LITTLE BLUE BOOK NO. 1329
Edited by E. Haldeman-Julius
FACING LIFE FEARLESSLY
The Pessimistic Versus the Optimistic View of life
FACING LIFE FEARLESSLY
(Report of a lecture delivered at the University of Chicago,
under the auspices of the Poetry Club, and the Liberal Club;
revised by Mr. Darrow.)
I had the pleasure of making the acquaintance of Mr. A.E.
Housman in the Summer of 1927. I spent two hours with him, and
before that I had been to the home of Thomas Hardy. Mr. Hardy told
me how much he thought of Housman, before I visited Housman; and
Housman was a frequent visitor at the Hardy home. Their ideas of
life were very much alike; they were what the orthodox people and
the Rotary Clubs would call pessimistic. They didn't live on pipe
dreams; they took the universe as they found it, and man as they
found him. They tried to see what beauty there was in each of them,
but didn't close their eyes to the misery and maladjustments of
either the universe or man, because they ware realists, honest,
thorough, and fearless.
Hardy himself had received the censure of all the good people
of England and the world, who, in spite of that, bought his books.
They all condemned him when he wrote his 'Tess;' so he determined
not to write any more prose. He thought that people probably were
not intelligent enough to appreciate him; certainly not his
viewpoint, and he didn't wish to waste his time on them.
Housman's viewpoint is much the same, as all of you know. He
has written very little. You can read all he has written in two
hours, and less than that; but everything is exquisitely finished.
met him he was in his study in Cambridge. He is a professor of
Latin. I can't Imagine anythINg more useless than that -- unless it
be Greek! He has been called the greatest Latin scholar in the
world, and he seemed to take some pride in his Latin; not so much
in his poetry. He said he didn't write poetry except when he felt
he had to, it was always hard work for him, although some of the
things he wrote very quickly; but as a rule he spent a great deal
of time on most of them.
I asked him if it was true that the latest little volume was
what it is entitled -- 'Last Poems.' He said he thought it was
true; that it had been published as his last poems in 1922 -- five
years before -- and he had only written four lines since: so he
thought that would probably be the last. Upon my asking him to
recite the four lines, he said he had forgotten them.
Both Hardy and Housman, and of course Omar, believed that man
is rather small in comparison with the universe, or even with the
earth; they didn't believe in human responsibility, in free will,
in a purposeful universe, in a Being who watched over and cared for
the people of the world. It is evident that if He does, He makes a
poor job of It!
Neither Hardy nor Housman had any such delusions. They took
the world as they found it and never tried to guess at its origin.
They took man as they found him and didn't try to build castles for
him after be was dead. They were essentially realists, both of
them; and of course long before them Omar had gone over the same
It is hardly fair to call the Rubaiyat the work of Omar
Khayyam. I have read a good many different editions and several
different versions. I never read it in Persian, in which it was
first written, but I have read not only poetical versions but prose
ones. Justin McCarthy brought out a translation a number of years
ago which was supposed to be a literal translation of Omar's book.
There is no resemblance between that book and the classic under his
name that was really written by FitzGerald. There is nothing very
remarkable about the Omar Khayyam as found in Justin McCarthy's
translation. It is probably ten times as expansive as the one we
have, and no one would recognize it from the FitzGerald edition.
The beauty of the Rubaiyat is Edward FitzGerald's. He
evidently was more or less modest or else he wanted to do great
homage to Omar, because no one would ever have suspected that Omar
had any more to do with the book than they would have suspected
Plato. But, under the magic touch of FitzGerald, it is not only one
of the wisest and most profound pieces of literature in the world,
but one of the most beautiful productions that the world has ever
I remember reading somewhere that when this poem was thrown on
the market in London, a long time ago, nobody bought it. They
finally put it out in front of the shop in the form in which it was
printed and sold it for a penny. One could make more money by
buying those books at a penny and selling them now than he could
make with a large block of Standard Oil! It took a long while for
Omar and FitzGerald to gain recognition, which makes it rather
comfortable for the rest of us who write books to give away, and
feel happy when somebody asks us for one, although we suspect they
will never read them. But we all think we will be discovered
sometime. Some of us hope so and some are fearful that they will
be. Neither Omar nor FitzGerald believed in human responsibility.
That is the rock on which most religions are founded, and all laws
-- that everybody is responsible for his conduct; that if he is
good he is good because he deliberately chooses to be good, and if
he is bad it is pure cussedness on his part -- nobody had anything
to do with it excepting himself. If he hasn't free will, why, he
isn't anything! The English poet Henley, in one of his poems,
probably expressed this about as well as anybody. It looks to me as
if he had a case of the rabies or something like that. But people
are fond of repeating it. In his brief poem about Fate he says:
I am the master of my fate
I am the captain of my soul.
A fine captain of his soul; and a fine master of his fate! He
wasn't master enough of his fate to get himself born, which is
rather important, nor to do much of anything else, except brag
about it. Instead of being the captain of his soul, as I have
sometimes expressed it, man isn't even a deck-hand on a rudderless
ship! He is just floating around and trying to hang on, and hanging
on as long as he can. But if it does him any good to repeat Henley,
or other nonsense, it is all right to give him a chance to do it,
because he hasn't much to look forward to, any way. Free will never
was a scientific doctrine; it never can be. It is probably a
religious conception, which of course shows that it isn't a
Neither one of these eminent men, Hardy or Housman, believed
anything in free will. There is eight hundred years between Omar
and Housman, and yet their, philosophy is wondrously alike. I have
no doubt but that Omar's philosophy was very like what we find in
the rendering of FitzGerald. It is not a strange and unusual
philosophy, except in churches and Rotary Clubs and places like
that. It is not strange in places where people think or try to, and
where they do not undertake to fool themselves. It is rather a
common philosophy; it is a common philosophy where people have any
realization of their own importance, or, rather, unimportance. A
realization of it almost invariably forces upon a human being his
own insignificance and the insignificance of all the other human
atoms that come and go.
Men's ideas root pretty far back. Their religious creeds are
very old. By means of interest and hope and largely fear, they
manage to hang on to the old, even when they know it is not true.
The idea of man's importance came in the early history of the human
race. He looked out on the earth, and of course he thought it was
flat! It looks flat, and he thought it was. He saw the sun, and he
formed the conception that somebody moved it out every morning and
pulled it back in at night. He saw the moon, and he had the opinion
that somebody pulled that out at sundown and took it in in the
morning. He saw the stars, and all there was about the stars was,
"He made the stars also." They were just "also." They were close
by, and they were purely for man to look at, about like diamonds in
the shirt bosoms of people who like them.
This was not an unreasonable idea, considering what they had
to go on. The people who still believe it have no more to go on.
Blind men can't be taught to see or deaf people to hear. The
primitive people thought that the stars were right near by and just
the size they seemed to be. Of course now we know that some of them
are so far away that light traveling at nearly 286,000 miles a
second is several million light years getting to the earth, and
some of them are so large that our sun, even, would be a fly-speck
to them. The larger the telescopes the more of them we see, and the
imagination can't compass the end of them. It is just humanly
possible that somewhere amongst the infinite number of infinitely
larger and more important specks of mud in the universe there might
be some organisms of matter that are just as intelligent as our
people on the earth. So to have the idea that all of this was made
for man gives man a great deal of what Weber and Field used to
call "Proud flesh."
Man can't get conceited from what he knows today, and he can't
get it from what intellectual people ever knew. You remember, in
those days the firmament was put in to divide the water below from
the water above. They didn't know exactly what it was made of, but
they knew what it was. Heaven was up above the firmament. They knew
what it was, because Jacob had seen the angels going up and down on
a ladder. Of course, a ladder was the only transportation for such
purposes known to Jacob. If he had been dreaming now, they would
have been going up in a flying machine and coming down in the same
Our conceptions of things root back; and that, of course, is
the reason for our crude religions, our crude laws, our crude
ideas, and our exalted opinion of the human race.
Omar had it nearer right. He didn't much overestimate the
human race. He knew it for what it was, and that wasn't much. He
knew about what its power was; he didn't expect much from the human
race. He didn't condemn men, because he knew he couldn't do any
better. As he puts it.
But helpless Pieces of the Game He plays
Upon this Chequer-Board of Nights and Days:
Hither and thither moves, and checks and slays
And one by one back in the Closet lays.
Compare that conception with Mr. Henley's, with his glorious
boast that he is the captain of his soul and the master of his
fate. Anyone who didn't catch that idea from the ordinary thought
of the community, but carved it out for himself, would be a subject
for psychopathic analysis and examination. When you have an idea
that everybody else has, of course you are not crazy, but if you
have silly ideas that nobody else has, of course you are crazy.
That is the only way to settle it,
Most people believe every day many things for which others are
sent to the insane asylum. The insane asylums are full of religious
exaltants who have just varied a little bit from the standard of
foolishness. It isn't the foolishness that places them in the bug-
house, it is the slight variations from the other fellows'
foolishness -- that is all. If a man says he is living with the
spirits today, he is insane. If he says that Jacob did, he is all
right. That is the only difference.
