By D.M. Bennett | September-December 2016 Issue
The Truth Seeker
The Bible in Common Schools by D.M. Bennett, published in 1889.
A large percentage of the people of America, from various points of view, consisting of Catholics, Israelites, Quakers, Rationalists, skeptics, unbelievers, Spiritualists, Materialists, Theists, Pantheists, Atheists, advanced thinkers, moderate doubters, antitheologians, lovers of science, devotees of mental liberty, opposers of sectarian dogmas and creeds, and many who are registered as more or less heterodox, are not in favor of the Bible being placed in our common schools; while another large portion of the public, consisting mainly of members of the orthodox Protestant churches of the country, are not only in favor of the Bible being used as a school book by their own children, but also insist that the children of the unbelieving members of the community shall be compelled to acquiesce in its use whether they choose to or not.
The Christian public take this position mainly because they believe the Jewish scriptures are the word of the creator of heaven and earth, either written by himself, or by certain anonymous writers in ancient times delegated to place them upon parchment, and that in either case they are equally his word and will.
This Christian portion of the community seem to be under the impression that it is a benefit or an honor to their God to keep his book, or his “great letter to man-kind,” prominently before the rising generation. They are not content, as I said, that the Bible shall be used by their own children, but insist that the children of all other classes, whether they tacitly admit its divinity, or doubt it in toto, shall also be compelled to use it, and read it, and study it, and by the system of public taxation, shall be made to pay for the enforced privilege of doing so. Millions of copies of the Bible have been used as a propagandizing agent for making proselytes to the Christian religion, and it is supposed to weave an influence around the tender minds of the young that can with difficulty be removed in after years. For this reason the Bible worshipers are so persistent that the volume shall be retained in our public schools. Had they been educated in the belief that the Institutes of Menu, the ancient Hindu Vedas, the teachings of Zoroaster, the maxims of Confucius, the sublime beatitudes of Buddha, or the later writings of Mohammed were the word of God, they were doubtless have had the same amount of reverence for them, and would have insisted, with equal earnestness, that they should be used in our schools.
Indeed, to many minds it is difficult to understand why the rising generation of the present day should be compelled to use the sacred writings of the Jewish nation any more than the sacred writings of any other ancient nations who have held that they received through their prophets and inspired priests, laws and instructions direct from heaven. While they all contain some sublime sentiments, and grand specimens of antique poetry, they also all contain certain superstitions, mythical legends, etc, that can be of little or no benefit to the young minds of the present age.
That class of the American public who are most zealous and persistent that the Bible shall be used in our common schools, are the same who are in favor of placing the Jewish God, Jehovah, in our national Constitution; who demand that Sunday shall be kept as a holy day by the people of all shades of belief or unbelief; that a union of church and state shall be maintained; that churches and church property shall not be subject to taxation; that chaplains shall be maintained at public expense in our armies and navies, in our prisons and in our halls of legislation and that all grades of unbelievers in the popular system of religion shall be compelled nolens rolens, to help pay its expenses and keep the machinery in good running order.
A spirit of deep injustice rules in all this. It is perfectly right for those who believe in a certain system of religion to have the privilege of enjoying it. And having enjoyed it, it is only just that they should pay for the pleasure so enjoyed. It is not just that those who do not believe in it shall be compelled to pay for it. Equal taxation is one of the fairest principles that was ever incorporated into a government; but to distinguish the property of a country, assessing heavily farms, houses, manufactories, merchandise, etc., and letting another class of property, which is plentiful throughout the land, entirely escape, is palpably unequal and unjust. Is there any justice or equity in unbelievers being compelled to pay for the privileges which believers enjoy, and being made to help keep up their running expenses? When church property is allowed to pay no taxes to help sustain the government, it amounts just to that and nothing else.
It is perfectly allowable for every man and woman to believe in a personal, anthropomorphic God, who necessarily occupies but a limited portion of the universe at a given time; who is supposed to have a white throne a little way above the clouds, surrounded by courtiers and worshipers; who looks with partiality upon some of his children, granting them all sorts of favors and emoluments, while halting and despising the far larger share of his offspring, cursing them with disease, pestilence, and famine; who fights the wars and battles of his favorites, and sends destruction, massacres, bloodshed, and death upon those whom he does not regard with favor. It is quite right, I say, for every person to believe in this kind of a God, who thinks he has good reason to do so, and to believe him fickle, changeable, revengeful, passionate, merciless, and cruel, if they really have grounds to think he is that sort of a being; and the believer should be allowed to bow down to his God and worship and adore him to his heart’s content; and his perfect right to do so should not be interfered with by those who dissent from him.
