left biblioblography: Profiles In Atheism: The Parishioner Who Walked Away

Sunday, September 07, 2008

Profiles In Atheism: The Parishioner Who Walked Away

Cross posted @ God Is For Suckers!

I came across this little ditty at approximately the same time I was vigorously cheering Paine in his complete and utter lambasting of the Christian bible. This was a powerful article written as far back as 1924.

Why I Quit Going To Church

by Rupert Hughes

There was a time in this country when I should have been punished for not going to church. In the good old Puritan and Pilgrim days, though only a third or a sixth of the citizens were church members, the parsons were in power and they fined people and put them in the stocks if they stayed away or if the pastor did not like their expressions.

They whipped more than one for criticizing a sermon. They tried to sell two Boston children into slavery because they could not pay their fine for staying away from the church. And they would have done it, too, if the ungodly shipmasters had not refused to carry the children off.

It is incessantly astonishing how often the laity have had to restrain the clergy from cruelty. The Puritan elders held that "the gathering of sticks on the Sabbath may be punished with death." Sometimes a mob would rescue Quaker women from the whips, but in Cambridge, Benanuel Bower, a Quaker who obstinately stayed away from the Puritan church, was fined annually for twenty years, hauled down a flight of steps by the heels, kept in prison for more than a year, and with his wife publicly whipped several times.

But in these wicked and degenerate times, not only can I stay away from church without getting arrested, but I can tell why without being any more than reviled.

I did not quit going to church because I was lazy or frivolous or poetically inclined to "worship God in the Great Outdoors near to Nature's Heart." I don't believe that nature has a heart.

I quit because I came to believe that what is preached in the churches is mainly untrue and unimportant, tiresome, hostile to genuine progress, and in general not worth while. As for the necessity of paying homage to the deity, I began to feel that I did not know enough about God to pay him set compliments on set days. As for the God who is preached in the churches, I ceased to worship him because I could no longer believe in him or respect what is alleged of him.

I cannot respect a deity who would want or even endure the hideous monotony and mechanism of most of the worship paid him by hired men, hired prayer-makers and their supporters. When I think of the millions of repetitions of the same phrases of prayer and song smoking up to a helpless deity I feel sorry for him. No wonder he gets farther away each year. No wonder the ex-priest Alfred Loisy says (in his "My Duel with the Vatican") that "the eternal immutable, omniscient, omnipotent, etc.," who created the universe "by a caprice very imperfectly benevolent ... begins to be conceived with increasing difficulty."

As for the picture of God in heaven, "sitting on the Cherubim" or riding on a cherub (2 Samuel xxii, 11), and listening to everlasting praises of himself, it is simply appalling. I can no longer adore in a god what I despise in a man.

It is a long but powerful diatribe - so I will skip to the end, and leave it to the readers to explore the depth, strength and power of this statement in toto:

Our earth here! that is parish enough for us. Knowledge relieves miseries, brings comfort, saves lives, spreads beauty within the reach of the poorest. If the billions spent in huge empty buildings were devoted to housing the sick and the poor; if the billions spent on the wages of myriads of clergymen who waste their lives in calling aloud to their god Baal or whatever they call him, were spent in really useful human works, these often well-meaning and often gifted men would not squander so much history, so much power, so much eloquence on the hideous folly that "the fear of god is the beginning of wisdom" and the secret of virtue.

Two hundred million dollars spent this year in this country to adding to the number of half-empty warehouses of piety! Thousands of Ministers warring with one another and with common sense. If there is a god such as they insist on immortalizing from the fancies of ancient and ignorant nomads, what need has he of these innumerable dollars?

If there is a god and he is a god of love, God knows he must wish that his children's treasure and their toil and their fervor should be spent upon one another and on the countless miseries of this unhappy world, which might be made so beautiful. Instead of sanctifying piety, let us make a religion of pity, of mutual help, of the search for truth and power, and the increase of freedom.

 In the heat of the many frays we encounter as atheists, let us take moments to remember the brave hearts who stood against superstition, who fought the good fight, who brought the cold cool light of reason to bear on the atavistic shadows that haunt our species even to this day.

We can only hope that our children, or perhaps our children's children, will be free of the shackles of the oppression men call religion, that instead of searching outwards for some external vindication, they will find all they need in the moments of their lives and in reality.

So say we all?

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Aspentroll said...

That was an excellent article
written by Rupert Hughes written so long ago, in 1924.

So what is the "New Atheism"
then? It sounds to me like Rupert Hughes had all the same reasons for being an atheist then as we have now.

I can't imagine having to live in an age when the church had so much power.

The problem is that the religious zealots are still trying to take us back to those tyrannical days. I wonder if they would like things to be that bad these days. People like Ted Haggert and the hundreds of other clergymen that have committed worse crimes than missing church would have been stoned to death by now.

I suppose it will take another hundred years to get things to an acceptable
state in North America.

Krystalline Apostate said...

Hey Aspentroll.
The 'New Atheism' is basically the same as the old, except that we're just not as polite as our elders, dagnabit.