DELIVERED IN INVESTIGATOR HALL, BOSTON, BEFORE
THE INGERSOLL SECULAR SOCIETY,
SUNDAY, JAN. 27, 1889,
BY L.K. WASHBURN.
PUBLISHED BY J.P. MENDUM, INVESTIGATOR OFFICE,
PAINE MEMORIAL BUILDING, APPLETON STREET.
THE BOSTON INVESTIGATOR.
For more than fifty years this paper has maintained the battle for Liberty against a world of opposition. And these were years “that tried men’s souls.” But “the good old Investigator,” (as so many of its readers are pleased to call it,) has never from the first wavered or faltered for a moment in this long and unequal combat. It has borne the brunt of the battle. With this half a century of faithful service behind it, it may well be called “the tried and true friend of human rights.” It has had for its grand aim the elevation of man through the truth and inspiration of Mental Liberty and moral education. True to its name it has investigated all subjects deemed worthy of attention. It has investigated religions, politics and customs — investigated the dreadful superstitions of the past, the wicked shams of the present, and the seductive delusions regarding the future.
In short the Investigator is the people’s paper. Col. R.G. Ingersoll says of it, “The Investigator is the best of all Liberal papers.” Reader please let us have your subscription.
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MR. CHAIRMAN, LADIES, AND GENTLEMEN: —
It is essential that we understand what our Government stands for; that we recognize the principles upon which it was founded and the purposes for which it exists, in order to realize the present anomalous condition of things, and to see the contradiction between theory and practice as illustrated in the actual affairs of our national life. It seems like repeating the familiar knowledge of the school-room to say that our Government stands for human rights; that chief among these rights is liberty, and that the very inspiration of our existence as a people was the demand for political freedom.
The purposes of our Government is identical with its principles, to secure to man the freedom which it declares to be his right. Our Constitution guarantees the citizen of this nation the blessings of “liberty,” and our Government should make good its word.
our nation was born in a land which had passed through a religious experience that embraced persecution and toleration, fanaticism and common sense. The narrow religious spirit of the Puritan broadened into the philosophic temper of Franklin, and the rational faith of Jefferson and Paine. The events that immediately preceded the struggle for independence on this Continent which commanded the attention of the inhabitants of the Colonies, were of a political character. Whatever there was of religious or ecclesiastical interest was either pushed aside or forgotten in the more important matters of political Government.
The King of Great Britain had oppressed beyond endurance his American subjects, and the indignation of the Colonists was ripening into rebellion. The question that appealed to every heart was one of human rights. The heel of tyranny was on the necks of the people, and their sufferings had passed the bounds of submission. Let us understand that among all the alleged grievances against the King by the Colonists, there was no religious oppression complained of. Among the causes assigned for separation by the American people, there was no mention of religious wrongs or religious injustice. The step taken by the Colonists then was not to secure any religious reform, but solely to secure a better political Government.
These are the facts: The question of political independence from Great Britain was discussed with little or no reference to religious institutions; the war of the Revolution was fought with the one idea of political independence as the objective point of the struggle; the celebration of the victory which the American army achieved was a rejoicing over the political independence which the Colonies had won. Our Government was established for no religious purpose. It is well for this fact to be emphasized at the present time.
The founders of our Republic, whatever their individual religious convictions or opinions might have been, imposed no religion upon the nation. The State was to recognize no church, but to allow equal religious liberty to all. This principle was affirmed in the strongest language in the National Constitution: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” We may rest assured, however, that those most interested in ecclesiastical matters were not indifferent to the fate of religion, but the vast importance of political success overshadowed and kept in abeyance any sectarian or religious ambition which might seek gratification. Perhaps another reason that the assertion of religious liberty was engrafted on the Constitution, was, that many of the leaders in the struggle for independence were Freethinkers. Men who had become emancipated from superstition, and who were familiar with the history of ecclesiastical persecution, would not willingly see a new-born nation committed to hands that cared more for the interests of a church than for the rights of man.
It was fortunate for the human race that the foremost minds which gave form and direction to our Government were not religious bigots or fanatics. On no other Continent, and at no other period in the history of mankind, had there existed circumstances so favorable to the triumph of human freedom. Liberty was in the air. It fell to the people as a natural right. If there was manifested any disposition to shut it out of the National Constitution, it did not succeed, There were men who had thought deeply, who were determined that no union of Church and State should be permitted in this country. We have in the United States no established religion, no national church. The letter of the Constitution has not been violated. Congress has made no law prohibiting religious freedom. For over one hundred years the American people have boasted that in this land there was no union of Church and State.
