Philosophy against Misosophy


Oil portrait

by Virginia True


Essays by Me

Essays by Others

From Barnes’ introduction to Dr. William J. Robinson, If I Were God: a Freethinker’s Faith.  Incorporating a Discussion between the Author and a Catholic Priest, New York, The Freethought Press Association, 1930, 11-17.  Those who admire Barnes for his pioneering historical revisionism should apply the historical method to understanding this historian, and not overlook his anti-supernaturalism. 


Introduction to If I Were God

Harry Elmer Barnes


Dr. William J. Robinson is well known as one of the world’s leading writers on the problems of sexology. Those familiar with his writings recognize that he is also a progressive reformer in many other phases of human interests and activities.  He has consistently supported economic and social liberalism.  He was one of the few pacifists who remained true to his convictions in wartime.

Not the least of his interests is the promulgation of general intellectual enlightenment.  His exuberant praise of H. G. Wells’ “World of William Clissold,” indicated clearly his reaction in this field as illustrated by his appraisal of perhaps the foremost monument to intellectual emancipation in modern literature.  It is his enthusiasm for cultural progress and mental freedom which has prompted Dr. Robinson to prepare this stimulating little book on the problem of religion in the modern world.

Orthodox religion is coming in for some weighty assaults at the present time from anthropologists, psychologists and historians.  The results of this varied critique are being brought together by the Humanists in the most serious challenge which has ever been leveled against the conventional religionist.  How little headway can be made against Humanism was well illustrated by the article of Dr. Harry Emerson Fosdick in Harper’s Magazine for December, 1929.

Most of these attacks upon orthodoxy have, however, been of a technical character or have been written in extensive and esoteric treatises which make little headway with the public in general.  There is need for a clear and brief discussion of leading issues which will appeal directly to a large group of readers.  It is to fill this need that Dr. Robinson has given us his “A Freethinker’s Faith.”

Dr. Robinson is well prepared to execute this task. He has read widely in the literature of religion.  He has, in the course of his career, come into contact many times and in the most divers ways with the evil effects of religion.  No man is more likely to be wounded by the devotees of orthodoxy than the enlightened sexologist and the sincere pacifist.  Dr. Robinson’s career bears the scars of many felonious assaults by the fanatical exponents of private virtue and public slaughter.  Yet he has been able to retain a remarkable objectivity in the face of such experiences.  His appraisal of the evil effects of religion is far less severe and sweeping than the views of the present writer on this subject.  Finally, Dr. Robinson writes in a juicy popular style which should recommend his book to the average reader who abhors dry abstractions.

Dr. Robinson states his purpose very clearly in the following words:

Because religion stands in the way of human progress, because it does not permit men to think boldly and logically, because it gives a reactionary priesthood not only spiritual but also material power over the people, because it is necessary that man shall learn to stand on his own feet not expecting salvation from the outside, because, finally, there is no hope of otherwise establishing universal friendship and brotherhood, it is necessary to eliminate dogmatic religion.  This book was written to aid in bringing about this elimination.

Dr. Robinson wisely limits himself to a discussion of the cardinal points in supernatural orthodoxy, thus enabling him to deliver heavy and concentrated blows against the main defenses of conventional religion.  Taking up the question of what we shall put in the place of the old time religion, he shows that there are many things in society like a headache which do not have to be replaced by another ache. There can be no substitute for religious superstition except sound knowledge and logical thinking.  Linked with this subject is the problem of what we shall give the masses as the basis for social control and collective hope.  Dr. Robinson makes it clear that it is high time that we ceased to give them the opium of religion and began to feed them the saving realities of secular knowledge.  He is wise enough to see through the prevalent illusion that we must preserve orthodoxy indefinitely as the mob policeman.

Equally effectively does he puncture the notion that only a religious man can be a decent moral citizen.  He shows that much which the religious fanatic regards as moral is cruel, savage and, fundamentally, highly immoral.  Likewise he makes it clear that some of the world’s most useful citizens have been freethinkers, and many of them avowed atheists, while most criminals are religious.  Finally, he makes it plain that a sound morality must be constructed on secular foundations rather than upon the basis of the superstitions of supernatural religion.

Dealing with the problem of God, the complex and intricate cosmos and the question of creation Dr. Robinson demonstrates that the more we learn about the nature of the physical universe the more difficult and insoluble becomes the problem of its origin and direction. We cannot fathom the mysteries of nature; therefore we are not likely to discover what is back of these mysteries.

Perhaps the most striking sections in the book are those dealing with the problem of “Providence” and the reconciliation of the notion of a good God and an evil world.

Dr. Robinson launches a devastating attack upon the conventional theory of Providence which holds that a beneficent Providence may hurl a hundred to death in a train wreck and save the single individual who has a hunch to cancel his trip.  Of a kind is the theory that ill-luck makes us sick while Providence saves our life and restores us to health. Dr. Robinson demonstrates for all time that the conventional Christian doctrine of Providential interference in human affairs one of the most arrogant, brutal, selfish and illogical illusions which has ever cursed the human race.

In his chapter on God and human affairs Dr. Robinson gives us an extensive and sane summary of the type of action which would reasonably be expected of a civilized and kindly deity, viewed from the human standpoint.  And in succeeding chapters on atheism, agnosticism, pantheism and related subjects he shows convincingly enough the essential folly of any attempt to construct judgments of God from the human point of view.  Yet it is extremely illuminating to contrast the course of human events, as they have actually taken place, and the facts of organic with the least which might have been expected of a God who controlled human affairs with the slightest pretense to the traits of a gentleman and a scholar.

Dr. Robinson gives us a sane analysis of the “Jesus stereotype.”  He admits the probable good intentions of Jesus and his possible devotion to what he believed was right.  Yet he shows fully the limitations of Jesus’ knowledge, experience and outlook and exposes the utter folly of looking backward to Jesus as the peerless teacher of all time and the guide to social progress to-day.  He has the courage to point out the liability of the Christian Church to civilization through the ages, but he is fair enough to acquit Jesus of all blame for an institution he had no intention of founding and which was so utterly foreign to the views attributed to Jesus in the gospel story.

We may heartily commend the volume to American readers as a concise assessment of religion in modern life.  Its wide circulation should do much to dispel bigotry and intolerance.  If it sweeps away orthodoxy in a relentless fashion, it prepares the way at the same time for any sensible humanistic cult based on scientific knowledge and secular ambitions.

Posted April 26, 2008