But there are hundreds of thousands in our land who do not believe in such a God, who do not believe that a person who has eyes, ears, a nose, a mouth, hands, legs, and feet; who indulges in queer whims and conceits; who knowingly sets a trap for his ignorant and unsophisticated children to fall into, and then, for doing so, empowers a big, furious devil to torment them to the latest moments of eternity, is the supreme power of the universe. I repeat, it is right for as many to believe in this kind of a God as are able to convince themselves that he exists; but, in the name of all justice and equity, I denounce it as a gross species of oppression and tyranny that you and I shall be compelled to worship such a deity; that we shall be forced to pay allegiance to his court, to acknowledge his priests and admirers as our superiors and entitled to perquisites and emoluments at our expense; that they shall be preferred to ourselves in filling places of honor and profit, and that unless we bow our heads and worship their God, we shall be considered as outlaws and aliens, having no rights which they are bound to respect. I raise my voice in earnest protest against the injustice of compelling me to pay allegiance to a kind of deity I cannot believe in, and of tabooing and prescribing me if I cannot continuously do so.
It is the right and privilege of people who want chaplains and priests to talk to them and tell them about the great fact of total depravity—that man was made pure and perfect in the beginning, but that within the first twenty four hours or thereabouts, by a little lack of foresight and good management on the part of the creator and considerable shrewdness and tact on the part of the devil, the grand scheme of peopling this earth with a race upright, faultless, happy people, and of its being a perfect paradise, was, in the language of printers, completely “knocked into pi,” the devil winning the first trick in the grand game, and being able to hold the best cards ever since—it is, I say, the right and privilege of people who want this kind of talk, to have it.
Instruction upon the consistency of one being three and three being one; of a son being as old as his father, and, in fact, being his own father, and all that sort of thing with which those who frequently listen to the teachings of this privileged class are sufficiently familiar—all the many beauties and consistencies which they hand out to the people—I do not object to their paying for it every cent it is worth; but I do object to being made to pay for it myself. I have no use for that kind of doctrine, and it is very much against my inclinations to help foot the bills incurred in the propagandism of such views. They possess no value to me, and I very much object to being forced to pay for them. Let those who want gorgeous churches be willing to pay for them; let those who want splendid carriages pay for them; let those who wish liveried servants to wait upon them be willing to foot the bills themselves; let those who want diamonds and precious stones to decorate their persons be willing to pay their cost; let those who covet gewgaws and worthless ornamentations not object to meeting the expense which is entailed upon them; let those who want priests and chaplains be willing to pay for them. Let them not ask us to pay for them who have no use for them, and who need not their services.
The same with the Bible as a book to be used in the education of the young. Those who prefer it should be allowed to use it without molestation or hindrance, but in equal fairness they should not insist that our children shall also be compelled to use the same book; that we shall be forced to pay for their children using it, or that it shall enter into the list of reading books or class books in our common schools, to help mold the early opinions of the rising generation. “Let justice ever be done.”
Without arguing much the question whether the Bible is a divinely inspired volume, and whether the claims usually set up by its admirers are tenable, whether the statements made in the anonymous compilation are worthy of credence or whether they comport with human experience, I propose merely to make a cursory examination of the fitness of the volume as a school book. It will be admitted by every candid person that the education of the young is a matter of the highest importance, and that such means should be employed and such books furnished as are best calculated to impart correct and useful information with the least possible amount of error. We know well that the impressions received in childhood remain fixed in the mind till the close of life. We know by bitter experience how difficult it is to eradicate from our minds the effects of early education and how lessons that we learned when young remain engraved on the memory when thousands of incidents through which we pass in later years flit from our recollection and are utterly forgotten. How important, then, that the lessons imparted to the young minds should be free from that which is mythical, that which is fabulous, that which is sectarian, everything which is tinctured with superstition, and everything that is misleading and harmful. The mind of childhood is a clean, unwritten page, and nothing should be inscribed there save that which is true and useful; nothing should be written there that in after years must be eradicated at an expense of toil and sorrow.
