The Necessity of Atheism (Brooks)/Chapter I
THE NECESSITY OF ATHEISM
THE geologists estimate that the age of the earth is somewhere between 80 and 800 millions of years; that the Neanderthal race existed for more than 200,000 years; that between 40,000 and 25,000 years ago, as the Fourth Glacial Period softened towards more temperate conditions, a different human type came upon the scene and exterminated Homo Neanderthalensis. These first "true men" descended from some more ape-like progenitors and are classed by ethnologists with the same species as ourselves, and with all human races subsequent to them under one common, specific term, Homo Sapiens.
The age of cultivation began with the neolithic phase of human affairs about 10,000 or 12,000 years ago; about 6000 or 7000 years ago men began to gather into the first towns and to develop something more than the loose-knit tribes which had hitherto been their highest political organization. Altogether, there, must have elapsed about 500,000 years from the earliest ape-like human stage of life on this planet to the present time.
It necessarily follows that the age of our present civilization is by no means that which the Bible stipulates, but is merely an atom in the vast space-time of this earth. The reason for this disparity is that with the development of the mind of man throughout the ages there was conceived also his self-made religious systems, based on a subjective interpretation of the universe, and not on an objective one, devoid of emotional bias.
"Primitive man did not understand the natural cause of shadows, echoes, the birth and death of vegetable and animal .organisms. Of this ignorance religion was born, and theology was evolved as its art of expression." (Draper.)
Our story takes us back some twelve thousand years to neolithic man. Squatting in his rude hovel or gloomy cave, he listens to the sounds of a storm without. The howling of the wind, the flashes of lightning, and crashing of thunder give rise to that elemental emotion — fear. Fear was always with him, as he thought of the huge stones that fell and crushed him, and the beasts which were so eager to devour him. All things about him seemed to conspire for his death: the wind, lightning, thunder, rain and storm, as well as the beasts and falling trees; for in his mind he did not differentiate animate from inanimate objects. Slowly, through his groping mind there evolved the thought, due to past experience, that he could not contend with these things by physical force, but must subdue them with magic; his magic consisted of the beating of crude drum-like instruments, dances, and the mumbling of words.
Upon falling asleep he dreams, and awakening, he finds that he is still in the same place where he had lain the night before. Yet, he is certain that during the night he had traveled to his favorite wood and killed an animal whose tender flesh he was still savoring. Since the conception of a dream was as yet foreign to him, the logical conclusion he arrived at was that he had both a body and a spirit. If he possessed a body and a spirit, then all things about him, he reasoned, must likewise possess a similar spirit. Some spirits, he felt, were friendly; some, hostile to him. The hostile spirits were to be feared; but that powerful factor 'hope," had at last entered into his mind, and he hoped to be able to win them over to the camp of friendly spirits.
In this manner, man passed from the stage of contending against the spirits to one of placating them. It was believed that certain men carried more favor with the spirits than others, and these became the original priests, called the "Shamans."
Another expedient for warding off evil spirits was by means of the fetish. The primitive fetish was an object containing an active friendly spirit, which, if worn by the individual, protected him from the evil spirits. In a short while the manufacture of fetishes became a sacred profession, and the men who were thought to fashion the best ones became the professional holy men of the period, the priests.
At first, idols were used to drive away the evil spirits, and then, the conception changed to one of attracting the good spirits to man. From the individual fetish man passed to tribal ones, which in their first form were huge boulders and trees.
As the primitive mind gained cunning, it slyly smeared the surface of the idol with oily substances, hoping that the spirit, like some wild beast, would come and lick, be gratified, and remain in the idol. When some favorable signs denoted that a good spirit had entered into the idol, it was regularly smeared with oils and then blood, in the hope that the spirit would be pleased sufficiently to remain there permanently. As time went on, it became a custom, a rite, and the spirit having performed to the satisfaction of the tribe, ways were invented to manifest their gratitude. Instead of smearing the idol with blood, it was thought more fitting that an animal be killed and offered to the good spirit contained within the idol. In this manner arose the beginning of "sacrifice." It was at this time, when man began to persuade the idols or spirits to do things for his benefit that religion began.
Slowly, slowly, down through the ages, as the mind of man progressed, his self-made religious conceptions advanced. He now worshiped idols, and these idols were his gods. The Celts, the Babylonians, the Greeks, the Romans, all had their idols. All were certain that their gods were the true ones, and that the others were all inferior and even false gods. But, is the modern worshiper who is contemptuous of the ancients very different from them?
The centuries pass by, and in their wake is man's selfconceived religion. Now, some men take the prerogative in the manufacture of religion, and there evolve Brahmanism, Jainism, Buddhism, Hinduism, Confucianism, Taoism, and Zoroastrianism, all inspired, all supernatural, and with their myriads of followers who believed and still believe that theirs is the only true creed.