Omar says we are simply "impotent pieces in the game He plays"
-- of course, he uses a capital letter when he spells, He which is
all right enough for the purpose -- "in the game He plays upon this
chequer-board of nights and days." And that is what man is. If one
could vision somebody playing a game with human pawns, one would
think that everyone who is moved around here and there was moved
simply at the will of a player and he had nothing whatever to do
with the game, any more than any other pawn. And he has nothing
more to do with it than any other pawn.
Omar expresses this opinion over and over again. He doesn't
blame man; he knows the weakness of man. He knew the cruelty of
The Moving Finger writes; and having writ,
Moves on: nor all your Piety nor Wit
Shall lure it back to cancel half a line,
Nor all your Tears wash out a Word of it.
Whatever the impulse calls one to do, whatever the baubles or
the baits that set in motion many acts, however quickly or
emotionally, the consequences of the acts, as far as he is
concerned, never end. All your piety and all your wit cannot wipe
out a word of it! Omar pities man; he doesn't exalt God, but he
pities man. He sees what man can do; and, more important still, he
sees what he cannot do. He condemns the idea that God could or
should judge man. The injustice of it, the foolishness of it all,
appeals to him and he puts it in this way:
O Thou who didst with pitfall and with gin
Beset the Road I was to wander in.
Thou wilt not with Predestin'd Evil round
Enmesh, and then impute my Fall to Sin!
Nothing ever braver and stronger and truer than that!
Preachers have wasted their time and their strength and such
intelligence and learning as they can command, talking about God
forgiving man, as if it was possible for man to hurt God, as if
there was anything to be forgiven from man's standpoint. They pray
that man be forgiven and urge that man should be forgiven. Nobody
knows for what, but still it has been their constant theme. Poets
have done it; Omar knew better. Brave and strong and clear and far-
seeing, although living and dying eight hundred years ago. This is
what he says about forgiveness:
O thou, who Man of baser Earth didst make,
And ev'n with Paradise devised the Snake:
For all the sin wherewith the Face of Man
Is blacken'd -- Man's forgiveness give -- and take!
"Man's forgiveness give -- and take!" If man could afford to
forgive God, He ought to be willing to forgive man. Omar knew it.
"Ev'n with paradise devised the snake." Taking the orthodox theory,
for all the sin with which the earth is blackened, "Man's
forgiveness give -- and take!" That is courage; it is science. It
is sense, and it isn't the weak, cowardly whining of somebody who
is afraid he might be hurt unless he whines and supplicates, which
he always does, simply hoping that some great power will have
compassion on him. Always cowardice and fear, and nothing else!
Box 926, Louisville, KY 40201
FACING LIFE FEARLESSLY
Omar was wise enough to know that if there was any agency
responsible for it, that agency was responsible. He made us as we
are, and as He wished to make us, and to say that a weak, puny,
ignorant human being, here today and gone tomorrow, could possibly
injure God or be responsible for his own weakness and his
ignorance, of course is a travesty upon all logic; and of course it
does great credit to all superstition, for it couldn't come any
Housman is equally sure about this. He knows about the
responsibility of man. Strange how wonderfully alike runs their
philosophy! Housman condemned nobody. No pessimist does -- only
good optimists. People who believe in a universe of law never
condemn or hate individuals. Only those who enthrone man believe in
free will, and make him responsible for the terrible crudities of
Nature and the force back of it, if there is such a force. Only
they are cruel to the limit.
One can get Housman's idea of the responsibility of the human
being from his beautiful little poem, "The Culprit," the plaintive
wailing of a boy to be executed the next morning, when he, in his
blindness and terror, asked himself the question, "Why is it and
what does it all mean?" and thought about the forces that made him,
and what a blind path he traveled, as we all do. He says:
The night my father got me
His mind was not on me;
He did not plague his fancy
To muse if I should be
The son you see.
The day my mother bore me
She was a fool and glad,
For all the pain I cost her,
That she had borne the lad
That borne she had.
My mother and my father
Out of the light they lie;
The warrant would not find them,
And here 'tis only I
Shall hang on high.
Oh let no man remember
The soul that God forgot
But fetch the county kerchief
And noose me in the knot,
And I will rot.
For so the game is ended
That should not have begun.
My father and my mother
They have a likely son,
And I have none.
Nobody lives in this world to himself or any part of himself.
Nobody fashions his body, and still less is responsible for the
size or the fineness of his brain and the sensitiveness of his
nervous system. No one has anything to do with the infinite
manifestations of the human body that produce the emotions, that
force men here and there. And yet religion in its cruelty and its
brutality brands them all alike. And the religious teachers are so
conscious of their own guilt that they only seek to escape
punishment by loading their punishment onto someone else. They say
that the responsibility of the individual who in his weakness goes
his way is so great and his crimes are so large that there isn't a
possibility for him to be saved by his own works.
The law is only the slightest bit more intelligent. No matter
who does it, or what it is, the individual is responsible. If he is
manifestly and obviously crazy they may make some distinction; but
no lawyer is wise enough to look into the human mind and know what
it means. The interpretations of the human judges were delivered
before we had any science on the subject whatever, and they
continue to enforce the old ideas of insanity, in spite of the fact
that there isn't an intelligent human being in the world who has
studied the question who ever thinks of it in legal terms. Judges
instruct the jury that if a man knows the difference between right
and wrong he cannot be considered insane. And yet an insane man
knows the difference better than an intelligent man, because he has
not the intelligence and the learning to know that this is one of
the hardest things to determine, and perhaps the most impossible.
You can ask the inmates of any insane asylum whether it is right to
steal, lie, or kill, and they will all say "No," just as little
children will say it, because they have been taught it. It
furnishes no test, but still lawyers and Judges persist in it, to
give themselves an excuse to wreak vengeance upon unfortunate
Housman knew better. He knew that in every human being is the
imprint of all that has gone before, especially the imprint of his
direct ancestors. And not only that, but that it is the imprint of
all the environment in which he has lived, and that human
responsibility is utterly unscientific, and besides that, horribly
Another thing that impressed itself upon all these poets alike
was the futility of life. I don't know whether a college succeeds
in making pupils think that they are very important in the scheme
of the universe. I used to be taught that we were all very
important. Most all the boys and girls who were taught it when I
was taught it are dead, and the world is going on just the same. I
have a sort of feeling that after I am dead it will go on just the
same, and there are quite a considerable number of people who think
it will go on better. But it won't; I haven't been important enough
even to harm it. It will go on just exactly the same.
We are always told of the importance of the human being and
the importance of everything he does; the importance of his not
enjoying life, because if he is happy here of course he can't be
happy hereafter, and if he is miserable here he must be happy
hereafter. Omar made short work of that, of those promises which
are not underwritten, at least not by any responsible people. He
did not believe in foregoing what little there is of life in the
hope of having a better time hereafter.
He says, "Ah, take the Cash and let the Credit go." Good
advice that: "Ah, take the Cash and let the Credit go." If you take
the "Credit," likely as not you will miss your fun both here and
hereafter. Omar knew better.
It is strange how the religious creeds have hammered that idea
into the human mind. They have always felt there was a kinship
between pleasure and sin. A smile on the face is complete evidence
of wickedness. A solemn, uninteresting countenance is a stamp of
virtue and goodness, of self-denial, that will surely be rewarded.
Of course, the religious people are strangely hedonistic without
knowing it! There are some of us who think that the goodness or
badness of an act in this world can be determined only by pain and
pleasure units. The thing that brings pleasure is good, and the
thing that brings pain is bad. There is no other way to determine
the difference between good and bad. Some of us think so: I think
Of coarse, the other class roll their eyes and declaim against
this heathen philosophy, the idea that pain and pleasure have
anything to do with the worth-whileness of existence. It isn't
important for you to be happy here. But why not? You are too
miserable here so you will be happy hereafter; and the hereafter is
long and the here is short. They promise a much bigger prize than
the pagan for the reward of conduct. They simply want you to trust
them. They take the pain and pleasure theory with a vengeance, but
they do business purely on credit. They are dealers in futures! I
could never understand, if it was admissible to have joy in heaven,
why you couldn't have it here, too. And if joy is admissible at
all, the quicker you get at it the better, and the surer you are of
the result. Omar thought that: "Ah, take the Cash, and let the
Credit go!" Take the Cash and let the other fellow have the Credit!
That was his philosophy, and I insist it is much better, and more
intelligent philosophy than the other.
But Omar had no delusions about how important this human being
is. He had no delusions about the mind, about man's greatness. He
knew something about philosophy or metaphysics, whatever it is. He
knew the uncertainty of human calculations, no matter who arrived
at them. He knew the round-about way that people try to find out
something, and he knew the results. He knew the futility of all of
Myself When young did eagerly frequent
Doctor and Saint, and heard great argument
About it and about: but evermore
Came out by the same door where in I went.
