The Ten Commandments
A book by Joseph Lewis
The Third Commandment
... chapter continued from previous file ...
What Is the Name of the God of Israel?
What is the name of the God of Israel which this Commandment so definitely and so emphatically warns us not to mention? Surely, if a person is told not to do something under pain of a terrible penalty, he should at least know what that something is. If he is told not to take God's name in vain, and is not told what his name is, how can he be expected to obey such an injunction? Can it be that there is no name for the Hebrew Deity? I say this because nowhere in, the Bible does the name of the God of Israel appear! And if it does not appear in the Bible, what was the reason for its having been left out? Was it left out because of the fear of the Hebrews to write the name of their God? Or was it left out because it would prove the utter futility of this Commandment? Or was it perhaps omitted because no such God exists? Was this Bible God invented by Moses as a piece of legerdemain, since he was unknown to the Israelites before his time? Is he, like the other gods of his day, merely a creation of the magician's imagination, to be invoked in the performance of magical tricks which would bewilder, and to inspire awe in the credulous and the ignorant?
Not only does the name of the Hebrew God not appear in the Bible, but there is a striking contradiction in the way it is concealed in the Hebrew, Protestant and Catholic versions. The three different accounts about so important a matter are, in my opinion, indisputable proof that no one account is correct, that there is no name for the Hebrew Deity, and that the entire story is a fabrication. The testimony of the Bible itself shall be the authority for my indictment.
The First Deadly Parallel
For the difference in the name of the God of Israel as revealed by the Hebrew, Protestant and Catholic versions of the Bible, I quote the Book of Exodus, Chapter 3, verses 13 to 15:
13. And Moses said unto God, Behold, if I come unto the children of Israel and say unto them, The God of your fathers hath sent me unto you; and they then say to me, What is his name? then what shall I say unto them? [**78]
14. And God said unto Moses, I WILL BE THAT I WILL BE: and he said, Thou shalt say unto the children of Israel, I WILL BE hath sent me unto you.
15. And God said moreover unto Moses, Thus shalt thou say unto the children of Israel, THE EVERLASTING ONE, the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Jacob, hath sent me unto you this is my name for ever, and this is my memorial unto all generations.
13. And Moses said unto God, Behold, when I come unto the children of Israel, and shall say unto them, the God of your fathers hath sent me unto you; and they shall say to me, What is his name? what shall I say unto them?
14. And God said unto Moses, I AM THAT I AM: and he said, Thus shalt thou say unto the children of Israel, I AM hath sent me unto you.
15. And God said moreover unto Moses, Thus shalt thou say unto the children of Israel, The LORD God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, hath sent me unto you: this is my name for ever, and this is my memorial unto all generations.
Catholic Version (Douay)
14. God said to Moses: I AM WHO I AM. He said: Thus shalt thou say to the children of Israel: HE WHO IS hath sent me to you.
15. And God said again to Moses: Thus shalt thou say to the children of Israel: The Lord God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, hath sent me to you: This is my name for ever, and this is my memorial unto all generations.
These parallel quotations of authorized versions of the Bible are indisputable evidence of the deceptive practices that are being perpetrated by the religions represented under the pretense of their knowing God and preaching salvation in his name. The very lack of agreement on what the Bible God actually told Moses as to his identity is proof of its falsity. If ever there should be unanimity between people professing to have received a special dispensation, it is upon the words their God is supposed to have spoken. If they cannot agree upon so fundamental a matter as the name of God, then what value can be placed on their statements about less important matters?
Is the Bible God "I WILL BE THAT I WILE BE," or is he "I AM THAT AM," or "I AM WHO I AM"? Judging from the above quotations, it seems that something is wrong with the record of what God actually did say to Moses. In view of these facts, what reliance can be placed on Bible authority of what Moses said was God's name?
