Thursday, 6 June 2013
The Atheist’s Bible: the Gospel According to Bob
Being an unbeliever is rough business these days. As much as gays and lesbians are under attack in this day and age, it is still easier for a GLBT candidate to be elected to office, than it is for an atheist – I know of no “outed” atheist in any major office in the country, except Kyrsten Sinema. Discrimination against unbelievers is the one form of bigotry that will still be acceptable long after America has embraced equality for GLBT families.
So imagine how hard it must have been a century ago, during the Victorian age, when America was undergoing a religious revival and preachers were stepping deep into the political arena to grapple with issues such as slavery, prohibition and national reform.
Into this morass of religious fervor waded a man named Bob Ingersoll.
Ingersoll was the last man anyone would have expected to be a “free thinker”. His father was a preacher who was active in the anti-slavery movement. Ingersoll led troops in the Civil War and then worked primarily as a lawyer, rising to the post of Illinois Attorney General; in an age when writing and speaking skills were prized, he excelled at both, commanding huge fees for his appearances and winning praise even from fellow word-mongers like Mark Twain. His speech nominating James Blaine for president was a landmark in oratory, a model for future speakers such as Franklin Roosevelt.
But he had a skeleton in his closet. Angered by the religious hardliners who hounded his father because his religious views weren’t extreme enough, Bob Ingersoll became an unbeliever. Republicans in Illinois liked him so much they wanted him to run for governor – provided he shut up about his religious views. He refused. Instead he led the golden age of Free Thought in the 19th century. His speeches veered more and more into the realm of atheistic and agnostic belief, or more accurately into attacks on organized religion and the Bible. All across the country ministers attacked him and newspapers condemned him. Throughout his career he cheerfully and politely shot down the arguments against him and continued to collect fat speaking fees.
And, happily, he wrote a lot of his stuff down. Mountains of it. A thousand pages or more. Since it would be problematic for the casual observer to climb into such an intimidating mound of philosophical wisdom, I have done it instead, and distilled the essence of his work into something more handy and practical for you to enjoy. Or rage against.
If you want to look at the original materials, the most promising articles include About the Holy Bible; Some Mistakes of Moses; the two articles on blasphemy, namely the Reynolds and Comegys articles; the debates with Black, Field and Gladstone; Divided Faith; Great Infidels; Heretics and Heresies; How To Be Saved; Should Infidels Send Their Children to Sunday School?; A Few Reasons for Doubting the Inspiration of the Bible; Orthodoxy; the second Rome Or Reason; and the fifth Talmadge article. They were organized by a man named Emmett Fields and can be found on the site below.
The article is divided into six sections. In the GOD’S BOOK section, Ingersoll says that the Bible consists of wisdom and morality which other, more developed cultures had already discovered, and original writings which were clearly the work of primitive men rather than God; that no one knows who really wrote the books of the Bible, and that there are no true eyewitness accounts of Jesus’ life; that the stories of the resurrection and ascension are muddled and suspicious, with no witnesses except the faithful; and that the incidents in Eden were all Jehovah’s fault. He wondered why the miracles of the Bible were ignored by so many, from the Egyptians to the Romans, and why three gospels say nothing about Jesus’ divinity.
In GOD’S WORK, Ingersoll railed against the Biblical Jehovah, cruel, breaking promises, mistreating women, and making a total mess of the world he created and the people he put in it; he wondered why both Jehovah and Jesus failed to explain critical questions of faith, and why Jehovah only gave the Bible to one tiny community. He also condemned the organized religions, destructive, parasitic and cruel, slowing the advance of humanity while other cultures were leading mankind forward.
In HELL AND SALVATION, Ingersoll condemned the terrifying scheme wherein a majority of the people Jehovah created were doomed to eternal hellfire regardless of how moral their lives had been, strictly on the basis of belief, a doctrine which does not appear at all in the Old Testament or in three of the four gospels; he was appalled at the notion that people could cheerily enter the pearly gates and ignore the fact that their loved ones were burning in hell forever.
In MORALITY, Ingersoll insisted that a faith rooted in so much Old-Testament cruelty was not a necessary guide for morality, and that the faith had a shoddy track record of mistreating women and brainwashing children. He ridiculed the inefficacy of prayer and martyrdom.
In PROGRESS, Ingersoll celebrated the fact that Christianity was at least growing and progressing, although not quickly enough, and only because the forces of science and society were compelling change.
In REASON, Ingersoll thought it was high time that humanity resisted Christianity’s effort to stifle dissent and force people to think alike, and begin challenging the faith and the Bible, particularly the more nonsensical passages. He wanted less theology in the world, and more logic and science. He teetered between agnosticism and atheism but defend his beliefs, whatever they were, with great power.
Bob Ingersoll very cleverly limited the scope of his attack: rather than launching a broad Jeremiad against all religious belief, he focused on the easiest target, namely the follies, fallacies and sheer cruelty in the Christian Bible. “You say that I desire to deprive mankind of their faith in God, in Christ and in the Bible. I do not, and have not, endeavored to destroy the faith of any man in a good, in a just, in a merciful God, or in a reasonable, natural, human Christ, or in any truth that the Bible may contain. I have endeavored -- and with some degree of success -- to destroy the faith of man in the Jehovah of the Jews, and in the idea that Christ was in fact the God of this universe. I have also endeavored to show that there are many things in the Bible ignorant and cruel -- that the book was produced by barbarians and by savages, and that its influence on the world has been bad.”
He proceeded to dismantle the Bible page by page. “What is the oldest manuscript of the Bible we have in Hebrew? The oldest manuscript we have in Hebrew was written in the 10th century after Christ. The oldest pretended copy we have of the Septuagint written in Greek was made in the 5th century after Christ. If the Bible was divinely inspired, if it was the actual word of God, we have no authenticated copy. The original has been lost and we are left in the darkness of Nature.” He pointed out that the Catholics voted on the sacred nature of the books of the Bible in the manner of political meetings and that Protestants were still haggling over which books were inspired by God in the 17th century.
And he attacked the issue of authorship. “Students of the Bible in England and Germany had been examining the inspired Scriptures. They had been trying to find when and by whom the books of the Bible were written. They found that the Pentateuch was not written by Moses; that the authors of Joshua, Judges, Ruth, Samuel, Kings, Chronicles, Esther, and Job were not known; that the Psalms were not written by David; that Solomon had nothing to do with Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, or the Songs; that Isaiah was the work of at least three authors; that the prophecies of Daniel were written after the happening of the events prophesied. They found many mistakes and contradictions, and some of them went so far as to assert that the Hebrews had never been slaves in Egypt -- that the story of the plagues, the exodus, and the pursuit was only a myth….The New Testament fared no better than the Old. These critics found that nearly all of the books of the New Testament had been written by unknown men; that it was impossible to fix the time when they were written; that many of the miracles were absurd and childish, and that in addition to all of this, the gospels were found filled with mistakes, with interpolations and contradictions; that the writers of Matthew, Mark, and Luke did not understand the Christian religion as it was understood by the author of the gospel according to John.”
And then the death blows: “We have not a word about Christ written by any human being who lived in the time of Christ.” And…”Were the authors of these four gospels inspired? If they were inspired, then the four gospels must be true. If they are true, they must agree. The four gospels do not agree.”
He also attacked an obvious weak point in the Bible, the miracles. “Hume took the ground that a miracle could not be used as evidence until the fact that it had happened was established. But how can a miracle be established? Take any miracle recorded in the Bible, and how could it be established now? You may say: Upon the testimony of those who wrote the account. Who were they? No one knows. Where are the witnesses? Who, upon the whole earth, has the slightest knowledge upon this subject?”
He stressed the obvious fact that the miracles described in the Bible didn’t seem to have any inspirational effect on the alleged witnesses thereto. “Jehovah, according to the Scriptures, wrought hundreds of miracles for the benefit of the Jews. With many miracles he rescued them from slavery, guided them on their journey with a miraculous cloud by day and a miraculous pillar of fire by night -- divided the sea that they might escape from the Egyptians, fed them with miraculous manna and supernatural quails, raised up hornets to attack their enemies, caused water to follow them wherever they wandered and in countless ways manifested his power, and yet the Jews cared nothing for these wonders. Not one of them seems to have been convinced that Jehovah had done anything for the people. In spite of all these miracles, the Jews had more confidence in a golden calf, made by themselves, than in Jehovah. The reason of this is, that the miracles were never performed, and never invented until hundreds of years after those, who had wandered over the desert of Sinai, were dust.” He also points out that the Pharaoh was singularly unimpressed by the miracles of Moses.
“The miracles attributed to Christ had no effect. No human being seems to have been convinced by them. Those whom he raised front the dead, cured of leprosy, or blindness, failed to become his followers. Not one of them appeared at his trial. Not one offered to bear witness of his miraculous power. To this there is but one explanation: The miracles were never performed. These stories were the growth of centuries. The casting out of devils, the changing of water into wine, feeding the multitude with a few loaves and fishes, resisting the devil, using a fish for a pocketbook, curing the blind with clay and saliva, stilling the tempest, walking on the water, the resurrection and ascension, happened and only happened, in the imaginations of men, who were not born until several generations after Christ was dead.”
He took, of course, the same stance regarding the divinity of Jesus. “How was it possible for any one of the four Evangelists to know that Christ was the Son of God, or that he was God? His mother wrote nothing on the subject. Matthew says that an angel of the Lord told Joseph in a dream, but Joseph never wrote an account of this wonderful vision. Luke tells us that the angel had a conversation with Mary, and that Mary told Elizabeth, but Elizabeth never wrote a word. There is no account of Mary or Joseph or Elizabeth or the angel, having had any conversation with Matthew, Mark, Luke, or John in which one word was said about the miraculous origin of Jesus Christ. The persons who knew did not write, so that the account is nothing but hearsay. Does Mr. Black pretend that such statements would be admitted as evidence in any court? But how do we know that the disciples of Christ wrote a word of the gospels? How did it happen that Christ wrote nothing? How do we know that the writers of the gospels "were men of unimpeachable character"?”
He also wondered why the evangelists worked to establish the lineage of Jesus through David, when in fact the true paternity was later claimed to be the Holy Ghost.
Bob Ingersoll teed off against the first fable of the Bible, the Creation. “The magnificent Psalm of Praise to the Creator with which Genesis opens is filled with magnificent mistakes, and is utterly absurd. Is there an intelligent man or woman now in the world who believes in the Garden of Eden story? If you find any man who believes it, strike his forehead and you will hear an echo. Something is for rent. The church tells [us] how much nobler it is to come from mud than from monkeys; that they were made from mud.”
He pointed out that Genesis tells the creation story twice, alternately claiming that man was created after the plant life, and then claiming the plants came after Adam. He wondered how Jehovah, Adam and Eve – and the serpent – were all instantly able to converse in the same language. And he points out the disturbing notion that God originally wasn’t going to make women at all: he originally wanted Adam to have animals as his companions – “He thought at one time to avoid the necessity of making a woman, and he caused all the animals to pass before Adam, to see what he would call them, and to see whether a fit companion could be found for him. Among them all, not one suited Adam, and Jehovah immediately saw that he would have to make an help-meet on purpose.” Ingersoll railed against the cruelty of Jehovah, who added to the agonies of motherhood, and expelled Adam and Eve from Eden not because of their sin, but because he feared that eating from the tree of life would allow them to live forever; and above all for cutting Man off from the tree of knowledge. He said that Diderot, one of his heroes, “wished to drive from the gate of the Garden of Eden the cherubim of superstition, so that the child of Adam might return to eat once more the fruit of the tree of knowledge…Banish me from Eden when you will but first let me eat of the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge.”
Then, like a lawyer seeking to impose liability for an accident, he took Jehovah to task for two crimes: for creating the Devil….”Why did Adam and Eve disobey? Why, they were tempted. By whom? The devil. Who made the devil? God. Why God made the devil? If he is going to put an end to him why did he start him? Was it not a waste of raw material to make him? Why did he not have his flood first, and drown the devil, before he made a man and woman? Why did he not tell them of the existence of Satan? Why were they not put upon their guard against the serpent? Instead of turning them out, why did he not keep him from getting in? Why did he not watch the devil, instead of watching Adam and Eve? Why did not God make his appearance just before the sin, instead of just after? Why did he not play the role of a Savior instead of that of a detective? Was it not unfair to let this devil, so powerful, so cunning, so attractive, into the Garden of Eden, and put Adam and Eve, who were then scarcely half dry, within his power, and not only Adam and Eve within his power, but their descendants, so that the slime of the serpent has been on every babe, and so that, in consequence of what happened in the Garden of Eden, flames will surround countless millions in the presence of the most merciful God? This God, waiting around Eden -- knowing all the while what would happen -- having made them on purpose so that it would happen, then does what? Holds all of us responsible, and we were not there. Why did he not allow Adam and Eve to perish in accordance with natural law, then kill the devil, and make a new pair?”