That is what Omar thought. Man evermore came out by the same
door where in he went. Therefore, "take the Cash and let the Credit
go!"' He put it even stronger than this. He knew exactly what these
values were worth, if anything. He knew what a little bit there is
to the whole bag of tricks. What's the difference whether you were
born 75 years ago, or fifty or twenty-five? what's the difference
whether you are going to live ten years, or twenty or thirty, or
weather you are already dead? In that case you escape something!
This magnifying the importance of the human being is one of the
chief sins of man and results in all kinds of cruelty.
If we took the human race for what it is worth, we could not
be so cruel. Omar Khayyam knew what it was, this life, that we talk
so much about:
'Tis but a Tent where takes his one day's rest
A Sultan to the realm of Death addrest;
The Sultan rises, and the dark Forrash
Strikes, and prepares it for another Guest.
"Tis but a Tent where takes his one day's rest" -- is there
anything else, if one could just make a survey of the human being,
passing across the stage of life? I suppose man has been upon the
earth for over a million years. A million years, and perhaps his
generations may be thirty to thirty-five years long. Think of the
generations in a thousand years, in 5,000 years, in a hundred
thousand, in a million years! There are a billion and a half of
these important organisms on the earth at any one time. All of
them, all important -- kings, priests and professors, and doctors
and lawyers and presidents, and 100 per cent Americans, and
everything on earth you could think of -- Ku Kluxers, W.C.T.U.'s,
Knights of Columbus and Masons, everything. All of them important
in this scheme of things! All of them seeking to attract attention
to themselves, and not even satisfied when they get it!
What is it all about? it is strange what little things will
interest the human mind -- baseball games, fluctuations of the
stock market, revivals, foot races, hangings, Anything will
interest them. And the wonderful importance of the human being!
Housman knew the importance just as well as Omar. He has
something to say about it, too. He knew it was just practically
nothing. Strangely like him! The little affairs of life, the little
foolishnesses of life, the things that consume our lives without
any result whatever; he knew them and knew what they were worth. He
knew they were worth practically nothing. But we do them; the urge
of living keeps us doing them, even when we know how useless and
foolish they are. Housman understood them:
Yonder see the morning blink:
The sun is up, and up must I.
To wash and dress and eat and drink
And look at things and talk and think
And work, and God knows why.
Oh often have I washed and dressed
And what's to show for all my pain?
Let me lie abed and rest:
Ten thousand times I've done my best
And all's to do again.
That is what life is, rising in the morning and washing and
dressing and going to recitations and studying and forgetting it,
and then going to bed at night, to get up the next morning and wash
and dress and go to recitation, and so on, world without end.
One might get a focus on it from the flies. They are very busy
buzzing round. You don't exactly know what they are saying, because
we can't understand fly language. Professors can't teach you fly
language! We can't tell what they are saying, but they are probably
talking about the importance of being good, about what's going to
happen to their souls and, when. And when they are stiff in the
morning in the Autumn and can hardly move round, the housewife gets
up and builds the fire, and the heat limbers them up. She sets out
the bread and butter on the table. The flies come down and get into
it, and they think the housewife is working for them. Why not?
Is there any difference? Only in the length of the agony. What
other? Apparently they have a good time while the sun is shining,
and apparently they die when they get cold. It is a proposition of
life and death, forms of matter clothed with what seems to be
consciousness, and then going back again into inert matter, and
that is all. There isn't any manifestation that we humans make that
we do not see in flies and in other forms of matter.
Housman understands it; they have all understood it. Read any
of the great authors of the world -- any of them; their hopes and
their fears and their queries and their doubt, are, about the same.
There is only one man I know of that can answer everything, and
that is Dr Cadman.
Housman saw it. He knew a little of the difference between age
and youth -- and there is some. The trouble is, the old men always
write the books; they write them not in the way they felt when they
were young, but in the way they feel now. And they preach to the
young, and condemn them for doing what they themselves did when
they had the emotion to do it. Great teachers, when they grow old!
Perhaps it is partly envy and the desire that no one shall have
anything they can't have. Likely it is, but they don't know it.
Housman says something about this:
When first my way to fair I took
Few pence in purse hid I,
And long I used to stand and look
At things I could not buy.
Now times are altered: if I care
To bay a thing I can;
The pence are here and here's the fair,
But where's the lost young man?
The world is somewhat different. The lost young man was once
looking at the fair. He couldn't go in, and he liked it more for
that; but now he is tired of the fair and tired of the baubles that
once amused him and the riddles he once tried to guess, and he
can't understand that the young man still likes to go to the fair.
We hear a great deal said by the ignorant about the wickedness
of the youth of today. Well, I don't know: some of us were wicked
when we were young. I don't know what is the matter with the youth
of today having their fling. I don't know that they are any
wickeder today. First, I don't know what the word wicked moans. Oh,
I do know what it means: It means unconventional conduct. But I
don't know whether unconventional conduct is wicked in the sense
they mean it is wicked, or whether conventional conduct is good in
the sense they mean it is good. Nobody else knows!
But I remember when I was a boy -- it was a long time ago --
I used to hear my mother complain. My mother would have been pretty
nearly 125 years old if she had kept on living, but luckily for her
she didn't! I used to hear her complain of how much worse the girls
were that she knew than the girls were when she was a girl. Of
course, she didn't furnish any bill of particulars; she didn't
specify, except not hanging up their clothes, and gadding, and
things like that. But at any rate, they were worse. And my father
used to tell about it, and I have an idea that Adam and Eve used to
talk the same fool way.
The truth is, the world doesn't change, or the generations of
men or the human emotions. But the individual changes as he grows
old. You hear about the Revolt of Youth. Some people are pleased at
it and some displeased. Some see fine reasons for hope in what they
call the youth movement. They can put it over on the old people,
but not on the youth! There is a Revolt of Youth.
Well, youth has always been in revolt. The greatest trouble
with youth is that it gets old. Age changes it. It doesn't bring
wisdom, though most old people think because they are old they have
wisdom. But you can't get wisdom by simply growing old. You can
even forget it that way! Age means that the blood runs slow, that
the emotions are not as strong, that you play safer, that you stay
closer to the hearth. You don't try to find new continents or even
explore old ones. You don't travel into unbeaten wilderness and lay
out new roads. You stick to the old roads when you go out at all.
The world can't go on with old people. It takes young ones
that are daring, with courage and faith.
The difference between youth and old age is the same in every
generation. The viewpoint is in growing old, that is all. But the
old never seem wise enough to know it, and forever the old have
been preaching to the young. Luckily, however, the young pay very
little attention to it. They sometimes pretend to, but they never
do pay much attention to it. Otherwise, life could not exist.
Both of these poets saw the futility of life: the little
things of which it is made, scarcely worth the while. It is all
right to talk about futility. We all know it, if we know much of
anything. We know life is futile. A man who considers that his life
is of very wonderful importance is awfully close to a padded cell.
Let anybody study the ordinary, everyday details of life; see how
closely he is bound and fettered; see how little it all amounts to.
There are a billion and a half people in the world, all of
them trying to shout loud enough to be heard all at once, so as to
attract the attention of the public, so they may be happy. A
billion and a half of them, and if they all attracted attention
none of them would have attention! Of course, attention is only
valuable if the particular individual attracts it and nobody, else
can get it. That is what makes presidents and kings -- they get it
and nobody else.
Then when you consider that it is all made up of little
things, what is life all about, anyway? We do keep on living. It is
easy enough to demonstrate to people who think that life is not
worth while. We could do it easier if we could only settle what
worth while means. But if we settle it and convince ourselves that
it is not worth while, we still keep on living. life does not come
from willing; rather it does not come from thought and reason. I
don't live because I think it is worth while; I live because I am
a going concern, and every going concern tries to keep on going, I
don't care whether it is a tree, or a plant, or what we call a
lower animal, or man, or the Socialist party. Anything that is
going tries to go on by its own momentum, and it does just keep on
going -- it is what Schopenhauer called the 'will to live.' So we
must assume that we will live anyhow as long as we can. When the
machine runs down we don't have to worry about it any longer.
Hotisman asked himself this question, and Omar asked himself
this question. Life is of little value. What are we going to do
while we live? In other words, what is the purpose, if we can use
the word purpose in this way, which is an incorrect way? What
purpose are we going to put into it? Why should we live; and if we
must live, then what? Omar tells us what. He knew there was just
one thing important; he knew what most thinkers know today. He put
it differently -- he and FitzGerald together. It is a balance
between painful and pleasurable emotions. Every organized being
looks for pleasurable emotions and tries to avoid painful ones. The
seed planted in the ground seeks the light. The instinct of
everything is to move away from pain and toward pleasure. Human
beings are just like all the rest. The earth and all its
manifestations are simply that. Omar figured it out, and after
philosophizing and finding that he ever came out the same door
where in he went, he said:
You know, my Friends, with what a brave Carouse
I made a Second Marriage in my house;
Divorced old barren Reason from my Bed,
And took the Daughter of the Vine to Spouse.
