Saturday, May 9, 2009

"The Real Bible"

I just finished reading an essay by Robert Ingersoll entitled "About the Holy Bible". He wrote this back in 1894. I'm embarrassed to admit that, though I had heard his name many times over the years, I had never actually sought out his writings until recently. Ingersoll was one of my father's favorite targets behind the pulpit. Now I understand why.

But that's not why I was compelled to write about him today. The essay is fairly long, repetitive in places, but one of those pieces that drew me in and stirred my heart. It's the same feeling I get every time I happen upon a new source that speaks so clearly the thoughts and ideas that are imprisoned in my mind. It is as though a door is finally opened and the truth is freed for me.

Once again, I sat and wondered what it was about his writing that sparked such strong emotion in me. Today a new awareness came to me. These writings that create such powerful positive emotion in me have one thing in common. These men are confident and unrepentant in their beliefs. Whatever doubts they harbored about finally saying what must be said are put aside and they cry out with a loud, passionate voice:

"Somebody ought to tell the truth about the Bible. The preachers dare not, because they would be driven from their pulpits. Professors in colleges dare not, because they would lose their salaries. Politicians dare not. They would be defeated. Editors dare not. They would lose subscribers. Merchants dare not, because they might lose customers. Men of fashion dare not, fearing that they would lose caste. Even clerks dare not, because they might be discharged. And so I thought I would do it myself."

So begins Ingersoll's essay.

I was left with the very strong impression that this man had worried over the consequences of his decision but ultimately concluded that he had no choice. Someone had to stand up against this great conspiracy of ignorance that has stained the path of humanity for the past two millennium. Not only does Ingersoll stand up, he erects an edifice of defiance against the hubiris of Christianity that has easily weathered the onslaught of myth-based bilious blather for over 100 years.

But that's not even my real point to this blog.

Near the end of his writing I found this:

"Ministers wonder how I can be wicked enough to attack the Bible.

I will tell them: This book, the Bible, has persecuted, even unto death, the wisest and the best. This book stayed and stopped the onward movement of the human race. This book poisoned the fountains of learning and misdirected the energies of man.

This book is the enemy of freedom, the support of slavery. This book sowed the seeds of hatred in families and nations, fed the flames of war, and impoverished the world. This book is the breastwork of kings and tyrants -- the enslaver of women and children. This book has corrupted parliaments and courts. This book has made colleges and universities the teachers of error and the haters of science. This book has filled Christendom with hateful, cruel, ignorant and warring sects. This book taught men to kill their fellows for religion's sake. This book funded the Inquisition, invented the instruments of torture, built the dungeons in which the good and loving languished, forged the chains that rusted in their flesh, erected the scaffolds whereon they died. This book piled fagots about the feet of the just. This book drove reason from the minds of millions and filled the asylums with the insane.

This book has caused fathers and mothers to shed the blood of their babes. This book was the auction block on which the slave- mother stood when she was sold from her child. This book filled the sails of the slave-trader and made merchandise of human flesh. This book lighted the fires that burned "witches" and "wizards." This book filled the darkness with ghouls and ghosts, and the bodies of men and women with devils. This book polluted the souls of men with the infamous dogma of eternal pain. This book made credulity the greatest of virtues, and investigation the greatest of crimes. This book filled nations with hermits, monks and nuns -- with the pious and the useless. This book placed the ignorant and unclean saint above the philosopher and philanthropist. This book taught man to despise the joys of this life, that he might be happy in another -- to waste this world for the sake of the next.

I attack this book because it is the enemy of human liberty -- the greatest obstruction across the highway of human progress.

Let me ask the ministers one question: How can you be wicked enough to defend this book?"

Much of this I immediately embraced as reflecting my own thoughts and beliefs. But there were new ideas, dangerous ideas, that left me uneasy. It's never a good idea to use phrases like "unclean saint" or "the pious and the useless". These are men and women of god who have...


I went back and re-read it with fresh eyes and realized something profound about myself. A part of me still clings to this idea that what I turned my back on is actually goodness. Deep inside me I still accept the premise that to reject this system of belief is to throw my lot in with the contemptable, the unsavory. To reject Christ is to turn to the dark side.

That's not to say that I deliberately, willfully made the choice with that in mind. It's more subtle then that, but still just as powerful. I've even argued with my mouth that my choice is not a choice against good and for evil, rather a choice to abandon mythology for rational thought. But the still, small voice is there and chaffs at arguments that would paint righteous Christians as "corrupted...hateful, cruel [or] ignorant."

One of my greatest strengths and most profound weaknesses is that I want to give people the benefit of the doubt.

