The moment it began to be
apparent that prayer could do nothing for the body, the priest shifted his
ground and began praying for the soul.
Long after the devil idea was substantially abandoned in the practice
of medicine, and when it was admitted that God had nothing to do with
ordinary coughs and colds, it was still believed that all the frightful
diseases were sent by him as punishments for the wickedness of the people.
It was thought to be a kind of blasphemy to even try, by any natural
means, to stay the ravages of pestilence. Formerly during the prevalence
of plague and epidemics, the arrogance of the priest was boundless. He
told the people that they had slighted the clergy, that they had refused
to pay tithes, that they had doubted some of the doctrines of the church,
and that God was now taking his revenge. The people for the most part,
believed this infamous tissue of priestcraft. They hastened to fall upon
their knees; they poured out their wealth upon the altars of hypocrisy;
they abased and debased themselves; from their minds they banished all
doubts, and made haste to crawl in the very dust of humility.
The church never wanted disease to be under the control of man. Timothy
Dewight, president of Yale College, preached a sermon against vaccination.
His idea was, that if God had decreed from all eternity that a certain man
should die with the small-pox, it was a frightful sin to avoid and annul
that decree by the trick of vaccination. Small-pox being regarded as one
of the heaviest guns in the arsenal of heaven, to spike it was the height
of presumption. Plagues and pestilences were instrumentalities in the
hands of God with which to gain the love and worship of mankind. To find a
cure for disease was to take a weapon from the church. No one tries to
cure the ague with prayer. Quinine has been found altogether more
reliable. Just as soon as a specific is found for a disease that disease
will be left out of the list of prayer. The number of diseases with which
God from time to time afflicts mankind, is continually decreasing. In a
few years all of them will be under the control of man, the gods will be
left unarmed, and the threats of their priests will excite only a smile.
The science of medicine has had but one enemy -- religion. Man was
afraid to save his body for fear he might lose his soul.
Is it any wonder that the people in those days believed in and taught
the infamous doctrine of eternal punishment -- a doctrine that makes God a
heartless monster and man a slimy hypocrite and slave?
The ghosts were historians, and their histories were the grossest
absurdities. "Tales told by idiots, full of sound and fury, signifying
nothing." In those days the histories were written by the monks, who, as a
rule, were almost as superstitious as they were dishonest. They wrote as
though they had been witnesses of every occurrence they related. They
wrote the history of every country of importance. They told all the past
and predicted all the future with an impudence that amounted to sublimity.
"They traced the order of St. Michael, in France, to the archangel
himself, and alleged that he was the founder of a chivalric order in
heaven itself. They said that Tartars originally came from hell, and that
they were called Tartars because Tartarus was one of the names of
perdition. They declared that Scotland was so named after Scota, a
daughter of Pharaoh, who landed in Ireland, invaded Scotland, and took it
by force of arms. This statement was made in a letter addressed to the
Pope in the fourteenth century, and was alluded to as a well-known fact.
The letter was written by some of the highest dignitaries, and by the
direction of the King himself."
These gentlemen accounted for the red on the breasts of robins, from
the fact that these birds carried water to unbaptized infants in hell.
Matthew, of Paris, an eminent historian of the fourteenth century, gave
the world the following piece of information: "It is well known that
Mohammed was once a cardinal, and became a, heretic because he failed in
his effort to be elected pope;" and that having drank to excess, he fell
by the roadside, and in this condition was killed by swine. "And for that
reason, his followers abhor pork even unto this day."
Another eminent historian informs us that Nero was in the habit of
vomiting frogs. When I read this, I said to myself: Some of the croakers
of the present day against Progress would be the better for such a vomit.
The history of Charlemagne was written by Turpin, of Rheims. He was a
bishop. He assures us that the walls of a city fell down in answer to
prayer. That there were giants in those days who could take fifty ordinary
men under their arms and walk away with them. "With the greatest of these,
a direct descendant of Goliath, one Orlando had a theological discussion,
and that in the heat of the debate, when the giant was overwhelmed with
the argument, Orlando rushed forward and inflicted a fatal stab."
