How the Gods Grow

A Lecture
R. G. Ingersoll

[Extracted from his Lectures, vol. 2, 1880.]

Ladies and Gentlemen: Priests have invented a crime called blasphemy. That crime is the breastwork behind which ignorance, superstition and hypocrisy have crouched for thousands of years, and shot their poisoned arrows at the pioneers of human thought. Priests tell us that there is a God somewhere in heaven who objects to a human being, thinking and expressing his thought. Priests tell us that there is a God somewhere who takes care of the people of this world; a God somewhere who watches over the widow and the orphan; a God somewhere who releases the slave; a God somewhere who visits the innocent man in prison; the same God that has allowed men for thousands of years to burn to ashes human beings simply for loving that God. We have been taught that it is dangerous to reason upon these subjectsextremely dangerousand that of all crimes in the world, the greatest is to deny the existence of that God.

Redden your hands in innocent blood; steal the bread of the orphan, deceive, ruin and desert the beautiful girl who has loved and trusted you, and for all this you may be forgiven; for all this you can have the clear writ of that bankrupt court of the gospel. But deny the existence of one of these gods, and the tearful face of mercy becomes lurid with eternal hate; the gates of heaven are shut against you, and you, with an infinite curse ringing in your ears, commence your wanderings as an immortal vagrant, as a deathless convict, as an eternal outcast. And we have been taught that the infinite has become enraged at the finite simply when the finite said: "I don't know!" Why, imagine it. Suppose Mr. Smith should hear a couple of small bugs in his front yard discussing the question as to the existence of Smith; and suppose one little red bug swore on the honour of a bug that, in his judgment, no such man as Smith lived. What would you think of Mr. Smith if he fell into a rage, and brought his heel down on this little atheist bug and said: "I will teach you that Smith is a diabolical fact!" And yet if there is an infinite God, there is infinitely a greater difference between that God and a human being than between Shakespeare and the smallest bug that ever crawled. It cannot be; there is something wrong in this thing somewhere.

I am told, also, that this being watches over us, takes care of us. And the other day I read a sermon (you will hardly believe it, but I did); I had nothing else to. I had read everything in that paper, including the advertisements; so I read the sermon. It was a sermon by Rev. Mr. Moody on prayer, in which he took the ground that our prayer should be "Thy will be done;" and he seemed to believe that if we prayed that prayer often enough we could induce God to have his own way. He gives an instance of a woman in Illinois who had a sick child, and she prayed that God would not take from her arms that babe. She did not pray "Thy will be done," but she prayed, according to Mr. Moody, almost a prayer of rebellion, and said: "I cannot give up my babe." God heard her prayer, and the child got well; and Mr. Moody says it was an idiot when it got well. For fifteen years that woman watched over and took care of that idiotic child; and Mr. Moody says how much better would it have been if she had allowed God to have had his own way. Think of a God who would punish a mother for speaking to Him from an agonizing heart and saying, "I cannot give up my babe," and making the child an idiot. What would the devil have done under the same circumstances? That is the God we are expected to worship. I range myself with the opposition. The next day I read another sermon preached by the Rev. De Witt Talmage, a man of not much fancy, but of great judgment. He preached a sermon on dreams, and went on to say that God often visited us in dreams, and that He often convinces men of His existence in that way. So far as I am concerned I had rather see something in the light. And, according to that sermon, there was a poor woman in England, a pauper who had the rheumatism, and there was another pauper who had not the rheumatism; and the pauper who had not the rheumatism used to take food to the pauper that had. After a while the pauper without rheumatism died, and then the pauper with the rheumatism began to think in her own mind, who will bring me food? That night God appeared to her in a dream. He did not cure her rheumatism though. He appeared to her in a dream, and he took her out of the house and pointed on the right hand to an immense mountain of bread, and on the left hand to an immense mountain of butter. And when I read that I said to myself, my Lord, what a place that would be to start a political party. And he said to her: "These belong to your father; do you think that he will allow one of his children to starve? What a place would Ireland be with that mountain of bread and butter! Until I read these two sermons I hardly believed that in this day and generation anybody believed that God would make a child an idiot simply because the mother had prayed for its sweet dear life, or that God's visits are only in dreams. But so it is.