…And for creating the tree of knowledge in the first place. “Why did he put the tree of the knowledge of good and evil in the garden? For what reason did he place temptation in the way of his children? Was it kind, was it just, was it noble, was it worthy of a good God? If I did not want a man to eat my fruit, I would not put him in my orchard. No wonder Christ put into his prayer: Lead us not into temptation.”
Ingersoll on the divinity of Jesus: “I cannot believe in the miraculous origin of Jesus Christ. I believe he was the son of Joseph and Mary; that Joseph and Mary had been duly and legally married; that he was the legitimate offspring of that union. Nobody ever believed the contrary until he had been dead at least one hundred and fifty years. Neither Matthew, Mark, nor Luke ever dreamed that he was of divine origin. He did not say to either Matthew, Mark, or Luke, or to any one in their hearing, that he was the Son of God, or that he was miraculously conceived. He did not say it. It may be asserted that he said it to John, but John did not write the gospel that bears his name.”
Ingersoll was also skeptical about Jesus’ trial and execution: “Is it not wonderful that no one at the trial of Christ said one word about the miracles he had wrought? Nothing about the sick he had healed, nor the dead he had raised? Did the Jews believe that Christ was clothed with miraculous power? Would they have dared to crucify a man who had the power to clothe the dead with life? Do you think anyone would wish to crucify him? Do you not rather believe that everyone who had a loved one out in that cemetery would go to him, even upon their knees, and beg him to give back their dead. Do you believe that any man was ever crucified who was the master of death? It is infinitely absurd to say that a man who cured the sick, the halt and blind, raised the dead, cast out devils, controlled the winds and waves, created food and held obedient to his will the forces of the world, was put to death by men who knew his superhuman power and who had seen his wondrous works.”
And alternatively, “Diderot took the ground that, if orthodox religion be true Christ was guilty of suicide. Having the power to defend himself he should have used it.”
Ingersoll points out another logical loop: “If Jehovah was in fact God, and if that God took upon himself flesh and came among the Jews, and preached what the Jews understood to be blasphemy; and if the Jews in accordance with the laws given by this same Jehovah to Moses, crucified him, then I say, and I say it with infinite reverence, he reaped what he had sown. He became the victim of his own injustice.”
Ingersoll points out that Jesus was capable of error – he believed in devils and chose Judas as his right-hand man -- and then committed the biggest error of all. “For the man Christ, I feel only admiration and respect. I think he was in many things mistaken. His reliance upon the goodness of God was perfect. He seemed to believe that his father in heaven would protect him. He thought that if God clothed the lilies of the field in beauty, if he provided for the sparrows, he would surely protect a perfectly just and loving man. In this he was mistaken; and in the darkness of death, overwhelmed, he cried out -- Why hast thou forsaken me?" Thus proving also that he did not intend to die.
This issue was particularly irksome to Ingersoll, because many of his would-be tormentors taunted him with the notion that atheists would invariably repent and beg for God on their deathbeds. “Suppose that Voltaire and Thomas Paine and Volney and Hume and Hobbes had cried out when dying "My God, My God, why hast thou forsaken me?" what would the clergymen of this city then have said?”
Another irksome logical flaw: “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.” Ingersoll undermines the Biblical account even further by pointing out that the gospels differ on what Christ’s last words were, and that only one gospel claims that soldiers were bribed to lie about Jesus’ body being stolen.
Ingersoll was of course skeptical about the resurrection. “If the dead Christ rose from the grave, why did he not appear to his enemies? Why did he not visit Pontius Pilate? Why did he not call upon Caiaphas, the high priest? upon Herod? Why did he not again enter the temple and end the old dispute with demonstration? Why did he not confront the Roman soldiers who had taken money to falsely swear that his body had been stolen by his friends? Why did he not make another triumphal entry into Jerusalem? Why did he not say to the multitude: Here are the wounds in my feet, and in my hands, and in my side. I am the one you endeavored to kill, but Death is my slave?”
And then his questions become much more pointed: “After his resurrection, why did not some one of his disciples ask him where he had been? Why did he not tell them what world he had visited? There was the opportunity to bring life and immortality to light. And yet he was as silent as the grave that he had left -- speechless as the stone that angels had rolled away…. The resurrection is a myth. It makes no difference with his teachings. They are just as good whether he wrought miracles or not. Twice two are four: that needs no miracle. Twice two are five -- a miracle cannot help that. Christ's teachings are worth their effect upon the human race. It makes no difference about miracle or wonder.”
Ingersoll pointed out that two of the gospels make no mention of the Jesus’ ascension into heaven, and that a third, the gospel of Mark, mentions it only in text which was clearly tacked onto the end of the gospel many years afterward. “Luke testifies that Christ ascended on the very day of his resurrection. John deposes that eight days after the resurrection Christ appeared to the disciples and convinced Thomas. In the Acts we are told that Christ remained on earth for forty days after his resurrection. These "depositions" do not agree (neither do Matthew and Luke agree in their histories of the infancy of Christ). It is impossible for both to be true. One of these "witnesses" must have been mistaken….I cannot believe in the miracle of the ascension, in the bodily ascension of Jesus Christ. In the light shed upon this question by the telescope, I again ask, where was he going? The New Jerusalem is not above us. The abode of the gods is not there. What did he do with his body? How high did he go? In what way did he overcome the intense cold? The nearest station is the moon, two hundred and forty thousand miles away. It may be said that his body was "spiritual." Then what became of the body that died? Just before his ascension we are told that he partook of broiled fish with his disciples. Was the fish "spiritual?" Who saw this miracle?”
And again his questions got to the point: “If he really ascended, why did he not do so in public, in the presence of his persecutors? Why should this, the greatest of miracles, be done in secret. in a corner? It was a miracle that could have been seen by a vast multitude—a miracle that could not be simulated—one that would have convinced hundreds of thousands. After the story of the Resurrection, the Ascension became a necessity. They had to dispose of the body.”
Bob Ingersoll ridiculed those who argued the necessity of Christianity – the notion that without Jesus, the world would have lost much wisdom. “By Christianity I do not mean morality, kindness, forgiveness, justice. Those virtues are not distinctively Christian. They are claimed by Mohammedans and Buddhists, by Infidels and Atheists -- and practiced by some of all classes. Christianity consists in the miraculous, the marvelous, and the impossible….So Dr. Plumb says that this man [Jesus] "spake as never man spake." Did the Doctor ever read Zeno? Zeno, who denounced human slavery many years before Christ was born? Did he ever read Epicurus, one of the greatest of the Greeks? Has he read anything from Buddha? Has he read the dialogues between Ariuna and Krishna? If he has, he knows that every great and splendid utterance of Christ was uttered centuries before he lived. Did he ever read Lao-tsze? If he did -- and this man lived many centuries before the coming of our Lord -- he knows that Lao-tsze said "we should render benefits for injuries. We should love our enemies, and we should not resist evil." Did he come to give a rule of action? Zoroaster had done this long before "Whenever thou art in doubt as to whether an action is good or bad, abstain from it." So it will hardly do now to say that Christ spake as never man spake, because he repeated the very things that other men had said.” Ingersoll pointed out that morality, justice and mercy would have existed if Jesus had never been born.
He was particularly incensed by the notion that Christians led the world in morality and charity. “Probably a majority of the people in this country suppose that there was no charity in the world until the Christian religion was founded. Great men have repeated this falsehood, until ignorance and thoughtlessness believe it. There were orphan asylums in China, in India, and in Egypt thousands of years before Christ was born; and there certainly never was a time in the history of the whole world when there was less charity in Europe than during the centuries when the Church of Christ had absolute power. There were hundreds of Mohammedan asylums before Christianity had built ten in the entire world.”
He also undermined the notion of Christian immortality, wondering why other cultures said so much about immortality, and Jesus so little (most of the arguments for salvation and heaven came from John and Paul, who didn’t get it from Jesus). “Did he come to tell us of another world? The immortality of the soul had been taught by the Hindoos, Egyptians, Greeks, and Romans hundreds of years before he was born. What argument did he make in favor of immortality? What facts did he furnish? What star of hope did he put above the darkness of this world?”
Ingersoll pointed out that even Christian ceremony was second-hand. “For all of our festivals you will find corresponding pagan festivals. For instance, take the eucharist, the communion, where persons partake of the body and blood of the Deity. This is an exceedingly old custom. Among the ancients they ate cakes made of corn, in honor of Ceres and they called these cakes the flesh of the goddess, and they drank wine in honor of Bacchus, and called this the blood of their god.”
Ingersoll demolished the argument that the world would have plunged into darkness without the illumination of Christ’s ministry, and he pointed out the great advances made by civilizations without Jesus. “They tell me that there never would have been any civilization if it had not been for this Bible. The Jews had a Bible; the Romans had not. Which had the greater and the grander government? Let us be honest. Which of those nations produced the greatest poets, the greatest soldiers, the greatest orators, the greatest statesmen, the greatest sculptors? Rome had no Bible. God cared nothing for the Roman Empire. His time was taken up with the Jewish people. And yet Rome conquered the world, including the chosen people of God. The people who had the Bible were defeated by the people who had not. How was it possible for Lucretius to get along without the Bible? -- how did the great and glorious of that empire? And what shall we say of Greece? No Bible. Compare Athens with Jerusalem. From Athens come the beauty and intellectual grace of the world. Compare the mythology of Greece with the mythology of Judea; one covering the earth with beauty, and the other filling heaven with hatred and injustice ….The foundations of our civilization were laid centuries before Christianity was known. The intelligence of courage, of self-government, of energy, of industry, that uniting made the civilization of this century, did not come alone from Judea, but from every nation of the ancient world.”
And he described medieval Islam in terms which would be maddening to today’s Muslim-hating evangelicals. “In the 10th century after Christ the Saracens governors of a vast empire -- established colleges in Mongolia, Tartary, Persia, Mesopotamia, Syria, Egypt, North Africa, Morocco, Fez and in Spain. The region owned by the Saracens was greater than the Roman Empire. They had not only college -- but observatories. The sciences were taught. They introduced the ten numerals – taught algebra and trigonometry -- understood cubic equations -- knew the art of surveying -- they made catalogues and maps of the stars -- gave the great stars the names they still bear -- they ascertained the size of the earth -- determined the obliquity of the ecliptic and fixed the length of the year. They calculated eclipses, equinoxes, solstices, conjunctions of planets and occultations of stars. They constructed astronomical instruments. They made clocks of various kinds and were the inventors of the pendulum. They originated chemistry -- discovered sulfuric and nitric acid and alcohol. They were the first to publish pharmacopeias and dispensatories. In mechanics they determined the laws of falling bodies. They understood the mechanical powers, and the attraction of gravitation. They taught hydrostatics and determined the specific gravities of bodies. In optics they discovered that a ray of light did not proceed from the eye to an object -- but from the object to the eye. They were manufacturers of cotton, leather, paper and steel. They gave us the game of chess. They produced romances and novels and essays on many subjects. In their schools they taught the modern doctrines of evolution and development. They anticipated Darwin and Spencer.
“These people were not Christians. They were the followers, for the most part, of an impostor -- of a pretended prophet of a false God. And yet while the true Christians, the men selected by the true God and filled with the Holy Ghost were tearing out the tongues of heretics, these wretches were irreverently tracing the orbits of the stars. While the true believers were flaying philosophers and extinguishing the eyes of thinkers, these godless followers of Mohammed were founding colleges, collecting manuscripts, investigating the facts of nature and giving their attention to science. We are indebted to the Moors – to the followers of Mohammed -- for having laid the foundations of modern science. It is well to know that we are not indebted to the church, to Christianity, for any useful fact.”
He found the Bible itself entirely dispensible. “People ask me, if I take away the Bible what are we going to do? How can we get along without the revelation that no one understands? What are we going to do if we have no Bible to quarrel about? What are we to do without hell? What are we going to do with our enemies? What are we going to do with the people we love but don't like?”
Years ago a theater critic told a director that there was material in his new show that was original, and material that was good – but the original material wasn’t good, and the good material wasn’t original. Ingersoll made the same argument about the Bible: he argued that once you strip away the ideas and advances which other cultures already had, and just looked at the contributions which were unique and original to the Jews who wrote them, one is left with work which is clearly manmade, and not inspired. “Our God was made by men, sculptured by savages who did the best they could. They made our God somewhat like themselves, and gave to him their passions, their ideas of right and wrong. There is certainly nothing in the Old or the New Testament that could not have been written by uninspired human beings. Ought not the work of a God to be vastly superior to that of a man? ….I do not see how it is possible for an intelligent human being to conclude that the Song of Solomon is the work of God, and that the tragedy of Lear was the work of an uninspired man. If there are mistakes in the Bible, certainly they were made by man. If there is anything contrary to nature, it was written by man. If there is anything immoral, cruel, heartless or infamous, it certainly was never written by a being worthy of the adoration of mankind.”
