A personal god sustains the same relation to religion as to politics. The Deity is a master, and man a serf; and this relation is inconsistent with true progress.
The Freethinker aims to discover the conditions of well-being – to the end that this life will be made of value. This is the affirmative, positive, and constructive side.
Without liberty there is no such thing as real happiness. There may be the contentment of the slave – of one who is glad that he has passed the day without a beating – one who is happy because he has had enough to eat – but the highest possible idea of happiness is freedom.
All religious systems enslave the mind. Certain things are demanded – certain things must be believed – certain things must be done – and the man who becomes the subject or servant of this superstition must give up all idea of individuality or hope of intellectual growth and progress.
The religionist informs us that there is somewhere in the universe an orthodox God, who is endeavoring to govern the world, and who for this purpose resorts to famine and flood, to earthquake and pestilence – and who, as a last resort, gets up a revival of religion. That is called “affirmative and positive.”
The man of sense knows that no such God exists, and thereupon he affirms that the orthodox doctrine is infinitely absurd. This is called a “negation.” But to my mind it is an affirmation, and is a part of the positive side of Freethought.
A man who compels this Deity to abdicate his throne renders a vast and splendid service to the human race. As long as men believe in tyranny in heaven they will practice tyranny on earth. Most people are exceedingly imitative, and nothing is so gratifying to the average orthodox man as to be like his God.
These same Christians tell us that nearly everybody is to be punished forever, while a few fortunate Christians who were elected and selected billions of ages before the world was created, are to be happy. This they call the “tidings of great joy.” The Freethinker denounces this doctrine as infamous beyond the power of words to express. He says, and says clearly, that a God who would create a human being, knowing that that being was to be eternally miserable, must of necessity be an infinite fiend.
The free man, into whose brain the serpent of superstition has not crept, knows that the dogma of eternal pain is an infinite falsehood. He also knows – if the dogma be true – that every decent human being should hate, with every drop of his blood, the creator of the universe. He also knows – if he knows anything – that no decent human being could be happy in heaven with a majority of the human race in hell. He knows that a mother could not enjoy the society of Christ with her children in perdition; and if she could, he knows that such a mother is simply a wild beast. The free man knows that the angelic hosts, under such circumstances, could not enjoy themselves unless they had the hearts of boa-constrictors.
The Freethinker knows that the universe is natural – that there is no room, even in infinite space, for the miraculous, for the impossible. The Freethinker knows, or feels that he knows, that there is no sovereign of the universe, who, like some petty king or tyrant, delights in showing his authority. He feels that all in the universe are conditioned beings, and that only those are happy who live in accordance with the conditions of happiness, and this fact or truth or philosophy embraces all men and all gods – if there be gods.
The Freethinker knows that all the priests and cardinals and popes know nothing of the supernatural – they know nothing about gods or angels or heavens or hells – nothing about inspired books or Holy Ghosts, or incarnations or atonements. He knows that all this is superstition pure and simple. He knows also that these people – from pope to priest, from bishop to parson, do not the slightest good in this world – that they live upon the labor of others – that they earn nothing themselves – that they contribute nothing toward the happiness, or well-being, or the wealth of mankind. He knows that they trade and traffic in ignorance and fear, that they make merchandise of hope and grief – and he also knows that in every religion the priest insists on five things – First: There is a God. Second: He has made known his will. Third: He has selected me to explain this message. Fourth: We will now take up a collection; and Fifth: Those who fail to subscribe will certainly be damned.
Secularism embraces the affairs of this world; it is interested in everything that touches the welfare of a sentient being; it advocates attention to the particular planet in which we happen to live; it means that each individual counts for something; it is a declaration of intellectual independence; it means that the pew is superior to the pulpit, that those who bear the burdens shall have the profits and that they who fill the purse shall hold the strings. It is a protest against theological oppression, against ecclesiastical tyranny, against being the serf, subject or slave of any phantom, or of the priest of any phantom. It is a protest against wasting this life for the sake of one that we know not of. It proposes to let the gods take care of themselves. It is another name for common sense; that is to say, the adaptation of means to such ends as are desired and understood.
Secularism believes in building a home here, in this world. It trusts to individual effort, to energy, to intelligence, to observation and experience rather than to the unknown and the supernatural. It desires to be happy on this side of the grave.