Orthodoxy has not advanced upon the religion of the Fiji Islander. It is the same yesterday, today and forever. Now we are told that there is a god; and nearly every nation has had a god; generally a good many of them. You see the raw material was so cheap, and Gods were manufactured so easily, that heaven has always been crammed with the phantoms of these monsters. But they say there is a god, and every savage tribe believes in a God. It is an argument made to me every day. I concede to you that fact; I concede to you that all savages agree with you. I admit it takes a certain amount of civilization, a certain amount of thought, to rise above the idea that some personal being, for his own ends, for his own glory, made and governs this universe. I admit that it takes some thought to see the universe is good and all that is good, and every star that shines is a part of God, and I am something, no matter how little, and that the infinite cannot exist without me, and that therefore I am a part of the infinite. I admit that it takes a little civilization to get to that point.

Now every nation has made a god, and every man that has made a god has used himself for a pattern; and men have put into the mouth of their god all their mistakes in astronomy, in geography, in philosophy, in morality, and the god is never wiser or better than his creators. If they believe in slavery, so did he; if they believe in eating human flesh, he wanted his share; if they were polygamous, so was he; if they were cruel, so was he. And just to the extent that man has become civilized, he has civilized his god. You can hardly imagine the progress that our God has made in four thousand years.

Four thousand years ago He was a barbarian; tonight He is quite an educated gentleman. Four thousand years ago He believed in killing and butchering little babes at the breasts of their mothers; He has reformed. Four thousand years ago He did not believe in taking prisoners of war. He said, kill the old men; mingle their blood with the white hair. Kill the women. But what shall we do, O God, with the maidens? Give them to satisfy the lust of the soldiers and of the priests! If there is anywhere in the serene heaven a real God. I want him to write in the book of His eternal remembrance, opposite my name, that I deny that lie for Him.

Four thousand years ago our God was in favour of slavery; four thousand years ago our God would have a man beaten to death with rugged rocks for expressing his honest thought; four thousand years ago our God told the husband to kill his wife if she disagreed with him upon the important subject of religion; four thousand years ago our God was a monster; and if He is any better now, it is simply because we have made Him so. I am talking about the God of the Christian world. There may be, for aught I know, upon the shore of the eternal vast, some being whose very thought is the constellation of those numberless stars. I do not know; but if there is he has never written a bible; he has never been in favour of slavery; he has never advocated polygamy, and he never told the murderer to sheathe his dagger in the dimpled breast of a babe. But they say to me, our God has written a book. I am glad he did, and it is by that book that I propose to judge them. I find in that book that it was a crime to eat of the tree of knowledge. I find that the church has always been the enemy of education, and I find that the church still carries the flaming sword of ignorance and bigotry over the tree of knowledge.

And if that story is true, ought we not after all to thank the devil? He was the first school master; he was the first to whisper liberty in our ears; he was the author of modesty. He was the author of ambition and progress. And as for me, give me the storm and tempest of thought and action rather than the dead calm of ignorance and faith. Punish me when and how you will, but first let me eat of the fruit of the tree of knowledge. And there is one peculiar thing I might as well speak of here. While the world has made gods, it has also made devils; and as a rule the devils have been better friends to man than the gods. It was not a devil that drowned the world; it was not a devil that covered with the multitudinous waves of an infinite sea the corpses of men, women and children.

That was the good god. The devil never sent pestilence and famine; the devil never starved women and children; that was the good God. The meanest thing recorded of the devil is what happened concerning my servant Job. According to that book God met the devil and said: "Where have you been?" "Oh, been walking up and down." "Have you noticed my man Job; nobody like him!" "Well, who wouldn't be; you have given him everything; but take away what he has, and he will curse you to your face." And so the devil went to work and tried it. It was a mean thing. And that was all done to decide what you might call a wager on a difference of opinion between the serene highnesses. He took away his property, but Job didn't sin; and when God met the devil, he said: "Well, what did I tell you, smarty?" "Ah," he said, "that is all very well, but you touch his flesh and he will curse you; and he did, but Job didn't curse him. And then what did God do to help him! He gave him some other children better looking than the first ones. What kind of an idea is that for a God to kill our children and then give us better looking ones! If you have loved a child, I don't care if it is deformed, if you have held it in your arms and covered its face with kisses, you want that child back and no other.

I find in this bible that there was an old gentleman a little short of the article of hair. And as he was going through the town a number of little children cried out to him "Go up, thou bald head!" And this man of God turned and cursed them. A real good-humoured old fellow! And two bears came out of the woods and tore in pieces forty-two children! How did the bears get there? Elisha could not control the bears. Nobody but God could control the bears in that way. Now just think of an infinite God making a shining star, having his attention attracted by hearing some children saying to an old gentlemen, "Go up, thou bald head!" and then speaking to his secretary or somebody else, "Bring in a couple of bears now!" What a magnificent God! What would the devil have done under the same circumstances? And yet that is the God they want to put into the constitution in order to make our children gentle and kind and loving.

