The Great Infidels (1881)
Robert Green Ingersoll
I have sometimes thought that it will not make great and splendid
character to rock children in the cradle of hypocrisy. I do not believe that
the tendency is to make men and women brave and glorious when you tell them
that there are certain ideas upon certain subjects that they must never
express; that they must go through life with a pretence as a shield; that
their neighbors will think much more of them if they will only keep still;
and that above all is a God who despises one who honestly expresses what he
believes. For my part, I believe men will be nearer honest in business, in
politics, grander in art -- in everything that is good and grand and
beautiful, if they are taught from the cradle to the coffin to tell their
Neither do I believe thought to be dangerous. It is incredible that only
idiots are absolutely sure of salvation. It is incredible that the more
brain you have the less your chance is. There can be no danger in honest
thought, and if the world ever advances beyond what it is to-day, it must be
led by men who express their real opinions.
We have passed midnight in the great struggle between Fact and Faith,
between Science and Superstition. The brand of intellectual inferiority is
now upon the orthodox brain. There is nothing grander than to rescue from
the leprosy of slander the reputation of a good and generous man. Nothing
can be nearer just than to benefit our benefactors.
The Infidels of one age have been the aureoled saints of the next. The
destroyers of the old are the creators of the new. The old passes away, and
the new becomes old. There is in the intellectual world, as in the material,
decay and growth, and ever by the grave of buried age stand youth and joy.
The history of intellectual progress is written in the lives of Infidels.
Political rights have been preserved by traitors -- the liberty of the mind
by heretics. To attack the king was treason -- to dispute the priest was
blasphemy. The sword and cross were allies. They defended each other. The
throne and altar were twins -- vultures from the same egg.
It was James I. who said: "No bishop, no king." He might have said: "No
cross, no crown."
The king owned the bodies, and the priest the souls, of men. One lived on
taxes, the other on alms. One was a robber, the other a beggar, and each was
These robbers and beggars controlled two worlds. The king made laws, the
priest made creeds. With bowed backs the people received the burdens of the
one, and with wonder's open mouth the dogmas of the other. If any aspired to
be free they were crushed by the king, and every priest was a Herod who
slaughtered the children of the brain. The king ruled by force, the priest
by fear, and both by both.
The king said to the people: "God made you peasants, and he made me king.
He made rags and hovels for you, robes and palaces for me. Such is the
justice of God." And the priest said: "God made you ignorant and vile. He
made me holy and wise. If you do not obey me, God will punish you here and
torment you hereafter. Such is the mercy of God."
Infidels are intellectual discoverers. They sail the unknown seas and
find new isles and continents in the infinite realms of thought.
An Infidel is one who has found a new fact, who has an idea of his own,
and who in the mental sky has seen another star.
He is an intellectual capitalist, and for that reason excites the envy
and hatred of the theological pauper.
The Origin of God and Heaven, of the Devil and
In the estimation of good orthodox Christians I am a criminal, because I
am trying to take from loving mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters, husbands,
wives, and lovers the consolations naturally arising from a belief in an
eternity of grief and pain. I want to tear, break, and scatter to the winds
the God that priests erected in the fields of innocent pleasure -- a God
made of sticks called creeds, and of old clothes called myths. I shall
endeavor to take from the coffin its horror, from the cradle its curse, and
put out the fires of revenge kindled by an infinite fiend.
Is it necessary that Heaven should borrow its light from the glare of
Infinite punishment is infinite cruelty, endless injustice, immortal
meanness. To worship an eternal goaler hardens, debases, and pollutes even
the vilest soul. While there is one sad and breaking heart in the universe,
no good being can be perfectly happy.
Against the heartlessness of the Christian religion every grand and
tender soul should enter solemn protest. The God of Hell should be held in
loathing, contempt and scorn. A God who threatens eternal pain should be
hated, not loved -- cursed, not worshiped. A heaven presided over by such a
God must be below the lowest hell. I want no part in any heaven in which the
saved, the ransomed and redeemed will drown with shouts of joy the cries and
sobs of hell -- in which happiness will forget misery, where the tears of
the lost only increase laughter and double bliss.
The idea of hell was born of ignorance, brutality, fear, cowardice, and
revenge. This idea testifies that our remote ancestors were the lowest
beasts. Only from dens, lairs, and caves, only from mouths filled with cruel
fangs, only from hearts of fear and hatred, only from the conscience of
hunger and lust, only from the lowest and most debased could come this most
cruel, heartless and bestial of all dogmas.
Our barbarian ancestors knew but little of nature. They were too
astonished to investigate. They could not divest themselves of the idea that
everything happened with reference to them; that they caused storms and
earthquakes; that they brought the tempest and the whirlwind; that on
account of something they had done, or omitted to do, the lightning of
vengeance leaped from the darkened sky. They made up their minds that at
least two vast and powerful beings presided over this world; that one was
good and the other bad; that both of these beings wished to get control of
the souls of men; that they were relentless enemies, eternal foes; that both
welcomed recruits and hated deserters; that both demanded praise and
worship; that one offered rewards in this world, and the other in the next.
The Devil has paid cash -- God buys on credit.
Man saw cruelty and mercy in nature, because he imagined that phenomena
were produced to punish or to reward him. When his poor hut was torn and
broken by the wind, he thought it a punishment. When some town or city was
swept away by flood or sea, he imagined that the crimes of the inhabitants
had been avenged. When the land was filled with plenty, when the seasons
were kind, he thought that he had pleased the tyrant of the skies.
It must he remembered that both gods and devils were supposed to be
presided over by the greatest God and the greatest Devil. The God could give
infinite rewards and could inflict infinite torments. The Devil could assist
man here; could give him wealth and place in this world, in consideration of
owning his soul hereafter. Each human soul was a prize contended for by
these deities. Of course this God and this Devil had innumerable spirits at
their command, to execute their decrees. The God lived in heaven and the
Devil in hell. Both were monarchs and were infinitely jealous of each other.
The priests pretended to be the agents and recruiting sergeants of this God,
and they were duly authorized to promise and threaten in his name; they had
power to forgive and curse. These priests sought to govern the world by
force and fear. Believing that men could be frightened into obedience, they
magnified the tortures and terrors of perdition. Believing also that man
could in part be influenced by the hope of reward, they magnified the joys
of heaven. In other words, they promised eternal joy and threatened
everlasting pain. Most of these priests, born of the ignorance of the time,
believed what they taught. They proved that God was good, by sunlight and
harvest, by health and happiness; that he was angry, by disease and death.
Man, according to this doctrine, was led astray by the Devil, who delighted
only in evil. It was supposed that God demanded worship; that he loved to be
flattered; that he delighted in sacrifice; that nothing made him happier
than to see ignorant faith upon its knees; that above all things he hated
and despised doubters and heretics, and that he regarded all investigation
Now and then believers in these ideas, those who had gained great
reputation for learning and sanctity, or had enjoyed great power, wrote
books, and these books after a time were considered sacred. Most of them
were written to frighten mankind, and were filled with threatenings and
curses for unbelievers and promises for the faithful. The more frightful the
curses, the more extravagant the promises, the more sacred the books were
considered. All of the gods were cruel and vindictive, unforgiving and
relentless, and the devils were substantially the same. It was also believed
that certain things must be accepted as true, no matter whether they were
reasonable or not; that it was pleasing to God to believe a certain creed,
especially if it happened to be the creed of the majority. Each community
felt it a duty to see that the enemies of God were converted or killed. To
allow a heretic to live in peace was to invite the wrath of God. Every
public evil -- every misfortune -- was accounted for by something the
community had permitted or done. When epidemics appeared, brought by
ignorance and welcomed by filth, the heretic was brought out and sacrificed
to appease the vengeance of God. From the knowledge they had -- from their
premises -- they reasoned well. They said, if God will inflict such
frightful torments upon us here, simply for allowing a few heretics to live,
what will he do with the heretics? Of course the heretics would be punished
forever. They knew how cruel was the barbarian king when he had the traitor
in his power. They had seen every horror that man could inflict on man. Of
course a God could do more than a king. He could punish forever. The fires
he would kindle never could be quenched. The torments he would inflict would
be eternal. They thought the amount of punishment would be measured only by
the power of God.
These ideas were not only prevalent in what are called barbarous times,
but they are received by the religious world of to-day.
No death could be conceived more horrible than that produced by flames.
To these flames they added eternity, and hell was produced. They exhausted
the idea of personal torture.
By putting intention behind what man called good, God was produced. By
putting intention behind what man called bad, the Devil was created. Leave
this "intention" out, and gods and devils fade away.
If not a human being existed the sun would continue to shine, and
tempests now and then would devastate the world; the rain would fall in
pleasant showers, and the bow of promise would adorn the cloud; violets
would spread their velvet bosoms to the sun, and the earthquake would
devour; birds would sing, and daisies bloom, and roses blush, and the
volcanoes would fill the heavens with their lurid glare; the procession of
the seasons would not be broken, and the stars would shine just as serenely
as though the world was filled with loving hearts and happy homes. But in
the olden time man though otherwise. He imagined that he was of great
importance. Barbarians are always egotistic. They think that the stars are
watching them; that the sun shines on their account; that the rain falls for
them and that gods and devils are really troubling themselves about their
poor and ignorant souls.
In those days men fought for their God as they did for their king. They
killed the enemies of both. For this their king would reward them here, and
their God hereafter. With them it was loyalty to destroy the disloyal. They
did not regard God as a vague "spirit," nor as an "essence" without body or
parts, but as a being, a person, an infinite man, a king, the monarch of the
universe, who had garments of glory for believers and robes of flame for the
heretic and infidel.
Do not imagine that this doctrine of hell belongs to Christianity alone.
Nearly all religions have had this dogma for a corner-stone. Upon this
burning foundation nearly all have built. Over the abyss of pain rose the
glittering dome of pleasure. This world was regarded as one of trial. Here a
God of infinite wisdom experimented with man. Between the outstretched paws
of the Infinite the mouse, man, was allowed to play. Here man had the
opportunity of hearing priests and kneeling in temples. Here he could read
and hear read the sacred books. Here he could have the example of the pious
and the counsels of the holy. Here he could build churches and cathedrals.
