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George T. (George Thomas) Ashley.

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all as arbitrary as that described in "Holy Willie's Prayer"?

"O, Thou who in the heavens dost dwell,
Who as it pleases best thysel'
Sends one to heaven and ten to hell,
A' for Thy glory,
And not for any good or ill
They've done afore Thee."


I thought of such moralists and philosophers as Zoroaster, Buddha,
Confucius, Socrates, Plato, and thousands of others who have lived in
the past, and left a lasting impression in the world for the good of
mankind that continues to this day, some of them but little less than
Jesus himself, in the moral sublimity of their lives and teachings, and
wondered if these men were all in hell to roast and fry and burn
forever because they had not "exercised faith" in the merits of a dying
God of whom they had never known or even heard! And every nobler
sentiment of my human nature rebelled against such an idea. To
attribute such a character and proceeding to God is to make him, in
cruelty and injustice, below the level of the most ferocious beast of
the jungle. This was not all. I beheld the divisions in the church
itself. Some hundreds of different denominations, all bearing the name
Christian, each claiming to be right and all the balance wrong, each
claiming to expound the only truth, and all the balance error; each
claiming to direct to the only true and infallible way of eternal life
and all the balance only deadly heresies. I found the history of the
Christian Church written in blood. For fifteen hundred years Christian
had slain Christian as a part of his religious duty. Fire and fagot,
sword and rack and all the instruments of torture known to the
ingenuity of mankind were employed for the torture and death of
heretics - all in the name of Christ and for the salvation of the world.
Catholics tortured and burned Protestants and Protestants murdered each
other. Calvin consented to the burning of Servetus and the New England
Puritans hung witches and persecuted Quakers and Baptists by burning
holes in their tongues with hot irons, and driving them from their
midst as they would the pestilence. I wondered how, if God ever takes
any interest in affairs on earth and hears the prayers of his children,
he could sit supinely by on his throne and permit such things to be
done in his name and for his glory! If his spirit could enter into the
hearts of men and direct their thoughts and minds, why did He not do it
and stop this useless slaughter? Again I turned back to the beginning
of things. If God foresaw what Adam would do and the dreadful
consequences of it, why did He not make him different so he would not
fall? Was it not just as easy? But if God can be better glorified by
saving a fallen creature than by keeping him from falling, then why did
He not make this "plan of salvation" so plain and clear that there
could be no possibility of misunderstanding or misconstruing it? If
God was to be ultimately glorified in the sacrifice of his son as a
means of salvation for the world, and this salvation was to come simply
by faith in this promise, why did He not make this promise so specific
and clear that the most ignorant and benighted could not misunderstand
and fail to accept it? Why did not God reveal this promise to all
mankind alike, so that all might be saved, instead of to one family and
one nation? And when this son came and "died for the world" why did
not God make it known to the entire world instead of a handful of Jews
in an obscure corner of the earth? And when this "plan" was completed,
why was it not heralded in every nook and corner of the earth, wherever
man was found, instead of being confined for centuries around the
shores of the Mediterranean? Then again, I say, why was not this
"plan" made so plain and unequivocal that no man, however ignorant,
could possibly fail to comprehend it, and all men understand it exactly
alike, and thus live in the bonds of a true brotherhood, the sons of
the one great God, instead of butchering each other for fifteen hundred
years in the name of religion, each sect claiming to be the only true
followers of the Son of God, and all the balance reprobates and devils?

