The Necessity of Atheism (Brooks)/Preface
PLAIN speaking is necessary in any discussion of religion, for if the freethinker attacks the religious dogmas with hesitation, the orthodox believer assumes that it is with regret that the freethinker would remove the crutch that supports the orthodox. And all religious beliefs are "crutches" hindering the free locomotive efforts of an advancing humanity. There are no problems related to human progress and happiness in this age which any theology can solve, and which the teachings of freethought cannot do better and without the aid of encumbrances.
Havelock Ellis has stated that, "The man who has never wrestled with his early faith, the faith that he was brought up with and that yet is not truly his own — for no faith is our own that we have not arduously won — has missed not only a moral but an intellectual discipline. The absence of that discipline may mark a man for life and render all his work ineffective. He has missed a training in criticism, in analysis, in open-mindedness, in the resolutely impersonal treatment of personal problems, which no other training can compensate. He is, for the most part, condemned to live in a mental jungle where his arm will soon be too feeble to clear away the growths that enclose him, and his eyes too weak to find the light." The man who has allowed his mental capacities to clear his way through the dense underbrush of religious dogma finds that he has emerged into a purer and healthier atmosphere. In the bright light of this mental emancipation a man perceives the falsities of all religions in their historic, scientific, and metaphysical aspects. The healthier mental viewpoint holds up to scorn and discards the reactionary religious philosophy of morals, and the sum total of his conclusions must be that religion is doomed; and doomed in this modern day by its absolute irrelevance to the needs and interests of modern life. And this not only by the steadily increasing army of freethinkers, but by the indifference and neglect of those who still cling to the fast slipping folds of religious creeds — the future freethinkers.
It was Spinoza who remarked that, "The proper study of a wise man is not how to die but how to live." Religious creeds can but teach how man should live, so that when he dies, he may be assured of salvation; and the important thing is not what he does to help his fellow men while he is living, but how closely he lives in conformity to a reactionary code of dogmas. Religion has always aimed to smooth the sufferer's passage to the next world, not to save him for this world.
Freethought has dethroned the gods from the pedestal, and has replaced, not an empty idol, but an ideal, the ideal of a man who is his own god.
It has become increasingly apparent that what men have hitherto attributed to the gods are nothing but the ideals they value and grope for in themselves. The ideal of the freethinker, the conception that places the supreme worth of human life in the expanding horizon of man's usefulness to man, is forever menaced by the supernaturalism of the theist which manifests itself in the multifarious religious sects that are the most active and constant menace to civilization and to mankind today. That religion in the past has produced suffering incalculable and has been the greatest obstacle in the advance of secular knowledge is a fact too well attested to by history to be denied by any sincere and unbiased intelligent man. That today it constitutes a cultural lag, an active menace to the best interests of humanity and the last refuge of human savagery, is the contention of the freethinker.
The conception of the God-idea as held by society in general stands in. the same positron as the vermiform appendix does to the anatomy of man. It may have been useful in some way thousands of years ago, but today it constitutes a detriment to the well-being of the individual without offering any compensatory usefulness. Agree or disagree with this contention you may, but only when you are made aware of the facts that can be brought to the aid of this conviction. Just as the fundamental principle of justice is outraged when a man or an institution is condemned by jurist or popular opinion when an opportunity is not given to present the facts on both aspects of the case, just so is no man justified in making a decision between theism and atheism until, he. becomes acquainted with both sides of the controversy. Freethought but asks a hearing and the exercise of the unbiased reason of the man who has not hitherto been made aware of its contentions.
In the religious revolution of this twentieth century, the battle ground is squarely seen to be between supernaturalism and secularism. Although the supernaturalists are well entrenched and fortified, it is well to remember that it is the man with vision who finally prevails. The time has passed when the freethinker could be held up to the community as an example, of a base and degraded individual. No manner of pulpit drivel can delude even the unthinking masses to this misconception. The freethinker is today the one who beholds the vision, and this vision does not transcend the natural. It is a vision that is earth-bound; a vision it may be called, since it leaps the boundary of the present and infers for him what the future of a secular organization of the entire constituency of humanity will bring forth. This vision is but a product of his scientific armamentarium and is the means by which he is assured of victory over the well-entrenched and fortified position of the supernaturalists who are still creed-bound to use antiquated and useless weapons. The supernaturalist's armamentarium 'of God, Bible, Heaven, Hell, Soul, Immortality, Sin, The Fall and Redemption of Man, Prayer, Creed, and Dogma, leave as much impression on the mind of intelligent man as would an arrow against a battleship. And the comparison is apt, the supernaturalists have made full use of force, be it in physical warfare or in mental coercion. The freethinker has as much use for physical force and war as he has for mental coercion; both are abhorrent to him.
Supernaiuralism vs. Secularism — that, and that alone is the field of argument. The supernaturalist, be he the fundamentalist of whatever denomination, or the more advanced modernist, is as tenaciously clinging to the transcendental, to revelation, to the infallibility of the Bible, if not in all respects at least in some (although this is a contradiction per se), to the interdisposition of a deity in the affairs of mankind, as were his ancestors of five hundred years ago. In these aspects as well as in the armamentarium enumerated above, the supernaturalists are agreed and are making their last stand.