Here he could burn incense, fast, wear haircloth, deny himself all the
pleasures of life, confess to priests, count beads, be miserable one day in
seven, make creeds, construct instruments of torture, bow before pictures
and images, eat little square pieces of bread, sprinkle water on the heads
of babes, shut his eyes and say words to the clouds, and slander and defame
all who have the courage to despise superstition, and the goodness to tell
their honest thoughts. After death, nothing could be done to make him
better. When he should come into the presence of God, nothing was left
except to damn him. Priests might convert him here, but God could do nothing
there, -- all of which shows how much more a priest can do for a soul than
its creator; how much more potent is the example of your average Christian
than that of all the angels, and how much superior earth is to heaven for
the moral development of the soul. In heaven the Devil is not allowed to
enter. There all are pure and perfect, yet they cannot influence a soul for
Only here, on the earth, where the Devil is constantly active, only where
his agents attack every soul, is there the slightest hope of moral
Strange! that a world cursed by God, filled with temptations and thick
with fiends, should be the only place where hope exists, the only place
where man can repent, the only place where reform is possible. Strange that
heaven, filled with angels and presided over by God, is the only place where
reformation is utterly impossible! Yet these are the teachings of all the
believers in the eternity of punishment.
Masters frightened slaves with the threat of hell, and slaves got a kind
of shadowy revenge by whispering back the threat. The poor have damned the
rich and the rich the poor. The imprisoned imagined a hell for their gaolers;
the weak built this place for the strong; the arrogant for their rivals; the
vanquished for their victors; the priest for the thinker, religion for
reason, superstition for science.
All the meanness, all the revenge, all the selfishness, all the cruelty,
all the hatred, all the infamy of which the heart of man is capable, grew,
blossomed and bore fruit in this one word -- Hell.
For the nourishment of this dogma cruelty was soil, ignorance was rain,
and fear was light.
Christians have placed upon the throne of the universe a God of eternal
hate. I cannot worship a being whose vengeance is boundless, whose cruelty
is shoreless, and whose malice is increased by the agonies he inflicts.
APPEAL TO THE CEMETERY
Whoever attacks a custom or a creed, will be confronted with a list of
the names of the dead who upheld the custom, or believed the creed. He is
asked in a very triumphant and sneering way, if he knows more than all the
great and honored of the past. Every defender of a creed has graven upon his
memory the names of all "great" men whose actions or words can be tortured
into evidence for his doctrine. The church is always anxious to have some
king or president certify to the moral character of Christ, the authority of
the Scriptures, and the justice of the Jewish God. Of late years,
confessions of gentlemen about to be hanged have been considered of great
value, and the scaffold is regarded as a means of grace.
All the churches of our day seek the rich. They are no longer the friends
and defenders of the poor. Poverty no longer feels at home in the house of
God. In the Temple of the Most High, garments out of fashion are considered
out of place. People now, before confessing to God what worthless souls they
have, enrich their bodies. Now words of penitence mingle with the rustle of
silk, and light thrown from diamonds adorns the repentant tear. We are told
that the rich, the fortunate, the holders of place and office, the
fashionable, the respectable, are all within the churches. And yet all these
People grow eloquent over the poverty of Christ -- boast that he was born in
a manger -- that the Holy Ghost passed by all the ladies of titled wealth
and fashion and selected the wife of a poor and unknown mechanic for the
Mother of God.
They admit that all the men of Jerusalem who held high positions -- all
the people of wealth, influence and power -- were the enemies of the Savior
and held his pretensions in contempt. They admit that he had influence only
with the poor, and that he was so utterly unknown -- so indigent in
acquaintance, that it was necessary to bribe one of his disciples to point
him out to the police. They assert that he had done a great number of
miracles -- had cured the sick, and raised the dead -- that he had preached
to vast multitudes -- had made a kind of triumphal entry into Jerusalem --
had scourged from the temple the changers of money -- had disputed with the
doctors -- and yet, notwithstanding all these things, he remained in the
very depths of obscurity. Surely he and his disciples could have been met
with the argument: that the "great" dead were opposed to the new religion.
The apostles, it is claimed, preached the doctrines of Christ in Rome and
Athens, and the people of those cities could have used the arguments against
Christianity that Christians now use in its support. They could have asked
the apostles if they were wiser than all the philosophers, poets orators,
and statesmen dead -- if they knew more coming as they did from a weak and
barbarous nation, than the greatest men produced by the highest civilization
of the known world. With what scorn would the Greeks listen to a barbarian's
criticisms upon Socrates and Plato. How a Roman would laugh to hear a
vagrant Hebrew attack a mythology that had been believed by Cato and Virgil.
Every new religion has to overcome this argument of the cemetery -- this
logic of the grave. Old ideas take shelter behind a barricade of corpse and
tombstones. They have epitaphs for battle cries, and malign the living in
the name of the dead. The moment, however, that a new religion succeeds, it
becomes the old religion and uses the same argument against a new idea that
it once so gallantly refuted. The arguments used to-day against what they
are pleased to call infidelity would have shut the mouth of every religious
reformer, from Christ to the founder of the last sect. The general objection
to the new is, that it differs somewhat from the old, and the fact that it
does differ is urged as an argument against its truth.
Every man is forced to admit that he does not agree with all the great
men, living or dead. The average Catholic, if not a priest, as a rule will
admit that Sir Isaac Newton was in some things his superior, that
Demosthenes had the advantage of him in expressing his ideas in public, and
that as a sculptor he is far below the unknown man of whose hand and brain
was born the Venus de Milo, but he will not, on account of these admissions,
change his views upon the important question of transubstantiation.
Most Protestants will cheerfully admit that they are inferior in brain
and genius to some men who have lived and died in the Catholic Church; that
in the matter of preaching funeral sermons they do not pretend to equal
Bossuet; that their letters are not so interesting and polished as those of
Pascal; that Torquemada excelled them in the genius of organization, and
that for planning a massacre they would not for a moment dispute the palm
with Catherine de Medici.
And yet, after all these admissions, they would insist that the Pope is
an unblushing impostor, and that the Catholic Church is a vampire fattened
by the best blood of a thousand years.
The truth is, that in favor of almost every sect, the names of some great
men can he pronounced. In almost every church there have been men whose only
weakness was their religion, and who in other directions achieved
distinction. If you call men great because they were emperors, kings,
noblemen, statesmen, millionaires -- because they commanded vast armies and
wielded great influence in their day then more names can be found to support
and prop the Church of Rome than any other Christian sect.
Is Protestantism willing to rest its claims upon the "great man"
argument? Give me the idea, the religions, not that have been advanced and
believed by the so-called great of the past, but that will be defended and
believed by the great souls of the future.
It gives me pleasure to say that Lord Bacon was a great man; but I do not
for that reason abandon the Copernican system of astronomy, and insist that
the earth is stationary. Samuel Johnson was an excellent writer of latinized
English, but I am confident that he never saw a real ghost. Matthew Hale was
a reasonably good judge of law, but he was mistaken about witches causing
children to vomit crooked pins. John Wesley was quite a man, in a kind of
religious way, but in this country few people sympathize with his hatred of
republican government, or with his contempt for the Revolutionary Fathers.
Sir Isaac Newton, in the domain of science, was the colossus of his time,
but his commentary on the book of Revelation would hardly excite envy, even
in the breast of a Spurgeon or a Talmage. Upon many questions, the opinions
of Napoleon were of great value, and yet about his bed, when dying, he
wanted to see burning the holy candles of Rome. John Calvin has been called
a logician, and reasoned well from his premises, but the burning of Servetus
did not make murder a virtue. Luther weakened somewhat the Power of the
Catholic Church, and to that extent was a reformer, and yet Lord Brougham
affirmed that his "Table Talk" was so obscene that no respectable English
publisher would soil paper with a translation. He was a kind of religious
Rabelais; and yet a man can defend Luther in his attack upon the church
without justifying his obscenity. If every man in the Catholic Church was a
good man that would not convince me that Ignatius Loyola ever met and
conversed with the Virgin Mary. The fact is, very few men are right in
Great virtues may draw attention from defects, they cannot sanctify them.
A pebble surrounded by diamonds remains a common stone, and a diamond
surrounded by pebbles is still a gem. No one should attempt to refute an
argument by pronouncing the name of some man, unless he is willing to adopt
all the ideas and beliefs of that man. It is better to give reasons and
facts than names. An argument should not depend for its force upon the name
of its author. Facts need no pedigree logic has no heraldry, and the living
should not awed by the mistakes of the dead.
The greatest men the world has produced have known but little. They had a
few facts, mingled with mistakes without number. In some departments they
towered above their fellows, while in others they fell below the common
level of mankind.
Daniel Webster had great respect for the Scriptures, but very little for
the claims of his creditors. Most men are strangely inconsistent. Two
propositions were introduced into the Confederate Congress by the same man.
One was to hoist the black flag, and the other was to prevent carrying the
mails on Sunday. George Whitefield defended the slave trade, because it
brought the negroes within the sound of the gospel, and gave them the
advantage of associating with the gentlemen who stole them. And yet this
same Whitefield believed and taught the dogma of predestination. Volumes
might be written upon the follies and imbecilities of great men. A full
rounded man -- a man of sterling sense and natural logic -- is just as rare
as a great painter, poet, or sculptor. If you tell your friend that he is
not a painter, that he has no genius for poetry, he will probably admit the
truth of what you say, without feeling that he has been insulted in the
least. But if you tell him that he is not a logician, that he has but little
idea of the value of a fact, that he has no real conception of what evidence
is, and that he never had an original thought in his life, he will cut your
acquaintance. Thousands of men are most wonderful in mechanics, in trade, in
certain professions, keen in business, knowing well the men among whom they
live, and yet satisfied with religions infinitely stupid, with politics
perfectly senseless and they will believe that wonderful things were common
long ago, such things as no amount of evidence could convince them had
happened in their day. A man may be a successful merchant, lawyer, doctor,
mechanic, statesman, or theologian without one particle of originality, and
almost without the ability to think logically upon any subject whatever.
Other men display in some directions the most marvelous intellectual power,
astonish mankind with their grasp and vigor, and at the same time, upon
religious subjects drool and drivel like David at the gates of Gath.
We have found, at last, that other nations have sacred books much older
than our own, and that these books and records were and are substantiated by
traditions and monuments, by miracles and martyrs, christs and apostles, as
well as by prophecies fulfilled. In all of these nations differences of
opinion as to the authenticity and meaning of these books arose from time to
time, precisely as they have done and still do with us, and upon these
differences were founded sects that manufactured creeds. These sects
denounced each other, and preached with the sword and endeavored to convince
with the fagot. Our theologians were greatly astonished to find in other
bibles the same stories, precepts, laws, customs and commands that adorn and
stain our own. At first they accounted for this, by saying that these books
were in part copies of the Jewish Scriptures, mingled with barbaric myths.
