It is not difficult, at
times, to track down Atheists or free-thinkers of the past: It is
impossible. We comb through the old journals, booklets, magazines, and
serial brochures for their writings and through historical books for a
peek into their lives. But the pieces remain enigmatic, refusing to fit
into any kind of a coherent whole.
And so it is with Mangasar Magurditch Mangasarian — a proud,
richly dark, Omar Sharif-sort of picture in a fading journal. The
portrait shows lush, softly curled black hair, thick sideburns, and huge
mustache; the eyes still fierce, undimmed by the passage of time, look
at one squarely from the center of the page. He is everything that one
would think an Armenian should be. And that he was: born in Mashger,
Turkey, on December 29,1859.
His family was affluent
enough to send him to Robert College in Constantinople where he
was ordained into the Congregationalist ministry in 1878. He obtained
his own church immediately and was the minister of the Congregational
Church in Marsovan, Turkey, from 1878 to 1880.
In 1879 he married Akabie
Altunian of Amasia, Asia Minor, and from that union came four
children, Zabelle (Mrs. Raymond Hitchcock), Armen Parker, Christine
(Mrs. Earl Benham), and George Paul Mangasarian.
His wife died in 1910.
It is not possible to determine when Mangasarian came to the
United States where he studied for the Presbyterian ministry at
Princeton Theological Seminary (Princeton University) but he became
the minister of the Spring Garden Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia,
Pennsylvania, in 1882 and remained there until 1885.
Notice of his resignation from that church found its way into the
oldest "free-thought" weekly paper in the United States, The Truth
Seeker, which dutifully reported in its November 7, 1885, issue as
The Rev. Mangasar M.
Mangasarian, who has been pastor of the Spring Garden
Presbyterian church, in Philadelphia, for three years, has publicly
renounced the doctrines of Presbyterianism, and tendered his
resignation to his congregation, who had but a few hours intimation
of his intention. In his sermon he said:
"I have ceased to be
a Calvinist. I have decided to renounce the doctrines of
orthodox Presbyterianism. If Calvin, Wesley and Edwards had the
right to make articles of faith and differ with good and holy
men who went before them, have I not the same right to make
articles of faith and differ with Calvin, Wesley, and Edwards?
I have outgrown the
creed of Calvin. I love the Presbyterian people for what they
are and what they believe — their character and not their creed.
I shall have no creed save the words of Christ. My
sympathies are with all sects having liberal views. My future
church shall be a church governed by the people, a people's
church, a congregational church essentially, where no authority
comes between the minister and his flock. By my act I subscribe
myself to the Congregational doctrines.
Your creed says that
mankind is born and lives under the curse of God; that in
Adam's sin all mankind fell, and for his transgression God
sentenced his children to unending sorrow. Your creed shows me a
heaven thinly settled, a hell peopled; few saints, many sinners.
Your creed tell me that under the eternal law of predestination
nothing can change the number of souls ransomed. This is
fatalism. What need, then, of preaching the gospel?"
Little is known of what
Mangasarian did between then and his next major known shift in
theological tenets. It is generally recorded that during the period
1885-89 he was an "independent preacher in Philadelphia" and the founder
of and lecturer on "Independent Religion" in New York City sometime
during this period. He left the east coast of the United States within
the next three years.
Meanwhile, Felix Adler was forming the American Ethical
Culture Society, which was given wide publicity in the media of that
day. The idea behind this group was to teach its members to live an
ethical life without recourse to Judeo-Christianity. The first such
group was formed in New York on May 15, 1876. The second was formed in
Chicago on October 5, 1882.
In 1892 Mr. M. M. Mangasarian surfaces again, this time being
chosen as the leader of this Chicago group and continuing in that
position until 1897 when Mr. William M. Salter returned as leader
of the society. William Mackintire Salter has been given credit
as being the founder of the Chicago Society for Ethical Culture. He was
the first to join Adler to devote his life to the Ethical Movement. He
had been educated to become a Unitarian minister, studied at the Yale
Divinity school, went to Germany on a scholarship, returned and
identified himself with Adler, and (another source reports) in 1885
(rather than 1882, as above) established the Chicago group.
Again, there is not much that can be found as to Mangasarian's
intellectual development during this period. What is known is that he
turned over the leadership of the group to Salter in 1897 and three
years later he founded the Independent Religious Society in
Chicago, a Rationalist group, of which he remained the pastor until his
resignation in 1925.
It is known that he published several different journals. The Liberal
View and The Rationalist, but we do not know where or when.
In 1904 the Rationalist Press Association in London, England,
issued a book he had written titled The New Catechism. The
introduction to it was written in 1902 by George Jacob Holyoake,
the English founder of Secularism and the last man who had been
sentenced to jail in England on the charge of Atheism.
