As only the few intellectually advance, the majority is left on the side of superstition, and remains there until the advanced ideas of the few thinkers become general; and by that time there are other thinkers still in advance. And so the work of development and growth slowly and painfully proceeds from age to age.
The pioneers are denounced as heretics, and the heretics denounce their denouncers as the disciples of superstition and ignorance. Christ was a heretic. Herod was orthodox. Socrates was a blasphemer. Anytus worshiped all the gods. Luther was a skeptic, while the sellers of indulgences were the best of Catholics. Roger Williams was a heretic, while the Puritans who drove him from Massachusetts were all orthodox.
Every step in advance in the religious history of the world has been taken by heretics. No superstition has been destroyed except by a heretic. No creed has been bettered except by a heretic. Heretic is the name that the orthodox laggard hurls at the disappearing pioneer. It is shouted by the dwellers in swamps to the people upon the hills. It is the opinion that midnight entertains of the dawn. It is what the rotting says of the growing. Heretic is the name that a stench gives to a perfume. With this word the coffin salutes the cradle. It is taken from the lips of the dead.
Orthodoxy is a shroud – heresy is a banner. Orthodoxy is an epitaph – heresy is a prophecy. Orthodoxy is a cloud, a fog, a mist – heresy the star shining forever above the child of truth.
I am a believer in the eternity of progress. I do not believe that Want will forever extend its withered hand, its wan and shriveled palms, for charity. I do not believe that the children will forever be governed by cruelty and brute force. I do not believe that poverty will dwell with man forever. I do not believe that prisons will forever cover the earth, or that the shadow of the gallows will forever fall upon the ground. I do not believe that injustice will sit forever upon the bench, or that malice and superstition will forever stand in the pulpit. I believe the time will come when there will be charity in every heart, when there will be love in every family, and when law and liberty and justice, like the atmosphere, will surround this world.
We have worshiped the ghosts long enough. We have prostrated ourselves before the ignorance of the past. Let us stand erect and look with hopeful eyes toward the brightening future. Let us stand by our convictions. Let us not throw away our idea of justice for the sake of any book or of any religion whatever. Let us live according to our highest and noblest and purest ideal.