can’t see the forest

Bloggy Sunday: Quotes from Atheists, Agnostics, and Other “Lost” Folk

Posted in Atheism, Atheism/Agnosticism, philosophy, Quotations, Religion, Theism by Curtis on 11/19/06

From JMarkGilbert, a Sunday morning selection of awesome quips and quotes from Those Who Burn In Hell. My selections are organized chronologically, according to the compiler’s own ordering. As for me, I think the words of Seneca and of Katherine Hepburn might be my favorite on the subject.

Protagoras, Greek philosopher, 481?-411 BC: “As to the Gods, I am unable to say whether they exist or do not exist.”

Lucretius, Roman philosopher-poet, 96?-55 BC: “Human life lay foul before men’s eyes, crushed to the dust beneath religion’s weight.”

Seneca the Younger, Roman philosopher and politician, 4-65 AD: “Religion is regarded by the common people as true, by the wise as false, and by the rulers as useful.”

Thomas Otway, English classical poet, 1652-1685: “These are rogues that pretend to be of a religion now! Well, all I say is, honest atheism for my money.”

François Marie Arouet (Voltaire), French author/playwright, 1694-1778: “If we believe absurdities, we shall commit atrocities.” | “Doubt is not a pleasant condition, but certainty is absurd.”

Benjamin Franklin, American statesman and scientist, 1706-1790: “The way to see by faith is to shut the eye of reason.”

Thomas Paine, English/American revolutionary writer, 1737-1809: “Persecution is not an original feature in any religion; but it is always the strongly marked feature of all religions established by law.”

Johann von Goethe, German scientist and poet, 1749-1832: “This occupation with ideas of immortality is for people of rank, and especially for ladies who have nothing to do. But a man of real worth who has something to do here, and must toil and struggle to produce day by day, leaves the future world to itself, and is active and useful in this.”

James Madison, US President and political theorist, 1751-1836: “Religious bondage shackles and debilitates the mind and unfits it for every noble enterprise.”

Napoleon Bonaparte, French Emperor and general, 1769-1821: “Religion is excellent stuff for keeping common people quiet.”

Ludwig von Feuerbach, German philosopher, 1804-1872: “Man first unconsciously and involuntarily creates God in his own image, and after this God consciously and voluntarily creates man in his own image.”

Abraham Lincoln, US President and statesman, 1809-1865: “The Bible is not my book nor Christianity my profession. I could never give assent to the long, complicated statements of Christian dogma.”

Elizabeth C. Stanton, US women’s rights activist, 1815-1902: “I found nothing grand in the history of the Jews nor in the morals inculcated in the Pentateuch. Surely the writers had a very low idea of the nature of their god. They made him not only anthropomorphic, but of the very lowest type, jealous and revengeful, loving violence rather than mercy. I know of no other books that so fully teach the subjection and degradation of women.”

Thomas H. Huxley, British biologist, coiner of the word “agnostic,” 1825-1895: “And those who appreciate the nature of our position will see, at once, that when Ecclesiasticism declares that we ought to believe this, that, and the other, and are very wicked if we don’t, it is impossible for us to give any answer but this: We have not the slightest objection to believe anything you like, if you will give us good grounds for belief; but, if you cannot, we must respectfully refuse, even if that refusal should wreck morality and insure our damnation several times over.”

Robert Ingersoll, American politician, 1833-1899: “With soap, baptism is a good thing.”

Samuel L. Clemens, “Mark Twain,” American writer and humorist, 1835-1910: “O Lord our God, help us tear their soldiers to bloody shreds with our shells; help us to cover their smiling fields with the pale forms of their patriot dead; help us to drown the thunder of the guns with the shrieks of their wounded, writhing in pain; help us to lay waste their humble homes with a hurricane of fire…imploring Thee for the refuge of the grave and denied it.”

Ambrose Bierce, American writer author of ‘The Devil’s Dictionary,’ 1842-1914:
FAITH: Belief without evidence in what is told by one who speaks without knowledge of things without parallel.
RELIGION: A daughter of Hope and Fear, explaining to Ignorance the nature of the Unknowable.
OCEAN: A body of water occupying about two-thirds of the world made for Man—who has no gills.
SAINT: A dead sinner revised and edited.

Thomas Edison, American scientist and inventor, 1847-1931: “Religion is all bunk.”

Sigmund Freud, Viennese physician and psychoanalyst, 1856-1939: “The whole thing is so patently infantile, so foreign to reality, that to anyone with a friendly attitude to humanity it is painful to think that the great majority of mortals will never be able to rise above this view of life.”

George Bernard Shaw, Irish/British dramatist and critic, 1856-1950: “The fact that a believer is happier than a skeptic is no more to the point than the fact that a drunken man is happier than a sober one.”

Joseph Conrad, Polish/English novelist, 1857-1924: “Skepticism is the agent of truth.”

H.G. Wells, English novelist, 1866-1946: “It runs through the entire Christian story, and our case against the Catholic Church is that, albeit it originated in a passionate assertion of the conceptions of brotherly equality, it relapsed steadily . . . to the side of persecution and the pleasures of cruelty.”

Frank Lloyd Wright, American architect, 1869-1959: “I believe in God, only I spell it Nature.”

Bertrand Russell, British mathematician and philosopher, 1872-1970: “I wish to propose for the reader’s favourable consideration a doctrine which may, I fear, appear wildly paradoxical and subversive. The doctrine in question is this: That it is undesirable to believe a proposition when there is no ground whatever for supposing it true.”

