Copyright
George T. (George Thomas) Ashley.

From Bondage to Liberty in Religion: A Spiritual Autobiography online

. (page 5 of 11)
Online LibraryGeorge T. (George Thomas) AshleyFrom Bondage to Liberty in Religion: A Spiritual Autobiography → online text (page 5 of 11)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


ones, that would not rebel against him! He created some that way, why
not all? And if rebellious angels had to be punished why not do it by
annihilation instead of making this burning hell for them? If
annihilation be considered too merciful and this hell the only adequate
punishment, all very well for rebellious and sinful angels; but why
should this yawning gulf of eternal woe open its throat to receive the
future being to be made in God's own image and called man?

We are told that hell was not created for man, but for the devil and
his angels. Nevertheless, if the story of Eden and the doctrines of
modern orthodoxy be true, it is now and will ultimately become the
eternal abode of about ninety-eight per cent of the entire human race.
I could never again reconcile the old views of hell with any rational
conception of a just and merciful God. The story of Eden itself I took
up for analysis. Man was alleged to have been framed up out of dust,
yet made "in the image and likeness" of God, - and consequently perfect.
At least this is the universal teaching. He was alone. A companion
was made for him from a rib. They are happy in a garden. God walks
and talks with them like a man. Everything is going smoothly until one
day God comes in and points out a certain tree, hitherto unnoticed and
unknown, and informs Adam that he must not eat of the fruit of this
particular tree on penalty of death. Then comes the serpent, talking
like a man, and tells the woman that what God said was not true; but if
they would eat of the fruit of that tree they would "be as Gods,
knowing good and evil." "And when the woman saw that the tree was good
for food, and that it was pleasant to the eyes, and a tree to be
desired to make one wise, she took of the fruit thereof, and did eat,
and gave also unto her husband with her, and he did eat." Gen. iii, 6.

Now, was the first sin that eternally damned the whole human race a
mere matter of eating from a forbidden tree? It seems so from the
natural import of the language used. "When the woman saw that the tree
was _good for food_ ..." Could a just God inflict such an awful
punishment as orthodox Christianity teaches, not only upon this simple,
ignorant couple, but upon the entire human race for all time and
eternity for such a trifling incident? I trow not. Besides, I have
often thought that if that particular tree had not been specifically
pointed out and forbidden, probably neither Adam nor Eve would ever
have had any desire to eat of it. It is the forbidden that always
draws the strongest.

Let us examine this story closely and see whether the serpent or God
told the truth. Don't be alarmed and accuse me of blasphemy or
sacrilege. We set out in search of truth; let us try to find it. God
is alleged to have said, "of the tree of the knowledge of good and
evil, thou shalt not eat of it: for _in the day_ that thou eatest
thereof thou shalt surely die." Gen. ii, 17. But he _did not_ die,
according to the subsequent story, for over nine hundred years
thereafter. The fact that the penalty: "For dust thou art and unto
dust thou shalt return," was pronounced _after_ the transgression, does
not fulfill the statement "in the _day_ thou eatest thereof." But we
shall refer to this again.

The serpent is alleged to have said: "Ye shall not surely die: for God
doth know that in the day ye eat thereof, then your eyes shall be
opened and ye shall be as God, knowing good and evil." Gen. iii, 4, 5.
And verse 7 says: "And the eyes of them both were opened, and they knew
that they were naked." And verse 22 says: "And Jehovah God said,
'Behold, the man is become as _one of us_, to know good and evil.'"
Does not this confirm that what the serpent said was true?

The temptation is very great here to digress far enough to offer a
rational interpretation of this beautiful poetic allegory of the "Fall
of Man." But it is outside the scope and purpose of this work, and I
leave it with the simple question: Was not that which we call the first
sin only the expression of man's natural aspirations onward and upward,
in search of knowledge and a higher and better and broader and larger
life, that always entails its penalties of trial, suffering, toil, and
more or less disappointment?

When God comes to call them to account, Adam puts the blame on his
wife, and she shifts it to the serpent. Note what follows: The serpent
is cursed to crawl upon his belly, just as we see him now. Did he walk
uprightly before, and did he have legs and feet? "And dust shalt thou
eat all the days of thy life." What did he eat before? As a matter of
fact, serpents do not eat dust now. Remember, this sentence was
pronounced _to the serpent_ himself: "And Jehovah God said unto the
serpent," - not to Adam and Eve. We shall have occasion to recall this
again.