Very recently, in the time-scale of our development, man adopted the methods of "Big Business," and the religion of many gods and idols, polytheism, has given way to one Supreme God, monotheism. Man found that it made for simplicity and saved his valuable time if he worshiped one god, instead of obeying the hitherto many. The "Chosen People" took it upon themselves to bring the next divinely concocted conception of a Supreme God, and they manufactured the creed of Judaism.
After many years, a rift arose among the Jews, and the sectarians were defeated and expelled. Foiled in their first object, they cast aside the laws of Moses and offered the Hebrew religion without the Hebrew ceremonies to the Greek and Roman world. Jesus was the man who prepared the way for this remarkable event.
When Mohammed conceived the divine conception that he would follow in the footsteps of his brother prophets, Moses and Jesus, the latest of the major religions was revealed.
At the present time, the Hebrews and Christians, although worshiping the same Jehovah, are disputing with each other, and indeed, amongst themselves, with regard to the various attributes, amorous pursuits, and lineal descendants of the Godhead. Jehovah himself appears to be on the decline and his unity is steadily disintegrating into a paradoxical trinity. But we are progressing, for in 1300 years no new prophet has arisen, and no new divine revelation is perturbing our race; the old ones, however, are causing quite enough disturbance.
It would be of value for the modern religionist who believes that the worship of a deity in our own age is far removed from the worship of an idol by our savage ancestors, to retrace his steps and compare the savage mind worshiping his particular idol and a so-called civilized mind of today worshiping his deity.
The savage prayed to his idol, that is, he begged. He begged the idol to watch over his flock or his fields. The modern prays, that is he begs of his idol, his deity, to prosper his business, to guard his life, and, as one of my "super-devout" acquaintances recently informed me, on the eve of an important golf match, for the Deity to give him endurance; in other words, "to cut down his golf score."
The savage voiced his incantations; the modern sings hymns, that is he flatters. There is still a great deal of the charlatanry of the magician in the construction of the houses of prayer, with the sunlight shut out and only filtering through the leaded and multi-colored panes, the semidarkness, the solemnity, the rise and swell of the organ; all things combined to overcome the senses, to play upon the emotions, and to subdue the reason.
The savage made sacrifices to his idols, that is, he paid tribute, chiefly out of fear, but partly in the hope of getting something better in return. The modern does not offer human or animal sacrifice, it is true; but it must be borne in mind that the wealth of the savage consisted of his sheep, oxen, oils, and wines, not money. Today, the devout offer a sacrifice of money to the Deity. We are all familiar with the requests of religious institutions for gifts, which nearly always finish with the phrase, "And the Lord will repay you many fold." In other words, sacrifice part of your worldly goods to the idol, and he will repay with high interest. He will give in return long life and much riches. The savage was afraid to utter the real name of his god, it was taboo. The modern says, "Take not the name of the Lord in vain." Even today, the followers of Moses consider it taboo to utter the name of Jehovah except in prayer.
The present-day methods of worship are no different from those of the savage; the method of supplication has changed with the advance of the years, but the fundamental ideas at the base of all worship are just as crude today as they were 4000 years ago. Primitive man was no more a fetishist than is the modern Catholic. The latter still wears medals and images suspended from the neck and pinned to the inner clothing.
Moreover, a survey of the various religions extant indicates that the religious factor is no less prevalent today than it was in primitive societies.
In Greenland, one finds, that through nearly all of its vast area religion has no place, but that is chiefly the result of its being largely uninhabited. In Alaska, the population is for the most part Catholic, although the natives are animists. In Canada, 33 per cent are Catholic, the rest are mainly Protestant. In the United States, 20 per cent are Catholic, 3.5 per cent are Jewish, and the remainder are Protestants. Mexico, Central and South America, are almost entirely Roman Catholic. In Europe, Russia was until recently dominantly Greek Orthodox; the Scandinavian peninsula, the English Isles, and Central Europe are dominantly Protestant, while France, Portugal, Spain, Italy, and the rest of the countries bordering the Mediterranean Sea are Catholic. The rest of the continent is divided between Jews and Mohammedans. In Asia, the entire vast area of Siberia is only sparsely settled and its religions include Animism, Taoism, and Christianity. In China, we find the land of three truths, Confucianism, Taoism, and Buddhism. India, Tibet, and Burma are dominated by Hinduism and Buddhism; Arabia, Persia, and the rest of the continent are Mohammedan. In Japan, there are the Shintoists. The East Indies, where the population is native, are Animistic. In Australia, the dominant religion is Protestantism. In North Africa, the west coast inhabitants are Mohammedans, while the Abyssinians are Christians. There-are some Coptic Christians, in Egypt, while in the Congo and South African countries down to the Cape Settlements, the natives are Animists. The Cape Settlements themselves are Protestants.
