Why am I an agnostic?
Because I don't believe some of the things that other people say they believe. Where do you get your religion, anyway? I won't
bother to discuss just what religion is, but I think a fair definition of religion could take account of two things, at least,
immortality and God, and that both of them are based on some book, so practically all of it is a book.
As I have neither the time nor the learning to discuss every religious
book on earth, and as I live in Chicago, I am interested in the Christian religion. So I will discuss the book that deals
with the Christian religion. Is the Bible the work of anything but man? Of course, there is no such book as the Bible. The
Bible to made up of 66 books, some of them written by various authors at various times, covering a period of about 1,000 years
-- all the literature that they could find over a period longer than the time that has elapsed since the discovery of America
down to the present time.
Is the Bible anything but a human book? Of course those who are believers
take both sides of it. If there is anything that troubles them, "We don't believe this." Anything that doesn't trouble them
they do believe.
What about its accounts of the origin of the world? What about its
account of the first man and the first woman? Adam was the first, made about less than 6,000 years ago. Well, of course, every
scientist knows that human beings have been on the earth at least a half-million years, probably more. Adam got lonesome and
they made a companion for him. That was a good day's work -- or a day's work, anyhow.
From Rib to Woman
They took a simple way
to take one of Adam's ribs and cut it out and make it into a woman, Now, is that story a fact or a myth? How many preachers
would say it was a myth? None! There are some people who still occupy Christian pulpits who say it is, but they used to send
them to the stake for that.
If it isn't true then, what is? How much did they know about science
in those days, how much did they know about the heavens and the earth? The earth was flat, or did God write that down, or
did the old Hebrew write it down because he didn't know any better and nobody else then knew any better?
What was the heavens? The sun was made to light the day and the moon
to light the night. The sun was pulled out in the day time and taken in at night and the moon was pulled across after the
sun was taken out. I don't know what they did in the dark of the moon. They must have done something.
The stars, all there is about the stars, "the stars he made also."
They were just "also." Did the person who wrote that know anything whatever about astronomy? Not a thing. They believed they
were just little things up in the heavens, in the firmament, just a little way above the earth, about the size of a diamond
in an alderman's shirt stud. They always believed it until astronomers came along and told them something different.
Adam and Eve were put in a garden where everything was lovely and
there were no weeds to hoe down. They were allowed to stay there on one condition, and that is that they didn't eat of the
tree of knowledge. That has been the condition of the Christian church from then until now. They haven't eaten as yet, as
a rule they do not.
They were expelled from the garden, Eve was tempted by the snake who
presumably spoke to her in Hebrew. And she fell for it and of course Adam fell for it, and then they were driven out. How
many believe that story today?
If the Christian church doesn't believe it why doesn't it say so?
You do not find them saying that. If they do not believe it here and there, someone says it. That is, he says it at great
danger to his immortal soul, to say nothing of his good standing in his church.
The snake was cursed to go on his belly after that. How he went before,
the story doesn't say. And Adam was cursed to work. That is why we have to work. That is, some of us -- not I.
And Eve and all of her daughters to the end of time were condemned
to bring forth children in pain and agony. Lovely God, isn't it? Lovely?
Can't Believe Story
If that story was necessary
to keep me out of hell and put me in heaven -- necessary for my life -- I wouldn't believe it because I couldn't believe it.
I do not think any God could have done it and I wouldn't worship a
God who would. It is contrary to every sense of justice that we know anything about.
God had a great deal of trouble with the earth after he made it. People
were building a tower -- the Tower of Babylon -- so that they could go up and peek over.
God didn't want them to do that and so confounded their tongues. A
man would call up for a pall of mortar and they would send him up a tub of suds, or something like that. They couldn't understand
Is that true? How did they happen to right it? They found there were
various languages; and that is the origin of the languages. Everybody knows better today.
Is that story true? Did God write it? He must have known; he must
have been all-knowing then as he is all-knowing now.
I do not need to mention them. You remember that joyride that Balaam
was taking on the ass. That was the only means of locomotion they had besides walking. It is the only one pretty near that
they have now. Balaam wanted to get along too fast and he was beating the ass and the ass turned around and asked him what
he was doing it for. In Hebrew, of course. It must have been in Hebrew for Balaam was a Jew.
