What I Know About Some Churches
An Agnostic Classic
by: Marilla M. Ricker
From the essay What I Know About Some Churches And Why I Am An Agnostic published in Marilla Ricker's 1916 book I Don’t Know, Do You?
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The ignorance of the masses insures abundant contributions to the clergy and to religion. Ralph W. Chainey.
The mother who teaches her child to pray makes a mistake.
THE Millerites - or Second Adventists, as they now call themselves are the first sect that I remember. They are a people of remarkable vigor: they have been at work for seventy years to bring this world to an end, and although they have been wrong in their arithmetic all these years, they rub out the slate and begin again.
And they prove everything by the Bible, as, all other denominations do. The “ time ” has been set at least twenty times since I can remember. I recollect having awful palpitations in the kneepans upon one of the eventful days, and crawling under’ the barn so *as not to be in the way. They used to congregate on the height of land near my father’s, “to go up,” and one man climbed upon an old shed, and fell and broke his hip ; he fainted, and they thought he was dead. As soon as he had revived a little, they asked him if he had any requests to make before he died. He replied, “ I want ‘you to work in ‘ durn fool ’ somewhere on my tombstone.” He recovered, and lived many years* but he was cured of Millerism.
A large share of the students of the Second Advent doctrine came into this world, not only naked, but without any brains, nor any place suitable to put any ; and the first business they do is to -wonder about their souls and talk about being “ born again.” They never seem to realize that to be well born is much more essential than to be “ born again.” I never knew immortality to be secured at the second birth.
I attended one of their meetings this year, and asked one of the sisters for their creed. She said, “.Our creed is the whole Bible, from the first book of Genesis to the last word of the last chapter of Revelations.”
I thought of what a boy said when the Baptist Elder came and took tea at his home, and asked a “ blessing.”
The boy said : “ Is that the way you ask a blessing? My father doesn’t ask it that way.”
“ How does he ask it? ”
Oh, he sat down to the table the other evening, and looked it all over, and said, ’ My God, what a supper!’ ”
And I thought, “ My God, what a creed!”
I was tempted to ask the Millerite sister what she thought of the discrepancy between the first and the second chapter of Genesis. In the first chapter Man and Woman were a simultaneous creation. In the second chapter, Woman was an afterthought. But I had the deep sagacity to hold my tongue, and leave her and her creed in peace.
THE second church that I remember anything about is the Free-Will Baptist. My mother was a devout member of that church. I have hear,d thousands of times, “ Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he can not enter into the Kingdom of God.” And man included woman-it always did, so far as pains and penalties were concerned.
I remember distinctly a sermon I heard on Hell. You younger people can not have the faintest idea of the terrific sermons that were preached in those days.
That sermon commenced in this wise :
“ Now we will look into Hell and see what we can see. It is all red-hot like red-hot iron. Streams of burning pitch and sulphur run through it. The floor blazes up to the roof. Look at the walls-the enormous stones are red-hot. Sparks of fire are always falling down from them. Lift up your eyes to the roof of Hell. It is like a sheet of blazing fire. Hell is filled with a fog of fire. In Hell, torrents not of water, but of fire and brimstone, are rained down. You may have seen a house on fire, but you never saw a house made of fire. Hell is a house , made of fire. The fire of Hell burns the devils, who are spirits, for it was prepared for them. But it will burn the body as well as the soul. Take a little spark out of Hell-less than the size of a pin-head - and throw it into the ocean, and it will not go out. In one moment it would dry up all the waters of the ocean, and set the whole world in a blaze,! Listen to the terrific noise of Hell-to the horrible uproar of countless millions of tormented creatures, mad with the fury of Hell ! Oh, the screams of fear, the groanings of horror, the yells of rage, the cries of pain, the shouts of agony, the shrieks of despair, from millions on millions. You hear them roaring like lions, hissing like serpents, howling like dogs, and wailing like dragons ! And above all, you hear the roaring of the thunder of God’s anger, which shakes Hell to its foundations. Little children, if you go to Hell, there will be a devil at your side to strike you. How will you feel after you have been struck every minute for a hundred millions of years? Look into this inner room of Hell, and see a ,girl of about sixteen. She stands in the middle of a red-hot floor ; her feet are bare ; sleep can never come to her ; she can never forget for one moment in all the eternity of years.”
And so this description of Hell went on for nearly two hours. Do you wonder that I, a child of ten years, said to my father, who was a freethinker, infidel, atheist, or ,whatever else you please to call him : “I hate my mother’s church. I will not go there again!”
