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The Creed of Robert G. Ingersoll
Excerpted from Robert G. Ingersoll -- An Intimate View, by I. Newton Baker


LIBERTY WITH RESPONSIBILITY

"Thought and speech must be free. The man or men who would put a chain upon the brain or a padlock on the tongue are heirs of the Inquisition, the enemies of society, the foes of human progress." This liberty of thought and speech did not with him mean license. He was always careful to make this distinction and to emphasize it. "Liberty with Responsibility" was his doctrine. Men must bear the consequences. They do bear them. We reap what we sow. Act and consequence are inseparable, and no power, human or divine, can step between to change this law." "My liberty ends where yours begins," was his constant definition of the limit of freedom.

ON A FUTURE LIFE

As to a future conscious existence of the individual ego after death he said: "I do not know." "I never have denied the immortality of the soul. I have simply been honest. I have said: 'I do not know.'"

"One thing I do know, and that is, that neither hope, nor fear, nor belief, nor denial, can change the fact. It is as it is, and it will be as it must be."

"We wait and hope."

"There is in death, as I believe, nothing worse than sleep."

To those who asked, "Why, if there be no conscious future state, should the hope be so universally, implanted in the human breast?" he replied: "Love was the first to dream of immortality, -- not Religion, not Revelation. We love, therefore we wish to live."

"The hope of immortality is the great oak round which have climbed the poisonous vines of superstition. The vines have not supported the oak, the oak has supported the vines. As long as men live and love and die, this hope will blossom in the human heart."

He has repeatedly declared: "I would not destroy the faintest ray of human hope, but I deny that we get our idea of immortality from the Bible. It existed long before the time of Moses. We find it symbolized through all Egypt, through all India. Wherever man has lived he has made another world in which to meet the lost of this one."

"The history of this belief we find in tombs and temples wrought and carved by those who wept and hoped. Above their dead they laid the symbols of another life."

"We do not know. We do not prophesy a life of pain. We leave the dead with Nature, the mother of us all. Under the bow of hope, under the seven-hued arch, let the dead sleep."

His attitude on this question he has put in these rhythmical lines, -- one of his many prospoems:

"We do not know, we cannot say, whether death is a wall or a door; the beginning or end Of a day; the spreading of pinions to soar, or the folding forever of wings; the rise or the set of a sun, or an endless life that brings rapture and love to every one."

ON THE EXISTENCE OF A GOD

On the existence of a God he was again Agnostic. In one short sentence, every word a monosyllable, he has stated a whole philosophy of the subject: "We go as far as we can, and the rest of the way we say -- God." Could it be, has it ever been, put in clearer, shorter, simpler form? When we have reached the limit of human knowledge, of human thought, "the rest of the way," the Infinite Beyond, the Unknown and Unknowable, the Eternal Mystery, we call -- "God." On this vague and shadowy conception as a foundation, on this human Guess, have been built all the creeds and systems, doctrines and dogmas, of all religions that have bound and blinded, bewildered and cursed the race. For himself, when he reached the limit of the known he stopped, and waited for further light, refusing to follow "blind guides leading the blind" into the labyrinths of fear and superstition, of faith and despair.

Of one thing he was sure: there could not be a God such as the Bible describes and the orthodox worship. There could not be a God of the Jews any more than of the Gentiles, -- of the Egyptians, the Hindus, the Assyrians, or any other of the races of men. Vishnu and Brahma, Isis and Osiris, Jupiter and Junoi -- all the Gods of Grecian and Roman mythology were alike the creatures of human hopes and fears, ambitions and assumptions, and an equally divine and worthless. He was careful, however, in deference to those who mistook and misstated his ideas of God, to make this declaration: "Let me say once for all, that when I speak of God, I mean the being described by Moses, the Jehovah of the Jews. There may be for aught I know, somewhere in the unknown shoreless vast, some being whose dreams are constellations and within whose thought the infinite exists. About this being, if such an one exists, I have nothing to say, for I know nothing."

There may be a God, he further held, but if so, he cannot be, he is not, the infinite fiend that ignorant, barbarous and savage men have created and worshipped, -- a God who made the world, pronounced it "good," and then permitted it to become bad, so bad that he had to destroy it and begin over again, repeopling it, however, with beings whom he knew would be just as wicked. He could not conceive of a good or just God who would order his children to slay one another; who waged wars of conquest and extermination; tolerated slavery and polygamy; commanded religious persecution; laughed at the calamity of his enemies and mocked at their fears; a God who slaughtered old men and women, young men and maidens, innocent babes at their mothers' breasts, and tortured even dumb cattle for the sins of their owners; who in his wrath sent fire and sword, pestilence and famine, lightnings and tempests, earthquakes and volcanoes, snakes and vermin, upon his chosen people and his enemies, to make them fear and love him! Such a conception of deity was to him simply monstrous. To his mind it was but the deification of all the weaknesses and passions of men -- their anger, jealousy, cruelty, hatred and revenge, -- a being invested with infinite power and wisdom to carry out his will; and to crown all, and more infamous than all, a God who at the last would punish any of his erring creatures with consuming fire and be himself "the keeper of an eternal penitentiary!" He labored all his life and with all his powers to free mankind from the thraldom of such a conception of a Supreme Being. He used to say: "From the aspersions of, the pulpit, from the slanders of the church, I seek to rescue the reputation of the Deity." "It has been said, An honest man is the noblest work of God.' I say, "An honest God is the noblest work of Man!

