23. Belief, at the present day, must be based on reason; consequently, no doctrine that is contrary to reason can continue to maintain its hold on the human mind. The doctrine of eternal punishment may have been not only harmless, but also even useful, at a given period of human development; but it has become positively dangerous, now that the period of its usefulness has passed. When the human mind has acquired the power and habit of reasoning, the attempt to impose upon it, as the absolute truth, something that is contrary to reason, must necessarily lead to one of two alternatives; either those whose minds are thus brought face to face with an absurdity wish to believe, and seek out for themselves a more rational conception – in which case they break loose from their official teachers – or they throw the very idea of belief overboard, and become skeptics or atheists. For all who have calmly studied this aspect of the question, it is evident that, at the present day, the dogma of eternal punishment has made more materialists and atheists than the arguments of all the so- called philosophers put together.
The course of human thought is always onward. Humanity can only be led by considerations in harmony with this progressive movement of human ideas; the attempt to arrest this movement or turn it back, or merely to fall into its rear, while the current continues to flow on, must necessarily be fatal to the influence of those who make the attempt. To follow, or not to follow, this onward movement of the human mind is a question of life or death, for creeds as for governments. Is this to be regretted or to be rejoiced in? Assuredly, it must appear regrettable to those who, living upon the past, see the past slipping from under them; but, for those whose eyes are turned towards the future, it is the law of progress, the law of God, against which all resistance is in vain, for those who fight against the Divine Will won’t succeed.
But why should any person be determined to uphold, by main force, a belief that is not only dying out from the convictions of humankind, but which, in point of fact, is far more injurious than useful to the cause of religion? Alas! It is sad to have to make such a confession, but the fact is that, in the desperate efforts now being made to keep up the doctrine we are considering, the question of religion is subordinated to the question of pecuniary gain. The belief in eternal punishment has been made a source of large revenue to those who have inculcated it, because there has been craftily interwoven with it the idea that men, through the giving of money, can procure for themselves admission into Heaven, and thus preserve themselves from Hell. The sums that this doctrine has brought, and still brings, defy all calculation; it is a tax levied on the fear of eternity. This tax being a voluntary one, its amount proportioned to the degree of belief accorded to the doctrine on which it is based; if that belief should cease to exist, the tax to which it gives rise would also cease to exist. The little child, who believes in the existence of the werewolf, willingly gives his cake to the bigger boy who promises to drive the dreaded visitant away; but when the child has ceased to believe in werewolves, he keeps the cake for himself.