LADIES AND GENTLEMEN: I suppose that man, from the most grotesque savage up to Hæckle, has had a philosophy by which he endeavored to account for all the phenomena of nature he may have observed. From that mankind may have got their ideas of right and wrong. Now, where there are no rights there can be no duties. Let us always remember that only as man becomes free can he by any possibility become good or great. As I said, every savage has had his philosophy, and by it accounted for every thing he observed. He had an idea of rain and rainbow, and he had an idea of a controlling power. One said there is a Being who presides over our world, and who will destroy us unless we do right. Other had many of these beings, but they were invariably like themselves. The most fruitful imaginations cannot make more than a man, though it may make infinite powers and attributes out of the powers and attributes of man. You can't build a God unless you start with a human being. The savage said, when there was a storm, "Somebody is angry." When lightning leaped from the lurid could, he thought "What have I been doing?" and when he couldn't think of any wrong he had been doing, he tried to think of some wrong his neighbors had been doing.
I may as well state here that I believe man has come up from the lowest orders of creation, and may have not come up very far, still, I believe we are doing very well, considering.
But, speaking of man's early philosophy, his morality was founded first on self-defense. When gathered together in tribes, he held that this Infinite Being would hold the tribe responsible for the actions of any individual who had angered Him.
They imagined this Being got angry. Just imagine the serenity of an Infinite Being being disturbed and a God breaking into a passion because some poor wretch had neglected to bring two turtle-doves to a priest!
Then they sought out this poor offending individual, to punish him and appease the wrath of this Being. And here commenced religious persecution.
Now, I do not say there is no God, but what I do say is that I do not know. The only difference between me and the theologian is that I am honest. There may or there may not be an infinite Being, but I do not know it, and until I do I cannot conceive of any obedience I owe to any unknown being.
As soon as men began to imagine they would be held responsible for the act of any other person, came then necessity for some one to teach them how to keep from offending the Being. Some called him medicine-man, some called him priest, now, we call him theologian. These men set out to teach men how to keep from offending this Being, and they laid down certain laws to regulate the conduct of men. First of all it was necessary to believe in this Power. To disbelieve in Him was the worst offense of all. To have some human being, dressed in the skin of a wild beast, deny the existence of this Infinite Being, was more than Infinite Being could stand. The first thing, therefore, was to believe in this power, the next to suppose this gentleman standing between you and the supreme wrath. These gentlemen were the lobbyists with the Power, and sometimes succeeded in getting the veto used in favor of their clients.
For ages, as mankind slowly came through the savage state, the world was filled with infinite fear. They accounted for everything bad that happened as the wrath of this Supreme Being. But they went from savagery to barbarism -- a step in improvement -- and then began to build temples to, and makes images of, this Being. Then man began to believe he could influence this Being by prayer, by getting on his knees to the image he had made.
Nothing, I suppose astonishes a missionary more than to see a savage in Central Africa on his knees before a stone praying for luck in hunting or in fighting. And yet it strikes me -- we have our army Chaplains before a battle praying for the success of our side. They don't pray for assistance if our cause is just, but they pray, "Lord, help us!" I can't see the difference between the two.
But there is this said in favor of prayer that, whether successful or not, it is a sort of intellectual exercise. Like a man trying to lift himself, he may not succeed, but he gets a good deal of exercise.
But as man proceeds, he begins to help himself and to take advantage of mechanical powers to assist him, and he begins to see he can help himself a little, and exactly in the proportion he helps himself he comes less to rely on the power of priest or prayer to help him. Just to the extent we are helpless, to that extent do we rely on the unknown.
As religion developed itself, keeping place with the belief in theology, came the belief in demonology. They gave one Being the credit of doing all the good things, and must give some one credit for the bad things, and so they created a devil. At one time it was as disreputable to deny the existence of a God; to deny the existence of a hell, with its fire and brimstone, as to deny the existence of a heaven with its harp and love.
With the development of religion came the idea that no man should be allowed to bring the wrath of God on a nation by his transgressions, and this idea permeates the Christian world, to-day. Now, what does this prove? Simply that your religion is founded on fear, and when you are afraid you cannot think. Fear drops on its knees and believes. It is only courage that can think.
It was the idea that man's actions could do something, outside of any effect his mechanical works might have, to change the order of nature; that he might commit some offense to bring on an earthquake -- but he can't do it. You can't be bad enough to cause an earthquake; neither can you be good enough to stop one. Out of that wretched doctrine and infamous mistake that man's belief could have any effect upon nature grew all these inquisitions, racks and collars of torture, and all the blood that was ever shed by religious persecution.