Ingersoll stated that the Bible was clearly the work, not only of men, but rather ignorant men. “But if the Bible had given us scientific truths; if the ignorant Jews had given us the true theory of our solar system; if from, Moses we had learned the nature of light and heat; if from Joshua we had learned something of electricity; if the minor prophets had given us the distances to other planets; if the orbits of the stars had been marked by the barbarians of that day, we might have admitted that they must have been inspired. If they had said anything in advance of their day: if they had plucked from the night of ignorance one star of truth, we might have admitted the claim of inspiration; but the Scriptures did not rise above their source, did not rise above their ignorant authors -- above the people who believed in wars of extermination, in polygamy, in concubinage, in slavery, and who taught these things in their sacred Scriptures….Now, intelligent men, who are not frightened, whose brains have not been paralyzed by fear, know that the sacred story of creation was written by an ignorant savage. The story is inconsistent with all known facts, and every star shining in the heavens testifies that its author was an uninspired barbarian….According to that Holy Book, Jehovah was a believer in witchcraft, and said to his chosen people: thou shalt not suffer a witch to live. This one commandment -- this simple line -- demonstrates that Jehovah was not only not God, but that he was a poor, ignorant, superstitious savage. This one line proves beyond all possible doubt that the Old Testament was written by men, by barbarians. John Wesley was right when he said that to give up a belief in witchcraft was to give up the Bible.”
Ingersoll pointed out that the science of the Bible couldn’t even keep up with the science of men in other ancient cultures. “The view of Moses was acquiesced in by the Jewish people and by the Christian world for thousands of years. It is supposed that Moses lived about fifteen hundred years before Christ, and although he was "inspired," and obtained his information directly from God, he did not know as much about our solar system as the Chinese did a thousand years before he was born. The Emperor Chwenhio adopted as an epoch, a conjunction of the planets Mercury, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn, which has been shown by M. Bailly to have occurred no less than 2449 years before Christ. The ancient Chinese knew not only the motions of the planets, but they could calculate eclipses. In the reign of the Emperor Chow-Kang, the chief astronomers, Ho and Hi were condemned to death for neglecting to announce a solar eclipse which took place 2169 B.C., a clear proof that the prediction of eclipses was a part of the duty of the imperial astronomers. Is it not strange that a Chinaman should find out by his own exertions more about the material universe than Moses could when assisted by its Creator?”
Likewise he saw the Bible as morally backward. “Most nations, at the time the Old Testament was written, believed in slavery, polygamy, wars of extermination, and religious persecution; and it is not wonderful that the book contained nothing contrary to such belief. The fact that it was in exact accord with the morality of its time proves that it was not the product of any being superior to man. The inspired writers ordered the slaughter of women and babes. They also visited the most trivial offenses with the punishment of death. In these particulars they were in exact accord with their barbarian neighbors. They were utterly ignorant of geology and astronomy, and knew no more of what had happened than of what would happen; and, so far as accuracy is concerned, their history and prophecy were about equal; in other words, they were just as ignorant as those who lived and died in nature's night.”
Ingersoll condemned the notion that a wise deity would create a man and a world in such a way that most of his creations would fail, and be doomed to eternal hellfire. “An infinitely wise and good God would naturally create good people, and if he has not, certainly the fault is his. No God has a right to make a failure, and a man who is to be eternally damned is not a conspicuous success. No God has a right to make a mistake, and then damn the mistake. Why should he have created uncounted billions destined to suffer forever? Why did he not leave them unconscious dust? Compared with this crime, any crime that man can by any possibility commit is a virtue. Did your God deliberately surmount [man] with temptations that he knew he could not withstand, with obstacles that he knew he could not overcome? Is it in accordance with reason that a being of infinite wisdom would create a rival, knowing that the rival would fill perdition with countless souls destined to suffer eternal pain? Mr. Black admits that lunatics and idiots are in no danger of hell. This being so, his God should have created only lunatics and idiots. An infinite God who creates billions of men knowing that they will suffer through all the countless years is an infinite demon.”
Ingersoll also questioned the logic of a deity who so loved rigid obedience and control, creating beings who were so clearly out of control – God created men who were obviously not a good fit for God and for the world and the rules God created. “It will not do to try and dodge by saying that man is free. This God who made man and made him free knew exactly how he would use his freedom, and consequently this God cannot escape the responsibility for the actions of men. He made them. He knew exactly what they would do. He is responsible. If I could turn a piece of wood into a human being, and I knew that he would murder a man, who is the real murderer?...In the old times of which I have spoken, they desired to make all men think exactly alike. All the mechanical ingenuity of the world cannot make two clocks run exactly alike, and how are you going to make hundreds of millions of people, differing in brain and disposition, in education and aspiration, in conditions and surroundings, each clad in a living robe of passionate flesh — how are you going to make them think and feel alike? If there is an infinite god, one who made us, and wishes us to think alike, why did he give a spoonful of brains to one, and a magnificent intellectual development to another? Why is it that we have all degrees of intelligence, from orthodoxy to genius, if it was intended that all should think and feel alike? Why were we not given better brains?”
He ridiculed the notion that a wise God would be unable to foresee the mischief that men would get into. “Would you make different races of men? Would you make them of different colors, and would you so make them that they would persecute and enslave each other? Would you so arrange matters that millions and millions should toil through many generations, paid only by the lash on the back? Would you have it so that millions and millions of babes would be sold from the breasts of mothers? Be honest. Would you provide for religious persecution? For the invention and use of instruments of torture? Would you see to it that the rack was not forgotten, and that the fagot was not overlooked or unlighted? Would you make a world in which the wrong would triumph? Would you make a world in which innocence would not be a shield? Would you make a world where the best would be loaded with chains? Where the best would die in the darkness of dungeons? Where the best would make scaffolds sacred with their blood? Would you make a world where hypocrisy and cunning and fraud should represent God, and where meanness would suck the blood of honest credulity? Would you provide for the settlement of all difficulties by war? Would you so make your world that the weak would bear the burdens, so that woman would be a slave, so that children would be trampled upon as though they were poisonous reptiles? Would you make them ignorant, savage, and fill their minds with all the phantoms of horror?”
Ingersoll likened Jehovah’s work in the natural world to that of a singularly unskilled and fat-fingered mechanic. “If you had the power to make a world, would you make an exact copy of this? Would you make your world so as to provide for earthquakes and cyclones? Would you create the seeds of disease and scatter them in the air and water? Would you so arrange matters as to produce cancers? Would you provide for plague and pestilence? Would you so make your world that life should feed on life, that the quivering flesh should be torn by tooth and beak and claw? Would you fill the woods with wild beasts? Would you make a few volcanoes to overwhelm your children? Would you provide for earthquakes that would swallow them? Do you not believe that any honest man of average intelligence, having absolute control of the rain, could do vastly better than is being done? Certainly there would be no droughts or floods; the crops would not be permitted to wither and die, while rain was being wasted in the sea. Is it conceivable that a good man with power to control the winds would not prevent cyclones? Would you not rather trust a wise and honest man with the lightning?...Some people have insisted that this life is a kind of school for the production of self-denying men and women -- that is, for the production of character. The statistics show that a large majority die under five years of age. What would we think of a schoolmaster who killed the most of his pupils the first day?”
Among Jehovah’s critical early decisions, according to the Bible, was the flood. Which elicited one of Ingersoll’s most piercing questions:
“And why does this same God tell me how to raise my children when he had to drown his?”
He expands on the theme. “This flood business puts Jehovah in such an idiotic light. Of course, he must have known, after the fall of Adam and Eve, that he would have to drown their descendants. Think of a God who drowned a world! What a merciless monster! The cruelty of the flood is exceeded only by its stupidity. Why should we expect mercy from a God who drowned millions of men, women and babes? I would no more think of softening the heart of such a God by prayer than of protecting myself from a hungry tiger by repeating poetry.” Ingersoll also argues that since the progeny of Noah were clearly corrupted and the forefathers of all the sins and crimes of the succeeding generations across the world, God should have drowned Noah’s family as well, started with a new man and woman, and warned them a bit more carefully about the devil.
Ingersoll was appalled by the cruelty of Jehovah. “A nation is judged by its laws -- by the punishment it inflicts. The nation that punishes ordinary offenses with death is regarded as barbarous, and the nation that tortures before it kills is denounced as savage. What can you say of the government of Jehovah, in which death was the penalty for hundreds of offenses? -- death for the expression of an honest thought -- death for touching with a good intention a sacred ark -- death for making hair oil -- for eating shew bread -- for imitating incense and perfumery? Is it according to common sense that an infinitely good God would order some of his children to kill others? That he would command soldiers to rip open with the sword of war the bodies of women -- wreaking vengeance on babes unborn? Is it according to reason that a good, loving, compassionate, and just God would establish slavery among men? Do you not know that the worst thing that can be said of Nero, Caligula, and Commodus is that they resembled the Jehovah of the Jews?”
And he raised the issue of hypocrisy: “A very curious thing about these commandments is that their supposed author violated nearly every one. From Sinai, according to the account, he said: "Thou shalt not kill," and yet he ordered the murder of millions; "Thou shalt not commit adultery," and yet he gave captured maidens to gratify the lust of captors; "Thou shalt not steal," and yet he gave to Jewish marauders the flocks and herds of others; "Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor's house, nor his wife," and yet he allowed his chosen people to destroy the homes of neighbors and to steal their wives; "Honor thy father and thy mother," and yet this same God had thousands of fathers butchered, and with the sword of war killed children yet unborn; "Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor," and yet he sent abroad "lying spirits" to deceive his own prophets, and in a hundred ways paid tribute to deceit. So far as we know, Jehovah kept only one of these commandments -- he worshiped no other god.”
Ingersoll found Jehovah’s cruelty horrifying and, sometime, puzzling. “It hardly seems reasonable that God, if there is one, would either stop the globe, change the constitution of the atmosphere or the nature of light simply to afford Joshua an opportunity to kill people on that day when he could just as easily have waited until the next morning.” Or, wondering how Moses escaped punishment on Sinai: “What must we think of a man impudent enough to break in pieces tables of stone upon which God had written with his finger?” Or sheer whimsy, in wondering why Lot’s wife was turned into a pillar of salt: “For the purpose of keeping the event fresh in the minds of men.”
He was also astounded by Jehovah’s cruelty to his own followers. “He knew that he had taught the Jewish people but little of importance. He knew that he found them free and left them captives. He knew that he had never fulfilled the promises made to them. He knew that while other nations had advanced in art and science, his chosen people were savage still. He promised them the world, and gave them a desert. He promised them liberty, and he made them slaves. He promised them victory, and he gave them defeat. He said they should be kings, and he made them serfs. He promised them universal empire, and gave them exile. When one finishes the Old Testament, he is compelled to say: Nothing can add to the misery of a nation whose king is Jehovah!”
After noting that God made extraordinary promises to the Jews and then, after allowing them to be enslaved, “owing to the fact that when hungry they longed for food, and sometimes when their lips were cracked with thirst insisted on having water, God in his infinite mercy had them marched round and round, back and forth, through a barren wilderness, until all, with the exception of two persons, died. Because he had promised these people that he would take them to a land flowing with milk and honey. When we think of the poor Jews, destroyed, murdered, bitten by serpents, visited by plagues, decimated by famine, butchered by each other, swallowed by the earth, frightened, cursed, starved, deceived, robbed and outraged, how thankful we should be that we are not the chosen people of God. No wonder that they longed for the slavery of Egypt, and remembered with sorrow the unhappy day when they exchanged masters. Compared with Jehovah, Pharaoh was a benefactor, and the tyranny of Egypt was freedom to those who suffered the liberty of God.
Ingersoll was nonplussed at the notion of a woman worshipping Jehovah. “Unto the woman he said, I will greatly multiply thy sorrow and thy conception; in sorrow thou shalt bring forth children; and thy desire shall be to thy husband, and he shall rule over you…. Never will I worship any being who added to the sorrows and agonies of maternity. Never will of bow to any God who introduced slavery into every home -- who made the wife a slave and the husband a tyrant. The Old Testament shows that Jehovah, like his creators, held women in contempt. They were regarded as property: Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor's wife, -- nor his ox….Why should a pure woman worship a God who upheld polygamy?”
