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Robert Green Ingersoll
**** **** PROFESSOR BRIGGS. PROFESSOR BRIGGS is undoubtedly a sincere man. To the study of the Bible he has given the best years of his life. When he commenced this study he was probably a devout believer in the plenary inspiration of the Scripture -- thought that the Bible was without an error; that all the so-called contradictions could be easily explained. He had been educated by Presbyterians and had confidence in his teachers. In spite of his early training, in spite of his prejudices, he was led, in some mysterious way, to rely a little on his own reason. This was a dangerous thing to do. The moment a man talks about reason he is on dangerous ground. He is liable to contradict the "Word of God." Then he loses spirituality and begins to think more of truth than creed. This is a step toward heresy -- toward Infidelity. Professor Briggs began to have doubts about some of the miracles. These doubts, like rats, began to gnaw the foundations of his faith. He examined these wonderful stories in the light of what is known to have happened, and in the light of like miracles found in the other sacred books of the world. And he concluded that they were not quite true. He was not ready to say that they were actually false; that would be too brutally candid. I once read of an English lord who had a very polite gamekeeper. The lord wishing to show his skill with the rifle fired at a target. He and the gamekeeper went to see where the bullet had struck. The gamekeeper was first at the target, and the lord cried out: "Did I miss it?" "I would not," said the gamekeeper, "go so far as to say that your lordship missed it, but -- but -- you didn't hit it." Bank of Wisdom Box 926, Louisville, KY 40201 7 PROFESSOR BRIGGS. Professor Briggs saw clearly that the Bible was the product, the growth of many centuries; that legends and facts, mistakes, contradictions, miracles, myths and history, interpolations, prophecies and dreams, wisdom, foolishness, justice, cruelty, poetry and bathos were mixed, mingled and interwoven. In other words, that the gold of truth was surrounded by meaner metals and worthless stones. He saw that it was necessary to construct what might be called a sacred smelter to divide the true from the false. Undoubtedly he reached this conclusion in the interest of what he believed to be the truth. He had the mistaken but honest idea that a Christian should really think. Of course, we know that all heresy has been the result of thought. It has always been dangerous to grow. Shrinking is safe. Studying the Bible was the first mistake that Professor Briggs made, reasoning was the second, and publishing his conclusions was the third. If he had read without studying, if he had believed without reasoning, he would have remained a good, orthodox Presbyterian. He probably read the works of Humboldt, Darwin and Haeckel, and found that the author of Genesis was not a geologist, not a scientist. He seems to have his doubts about the truth of the story of the deluge. Should he be blamed for this? Is there a sensible man in the wide world who really believes In the flood? This flood business puts Jehovah in such an idiotic light. Of course, he must have known, after the fall of Adam and Eve, that he would have to drown their descendants. Certainly it would have been more merciful to have killed Adam and Eve, made a new pair and kept the serpent out of the Garden of Eden. If Jehovah had been an intelligent God he never would have created the serpent. Then there would have been no fall, no flood, no atonement, no hell. Think of a God who drowned a world! What a merciless monster! The cruelty of the flood is exceeded only by its stupidity. Thousands of little theologians have tried to explain this miracle. This is the very top of absurdity. To explain a miracle is to destroy it. Some have said that the flood was local. How could water that rose over the mountains remain local? Why should we expect mercy from a God who drowned millions of men, women and babes? I would no more think of softening the heart of such a God by prayer than of protecting myself from a hungry tiger by repeating poetry. Professor Briggs has sense enough to see that the story of the flood is but an ignorant legend. He is trying to rescue Jehovah from the frightful slander. After all, why should we believe the unreasonable? Must we be foolish to be virtuous? The rain fell for forty days; this caused the flood. The water was at least thirty thousand feet in depth. Seven hundred and fifty feet a day -- more than thirty feet an hour, six inches a minute; the rain fell for forty days. Does any man with sense enough to eat and breathe believe this idiotic lie? Bank of Wisdom Box 926, Louisville, KY 40201 8 PROFESSOR BRIGGS. Professor Briggs knows that the Jews got the story of the flood from the Babylonians, and that it is no more inspired than the history of "Peter Wilkins and His Flying Wife." The destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah is another legend. If those cities were destroyed sensible people believe the phenomenon was as natural as the destruction of Herculaneum and Pompeii. They do not believe that in either case it was the result of the wickedness of the people. Neither does any thinking man believe that the wife of Lot was changed or turned into a pillar of salt as a punishment for having looked back at her burning home, How could flesh, bones and blood be changed to salt? This presupposes two miracles. First, the annihilation of the woman, and second, the creation of salt. A God cannot annihilate or create