In Europe the country was divided between kings and priests. The kind held that he got his power from the Unknown; so did the priests. They could not say that they got it from the people. The people would deny it; the Unknown could not deny it. And thus the altar and throne stand side by side. And Republicanism was a thing unknown.
It has been said that the Pilgrim Fathers came to this country to establish religious liberty. They did no such thing. They were not in favor of it. They came with the Testament in their hands; and with it they could have no idea of religious liberty! When they had established thirteen colonies here, and had struggled for and obtained their independence, they established federal government. But did they seek religious liberty? No! When they formed a federal government each church and each colony was jealous of the other. They said to the general government, "You can't have any religion in the Constitution," but each state could make its own religion; and they made them.
Here the speaker read copious extracts from the statutes of the different states in reference to the qualifications for the exercise of citizenship -- the religious belief necessary -- and on concluding asked: "Had they (the members who drew up these state constitutions) any idea of religious liberty?"
Continuing, he said: "Now, my friends, there's a party started in this country with the object of giving every man, woman and child the rights they are entitled to. Now, every one of us has the same rights. I have the right to labor and to have the products of my labor. I have the right to think; and, furthermore, to express my thoughts, because expression is the reward of my intellectual labor. And yet in the United States there are states where men of my ideas would not be allowed to testify in a court of justice. Is that right? There are states in this country where, if they law had been enforced, I would have been sent to the penitentiary for lecturing. All such laws were enacted by barbarians; and our country will not be free until they are wiped from the statute books of every state.
Does an Infinite Being need to be protected by a state legislature? If the Bible is inspired, does the Author of it need the support of the law to command respect? We don't need any law to make mankind respect Shakespeare. We come to the altar of that great man and cover it with our gratitude without a statute. Think of a law to govern tastes! Think of a law to govern mind, or any question whatever! Think of the way in which they have supported the Bible! They've terrorized the old with laws, and captured the dear, little innocent children and poisoned their minds with their false stories, until when they have reached the age of manhood they have been afraid to think for themselves. Let us see what the laws are now by which they guard their Bible and their God.
(Here the speaker read extracts from statutes from several states in reference to blasphemy and profanation of the Sabbath, commenting on each as he ran them through.)
Pursuing the thread of his discourse, he said : Every American should see to it that all these laws are done away with, once and forever.
There has been a reaction of late years. This country has begun to be prosperous. We don't think much of religion; 'tis only when hard times come we turn our attention toward it. There are people in this country who say we are getting too irreligious -- too scientific. Now, is it not a fact that we are happier to-day than at any period of our history? You live in a great country -- though perhaps you do not know it. But lived in any other country for a while, and you'll find it out. See, then, what we've got by looking a little to the affairs of the world!
The Bible can't stand to-day without the support of the civil power. No religion ever flourished except by the support of the sword, and no religion like this could have been established except by brute force.
At one time we thought a great deal of clergymen, but now we have got to thinking they aren't of as much importance as a man that has invented something. The Church, seeing this, has made up its mind that it is necessary to do something; and so got up a plan to be acknowledged by law. Here's what they wish to do: (Here the speaker read some extracts from the constitution of the National Reform Association.) Continuing, he said:
Our fathers, in 1776, building better than they knew, retired the gods from politics. I do not believe Jesus Christ is the ruler of nations. If he is the ruler of one, He is the ruler of all. Why does He not, then, rule one as well as another? If you give Him credit for the good things of one, you must denounce Him for the tyranny and despotism of others. The revealed Word of God is not the standing of civil justice in this country! The Bible is not the standard of the right and wrong, or of decency, in this country.
You can't put God in the Constitution, because, if you do, there would be no room for the folks. Whatever you put in the Constitution you must enforce by the sword -- and you can't go to war with any man for not believing in your God. God has no business there; and any man who is in favor of putting him there is an enemy to the interests of American institutions.
Now, for the purpose of preventing the name of God being put into the Constitution, there's another little party which has been started, and these are its doctrines:
We want an absolute divorce between Church and State. We demand that Church property should not be exempt from taxation. If you are going to exempt anything, exempt the homesteads of the poor. Don't exempt a rich corporation, and make men pay taxes to support a religion in which they do not believe. But they say churches do good. I don't know whether they do or not. Do you see, such a wonderful difference between a member of a church and the man who does not believe in it? Do church members pay their debts any better than any others? Do they treat their families any better? Did you ever hear of any man coming into a town broke and inquire where the Deacon of a Presbyterian Church lived? Has not the church opposed every science from the first ray of light until now? Didn't they damn into eternal flames the man who discovered the world was round? Didn't they damn into eternal flames the man who discovered the movement of the earth in its orbit? Didn't they persecute the astronomers? Didn't they even try to put down life insurance by saying it was sinful to bet on the time God has given you to live? Science built the Academy, superstition the Inquisition. Science constructed the telescope, religion the rack; science made us happy here, and says if there's another life we'll all stand an equal chance there; religion made us miserable here, and says a large majority will be eternally miserable there. Should we, therefore, exempt it from taxation for any good it has done?