If God concealed his name from Moses with the statement "I AM THAT I AM," then on what basis do the Bible authorities presume to give him a name? If God refused to give his name to Moses when the latter was supposed to convince the Children of Israel that he was speaking the truth, then how can the word of some other person not so directly concerned as Moses be accepted on this matter? [**79]
The Second Deadly Parallel
The second deadly parallel which proves the amazing fact that the Bible does not contain the name of the Hebrew God is without question the most significant revelation that could possibly be made in this study of the Decalogue. If the foundation be false, the superstructure must fall. The proof positive follows in substantiation of my charge. I quote Exodus, Chapter 6, verses 2 and 3:
2. And God spoke unto Moses, and said unto him, I am the Lord:
3. And I appeared unto Isaac, and unto Jacob, by the name of God, the Almighty, but by my name THE ETERNAL was I not made known to them.
2, And God spake unto Moses, and said unto him, I am the Lord:
3. And I appeared unto Abraham, unto Isaac, and unto Jacob, by the name of God Almighty, but by my name JEHOVAH [**80] was I not known to them.
Catholic Version (Douay)
2. And the Lord spoke to Moses, saying: I am the Lord.
3. That appeared to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, by the name of God Almighty; and my name Adonai I did not shew them.
The name of the God of Israel, according to the Hebrew Version, is THE ETERNAL; the Protestant (King James) Version, JEHOVAH; and the Catholic (Douay) Version, ADONAl; but the significant fact is that it is neither THE ETERNAL nor JEHOVAH nor ADONAI. The leading Biblical authorities today are forced to admit that because of the taboo placed upon mentioning the name of the Bible God they do not know the letters that compose, or the proper pronunciation of his name. [*81] Because of the fear attached to mentioning the name of the God of Israel, its actual pronunciation has been completely lost in a cloud of mystery.
Rabbi Isaac Landman, former editor of the American Hebrew, and one of the leading Hebrew authorities of the present day, states: "In obedience to the Third Commandment, the name of God was never spoken in Biblical times.... We do not know how to read the word. Its pronunciation is lost." [*82] Professor Louis Finkelstein says: "The precise form of the original pronunciation has been forgotten."
The Encyclopaedia Biblica adds important testimony by saying that the explanation offered as to the name of the God of the Old Testament is merely "an attempt to explain a primitive name that had long since become unintelligible...." "It seems precarious to suppose that while Hebrew was still a living language, the people should have been so completely deluded as to the meaning of the most important sacred name." [*83]
Hastings's Encyclopaedia of Religion and Ethics likewise states that to guard against mentioning the name of the Bible God, the Hebrew laity ceased to pronounce it; the priests mentioned it only at benedictions. After the death of Simon the Just, only the high priests were permitted to mention it, and then only with bated breath so as to render it inaudible even to their fellow high priests. Such was the fear attached to uttering the "unutterable" name of the Hebrew Deity.
Philo, in referring to the Tetragrammaton, the four-letter word composing the name of the Hebrew Deity, said: "The four letters may be mentioned or heard only by holy men whose ears and tongues are purified by wisdom, and by no other in any place whatsoever." [*84]
It is also seriously contended that the cruel death which R. Haninan Teraldion suffered in the Hadrian persecution was punishment for pronouncing God's "ineffable" name. This accounts for the use of such appellatives, when referring to the Hebrew Deity, as "the name of four letters," "the great name," "the great and precious name," "the great and holy name," and again as "the proper, the great, the wonderful, the hidden, the excellent, the written-but-not-read name." [*85]
Even Josephus was under the spell of this superstition, for apparently, judging from his words, he knew the name of the Hebrew God. He said: "Moses besought God to impart to him knowledge of His name and its pronunciation so that he might be able to invoke His name, hitherto unknown to any man; and it would be a sin for me to mention it." [*86] Josephus's words reveal the true facts about the name of the God of Israel. It was the stigma of sin associated with mentioning the name of God that caused it to be avoided. It possessed no value beyond that. After the destruction of the Temple, it was forbidden for a Jew to pronounce the name of the Hebrew Deity under any circumstances; if he did, he would "forfeit his portion in the future world." [*87]