The history of Britain, written by the archdeacons of Monmouth and
Oxford, was wonderfully popular. According to them, Brutus conquered
England and built the city of London. During his time, it rained pure
blood for three days. At another time, a monster came from the sea, and,
after having devoured great multitudes of people, swallowed the king and
disappeared. They tell us that King Arthur was not born like other
mortals, but was the result of a magical contrivance; that he had great
luck in killing giants; that he killed one in France that had the cheerful
habit of eating some thirty men a day. That this giant had clothes woven
of the beards of the kings he had devoured. To cap the climax, one of the
authors of this book was promoted for having written the only reliable
history of his country.
In all the histories of those days there is hardly a single truth.
Facts were considered unworthy of preservation. Anything that really
happened was not of sufficient interest or importance to be recorded. The
great religious historian, Eusebius, ingenuously remarks that in his
history he carefully omitted whatever tended to discredit the church, and
that he piously magnified all that conduced to her glory.
The same glorious principle was scrupulously adhered to by all the
historians of that time.
Pharoah's chariots were still visible on the sands of the Red Sea, and
that they had been miraculously preserved from the winds and waves as
perpetual witnesses of the great miracle there performed.
It is safe to say that every truth in the histories of those times is
the result of accident or mistake.
They accounted for everything as the work of good and evil spirits.
With cause and effect they had nothing to do. Facts were in no way related
to each other. God, governed by infinite caprice, filled the world with
miracles and disconnected events. From the quiver of his hatred came the
arrows of famine, pestilence, and death.
The moment that the idea is abandoned that all is natural; that all
phenomena are the necessary links in the endless chain of being, the
conception of history becomes impossible. With the ghosts, the present is
not the child of the past, nor the mother of the future. In the domain of
religion all is chance, accident, and caprice.
Do not forget, I pray you, that our creeds were written by the
contemporaries of these historians.
The same idea was applied to law. It was believed by our intelligent
ancestors that all law derived its sacredness and its binding force from
the fact that it had been communicated to man by the ghosts. Of course it
was not pretended that the ghosts told everybody the law; but they told it
to a few, and the few told it to the people, and the people, as a rule,
paid them exceedingly well for their trouble. It was thousands of ages
before the people commenced making laws for themselves, and strange as it
may appear, most of these laws were vastly superior to the ghost article.
Through the web and woof of human legislation began to run and shine and
glitter the golden thread of justice.
During these years of darkness it was believed that rather than see an
act of injustice done; rather than see the innocent suffer; rather than
see the guilty triumph, some ghost would interfere. This belief, as a
rule, gave great satisfaction to the victorious party, and as the other
man was dead, no complaint was heard from him.
This doctrine was the sanctification of brute force and chance. They
had trials by battle, by fire, by water, and by lot. Persons were made to
grasp hot iron, and if it burned them their guilt was established. Others,
with tied hands and feet, were cast into the sea, and if they sank, the
verdict of guilty was unanimous, -- if they did not sink, they were in
league with devils.
So in England, persons charged with crime could appeal to the corsned.
The corsned was a piece of the sacramental bread. If the defendant could
swallow this piece he went acquit. Godwin, Earl of Kent, in the time of
Edward the Confessor, appealed to the corsned. He failed to swallow it and
was choked to death.
The ghosts and their followers always took delight in torture, in cruel
and unusual punishments. For the infraction of most of their laws, death
was the penalty -- death produced by stoning and by fire. Sometimes, when
man committed only murder, he was allowed to flee to some city of refuge.
Murder was a crime against man. But for saying certain words, or denying
certain doctrines, or for picking up sticks on certain days, or for
worshiping the wrong ghost, or for failing to pray to the right one, or
for laughing at a priest, or for saying that wine was not blood, or that
bread was not flesh, or for failing to regard ram's horns as artillery,
for insisting that a dry bone was scarcely sufficient to take the place of
water works, or that a raven, as a rule, made a poor landlord: -- death,
produced by all the ways that the ingenuity of hatred could devise, was
Law is a growth -- it is a science. Right and wrong exist in the nature
of things. Things are not right because they are commanded, nor wrong
because they are prohibited. There are real crimes enough without creating
artificial ones. All progress in legislation has for centuries consisted
in repealing the laws of the ghosts.
The idea of right and wrong is born of man's capacity to enjoy and
suffer. If man could not suffer, if he could not inflict injury upon his
fellow, if he could neither feel nor inflict pain, the idea of right and
wrong never would have entered his brain. But for this, the word
conscience never would have passed the lips of man.
There is one good -- happiness. There is but one sin -- selfishness.
