There was one peculiarity about Mizora that I noticed soon after my arrival, but for various reasons have refrained from speaking of before now. It was the absence of houses devoted to religious worship.
In architecture Mizora displayed the highest perfection. Their colleges, art galleries, public libraries, opera houses, and all their public buildings were grand and beautiful. Never in any country, had I beheld such splendor in design and execution. Their superior skill in this respect, led me to believe that their temples of worship must be on a scale of magnificence beyond all my conceiving. I was eager to behold them. I looked often upon my first journeyings about their cities to discover them, but whenever I noticed an unusually imposing building, and asked what it was, it was always something else. I was frequently on the point of asking them to conduct me to some church that resembled my own in worship, (for I was brought up in strict compliance with the creeds, dogmas, and regulations of the Russo Greek Church) but I refrained, hoping that in time, I should be introduced to their religious ceremonies.
When time passed on, and no invitation was extended me, and I saw no house nor preparation for religious worship, nor even heard mention of any, I asked Wauna for an explanation. She appeared not to comprehend me, and I asked the question:
“Where do you perform your religious rites and ceremonies?”
She looked at me with surprise.
“You ask me such strange questions that sometimes I am tempted to believe you a relic of ancient mythology that has drifted down the centuries and landed on our civilized shores, or else have been gifted with a marvelous prolongation of life, and have emerged upon us from some cavern where you have lived, or slept for ages in unchanged possession of your ancient superstition.”
“Have you, then,” I asked in astonishment, “no religious temples devoted to worship?”
“Oh, yes, we have temples where we worship daily. Do you see that building?” nodding toward the majestic granite walls of the National College. “That is one of our most renowned temples, where the highest and the noblest in the land meet and mingle familiarly with the humblest in daily worship.”
“I understand all that you wish to imply by that,” I replied. “But have you no building devoted to divine worship; no temple that belongs specially to your Deity; to the Being that created you, and to whom you owe eternal gratitude and homage?”
“We have;” she answered grandly, with a majestic wave of her hand, and in that mellow, musical voice that was sweeter than the chanting of birds, she exclaimed:
“This vast cathedral, boundless as our wonder;
Whose shining lamps yon brilliant mists1 supply;
Its choir the winds, and waves; its organ thunder;
Its dome the sky.”
1 Aurora Borealis.
“Do you worship Nature?” I asked.
“If we did, we should worship ourselves, for we are a part of Nature.”
“But do you not recognize an invisible and incomprehensible Being that created you, and who will give your spirit an abode of eternal bliss, or consign it to eternal torments according as you have glorified and served him?”
“I am an atom of Nature;” said Wauna, gravely. “If you want me to answer your superstitious notions of religion, I will, in one sentence, explain, that the only religious idea in Mizora is: Nature is God, and God is Nature. She is the Great Mother who gathers the centuries in her arms, and rocks their children into eternal sleep upon her bosom.”
“But how,” I asked in bewildered astonishment, “how can you think of living without creeds, and confessionals? How can you prosper without prayer? How can you be upright, and honest, and true to yourselves and your friends without praying for divine grace and strength to sustain you? How can you be noble, and keep from envying your neighbors, without a prayer for divine grace to assist you to resist such temptation?”
“Oh, daughter of the dark ages,” said Wauna, sadly, “turn to the benevolent and ever-willing Science. She is the goddess who has led us out of ignorance and superstition; out of degradation and disease, and every other wretchedness that superstitious, degraded humanity has known. She has lifted us above the low and the little, the narrow and mean in human thought and action, and has placed us in a broad, free, independent, noble, useful and grandly happy life.”
“You have been favored by divine grace,” I reiterated, “although you refuse to acknowledge it.”
She smiled compassionately as she answered:
“She is the divinity who never turned a deaf ear to earnest and persistent effort in a sensible direction. But prayers to her must be work, resolute and conscientious work. She teaches that success in this world can only come to those who work for it. In your superstitious belief you pray for benefits you have never earned, possibly do not deserve, but expect to get simply because you pray for them. Science never betrays such partiality. The favors she bestows are conferred only upon the industrious.”
“And you deny absolutely the efficacy of prayer?” I asked.
“If I could obtain anything by prayer alone, I would pray that my inventive faculty should be enlarged so that I might conceive and construct an air-ship that could cleave its way through that chaos of winds that is formed when two storms meet from opposite directions. It would rend to atoms one of our present make. But prayer will never produce an improved air-ship. We must dig into science for it. Our ancestors did not pray for us to become a race of symmetrically-shaped and universally healthy people, and expect that to effect a result. They went to work on scientific principles to root out disease and crime and want and wretchedness, and every degrading and retarding influence.”
