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Meditation 1094
Faith or Fact

Mental Emancipation

by: Henry M. Taber

Comment by JT: Taber compares belief to slavery, and the ability to doubt religious belief to emancipation.

My own feeling is he goes a little overboard when he suggests that being locked into religious belief is worse than physical slavery, but still, it is an apt metaphor.

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“He who dares not reason is a slave.“ -- Milton.
“He is most enslaved who is so in his understanding.” --Locke.

IN a walk with my intimate friend, the late General Joseph Karge, Professor of Continental Languages in Princeton College, after expressing my doubts with regard to the authority and truthfulness of the Bible and my disbelief in the miracles therein narrated, he turned to me and said:

”Why, you are emancipated.”

This was ‘many years ago, but the expression lingers on my memory as scarcely any other saying of anyone does. It expresses the true condition of mind of a person who has the courage to express his honest convictions; who dares to exercise his reasoning faculties; who has thrown off the shackles of dogmatism; who has brushed away the cobwebs of superstition and who welcomes the light of truth which the revelations of science has caused to shine upon and to dissipate the Pretended revelations of a so-called sacred book.

Emancipated! That is the word which is properly applied to the independent thinkers, to the investigators for truth, to those who, like Copernicus and Newton and Darwin, study the laws of Nature rather than give credence to the supposed violations of those laws, which an unreasoning theology teaches.

Slavery in our southern states was thought by some to be a divine institution and a blessing to the enslaved, and so there are those who think that the church is another “divine institution,” and that the slavery of the mind is a blessing to those who are without inclination to inquire into the truth or falsehood of the theology which holds the relation of slave-master to the mentally enslaved.

As Buckle has said “the injury which the theological principle has done to the world is immense. It has prevented men from studying the laws of nature.”

How many intelligent minds (to say nothing of the more ignorant) are there which are in mental servitude to the superstitious fears which are generated by the horrible doctrines of orthodox Christianity? Rev. R. Heber Newton says: “Men in ever increasing numbers are exiling themselves from the homes of their fathers because the priesthood of Rome and of Protestantism allow no freedom of thought and speech in the ancestral mansions, but only the slavery of superstition or the silence of cowardice.”

John Morley has expressed this servitude to religious fear, thus: “Those who dwell in the tower of ancient faiths look about them in one constant apprehension, misgiving and wonder ; with the hurried, uneasy mien of people living among earthquakes.”

It is this superstitious fear which enslaves the intellect and prevents the exercise of its legitimate functions. It is this which has retarded the advance of learning, and consequently encouraged ignorance; which has treated the investigations of science as though they were criminal acts; which has hindered the march of civilization, and which has checked the progress of what the Christian church sneeringly calls “mere morality.”

The despotic power of Christianity, from the time that it became ascendant in the fourth century, held Grecian philosophy in vassalage, until in the sixth century, by Imperial Mandate, was closed the last of the ‘schools of Greek philosophy.

The Church has been (and is to-day) a brake on the wheels of progress, an incubus on civilization, the preservator of antique ignorance, the store-house of foolish superstitions.” Rev. John W. Chadwick says: “It is horrible to think how the path of science has been blocked, at every turn, by antiquated texts and from what possible advances we have been deterred by the dogma of Biblical infallibility, wedged into every avenue of scientific observation and experiments.”

This superstitious fear has incited to intense bitterness, animosity and hatred ; induced the practice of the most barbaric cruelty and occasioned the fiercest and bloodiest of wars. And all these horrors in the name of a religion professedly of “peace and good will to man.” What inconsistency!

Since Christianity allied itself to the State under the inhuman monster, Constantine (whom Christians seem to delight to honor by calling “the Great “) there has been more persecution, torture and slaughter of human beings than ever existed for all the ages prior to that most unfortunate period.

Christianity is the most inconsistent of all religions; for while it professes to be controlled by a broad and catholic love towards the whole human race, in its practice it is narrow-minded, exclusive, intolerant and revengeful. But while this is true of Christianity in general, embracing both Romanism and Protestantism, the latter is even more inconsistent than the former. Martin Luther was supposed to have struck a sturdy blow for intellectual freedom when he enunciated the right of private judgment. Upon this right was the Protestant Church founded, but which right is quite as much denied to-day in the Protestant as it is in the Romish Church. This fact is well expressed by N. A. Nolin (a Roman Catholic) in a recent number of the N: A. Review. In speaking of the conviction of Dr. Briggs for heresy by the Presbyterian General Assembly, he says: “We have before us a minister of the Gospel, belonging to a Church, which holds as one of its essential tenets that all its members -- shepherd and flock – are vested with the unlimited right to interpret the Bible in the manner which to them seems good and proper. On a certain day in which he set forth his own interpretation of the divine word, he is dragged from one tribunal to another,  eventually condemned and suspended as guilty of heresy! Dr. Briggs may well wonder at the course followed by his self-appointed judges and exclaim, ’Consistency, thou art a jewel!’”