To such an extent did they impose upon and insult probability, that they
declared that all the morality of the world, all laws commanding right and
prohibiting wrong, all ideas respecting the unity of a Supreme Being, were
borrowed from the Jews, who obtained them directly from God. The Christian
world asserts with warmth, not always born of candor, that the Bible is the
source, origin, and fountain of law, liberty, love, charity, and justice;
that it is the intellectual and moral sun of the world; that it alone gives
happiness here, and alone points out the way to joy hereafter; that it
contains the only revelation from the Infinite; that all others are the work
of dishonest and mistaken men. They say these things in spite of the fact
that the Jewish nation was one of the weakest and most barbaric of the past;
in spite of the fact that the civilization of Egypt and India had commenced
to wane before that of Palestine existed. To account for all the morality
contained in the sacred books of the Hindus by saying that it was borrowed
from the wanderers in the Desert of Sinai, from the escaped slaves of the
Egyptians, taxes to the utmost the credulity of ignorance, bigotry, and
The men who make these assertions are not superior to other men. They
have only the facts common to all, and they must admit that these facts do
not force the same conclusions upon all. They must admit that men equally
honest, equally well-informed as themselves, deny their premises and
conclusions. They must admit that had they been born and educated in some
other country, they would have had a different religion, and would have
regarded with reverence and awe the books they now hold as false and
foolish. Most men are followers, and implicitly rely upon the judgment of
others. They mistake solemnity for wisdom, and regard a grave countenance as
the title page and Preface to a most learned volume. So they are easily
imposed upon by forms, strange garments, and solemn ceremonies. And when the
teaching of parents, the customs of neighbors, and the general tongue
approve and justify a belief or creed, no matter how absurd, it is hard even
for the strongest to hold the citadel of his soul. In each country, in
defence of each religion, the same arguments would be urged. There is the
same evidence in favor of the inspiration of the Koran and Bible. Both are
substantiated in exactly the same way. It is just as wicked and unreasonable
to be a heretic in Constantinople as in New york. To deny the claims of
Christ and Mohammed is alike blasphemous. It all depends upon where you are
when you make the denial. No religion has ever fallen that carried with it
down to dumb death a solitary fact. Mistakes moulder with the temples in
which they were taught, and countless superstitions sleep with their dead
Yet Christians insist that the religions of all nations that have fallen
from wealth and power were false, with of course the solitary exception of
the Jewish, simply because the nations teaching them dropped from their
dying hands the swords of power. This argument drawn from the fate of
nations proves no more than would one based upon the history of persons.
With nations as with individuals, the struggle for life is perpetual, and
the law of the survival of the fittest applies equally to both.
It may be that the fabric of our civilization will crumbling fall to
unmeaning chaos and to formless dust, where oblivion broods and even memory
forgets. Perhaps the blind Samson of some imprisoned force, released by
thoughtless chance, may so wreck and strand the world that man, in stress
and strain of want and fear, will shudderingly crawl back to savage and
barbaric night. The time may come in which this thrilled and throbbing
earth, shorn of all life, will in its soundless orbit wheel a barren star,
on which the light will fall as fruitlessly as falls the gaze of love upon
the cold, pathetic face of death.
There is a view quite prevalent, that in some way you can prove whether
the theories defended or advanced by a man are right or not, by showing what
kind of man he was, what kind of life he lived, and what manner of death he
A man entertains certain opinions; he is persecuted. He refuses to change
his mind; he is burned, and in the midst of flames cries out that he dies
without change. Hundreds then say that he has sealed his testimony with his
blood, and his doctrines must be true.
All the martyrs in the history of the world are not sufficient to
establish the correctness of an opinion. Martyrdom, as a rule, establishes
the sincerity of the martyr, -- never the correctness of his thought. Things
are true or false in themselves. Truth cannot be affected by opinions; it
cannot be changed, established, or affected by martyrdom. An error cannot be
believed sincerely enough to make it a truth.
No Christian will admit that any amount of heroism displayed by a Mormon
is sufficient to prove that Joseph Smith was divinely inspired. All the
courage and culture, all the poetry and art of ancient Greece, do not even
tend to establish the truth of any myth.
The testimony of the dying concerning some other world, or in regard to
the supernatural, cannot be any better, to say the least, than that of the
living. In the early days of Christianity a serene and intrepid death was
regarded as a testimony in favor of the church. At that time Pagans were
being converted to Christianity -- were throwing Jupiter away and taking the
Hebrew God instead. In the moment of death many of these converts, without
doubt, retraced their steps and died in the faith of their ancestors. But
whenever one died clinging to the cross of the new religion, this was seized
upon as an evidence of the truth of the gospel. After a time the Christians
taught that an unbeliever, one who spoke or wrote against their doctrines,
could not meet death with composure -- that the infidel in his last moments
would necessarily be a prey to the serpent of remorse. For more than a
thousand years they have made the "facts" to fit this theory. Crimes against
men have been considered as nothing when compared with a denial of the truth
of the Bible, the divinity of Christ, or the existence of God.
According to the theologians, God has always acted in this way. As long
as men did nothing except to render their fellows wretched; as long as they
only butchered and burnt the innocent and helpless, God maintained the
strictest and most heartless neutrality; but when some honest man, some
great and tender soul expressed a doubt as to the truth of the Scriptures,
or prayed to the wrong God, or to the right one by the wrong name, then the
real God leaped like a wounded tiger upon his victim, and from his quivering
flesh tore his wretched soul.
There is no recorded instance where the uplifted hand of murder has been
paralyzed -- no truthful account in all the literature of the world of the
innocent being shielded by God. Thousands of crimes are committed every day
-- men are this moment lying in wait for their human prey -- wives are
whipped and crushed, driven to insanity and death -- little children begging
for mercy, lifting imploring, tear-filled eyes to the brutal faces of
fathers and mothers -- sweet girls are deceived, lured, and outraged, but
God has no time to prevent these things -- no time to defend the good and to
protect the pure. He is too busy numbering hairs and watching sparrows.
He listens for blasphemy; looks for persons who laugh at priests;
examines baptismal registers; watches professors in colleges who begin to
doubt the geology of Moses and the astronomy of Joshua. He does not
particularly object to stealing if you won't swear. A great many persons
have fallen dead in the act of taking God's name in vain, but millions of
men, women, and children have been stolen from their homes and used as
beasts of burden, but no one engaged in this infamy has ever been touched by
the wrathful hand of God.
All kinds of criminals, except infidels, meet death with reasonable
serenity. As a rule, there is nothing in the death of a pirate to cast any
discredit on his profession. The murderer upon the scaffold, with a priest
on either side, smilingly exhorts the multitude to meet him in heaven. The
man who has succeeded in making his home a hell, meets death without a
quiver, provided he has never expressed any doubt as to the divinity of
Christ, or the eternal "procession" of the Holy Ghost. The king who has
waged cruel and useless war, who has filled countries with widows and
fatherless children, with the maimed and diseased, and who has succeeded in
offering to the Moloch of ambition the best and bravest of his subjects,
dies like a saint.
The Emperor Constantine, who lifted Christianity into power, murdered his
wife Fausta, and his eldest son Crispus, the same year that he convened the
Council of Nice to decide whether Jesus Christ was a man or the Son of God.
The council decided that Christ was consubstantial with the father. This was
in the year 325. We are thus indebted to a wife-murderer for settling the
vexed question of the divinity of the Savior. Theodosius called a council at
Constantinople in 381, and this council decided that the Holy Ghost
proceeded from the Father. Theodosius, the younger, assembled another
council at Ephesus to ascertain who the Virgin Mary really was, and it was
solemnly decided in the year 431 that she was the Mother of God. In 451 it
was decided by a council held at Chalcedon, called together by the Emperor
Marcian, that Christ had two natures -- the human and divine. In 680, in
another general council, held at Constantinople, convened by order of
Pognatius, it was also decided that Christ had two wills, and in the year
1274 it was decided at the Council of Lyons, that the Holy Ghost proceeded
not only from the Father, but from the Son as well. Had it not been for
these councils, we might have been without a Trinity even unto this day.
When we take into consideration the fact that a belief in the Trinity is
absolutely essential to salvation, how unfortunate it was for the world that
this doctrine was not established until the year 1274. Think of the millions
that dropped into hell while these questions were being discussed.
This, however, is a digression. Let us go back to Constantine. This
Emperor, stained with every crime, is supposed to have died like a
Christian. We hear nothing of fiends leering at him in the shadows of death.
He does not see the forms of his murdered wife and son covered with the
blood he shed. From his white and shrivelled lips issued no shrieks of
terror. He does not cover his glazed eyes with thin and trembling hands to
shut out the visions of hell. His chamber is filled with the rustle of wings
-- of wings waiting to bear his soul to the thrilling realms of joy.
Against the Emperor Constantine the church has hurled no anathema. She
has accepted the story of his vision in the clouds, and his holy memory has
been guarded by priest and pope. All the persecutors sleep in peace, and the
ashes of those who burned their brothers in the name of Christ rest in
consecrated ground. Whole libraries could not contain even the names of the
wretches who have filled the world with violence and death in defence of
book and creed, and yet they all died the death of the righteous, and no
priest or minister describes the agony and fear, the remorse and horror,
with which their guilty souls were filled in the last moments of their
lives. These men had never doubted -- they accepted the creed -- they were
not infidels -- they had not denied the divinity of Christ -- they had been
baptized -- they had partaken of the Last Supper -- they had respected
priests -- they admitted that the Holy Ghost had "proceeded," and these
things put pillows beneath their dying heads, and covered them with the
drapery of peace.
Now and then, in the history of this world, a man of genius, of sense, of
intellectual honesty has appeared. These men have denounced the
superstitions of their day. They pitied the multitude. To see priests devour
the substance of the people filled them with indignation. These men were
honest enough to tell their thoughts. Then they were denounced, tried,
condemned, executed. Some of them escaped the fury of the people who loved
their enemies, and died naturally in their beds.
It would not do for the church to admit that they died peacefully. That
would show that religion was not actually necessary in the last moment.
Religion got much of its power from the terror of death.