And Joshua Said to the Sun, "Stand Still."
Is that true or is it a story?
And Joshua; you remember about Joshua.
He was a great general. Very righteous and he was killing a lot of
people and he hadn't quite finished the job and so he turned to the mountain top and said to the sun, "Stand still till I
finish this job," and it stood still.
Is that one of the true ones or one of the foolish ones?
There are several things that that does. It shows how little they
knew about the earth and day and night. Of course, they thought that if the sun stood still it wouldn't be pulled along any
further and the night wouldn't come on. We know that if it had stood still from that day to this it wouldn't have affected
the day or night; that is affected by the revolution of the earth on its axis.
Is it true? Am I wicked because I know it cannot possibly be true?
Have you got to get rid of all your knowledge and all your common sense to save your soul?
Wait until I am a little older; maybe I can then. But my friend says
that he doesn't believe those stories. They are figurative.
Are they figurative? Then what about the New Testament? Why does he
believe these stories?
Here was a child born of a virgin. What evidence is there?
'Twas the Fashion
What evidence? Do you
suppose you could get any positive evidence that would make anyone believe that story today or anybody, no matter who it was?
Child, born of a virgin! There were at least four miraculous births
recorded in the Testament. There was Sarah's child, there was Samson, there was John the Baptist, and there was Jesus. Miraculous
births were rather a fashionable thing in those days, especially in Rome, where most of the theology was laid out.
Caesar had a miraculous birth, Cicero, Alexander from Macedonia --
nobody was in style or great unless he had a miraculous birth. It was a land of miracles.
What evidence is there of it? How much evidence would it require for
intelligent people to believe such a story? It wouldn't be possible to bring evidence anywhere in this civilized land today,
right under your own noses. Nobody would believe it anyway, and yet some people say that you must believe that without a scintilla
of evidence of any sort.
Jesus had brothers and sisters older than Himself. His genealogy by
Matthew is traced to his father, Joseph, in the first chapter of Matthew. Read that. What did he do?
Well, now, probably some of his teachings were good. We have heard
about the Sermon on the Mount. There isn't a single word contained in the Sermon on the Mount that isn't contained in what
is called the Sacred Book of the Jews, long before He lived -- not one single thing.
Jesus was an excellent student of Jewish theology, as anybody can
tell by reading the Gospels; every bit of it was taken from their books of authority, and He simply said what He had heard
of for years and years.
But let's look at some things charged to Him. He walked on the water.
Now how does that sound? Do you suppose Jesus walked on the water? Joe Smith tried it when he established the Mormon religion.
What evidence have you of that?
He found some of His disciples fishing and they hadn't gotten a bite
all day. Jesus said, "Cast your nets down there," and they drew them in full of fish. The East Indians couldn't do better
than that. What evidence is there of it?
He was at a performance where there were 5,000 people and they were
out of food, and He asked them how much they had; five loaves and three fishes, or three fishes and five loaves, or something
like that, and He made the five loaves and three fishes feed all the multitude and they picked up I don't know how many barrels
afterward. Think of that.
How does that commend itself to intelligent people, coming from a
land of myth and fable as all Asia was, a land of myth and fable and ignorance in the main, and before anybody knew anything
about science? And yet that must be believed -- and is -- to save us from our sins.
What are these sins? What has the human race done that was so bad,
except to eat of the tree of knowledge? Does anybody need to save man from his sins in a miraculous way? It is an absurd piece
of theology which they themselves say that you must accept on faith because your reason won't lead you to it. You can't do
it that way.
We Must Develop Reason
I know the weakness of
human reason, other people's reason. I know the weakness of it, but it is all we have, and the only safety of man is to cultivate
it and extend his knowledge so that he will be sure to understand life and as many of the mysteries of the universe as he
can possibly solve.
Jesus practiced medicine without medicine. Now think of this one.
He was traveling along the road and somebody came and told Him there was a sick man in the house and he wanted Him to cure
him. How did He do it? Well, there were a lot of hogs out in the front yard and He drove the devils out of a man and cured
him, but He drove them into the hogs and they jumped into the sea. Is that a myth or is it true?