“Prayer never saved one of my ancestors from premature death,” she continued, with a resolution that seemed determined to tear from my mind every fabric of faith in the consolations of divine interposition that had been a special part of my education, and had become rooted into my nature. “Disease, when it fastened upon the vitals of the young and beautiful and dearly-loved was stronger and more powerful than all the agonized prayers that could be poured from breaking hearts. But science, when solicited by careful study and experiment and investigation, offered the remedy. And now, we defy disease and have no fear of death until our natural time comes, and then it will be the welcome rest that the worn-out body meets with gratitude.”
“But when you die,” I exclaimed, “do you not believe you have an after life?”
“When I die,” replied Wauna, “my body will return to the elements from whence it came. Thought will return to the force which gave it. The power of the brain is the one mystery that surrounds life. We know that the brain is a mechanical structure and acted upon by force; but how to analyze that force is still beyond our reach. You see that huge engine? We made it. It is a fine piece of mechanism. We know what it was made to do. We turn on the motive power, and it moves at the rate of a mile a minute if we desire it. Why should it move? Why might it not stand still? You say because of a law of nature that under the circumstances compels it to move. Our brain is like that engine — a wonderful piece of mechanism, and when the blood drives it, it displays the effects of force which we call Thought. We can see the engine move and we know what law of nature it obeys in moving. But the brain is a more mysterious structure, for the force which compels it to action we cannot analyze. The superstitious ancients called this mystery the soul.”
“And do you discard that belief?” I asked, trembling and excited to hear such sacrilegious talk from youth so beautiful and pure.
“What our future is to be after dissolution no one knows,” replied Wauna, with the greatest calmness and unconcern. “A thousand theories and systems of religion have risen and fallen in the history of the human family, and become the superstitions of the past. The elements that compose this body may construct the delicate beauty of a flower, or the green robe that covers the bosom of Mother Earth, but we cannot know.”
“But that beautiful belief in a soul,” I cried, in real anguish, “How can you discard it? How sever the hope that after death, we are again united to part no more? Those who have left us in the spring time of life, the bloom on their young cheeks suddenly paled by the cold touch of death, stand waiting to welcome us to an endless reunion.”
“Alas, for your anguish, my friend,” said Wauna, with pityng tenderness. “Centuries ago my people passed through that season of mental pain. That beautiful visionary idea of a soul must fade, as youth and beauty fade, never to return; for Nature nowhere teaches the existence of such a thing. It was a belief born of that agony of longing for happiness without alloy, which the children of earth in the long-ago ages hoped for, but never knew. Their lot was so barren of beauty and happiness, and the desire for it is, now and always has been, a strong trait of human character. The conditions of society in those earlier ages rendered it impossible to enjoy this life perfectly, and hope and longing pictured an imaginary one for an imaginary part of the body called the Soul. Progress and civilization have brought to us the ideal heaven of the ancients, and we receive from Nature no evidence of any other.”
“But I do believe there is another,” I declared. “And we ought to be prepared for it.”
Wauna smiled. “What better preparation could you desire, then, than good works in this?” she asked.
“You should pray, and do penance for your sins,” was my reply.
“Then,” said Wauna, “we are doing the wisest penance every day. We are studying, investigating, experimenting in order that those who come after us may be happier than we. Every day Science is yielding us some new knowledge that will make living in the future still easier than now.”
“I cannot conceive,” I said, “how you are to be improved upon.”
“When we manufacture fruit and vegetables from the elements, can you not perceive how much is to be gained? Old age and death will come later, and the labor of cultivation will be done away. Such an advantage will not be enjoyed during my lifetime. But we will labor to effect it for future generations.”
“Your whole aim in life, then, is to work for the future of your race, instead of the eternal welfare of your own soul?” I questioned, in surprise.
“If Nature,” said Wauna, “has provided us a future life, if that mysterious something that we call Thought is to be clothed in an etherealized body, and live in a world where decay is unknown, I have no fear of my reception there. Live this life usefully and nobly, and no matter if a prayer has never crossed your lips your happiness will be assured. A just and kind action will help you farther on the road to heaven than all the prayers that you can utter, and all the pains and sufferings that you can inflict upon the flesh, for it will be that much added to the happiness of this world. The grandest epitaph that could be written is engraved upon a tombstone in yonder cemetery. The subject was one of the pioneers of progress in a long-ago century, when progress fought its way with difficulty through ignorance and superstition. She suffered through life for the boldness of her opinions, and two centuries after, when they had become popular, a monument was erected to her memory, and has been preserved through thousands of years as a motto for humanity. The epitaph is simply this: ‘The world is better for her having lived in it.’”
Last updated Tuesday, August 25, 2015 at 14:11