THE next church I became acquainted with was the Calvin Baptist Church. That church seemed to think that the most of us were born to be damned anyway!
The great Ingersoll had it right when he said it was the damned-if-you-do-and-the-damned-if-you don’t church. The only difference between the Free-Will Baptists and the Calvin Baptists that I can see is that you are allowed to exercise your will. The Free-Will Baptists will damn you if you wish to be, and the Calvinists will damn you anyway!
THE next church to which I was introduced was the Congregationalist, alias the Orthodox., Their creed is rather complex from a mathematical standpoint. They seem to think that three Gods are one God, and one God is three Gods.
I, having been taught that figures don’t lie, couldn’t understand it, until I thought of a boy who said to his teacher when she explained to him that figures didn’t lie: “ You should see my sisters at home, and then on the street. You will find that figures do lie.”
I THEN went to Italy, and became conversant with the outside doings of the Roman Catholic Church. I visited many of them, saw the beggars eating crusts at the doors, and the well-fed priests saying masses inside; saw the white hand of famine always extended, in bitter contrast to the magnificent cathedrals; saw well-dressed, intelligent-looking men and women going upstairs on their hands and knees, and saw hundreds of them kissing the toe of the bronze statue of Saint Peter; saw monks of every shade and description ; and all begging for the Holy Catholic Church!
I attended a church festival at Rome at the Ara Coeli, where the most “ Holy Bambino” is kept, a little wooden doll about two feet long. It is said to be the image of Jesus. It had a crown of gold on its head and was fairly ablaze with diamonds. It has great power to heal the sick. It is taken to visit patients in great style - that is, if the patients are rich. The Bambino is placed in a coach accompanied by priests in full dress. The Great Festival of the Bambino is celebrated annually. Military bands and the Soldiers of the Guard dance attendance.
Saint Gennaro is held to be the guardian saint of Naples. The alleged miracle by which the blood of this holy person, contained in a glass tube, changes from a solid to a liquid state, is well known. Thousands go to see the miracle performed. When the priest first held up the sacred vial with its clotted contents we could hear all about us: “ Holy Gennaro, save and protect us ! Bless the City of Naples, and keep it free from plagues and earthquakes and other ills. Do this miracle so that we can see that thy power and thy favor are still with us.” And so it went on for an hour or more, until the great throng was nearly hysterical.
At last the priest stepped forward, showing that the blood flowed freely in the tube, and then such a shout went up from the big crowd as one hears only in Southern climes.
I HAVE never been introduced to the Church of England, alias, the Episcopalian, but I’ve always thought if a man had a good voice, and understood the mysteries of the corkscrew, he would make a good rector. I became acquainted with a High-Church Episcopalian woman not long ago, and she showed me a prayer-rug and praying-costume imported from Paris. I told her that she looked like an angel in it, as she ought after going to all that expense and trouble; if she didn’t, dressmakers might as well give it up and wait for Gabriel. The attitude of prayer threw the back breadths of the skirt into graceful prominence, and hence the necessity (which will be at once recognized by all the truly pious) of increased attention to the frills and embroidery required by the religious attitude of prayer.
An old farmer in Indiana said he was a “Piscopal”
“To what parish do you belong?”
“I don’t know nothing about parishes.”
“Who confirmed you?”
“Then how do you belong to the Episcopalian Church?”
“Well, last Winter I went down to Arkansas visiting, and while I was there, I went to a church and it was called ‘Piscopal,’ and I heard them say that they had done the things they ought not to have done, and left undone the things they ought to have done, and I says to myself, ‘That is my fix exactly,’ and ever since then I’ve considered myself a ‘Piscopal’! ”
And I came to the conclusion that that is why the membership of that church is so large!
I KNOW but little about the Methodists, but I do know that John Wesley, one of the founders of that church, believed in witchcraft, and was one of the latest of its supporters.
History tells us that Brother Wesley preached a sermon entitled, The Cause and Cure of Earthquakes. He said that earthquakes were caused by sin, and the only way to stop them was to believe in his theology and teachings, thus showing great knowledge of seismology; but people who bank on gullibility are usually safe. I know the Methodists make a great hullabaloo about their religion, and appear to think their God is deaf.
The Methodist Conference has refused to allow women to be delegates to the General Conference. The Methodist sisters should discipline the Church.
