Reply to a Correspondent
[From the Herald of Freedom of January 9, 1846; Miscellaneous Writings, 343-349]
A searing statement of Rogers' commitment to human welfare and religious skepticism, from the year of his death. No doubt the correspondent "H.O.S." had impugned Rogers' religious faith by saying that his antislavery arguments were marred by a lack of appeal to God's will. Rogers' response is, if you ask me, one of the greatest anti-authoritarian and human statements in American letters.
Nothing is more welcome or grateful to me, than frank, honest disapproval of my positions and opinions, like the above of H.O.S. I like it not only for its fidelity and fearlessness, but it helps me to make good my assailed foundations, if they are true. It comes in aid, as "interruptions" do - to help the truth-loving speaker, in "Free Meeting." It helps me present my case, and helps the reader to the truth. I thank our correspondent, therefore, in my own and the reader's behalf for his valuable interpositon. And now, a remark or two in reply.
Our correspondent thinks I am wrong in regarding Humanity as I do, unmingled with religious considerations, or regard for God. This seems his main ground of disapproval of my position. Whether he has rightly "defined my position," or not, my past position I mean, I will not undertake to settle. I will endeavor to give my present position. Not define it - for it is indefinite - or not definite. At least, I desire to have it so. I want it to be an ever-changing - advancing - improving -learning - never stopping - undefinable position - if "position" that can be called, which never stops, but is always on the march. We cannot speak of the "position" could be "defined." Amid the dust and hurricane of the charge and the encounter, and mayhap of the triumphant pursuit of the routed fow - it would hard to to define its attitude - or take its likeness. I am desirous here of illustrating what the Herald of Freedom ought to be and aims to be, rather than what it is. Its indefinable motto-word - "Excelsior." I want to benefit Mankind and all animal kind and all other kind within my reach, if any other there be, that needs benefiting and can receive it at my hands.
I want, eminently, the overthrow of the Slave-system, that paralyzes the country and the world. And all auxiliary systems to it. On their own account, as well as because they sustain this crowning outrage on human happiness and rights. I think the good and the welfare of the world demand the overthrow of these systems. The glory of God may require it also. That the welfare of Humanity does, I know, or think I do. The glory of God may. His welfare cannot, I should imagine. I imagine it would not promote any welfare of His - so much as that of the parties here concerned - to have every system of hatred and hurt, among mankind, abolished. I may be wrong in supposing the Welfare of Mankind, an object of paramount concern with me, to the glory of God. I do suppose so. Even if I knew as well what would glorify God, as I do what would benefit mankind, and could promote the one, as effectually as I could do the other. If any being, but God, preferred his own glory to the good of mankind, we shouldn't think well of him. If it was Bonaparte or Caesar, we shouldn't speak well of him. We should speak ill. We should say, Tyrant - heartless, selfish Oppressor. A French soldier would worship - and cry "vive L'Empereur." And so would an old Roman Legion, as it offered itself to destruction, to save the "bald first Caesar's" form from harm or dishonor. And our devotees would worship God, while they thought, while they though he cared more for "the honor of His great name," than for the good of mankind. And why do they do it? For much the same reason in all three cases. It is more generous in the cases of the poor infatuated soldiers - for the worship has a savoring of sympathy in it - for their Deities were human. The religious worshipper's is based in the unmitigated dread of the fury of their Divinity, and a most base desire to propitiate his profitable favor. That is, so far as their worship is real. It has in fact scarcely any reality in it. It is nearly all imaginary. The reality about it - is the inclination they feel to kill every body who won''t join them in it. That is real. They carry that out. The rest is pretty much fancy and superstition, I think.
Mankind need love and help. God needs neither. We can love mankind and help them. God, we can neither help nor love. And until we have helped and loved and helped mankind, as much as they need, and as much as they can help and love them, we ought not to try to worship God, or to exercise emotions toward him. If we should, the emotions would be sure to be bad ones. We don't feel right towards mankind, till we love them as well as we can and as they need. And until we do this, we are not prepared to feel rightly toward any other being. We are not in loving mood or spirit. And our worship wouldn't be agreeable to any Being that was good. The Devil, as we call him, might like it, so far as we are concerned. It wouldn't be so very flattering to him.
