Freethought Friday: Quotable Atheists I

Oh, those early freethinkers could turn a phrase on a dime, my darlings, and it’s time we had a selection of their quotable bits. Here I’ve a small selection of quotes loosely themed around religion and morality. Do you have any favorites of your own? Do share!

Elizabeth Cady Stanton: “When women understand that governments and religions are human inventions; that Bibles, prayer-books, catechisms, and encyclical letters are all emanations from the brains of man, they will no longer be oppressed by the injunctions that come to them with the divine authority of ‘Thus sayeth the Lord.’”

Robert Ingersoll: “Religion has not civilized man—man has civilized religion. God improves as man advances.”

Baron d’Holbach: “Is there anything better calculated to annihilate every idea of morality in the minds of men, than to make them understand that their God, who is so powerful and so perfect, is often compelled to use crime to accomplish His designs?”

Charles Southwell: “Witness the character of Him implied in the conceit of that popular preacher who declared ‘there are children in hell not a span long’—a declaration which could only be made by one whose humanity was extinguished by divinity.”

Matilda Joslyn Gage: “The church has ever obstructed the progress of humanity, delaying civilization and condemning the world to a moral barbarism from which there is no escape except through repudiation of its teachings.”

Torture Chamber of the Inquisition. From 'A Complete History of the Inquisition', Westminster, London 1736. Image and caption courtesy Wikimedia Commons.
Torture Chamber of the Inquisition. From ‘A Complete History of the Inquisition’, Westminster, London 1736. Image and caption courtesy Wikimedia Commons.


Freethought Friday: Quotable Atheists I
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8 thoughts on “Freethought Friday: Quotable Atheists I

  1. rq

    For those who believe in God, most of the big questions are answered. But for those of us who can’t readily accept the God formula, the big answers don’t remain stone-written. We adjust to new conditions and discoveries. We are pliable. Love need not be a command or faith a dictum. I am my own God. We are here to unlearn the teachings of the church, state, and our educational system. We are here to drink beer. We are here to kill war. We are here to laugh at the odds and live our lives so well that Death will tremble to take us. (Charles Bukowski);

    I talk to God but the sky is empty. (Sylvia Plath);

    An angel’s arm can’t snatch me from the grave; legions of angels can’t confine me there. (Edward Young);

    “Judge not, that ye be not judge”… is an abdication of moral responsibility: it is a moral blank check one gives to others in exchange for a moral blank check one expects for oneself. There is no escape from the fact that men have to make choices; so long as men have to make choices, there is no escape from moral values; so long as moral values are at stake, no moral neutrality is possible. To abstain from condemning a torturer, is to become an accesory to the torture and murder of his victims. The moral principle to adopt… is: “Judge, and be prepared to be judged.” (Ayn Rand) (Yes, I know, her, but…);

    Martyrs have been sincere. And so have tyrants. Wise men have been sincere. And so have fools.
    (E. Haldeman-Julius)


    These are a few… I have more, somewhere! :)

  2. 2

    Robert Ingersoll: “Religion has not civilized man—man has civilized religion. God improves as man advances.”

    Where was Ingersoll last night at the bar when I was debating a gay pastor? That’s exactly the concept I struggled to articulate.

  3. 3

    Allah, n.: The Mahometan Supreme Being, as distinguished from the Christian, Jewish, and so forth.

    Christian, n.: One who believes that the New Testament is a divinely inspired book admirably suited to the spiritual needs of his neighbor. One who follows the teachings of Christ in so far as they are not inconsistent with a life of sin.

    Clergyman, n.: A man who undertakes the management of our spiritual affairs as a method to better his temporal ones.

    Heathen, n.: A benighted creature who has the folly to worship something that he can see and feel.

    Heaven, n.: A place where the wicked cease from troubling you with talk of their personal affairs, and the good listen with attention while you expound your own.

    Infidel, n.: In New York, one who does not believe in the Christian religion; in Constantinople, one who does.

    Irrelition, n.: The principal one of the great faiths of the world.

    Moral, adj.: Conforming to a local and mutable standard of right. Having the quality of general expediency.

    Pray, v.: To ask that the laws of the universe be annulled in behalf of a single petitioner confessedly unworthy.

    Prophesy, n.: The art and practice of selling one’s credibility for future delivery.

    Religion, n.: A daughter of Hope and Fear, explaining to Ignorance the nature of the Unknowable.

    Saint, n.: A dead sinner revised and edited.

    Scriptures, n.: The sacred books of our holy religion, as distinguished from the false and profane writings on which all other faiths are based.

    Theosophy, n.: An ancient faith having all the certitude of religion and all the mystery of science.

    Trinity, n.: In the multiplex theism of certain Christian churches, three entirely distinct deities consistent with only one. Subordinate deities of the polytheistic faith, such as devils and angels, are not dowered with the power of combination, and must urge individually their clames to adoration and propitiation. The Trinity is one of the most sublime mysteries of our holy religion. In rejecting it because it is incomprehensible, Unitarians betray their inadequate sense of theological fundamentals. In religion we believe only what we do not understand, except in the instance of an intelligible doctrine that contradicts an incomprehensible one. In that case we believe the former as a part of the latter.

    — Ambrose Bierce, The Devil’s Dictionary

  4. 4

    I can’t think why fancy religions should have such a ghastly effect on one’s grammar. It’s a kind of intellectual rot that sets in, I’m afraid.
    —Dorothy L. Sayers

    not exactly an atheist; in fact, a lofty CofE xian aplogist, but if you ignore that, you get a piercing comment on religion in general. And, it’s funny.

  5. 6

    We live in a world of symbols and abstractions and many a man dies by his own cliches.

    Attribution unknown. This is a quotation that my junior high school teacher had posted above the black board.
    There, I’ve dated myself twice in one sentence.
    Does anyone recognize this quote? I’ve been trying to track it down for ages.

  6. 8

    The survival of religion is dependent upon the naivete of it’s followers, the denial of any truth that contradicts it, and the perceived unworthiness of outsiders. – George W. Morgan

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