Ingersoll specified that his beef was with Jehovah as expressed in the Bible. “Certainly it is not cursing God to declare that the real God never sanctioned slavery or polygamy, or commanded wars of extermination, or told a husband to separate from his wife if she differed with him in religion. The people who say these things of God -- if there is any God at all -- do what little there is in their power, unwittingly of course, to destroy his reputation. But I have done something to rescue the reputation of the Deity from the slanders of the pulpit. If there is any God, I expect to find myself credited on the heavenly books for my defense of him.”
Ingersoll responded forcefully to the argument “that the inhabitants of Canaan [who were exterminated by the Israelites] were unfit to live -- that they were ignorant and cruel. He knew when he made them that he would have to have them murdered. When he created them he knew that they were not fit to live. Whose fault was it then that they were heathen? Why did not Jehovah, the Father of all, give them the Ten Commandments? Why did he order his favorite children to murder those whom he had neglected? Why did not God reveal this imperfect religion to all people instead of to a small and insignificant tribe, a tribe without commerce and without influence among the nations of the world? Why did he fail to reveal himself to the other nations -- nations that, compared with the Jews, were learned, cultivated and powerful? Would you regard a revelation now made to the Esquimaux as intended for us; and would it be a revelation of which we would be obliged to take notice? Why did he not give the Scriptures to the Hindu, the Greek, and Roman? After all, was not Bacchus as good as Jehovah? Is it not better to drink wine than to shed blood? Was there anything in the worship of Venus worse than giving captured maidens to satisfy the victor’s lust? Why did he hide this imperfect light under a bushel? If the light was necessary for one, was it not necessary for all? And why did he drown a world to whom he had not even given that light? Christianity is claimed to be a religion for all mankind. It was founded more than eighteen centuries ago; and yet, not one human being in three has ever heard of it. As a matter of fact, for more than fourteen centuries and-a-half after the crucifixion of Christ, this hemisphere was absolutely unknown.”
At one point Ingersoll wondered whether Jehovah had, in fact, conveyed his will to other nations. “And this God gave to different nations different ideas of himself, knowing that in consequence of that these nations would meet upon countless fields of death and drain each other's veins.”
Ingersoll argued that Jehovah must have known that the Bible was unclear, and that men, ignorant as Jehovah had made them, would form backward and destructive views on science, slavery, polygamy, and end up killing and torturing each other in arguments as to its meaning; he knew many would find the story unbelievable and thus court hellfire by walking away from the faith, and therefore God was responsible for all this confusion, war, torture and damnation.
Ingersoll was irritated that during Moses’ all-important visit to Sinai to receive God’s will, Jehovah left great matters unexplained while spending rather a lot of time on picayune issues. “I find that the God who had no time to say anything on the subject of slavery, and who found no room upon the tables of stone to say a word against polygamy, and in favor of the rights of woman, wife and mother, took time to give a recipe for making hair oil. Why did he waste his time in giving orders for the consecration of priests -- in saying that they must have sheep's blood put on their right ears and on their right thumbs and on their right big toes? Could a God with any sense of humor give such directions, or watch without huge laughter the performance of such a ceremony? Instead of spending forty days and forty nights with Moses, telling him how to build a large tent, and how to cut the garments of priests, why did God not give him a little useful information in respect to the laws of health? He spent several days and nights on Sinai explaining to Moses how he could detect the presence of leprosy, without once thinking to give him a prescription for its cure; there were thousands and thousands of opportunities for this God to withdraw from these questions the shadow and the cloud.” Ingersoll was also incensed that God killed the builders of the golden calf without first explaining that such idolatry was a capital offense.
Ingersoll also took Jesus to task for remaining silent on so many subjects. “If Christ was in fact God, he knew all the future. Before him, like a panorama, moved the history yet to be. He knew exactly how his words would he interpreted. He knew what crimes, what horrors, what infamies, would be committed in his name. He knew that the fires of persecution would climb around the limbs of countless martyrs. He knew that brave men would languish in dungeons, in darkness, filled with pain; that the church would use instruments of torture, that his followers would appeal to whip and chain. He must have seen the horizon of the future red with the flames of the auto da fe He knew all the creeds that would spring like poison fungi from every text. He saw the sects waging war against each other. He saw thousands of men, under the orders of priests, building dungeons for their fellow-men. He saw them using instruments of pain. He heard the groans, saw the faces white with agony, the tears, the blood, heard the shrieks and sob 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 teachings attributed to him. He saw all the interpolations and falsehoods that hypocrisy would write and tell. He knew that above these fields of death, these dungeons, these burnings, for a thousand years would float the dripping banner of the cross. 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, that man should not persecute, for opinion's sake, his fellow-man? Why did he not cry, You shall not persecute in my name; you shall not burn and torment those who differ from you in creed? Why did he not plainly say, I am the Son of God? Why did he not explain the doctrine of the Trinity? Why did he not tell the manner of baptism that was pleasing to him? Why did he not say something positive, definite, and satisfactory about another world? Why did he not turn the tear-stained hope of heaven to the glad knowledge of another life? Why did he go dumbly to his death, leaving the world to misery and to doubt?”
Likewise -- “I remember that Christ said nothing in favor of the family relation. As a matter of fact, his life tended to cast discredit upon marriage. He said nothing against the institution of slavery; nothing against the tyranny of government; nothing of our treatment of animals; nothing about education, about intellectual progress; nothing of art. declared no scientific truth, and said nothing as to the rights and duties of nations. I am quite able to point out the way in which the Savior of the world might have been much greater as a teacher than he actually was."
Ingersoll unsurprisingly castigated the self-serving behavior of the leaders of Christianity through the ages. “The believers in the blessedness of poverty became rich, avaricious, and grasping, and those who had said, sell all, and give to the poor, became the ruthless gatherers of tithes and taxes. In a few years the teachings of Jesus were forgotten. The gospels were interpolated by the designing and ambitious. The church was infinitely corrupt. Crime was crowned, and virtue scourged….Every church that has a standard higher than human welfare is dangerous. A church that puts a book above the laws and constitution of its country, that puts a book above the welfare of mankind, is dangerous to human liberty. Every church that puts itself above the legally expressed will of the people is dangerous. Every church that holds itself under greater obligation to a pope than to a people is dangerous to human liberty. Every church that puts religion above humanity -- above the well-being of man in this world -- is dangerous.”
Ingersoll saw Christianity as a parasite that sickened nations that caught the disease. “Who can over estimate the progress of the world if all the money wasted in superstition could be used to enlighten, elevate and civilize mankind? When the church had almost absolute authority, then the world was the worst. No nation ever gave itself wholly to the control of the church without losing its power, its honor, and existence. All that we call progress—the enfranchisement of man, of labor, the substitution of imprisonment for death, of fine for imprisonment, the destruction of polygamy, the establishing of free speech, of the rights of conscience; in short, all that has tended to the development and civilization of man; all the results of investigation, observation, experience and free thought; all that man has accomplished for the benefit of man since the close of the Dark Ages—has been done in spite of the Old Testament. Most religions -- no matter how honestly they originated -- have been established by brute force; kings and nobles have used them as a means to enslave, to degrade and rob; the priest, consciously and unconsciously, has been the betrayer of his followers.
“Do we not know that when the Roman empire fell, darkness settled on the world? do we not know that this darkness lasted for a thousand years, and that daring all that time the church of Christ held, with bloody hands, the sword of power? These years were the starless midnight of our race. Art died, law was forgotten, toleration ceased to exist, charity fled from the human breast, and justice was unknown. Kings were tyrants, priests were pitiless, and the poor multitude were slaves. In the name of Christ, men made instruments of torture, and the auto da fe took the place of the gladiatorial show. Liberty was in chains, honesty in dungeons, while Christian superstition ruled mankind.
“The ministers attack the pleasures of the world. They are not so much scandalized by murder and forgery as by dancing and eating meat on Friday. They regard unbelief as the greatest of all sins. They are not touching the real, vital issues of the day, and their hearts do not throb in unison with the hearts of the struggling, the aspiring, the enthusiastic and the real believers in the progress of the human race. England is a Christian nation, and yet about one in six in the city of London dies in almshouses, asylums, prisons, hospitals and jails. We, I suppose, are a civilized nation, and yet all the penitentiaries are crammed; there is want on every hand, and my opinion is that we had better turn our attention to this world.”
Ingersoll lamented that the pigheadedness of monotheism has led to the callous slaughter of unbelievers and the growing militarism of his own age. “The Bible was produced by cruel people, and in its turn it has produced people like its authors. Whoever imagines himself a favorite with God, holds other people in contempt. Whenever a man believes that he has the exact truth from God, there is in that man no spirit of compromise. He has not the modesty born of the imperfections of human nature; he has the arrogance of theological certainty and the tyranny born of ignorant assurance. Believing himself to be the slave of God, he imitates his master, and of all tyrants, the worst is a slave in power. The extermination of the Canaanites was cruel. A Christian nation has never had the slightest respect for the rights of barbarians; neither has any Christian sect any respect for the rights of other sects. Anciently, the sects discussed with fire and sword, and even now, something happens almost every day to show that the old spirit that was in the Inquisition still slumbers in the Christian breast…. For more than a thousand years the church had, to a great extent, the control of the civilized world, and what has been the result? Are the Christian nations patterns of charity and forbearance? On the contrary, their principal business is to destroy each other. More than five millions of Christians are trained, educated, and drilled to murder their fellow-Christians. Every nation is groaning under a vast debt incurred in carrying on war against other Christians, or defending itself from Christian assault. The world is covered with forts to protect Christians from Christians, and every sea is covered with iron monsters ready to blow Christian brains into eternal froth. Millions upon millions are annually expended in the effort to construct still more deadly and terrible engines of death. Industry is crippled, honest toil is robbed, and even beggary (except churches) is taxed to defray the expenses of Christian warfare. There must be some other way to reform this world. We have tried creed, and dogma and fable, and they have failed; and they have failed in all the nations dead.”
Ingersoll contrasted the morality of pagan nations and Christian nations. “All the languages of the world have not words of horror enough to paint the agonies of man when the church had power. Tiberius, Caligula, Claudius, Nero, Domitian, and Commodus were not as cruel, false, and base as many of the Christians Popes. Was it under the pontiffs that the "church penetrated the moral darkness like a new sun," and covered the globe with institutions of mercy? Rome was far better when Pagan than when Catholic. It was better to allow gladiators and criminals to fight than to burn honest men. The greatest of the Romans denounced the cruelties of the arena. Seneca condemned the combats even of wild beasts. He was tender enough to say that "we should have a bond of sympathy for all sentient beings, knowing that only the depraved and base take pleasure in the sight of blood and suffering. Aurelius compelled the gladiators to fight with blunted swords. Roman lawyers declared that all men are by nature free and equal. Woman, under Pagan rule in Rome, became as free as man. Zeno, long before the birth of Christ, taught that virtue alone establishes a difference between men. We know that the civil law is the foundation of our codes. We know that fragments of Greek and Roman art -- a few manuscripts saved from Christian destruction, some inventions and discoveries of the Moors -- were the seeds of modern civilization.”
And this…”Will Mr. Black be kind enough to state at what time the church covered the globe with institutions of mercy? He conveys the impression that these institutions were organized in the first century, or at least in the morning of Christianity. How many hospitals for the sick were established by the church during a thousand years? Do we not know that for hundreds of years the Mohammedans erected more hospitals and asylums than the Christians? Christendom was filled with racks and thumbscrews, with stakes and fagots, with chains and dungeons, for centuries before a hospital was built. Priests despised doctors. Prayer was medicine. Physicians interfered with the sale of charms and relics. The church did not cure -- it killed. It practiced surgery with the sword.
“The early Christians did not build asylums for the insane. They charged them with witchcraft, and burnt them. They built asylums, not for the mentally diseased, but for the mentally developed. These asylums were graves.”
Ingersoll was unsurprisingly offended by the cruelty, the notion, for example, that men like Joshua executed the wives and children of sinners. “Most of the laws of Moses were bloodthirsty and cruel. Hundreds of offenses were punishable by death, while now, in civilized countries, there are only two crimes for which the punishment is capital. I charge that Moses and Joshua and David and Samuel and Solomon were cruel. I believe that to read and believe the Old Testament naturally makes a man careless of human life. That book has produced hundreds of religious wars, and it has furnished the battle-cries of bigotry for fifteen hundred years. For a thousand years the torch of progress was extinguished in the blood of Christ, and his disciples, moved by ignorant zeal, by insane, cruel creeds, destroyed with flame and sword a hundred millions of their fellow-men. They made this world a hell.”