You hate a God like that. I do; I despise him. And yet little children in the Sabbath-school are taught that infamous lie. Why, I have very little respect for an old man that will get mad about such a thing, anyway. What would the Christian world say of me if I should have a few children torn to pieces if they should make that remark in my face? What would the devil have done under the same circumstances? I tell you, I cannot worship a God who is no better than the devil! I cannot do it. And if you will just read the old testament with the bandage off your eyes and the cloud of fear from your heart, you will come to the conclusion that it was written not only by men, but by barbarians, by savages, and that it is totally unworthy of a civilized age. I believe in no God who believes in slavery. I will worship no God who ever said that one of His children should own another of His children. But they say to me, there must be a God somewhere! Well, I say I don't know. There may be. I hope there is more than oneone is so lonesome. Just think of an old bachelor, always alone! I want more than one. And they say, somebody must have made this! Well, I say I don't know. But it strikes me that the indestructible cannot be created. What would you make it of? "Oh, nothing!" Well, it strikes me that nothing, considered in the light of a raw material, is a decided failure. For my part, I cannot conceive of force apart from matter, and I cannot conceive of matter apart from force. I cannot conceive of force somewhere without acting upon something; because force must be active, or it is not force; and if it has no matter to act upon, it ceases to be force. I cannot conceive of the smallest atom of matter staying together without force. Beside, if some god made all this, there must have been some morning when he commenced! And if he has existed always, there is an eternity back of that when he never did anything; when he lived in an infinite hole, without side, top or bottom! He did not think, for there was nothing to think about. Certainly he did not remember, for nothing had ever happened. Now I cannot conceive of this! I do not say it is not so. I may be damned for my smartness, yetI simply say I cannot conceive of it, that is all. But men tell me, you cannot conceive of eternity! That is just what I can conceive of. I cannot conceive of its stopping. They say I cannot conceive of infinite space! That is just what I can conceive of; because, let me imagine all I can, my imagination will stand upon the verge and see infinite space beyond. Infinite space is a necessity of the mind, because I cannot think of enough matter to fill it. Eternity is a necessity of the mind, because I cannot dream of the cessation of time. But they say there is a design in the world, consequently there must be a designer. Well, I don't know.

Paley says that the more wonderful a thing is, the greater the necessity for creation; that a watch is a wonderful thing, and that it must have had a creator; that the watchmaker is more wonderful than the watch, therefore he must have had a creator. Then we come to God; He is altogether more wonderful than the watchmaker, therefore He had no creator. There is a link out somewhere; I don't pretend to understand it. And so I say, that had the world been any other way, you would have seen the same evidence of design, precisely. We grow up with our conditions, and you cannot imagine of a first cause. Why? Every cause has an effect.

Strike your hands together; they feel warm. The effect becomes a cause instantly, and that cause produces another effect, and the effect another cause; and there could not have been a cause until there was an effect. Because until there was an effect, nothing had been caused; until something had been caused, I am positive there was no cause. Now you cannot conceive of a lost effect, because the lost effect of which you can think, will in turn become a cause and that cause produce another effect. And as you cannot think of a lost effect, you cannot think of a first cause; it is not thinkable by the human mind.

They say God governs this world. Why does He not govern Russia as well as He does Massachusetts? Why does He allow the Czar to send beautiful girls of sixteen, seventeen, eighteen, simply for saying a word in favour of human liberty, to mines in Siberia, where they draw carts with knees bruised and bleeding, with hands scarred and swollen? What is that God worth that allows such things in the world He governs? Did He govern this country when it had four millions of slaves?when it turned the cross of Christ into a whipping-postwhen the holy bible was an auction-block on which the mother stood while her babe was sold from her breast?when bloodhounds were considered apostles? Was God governing the world when the prisoners were confined in the Bastille? It seems to me, if there is a God, and someone would repeat the word "Bastille." It would cover almost his face with the blood of shame. But they say heaven will balance all the ills of life. Let us see: A large majority of us are sinnersat least a large majority with whom I am acquainted; and a majority of the Christians with whom I am acquainted are worse than sinners. And if their doctrine is true, you will be astonished at the gentlemen you will see in hell that day. You will know by the cast of their countenance that they used to preach here. They say that it may be that the sinners here have a very good time, and that the Christians don't have a very good time; that it is awful hard work to serve the Lord, and that you carry a cross when you deny yourself the delights of murder and forgery, and all manner of rascality that fills life with delight. But they say that while the rascals are having a good time, they will catch it in the other world. But, according to their account, ninety-nine out of a hundred will be damned, and I think it will be a close call for the hundredth. Like that dear old Scotch woman, when she was talking about the Presbyterian faith, some one said to her: "My dear woman, if your doctrine is true, nobody but you and your husband will be saved." "Ah," said she, "I'm na' sae sure about John." About one in a hundred will be saved, and the other ninety-nine will be in misery. So that on the average there will not be half as much happiness in the next world as in this. So, instead of God's plan getting better, it gets worse; and throughout all the ages of eternity there will be less happiness than in this world. This world is a school; this world is where we develop moral muscle. It may be that we are here simply because men cannot advance only through agony and pain. If it is necessary to have pain and agony to advance morally, then nobody can advance in heaven. Hell will be the only place offering
opportunities to any gentleman who wishes to increase his moral muscle.