But the most inconsistent and unreasonable phase of the whole thing is
yet to come. If salvation is attainable only through the merits of the
"death on the Cross" of Jesus Christ, then Jesus _had to be crucified_.
It was a part of the "eternal plan." No other death would do. If
Jesus had died a natural death there could have been no salvation. He
must needs be punished, killed for the sins of Adam and all mankind.
He was "the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world." To carry out
this "divine purpose" somebody had to crucify him. Every actor in this
great "drama of redemption" was a necessary factor. No one was either
unnecessary or unimportant. Judas was necessary to betray him into the
hands of his enemies. He and the part he performed were necessarily as
much a fore-ordained and eternally predestinated factor in the "scheme
of redemption" as that of Jesus himself. The Jewish priests who
prosecuted him before Pilate were as equally necessary as the subject
of the prosecution. The Jewish nation whom they represented, or some
other nation, was equally necessary as a background for this
prosecution, in whose name it was conducted. Pilate or some other was
necessary as the judge to hear the trial and pronounce the sentence of
death before it could be carried out. And finally, the Roman soldiers
were necessary to execute the sentence. All these, Jesus, Judas, the
priests, the Jewish nation, Pilate and the Roman soldiers, were
necessary links in the one great chain of the "scheme of redemption,"
or "plan of salvation" by the vicarious atonement of the Son of God on
the Cross. If either one of them had failed, the chain would have been
broken, God's eternal plans and purposes thwarted, and man left without
redemption to eternally perish!

And yet poor Judas was driven by remorse to a suicide's grave, and
according to the doctrines of the Church, for these nineteen hundred
years has been justly writhing, frying and burning in the bottomless
pit of eternal torments, and will continue so to suffer forever, - and
for what? For faithfully performing and fulfilling that part in the
scheme of redemption which he was, by the eternal decrees of God,
foreordained and predestinated from before the foundation of the world
to perform; and which he could neither escape nor avoid, without
breaking the chain, and thus defeating the eternal purposes of God in
the redemption of mankind! For nineteen hundred years the Church has
thus execrated and anathematised Judas Iscariot, Pontius Pilate, the
High Priests, the whole Jewish nation and the Roman Empire, and
consigned them to eternal perdition, the tormenting flames of an
eternal hell, and scattered the Jews to the four quarters of the earth,
never ceasing its horrid persecutions, in many places even to this day;
and all for what? For crucifying Christ; for carrying out the divine
purpose planned from before the foundation of the world; for obeying
the Eternal Will; for doing only what they were _compelled_ by the
eternal fates to do in order that mankind might be saved from the
eternal burning!

Our author that I had been studying says on page 257, "No man can read
the Bible with any faith in its teachings, and deny that this terrible
calamity (the destruction of Jerusalem and the Jewish nation) overtook
the Jews on account of their great sins, _especially their rejection of
the Son of God_." (Italics mine.) Suppose they had not rejected him.
Suppose they had accepted him as the Messiah of prophecy, as the Church
insists he was, and had set about to make him their king and succeeded;
and he had lived on a normal life and died a natural death, what would
have become of the "scheme of redemption" by vicarious atonement? What
about the "plan of salvation," the remission of sins only thru the
"power of the blood"? "Apart from the shedding of blood there is no
remission." Then if the Jews _had not_ rejected Jesus and thereby
caused his blood to be shed, what would have been the eternal destiny
of the whole human race? According to orthodox Christianity, the whole
plan would have failed, and the whole human race would have been
irretrievably lost and plunged forever and ever into eternal torments,
"where the worm dieth not, and the fire is not quenched"!

I had now reached the crisis. After pursuing this course of study and
this line of reasoning for a period of about three years after
finishing the book I have herein described, does any one wonder that I
threw the whole thing overboard, Bible, inspiration, revelation, church
and religion, into the scrap heap of superstition, legend, fable and
mythology? I gave up the whole thing as a farce and a delusion, as
"sounding brass and tinkling cymbals." I could no longer honestly
preach such a gospel; I could not be a hypocrite. I withdrew from the
church and ministry and turned my attention to secular pursuits. And
having nowhere else to go, I naturally drifted into that state of mind
which the world calls agnosticism.




CHAPTER VI

THE REACTION: A NEW CONFESSION OF FAITH

At this time I knew nothing of a liberal church. If I had, I doubt if
I was in a condition of mind to consider it. I was so utterly
disgusted with ecclesiasticism as I knew it that I was but little
prepared if at all, to give anything of the kind fair consideration.
The pendulum had swung to the opposite extreme. I abandoned everything
but God. I never doubted for a moment the existence of a Supreme
Being. Nature and instinct taught me this. But who, or what, or
where, this Supreme Being was, or what his attributes or
characteristics were, I did not pretend to know, or care. I relegated
it all to the realm of the unknown and unknowable.