In later editions of the Hebrew Bible, published by the Jewish Publication Society, the four-letter word JHVH is used to denote the name of the Hebrew God instead of "The Eternal." [*88] Whether these four letters form the name of the God of Israel, it is impossible at this late date to know with any degree of certainty. As they are not taken from any authoritative original Hebrew Bible, but from the Masoretic notes found on the margins of Hebrew Bibles of the Middle Ages, little reliance can be placed on them. These notes, it is claimed, were made by the cabalistic Jews who still maintained their animistic belief and sought the magic formulas for a Messiah who would restore their Temple and their native land to them. [*89]
The Hebrew word "Elohim" is sometimes used, but this is merely the plural noun meaning "gods." The word "Adonai," in the Douay Version, is Hebrew for "Lord," and does not in any sense reveal the name of the Bible God! "Adonai" was used by the early Hebrews to avoid mentioning the name of their God. [**90] "Adonai" is found in the Douay Version of the Bible because this Hebrew superstition was carried over into Latin Christianity. [**91] It is best explained in the words of the noted Catholic theologian, Origen, who said: "There is a certain word of four letters which is not pronounced by the Jews ... but is read as Adonai, not as it is really written in the four letters, while among the Greeks it is pronounced the Lord." [*92]
Orthodox Hebrews, having been told that "Adonai" was the name of their God and not knowing his real name, began to avoid using this word in order to be sure not to violate the provisions of this Commandment. As a result, they substituted "Ado Shem," which in Hebrew simply means "name." This accounts for the widespread use of these words today when Hebrews refer to their God. If this superstition continues, it is quite likely that "Ado Shem" will be discontinued for some other word.
An instance is recorded in the Catholic Encyclopedia of the power of this taboo, when an orthodox Hebrew, despite his poverty and alluring promises of reward, refused to mention the name of the Bible Deity. [*93] A similar instance might be given from my own experience of the pious Catholic who refused to eat meat on Friday, despite a very tempting dish and a tempting pecuniary reward. [**94]
Protestant Christians, not contaminated by this animistic superstition, could see no earthly reason for not mentioning the name of God, or any other name, for that matter. They translated the four-letter word mentioned by Origen and found in the Masoretic notes in Hebrew Bibles, by inserting the vowels of the word "Adonai" between each two letters, thus originating the word JeHoVaH. Even the New Standard Bible Dictionary is forced to admit that "the form Jehovah is impossible, according to the strict principles of the Hebrew vocalization. It is due to the arbitrary transference of the vowels of adhonay, 'Lord,' to the sacred name JHVH after the Jews became overscrupulous as to the pronunciation of the Name." [*95]
The word "Jehovah" has been characterized as an "etymological misadventure." [*96] It has absolutely no meaning or power, and to all intents and purposes might be "abracadabra." It is a trick of religion to throw words together that sound imposing but have no meaning.
Because Jehovah is not the name of the God of Israel, its use is being discontinued in the proposed edition of the new American Standard Bible and "Lord" substituted as the name of the Hebrew Deity. The change is being made, according to Professor Julius A. Brewer of Union Theological Seminary, "because the term 'Jehovah' has not been favorably accepted by American churches." This is an open confession that the name of the Bible God is not known. Jehovah is an improvisation of the supposed name of the Hebrew God. It is a deliberately falsified name of the Hebrew Deity. Both Christians and Jews have been deceived for centuries. Millions who are worshiping Jehovah as God are simply worshiping a meaningless name.
Title versus Name
This Commandment distinctly says, "Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain, for the Lord will not hold him guiltless who taketh His name in vain." The words "Lord" and "God" are titles, not names, just as are King and Ruler, Pope and Pontiff, President and Chief Executive.
The Almighty, Adonai, Creator, Elohim, Lord, the Eternal -- these are merely synonyms for the title of the "King of Heaven" and the "Supreme Ruler of the Universe." "God" is the title of the deity of the Children of Israel; it is not his secret or sacred name.
King George VI of England is not the name of the present head of the British Empire; it is merely his title. His real name is Albert Frederick Arthur George Windsor. The President of the United States is the title of the Chief Executive of this country. The name of the President is Harry S. Truman. Pope Pius XII is not the name of the present Roman Pontiff of the Catholic Church; that is his title. His real name is Eugenio Mary Joseph John Pacelli. Their names in their respective positions as King, President or Pope have power, but beyond that there is no more secret power in their names than in mine.