Much has yet to be learned of the true system of early education; much that is mythical and mistaken, much that is uncertain and untrue, touching the dogmas of theology has to be replaced with the well-attested truths of nature as they are verified by the investigations of science and absolute demonstration. The universe, or that portion of it which is within the reach of our own cognizance, contains enough of the grand realities of existence without there being the slightest necessity for the rising generation to spend their time and energies delving, stumbling, or floundering in the dark and uncertain realm of ancient mysticism and theological conjecture. When there is so much truth to be learned it is utterly useless to store the infantile minds with pernicious errors. Let us consider some of the reasons why the Bible is unfitted for a school book.
1. Its language is antique, and many of its forms of expression are obscure and obsolete. It is therefore ill adapted to the present style of imparting knowledge.
2. It is too composite in character, being a compound of domestic narrative, genealogy, romance, poetry, and accounts of wars and bloodshed.
3. It abounds in hard and unpronounceable names of persons and places, difficult of reading, puzzling to the mind, and not of the slightest value as information.
4. It abounds in obscenity and vulgarity, and acts of incest, rape, adultery, and amorousness wholly unfit to feed to juvenile minds.
5. It abounds in tales of horror, slaughter, massacre, bloodshed, carnage, and death which are a very pernicious species of pabulum to the youthful intellect.
6. It represents the supreme power of the universe in a most unfavorable light, making him changeable, passionate, revengeful, and cruel.
7. It teaches theories of cosmology, especially relating to the age of this planet, diametrically opposed to the clearest revelations of science and observation. It inculcates on the young mind much that has to be unlearned and discarded in succeeding years.
8. It sets up falsehood for the truth, in a thousand ways which are not specified in these brief counts. It gives as facts statements which children themselves know to be untrue.
9. It recognizes witchcraft, a vagary which belongs only to barbarism and has been the cause of great cruelty and outrage upon men, women, and children.
10. It is a supporter of kingcraft and tyranny, upholding the rule of one man over the many, and is consequently opposed to a republican or democratic form of government, which we believe to be the most equitable system that has yet been devised.
11. It is an advocate of priestcraft, upholding a species of rule that has fettered the mind of man, made him an abject slave, and proved itself a curse to the human race.
12. It requires a belief in supernaturalism, an absurdity that has proved more mischievous to humanity than any other one, in support of which not a particle of real proof can be adduced.
13. It casts a slur upon human industry. According to its foundation story, labor was imposed upon man as a punishment, and the idea is presented that if a man had never done wrong, he would never have had to toil nor bring the sweat from his brow, but, like the birds of the air and the lilies of the field, he would never need to take thought as to what he should eat, drink, or wear. When it is considered how much industry has done toward educating, civilizing, and elevating the human race, the mischief that has been caused by stigmatizing labor can easily be imagined. Labor has emphatically been man’s savior.
14. Its self-contradictions are so numerous and flagrant as to greatly detract from its value as an authority in educating the juvenile mind.
15. Its writers were too unlearned and too unscientific to constitute them good teachers for others. It was written long ago, when little progress had been made in the natural sciences, and when the knowledge of nature and art was far less than at the present time. The world has traveled far away from it.
16. Its literary ability is not so great, when taken in connection with its want of scientific knowledge, as to give it special merit as a text book.
17. The tenor of the lessons in it are not of a practical character, especially for the present age of the world. If it was of value to the nation of the Jews three thousand years ago, it has ceased now to possess much practical importance to mankind.
18. The Bible teaches that the earth has been peopled less than six thousand years, while geology and other sciences unmistakable prove that man has existed on the globe more than one hundred thousand years.
19. The Bible says nothing about the upheavals or internal commotions which are plainly seen to have occurred on the globe in the past.
20. It says nothing about the great glacial period which numerous proofs clearly show existed for a long time on the earth.
21. The Bible teaches that the consequences of wrongdoing can be obviated and set aside by repentance, and wearing sackcloth and ashes, as well as by offering sacrifices—placing the face in the dust, and all that sort of thing—while nature’s truth and reason clearly show that there can be no forgiveness for a wrong act once committed. A sin once done can not be undone by penance, prayer, or confession.