All law should be for the preservation of the one and the destruction of
Under the regime of the ghosts, laws were not supposed to exist in the
nature of things. They were supposed to be simply the irresponsible
command of a ghost. These commands were not supposed to rest upon reason,
they were the product of arbitrary will.
The penalties for the violation of these laws were as cruel as the laws
were senseless and absurd. Working on the Sabbath and murder were both
punished with death. The tendency of such laws is to blot from the human
heart the sense of justice.
To show you how perfectly every department of knowledge, or ignorance
rather, was saturated with superstition, I will for a moment refer to the
science of language.
It was thought by our fathers, that Hebrew was the original language;
that it was taught to Adam in the Garden of Eden by the Almighty, and that
consequently all languages came from, and could be traced to, the Hebrew.
Every fact inconsistent with that idea was discarded. According to the
ghosts, the trouble at the tower of Babel accounted for the fact that all
people did not speak Hebrew. The Babel business settled all questions in
the science of language.
After a time, so many facts were found to be inconsistent with the
Hebrew idea that it began to fall into disrepute, and other languages
began to compete for the honor of being the original.
Andre Kempe, in 1569, published a work on the language of Paradise, in
which he maintained that God spoke to Adam in Swedish; that Adam answered
in Danish; and that the serpent -- which appears to me quite probable --
spoke to Eve in French. Erro, in a work published at Madrid, took the
ground that Basque was the language spoken in the Garden of Eden; but in
1580 Goropius published his celebrated work at Antwerp, in which he put
the whole matter at rest by showing, beyond all doubt, that the language
spoken in Paradise was neither more nor less than plain Holland Dutch.
The real founder of the science of language was Liebnitz, a
contemporary of Sir Isaac Newton. He discarded the idea that all languages
could be traced to one language. He maintained that language was a natural
growth. Experience teaches us that this must be so. Words are continually
dying and continually being born. Words are naturally and necessarily
produced. Words are the garments of thought, the robes of ideas. Some are
as rude as the skins of wild beasts, and others glisten and glitter like
silk and gold. They have been born of hatred and revenge; of love and
self- sacrifice; of hope and fear, of agony and joy. These words are born
of the terror and beauty of nature. The stars have fashioned them. In them
mingle the darkness and the dawn. From everything they have taken
something. Words are the crystalizations of human history, of all that man
has enjoyed and suffered -- his victories and defeats -- all that he has
lost and won. Words are the shadows of all that has been -- the mirrors of
all that is.
The ghosts also enlightened our fathers in astronomy and geology.
According to them the earth was made out of nothing, and a little more
nothing having been taken than was used in the construction of this world,
the stars were made out of what was left over. Cosmas, in the sixth
century, taught that the stars were impelled by angels, who either carried
them on their shoulders, rolled them in front of them, or drew them after.
He also taught that each angel that pushed a star took great pains to
observe what the other angels were doing, so that the relative distances
between the stars might always remain the same. He also gave his idea as
to the form of the world.
He stated that the world was a vast parallelogram; that on the outside
was a strip of land, like the frame of a common slate; that then there was
a strip of water, and in the middle a great piece of land; that Adam and
Eve lived on the outer strip; that their descendants, with the exception
of the Noah family, were drowned by a flood on this outer strip; that the
ark finally rested on the middle piece of land where we now are. He
accounted for night and day by saying that on the outside strip of land
there was a high mountain, around which the sun and moon revolved, and
that when the sun was on the other side of the mountain, it was night; and
when on this side, it was day.
He also declared that the earth was flat. This he proved by many
passages from the Bible. Among other reasons for believing the earth to be
flat, he brought forward the following: We are told in the New Testament
that Christ shall come again in glory and power. and all the world shall
see him. Now, if the world is round how are the people on the other side
going to see Christ when he comes? That settled the question, and the
church not only endorsed the book, but declared that whoever believed less
or more than stated by Cosmas, was a heretic.
In those blessed days, Ignorance was a king and Science an outcast.
They knew the moment this earth ceased to be the center of the
universe, and became a mere speck in the starry heaven of existence, that
their religion would become a childish fable of the past.