In theory we have religious liberty in the United States, but in fact we have not. While there has been no legislative act that commits the nation to any form of religion, our Government has kept up a sort of religious flirtation with Christianity ever since its foundation, and has shown it favors and granted it immunities which cannot be reconciled with its principles of Secularism. If our nation has no religious intentions, every act which relieves the Christian Church of a just burden is dishonorable and unfair to those who do not wish to help support this ecclesiastical parasite.
It is said that our Government has never declared itself in favor of any religion, and yet ecclesiastical property has been exempted from taxation; ministers have been paid for praying by State and Nation; money has been granted by City and State for sectarian purposes; the Bible has been read in our public schools; the Governors of our States, and the President of the United States, have appointed days of fasting and prayer, and commanded the people to pay them the respect of religious observance, and various laws, having for their object the control of Sunday in the interest of Christianity, have been enacted and enforced in nearly all the States and Territories of the United States of America. We have an illegitimate union of Church and State in this country, and it is time that it was broken up. In the face of such facts as we have mentioned, the Constitution which declares that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, needs to be vindicated.
The National Constitution guarantees religions liberty to every citizen, and gives every State in the Union the power to take away this liberty. As a citizen of the United States, I am not bound by any religion, but as a citizen of Massachusetts I am compelled to regulate my actions by the faith of Christianity. Every State can make, and has made, laws abridging religious liberty. Such laws to-day give the Christian Church the legal right to take away human freedom, but every such statute is contrary to the supreme law of the land, and should be abrogated. It is time to cry “halt!” to the religious power in this country. The march of events under the flag of freedom takes us into no ecclesiastical camp. We must decide which is of most value to our people, the Christian religion or the principles embodied in our National Constitution; the Protestant Church or a free Government, This question is being forced upon our attention, and is up for discussion.
I insist that while every religion is free to propagate its faith by all the ecclesiastical arts known to priest and minister, no church has the right to claim the power of the law to shield it from just criticism, or to enforce its faith upon the people. Our nation is not a Christian nation. All the legislation in the interest of the Christian Church is contrary to the declaration of our principles. Every statute that has for its object the enforcement of the Christian religion is religious oppression. I always try to think as well of my fellow beings as I can. I would like to do justice to those men and women who are trying to have our Government “stand up for Jesus”; and I will admit that they are sincere in their efforts, that they honestly believe that we should be better, more moral and upright as a people, if some acknowledgment of our national dependence upon the Protestant religion could be secured from our Government. I will also admit that Calvin was perfectly sincere in his belief that the doctrines of Serviettes were dangerous to the soul of man, and that in his approval of the burning of Serviettes he was perfectly sincere,
I will admit that the Massachusetts Puritans who hung Quakers on Boston Common were sincere in their cruel and barbarous persecutions, and that it was with all sincerity that they branded with hot irons people whom they looked upon as heretics. I will admit that the Christian prosecution of Abner Kneeland for blasphemy was sincere, and that this grand man, called “the grey father of American Free Thought,” was sent to jail for an honest expression of an honest faith in perfect sincerity. I will admit that the Unitarians were sincere in their fear and hate of Theodore Parker, when he was a living power in this city, and that sincerity dictated the tardy repentance which has moved the Unitarian denomination to pay him the tribute of respect and honor which it has but lately laid upon the brow crowned with death. I will admit that all Christians are sincere in their hatred of Freethinkers, and that the Christian Church hates most sincerely that most-hated Freethinker whom we to-day have met to honor — THOMAS PAINE.
Sincerity has been the excuse of one-half the villainy of the world, and the apology of the other half. It has been the fair face of too many foul deeds. Thousands of crimes and wrongs and cruelties have been born from the heart of this word. We cannot deny sincerity to the Mohammedan in his fiendish barbarities to Christians, nor equal sincerity to Christians in their equally barbarous retaliation. We feel that the dupe of religious excitement is sincere in whatever he says and does, but we cannot for this reason endorse his flaming rhetoric, or imitate his pious gymnastics. I presume that every bigot and every fanatic in the world is sincere.
