THE GODS (7)
by: Robert G. Ingersoll
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Many writers maintain that an idea to become universal must be true ; that all universal ideas are innate, and that innate ideas cannot be false. If the fact that an idea has been universal proves that it is innate, and if the fact that an idea is innate proves that it is correct, then the believers in innate ideas must admit that the evidence of a god superior to nature, and of a devil superior to nature is exactly the same, and that the existence of such a devil must be as self-evident as the existence of such a god. The truth is, a god was inferred from good, and a devil from bad phenomena. And it is just as natural and logical to suppose that a devil would cause happiness as to suppose that a god would produce misery. Consequently, if an intelligence, infinite and supreme, is the immediate author of all phenomena, it is difficult to determine whether such intelligence is the friend or enemy of man. If phenomena were all good, we might say they were all produced by a perfectly beneficent being. If they were all bad, we might say they were produced by a perfectly malevolent power; but, as phenomena are, as they affect man, both good and bad, they must be produced by different and antagonistic spirits ; by one who is sometimes actuated by kindness, and sometimes by malice ; or all must be produced of necessity, and without reference to their consequences upon man.
The foolish doctrine that all phenomena can be traced to the interference of good and evil spirits, has been, and still is, almost universal. That most people still believe in some spirit that can change the natural order of events, is proven by the fact that nearly all resort to prayer. Thousands, at this very moment, are probably imploring some supposed power to interfere in their behalf. Some want health restored; some ask that the loved and absent be watched over and protected, some pray for riches, some for rain, some want diseases stayed, some vainly ask for food, some ask for revivals, a few ask for more wisdom, and now and then one tells the Lord to do as he may think best. Thousands ask to be protected from the devil; some, like David, pray for revenge, and some implore even God, not to lead them into temptation. All these prayers rest upon, and are produced by, the idea that some power not only can, but probably will, change the order of the universe. This belief has been among the great majority of tribes and nations. All sacred books are filled with the accounts of such interferences,. and our own Bible is no exception to this rule.
If we believe in a power superior to nature, it is perfectly natural to suppose that such power can and will interfere in the affairs of this world. If there is no interference, of what practical use can such power be? The Scriptures give us the most wonderful accounts of divine interference : Animals talk like men; springs gurgle from dry bones ; the sun and moon stop in the heavens in order that General Joshua may have more time to murder; the shadow on a dial goes back ten degrees to convince a petty king of a barbarous people that he is not going to die of a boil; fire refuses to burn ; water positively declines to seek its level, but stands up like a wall ; grains of sand become lice ; common walking-sticks, to gratify a mere freak, twist themselves into serpents, and then swallow each other by, way of exercise: murmuring streams, laughing at the attraction of gravitation, run up hill for years, following wandering tribes from a pure love of frolic ; prophecy becomes altogether easier than history; the sons of God become enamored of the world’s girls ; women are changed into salt for the purpose of keeping a great event fresh in the minds of men ; an excellent article of brimstone is imported from heaven free of duty; clothes refuse to wear out for forty years ; birds keep restaurants and feed wandering prophets free of expense ; bears tear children in pieces for laughing at old men without wigs ; muscular development depends upon the length of one’s hair; dead people come to life, simply to get a joke on their enemies and heirs; witches and wizards converse freely with the souls of the departed, and God himself becomes a stone-cutter and engraver, after having been a tailor and dressmaker.
The veil between heaven and earth was always rent or lifted. The shadows of this world, the radiance of heaven, and the glare of hell mixed and mingled until man became uncertain as to which country he really inhabited. Man dwelt in an unreal world. He mistook his ideas, his dreams, for real things. His fears became terrible and malicious monsters. He lived in the midst of furies and fairies, nymphs and naiads, goblins and ghosts, witches and wizards, sprites and spooks, deities and devils. The obscure and gloomy depths were filled with claw and wing - with beak and hoof - with leering looks and sneering mouths - with the malice of deformity - with the cunning of hatred, and with all the slimy forms that fear can draw and paint upon the shadowy canvas of the dark It is enough to make one almost insane with pity to think what man in the long night has suffered ; of the tortures he has endured, surrounded, as he supposed, by malignant powers and clutched by the fierce phantoms of the air. No wonder that he fell upon his trembling knees - that he built altars and reddened them even with his own blood. No wonder that he implored ignorant priests and impudent magicians for aid. No wonder that he crawled groveling in the dust to the temple’s door, and there, in the insanity of despair, besought the deaf gods to hear his bitter cry of agony and fear.
The savage as he emerges from a state of barbarism, gradually loses faith in his idols of wood and stone, and in their place puts a multitude of spirits. As he advances in knowledge, he generally discards the petty spirits, and in their stead believes in one, whom he supposes to be infinite and supreme. Supposing this great spirit to be superior to nature, he offers worship or flattery in exchange for assistance. At last, finding that he obtains no aid from this supposed deity finding that every search after the absolute must of necessity end in failure -finding that man cannot by any possibility conceive of the conditionless he begins to investigate the facts by which he is surrounded, and to depend upon himself. The people are beginning to think, to reason and to investigate. Slowly, painfully, but surely, the gods are being driven from the earth. Only upon rare occasions are they, even by the most religious, supposed to interfere in the affairs of men. In most matters we are at last supposed to be free. Since the invention of steamships and railways, so that the products of all countries can be easily interchanged, the gods have quit the business of producing famine. Now and then they kill a child because it is idolized by its parents. As a rule they have given up causing accidents on railroads, exploding boilers, and bursting kerosene lamps. Cholera, yellow fever, and small-pox are still considered heavenly weapons ; but measles, itch and ague are now attributed to natural causes. As a general thing, the gods have stopped drowning children, except as a punishment for violating the Sabbath. They still pay some attention to the affairs of kings, men of genius and persons of great wealth ; but ordinary people are left to shirk for themselves as best they may. In wars between great nations, the gods still interfere ; but, in prize fights, the best man with an honest referee, is almost sure to win.
The church cannot abandon the idea of special providence. To give up that doctrine is to give up all. The church must insist that prayer is answered- that some power superior to nature hears and grants the request of the sincere and humble Christian, and that this same power in some mysterious way provides for all.