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Friday Freethought: “A Peril Dared for the Advancement of Truth”

Being one of the dreaded gnu atheists, accomodationists make my teeth itch. Mind you, I believe there’s a place for all kinds of atheism: the soft and fuzzy kind believers can snuggle up to has its uses, just as does the hard and sleek kind that shows no mercy to belief (but don’t mistake that for lack of compassion for believers!). No movement does its best without diversity. But the accomodationists who seem to think that criticism of religion is right out of bounds and turn on any atheist who isn’t afraid to call silly buggers on silly beliefs – ugh. Don’t put me in a room with one, please. If I find myself alone with someone like, oh, say, Chris Stedman, I may find myself saying something Not Nice.

Then again, I have many elegant and eloquent Victorian-age atheists, agnostics and freethinkers to turn to now. Perhaps I’ll just pull up a quote in the Kindle and hand it to them. The freethinkers who came before dealt with this crap. They dealt with the believers whining, “But you never talk about the good things about my ridiculous beliefs!” and they dealt with people telling them to STFU. They got accused of all the sorts of things we do. And they weren’t at a loss for words.

Some of their words were Not Nice according to some tastes. But they said Not Nice things in lovely language, and I think those things are Very Nice indeed. Take, for instance, this section in M.M. Mangasarian‘s The Truth About Jesus: Is He a Myth? He’s speaking mostly to believers, but many of these words work for the soft-on-religion-hard-on-freethinkers kind of accommodationist as well.

 

People say to me, sometimes, “Why do you not confine yourself to moral and religious exhortation, such as, ‘Be kind, do good, love one another, etc.’?” But there is more of a moral tonic in the open and candid discussion of a subject like the one in hand, than in a multitude of platitudes. We feel our moral fiber stiffen into force and purpose under the inspiration of a peril dared for the advancement of truth.

“Tell us what you believe,” is one of the requests frequently addressed to me. I never deliver a lecture in which I do not, either directly or indirectly, give full and free expression to my faith in everything that is worthy of faith. If I do not believe in dogma, it is because I believe in freedom. If I do not believe in one inspired book, it is because I believe that all truth and only truth is inspired. If I do not ask the gods to help us, it is because I believe in human help, so much more real than supernatural help. If I do not believe in standing still, it is because I believe in progress. If I am not attracted by the vision of a distant heaven, it is because I believe in human happiness, now and here. If I do not say “Lord, Lord!” to Jesus, it is because I bow my head to a greater Power than Jesus, to a more efficient Savior than he has ever been—Science!

“Oh, he tears down, but does not build up,” is another criticism about my work. It is not true. No preacher or priest is more constructive. To build up their churches and maintain their creeds the priests pulled down and destroyed the magnificent civilization of Greece and Rome, plunging Europe into the dark and sterile ages which lasted over a thousand years. When Galileo waved his hands for joy because he believed he had enriched humanity with a new truth and extended the sphere of knowledge, what did the church do to him? It conspired to destroy him. It shut him up in a dungeon! Clapping truth into jail; gagging the mouth of the student—is that building up or tearing down? When Bruno lighted a new torch to increase the light of the world, what was his reward? The stake! During all the ages that the church had the power to police the world, every time a thinker raised his head he was clubbed to death. Do you think it is kind of us—does it square with our sense of justice to call the priest constructive, and the scientists and philosophers who have helped people to their feet—helped them to self-government in politics, and to self-help in life,—destructive? Count your rights—political, religious, social, intellectual—and tell me which of them was conquered for you by the priest.

 

Comments

  1. Peter the Mediocre says

    That’s a wonderful statement, and much more eloquent than anything I have ever said or written. Thank you!

  2. hexidecima says

    That was great, thank you. My teeth also itch when around accomdationists. I can only think of those that insisted on not rocking the boat back in the heyday of the civil rights movement.