The next thing we ask is a perfect divorce between church and school. We say that every school should be secular because it's just to everybody. If I were an Israelite I wouldn't want to be taxed to have my children taught that his ancestors had murdered a Supreme Being. Let us teach, not the doctrines of the past, but the discoveries of the present; not the five points of Calvinism, but geology and geography. Education is the lever to raise mankind, and superstition is the enemy of intelligence.
We demand, next, that women be put upon an equality with man. Why not? Why shouldn't men be decent enough in the management of politics of the country for women to mingle with them? It is an outrage that any one should live in this country for sixty or seventy years and be forced to obey the laws without having any voice in making them. Let us give woman the opportunity to care for herself, since men are not decent enough to seek to care for her. The time will come when we'll treat a woman that works and takes care of two or three children as well as a woman dressed in diamonds who does nothing. The time will come when we'll not tell our domestic we expect to meet her in heaven, and yet not be willing to have her speak to us in the drawing-room.
Ignorance is a poor pedestal to set virtue upon and mock-modesty should not have the right to prevent people from knowing themselves. Every child, has a right to be well-born, and ignorance has no right to people the world with scrofula and consumption. When we come to the conclusion that God is not taking care of us, and that we have to take care of ourselves, then we'll begin to have something in the world worth living for.
I would wish there was seated upon the throne of the universe one who would see to it that justice did always prevail. I do not propose to give up the little words I live in for the unknown.
I would wish that the friends who bid us "good night" in this world might meet us with "good morning" there. Just as long as we love one another we'll hope for another world; just as long as love kisses the lips of death will we believe and hope for a future reunion. I would not take one hope away from the human heart or one joy from the human soul, but I hold in contempt the gentlemen who keep heaven on sale; I look with contempt on him who keeps it on draught; I look with pitying contempt on him who endeavors to prohibit honest thought by promising a reward in another world. If there is another world we'll find when we come there that no one has done enough good to be eternally rewarded, no one has done enough harm to meet with unending, eternal pain and agony. We'll find that there is no Being that ever hindered a man from exercising his reason. Now, while we are here, no matter what happens to us hereafter, let us cultivate strength of heart and brain to stand the inevitable. No creed can help you there. When the heart is touched with agony nothing but time can heal it.
I want, if I can, to do a little to increase the rights of men, to put every human being on an equality, to sweep away the clouds of superstition, to make people think more of what happens today than what somebody said happened 3,000 years ago. This is all I want: To do what little I can to clutch one-seventh of our time from superstition, to give our Sundays to rest and recreation. I want a day or enjoyment, a day to read old books, to meet old friends, and get acquainted with one's wife and children. I want a day to gather strength to meet the toils of the next. I want to get that day away from the church, away from superstition and the contemplation of hell, to be the best and sweetest and brightest of all the days in the week. The best way to make a day sacred is to fill it up with useful labor. That day is best on which most good is done for the human race. I hope to see the time when we'll have a day for the opera, the play -- good plays, for they do good. You never saw the villain foiled in a play where the audience did not applaud. You never saw them applaud when the rascal was successful in his villainy. If you could go to a theatre and see put upon the stage the scenes of the Old Testament, with its butcheries and rapes and deeds of violence, you would detest it all the days of your life. I'd like to have every horror of the Old Testament set on this stage, to have somebody represent the Being as He is represented there, giving His brutal orders, and let the orthodox see their God as He really is.
I want to have us all do what little we can to secularize this Government -- take it from the control of savagery and give it to science, take it from the Government of the past and give it to the enlightened present, and in this Government let us uphold every man and woman in their rights, that every one, after he or she comes to the age of discretion, may have a voice in the affairs of the nation. Do this, and we'll grow in grandeur and splendor every day, and the time will come when every man and every woman shall have the same rights as every other man and every other woman has. I believe we are growing better. I don't believe the wail of want shall be heard forever: that the prison and the gallows will always curse the ground. The time will come when liberty and law and love, like the rings of Saturn, will surround the world; when the world will cease making these mistakes; when every man will be judged according to his worth and intelligence. I want to do all I can to hasten that day.