"Unto the woman he said, I will greatly multiply thy pain and thy
conception; in pain thou shalt bring forth children..." This was the
penalty pronounced upon Eve for her part in the tragedy. The question
arises: Was Eve never to be a mother but for this transaction? This,
if not the only, is at least the most natural inference. Then how was
the race to be propagated? or was it to be propagated at all?

Adam for his part was condemned to hard labor, and altho creation was
supposed to have been finished and complete, the ground was cursed so
as to make it produce thorns and thistles to annoy and tantalize him
and increase his labor. Were none of these things on the earth before?
Were the rose bushes in the Garden of Eden "thornless"? "In the sweat
of thy face shalt thou eat bread, till thou return unto the ground: for
out of it wast thou taken: for dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou
return."

Several questions arise here. Was Adam to be immortal in the flesh if
he had not eaten of the forbidden fruit? Did death enter the world, as
we have always been taught, because of this sin? And if Adam had not
sinned would he and Eve still be living in the Garden of Eden, without
the knowledge of good and evil, naked and unashamed to this day? If
Eve was never to become a mother if she had not sinned, would she and
Adam still be there alone, with nothing but the animal world about them
for companions?

And if death only entered the world because of sin, why does all nature
die? Man alone was capable of sin, and according to the story, man
alone sinned, - unless we include the serpent. Yet, not a beast of the
field, a fowl of the air, a fish of the deep, nor a reptile or creeping
thing of all the earth has ever lived but that it died, or will die.
Not a tree has ever grown, not a plant has ever opened its leaves,
blades or petals to the sun; not a seed has ever germinated, nor a
flower ever bloomed that was not doomed to die. Did all this come upon
all nature because Adam ate an apple? Would all the beasts of the
field and the birds of the air, paraded before Adam that he might name
them, be still living with him in the Garden of Eden, if he had not
sinned? Would all the plants and trees and flowers that grew and
bloomed in the Garden of Eden in the days of Adam and Eve's innocence
be still there, with the same leaves and blooms, just as they were, if
man had not sinned?

These questions I know look silly. But if we are forced to accept the
premise, we must be prepared to accept the natural conclusion to which
it leads. And if death - physical death - as orthodoxy has always
taught, entered the world only because of Adam's sin, it naturally and
inevitably leads to the conclusions I have indicated.

Another question presents itself. Can perfection, or that which is
perfect, fall? If either man or angels were created pure, perfect,
holy, and in the image and likeness of God, how can such a being fall?
It seems to me that it would be just as possible for God himself to
fall. The very fact of the fall, - if such a fact exists or ever
existed, - of either man or angel, is in itself conclusive proof of some
moral imperfection or weakness somewhere. That man is morally
imperfect is freely conceded. In plain words, he is a sinner. But was
he ever otherwise? The farther back we trace him the worse he appears
on the general average. All the Bible outside of this one story in
Genesis, as well as all history attests this fact. Then may it not be
a fact, that while man is a sinner, he always has been so; that he
never fell, for he had been nowhere (morally) to fall from but always
has been and still is morally imperfect and incomplete, but ever
striving onward and upward?

But supposing this story of the fall to be true, what was the penalty
for it, - physical death, as we have seen, or eternal spiritual death,
or both? After all the preaching and writing about eternal death,
damnation, hell-fire and brimstone as a result of Adam's sin, I could
not find any such doctrine taught in the story of the fall, nor
anywhere else in the Old Testament, and but very vaguely, if at all, in
the New.

The story in Genesis cannot be construed by any reasonable rules of
interpretation to mean or involve any other punishment on Adam or his
posterity, for his sin, beyond physical death. "Dust thou art and unto
dust shalt thou return" is the final climax of the penalty. There is
no hint, so far as I can understand it, of immortality or any future
life. There is not the remotest hint of it in this story. All the
punishments for sin from Adam to Noah, and long afterwards, culminated
and ended, so far as Genesis is concerned, in physical death. The
Hebrew Hades, Sheol and Gehena, were creations of a much later period.

