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Meditation 1094
Faith or Fact

Immortality

by: Henry M. Taber

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IMMORTALITY.

“The cradle asks whence; the coffin asks whither!” – Ingersoll.
“To die and go – we know not where.” – Measure for Measure.
“If a man die, shall he live again?” – Job, xiv: 14


THE New York Morning-Advertiser recently opened its columns to the discussion of the question, “Is the soul immortal?” For several weeks it printed daily many letters on the subject, which expressed the greatest variety of opinion. It was a courageous act of the editors, for it doubtless met the frowns of very many of its orthodox readers, who would gladly have ignored or suppressed any such discussion, and some of whom, I doubt not, “boycotted” the paper in consequence of permitting it.

But why should not intelligent thought exercise itself on so momentous a question as to whether man has a soul and as to whether it is, or is not, immortal.

The freedom of opinion on this, and on kindred subjects, cannot have too wide a latitude.

Every one should have a right to express any opinion which may be honestly held, without fear of the displeasure of those who are zealous in defence of the

“Unquestioned faith, unvitalized by thought,”

of their mother’s religion.

I maintain, though, that (if Spiritualists, who believe in ghosts and doubtless think they have evidence of their existence, be excepted) no one has the right to claim the possession of absolute knowledge as to what is called the soul, or spirit of man; for how is it possible for any one to know positively anything about it, about its present or future existence? Not till we have tidings from that “undiscovered country, from whose bourn no traveler returns” can we know anything of another life.

Prof. Max Muller says: “We possess to-day no more materials for the satisfactory treatment of this problem (the present or future existence of a soul) than did the sages of Egypt, Palestine, India, Persia and Greece.”

Lazarus is reported to have been dead many days and, presumably, to have had experience in a future life (if there be one.) If he had such experience, did he give his fellow man the benefit of that experience?

John Fiske says : “It is not likely that we shall ever succeed in making the immortality of the soul a matter of scientific demonstration, for the lack of requisite data. It must ever remain an affair of religion, rather than of science.”

The late Prof. Proctor says: “Herbert Spencer shows abundantly the nothingness of the evidence on which the common belief in a future life has been based.”

“The only basis for our faith in immortality must be found in revelation.” – Prest. Barnard of Columbia College, New York City.

Rev. Minot J. Savage says: “Have we any proof of immortality? … I cannot think we have anything which may be called evidence concerning an immortal life. . . . Immortality is not susceptible of proof.”


The Christian Register of April 7, 1887, gives the opinion of various scientists on the question of immortality, among others that of Prof. E. S. Moore, viz.: “I have never seen anything in the discoveries of science which could in the slightest degree support a belief in immortality.”

Tyndall says: “Divorced from matter, where is life to be found?”

Haeckel says: “We can as little think of an individual soul, separated from our brain, as we can conceive of the voluntary motion of our arm apart from the contraction of its muscles, or the circulation of our blood apart from the action of the heart.”

Rev. R. Heber Newton says: “We know nothing of life that is disembodied… We know nothing of mind apart from matter… I have no confidence in any faith which is not capable of a scientific basis.”

“I do not deny immortality as a Christian – I only deny it as a philosopher.” – Pompanazzi.

Whittier would peer into what may possibly be beyond this life, but is compelled to say:

“Death comes – life goes – the asking eye
And ear are answerless;
The grave is dumb, the hollow sky
Is sad with silentness”

“We do not know whether death is a door or wall; a spreading of pinions or the folding forever of wings.” – Ingersoll.

Every argument in favor of immortality is based on the (utterly improbable) supposition that Jesus Christ actually rose from the dead and that he ascended to heaven. The belief in the resurrection of Christ, and of the other dead is interdependent upon the truth of either-if we are to accept the statement which Paul makes in Cor. xv. 16:17, viz.: “If the dead rise not, then is Christ not raised. If Christ be not raised, your faith is vain.”

But let us refer to the bible for proof that many of the writers in it were actual disbelievers in a future life. Solomon says: “They – the sons of men – are but as beasts, for that which befalleth the sons of men befalleth the beasts. As the one dieth, so dieth the other. Yea, they have all one breath and man hath no pre-eminence over the beasts. The dead know not anything, neither have they any more a reward.”

Job says: “As the cloud is consumed and vanisheth away, so he that goeth down to the grave shall come up no more.”

Isaiah says: “They are dead, they shall not live; they are deceased, they shall not rise.”

Paul says: “God only hath immortality.”

The Bible is quoted from for evidence on this question by both believers and non-believers in immortality – as the Bible has always been appealed to by both the advocates and opponents of slavery, of temperance and of polygamy. Of course in so contradictory a book it is easy to find texts in support of either side of any of these questions.

