Has freethought a constructive side?

by Robert Ingersoll


THE object of the Freethinker is to ascertain the truth — the conditions of well-being — to the end that this life will be made of value. This is the affirmative, positive, and constructive side.

Without liberty there is no such thing as real happiness. There may be the contentment of the slave — of one who is glad that he has passed the day without a beating — one who is happy because he has had enough to eat — but the highest possible idea of happiness is freedom.

All religious systems enslave the mind. Certain things are demanded — certain things must be believed — certain things must be done — and the man who becomes the subject or servant of this superstition must give up all idea of individuality or hope of intellectual growth and progress.

The religionist informs us that there is somewhere in the universe an orthodox God, who is endeavoring to govern the world, and who for this purpose resorts to famine and flood, to earthquake and pestilence — and who, as a last resort, gets up a revival of religion. That is called "affirmative and positive."

The man of sense knows that no such God exists, and thereupon he affirms that the orthodox doctrine is infinitely absurd. This is called a "negation." But to my mind it is an affirmation, and is a part of the positive side of Freethought.

A man who compels this Deity to abdicate his throne renders a vast and splendid service to the human race.

As long as men believe in tyranny in heaven they will practice tyranny on earth. Most people are exceedingly imitative, and nothing is so gratifying to the average orthodox man as to be like his God.

These same Christians tell us that nearly everybody is to be punished forever, while a few fortunate Christians who were elected and selected billions of ages before the world was created, are to be happy. This they call the "tidings of great joy." The Freethinker denounces this doctrine as infamous beyond the power of words to express. He says, and says clearly, that a God who would create a human being, knowing that that being was to be eternally miserable, must of necessity be an infinite fiend.

The free man, into whose brain the serpent of superstition has not crept, knows that the dogma of eternal pain is an infinite falsehood. He also knows — if the dogma be true — that every decent human being should hate, with every drop of his blood, the creator of the universe. He also knows — if he knows anything — that no decent human being could be happy in heaven with a majority of the human race in hell. He knows that a mother could not enjoy the society of Christ with her children in perdition; and if she could, he knows that such a mother is simply a wild beast. The free man knows that the angelic hosts, under such circumstances, could not enjoy themselves unless they had the hearts of boa- constrictors.

It will thus be seen that there is an affirmative, a positive, a constructive side to Freethought.

What is the positive side?

First: A denial of all orthodox falsehoods — an exposure of all superstitions. This is simply clearing the ground, to the end that seeds of value may be planted. It is necessary, first, to fell the trees, to destroy the poisonous vines, to drive out the wild beasts. Then comes another phase — another kind of work. The Freethinker knows that the universe is natural — that there is no room, even in infinite space, for the miraculous, for the impossible. The Freethinker knows, or feels that he knows, that there is no sovereign of the universe, who, like some petty king or tyrant, delights in showing his authority. He feels that all in the universe are conditioned beings, and that only those are happy who live in accordance with the conditions of happiness, and this fact or truth or philosophy embraces all men and all gods — if there be gods.

The positive side is this: That every good action has good consequences — that it bears good fruit forever — and that every bad action has evil consequences, and bears bad fruit. The Freethinker also asserts that every man must bear the consequences of his actions — that he must reap what he sows, and that he cannot be justified by the goodness of another, or damned for the wickedness of another.

There is still another side, and that is this: The Freethinker knows that all the priests and cardinals and popes know nothing of the supernatural — they know nothing about gods or angels or heavens or hells — nothing about inspired books or Holy Ghosts, or incarnations or atonements. He knows that all this is superstition pure and simple. He knows also that these people — from pope to priest, from bishop to parson, do not the slightest good in this world — that they live upon the labor of others — that they earn nothing themselves — that they contribute nothing toward the happiness, or well-being, or the wealth of man-kind. He knows that they trade and traffic in ignorance and fear, that they make merchandise of hope and grief — and he also knows that in every religion the priest insists on five things — First: There is a God. Second: He has made known his will. Third: He has selected me to explain this message. Fourth: We will now take up a collection; and Fifth: Those who fail to subscribe will certainly be damned.

The positive side of Freethought is to find out the truth — the facts of nature — to the end that we may take advantage of those truths, of those facts — for the purpose of feeding and clothing and educating mankind.

In the first place, we wish to find that which will lengthen human life — that which will prevent or kill disease — that which will do away with pain — that which will preserve or give us health.

We also want to go in partnership with these forces of nature, to the end that we may be well fed and clothed — that we may have good houses that protect us from heat and cold. And beyond this — beyond these simple necessities — there are still wants and aspirations, and freethought will give us the highest possible in art — the most wonderful and thrilling in music — the greatest paintings, the most marvelous sculpture — in other words, freethought will develop the brain to its utmost capacity. Freethought is the mother of art and science, of morality and happiness.

It is charged by the worshipers of the Jewish myth, that we destroy, that we do not build.

What have we destroyed? We have destroyed the idea that a monster created and governs this world — the declaration that a God of infinite mercy and compassion upheld slavery and polygamy and commanded the destruction of men, women, and babes. We have destroyed the idea that this monster created a few of his children for eternal joy, and the vast majority for everlasting pain. We have destroyed the infinite absurdity that salvation depends upon belief, that investigation is dangerous, and that the torch of reason lights only the way to hell. We have taken a grinning devil from every grave, and the curse from death — and in the place of these dogmas, of these infamies, we have put that which is natural and that which commends itself to the heart and brain.

Instead of loving God, we love each other. Instead of the religion of the sky — the religion of this world — the religion of the family — the love of husband for wife, of wife for husband — the love of all for children. So that now the real religion is: Let us live for each other; let us live for this world, without regard for the past and without fear for the future. Let us use our faculties and our powers for the benefit of ourselves and others, knowing that if there be another world, the same philosophy that gives us joy here will make us happy there.

Nothing can be more absurd than the idea that we can do something to please or displease an infinite Being. If our thoughts and actions can lessen or increase the happiness of God, then to that extent God is the slave and victim of man.

The energies of the world have been wasted in the service of a phantom — millions of priests have lived on the industry of others and no effort has been spared to prevent the intellectual freedom of mankind.

We know, if we know anything, that supernatural religion has no foundation except falsehood and mistake. To expose these falsehoods — to correct these mistakes — to build the fabric of civilization on the foundation of demonstrated truth — is the task of the Freethinker. To destroy guide-boards that point in the wrong direction — to correct charts that lure to reef and wreck — to drive the fiend of fear from the mind — to protect the cradle from the serpent of superstition and dispel the darkness of ignorance with the sun of science — is the task of the Freethinker.

What constructive work has been done by the church? Christianity gave us a flat world a few thousand years ago — a heaven above it where Jehovah dwells and a hell below it where most people will dwell. Christianity took the ground that a certain belief was necessary to salvation and that this belief was far better and of more importance than the practice of all the virtues. It became the enemy of investigation — the bitter and relentless foe of reason and the liberty of thought. It committed every crime and practiced every cruelty in the propagation of its creed. It drew the sword against the freedom of the world. It established schools and universities for the preservation of ignorance, it claimed to have within its keeping the source and standard of all truth. If the church had succeeded the sciences could not have existed.

Freethought has given us all we have of value. It has been the great constructive force. It is the only discoverer, and every science is its child. —

The Truth Seeker, New York 1890.


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