RELIGIONS DECAY AND DIE

Mr. Ingersoll believed, from the history of all ages past, that religions, like individuals and nations, have their periods of youth and maturity, decay and death; and he recalls for us this history in the eloquent passage from his lecture on "The Gods:"

"In that vast cemetery called the past, are most of the religions of men, and there, too, are nearly all their gods. The sacred temples of India were ruins long ago. Over column and cornice, over the painted and pictured walls, cling and creep the trailing vines. Brahma, the golden, with four heads and four arms; Vishnu, the somber, the punisher of the wicked, with his three eyes, his crescent, and his necklace. of skulls; Siva, the destroyer, red with seas of blood; Kali, the goddess; Draupadi, the white armed, and Chrishna, the Christ, all passed away and left the thrones of heaven desolate. Along the banks of the sacred Nile, Isis no longer wandering weeps, searching for the dead Osiris. The shadow of Typhon's scowl falls no more upon the waves. The sun rises as of yore, and his golden beams still smite the lips of Memnon, but Memnon is as voiceless as the Sphinx. The sacred fakes are lost in desert sands; the dusty mummies are still waiting for the resurrection promised by their priests, and the old beliefs, wrought in curiously sculptured stone, sleep in the mystery of a language lost and dead. Odin, the author of life and soul, Vili and Ve, and the mighty giant Ymir, strode long ago from the icy halls of the North; and Thor, with iron glove and glittering hammer, dashes mountains to the earth no more. Broken are the circles and cromlechs of the ancient Druids; fallen upon the summits of the hills, and covered with the centuries' moss, are the sacred cairns. The divine fires of Persia and of the Aztecs have died out in the ashes of the past, and there is none to rekindle, and none to feed the holy flames. The harp of Orpheus is still; the drained cup of Bacchus has been thrown aside; Venus lies dead in stone, and her white bosom heaves no more with love. The streams still murmur, but no naiads bathe; the trees still wave, but in the forest aisles no dryads dance. The gods have flown from high Olympus. Not even the beautiful women can lure them back, and Dance lies unnoticed, naked to the stars. Hushed forever are the thunders of Sinai; lost are the voices of the prophets, and the land once flowing with milk and honey, is but a desert waste. One by one, the myths have faded from the clouds; one by one, the phantom host has disappeared, and one by one, facts, truths and realities have taken their places. The supernatural has almost gone, but the natural remains. The gods have fled, but man is here."

AS TO THE BIBLE

It is hardly necessary to add, that with the views already expressed, Mr. Ingersoll could not believe the Bible to be the "inspired word of God." He regarded it as simply a human book -- a very human book, -- a history more or less fragmentary of the Jewish nation and people. As such it was the product of the times when its different parts were written. It reflects, naturally, the faults and follies, the weaknesses and errors, the customs and habits and opinions of its writers and of the people for whom they wrote. It contains, along with its traditions and religious teachings, many wise and moral maxims and exhortations appealing to the higher and nobler in man. With all its admitted beauties and excellencies, however, there is so much that is trivial and false and contradictory and impossible, that its claim to divine inspiration seems to many to be an absurdity. To Mr. Ingersoll's mind all the earmarks show its human origin. Its history and chronology, its astronomy and geology, its science and philosophy, its biology, anthropology, theology and demonology -- all its "ologies" -- are ignorant, crude and impossible. Its myths and miracles, childish traditions and superstitions, its immoral and anti-natural precepts and examples, show absolutely its purely human origin. He thought and said that, in his judgment, Adam was not a perfect gentleman, according to the nineteenth century standard; and that Moses and Aaron; Joshua and Jephtha; Abraham, Isaac and Jacob; David and Saul and Solomon; Jonah, Samson, Jeremiah and Elisha, with other "worthies" of the Old Testament, were "a sorry lot," most of whom, if living to-day, would probably be in the penitentiary.

Besides, he said, there are many bibles and bibles, as there are many religions, -- sacred scriptures of other races and peoples -- some of them of a civilization superior to and an antiquity greater than the Jewish; to say nothing of the many differing manuscripts and translations, -- "books" lost that have not been found, "books" left in that should have been left out, and that were admitted or excluded into or from the "sacred canon" by the "votes" of human councils, often by narrow majorities and after heated and angry discussions -- together with the many interpolations, anachronisms and contradictions that mark these sacred books, -- all these testify to their very natural earthly origin.

MY BIBLE

"For thousands of years men have been writing the real Bible, and it is being written from day to day, and it will never be finished while man has life. All the facts that we know, all the truly recorded events, all the discoveries and inventions, all the wonderful machines whose wheels and levers seem to think, all the poems, crystals from the brain, flowers from the heart, all the songs of love and joy, of smiles and tears, the great dramas of Imagination's world, the wondrous paintings, miracles of form and color, of light and shade, the marvelous marbles that seem to live and breathe, the secrets told by rock and star, by dust and flower, by rain and snow, by frost and flame, by winding stream and desert sand, by mountain range and billowed sea."

"All the wisdom that lengthens and ennobles life -- all that avoids or cures disease, or conquers pain -- all just and perfect laws and rules that guide and shape our lives, all thoughts that feed the flames of love, the music that transfigures, enraptures and enthralls, the victories of heart and brain, the miracles that hands have wrought, the deft and cunning hands of those who worked for wife and child, the histories of noble deeds, of brave and useful men, of faithful loving wives, of quenchless mother-love, of conflicts for the right, of sufferings for the truth, of all the best that all the men and women of the world have said, and thought and done through all the years, -- these treasures of the heart and brain -- these are the Sacred Scriptures of the human race."