The Author's Preface to the book was quite brief:
The old Catechisms which
were imposed upon us in our youth — when our intelligence could not
defend itself against them — no longer command our respect.
They have become mildewed with neglect. The times in which they were
conceived and composed are dead — quite dead!
A New Catechism to express the thoughts of men and women and
children living in these new times is needed.
This is a modest effort in
The New Catechism was composed of seventy-one pages. The sixteen short
chapters consist of questions and answers on "Reason and Revelation";
"The Canon of the Bible"; "God"; "The Earth"; "Man"; "Jesus"; "The
Teachings of Jesus"; "The Church"; "The Liberal Church"; "The Creeds";
"The Clerqy"; "Prayer and Salvation"; "Death"; "Immortality"; and "The
Chief End of Man."
The answers are totally
devastating for all of the basic principles of Judeo-Christianity.
In the most simple of terms, calculated to be understood by all,
Mangasarian rips them to shreds. He does not evade any issue at all,
being absolutely forthright.
Using this approach in his sermons, by the time of the printing of this
Catechism, the weekly congregation of Mr. Mangasarian totaled about
In terms of the religious beliefs of the times, his Catechism was
daring. Evolution was much under attack in the United States in the
beginning of the century, and yet, his Catechism titled "Man" began in
Q. What is man?
A. A rational
Q. How old is man?
A. Hundreds of
thousands of years old.
Q. Who are his ancestors?
A. The mammalia.
Q. How do you know?
A. In the
composition, structure, and function of his organs, man is
exactly like an animal.
Q. Specify a few of the points of resemblance between man and
A. Man has not a muscle or a bone or an organ which is not
parallel in the animals.
Q. What else?
A. They are both composed of the same materials, possess the
same physical parts, and are subject to the same laws of life
By 1905, the fifth season of
M. M. Mangasarian's Independent Religious Society of Chicago, his
congregations had outgrown the Grand Opera House and necessitated
removal to the new Theodore Thomas Orchestra Hall with a capacity
of 2,500 persons.
Mr. Mangasarian, progressively skeptical, soon surrendered the
words of Christ as his creed. In fact he came finally to
understand that the Christ of Christianity was nothing but a myth.
Consequently, in 1909, his congregation printed his first hardback book
in the United States, The Truth About Jesus — Is He a Myth?
Again, the book was
simplistic, but instructive. One can only think that the people in his
church were not intellectual savants. He preached (if that word may be
used) to the common people in language they could understand and the
message was unmistakable: They had been deceived into a belief which was
not acceptable to thinking people.
1911, once again his organization issued another of his books, The
Bible Unveiled. He revealed his purpose in a short front note:
To make it possible for
a man to be as honest in his religion as he would like to be in his
business; to make him as unafraid in church as he aims to be
anywhere else, and to help make him as impatient of a lie on Sunday
as he is on any other day of the week, is the object of these
studies on the Bible.
I wish to be able to
kindle in the breast of every free citizen of this free country the
law of truth, irrespective of whether it helps or hurts; I wish to
shame cowardice and cant out of every man and woman who speaks the
He begins the book — as
always — with a simple, direct frontal attack in a short preamble.
An Extraordinary Book A book which claims infallibility; which aspires
to absolute authority over mind and body; which demands unconditional
surrender to all its pretensions upon penalty of eternal damnation, is
an extraordinary book and should, therefore, be subjected to
Neither Christian priests nor Jewish rabbis approve of applying to the
bible the same tests by which other books are tried.
Because it will help the
It can not be that.
Because it might hurt the bible?
We can think of no other reason.
He then goes to the attack. And, this is a different kind of Bible
criticism, seemingly gentle. Yet, that method covers a ruthless exposure
of the fallacies in the basic premises of the Bible. He is kindly as he
begins, noting that the King James version of the Bible should
have on its flyleaf:
A Collection of Writings
of Unknown Date and Authorship
Rendered into English
From Supposed Copies of Supposed
Even with this "out" which
he gives to Judeo-Christianity, he zeroes in on the most basic
assumptions and reveals them — through common sense alone — to be
In 1912 he began to write with some regularity for The Truth Seeker
magazine, his articles as often as not dealing with contemporary
political events. In July 1914, he visited Geneva, Switzerland, and from
this trip returned to write a lengthy article (for the October 17, 1914
issue of The Truth Seeker) on Calvin's encounter with Servetus
whom Calvin had burnt at the stake on the charge of heresy.
Somewhere along the way, a debate was undertaken between Mangasarian
and one, Dr. A. S. Crapsey. The text of this was issued by E.