Albert Einstein, Swiss/American theoretical physicist, 1879-1955: “A man’s ethical behavior should be based effectually on sympathy, education, and social ties and needs; no religious basis is necessary. Man would indeed be in a poor way if he had to be restrained by fear of punishment and hope of reward after death.”

Periyar, Indian social campaigner, 1879-1973: “He who created the god was a fool; he who spread his name is a scoundrel and he who worships him is a barbarian.”

H.L. Mencken, American critic and editor, 1880-1956: “God is the immemorial refuge of the incompetent, the helpless, the miserable. They find not only sanctuary in His arms, but also a kind of superiority, soothing to their macerated egos; He will set them above their betters.”

Ernest Hemingway, American author, 1899-1961: “All thinking men are atheists.”

Vladimir Nabokov, Russian novelist, 1899-1977: “The cradle rocks above an abyss, and common sense tells us that our existence is but a brief crack of light between two eternities of darkness.”

Joseph Campbell, American mythologist, 1904-1987: “God is a metaphor for that which transcends all levels of intellectual thought. It’s as simple as that.”

Robert A. Heinlein, American novelist, 1907-1988: “Any priest or shaman must be presumed guilty until proven innocent.”

Katherine Hepburn, American actress, 1907-2003: “I’m an atheist, and that’s it. I believe there’s nothing we can know except that we should be kind to each other and do what we can for one another.”

Aziz Nesin, Turkish writer and activist, 1915-1995: “I don’t need God because I want neither Paradise nor Hell.”

Isaac Asimov, Russian/American novelist, 1920-1992: “I am an atheist, out and out. It took me a long time to say it. . . I don’t have the evidence to prove that God doesn’t exist, but I so strongly suspect that he doesn’t that I don’t want to waste my time.”

Gene Roddenberry, American writer and ‘Star Trek’ creator, 1921-1991: “We must question the story logic of having an all-knowing all-powerful God, who creates faulty Humans, and then blames them for his own mistakes.”

Madalyn Murray O’Hair, American atheist-activist, 1923-1995: “I feel that everyone has a right to be insane. And that they can do this any place at all. . . just go ahead and do your thing, and do it yourself. Just the same as if you were a nudist. Somebody doesn’t get a tax break for being a Mason, or whatever they’re interested in.”

Olof Palme, Swedish prime minister, 1927-1986: “Human beings will find a balanced situation when they do good things not because God says it, but because they feel like doing them.”

Carl Sagan, American astronomer and author, 1934-1996: “My view is that if there is no evidence for it, then forget about it.”

Frank Zappa, American musician, 1940-1993: “Reality is what it is, not what you want it to be.”

I don’t intend to mean that I agree on all points with all points above. But I certainly am not a theist, and somewhere in me there is an evangelical desire to save theists from their theism every bit as strong as it must be felt in some zealots to save me from my non-theism. Out of respect for individual liberty of mind I am able to keep this impulse under control in most instances, a struggle which is not helped by living across the street from a monstrously colossal megachurch, the street and the church both bearing my surname irrespective of my opinion on the matter, or my father’s.

I suppose some Christians, for instance, might counter with 1 Corinthians 1:21, supposing me never to have read it; to which I would reply that this passage is a poor argument even by ancient standards in its circularity and self-referential nature.

Good Sunday to all!


8 Responses

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  1. homeyra said, on 11/19/06 at 9:29 am

    Great post, glad to find the opinion of one of my favorite people, Olof Palme

  2. raincoaster said, on 11/21/06 at 12:31 am

    That Napoleon really knew what he was talking about.

  3. zilla said, on 11/21/06 at 12:39 pm

    Seneca the Younger sums it up for me. I also like the one about soap and baptism — very practical, although I have to admit my skin is so lovely and youthful only because I refuse to wash it as frequently as most Americans would deem necessary. God made us oily for a reason, people! (That was a joke.)

    So, Curtis, have you given much thought to what might happen when our hearts stop beating and our brains shut down? Do you think it’s “lights out,” or do you imagine consciousness continues somehow? Just curious.

  4. Gracie said, on 11/21/06 at 4:45 pm

    This is a keeper, Curt. Nice to see Joseph Campbell adding his weight to this controversial topic.

    I also don’t agree with all of these collective opinions since all we can do is speculate at this point. It’s about time for you to write another one of your classic pieces on religious history. :-)

  5. Curtis said, on 11/22/06 at 1:27 pm

    I imagine, Zilla, that the end of consciousness is probably just the most startling consequence of the end of metabolism. I can think endlessly of all the reasons I wish that weren’t so, and I can (and do) fantasize and romanticize to the contrary, but I’m not able to come up with a single shred of freestanding intelligence to support such notions.

    This is a not a view I try to impose upon others, not least because there is so much more value in forming one’s on views on this largest of all topics. At the same time, I can’t help but wonder how much nicer we might all get along if each of us lived life as if it were our last. It certainly takes a great deal of courage, that much I can say soundly.

  6. Mombacho said, on 11/27/06 at 3:13 pm

    Thanks. This was great. I like the Zappa quote; I think a lot of religious people are really saying ‘I don’t want to accept this reality’ so i’m gonna believe in … instead’.

    It might be harder to get used to (what little we can understand of) reality, but it’s more honest.

  7. […] I’m grateful to Curtis for highlighting these Voltaire quotes (amongst lots of others): “If we believe absurdities, we shall commit atrocities.” | […]

  8. Curtis said, on 11/28/06 at 5:53 am

    My thoughts exactly, Mombacho. Thanks for coming by.

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