CHAPTER VIII

ON ETERNAL PUNISHMENT

We come now to a statement, feebly inadequate, of Mr. Ingersoll's position on this question. It was to him the culminating point of all his objectives. It mattered little to him, comparatively, what people believed on abstruse and disputed questions of theology, science, or philosophy. But on the vital question of the destiny of the human soul he stood firm as a rock. Here he would admit no compromise, make no concession. In this, he was no longer an Agnostic, -- he knew. Everlasting punishment of the "unrepenting sinner," of the "wicked," of anybody, was to his mind and heart an unspeakable horror -- a frightful insanity. This doctrine it was that first opened his eyes to the falseness of Christian theology, and separated him forever from all confidence in, and sympathy with its teachings, and made him one of its most implacable foes. This dogma he despised and execrated. He denounced it as a "doctrine, the infamy of which no language is Sufficient to express."

He said that, "While the Old Testament threatens men, women and children with disease, famine, war, pestilence and death, there are no threatenings of punishment beyond this life. The doctrine of eternal punishment is a dogma of the New Testament. This doctrine, the most cruel, the most infamous, is taught, if taught at all, in the Bible -- in the New Testament. One cannot imagine what the human heart has suffered by reason of the frightful doctrine of eternal damnation. It is a doctrine so abhorrent to every drop of my blood, so infinitely cruel, that it is impossible for me to respect either the head or heart of any human being who teaches or fears it. This doctrine necessarily subverts all ideas of justice. To inflict infinite punishment for finite crimes, or rather for crimes committed by finite beings, is a proposition so monstrous that I am astonished it ever found lodgment in the brain of man. Whoever says that we can be happy in heaven while those we loved on earth are suffering infinite torments in eternal fire, defames and calumniates the human heart."

And who can doubt that among the foremost factors in chasing this black shadow from the earth has been the gentle, loving, brave and fearless Ingersoll.

TRUE CONSOLATION

His teachings were a consolation to many a sorrow in heart. Many a heavy burden has by them been lifted from timid and troubled souls. In San Francisco, his cousin Mrs. Sarah B. Cooper, the philanthropist, brought to his attention the case of a devoutly pious friend, a widow, whose only boy had been suddenly taken from her side. He was a good and loving son, the idol of her heart, the pride and prop of her life, but he was not a Christian, and she feared for his eternal fate, -- felt that heaven would be no heaven to her without her boy. Her grief was inconsolable. The "consolations" of the gospel failed to satisfy her heart, or dispel her fears. The visits of her pastor brought no comfort, left behind no peace. Christian friends came in vain to her relief. Appealed to by his cousin, Colonel Ingersoll wrote a letter to this sorrowing heart. He urged her not to fear, saying:

"Mrs. Cooper has told me the sad story of your almost infinite sorrow. I am not foolish enough to suppose that I can say or do anything to lessen your great grief, your anguish for his loss; but maybe I can say something to drive from your poor heart the fiend of fear -- fear for him."

"If there is a God, let us believe that he is good, and if he is good, the good have nothing to fear. I have been told that your son was kind and generous; that he was filled with charity and sympathy. Now, we know that in this world like begets like, kindness produces kindness, and all goodness bears the fruit of joy. Belief is nothing -- deeds are everything; and if your son was kind he will naturally find kindness wherever he may be. You would not inflict endless pain upon your worst enemy. Is God less merciful than you? You could not bear to see a viper suffer forever. Is it possible that God will doom a kind and generous boy to everlasting pain? Nothing can be more monstrously absurd and cruel."

"The truth is, that no human being knows anything of what is beyond the grave. If nothing is known, then it is not honest for anyone to pretend that he does know. If nothing is known, then we 'Can hope only for the good. If there be a God your boy is no more in his power now than he was before his death -- no more than you are at the present moment. Why should we fear God more after death than before? Does the feeling of God toward his children change the moment they die? While we are alive they say God loves us; when will he cease to love us? True love never changes. I beg of you to throw away all fear. Take counsel of your own heart. If God exists, your heart is the best revelation of him, and your heart could never send your boy to endless pain. After all, no one knows. The ministers know nothing. All the churches in the world know no more on this subject than the ants on the ant-hills. Creeds are good for nothing except to break the hearts of the loving. Have courage. Under the seven-hued arch of hope let your boy sleep. I do not pretend to know, but I do know that others do not know. Listen to your heart, believe what it says, and wait with patience and without fear for what the future has for all. If we can get no comfort from what people know, let us avoid being driven to despair by what they do not know."

"I wish I could say something that would put a star in your night of grief -- a little flower in your lonely path -- and if an unbeliever has such a wish, surely an infinitely good being never made a soul to be the food of pain through countless years."

To this letter came the prompt reply:

"Dear Colonel Ingersoll: I found your letter inclosed with one from Mrs. Cooper at my door on the way to this hotel to see a friend. I broke the seal here, and through blinding tears -- letting it fall from my hands between each sentence to sob my heart out -- read it. The first peace I have known, real peace, since the terrible blow, has come to me now. While I will not doubt the existence of a God, I feel that I can rest my grief-stricken heart on his goodness and mercy; and you have helped me to do this. Why, you have helped me to believe in an all-merciful and loving creator, who has gathered (I will try to believe) my poor little boy -- my kind, large-hearted child -- into his tender and sheltering arms. There is a genuine ring in your words that lifts me up."

"Your belief, so clear and logical, so filled with common sense, corresponds, so far back as I can remember, with my own matter-of-fact ideas; and I was the child of good and praying parents, and my great wondering eyes, questioning silently when they talked to me, my strange ways, while I tried to be good, caused them often great anxiety and many a pang -- God forgive me."