For a while I went to church occasionally, merely for the sake of
respectability, and not because I took any interest in common with it.
I listened to the preaching with such patience and fortitude as I could
command. I heard only the same old platitudes about a dying Christ and
the flames of perdition I had heard all my life and preached for eight
years myself. I often felt as if I would like to help the preacher out
in his struggle to "divest himself of his thoughts." I finally quit
going to church altogether, until I located where I had an opportunity
to attend a Reformed Jewish synagogue, which I did quite often, and
always heard broad-gauged, intellectual discourses.

As I have before said, up to this time, and for years thereafter, I had
never read a distinctively "infidel" book, nor even a liberal religious
one. My change of opinions had all come from an honest effort to seek
proofs for the faith of my fathers, which I inherited. But I never
ceased to be a student. My temporary antagonism to the church soon
vanished. I simply viewed it with utter indifference, and somewhat of
sympathy. I had no more creed to defend, and none to condemn. I had
no desire whatever to propagate my own ideas or disturb any one else in
theirs. I felt that if any one got any satisfaction out of his
religious beliefs he was welcome to it. I would not disturb him for
anything. I looked upon it as a harmless delusion, and if it made one
any better, society was so much the gainer. But to me it was as
"sounding brass and tinkling cymbals." But I cannot say that I was
satisfied with my position. Man is a social as well as an emotional
animal. Agnosticism is neither social nor emotional. It is
cold-blooded and indifferent at its best. It is simply a bundle of
doubts and negations. Men are bound together in social and fraternal
ties by what they affirm and believe in common. But they care nothing
for what they deny.

But having no creed to defend and no preconceived opinions to prove,
and being of studious habits, I was now prepared to study in search of
abstract truth for truth's own sake, ready to accept it from whatever
source it might come, and follow it wherever it might lead.

Without arrogating to myself any special merit or credit for taking
this course, I wish that all people would do the same. As I said in
the very beginning of this book, most people inherit their religious
beliefs, and there they stop. We are Baptists, or Methodists, or
Presbyterians, or Catholics, because we were born so. We transmit our
beliefs to our children, from generation to generation, each following
the faith of his ancestors, without ever stopping to inquire why, or
seek a reason. And if a thought is ever given to it, or any search
made, it is but rarely for abstract truth, but for the proofs that
support the inherited faith, the preconceived opinion. It is like one
going into his house and bolting the door on the inside. Nothing is
ever given out and nothing ever permitted to come in. This is exactly
why for centuries the world was drenched in Christian blood, shed by
Christian hands. Each had its infallible creed, to which all the world
must bow - or take the consequences.

It took me several years to get myself settled with anything like a
definite "creed of my own," tho I was never in the least disturbed
about it, and only gave it such time as I could spare from a busy
business and professional life. By this time I had reached such
definite conclusions as satisfied my own mind, tho I never, - after my
"crisis," - held any opinion, and do not now, that I am not willing to
change at any time that evidence is furnished to justify it. In my
search for truth I found myself confronted with certain facts that
Agnosticism did not satisfactorily explain. These were facts of
Nature, of Man as a part of it, of man's nature, habits, history,
thoughts, conduct, and social relations, - in fact, all that pertains to
the phenomena of Nature and Human Life and Relations. The conclusions
I reached constitute.


MY NEW CONFESSION OF FAITH

_THE UNIVERSE AND GOD_

The first of these was the physical universe. I had accepted the
theory of evolution in a general way; yet I could not account for the
marvelous organism of millions of worlds and suns and systems, of which
our earth is but a mere atom, filling the infinity of space, beyond all
human comprehension, revolving and whirling thru space, each in its
alloted orbit, with such perfect order and regularity, and all in the
most perfect harmony, governed by such immutable, perfect and universal
law, upon the theory of the operation of blind, unintelligent force
upon inert matter. Here was an effect. There must be a cause. The
effect cannot be greater than the cause. Here is an infinite universe;
there must be an infinite cause; and that cause cannot be less than
Infinite Eternal Intelligence. This cause, for the want of a better
name, we call God. I could thus easily account for the universe thru
the processes of evolution, directed by eternal, intelligent will,
operating thru eternal immutable and perfect law, upon eternal and
indestructible matter. Whether correct or not, this satisfied my mind
as to God and the universe.