matter. Annihilation and creation are both impossible -- unthinkable. A grain of sand can defy all the gods. What was Mrs. Lot turned to salt for? What good was achieved? What useful lesson taught? What man with a head fertile enough to raise one hair can believe a story like this? Does a man who denies the truth of this childish absurdity weaken the foundation of virtue? Does he discourage truth-telling by denouncing lies? Should a man be true to himself? If reason is not the standard, what is? Can a man think one way and believe another? Of course he can talk one way and think another. If a man should be honest with himself he should be honest with others. A man who conceals his doubts lives a dishonest life. He defiles his own soul. When a truth-loving man reads about the plagues of Egypt, should he reason as he reads? Should he take into consideration the fact that like stories have been told and believed by savages for thousands of years? Should he ask himself whether Jehovah in his efforts to induce the Egyptian King to free the Hebrews acted like a sensible God? Should he ask, himself whether a good God would kill the babes of the people on account of the sins of the king? Whether he would torture, mangle and kill innocent cattle to get even with a monarch? Is it better to believe without thinking than to think without believing? If there be a God can we please him by believing that he acted like a fiend? Probably Professor Briggs has a higher conception of God than the author of Exodus. The writer of that book was a barbarian -- an honest barbarian, and he wrote what he supposed was the truth. I do not blame him for having written falsehoods. Neither do I blame Professor Briggs for having detected these falsehoods. In our day no man capable of reasoning believes the miracles wrought for the Hebrews in their flight through the wilderness. The opening of the sea, the cloud and pillar, the quails, the manna, the serpents and hornets are no more believed than the miracles of the Mormons when they crossed the plains. The probability is that the Hebrews never were in Egypt. In the Hebrew language there are no Egyptian words, and in the Egyptian no Hebrew. This proves that the Hebrews could not have Bank of Wisdom Box 926, Louisville, KY 40201 9 PROFESSOR BRIGGS. mingled with the Egyptians for four hundred and thirty years. As a matter of fact, Moses is a myth. The enslavement of the Hebrews, the flight, the journey through the wilderness existed only in the imagination of ignorance. So Professor Briggs has his doubts about the sun and moon having been stopped for a day in order that Gen. Joshua might kill more heathen. Theologians have gathered around this miracle like moths around a flame. They have done their best to make it reasonable. They have talked about refraction and reflection, about the nature of the air having been changed so that the sun was visible all night. They have even gone so far as to say that Joshua and his soldiers killed so many that afterward, when thinking about it, they concluded that it must have taken them at least two days. This miracle can be accounted for only in one way. Jehovah must have stopped the earth. The earth, turning over at about one thousand miles an hour -- weighing trillions of tons -- had to be stopped. Now we know that all arrested motion changes instantly to heat. It has been calculated that to stop the earth would cause as much heat as could be produced by burning three lumps of coal, each lump as large as this world. Now, is it possible that a God in his right mind would waste all that force? The Bible also tells us that at the same time God cast hailstones from heaven on the poor heathen. If the writer had known something of astronomy he would have had more hailstones and said nothing about the sun and moon. Is it wise for ministers to ask their congregations to believe this story? Is it wise for congregations to ask their ministers to believe this story? If Jehovah performed this miracle he must have been insane. There should be some relation, some proportion, between means and ends. No sane general would call into the field a million soldiers and a hundred batteries to kill one insect. And yet the disproportion of means to the end sought would be reasonable when compared with what Jehovah is claimed to have done. If Jehovah existed let us admit that he had some sense. If it should be demonstrated that the book of Joshua is all false, what harm could follow? There would remain the same reasons for living a useful and virtuous life; the same reasons against theft and murder. Virtue would lose no prop and vice would gain no crutch. Take all the miracles from the Old Testament and the book would be improved. Throw away all its cruelties and absurdities and its influence would be far better. Professor Briggs seems to have doubts about the inspiration of Ruth. Is there any harm in that? What difference does it make whether the story of Ruth is fact or fiction; history or poetry? Its value is just the same. Who cares whether Hamlet or Lear lived? Who cares whether Imogen and Perdita were real women or the creation of Shakespeare's imagination? The book of Esther is absurd and cruel. It has no ethical value. There is not a line, a word in it calculated to make a human Bank of Wisdom Box 926, Louisville, KY 40201 10 PROFESSOR BRIGGS. being better. The king issued a decree to kill the Jews. Esther succeeded in getting this decree set aside, and induced the king to issue another decree that the Jews should kill the other folks, and so the Jews killed some seventy-five thousand of the king's subjects. Is it really important to