"I am writing, while people are talking about me, just a line to thank you from the bottom of my heart for the comfort you have given me to-day. You great, good man; I see the traces of your tears all over your letter, and I could clasp your hand and bless you for this comfort you have given my poor heart."

ON SPECIAL PROVIDENCE

Colonel Ingersoll did not believe in a special Providence caring for each human soul, answering prayer and extending his almighty arm in rescue of the innocent and helpless and in reward of the faithful and righteous; nor did he believe that this Providence ever heard or answered the most horrible prayer ever offered by human lips or written by human hand -- David's 109th imprecatory Psalm.

A minister called on him once to say: "Colonel, I understand you do not believe in a special providence." "I do not." "Well, I want to prove it to you beyond all question, in my own case. Some years ago I engaged passage on a steamer, to go abroad. Before she sailed, I had a fear, a presentiment, or feeling -- call it what you will -- that something would happen to that steamer. I got so worked up over it, that I took it to the Lord in earnest prayer. As the result, I gave up my stateroom. Colonel, that steamer never reached port. She went down, and every one of the four hundred souls on board sank to a watery grave. Will you tell me that that was not a divine interposition in my behalf, in answer to my prayer? Is it not proof positive that God cared for me in a special, personal way?" "But, my dear sir," was the Colonel's reply, "what do you suppose the families and friends of the four hundred drowned thought of your special providence? Do you think that God cared only for your one little soul and forgot to warn all the rest? It won't do. Besides, do you feel comfortable at the thought that having such a warning from the Lord you did not, day and night, beseech the captain of that ship to postpone his sailing, at least till you could get word from heaven that it was safe to go?" The minister did not reply. "Now, let me tell you my case," continued the Colonel. "Providence cared for me a little while ago in a striking way, though you may not believe it. A thunder-bolt struck the Young Men's Christian Association's building which adjoined my own office in Washington, and I escaped! If that shaft was aimed at me, I certainly think your providence was a very poor marksman!"

ON MIRACLES

When the subject of miracles was broached, he could hardly repress a smile, -- the belief in them seemed to him so hopelessly unworthy of an intelligent, thinking mind. He could find no warrant in Nature, or experience, for such a belief. He held that the belief had its foundation in the ignorance, credulity and fear of the superstitious savage. That these lowest elements in man should be played upon by designing priests to extort reverence for their persons and their office and obedience to their authority, -- to say nothing of the revenue extracted from the poor and toiling millions, -- Seemed to him a monstrous crime. He could not argue the question seriously, it was to him altogether outside the pale of rational thought. Belief in miracles has always been the mother of superstition, and he held the church responsible for upholding and perpetuating it.

"Believers in miracles," he said, "should not endeavor to explain them. There is but one, way to explain anything, and that is to account for it by natural agencies. The moment you explain a miracle, it disappears. You should depend not upon explanation, but upon assertion. You should not be driven from the field because the miracle is shown to be unreasonable. You should reply that all miracles are unreasonable. Neither should you be in the least disheartened if it be shown to be impossible. The possible is not miraculous. You should take the ground that if miracles were reasonable, and possible, there would be no reward paid for believing them. The Christian has the goodness to believe, while the sinner asks for evidence. It is enough for God to work miracles, without being called upon to substantiate them for the benefit of unbelievers."

The efforts of otherwise intelligent men, the so-called or miscalled Christian scientists, to reconcile the miracles of the Old and New Testaments with the facts and laws of Nature were to Mr. Ingersoll simply amusing. "We must remember," he said, "that the priests of one religion never credit the miracles of another religion. Is this because priests instinctively know priests? Now, when a Christian tells a Buddhist some of the miracles of the Old and New Testaments, the Buddhist smiles. When the Buddhist tells a Christian the miracles performed by the Buddha, the Christian laughs."

Continuing, he said in substance: the truth is, that in common belief we call that "miraculous" which is simply mysterious or wonderful. We speak of the "miracle" of sand and star, of life and growth, of decay and death, but they are only the immutable and uniform operations of the laws of Nature. To suspend these laws, even for a moment, would result in confusion, wreck and universal doom. According to the account, General Joshua commanded that "the sun and moon stop in the heavens in order that General Joshua might have more time to murder; the shadow on a dial goes back ten degrees to convince a petty king of a barbarous people that he is not going to die of a boil." We now know that if these "miracles" had been wrought, the world would have been instantly plunged into the night of chaos and ruin. Nature's laws are uniform and inexorably persistent in their operation. They obey no master, suffer no interference. Like causes always and everywhere produce like effects, and no mandate from earth or sky, no "miracle," however attested, can change this law.

Miracles are simply the product of the unenlightened human imagination, stimulated and perverted by the mistaken zeal of sincerity, or by the designing craft of religious hypocrisy or fanaticism. No miracles are wrought to-day.

On the Sunday question he was equally emphatic. He did not believe that that day, or any day, could be "holy" or "sacred" in the theological sense. That day was holy to him in which some kind thought was expressed, or loving deed done for others. "How," he asked, "can a space of time be holy? You might as well talk of a pious multiplication table, a moral triangle, or a virtuous vacuum." He regarded the day as a good civil institution, as a day of rest from unnecessary toil, and if sacred for anything, to be devoted to individual, family and social joys.

His views on slavery and polygamy; on inspiration, the trinity, the divinity of Christ, -- whom he regarded as a good, kind and gentle man, a reformer and an infidel in his day; on the incarnation; on the fall of man, the atonement, the resurrection of the body and other doctrines of orthodox Christianity, are too generally known to need rehearsal here. He rejected them all, and in his works has given manifold reasons therefor.