THE DEATH TEST
You had better live well and die wicked, you had better live well and die
cursing than live badly and die praying.
It would not do to have the common people understand that a man could
deny the Bible, refuse to look at the cross, contend that Christ was only a
man, and yet die as calmly as Calvin did after he had murdered Servetus, or
as did King David after advising one son to kill another.
The church has taken great pains to show that the last moments of all
infidels (that Christians did not succeed in burning) were infinitely
wretched and despairing. It was alleged that words could not paint the
horrors that were endured by a dying infidel. Every good Christian was
expected to, and generally did, believe these accounts. They have been told
and retold in every pulpit of the world. Protestant ministers have repeated
the inventions of Catholic priests, and Catholics, by a kind of theological
comity, have sworn to the falsehoods told by Protestants. Upon this point
they have always stood together, and will as long as the same calumny can be
used by both.
Upon the death-bed subject the clergy grow eloquent. When describing the
shudderings and shrieks of the dying unbeliever, their eyes glitter with
It is a festival.
They are no longer men. They become hyenas. They dig open graves. They
devour the reputations of the dead.
It is a banquet.
Unsatisfied still, they paint the terrors of hell. They gaze at the souls
of the infidels writhing in the coils of the worm that never dies. They see
them in flames -- in oceans of fire -- in gulfs of pain -- in abysses of
despair. They shout with joy. They applaud.
It is an auto da fe, presided over by God and his angels.
The men they thus describe were not atheists; they were all believers in
God, in special providence, and in the immortality of the soul. They
believed in the accountability of man -- in the practice of virtue, in
justice. and liberty, but they did not believe in that collection of follies
and fables called the Bible. In order to show that an infidel must die
overwhelmed with remorse and fear, they have generally selected from all the
"unbelievers" since the day of Christ five men -- the Emperor Julian,
Spinoza, Voltaire, Diderot, David Hume, and Thomas Paine.
Hardly a minister in the United States has attempted to "answer" me
without referring to the death of one or more of these men. In vain have
these calumniators of the dead been called upon to prove their statements.
In vain have rewards been offered to any priestly malinger to bring forward
Let us once for all dispose of these slanders -- of these pious
They say that the Emperor Julian was an "apostate;" that he was once a
Christian; that he fell from grace, and that in his last moments, throwing
some of his own blood into the air, he cried out to Jesus Christ, "Galilean,
thou hast conquered!"
It must be remembered that the Christians had persecuted and imprisoned
this very Julian; that they had exiled him; that they had threatened him
with death. Many of his relatives were murdered by the Christians. He became
emperor, and Christians conspired to take his life. The conspirators were
discovered and they were pardoned. He did what he could to prevent the
Christians from destroying each other. He held pomp and pride and luxury in
contempt, and led his army on foot, sharing the privations of the meanest
Upon ascending the throne he published an edict proclaiming universal
religious toleration. He was then a Pagan. It is claimed by some that he
never did entirely forget his Christian education. In this I am inclined to
think there is some truth, because he revoked his edict of toleration, and
for a time was nearly as unjust as though he had been a saint. He was
emperor one year and seven months. In a battle with the Persians he was
mortally wounded. "Brought back to his tent, and feeling that he had but a
short time to live, he spent his last hours in discoursing with his friends
on the immortality of the soul. He reviewed his reign and declared that he
was satisfied with his conduct, and had neither penitence nor remorse to
express for anything that he had done." His last words were: "I submit
willingly to the eternal decrees of heaven, convinced that he who is
captivated with life, when his last hour has arrived is more weak and
pusillanimous than he who would rush to voluntary death when it is his duty
still to live.
When we remember that a Christian emperor murdered Julian's father and
most of his kindred, and that he narrowly escaped the same fate, we can
hardly blame him for having a little prejudice against a church whose
members were fierce, ignorant, and bloody -- whose priests were hypocrites,
and whose bishops were assassins. If Julian had said he was a Christian --
no matter what he actually was, he would have satisfied the church.
The story that the dying emperor acknowledged that he was conquered by
the Galilean was originated by some of the so-called Fathers of the Church,
probably by Gregory or Theodoret. They are the same wretches who said that
Julian sacrificed a woman to the moon, tearing out her entrails with his own
hands. We are also informed by these hypocrites that he endeavored to
rebuild the temple of Jerusalem, and that fire came out of the earth and
consumed the laborers employed in the sacrilegious undertaking.
I did not suppose that an intelligent man could be found in the world who
believed this childish fable, and yet in the January number for 1880, of the
Princeton Review, the Rev. Stuart Robinson (whoever he may be) distinctly
certifies to the truth of this story. He says: "Throughout the entire era of
the planting of the Christian Church, the gospel preached was assailed not
only by the malignant fanaticism of the Jew and the violence of Roman
statecraft, but also by the intellectual weapons of philosophers, wits, and
poets. Now Celsus denounced the new religion as base imposture. Now Tacitus
described it as but another phase of the odium generius humani. Now Julian
proposed to bring into contempt the prophetic claims of its founder by the
practical test of rebuilding the Temple." Here then in the year of grace
1880 is a Presbyterian preacher, who really believes that Julian tried to
rebuild the Temple, and that God caused fire to issue from the earth and
consume the innocent workmen.
All these stories rest upon the same foundation, the mendacity of
Julian changed the religion of the Empire, and diverted the revenues of
the church. Whoever steps between a priest and his salary, will find that he
has committed every crime. No matter how often the slanders may be refuted,
they will be repeated until the last priest has lost his body and found his
wings. These falsehoods about Julian were invented some fifteen hundred
years ago, and they are repeated to-day by just as honest and just as
respectable people as these who told them at first. Whenever the church
cannot answer the arguments of an opponent, she attacks his character. She
resorts to falsehood, and in the domain of calumny she has stood for fifteen
hundred years without a rival.
The great Empire was crumbling to its fall. The literature of the world
was being destroyed by priests. The gods and goddesses were driven from the
earth and sky. The paintings were torn and defaced. The statues were broken.
The walls were left desolate, and the niches empty. Art, like Rachel, wept
for her children, and would not be comforted. The streams and forests were
deserted by the children of the imagination, and the whole earth was barren,
poor and mean.
Christian ignorance, bigotry and hatred, in blind unreasoning zeal, had
destroyed the treasures of our race. Art was abhorred, Knowledge was
despised, Reason was an outcast. The sun was blotted from the intellectual
heaven, every star extinguished, and there fell upon the world that shadow
-- that midnight, -- known as "The Dark Ages."
This night lasted for a thousand years.
The First Great Star -- Herald of the Dawn -- was Bruno.
The night of the Middle Ages lasted for a thousand years. The first star
that enriched the horizon of this universal gloom was Giordano Bruno. He was
the herald of the dawn.
He was born in 1550, was educated for a priest, became a Dominican friar.
At last his reason revolted against the doctrine of transubstantiation. He
could not believe that the entire Trinity was in a wafer, or in a swallow of
wine. He could not believe that a man could devour the Creator of the
universe by eating a piece of bread. This led him to investigate other
dogmas of the Catholic Church, and in every direction he found the same
contradictions and impossibilities supported, not by reason, but by faith.
Those who loved their enemies threatened his life. He was obliged to flee
From his native land, and he became a vagabond in nearly every nation of
Europe. He declared that he fought, not what priests believed, but what they
pretended to believe. He was driven from his native country because of his
astronomical opinions. He had lost confidence in the Bible as a scientific
work. He was in danger because he had discovered a truth.
He fled to England. He gave some lectures at Oxford. He found that
institution controlled by priests. He found that they were teaching nothing
of importance -- only the impossible and the hurtful. He called Oxford "the
widow of true learning." There were in England, at that time, two men who
knew more than the rest of the world. Shakespeare was then alive.
Bruno was driven from England. He was regarded as a dangerous man, -- he
had opinions, he inquired after reasons, he expressed confidence in facts.
He fled to France. He was not allowed to remain in that country. He
discussed things -- that was enough. The church said, "move on." He went to
Germany. He was not a believer -- he was an investigator. The Germans wanted
believers: they regarded the whole Christian system as settled; they wanted
witnesses; they wanted men who would assert. So he was driven from Germany.
He returned at last to his native land. He found himself without friends,
because he had been true, not only to himself, but to the human race. But
the world was false to him because he refused to crucify the Christ of his
own soul between the two thieves of hypocrisy and bigotry. He was arrested
for teaching that there are other worlds than this; that many of the stars
are suns, around which other worlds revolve; that Nature did not exhaust all
her energies on this grain of sand called the earth. He believed in a
plurality of worlds, in the rotation of this, in the heliocentric theory.
For these crimes, and for these alone, he was imprisoned for six years. He
was kept in solitary confinement. He was allowed no books, no friends, no
visitors. He was denied pen and paper. In the darkness, in the loneliness,
he had time to examine the great questions of origin, of existence, of
destiny. He put to the test what is called the goodness of God. He found
that he could neither depend upon man nor upon any deity. At last. the
Inquisition demanded him. He was tried, condemned, excommunicated and
sentenced to be burned. According to Professor Draper, he believed that this
world is animated by an intelligent soul -- the cause of forms, but not of
matter; that it lives in all things, even in such as seem not to live; that
everything is ready to become organized; that matter is the mother of forms,
and then their grave; that matter and the soul of things, together,
constitute God. He was a pantheist -- that is to say, an atheist. He was a
lover of Nature, -- a reaction from the asceticism of the church. He was
tired of the gloom of the monastery. He loved the fields, the woods, the
streams. He said to his brother-priests: Come out of your cells, out of your
dungeons: come into the air and light. Throw away your beads and your
crosses. Gather flowers; mingle with your fellow- men; have wives and
children; scatter the seeds of joy; throw away the thorns and nettles of
your creeds; enjoy the, perpetual miracle of life.
On the sixteenth day of February, in the year of grace 1600, by "the
triumphant beast," the Church of Rome, this philosopher, this great and
splendid man, was burned. He was offered his liberty if he would recant.