I could sing with the Psalmist:

"The heavens declare the glory of God, and the firmament showeth his
handiwork. Day unto day uttereth speech and night unto night showeth
knowledge. Their line is gone out thru all the earth and their words
to the end of the world. There is no speech nor language where their
voice is not heard."

As I have before said, I never had any doubt about the existence of a
Supreme Being, and that the universe was in some way the product of his
creative energy. I think the doctrine of evolution satisfactorily
solves the "riddle of the universe," if it recognizes Infinite Spirit
as well as Eternal Matter; and that this Infinite Spirit is in some
way, tho beyond our comprehension, the real Force or Energy, both the
Intelligence and Life, the Great Uncaused First Cause behind all
phenomena, who, for the want of a better name we call God.

Perhaps it is impossible for any one to think of God without at the
same time conceiving some sort of definition of him. Yet, God cannot
be defined. He is infinite. And infinity cannot be defined in terms
of the finite. Any attempt to define God is to limit Him. Our
conceptions of God are at best limited, tho God himself is not. The
finite mind cannot conceive unlimited space, nor eternal duration. We
can conceive of them as _existing_; but we cannot conceive what they
are. We can conceive of God as infinite; but we cannot conceive what
infinity is. If we could, it would not be infinite, unless we are
infinite. So all attempts to define God in terms of the finite are
futile. And yet, when we look back over the past history of the human
race and see what ruin has been wrought by this very thing it becomes
appalling! All religious controversies, wars and bloodshed have had
their ultimate source just here. Certain men have formed certain
conceptions of God, of his character, his attributes, his will, and his
purposes concerning mankind. These they have labelled, patented,
copyrighted, and declared to the world to be correct, final and
infallible, and demanded that all the world accept them on penalty of
death!

To quote, in substance, from a recent author, we might as well try to
make a meal of the stars and contain them all in our stomach at once as
to comprehend God in his fullness. God _is what He is_, no matter what
our opinions may be of him. But what any one of us _thinks God is_,
that is what _God is to him_. This is all the definition of God that
need be given. God is his own revelation. "The heavens declare the
glory of God." Nature reveals God in greater power and splendor than
any book.

What is _my_ conception of God? Only this: God is the Life of the
universe; and this includes the ALL. As what we call the spirit is the
life in my body, and permeates the whole of it from the most central
vital organs to the utmost extremities of nails and hair; so God - and
He is Spirit - permeates the _whole universe_, and is the life of, or in
it, as you please.

"'All are but parts of one stupendous whole,
Whose body Nature is, and God the Soul.'"


He is manifest in the majesty of the universe and is seen in the
beauties of the flowers. He is reflected in the painted wings of the
birds, in the rippling leaf, in the blade of grass, in the dewdrop, in
the snowflake, in all nature; and above all in man himself, in whom He
dwells and lives. How noble and inspiring the thought that I, even I,
am a part of the life of the infinite, eternal God! All this I take on
trust - _by faith_ - and confess freely that, while believing it I cannot
comprehend it. But such a God must be eternally good. He could not be
the monster that Jewish tradition and orthodox Christianity paint him,
eternally hating his enemies, all of whom were his own creatures, and
plunging into an eternal hell of fire and brimstone the larger part of
his own children, created in his own image and likeness. While I
cannot understand the "problems of his providence," I am sure that "the
Judge of all the earth will do right." As to the perplexities that
have grown out of the ideas of God's _foreknowledge, foreordination_,
etc., my view is that no such a thing as _foreknowledge_ can be
attributed to God. To do so is to attribute to him time limitations.
To the Infinite God there can be no such thing as past or future. All
is the "_eternal present_" in which God is still at work, as much as
ever before. I confess I cannot comprehend _how_ this is; but I can
comprehend _that_ it is.

