At a time when Donald Trump and Mike Pence head the Executive Branch of our government with a cabinet of religious fundamentalists, when both houses of Congress are controlled by Republicans and when the Supreme Court will soon have a religious dogma-focused majority, looking on the bright side seems more challenging than ever.
What’s a freethinker who loves reason, exuberant living and liberty to do? Besides, that is, continuing to pursue a healthy and fun lifestyle, support secular causes and maintain activities that enable a positive outlook and a sensible perspective – irrespective of a hostile government?
I suggest making time each day to consider one particular element in Robert Green Ingersoll’s personal creed addressed to becoming a better person.
That would be to cultivate the mind and be familiar with the mighty thoughts that genius has expressed, the noble deeds of all the world.
To get you started, here are a few mind-cultivating remarks taken from a random selection of freethinkers living and dead.
To Cultivate the Mind
- Edward Abbey on the difference between the Lone Ranger and God – There really is a Lone Ranger.
- Charles Darwin, Descent of Man (1871) – For my part I would as soon be descended from [a] baboon . . . as from a savage who delights to torture his enemies . . . treats his wives like slaves … and is haunted by the grossest superstitions.
- Lydia Maria Child, The Progress of Religious Ideas Through Successive Ages (1855) – It is impossible to exaggerate the evil work theology has done in the world.
- Florence Kennedy, Color Me Flo – My Hard Life and Good Times (1976) – If men could get pregnant, abortion would be a sacrament.
- Jacques Monod, Chance & Necessity (1971) – Mine is an entirely non-providential view of the biological world as the mere product of chance and necessity…the natural sciences reveal a purposeless world which entirely undercuts the tradition claims of religions…Man knows at last that he is alone in the universe’s unfeeling immensity, out of which he emerged only by chance. His destiny is nowhere spelled out, nor is his duty.
- Alice Walker, The Only Reason You Want to Go to Heaven Is That You Have Been Driven Out of Your Mind (1995) – What a burden to think one is conceived in sin rather than in pleasure; that one is born into evil rather than into joy. . . It is chilling to think that the same people who persecuted the wise women and men of Europe, its midwives and healers, then crossed the oceans to Africa and the Americas and tortured and enslaved, raped, impoverished and eradicated the peaceful, Christ-like people they found. And that the blueprint from which they worked, and still work, was the Bible.
- Susan B. Anthony, The Life and Work of Susan B. Anthony (1908) – I think women have just as much a right to interpret and twist the Bible to their own advantage as men always have interpreted and twisted it to theirs … But while I do not consider it my duty to tear to tatters the lingering skeletons of the old superstitions and bigotries, yet I rejoice to see them crumbling on every side.”
- Jeremy Bentham, Constitutional Code (1843) – In no instance has a system in regard to religion been ever established, but for the purpose, as well as with the effect, of its being made an instrument of intimidation, corruption, and delusion, for the support of depredation and oppression in the hands of governments.
- Galileo Galilei, Recantation (1633) – I have been . . . suspected of heresy, that is, of having held and believed that the Sun is the center of the universe and immovable, and that the earth is not the center of the same, and that it does move . . . I abjure with a sincere heart and unfeigned faith, I curse and detest the said errors and heresies, and generally all and every error and sect contrary to the Holy Catholic church.
- Niall Shanks, God, the Devil and Darwin (2004) – The intelligent design movement . . . has little to do with science but a lot to do with politics and power-in particular, the imposition of discriminatory, conservative Christian values on our educational, legal, social and political institutions… While we in the West readily point a finger at Islamic fundamentalism, we all too readily downplay the Christian fundamentalism in our own midst. The social and political consequences of religious fundamentalism can be enormous.
- A.A. Milne, Cited in 2,000 Years of Disbelief by James A. Haught (1996) – The Old Testament is responsible for more atheism, agnosticism, disbelief-call it what you will-than any book ever written; it has emptied more churches than all the counter-attractions of cinema, motor bicycle and golf course.
- Andy Rooney, Sincerely, Andy Rooney (1999) – We all ought to understand we’re on our own. Believing in Santa Claus doesn’t do kids any harm for a few years but it isn’t smart for them to continue waiting all their lives for him to come down the chimney with something wonderful. Santa Claus and God are cousins. Christians talk as though goodness was their idea but good behavior doesn’t have any religious origin. Our prisons are filled with the devout. I’d be more willing to accept religion, even if I didn’t believe it, if I thought it made people nicer to each other but I don’t think it does.
Well, I hope this helps with your quest for the bright side. Throughout history, there have been many men and women who loved reason, exuberant living and liberty, despite a total absence of books, conferences or newsletters about why or how to pursue optimal status given their varied circumstances. All managed as best they could under conditions at least as trying as our own today, and found ample ways to pursue healthy, fun lifestyles, to protect positive outlooks and to maintain sensible perspectives. In short, they found time to cultivate their minds and became familiar with the mighty thoughts that genius expressed, the noble deeds of all the world.
We will do well to follow their lead, current obstacles not withstanding.