Robert Green Ingersoll
SABBATH SUPERSTITION. THE idea that one day in the week is better than the others and should be set apart for religious purposes; that it should be considered holy; that no useful work should be done on that day; that it should be given over to pious idleness and sad ceremonies connected with the worship of a supposed Being, seems to have been originated by the Jews. According to the Old Testament, the Sabbath was marvelously sacred for two reasons; the first being, that Jehovah created the universe in six days and rested on the seventh: and the second, because the Jews had been delivered from the Egyptians. The first of these reasons we now know to be false; and the second has nothing, so far as we are concerned, to do with the question. There is no reason for our keeping the seventh day because the Hebrews were delivered from the Egyptians. The Sabbath was a Jewish institution, and, according to the Bible, only the Jews were commanded to keep that day. Jehovah said nothing to the Egyptians on that subject; nothing to the Philistines, nothing to the Gentiles. Bank of Wisdom Box 926, Louisville, KY 40201 14 SABBATH SUPERSTITION. The Jews kept that day with infinite strictness, and with them this space of time known as the Sabbath became so holy that he who violated it by working was put to death. Sabbath-breaking and murder were equal crimes. On the Sabbath the pious Jew would not build a fire in his house. He ate cold victuals and thanked God. The gates of the city were closed. No business was done, and the traveler who arrived at the city on that day remained outside until evening. If he happened to fall, he remained where he fell until the sun had gone done. The early Christians did not hold the seventh day in such veneration. As a matter of fact, they ceased to regard it as holy, and changed the sacred day from the seventh to the first. This change was really made by Constantine, because the first day of the week was the Sunday of the Pagans; and this day had been given to pleasure and recreation and to religious ceremonies for many centuries. After Constantine designated the first day to be kept and observed by Christians, our Sunday became the sacred time. The early Christians, however, kept the day much as it had been kept by the Pagans. They attended church in the morning, and in the afternoon enjoyed themselves as best they could. The Catholic Church fell in with the prevailing customs, and to accommodate itself to Pagan ways and superstitions, it agreed, as far as it could, with the ideas of the Pagan. Up to the time of the Reformation, Sunday had been divided between the discharge of religious duties and recreation. Luther did not believe in the sacredness of the Sabbath. After church he enjoyed himself by playing games, and wanted others to do the same. Even John Calvin, whose view had been blurred by the "Five Points," allowed the people to enjoy themselves on Sunday afternoon. The reformers on the continent never had the Jewish idea of the sacredness of the Sabbath. In Geneva, Germany and France, all kinds of innocent amusement were allowed on that day; and I believe the same was true of Holland. But in Scotland the Jewish idea was adopted to the fullest extent. There Sabbath-breaking was one of the blackest and one of the most terrible crimes. Nothing was considered quite as sacred as the Sabbath. The Scotch went so far as to take the ground that it was wrong to save people who were drowning on Sunday, the drowning being a punishment inflicted by God. Upon the question of keeping the Sabbath most of the Scottish people became insane. Bank of Wisdom Box 926, Louisville, KY 40201 15 SABBATH SUPERSTITION. The same notions about the holy day were adopted by the Dissenters in England, and it became the principal tenet in their creed. The Puritans and Pilgrims were substantially crazy about the sacredness of Sunday. With them the first day of the week was set apart for preaching, praying, attending church, reading the Bible and studying the catechism. Walking, riding, playing on musical instruments, boating, swimming and courting, were all crimes. No one had the right to be happy on that blessed day. It was a time of gloom, sacred, solemn and religiously stupid. They did their best to strip their religion of every redeeming feature. They hated art and music -- everything calculated to produce joy. They despised everything except the Bible, the church, God, Sunday and the creed. The influence of these people has been felt in every part of our country. The Sabbath superstition became almost universal. No laughter, no smiles on that day; no games, no recreation, no riding, no walking through the perfumed fields or by the winding streams or the shore of the sea. No communion with the subtitle beauties of nature; no wandering in the woods with wife and children, no reading of poetry and fiction; nothing but solemnity and gloom, listening to sermons, thinking about sin, death, graves, coffins, shrouds, epitaphs and ceremonies and the marvelous truths of sectarian religion, and the weaknesses of those who were natural enough and sensible enough to enjoy themselves on the Sabbath day. So universal became the Sabbath superstition that the Legislatures of all the States, or nearly all, passed laws to prevent work and enjoyment on that day, and declared all contracts void relating to business entered into on Sunday. The Germans gave us the first valuable lesson on this subject. They came to this country in great numbers; they did not keep the American Sabbath. They listened to music and they