22. The Bible has caused untold wretchedness in the minds of men by pictures of the torments of hell and eternal misery for fallible unfortunate man, who falls naturally into the state of suffering so elaborately prepared for him. It is not pleasant reading; not a cheerful study for children to pursue.
23. The Bible has done much toward the degradation of woman, and in subjecting her to the rule and dominion of the opposite sex. In this regard it testifies to the barbarous age in which it was written, and is not in keeping with the more progressive sentiments touching woman’s equality with man which rule at the present time. In according to woman her true position in the journey of life, the sentiment of the present hour stands far in advance of the ethics of the Bible.
24. The Bible recognizes human slavery, one of the greatest curses that the world has ever known—a system of outrage, oppression, and wrong.
25. The Bible recognizes polygamy, one of the twin relics of barbarism. Some of the highest dignitaries of the book, and many of the greatest favorites which the volume names, were men who indulged in a plurality of wives, some of them going to an extravagant excess in this direction. Instance, Solomon with his seven hundred wives and three hundred concubines.
26. The Bible sanctions the taking of human life. The approval which is found there for murder, wars, and bloodshed is quite sufficient to make it an unfit monitor to inexperienced and innocent minds.
27. The Bible exhibits great partiality toward different portions of the family man. It favors the Jewish nation, and showers favors and blessings upon them, while curses and imprecations are poured upon the heads of gentiles. Palpable inequality.
28. It is a warm advocate of the barbarous custom of slaying innocent animals and offering them up as a propitiation, and as a sweet-smelling savor in his nostrils, to the deity who rules on high. Human sacrifices were also sometimes approved. The whole thing is necessarily abhorrent to the tender, sympathetic instincts of a child.
29. The teachings of the Bible are calculated to stifle and destroy providence, foresight, and enterprise. If some of its teachings were carried out mankind would be little better than a race of pitiable mendicants.
30. The Bible upholds and teaches the principles of punishing the innocent for the acts of the guilty, and of the undeserving being made eternally happy because of the good deeds of a single individual. This is opposed to every element of justice, and should never be impressed upon the brains of the artless and simple minded and justice-loving children.
I have thus shown many reasons why the Bible is not fitted for a school book for the use of children, but the category might still be largely increased. There are numerous other reasons why it should not be admitted into our schools, and more especially why all children should not be required to read it, and why the parents of all should not be compelled to pay for the expense. Many of the points of objection that have been mentioned might be enlarged upon, and the strength of the objection could be made still more apparent.
Think for a moment of the erroneous ideas that are taught in the Bible, which the investigations and observations of scientific men have proved to be wrong in toto. The cosmology of the Bible, as I said, is utterly at fault. The age of this planet, according to its teachings, is less than six thousand years, while the clearest proofs are found that it must have existed for millions of years. It speaks of the division of light from darkness as though they were formerly blended together—truly an unscientific absurdity. It teaches about the existence of days, mornings, and evenings before the sun, moon, or stars were brought into existence; how all kinds of vegetation, including herbs, plants, grasses, shrubs, and trees, grew and came to perfection, bearing flowers, fruits, and seeds, before there was a sun to send forth a ray of light, or a drop of rain had ever fallen upon the earth. But it is now well known that this could not have possibly been the case.
The sun is as old as the earth and probably was the parent of all the planets that form the solar system, and the indentations caused by drops of falling rain are found imprinted in the old red sandstone, made when in a plastic state, and must have occurred hundreds of thousands, and probably millions, of years ago. It shows the height of ignorance to talk about trees and vegetables growing, and producing fruits and seeds, without the influence of the sun, and without the moistening and rejuvenating properties of rain and dew. Equally absurd is the legend about the division of the waters and the making of the firmament, whose office was claimed to be to divide the waters above it from those below it, and to keep them separated. What a crude, clumsy appreciation the writer of that tradition had of the true state of the case! The “firmament” is nothing but space, and would be totally incapable of sustaining a body of water in the upper atmosphere even were such a body there to be sustained. The merest tyro in physical science can easily comprehend the fallacy of the Bible story.
