Faith or Fact
by: Col. Robert G. Ingersoll
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PREFACE BY ROBERT G. INGERSOLL.
I LIKE to know the thoughts, theories and conclusions of an honest, intelligent man ; candor is always charming, and it is a delight to feel that you have become acquainted with a sincere soul.
I have read this book with great pleasure, not only because I know and greatly esteem the author, not only because he is my unwavering friend, but because it is full of good sense, of accurate statement, of sound logic, of exalted thoughts happily expressed, and for the further reason that it is against tyranny, superstition, bigotry, and every form of injustice, and in favor of every virtue.
Henry M. Taber, the author, has for many years taken great interest in religious questions. He was raised in an orthodox atmosphere, was acquainted with many eminent clergymen from whom he endeavored to find out what Christianity is-and the facts and evidence relied on to establish the truth of the creeds. He found that the clergy of even the same denomination did not agree-that some of them preached one way and talked another and that many of them seemed to regard the creed as something to be accepted whether it was believed or not. He found that each one gave his own construction to the dogmas that seemed heartless or unreasonable. While some insisted that the Bible was absolutely true and the creed without error, others admitted that there were mistakes in the sacred volume and that the creed ought to be revised. Finding these differences among the ministers, the shepherds, and also finding that no one pretended to have any evidence except faith or any facts but assertions, he concluded to investigate the claims of Christianity for himself.
For half a century he has watched the ebb and flow of public opinion, the growth of science, the crumbling of creeds — the decay of the theological spirit, the waning influence of the orthodox pulpit, the loss of confidence in special providence and the efficacy of prayer.
He has lived to see the church on the defensive — to hear faith asking for facts-and to see the shot and shell of science batter into shapelessness the fortresses of superstition. He has lived to see infidels, blasphemers and agnostics the leaders of the intellectual world. In his time the supernaturalists have lost the sceptre and have taken their places in the abject rear.
Fifty years ago the orthodox Christians believed their creeds. To them the Bible was an actual revelation from God. Every word was true. Moses and Joshua were regarded as philosophers and scientists. All the miracles and impossibilities recorded in the Bible were accepted as facts. Credulity was the greatest of virtues. Everything, except the reasonable, was believed, and it was considered wickedly presumptuous to doubt anything except facts. The reasonable things in the Bible could safely be doubted, but to deny the miracles was like the sin against the Holy Ghost. In those days the preachers were at the helm. They spoke with authority. They knew the origin and destiny of the soul. They were on familiar terms with the Trinity —the three-headed God. They knew the narrow path that led to heaven and the great highway along which the multitude were traveling to the Prison of Pain.
While these reverend gentlemen were busy trying to prevent the development of the brain and to convince the people that the good in this life were miserable, that virtue wore a crown of thorns and carried a cross, while the wicked and ungodly walked in the sunshine of joy, yet that after death the wicked would be eternally tortured and the good eternally rewarded. According to their pious philosophy the good God punished virtue, and rewarded vice, in this world-and in the next, rewarded virtue and punished vice.
These divine truths filled their hearts with holy peace — with pious resignation. It would be difficult to determine which gave them the greater joy-the hope of heaven for themselves, or the certainty of hell for their enemies. For the grace of God they were fairly thankful, but for his “justice” their gratitude was boundless. From the heights of heaven they expected to witness the eternal tragedy in hell.
While these good divines, these doctors of divinity, were busy misinterpreting the Scriptures, denying facts and describing the glories and agonies of eternity, a good many other people were trying to find out something about this world. They were busy with retort and crucible, searching the heavens with the telescope, examining rocks and craters, reefs and islands, studying plant and animal life, inventing ways to use the forces of nature for the benefit of man, and in every direction searching for the truth. They were not trying to destroy religion or to injure the clergy. Many of them were members of churches and believed the creeds. The facts they found were honestly given to the world. Of course all facts are the enemies of superstition. The clergy, acting according to the instinct of self-preservation, denounced these “facts” as dangerous and the persons who found and published them as infidels and scoffers. Theology was arrogant and bold. Science was timid. For some time the churches seemed to have the best of the controversy. Many of the scientists surrendered and did their best to belittle the facts and patch up a cowardly compromise between Nature and Revelation – that is, between the true and the false.