The whole idea of not mentioning the name of a God, even if he existed, is a silly, childish one, born in the brain of superstitious man and fit only for the ignorant time in which it was practiced. If it was considered a frightful crime to mention the supposed name of God in Biblical times, what change has taken place that permits it to be spoken now with impunity? Judging from the reward bestowed upon the observers of the Second Commandment, I think we can with complete assurance also disregard the punishment implied for the violation of this one.
This Commandment also introduced a new sin into the world. To protect the name of God, religion invented the crime of blasphemy, and in defense of this nameless deity, man's inhumanity to man began.
When Robert G. Ingersoll was denounced as "the champion blasphemer of America," he replied: "Blasphemy is an epithet bestowed by superstition upon common sense. Whoever investigates a religion as he would any department of science is called a blasphemer. Whoever contradicts a priest; whoever has the impudence to use his own reason; whoever is brave enough to express his honest thought, is a blasphemer. When the missionary speaks slightingly of the wooden god of a savage, the savage regards him as a blasphemer. To laugh at the pretensions of Mohammed in Constantinople is blasphemy. To say in St. Peter's that Mohammed was a prophet of God is blasphemy. There was a time when to acknowledge the divinity of Christ in Jerusalem was blasphemy. To deny his divinity is now blasphemy in New York." [*97]
The Biblical example that has justified the cruelest punishment for the slightest suspicion of casting aspersions on the Bible Deity is found in Leviticus, Chapter 24, verses 10 to 16:
10. And the son of an Israelitish woman, whose father was an Egyptian, went out among the children of Israel: and this son of the Israelitish woman and a man of Israel strove together in the camp;
11. And the Israelitish woman's son blasphemed the name of the Lord, and cursed. And they brought him unto Moses: (and his mother's name was Shelomith, the daughter of Dibri, of the tribe of Dan:)
12. And they put him in ward, that the mind of the Lord might be shewed them.
13. And the Lord spake unto Moses, saying,
14. Bring forth him that hath cursed without the camp; and let all that heard him lay their hands upon his head, and let all the congregation stone him.
15. And thou shalt speak unto the children of Israel, saying, Whosoever curseth his God shall bear his sin.
16. And he that blasphemeth the name of the Lord, he shall surely be put to death, and all the congregation shall certainly stone him: as well the stranger, as he that is born in the land, when he blasphemeth the name of the Lord, shall be put to death.
The above passage may well be considered the cornerstone of religious intolerance. For this crime of preferring the god of his father to that of the god of another tribe, "...they put him in ward, that the mind of the Lord might be shewed them."
Then the Lord spoke unto Moses, saying, "Bring forth him that hath cursed without the camp; and let all that heard him lay their hands upon his head and let all the congregation stone him." After this was done, and as an additional warning, the Hebrew God again instructs Moses to warn the Children of Israel that "whosoever curseth his God shall bear his sin." As a result of this injunction, as a supporting warning to this Commandment, a curse was placed on the mentality of man. Thinking became a crime. Nearly every country that came under the stultifying and brutalizing influence of the Bible enacted laws in conformity with these edicts and executed them with ever-increasing ferocity.
Equally pernicious and far more obnoxious is the following from Deuteronomy, Chapter 13, verses 6 to 11:
6. If thy brother, the son of thy mother, or thy son, or thy daughter, or the wife of thy bosom, or thy friend, which is as thine own soul, entice thee secretly, saying, Let us go and serve other gods, which thou hast not known, thou, nor thy fathers;
7. Namely, of the gods of the people which are round about you, nigh unto thee, or far off from thee, from the one end of the earth even unto the other end of the earth;
8. Thou shalt not consent unto him, nor hearken unto him; neither shall thine eye pity him, neither shalt thou spare, neither shalt thou conceal him:
9. But thou shalt surely kill him; thine hand shall be first upon him to put him to death, and afterward the hand of all the people.
10. And thou shalt stone him with stones that he die; because he hath sought to thrust thee away from the Lord thy God, which brought thee out of the land of Egypt, from the house of bondage.