The account of the setting of the stars in the firmament; of the short job of making the countless millions of suns, stars, systems, and constellations, as described in the five short words, “He made the stars also,” shows how inadequate was the conception of the writer of the number, magnitude, and distance of the heavenly orbs. And it is easy to see how unlikely it was, if it required five days to manufacture this small globe, nearly eight thousand miles in diameter, that the sun, a million times larger than the earth, larger than the entire orbit of the moon; the planets of our own system, in the aggregate hundreds of thousands of times larger than our own globe; with the thousands of other suns and systems, many of which are much more immense than our system, could all be turned out in a single day. If children are compelled to read such details of the origin of the systems and constellations, they cannot fail to see the absurdity of it.
They can see, too, how imperfect was the conception of the writers of the Bible when they talked about the “corners,” “ends,” “pillars,” and “foundations” of the earth, and how utterly ignorant they were of the fact that the earth is a round ball that unceasingly whirls in the blue vault of space, turning on its axis daily toward the sun, and making a journey every three hundred and sixty-five days round that brilliant luminary. The Bible placed “ends” and “corners” to the earth, but science unceremoniously knocked them off. Copernicus two hundred and fifty years ago proved the utter fallacy of the Bible theory, and effectually knocked theology into a cocked hat. When it is duly realized how little Bible writers knew of the simple laws of nature, it must be seen how totally unfit is the Bible as a factor in the education of the young.
How crude and fallacious was the conception of the writer of the book of Genesis in reference to the phenomenon of rain! He thought it was produced by the windows of heaven (probably in the floor of heaven or the firmament) being opened and he waters falling through the same to earth. The theory made no provision for the return of the water into heaven. Yes, how ignorant that writer was of the simple process of rain falling to the earth and rising again in the form of vapor, the operation to be repeated thousands upon thousands of times. Is it desirable that the rising generation should continue to be taught these incorrect and absurd theories? Shall they continue to read and believe the incredible story about the flood of waters pouring through the windows of heaven until all the hills and mountains were covered, the tallest of which reached the altitude of five miles? Shall they continue to read of and believe the possibility of such a quantity of water coming from the atmosphere and of its finding a place to go to after the rain was over and the waters assuaged? Shall they ever continue to be taught that Noah was able to gather some millions of beasts, birds, reptiles, insects, and worms from all parts of the globe in a single vessel and in that airtight ark, in an atmosphere that must have been foul enough to stifle a bat in fifteen minutes, to keep all that wide range of animal life for the space of thirteen months, and without such food as they required?
Has not man in later times produced far better mental pabulum for miniature men and women? Would it not be far better to give them real truths, devoid of monstrosities, fables, and errors? Shall they ever continue to be told that two men, Moses and Aaron, were able to change rods into serpents to produce frogs enough to fill an extensive country, to change dust into lice, to produce locusts in infinitude, to convert all the water in Egypt, including the river Nile, into blood, to kill the horses and cattle of the country two and three times over; that the waters of a sea divided in the center and walled up on either side, like a mason-work, leaving a dry roadway over which two million people were able to pass dry-shod, to say nothing of horses and herds of cattle and sheep? Are these the highest truths that our children can acquire—that a nation of people were kept forty years in the performance of a journey through a wilderness that could easily have been made in forty days? That during this forty years they were daily fed by showers of manna sent from heaven, by fast time, for their special benefit? That during that long, tedious journey neither their shoes nor their clothing wore out? Shall they still continue to read how General Joshua, unable in a given time to slay as many of his fellow beings as he desired, and being anxious to continue the slaughter twelve or fifteen hours longer, by a mere freak of his will, or with a little aid from the one on high, was able to stop both the sun and the moon in their courses and to make one day nearly as long as two ordinary days?
Shall they continue to believe that the kind father of all mankind was so anxious that a few hundred more of his children should be slaughtered that he performed that astounding feat, never performed before and never since? Was ever so great a work performed for so base a purpose? When, to get people over the difficulty of believing this marvelous statement, which even children find so hard to believe, they are told all things “are possible with God”—which is the convenient solution for all the big stories which the Bible contains—what must they think when they read in Judges xix, these words: “But he [God] could not drive out the inhabitants of the valley because they had chariots of iron?” This confession decidedly places a limit upon almighty power, and it would secure that he found his match once, if never nor since.