That is one way of forgetting life -- one way of seeking
pleasurable emotions: "I took the Daughter of the Vine to Spouse."
A way that has been fairly popular down through the ages! Even in
spite of the worst that all the fanatics could possibly do, it has
been a fairly universal remedy for the ills of man. It would be
perfect If it were not for the day after!
He says in his wild exuberance:
Come, fill the Cup, and in the fire of Spring
Your Winter-Garment of Repentance fling:
The Bird of Time has but a little way
To flutter -- and the Bird is on the Wing.
Box 926, Louisville, KY 40201
FACING LIFE FEARLESSLY
There isn't much of it; but while it is fluttering, help it.
It has but a little way to flutter, and it is on the wing!
To those who are not quite so strenuous, there is an appeal
more to beauty, a somewhat more permanent although not much more,
but a more beautiful conception of pleasure, which is all he could
A Book of Verses underneath the Bough,
A Jug of Wine, a Loaf of Bread -- and Thou
Beside me singing in the Wilderness --
Oh, Wilderness were Paradise now!
Well, if you get the right jug and the right book and the rest
of the paraphernalia, it isn't so bad!
It is strange that two so different human beings have sought
about the same thing. This physical emotional life that we hear so
much about is the only life we know anything about. They sought
their exaltation there, and Omar Khayyam pictured it very well.
Housman again does as well. What does he say about the way to spend
life and about life?
Loveliest of trees, the cherry now
Is hung with bloom along the bough,
And stands about the woodland ride
Wearing white for Eastertide.
Now, of my threescore, years and ten,
Twenty will not come again,
And take from seventy springs a score,
It only leaves me fifty more.
And since to look at things in bloom
Fifty springs are little room,
About the woodlands I will go
To see the cherry hung with snow.
What else is there? So while the light is still on and while
I can still go, and when the cherry is in bloom -- I will go to see
the cherries hung with snow.
That is the whole philosophy of life for those who think; that
is all there is to it, and it is what everybody is trying to do,
without fully realizing it. Many are taking the Credit and letting
the Cash go. Housman is right about that.
Since to look at things in bloom
Fifty springs are little room,
About the woodlands I will go
To see the cherry hung with snow.
That is why I have so little patience with the old preaching
to the young. If youth, with its quick-flowing blood, its strong
imagination, its virile feeling; if youth, with its dreams and its
hopes and ambitions, can go about the woodland to see the cherry
hung with snow, why not? Who are the croakers, who have run their
race and lived their time, who are they to keep back expression and
hope and youth and joy from a world that is almost barren at the
Box 926, Louisville, KY 40201
FACING LIFE FEARLESSLY
It has been youth that has kept the world alive; it will be,
because from the others emotion has fled; and with the fleeing of
emotion, through the ossification of the brain, all there is left
for them to do is to preach. I hope they have a good time doing
that, and I am so glad the young pay no attention to it!
Of course, Housman and Omar and the rest of us are called
pessimist's. It is a horrible name. What is a pessimist, anyway? It
is a man or a woman who looks at life as life is. If you could, you
might take your choice, perhaps, as to being a pessimist or a pipe
dreamer. But you can't have it, because you look at the world
according to the way you are made. Those are the two extremes. The
pessimist takes life for what life is: not all sorrow, not all
pain, not all beauty, not all good. Life is not black; life is not
orange, red, or green, or all the colors of the rainbow. Life is no
one shade or hue.
It is well enough to understand it. If pessimism could come as
the result of thought, I would think a pessimist was a wise man.
What is an optimist, anyway? He reminds "Me of a little boy running
through the woods and looking up at the sky and not paying any
attention to the brambles or thorns he is scrambling through. There
is a stone in front of him and he trips over the stone. Browning
said, "God's in his heaven and all's right with the world." Others
say, "God is love, love is God," and so on. A man who thinks that
is bound to be an optimist. He believes that things are good.
The pessimist doesn't necessarily think that everything is
bad, but he looks for the worst. He knows it will come sooner or
later. When an optimist falls, he falls a long way; when a
pessimist falls it is a very short fall. When an optimist is
disappointed he is very, very sad, because he believed it was the
best of all possible worlds, and God's in his heaven and all's well
with the world. When a pessimist is disappointed he is happy, for
he wasn't looking for anything.
This is the safest and by all odds it is the wisest outlook.
Housman has put it in a little poem. It is about the last thing I
shall give you. Housman is the only man I know of who has written
a poem about pessimism. Nearly all the people who are talking about
pessimism talk in prose; it is very prosy. Poems are generally
written about optimism:
I am the master of my fate;
I am the captain of my soul.
Those are the sort of poems. Of course there have been poems
written about pessimism. Poetry is really, to my way of thinking,
good only if it is beauty and if it is music.
I don't mean tonight to discuss the question of free verse and
poetry, or the comparative merits of the two styles, or of prose,
but I do think that poetry is an exaltation and that you can't hold
it for long. Poetry ought to have beauty and it ought to have
music. It should have both. You can be the poet of sadness; sadness
lends itself to poetry as much as gladness, although few poets know
how to use it. Listen to this from Housman:
With rue my heart is laden;
For golden friends I had,
For many a rose-lipt maiden
And many a lightfoot lad.
By brooks too broad for leading
The lightfoot boys are laid,
The rose-lipt girls are sleeping
In fields where raises fade.
That is sad, isn't it? But it is beautiful.
I remember once, years and years ago, reading Olive
Schreiner's Story of an African farm, in which she describes the
simple Boers of South Africa, with their sorrows and their
pleasures. She used this expression: which it took me some time to
understand, in describing pain and pleasure: "There is a depth of
emotion so broad and deep that pain and pleasure are the same."
They are the same, and I think they find their meeting in beauty.
The beauty, even if it is painful, is still beauty. You find the
meeting of pain and pleasure, and you can hardly distinguish
between the two emotions.
Housman knew it; he knew how to do it. Here is his idea of the
young lad who dies: not passes on -- passes off. He dies:
Now hollow fires burn out to black
And lights are guttering low:
Square your shoulders, lift your pack,
And leave your friends and go.
Oh never fear man, nought's to dread,
Look not left or right:
In all the endless road you tread
There's nothing but the night.
Does it bring you painful or pleasurable emotions? It is
beautiful; it is profound; it is deep. To me the painful and
pleasurable are blended in the beauty, and I think the two may be
Housman, as I have said, is the only one I know who wrote a
poem of pessimism; and this, like all of his, is very short, and I
will read it. Somebody else may have written one; but Housman
carries the philosophy of pessimism into poetry, perhaps the
philosophy that I have given you. This poem is supposed to be
introduced by somebody who complains of Housman's dark, almost
tragical verses. For in every line that he ever wrote there is no
let down. He is like Hardy; he never hauled down the flag. Life to
him was what he saw; what the world saw meant nothing. This was the
view in all of Housman's work. In all of his work there is not one
false note; and when I say a false note I mean one that is not in
tune with the rest. This is his idea of pessimism in poetry:
"Terence this is stupid stuff:
You eat your victuals fast enough;
There can't be much amiss, 'tis clear,
To see the rate you drink your beer.
But oh, good Lord, the verse you make,
It gives a chap the belly-ache.
We poor lads, 'tis our turn now
To hear such tunes as killed the cow.
Pretty friendship 'tis to rhyme
Your friends to death before their time
Moping melancholy mad:
Come, pipe a tune to dance to, lad."
Why, if 'tis dancing you would be,
There's brisker pipes than poetry.
Say, for what were hop-yards meant,
Or why was Burton built on Trent?
Oh many a peer of England brews
Livelier liquor than the Muse,
And malt does more than Milton can
To justify God's ways to man.
Ale, man, ale's the stuff to drink
For fellows whom it hurts to think:
Look into the pewter pot
To see the world as the world's not.
And faith, 'tis pleasant till 'tis past:
The mischief is that 'twill not last.
Oh I have been to Ludlow fair
And left my necktie God knows where,
And carried half way home, or near.
Pints and quarts of Ludlow beer:
Then the world seemed none so bad,
And I myself a sterling lad;
And down in lovely muck I've lain,
Happy till I woke again.
Then I saw the morning sky:
Heigho, the tale was all a lie;
The world it was the old world yet,
I was I, my things were wet.
And nothing now, remained to do
But begin the game anew.
Therefore, since the world has still
Much good, but much less good than Ill,
And while the sun and moon endure
Luck's a chance, but trouble's sure.
I'd face it as a wise man would,
And train for ill and not for good.
'Tis true the stuff I bring for sale
Is not so brisk a brew as ale:
Out of a stem that scored the hand
I wrung it in a weary land.