Day by day more facts were found that could not be reconciled with the Scriptures, or the creeds. Neither was it possible to annihilate facts by denial. The man who believed the Bible could not accept the facts, and the man who believed the facts could not accept the Bible. At first, the Bible was the standard, and all facts inconsistent with that standard were denied. But in a little while science became the standard, and the passages in the Bible contrary to that standard had to be explained or given up. Great efforts were made to harmonize the mistakes in the Bible with the demonstrations of science. It was difficult to be ingenious enough to defend them both. The pious professors twisted and turned but found it hard to reconcile the creation of Adam with the slow development of man from lower forms. They were greatly troubled about the age of the Universe. It seemed incredible that until about six thousand years ago there was nothing in existence but God-and nothing. And yet they tried to save the Bible by giving new meanings to the inspired texts, and casting a little suspicion on the facts.
This course has mostly been abandoned, although a few survivals, like Mr. Gladstone, still insist that there is no conflict between Revelation and Science, But these champions of Holy Writ succeed only in causing the laughter of the intelligent and the amazement of the honest. The more intelligent theologians confessed that the inspired writers could not be implicitly believed. As they personally knew nothing of astronomy or geology and were forced to rely entirely on inspiration, it is wonderful that more mistakes were not made. So it was claimed that Jehovah cared nothing about science, and allowed the blunders and mistakes of the ignorant people concerning everything except religion, to appear in his supernatural book as inspired truths.
The Bible, they said, was written to teach religion in its highest and purest form-to make mankind fit to associate with God and his angels. True, polygamy was tolerated and slavery established, yet Jehovah believed in neither, but on account of the wickedness of the Jews was in favor of both.
At the same time quite a number of real scholars were investigating other religions, and in a little while they were enabled to show that these religions had been manufactured by men — that their Christs and apostles were myths and that all their sacred books were false and foolish. This pleased the Christians. They knew that theirs was the only true religion and that their Bible was the only inspired book.
The fact that there is nothing original in Christianity, that all the dogmas, ceremonies and festivals had been borrowed, together with some mouldy miracles used as witnesses, weakened the faith of some and sowed the seeds of doubt in many minds. But the pious petrefactions, the fossils of faith, still clung to their book and creed. While they were quick to see the absurdities in other sacred books, they were either unconsciously blind or maliciously shut their eyes to the same absurdities in the Bible. They knew that Mohammed was an impostor, because the citizens of Mecca, who knew him, said he was, and they knew that Christ was not an impostor because the people of Jerusalem, who knew him, said he was. The same fact was made to do double duty. When they attacked other religions it was a sword and when their religion was attacked it became a shield.
The men who had investigated other religions turned their attention to Christianity. They read our Bible as they had read other sacred books. They were not blinded by faith or paralyzed by fear, and they found that the same arguments they had used against other religions destroyed our own.
But the real old-fashioned orthodox ministers denounced the investigators as infidels and denied every fact that was inconsistent with the creed. They wanted to protect the young and the feeble minded. They were anxious about the souls of the “thoughtless.”
Some ministers changed their views just a little, not enough to be driven from their pulpits-but just enough to keep sensible people from thinking them idiotic. These preachers talked about the “higher criticism” and contended that it was not necessary to believe every word in the Bible, that some of the miracles might be given up and some of the books discarded. But the stupid doctors of divinity had the Bible and the creeds on their side and the machinery of the churches was in their control. They brought some of the offending clergymen to the bar, had them tried for heresy, made some recant and closed the mouths of others. Still, it was not easy to put the heretics down. The congregations of ministers found guilty often followed the shepherds. Heresy grew popular, the liberal preachers had good audiences, while the orthodox addressed a few bonnets, bibs and benches.