More concretely, it is estimated that 10.7% of the inhabitants of the globe are Protestants; 16.2% are Catholics; 7.1% are Greek Orthodox; 10% are Animists; 1.4% are Shintoists; 18.2% are Confucians and Taoists; 12.8% are Hindus; 8.4% are Buddhists; 13.4%'are Moslems; and 1.8% are Hebrews and unclassified sects. Truly, a religious babel! and 10% of all the inhabitants of the globe, about the same number of people who profess to Protestantism, are Animists. This is the lowest stage of primitive religion, and millions of humans are still quagmired in the sloth of a primitive faith which once must have been the faith of all human beings.
The Mohammedan, the Jew, the Christian, will readily agree that the animism, the fetishism, and idolatry of the savage were man-made foolish beliefs. They can readily perceive that there was nothing supernatural, nothing revealed, in such beliefs; but they do not realize that to him, in his infantile development, the fetish and the idol were just as supernatural and superior as the modern conception of a Supreme Being. In each age man creates his god, in his own image, and within the confines of his own mental development. The mind of man has expanded so that it has conquered more and more of his environment; it has grown and wrested from nature those secrets which constitute his civilization. Along with this has progressed the conception of a deity, but only to a certain extent. The mind has embellished the outward appearance of its gods, consolidated them, and built upon them intricate systems of theology, upon which feed vast hordes of clergy; but the basic conception, the fundamental principle, that there must be something supernatural to explain something which we cannot explain at the present moment, that conception still drugs the mind of man. Primitive man did not understand the meaning of lightning, thunder, shadows, echoes, etc., and he placed these among the supernatural phenomena. The modern mind explains these phenomena, understands the laws governing their production. Yet, it is this same modern mind which persists in going back to our savage ancestors and their mental sloth, by attributing the myriads of phenomena which still elude its present stage of mental development, to a particular idol, this time a Supreme Being. Brahmanism, Jainism, Buddhism, Hinduism, Confucianism, Taoism, Zoroastrianism, Hebrewism, Mohammedanism, Christianity which is the true religion?
Let us suppose for a moment that an inhabitant of Mars, if there be such, were by a "miracle" to be transported to this earth and endowed with the mental capacity of the average inhabitant of the earth (a thing which perhaps would not be so flattering to our guest), were to be approached by a zealot of each one of these faiths, who hoped to convert this stranger to its ranks. Since the factor of coercion by force of environment to which each of these earthlings was subject would naturally be absent, the Martian would be in a position to make a fair choice. How much would the visitor be impressed by the statements of the Christian, Mohammedan, or Jew, when advised that unless he embraced their particular creed, he would be damned to eternal torture in their particular Hell?
If a Christian were to accost him and endeavor to put the fear of God into him, and if our visitor, being from Mars, already knew that of the world's population, only about 27 per cent are Christians, and the other 73 per cent are Non-Christians, is it logical to suppose that he would ever be convinced that an omniscient, omnipotent, benevolent, Supreme Being would select only one quarter of his children whom he had created for redemption, with the infallible knowledge that nearly three-quarters of them would be confined to Hell for not believing what He could have made them believe if He were truly omnipotent, omniscient, and benevolent? Would he not rather reply that on his planet such a "Father" who would select some of his children for rewards, and maliciously torture his other children, would not be designated as a God but a Devil? Were the Martian to be further informed that each one of God's children was represented in actual figures by hundreds of millions and that these have been living on the planet Earth for hundreds of thousands of years, and were the visitor to contemplate the vast incomprehensible number of souls that have been confined to Hell by such a father, might he not cut his visit short? He would be apt to repeat with James Mill, "Think of a being who would make a Hell, who would create the human race with the infallible foreknowledge and therefore with the intention that the great majority of them should be consigned to horrible and everlasting torment." I believe that our guest would assert that if such a Being actually existed and demanded worship, he would certainly have revealed his true belief to the first man Adam, and therefore saved his children an inestimable amount of suffering.
Were the visitor to be further pressed by the zealot with the vision of eternal hell, I believe he would retort that there is no reason for God to punish those who doubt of deny faith in His existence, since it is His own doing; and if He desired each one of His children to worship Him according to the precepts of a certain creed, He surely would have instilled that creed into man's make-up together with the rest of his characteristics. Undoubtedly, He would not esteem any creed which damned the human intellect by cursing the doubts which are the necessary consequence of its exercise, or the creed which cursed the moral faculty by asserting the guilt of honest error.
If our visitor would but glance at the history, the evolution, of religious beliefs, he would realize and soundly assert that all religions are human in their origins, erroneous in their theories, and ridiculous in their threats and rewards.