But take it: if the smack is sour,
The better for the embittered hour;
It should do good to heart and head
When your soul" is in my soul's stead;
And I will friend you, if I may,
In the dark and cloudy day.
FACING LIFE FEARLESSLY
"Luck's a chance but trouble's sure." The moral of it is to
"train for ill and not for good."
If I had my choice, I would not like to be an optimist, even
assuming that people did not know that I was an idiot. I wouldn't
want to be an optimist because when I fell I would fall such a
terribly long way. The wise man trains for ill and not for good. He
is sure he will need that training, and the other will take care of
itself as it comes along.
Of course, life is not all pleasant: it is filled with
tragedy. Housman has told us of it, and Omar Khayyam tells us of
it. No man and no woman can live and forget death. However much
they try. it is there, and it probably should be faced like
anything else. Measured time is very short. Life, amongst other
things, is full of futility.
Omar Khayyam understood, and Housman understood. There are
other poets that have felt the same way. Omar Khayyam looked on the
shortness of life and understood it. He pictured himself as here
for a brief moment. He loved his friends; he loved companionship;
he loved wine. I don't know how much of it he drank. He talked
about it a lot. It might have symbolized more than it really meant
to him. It has been a solace, all down through the ages. Not only
that, but it has been the symbol of other things that mean as much
-- the wine of life, the joy of living.
THE LORD'S DAY ALLIANCE
This veteran of the Courts, who has spent fifty years tearing
deserved holes in the law, takes and swings his priceless irony
towards these professional Christians. When do we rest and when do
we play? Apparently we don't. What Price salvation? it's not worth
Among the various societies that are engaged in the business
of killing pleasure, the Lord's Day Alliance of New York deserves
a place of honor. If any poor mortal is caught enjoying life on
Sunday its agents gleefully hie themselves to the nearest
legislature and urge a law to stop the fun. Their literature and
periodicals tell very plainly the kind of business they are in.
This association of crape-hangers seems to be especially interested
in the State of New York, which contains about one-tenth of the
population of the Union, and among them an unusually large number
of foreigners and other heathen who have not been taught the proper
regard for the sanctity of the Sabbath.
The activities of this Alliance in New York still leave them
ample time to watch the sinners in the other states and bring to
book the wicked who are bent on having pleasure on the holy Sabbath
Day. In their own language, the work is "In the interests of the
preservation and promotion of the Lord's Day as the American
Christian Sabbath ... to oppose all adverse measures seeking to
weaken the law and to seek the passage of such measures as would
tend to strengthen it." The Alliance informs us that "in the last
four years it has furnished sixty-seven addresses per month, on an
average. During this time over three hundred and twenty institute
meetings have been held for the study of the Sabbath question.
Several million pages of literature have been distributed." it
"also furnishes press articles and syndicate matter for the
newspapers." Imagine an institute spending so much time in the
study of the Sabbath question! If they have learned anything on
that subject it is not revealed, in their tracts.
These Lord's Day folk seek to protect the day "in the interest
of the home and the church," "to exalt Jesus Christ who is Lord of
the Sabbath Day and to spread the knowledge of the will of God that
His Kingdom may come and His will may be done." Though the
organization is still young it points to a long list of glorious
achievements. We are informed that "no adverse measure affecting
the Sabbath has passed at Albany during this time, although forty-
two such measures have been introduced in the legislature. ... A
representative of our organization has been present on each
occasion to oppose all such adverse measures." It boasts that it
"opposed the opening of the State Fair in 1925 on Sunday, by
vigorous protest to the members of the Commission and the Attorney
General." The result was a ruling from the Attorney General
sustaining the law. Of course, so long as no one could go to the
fair on Sunday the people were obliged to go to church. It "has
defeated annually an average of forty commercial and anti-Sunday
bills in our legislature and has brought about the closing of the
First and Second Class Post Offices on Sunday. ... As a result,
thousands are in our churches each Sunday." It has been thanked by
President Coolidge for the services rendered hundreds of thousands
of government employees in the District of Columbia and elsewhere
throughout the nation." What further honor could anybody get on
earth? It has "accepted the challenge and in scores of places
defeated ... commercial amusement forces which have declared a
nationwide fight to the finish for Sunday movies and are even
proposing to enlist the aid of the churches in their unholy
campaign." It succeeded in "changing the date of the gigantic air
carnival to which admission was charged, from Sunday, August 2, to
Saturday, August 1, 1925, held at Belling Field, Washington." No
one but a parson has the right to charge for his performance on
Sunday. Through its request "the War Department issued orders on
November 2, 1925, covering every military Post in the United
States, banning Sunday public air carnivals, and maneuvers." It is
now leading a country-wide movement for the enactment of a Sunday
rest law for the District of Columbia. Washington needs and must
have a Sunday rest law." It informs us that the "day must be kept
above the Dollar, Christ above Commercialism on the Lord's Day, the
person must have the right of way over the Pocketbook on our
Surely this is a great work and deserves the active support and
sympathy of all people who are really interested in driving
pleasure-seekers from golf grounds, automobile trips, baseball
parks, moving-picture houses and every other form of pleasure on
Sunday. It is possible that for lack of any other place to go, some
of them might be compelled to park themselves in church. If America
does not succeed in bringing back the ancient Puritan Sabbath with
its manifold blessings, it will not be the fault of the Lord's Day
As a part of this noble work the organization publishes
various pamphlets and leaflets and scatters them broadcast through
the land. As a rule, these pamphlets are the effusions of more or
less obscure parsons. These preachers have special knowledge of
God's plans and God's will. Their sermonettes are conflicting in
their statements and utterly senseless in their assertions. The
sentries of the Alliance on guard at the state capitals and in the
national Congress, while these wise bodies are in session, have no
doubt succeeded in coercing spineless members of legislative bodies
to yield to their will and their parade of votes; and thus spread
considerable gloom over the United States on the Sabbath Day.
These Lord's Day Alliance gentlemen are not only religious but
scientific. For instance, they publish a pamphlet written by one
Dr. A. Haegler, of Basle, Switzerland, in which he says that
experiments have shown that during a day's work a laborer expends
more oxygen than he can inhale. True, he catches up with a large
part of this deficiency through the night time, but does not regain
it all. It follows, of course, that if he keeps on working six days
a week, for the same time each day, he will be out a considerable
amount of oxygen, and the only way he can make it up is to take a
day off on Sunday and go to church. This statement seems to be
flawless to the powerful intellects who put out this literature.
Any person who is in the habit of thinking might at once arrive at
the conclusion that if the workman could not take in enough oxygen
gas in the ordinary hours of work and sleep he might well cut down
his day's work and lengthen his sleep and thus start even every
morning. This ought to be better than running on a shortage of gas
all through the week. Likewise, it must occur to most people that
there are no two kinds of labor that consume the same amount of
oxygen gas per day, and probably no two human systems that work
exactly alike. Then, too, if the workman ran behind on his oxygen
gas in the days when men worked from ten to sixteen hours a day he
might break even at night, since working hours have been reduced to
eight or less, with a Saturday half-holiday thrown in. It might
even help the situation to raise the bedroom window at night. These
matters, of course, do not occur to the eminent doctor who wrote
the pamphlet and the scientific gentlemen who send it out. To them
the silly statement proves that a man needs to take a day off on
Sunday and attend church in order that he may catch up on his
oxygen. To them it is perfectly plain that for catching up on
oxygen the church has a great advantage over the golf links or the
baseball park, or any other place where the wicked wish to go. This
in spite of the fact that in crowded buildings the oxygen might be
mixed with halitosis.
The exact proof that these patrons marshal for showing that
the need of a Sunday rest is manifest in the nature of things is
marvelous. If the need of Sunday rest was meant to be shown by
natural law it seems as if this should have been clearly indicated,
especially if the righteous God had determined to punish Sunday.
violations with death and hell. There was no reason why the Creator
should have been content to leave the proof to a revelation said to
have been made in a barbarous age to an unknown man, hidden in the
clouds on the top of a high mountain peak. humans would not have
graven such an important message on a tablet of stone and then
insisted that the tablet should be destroyed before any being
except Moses had set eye upon it. Even God should not ask for faith
that amounts to credulity and gross superstition.
A deity could have written the Sabbath requirements plain on
the face of nature. For instance, he might have made the waves be
still on the seventh day of the week; the grass might have taken a
day off and rested from growing until Monday morning; the wild
animals of the forest and glen might have refrained from fighting
and eating and chasing and maiming and have been made to close
their eyes on the Sabbath Day, and to have kept peace and
tranquillity. The earth might have paused in its course around the
sun or stood still on its axis. It should have been as important to
make this gesture in homage of the day as it was to help Joshua
hold the sun in leash that a battle might be prolonged. If nature
had made plain provision for the Sabbath Day it would be patent to
others as well as to the medicine men who insist that the Sabbath
Day was made for their profit alone.