And who, or what was the serpent? A real snake, or the devil? I know
the current belief is that the serpent is a mere figure for the devil,
or that at least the spirit of the devil was incarnated in the serpent.
But there is not a line of Scripture to support either assumption. In
the story itself it is stated only that the serpent was "more subtle
than all the beasts of the field." He is classed with them, not above
them, except in subtlety. The whole fabric upon which this idea of the
identity of the serpent of Eden and the devil is based seems to be a
single verse in Revelation (xii, 9): "And the great dragon was cast
down, the old serpent, he that is called the devil and Satan, the
deceiver of the whole world; he was cast down to the earth, and his
angels were cast down with him." There are one or two other passages
in the same book that speak of "that old serpent, which is the devil
and Satan," but they have no more connection with or relation to the
story of Eden, than Homer's "Iliad" has to the nebular hypothesis. And
yet upon these few passages is built up the whole fabric of the
identity of the serpent of Eden and the temptation, with the devil,
Satan or Lucifer, that is so graphically portrayed in "Paradise Lost."
This whole story of the serpent in Eden is very likely but an
adaptation, in another form, of the old Babylonian myth of "Marduk and
the Dragon."

All this shifting of the penalty for Adam's sin from physical to
spiritual death and identifying the serpent with Satan, was an
after-invention, to try to make it harmonize with later developed
doctrines of immortality. Any candid reader can see that no such
interpretation can be placed upon the natural and simple language of
the story itself. In fact immortality for man, according to the story,
is forever inhibited, according to verses 22-24. After eating the
forbidden fruit the only way to immortality was to "eat of the tree of
life." And to keep Adam from the "tree of life," of which he might
"eat and live forever," God drove him out of the garden and placed the
cherubim over it with a "flaming sword which turned every way, to keep
the way of the tree of life." According to this story, man is not
immortal at all, and the only way to attain it is to get by the
cherubim, or scale the walls of the garden of Eden and get to that tree.

I was now ready to determine for myself that this whole story of the
Garden of Eden was a myth, legend, or some oriental allegory, the true
purport and meaning of which is now wholly unknown; beyond the
reasonable conjecture that it originated with some very ancient
oriental philosopher, in the childhood of the human race, and is an
allegorical portrayal of his attempt to solve the problem of the origin
of evil, of suffering and death in the human race.


THE FLOOD

But I pursued my course of reasoning and investigation further. I
approached the period of the flood. The infinite and omniscient God is
revealed as disappointed with this creature that He had made "in his
own image and likeness." He gets angry with him for his perversity,
declares He is sorry He made him, and resolves to destroy the whole
race, except one family whom He proposes to preserve for seed for a new
start; together with every beast, fowl and creeping thing of the earth,
except one pair of each for seed. Think of an infinite and omniscient
God, who knew all things from the beginning, all that man would ever
do, before He created him, now looking down from heaven on his work,
confessing it to be a stupendous failure, getting angry and repenting
that He had made man or beast; and now resolving to take vengeance by
drowning the whole outfit! If man was so perverse that he needed to be
destroyed, why wreak vengeance also on the animal creation that had not
sinned? And if the animal creation must be included in the universal
destruction, why do it by a process thru which all marine life
naturally escaped, while all terrestrial life was destroyed? Then why
save any seed of such perverse stock? Was not God acquainted with the
laws of heredity that had worked so perfectly in transmitting the sin
of Adam down thru all the generations thus far; and did He not know the
same thing would continue in the "seed of the race" after the flood?
If He really desired to correct the mistake He had made, why did He not
destroy the whole race, root and branch, while He was at it, renovate
the earth and start with a new creation of better stock?

This flood story must be noticed a little closer. Noah is commanded to
build an ark, as his family is chosen especially to preserve the race
for a new start. He is also to save in pairs, male and female,
specimens of every beast of the field, fowl of the air, and creeping
things of all the earth to preserve the species. And now when the ark
was ready, these beasts of the field, fowls of the air, and creeping
things of all the earth, polar bears, moose, reindeer, and the thousand
varieties of fur-bearing animals from the arctic north, together with
those of the torrid deserts and jungles of the south, lions, tigers,
hyenas, elephants, leopards, antelope, giraffes, ants, mice, hawks,
doves, wolves, lambs, serpents of all varieties, of birds, beetles,
flies, bugs and insects, all came of their own accord, in the exact
number prescribed, quietly walked into the ark and lay down to rest
until the deluge was over!

