Summarizing the Answers to His Lecture, "Mistakes of Moses," the Brilliant Lecturer Feels Gratified That the Shining Lights of the Pulpit so Substantially Agree With Him, and Congratulates Them on the Advance They Have Made.
First-Rev. Robert Collyer. Question. What is your opinion of the Bible.
Answer. It is a splendid book. It makes the noblest type of Catholics and the meanest bigots. Through this book men give their hearts for good to God or for evil to the devil. The best argument for the intrinsic greatness of the book is that it can torch such wide extremes, and seem to maintain us in the most unparalleled purity as well as the most tender mercy; that it can inspire cruelty like that of the great saints and afford arguments in favor of polygamy. The Bible is the text book of iron-clad Calvinism and sunny Universalism. It makes the Quaker quiet and the Millerite crazy. It inspired the Union soldier to live and grandly die for the right, and Stonewall Jackson to live nobly and die grandly for the wrong.
Q. But, Mr. Collyer, do you really think that a book with as many passages in favor of wrong as right, is inspired?
A. I look upon the Old Testament as a rotting tree. When it falls it will fertilize a bank of violets.
Q. Do you believe that God upheld slavery and polygamy? Do you believe that he ordered the killing of babes and the violation of maidens?
A. There is threefold inspiration in the Bible, the first peerless and perfect, the word of God to man; the second, simply and purely human, and then below this again there is an inspiration born of an evil heart, ruthless and savage there and then as anything well can be. A threefold inspiration of heaven first, then of the earth, and then of hell, all in the same book, all sometimes an the same chapter, and then, besides, a great many things that need no inspiration.
Q. Then, after all, you do not pretend that the Scriptures are really inspired?
A. The Scriptures make no such claim for themselves as the church makes for them. They leave me free to say this is false or this is true. The truth even within the Bible dies and lives, makes on this side and loses on that.
Q. What do you say of the last verse in the Bible, where a curse is threatened to any man who takes from or adds to the book?
A. I have but one answer to this question, and it is: Let who will have written this, I cannot for an instant believe that it was written by a divine inspiration. Such dogmas and threats as these are not of God, but of man, and not of any man of a free spirit and heart eager for the truth, but a narrow man who would cripple and confine the human soul in its quest after the whole truth of God, and bask those who have done these shameful things in the name of the Most High.
Q. Do you regard such talk as slang?
A. (Supposed.) If an infidel had said that the writer of Revelation was narrow and bigoted, I might have denounced his discourse as "slang," but I thank that Unitarian ministers can do so with the greatest propriety.
Q. Do you believe in the storied of the about Jael, and the sun standing still, the walls falling at the blowing of horns?
A. They may be legends, myths, poems, or what they will, but they are not the word of God. So I say again it was not the God and Father of us all who inspired the woman to drive that nail crashing through the king's temple after she had given him that bowl of milk and bid him sleep in safety, but a very mean devil of hatred and revenge that I should hardly expect to find in a squaw on the plains. It was not the ram's horns and the shouting before which the walls fell flat. If they went down at all it was through good solid pounding. And not for an instant did the steady sun stand still or let his planet stand while barbarian fought barbarian. He kept just the time that he keeps now. They might believe it who kept the record. I do not. And since the whole Christian world might believe it, still we do not who gather in this church. A free and reasonable mind stands right in our way. Newton might believe it as a Christian and disbelieve it as a philosopher. We stand, then, with the philosopher against the Christian for we must believe what is true to us in the last test, and these things are not true.
Second-Rev. Dr. Thomas. Q. What is your opinion of the Old Testament?
A. My opinion is that it is not one book, but many -thirty-nine books bound up in one. The date and authorship of most of these books are wholly unknown. The Hebrews wrote without vowels, and without dividing the letters into syllables, words or sentences. The books were gathered up by Edra. At that time only two of the Jewish tribes remained. All progress had ceased. In gathering up the sacred book copyists exercised great liberty in making changes and additions.
Q. Yes, we know all that but is the Old Testament Inspired?
A. There may be the inspiration of art, of poetry, of oratory; of patriotism-and there are such inspirations. There are moments when great truths and principles come to men. They seek the man and not the man them.