But let us pass from the realm of science, where pastors never
did especially shine, into a field where they are more likely to
excel. Here it is fairly easy to see what it is all about. The
Reverend McQuilkin, Pastor at Orange, New Jersey, furnishes a
pamphlet for The Lord's Day Alliance. Read what the Doctor says:
God claims the Sabbath for himself in a very unique,
distinctive way as a day of rest and worship. He again and
again commands you to spend its hours in the conservation of
our spiritual power in the exercise of public and private
worship. To spend this holy day in pleasure or unnecessary
secular labor is to rob God. We have got to be careful how we
take the hours of the Sabbath for secular study or work, for
God will surely bring us to judgment concerning the matter.
Church attendance is a definite obligation, a debt which we
owe to God.
Here is where the Alliance seems to strike pay dirt! What
reason has God to Claim the Sabbath for Himself, and why is God
robbed if a man should work on Sunday? It can hardly be possible
that the puny insects that we call men could disturb God in His
Sunday rest. Is it not a little presumptuous even to parsons, to
say that a debt to the church is a debt to God?
To emphasize the importance of leaving the Sabbath to the
preachers, we are warned of the fate of the sinner who profanes the
Sabbath by work or play. The Lords Day Alliance has issued a little
folder on which there is the following heading in large letters:
THE IMPORTANCE OF THE DEATH PENALTY. Under it is printed this
timely caution: "Six days shall work be done, but on the seventh
day is a Sabbath of solemn rest, holy to Jehovah; whosoever doeth
any work on the Sabbath Day shall surely be put to death. Ex.
31-35." The pamphlet also states that a wealthy business man is
furnishing the money for the distribution of this sheet. If this
barbarous statement represents the views of the Lord's Day Alliance
then what is the mental caliber of the Congressmen, members of the
legislatures, judges, and the public that are influenced by their
ravings? Can anyone but an idiot have any feeling but contempt for
men who seek to scare children and old women with such infamous
Let us see what the Bible says on this important subject. In
Exodus 19: 8-12 we find not only the commandment which was
delivered to Moses in reference to the Sabbath, but the reasons for
such a commandment:
Remember the Sabbath Day to keep it holy. Six days shalt
thou labor and do all thy work; but the seventh day is the
Sabbath of the Lord thy God. In it thou shalt do no work,
thou, nor thy son, nor thy daughter, nor thy man servant nor
thy maid servant nor the cattle which is within thy gates; for
in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sun and all
that is in them and rested the seventh day, wherefore the Lord
blessed the Sabbath Day and hallowed it.
It is plain from this commandment that the Sabbath was not
instituted in obedience to any natural law or so that man might
catch up on his supply of oxygen, but because the Lord in six days
had performed the herculean task of creating the universe out of
nothing. Therefore, every man must rest on the seventh, no matter
whether he has been working and is tired or not. This is made even
more binding in Exodus 35: 2:
Six days shall work be done, upon the seventh day there
shall be to you a holy day, the Sabbath of the rest of the
Lord. Whosoever doeth work therein shall be put to death.
In view of the commands of God, certainly his special agents
on the earth cannot be blamed for cruelty, no matter what ferocious
doctrine they may preach. In Numbers 28: 9-10 in connection with
various offerings that the Law required on the Sabbath, a provision
is made for meat offerings and drink offerings. The meat offerings
enjoin the sacrifice of lambs by fire as "a sweet savor unto the
Lord," and then the Lord provides that the pastor shall further:
Sacrifice on the Sabbath Day two lambs of the first year
without spot and two-tenths of a part of an ephah of fine
flour for a meal-offering, mingled with oil and the drink
offering thereof: this is the burnt-offering of every Sabbath,
besides the continual burnt-offering and his drink offering.
It is evident that the lambs less than one year old, without
spot, were to be burned because they were so young and innocent and
would therefore make such a "sweet savor unto the Lord." Nothing is
lacking in this smell but mint sauce. If Moses's to be obeyed on
pain of hell in his command to abstain from work or play on the
Sabbath why is the rest of the program any less sacred? How can the
holy parsons release their congregations from the sacrifice of the
two spotless lambs and the two-tenths of an ephah of fine flour
mingled with oils?
In the Fifteenth Chapter of Numbers, it is related that while
the children of Israel were in the wilderness they found a man
gathering sticks on the Sabbath Day. The Hebrews were evidently at
a loss to know what should be done with him for this most heinous
offense, so they put him in "ward" to await the further orders of
the Lord. It is then related, "and the Lord said unto Moses: The
man shall surely he pat to death; all the congregation shall stone
him with stones without the camp. And all the congregation brought
him without the camp and stoned him to death with stones: as
Jehovah commanded Moses." In spite of manifold texts like this
there are persons who protest that they love this bloody,
barbarous, tribal God of the Jews. The literature of the Alliance
clearly indicates that its sponsors would follow this command of
Jehovah at the present time if they could only have their way.
Dr. McQuilkin further tells us that the defenders of the day
have often been too superficial in their contentions on behalf of
this holy Sabbath; that they should soft-pedal the "thou shalt
nots" and "we should thunder our 'thou shalts' into the ears of the
foolish, wicked men who for the sake of pleasure or financial
profit would rob their fellow men or themselves of the precious
rest God had given them for the cultivation and nurture of their
immortal souls." "Such men," he continues, "must be identified with
murderers and suicides." The common punishment for murder is death,
and suicide is death, therefore Dr. McQuilkin, with the rest of his
associates and with his God, believes in the death penalty for
working or playing on the Sabbath.
How one involuntarily loves this righteous Dr. McQuilkin of
Orange, New Jersey. He must be a man whose love and understanding
oozes from every pore of his body. No doubt the people of Orange
who are burdened with sorrow or sin bring their sore troubles and
lay them on his loving breast. I am sure that little children in
their grief rush to his outstretched arms for solace and relief.
The Reverend Doctor McQuilkin makes short work of the idea
that you cannot make people good by law. In fact, that seems to him
to be the only way to make them good. Therefore people and
enterprises that commercialize Sundays by baseball games and moving
pictures, who "whine about the impossibility of making people good
by law, ought to go either to school or to jail." Probably the
pastor would be in favor of the Jail. The Reverend Doctor is very
much exercised about his idea that the Sabbath should be spent in
cultivating our "spiritual nature." From the gentle and kindly
character of the doctor's utterances, one judges that he must spend
several days a week cultivating his "spiritual nature."
The godly doctor is indeed earnest about the church-going. He
says, "God will surely bring us to judgment in the matter of
staying away from church, for church attendance is a definite
obligation, a debt which we owe to God." The doctor has a naive way
of mixing up himself and his private business affairs with the
Could it be possible that the Reverend Doctor McQuilkin's
serious case of rabies might be due to vacant pews? Such cases are
related in the following extract from a very disheartening
paragraph put out by the Lord's Day Alliance in a folder entitled
"Let's Save Our American Christian Sabbath."
A significant part of this falling away from old American
ideals has been the neglect of the churches -- life among
Christian people dropping to a lower plane on Sunday. The lure
of pleasure and the drift to seven-day slavery within a few
years have utterly changed the character of the day. The,
average attendance at Sunday morning services, taken for all
the churches of New York State -- counting large city churches
as well as small country ones -- has steadily dropped until it
has now reached only fifty-three persons. This amounts to but
little more than one-fourth of their total enrolled
membership! The old days of tithes are gone. Lack of support
is making the situation more and more critical and many
churches have had to be abandoned. Is the church to survive?
Are we to remain a Christian nation?
This is indeed distressing. I can well imagine the feeling of
chagrin that steals over the parson when he talks to fifty persons
on Sunday morning. Here are the few parishioners, solemn-visaged
and sitting impatiently in their pews while a joyous crowd rolls by
in automobiles on their road to hell. I cannot help thinking of the
parson on a Sunday morning, telling the same story over and over
again to his half hundred listeners.
I have seen this pastor and this congregation in the country
church and the city church. What have they in common with the world
today? Who are these faithful fifty? One-third of them, at least,
are little boys and girls twisting and turning and yawning and
fussing in their stiff, uncomfortable clothes, in the hard church
pews. Then there are the usual fat old women, wearing their Sunday
finery. Their faces are dull and heavy and altogether unlovely.
They no longer think of the world; they are looking straight into
space at the Promised Land. They hold a hymn book or a Bible in
their time-worn hands. Perhaps there are ten full grown men in
church; two or three of these look consumptive; one or two are
merchants who think that being at church will help them sell
prunes; the rest are old and tottering. It has been long years
since a new thought or even an old one has found lodgment in their
atrophied brains. They are, decrepit and palsied and done; so far
as life and the world are concerned, they are already dead. One
feels sympathetic toward the old. But why should the aged, who have
lived their lives, grumble and complain about youth with its
glow and ambition and hope? Why should they sit in the fading light
and watch the world go by and vainly reach out their bony hands to
hold it back?