Secularism means food and fireside, roof and raiment, reasonable work and reasonable leisure, the cultivation of the tastes, the acquisition of knowledge, the enjoyment of the arts, and it promises for the human race comfort, independence, intelligence, and above all, liberty. It means the abolition of sectarian feuds, of theological hatreds. It means the cultivation of friendship and intellectual hospitality. It means the living for ourselves and each other; for the present instead of the past, for this world rather than for another. It means the right to express your thought in spite of popes, priests, and gods. It means that impudent idleness shall no longer live upon the labor of honest men. It means the destruction of the business of those who trade in fear. It proposes to give serenity and content to the human soul. It will put out the fires of eternal pain. It is striving to do away with violence and vice, with ignorance, poverty and disease. It lives for the ever present today, and the ever coming tomorrow. It does not believe in praying and receiving, but in earning and deserving. It regards work as worship, labor as prayer, and wisdom as the savior of mankind. It says to every human being: Take care of yourself so that you may be able to help others; adorn your life with the gems called good deeds; illuminate your path with the sunlight called friendship and love.
Secularism is a religion, a religion that is understood. It has no mysteries, no mummeries, no priests, no ceremonies, no falsehoods, no miracles, and no persecutions. It considers the lilies of the field, and takes thought for the morrow. It says to the whole world: Work that you may eat, drink, and be clothed; work that you may enjoy; work that you may not want; work that you may give and never need.
If I had the power to produce exactly what I want for next Christmas, I would have all the kings and emperors resign and allow the people to govern themselves.
I would have all the nobility drop their titles and give their lands back to the people. I would have the Pope throw away his tiara, take off his sacred vestments, and admit that he is not acting for God – is not infallible – but is just an ordinary Italian. I would have all the cardinals, archbishops, bishops, priests and clergymen admit that they know nothing about theology, nothing about hell or heaven, nothing about the destiny of the human race, nothing about devils or ghosts, gods or angels. I would have them tell all their “flocks” to think for themselves, to be manly men and womanly women, and to do all in their power to increase the sum of human happiness.
I would have all the professors in colleges, all the teachers in schools of every kind, including those in Sunday schools, agree that they would teach only what they know, that they would not palm off guesses as demonstrated truths.
I would like to see all the politicians changed to statesmen – to men who long to make their country great and free – to men who care more for public good than private gain – men who long to be of use.
I would like to see all the editors of papers and magazines agree to print the truth and nothing but the truth, to avoid all slander and misrepresentation, and to let the private affairs of the people alone.
I would like to see drunkenness and prohibition both abolished.
I would like to see corporal punishment done away with in every home, in every school, in every asylum, reformatory, and prison. Cruelty hardens and degrades, kindness reforms and ennobles.
I would like to see the millionaires unite and form a trust for the public good.
I would like to see a fair division of profits between capital and labor, so that the toiler could save enough to mingle a little June with the December of his life.
I would like to see an international court established in which to settle disputes between nations, so that armies could be disbanded and the great navies allowed to rust and rot in perfect peace.
I would like to see the whole world free – free from injustice – free from superstition.
This will do for next Christmas. The following Christmas, I may want more.
The fear of punishment may deter some, the fear of exposure others, but Men cannot be tortured into greatness, into goodness. All this, as I said before, has been thoroughly tried. The idea that punishment was the only relief, found its limit, its infinite, in the old doctrine of eternal pain; but the believers in that dogma stated distinctly that the victims never would be, and never could be, reformed.
As men become civilized they become capable of greater pain and of greater joy. To the extent that the average man is capable of enjoying or suffering, to that extent he has sympathy with others. For the average man, the more enlightened he becomes, the more apt he is to put himself in the place of another. He thinks of his prisoner, of his employee, of his tenant – and he even thinks beyond these; he thinks of the community at large.
Some may be, and probably millions have been, reformed, through kindness, through gratitude – made better in the sunlight of charity. In the atmosphere of kindness the seeds of virtue burst into bud and flower. Cruelty, tyranny, brute force, do not and can not by any possibility better the heart of man. He who is forced upon his knees has the attitude, but never the feeling, of prayer.