WHAT I know about the Universalists I like. They seem to think that we are all in the same boat, and that one stands as good a chance as another, of which I approve. When I was a child, Sylvanus Cobb, at that time the great Universalist preacher, preached in the adjoining town. One Sunday, my father and I went to hear him. His sermon caused a great commotion, and the Baptist who preached that terrific sermon about Hell said to my mother, “ There is a wicked man about here preaching that everybody, is to be saved ; but, Sister Young, let us hope for better things ”
I BELIEVE that the Unitarians, as a class, think for themselves. I approve of that, and the Evangelical Alliance disapproves of them. That is in their favor.
I. taught school at Lee, New Hampshire, fifty years ago. One of the committee was a Unitarian, and one was a Quaker. I was tired of selecting suitable reading matter from that obscene old book, the Bible, and I suggested that we read from some other book, which we did for two mornings, when the Unitarian materialized at the schoolhouse, and with much suavity suggested that we read from the Bible every morning, and recite the Lord’s Prayer; and I, teaching school for my bread and butter, bowed to the suggestion, and the next morning said: “ Pupils, Mr. Smith prefers that we read from the Bible. Therefore, we will this morning read the startling and authentic account of Jonah whilst he was stopping at the submarine hotel.”
That is the most narrow-minded thing I ever knew about a Unitarian ; but I always thought Mr. Smith voiced the opinion of the parents of the pupils rather than his own.
I am somewhat acquainted with the Church of the Latter-Day Saints, alias the Mormons. They are a prudent, industrious, painstaking people, and only about two per cent of them ever did practise polygamy, and that is a very small proportion for any Christian church. Brigham Young never did have but seventeen wives, but Solomon had five hundred wives, and one thousand other lady friends, and David, whose honor and humility show greater in his psalms than in the history of his ordinary, every-day life, was, as the Bible says, a man after God’s own heart. I am sure that Brigham Young compared favorably with David. And if God interviewed Moses, why should n’t he have interviewed Joe Smith?
There are more than one thousand religions. They are founded mostly on fraud. All their saviors had virgins for mothers, and gods for fathers.
The churches own more than thirteen billions of property, and they are all too dishonest to pay honest taxes. Many of the churches couldn’t be run three weeks without the women. They do all the work, for which they get no credit.
The churches claim all the distinguished people, especially after they are dead and hence can not deny their claims. They have many times claimed that Abraham Lincoln was a churchman. The Honorable H. C. Deming, of Connecticut, an old friend of Lincoln, said it is false. Lincoln belonged to no church, and at one time said, “ I have never united myself to any church, because I have found difficulty in giving my assent without mental reservation to the long, complicated statements of Christian doctrine, which characterize their articles of belief, and confessions of faith.” But still they claim him. Honest, very!
N0 institution in modern civilization is so tyrannical and so unjust to women as is the Christian church. The history of the Church does not contain a single suggestion for the equality of woman with man, and still the Church claims that woman owes her advancement to the Bible. She owes it much more to the dictionary.
History, both ancient and modern, tells us that the condition of women is most degraded in those countries where Church and State are in closest affiliation (such as, Spain, Italy, Russia and Ireland), and most advanced in nations where the power of ecclesiasticism is markedly on the wane.
It has been proved that, whatever progress woman has made in any department of effort, she has accomplished independent of, and in opposition to, the so-called inspired and infallible Word of God ; and that the Bible has been of more injury to her than has any other book ever written in the history of the world.
William Root Bliss, in his Side Glimpses From the Colonial Meetinghouse, tells us many startling truths concerning the Puritans, and reminds me of what Chauncey M. Depew said - that the first thing the Puritans did, after they landed at Plymouth, was to fall on their knees, and the second thing was to fall on the Aborigines.
The business of trading in slaves was not immoral by the estimate of public opinion in Colonial times. A deacon of the church in Newport esteemed the slave trade, with its rum accessories, as home missionary work. It is said that on the first Sunday after the arrival of his slaves he was accustomed to offer thanks that an overruling Providence had been pleased to bring to this land of freedom another cargo of benighted heathen to enjoy the blessings of a Gospel dispensation.
At a Bridgewater town meeting of the year Sixteen Hundred Seventy-six, a vote was called to see what should be done with the money that was made from selling the Indians.
John Bacon of Barnstable directed in his will that his Indian slave Dinah be sold and the proceeds used “ by my executors in buying Bibles.”
By men who sat in the Colonial meetinghouse, the first fugitive-slave law was formed. This law became a part of the Articles of Confederation between all the New England Colonies.