There was no God to be offended by his recantation, and yet, as an apostle
of what he believed to be the truth, he refused this offer. To those who
passed the sentence upon him he said: "It is with greater fear that ye pass
this sentence upon me than I receive it." This man, greater than any
naturalist of his day; grander than the martyr of any religion, died
willingly in defence of what he believed to be the sacred truth. He was
great enough to know that real religion will not destroy the joy of life on
earth; great enough to know that investigation is not a crime -- that the
really useful is not hidden in the mysteries of faith. He knew that the
Jewish records were below the level of the Greek and Roman myths; that there
is no such thing as special providence; that prayer is useless; that liberty
and necessity are the same, and that good and evil are but relative. He was
the first real martyr, -- neither frightened by perdition, nor bribed by
heaven. He was the first of all the world who died for truth without
expectation of reward. He did not anticipate a crown of glory. His
imagination had not peopled the heavens with angels waiting for his soul. He
had not been promised an eternity of joy if he stood firm, nor had he been
threatened with the fires of hell if he wavered and recanted. He expected as
his reward an eternal nothing! Death was to him an everlasting end --
nothing beyond but a sleep without a dream, a night without a star, without
a dawn -- nothing but extinction, blank, utter, and eternal. No crown, no
palm, no "well done, good and faithful servant," no shout of welcome, no
song of praise, no smile of God, no kiss of Christ, no mansion in the fair
skies -- not even a grave within the earth -- nothing but ashes, wind-blown
and priest-scattered, mixed with earth and trampled beneath the feet of men
The murder of this man will never be completely and perfectly avenged
until from Rome shall be swept every vestige of priest and pope, until over
the shapeless ruin of St. Peter's, the crumbled Vatican and the fallen
cross, shall rise a monument to Bruno, -- the thinker, philosopher,
philanthropist, atheist, martyr.
THE CHURCH IN THE TIME OF VOLTAIRE
When Voltaire was born, the natural was about the only thing in which the
church did not believe. The monks sold little amulets of consecrated paper.
They would cure diseases. If laid in a cradle they would prevent a child
being bewitched. So, they could be put into houses and barns to keep devils
away, or buried in a field to prevent bad weather, to delay frost, and to
insure good crops. There was a regular formulary by which they were made,
ending with a prayer, after which the amulets were sprinkled with holy
water. The church contended that its servants were the only legitimate
physicians. The priests cured in the name of the church, and in the name of
God, by exorcism, relics, water, salt, and oil. St. Valentine cured
epilepsy, St. Gervasius was good for rheumatism, St. Michael de Sanatis for
cancer, St. Judas for coughs, St. Ovidius for deafness, St. Sebastian for
poisonous bites, St. Apollonia for toothache, St. Clara for rheum in the
eye, St. Hubert for hydrophobia. Devils were driven out with wax tapers,
with incense, with holy water, by pronouncing prayers. The church, as late
as the middle of the twelfth century, prohibited good Catholics from having
anything to do with physicians.
It was believed that the devils produced storms of wind, of rain and of
fire from heaven; that the atmosphere was a battlefield between angels and
devils; that Lucifer had power to destroy fields and vineyards and
dwellings, and the principal business of the church was to protect the
people from the Devil. This was the origin of church bells. These bells were
sprinkled with holy water, and their clangor cleared the air of imps and
fiends. The bells also prevented storms and lightning. The church used to
anathematize insects. In the sixteenth century, regular suits were commenced
against rats, and judgment was rendered. Every monastery had its master
magician, who sold magic incense, salt, and tapers, consecrated palms and
Every science was regarded as an outcast, an enemy. Every fact held the
creed of the church in scorn. Investigators were enemies in disguise.
Thinkers were traitors, and the church exerted its vast power for centuries
to prevent the intellectual progress of man. There was no liberty, no
education, no philosophy, no science; nothing but credulity, ignorance, and
superstition. The world was really under the control of Satan and his
agents. The church, for the purpose of increasing her power, exhausted every
means to convince the people of the existence of witches, devils, and
fiends. In this way the church had every enemy within her power. She simply
had to charge him with being a wizard, of holding communication with devils,
and the ignorant mob were ready to tear him to pieces.
To such an extent was this frightful course pursued, and such was the
prevalence of the belief in the supernatural, that the worship of the devil
was absolutely established. The poor people, brutalized by the church,
filled with fear of Satanic influence, finding that the church did not
protect, as a last resort began to worship the Devil. The power of the Devil
was proven by the Bible. The history of Job, the temptation of Christ in the
desert, the carrying of Christ to the top of the temple, and hundreds of
other instances, were relied upon as establishing his power; and when people
laughed about witches riding upon anointed sticks in the air, invisible,
they were reminded of a like voyage when the Devil carried Jesus to the
pinnacle of the temple.
This frightful doctrine filled every friend with suspicion of his friend.
It made the husband denounce the wife, the children the parents, and the
parents the children. It destroyed all the sweet relations of humanity. It
did away with justice in the courts. It destroyed the charity of religion.
It broke the bond of friendship. It filled with poison the golden cup of
life. It turned earth into a very hell, peopled with ignorant, tyrannical,
and malicious demons.
Such was the result of a few centuries of Christianity. Such was the
result of a belief in the supernatural. Such was the result of giving up the
evidence of our own senses, and relying upon dreams, visions, and fears.
Such was the result of destroying human reason, of depending upon the
supernatural, of living here for another world instead of for this, of
depending upon priests instead of upon ourselves. The Protestants vied with
the Catholics. Luther stood side by side with the priests he had deserted,
in promoting this belief in devils and fiends. To the Catholic, every
Protestant was possessed by a devil. To the Protestant, every Catholic was
the homestead of a fiend. All order, all regular succession of causes and
effects, were known no more. The natural ceased to exist. The learned and
the ignorant were on a level. The priest had been caught in the net spread
for the peasant, and Christendom was a vast madhouse, with insane priests
When Voltaire was born, the church ruled and owned France. It was a
period of almost universal corruption. The priests were mostly libertines.
The judges were nearly as cruel as venal. The royal palace was simply a
house of assignation. The nobles were heartless, proud, arrogant, and cruel
to the last degree. The common people were treated as beasts. It took the
church a thousand years to bring about this happy condition of things.
The seeds of the revolution unconsciously were being scattered by every
noble and by every priest. They germinated in the hearts of the helpless.
They were watered by the tears of agony. Blows began to bear interest. There
was a faint longing for blood. Workmen, blackened by the sun, bent by labor,
looked at the white throats of scornful ladies and thought about cutting
In those days witnesses were cross-examined with instruments of torture.
The church was the arsenal of superstition. Miracles, relics, angels and
devils were as common as rags. Voltaire laughed at the evidences, attacked
the pretended facts, held the Bible up to ridicule, and filled Europe with
indignant protests against the cruelty, bigotry, and injustice of the time.
He was a believer in God, and in some ingenious way excused this God for
allowing the Catholic Church to exist. He had an idea that, originally,
mankind were believers in one God, and practiced all the virtues. Of course
this was a mistake. He imagined that the church had corrupted the human
race. In this he was right.
It may be that, at one time, the church relatively stood for progress,
but when it gained power, it became an obstruction. The system of Voltaire
was contradictory. He described a being of infinite goodness, who not only
destroyed his children with pestilence and famine, but allowed them to
destroy each other. While rejecting the God of the Bible, he accepted
another God, who, to say the least, allowed the innocent to be burned for
Voltaire hated tyranny, and loved liberty. His arguments to prove the
existence of a God were just as groundless as those of the reverend fathers
of his day to prove the divinity of Christ, or that Mary was the mother of
God. The theologians of his time maligned and feared him. He regarded them
as a spider does flies. He spread nets for them. They were caught, and he
devoured them for the amusement and benefit of the public. He was educated
by the Jesuits, and sometimes acted like one.
It is fashionable to say that he was not profound, This is because he was
not stupid. In the presence of absurdity he laughed, and was called
irreverent. He thought God would not damn even a priest forever: this was
regarded as blasphemy. He endeavored to prevent Christians from murdering
each other and did what he could to civilize the disciples of Christ. Had he
founded a sect, obtained control of some country, and burned a few heretics
at slow fires, he would have won the admiration, respect and love of the
Christian world. Had he only pretended to believe all the fables of
antiquity, had he mumbled Latin prayers, counted beads, crossed himself,
devoured the flesh of God, and carried fagots to the feet of philosophy in
the name of Christ, he might have been in heaven this moment, enjoying a
sight of the damned.
Instead of doing these things, he willfully closed his eyes to the light
of the gospel, examined the Bible for himself advocated intellectual
liberty, struck from the brain the fetters of an arrogant faith, assisted
the weak, cried out against the torture of man, appealed to reason,
endeavored to establish universal toleration, succored the indigent, and
defended the oppressed.
These were his crimes. Such a man God would not suffer to die in peace.
If allowed to meet death with a smile, others might follow his example,
until none would be left to light the holy fires of the auto da fe. It would
not do for so great, so successful an enemy of the church, to die without
leaving some shriek of fear, some shudder of remorse, some ghastly prayer of
chattered horror, uttered by lips covered with blood and foam.
He was an old man of eighty-four. He had been surrounded with the
comforts of life; he was a man of wealth, of genius. Among the literary men
of the world he stood first. God had allowed him to have the appearance of
success. His last years were filled with the intoxication of flattery. He
stood at the summit of his age.
The priests became anxious. They began to fear that God would forget, in
a multiplicity of business, to make a terrible example of Voltaire.
Toward the last of May, 1778, it was whispered in Paris that Voltaire was
dying. Upon the fences of expectation gathered the unclean birds of
superstition, impatiently waiting for their prey.
"Two days before his death, his nephew went to seek the cure of Saint
Sulpice and the Abbe Gautier and brought them into his uncle's sick chamber,
who was informed that they were there. 'Ah, well!' said Voltaire, 'give them
my compliments and my thanks.' The Abbe spoke some words to him, exhorting
him to patience. The cure of Saint Sulpice then came forward, having
announced himself, and asked of Voltaire, elevating his voice, if he
acknowledged the divinity of our Lord Jesus Christ. The sick man pushed one
of his hands against the cure's coif shoving him back, and cried, turning
abruptly to the other side, 'Let me die in peace.' The cure seemingly
considered his person soiled, and his coif dishonored, by the touch of the
philosopher. He made the nurse give him a little brushing, and went out with
the Abbe Gautier."
He expired, says Wagniere, on the 30th of May, 1778, at about a quarter
past eleven at night, with the most perfect tranquillity. Ten minutes before
his last breath he took the hand of Morand, his valet de chamber, who was
watching by him, pressed it and said: "Adieu, my dear Morand, I am gone."
These were his last words.