believe that the book of Esther is inspired? Is it possible that Jehovah is proud of having written this book? Does he guard his copyright with the fires of hell? Why should the facts be kept from the people? Every intelligent minster knows that Moses did not write the Pentateuch; that David did not write the Psalms, and that Solomon was not the author of the song or the book of Ecclesiastes. Why not say so? No intelligent minister believes the story of Daniel in the Lion's den, or of the three men who were cast into the furnace, or the story of Jonah. These miracles seem to have done no good -- seem to have convinced nobody and to have had no consequences. Daniel was miraculously saved from the lions, and then the king sent for the men who had accused Daniel, for their wives and their children, and threw them all into the den of lions and they were devoured by beasts almost as cruel as Jehovah. What a beautiful story! How can any man be wicked enough to doubt its truth? God told Jonah to go to Nineveh. Jonah ran away, took a boat for another place, God raised a storm, the sailors became frightened, threw Jonah overboard, and the poor wretch was swallowed and carried ashore by a fish that God had prepared. Then he made his proclamation in Nineveh. Then the people repented and Jonah was disappointed. Then he became malicious and found fault with God. Then comes the story of the gourd, the worm and the east wind, and the effect of the sun on a bald-headed prophet. Would not this story be just as beautiful with the storm and fish left out? Could we not dispense with the gourd, the worm and the east wind? Professor Briggs, does not believe this story. He does not reject it because he is wicked or because he wishes to destroy religion, but because, in his judgment, it is not true. This may not be religious, but it is honest. It may not become a minister, but it certainly becomes a man. Professor Briggs wishes to free the Old Testament from interpolations, from excrescences, from fungus growths, from mistakes and falsehoods. I am satisfied that he is sincere, actuated by the noblest motives. Suppose that all the interpolations in the Bible should be found and the original be perfectly restored, what evidence would we have that it was written by inspired men? How can the fact of inspiration be established? When was it established? Did Jehovah furnish anybody with a list of books he had inspired? Does anybody know that he ever said that he had inspired anybody? Did the writer of Genesis claim that he was inspired? Did any writer of any part of the Pentateuch make the claim? Did the authors of Joshua, Judges, Kings or Chronicles pretend that they had obtained their facts from Jehovah? Does the author of Job or of the Psalms pretend to have received assistance from God? Bank of Wisdom Box 926, Louisville, KY 40201 11 PROFESSOR BRIGGS. There is not the slightest reference to God in Esther or in Solomon's Song. Why should theologians say that those books were inspired? The dogma of inspiration rests on no established fact. It rests only on assertion -- the assertion of those who have no knowledge on the subject. Professor Briggs calls the Bible a "holy" book. He seems to think that much of it was inspired; that it is in some sense a message from God. The reasons he has for thinking so I cannot even guess. He seems also to have his doubts about certain parts of the New Testament. He is not certain that the angel who appeared to Joseph in a dream was entirely truthful, or he is not certain that Joseph had the dream. It seems clear that when the gospel according to Matthew was first written the writer believed that Christ was a lineal descendant of David, through his father, Joseph. The genealogy is given for the purpose of showing that the blood of David flowed in the veins of Christ. The man who wrote that genealogy had never heard that the Holy Ghost was the father of Christ. That was an afterthought. How is it possible to prove that the Holy Ghost was the father of Christ? The Holy Ghost said nothing on the subject. Mary wrote nothing and we have no evidence that Joseph had a dream. The divinity of Christ rests upon a dream that somebody said Joseph had. According to the New Testament, Mary herself called Joseph the father of Christ. She told Christ that Joseph, his father, had been looking for him. Her statement is better evidence than Joseph's dream -- if he really had it. If there are legends in Holy Scripture, as Professor Briggs declares, certainly the divine parentage of Christ is one of them. The story lacks even originality. Among the Greeks many persons had gods for fathers. Among Hindoos and Egyptians these god-men were common. So in many other countries the blood of gods was in the veins of men. Such wonders, told in Sanskrit, are just as reasonable as when told In Hebrew -- just as reasonable in India as in Palestine. Of course, there is no evidence that any human being had a god for a father, or a goddess for a mother. Intelligent people have outgrown these myths. Centaurs, satyrs, nymphs and god-men have faded away. Science murdered them all. There are many contradictions in the gospels. They differ not only on questions of fact, but as to Christianity itself. According to Matthew, Mark and Luke, if you will forgive others God will forgive you. This is the one condition of salvation. But in John we find an entirely different religion. According to John you must be born again and believe in Jesus Christ. There you find for the first time about the atonement -- that Christ died to save sinners. The gospel of John discloses a regular theological system -- a new one. To