In my opinion - my present one, this moment while I am writing - before we have any duties to perform towards God, we have got to perform every one we have found out, towards one another. And desire to perform these human duties, as we call them, will preclude all idea of duties to Divinity, as duties to Divinity, as duties to Divinity preclude all idea of any to Humanity - and are resorted to - (as I think) as a subterfuge from the performance of any. I believe that Piety is a cheap and bad substitute for Humanity. And that the more pious any one becomes - the more religious - the more in love with the gods - the "Dii immortales," as the Romans used to call it - or "Almighty God," as the Roman Catholics have it - the less practical love he has for any human creature, and the more sublimated and hopeless is his selfishness. I believe this to be the nature of the thing. I might say here, that Christianity teaches all I here say, but I won't say it - for it will seem like taking shelter in Scripture, form the responsibility of naked, unauthorized opinion. I will say it, on my own responsibility. And it is nobody's business, if I am incorrect in the opinion. I am not accountable to any body, or to the public, for daring to say what I do. Every body has a right to say the contrary. As H.O.S. will, if he so thinks. And that is all he will do. He would not have me, sent for the heresy, either to Hell, or to - Hopkinton. Henry Wood might - to both. My objection to this "Piety" is, not that it is unchristian (which it grossly is,) but that is unhuman. The world runs to Piety. It runs reluctantly at first - but eagerly at length. Piety, in some form or other. The orthodox Piety is based in Hatred of Mankind - which it calls Love of God. It regards mankind as "totally depraved" and hateful. It has, itself, "shuffled off" its own total depravity, under a partial (but acceptable) sanctification. It has got insurance against the fire of the wrath of its Divinity. This is orthodox Piety, in its various, belligerent, and (if it had the power) crucifying divisions and sects. There is a heterodox Piety, that ventures to hold that Love to Mankind is not totally incompatible with Love of God. It has to repudiate the "total depravity" of mankind, in order to make it lawful to love them. This is one reason of the repudiation. It wouldn't do to love creatures abhorred by God and consigned by him to Damnation. And it would hardly seem reasonable to love a God, who had such purposes toward mankind - even if they were his enemies - and all to promote his own honor and glory. So heterodox Piety modifies the character of God and elevates that of Man, and holds to loving both. Now - if this Piety will so love God, that it can take an active, healthy part in behalf of man, if it will only worship, so that it can help us, suffering, wretched folks, here on the surface of the ground, and help us, for our sakes - and not merely for God's sake, I will not quarrel with their piety. I will laud their humanity. And if their piety promotes it, I will laud that. And if it engenders it - if it is essential to it - I will make it paramount. If their love to God is the basis of love to mankind - if piety is the foundation of humanity - righteousness - goodness - then I go for Love to God and Piety, first of all. But really, I must have this goodness. I want the wrongs of humanity first righted. I think they can be - ought to be - must be. I think we ought to be happy, here. Considerably happy - if not exstatically so. Comfortably happy. And I want that made the paramount object.To be happy, we must be right. I would have it, that we must be right - rather than happy. That I must be right, and my neighbor be made happy. I, right, in order to have him happy. Not right that I might be happy, myself, - but that he might. That looks bigger and better to me, than the other - or than any other. I, right, from sheer love (approval) of the Right - and to promote the happiness of my neighbor! That strikes me, as well as you can get it. And nothing short of that, will do, at all. Adopt that, and the world goes well. Any thing short of that, and it will go ill. All creation can't make it otherwise. Disinterested Good Will will make the World what it wants to be made. Piety can't make it so. Piety makes it the contrary Makes it what it is. The world is full of Piety and Hate and Fight and Misery. The Love that would make it happy, is withheld from its needy, suffering inhabitants, and absorbed into Devotion, which sends all its incense up into the cold sky, to God. Piety has built temples to its