Aside from the Lord's Day Alliance's way of appealing to the
law to make people go to church, I can think of only two plans to
fill the pews. First, to abandon a large number of the churches and
give the parsons a chance to find some useful and paying job.
Secondly, to get more up-to-date, human and intelligent preachers
into the church pulpits.
The literature issued by the Alliance shows great concern
about Sunday newspapers. These papers consume a great deal of
valuable time on the Sabbath Day. They are in no way the proper
literature for Sunday reading. Automobile trips, too, are an
abomination on the Sabbath. One pamphlet records approval of the
conduct of the "venerable" John D. Paton who even refused to use
street-cars on Sunday while visiting America. He kept his
appointments by long walks, sometimes even having to run between
engagements. This sounds to me strangely like work. Still it might
have been necessary in order to get the proper amount of oxygen
Playing golf on Sunday is a sacrilegious practice. A whole
leaflet is prepared by Dr. Jefferson on golf. "No one ought to play
golf on Sunday. ... The golf player may need oxygen but he should
not forget his caddie." The doctor calls our attention to the fact
that men in the days of Moses were mindful of even the least of
these. How our parsons do love Moses and his murderous laws! We are
told that a caddie works, that it is not play to trudge after a
golf ball with a bag of clubs on his back. The leaflets say that
the caddie does not work on Sunday for fun but, for money, and it
"isn't a manly thing for the golf player to hire him to work on
Sunday." We are told that "there are now over one hundred thousand
caddies on the golf links every Sunday. These caddies are making a
living." Of course this picture is pathetic. It is too bad that the
Lord's Day Alliance cannot get these hundred thousand caddies
discharged. Then possibly some of them would go to Church on
Sunday. They might even drop a nickel in the contribution box.
Does anyone believe that if the caddies were offered the same
money for going to church that they get for hunting golf balls they
would choose the church? It takes a bright boy to be a caddie.
The caddies do not inspire all the tears; we are told that
Chauffeurs and railroad employees are necessary to take the players
to and from the golf links. This is no doubt true. Still, we have
even seen chauffeurs sitting in automobiles outside a Church where
they had driven their employers to get their souls saved. On our
suburban railroads there are many trains put in service on Sunday
to take people to and from church, but these have not come under
the ban of the Lord's Day Alliance. Its complaint is that so few
trains are needed for this blessed work.
There is some logic in this folder. We are told that "if golf
is allowable on Sunday, then, so is tennis, baseball basketball,
football, bowling and all other games which our generation is fond
of." "You can't forbid one without forbidding the others," says the
Alliance. We heartily agree with the Reverend Doctor on this
No one needs to go to ball games or movies or play golf on
Sunday unless he wants to spend his time that way. I have never
seen anybody who objected to the members of the Lord's Day Alliance
or any others from abstaining from all kinds of work and all sorts
of play and every method of enjoyment on Sunday.
Dr. Robert E. Speer of Englewood, New Jersey, is very definite
and specific as to the proper way to spend Sunday and the sort of
recreation man should naturally enjoy on this holy day. Dr. Speer,
says, "God wants the worship of the Lord's Day and he wants us to
have the indispensable comforts and pleasure of It." One would
think that Dr. Speer got daily messages from God. "We need the day
for meditation and prayer and plans for better living." No one
questions the good doctor's right to satisfy his needs in such way
as seems necessary and pleasurable for him. All that I contend for
is that I, too, shall decide these questions for myself.
Dr. Speer says:
There are some things deadly in their power to spoil it
(referring to the Sabbath). One is the Sunday newspapers. I
pass by all that may be denounced as defiling in it. ... There
is harm enough in its "wallow of secularity." ... Look at the
men who feed their minds and souls on Sunday with this food.
They miss the calm and holy peace, the glowing divinity of the
It is just conceivable that one might read a Sunday newspaper
and still have time for "the glowing divinity of the day," to glow
long enough to satisfy every desire.
Dr. Speer condemns those who berate the quality of the sermons
preached on Sunday and informs us that the wisest man can learn
something from the poorest preacher, although he neglects to say
Just what. He tells us that a country preacher's sermon is superior
to the country editor's writings or the country lawyer's speeches.
This may be true. It is, at all events, true to Dr. Speer and there
is no reason in the world why he should not hunt up the "poorest
Preacher" that he can find and listen to him on every Sunday. No
doubt Dr. Speer might learn something from him.
Dr. Speer disapproves of riding on railroad trains on Sunday
if it can be avoided. "Certainly no one should take long railroad
journeys on Sunday." He tells us, "Sunday golf, newspapers, and all
that sort of thing are bad and weakening in their influence. There
are particular evidence of the trend of the man who thus abandons
his birthright." The doctor is more definite in his beautiful
picture of just what one ought to do on the Sabbath Day. On this
subject he says:
I do not believe that anyone who grew up in a truly
Christian home in which the old ideas prevailed can have any
sympathy with this modern abuse of the old-fashioned
observance of Sunday. There, on Sunday, the demands of the
week were laid aside. The family gathered over the Bible and
the Catechism. There was a quiet calm through the house.
Innumerable things rendered it a marked day, as distinct from
other days, and probably it ended with a rare walk with the
father at the son's side and some sober talk over what is
abiding and what is of eternal worth.
We could hazard a guess that the reason that the mother was
not present on this joyful occasion was because she was at home
washing the dishes from a big Sunday dinner that she had prepared.
It is entirely possible that Dr. Speer's picture of the ideal
Sabbath is a good picture. Doubtless it is good to him. Still,
hidden in my mind and recalled by Dr. Speer's alluring language, is
the memory of his ideal Presbyterian Sunday. This was a day of
unmitigated pain. No spirit or life or joy relieved the boredom and
torture of the endless hours. The day meant misery to all the
young. Even now I can feel the blank despair that overcame youth
and hope as we children left our play on Saturday night and sadly
watched the sun go down and the period of gloom steal across the
world. Why should Dr. Speer and the other dead seek to force that
sort of a Sabbath upon men and women who want to take in their
oxygen gas in the baseball bleachers, or the golf links?
From Dr. Speer's picture of the ideal Sabbath I infer that he
is a Presbyterian. This opinion has been confirmed by reference to
Who's Who. I find that for long years he has been a Presbyterian
preacher, not only in America, but be has carried the blessed
gospel even into China that the heathen of that benighted land
might not live and die without the consoling knowledge of eternal
Dr. Speer's beautiful picture of the old-time Christian
Sabbath describes "the family gathered over the Bible and the
Catechism." I, too, sat under the ministrations of a Presbyterian
preacher and was duly instructed in the Westminster Catechism. In
spite of the aversion and terror that its reference inspired, I
took down the book to read once more the horrible creed of the
twisted and deformed minds who produced this monstrosity which has
neither sense, meaning, justice nor Mercy, but only malignant
depravity. A devilish creed which shocks every tender sentiment of
the human mind. I am inclined to think from their internal evidence
that most of the sermonettes circulated by the Lord's Day Alliance
had their origin in the warped minds of the Presbyterian clergy. I
would hazard a bet that the tender, gentle, loving Dr. McQuilkin is
a Presbyterian I sought to confirm this belief by consulting Who's
Who, but found that the editors had stupidly left out his name.
Still I am convinced that he is a Presbyterian.
In this ancient Westminster Catechism which few men read I
quote question and answer number sixty:
Question: How is the Sabbath to be sanctified?
Answer: The Sabbath is to be sanctified by a holy resting
all that day, even from such worldly employments and
recreations as are lawful on other days; and spending the
whole time in public and private exercises of God's worship,
except so much as is to be taken up in the works of necessity
Small wonder that these croakers should seek to call children
from joy and laughter to spend "the whole time in public and
private exercises of God's worship." The wonder is not that these
Divines should seek to place their palled hands upon the youth but
that an intelligent people, who really do not worship a God of
malignancy and hate, would ever let these lovers of darkness invade
a legislative body. They have no more place in the sunlight and
pure air than croaking frogs and hooting owls. Here is the first
question and answer in this wondrous catechism:
Question: What is the chief end of man?
Answer: Man's chief end is to glorify God and to enjoy
What sort of a God is this in which these parsons believe? A
God who can find no other work for man and no other use for the
emotions that nature placed in him, except to spend his life in
glorifying his maker? Imagine taking a child from play and the life
and activity that nature has made necessary for its being, and
seeking to make him understand something that no preacher can
Again, as to the simple nature of the Godhead, the catechism
says: "There are three persons in the God-head; the Father, the Son
and the Holy Ghost; and these three are one God, the same in
substance, equal in power and glory." Imagine a family spending the
whole Sabbath unravelling a mystery like this. It is evident that
any child whose mind has been permanently twisted by this wondrous
logic would later be found visiting legislative bodies and
imploring them to pass laws to blot the sun from the sky on the
Here is Number 7:
Question: What are the decrees of God?
