My Private Thoughts on a Future State
I HAVE said, in the first part of “The Age of Reason,” that “I hope for happiness after this life.” This hope is comfortable to me, and I presume not to go beyond the comfortable idea of hope, with respect to a future state.
I consider myself in the hands of my Creator, and that He will dispose of me after this life consistently with His justice and goodness. I leave all these matters to Him, as my Creator and friend, and I hold it to be presumption in man to make an article of faith as to what the Creator will do with us hereafter. I do not believe because a man and a woman make a child that it imposes on the Creator the unavoidable obligation of keeping the being so made in eternal existence hereafter. It is in His power to do so, or not to do so, and it is not in our power to decide which He will do.
The book called the New Testament, which I hold to be fabulous and have shown to be false, gives an account in Matthew xxv of what is there called the last day, or the day of judgment.
The whole world, according to that account, is divided into two parts, the righteous and the unrighteous, figuratively called the sheep and the goats. They are then to receive their sentence. To the one, figuratively called the sheep, it says, “Come ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.” To the other, figuratively called the goats, it says, “Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels.”
Now the case is, the world cannot be thus divided: the moral world, like the physical world, is composed of numerous degrees of character, running imperceptibly one into the other, in such a manner that no fixed point of division can be found in either. That point is nowhere, of is everywhere.
The whole world might be divided into two parts numerically, but not as to moral character; and therefore the metaphor of dividing them, as sheep and goats can be divided, whose difference is marked by their external figure, is absurd. All sheep are still sheep; all goats are still goats; it is their physical nature to be so. But one part of the world are not all good alike, nor the other part all wicked alike. There are some exceedingly good; others exceedingly wicked.
There is another description of men who cannot be ranked with either the one or the other-they belong neither to the sheep nor the goats; and there is still another description of them who are so very insignificant, both in character and conduct, as not to be worth the trouble of damning or saving, or of raising from the dead.
My own opinion is, that those whose lives have been spent in doing good, and endeavoring to make their fellow-mortals happy, for this is the only way in which we can serve God, will be happy hereafter; and that the very wicked will meet with some punishment. But those who are neither good nor bad, or are too insignificant for notice, will be dropped entirely.
This is my opinion. It is consistent with my idea of God’s justice, and with the reason that God has given me, and I gratefully know that He has given me a large share of that divine gift.