Let us ask the Protestant Christians of the United States, who are working to get their religion endorsed by the Government, if they are suffering from political injustice, if they are victims of political wrongs? Are they singled out among the inhabitants of this country for legislative afflictions? Are they compelled to observe against their convictions any particular day of the week as sacred above another? Is their property taxed unjustly; taxed to support a worship which they cannot join and a religion which they cannot accept? Are their children compelled by the laws of the State to listen to the reading of religious books which are obnoxious to them. Do they hear prayers in our legislatures that are offensive to their ideas of right?
The necessary and just demand is not for the Government to give further aid to the Protestant Church, but to stop the immunities which this church now enjoys. In view of the many wrongs and evils which others have to bear on account of the privileges granted to this church, every Christian should hang his head in shame and blush with guilt before the American people. The truth is this: The Protestant churches of the United States want to control our Government for the advantage of their religion. They already have secured enactments in all of our legislatures which give them power to injure in mind and estate those who do not accept the Christian faith. Yet in face of this fact, and in face of the National Constitution, which says that Congress shall not prohibit the free exercise of religion, there is a movement among the Protestant party for greater ecclesiastical authority.
We cannot be blind to the efforts being made by Christian fanatics, nor can we see such attempts to weaken our political Government and strangle our political liberty without a protest. That the people who are seeking for religious power in this country are honest and sincere in their endeavors, is not any reason why our citizens should stand idly by and see their political institutions overthrown, and the freedom won by the patriots of the Revolution destroyed by the bigots of the Christian Church.
The Protestant menace to our Government is much too serious to be dismissed with the selfsatisfying assurance that there is no danger in this land from the ecclesiastical power. There is a more imminent danger than most people are aware of, and there is apprehension lest it be seen too late. The Christian Church, to hide its base motives, is proclaiming that the increasing skepticism in this country threatens the moral foundation of society, and that its further spread endangers the very existence of our Republic. It is seeking to create a sentiment against the spirit of free inquiry, which has challenged its authority and exposed its false claims to Divine guidance. The endeavor to foist its religion upon the nation is for the purpose of getting the power to stamp out Liberalism in the United States.
Upon any true and faithful representation of the work of Free Thought in the world, the Christian Church would be unable to arouse any prejudice against it. It is only by raising the cry of “Infidelity” that it can succeed. The word “Infidel” is “mad dog” to the ear of the average Christian. Start this cry and he at once arms himself with the cudgel of slander and abuse, and is ready to engage in any crusade that promises the speedy extermination of his enemy. But we do not purpose to allow Liberalism to be misrepresented by Christian lips without demanding satisfaction.
Liberalism is the honest result of honest thought. It is the expression of honest convictions. As Liberals who have outgrown the influence of the Christian dogmas upon the mind, we take the position that such growth assigns us. We are outside of the Christian Church because we do not belong inside. In our criticisms of the Christian superstitions we have performed what we believed to be a duty. We hold that Christianity as a religious system is both false and wrong, and that we do the world a benefit by exposing its falseness and errors. Liberalism has never lifted a hand in persecution, never imprisoned science or burned doubt. Liberalism has sided with the wronged, the oppressed, the enslaved everywhere. Liberalism has been heroic in its devotion to truth, sublime in its endurance of wrongs, and self-sacrificing in its pursuit of what is right and best for man. And yet the Christian Church has ever treated those who have rejected its faith as enemies of all that is pure, good, and true.
Christianity has persecuted men in all ages; it has tortured doubt, burned unbelief, and led science and truth to the stake and the gallows. It has sided with the oppressor, with the slave- holder, with the great and powerful everywhere. It has pursued liberty with the hate of a tyrant and the venom of a priest. It has treated knowledge as a spy and truth as a traitor. It has made vice a virtue by putting a premium on a profession of faith, and virtue a vice by punishing the publication of an honest doubt. And yet this priestly piety has the audacity to pose as the friend of science, of knowledge, of truth, of liberty, and of man.
The Protestant Church asks our Government to give it the right to teach its dogmas to our children, when there is not a Christian minister on the earth that can defend these dogmas before the court of common sense. The Protestant Church asks our Government to compel the people to observe the Christian Sabbath as a day of religious worship, when it knows that not one-fourth of the people of the nation look upon Sunday as any holier than Friday.