A gentleman once asked me if I could suggest any improvement on the present order of things, if I had the power. Well, said I, in the first place, I would make good health catching instead of disease. There will be no humanity until we get the orthodox God out of our religion. I want to do what little I can to put another one in God's name, so that we will worship a supreme human god, so that we will worship mercy, justice, love and truth, and not have the idea that we must sacrifice our brother upon the altar of fear to please some imaginary phantom. See what Christianity has done for the world! It has reduced Spain to a guitar, Italy to a hand organ and Ireland to exile. That is what religion has done. Take every country in the whole world, and the country that has got the least religion is the most prosperous, and the country that has got the most religion is in the worst condition.

In the vast cemetery, called the past, are most of the religions of men and there, too, are nearly all their gods.

The sacred temples of India were ruins long ago. Over column and cornice; over the painted and pictured walls, cling and creep the trailing vines. Brahma, the golden, with four heads and four arms; Vishnu, the sombre, the punisher of the wicked, with his three eyes, his crescent, and his necklace of skulls; Siva, the destroyer, red with seas of blood; Kali, the goddess; Draupadi, the white-armed, and Chrishna, the Christ, all passed away and left the thrones of heaven desolate. Along the banks of the sacred Nile, Iris no longer wandering weeps, searching for the dead Osiris. The shadow of Typhon's scowl falls no more upon the waves. The sun rises as of yore, and his golden beams still smite the lips of Memnon, but Memnon is as voiceless as the Sphinx. The sacred fanes are lost in desert sands; the dusty mummies are still waiting for the resurrection promised by their priests, and the old beliefs wrought in curiously sculptured stone, sleep in the mystery of a language lost and dead Odin, the author of life and soul, Vili and Ve, and the mighty giant Ymir, strode long ago from the ice halls of the North; and Thor, with iron glove and glittering hammer, dashes mountains to the earth no more.

Broken are the circles and the cromlechs of the ancient Druids; fallen upon the summits of the hills, and covered with the centuries' moss are the sacred cairns. The divine fires of Persia and of the Aztecs have died out in the ashes of the past, and there is none to rekindle, and none to feed the holy flames. The harp of Orpheus is still; the drained cup of Bacchus has been thrown aside; Venus lies dead in stone, and her white bosom heaves no more with love. The streams still murmur, but no naiads bathe; the trees still wave, but in the forest aisles no dryads dance. The gods have flown from high Olympus. Not even the beautiful women can lure them back, and Dan lies unnoticed, naked to the stars. Hushed forever are the thunders of Sinai; lost are the voices of the prophets, and the lard once flowing with milk and honey is but a desert waste. One by one the myths have faded from the clouds; one by one the phantom host has disappeared, and, one by one, facts, truths and realities have taken their places. The supernatural has almost gone, but man is the natural remains. The gods have fled, but man is here. Nations, like individuals, have their periods of youth, of manhood and decay. Religions are the same. The same inexorable destiny awaits them all. The gods created with the nations must perish with their creators. They were created by men, and, like men, they must pass away. The deities of one age are the by-words of the next. The religion of our day, and country, is no more exempt from the sneer of the future than others have been. When India was supreme, Brahma sat upon the world's throne. When the sceptre passed to Egypt, Isis and Osiris received the homage of mankind. Greece, with her fierce valour, swept to empire, and Zeus put on the purple of authority. The earth trembled with the tread of Rome's intrepid sons, and Jove grasped with mailed hand the thunderbolts of heaven. Rome fell, and Christians from her territory, with the red sword of war, carved out the ruling nations of the world, and now Jehovah sits upon the old throne. Who will be His successor?