forgive others is not enough. You must have faith. You must be born again. The four gospels cannot be harmonized. If John is true the others are false. If the others are true John is false. From this there is no escape. I do not for a moment suppose that Professor Briggs agrees with me on these questions. He probably regards me as Bank of Wisdom Box 926, Louisville, KY 40201 12 PROFESSOR BRIGGS. a very bad and wicked man, and my opinions as blasphemies. I find no fault with him for that. I believe him to be an honest man; right in some things and wrong in many. He seems to be true to his thought and I honor him for that. He would like to get all the stumbling-blocks out of the Bible, so that a really thoughtful man can "believe." If theologians cling to the miracles recorded in the New Testament the entire book will be disparaged and denied. The "Gospel ship" is overloaded. Some-things must be thrown overboard or the boat will go down. If the churches try to save all they will lose all. They must throw the miracles away. They must admit that Christ did not cast devils out of the bodies of men and women -- that he did not cure diseases with a word, or blindness with spittle and clay; that he had no power over winds and waves; that he did not raise the dead; that he was not raised from the dead himself, and that he did not ascend bodily to heaven. These absurdities must be given up, or in a little while the orthodox ministers will be preaching the "tidings of great joy" to benches, bonnets and bibs. Professor Briggs, as I understand him, is willing to give up the absurdist absurdities, but wishes to keep all the miracles that can possibly be believed. He is anxious to preserve the important miracles -- the great central falsehoods -- but the little lies that were told just to embellish the story -- to furnish vines for the columns -- he is willing to cast aside. But Professor Briggs was honest enough to say that we do not know the authors of most of the books in the Bible; that we do not know who wrote the Psalms or Job or Proverbs or the Song of Songs or Ecclesiastes or the Epistle to the Hebrews. He also said that no translation can ever take the place of the original Scriptures, because a translation is at best the work of men. In other words, that God has not revealed to us the names of the inspired books. That this must be determined by us. Professor Briggs puts reason above revelation. By reason we are to decide what books are inspired. By reason we are to decide whether anything has been improperly added to those books. By reason we are to decide the real meaning of those books. It therefore follows that if the books are unreasonable they are uninspired. It seems to me that this position is absolutely correct. There is no other that can be defended. The Presbyterians who pretend to answer Professor Briggs seem to be actuated by hatred. Dr. Da Costa answers with vituperation and epithet. He answers no argument; brings forward no fact; points out no mistake. He simply attacks the man. He exhibits the ordinary malice of those who love their enemies. President Patton, of Princeton, is a despiser of reason; a hater of thought. Progress is the only thing that he fears. He knows that the Bible is absolutely true. He knows that every word is inspired. According to him, all questions have been settled, and criticism said its last word when the King James Bible was printed. Bank of Wisdom Box 926, Louisville, KY 40201 13 PROFESSOR BRIGGS. The Presbyterian Church is infallible, and whoever doubts or denies will be damned. Morality is worthless without the creed. This is the religion, the philosophy, of Dr. Patton. He fights with the ancient weapons, with stone and club. He is a private in Captain Calvin's company, and he marches to defeat with the courage of invincible ignorance. I do not blame the Presbyterian Church for closing the mouth of Professor Briggs. That church believes the Bible -- all of it -- and the members did not feel like paying a man for showing that it was not all inspired. Long ago the Presbyterians stopped growing. They have been petrified for many years. Professor Briggs had been growing. He had to leave the church or shrink. He left. Then he joined the Episcopal Church. He probably supposed that that church preferred the living to the dead. He knew about Colenso, Stanley, Temple, Heber Newton, Dr. Rainsford and Farrar, and thought that the finger and thumb of authority would not insist on plucking from the mind the buds of thought. Whether he was mistaken or not remains to be seen. The Episcopal Church may refuse to ordain him, and by such refusal put the bigot brand upon its brow. The refusal cannot injure Professor Briggs. It will leave him where it found him -- with too much science for a churchman and too much superstition for a scientist; with his feet in the gutter and his head in the clouds. I admire every man who is true to himself, to his highest ideal, and who preserves unstained the veracity of his soul. I believe in growth. I prefer the living to the dead. Men are superior to mummies. Cradles are more beautiful than coffins. Development is grander than decay. I do not agree with Professor Briggs. I do not believe in inspired books, or in the Holy Ghost, or that any God has ever appeared to man. I deny the existence of the supernatural. I know of no religion that is founded on facts. But I cheerfully admit that Professor Briggs appears to be candid, good tempered and conscientious -- the opposite of those who attack him. He is not a Freethinker, but he honestly thinks that he is free. END
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