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Balaam’s Ass
by [?]


“Force first made conquest, and that conquest, law;
Till Superstition taught the tyrant awe,
Then shared the tyranny, then lent it aid,
And gods of conquerors, slaves of subjects made.
She, from the rending earth and bursting skies,
Saw gods descend and fiends infernal rise;
Here fixed the dreadful, there the blest abodes;
Fear made her devils and weak hope her gods;
Gods partial, changeful, passionate, unjust,
Whose attributes were rage, revenge and lust;
Such as the souls of cowards might conceive,
And, formed like tyrants, tyrants would believe.
Zeal then, not charity, became the guide;
And hell was built on spite, and heaven on pride.”


Kind reader, have a care! For aught I know this article may be the rankest blasphemy, and reading it may wreck your immortal soul–granting of course, that you are in possession of such perishable property. I submitted it to several of my brother ministers and sought their opinion as to the propriety of publishing it; but while some assured me that it was calculated to purify the moral atmosphere somewhat and foster respect for true religion, others were equally certain that Satan had inspired it–that it was, in fact, a choice bit of immigration literature for the lower regions. Finding even the elders unable to decide what should be done with Balaam’s Ass–whether it should be turned loose upon the land like another evangelist, or consigned to the flames as a hopeless heretic–I determined to give it the benefit of the doubt. The animal may break into the preserves of some unctuous hypocrites and trample a few choice flowers of sacerdotal folly; but I opine that no honest man of average intellect will find herein occasion for complaint. I would not wantonly wound the sensibilities of those earnest but ignorant souls who believe the very chapter headings of the Bible to have been inspired; who interpret literally every foolish fable preserved therein–“like flies in amber”; but the Car of Progress cannot roll forward without crushing an occasional pismire. We cannot bid it stand forever in the same old rut, like an abandoned road-cart or “Jeffersonian Democrat,” because across its shining pathway lie the honest prejudices of zealous stupidity.

The Bible is a great gold-mine, in which inexhaustible store of yellow metal is mixed with much worthless rubbish that must be purged away by honest criticism before the book becomes really profitable even fit for general circulation. I would rather place in the hands of an innocent girl a copy of the Police Gazette or Sunday Sun than an unexpurgated Bible. It is a book I value much, yet keep under lock and key with “Don Juan” and the “Decameron.” It contains both the grandest morality and most degrading obscenity ever conceived in the brain of mortal man. There are passages whose beauty and power might cause the heart of an angel to leap in ecstasy, others that would call a blush of shame to the brassy front of the foulest fiend that ever howled and shrieked through the sulphurous valleys of Hell.

The man who rejects the Bible altogether because it is honey-combed with barbarous traditions, rank with revolting stories and darkened by the shadow of a savage superstition, is cousin-german to him that casts aside a priceless pearl because it is coated with ocean slime. He that accepts it in its entirety–gulps it down like an anaconda absorbing an unwashed goat; who makes no attempt to separate the essential from the accidental–the utterance of inspiration from the garrulity of hopeless nescience; who forgets that it is half an epic poem filled with the gorgeous imagery of the Orient, may, like the ass which Balaam rode, open its mouth and speak; but he never saw the Angel of the Lord; he utters the words of emptiness and ignorance.