Then Ingersoll delivers the coup de grace:

"For thousands of years men have been writing the real Bible, and it is being written from day to day, and it will never be finished while man has life. All the facts that we know, all the truly recorded events, all the discoveries and inventions, all the wonderful machines whose wheels and levers seem to think, all the poems, crystals from the brain, flowers from the heart, all the songs of love and joy, of smiles and tears, the great dramas of Imagination's world, the wondrous paintings, miracles of form and color, of light and shade, the marvelous marbles that seem to live and breathe, the secrets told by rock and star, by dust and flower, by rain and snow, by frost and flame, by winding stream and desert sand, by mountain range and billowed sea.

All the wisdom that lengthens and ennobles life, all that avoids or cures disease, or conquers pain -- all just and perfect laws and rules that guide and shape our lives, all thoughts that feed the flames of love the music that transfigures, enraptures and enthralls the victories of heart and brain, the miracles that hands have wrought, the deft and cunning hands of those who worked for wife and child, the histories of noble deeds, of brave and useful men, of faithful loving wives, of quenchless mother-love, of conflicts for the right, of sufferings for the truth, of all the best that all the men and women of the world have said, and thought and done through all the years.

These treasures of the heart and brain -- these are the Sacred Scriptures of the human race."

I know it enough to say it. My brain understands the damage that myths have caused over the centuries. But a part of me still wonders, worries, struggles with the what if question. I suppose it is to be expected in the early stages of my journey. But reading the words of Ingersoll reminds me again, it is not to be accepted.



Blogger Franz Yeager said...

i hear ya loud and clear nate ... i got out of the church in about year 2000 after serving over 25 years as a paid minister ... i am more agnostic these days as i could no longer swallow the god i was told to believe in all my life and then preached about until i was in my 50's ... i find life much more freeing on the outside of the 4 walls ... i actually enjoy life, freedom to be who i really am as a person and others regardless of their beliefs of lack there of ... good to hear your thoughts in this journey ... keep writing my friend keep writing ... its a bit of healing for me to read and probably a good therapy tool for you too ...

May 9, 2009 8:57 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Just wanted to say I respect the hell out of you for doing what you have done. I know it has not been an easy road, and you have a lot of courage. It's very inspiring to me. I live in Atlanta and hate that I missed seeing you at the convention recently. Keep fighting the good fight, and keep telling all who will listen what is true and right.

It is said that what we are told as children we always believe. This does not have to be. Thank you for being such a brave man.

May 10, 2009 8:41 PM  
Blogger lisa said...

I know what you mean. I was raised in a fundamentalist church and just became an atheist about 2 years ago. I still have nightmares about certain aspects of Christianity. I sometimes still fear hell. When something is as ingrained into the brain of a child as the literal fear of being burned to death forever, I sometimes wonder if one can be free of it. I have doubts that I will ever be completely free from it.

May 12, 2009 11:16 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Me too. Just keep living fully as you are now. You are amazing.

June 29, 2009 8:15 AM  
Anonymous Thomas said...

I sincerely admire you, Mr. Phelps. Like several others here, I became an atheist after enduring a lifetime of torment at the hands of religion.

In fact, for me, atheism provided the necessary distance I needed from religion in order to heal.

For a long time I was angry, very angry -- and rightfully so -- and I remained angry... well, until one day I just wasn't so much anymore. It took a long time though. No quick fixes. Although I wouldn't describe myself as an "atheist" anymore per se, I certainly wouldn't describe myself as a "believer" either -- "mystery" is more the byword for me now.

People need to be very skeptical about the bible -- not only for its content in many places, but also for the way that content is routinely used to control and imprison the human mind and heart.

Sincere best wishes to you. What you are doing here is a very important thing, in my opinion. Your honest words are an inspiration to many, many people, I'm sure.

August 7, 2009 2:13 AM  
Blogger Nasiyo said...

Im very proud of you for overcoming your religious background. I am an atheist, and was also raised christian.
We have to use our intellect to guide us not someone elses imaginary friend.

August 9, 2009 8:01 PM  
Blogger Amanda said...

Hmmm...I love what you said about leaving the church and still feeling like you were leaving goodness. I understand that. I recently left a group that I was deeply indoctrinated into...and I still feel sometimes like I'm going to lose everything. It has such a deep hold on me. So, I can relate.

I love what you're doing here. It's important. I hope that you can find deep peace.

August 25, 2009 11:43 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Nate, good for you for standing up to such a towering, misguided behemoth as your father and his congregation.

It's true isn't it that zealots of this caliber always ends up like the very thing they oppose? In this sense, if the bible were a literal account of the Abrahamic God, then I suppose the only ethical thing to do would be to stand against him. But fortunately that is not our fate, but the epic delusions of the frail human mind.

I'm only sorry you had to be indoctrinated into this delusion during your own tender years as a child.

Yours, Isaiah

October 26, 2009 10:25 PM  

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