Courage to Live
“Our society would rather lock people up than help them,” said Glen Lambert, director of Odyssey House, when he spoke to the November meeting of the Humanists of Utah. Director Lambert said treatment programs for substance abusers is under vicious attack, make it more and more difficult to convince public and private agencies to allot sufficient funds to provide effective treatment. Lambert said he gets his incentives to continue fighting for funds from the positive attitudes of the abusers enrolled in the Odyssey House program. “They teach me every day that it takes great courage to live,” continued Lambert, “and for them to face the kind of issues they face and overcome every day is an inspiration to me.”
According to Lambert, substance abuse is a serious problem in our society, because so many of us seek relief from every tension with a pill, nicotine or caffeine. Our many social problems – poverty, homelessness, mental illness, child abuse and crime – have substance abuse as the number one contributing factor. And the number one problem of substance abusers is low self-esteem.
The Odyssey House program is designed to restore self-esteem, realistic values and healthy coping skills.
Two Odyssey House residents, Pat and Paul, joined Lambert at the podium to briefly summarize their stories of substance abuse, and express their appreciation for the program that restore their self-confidence and their abilities to face the daily challenges of life without the artificial help of mood altering substances.
Heaven, A Key to Our Western Culture
Richard Layton’s Discussion Group Report
“The ways in which people imagine heaven tell us how they understand themselves, their families, their societies, and their God. They give us insight into both the private and public dimensions of Western culture. Changing ideas about love friendship, work, God and spiritual growth in the other life can serve as guidlines for understanding cultural ideas and ideals of this life … Heaven is the key to the deepest mysteries of religion and can be used as a key to our Western culture,” say Colleen McDannell (University of Utah) and Bernhard Lang in Heaven, A History.
In the ancient world, say the authors, belief in life after death was widespread, considered normal, and not generally weakened by skepticism. The Christian concept of heaven grew out of the speculations on the afterlife by the ancient jews. The Semites – Assyrians, Babylonians, Canaanites, Phoenicians, and Hebrews – pictured the world in tiers: an upper realm of the gods (heaven), a middle human world given to us by those gods (earth), and a lower part (Sheol), a greak dark and silent cave below the surface of the earth, which housed the dead and the infernal deities. Human communication with the upper, divine world, through community rituals celebrated the agricultural cycle and brought rain to water the crops. Ancestor worship, which was private and familial, brought personal protection and numerous offspring. If living relatives neglected their veneration, the fate of the dead worsened.
In the eighth century BCE, the Assyrian oppression of Israel became intolerable, and Israel’s response was a prophetic movement to the exclusive worship of the only god with real power: Yahweh. He would eventually intervene, and alter the political scene in favor of his people. The Israelites now belonged to a national God rather than to a family deity or divinized ancestors. Ancestor worship was forbidden. Israelite theology focused on the practices of a this-worldly religion rather than on futile speculations about the life of the dead.
After the Babylonian destruction of the Jewish state in 586 BCE, the dream of an independent Israel restored by divine intervention continued. However, many Jews, recognizing the difficulty of achieving independence, made their peace with thier overlords and accepted foreign rule. They became aware of the relationship between certain beliefs of the Zoroastrian religion of Iran and their own hopes of liberation. Jewish theologians adapted new doctrines, such as a concept of resurrection, to their speculations on the fate of the dead. The idea of a glorious communal future with a restored Israelite nation faded into the background, giving way to speculation about the post-mortem future of individuals. Whenever Diaspora Jews met Greek intellectuals, the idea of an immortal soul surfaced. It was up to the gods either to punish or reward the death. The rewards could quite enticing.
Two major images have emerged which dominate Christian theology, pious literature, art, and popular ideas. The theocentric centers in God and the anthropocentric focuses on the human. Some Christians expect to spend heavenly life in eternal solitude with God alone, while others cannot conceive of blessedness without being reunited with friends, spouse, children or relatives. Throughout history these models emerge, become prominent and weaken.