The deluge over, the new race started was as bad as ever. Even
righteous Noah got drunk from the first crop of grapes he raised, and
cursed one of his son's posterity to perpetual servitude. The race
soon tried to outwit God by building a tower by which to reach heaven,
and God's only way to prevent its success was to confuse their tongues
so they could no longer work together, and the scheme had to be
abandoned. The race grew continually worse, drifted into idolatry, and
God resolved to try a new scheme to ultimately save the race. We come
now to:


THE CALL OF ABRAHAM

Abraham is called to leave the land of his fathers, go to a new country
and start a new race, through whom God would yet save the world, as all
his previous efforts had proven failures. Here we have the beginning
of the Jewish nation, whose history I have not space to even outline,
much less to follow in detail. Study it for yourself in its fullness,
because it has a vital relation to modern orthodoxy as now represented
and taught in most of the churches. A few points, however, must be
noted. The story tells us that the great God of the universe selects
this one man, one family and one nation to be supremely blessed above
all the balance of mankind, and to whom He committed his revelation and
plans for their ultimate salvation, and denied these blessings to all
the rest of his creatures. Could such a God be just? When the
Israelites were trying to get out of Egypt, while Moses and Aaron were
to go and beg Pharaoh to let them go, God is said to have hardened
Pharaoh's heart not to do so, only to have an excuse to plague Egypt,
kill the first born in every house and then overwhelm Pharaoh and his
whole army in the Red Sea! Can a just God do that? When they finally
arrive at the borders of the promised land they are commanded to
literally exterminate the inhabitants and neighboring tribes, root and
branch, men, women and children indiscriminately and unsparingly. God
is described as resorting to lying, deceit and intrigue to lure the
enemies of Israel to their destruction. Time fails me to pursue this
horrible record in its details. It begins with Abraham and ends only
with the close of the Old Testament Canon. Study it for yourself.
Could a just God be guilty of such outrageous conduct? I think not.

As is well known, the doctrine is that God thus called Abraham and the
Jewish nation apart from all the balance of the human race, that thru
them He might ultimately send his son into the world to save the race
from sin and hell. To this end promises and prophecies are said to
point, thruout the entire Old Testament from Abraham to its close, and
even as far back as the Garden of Eden and the first sin.

When Jesus of Nazareth appeared he was accepted by his followers as
this promised Savior, the Messiah of promise and prophecy, and has been
so accepted by the Christian world ever since. To him was attributed a
miraculous birth as the Son of God; and in the opinion of his followers
he was soon considered, not only the Son of God, but God Himself
incarnated bodily in the son. In other words, that God Himself came
down from heaven in the form of human flesh, to save the world by
making an atoning sacrifice of Himself for the sins of humanity. And
when Jesus came, suffered and died on the Cross, we are told that "the
scheme of redemption was completed." And what is this "scheme" of
redemption, or "plan" of salvation? This was the crucial point to me.
I thought man was certainly a sinner and needed a Redeemer. I looked
it over with scrutinizing care. Here is one God who is three Gods. A
part of God left heaven, came to earth as a man, died on the Cross to
satisfy the other part of himself for sins somebody else committed! I
know this sounds to the orthodox like sacrilege, but I mean it
seriously. Think of it for a moment! God dividing himself, one part
in heaven, one part on earth and the third part, the Holy Ghost, a
go-between! Boil it down to its last analysis and this is what it
means. Either this, or three separate gods, one of whom comes to earth
to die in order to appease the wrath of the other, the third remaining
in heaven with the first until the second returns, when He would come
to earth to continue the work begun by the second. There would thus be
always two gods in heaven and one on earth. This is, in a nutshell,
the sum and substance of Trinitarian orthodox Christianity.