Ingersoll was eloquent on the devastating impact Christianity had on the forward progress of mankind: “If cathedrals had been universities -- if dungeons of the Inquisition had been laboratories -- if Christians had believed in character instead of creed -- if they had taken from the Bible all the good and thrown away the wicked and absurd -- if domes of temples had been observatories -- if priests had been philosophers -- if missionaries had taught the useful arts -- if astrology had been astronomy -- if the black art had been chemistry -- if superstition had been science -- if religion had been humanity -- it would have been a heaven filled with love, with liberty, and joy.
“Whenever the spiritual have had power, art has died, learning has languished, science has been despised, liberty destroyed, the thinkers have been imprisoned, the intelligent and honest have been outcasts, and the brave have been murdered. The "spiritual" have been, are, and always will be the enemies of the human race. Christianity has always opposed every forward movement of the human race. Across the highway of progress it has always been building breastworks of Bibles, tracts, commentaries, prayer-books, creeds, dogmas and platforms, and at every advance the Christians have gathered together behind these heaps of rubbish and shot the poisoned arrows of malice at the soldiers of freedom.
“There were centuries of darkness when religion had control of Christendom. Superstition was almost universal. Not one in twenty thousand could read or write. During these centuries the people lived with their back to the sunrise, and pursued their way toward the dens of ignorance and faith. There was no progress, no invention, no discovery. On every hand cruelty and worship, persecution and prayer. The priests were the enemies of thought, of investigation. They were the shepherds, and the people were their sheep and it was their business to guard the flock from the wolves of thought and doubt. This world was of no importance compared with the next. This life was to be spent in preparing for the life to come. The gold and labor of men were wasted in building cathedrals and in supporting the pious and the useless. During these Dark Ages of Christianity, as I said before, nothing was invented, nothing was discovered, calculated to increase the well-being of men. The energies of Christendom were wasted in the vain effort to obtain assistance from the supernatural. From Augustine until now the spirit of the Christians has remained the same. There has been the same intolerance, the same undying hatred of all who think for themselves, and the same determination to crush out of the human brain all knowledge inconsistent with an ignorant creed.
“The sick bought from monks little amulets of consecrated paper. They did not send for a doctor, but for a priest, and the priest sold the diseased and the dying these magical amulets. These little pieces of paper with the help of some saint would cure diseases of every kind. If you would put one in a cradle, it would keep the child from being bewitched. If you would put one in the barn, the rats would not eat your corn. If you would keep one in the house evil spirits would not enter your doors, and if you buried them in the fields, you would have good weather, the frost would be delayed, rain would come when needed, and abundant crops would bless your labor. The church insisted that all disease could be cured in the name of God, and that these cures could be effected by prayers, exorcism, by touching bones of saints, pieces of the true cross, by being sprinkled with holy water or with sanctified salt, or touched with magical oil. St. Valentine cured the epilepsy; St. Gervasius was exceedingly good for rheumatism; St. Michael for cancer; St. Judas for coughs and colds; St. Ovidius restored the hearing; St. Sebastian was good for the bites of snakes and the stings of poisonous insects; St. Apollonia for toothache; St. Clara for any trouble with the eyes; and St. Hubert for hydrophobia. It was known that doctors reduced the revenues of the church; that was enough -- science was the enemy of religion.
“What good has the church done? Has it taught men to cultivate the earth? to build homes? To weave cloth? to cure or prevent disease? to build ships, to navigate the seas? to conquer pain, or to lengthen life? Did Christ or any of his apostles add to the sum of useful knowledge? Did they say one word in favor of any science, of any art? Did they teach their fellow-men how to make a living, how to overcome the obstructions of nature, how to prevent sickness – how to protect themselves from pain, from famine, from misery and rags? Did they explain any of the phenomena of nature? any of the facts that affect the life of man? Did they say anything in favor of investigation -- of study -- of thought? Did they teach the gospel of self-reliance, of industry -- of honest effort? Can any farmer, mechanic, or scientist find in the New Testament one useful fact? Is there anything in the sacred book that can help the geologist, the astronomer, the biologist, the physician, the inventor -- the manufacturer of any useful thing?...The inventor of pins did a thousand times more good than all the popes and cardinals, the bishops and priests -- than all the clergymen and parsons, exhorters and theologians that ever lived. The inventor of matches did more for the comfort and convenience of mankind than all the founders of religions and the makers of all creeds -- than all malicious monks and selfish saints.”
Ingersoll was repelled by the fear which religion used to rule the world. “It is almost impossible to conceive of the completeness of the victory that the church achieved over philosophy. For ages science was utterly ignored; thought was a poor slave; an ignorant priest was master of the world; faith put out the eyes of the soul; the reason was a trembling coward; the imagination was set on fire of hell; every human feeling was sought to be suppressed; love was considered infinitely sinful; pleasure was the road to eternal fire, and God was supposed to be happy only when his children were miserable. The world was governed by an Almighty's whim; prayers could change the order of things, halt the grand procession of nature, could produce rain, avert pestilence, famine and death in all its forms. There was no idea of the certain; all depended upon divine pleasure -- or displeasure rather; heaven was all of inconsistent malevolence, and earth of ignorance. Everything was done to appease the divine wrath; every public calamity was caused by the sins of the people; by a failure to pay tithes, or for having, even in secret, felt a disrespect for a priest. To the poor multitude, the earth was a kind of enchanted forest, full of demons ready to devour, and theological serpents lurking with infinite power to fascinate and torture the unhappy and impotent soul. The nights were filled with incubi and succubi; devils, clad in wondrous forms, and imps in hideous shapes, sought to tempt or fright the soldiers of the cross. The maddened spirits of the air sent hail and storm. Sorcerers wrought sudden death, and witches worked with spell and charm against the common weal. Life to them was a dim and mysterious labyrinth, in which they wandered weary, and lost, guided by priests as bewildered as themselves, without knowing that at every step the Ariadne of reason offered them the long lost clue. The very heavens were full of death; the lightning was regarded as the glittering vengeance of God, and the earth was thick with snares for the unwary feet of man. The soul was supposed to be crowded with the wild beasts of desire; the heart to be totally corrupt, prompting only to crime; virtues were regarded as deadly sins in disguise; there was a continual warfare being waged between the Deity and the Devil, for the possession of every soul; the latter generally being considered victorious. The flood, the tornado, the volcano, were all evidences of the displeasure of heaven, and the sinfulness of man, the blight that withered, the frost that blackened, the earthquake that devoured, were the messengers of the Creator. The world was governed by Fear. Priests sold charms and relics to their flocks to keep away the wolves of hell. Thousands of Christians, failing to find protection in the church, sold their poor souls to Satan for some magic wand. Suspicion sat in every house, families were divided, wives denounced husbands, husbands denounced wives, and children their parents. Every calamity then, as now, increased the power of the church. Pestilence supported the pulpit, and famine was the right hand of faith. Christendom was insane.”
Ingersoll saw Christianity as not only immoral but irreparable. “Unable in some things to rise above the superstitions of his day, Comte adopted not only the machinery, but some of the prejudices, of Catholicism. He made the mistake of Luther. He tried to reform the Church of Rome. Destruction is the only reformation of which that church is capable. Every religion is based upon a misconception, not only of the cause of phenomena, but of the real object of Life; that is to say, upon falsehood; and the moment the truth is known and understood, these religions must fall. In the field of thought, they are briers, thorns, and noxious weeds; on the shores of intellectual discovery, they are sirens, and in the forests that the brave thinkers are now penetrating, they are the wild beasts, fanged and monstrous. You cannot reform these weeds. Sirens cannot be changed into good citizens; and such wild beasts, even when tamed, are of no possible use. Destruction is the only remedy. Reformation is a hospital where the new philosophy exhausts its strength nursing the old religion.”
HELL AND SALVATION
There are many things that horrified Ingersoll about Christianity, but the one theme he returned to over and over, the thing he really seemed to hate most of all, was the notion that all mankind, all people living today and all who lived from the beginning of time, were mostly going to burn in hellfire forever – take the Bible at its word, and a majority of the people God created, were going into God’s furnace to suffer forever. “The Old Testament is filled with cruelty, but its cruelty stops with this world, its malice ends with death; whenever its victim has reached the grave, revenge is satisfied. Not so with the New Testament. It pursues its victim forever. So that, as a matter of fact, the New Testament is infinitely more cruel than the Old. The New Testament is just as much worse than the Old, as hell is worse than sleep; just as much worse, as infinite cruelty is worse than dreamless dust; and yet, the New Testament is claimed to be a gospel of love and peace. The Old Testament tells us the frightful things that God has done, the New the frightful things that he will do. These two books give us the sufferings of the past and the future -- the injustice, the agony and the tears of both worlds.”
He was offended at how disproportionate it all was. “He who commits the smallest sin no more deserves eternal pain than he who does the smallest virtuous deed deserves eternal bliss; I have insisted, and I still insist, that it is impossible for a finite man to commit a crime deserving infinite punishment. Here, the vicious may reform; here, the wicked may repent; here, a few gleams of sunshine may fall upon the darkest life. But in your future state, for countless billions of the human race, there will be no reform, no opportunity of doing right, and no possible gleam of sunshine can ever touch their souls. Do you not see that your future state is infinitely worse than this? You seem to mistake the glare of hell for the light of morning.”
His anger regarding this doctrine impelled him to speak in terms more personal and emotional than was his habit. He personalized his attack on this point by calling to mind the countless dead. “I want you to know that according to this creed the men who founded this great and splendid Government are in hell to-night. Most of the men who fought in the Revolutionary war, and wrested from the clutch of Great Britain this continent, have been rewarded by the eternal wrath of God. Thousands of the old Revolutionary soldiers are in torment tonight. Let the preachers have the courage to say so. The men who fought in 1812, and gave to the United States the freedom of the seas, have nearly all been damned. Thousands of heroes who served our country in the Civil war, hundreds who starved in prisons, are now in the dungeons of God, compared with which, Andersonville was Paradise. The greatest of heroes are there; the greatest of poets, the greatest scientists, the men who have made the world beautiful -- they are all among the damned if this creed is true….A man is born in Arkansas and lives there to be seventeen or eighteen years of age; is it possible that he can be truthfully told at the day of judgment that he had a fair chance?...I am charged with trying to take the consolation of this doctrine from the world. I am a criminal because I am endeavoring to convince the mother that her child does not deserve eternal punishment. I stand by the graves of those who "died in their sins," by the tombs of the "unregenerate," over the ashes of men who have spent their lives working for their wives and children, and over the sacred dust of soldiers who died in defense of flag and country, and I say to their friends -- I say to the living who loved them, I say to the men and women for whom they worked, I say to the children whom they educated, I say to the country for which they died: These fathers, these mothers, these wives, these husbands, these soldiers are not in hell. Do not proclaim as "tidings of great joy" that an Infinite Spider is weaving webs to catch the souls of men. I want no part in any heaven where the saved, the ransomed, and redeemed drown with merry shouts the cries and sobs of hell -- in which happiness forgets misery where the tears of the lost increase laughter and deepen the dimples of joy. Only from dens, lairs, and caves -- only from mouths filled with cruel fangs -- only from hearts of fear and hatred -- only from the conscience of hunger and lust -- only from the lowest and most debased, could come this most cruel, heartless, and absurd of all dogmas.”
In the age of the liberation of slaves Ingersoll wanted to liberate humanity from fear. To those who claimed that he was trying to “put out the light-houses on the coast of the next world” and “leave everybody in darkness at the narrows of death”, Ingersoll was emphatic. “There can be no necessity for these light-houses, unless the God of Mr. Talmage has planted rocks and reefs within that unknown sea. If there is no hell, there is no need of any lighthouse on the shores of the next world; and only those are interested in keeping up these pretended light-houses who are paid for trimming invisible wicks and supplying the lamps with allegorical oil. Mr. Talmage is one of these light-house keepers, and he knows that if it is ascertained that the coast is not dangerous, the light-house will be abandoned, and the keeper will have to find employment elsewhere. As a matter of fact, every church is a useless light-house. It warns us only against breakers that do not exist. Whenever a mariner tells one of the keepers that there is no danger, then all the keepers combine to destroy the reputation of that mariner….It seems to me that the heart of the Christian ought to burst into an efflorescence of joy when he becomes satisfied that the Bible is only the work of man; that there is no such place as perdition -- that there are no eternal flames -- that men's souls are not to suffer everlasting pain -- that it is all insanity and ignorance and fear and horror. I should think that every good and tender soul would be delighted to know that there is no Christ who can say to any human being -- to any father, mother, or child -- Depart ye cursed into everlasting fire prepared for the devil and his angels. So I believe the world will be happier when the life of Christ, as it is written now in the New Testament, is no longer believed.”
