Historical Reprints Philosophical Grammar of Freethought

Grammar of Freethought

Grammar of Freethought
Catalog # SKU3809
Publisher TGS Publishing
Weight 1.00 lbs
Author Name Chapman Cohen
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Grammar of Freethought

Chapman Cohen

The world needs knowledge, but still more imperatively it needs the right use of the knowledge that is at its disposal. For this reason I have been mainly concerned in these pages with indicating what I consider to be the right mental attitude with which to approach certain fundamental questions.



Outgrowing the Gods.

One of the largest facts in the history of man is religion. If it were otherwise the justification for writing the following pages, and for attempting the proof that, so far as man's history is concerned with religion, it is little better than a colossal blunder, would not be nearly so complete. Moreover, it is a generalization upon which religionists of all classes love to dwell, or even to parade as one of the strongest evidences in their favour; and it is always pleasant to be able to give your opponent all for which he asks-feeling, meanwhile, that you lose nothing in the giving. Universality of belief in religion really proves no more than the universality of telling lies. "All men are liars" is as true, or as false, as "All men are religious." For some men are not liars, and some men are not religious.

All the generalization means is that some of both are found in every age and in every country, and that is true whether we are dealing with the liar or with the religious person. What is ignored is the consideration that while at one stage of culture religious belief is the widest and most embracing of all beliefs it subsequently weakens, not quite in direct proportion to the advance of culture, but yet in such a way that one can say there is an actual relation between a preponderance of the one and a weakening of the other. In very primitive communities gods are born and flourish with all the rank exuberance of a tropical vegetation.

In less primitive times their number diminishes, and their sphere of influence becomes more and more sharply defined. The gods are still credited with the ability to do certain things, but there are other things which do somehow get done without them. How that discovery and that division are made need not detain us for the moment, but the fact is patent. Advancing civilization sees the process continued and quickened, nay, that is civilization; for until nature is rid of her "haughty lords" and man realizes that there are at least some natural forces that come within the control of his intelligence, civilization cannot really be said to have commenced. Continued advance sees the gods so diminished in power and so weakened in numbers that their very impotency is apt to breed for them the kind of pity that one feels for a millionaire who becomes a pauper, or for an autocratic monarch reduced to the level of a voteless citizen.

The truth is that all the gods, like their human creators, have in their birth the promise of death. The nature of their birth gives them life, but cannot promise them immortality. However much man commences by worshipping gods, he sooner or later turns his back upon them. Like the biblical deity he may look at his creation and declare it good, but he also resembles this deity in presently feeling the impulse to destroy what he has made. To the products of his mind man can no more give immortality than he can to the work of his hands. In many cases the work of his hands actually outlives that of his mind, for we have to-day the remains of structures that were built in the honour of gods whose very names are forgotten. And to bury his gods is, after all, the only real apology that man can offer for having created them.

This outgrowing of religion is no new thing in human history. Thoughtful observers have always been struck by the mortality among the gods, although their demise has usually been chronicled in terms of exultation by rival worshippers. But here and there a keener observer has brought to bear on the matter a breadth of thought which robbed the phenomenon of its local character and gave it a universal application. Thus, in one of his wonderfully modern dialogues Lucian depicts the Olympian deities discussing, much in the spirit of a modern Church Congress, the prevalence of unbelief among men. The gods are disturbed at finding that men are reaching the stage of either not believing, or not troubling about them. There is a great deal of talk, and finally one of the minor deities treats them to a little plain truth-which appears to be as rare, and as unwelcome in heaven as on earth. He says-I quote from Froude's translation:-

What other conclusion could they arrive at when they saw the confusion around them? Good men neglected, perishing in penury and slavery, and profligate wretches wealthy, honoured and powerful. Sacrilegious temple robbers undiscovered and unpunished; devotees and saints beaten and crucified. With such phenomena before them, of course men have doubted our existence.... We affect surprise that men who are not fools decline to put their faith in us. We ought rather to be pleased that there is a man left to say his prayers. We are among ourselves with no strangers present. Tell us, then, Zeus, have you ever really taken pains to distinguish between good men and bad? Theseus, not you, destroyed the robbers in Attica. As far as Providence was concerned, Sciron and Pity-O-Campus might have murdered and plundered to the end of time. If Eurystheus had not looked into matters, and sent Hercules upon his labours little would you have troubled yourself with the Hydras and Centaurs. Let us be candid. All that we have really cared for has been a steady altar service. Everything else has been left to chance. And now men are opening their eyes. They perceive that whether they pray or don't pray, go to church or don't go to church, makes no difference to them. And we are receiving our deserts.

The case could hardly be put more effectively. It is the appeal to experience with a vengeance, a form of argument of which religionists in general are very fond. Of course, the argument does not touch the question of the mere existence of a god, but it does set forth the revolt of awakened common sense against the worship of a "moral governor of the universe." We can say of our day, as Lucian said of his, that men are opening their eyes, and as a consequence the gods are receiving their deserts.

280 pages - 7 x 8½ softcover - Print size, 14 point font

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