In the name and by the authority of the ghosts, men enslaved their
fellow-men; they trampled upon the rights of women and children. In the
name and by the authority of ghosts, they bought and sold and destroyed
each other; they filled heaven with tyrants and earth with slaves, the
present with despair and the future with horror. In the name and by the
authority of the ghosts, they imprisoned the human mind, polluted the
conscience, hardened the heart, subverted justice, crowned robbery,
sainted hypocrisy, and extinguished for a thousand years the torch of
I have endeavored, in some faint degree, to show you what has happened,
and what always will happen when men are governed by superstition and
fear; when they desert the sublime standard of reason; when they take the
words of others and do not investigate for themselves.
Even the great men of those days were nearly as weak in this matter as
the most ignorant. Kepler, one of the greatest men of the world, an
astronomer second to none, although he plucked from the stars the secrets
of the universe, was an astrologer, and really believed that he could
predict the career of a man by finding what star was in the ascendant at
his birth. This great man breathed, so to speak, the atmosphere of his
time. He believed in the music of the spheres, and assigned alto, bass,
tenor, and treble to certain stars.
Tycho Brahe, another astronomer, kept an idiot, whose disconnected and
meaningless words he carefully set down, and then put them together in
such manner as to make prophecies, and then waited patiently to see them
fulfilled. Luther believed that he had actually seen the devil, and had
discussed points of theology with him. The human mind was in chains. Every
idea almost was a monster. Thought was deformed. Facts were looked upon as
worthless. Only the wonderful was worth preserving. Things that actually
happened were not considered worth recording; -- real occurrences were too
common. Everybody expected the miraculous.
The ghosts were supposed to be busy; devils were thought to be the most
industrious things in the universe, and with these imps, every occurrence
of an unusual character was in some way connected. There was no order, no
serenity, no certainty in anything. Everything depended upon ghosts and
phantoms. Man was, for the most part, at the mercy of malevolent spirits.
He protected himself as best he could with holy water and tapers and
wafers and cathedrals. He made noises and rung bells to frighten the
ghosts, and he made music to charm them. He used smoke to choke them, and
incense to please them. He wore beads and crosses. He said prayers, and
hired others to say them. He fasted when he was hungry, and feasted when
he was not. He believed everything that seemed unreasonable, just to
appease the ghosts. He humbled himself. He crawled in the dust. He shut
the doors and windows, and excluded every ray of light from the temple of
the soul. He debauched and polluted his own mind, and toiled night and day
to repair the walls of his own prison. From the garden of his heart he
plucked and trampled upon the holy flowers of pity.
The priests reveled in horrible descriptions of hell. Concerning the
wrath of God, they grew eloquent. They denounced man as totally depraved.
They made reason blasphemy, and pity a crime. Nothing so delighted them as
painting the torments and sufferings of the lost. Over the worm that never
dies they grew poetic; and the second death filled them with a kind of
holy delight. According to them, the smoke and cries ascending from hell
were the perfume and music of heaven.
At the risk of being tiresome, I have said what I have to show you the
productions of the human mind, when enslaved; the effects of wide-spread
ignorance -- the results of fear. I want to convince you that every form
of slavery is a viper, that sooner or later, will strike its poison fangs
into the bosoms of men.
The first great step towards progress, is, for man to cease to be the
slave of man; the second, to cease to be the slave of the monsters of his
own creation -- of the ghosts and phantoms of the air.
For ages the human race was imprisoned. Through the bars and grates
came a few struggling rays of light. Against these grates and bars Science
pressed its pale and thoughtful face, wooed by the holy dawn of human
Men found that the real was the useful; that what a man knows is better
than what a ghost says; that an event is more valuable than a prophecy.
They found that diseases were not produced by spirits, and could not be
cured by frightening them away. They found that death was as natural as
life. They began to study the anatomy and chemistry of the human body, and
found that all was natural and within the domain of law.
The conjurer and sorcerer were discarded, and the physician and surgeon
employed. They found that the earth was not flat; that the stars were not
mere specks. They found that being born under a particular planet had
nothing to do with the fortunes of men.
The astrologer was discharged and the astronomer took his place.