Even if there be such a place as heaven, and even if all go to it, what assurance have we of it being any better than the present life? Why should we not expect the same contentions, strifes and conflicts there that exist here? for what has been may again occur, and we have the Bible as authority for such supposition, it telling us that once “there was war in heaven.”

If the doctrine of immortality be true where are the billions on billions of souls which are supposed to have passed from the earth? Where is heaven? How many souls is it capable of containing? Where is hell? What is its capacity as regards accommodation for a far larger number of souls than become inhabitants of heaven? In view of the probability of others of our planets being inhabited, and of the further probability that every star has also a planetary system, teeming with life, somewhat, perhaps like that which exists here, it may again be asked where is the abode of the future life, and what are its capabilities for the incalculable number of souls, which, according to the Christian religion are engaged continually, in singing, “Glory hallelujah,” and of playing upon golden harps in the one place and of writhing in hopeless and eternal agony in the other?

A great variety of opinions exist on the subject of immortality. Some believe that only a few have eternal life and others that all have it. Some that the future life has no end, others that it is restricted in duration. Some that (what is called) the soul, immediately ascends to the heavenly abode, or enters the place of eternal torment. Others that it sleeps between death and resurrection. Some that it passes through a purgatorial state; others that it is transmigratory. Some that it is an immaterial; others that it is a material soul. Some believe in a separate, distinct, identical spirit; others in absorption into universal spirit. Some say that heaven is a place, others that it is a condition.

Immortality is a conception of the brain regarding a future life for what is called ‘the breath, spirit, soul, mind, intelligence, consciousness, animation or psychic force. There is no consensus of opinion, no definite idea regarding it.

It is a curious fact that those who profess belief in immortality, in a life of the most perfect joy, of infinite bliss, and who regard themselves as “poor worms of the dust,” (or who say they do), and who call this life a “vale of tears,” are in no hurry whatever to change it for the “better world.”

“I have been struck with the fact that even those who have put their trust in the teachings of a future life, find that it has failed to give satisfaction in the hour of trial.“ – Rev. M.J. Savage.

If those who claim that they believe in a glorious immortality actually did believe in it, why should they not welcome death as a means by which they can enter the incomparable realms of felicity?

“Were the soul immortal, would the mind
Complain of death, and not rejoice to find
Itself let loose, and leave this clay behind?”

Herodotus says: “The Egyptians were the first who asserted the doctrine that the soul of man is immortal.”

The Greeks had their Elysium where “the righteous dead inherit a tearless eternity.” But the majority of educated people, of classical antiquity, especially during the highest period in Greek culture, had but little faith in the doctrine of personal immortality.

The Scandinavians had their Walhalla “where fallen heroes were, and where the favorite horse and armor were ever ready for use.”

The doctrine of immortality does not appear in the earlier accounts of Jewish history. “He slept with his fathers” is all that is said of the dead of that period.

Bishop Warburton says: “Moses failed to teach belief in a future life.”

Rev. Dr. Charles A. Briggs says: “There is no evidence to show that in old Testament times, there was any thought that there was everlasting life then for the individual.”

Rabbi Vidaver says: “The resurrection of the dead and future reward and punishment are neither mentioned or even hinted at in any of the five books of Moses.”

It was not till five hundred years after Moses (or one thousand years before Christ) that the idea of resurrection began to be entertained by the Jews, and then rather in a national than in a personal sense. The book of Daniel was written about 165 B.C., and in it is the first trace of the doctrine of immortality in the Bible.

Bishop Tileston says: “The immortality of the soul is rather supposed or taken for granted, than expressly revealed in the Bible.”

It is interesting to inquire as to what period in the process of evolution – from monera to man – did our ancestors become possessed of a soul (if such there be). Was it anterior to, or succeeding, the anthropoid state, or was it a gift to the dwellers in caves, or to the more advanced in civilized life? Who can tell? Is the soul an ante-natal or a post-natal acquisition? Who knows?

It is usual to speak of the human body as mortal, and of the soul (or spirit, or breath, or mind) as immortal. In the evolutionary process of nature from the dissolution of the body in the earth, giving vitality to vegetable growths, and these again to the sustenance of animal life and so on through infinity (so far as we may know) is it not more reasonable to believe that the body through these natural processes continuously perpetuating life, becomes, in a certain sense, immortal? While the breath or spirit, ceasing to exist, at least apparently so, when separated from the body, is, therefore, the mortal part of man?

Büchner, in his “Force and Matter,” says: “The phrases ‘mortal body’ and ‘immortal spirit’ are misnomers. Exact thought might possibly reverse the adjectives.”

The doctrine of a future state of existence is claimed by Orthodox Christianity to be a comforting one. Is it comforting to believe in a doctrine that (according to Burns) “Sends one to heaven and ten to hell,” and all for “God’s Glory?”