From this death, so simple and serene, so natural and peaceful; from,
these words so utterly destitute of cant or dramatic touch, all the
frightful pictures, all the despairing utterances, have been drawn and made.
From these materials, and from these alone, have been constructed all the
shameless lies about the death of this great and wonderful man, compared
with whom all of his calumniators, dead and living. were and are but dust
Voltaire was the intellectual autocrat of his time. From his throne at
the foot of the Alps he pointed the finger of scorn at every hypocrite in
Europe. He was the pioneer of his century. He was the assassin of
superstition. He left the quiver of ridicule without an arrow. Through the
shadows of faith and fable, through the darkness of myth and miracle,
through the midnight of Christianity, through the blackness of bigotry, past
cathedral and dungeon, past rack and stake, past altar and throne, he
carried, with chivalric hands, the sacred torch of reason.
DOUBT IS THE FIRST STEP TOWARD TRUTH
Diderot was born in 1713. His parents were in what may be called the
humbler walks of life. Like Voltaire he was educated by the Jesuits. He had
in him something of the vagabond, and was for several years almost a beggar
in Paris. He was endeavoring to live by his pen. In that day and generation,
a man without a patron, endeavoring to live by literature, was necessarily
almost a beggar. He nearly starved -- frequently going for days without
food. Afterward, when he had something himself, he was as generous as the
air. No man ever was more willing to give, and no man less willing to
receive, than Diderot.
He wrote upon all conceivable subjects, that he might have bread. He even
wrote sermons, and regretted it all his life. He and D'Alembert were the
life and soul of the Encyclopedia. With infinite enthusiasm he helped to
gather the knowledge of the world for the use of each and all. He harvested
the fields of thought, separated the grain from the straw and chaff, and
endeavored to throw away the seeds and fruit of superstition. His motto was,
"Incredulity is the first step towards philosophy."
He had the vices of most Christians -- was nearly as immoral as the
majority of priests. His vices he shared in common, his virtues were his
own. All who knew him united in saying that he had the pity of a woman, the
generosity of a prince, the self-denial of an anchorite, the courage of
Caesar, and the enthusiasm of a poet. He attacked with every power of his
mind the superstition of his day. He said what he thought. The priests hated
him. He was in favor of universal education -- the church despised it. He
wished to put the knowledge of the whole world within reach of the poorest.
He wished to drive from the gate of the Garden of Eden the cherubim of
superstition, so that the child of Adam might return to eat once more the
fruit of the tree of knowledge. Every Catholic was his enemy. His poor
little desk was ransacked by the police searching for manuscripts in which
something might be found that would justify the imprisonment of such a
dangerous man. Whoever, in 1750, wished to increase the knowledge of mankind
was regarded as the enemy of social order.
The intellectual superstructure of France rests upon the Encyclopedia.
The knowledge given to the people was the impulse, the commencement, of the
revolution that left the church without an altar and the king without a
throne. Diderot thought for himself, and bravely gave his thoughts to
others. For this reason he was regarded as a criminal. He did not expect his
reward in another world. He did not do what he did to please some imaginary
God. He labored for mankind. He wished to lighten the burdens of those who
should live after him. Hear these noble words:
"The more man ascends through the past, and the more he launches into the
future, the greater he will be, and all these philosophers and ministers and
truth-telling men who have fallen victims to the stupidity of nations, the
atrocities of priests, the fury of tyrants, what consolation was left for
them in death? This: That prejudice would pass, and that posterity would
pour out the vial of ignominy upon their enemies. O Posterity! Holy and
sacred stay of the unhappy and the oppressed; thou who art just, thou who
art incorruptible, thou who findest the good man, who unmaskest the
hypocrite, who breakest down the tyrant, may thy sure faith, thy consoling
faith never, never abandon me!" Posterity is for the philosopher what the
other world is for the devotee.
Diderot took the ground that, if orthodox religion be true Christ was
guilty of suicide. Having the power to defend himself he should have used
Of course it would not do for the church to allow a man to die in peace
who had added to the intellectual wealth of the world. The moment Diderot
was dead, Catholic priests began painting and recounting the horrors of his
expiring moments. They described him as overcome with remorse, as insane
with fear; and these falsehoods have been repeated by the Protestant world,
and will probably be repeated by thousands of ministers after we are dead.
The truth is, he had passed his three-score years and ten. He had lived for
seventy-one years. He had eaten his supper. He had been conversing with his
wife. He was reclining in his easy chair. His mind was at perfect rest. He
had entered, without knowing it, the twilight of his last day. Above the
horizon was the evening star, telling of sleep. The room grew still and the
stillness was lulled by the murmur of the street. There were a few moments
of perfect peace. The wife said, "He is asleep." She enjoyed his repose, and
breathed softly that he might not be disturbed. The moments wore on, and
still he slept. Lovingly, softly, at last she touched him. Yes, he was
asleep. He had become a part of the eternal silence.
The worst religion of the world was the Presbyterianism of Scotland as it
existed in the beginning of the eighteenth century. The Kirk had all the
faults of the Church of Rome without a redeeming feature. The Kirk hated
music, painting, statuary, and architecture. Anything touched with humanity
-- with the dimples of joy -- was detested and accursed. God was to be
feared -- not loved.
Life was a long battle with the Devil. Every desire was of Satan.
Happiness was a snare, and human love was wicked, weak and vain. The
Presbyterian priest of Scotland was as cruel, bigoted and heartless as the
familiar of the Inquisition.
One case will tell it all;
In the beginning of this, the nineteenth century, a boy seventeen years
of age, Thomas Aikenhead, was indicted and tried at Edinburgh for blasphemy.
He had denied the inspiration of the Bible. He had on several occasions,
when cold, jocularly wished himself in hell that he might get warm. The
poor, frightened boy recanted -- begged for mercy; but he was found guilty,
hanged, thrown in a hole at the foot of the scaffold, and his weeping mother
vainly begged that his bruised and bleeding body might be given to her.
This one case, multiplied again and again, gives you the condition of
Scotland when, on the 26th of April, 1711, David Hume was born.
David Hume was one of the few Scotchmen of his day who were not owned by
the church. He had the manliness to examine historical and religious
questions for himself, and the courage to give his conclusions to the world.
He was singularly capable of governing himself, He was a philosopher, and
lived a calm and cheerful life, unstained by an unjust act, free from all
excess, and devoted in a reasonable degree to benefiting his fellow-men.
After examining the Bible he became convinced that it was not true. For
failing to suppress his real opinion, for failing to tell a deliberate
falsehood, he brought upon himself the hatred of the church.
Intellectual honesty is the sin against the Holy Ghost, and whether God
will forgive this sin or not his church has not, and never will.
Hume took the ground that a miracle could not be used as evidence until
the fact that it had happened was established. But how can a miracle be
established? Take any miracle recorded in the Bible, and how could it be
established now? You may say: Upon the testimony of those who wrote the
account. Who were they? No one knows. How, could you prove the resurrection
of Lazarus? Or of the widow's son? How could you substantiate, today, the
ascension of Jesus Christ? In what way could you prove that the river Jordan
was divided upon being struck by the coat of a prophet? How is it possible
now to establish the fact that the fires of a furnace refused to burn three
men? Where are the witnesses? Who, upon the whole earth, has the slightest
knowledge upon this subject?
He insisted that at the bottom of all good was the useful; that human
happiness was an end worth working and living for; that origin and destiny
were alike unknown; that the best religion was to live temperately and to
deal justly with our fellowmen; that the dogma of inspiration was absurd,
and that an honest man had nothing to fear. Of course the Kirk hated him. He
laughed at the creed.
To the lot of Hume fell ease, respect, success, and honor. While many
disciples of God were the sport and prey of misfortune, he kept steadily
advancing. Envious Christians bided their time. They waited as patiently as
possible for the horrors of death to fall upon the heart and brain of David
Hume. They knew that all the furies would be there, and that God would get
Adam Smith, author of the "Wealth of Nations," speaking of Hume in his
last sickness, says that in the presence of death "his cheerfulness was so
great, and his conversation and amusements ran so much in the usual strain,
that, notwithstanding all his bad symptoms, many people could not believe he
was dying. A few days before his death Hume said: 'I am dying as fast as my
enemies -- if I have any -- could wish, and as easily and tranquilly as my
best friends could desire.'"
Col. Edmondstoune shortly afterward wrote Hume a letter, of which the
following is an extract:
"My heart is full, could not see you this morning. I thought it was
better for us both. You cannot die -- you must live in the memory of your
friends and acquaintances; and your works will render you immortal. I cannot
conceive that it was possible for any one to dislike you, or hate you. He
must be more than savage who could be an enemy to a man with the best head
and heart and the most amiable manners. Adam Smith happened to go into his
room while he was reading the above letter, which he immediately showed him.
Smith said to Hume that he was sensible of how much he was weakening, and
that appearances were in many respects bad; yet, that his cheerfulness was
so great and the spirit of life still seemed to be so strong in him, that he
could not keep from, entertaining some hopes.
Hume answered, "When I lie down in the evening I feel myself weaker than
when I arose in the morning; and when I rise in the morning, weaker than
when I lay down in the evening. I am sensible, besides, that some of my
vital parts are affected so that I must soon die."
"Well." said Mr. Smith, "if it must be so, you have at least the
satisfaction of leaving all your friends, and the members of your brother's
family in particular, in great prosperity."
He replied that he was so sensible of his situation that when he was
reading Lucian's Dialogues of the Dead, among all the excuses which are
alleged to Charon for not entering readily into his boat, he could not find
one that fitted him. He had no house to finish; he had no daughter to
provide for; he had no enemies upon whom he wished to revenge himself; "and
I could not well," said he, "imagine what excuse I could make to Charon in
order to obtain a little delay. I have done everything of consequence which
I ever meant to do, and I could, at no time expect to leave my relations and
friends in a better situation than that in which I am now likely to leave
them; and I have, therefore, every reason to die contented."
"Upon further consideration," said he, "I thought I might say to him,
'Good Charon, I have been correcting my works for a new edition. Allow me a
little time that I may see how the public receives the alterations.' 'But,'
Charon would answer, 'when you have seen the effect of this, you will be for
making other alterations. There will be no end to such excuses; so, my
honest friend, please step into the boat.' 'But,' I might still urge, 'have
a little patience, good Charon; I have been endeavoring to open the eyes of
the public; if I live a few years longer, I may have the satisfaction of
seeing the downfall of some of the prevailing systems of superstition.' And
Charon would then lose all temper and decency, and would cry out, 'You
loitering rogue, that will not happen these many hundred years. Do you fancy
I will grant you a lease for so long a time? Get into the boat this
To the Comtesse de Boufflers, the dying man, with the perfect serenity
that springs from an honest and loving life, writes:
"I see death approach gradually without any anxiety or regret. * * * I
salute you with great affection and regard, for the last time."