In the New Testament, heaven was not the place or time when an elect group who lacked something would find fulfillment, but rather the promise that Christians would be permitted to experience the divine fully with a clear, uncompromising, charismatic fixation with on God. In the early Augustine period, in a different cultural climate, the original charismatic inspiration gave way to more intellectual philosophical concerns that focus on “God and the soul.” Medieval scholastics speculated on heaven as a locality, the empyrean: a transcendent, light-filled place outside of but enveloping the universe. The fruition of the divine light provides the highest bliss human creatures can attain. Medieval mystics envisioned a more intimate, blessed union with Christ, who meets the soul as freind, companion and lover. Protestant reformers, along with their Catholic reform counterparts, rejected scholasticism as unbiblical, and mysticism as visionary fancy. As elected and transformed people, true Christians enjoy praising the Lord more than anything else – in this world, and the next.
Much of the contemporary theology reiterates the theocentric heaven. “Eternal life will concern God; this is all we know.” Theologians of diverse background present a heaven of minimal description. At times the human presence in heaven becomes so weak that it almost disappears, and nothing of ourselves continues after death.
McDannel and Lang ask, “Are we witnessing the emergence of a post-Christian theology, one whose relationship with classical afterlife affirmations is vague and ultimately irrelevant? Or have the social developments and scientific discoveries of the past century robbed heaven of any believable images for even the most devoted Christian?”
Challenging The “Release Time” Program In Utah’s Public Schools
If you were to visit most secondary schools in the state of Utah you would find adjacent to each school a smaller building with a well-defined pathway linking the two edifices. Everyone calls the smaller building simply, Seminary – Mormon seminary – that is. By all outward appearances the seminary buildings are physically separated from the public schools, as the 1952 federal law requires, but internally the relationship between church and state is so entangled it should be a major cause of concern among minorities and civil libertarians.
First of all, LDS seminary is considered a “class” within the school day, and in most schools is listed in both the school Course Description Booklet and Class Schedule. Second, seminary classes have been programmed into each individual school and district computer system by school employees. In addition, the seminary class is pre-printed on each student’s registration computer sheet, and is programmed as a class option during phone-in registration. Third, seminary classes are listed as Release-Time (RT), but only Mormon tenets are taught under this supposedly generic title. Fourth, the schools regularly provide a prepared list of all Release-Time students to the LDS seminary staff for their registration and scheduling purposes. Fifth, because RT is considered a class, school counselors are required to inform all students in general registration meetings, and also individually, of the availability of the Mormon seminary program; and along with registrars and secretaries, are also responsible to register students for seminary. (Approximately 70% of Utah public school children are LDS, but in some counties, the figure runs as high as 95%.) Counselors are also required to officially drop a student from a Release-Time class if a seminary principal or teacher makes a request. Sixth, classrooms in the seminary building are sometimes used for academic classes such as Algebra, when there’s a shortage of classrooms in the public schools. Many seminary classes are also used by the public schools as homerooms to disseminate school information to students.
It seems worthwhile to examine the Utah State Constitution regarding the Released-Time Classes for Religious Instruction, if a challenge to the program is to ensue. In Article X Sec. 3. Utah Code 53A, Standards and Procedures R277-610-3, the rules state: (Italics have been added for emphasis)
A. Religious classes shall not be held in school buildings or on school property in any way that permits public money or property to be applied to, or that requires public employees to become entangled with, any religious worship, exercise, or instruction.
G. Schedules of classes for public schools shall not include released-time classes. . . . Scheduling shall be done on forms and supplies furnished by the religious institution and by personnel employed or engaged by the institution, and shall occur off the premises of the public school.
J. Public school equipment or personnel shall not be used in any manner to assist in the conduct of released-time classes.
K. Institutions offering religious instruction shall be regarded as private schools completely separate and apart from the public schools. Those relationships that are legitimately exercised between the public school and any private school is considered an appropriate relationship with institutions offering released-time classes, so long as public property, public funds, or other public resources are not used to aid such institutions.