Answer: The decrees of God are His eternal purpose
according to the counsel of His will, where-by, for His own
glory, He has fore-ordained whatsoever comes to pass.
After the child had been made to thoroughly understand how to
harmonize freedom and responsibility of man with the statement that
God had foreordained whatever comes to pass, he might then on pain
of hell tackle number 8:
Question: What is the work of creation?
Answer: The work of the creation is God's making all
things of nothing, by word of His power, in the space if six
days, and all very good.
Any child could understand how God, as the catechism says, is
a "spirit" and could make all things out of nothing, Himself
included. God's justice to man is lucidly explained in the
Westminster Catechism which tells the Sabbath Day student that "the
sin whereby our first parents fell from the estate wherein they
were created, was their eating the forbidden fruit."
Question 16 and answer make this a living issue:
Question: Did all mankind fall in Adam's first
Answer: The covenant being made with Adam, not only for
himself, but for his posterity, all mankind descending from
him by ordinary generation, sinned in him, and fell with him,
in his first transgression.
The answer to the seventeenth question says: "The fall brought
mankind into an estate of sin and misery."
There are thousands of generations between the first man, if
there ever was one, and the boy who likes activity and play on the
Sabbath Day. Unless the boy is perverse and wicked he should
understand the justice of being condemned to an estate of sin and
misery because Adam made a covenant, not only for himself, but for
all his posterity. It is not worth while to quote further from the
Westminster Catechism. This brutal creed runs on for 107 questions
and answers. And this is the shorter catechism!
It is amazing to think that any human being with ordinary
intelligence would accept such doctrine now. It is still more
amazing that in spite of the brazen effrontery of the Lord's Day
Alliance, legislative bodies should help to enforce such teaching
upon the young. But even this is not sufficiently terrible for a
Sabbath Day diversion. In answer to Question 19 we are told, "All
mankind, by their fall lost communion with God, are under His wrath
and curse and so made liable to all the miseries in this life, to
death itself, and to the pains of hell forever." Of coarse, no one
would believe this today except on fear of eternal torture. Does
the fear never enter the minds of those parsons that God might
punish them eternally for believing that He is such a monster?
When one thinks of this organization with its senseless
leaflets, its stern endeavors, its blank despair, its half-shut
eyes blinking at life, one is reminded of the frogs in the green
scum-covered pond in the woods who sit on their haunches in the
dark and croak all day. No doubt these frogs believe that the germ
infested pond is a sacred pool. They are oblivious of the rolling,
living ocean that lies just beyond.
Dr. Speer, like the other members of the Lord's Day Alliance,
is very sure that one of the chief occupations of Sunday should be
attending church. Bat what church, pray? We are informed that any
preacher is better to listen to and read from than any Editor,
lawyer or other person, Most of us have heard all sorts of
preachers. We have listened to some whose churches could only be
filled if the lard's Day Alliance should succeed and make it an
offense punishable by death not to go to church. We have heard
preachers who had something to say and could say it well, There is
as much difference in the views and ability of preachers as in
other men. Would Dr. Speer think that we should go to hear the
Fundamentalists or the Unitarians? Should we listen to the Holy
Rollers or the Modernists?
There are few men outside of the Lord's Day Alliance who would
care to listen to their favorite preacher for a full day and there
are few preachers who would undertake to talk for a whole day.
What, then, must one do for the rest of the time? One simply cannot
sleep all day on Sunday.
In all this literature we are constantly urged to preserve our
"American Sabbath." Is there any special holiness that lurks around
an "American Sabbath"? Are not European Christians as competent to
determine the right way to employ their time on Sundays as American
Christians? The Lord's Day folk say that reading the Sunday
newspapers, playing golf, riding in automobiles, and witnessing
baseball games and movies is "un-American." This compound word has
been used to cover a multitude of sins. What it means nobody knows.
It is bunkum meant to serve every cause, good and bad alike. By
what license does the Lord's Day Alliance call its caricature of
Sunday an "American Sabbath?" On what grounds does it urge it as
against the European Sabbath? Is this nightmare which the Lord's
Day Alliance is so anxious to force upon the United States a
product of America? Everyone knows that Sunday, with the rest of
the Christian religion, came to us from Europe. The weird ideas of
the Lord's Day Alliance are European. When and how it came to us is
worth finding out.
Jesus and His disciples did not believe in the Jewish Sabbath.
They neither abstained from work nor play. St. Paul, specially,
condemned the setting apart of days and said to his disciples, "Ye
observe days and months and times and years. I am afraid of ye lest
I have bestowed upon ye labor in vain."
The early fathers did not approve of any such day as the
Lord's Day Alliance insists shall be fastened upon America. St.
Jerome and his group attended church services on Sunday, but
otherwise pursued their usual occupations. St. Augustine calls
Sunday a festal day and says that the Fourth Commandment is in no
literal sense binding upon Christianity. Even Luther and Calvin
enjoined no such a day upon the Christians as these moderns wish to
fasten upon America that the churches may be filled. The righteous
John Knox "played bowls" on Sunday, and in his voluminous preaching
used no effort to make Sunday a day of gloom wherein people should
abstain from work and play. It was not until 1595 that an English
preacher of Suffolk first insisted that the Jewish Sabbath should
be maintained. The controversy over this question lasted for a
hundred years and resulted in a law proscribing every kind of
Sunday recreation, even "vainly and profanely walking for
pleasure." England Soon reacted against this blue Sabbath and
permitted trading, open theaters and frivolity in the afternoon and
evening. Under the leadership of the Church of England the Sabbath
no longer was a day of gloom and despair.
The real American Sabbath was born in Scotland after the death
of John Knox. It fits the stern hills, the bleak moors and, the
unfriendly climate of this northern land. It was born of fear and
gloom and it lives by fear and gloom. Early in the Seventeenth
Century, Scotland adopted this stern theory of the Jewish Sabbath
and applied it ruthlessly. The Westminster Confession was adopted
by the General Assembly of the Kirk of Scotland in 1647 and has
remained the formal standard of faith to the present day. Ordinary
recreations were disallowed. Books and music were forbidden except
such as were recognized as religious in a narrow sense. No
recreation but whiskey-drinking remained, This Presbyterian Sabbath
of Scotland was brought to New England by the early settlers of
America and is, in fact, a Scotch Sabbath -- not an American
Even in spite of the natural gloom and cold of Scotland,
Sunday strictness has been greatly modified there in the last fifty
years. It is not the present Scotch Sabbath that these modern
Puritans insist on forcing upon America. It is the old, ferocious,
Scotch Sabbath of the Westminster Confession. It was brought from
a land of gloom into a land of sunshine, and the Lord's Day
Alliance prefers the gloom and hardness of this outworn, out-lived
Scotch Sabbath to the sunshine and joy that comes with a fertile
soil, a mild climate and natural human emotions.
It is almost unbelievable that a handful of men without reason
or humanity, should be able to force their cruel dogmas upon the
people. Not one in twenty of the residents of the United States
believes in the Sabbath of the Lord's Day Alliance. Our cities,
villages, and even country districts, protest against the bigotry
and intolerance of the lard's Day. Alliance and their kind. Still
in spite of this, by appeal to the obsolete statutes, religious
prejudice, crass ignorance and unfathomable fanaticism, they carry
on their mighty campaign of gloom.
After long years of effort, with the lazy, cowardly public
that does not want to be disturbed, the Legislature of New York, in
the face of the opposition of the Lord's Day Alliance, managed to
pass a law providing that incorporated cities and towns should have
the right to legalize baseball games and moving picture shows on
Sunday after two o'clock in the afternoon and charge an admission
fee for seeing the entertainment. Why after two o'clock? The answer
is perfectly plain: It is possible that someone might be forced
into church in the morning if there was nowhere else to go. Were
the hours after two o'clock any less sacred in the laws of Moses
and the Prophets than the hours before two o'clock? Or was
Legislature induced to pass this law simply to give the minister a
privilege that it grants to no one else?
Ours is a cosmopolitan country, made up of all sorts of people
with various creeds. There should be room enough to allow each
person to spend Sunday and every other day according to his own
pleasure and his own profit. In spite of the Lord's Day Alliance
and all other alliances, it is too late in the history of the world
to bring back the Mosaic Sabbath. Regardless of their best
endeavors it will probably never again be a crime punishable by
death to work or play on what they are pleased to call the Lord's
Day. Those ministers who have something to say that appeals to men
and women will be able to make themselves heard without a law
compelling people to go to church. If the Lords Day Alliance can
provide something equally attractive to compete with the Sunday
newspapers, golf, baseball games, movies and the open air, they
will get the trade. If they cannot provide such entertainment, then
in spite of all their endeavors the churches will be vacant. It is
time that those who do not believe in intolerance, but in freedom,
should make themselves heard in no uncertain way. It is time that
men should determine to defend their right to attend to their own
affairs and live their own lives, regardless of the bigots who in
all ages have menaced the welfare of the world and the liberty of