If that is true, if you have got to believe that story in order to
have your soul saved, you are bound to get rid of your intelligence to save the soul that perhaps doesn't exist at all. You
can't believe a thing just because you want to believe it and you can't believe it on very poor evidence, You may believe
it because your grandfather told you it was true, but you have got to have some such details.
Did He raise a dead man to life? Why, tens of thousands of dead men
and women have been raised to life according to all the stories and all the traditions. Was this the only case? All Europe
is filled with miracles of that sort, the Catholic church performing miracles almost to the present time. Does anybody believe
it if they use their senses? I say, No. It is impossible to believe it if you use your senses.
Now take the soul. People in this world instinctively like to keep
on living. They want to meet their friends again, and all of that. They cling to life. Schopenhauer called it the will to
live. I call it the momentum of a going machine. Anything that is going keeps on going for a certain length of time. It is
all momentum. What evidence is there that we are alive after we are dead?
But that wasn't the theory of theology. The theory of theology --
and it is a part of a creed of practically every Christian church today -- is that you die and go down into the earth and
you are dead, and when Gabriel comes back to blow his horn, the dust is gathered together and, lo and behold, you appear the
same old fellow again and live here on earth!
How many believe it? And yet that is the only idea of immortality
that there is, and it is in every creed today, I believe.
And everything that is
in the body and in the man goes into something else, turns into the crucible of nature, goes to make trees and grass and weeds
and fruit, and is eaten by all kinds of life, and in that way goes on and on.
Of course, in a sense, nobody dies. The matter that is in me will
exist in another form when I am dead. The force that is in me will live in some other kind of force when I am dead. But I
will be gone.
That isn't the kind of immortality people want. They want to know
that they can recognize Mary Jane in heaven. Don't they? They want to see their brothers and their sisters and their friends
in heaven. It isn't possible. We know where our life began; we know where it ends.
We know where every individual life on earth began. It began in a
single cell, in the body of our mother, who had some 10,000 of those cells. It was fertilized by a spermatozoon from the body
of our father, who had a million of them, any one of which, under certain circumstances, would fertilize a cell.
They multiplied and divided until a child was born. And in old age
or accident or disease, they fall apart and the man is done.
Agnostic Because I Must Reason
Can you imagine an eternity
with one end cut off? Something that began but never ended? We began our immortality at a certain time, when the cell and
the spermatozoon conspired to form a human being. We began then. If I am not the product of a spermatozoon and a cell, and
if those cells which are unfertilized produce life, and those spermatozoa that fertilized no life were still alive, then I
must have 10,000 brothers and sisters on my mother's side and a million on my father's. It is utterly absurd.
Now I am not a revivalist. In fact, I am not interested. I am asked
to say why I am an agnostic. I am an agnostic because I trust my reason. It may not be the greatest that ever existed. I am
inclined to admit that it isn't. But it is the best I have. That is a mighty sight better than some other people's at that.
I am an agnostic because no man living can form any picture of any God, and you can't believe in an object unless you can
form a picture of it. You way believe in the force, but not in the object.
If there is any God in the universe I don't know it. Some people say
they know it instinctively. Well, the errors and foolish things that men have known instinctively are so many we can't talk
As a rule, the less a person knows, the surer he is, and he gets it
by instinct, and it can't be disputed, for I don't know what is going on in another man's mind. I have no such instinct.
Let me give you just one more idea of a miracle of this Jesus story
which has run down through the ages and is not at all the sole property of the Christian.
You remember, when Jesus was born in a manger according to the story,
there came wise men from the east to Jerusalem. And they were led by a star.
Now the closest star to the earth is more than a billion miles away.
Think of the star leading three moth-eaten camels to a manger! Can you imagine a star standing over any house?
Can you imagine a star standing over the earth even? What will they
say, if they had time? That was a miracle. It came down to the earth.
Well, if any star came that near the earth or anywhere near the earth,
it would immediately disarrange the whole solar system. Anybody who can believe those old myths and tables isn't governed