It’s obvious the Release-Time (Mormon Seminary) program as it is presently practiced in the schools is not in compliance with the law, and is being misinterpreted and misused by the state and local school districts. Some counselors have expressed their discontent to the ACLU, but none has been willing to formally file a complaint because of the repercussions they would suffer as a result. One counselor said,
“I feel like I’m a sponsor for the Mormon church when I have to tell the kids about seminary. The Release-Time class represents solely the philosophy of the LDS church. We shouldn’t have to register students for any kind of religious instruction. Period! And if I were to challenge the school sponsorship of the seminary program, the community would consider me an antagonist toward the church, and I’d be treated as such. Also, I’m afraid I wouldn’t be able to get a promotion or obtain another position within the school district because I’d be considered a non-team player. I’m not against religion when its operation is contained within a private setting; I just don’t believe that public schools should cross over the ‘wall of separation’ by requiring counselors to register students for classes in religious instruction. I feel I’m being forced to betray my conscience when I am used as a recruiter for religion.”
Sandra Day O’Connor, Supreme Court Justice, spoke on the University of Utah campus on February 12, 1993, and when asked about the proper relationship between church and state, said: “Our Constitution has ruled out government sponsorship of religion. Endorsement sends a message that those who don’t believe in a particular way are outsiders, and adherents are insiders. Government endorsement of religion also weakens the political community and degrades religion.”
James is a good example of a student who experienced the feelings that come from being treated as an “outsider”. A counselor relates his story:
“James, a student body officer, came to my office during his senior year in high school and was quite upset because the seminary principal had recently cornered him in the hallway near the outside door of the high school leading to the seminary building. James had not registered for Mormon Release-Time that year and the seminary principal was admonishing him for his decision. As James put it, I felt humiliated because the bell had just rung and the other kids were passing us in the hallway hearing our conversation. I didn’t know what to say, so I just listened until he let up. I don’t think this should ever happen to anyone. But if I were to complain, it might get out, then I’d be treated differently.“
Elizabeth is another example of a student who suffered the pangs of feeling excluded. Her mother writes: “During a conversation with Elizabeth, I asked her if she thought having the seminary building next door made a difference in the atmosphere of the high school. She replied with an astounding, Yes! Seminary creates a cliquish social environment. The most circulated question during the school day is, What did you do in seminary today? Everyone talks about seminary. It was a common bond that I couldn’t feel part of.” Elizabeth left high school after her junior year and attended the University of Utah her senior year because she couldn’t endure the isolation she felt in her high school.
Joan, a Catholic and an honor student, remembers the day when her boyfriend told her he couldn’t date her because his seminary teacher had recently cautioned the class not to date non-Mormons because they weren’t worthy of entering the highest degree of heaven. Joan was hurt by the “unworthy” implication directed at her and people of other religions, and saddened by the intolerant position of the LDS church. She remarked, “At my young age, I wasn’t thinking of marriage; I just wanted to feel part of a social group and have some fun.” Joan was never asked on a date in high school, even though she was popular and pretty.
The public school’s excessive entanglement with so-called Release-Time must cease, not only because it creates an environment of group favoritism, which causes human suffering, resentment, and divisiveness, but it coerces state employees to work on behalf of religion, a fact which some feel, treads on their freedom of conscience.
It is difficult to even think about challenging the Release-Time Program because of the personal anguish and professional roadblocks it would cause. If any brave soul were to challenge the Release-Time Mormon Seminary Program in the Utah public schools he/she would undoubtedly be fighting an uphill
battle because of the LDS church’s dominant influence within the school system. Justice Harry Blackmun in a 1992 Supreme Court decision warned against this inducement:
“When the government arrogates to itself a role in religious affairs, it abandons its obligation as guarantor of democracy. Democracy requires the nourishment of dialogue and dissent, while religious faith puts its trust in an ultimate divine authority above all human deliberation. When the government appropriates religious truth, it transforms rational debate into theological decree. Those who disagree no longer are questioning the policy judgment of the elected, but the rules of a higher authority who is beyond reproach.”