Ingersoll raged over the damage done by the doctrine of damnation. “The truth is, Christianity has not made friends; it has made enemies. It is not, as taught, the religion of peace, it is the religion of war. Why should a Christian hesitate to kill a man that his God is waiting to damn? Why should a Christian not destroy an infidel who is trying to assassinate his soul? Why should a Christian pity an unbeliever -- one who has rejected the Bible -- when he knows that God will be pitiless forever? [This doctrine] has been guarded by the cherubim of persecution, whose flaming swords were wet for many centuries with the best and bravest blood. It has been guarded by cunning, by hypocrisy, by mendacity, by honesty, by calumniating the generous, by maligning the good, by thumbscrews and racks, by charity and love, by robbery and assassination, by poison and fire, by the virtues of the ignorant and the vices of the learned, by the violence of mobs and the whirlwinds of war, by every hope and every fear, by every cruelty and every crime, and by all there is of the wild beast in the heart of man. A doctrine that divides this world, a doctrine that divides families, a doctrine that teaches the son that he can be happy, with his mother in perdition; the husband that he can he happy in heaven while his wife suffers the agonies of hell. It has caused the religious wars; bound hundreds of thousands to the stake; founded inquisitions; filled dungeons; invented instruments of torture; taught the mother to hate her child; imprisoned the mind; filled the world with ignorance; persecuted the lovers of wisdom; built the monasteries and convents; made happiness a crime, investigation a sin, and self-reliance a blasphemy. It has poisoned the springs of learning; misdirected the energies of the world; filled all countries with want; housed the people in hovels; fed them with famine. This doctrine is infinite injustice, and tends to subvert all ideas of justice in the human heart.”
Ingersoll condemned priests who exploit the death of loved ones to peddle the dream of heaven. “A loved one dies and we wish to meet again; and from the affection of the human heart grew the great oak of the hope of immortality. Around that oak has climbed the poisonous vines of superstition. Theologians, pretenders, soothsayers, parsons, priests, popes, bishops, have taken advantage of that. They have stood by graves and promised heaven. They have stood by graves and prophesied a future filled with pain. They have erected their toll-gates on the highway of life and have collected money from fear.”
And he showed the obvious flaw in that religious argument – if your relative is dying, there are actually two potential destinations. “According to Mr. Talmage, a man can be perfectly happy in heaven, with his mother in hell. He will be so entranced with the society of Christ, that he will not even inquire what has become of his wife. The Holy Ghost will keep him in such a state of happy wonder, of ecstatic Joy, that the names, even, of his children will never invade his memory. No matter about your wife, your children, your brother, your sister -- no matter about all the affections of the human heart -- when you get there, you will be with the angels. I do not know whether I would like the angels. I do not know whether the angels would like me. I would rather stand by the ones who have loved me and whom I know; and I can conceive of no heaven without the loved of this earth. That is the trouble with this Christian religion. Leave your father, leave your mother, leave your wife, leave your children, leave everything and follow Jesus Christ. I will not. I will stay with my people. The only thing that makes life endurable in this world is human love, and yet, according to Christianity, that is the very thing we are not to have in the other world. I had rather think of those I have loved, and lost, as having returned to earth, as having become a part of the elemental wealth of the world -- I would rather think of them as unconscious dust, I would rather dream of them as gurgling in the streams, floating in the clouds, bursting in the foam of light upon the shores of worlds, I would rather think of them as the lost visions of a forgotten night, than to have even the faintest fear that their naked souls have been clutched by an orthodox god. I will leave my dead where nature leaves them. Whatever flower of hope springs up in my heart I will cherish, I will give it breath of sighs and rain of tears. But I cannot believe that there is any being in this universe who has created a human soul for eternal pain. I would rather that every god would destroy himself; I would rather that we all should go to eternal chaos, to black and starless night, than that just one soul should suffer eternal agony. Such a religion is a disgrace to human nature.”
Ingersoll insisted that belief was involuntary and that punishing someone for his beliefs was unfair. “The truth is that no one can justly be held responsible for his thoughts. The brain thinks without asking our consent. We believe, or we disbelieve, without an effort of the will. Belief is a result. It is the effect of evidence upon the mind. The scales turn in spite of him who watches. There is no opportunity of being honest or dishonest in the formation of an opinion. The conclusion is entirely independent of desire. We must believe, or we must doubt, in spite of what we wish. Surely no God can have the right to punish his children for being honest. He should not reward hypocrisy with heaven, and punish candor with eternal pain. [The] mind [of a believer] is so that a belief in the existence of a Supreme Being gives satisfaction and content: of course, you are entitled to no credit for this belief, as you ought not to be rewarded for believing that which you cannot help believing; neither should I be punished for failing to believe that which I cannot believe. In order that you may see the effect of belief in the formation of character, it is only necessary to call your attention to the fact that your Bible shows that the devil himself is a believer in the existence of your God, in the inspiration of the Scriptures, and in the divinity of Jesus Christ. He not only believes these things, but he knows them, and yet, in spite of it all, he remains a devil still.”
Ingersoll ridiculed those who use fear to impel belief. “They say: When you come to die you will be sorry if you do not. Will I be sorry when I come to die that I did not live a hypocrite? Will I be sorry that I did not say I was a Christian when I was not? Will the fact that I was honest put a thorn in the pillow of death? Cannot God forgive me for being honest? They say that when he was in Jerusalem he forgave his murderers, but now he will not forgive an honest man for differing from him on the subject of the Trinity. They say that God says to me, "Forgive your enemies." I say, "I do;" but he says. "I will damn mine." God should be consistent. If he wants me to forgive my enemies he should forgive his. I am asked to forgive enemies who can hurt me. God is only asked to forgive enemies who cannot hurt him. He certainly ought to be as generous as he asks us to be. No matter what his belief may be, no man, even in the hour of death, can regret having been honest. It never can be necessary to throw away your reason to save your soul. A soul without reason is scarcely worth saving.”
Or this illustration: “Suppose one should meet, we will say on London Bridge, a man clad in rags, and he should stop us and say, "My friend. I wish to talk with you a moment. I am the rightful King of Great Britain," and you should say to him, "Well, my dinner is waiting; I have no time to bother about who the King of England is," and then he should meet another and insist on his stopping while he pulled out some papers to show that he was the rightful King of England, and the other man should say, "I have got business here, my friend; I am selling goods, and I have no time to bother my head about who the King of England is. No doubt you are the King of England, but you don't look like him. "And then suppose he stops another man, and makes the same statement to him, and the other man should laugh at him and say, "I don't want to hear anything on this subject; you are crazy; you ought to go to some insane asylum, or put something on your head to keep you cool. "And suppose, after all, it should turn out that the man was King of England, and should afterward make his claim good and be crowned in Westminster. What would we think of that King if he should hunt up the gentlemen that he met on London Bridge, and have their heads cut off because they had no faith that he was the rightful heir? And what would we think of a God now who would damn a man eighteen hundred years after the event, because he did not believe that he was God at the time he was living in Jerusalem; not only damn the fellows that he met, and who did not believe in him, but gentlemen who lived eighteen hundred years afterward, and who certainly could have known nothing of the facts except from hearsay.”
Ingersoll rejected a creed that could condemn an atheist who lived virtuously all his life while sending a churchgoing sinner to Saint Peter; a faith that would send a rapist, repentant on the scaffold, to heaven, while sending his victim to hell for not joining a church. Ingersoll also torpedoed the notion that Jesus could give us immortality by dying for our sins. “Nothing can exceed the foolishness of these two ideas -- first: Man can be justly punished forever for the sin of Adam. Second: Man can be justly rewarded with eternal joy for the [sacrifice] of Christ. Yet the man who believes this, preaches a sermon in which he says that a man must reap what he sows. Orthodox Christians teach exactly the opposite. They teach that no matter what a man sows, no matter how wicked his life has been, that he can by repentance change the crop. That all his sins shall be forgotten ….To make innocence suffer is the greatest sin; how then is it possible to make the suffering of the innocent [Jesus] a justification for the criminal? Why should a man be willing to let the innocent suffer for him? Does not the willingness show that he is utterly unworthy of the sacrifice? Certainly, no man would be fit for heaven who would consent that an innocent person should suffer for his sin. What would we think of a man who would allow another to die for a crime that he himself had committed? What would we think of a law that allowed the innocent to take the place of the guilty? Would not that be a second violation instead of a vindication? In countless ways the Christian world has endeavored, for nearly two thousand years, to explain the atonement, and every effort has ended in an admission that it cannot be understood.”
Ingersoll points out that the Bible is very confusing on the issue of immortality. In Genesis the Bible tells how we lost immortality, although confusingly it also says that when God took immortality away from Adam and Eve he also threw them out of the garden to prevent them from eating from the tree of life, which implies that since they hadn’t eaten from that tree yet, they weren’t immortal anyway. Moses goes up to Sinai and receives lengthy instructions on everything from pork to mildew to hair oil – not a word on the rules governing immortality. Then a witch is hired to summon the ghost of Samuel, the only other mention of immortality in the Old Testament, suggesting that only through witchcraft can we gain access to the afterlife. The New Testament is no clearer: Jesus amazingly is silent on the issue, and elsewhere the evangelists variously say that immortality belongs to the worthy, or that it belongs only to God. And then Ingersoll gives us this: “A little while ago priests told peasants that the New Jerusalem, the celestial city was just above the clouds. They said that its walls and domes and spires were just beyond the reach of human sight. The telescope was invented and those who looked at the wilderness of stars, saw no city, no throne. They said to the priests: Where is your New Jerusalem? The priests cheerfully and confidently replied. It is just beyond where you see."
Ingersoll pointed out the danger of relying on the Bible to prove that faith is the way to heaven. “According to Matthew, Mark and Luke, if you will forgive others God will forgive you. This is the one condition of salvation. But in John we find an entirely different religion. According to John you must be born again and believe in Jesus Christ. The four gospels cannot be harmonized. If John is true the others are false. If the others are true John is false….So I find in the nineteenth chapter: And behold, one came and said unto him: 'Good master, what good thing shall I do that I may have eternal life?' Here is a child of God asking God what is necessary for him to do in order to inherit eternal life. Now, if there ever has been an opportunity given to the Almighty to furnish a man of an inquiring mind with the necessary information upon that subject, here was the opportunity. And Jesus said: Thou shalt do no murder; thou shalt not commit adultery; thou shalt not steal; thou shalt not bear false witness; honor thy father and mother; and thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself." He did not say to him: "You must believe in me -- that I am the only begotten son of the living God." He did not say: "You must be born again." He did not say: "You must believe the Bible." What right has the church to add conditions of salvation? Why should we suppose that Christ failed to tell the young man all that was necessary for him to do? Is it possible that he left out some important thing simply to mislead? Will some minister tell us why he thinks that Christ kept back the scheme?”
Ingersoll believed that believers who felt themselves morally superior had their moral geography backwards. “Mr. Black insists that without a belief in God there can be no perception of right and wrong, and that it is impossible for an atheist to have a conscience. Mr. Black, the Christian, the believer in God, upholds wars of extermination. I denounce such wars as murder. He upholds the institution of slavery. I denounce that institution as the basest of crimes. Yet I am told that I have no knowledge of right and wrong. Religion and morality do not necessarily go together. As a matter of fact, religion has often been the enemy of morality. Religion and morality have nothing in common, and yet there is no religion except the practice of morality. But what you call religion is simply superstition. Religion as it is now taught teaches our duties toward God -- our obligations to the Infinite, and the results of a failure to discharge those obligations. I believe that we are under no obligations to the Infinite; that we cannot be. All our obligations are to each other, and to sentient beings.”
He explained that we should serve each other rather than serving a deity who needs nothing. “lt is far better for a man to love his fellow-men than to love God. It is better to love wife and children than to love Christ. It is better to serve your neighbor than to serve your God. The reason is palpable. I do not believe that there is any infinite being to whom we owe anything. We cannot owe any duty to any being who requires nothing -- to any being that we cannot possibly help, to any being whose happiness we cannot increase. If God is infinite, we cannot make him happier than he is. If God is infinite, we can neither give, nor can he receive, anything. Anything that we do or fail to do, cannot, in the slightest degree, affect an infinite God. You can do nothing for God -- you can do something for wife and children. You can add to the sunshine of a life. You can plant flowers in the pathway of another.”
