Friday Freethought: “It Is Not Worth While to Believe a Lie”

Annie Besant may have left atheism for Theosophy later in life, but she was a firebrand before she met Blavatsky. Many of the things she said while she was palling around with Charles Bradlaugh, getting prosecuted for things like publishing books about birth control, and helping matchgirls form a union would not be out of place in the mouths of firey feminist gnu atheists today. Well, aside from the fact that her language is Victorian era. Her sentiments are assuredly not.

In this piece, she speaks to those who advocate for a version of Pascal’s wager. I need to print this paragraph on the sort of oversized postcard thingies churches use these days in a desperate attempt to punch up their attendance, paste it on the back of said thingies, and return their pathetic little pleas to sender. Perhaps I’ll include a link to the Clergy Project – considering one of them might reach the hands of a closet atheist preacher who doesn’t realize he (or, in a few congregations, she) is not alone.

We’ll have more from Annie in the future. She wrote many words suitable for pasting to adverts and sending back to the churches enthusiastically peddling their brands of salvation.


from My Path to Atheism

by Annie Besant

Annie Besant. Image courtesy NYPL via Wikimedia Commons.
Annie Besant. Image courtesy NYPL via Wikimedia Commons.

“Is it not worth while to believe,” blandly urges a Christian writer, “if it is true, as it is true, that they who deny will suffer everlasting torments?” No! we thunder back at him, it is not worth while; it is not worth while to believe a lie, or to acknowledge as true that which our hearts and intellects alike reject as false; it is not worth while to sell our souls for a heaven, or to defile our honesty to escape a hell; it is not worth while to bow our knee to a Satan or bend our heads before a spectre. Better, far better, to “dwell with everlasting burnings” than to degrade our humanity by calling a lie, truth, and cruelty, love, and unreasonableness, justice; better to suffer in hell, than to have our hearts so hard that we could enjoy while others suffer; could rejoice while others are tormented, could sing alleluias to the music of golden harps, while our lyrics are echoed by the anguished wailing of the lost. God Himself—were He such as Christians paint Him—could not blot out of our souls our love of truth, of righteousness, of justice. While we have these we are ourselves, and we can suffer and be happy; but we cannot afford to pay down these as the price of our admission to heaven. We should be miserable even as we paced the golden streets, and should sit in tears beside the river of the water of life. Yet this is salvation; this is what Christians offer us in the name of Jesus; this is the glad tidings brought to us as the gospel of the Saviour, as the “good news of God;” and this we reject, wholly and utterly, laughing it to scorn from the depths of our glad hearts which the Truth has made free; this we denounce, with a stern and bitter determination, in the name of the Universal Father, in the name of the self-reliance of humanity, in the name of all that is holy, and just, and loving.

Friday Freethought: “It Is Not Worth While to Believe a Lie”
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3 thoughts on “Friday Freethought: “It Is Not Worth While to Believe a Lie”

  1. 3

    Another Brit of the same period (although male) expressed some very similar sentiments:

    Out of the night that covers me,
    Black as the pit from pole to pole,
    I thank whatever gods may be
    For my unconquerable soul.

    In the fell clutch of circumstance
    I have not winced nor cried aloud.
    Under the bludgeonings of chance
    My head is bloody, but unbowed.

    Beyond this place of wrath and tears
    Looms but the Horror of the shade,
    And yet the menace of the years
    Finds and shall find me unafraid.

    It matters not how strait the gate,
    How charged with punishments the scroll.
    I am the master of my fate:
    I am the captain of my soul.

    William Earnest Henley

    He had a leg amputated below the knee due to an infection at age 12, but recovered and led an active life. He was the physical (but not the character) model for Long John Silver in Treasure Island.

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