Is the marvelous story of Samson and his astonishing feats of strength the best kind of matter for our children to study? Can we wonder at all if they do not believe the big stories reported of the Jewish Hercules—of his slaying a lion with his naked hands; of his dexterous feat of catching three hundred foxes, tying their tails together with a firebrand attached to the tails of every pair of foxes? Those who have ever joined in a regular old-fashioned fox chase, where a score of men, and as many swift horses, with a whole pack of dogs yelping as they go, spend the better part of a day in riding pell-mell over twenty farms, jumping fences and hedges, leaping ditches and streams, coursing over meadows and pastures, through thicket and woodland, and feeling that it is glory enough after keeping up this race for hours, exerting every muscle of human flesh, horse flesh, and dog flesh, to be “in at the death” of one poor, exhausted fox, can realize how far the mighty Samson transcended all this kind of business. He found no trouble in catching three hundred of these shy, cunning, swift-footed animals, and tying their tails together in pairs with a firebrand attached to each pair. He then let them go through the Philistines’ fields of standing corn, setting it all on fire, of course, whether green or dry. What a chase poor Samson must have had in running down and catching those three hundred foxes! And a little curiosity as to how he disposed of the first two hundred and fifty foxes while he was running down the last fifty.
Perhaps they were very accommodating foxes, that stood still while being caught, and were willing to stand still after they were caught. It might occur to the young minds that the foxes in that Philistine country must have been very different from the foxes that have existed in Europe and America. It might strike them that the land of the Philistines was a pretty good place in which to engage in the fox culture, and in fox hunting, and that Samson was as fleet as he was strong, to be able to catch such numbers in so short a time. Perhaps it was his long hair that carried him triumphantly through the fox chase, as it did on another occasion in slaying one thousand men with the jawbone of an ass; in breaking the strongest ropes and withes; in carrying off those heavy gates, and finally in pulling down that cast temple upon his own head and the heads of thousands of the poor Philistines. There was a power in that Samsonian hair that was never possessed by hair before nor since. And how curious, too, that strength superior to any muscular strength that was ever heard of elsewhere should be produced by the hair of the head! How unlike the experience of all other human beings! But the gay Delilah was too much for the foxy Samson at last; she bewitched him with her charms and then while he was taking a siesta, his head reclining in her lap, she sheared off his curly locks; whereupon he at once became weak like other men, when his foes had no difficulty in capturing him, in gouging out his eyes, and in confining him in prison.
Has it ever occurred to you, my friends, that even school children might doubt the truthfulness of these remarkable stories about Samson and his wonderful exploits? Or did you expect they would believe them always with the same ease and facility with which their parents and Christians generally are able to receive everything of that nature?
Young people are now becoming very inquisitive, and are searching around for proofs more industriously than was formerly the case. It seems to be the spirit of the age. The tendency toward demanding demonstration and proof seems to be infectious, and doubt is felt on the part of many who were once perfectly credulous and unquestioning believers.
Do you expect children will always believe that the man Elijah was able to prevent rain and dew from falling upon the earth for more than three years, at the expiration of which term he was able to produce a most profuse and refreshing rain? That he was able to create oil and meal from the surrounding atmosphere; that he was able to restore life to a dead carcass; that he could call down fire from heaven and burn up the bodies of animals, the stones of an altar, twelve barrels of water and more than a hundred men, and finally, when he got tired of this life on the earth, that a heavenly chariot and horses were sent around for him, in which he took an aerial ride bodily up into the upper ether, where sustain life for a moment, and where scientists tell us there is not oxygen enough to sustain life for a moment, and where intense cold is 500° below zero, and where it would be utterly impossible for a man to live a minute? Will not the children sometimes inquire where the manufactory is located in which that chariot was got up, and where the horses were raised?
Are you certain that children will always be credulous enough to believe these stories? Like some grown people, will they not take the liberty to question the validity of some of these improbable statements? When our children read about the forty-two other children that were torn to pieces on the highway by two she bears at the instance of the good prophet Elisha because they alluded to his loss of hair and failed to recommend to him some confidence in the kindness of the being who sent around those bears to tear those helpless children? Will they easily believe that that man Elisha could restore life to the dead, that he could manufacture oil from air, that he could part the waters of the rapid Jordan with a mantle, that he could make iron rise and swim upon the surface of the river, and that he could perform other similar remarkable feats, and that even the touch of his bones after his death was sufficient to reanimate the bodies of men who had long been dead and in their graves? Will they never doubt these tales? And if they can always continue to believe them, can they not easily believe the tales of Baron Munchausen and of the Arabian Nights?