Ingersoll pointed out that slavery, wars of conquest, polygamy, rape in war, killing disobedient wives, all condoned by Jehovah in ancient times, are not acceptable in modern society: “nations that entertain these views to-day are regarded as savage, and, probably, with the exception of the South Sea Islanders, the Feejees, some citizens of Delaware, and a few tribes in Central Africa, no human beings can be found degraded enough to agree upon these subjects with the Jehovah of the ancient Jews.” The Delaware reference cracked me up. “Suppose that we should now discover a Hindu book of equal antiquity with the Old Testament, containing a defence of slavery, polygamy, wars of extermination, and religious persecution, would we regard it as evidence that the writers were inspired by an infinitely wise and merciful God?” He then pointed out that the man who believes that the Bible is inerrant is in a bind: “he must maintain that Jehovah is just as bad now as he was four thousand years ago, or that he was just as good then as he is now, but that human conditions have so changed that slavery, polygamy, religious persecutions, and wars of conquest are now perfectly devilish. Once they were right, once they were commanded by God himself; now, they are prohibited. There has been such a change in the conditions of man that, at the present time, the devil is in favor of slavery, polygamy, religious persecution, and wars of conquest. That is to say, the devil entertains the same opinion to-day that Jehovah held four thousand years ago, but in the meantime Jehovah has remained exactly the same, changeless and incapable of change….Neither will it do to say that God adapted his revelation to the prejudices of mankind. Why should God confirm a barbarian in his prejudices? Why should he fortify a heathen in his crimes? If a [divine] revelation is of any importance whatever, it is to eradicate prejudices from the human mind. It should be a lever with which to raise the human race. It has always seemed reasonable that an infinite God ought to have been able to make man grand enough to know, even without a special revelation, that it is not altogether right to steal the labor, or the wife, or the child, of another. When the whole question is thoroughly examined, the world will find that Jehovah had the prejudices, the hatreds, and superstitions of his day.”
Ingersoll had his own notion of the intersection between religion and morality: “What is blasphemy? To live on the unpaid labor of other men -- that is blasphemy. To enslave your fellow-man, to put chains upon his body -- that is blasphemy. To enslave the minds of men, to put manacles upon the brain, padlocks upon the lips -- that is blasphemy. To deny what you believe to be true, to admit to be true what you believe to be a lie -- that is blasphemy. To strike the weak and unprotected, in order that you may gain the applause of the ignorant and superstitious mob -- that is blasphemy. To persecute the intelligent few, at the command of the ignorant many -- that is blasphemy. To forge chains, to build dungeons, for your honest fellow-men -- that is blasphemy. To pollute the souls of children with the dogma of eternal pain -- that is blasphemy. To violate your conscience -- that is blasphemy. The jury that gives an unjust verdict, and the judge who pronounces an unjust sentence, are blasphemers. The man who bows to public opinion against his better judgment and against his honest conviction, is a blasphemer.”
Ingersoll also noted that, only a few years after American religious leaders led the fight to abolish slavery and uplift African-Americans to a position of equality, they were backsliding. “How inconsistent these Christians are! In St. Louis the other day I read an interview with a Christian minister -- one who is now holding a revival. The question was whether in these revivals, when they were trying to rescue souls from eternal torture, they would allow colored people to occupy seats with white people; and that revivalist, preaching the unsearchable riches of Christ, said he would not allow the colored people to sit with white people; they must go to the back of the church. These same Christians tell us that in heaven there will be no distinction. That Christ cares nothing for the color of the skin. That in Paradise white and black will sit together, swap harps, and cry hallelujah in chorus; yet this minister, believing as he says he does, that all men who fail to believe in the Lord Jesus Christ will eternally perish, was not willing that a colored man should sit by a white man and hear the gospel of everlasting peace. According to this revivalist, the ship of the world is going down; Christ is the only life-boat; and yet he is not willing that a colored man, with a soul to save, shall sit by the side of a white brother, and be rescued from eternal death. He admits that the white brother is totally depraved; that if the white brother had justice done him he would be damned: that it is only through the wonderful mercy of God that the white man is not in hell; and yet such a being, totally depraved, is too good to sit by a colored man! Total depravity becomes arrogant; total depravity draws the color line in religion, and an ambassador of Christ says to the black man, Stand away; let your white brother hear first about the love of God."
Ingersoll condemned the peddling of religious fallacies to children. “It is said that some of the Indian tribes place the heads of their children between pieces of bark until the form of the skull is permanently changed. To us this seems a most shocking custom: and yet, after all, is it as bad as to put the souls of our children in the strait-jacket of a creed? to so utterly deform their minds that they regard the God of the Bible as a being of infinite mercy, and really consider it a virtue to believe a thing just because it seems unreasonable? There are thousands of men and women, fathers and mothers, who repudiate with their whole hearts the creeds of superstition, and still allow their children to be taught these lies. They allow their imaginations to be poisoned with the dogma of eternal pain. They allow arrogant and ignorant parsons, meek and foolish teachers, to sow the seeds of barbarism in the minds of their children -- seeds that will fill their lives with fear and pain. All the machinery of the church is constantly employed in corrupting the reason of children. Every Sunday school has for its object the crushing out of every germ of individuality. The poor children are taught that nothing can be more acceptable to God than unreasoning obedience and eyeless faith, and that to believe God did an impossible act, is far better than to do a good one yourself. Every child in the Christian world has uttered its wondering protest against this outrage. Nothing can be more important to a human being than to be free and to live without fear. Fathers and mothers should do their utmost to make their children free. They should teach them to doubt, to investigate, to inquire, and every father and mother should know that by the cradle of every child, as by the cradle of the infant Hercules, crawls the serpent of superstition.”
He even suggested that the Bible was too obscene for children. “A petition was sent to Congress praying for the repeal or modification of certain postal laws, to the end that the freedom of conscience and of the press should not be abridged. Nobody holds in greater contempt than I the writers, publishers, or dealers in obscene literature. One of my objections to the Bible is that it contains hundreds of grossly obscene passages not fit to be read by any decent man, thousands of passages, in my judgment, calculated to corrupt the minds of youth. I hope the time will soon come when the good sense of the American people will demand a Bible with all obscene passages left out.”
Ingersoll was outraged at the way Christianity treated women, to include the Torah law dictating that a woman who gives birth is unclean, and a woman bearing a daughter doubly unclean. “Christianity found the Roman matron a free woman. Polygamy was never known in Rome; and although divorces were allowed by law, the Roman state had been founded for more than five hundred years before either a husband or a wife asked for a divorce. From the foundation of Christianity, -- I mean from the time it became the force in the Roman state, -- woman, as such, went down in the scale of civilization. The scepter was taken from her hands, and she became once more the slave and serf of man. …I find that in this day and generation, the meanest men have the lowest estimate of woman; that the greater the man is, the grander he is, the more he thinks of mother, wife and daughter. I also find that just in the proportion that he has lost confidence in the polygamy of Jehovah and in the advice and philosophy of Saint Paul, he believes in the rights and liberties of woman.” Ingersoll was also repelled at the rule, in Torah law, that if a member of your family talks about other gods, he must be killed; also the repeated theme – Abraham, Jephthah, Gethsemane – of parents being expected to kill their children. “Read the story of Jephthah and his daughter, and then tell me what you think of a father who would sacrifice his daughter to God, and what you think of a God who would receive such a sacrifice. This one story should be enough to make every tender and loving father hold this book in utter abhorrence.”
Ingersoll indicated that the belief in an omnipotent benevolent deity was greatly undermined by the complete futility of prayer. “There is no recorded instance where the uplifted hand of murder has been paralyzed -- no truthful account in all the literature of the world of the innocent being shielded by God. Thousands of crimes are committed every day -- men are this moment lying in wait for their human prey -- wives are whipped and crushed, driven to insanity and death -- little children begging for mercy, lifting imploring, tear-filled eyes to the brutal faces of fathers and mothers -- sweet girls are deceived, lured, and outraged, but God has no time to prevent these things -- no time to defend the good and to protect the pure. He is too busy numbering hairs and watching sparrows.”
He drove his point home by reminding his audience of the fate of the slaves recently freed, not by prayer, but by the workings of man. “Through many centuries millions were enslaved, babes were sold from mothers, husbands from wives, backs were scarred with the lash. The poor wretches lifted their clasped hands toward heaven and prayed for justice, for liberty -- but their god did not hear. He cared nothing for the sufferings of slaves, nothing for the tears of wives and mothers, nothing for the agony of men. He answered no prayers. He broke no chains. He freed no slaves. The miserable wretches appealed to the priests of God, but they were on the other side. They defended the masters. The slaves had nothing to give. Does it not seem to you that your God must have felt a touch of shame when the poor slave mother -- one that had been robbed of her babe -- knelt and with clasped hands, in a voice broken with sobs, commenced her prayer with the words Our Father?” Ingersoll isn’t being entirely fair to the clergy, many of whom advocated abolition, but his lament about all of the ignored prayers was spot on.
He also pointed out that the previous year Americans had prayed in the millions, in a vain effort to save the life of President Garfield who had been shot. “I said all the clergymen of the world could not save one human life. They tried it last year. They tried it in the United States. The Christian world upon its knees implored God to save one life, and the man died. The man died! Had the man recovered the whole church would have claimed that it was in answer to prayer. The man having died, what does the church say now? What is the answer to this?”
Ingersoll also pointed out the fate of God’s most fervent followers – his martyrs. “Let the gentleman read the history of religious persecution. Let him read the history of those who were put in dungeons. of those who lifted their chained hands to God and mingled prayer with the clank of fetters; men that were in the dungeons simply for loving this God, simply for worshiping this God. And what did God do? Nothing. The chains remained upon the limbs of his worshipers. They remained in the dungeons built by theology, by malice, and hatred; and what did God do? Nothing. Thousands of men were taken from their homes, fagots were piled around their bodies; they were consumed to ashes, and what did God do? Nothing. The sword of extermination was unsheathed, hundreds and thousands of men, women and children perished. Women lifted their hands to God and implored him to protect their children, their daughters; and what did God do? Nothing. Why should any man depend on the goodness of a God who created countless millions, knowing that they would suffer eternal grief? There are two facts inconsistent in my mind -- a martyr and a God. Injustice upon earth renders the justice of heaven impossible.”
Although he sympathized with the martyrs, he did not credit their beliefs. “All the martyrs in the history of the world are not sufficient to establish the correctness of an opinion. Martyrdom, as a rule, establishes the sincerity of the martyr -- never the correctness of his thought. Things are true or false in themselves.”
Ingersoll was fascinated with the clergy’s obsession with the Sabbath – preachers trying to stop ships from sailing on Sunday (which would make ocean voyages impractical) or even to rescue sailors from drowning on Sunday (he said nothing about the fact that Christians switched the Sabbath from Saturday to Sunday for no logical reason). But he was not puzzled at all as to why preachers wanted all businesses to shut down on Sunday: “The clergy know that their churches will remain empty if any other place remains open. Ministers should not expect to fill their churches by shutting up other places. They can only increase their congregations by improving their sermons. They will have more hearers when they say more worth hearing.”
Ingersoll pointed out that Henry VIII passed "An act for abolishing of diversity of opinion" which include six decrees regarding sacraments and other issues; violating the first rule would get you death by burning while the others required a second offense for the death penalty. “Your attention is called to these six articles, established during the reign of Henry VIII., and by the Church of England, simply because not one of these articles is believed by that church to-day. If the law then made by the church could be enforced now, every Episcopalian would be burned at the stake.”
Ingersoll was of course making a larger point. He was more aware of the changes in the faith than the faithful, observing the arc of Christianity from Moses to Jesus to Paul to Luther, watching as the founders of Christianity rejected the Old-Testament sanctions for slavery and genocide and polygamy, watching the faith retreat before the assaults of Galileo and Darwin and try to keep up with changing society. He knew that the rigid churchmen of his day were descended from rebels who left Catholicism, who were in turn descended from rebels against Judaism, and so on back in time. “You never can honor your father by going around swearing to his mistakes. You never can honor your mother by saying that ignorance is blessed because she did not know everything. I want to honor my parents by finding out more than they did. I suppose Judge Comegys to be a Presbyterian. Where did he get his right to be a Presbyterian? Where did he get his right to decide which creed is the correct one? How did he dare to pit his little brain against the word of God? He may say that his father was a Presbyterian. But what was his grandfather? If he will only go back far enough he will, in all probability, find that his ancestors were Catholics, and if he will go back a little farther still, that they were barbarians; that at one time they were naked, and had snakes tattooed on their bodies. What right had they to change? Does he not perceive that had the savages passed the same kind of laws that now exist in Delaware, they could have prevented any change in belief? They would have had a whipping-post, too, and they would have said: Any gentleman found without snakes tattooed upon his body shall be held guilty of blasphemy; and all the ancestors of this Judge, and of these ministers would have said, Amen! What right had the first Presbyterian to be a Presbyterian? He must have been a blasphemer first. A small dose of pillory might have changed his religion.”