ON NATURE AND MAN

He believed that Nature, or the Universe, is all there is; that it is the only God. In this he was pantheistic, yet not professedly a Pantheist. nor was he a Deist. He said:

"Let us be honest with ourselves. In the presence of countless mysteries; standing beneath the boundless heaven sown thick with constellations; knowing that each grain of sand, each leaf, each blade of grass, asks of every mind the answerless question; knowing that the simplest thing defies solution; feeling that we deal with the superficial and the relative, and that we are forever eluded by the real, the absolute, -- let us admit the limitations of our minds, and let us have the courage and the candor to say: We do not know." "The Agnostic is an Atheist. The Atheist is an Agnostic. The Agnostic says: "I do not know, but I do not believe there is any God." The Atheist says the same. The orthodox Christian says he knows there is a God; but we know that he does not know. He simply believes. He cannot know. The Atheist cannot know that God does not exist."

As we have seen, he was an Agnostic -- he did not know, nor pretend, nor profess to know. He did not personify Nature as God. Nature to him had no moral qualities or attributes, -- neither loved nor hated; held no scepter like a king dispensing favors and rewards, no power like a judge inflicting penalties and pains. He believed that man himself is king and judge, victor and victim, his own master, his own slave, that he reaps what he sows, gathers his own harvest.

He held that Nature or the elements, the Universe or God cannot be the person, with "body, parts and passions," that man in his ignorance and faith has created. Man in his vain search for the Infinite has simply personified the forces of Nature and given to them qualities and attributes in accord with his own highest and lowest conceptions. Nature, according to Mr. Ingersoll, has no mental, moral, or physical embodiment of a human type -- is not an exaggerated and sublimated man, to be feared and worshiped. It has no appetites, no wants, and cannot therefore be entreated by prayer, flattered by praise, melted by tears, or bribed by offerings and sacrifices. He believed that nothing we know can be higher or lower than the natural -- can be either supernatural or infranatural, -- that there are no gods, no angels, no devils, no heavens, no hells. "The Universe is all there is, or was, or will be. It is both subject and object; contemplator and contemplated; creator and created; destroyer and destroyed; preserver and preserved, and hath within itself all causes, modes, motions, and effects."

He taught that man only could be the providence of man; that if man is to be helped, man must be the helper; that he will look in vain to the mountains or the clouds, -- that he himself must be and make his own heaven, as he sadly enough makes his own hell. Summing up his philosophy of human life he said: "Happiness is the only good. The place to be happy is here. The time to be happy is now. The way to be happy is to make others so."


CHAPTER IX

"ICONOCLASM"

Many, by way of reproach, called him a "rude Iconoclast," shattering the images worshipped by devout souls and setting up no others in their places. They cried, "You take away our 'idols,' as you call them, and give us nothing in return." To these he would say:

"We do not want creeds; we do not want idols; we want knowledge; we want happiness."

"And yet we are told by the Church that we have accomplished nothing; that we are simply destroyers; that we tear down without building again."

"Is it nothing to free the mind? Is it nothing to civilize mankind? Is it nothing to fill the world with light, with discovery, with science? Is it nothing to dignify man and exalt the intellect? Is it nothing to grope your way into the dreary prisons, the damp and dripping dungeons, the dark and silent cells of superstition, where the souls of men are chained to floors of stone; to greet them like a ray of light, like the song of a bird, the murmur of a stream; to see the dull eyes open and grow slowly bright; to feel yourself grasped by the shrunken and unused hands, and hear yourself thanked by a strange and hollow voice?"

"Is it nothing to conduct these souls gradually into the blessed light of day -- to let them see again the happy fields, the sweet, green earth, and hear the everlasting music of the waves? Is it nothing to make men wipe the dust from their swollen knees, the tears from their blanched and furrowed cheeks? Is it a small thing to relieve the heavens of an insatiate monster and write upon the eternal dome, glittering with stars, the grand word -- Freedom?"

"Is it a small thing to quench the flames of hell with the, holy tears of pity -- to unbind the martyr from the stake -- break all the chains -- put out the fires of civil war -- stay the sword of the fanatic, and tear the bloody hands of the Church from the white throat of Science?"

"Is it a small thing to make men truly free -- to destroy the dogmas of ignorance, prejudice and power -- the poisoned fables of superstition, and drive from the beautiful face of the earth the fiend of Fear?"

Do not be frightened, he urged; "Fear is the dungeon of the soul." "Do not be afraid to doubt; your doubts are the smartest things about you."

"The destroyer of weeds and thistles is a benefactor, whether he soweth grain or not. I cannot, for my life, see why one should be charged with tearing down and not rebuilding, simply because he exposes a sham, or detects a lie. I do not feel under any obligation to build something in the place of a detected falsehood. All I think I am under obligation to put in the place of a detected lie, is the detection."

"I have not torn the good down. I have only endeavored to trample out the ignorant, cruel fires of hell. I do not tear away the passage: 'God will be merciful to the merciful.' I do not destroy the promise: 'If you will forgive others, God will forgive you.'"

"There is no darkness but ignorance, no light but intelligence," he asserted over and over again. "On the ruins of ignorance the splendid temple of intelligence must be reared. In the pace of darkness the light must be made to shine."

"Some may ask, 'Are you trying to take our religion away?'"

"To such I answer, No. Superstition is not religion."