It’s a sad state of affairs when American citizens live in fear of punishment and ostracism if they dare to question the status quo. It’s a reflection of just how tyrannous the majority has become.
Justice Kennedy spoke of the subtle pressures when religion is established in the public schools. In the 1992 Supreme Court decision, Lee v. Weisman, the Justice wrote:
“As we have observed before, there are heightened concerns with protecting freedom of conscience from subtle coercive pressure in the elementary and secondary public schools . . . What to most believers may seem nothing more than a reasonable request that the non-believer respect their religious practices in a school context, may appear to the non-believer, or dissenter, to be an attempt to employ the machinery of the state to enforce a religious orthodoxy.”
Challenging the system can be emotionally wrenching, time-consuming and expensive, especially when a long established practice such as seminary has become institutionalized in the schools. However, it needn’t be if the state school system would pay attention to well-intended suggestions and have periodic “reality checks” to see if they’re protecting our freedom of conscience – a right guaranteed by the First Amendment, because regardless of religious convictions, the law is boss, even in Utah.
It would be refreshing to believe that the Mormon church and the Utah State School System would be able to see the inequity and illegality of the LDS Seminary Program as it is now being practiced, and thus be able to disengage from using the public schools to help operate its religious instruction. It seems wise and prudent to be able to correct one’s own institutional shortcomings without being forced to do so by the civil courts.
Declaration of Necessity
We as representatives of various student skeptical, secular humanist, atheist, agnostic, and freethought campus organizations have assembled out of concern. As members of a small but significant minority, we often have been forced to reside in a social environment caustic to our needs, interests, and convictions. Instead of diminishing, opposition to free thought is now increasing with ominous rapidity.
- We have witnessed a resurgence of religious fundamentalism, hand-in-hand with growing belief in mysticism, the paranormal, and the occult.
- We have witnessed a growing disdain for science and a flight from reason and the principles of the Enlightenment, both in popular media and in the halls of academe.
- We have witnessed a deplorable onslaught by religious factions upon personal liberties.
- We have witnessed their concomitant effort to undermine secularist ideals in government, law, and education–striving to replace science with pseudo-science, knowledge with ignorance, tolerance and pluralism with prejudice and oppression.
The very core of our rational, secular, free, and democratic society has been brought under attack in our communities, on our campuses, even in our classrooms. We cannot afford to endure this development with indifference. A resolute defense of the principles of reason is necessary as never before. Organized student opposition is necessary as never before. Though the tide of unreason is rising, we have taken it upon ourselves to stand in union against it. We have resolved to confront our difficulties directly, whenever and wherever they might arise. Our task is to actively defend and fight for the rational principles and ideals we hold so dear and to demonstrate, by argument and practice, that it is possible to lead a good and meaningful life without religion. Ethics and morality can be based on rational and humanistic ideals and values.
Thus, it is with great pride and enthusiasm that we convene to establish the Campus Freethought Alliance, dedicated to the promotion and enhancement of freethought, skepticism, secularism, non-theism and humanism, and to the national consolidation of campus resources for that end. It is our hope that by pressing to create campus environments more friendly toward the rational viewpoint, we might aid in ameliorating the negative condition of society at large.
Given the fact that student religious organizations exist on virtually all college and university campuses (Campus Crusade, Newman Centers, Hillel, Muslim organizations and the like)–and that corresponding freethought, secular humanist, and unbeliever groups generally do not–we think it vitally important that freethought organizations be formed on every campus. Too many secular humanists, atheists, and skeptics face the demands of college life alone. A campus freethought organization can provide much-needed support, and when necessary, help to defend unbelievers’ rights.