They found that the earth had swept through the constellations for
millions of ages. They found that good and evil were produced by natural
causes, and not by ghosts; that man could not be good enough or bad enough
to stop or cause a rain; that diseases were produced as naturally as
grass, and were not sent as punishments upon man for failing to believe a
certain creed. They found that man, through intelligence, could take
advantage of the forces of nature -- that he could make the waves, the
winds, the flames, and the lightnings of heaven do his bidding and
minister to his wants. They found that the ghosts knew nothing of benefit
to man; that they were utterly ignorant of geology -- of astronomy -- of
geography; -- that they knew nothing of history; -- that they were poor
doctors and worse surgeons; -- that they knew nothing of law and less of
justice; that they were without brains. and utterly destitute of hearts;
that they knew nothing of the rights of men; that they were despisers of
women, the haters of progress, the enemies of science, and the destroyers
The condition of the world during the Dark Ages shows exactly the
result of enslaving the bodies and souls of men. In those days there was
no freedom. Labor was despised, and a laborer was considered but little
above a beast. Ignorance, like a vast cowl, covered the brain of the
world, and superstition ran riot with the imagination of man. The air was
filled with angels, with demons and monsters. Credulity sat upon the
throne of the soul, and Reason was an exiled king. A man to be
distinguished must be a soldier or a monk. War and theology, that is to
say, murder and hypocrisy, were the principal employments of man. Industry
was a slave, theft was commerce; murder was war, hypocrisy was religion.
Every Christian country maintained that it was no robbery to take the
property of Mohammedans by force, and no murder to kill the owners. Lord
Bacon was the first man of note who maintained that a Christian country
was bound to keep its plighted faith with an infidel nation. Reading and
writing were considered dangerous arts. Every layman who could read and
write was suspected of being a heretic. All thought was discouraged. They
forged chains of superstition for the minds, and manacles of iron for the
bodies of men. The earth was ruled by the cowl and sword, -- by the maitre
and scepter, -- by the altar and throne, -- by Fear and Force, -- by
Ignorance and Faith, -- by ghouls and ghosts.
In the fifteenth century the following law was in force in England:
"That whosoever reads the Scriptures in the mother tongue, shall
forfeit land, cattle, life, and goods from their heirs forever, and so be
condemned for heretics to God, enemies to the crown, and most arrant
traitors to the land."
During the first year this law was in force thirty-nine were hanged for
its violation and their bodies burned.
In the sixteenth century men were burned because they failed to kneel
to a procession of monks.
The slightest word uttered against the superstition of the time was
punished with death.
Even the reformers, so-called, of those days, had no idea of
intellectual liberty -- no idea even of toleration. Luther, Knox, Calvin,
believed in religious liberty only when they were in the minority. The
moment they were clothed with power they began to exterminate with fire
Castalio was the first minister who advocated the liberty of the soul.
He was regarded by the reformers as a criminal, and treated as though he
had committed the crime of crimes.
Bodinus. a lawyer of France, about the same time, wrote a few words in
favor of the freedom of conscience, but public opinion was overwhelmingly
against him. The people were ready, anxious, and willing, with whip, and
chain, and fire, to drive from the mind of man the heresy that he had a
right to think.
Montaigne, a man blest with so much common sense that he was the most
uncommon man of his time, was the first to raise a voice against torture
in France. But what was the voice of one man against the terrible cry of
ignorant, infatuated, superstitious and malevolent millions? It was the
cry of a drowning man in the wild roar of the cruel sea.
In spite of the efforts of the brave few the infamous war against the
freedom of the soul was waged until at least one hundred millions of human
beings -- fathers, mothers, brothers, sisters -- with hopes, loves, and
aspirations like ourselves, were sacrificed upon the cruel altar of an
ignorant faith. They perished in every way by which death can be produced.
Every nerve of pain was sought out and touched by the believers in ghosts.
For my part I glory in the fact, that here in the New World, -- in the
United States, -- liberty of conscience was first guaranteed to man, and
that the Constitution of the United States was the first great decree
entered in the high court of human equity forever divorcing church and
state, -- the first injunction granted against the interference of the
ghosts. This was one of the grandest steps ever taken by the human race in
the direction of Progress.
You will ask what has caused this wonderful change in three hundred
years. And I answer the inventions and discoveries of the few; -- the
brave thoughts, the heroic utterances of the few; -- the acquisition of a
Besides, you must remember that every wrong in some way tends to
abolish itself. It is hard to make a lie stand always. A lie will not fit
a fact. It will only fit another lie made for the purpose. The life of a
lie is simply a question of time. Nothing but truth is immortal. The
nobles and kings quarreled; -- the priests began to dispute; -- the ideas
of government began to change.
In 1441 printing was discovered. At that time the past was a vast
cemetery with hardly an epitaph. The ideas of men had mostly perished in
the brain that produced them. The lips of the human race had been sealed.