The truth is that Orthodoxy is regarded as a theological comedy by the intelligence of the world, and as being played chiefly for the benefit of the actors’ fund.” It has been apparent for several years that Christianity was losing its hold upon the faith of mankind, and those who get their living out of this superstition have exhausted every physical and mental resource to save Christianity for the purpose of saving themselves. Every device has been resorted to that promised to postpone the dissolution of this theological body, and every means tried that held out the faintest hope that this “arrested development” of human thought would yield the salaries of those who preached it for at least another generation.
Various efforts have been made to take away the rights of the people to save the Christian superstitions, but no more flagrant violation of the liberty guaranteed the citizens of this Republic has ever been attempted than is contained in the present endeavor to have Congress pass what is called a National Sabbath Law. Do our people realize what this law means? Do they KNOW what the power of the Protestant Church would be if backed up by the power of our Government? Let me read enough of the text of this proposed law to show how far the Christian Church would go to save its institutions. The bill, which is expected to become a law, was introduced in the Senate of the United States by Mr. Blair, on the 21st of May, 1888. It was read twice, and referred to the Committee on Education and Labor. On December 18th, 1888, it was ordered to be reprinted. This bill is entitled; A bill to secure to the people the enjoyment of the first day of the week, commonly known as the Lord’s Day, as a day of rest, and to promote its observance as a day of religious worship.” It reads as follows: —
“Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in, Congress assembled, —
That no person, or corporation, or agent, servant, or employee of any person or corporation, shall perform or authorize to be performed, any secular work, labor, or business to the disturbance of others, works of necessity, and mercy, and humanity excepted; nor shall any Person engage in any play, game, or amusement, or recreation to the disturbance of others, on the first day of the week, commonly known as the Lord’s Day, or during any part thereof, in any territory, district, vessel, or place subject to the exclusive jurisdiction of the United States……..
See. 2. That no mails or mail matter shall hereafter be transported in time of peace over any land postal-route, nor shall any mail matter be collected, assorted, handled, or delivered during any part of the first day of the week.”
There are certain provisos which are not important to our purpose. Sections 3, 4, and 5 relate to commerce between the States and with the Indian tribes; drills, musters and parades; and the payment and receipt of wages. Sec. 6 refers to such labor and service as are not deemed violations of the act, but says that “the same shall be construed so far as possible to secure to the whole people rest from toil during the first day of the week, their mental and moral culture, and the religious observance of the Sabbath Day.”
Here is a deadly blow aimed at religious liberty in this country. Such a bill as this is the attempt of religious despair. Any endeavor to explain it on the ground of public necessity, or in the interest of public morals, is the veriest hypocrisy. Who demands such a law as this bill proposes? What is it demanded for? Have not the people who wish to go to church on Sunday the liberty to do so? Does any one deny them this right? Does any one object to their going or try to stop them?
Here is the truth: This bill is not to secure to those who wish to observe the Sabbath in a religious manner the right to do so, but it is for the purpose of preventing those who wish to observe it differently from so doing. It is an effort to coerce the conduct and consciences of men. It is compulsion. This act of desperation on the part of the Protestant Christians of the United States is a confession that their religion is a failure, that without the arm of the law to compel people to observe Sunday as a holy day, the church is powerless to secure such observance.
Has no one but a Christian any rights in this country? Is there nothing else of importance in this land but the church? Are the only affairs of great moment those that relate to religion? Has it become necessary for the Government to sanction Christian opinions and observances in order to make the people respect them? Then their usefulness is past; they can only be supported by the oppression of the people. Let Congress pass this National Sabbath Law, and it will soon be asked to pass a law for the endowment of the church and the support of the clergy.
The Protestants of this land are not restrained from teaching their religious dogmas or observing the ceremonies of their religion. Worship is free. A clergyman may teach the most absurd faith, the most ridiculous superstition, and the law protects him. It is not for liberty of conscience that the Christian Church demands the passage of this Sabbath bill; it is to kill liberty of conscience and take away the rights of the people.
We are informed that a petition, signed by fifteen millions of names, praying for the passage of this bill, has been presented to Congress. What a spectacle in a free country! Has it come to this? Have we forgotten the lessons of persecution that we can wish to re-enact religious tyranny? Has toleration, then, been a failure? Has Christianity taught its adherents no higher justice than to deny to others what they wish to enjoy themselves?