11. And all Israel shall hear, and fear, and shall do no more any such wickedness as this is among you.
Nowhere in the annals of religious intolerance is there to be found a more devilish doctrine than the one contained in these verses. It must be repeated for its full significance to be realized: "If thy brother, the son of thy mother, or thy son, or thy daughter, or the wife of thy bosom, or thy friend, which is as thine own soul," should seek to wean you away from the God of Israel to some other god, no matter who or where he might be, not only must you not hearken unto him but "thou shalt surely kill him; ... thou shalt stone him with stones, that he die...." Why? What monstrous crime is involved in such an act that father should inform against son, brother against brother, friend against friend, and every human relationship be trampled underfoot?
These Biblical citations have been further elaborated by theological leaders in justification of a continuance of this barbarous doctrine. Thomas Aquinas calls blasphemy "an offense directly against God"; he says it "outweighs murder, which is an offense against our neighbor. The blasphemer intends to wound the honor of God." [*98] "Wounding the honor of God." What a crime! Its frightful history shows that blasphemy can be used as a shield to meet all conditions and suit all purposes. To the Hebrews, whose forefathers wrote this Commandment, the greatest blasphemy is to call Jesus "God," and to the Christians the greatest blasphemy is to say that he is not. The people of one religion hold the God of another religion in the utmost contempt. Each condemns the other for worshiping a false God, and each denounces the other as an infidel and blasphemer.
In England, in the year 1754, a bequest to propagate Judaism by reading the Bible daily was declared invalid by the Lord Chancellor on the ground that it was blasphemy to the Christian religion. [*99]
The Catholic Encyclopedia defines blasphemy as "a sin against the virtue of religion by which we render to God the honour due to Him as our first beginning and last end." [*100] It further states that "blasphemy is of its whole nature a mortal sin, the gravest that may be committed against religion. The seriousness of an affront is proportioned to the dignity of the person towards whom it is directed. Since the insult in blasphemy is offered to the ineffable majesty of God, the degree of its heinousness must be evident.'" [*101]
Medieval canon law, dictated by the Church, provided many and various penalties for the blasphemer. One was that he "was compelled to stand at the door of the church during the solemnities of the Mass for seven Sundays, and on the last of the three days, divested of cloak and shoes, he was to appear with a rope about his neck." [*102] Obligations of fasting and almsgiving were likewise imposed under the heaviest penalties. Pope Pius V insisted upon rigorous penalties for those guilty of this "heinous sin." If flogging was not sufficient to purge the penitent of his sin, his tongue was pierced and he was then sent to the galleys.
The Jewish Encyclopedia defines blasphemy as "the evil of profane speaking of God." In Jewish law, as in nearly all laws of different peoples, blasphemy consists not in "the evil of profane speaking" of the gods of other peoples, but only of the god of their own people. Josephus is the authority for the statement that in early Jewish law "a Jew who blasphemed a heathen deity was not guilty of the crime of blasphemy"; yet a heathen might be guilty if he blasphemed the name of the Bible Deity. [*103] Likewise, "the death penalty was inflicted only upon the blasphemer who used the Ineffable Name; but the blasphemer of God's attributes was subject to corporal punishment." [*104]
Even during the taking of testimony in the course of a blasphemy trial in early Jewish courts, the witness was not permitted to repeat the words condemned as blasphemous. Certain words and phrases were substituted for them. At the conclusion of the trial, however, since it was necessary that the words of the actual blasphemy be mentioned before the verdict could be rendered, all persons not immediately concerned with the trial were ordered out of the room. The chief witness was then ordered to "state literally what you heard." When he repeated the blasphemous words, "the judges stood up and rent their garments, that being the common sign of mourning." The "rent" in the garments was not sewed up, to indicate the profound degree of mourning in expiation for having heard God's name blasphemed. [**105]
During the Inquisition, the accusation of blasphemy was used as a means of extortion. Upon slightest pretext, a designing Inquisitor would invoke the charge against the person whose property or daughter or wife he coveted, and nearly always with success. [*106] If in a moment of despair a poor wretch muttered to himself, "I renounce God," he found himself in the clutches of these religious bandits. The penalties he suffered are only too well recorded in historical records. [*107]