In both churches we find the same slavery to ecclesiastical despotism, the same restraint of mental liberty.

This denial of the right of private judgment is not only anti-Protestant, but it is anti-Christian. It is opposed to the teachings of Paul, who tells us to “prove all things;” certainly it is not in accord with the precept of the founder of Christianity, when he says: “Why judge ye not of yourselves what is right?”

The Protestant Church pretends (notwithstanding evidence to the contrary) to grant this right of private judgment to its adherents; but it is always with restriction, exception or proviso.

Rev. Morgan Dix, D. D., Senior Rector of Trinity Church, N. Y. City, while claiming such right for the Protestant Church, says: “When Christ came into the world, the private judgment of man had no right to discuss, no power to settle, questions, such as the priestly office, the promises, the commands.”

Even the Romish Church claims to grant the right of private judgment to those of its communion.

Rev. J. A. Zahn (R. C.) writes ten pages in the N.A. Review of Sept., ‘93, to prove that “Christian faith and scientific freedom” are reconcilable. He boldly asserts that “the Church has always permitted the greatest liberty of thought and freedom of discussion regarding questions of philosophy and science” (but the modifying words) “that have no direct bearing on dogma” (are added.) Again he speaks of “the liberty of thought which the Church has always permitted her children in matters not connected with faith.” He quotes from an encyclical of Pope Leo XIII as being supposed to show the freedom of thought permitted by this “illustrious pontiff” as follows: “In those points of doctrine which the human intelligence is able to apprehend by its natural powers it is right that philosophy should be left to its own methods and principles and arguments” (but “his Holiness” is careful to add) “provided, however, that it does not audaciously withdraw itself from divine authority.”) In another encyclical, on Human Liberty, the head of the Church says; “It is not to be forgotten that there is an immense field for the free exercise of the activity and of the mind of men in those things which have no relation to the teachings of faith.”

There is no such thing as mental freedom where the Christian Church holds sway. What were the “dark ages” but the elimination of the light of knowledge in order that the consequent intellectual darkness might give opportunity to the Church to more securely enslave the thoughts of the people? Prof. Draper says: “In 1,200 years, when Christianity dominated the civilized world, the Church had not made a single discovery that advanced the cause of humanity or ameliorated the condition of mankind.”

Hallam says: “A cloud of ignorance overspread the whole face of the Church, hardly broken by a few glimmering lights, which owe much of their distinction to the surrounding darkness… For many centuries it was rare for a layman, of whatever rank, to know how to sign his name… In almost every council the ignorance of the clergy forms a subject for reproach.”

Buckle says that “for eight centuries there were not in all Christian Europe four men who dared to express an independent opinion.”

Macaulay says: “The Church of England for a hundred and fifty years was the steady enemy of public liberty.”

Guizot says: “When any step was taken to establish a system of permanent institutions which might effectually protect liberty from the invasions of power in general, the Church always ranged herself on the side of despotism.”

Prof. Oswald says: “The history of Christian dogmatism is the history of over 1,800 years of war against nature and truth.”

Hon. Andrew D. White, late president of Cornell University, in his Warfare of Science has shown how the Christian Church (Protestant as well as Roman Catholic) has done all that it could to stay the spread of learning and with what relentless hate it attempted the destruction of every investigator in the path of science.

The dogma of Biblical infallibility has been the most uncompromising of slave-masters. Those which this dogma held in servitude to its absurd claims did not dare to make known discoveries of the highest importance and usefulness, in fear of the dungeon, the rack or the stake. Consequently these discoveries were postponed and their benefits lost for centuries. Medicine, surgery, anæsthetics, agriculture, the fanning-mill, the census, life insurance, the art of printing, gravitation, the rotundity of the earth, the heliocentric system, geography, the use of steam and electricity, have all been interdicted by the church.

Astronomy, geology, biology, palæontology, evolution, all have incurred the most bitter and persistent opposition of the church, and even to-day she contests every inch of ground upon which the investigators of science would advance.

The dogmas of the church have proved and are proving the most despotic and despicable of tyrants, and those it succeeds in enslaving are the most unreasoning, fear-stricken and debased of creatures.

The Church not only holds in bondage the dupes of its dogmas, but it exercises a tyranny of opinion over those who reject its creeds, but who dare not oppose its imperious sway. This accounts for so much legislation in the interest of Christianity. The exemption of church property from taxation, the donating of money for religious purposes, the payments from the government treasury for the maintenance of chaplains in the army, navy and public institutions, the introduction or religion in our public schools are all accomplished through fear of opposition to ecclesiastical domination.

Max Nordau says: “The greatest evil of our times is the prevailing cowardice. We do not dare to assert our opinion to bring our outward lives into harmony with our inward convictions; we believe it to be worldly policy to cling outwardly to relics of former ages, when at heart we are completely severed from them.”