We call upon our fellow students to establish skeptical, secular and freethinking organizations on college and university campuses across this land.
We invite our fellow students to loft high the banner of rationality and to join us in this most necessary endeavor.
- Signed this day, 9 August 1996
- Amherst, New YorkDerek Carl Araujo of Harvard University
- Chad Stephen Docterman of Marshall University
- Etienne Rios of State University of New York at Buffalo
- Alireza Aliabadi of University of Maryland at College Park
- Keith Justin Augustine of University of Maryland at College Park
- Brianna Kathleen Waters of University of Maryland at College Park
- John Muhrer of Webster University
- Selena Brewington of University of Oregon
- Jason Erickson of University of Minnesota
- Nicholas J. Rezmerski of University of Minnesota
- John Simons of Western Washington University
- Adam Butler of University of Alabama at Birmingham
- Chris McDougal of University of Alabama at Birmingham
- Jason Roylee Tippitt of University of Tennessee at Martin
- Vincent Bruzzese of Stony Brook University
- Michael S. Valle of University of Illinois at Chicago
- Diana Carter of University of Guelph
- Jason Pittman of Kalamazoo College
- John F. Kennedy of New Mexico State University
- Deidre Conn of Marshall University
- Jascha Jabes of Queen’s University
- Alex Clark of Auckland University
- Eric Shook of University of Wisconsin at Milwaukee
- Peter Braun of University of Wisconsin at Milwaukee
- Carrie Fowler of State University of New York at Albany
- Miriam Black of University of Colorado at Boulder
- Michael Kraft of University of British Columbia
- Scott Oser of University of Chicago
- Ben Domingue of Lafayette High School
- David Beckman of Amherst College
- Nathan Hartshorn of Amherst College
- Vagan Karayan of University of California at Los Angeles
- Sara E. Moodie of Brock University
- D. J. Anderson of Newark High School
- Doug Semler of University of California at Irvine
- Daniel Smith of Pennsylvania State University
- Joe Lynch of University of Houston
- Michael Lowry of University of Texas at Austin
- Joel Finkelstein of Columbia University
- Christopher Green of Christopher Newport University
- Amnon Eden of Tel Aviv University
- Nancy Richardson of University of Puget Sound
- Gautam Srikanth of Carnegie Mellon University
- Bradley Davis of Birmingham-Southern College
- Stephen Ban of McGill University
- Anthony Walsh of University of Missouri at Kansas City
- David Bendana of Florida International University
- Sarah Carlson of Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Institutions are shown for identification purposes only.
James Ellis Brown
1907 – 1996
James Ellis Brown, active member of the Humanists of Utah, Utah Atheists, and the First Unitarian Church, died Thursday, 21 November 1996. James was 89 years old, and a frequent participator in our Thursday night discussion group, and our monthly public meetings. He retired from the civilian work force at Hill Air Force Base, and was a volunteer teacher of the English language to immigrants at the Guadalupe Center. He was an active member of the Utah Democratic party, and a delegate to Democratice Party State Conventions. Flo Wineriter conducted a memorial service for James, Monday, November 25th, at the Unitarian Church.
These are from test papers and essays submitted to science and health teachers by junior high, high school, and college students around the world. It is truly astonishing what weird science our young scholars can create under the pressures of time and grades.
- When you breath, you inspire. When you do not breath, you expire.
- H2O is hot water, and CO2 is cold water.
- When you smell an odorless gas, it is probably carbon monoxide
- Water is composed of two gins, Oxygin and Hydrogin. Oxygin is pure gin. Hydrogin is gin and water.
- The moon is a planet just like the earth, only it is even deader
- Artificial insemination is when the farmer does it to the cow instead of the bull
- Mushrooms always grow in damp places, and so they look like umbrellas
- A fossil is an extinct animal. The older it is, the more extinct it is.
Absurdities of the Bible
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 each other.
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 about them.
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 by reason.
Little Blue Book Number 1637