Q. Yes, we all admit that. But is the Bible inspired?
A. But still I know of no way to convince any one of spirit and inspiration and God only as his reason may take hold of these things.
Q. Do you think the Old Testament true?
A. The story of Eden may be an allegory, the history of the children of Israel may have mistakes.
Q. Must inspiration claim infallibility?
A. It is a mistake to say that if you believe one part of the Bible you must believe all. Some of the thirty-nine books may be inspired, others not, or there may be degrees of inspiration.
Q. Do you believe that God commanded the soldiers to kill the children and the married women, and save for themselves the maidens, as recorded in Numbers xxxi, 2?
Do you believe that God upheld slavery?
Do you believe that God upheld polygamy?
A. The Bible may be wrong in some statements. God and right cannot be wrong. We must not exalt the Bible above God. It may be that we have claimed too much for the Bible, and thereby given not a little occasion for such men as Mr. Ingersoll to appear on the other extreme, denying too much.
Q. What, then, shall be done?
A. We must take a middle ground. It is not necessary to believe that the bears devoured the forty-two children, nor that Jonah was swallowed by the whale.
Third-Rev. Dr Kohler. Q. What is your opinion about the Old Testament?
A. I will not make futile attempts of artificially interpreting the letter of the Bible so as to make it reflect the philosophical, moral and scientific views of our time. The Bible is a sacred record of humanity's childhood.
Q. Are you an orthodox Christian?
A. No. Orthodoxy, with its face turned backward to a ruined temple or a dead Messiah, is fast becoming, like Lot's wife, a pillar
Q. Do you really believe the Old Testament was inspired?
A. I greatly acknowledge our indebtedness to men like Voltaire and Thomas Paine, whose bold denial and cutting wit were so instrumental in bringing about this glorious era of freedom, so congenial and blissful, particularly to the long-abused Jewish race.
Q. Do you believe In the inspiration of the Bible?
A. Of course there is a destructive axe needed to strike down the old building in order to make room for the grander new. The divine origin claimed by the Hebrews for their national literature was claimed by all nations for their old records and laws as preserved by the priesthood. As Moses, the Hebrew law-giver, is represented as having received the law from God on the holy mountain, so is Zoroaster, the Persian; Manu, the Hindoo; Minos, the Cretan; Lycurgus, the Spartan, and Numa, the Roman.
Q. Do you believe all the stories in the Bible?
A. All that can and must be said against them is that they have been too long retained around the arms and limbs of grown-up manhood to check the spiritual progress of religion; that by Jewish ritualism and Christian dogmatism they became fetters unto the soul, turning the light of heaven into a misty haze to blind the eye, and even into a hellfire of fanaticism to consume souls.
Q. Is the Bible inspired?
A. True, the Bible is not free from errors, nor is any work of man and time. It abounds in childish views and offensive matters. I trust that it will in a time not far off be presented for common use in families, schools, synagogues and churches in a refined shape, cleansed from all dross and chaff and stumbling blocks on which the scoffer delights to dwell.
Fourth-Rev. Mr. Herford. Q. Is the Bible true?
A. Ingersoll is very fond of saying "The question is not, is the Bible inspired, but is it true?" That sounds very plausible, but you know as applied to any ancient book is simply nonsense.
Q. Do you think the stories in the Bible are exaggerated, and do you think that God upheld polygamy?
A. I dare say Numbers are immensely exaggerated, but polygamy, the truth is, existed among the Jews, as everywhere else on earth then, and even their prophets did not come to the idea of its being wrong. But what is there to be indignant about in that?
Q. And so you really wonder why any man should be indignant at the idea that God upheld and sanctioned that beastliness called polygamy?
A. What is there to be indignant about in that?
Fifth-Professor Swing. Q. What is your idea of the Bible?
A. I think it is a poem.
Sixth-Rev. Dr. Ryder. Q. And what is your idea of the sacred Scriptures?
A. Like other nations, the Hebrews had their patriotic, descriptive, didactic and lyrical poems in the same varieties as other nations, but with them, unlike other nations, whatever may be the form of their poetry, it always possesses the characteristic of religion.
Q. Does the Bible uphold polygamy?
A. The law of Moses did not forbid it, but contained many provisions against its worst abuses, and such as were intended to restrict it within narrow limits.