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About The courier. (Lincoln, Neb.) 1894-1903 | View Entire Issue (Sept. 22, 1894)
THE C0UR1 ER
.'. I also took the position that somo suicides were Bane, that
they acted on thir best judgment and that they were in full ios
session of their minds. Now, if under some circumstances a man
has a right to take his life, and if under such circumstances he docs
take his life, then it cannot be said that he was insane. Most of the
persons who have tried to answer mu have taken the ground that
-suicide is not only a a crime, but somo of them have said that it is
the greatest of crimes. Now, if it bo a crime, then the suicide must
have been sane. So all persons who denounce the suicide as a
criminal admit that he s sane. Under the law an insane person
is incapable of committing ir-.crime. AH the clergymen who have
answered me, and who have passionately asserted that suicide is a
crime, have by that assertion admitted the criminals who killed
themselves were sane.
They agree with me, and not only admit but assert that "some
who have committed suicide were sane and in the full possession of
It seems to me that these three propositions have been demonstra
ted to you: First, that under some circumstances a man has the
right to take his life. Second, that tho man who commits suicide is
not a phybical coward, and third, some who committed suicide were
at the time sane and in the full possession of their minds.
4. I insisted and still insist that suicide was and is the foundation
of Christian roligion. I still insist that if Christ were God he had
the power to protect himself without injuring his assailants, that
having the power It was his duty to use it, and that failing to use it
he consented to his own death and was merely a suicide.
To this the clergy answer that it was self-sacrifice for the redempt
ion of man, that ho made an atonement for the sins of unbelievers.
Their ideas about redemption and atonement are born of a belief in
the "fall of man' on account of the sins of our "first parents" and
of the declaration that -'without the shedding of blood there is no
remission of sin." The foundation has crumbled. No intelligent
person now be!iovo3 in the "fall of man," that our "first parents"
were perfect ami that their decendants grew worse and worse, at
least until the coming of Christ.
Intelligent men now believe that the general course of the human
race has been upward that while somo tribes and nations have
gone backward and perished, others have advanced. That the
world is nearer civilization today than ever bofore.
Intelligent men now believe that ages and ages before the dawn
of history man was a poor, naked, cruel, ignorant and degraded sav
age, whose language consisted of a few sounds of terror and hatred
and delight; that he devoured his fellow man, having all the vices,
but not all the virtues of beasts; that tho journey from the den to
the house, the palace, has been long and painful, through many cen
turies of suffering, of cruelty and war; through many ages of discov
ery, invasion, self-sacrifice and thought. Redemption and atone
ment are left without a fact on which to rest. The idea that an in
finite God, creator of all worlds, came to this grain of sand, learned
tho trade of a carpenter, discussed with Pharisees and scribes, and
allowed a few infuriated Hebrews to put him to death, that he might
atone for the sins of men and redeem a few believers from the con
sequences of his own wrath, can find no lodgment in a good and
In no mythology can anything more monstrously unbelievable be
found. But if Christ were a man and attacked the religion of his
time because it was cruel and absurb; if he endeavors to found a
religion of kindness, of good deeds, to take the place of heartlessness
and ceremony, and if, rather than to deny what he believed to be
right and true, he suffered death, then ho was a noble man a ben
efactor of his race.
But if he were God there was no need of this. The Jews did not
wish to kill God. If he had only made himself known all knees
would have touched the ground. If he were GoJ it required no
heroism to die. He knew that what wo call death is but the open
ing of the gates of eternal life. If he were God there was no self
sacrifice. He had no need to suffer pain. He could have changed
the crucifixion to a joy.
Even the editors of religious weeklies see that there is no escape
from these conclusions, from these arguments, and so instead of
attacking the arguments they attack the man who makes them.
I denounced the law of New York that makes an attempt to com
mit suicide a crime.
It peenis to me that one who has suffered so much that he pas
sionately longs for death should be pitied instead of punished, helped
rather than imprisoned.