This Sabbath bill is an attempt on the part of Christians to take away the liberty of their neighbors. It is for the purpose of compelling the people to accept their religious opinions, to oblige them to attend church and support Christian worship. This proposed law is a blow at private rights and public blessings. It aims not only to take away the freedom of the individual, its object is to stop public benefactions. The United States mails are to be handled to please Christian ministers. They are to be all locked up Saturday nights and not opened until Monday morning. The railway trains, that carry the mails, are to stop Saturday night wherever they happen to be, when the hand of the clock points on the dial to the hour of twelve, and to remain there twenty-four hours. No letter is to be collected or delivered on Sunday. The only holy service on the so-called Lord’s Day is the service conducted by the priest or minister in a Christian Church!
The bill to secure the religious observance of the Sabbath is the measure of Christian intolerance in the nineteenth century. It reveals how much of bigotry and fanaticism there is yet alive. It shows us the spirit that animates the Christian Church, and it shows us moreover the desperate straits to which it is reduced to save its religion. If Christians had founded this Government there would have been no freedom in it. Liberty would have been no larger than the Apostle’s creed. We are reminded upon this occasion of those words of Thomas Paine: — “Of all the tyrannies that afflict mankind, tyranny in religion is the worst.”
Protestants have yet to learn that liberty of conscience is not the right of a few but of all; that people are not to ask a church what they shall accept as true, or to regulate their behavior by what a church says is right. Not only does a Government “derive its just powers from the consent of the governed,” but a church derives its authority from the acquiescence of man. When that authority is exercised arbitrarily it is to be resisted. The powers of all organizations of whatsoever character are conferred by man. There is no other source of authority. The pretended derivation of power from God is imposition. Such a claim cannot be defended before intelligence, and dare not be made except where fear and cowardice make the mind a slave.
The Protestants of the United States, in their attempt to have enacted a National Sabbath law, aim to usurp the rights of others. They propose to play the role of tyrants, to teach their religion at the point of the bayonet. I think I do not mistake the temper of the American people when I say that they will not submit to this tyranny. We must have fair fighting to-day. The spirit of the age sides with the wronged. There is but one way that people can be made to observe Sunday as the Lord’s Day, and that is by convincing them that this day belongs to him, and not to the people. The Protestant churches know that they cannot defend their dogma of the Sabbath, know that there is no reason, no sense in their ideas of Sunday. They are not honest enough to acknowledge the truth. They dare not come out, and let this question be decided by the facts. They know that there is no warrant in Nature, for their foolish notion of Sunday. The truth is against them, and so they ask the Government to come to the assistance of the Lord.
It will take more than the Congress of the United States to settle this question — more than the passage of a bill to secure the observance of Sunday as a day of religious worship, to convince the intelligence of the nineteenth century that one day is better than another or to be used for a different purpose, except as mankind find it convenient or desirable. We are in danger of meriting the criticism of the Hindoo who remarked that ” Christians want six days set apart for cheating man, and one day for cheating God.”
I know of no question that engenders more of hypocrisy than the Sunday question. There is in the action of the Protestants in this country more than a menace to our liberties on one day of the week. Let this Sabbath bill before Congress become a law and other tyrannous measures will follow at its heels. If there is any expectation that a more rigid religious observance of Sunday will result in a purer moral atmosphere such expectation is doomed to disappointment. Tyranny has never yet borne a virtue.
For our Government to endorse any Christian dogma is to exceed its powers. There would be no religious meaning in such an act. It would simply be a concession to bigotry which would result in arousing the people to the real nature of Protestantism and to their duty towards this pious tyranny. People will not be converted to Christianity by an act of Congress. The fond faith that a pious text on our national coin would teach the people to reverence the divine name did not materialize into the expected piety. A true life has never yet come from a false education. Instead of Christians wishing to have placed upon our money the inscription, “In God we trust,” it would have been more consistent for them to put upon their God: — In money we trust.
It will do no good to pass a law which is not demanded by the welfare of the people. An unjust statute has been the mother only of wrongs. Our Government has nothing to do with the religion of its people — no right to interfere in religious matters, only to see that one party or sect does not oppress another.
Congress would stultify the Government were it to pass the National Sabbath bill. Were this bill to become a law it would be unconstitutional. I do not believe that sixty millions of people should be enslaved to please fifteen million bigots.
THE BOSTON INVESTIGATOR
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