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One great objection to the Old Testament is the cruelty said to have been commanded by God. All these cruelties ceased with death. The vengeance of Jehovah stopped at the tomb. He never threatened to punish the dead; and there is not one word, from the first mistake in Genesis to the last curse of Malachi, containing the slightest intimation that God will take his revenge in another world. It was reserved for the New Testament to make known the doctrine of eternal pain. The teacher of universal benevolence rent the veil between time and eternity, and fixed the horrified gaze of man upon the lurid gulf of hell. Within the breast of non-resistance coiled the worm that never dies. Compared with this, the doctrine of slavery, the wars of extermination, the curses, the punishments of the Old Testament were all merciful and just.

There is no time to speak of the conflicting statements in the various books composing the New Testament--no time to give the history of the manuscripts, the errors in translation, the interpolations made by the fathers and by their successors, the priests, and only time to speak of a few objections, including some absurdities and some contradictions.

Where several witnesses testify to the same transaction, no matter how honest they may be, they will disagree upon minor matters, and such testimony is generally considered as evidence that the witnesses have not conspired among themselves. The differences in statement are accounted for from the facts that all do not see alike, and that all have not equally good memories; but when we claim that the witnesses are inspired, we must admit that he who inspired them did know exactly what occurred, and consequently there should be no disagreement, even in the minutest detail. The accounts should not only be substantially, but they should be actually, the same. The differences and contradictions can be accounted for by the weaknesses of human nature, but these weaknesses cannot be predicated of divine wisdom.

And here let me ask: Why should there have been more than one correct account of what really happened? Why were four gospels necessary? It seems to me that one inspired gospel, containing all that happened, was enough. Copies of the one correct one could have been furnished to any extent. According to Doctor Davidson Irenaeus argues that the gospels were four in number, because there are four universal winds, four corners of the globe. Others have said, because there are four seasons: and these gentlemen might have added, because a donkey has four legs. For my part, I cannot even conceive of a reason for more than one gospel.

According to one of these gospels, and according to the prevalent Christian belief, the Christian religion rests upon the doctrine of the atonement. If this doctrine is without foundation, the fabric falls; and it is without foundation, for it is repugnant to justice and mercy. The church tells us that the first man committed a crime for which all others are responsible. This absurdity was the father and mother of another--that a man can be rewarded for the good action of another. We are told that God made a law, with the penalty of eternal death. All men, they tell us, have broken this law. The law had to be vindicated. This could be done by damning everybody, but through what is known as the atonement the salvation of the few was made possible. They insist that the law demands the extreme penalty, that justice calls for its victim, that mercy ceases to plead, and that God by allowing the innocent to suffer in the place of the guilty settled satisfactory with the law. To carry out this scheme God was born as a babe, grew in stature, increased in knowledge, and at the age of thirty-three years having lived a life filled with kindness, having practiced every virtue, he was sacrificed as an atonement for man. It is claimed that he took our place, bore our sins, our guilt, and in this way satisfied the justice of God.

Under the Mosaic dispensation there was no remission of sin except through the shedding of blood. When a man sinned he must bring to the priest a lamb, a bullock, a goat, or a pair of turtle- doves, The priest would lay his hand upon the animal and the sin of the man would be transferred to the beast. Then the animal would be killed in place of the sinner, and the blood thus shed would he sprinkled upon the altar. In this way Jehovah was satisfied. The greater the crime, the greater the sacrifice. There was a ratio between the value of the animal and the enormity of the sin.

The most minute directions were given as to the killing of these animals. Every priest became a butcher, every synagogue a slaughter-house. Nothing could be more utterly shocking to a refined soul, nothing better calculated to harden the heart, than the continual shedding of innocent blood. This terrible system culminated in the sacrifice of Christ. His blood took the place of all other. It is not necessary to shed any more. The law at last is satisfied, satiated, surfeited.

The idea that God wants blood is at the bottom of the atonement, and rests upon the most fearful savagery; and yet the Mosaic dispensation was better adapted to prevent the commission of sin than the Christian system. Under that dispensation, if you committed a sin, you had to bring a sacrifice--dove, sheep, or bullock, now, when a sin is committed, the Christian says, "Charge it," "Put it on the slate, If I don't pay it the Savior will." In this way, rascality is sold on a credit, and the credit system of religion breeds extravagance in sin. The Mosaic dispensation was based upon far better business principles. The debt had to be paid, and by the man who owed it. We are told that the sinner is in debt to God, and that the obligation is discharged by the Savior. The best that can be said of such a transaction is that the debt is transferred, not paid. As a matter of fact, the sinner is in debt to the person he has injured. If you injure a man, it is not enough to get the forgiveness of God--you must get the man's forgiveness, you must get your own. If a man puts his hand in the fire and God forgives him, his hand will smart just as badly. You must reap what you sow. No God can give you wheat when you sow tares, and no Devil can give you tares when you sow wheat. We must remember that in nature there are neither rewards nor punishments there are consequences. The life and death of Christ do not constitute an atonement. They are worth the example, the moral force, the heroism of benevolence, and in so far as the life of Christ produces emulation in the direction of goodness, it has been of value to mankind.