A despairing woman who had vainly sought for loave to toil, a
woman without a home, without friends, without bread with clasped
hands, with tear-tilled eyes, with broken words of prayer, in the
darkness of night, leaps from the dock, hoping, longing for the tear
less sleep of death. She is rescued by u kind, courageous man,
handed over to the authorities, indicted, tried, convicted, clothed in
a convict's garb and locked in a felon's cell.
To me this law seems barbarous and absurb, a law that only sav
ages would inforce.
In this discussion a curious thing has happened. For several
centuries the clergy have declared that while infidelity is a very
good thing to live by, it is a wretched consolation in the hour of
death. They have said in Bpite of truth, that all the great unbe
lievers die trembling with fear, asking God for mercy, surrounded
by friends in the torments of despair. Ten thousand and thous
ands of .clergymen have described the last agonies of Voltaire
who died as peaceful as a happy child immediately passes from,
play to slumber; the hnal anguish of Hume, who fell into his last
sleep as serenely as a river running between green and abaded banks
to tho sea; tho despair of ThomaB Paine, one of the bravest, one of
the noblest men, who met the night of death untroubled as a star
that meets the morning. At the same time these ministers admit
ted that tho average murderer could meet death on the scaffold with
perfect serenity, and could smilingly ask the people who had gath
ered there to see hiiu killed, to meet him in heaven.
But tho honest man who had expressed his honest thoughts
against the creed of the church in power could not die in peace.
God would see to it that his last moments should be filled with in
sanity or fear that with his last breath he should utter the nhriek
of remorse, the cry for pardon.
This has all changed, and now the clergy in their sermons answer
ing me, declare the atheists, the free thinkess have no fear of death
that to avoid some little annoyance, a passing inconvenience.they glad
ly and cheerfully put out the light of life. It is now said that infidels
believe that death is the end that it is a deathless sleep that it is
without pain, that, therefore, thoy have no fear, care nothing for
gods, or heavens, or hell, nothing for the threats of pulpit, nothing
for the day of judgment and that when life becomes a burden they
carelessly throw it down. Tho infidels are so afraid of death 'that
they commit suicide.
This is certainly a great change, and I congratulate myself on
having forced the clergy to contradict themselves.
7. The clergy take the position that the atheist, the unbeliever,
has no standard of morality that he can have no real conception of
right and wrong. They are of the opinion that it is impossible for
one to be moral or good unless he believes in some being far above
In this connection we might ask how God can be moral or good
unless ho believes in some being superior to himself.
What is morality? It is tho best thing to do under the circum
stances, What is the best thing to do under the circumstances?
That which will inciease the sum of human happiness, or lessen it
the least. Happiness in its highest, noblest form is the only good
that which increases or preserves or creates happiness is moral that
which decreases it or puts it in peril, is immoral.
It is not hard for an atheist for an unbeliever to keep his hands
out of the fire. He knows that burning his hands will not increase
his well-being, and he is moral enough to keep them out of the
So it may be said that each man acts according to his intelligence
so far as what he considers his own good is concerned. Sometimes
he is swayed by passion, by prejudice, by ignorance, but when he is
really intelligent, master of himself, he does what he believes is best
for him. If he is intelligent enough he knows that what is really
good for him is good for others for all the world.
It is impossible for me to see why any belief in the supernatural
is necessary to have a keen perception of right and wrong. Very
many who have the capacity to suffer and enjoy, and have imagina
tion enough to give the same capacity to others, have within them
selves the natural basis of all morality. The idea of morality was
born here, in this world, of the experience, the intelligence of man
kind. Morality is not of supernatural origin. It did not fall from
the clouds and it needs no belief in the supernatural, no supernatural
promises or threats, no supernatural heavens or hells to give it force
of life. Subjects who are governed by the threats and promises of
a king are merely slaves. They are not governed by the ideal, by
noble viewB of right and wrong. They are obedient cowards, con-
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