On the 25th of August, 1776, the philosopher, the historian, the infidel,
the honest man, and a benefactor of his race, in the composure born of a
noble life, passed quietly and panglessly away.
Dr Black wrote the following account of his death;
"Monday, 26 August, 1776.
"Dear Sir: Yesterday, about four o'clock in the afternoon, Mr. Hume
expired. The near approach of his death became evident on the evening
between Thursday and Friday, when his disease became exhaustive, and soon
weakened him so much that he could no longer rise from his bed. He continued
to the last perfectly sensible, and free from much pain or feeling of
distress. He never dropped the smallest expression of impatience; but when
he had occasion to speak to the people about him, always did it with all
affection and tenderness. * * * When he became very weak, it cost him an
effort to speak, and he died in such happy composure of mind that nothing
could exceed it."
Dr. Cullen writes Dr. Hunter on the 17th of September, 1776, from which
the following extracts are made:
"You desire an account of Mr. Hume's last days, and I give it to you with
great pleasure. * * * It was truly an example des grands hommes qui sont
morts en plaisantant; and to me, who have been so often shocked with the
horrors of superstition, the reflection on such a death is truly agreeable.
For many weeks before his death he was very sensible of his gradual decay;
and his answer to inquiries after his health was, several times, that he was
going as fast as his enemies could wish, and as easily as his friends could
desire. He passed most of the time in his drawing- room, admitting the
visits of his friends, and with his usual spirit conversed with them upon
literature and politics and whatever else was started. In conversation he
seemed to be perfectly at ease; and to the last abounded with that
pleasantry and those curious and entertaining anecdotes which ever
distinguished him. * * * His senses and judgment did not fail him to the
last hour of his life. He constantly discovered a strong sensibility of the
attention and care of his friends; and midst great uneasiness and languor
never betrayed any peevishness or impatience." (Here follows the
conversation with Charon.) "These are a few particulars which may, perhaps,
appear trivial; but to me, no particulars seem trivial which relate to so
great a man. It is perhaps from trifles that we can best distinguish the
tranquilness and cheerfulness of the philosopher at a time when the most
part of mankind are under disquiet, and sometimes even horror. I consider
the sacrifice of the cock as a more certain evidence of the tranquillity of
Socrates than his discourse on immortality."
The Christians took it for granted that this serene and placid man died
filled with remorse for having given his real opinions, and proceeded to
describe, with every incident and detail of horror, the terrors of his last
moments. Brainless clergymen, incapable of understanding what Hume had
written, knowing only in a general way that he had held their creeds in
contempt, answered his arguments by maligning his character.
Christians took it for granted that he died in horror and recounted the
When the facts of his death became generally known to intelligent men,
the ministers redoubled their efforts to maintain the old calumnies, and
most of them are in this employment even unto this day. Finding it
impossible to tell enough falsehoods to hide the truth, a few of the more
intelligent among the priests admitted that Hume not only died without
showing any particular fear, but was guilty of unbecoming levity. The first
charge was that he died like a coward; the next that he did not care enough,
and went through the shadowy doors of the dread unknown with a smile upon
his lips. The dying smile of David Hume scandalized the believers in a God
of love. They felt shocked to see a man dying without fear who denied the
miracles of the Bible; who had spent a life investigating the opinions of
men; in endeavoring to prove to the world that the right way is the best
way; that happiness is a real and substantial good, and that virtue is not a
termagant with sunken cheeks and hollow eyes.
Christians hated to admit that a philosopher had died serenely without
the aid of superstition -- one who had taught that man could not make God
happy by making himself miserable, and that a useful life, after all, was
the best possible religion. They imagined that death would fill such a man
with remorse and terror. He had never persecuted his fellowmen for the honor
of God, and must needs die in despair. They were mistaken.
He died as he had lived. Like a peaceful river with green and shaded
banks he passed, without a murmur, into that waveless sea where life at last
One of the greatest thinkers was Benedict Spinoza, a Jew, born at
Amsterdam, in 1632. He studied medicine and afterward theology. He
endeavored to understand what he studied. In theology he necessarily failed.
Theology is not intended to be understood, -- it is only to be believed. It
is an act, not of reason, but of faith. Spinoza put to the rabbis so many
questions, and so persistently asked for reasons, that he became the most
troublesome of students. When the rabbis found it impossible to answer the
questions, they concluded to silence the questioner. He was tried, found
guilty, and excommunicated from the synagogue.
By the terrible curse of the Jewish religion, he was made an outcast from
every Jewish home. His father could not give him shelter. His mother could
not give him bread -- could not speak to him, without becoming an outcast
herself. All the cruelty of Jehovah, all the infamy of the Old Testament,
was in this curse. In the darkness of the synagogue the rabbis lighted their
torches, and while pronouncing the curse, extinguished them in blood,
imploring God that in like manner the soul of Benedict Spinoza might be
Spinoza was but twenty-four years old when he found himself without
kindred, without friends, surrounded only by enemies. He uttered no
complaint. He earned his bread with willing hands, and cheerfully divided
his crust with those still poorer than himself.
He tried to solve the problem of existence. To him, the universe was One.
The Infinite embraced the All. The All was God. According to his belief, the
universe did not commence to be. It is; from eternity it was; to eternity it
He was right. The universe is all there is, or was, or will be. It is
both subject and object, contemplator and contemplated, creator and created,
destroyer and destroyed, preserver and preserved, and hath within itself all
causes, modes, motions and effects.
In this there is hope. This is a foundation and a star. The Infinite is
the All. Without the All, the Infinite cannot be. I am something. Without
me, the Infinite cannot exist.
Spinoza was a naturalist -- that is to say, a pantheist. He took the
ground that the supernatural is, and forever will be, an infinite
impossibility. His propositions are luminous as stars, and each of his
demonstrations is a Gibraltar, behind which logic sits and smiles at all the
sophistries of superstition.
Spinoza has been hated because he has not been answered. He was a real
republican. He regarded the people as the true and only source of political
power. He put the state above the church, the people above the priest. He
believed in the absolute liberty of worship, thought and speech. In every
relation of life he was just, true, gentle, patient, modest and loving. He
respected the rights of others, and endeavored to enjoy his own, and yet he
brought upon himself the hatred of the Jewish and the Christian world. In
his day, logic was blasphemy, and to think was the unpardonable sin. The
priest hated the philosopher, revelation reviled reason, and faith was the
sworn foe of every fact.
Spinoza was a philosopher, a philanthropist. He lived in a world of his
own. He avoided men. His life was an intellectual solitude. He was a mental
hermit. Only in his own brain he found the liberty he loved. And yet the
rabbis and the priests, the ignorant zealot and the cruel bigot, feeling
that this quiet, thoughtful, modest man was in some way forging weapons to
be used against the church, hated him with all their hearts.
He did not retaliate. He found excuses for their acts. Their ignorance,
their malice, their misguided and revengeful zeal excited only pity in his
breast. He injured no man. He did not live on alms. He was poor -- and yet,
with the wealth of his brain, he enriched the world. On Sunday, February 21,
1677, Spinoza, one of the greatest and subtlest of metaphysicians -- one of
the noblest and purest of human beings, -- at the age of forty-four, passed
tranquilly away; and notwithstanding the curse of the synagogue under which
he had lived and most lovingly labored, death left upon his lips the smile
of perfect peace.
In our country there were three infidels -- Paine, Franklin and
Jefferson. The colonies were filled with superstition, the Puritans with the
spirit of persecution. Laws savage, ignorant and malignant had been passed
in every colony, for the purpose of destroying intellectual liberty. Mental
freedom was absolutely unknown. The Toleration Acts of Maryland tolerated
only Christians -- not infidels, not thinkers, not investigators. The
charity of Roger Williams was not extended to those who denied the Bible, or
suspected the divinity of Christ. It was not based upon the rights of man,
but upon the rights of believers, who differed in non- essential points.
The moment the colonies began to deny the rights of the king they
suspected the power of the priest. In digging down to find an excuse for
fighting George the Third, they unwittingly undermined the church. They went
through the Revolution together. They found that all denominations fought
equally well. They also found that persons without religion had patriotism
and courage, and were willing to die that a new nation might be born. As a
matter of fact the pulpit was not in hearty sympathy with our fathers. Many
priests were imprisoned because they would not pray for the Continental
Congress. After victory had enriched our standard, and it became necessary
to make a constitution -- to establish a government -- the infidels -- the
men like Paine, like Jefferson, and like Franklin, saw that the church must
be left out; that a government deriving its just powers from the consent of
the governed could make no contract with a church pretending to derive its
powers from an infinite God.
By the efforts of these infidels, the name of God was left out of the
Constitution of the United States. They knew that if an infinite being was
put in, no room would be left for the people. They knew that if any church
was made the mistress of the state, that mistress, like all others, would
corrupt, weaken, and destroy. Washington wished a church established by law
in Virginia. He was prevented by Thomas Jefferson. It was only a little
while ago that people were compelled to attend church by law in the Eastern
States, and taxes were raised for the support of churches the same as for
the construction of highways and bridges. The great principle enunciated in
the Constitution has silently repealed most of these laws. In the presence
of this great instrument, the constitutions of the States grew small and
mean, and in a few years every law that puts a chain upon the mind, except
in Delaware, will be repealed, and for these our children may thank the
Infidels of 1776.
The church never has pretended that Jefferson or Franklin died in fear.
Franklin wrote no books against the fables of the ancient Jews. He thought
it useless to cast the pearls of thought before the swine of ignorance and
fear. Jefferson was a statesman. He was the father of a great party. He gave
his views in letters and to trusted friends. He was a Virginian, author of
the Declaration of Independence, founder of a university, father of a
political party, President of the United States, a statesman and
philosopher. He was too powerful for the divided churches of his day. Paine
was a foreigner, a citizen of the world. He had attacked Washington and the
Bible. He had done these things openly, and what he had said could not he
answered. His arguments were so good that his character was bad.