Although savage cruelty was visited on unfortunates for the slightest infringement of religious duties, blasphemy was even more vigorously condemned. All other sins were holy in comparison with this great heresy; blasphemy, being the worst of sins, was punished the most severely. On the authority of the Bible itself -- in fact, in the words of the Bible God who delighted in the extermination of his enemies -- neither age nor sex stayed the hand of those who sought to inflict on the blasphemers the most frightful punishment they felt their God wanted them to inflict. Indeed, it was considered exemplary Christian conduct to find pleasure in contemplating the anguish of the sinner. [*108] "Christians have burnt each other, quite persuaded that all the Apostles would have done as they did." [*109]
One of the first autos-da-fé to be held in Paris was for a victim charged with blasphemy, Marguerite de Hainault, who had written a book explaining her doctrine of the soul. It was condemned as blasphemous and burned by Gui II, Bishop of Cambria. She persisted in expounding her belief and fell into the clutches of Frère Guillaume of Paris. For eighteen months, having been excommunicated, she lay in an inquisitorial dungeon awaiting trial. The formality of a trial was quickly accomplished. Conviction having followed the inquiry, she was burnt at the stake the following day. [*110]
In 1539, Catherine, wife of Melchier Weygel, was burned at Cracow in Poland for the crime of blasphemy, which consisted in believing "in the existence of one God, creator of all the visible and all the invisible world, who could not be conceived by human intelligence." [*111]
By the laws of Christian V of Denmark, in 1683, blasphemers were beheaded after having their tongues cut out. [*112] Similar laws prevailed in other countries during the Dark Ages. Pulling out the tongue of the heretic before he was bound to the stake was to prevent him from committing further blasphemy. If anyone escaped burning at the stake, "all his goods shall be confiscated, and upon his forehead shall be branded with the letter B."
In order to show to what extent fanaticism in defense of a mythical God can pervert people, it is necessary, I believe, to give a number of illustrations of the severity of the punishment despite the harmlessness of the "blasphemy."
It was the opinion of King Louis IX (the only French king who was canonized by the Church) that "a man ought to drive into the heretic's entrails as far as he can." [*113] It was this child of the Church who recovered for his country the inestimable relic, the crown of thorns. The enormous price that was paid was used as an argument for its authenticity, despite the fact that the Abbey of St. Denys was in possession of another one, considered equally authentic! [*114]
In June, 1797, a poor bookseller named Williams was tried before Lord Kenyon of London for selling a "blasphemous" book -- Thomas Paine's Age of Reason. He was prosecuted by a group composed of the Bishop of London and other high dignitaries of the Church. The services of the noted Thomas Erskine, later Lord Chancellor, were employed against the poor and defenseless man to make sure that a conviction would be secured. Lord Kenyon, in his charge to the jury, stated that "every attack upon Christianity must, as such, be illegal." Naturally, after such a charge, the jury brought in a verdict of guilty. Several days after the trial, while Mr. Erskine was walking through Holborn, a section of London, a woman seized him by his coat. She dragged him to a miserable room where Williams, the bookseller, lay in bed with his three children, desperately fighting smallpox. The woman pleaded with him, in the name of humanity, not to send her husband to jail. Mr. Erskine was so deeply touched by this pitiful sight and the heart-rending appeal of the poor woman that he suggested to the bishops that they suspend judgment on this man, already punished with poverty and sickness. So deeply "touched" were these bishops, and so overwhelming was their "Christian compassion," that the day following the receipt of Mr. Erskine's appeal, they enclosed a note with his fee urging him to press the court's judgment upon Williams. Astounded at their heartlessness, Mr. Erskine returned-their fee and drew a pen through the retainer as counsel for the society, "because they love judgment rather than mercy." Williams was sentenced to serve one year in prison and to be bound in his own recognizance for $5,000! On hearing the sentence, he asked the court whether, in view of his illness, he might not have the indulgence of a bed! To this the great-hearted Christian, Mr. Justice Ashhurst, replied: "I cannot order that. I daresay you will be treated properly. I wish to have it understood that this sentence is a very great abatement of the punishment, as in modern times, within the period I have sat in Westminster Hall, three years' imprisonment has been ordered for an offense of much less enormity than this, for this publication is horrible to the ears of a Christian." [*115] What a penalty to pay for selling one copy of The Age of Reason! [*116]
Fourteen years after the conviction of Williams, Daniel Isaac Eaton, another bookseller, also sold a copy of The Age of Reason. He, too, was charged with having committed blasphemy. Lord Ellenborough, in instructing the jury empaneled to try Eaton, said: "I leave it to you as twelve Christian men to decide whether this is not a most blasphemous and impious libel." And they did. They found Eaton guilty as charged. And so this infirm man of sixty years was sentenced to serve eighteen months in prison and to stand on the pillory from twelve to one o'clock once a month! All for selling one copy of The Age of Reason!