Gods, all over the face of the earth, at a cost that would have sheltered all mankind, including that "Son of Man, who had not where to lay his head." Multitudes of mankind have no shelter now, but have to bide the peltings of the elements, while there are houses of God, that cost enough to build a city. One mountain-looking cathedral, I myself beheld, in the godly city of York, old England, that cost $50,0000,000. The habitations of men lay round about it, like fragments of stone round the foot of a mountain, from which they had tumbled. It seemed to have absorbed and devoured the means of a city. Piety built it. Piety that loved the God of Old England, but hated the People of Old England. The walls of the mighty Cathedral, accordingly, are covered all over, on the outside, the side next to the people, with grotesque heads, making up mouths, in token of the contempt felt by Piety for the people in behalf of its God. That seems to me to be Piety, in its genuine upshot and catastrophe. Piety, with lesser means, builds its Old North meeting-houses, and its New North and its South, &c. &c. here in the pious town of Concord [NH]. We have a good deal of humanity, however, in this same town. I ask H.O.S., if it springs from the Piety that built these Houses of God? Are those houses not at war with the humanity of the town, and do they not denounce it as impiety, and is it not, in fact, impiety? A good deal of the Humanity of the town aids in maintaining heterodox worship here. It aids it, because heterodoxy had arisen in opposition to orthodoxy. And it seemed necessary to carry on that opposition in some religious form or other. Real humanity has cause to oppose orthodoxy - but not, as I think, by worship. It does not go to the Mountains of Samaria, to set up an opposition worship, against the bloody old Temple at Jerusalem. But it says "neither in this mountain nor yet at Jerusalem." Equivalent to saying, Nor any where. I say, nor any where, whether or no. For so it seems to me it should be.
If any body loves God in addition to loving mankind well enough, I have no objection. If they can love God without hating mankind, I have none. If they do not hate mankind any the worse for what love of God they have, I have no objection to it. If they have a love of God resulting from sufficient love of mankind, I have none. I like that. If love of mankind breeds it, and results in it, I want all to have it. It would do God no good. He doesn't need it. The want of it doesn't harm him. But I will not quarrel with it. I am inclined to think, that there can be no right love of God in any breast, that does not sufficiently love humanity. Nor any right opinions of or notions about God. The best opinions in regard to God can only be entertained where there is due love to mankind. Due philanthropy. The opinions of the present misanthropic world are undoubtedly erroneous.
The world, as I said, is full of religion and fight. Religion itself prompts to the fighting. It is the most belligerent thing in the world. And its fights are the most sanguinary and cruel of any. It has not proved a remedy for human ills - but aggravates them. It promotes them. Humanity would remedy them, would it not? - Enough of it would. But how much Religion would do it! How much Worship! How much Piety! "Mercy," enough of it, would do it - but how much "Sacrifice" would it take? All the "Rams" in old Spain - wouldn't do it - nor "rivers of oil," were they wide and long as the Mississippi.
I am making a long article here. But I want to say that mankind wants the healing influence of Humanity. They must love one another more. The duty of this and the value of it, must be inculcated. It must come to be considered the duty of duties and the remedy of remedies. Men have got to regard their neighbors' rights, as objects of a sacred character. Objects of reverence. Objects of worship. Let the "religious sentiment" in man find vent and employment in this way. Not on abstract goodness - but on Human Rights. And on the performance of human duties. Let us venerate Humanity in others. Let us hold it sacred. Let us lay our utmost natures upon it. At least enough to secure it its rights. If God wouldn't prefer this sort of worship, in us, to any other, there is no God, or no good one, according to my idea of goodness.
I don't mean to say anything here against worship, only as it may involve ill will to man. I must end my off-hand article - for I am sick and weary and exhausted. I say this in excuse for the lacks in my article. I should like to hear again from H.O.S., and will write again, if I can, on the subject.