"PERHAPS it is with greater fear that you pass the sentence [to be burned alive at the stake] upon me than I receive it".
-- GIORDANO BRUNO (in the hands of the Holy Inquisition.)
VERACITY has never played a conspicuous part in Christian propaganda. Examine the usual sermon or tract, or even the average newspaper statement concerning matters of religion, and you can usually place a zero mark against it in your check-up for truth.
In peace-time, with its rollicking abandonments, religion revels in its monkey didoes and irresponsible chatter; in war-time, when emotional strains increase and nerves are tense, it goes on a staggering "drunk," with all its dizzy manifestations and fog-eyed indifference to sober utterance.
The first World War gave us the fantastic story of the Angels at Mons; this one, the famous ''fox-holes" at Bataan, now made popular by its pious appeal and its reference to atheists.
The implication now going the rounds is that atheists cannot remain godless under the shock of shellfire, that men must inevitably drop to their knees and pray to God when the battle becomes hot. "There are no atheists in fox-holes" has come to take its place beside the conventional belief, common in Christian circles, that sooner or later, atheists recant. Tales of death-bed "horrors" and of infidel 'remorse" will soon be superseded by the more colorful story of the fox-holes of Bataan.
The two Pious soldiers who sponsored this slogan and who found themselves on their knees at the battle of Bataan, should ask themselves the question: "Did our praying pay?" Certainly their prayers did not win the battle for our troops or stop the enemy; and, though their own two lives were saved, so were the lives of numberless Japs. On the other hand, hundreds of their fighting buddies, in near-by fox-holes, were killed or wounded, in spite of prayer.
Can it be that the lives of these two praying soldiers were more important to God than the fives of those who were trapped in other fox-holes? Or did God turn a cold-shoulder to these other men because they did not pray? The mothers, wives, and sweethearts who lost their loved ones at Bataan might well have another conception of God and the way he acted in response to prayer.
The pious catch-phrase for which these two Praying Christians are responsible has been caught up everywhere, "There are no atheists in fox-holes" has become a religious chant. It has been repeated, up and down the line; and bandied about from radio crooner to blatherskite politician, from popular"digest" magazine to Sunday supplement, from fashionable church pulpiteer to circus-tent evangelist. And it will thrive as long as Christianity is the glorified humbug it is. What is more satisfying to Christian meekness and modesty than for Christians to believe that they are paragons of courage What is better calculated to appeal to the conceit of those who think they can survive death/and cemetery worms than that they live under the protective hand of an All-Seeing One? Who but the atheist must cringe and crawl in the face of danger?
It is drooling, of course, but it is the kind of drooling he must expect in Christian propaganda. When has Christianity done anything else but drool on any question it has essayed to handle?
It requires no courage for a man to fall on his knees and beg for supernatural aid. It requires only sufficient ignorance and stupidity. But to stand erect and rely on one's self requires the elements of manhood. The score for courage is distinctly on the side of the atheist, who does not look for help by babbling to the sky.
Who, with a mentality above the ox, believes that there were no atheists at Bataan? But supposing no atheists were there, how does this prove that the atheist is lacking in valor? There are plenty of atheists in the armed forces of the United States, doing duty under fire.
Atheists, in proportion to their number, are in the ranks the same as Protestants, Catholics, and Jews. They are not exempt from military service. No one who says "I don't believe in God" is told: "You can't carry a gun. This is a war to preserve our Christian Civilization and we can't have any one fight for it who isn't a Christian or a Jew.''
Your disbelief in God will not bar you from the ranks. It is only after you wear your country's uniform that you will be told by a few cringing Christians that atheists are a white-livered lot. You will be given the white feather merely because you were not at Bataan to fail on your knees and jabber to a Ghost.That, to knee-bending Christians, is the supreme test of courage.
Who actually knows how many atheists did, or did not fight at Bataan? The two pious Christians who, in one lone fox-hole, fell on their knees and whimpered to God, should have called the roll first. To say, as they did, that there were no atheists in the fox-holes of Bataan, is the same as saying that there were no grocery clerks, no Masonic members, or no lawyers fighting there. How could they know? The Bataan defenders were not asked to state their religious opinions while the battle was on. They fought, regardless of their religious or irreligious beliefs.
Is courage, after all, a theological virtue? If it is, why exempt theological students and able-bodied clergymen from military service? Why not call on the clergy first to carry guns and man our dive-bombers? How can these privileged stay-at-homes prove their military valor if they are not at the front? And why should their clerical collars give them technical fox-holes in which to hide?