"To love justice, to long for the right, to love mercy, to pity the suffering, to assist the weak, to forget wrongs and remember benefits -- to love the truth, to be sincere, to utter honest words, to love liberty, to wage relentless war against slavery in all its forms, to love wife and child and friend, to make a happy home, to love the beautiful in art, in nature, to cultivate the mind, to be familiar with the mighty thoughts that genius has expressed, the noble deeds of all the world, to cultivate courage and cheerfulness, to make others happy, to fill life with the splendor of generous acts, the warmth of loving words, to discard error, to destroy prejudice, to receive new truths with gladness, to cultivate hope, to see the calm beyond the storm, the dawn beyond the night, to do the best that can be done and then to be resigned -- this is the religion of reason, the creed of science. This satisfies the brain and heart."

What did Mr. Ingersoll think of Christ?' That he was simply a man, -- not "God incarnate," as theologians express it. He was not, could not have been, miraculously conceived. He was the son, the first-born, of Jewish parents, naturally begotten, He learned and followed his father's trade and lived in the home with the rest of the family. We know nothing of his boyhood aside from apocryphal tales told of wonders he wrought for the amusement and amazement of his playmates, and the gospel story of confounding the doctors in the temple by his precocious wisdom. His mother, as a woman, and the wife of Joseph, must have believed in her heart that Christ was the child of their union, and not the offspring of Jehovah. Once when they feared their boy was lost, she said on finding him, "Thy father and I" -- thy parents -- "have sought thee, sorrowing."

The writer of Matthew's gospel believed, with other Jews, that the Christ of prophesy and of their hopes was to be an earthly king,' who should "sit on the throne of his father David." He therefore traces the ancestry of Joseph, "as was supposed," not of Mary, to show that the blood of David was in Joseph's veins. Christ was a human being -- could have been none other. The claim of divinity was not made for him by the early Church until years after his death, for the epistles and gospels were not known, or accepted as authority until at least a century-and-a-half later.

In his review of the four gospels, Mr. Ingersoll shows that there was not agreement. This want of harmony was apparent, more perhaps in the omission of important events and doctrines than in the interpolations and errors of translation. He points out especially that the most vital message of all, the Atonement, is no definitely set forth by either of the three evangelists. Only John tells us that we must "believe?' and be "born again" in order to be saved. The other three had not heard of it, or did not regard salvation by faith as an essential teaching of their Master, else they would, all of them have said so. Instead, they exalted and emphasized the moral precepts, the practice of goodness, mercy, purity of heart, forgiveness, charity -- the doctrines preached by Christ in his "Sermon on the Mount." This sermon was to be for his hearers their guide and chart through life and the key to open for them the portals of heaven.

Of course he discarded all miracles, myths, legends and false records of the words said to have been spoken and deeds said to have been done by Christ. He regarded these as the source and cause of the beliefs of his misguided and deluded, even though sincere and devout, followers. He could understand and account for their credulity, and their reverential homage, and did not wonder at it. Did not they see, this kinsman of theirs, their neighbor and countryman, "going about doing good?" Was he not healing their sick, causing their lame to leap, their sightless eyes to see, their silent lips to utter speech, their closed ears to hear melodious sounds, and marvel of marvels! their dead to be raised from "cold obstruction" to warm and throbbing life? And all for them! Could they be other than grateful for his kindness, his sympathy and compassion? They looked upon him as a wise and powerful friend, who took their part against rich and heartless oppressors, and were overwhelmed with pity and anguish at his cruel and pathetic death. And for their sakes! No wonder that they worshipped him!

The early Church, growing in numbers and power, taking advantage of this loving adoration, added the forces of mystery and command to complete its mastery of souls. Thus did Christianity as a system begin, and thus for centuries did it continue to be, like all other religions since the world has been. We have found many Christs in many races, many lands. We have seen many systems of religion appear and disappear -- arrive, flourish, decay and die. These all had their miraculous births, superstitious beliefs, sacred books, cunning priests, formal ceremonies, and often cruel and inhuman rites -- with millions of devoted followers to attest to their divine mission and authority.

Mr. Ingersoll believed, in all sincerity, that Christ was a good man, not an imposter, not a hypocrite, but one of the best of men that ever "touched this bank and shoal of Time." He was kind, tender and compassionate. He loved little children and gathered them in his arms. In his ministry he was intensely earnest, self- denying and indefatigable. He preached and labored for no salary, -- gave his gospel freely, "without money and without price," and was so poor that "he had not where to lay his head," and lived on the hospitality and alms of his followers. Very like, Mr. Ingersoll thought, the itinerant preachers of the early Methodist. Church who were more or less warmly welcomed in the homes of their flocks. This reminded him of the pious woman who entertained several ministers of her denomination attending quarterly conference. On the first morning of their stay she asked her husband for an extra supply of money to do the marketing, saying, -- "You know them religiouses eats orful!" Apropos of this question of Christian hospitality, so often abused, a minister once visited a "brother" living in another city. He prolonged his stay beyond a reasonable time. Hints that his early departure would not greatly grieve the family, were not taken. At last, provoked, the goodman of the house invoked the help of the Lord. At family worship one morning he prayed: "When our brother leaves us today, go with him, bless him in basket and in store," -- and so on. The prayer was quickly answered, and preacher and carpet-bag disappeared before the hour for luncheon had arrived. Another case was that of a Christian worker who late at night, and without notice, brought himself and his two boys to a "brother's" home, saying frankly that it was too expensive for him to stop at the hotel! Mr. Ingersoll did not mean to condemn or disparage the hospitality of the early Christian disciples, but he thought the modern practice of "Pious billeting," as he termed it, somewhat overdone.

