I take it for granted that the people praying for me are sincere and that they have a real interest in my welfare. Of course, I thank them one and all. At the same time I can hardly account for what they did. Certainly they would not ask God to convert me unless they thought the prayer could be answered. And if their God can convert me of course he can convert everybody. Then the question arises why he does not do it? Why does he let millions go to hell when he can convert them all? Why did he not convert them all before the flood and take them all to heaven instead of drowning them and sending them all to hell? Of course these questions can be answered by saying that God’s ways are not our ways.
I am greatly obliged to these people. Still, I feel about the same, so that it would be impossible to get up a striking picture of “before and after.” It was good-natured on their part to pray for me, and that act alone leads me to believe that there is still hope for them. The trouble with the Christians is that they don’t give my arguments consideration. If they did they would agree with me.
It seemed curious that they would advise divine wisdom what to do, or that they would ask infinite mercy to treat me with kindness. If there be a God, of course he knows what ought to be done, and will do it without any hints from ignorant human beings. Still, the Christians may know more about God than I do. For all I know, this God may need a little urging. He may be powerful but a little slow; intelligent but sometimes a little drowsy, and it may do good now and then to call his attention to the facts. The prayers did not, so far as I know, do me the least injury or the least good. I was glad to see that the Christians are getting civilized. A few years ago they would have burned me. Now they pray for me.
Suppose God should answer the prayers and convert me, how would he bring the conversion about? In the first place, he would have to change my brain and give me more credulity – that is, he would be obliged to lessen my reasoning power. Then I would believe not only without evidence, but in spite of evidence. All the miracles would appear perfectly natural. It would then seem as easy to raise the dead as to waken the sleeping. In addition to this, God would so change my mind that I would hold all reason in contempt and put entire confidence in faith. I would then regard science as the enemy of human happiness, and ignorance as the soil in which virtues grow. Then I would throw away Darwin and Humboldt, and rely on the sermons of orthodox preachers. In other words, I would become a little child and amuse myself with a religious rattle and a Gabriel horn. Then I would rely on a man who has been dead for nearly two thousand years to secure me a seat in Paradise. After conversion, it is not pretended that I will be any better so far as my actions are concerned; no more charitable, no more honest, no more generous. The great difference will be that I will believe more and think less. After all, the converted people do not seem to be better than the sinners. I never heard of a poor wretch clad in rags, limping into a town and asking for the house of a Christian.
I think that I had better remain as I am. I had better follow the light of my reason, be true to myself, express my honest thoughts, and do the little I can for the destruction of superstition, the little I can for the development of the brain, for the increase of intellectual hospitality and the happiness of my fellow-beings. One world at a time.