Printing gave pinions to thought. It preserved ideas. It made it possible
for man to bequeath to the future the riches of his brain, the wealth of
his soul. At first, it was used to flood the world with the mistakes of
the ancients, but since that time it has been flooding the world with
When people read they begin to reason, and when they reason they
progress. This was another grand step in the direction of Progress.
The discovery of powder, that put the peasant almost upon a par with
the prince; -- that put an end to the so-called age of chivalry; -- that
released a vast number of men from the armies; -- that gave pluck and
nerve a chance with brute strength.
The discovery of America, whose shores were trod by the restless feet
of adventure; -- that brought people holding every shade of superstition
together; -- that gave the world an opportunity to compare notes, and to
laugh at the follies of each other. Out of this strange mingling of all
creeds, and superstitions, and facts, and theories, and countless
opinions, came the Great Republic.
Every fact has pushed a superstition from the brain and a ghost from
the clouds. Every mechanical art is an educator. Every loom, every reaper
and mower, every steamboat, every locomotive, every engine, every press,
every telegraph, is a missionary of Science and an apostle of Progress.
Every mill, every furnace, every building with its wheels and levers, in
which something is made for the convenience, for the use, and for the
comfort and elevation of man, is a church, and every schoolhouse is a
Education is the most radical thing in the world.
To teach the alphabet is to inaugurate a revolution.
To build a schoolhouse is to construct a fort.
Every library is an arsenal filled with the weapons and ammunition of
Progress, and every fact is a monitor with sides of iron and a turret of
I thank the inventors, the discoverers, the thinkers. I thank Columbus
and Magellan. I thank Galileo, and Copernicus, and Kepler, and Descartes,
and Newton, and Laplace. I thank Locke, and Hume, and Bacon, and
Shakespeare, and Kant, and Fichte, and Leibnitz, and Goethe. I thank
Fulton, and Watts, and Volta, and Galvani, and Franklin, and Morse, who
made lightning the messenger of man. I thank Humboldt, the Shakespeare of
science. I thank Crompton and Arkwright, from whose brains leaped the
looms and spindles that clothe the world. I thank Luther for protesting
against the abuses of the church, and I denounce him because he was the
enemy of liberty. I thank Calvin for writing a book in favor of religious
freedom, and I abhor him because he burned Servetus. I thank Knox for
resisting Episcopal persecution, and I hate him because he persecuted in
his turn. I thank the Puritans for saying "Resistance to tyrants is
obedience to God," and yet I am compelled to say that they were tyrants
themselves. I thank Thomas Paine because he was a believer in liberty, and
because he did as much to make my country free as any other human being. I
thank Voltaire, that great man who, for half a century, was the
intellectual emperor of Europe, and who, from his throne at the foot of
the Alps, pointed the finger of scorn at every hypocrite in Christendom. I
thank Darwin, Haeckel and Buchner, Spencer, Tyndall and Huxley, Draper,
Lecky and Buckle.
I thank the inventors, the discoverers, the thinkers, the scientists,
the explorers. I thank the honest millions who have toiled.
I thank the brave men and women with brave thoughts. They are the
Atlases upon whose broad and mighty shoulders rests the grand fabric of
civilization. They are the men who have broken, and are still breaking,
the chains of Superstition. They are the Titans who carried Olympus by
assault, and who will soon stand victors upon Sinai's crags.
We are beginning to learn that to exchange a mistake for the truth -- a
superstition for a fact -- to ascertain the real -- is to progress.
Happiness is the only possible good, and all that tends to the
happiness of man is right, and is of value. All that tends to develop the
bodies and minds of men; all that gives us better houses, better clothes,
better food, better pictures, grander music, better heads, better hearts;
all that renders us more intellectual and more loving, nearer just; that
makes us better husbands and wives, better children, better citizens --
all these things combined produce what I call Progress.
Man advances only as he overcomes the obstructions of Nature, and this
can be done only by labor and by thought. Labor is the foundation of all.
Without labor, and without great labor, progress is impossible. The
progress of the world depends upon the men who walk in the fresh furrows
and through the rustling corn; upon those who sow and reap; upon those
whose faces are radiant with the glare of furnace fires; upon the delvers
in the mines, and the workers in shops; upon those who give to the winter
air the ringing music of the axe; upon those who battle with the
boisterous billows of the sea; upon the inventors and discoverers; upon
the brave thinkers.