In the story of Mary and Martha -- probably apocryphal -- Mr. Ingersoll thought that Christ as a guest was hardly fair to Martha -- not as appreciative as he might have been of her "careful" concern for his bodily comfort. His extravagant praise for Mary should have been equally shared by both sisters. He seemed to have been more pleased with the loving attentions of Mary, who sat at his feet anointing them with oil, bathing them with tears, an wiping them with her flowing tresses, than he was with the "poorer part" that Martha "chose" in entertaining him. Martha stood in the kitchen as we might say in modern parlance, cooking, baking and then serving the food, and really loving him, while Mary stayed in the parlor kneeling and adoring. As one has put it: "Mary wept, Martha swept." Mr. Ingersoll's choice was for Martha as the better hostess.

Christ was serene, serious, sad and solemn, as befitted his great mission. "Jesus wept." He could not be jovial, gay, or flippant, lighthearted or humorous. We do not know that he ever enjoyed a joke, or indulged in a hearty laugh. He attended a wedding feast, and may have been merry over the wine he made out of water, but we do not know. We do know that he was terribly severe in his denunciations of wrong and of wrong-doers, and sometimes displayed impatience and temper when displeased, and administered unmerited and unjust rebuke. On one occasion, being hungry, he approached a fig tree expecting fruit, although "the time of figs was not yet," and finding "nothing but leaves" he "cursed" the innocent tree, saying, "Let no fruit grow on thee henceforward forever," and instantly the poor thing "withered away." Mr. Ingersoll could not reconcile this transaction with goodness or greatness, and thought that a "miracle of blessing" rather than of cursing should then and there have been performed. He thought and hoped that the story, like others, was an interpolation.

The simple truth, as believed by Mr. Ingersoll, is that Christ was an oriental Prophet, a religious Reformer, an Evangelist, a Protestant against the evils and abuses, the false teachings and formal rites of the Jewish synagogue and altar. He was an Infidel and Heretic in the eyes of the orthodox of his day, and was put to a cruel and shameful death on the cross because he dared to oppose and expose the errors of the church of his fathers. In this he was fearless, courageous, heroic, and truly one of the greatest of the "glorious army of Martyrs."

He must have been attractive and magnetic in his person, speech and manner, and capable of strong and enduring attachments -- in short, an altogether loving and lovable man. These fine traits in him Mr. Ingersoll fully understood and appreciated. He had no aversion, no hatred, only praise, for the Peasant of Palestine. He was not an enemy, but a friend of the human Christ, notwithstanding the calumny and slander of orthodox priests and teachers. He said:

"And let me say here, once for all, that for the man Christ I have infinite respect. Let me say, once for all, that the place where man has died for man is holy ground. And let me say, once for all, that to that great and serene man I gladly pay the tribute of my admiration and my tears. He was an infidel in his time. He was regarded as a blasphemer, and his life was destroyed by hypocrites, who have in all ages, done what they could to trample freedom and manhood out of the human mind. Had I lived at that time I would have been his friend, and should he come again he will not find a better friend than I will be."

"That is for the man. For the theological creation I have a different feeling. If he was, in fact, God, he knew there was no such thing as death. He knew that what we called death was but the eternal opening of the golden gates of everlasting joy; and it took no heroism to face a death that was eternal life."

"But when a man, when a poor boy sixteen years of age, goes upon the field of battle to keep his flag in heaven, not knowing but death ends all; not knowing but that when the shadows creep over him, the darkness will be eternal, there is heroism. For the man who, in the darkness, said: "My God, why hast thou forsaken me?" -- for that man I have nothing but respect, admiration, and love. Back of the theological shreds, rags, and patches, hiding the real Christ, I see a genuine man."

While thus recognizing and applauding the high moral character of Christ, and his many virtues, Colonel Ingersoll could not see from the record that he was "intellectually at the summit" of the race. He certainly had but a narrow field of observation and a limited experience. He lived but a few years, and in a very small and poor country, and his "world" was confined to Palestine and the lands bordering on the Mediterranean sea. He had not heard of America, and knew nothing of the great islands and continents peopled with millions of his fellow creatures, that lay beyond the scope of his narrow vision. He had no true conception of the, size and shape of the earth, knew little of geography, geology, ethnology, or cosmogony, and still less of astronomy. He was ignorant of the motions of the planets, of the suns, moons and stars, wheeling in their orbits through the infinite spaces. He perhaps had heard of "The Wise Men" and the "Star" that heralded his birth, but made no mention of it. Matthew is the only evangelist who records it. He was not a great philosopher. Most of his philosophy was provincial, puerile, crude and impossible. He did not value worldly wisdom -- his "Kingdom was not of this world." He was not an inventer, voyager, or discoverer of new facts and forces in nature. He practiced none of the fine arts, -- was not a painter, sculptor or musician, although he was poetic, dramatic and highly imaginative, -- traits common to the Oriental temperament. He was not a historian -- wrote nothing -- left not a line or word, not even a signature of his name. He said nothing about education, the rights of man, popular sovereignty or statesmanship. He did not encourage industry, thrift and economy, or the habit of saving for the future, telling his followers to "take no thought, for the morrow," that it was useless to lay up treasures on earth for the end of all things was at hand. He was the enemy of the rich and prosperous, for in his allegory he consigned Dives to Hades, "not because he was bad, but because he was rich," and comforted Lazarus in Abraham's bosom, "not because he was good, but because he was poor." He did not grow eloquent over the sacredness of home, or the blessedness of maternity. He never married. The Church that followed him and bore his name regarded and still regards "the priest as better than a father, the nun holier than a mother."