In January, 1819, Richard Carlisle was arrested on a charge of blasphemous libel for having published Thomas Paine's Age of Reason. As part of his defense, Mr. Carlisle proceeded to read The Age of Reason in justification of its publication. The judge, Chief Justice Abbott, refused to permit it on the ground that it would be reiterating the libel, and stated that "to sit here and hear the Holy Scriptures calumniated is what I ought not to do." Richard Carlisle was convicted, imprisoned for three years, and ordered to pay a fine of $4,500. Not having the sum to pay his fine, he served an additional term of three years. Immediately upon his conviction, Carlisle's wife committed the same "act of blasphemy" by selling a copy of The Age of Reason; she was imprisoned for two years, and was followed to prison by Carlisle's sister, who received the same sentence. In their battle for freedom of thought, even the shopmen of Carlisle committed the same "blasphemous" act, and each in turn was imprisoned until at one time it was estimated that more than 150 persons were jailed for selling this book. The public at last became so outraged at this prostitution of justice that an age of reason finally fell or was forced upon the judges of England, and since that time not a single person has been convicted for selling Thomas Paine's book. Hundreds of thousands of copies have since been sold with impunity. [*117]
If The Age of Reason was a blasphemous libel in the times of Williams the bookseller, what has caused it to be looked upon today as one of the most remarkable books ever written? The answer lies in the emancipation of the human mind from the criminal superstitions of religion, and in the growing disbelief in the brutal Bible God.
On May 24, 1842, George Jacob Holyoake, a mathematics teacher and social philosopher, lectured at the Mechanics Institute in London on "Home Colonization as a Means of Superseding the Poor Laws and Emigration." At the conclusion of his address, which nearly everyone in the audience considered scholarly and erudite, a question period was permitted. A local preacher took advantage of this opportunity to be heard, and stated that although Mr. Holyoake had told the members of the audience of their duty to man, he had not told them of their duty to God, and asked whether there should not be churches and chapels in the community as outlined by the speaker. To this Mr. Holyoake replied:
"Our National Church and general religious institutions cost us, upon accredited computation, about twenty million pounds annually. Worship thus being expensive, I appeal to your heads and your pockets whether we are not too poor to have a God. If poor men cost the State as much, they would be put like officers on half pay; and while our distress lasts, I think it would be wise to do the same thing with the deity. Thus far I object, as a matter of political economy, to build chapels in communities. If others want them, they have themselves to please; but I cannot propose them. Morality I regard, but I do not believe there is such a thing as God." [*118]
For this explanation Mr. Holyoake was arrested and charged with blasphemy. For more than nine hours he addressed the jury in an eloquent and learned appeal that freedom of speech was a priceless heritage of mankind, that liberty of opinion was essential to the progress and happiness of man, and that blasphemy was an imaginary offense. The jury, however, found him guilty, and he was sentenced to six months in prison! In his day, blasphemy was a "worse poison to man's soul than even nitroglycerine to their bodies." [*119]
I do not know of a more pertinent comment on this barbarous decision than the words of Mr. Holyoake himself in regard to his imprisonment. He recounts the following as he starts to serve his prison sentence: "My little daughter, Madaline, ran from her mother's knee to the door, when she found I had gone, and called after me down the street. Her sweet, clear voice arrested me. I looked back and saw her dark, black eyes gleaming. I never met her glance again, nor heard her voice any more." He continues: "Word was sent me that my child was ill, and then a letter came saying that she was dead.... The sole income of home was from subscriptions from friends in various parts of the country.... A few days before the fever took the child, her mother was carrying her through Bull Street, Birmingham, when she cried from hunger for a bun in a window. There was no penny to buy it." [*120] This conviction for blasphemy and the penalty suffered by George Jacob Holyoake satisfied God's representatives on earth and appeased his wrath in heaven.