The Nirvana of Buddhism, with its eternal and peaceful slumber, is a transcendingly more comforting belief.

Rev. W. S. Rainsford, D.D., of New York City, says: “I would rather believe in annihilation than eternal punishment. The latter is damnable.”

“I would rather know that all the earth
That every source of joy, of love or mirth,
And every thing of life, that loved the light,
Would sleep forever in eternal night,
Than think one soul on which the light of reason fell,
Should suffer torment in a Christian hell.”

Prof. Haeckel says: “The idea that a conviction of personal immortality has a specially ennobling influence on the moral nature of man is not confirmed by the gruesome history of medieval morals.”

Rev. John W. Chadwick, of Brooklyn, says: “Nothing is more common than for men to talk as if the idea of immortality had always been a source of comfort to mankind. But, so far as comfort is concerned, humanity would have been much better off without it… To discourage thought, to encourage general immorality, was the natural operation of the idea of a future life, as cherished throughout Christendom… Never has civilized society attained to lower depths of degradation than in those Christian centuries when the felicities of heaven and the agonies of hell were no mere figures of rhetoric, but were felt to be as real as the tortures of the Inquisition… The hope of heaven or fear of hell withholds no dagger from its work, palsies no arm upraised to shoot a foe, quenches no flame of lawless passion, arrests no hand intent to forge or steal, keeps back no slander of the innocent and chokes no conscious villain with his perjury… It would seem that every thoughtful person must, at one time or another, in these later times, have thought, with painful earnestness, how different might have been this earth-bound world, if all, or even half, of the intellectual and emotional energy that has been spent upon another life had been spent on this.  Why, in that case we should have had a real heaven here… A salvation for the present life, in contradistinction from the popular salvation – from the penal tortures of a state beyond the grave – is a salvation infinitely greater than that of the great leading sects of Christendom; a salvation now and here… Now is the judgment of this world and we propose to do what seems best now and here… Let those who will, fling off their hats for the expounders of the creed of other worldliness, but be it our task and joy to set our faces, as a flint, against these things and by speech and pen and life to counteract, as far as in us lies, their baneful influence.”

There are but comparatively few unbiased thinkers who believe in the doctrine of immortality, and the number of those so believing is steadily diminishing.
At a recent gathering in Germany, consisting of seven hundred scientists, not one of that number believed in immortality.

It is claimed that because man has a hope of a blissful future life, therefore such life is assured. If hopes were, then, realizations, we would be surfeited with the realizations of the heart’s desires; but we know, from the constant disappointments which our hopes experience, that this claim is most illusory.

John Stuart Mill says: “The desire for future life is no more an argument that there will be a future life than is the desire for food an argument that we shall be fed in a future life.”

Another claim is that because immortality has been a belief in almost every past age, therefore we should give credence to it now. In past ages there were believers in the fables of the Bible, in witchcraft, in demonism, in a false Astronomy, geology and biology. If the argument that immortality must be true because of its having had believers in the days of antiquity, then, by a parity of reason, we should still believe in the effete tenets and pseudo-science of ancient times.

While scholars, thinkers, scientists, reject the doctrine of immortality, as not being probable or even, perhaps, possible, for the want of satisfactory evidence, there is a natural, even if unreasonable, longing of the heart to again meet with those dear ones who have been snatched from our embrace by the rude and unsympathetic hand of death. Something of this yearning is expressed in words, the beauty and pathos and sublimity of which has, probably, no parallel in the English or any other language, viz.: “The idea of immortality, that like a sea has ebbed and flowed in the human heart, with its countless waves of hope and fear beating against the shores and rocks of time and fate, was not born of any book, nor of any creed, nor of any religion. It was born of human affection, and it will continue to ebb and flow, beneath the mists and clouds of doubt and darkness, as long as love kisses the lips of death. It is the rainbow – Hope, shining upon the tears of grief.”  – Col. Robert G. Ingersoll.

But there is an immortality for great thoughts, for good deeds, for noble aspirations, for heroism, for philanthropic and beneficent acts; and there is an immortality for the names of those who have done what they could to encourage whatever tended to make the human family wiser and better, to encourage whatever contributed to the intellectual development, to the material prosperity and to the general happiness of mankind. There is, indeed, immortality for

“those immortal dead who live again
In minds made better by their presence; live
In pulses stirred to generosity,
In deeds of daring rectitude, in scorn
Of miserable aims that end in self;
In thoughts sublime, that pierce the night like stars,
And with their mild persistence urge men’s minds
To vaster issues...
This is the life to come.”

And in this “life to come” will be perpetuated the achievements, and the names, of such benefactors of the race as Bruno, Shakespeare, Gibbon, Copernicus, Newton, Darwin, Voltaire, Paine and Ingersoll.

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