To make innocence suffer is the greatest sin, and it may be the only sin. How, then, is it possible to make the consequences of sin an atonement for sin, when the consequences of sin are to be borne by one who has not sinned, and the one who has sinned is to reap the reward of virtue? No honorable man should be willing that another should suffer for him. No good law can accept the sufferings of innocence as an atonement for the guilty; and besides, if there was no atonement until the crucifixion of Christ, what became of the countless millions who died before that time? We must remember that the Jews did not kill animals for the Gentiles. Jehovah hated foreigners. There was no way provided for the forgiveness of a heathen. What has become of the millions who have died since, without having heard of the atonement? What becomes of those who hear and do not believe? Can there be a law that demands that the guilty be rewarded. And yet, to reward the guilty is far nearer justice than to punish the innocent. If the doctrine of the atonement is true, there would have been no heaven had no atonement been made.

If Judas had understood the Christian system, if he knew that Christ must be betrayed, and that God was depending on him to betray him, and that without the betrayal no human soul could be saved, what should Judas have done?

Jehovah took special charge of the Jewish people. He did this for the purpose of civilizing them. If he had succeeded in civilizing them, he would have made the damnation of the entire human race a certainty; because if the Jews had been a civilized people when Christ appeared--a people who had not been hardened by the laws of Jehovah--they would not have crucified Christ, and as a consequence, the world would have been lost. If the Jews had believed in religious freedom, in the rights of thought and speech, if the Christian religion is true, not a human soul ever could have been saved. If, when Christ was on his way to Calvary, some brave soul had rescued him from the pious mob, he would not only have been damned for his pains. but would have rendered impossible the salvation of any human being.

The Christian world has been trying for nearly two thousand years to explain the atonement, and every effort has ended in an admission that it cannot be understood, and a declaration that it must be believed. Has the promise and hope of forgiveness ever prevented the commission of a sin? Can men be made better by being taught that sin gives happiness here; that to live a virtuous life is to bear a cross; that men can repent between the last sin and the last breath; and that repentance washes every stain of the soul away? Is it good to teach that the serpent of regret will not hiss in the ear of memory; that the saved will not even pity the victims of their crimes; and that sins forgiven cease to affect the unhappy wretches sinned against?

Another objection is, that a certain belief is necessary to save the soul. This doctrine, I admit, is taught in the gospel according to John, and in many of the epistles; I deny that it is taught in Matthew, Mark, or Luke. It is, however, asserted by the church that to believe is the only safe way. To this, I reply: Belief is not a voluntary thing. A man believes or disbelieves in spite of himself, They tell us that to believe is the safe way; but I say, the safe way is to be honest. Nothing can be safer than that. No man in the hour of death ever regretted having been honest. No man when the shadows of the last day were gathering about the pillow of death, ever regretted that he had given to his fellow-man his honest thought. No man, in the presence of eternity, ever wished that he had been a hypocrite. No man ever then regretted that he did not throw away his reason. It certainly cannot be necessary to throw away your reason to save your soul, because after that, your soul is not worth saving. The soul has a right to defend itself. My brain is my castle; and when I waive the right to defend it, I become an intellectual serf and slave.

I do not admit that a man by doing me an injury can place me under obligations to do him a service. To render benefits for injuries is to ignore all distinctions between actions. He who treats friends and enemies alike has neither love nor justice. The idea of non-resistance never occurred to a man with power to defend himself. The mother of this doctrine was weakness. To allow a crime to be committed, even against yourself, when you can prevent it, is next to committing the crime yourself. The church has preached the doctrine of non-resistance, and under that banner has shed the blood of millions. In the folds of her sacred vestments have gleamed for centuries the daggers of assassination. With her cunning hands she wove the purple for hypocrisy and placed the crown upon the brow of crime. For more than a thousand years larceny held the scales of justice, hypocrisy wore the maitre and tiara, while beggars scorned the royal sons of toil, and ignorant fear denounced the liberty of thought.

Next: IX: Christ's Mission