We are told seriously that "there is no other name given under heaven,
nor among men, whereby we may be saved except Jesus Christ." And that
in order to be saved, we must believe in him as the only begotten Son
of God, and in the atoning sacrifice of his death for our sins. Here I
seriously inquired: If the salvation of the human race is entirely and
exclusively dependent upon faith in the merits of the death of Jesus as
an atoning sacrifice, what became of all the people who died before his
coming? Orthodoxy answers that they were saved by faith in the
_Promised Savior to come_, as given to Abraham, Moses, and the
prophets. If so, how many were saved? The Jewish nation never looked
for a spiritual Messiah. It was always a temporal one. There is no
evidence that they ever had the remotest conception of a Messiah that
was to make a vicarious atoning sacrifice of himself for them. Hence
their faith in this promise was in vain. It was not the kind that
saves, according to orthodoxy. An occasional prophet, like Isaiah or
Jeremiah, or some others, _might_ have so understood and believed it.
But very few, if any, others did. Then the great mass of "God's chosen
people" are now in hell; for they did not believe _rightly_; and all
the balance of the world is there because they never heard of such a
promise and hence did not believe at all!

But the question here arises, If salvation from Abraham to Christ was
secured by faith in the promised Messiah _to come_; and which, as we
have just seen, according to orthodox definitions, was practically a
complete failure; how were they saved from the time of Adam until the
promise made to Abraham?

The answer of orthodoxy is, By the promise made to Adam and Eve in the
Garden of Eden, that "the seed of the woman shall bruise the serpent's
head." This is not the exact language of Genesis, but of the creed.
The substance is correct. But according to Genesis this was not a
promise to Adam and Eve at all; but a part of the curse pronounced on
the serpent! There is nothing in the record to indicate that either
Adam or Eve even heard it, or ever knew anything about it. There is
nothing in the record to indicate that the serpent was present when God
accosted Adam and Eve about their transgression. Besides, the incident
is never referred to again in the whole Bible, by either prophet,
priest, Christ or apostle. It is simply an example of that far-fetched
method of interpretation I have before referred to, to establish a
preconceived opinion and satisfy the demands of such a necessity.
There is not a single line in the whole Bible to justify such an
interpretation of this incident. The only possible cross reference
that might indicate it is in Rom. xvi, 20: "And the God of peace shall
bruise Satan under your feet shortly." And this can have no reference
to the incident in Eden. Besides, if this sentence on the serpent was
a promise of the victory of Christ over him, it was _already
accomplished_ before Paul wrote these words.

And if such a promise had been made, with the meaning attached to it
that is claimed, God certainly knew that the race would soon forget it,
and thus render it futile and give him additional excuse to vent his
wrath and wreak his vengeance against his helpless creatures. If faith
in such a promise was the only way of salvation from Adam to Abraham
then practically all the world up to that time is now in hell! Who can
believe such a caricature of God?

But after all, what about the salvation of the race since the death of
Christ? If salvation since his coming is only attainable thru personal
faith in him as the miraculously begotten Son of God, and in his death
as a vicarious atonement for sin; and that all are lost except those
who have thus believed, how many are saved? Certainly very few. Take
a mere glance at the world since the time of Christ. Leaving out of
consideration the countless millions who never heard of him, and
confining ourselves to those who have, how many of them fully met
exactly these conditions? If such a doctrine is true, there are but
few people in heaven except infants; and it is only in recent years
that some of the orthodox have admitted infants indiscriminately into
heaven!

I could comprehend to some extent how, if God had offered salvation and
a home in heaven forever to all mankind on such easy terms as faith in
the merits of the death of Jesus, He could visit condign punishment on
such as knew it and wilfully rejected it. But I could not see the
justice of such a punishment being inflicted on the countless millions
of people who never heard of it, had no means of knowing it, and could
not be justly blamed for not knowing it. Another thing that I now put
the test of reason to, was the doctrine of salvation by faith itself.
Was faith the only thing that could merit the favor of God? Was
character of no avail? Was all moral purity, goodness and brotherly
love but "filthy rags in the sight of God," unless buttressed by belief
in the Deity of Jesus and the vicarious atonement? Was salvation after


1 2 3 5 7 8 9 10 11

Online LibraryGeorge T. (George Thomas) AshleyFrom Bondage to Liberty in Religion: A Spiritual Autobiography → online text (page 5 of 11)