His was supremely a heavenly mission. He subordinated the material to the spiritual, the joy of living here to the promise of greater joy hereafter. He believed the end was near, and said, "This generation shall not pass away," that those who heard him "should not taste of death, till all that he had prophesied had been fulfilled. The things he did not say, but might have said, if he had been the Divine Teacher knowing all things, past, present and future, seemed more important to Mr. Ingersoll than the things he did say.

"If Christ was in fact God, he knew all the future. Before him like a panorama moved the history yet to be. He knew how his words would be interpreted. He knew what crimes, what horrors, what infamies, would be committed in his name. He knew that the hungry flames of persecution would climb around the limbs of countless martyrs. He knew that thousands and thousands of brave men and women. would languish in dungeons in darkness, filled with pain. He knew that the church would invent and use instruments of torture; that his followers would appeal to whip and fagot, to chain and rack. He saw what creeds would spring like poisonous fungi from every text. He saw the ignorant sects waging war against each other. He saw thousands of men, under the orders of priests, building prisons for their fellow-men. He saw thousands of scaffolds dripping with the best and bravest blood. He saw his followers using the instruments of pain. He heard the groans -- saw the faces white with agony. He heard the shrieks and sobs and cries of all the moaning, martyred multitudes. He knew that commentaries would be written on his words with swords, to be read by the light of fagots. He knew that the Inquisition would be born of the teachings attributed to him."

"He saw the interpolations and falsehoods that hypocrisy would write and tell. He saw all wars that would be waged, and knew that above these fields of death, these dungeons, these rackings, these burnings, these executions, for a thousand years would float the dripping banner of the cross."

"He knew that hypocrisy would be robed and crowned -- that cruelty and credulity would rule the world; knew that liberty would perish from the earth; knew that popes and kings in his name would enslave the souls and bodies of men; knew that they would persecute and destroy the discoverers, thinkers and inventors; knew that his church would extinguish reason's holy light and leave the world without a star."

"He saw his disciples extinguishing the eyes of men, flaying them alive, cutting out their tongues, searching for all the nerves of pain."

"He knew that in his name his followers would trade in human flesh; that cradles would be robbed and women's breasts unbabed for gold."

"And yet he died with voiceless lips."

"Why did he fail to speak? Why did he not. tell his disciples, and through them the world: 'You shall not burn, imprison and torture in my name. You shall not persecute your fellowmen.'"

"Why did he not plainly say: I am the Son of God,' or, 'I am God?' Why did he not explain the Trinity? Why did he not tell the mode of baptism that was pleasing to him? Why did he not write a creed? Why did he not break the chains of slaves? Why did he not say that the Old Testament was or was not the inspired word of God? Why did he not write the New Testament himself? Why did he leave his words to ignorance, hypocrisy and chance? Why did he not say something positive, definite and satisfactory about another world? Why did he not, turn the tear-stained hope of heaven into the glad knowledge of another life? Why did he not tell us something of the rights of man, of the liberty of hand and brain?"

"Why did he go dumbly to his death, leaving the world to misery and to doubt?"

"I" will tell you why. He was a man, and did not know."

Notwithstanding Mr. Ingersoll's pronounced views of the character and teachings of the man Christ, and his emphatic denials and denunciations of orthodox theology, he repeatedly expressed, both in his public utterances and private conversations, these thoughts:

"I admit that there are many good and beautiful passages in the Old and New Testaments; that from the lips of Christ dropped many pearls of kindness, -- of love. Every verse that is true and tender I treasure in my heart. Every thought behind which is the tear of pity I appreciate and love. But I cannot accept it all. Many utterances attributed to Christ shock my brain and heart. They are absurd and cruel."

"Take from the New Testament the infinite savagery, the shoreless malevolence of eternal pain, the absurdity of salvation by faith, the ignorant belief in the existence of devils, the immorality and cruelty of the Atonement, the doctrine of non- resistance that denies to virtue the right of self-defense, and how glorious it would be to know that the remainder is true! Compared with this knowledge, how everything else in nature would shrink and shrivel! What ecstacy it would be to know that God exists, that he is our father and that he loves and cares for the children of men! To know that all the paths that human beings travel, turn and wind as they may, lead to the gates of stainless peace? How the heart would thrill and throb to know that. Christ was the conqueror of Death; that at his grave the all-devouring monster was baffled and beaten forever; that from that moment the tomb. became the door that opens on eternal life! To, know this would change all sorrow into gladness. Poverty, failure, disaster, defeat, power, place and wealth would become meaningless sounds. To take your babe upon your knee and say: 'Mine and mine forever!' What joy! To clasp the woman you love in your arms and to know that she is yours and forever -- yours though suns darken and constellations vanish? This is enough: To know that the loved and dead are not lost; that they still live and love and wait for you. To know that Christ dispelled the, darkness of death and filled the grave with eternal light. To know this would be all that the heart could bear. Beyond this joy cannot go. Beyond this there is no place for hope."

In the foregoing statement of Mr. Ingersoll's view of Christ and his teachings, the writer has given only a few extracts and attempted only the merest outline, the most meager and superficial survey, of the subject. He feels that he has only touched the hem of a wonderfully woven intellectual garment, reached but the boundary line and not explored the interior, the heights and widths and depths of Mr. Ingersoll's universal genius. Who would penetrate further must be referred to his published works in their complete "Dresden" offering.



NOTE from BigEye's Webmaster:

Rogert G. Ingersoll was one of many courageous intellectual giants produced by The United States of America about whom U.S. students are taught little or nothing due to their "politically incorrect" or "controversial" ideas.

Learn about this man by exploring the following links:


Stewart Ogilby
Sarasota, FL



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