From the surplus produced by labor, schools and universities are built
and fostered. From this surplus the painter is paid for the productions of
the pencil; the sculptor for chiseling shapeless rock into forms divinely
beautiful, and the poet for singing the hopes, the loves, the memories,
and the aspirations of the world. This surplus has given us the books in
which we converse with the dead and living intellectual kings and queens
of the human race. It has given us all there is of beauty, of elegance,
and of refined happiness.
I am aware that there is a vast difference of opinion as to what
progress really is; that many denounce the ideas of to-day as destructive
of all happiness -- of all good. I know that there are many worshipers of
the past. They venerate the ancient because it is ancient. They see no
beauty in anything from which they do not blow the dust of ages with the
breath of praise. They say, no masters like the old; no religion, no
governments like the ancient; no orators, no poets, no statesmen like
those who have been dust for two thousand years. Others love the modern
simply because it is modern.
We should have gratitude enough to acknowledge the obligations we are
under to the great and heroic of antiquity, and independence enough not to
believe what they said simply because they said it.
With the idea that labor is the basis of progress goes the truth that
labor must be free. The laborer must be a free man or woman.
The free man, working for wife and child, gets his head and hands in
To do the greatest amount of work in the shortest space of time, is the
problem of free labor.
Slavery does the least work in the longest space of time.
Free labor will give us wealth. Free thought will give us truth.
Slowly but surely man is freeing his imagination of these sexless
phantoms, of these cruel ghosts. Slowly but surely he is rising above the
superstitions of the past. He is learning to rely upon himself. He is
beginning to find that labor is the only prayer that ought to be answered,
and that hoping, toiling, aspiring, suffering men and women are of more
importance than all the ghosts that ever wandered through the fenceless
fields of space.
The believers in ghosts claim still, that they are the only wise and
virtuous people upon the earth; claim still, that there is a difference
between them and unbelievers so vast, that they will be infinitely
rewarded, and the others infinitely punished.
I ask you to-night, do the theories and doctrines of the theologians
satisfy the heart or brain of the nineteenth century?
Have the churches the confidence of mankind?
Does the merchant give credit to a man because he belongs to a church?
Does the banker loan money to a man because he is a Methodist or
Will a certificate of good standing in any church be taken as
collateral security for one dollar?
Will you take the word of a church member, or his note, or his oath,
simply because he is a church member?
Are the clergy, as a class, better, kinder and more generous to their
families -- to their fellow-men -- than doctors, lawyers. merchants and
Does a belief in ghosts and unreasonable things necessarily make people
When a man loses confidence in Moses, must the people lose confidence
Does not the credit system in morals breed extravagance in sin?
Why send missionaries to other lands while every penitentiary in ours
is filled with criminals?
Is it philosophical to say that they who do right carry a cross?
Is it a source of joy to think that perdition is the destination of
nearly all of the children of men?
Is it worth while to quarrel about original sin -- when there is so
Does it pay to dispute about baptism, and the Trinity, and
predestination, and apostolic succession and the infallibility of
churches, of popes and of books? Does all this do any good?
Are the theologians welcomers of new truths? Are they noted for their
candor? Do they treat an opponent with common fairness? Are they
investigators? Do they pull forward, or do they hold back?
Is science indebted to the church for a solitary fact?
What church is an asylum for a persecuted truth?
What great reform has been inaugurated by the church?
Did the church abolish slavery?
Has the church raised its voice against war?
I used to think that there was in religion no real restraining force.
Upon this point my mind has changed. Religion will prevent man from
committing artificial crimes and offenses.
A man committed murder. The evidence was so conclusive that he
confessed his guilt.
He was asked why he killed his fellow-man.
He replied: "For money."
"Did you get any?"
"What did you do with this money?"
"What else did you find upon the dead man?"
"He had his dinner in a bucket -- some meat and bread."
"What did you do with that?"
"I ate the bread."
"What did you do with the meat?"
"I threw it away."
"It was Friday."
Just to the extent that man has freed himself from the dominion of
ghosts he has advanced. Just to the extent that he has freed himself from
the tyrants of his own creation he has progressed. Just to the extent that
he has investigated for himself he has lost confidence in superstition.
With knowledge obedience becomes intelligent acquiescence -- it is no
longer degrading. Acquiescence in the understood -- in the known -- is the
act of a sovereign, not of a slave. It ennobles, it does not degrade.