What is there in the teachings of Jesus to make a Christian brave? Can one consistently fight his enemies if he is taught to "love" them? Did the two Christians on their knees "love" their enemy, the Japs? If they didn't, why didn't they? As Christ-worshippers, they should have rushed from their fox-holes and hugged those who were showering them with lead. And why, too, did they "resist" evil? Didn't Jesus teach them not to do so? They should have turned the other cheek to those who were invading their territory. And why, too, when things looked black and they prayed for help, were their prayers not answered? Was God interested in seeing the Japs win?
The important point is, not whether there were atheists at Bataan, but where was God ? If there were no atheists there, why did God let his worshippers down ?
What was God doing at Bataan? Watching Christians being butchered by Japs. Did he help the defenders ? No more than when he watches a sparrow fall and break its neck. Did he extend a helping hand? No more than when he sees a baby choking with dipheria or a city being destroyed by an earthquake or drowned in a tidal-wave. God, for all he helped the defenders of Bataan, might as well have been in a fox-hole himself, gurgling prayers and telling beads. He let the Japs win, let the heathens defeat those who were pleading for help.
The significant fact is that our men at Bataan, whether Christians or Jews, heathens or atheists, were left entirely on their own. God merely idled his thumbs - while the battle raged and Christians prayed. No celestial hand reached out to swat the Japs. No celestial flit was squirted from the clouds. The God of the Bible - was too busy counting hairs.
Where do religionists get the notion that God-believers have a monopoly on courage? He who says they brave invites a horse-laugh. Today, the largest rationalist society in the World, the R. P.A. of London, has as its president distinguished scholar and retired rear-admiral, who has engaged in naval combat in several wars and whose Government has seen fit to cite him for gallantry in action. Those who reject God, and Jesus, and the story of the Ark are in no-wise stripped of their capacity to face danger with equanimity and courage.
Who is the poltroon? The atheist who has reached the conclusion that there is no God, and says so, or the God-believing wretch who invents instruments of torture and enforces his opinions on others? Who is the coward? The atheist who behaves himself without regard to future rewards or punishments, or the Christian who falls on his knees in fear of a Tyrant in the sky? Who is the lick-spittle? The Catholic who pays for masses to ransom his soul from Purgatory, or the infidel who tells the whole infernal priesthood where to head off? Cowardice is on the side of the believer, with his fear of hell fire and eternal damnation. It is he, not the atheist, who fears death.
Many books have been written in praise of courage but none, so far as I know, in praise of cowardice. If ever such a compendium is written, it could embody nine-tenths of the history of Christianity. I draw no arbitrary percentage. It would be easy to show, with a proper allotment of space, that ninety per cent of the Christian record is a chronicle of cowardly behavior.
Christians should be the last ones in the world to raise the cry of cowardly behavior. 'It will take more than a Rudy Vallee broadcast, or a thousand crooners like him, parroting the "no-atheists-in-fox-holes" catch-phrase, to erase the record of Christian cowardice. No amount of piety over the air can efface the memory of that priest-invented tyranny, the Spanish Inquisition, called by Buckle, "the most barbarous institution which the wit of man has ever devised".
Christianity still smells -- smells with the odor of burnt flesh and the smoke of smoldering faggots. It cannot use hot irons now to sear the flesh and compel submission, or light its bonfires to silence unbelief, but I know, from correspondence I have seen, of hundreds of individuals who in criticizing religion in their home communities risk social or business injuries. They are still tyrannized over by the same inveterate Infamy that gave us Torquemada and the tortures at Toulouse. The Christian Gestapo is still at work and its agents are everywhere.
And these, mind you, are the angelic individuals who set up Bible Week, send missionaries to "save" the heathen, and spew their bilious effusions about "no atheists in fox-holes". They are the same sanctimonious Jesusites that set up political machines, engage in bribery and corruption, lobby for repressive legislation, support Hague dictatorships, throttle criticism, and whine whenever anyone has the temerity to call their bluff.
Christianity has always been and still is a religion of persecution. And since persecution is an act of cowardice, Christianity is a dastardly religion. Its rise to power has invariably been attended by the bludgeoning of unbelief and the crushing of minority opinion. Look where you will at its long and sanguinary record, and you will find intervals of "tolerance" only where its talons have been clipped and its viciousness curbed. Persecution, in one form or another, has marked every phase of its activities on its ascension to power.
Its persecutions have often satiated the worst forms of human depravity. The historian Motley cites a case in the Netherlands that has never been surpassed in the annals of fiendishness. A heretic after having his body singed from head to foot and his feet beaten to a pulp, was given a respite for several weeks in order that he might regain his strength for future torture.
His jailers, therefore, cheerfully allowed him to languish in a dungeon. At the end of the period, he was brought back to the torture chamber, where an earthen vessel was fastened to his naked body, in which his Christian tormentors had placed several rats. The vessel was then heated, and the rats, in their desperation to escape, gnawed into the flesh of the helpless victim. Into these holes, hot coals were placed. In the end, the man's heart was cut out, thrown in his face, following which his head was severed from his body and exhibited on the church steeple of his native village.