"Deep in unfathomable mines
Of never failing skill,
He treasures up his bright designs,
And works his sovereign will."


_MAN_

"What is man that thou art mindful of him?" So far as we know, as a
pure animal, he is the highest product, the climax of the processes of
organic evolution. In addition to this, he is the only known creature
on earth, or elsewhere, endowed with those God-like faculties of mind,
thought, reason, will, - _soul_. As far as man's moral character and
destiny are concerned, it matters as little how he came to be here, as
it does who Cain's wife was. We are confronted with the serious fact
that _we are here_; and that we are endowed with these supreme
faculties that differentiate us from the lower forms of life about us,
and consequently entail upon us, not thru some supernatural revelation,
but by natural instinct, certain moral and social responsibilities and
obligations, not only to our own kind, but to all those myriad forms of
life below us, - obligations and responsibilities which we cannot avoid
or escape, except at our peril.

And as to these responsibilities, it is not material whether man is
immortal or not. I once had serious doubts of this. But while I now
believe it with a firm conviction that in my own mind amounts to moral
certainty, yet I recognize that it is beyond the pale of ocular proof
or physical demonstration. It pertains exclusively to the realm of
faith.

"Strange is it not? that of the myriads who,
Before us passed the door of darkness thru,
Not one returns, to tell us of the road,
Which to discover, we must travel too?"

And yet this faith is one of the most comforting and inspiring of all
the objects of faith known to man. But he that is governed in his life
and conduct, solely by the fear of some dire punishment in the
after-life, or some hope of bribing the Infinite to give him a
comfortable berth in heaven, is at best but a little and weak soul.

No need to go into any argument here upon the question of whether, "If
a man die shall he live again?" Our social and moral obligations to
live right with our fellowmen are none the less, whether there is an
after-life or not. In fact no man can be right with God, - a part of
whose life he is, - while wrong with his fellow-man.


_THE PROBLEM OF EVIL_

This brings us to a consideration of the problem of evil. "Ever since
human intelligence became enlightened enough to grope for a meaning and
purpose in human life, this problem of the existence of evil has been
the burden of man." (John Fiske.) Out of some attempt to solve it,
every religion on earth was born. I do not offer to solve this
problem; but to try to take a rational view of it.

Good and evil are relative terms. How could we know anything about the
one but thru its contrast with the other? If there were no such thing
as evil, how could we be conscious of the good? How could we know that
it was good? We cannot know anything except by its contrast with
something else. Some element of unlikeness must appear before we can
distinguish anything from something else. To quote again from Fiske:
"If there were no color but red, it would be exactly the same thing as
if there were no color at all." There could be no music except for
variety and contrasts in sounds. If we had never tasted anything but
sugar, could we know what bitterness is? But having tasted the bitter
we then know what sweetness means. Likewise, if there was no such
thing as moral evil in the world, we could not possibly know what moral
goodness is. We could not know what happiness is if we did not have
some knowledge of sorrow and pain. Just why this is so, I do not
pretend to know. I am only stating facts as they are; and the great
Creator, who is the author of both, if of either, knows; and we may
know in proper time. Another pertinent question from Fiske may be
asked here: "What would have been the worth of that primitive innocence
portrayed in the myth of the garden of Eden? What would have been the
moral value or significance of a race of human beings ignorant of evil,
and doing beneficent acts with no more consciousness or volition than
the deftly contrived machine that picks up raw material at one end, and
turns out some finished product at the other? Clearly for strong and
resolute men and women an Eden would be but a fool's paradise. How
could anything fit to be called _character_ ever have been produced
there? But for tasting the forbidden fruit, in what respect could man
have become a being of higher order than the beast of the field?"

The point is that the same law of evolution applies in the moral world
as it does in the material. As the highest types of life have been
developed only thru the processes of struggle with adverse elements, in
which only the fittest, strongest and best adapted to its environment
survived, so moral character is only developed thru the struggle with
moral evil. Just as one cannot learn to swim on a parlor sofa, but


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Online LibraryGeorge T. (George Thomas) AshleyFrom Bondage to Liberty in Religion: A Spiritual Autobiography → online text (page 6 of 11)