Haldeman-Julius out of Kansas, as his Big Blue Book, #898. It
is impossible to ascertain the date of the debate, but the book issued
bore the title, The Mangasarian-Crapsey Debate on The Question:
"Did Jesus Ever Live?" with Mangasarian, of course, taking the
proposition that JesusChrist was mythological.
Several years later, Mangasarian's second marriage was dutifully
reported in the July 3, 1915 issue of The Truth Seeker:
The marriage avowals by
which, at Chicago, June 6, 1915, M. M. Mangasarian, the eminent
Rationalist lecturer, became the husband of Miss Mary E. Glendon.
to attract a large audience to his lectures until he retired in 1917. In
1922 the Western Unitarian Association requested that the Independent
Religious Society, still extant, become affiliated with that
organization, which it did, despite the fact that the Unitarian churches
then welcomed theists as well as Atheists in its rank — even as it does
In the July 1, 1922, issue
of The Truth Seeker, W. L. Maclaskey, chairman of a
free-thought organization, sadly reported:
There is one Rationalist
lecturer (Percy Ward) in the city, since Mr. Mangasarian joined the
church, and he is nearly starving to death for lack of support.
Those who supported Mangasarian for over twenty years are now left
without a leader and see the fruits of their labor turning to ashes
before their eyes. It is high time that the Rationalists of not only
Chicago, but the entire United States, instead of being at the beck
and call of everyone who assumes to intellectual leadership among
them and being cast aside at the slightest whim, should organize
into strong bodies,...
Mr. Mangasarian is
not to blame but those who have supported him faithfully for so many
years have now their "gains for their pains"...
Three years later, in November 1925 Mangasarian retired from the
Independent Religious Society of Chicago and took up residence in
Piedmont, California. He remained in California for the rest of his
life. It was after his retirement, in 1926, that the Truth Seeker
Company issued his old book The Bible Unveiled under the new
title of The Neglected Book.
Mangasarian, however, continued to write for The Truth Seeker,
with articles appearing now and then through February 1943. Then, notice
of his death appeared in the August 1943 issue of that journal. He had
died at his home at 117 North Gardner Street in Los Angeles on June 26,
in his eighty-fifth year.
His widow wrote:
Dear Mr. Macdonald
[then editor of The Truth Seeker]:
This is to inform
you that your letter of June 22 reached us the day Mr.
Mangasarian passed away. There will be no funeral; the body will
be cremated today. Mr. Mangasarian regarded you very highly, and
I know you merit that esteem.
Very best wishes.
Sincerely, Edna G. Mangasarian
The editor noted in his
With Mr. Mangasarian's
death we lose the man older in continuous service to Free-thought as
lecturer and writer than any other in America — a distinction he
could hardly have had in mind when at the age of 26 he said good-bye
to John Calvin. In what he said and wrote for fifty years he was
loyal to the cause that The Truth Seeker has lived its long life to
advocate, and in his last words he took nothing back.
Six books by Mangasarian
are extant. The rest of his works appear in free-thought and other
journals of the times. The books are:
A New Catechism,
introduction by George Jacob Holyoake (U.S. printing, 1902; London:
Watts & Co., 1904).
The Bible Unveiled
(Chicago: Independent Religious Society [Rationalist], 1911).
Debate on The Question: "Did Jesus Ever Live?" (Girard, KS: Haldeman-Julius
The Neglected Book or
The Bible Unveiled (New York: The Truth Seeker Company, 1926).
The Truth About Jesus,
Is He a Myth? (Chicago: Independent Religious Society, 1909).
What is Christian
Science? (London: Watts & Co., 1922).
He also wrote hundreds of
essays and lectures on questions of the times. His books and essays were
translated into French, German, Spanish, and other foreign languages.
The general subject of his writing was religious criticism and the
philosophy of religion.
Adams, Oscar Fay. A
Dictionary of American Authors. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company,
American Ethical Union.
The Fiftieth Anniversary of the Ethical Movement. New York: D.
Appleton and Company, 1926.
Macdonald, George E.
Fifty Years of Freethought, Being the Story of The Truth Seeker with
the Natural History of its Third Editor. 2 vols. New York: The Truth
Seeker Company, 1931.
McCabe, Joseph. A
Rationalist Encyclopaedia, A Book of Reference on Religion,
Philosophy, Ethics, and Science. London: Watts & Co., 1948.
Warren, Sidney. American
Freethought, 1860-1914. New York: Columbia University Press, 1943.
Who Was Who Among North
American Authors, 1921-29. Vol. 2. Detroit: Gale Research Company,
Who Was Who in America,
with World Notables. Vol. 4. 1961-68. Chicago: Marquis-Who's Who,