Will the children readily believe the fish story connected with another prophet, Mr. Jonah, who was induced to embark on a vessel at Joppa, and from fatigue or long watching went into a sound sleep in the side of the ship, through a fearful storm was raging without, whereupon the sailors came to the conclusion that a gale could not take place at sea unless some one on board the ship had been guilty of some offense, and that the way to determine the offender consisted in the accurate plan of drawing lots or throwing dice? Will children, young or old, always continue to believe with facility that upon Jonah’s being throw in into the sea the tempest was immediately assuaged, and that a big fish which God “had prepared” for the purpose took the traveler in out of the wet and housed him for the term of three days? Will it always be easy for them to believe that a man like Jonah could live three days in the confines of a fish’s stomach in the water of the ocean, where it would be an utter impossibility to get a breath of air, or to procure anything to eat? If the fish was “prepared” for the purpose, might not the question arise in their minds whether Jonah would not also need to be “prepared” to be able to withstand for three long days and nights the strong digestive powers, the gastric juices, of that fish’s stomach? Will it be unnatural if children suspect that the whole story is decidedly fishy?
Will the statement about the three young men being thrown into a superheated furnace, made seven times hotter than ever before, seem any more credible to them, and can they easily understand that the human organization by any process can be made so successfully to withstand the destructive effects of such intense heat that not a thread of their garments was scorched, and that they had not even “the smell of fire upon them?” If they can easily believe stories of this character, need their credulity be balked at anything? It is probably unnecessary to allude to the hundreds of other improbable and impossible stories and statements which the Bible gives upon various subjects. They are scattered all through the book. They require a great amount of credulity to accept them without a question. These statements have long been accepted with hardly a doubt, but in this day of skepticism, and unbelief in the mysterious and unnatural, as I said, the reason requires to be convinced, and miracles and impossibilities are not passing as current as in the time times gone by. People are becoming less confiding and gullible, and children are partaking of the same feeling, and books which contain such big stories and such marvelous incidents have ceased to be fit for the purposes of educational culture.
The vulgarity and obscenity of the Bible has been mentioned, and all who are familiar with its contents cannot entertain a doubt of the truthfulness of the charge. If any good soul has a beginning doubt upon this point, he has only to peruse the story of the faithful Abraham and his treatment toward his handmaiden or concubine Hagar, who bore him a son, and how he turned her and her child out into the wilderness to perish with hunger and thirst; about the incest committed by his cousin Lot while in a state of intoxication, with his two daughters; about the worse than beastly crimes of the inhabitants of Sodom; about the adultery of Zimri and Cozbi, of Dinah and Shechem, of Reuben and his father’s concubine Bilhah, of Judah and Tamar, of Onan, of Joseph and Mrs. Potiphar, of the Levite and his concubine, of Ruth and Boaz, of David and Bathsheba, of Amnon and Tamar, of Absalom and his father’s concubine on the housetop in the eyes of all the people of the city, of Solomon the wise man and his seven hundred wives and three hundred concubines—Solomon, to whose authorship is attributed a very amorous composition called the Song of Solomon, which for broad, indelicate allusions has been surpassed by very few compositions that have ever been written.
I will not detain you by further allusions to other vulgarities and indecencies of the Bible, for it is an infliction that I do not care to make. I have pointed out but a few of the large number that are to be found there. I deem them quite sufficient to prove to you, if proof were necessary, that the Jewish Bible is unfit to have a place in our common schools as a text-book or as a reading-book. The priesthood may find it to their interest to continue to hold up the volume before the eyes of the people and declare it to be the inspired word of God, and they may see that their influence over the masses is perpetuated by their enjoining upon them the necessity of their revering the antique volume, and by making them believe that every word the book contains, though it is confessedly full of errors and mistranslations, must be accepted as the true and infallible voice from heaven.
This class of men well understand the advantages to be gained to their system by early enlisting the sympathies of the young in favor of their objects and aims. With this view Sunday-schools were organized, and for this reason are sectarians so intent upon retaining the Bible in our common schools, that it may be kept constantly before the rising portion of our population. It may not be strange, as the Christian system of theology is founded upon the Bible, and as priestcraft is sustained by it, that sectarians should be earnest in continuing its rule and that young children should be required to turn to it daily as the source of truth and knowledge. But when its defects are made apparent and its total unfitness as a school book is realized, a large portion of the American people must be opposed to the children of those who do not believe in the divinity of the Bible and its super-excellence being compelled to use it daily in our common schools and to their being taxed to pay others for using it.