The Christian Commissioners guilty of this heinous act later wrote a letter, containing a detailed description of the torture, and ending with these words:
"Noble, wise, virtuous and very discreet Sir, we have wished to apprize you of the foregoing, and we now pray that God Almighty may spare you in a happy, healthy, and long-continued government". The man who received this letter was the one who had furnished the rats!
Christianity no longer uses rats in conducting its persecutions but it resorts to other forms of compulsion, and intimidation no less cowardly than those which marked the Inquisition. At every turn, it still seeks to dominate others by brow-beating and coercive tactics.
Even today, while we are engaged in a life-and-death struggle to preserve the principles of liberty, it has not ceased to meddle in the lives of others. It has been powerful enough to compel Haldeman-Julius to cease publishing and advertising books directly and particularly attacking the Roman Catholic Church and to extract from him a letter promising a change of policy - a procedure strongly reminiscent of the days of Galileo. By pure thuggery, it has forced silence on one of its most vigorous critics.
It has always been so, right here in America as everywhere else. The first Christians to reach our New England shores came here to escape persecution abroad. No sooner were they here than they set up a vicious little tyranny of their own, with all the machinery for the extermination of heresy. The Puritan Fathers lived up to the highest tradition of bigotry, fanaticism, and blue-nose intolerance. From them we received our restrictive Sunday laws, our witch-hunting habits, and our respect for solemnized stupidities. Cruelty and cowardice gave us the Salem witchcraft epidemic, with its attending persecutions of helpless old women.
The Church has always been a heresy-hunting institution. Catholics have slaughtered Protestants and Protestants have slaughtered Catholics, and both have slaughtered Jews. The Jews, being a hopeless minority at all times, could only look back to the glorious days of David, when, in the name of God, they slaughtered each other. The curse of intercreedal wars and of divinely-inspired butcheries hangs like a black mantle over the history of the world.
When all is said and done, what has Christianity to offer in the way of instilling courage? When taken seriously, it has engendered fear -fear of a brimstone future and an eternity of torture beside which all other fears were of minor and passing significance. In Scotland, under the Kirk, it paralyzed the intellect and reduced that magnificent people to a state of abject debasement and iniquity. They dared not, under the teachings of the clergy, rescue a ship's crew on Sunday, for fear of incurring the wrath of God. When have pusillanimity and perversity reached a lower depth? When has atheism recruited to its ranks such cringing cowards as these?
And what, too, may be said of that which our ethicists call "moral courage"? Dodging bullets may not be the most delightful pastime in the world, but it can often prove less of an ordeal than that which many of our early infidels went through in announcing new ideas. The soldier, at least, has a fighter's chance, since he is equipped for fighting, but what chance did the defenseless atheist have who stood alone and defied the Inquisition? Consider those who faced its autos-da-fe, who had their bones broken on the wheel, or their legs crushed in iron boots. Rather than stifle their convictions, these men spoke out, true to the principles they believed, and endured torture with iron fortitude. As F. Mohr remarks, "more courage is needed to think with consistency or to proclaim new truths, than to charge at hostile cannon"
It took more than a knee-bender's courage to champion the Copernican theory or announce the circulation of the blood. It took an atheist like Bruno to defy the Church with the facts of astronomy. It required no moral courage to run the Holy Inquisition, but it did to face it. Torture on the rack, or breaking on the wheel, or burning at the stake is a more ghastly end to contemplate than most of the trials a battle-field can offer. It took "guts" for these early heretics to think out loud. And atheists have proved themselves to be among the best-gutted "troopers" in the world.
Atheists have gone to the stake with more courage than the traditional Jew on the Cross. They did not cry out, as Jesus did, "My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?" That was the pathetic wail of a bewildered and despairing man who, in the hour of his agony, realized that God had let him down. Instead, infidels have stood steadfast, while Christian Inquisitors piled their faggots around them.
Consider the last moments of Clootz, before he, went to the guillotine, a superb figure of coolness and courage in the face of a howling mob. "He died calmly," says a biographical sketch, "uttering materialist sentiments to the last." Or consider the atheist, Vanini, before they tore out his tongue and committed him to the flames. "I saw him in the tumbrel," said President Gramond, "as they led him to execution, mocking the Cordelier who had been sent to exhort him to repentance, and insulting our Savior by these impious words: 'He sweated with fear and weakness, and I die undaunted.'' Or consider Bruno, the indomitable, steady and disdainful to the last, a tower of granite in the crackling flames. Or consider ... but why consider more? These atheists knew how to die as bravely as they knew how to live. And there were no fox-holes in which to hide.