The secularists, the opinion of the theists to the contrary, are also agreed. It matters not what a man calls his mental process; be he infidel, sceptic, rationalist, agnostic, or atheist; he is firm in the conviction that religions of all varieties are rapidly sinking into the limbo of all other ancient superstitions. To him it is but a matter of time for the inevitable crumbling and disappearance of these superstitions, and the time involved is directly proportional to the ease and rapidity with which scientific knowledge is disseminated to men who have the mental capacity to understand the value of this knowledge and its utter destruction of all forms of supernaturalism. When man becomes fully cognizant of the fact that all the knowledge acquired by the human race has been the result of human inquiry, the result of reasoning processes, and the exercise of mind alone, then secularism will have overcome the long night of supernaturalism. And it is this mental attitude of securalism that proceeds with an ever accelerated rapidity to overcome the problems that confront humanity by substituting human inquiry for divine revelation. Thus this attitude of man to proceed through life dependent only on his own resources will expand and strengthen his mentality by doing away with the inferiority complex of the God-idea. This vision of man, the master of his own destinies, the searcher for truth and the shaper of a better life for the only existence that he knows anything about, this reliance of man upon man, and without the supposed interference of any god, constitutes atheism in its broadest and true sense.
Science and reason, the constituents of secularism, are the mortal enemies of supernaturalism. Secularism, however, is at a disadvantage at this stage of our mental development, since it is approached only by the calm light of the intellect. And intellect can but make an appeal to reason. If the seeds of these appeals fall on the fertile minds of mentally advanced humanity, they will flourish; if they fall on the barren ground of creed-bound minds, they take no root. Recognition of facts and honest deductions are not natural to the human mind. As far as religious matters are concerned, the vast majority of men have not reached a mental maturity; they are still in the infantile state where they have not as yet learned that the sequences of events are not to be interrupted by their desires. The easier path lies in the giving way to the unstable emotions. The primitive instincts are for emotion and for loose imaginings, and these are the provinces of supernaturalism.
Supernaturalism arouses the stupid interests and the brutish passions, and from these are born the bitter fruits of ignorance and hatred. The secularist is one in whom the intellect is passionate, and the passions cold. The supernaturalist on the other hand reverses the order, and in him the passions are active and the intellect inert. In each man there dwells, a tyrant who creates for him a deity materialized out of these factors of ignorance and fear, ft is science and reason which must destroy for him this monstrous apparition. But, as yet, there is no indication that our mental development in relation to social progress has made the great strides that our purely material progress has made. The twentieth century man utilizes and enjoys the material benefits of his century, but his mental progress lies bound and drugged by the viewpoints of 2000 years ago.
Sir Leslie Stephen has declared, "How much intellect and zeal runs to waste in the spasmodic efforts of good men to cling to the last fragment of decaying systems, to galvanize dead formulæ into some dim semblance of life! Society will not improve as it might when those who should be leaders of progress are staggering backward and forward with their eyes passionately reverted to the past. Nay, we shall never be duly sensitive to the miseries and cruelties which make the world a place of torture for so many, so long as men are encouraged in the name of religion to look for a remedy, not in fighting against surrounding evils, but in cultivating aimless contemplations of an imaginary ideal. Much of our popular religion seems to be expressly directed to deaden our sympathies with our fellow men by encouraging an indolent optimism; our thoughts of the other world are used in many forms as an opiate to drug our minds with indifference to the evils of this; and the last word of half of our preachers is, 'dream rather than work.'"
There is always a great deal of discrepancy between that which is best for the gods and that which is best for the individual and for society in general. One cannot serve man perfectly and the traditional gods as well. It is, therefore, the contention of freethinkers that if man had given to the service of man all that he had given to the gods in the past, our present stage of civilization would be much in advance of where it is today.
If there is anything in the discussion to follow that may seem irreverent to the reader, the author wishes to call attention that he has but presented well substantiated facts. It is not only his opinion that he is voicing, but it is the facts as he has found them recorded in the researches of numerous sincere men; Finally, it is the conviction of all freethinkers that, as Professor James H. Leuba has stated, "It is, furthermore, essential to intellectual and moral advances that the beliefs that come into existence should have free play. Antagonistic beliefs must have the chance of proving their worth in open contest. It is this way scientific theories are tested, and in this way also, religious and ethical conceptions should be tried. But a fair struggle cannot take place when people are dissuaded from seeking knowledge, or when knowledge is hidden."
The cultivation of the intellect is a duty that is imposed on all men. Even those who still cling to the dying beliefs must admit the force of what Winwood Reade said, "To cultivate the intellect is therefore a religious duty; and when this truth is fairly recognized by men, the religion which teaches that the intellect should be distrusted and that it should be subservient to faith, will inevitably fall." When the principles of freethought shall have dispelled the intellectual cloud of the God-idea and the vanishing dream of a heaven which has too long drawn men's eyes away from this earth, then, and then only, will these words of Cicero have widespread meaning: "Men were born for the sake of men, that each should assist the others."