Man has found that he must give liberty to others in order to have it
himself. He has found that a master is also a slave; -- that a tyrant is
himself a serf. He has found that governments should be founded and
administered by man and for man; that the rights of all are equal; that
the powers that be are not ordained by God; that woman is at least the
equal of man; that men existed before books; that religion is one of the
phases of thought through which the world is passing; that all creeds were
made by man; that everything is natural; that a miracle is an
impossibility; that we know nothing of origin and destiny; that concerning
the unknown we are all equally ignorant; that the pew has the right to
contradict what the pulpit asserts; that man is responsible only to
himself and those he injures, and that all have a right to think.
True religion must be free. Without perfect liberty of the mind there
can he no true religion. Without liberty the brain is a dungeon -- the
mind a convict. The slave may bow and cringe and crawl. but he cannot
adore -- he cannot love.
True religion is the perfume of a free and grateful heart. True
religion is a subordination of the passions to the perceptions of the
intellect. True religion is not a theory -- it is a practice. It is not a
creed -- it is a life.
A theory that is afraid of investigation is undeserving a place in the
I do not pretend to tell what all the truth is. I do not pretend to
have fathomed the abyss, nor to have floated on outstretched wings level
with the dim heights of thought. I simply plead for freedom. I denounce
the cruelties and horrors of slavery. I ask for light and air for the
souls of men. I say, take off those chains -- break those manacles -- free
those limbs -- release that brain! I plead for the right to think -- to
reason -- to investigate. I ask that the future may be enriched with the
honest thoughts of men. I implore every human being to be a soldier in the
army of progress.
I will not invade the rights of others. You have no right to erect your
toll-gate upon the highways of thought. You have no right to leap from the
hedges of superstition and strike down the pioneers of the human race. You
have no right to sacrifice the liberties of man upon the altars of ghosts.
Believe what you may; preach what you desire; have all the forms and
ceremonies you please; exercise your liberty in your own way but extend to
all others the same right.
I will not attack your doctrines nor your creeds if they accord liberty
to me. If they hold thought to be dangerous -- if they aver that doubt is
a crime, then I attack them one and all, because they enslave the minds of
I attack the monsters, the phantoms of imagination that have ruled the
world. I attack slavery. I ask for room -- room for the human mind.
Why should we sacrifice a real world that we have, for one we know not
of? Why should we enslave ourselves? Why should we forge fetters for our
own hands? Why should we be the slaves of phantoms. The darkness of
barbarism was the womb of these shadows. In the light of science they
cannot cloud the sky forever. They have reddened the hands of man with
innocent blood. They made the cradle a curse, and the grave a place of
They blinded the eyes and stopped the ears of the human race. They
subverted all ideas of justice by promising infinite rewards for finite
virtues, and threatening infinite punishment for finite offenses.
They filled the future with heavens and with hells, with the shining
peaks of selfish joy and the lurid abysses of flame. For ages they kept
the world in ignorance and awe, in want and misery, in fear and chains.
I plead for light, for air, for opportunity. I plead for individual
independence. I plead for the rights of labor and of thought. I plead for
a chainless future. Let the ghosts go -- justice remains. Let them
disappear -- men and women and children are left. Let the monsters fade
away -- the world is here with its hills and seas and plains, with its
seasons of smiles and frowns, its spring of leaf and bud, its summer of
shade and flower and murmuring stream; its autumn with the laden boughs,
when the withered banners of the corn are still, and gathered fields are
growing strangely wan; while death, poetic death, with hands that color
what they touch, weaves in the Autumn wood her tapestries of gold and
The world remains with its winters and homes and firesides, where grow
and bloom the virtues of our race. All these are left; and music, with its
sad and thrilling voice, and all there is of art and song and hope and
love and aspiration high. All these remain. Let the ghosts go -- we will
worship them no more.
Man is greater than these phantoms. Humanity is grander than all the
creeds, than all the books. Humanity is the great sea, and these creeds,
and books, and religions, are but the waves of a day. Humanity is the sky,
and these religions and dogmas and theories are but the mists and clouds
changing continually, destined finally to melt away.
That which is founded upon slavery, and fear and ignorance, cannot
endure. In the religion of the future there will be men and women and
children, all the aspirations of the soul, and all the tender humanities
of the heart.
Let the ghosts go. We will worship them no more. Let them cover their
eyeless sockets with their fleshless hands and fade forever from the
imaginations of men.