THOMAS PAINE was born in Thetford, England. He came from the common
people. At the age of thirty-seven he left England for America. He was the
first to perceive the destiny of the New World. He wrote the pamphlet
"Common Sense," and in a few months the Continental Congress declared the
colonies free and independent States -- a new nation was born. Paine having
aroused the spirit of independence, gave every energy of his soul to keep
the spirit alive. He was with the army. He shared its defeats and its glory.
When the situation became desperate, he gave them "The Crisis." It was a
pillar of cloud by day and of fire by night, leading the way to freedom,
honor, and to victory.
The writings of Paine are gemmed with compact statements that carry
conviction to the dullest. Day and night he labored for America, until there
was a government of the people and for the people. At the close of the
Revolution, no one stood higher than Thomas Paine. Had he been willing to
live a hypocrite, he would have been respectable, he at least could have
died surrounded by other hypocrites, and at his death there would have been
an imposing funeral, with miles of carriages, filled with hypocrites, and
above his hypocritical dust there would have been a hypocritical monument
covered with lies.
Having done so much for man in America, he went to France. The seeds sown
by the great infidels were bearing fruit in Europe. The eighteenth century
was crowning its gray hairs with the wreath of progress. Upon his arrival in
France he was elected a member of the French Convention -- in fact, he was
selected about the same time by the people of no less than four Departments.
He was one of the committee to draft a constitution for France. In the
Assembly, where nearly all were demanding the execution of the king, he had
the courage to vote against death. To vote against the death of the king was
to vote against his own life. This was the sublimity of devotion to
principle. For this he was arrested, imprisoned, and doomed to death. While
under sentence of death, while in the gloomy cell of his prison, Thomas
Paine wrote to Washington, asking him to say one word to Robespierre in
favor of the author of "Common Sense." Washington did not reply. He wrote
again. Washington, the President, paid no attention to Thomas Paine, the
prisoner. The, letter was thrown into the wastebasket of forgetfulness, and
Thomas Paine remained condemned to death. Afterward he gave his opinion of
Washington at length, and I must say, that I have never found it in my heart
to greatly blame him.
Thomas Paine, having done so much for political liberty, turned his
attention to the superstitions of his age. He published "The Age of Reason;"
and from that day to this, his character has been maligned by almost every
priest in Christendom. He has been held up as the terrible example. Every
man who has expressed an honest thought, has been warningly referred to
Thomas Paine. All his services were forgotten. No kind word fell from any
pulpit. His devotion to principle, his zeal for human rights, were no longer
remembered. Paine simply took the ground that it is a contradiction to call
a thing a revelation that comes to us second-hand. There can be no
revelation beyond the first communication. All after that is hearsay. He
also showed that the prophecies of the Old Testament had no relation
whatever to Jesus Christ, and contended that Jesus Christ was simply a man.
In other words, Paine was an enlightened Unitarian. Paine thought the Old
Testament too barbarous to have been the work of an infinitely benevolent
God. He attacked the doctrine that salvation depends upon belief. He
insisted that every man has the right to think.
After the publication of these views every falsehood that malignity could
coin and malice pass was given to the world. On his return to America, after
the election to the presidency of another infidel, Thomas Jefferson, it was
not safe for him to appear in the public streets. He was in danger of being
mobbed. Under the very flag he had helped to put in heaven his rights were
not respected. Under the Constitution that he had suggested, his life was
insecure. He had helped to give liberty to more than three millions of his
fellow-citizens, and they were willing to deny it unto him. He was deserted,
ostracized, shunned, maligned, and cursed. He enjoyed the seclusion of a
leper; but he maintained through it all his integrity. He stood by the
convictions of his mind. Never for one moment did he hesitate or waver.
He died almost alone. The moment he died Christians commenced
manufacturing horrors for his death-bed. They had his chamber filled with
devils rattling chains, and these ancient lies are annually certified to by
the respectable Christians of the present day. The truth is, he died as he
had lived. Some ministers were impolite enough to visit him against his
will. Several of them he ordered from his room. A couple of Catholic
priests, in all the meekness of hypocrisy, called that they might enjoy the
agonies of a dying friend of man. Thomas Paine, rising in his bed, the few
embers of expiring life blown into flame by the breath of indignation, had
the goodness to curse them both. His physician, who seems to have been a
meddling fool, just as the cold hand of death was touching the patriot's
heart, whispered in the dull ear of the dying man: "Do you believe, or do
you wish to believe, that Jesus Christ is the son of God?" And the reply
was: "I have no wish to believe on that subject."
These were the last remembered words of Thomas Paine. He died as serenely
as ever Christian passed away. He died in the full possession of his mind,
and on the very brink and edge of death proclaimed the doctrines of his
Every Christian, every philanthropist, every believer in human liberty,
should feel under obligation to Thomas Paine for the splendid service
rendered by him in the darkest days of the American Revolution. In the
midnight of Valley Forge, "The Crisis" was the first star that glittered in
the wide horizon of despair. Every good man should remember with gratitude
the brave words spoken by Thomas Paine in the French Convention against the
death of Louis. He said: "We will kill the king, but not the man. We will
destroy monarchy, not the monarch."
Thomas Paine was a champion, in both hemispheres, of human liberty; one
of the founders and fathers of this Republic; one of the foremost men of his
age. He never wrote a word in favor of injustice. He was a despiser of
slavery. He abhorred tyranny in every form. He was, in the widest and best
sense, a friend of all his race. His head was as clear as his heart was
good, and he had the courage to speak his honest thought.
He was the first man to write these words: "The United States of America"
He proposed the present Federal Constitution. He furnished every thought
that now glitters in the Declaration of Independence.
He believed in one God and no more. He was a believer even in special
providence, and he hoped for immortality.
How can the world abhor the man who said:
"I believe in the equality of man, and that religious duties consist in
doing justice, in loving mercy, and endeavoring to make our fellow-creatures
"It is necessary to the happiness of man that he be mentally faithful to
"The word of God is the creation which we behold." --
"Belief in a cruel God makes a cruel man." --
"My opinion is, that those whose lives have been spent in doing good and
endeavoring to make their fellow-mortals happy, will be happy hereafter." --
"One good schoolmaster is of more use than a hundred priests."
"I believe in one God, and no more, and I hope for happiness beyond this
"Man has no property in man" -- and
"The key of heaven is not in the keeping of any sect!"
Had it not been for Thomas Paine I could not deliver this lecture here
It is still fashionable to calumniate this man -- and yet Channing,
Theodore Parker, Longfellow, Emerson, and in fact all the liberal Unitarians
and Universalists of the world have adopted the opinions of Thomas Paine.
Let us compare these Infidels with the Christians of their time,:
Compare Julian with Constantine, -- the murderer of his wife, -- the
murderer of his son -- and who established Christianity with the same sword
he had wet with their blood. Compare him with all the Christian emperors --
with all, the robbers and murders and thieves -- the parricides and
fratricides. and matricides that ever wore the imperial purple on the banks
of the Tiber or the shores of the Bosphorus.
Let us compare Bruno with the Christians who burned him; and we will
compare Spinoza, Voltaire. Diderot, Hume, Jefferson, Paine -- with the men
who it is claimed have been the visible representatives of God.
Let it be remembered that the popes have committed every crime of which
human nature is capable, and that not one of them was the friend of
intellectual liberty -- that not one of them ever shed one ray of light.
Let us compare these Infidels with the founders of sectarian churches;
you will see how narrow, how bigoted, how cruel were their founders, and how
broad, how generous, how noble, were these infidels.
Let us be honest. The great effort of the human mind is to ascertain the
order of facts by which we are surrounded -- the history of things.
Who has accomplished the most in this direction -- the church, or the
unbelievers? Upon one side write all that the church has discovered -- every
phenomenon that has been explained by a creed, every new fact in Nature that
has been discovered by a church, and on the other side write the discoveries
of Humboldt, and the observations and demonstrations of Darwin!
Who has made Germany famous -- her priests, or her scientists?
Kant: That immortal man who said: "Whoever thinks that he can please God
in any way except by discharging his obligations to his fellows, is
And that greatest and bravest of thinkers, Ernst Haeckel.
Italy: -- Mazzini. Garibaldi.
In France who are and were the friends of freedom -- the Catholic
priests, or Renan? the bishops, or Gambetta? -- Dupanloup, or Victor Hugo?
Michelet -- Taine -- Auguste Comte.
England -- Let us compare her priests with John Stewart Mill, -- Harriet
Martineau, that "free rover on the breezy common of the universe." -- George
Eliot -- with Huxley and Tydall, with Holyoake and Harrison -- and above and
over all with Charles Darwin.
Let us be honest. Did all the priests of Rome increase the mental wealth
of man as much as Bruno? Did all the priests of France do as great a work
for the civilization of the world as Diderot and Voltaire? Did all the
ministers of Scotland add as much to the sum of human knowledge as David
Hume? Have all the clergymen, monks, friars, ministers, priests, bishops,
cardinals and popes, from the day of Pentecost to the last election, done as
much for human liberty as Thomas Paine? -- as much for science as Charles
What would the world be if infidels had never been?
The infidels have been the brave and thoughtful men; the flower of all
the world; the pioneers and heralds of the blessed day of liberty and love;
the generous spirits of the unworthy past; the seers and prophets of our
race; the great chivalric souls, proud victors on the battlefields of
thought, the creditors of all the years to be.
Why should it be taken for granted that the men who devoted their lives
to the liberation of their fellow-men should have been hissed at in the hour
of death by the snakes of conscience, while men who defended slavery,
practiced polygamy, justified the stealing of babes from the breasts of
mothers, and lashed the naked hack of unpaid labor are supposed to have
passed smilingly from earth to the embraces of the angels? Why should we
think that the brave thinkers, the investigators, the honest men, must have
left the crumbling shore of time in dread and fear, while the instigators of
the massacre of St. Bartholomew; the inventors and users of thumbscrews, of
iron boots and racks; the burners and tearers of human flesh; the stealers,
the whippers and the enslavers of men; the buyers and beaters of maidens,
mothers, and babes; the founders of the Inquisition; the makers of chains;
the builders of dungeons; the calumniators of the living; the slanderers of
the dead, and even the murderers of Jesus Christ, all died in the odor of
sanctity, with white, forgiven hands folded upon the breasts of peace, while
the destroyers of prejudice, the apostles of humanity, the soldiers of
liberty, the breakers of fetters, the creators of light, died surrounded by
the fierce hands of God?