I would not curtail the right of any parents to read the book to their children and to enjoin them to read it at home, but in the name of justice I again protest against its being forcibly kept in our public schools where everybody’s children are compelled to use it whether they choose to or not. This question should not be suffered to rest until justice in the matter is accorded to the entire American people, unbelievers as well as believers. Much stress is aimed to be laid upon the Bible on the ground of its superior morality, but like its divinity, its morality will hardly bear the test of close scrutiny. It is held up as the source of virtue, civilization, liberty, and intelligence. It is pointed out to us as the grand palladium of all that we hold near and dear, but this claim, like the others that are made in its favor, does not possess truth. If the countries where the Bible circulates freely enjoy a higher degree of civilization than is found in other lands, the Bible is by no means the cause of such superiority.
There are other causes to be considered aside from the prevalence of the custom of reading the Jewish scriptures. The Abyssinians are a Christian nation, and they have had the Jewish Bible in their possession twice as long as have England and America, and yet they remain in barbarism. How much did the Bible accomplish for the inhabitants of Syria and Asia Minor? It was easily superseded by the Koran. Mohammedanism has proved itself more potent in subduing the savages of Africa and Asia to comparative civilization than Christianity has ever been, though it repeatedly made the trial. The Greeks and Romans were as far in advance of surrounding nations as we are today, or as we claim to be. Was it the Jewish Bible that elevated them and inspired them with the talent that made their poets, painters, sculptors, and orators, many of whom the world has never since equaled? The Chinese and Hindus have for thousands of years been far advanced in some phases of civilization, and they certainly did not owe it to the influence of the Bible. They were farther in advance of some of the pagan tribes than we are in advance of the Turks today.
If we could regard the Bible, only, as the means of our advancement in civilization, we should doubtless have the fairness to accord it all due credit, but there have been numerous instrumentalities that have contributed their share to place us where we are. The civilized world owes far less to the influence of the Bible than it does to what it has received from pagan nations. From India, from Egypt, from ancient Greece and Rome, has the civilized world obtained much of its literature, its philosophy, its laws, and its glory.
When the literature and religion of Greece and Rome were superseded by the Bible and its religion, there certainly was made no advance in culture and civilization. Under Bible and Christian rule a night of mental darkness spread over those countries, and from them extended over a large part of the world, and it required many centuries of skepticism for them to emerge from the long, dark night of gloom thus engendered. The art of printing shed the first ray of light across this vast pall of darkness and night, and much has it done to usher in the bright, cheerful day of intelligence and learning. The growth of science has been largely due to the art of printing, coupled with the lessening of the influence of superstition. It is to science we are to look for further advances in the direction to which the world has been tending. From this we have much to expect, but we cannot expect much aid from the Bible. Truthfully, as Professor Denton said, “When a people are much lower than the Bible plane, it may tend to elevate them but when they are above it, its influence is degrading.”
Our common school system is the foundation of our literature, our mental culture, and our civilization. We should give it all the aid possible in the facilities that promote mental liberty and general intelligence. Every science and every department of study to elevate the mind should be placed within it. But mythology, theology, sectarianism, mysticism, and superstition should ever be guarded against and firmly repelled. The Bible is largely made up of these qualities, and I again repeat, It should not have a place in the schools of the American people.
Reprinted with permission from The Truth Seeker.
DeRobigne Mortimer Bennett (1818-1882) was 19th-century America’s most controversial publisher and free-speech martyr. Bennett founded the “blasphemous” New York periodical The Truth Seeker in 1873, and his publications were censored and prohibited from newsstands long before the expression “banned in Boston” was heard. In less than a decade, the former Shaker and self-described Thomas Paine infidel became the most successful publisher of freethought literature in America—perhaps the world.
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— Gary Berton sets the record straight about Thomas Paine
— D.M. Bennett debunks the Bible
— “Two Leaves of Grass” excerpt from Roderick Bradford’s biography of D.M. Bennett
— Walt Whitman recounts his talks with a man who knew Thomas Paine
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