Our Sunday laws are enacted at the dictation of Christian zealots, who are the abject slaves of a superstitious reverence for a day, the observance of which is without the slightest authority -- even from the Christian standpoint -- a day which Luther and other reformers declared to be no more sacred than any other, and the observance of which Bishop Potter and others of the clergy have said is utterly without warrant.

These tyrannical laws are enacted in violation of that principle of justice which gives equal rights to all; are in contravention of the grand American idea of separation of church and state, and are in decided conflict with both the spirit and letter of constitutional law.

Think of it, that in this enlightened age and in a country, the proudest boast in which is that the liberty of not even the meanest citizen shall be abridged; at the dictation of these autocratic Christian fanatics, honorable persons are forbidden to pursue their legitimate occupations and that many estimable people are fined and lodged in jail. Here are not only willing Christian slaves, but those who protest against this outrage, are held unwilling captives.

If there ever were laws which called for a William Lloyd Garrison to inaugurate a movement toward abolition, the arbitrary laws compelling the religious observance of Sunday are such.

Must we continue to submit to this wrong, as we did to slavery at the south, until ‘I emancipation” is accomplished only by the clash of arms and the sacrifice of treasure and of life?

Atrocious as is physical slavery, mental slavery is even more atrocious.

Do all the evils of physical slavery combined, in all ages of the world, compare with the enslavement of the mind by the church, which caused Christian fanatics for three centuries, in nine distinct crusades, to war upon unoffending people, entailing indescribable misery and the sacrifice of twenty millions of human lives ?

Does the history of physical slavery record a more degrading spectacle than the subjugation of the reasoning faculties which was experienced in the instance of Henry IV of Germany, crossing the Alps in mid-winter, standing before the castle of Canossa, barefooted and in sack-cloth, for three days and three nights, exposed to most inclement weather, in order to crave forgiveness from Gregory VII, whose mastery over the mind of the potentate was thus shown to be absolute?

Can physical slavery show results more saddening, more sickening, more immoral, more brutal, than “the despotic resolve of the church to rule the minds and consciences of men through its Popes and priesthood ” and which resulted in the “Thirty Years’ War,” with its “eight millions slain and twelve millions surviving to meet horrors worse than death?”

Physical slavery has never displayed a tithe of the inhumanity which has been shown in the mental slavery with which a despotic, intolerant and cruel church has held those who did its bidding in its relentless warfare upon those martyrs for opinion’s sake who fed the flames of Seville, Smithfield, Geneva and Salem.

It has been said that “thought is the mightiest thing in the universe.” It has indeed a potency before which morality, philosophy, sociology, economics, politics and all national forces are compelled to succumb. It leads in every reform. It is the herald of all progress. It is the pioneer which clears the forests of superstition, of tradition, of legend and of fable, and plants in their stead the seeds of truth. It is the advance guard in its contest with ignorance. And this mighty agent, this great boon to man, ecclesiasticism seeks to enslave and to silence!

There can be no more important work than that of educating people to be freethinkers; to strike for and maintain that freedom of opinion which the Christian Church has ever denied. Let the proclamation of intellectual emancipation resound throughout the world and coming generations will call “blessed” the Freethinkers’ Magazine and all other agencies which have striven to give “liberty to the captive” mind.

But, let him whose auroral flashes of thought irradiate the intellectual sky; whose genius has given beauty to words, as nature gives .beauty to the flowers ; of whom it can be said -- as Dryden said of Shakespeare -- “He was the man who had the largest and most comprehensive soul; to whom all the images of nature were present; ” him, who is the grandest of all the lovers of liberty of any age; not only of liberty for the body, but (transcending this) liberty for the mind ; the story of whose vigorous and uncompromising conflict with theological tyranny will live so long as history records noble and self-sacrificing acts, and to whose imperishable name pæons of gratitude, by the mentally emancipated, in the ages to come, will be sung -- matchless INGERSOLL; let him give a suitable and brilliant ending to the thoughts which the topic here selected has suggested, by the citation of his sublime Apostrophe to Liberty:

“Oh, Liberty, thou art the god of my idolatry! Thou art the only Deity that hates the bended knee. In thy vast and unwalled temple -- beneath the roofless dome, star-gemmed and luminous with suns -- thy worshippers stand erect! They do not cringe or crawl or bend their foreheads to the earth. The dust has never borne the impress of their lips. Upon thy altars mothers do not sacrifice their babes, nor men their rights. Thou askest naught from man except the things that good men hate -- the whip, the chain, the dungeon key.

“Thou hast no popes, no priests, who stand between their fellow-men and thee. Thou carest not for slavish forms, or selfish prayers. Thou hast no monks, no nuns, who, in the name of duty, murder joy. At thy sacred shrine Hypocrisy does not bow, Fear does not crouch, Virtue does not tremble, Superstition’s feeble tapers do not burn; but Reason holds aloft her inextinguishable torch, while on the ever-broadening brow of Science falls the ever-coming morning of the ever-better day.”

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