For many years the pulpit has been losing influence and the sacred calling no longer offers a career to young men of talent and ambition.
When people believed in “special providence,” they also believed that preachers had great influence with God. They were regarded as celestial lobbyists and they were respected and feared because of their supposed power.
Now, no one who has the capacity to think, believes in special providence. Of course there are some pious imbeciles who think that pestilence and famine, cyclone and earthquake, flood and fire are the weapons of God, the tools of his trade, and that with these weapons, these tools, he kills and starves, rends and devours, drowns and burns countless thousands of the human race.
If God governs this world, if he builds and destroys, if back of every event is his will, then he is neither good nor wise. He is ignorant and malicious.
A few days ago, in Paris, men and women had gathered together in the name of Charity. The building in which they were assembled took fire and many of these men and women perished in the flames.
A French priest called this horror an act of God.
Is it not strange that Christians speak of their God as an assassin? How can they love and worship this monster who murders his children?
Intelligence seems to be leaving the orthodox church. The great divines are growing smaller, weaker, day by day. Since the death of Henry Ward Beecher no man of genius has stood in an orthodox pulpit. The ministers of intelligence are found in the liberal churches where they are allowed to express their thoughts and preserve their manhood. Some of these preachers keep their faces toward the East and sincerely welcome the light, while their orthodox brethren stand with their backs to the sunrise and worship the sunset of the day before.
During these years of change, of decay and growth, the author of this book looked and listened, became familiar with the questions raised, the arguments offered and the results obtained. For his work a better man could not have been found. He has no prejudice, no hatred. He is by nature candid, conservative, kind and just. He does not attack persons. He knows the difference between exchanging epithets and thoughts. He gives the facts as they appear to him and draws the logical conclusions. He charges and proves that Christianity has not always been the friend of morality, of civil liberty, of wives and mothers, of free thought and honest speech. He shows that intolerance is its nature, that it always has, and always will persecute to the extent of its power, and that Christianity will always despise the doubter.
Yet we know that doubt must inhabit every finite mind. We know that doubt is as natural as hope, and that man is no more responsible for his doubts than for the beating of his heart. Every human being, who knows the nature of evidence, the limitations of the mind, must have “doubts” about gods and devils, about heavens and hells, and must know that there is not the slightest evidence tending to show that gods and devils ever existed.
God is a guess.
An undesigned designer, an uncaused cause, is as incomprehensible to the human mind as a circle without a diameter.
The dogma of the Trinity multiplies the difficulty by three.
Theologians do not, and cannot believe that the authority to govern comes from the consent of the governed. They regard God as the monarch, and themselves as his agents. They always have been the enemies of liberty.
They claim to have a revelation from their God, a revelation that is the rightful master of reason. As long as they believe this, they must be the enemies of mental freedom. They do not ask man to think, but command him to obey.
If the claims of the theologians are admitted, the church becomes the ruler of the world and to support and obey priests will be the business of mankind. All these theologians claim to have a revelation from their God and yet they cannot agree as to what the revelation reveals. The other day, looking from my window at the bay of New York, I saw many vessels going in many directions, and yet all were moved by the same wind. The direction in which they were going did not depend on the direction of the breeze, but on the set of the sails. In this way the same Bible furnishes creeds for all the Christian sects. But what would we say if the captains of the boats I saw, should each swear that his boat was the only one that moved in the same direction the wind was blowing?
I agree with Mr. Taber that all religions are founded on mistakes, misconceptions and falsehoods and that superstition is the warp and woof of every creed.
This book will do great good. It will furnish arguments and facts against the supernatural and absurd. It will drive phantoms from the brain, fear from the heart, and many who read these pages will be emancipated, enlightened and ennobled.
Christianity, with its ignorant and jealous God — its loving and revengeful Christ — its childish legends — its grotesque miracles — its “fall of man” — its atonement — its salvation by faith — its heaven for stupidity and its hell for genius, does not and cannot satisfy the free brain and the good heart.
ROBERT G. INGERSOLL.
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