drank beer on that holy day. They took their wives and children with them and enjoyed themselves; yet they were good, kind, industrious people. They paid their debts and their credit was the best. Our people saw that men could be good and women virtuous without "keeping" the Sabbath. This did us great good, and changed the opinions of hundreds of thousands of Americans. But the churches insisted on the old way. Gradually our people began to appreciate the fact that one-seventh of the time was being stolen by superstition. They began to ask for the opening of libraries, for music in the parks and to be allowed to visit museums and public places on the Sabbath. Bank of Wisdom Box 926, Louisville, KY 40201 16 SABBATH SUPERSTITION. In several States these demands were granted, and the privileges have never been abused, The people were orderly, polite to officials and to each other. In 1876, when the Centennial was held at Philadelphia, the Sabbatarians had control. Philadelphia was a Sunday city, and so the gates of the Centennial were closed on that day. This was in Philadelphia where the Sabbath superstition had been so virulent that chains had been put across the streets to prevent stages and carriages from passing at that holy time. At that time millions of Americans felt that a great wrong was done by closing the Centennial to the laboring people; but the managers -- most of them being politicians -- took care of themselves and kept the gates closed. In 1876 the Sabbatarians triumphed, and when it was determined to hold a world's fair at Chicago they made up their minds that no one should look upon the world's wonders on the Sabbath day. To accomplish this pious and foolish purpose committees were appointed all over the country; money was raised to make a campaign; persons were employed to go about and arouse the enthusiasm of religious people; petitions by the thousand were sent to Congress and to the officers of the World's Fair, signed by thousands of people who never saw them; resolutions were passed in favor of Sunday closing by conventions, presbyters, councils and associations. Lobbyists were employed to influence members of Congress. Great bodies of Christians threatened to boycott the fair and yet the World's Fair is open on Sunday. What is the meaning of this? Let me tell you. It means that in this country the Scotch New England Sabbath has ceased to be; it means that it is dead. The last great effort for its salvation has been put forth, and has failed. It belonged to the creed of Jonathan Edwards and the belief of the witch burners, and in this age it is out of place. There was a time when the minister and priest were regarded as the foundation of wisdom; when information came from the altar, from the pulpit; and when the sheep were the property of the shepherd. That day in intelligent communities has passed. We no longer go to the minister or the church for information. The orthodox minister is losing his power, and the Sabbath is now regarded as a day of rest, of recreation and of pleasure. The church must keep up with the people. The minister must take another step. The multitude care but little about controversies in churches, but they do care about the practical questions that directly affect their daily lives. Must we waste one day in seven; must we make ourselves unhappy or melancholy one-seventh of the time? Bank of Wisdom Box 926, Louisville, KY 40201 17 SABBATH SUPERSTITION. These are important questions and for many years the church in our country has answered them both in the affirmative, and a vast number of people not Christians have also said "yes" because they wanted votes, or because they feared to incite the hatred of the church. Now in this year of 1893 a World's Fair answered this question in the negative, and a large majority of the citizens of the Republic say that the officers of the Fair have done right. This marks an epoch in the history of the Sabbath. It is to be sacred in a religious sense in this country no longer. Henceforth in the United States the Sabbath is for the use of man. Many of those who labored for the closing of the Fair on Sunday took the ground that if the gates were opened, God would visit this nation with famine, flood and fire. It hardly seems possible that God will destroy thousands of women and children who had nothing to do with the opening of the Fair; still, if he is the same God described in the Christian Bible, he may destroy our babes as he did those of the Egyptians. It is a little hard to tell in advance what a God of that kind will do. It was believed for many centuries that God punished the Sabbath-breaking individual and the Sabbath-breaking nation. Of course facts never had anything to do with this belief, and the prophecies of the pulpit were never fulfilled. People who were drowned on Sunday, according to the church, lost their lives by the will of God. Those drowned on other days were the victims of storm or accident. The nations that kept the Sabbath were no more prosperous than those that broke the sacred day. Certainly France is as prosperous as Scotland. Let us hope, however, that these zealous gentlemen who have predicted calamities were mistaken; let us be glad that hundreds of thousands of workingmen and women will be delighted and refined by looking at the statues, the paintings, the machinery, and the countless articles of use and beauty gathered together at the great Fair, and let us be glad that on the one day that they can spare from toil, the gates will be open to them. END
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