In another case of blasphemy, about the same time, testimony was offered to certify to the high character of the defendant, a Mr. George Adams, but the judge refused to permit it, stating that "had Adams committed a robbery, such a character might have weight, but in extenuation of religious offenses it was of no service."
In 1920, in the State of Maine, a man was criminally prosecuted for laughing at a pigeon in a painting that was supposed to represent the Holy Ghost! His crime consisted in this remark: "How can the Holy Ghost be God when she is afraid a cat will kill her?" [*121]
Recently, in the Dominion of Canada, an editor was charged with blasphemy. He was tried and convicted. After imposing a sentence of sixty days in jail for his crime, the learned judge had this to say: "We have ever been taught to reverence the name of God. We regard the taking of his name in vain as a sin. We look upon the Bible as the very basis of good law in our country. It has always been painful to hear any person question any part of the Bible." The above remarks are quoted by the Rev. Frederick David Niedermeyer, and his comment is worth repeating as a revealing attitude upon this matter. He says: "The attitude expressed by that outstanding jurist is based upon God's revelation of Himself through His words, and upon love for Him." [*122] If this is the position of a present-day clergyman and the conviction of a present-day judge, then one can well understand with what severity the name of God was protected during the Middle Ages.
After the death of his wife Harriet, Percy Bysshe Shelley tried to regain the custody of his children, of whom he had been deprived as the result of his unfortunate marital difficulties. His petition to the court was opposed on the ground that he had published a blasphemous book for which he had been expelled from Oxford College. He had also been guilty of writing in defense of the poor bookseller Williams. On March 17, 1817, Lord Chancellor Eldon gave judgment against Shelley, prohibiting him from taking possession of, or associating with, his children. Their education was assigned to a clergyman of the Church of England, to be paid for by their father. [*123] What a mockery!
I do not know a more appropriate summation of this discussion of blasphemy than these words of Shelley, which so graphically depict the heartlessness of those who believe in God but deny to others the right to disbelieve.
"I was an infant when my mother went
With what hardness of steel and with what coldness of ice do religion and the "love" of God petrify the human heart!
On one occasion, when delivering a lecture, I denounced a number of Biblical characters for their part in some particularly fiendish acts, and when the names of Moses and David were mentioned, a man in the audience quickly left the hall. When seen after the lecture, he was asked why he had left so suddenly, and replied that he did not intend to remain and suffer the possibility of being killed if God should wreak his vengeance upon those in the audience for listening to my blasphemy! Here the taboo of this Commandment extends merely to listening to others who may be guilty of violating it. It is not uncommon, particularly in religious discussions, to see people put their hands over their ears so that they will not be able to hear what they consider "taking the name of the Lord in vain."
If modern man, with all the intellectual development that has taken place since this Commandment was formulated, with all the educational facilities at his disposal to become acquainted with the facts of the Bible and the truths of the universe, can still become so mentally paralyzed by such a fear, then what must have been the effect of this Commandment upon the grossly ignorant and the superstitiously credulous people of primitive times when almost everyone was "afraid of his own shadow"!
It is impossible for me to believe in the Bible God. My mind rebels against it. I cannot help but look upon this God as "an inhuman wretch, incapable of pity, void and empty from any dram of mercy," an ignorant force that has stupefied the brain of man and paralyzed the intellect with fear. I denounce this God with all the energy I possess, and if this be blasphemy, then make the most of it.
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