Autobiography HTML version

consist in doing the will of a being, on whom it lavishes indeed all the phrases of
adulation, but whom in sober truth it depicts as eminently hateful. I have a hundred times
heard him say that all ages and nations have represented their gods as wicked, in a
constantly increasing progression; that mankind have gone on adding trait after trait till
they reached the most perfect conception of wickedness which the human mind can
devise, and have called this God, and prostrated themselves before it. This ne plus ultra
of wickedness he considered to be embodied in what is commonly presented to mankind
as the creed of Christianity. Think (he used to say) of a being who would make a Hell--
who would create the human race with the infallible foreknowledge, and therefore with
the intention, that the great majority of them were to be consigned to horrible and
everlasting torment. The time, I believe, is drawing near when this dreadful conception of
an object of worship will be no longer identified with Christianity; and when all persons,
with any sense of moral good and evil, will look upon it with the same indignation with
which my father regarded it. My father was as well aware as anyone that Christians do
not, in general, undergo the demoralizing consequences which seem inherent in such a
creed, in the manner or to the extent which might have been expected from it. The same
slovenliness of thought, and subjection of the reason to fears, wishes, and affections,
which enable them to accept a theory involving a contradiction in terms, prevents them
from perceiving the logical consequences of the theory. Such is the facility with which
mankind believe at one and the same time things inconsistent with one another, and so
few are those who draw from what they receive as truths, any consequences but those
recommended to them by their feelings, that multitudes have held the undoubting belief
in an Omnipotent Author of Hell, and have nevertheless identified that being with the
best conception they were able to form of perfect goodness. Their worship was not paid
to the demon which such a being as they imagined would really be, but to their own ideal
of excellence. The evil is, that such a belief keeps the ideal wretchedly low; and opposes
the most obstinate resistance to all thought which has a tendency to raise it higher.
Believers shrink from every train of ideas which would lead the mind to a clear
conception and an elevated standard of excellence, because they feel (even when they do
not distinctly see) that such a standard would conflict with many of the dispensations of
nature, and with much of what they are accustomed to consider as the Christian creed.
And thus morality continues a matter of blind tradition, with no consistent principle, nor
even any consistent feeling, to guide it.
It would have been wholly inconsistent with my father's ideas of duty, to allow me to
acquire impressions contrary to his convictions and feelings respecting religion: and he
impressed upon me from the first, that the manner in which the world came into existence
was a subject on which nothing was known: that the question, "Who made me?" cannot
be answered, because we have no experience or authentic information from which to
answer it; and that any answer only throws the difficulty a step further back, since the
question immediately presents itself, "Who made God?" He, at the same time, took care
that I should be acquainted with what had been thought by mankind on these
impenetrable problems. I have mentioned at how early an age he made me a reader of
ecclesiastical history; and he taught me to take the strongest interest in the Reformation,
as the great and decisive contest against priestly tyranny for liberty of thought.