Change and more change. “If the Bible is true and God is its author, then God was in favor of slavery four thousand years ago. He was also in favor of polygamy and religious intolerance. In other words, four thousand years ago he occupied the exact position the Devil is supposed to occupy now….At first, according to the account, Christ distinctly stated that his gospel was not for the Gentiles….The religions of to-day are the sciences of the past; and it may be that the sciences of to-day will be the religions of the future, and that other sciences will be as far beyond them as the science of to-day is beyond the religion of to-day. As a rule, religion is a sanctified mistake, and heresy a slandered fact. In other words, the human mind grows -- and as it grows it abandons the old, and the old gets it revenge by maligning the new. When a great truth has been discovered, one man has pitted himself against the world. A few think: the many believe. The few lead; the many follow. The light of the new day, as it looks over the window sill of the east, falls at first on only one forehead….As man advanced he slowly changed his God -- took a little ferocity from his heart, and put the light of kindness in his eyes. As man progressed he obtained a wider view, extended the intellectual horizon and again he changed his God, making him as nearly perfect as he could, and yet this God was patterned after those who made him. As man became civilized, as he became merciful, he began to love justice, and as his mind expanded his ideal became purer, nobler, and so his God became more merciful, more loving…. In our day Jehovah has been outgrown. He is no longer the perfect. Now theologians talk, not about Jehovah, but about a God of love, call him the Eternal father and the perpetual friend and providence of man. But, while they talk about this God of love, cyclones wreck and rend, the earthquake devours, the flood destroys, the red bolt leaping from the cloud still crashes the life out of men, and plague and fever still are tireless reapers in the harvest fields of death. That book, called the basis of all law and civilization, has to be civilized itself. We have outgrown it. Our laws are better; our institutions grander; our objects and aims nobler and higher. How long will what you call Christianity endure, if it changes as rapidly during the next century as it has during the last? What will there be left of the supernatural?”
Unsurprisingly Ingersoll credits the men of science for forcing both society and religion to change more quickly. “In old times there was a great difference between a clergyman and a layman. The clergyman was educated; the peasant was ignorant. The tables have been turned. The thought of the world is with the laymen. They are the intellectual pioneers, the mental leaders, and the ministers are following on behind, predicting failure and disaster, signing for the good old times when their word ended discussion. And here, allow me to say that the ministers who are answering me are turning their guns in the wrong direction. These reverend gentlemen should attack the astronomers. They should malign and vilify Kepler, Copernicus, Newton, Herschel and Laplace. These men were the real destroyers of the sacred story. Then, after having disposed of them, they can wage a war against the stars, and against Jehovah himself for having furnished evidence against the truthfulness of his book.”
Ingersoll celebrated the fact that science and reason were supplanting superstition. “Recollect that everything except the demonstrated truth is liable to die. So these religions die hard. What else can they do? Like the paintings of the old masters, they are kept alive because so much money has been invested in them. Think of the amount of money that has been invested in superstition! Think of the schools that have been founded for the more general diffusion of useless knowledge! Think of the colleges wherein men are taught that it is dangerous to think, and that they must never use their brains except in the act of faith! Think of the millions and billions of dollars that have been expended in churches, in temples, and in cathedrals! Think of the thousands and thousands of men who depend for their living upon the ignorance of mankind! Think of those who grow rich on credulity and who fatten on faith! Do you suppose they are going to die without a struggle? What are they to do? From the bottom of my heart I sympathize with the poor clergyman that has had all his common sense educated out of him, and is now to be thrown upon the cold and unbelieving world. His prayers are not answered; he gets no help from on high, and the pews are beginning to criticize the pulpit. What is the man to do? If he suddenly changes he is gone. If he preaches what he really believes he will get notice to quit. And yet, if he and the congregation would come together and be perfectly honest, they would all admit that they believe little and know nothing.”
So the preacher adapts but only reluctantly. “The highest type of the orthodox Christian does not forget; neither does he learn. He neither advances nor recedes. He is a living fossil embedded in that rock called faith. He makes no effort to better his condition, because all his strength is exhausted in keeping other people from improving theirs. The supreme desire of his heart is to force all others to adopt his creed, and in order to accomplish this object he denounces free thinking as a crime, and this crime he calls heresy. When he had power, heresy was the most terrible and formidable of words. It meant confiscation, exile, imprisonment, torture, and death.” But now with science in advance and religion in retreat, “you are no longer asked to swallow the Bible whole, whale, Jonah and all; you are simply required to believe in God, and pay your pew-rent. There is not now an enlightened minister in the world who will seriously contend that Samson's strength was in his hair, or that the necromancers of Egypt could turn water into blood, and pieces of wood into serpents. These follies have passed away, and the only reason that the religious world can now have for disliking Paine is that they have been forced to adopt so many of his opinions.”
But Ingersoll had little interest in being generous to the preachers and allowing them to catch up to the rest of society – he wanted them out of business. “Every creed is a rock in running water: humanity sweeps by it. Every creed cries to the universe, Halt! A creed is the ignorant Past bullying the enlightened Present. It gives me immense pleasure to say to this audience that orthodox religion is dying out of the civilized world. It is a sick man. It has been attacked with two diseases -- softening of the brain and ossification of the heart. It is a religion that no longer satisfies the intelligence of this country; that no longer satisfies the brain; a religion against which the heart of every civilized man and woman protests. It is a religion that gives hope only to a few; that puts a shadow upon the cradle; that wraps the coffin in darkness and fills the future of mankind with flame and fear. It is a religion that I am going to do what little I can while I live to destroy. In its place I want humanity, I want good fellowship, I want intellectual liberty -- free lips, the discoveries and inventions of genius, the demonstrations of science -- the religion of art, music and poetry -- of good houses, good clothes, good wages -- that is to say, the religion of this world.”
He also looked forward to the end of the reign of the Bible. “How long, O how long will mankind worship a book? How long will they grovel in the dust before the ignorant legends of the barbaric past? How long, O how long will they pursue phantoms in a darkness deeper than death? Supernatural religion has outlived its usefulness. The miracles and wonders of the ancients will soon occupy the same tent. Jonah and Jack the Giant Killer, Joshua and Red Riding Hood, Noah and Neptune, will all go into the collection of the famous Mother Hubbard. The miraculous will be classed with the impossible.”
Occasionally Ingersoll lost patience with the sheer nonsense in the Bible. “How, in the desert of Sinai, did the Jews obtain curtains of fine linen? How did these absconding slaves make cherubs of gold? Where did they get the skins of badgers, and how did they dye them red? How did they make wreathed chains and spoons, basins and tongs? Where did they get the blue cloth and their purple? Where did they get the sockets of brass? How did they coin the shekel of the sanctuary? How did they overlay boards with gold? Where did they get the numberless instruments and tools necessary to accomplish all these things? Where did they get the fine flour and the oil? Were all these found in the desert of Sinai?...The Christian religion rests on miracles. Delusions, illusions, phantoms, hallucinations, apparitions, chimeras, and visions are the common property of the religious and the insane. Persons blessed with sound minds and healthy bodies rely on facts, not fancies -- on demonstrations instead of dreams. It seems to me that the most orthodox Christians must admit that many of the miracles recorded in the New Testament are extremely childish. They must see that the miraculous draught of fishes, changing water into wine, fasting for forty days, inducing devils to leave an insane man by allowing them to take possession of swine, walking on the water, and using a fish for a pocket-book, are all unworthy of an infinite being, and are calculated to provoke laughter -- to feed suspicion and engender doubt. There can be no argument in favor of the supernatural. Suppose you should ask if I had read the work of that gentleman who says that twice two are five. I should answer you that no gentleman can prove that twice two are five; and yet this is exactly as easy as to prove the existence of the supernatural. There are no arguments in favor of the supernatural. There are theories and fears and mistakes and prejudices and guesses, but no arguments -- plenty of faith, but no facts; plenty of divine revelation, but no demonstration. The supernatural, in my judgment, is a mistake. I believe in the natural….As long as it is believed that the Bible is inspired, that book is the master -- no mind is free. With that belief, intellectual liberty is impossible. With that belief, you can investigate only at the risk of losing your soul. And I do believe that life and property will be safer, that liberty will be surer, that homes will be sweeter, and life will be more joyous, and death less terrible, if the myth called Jehovah can be destroyed from the human mind.”
Ingersoll was proud of America’s tradition of challenging authority. “All the advance that has been made in the religious world has been made by "infidels," by "heretics," by "skeptics," by doubters, -- that is to say, by thoughtful men. In 1776 our fathers endeavored to retire the gods from politics. They declared that all governments derive their just powers from the consent of the governed. This was a contradiction of the then political ideas of the world; it was, as many believed, an act of pure blasphemy -- a renunciation of the Deity. Politically it tore down every altar and denied the authority of every sacred book.”
Ingersoll looked forward to seeing Christian preachers in the unusual position of having to defend their views in a fair fight. “The church hates a thinker precisely for the same reason a robber dislikes a sheriff, or a thief despises the prosecuting witness. Is it a crime to investigate, to think, to reason, to observe? Is it a crime to be governed by that which to you is evidence, and is it infamous to express your honest thought? There is also another question: Is credulity a virtue? Is the open mouth of ignorant wonder the only entrance to Paradise? The defenders of orthodox creeds should have the courage to candidly answer at least two questions: First, Is the Bible inspired? Second, Is the Bible true? And when they answer these questions, they should remember that if the Bible is true, it needs no inspiration, and that if not true, inspiration can do it no good. A religion that is not manly and robust enough to bear attack with smiling fortitude is unworthy of a place in the heart or brain. A religion that takes refuge in sentimentality, that cries out: "Do not, I pray you, tell me any truth calculated to hurt my feelings," is fit only for asylums.”
Likewise he wanted to put the Bible on the same plane as any other book. “But why should God be so particular about our believing the stories in his book? Why should God object to having his book examined? We do not have to call upon legislators, or courts, to protect Shakespeare from the derision of mankind. Was not God able to write a book that would command the love and admiration of the world? If the God of Mr. Talmage is infinite, he knew exactly how the stories of the Old Testament would strike a gentleman of the nineteenth century. He knew that many would have their doubts, -- that thousands of them -- and I may say most of them, -- would refuse to believe that a miracle had ever been performed. Now, it seems to me that he should either have left the stories out, or furnished evidence enough to convince the world.”
Ingersoll had little patience for any argument that only the clergy could properly understand or discuss the Bible. “Is it necessary to understand Hebrew in order to know that cruelty is not a virtue, that murder is inconsistent with infinite goodness, and that eternal punishment can be inflicted upon man only by an eternal fiend? Is it really essential to conjugate the Greek verbs before you can make up your mind as to the probability of dead people getting out of their graves? Must one be versed in Latin before he is entitled to express his opinion as to the genuineness of a pretended revelation from God? Common sense belongs exclusively to no tongue. Logic is not confined to, nor has it been buried with, the dead languages. Paine attacked the Bible as it is translated. If the translation is wrong, let its defenders correct it.”
He also rejected the double standard pursued by Christians who sought new converts abroad while fighting apostasy at home. “In this connection we must remember 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 Testament, the Buddhist smiles. When a Buddhist tells a Christen the miracles performed by Buddha, the Christian laughs. This reminds me of an incident. A man told a most wonderful story, Everybody present expressed surprise and astonishment, except one man. He said nothing; he did not even change countenance, One who noticed that the story had no effect on this man, said to him: "You do not seem to be astonished in the least at this marvelous tale." The man replied, "No; I am a liar myself."…Has a man the right to examine, to investigate, the religion of his own country -- the religion of his father and mother? Christians admit that the citizens of all countries not Christian have not only this right, but that it is their solemn duty. Thousands of missionaries are sent to heathen countries to persuade the believers in other religions not only to examine their superstitions, but to renounce them, and to adopt those of the missionaries. It is the duty of a heathen to disregard the religion of his country and to hold in contempt the creed of his father and of his mother. If the citizens of heathen nations have the right to examine the foundations of their religion, it would seem that the citizens of Christian nations have the same right. Christians, however, go further than this; they say to the heathen: You must examine your religion, and not only so, but you must reject it; and, unless you do reject it, and, in addition to such rejection, adopt ours, you will be eternally damned. Then these same Christians say to the inhabitants of a Christian country: You must not examine; you must not investigate; but whether you examine or not, you must believe, or you will be eternally damned.”
Ingersoll reminded us that the clergy have been trying to stifle dissent since the Roman days. “Since the murder of Hypatia in the fifth century, when the polished blade of Greek philosophy was broken by the club of ignorant Catholicism, until to-day, superstition has detested every effort of reason. The priests, in all ages, have been hindrances -- stumbling-blocks. They have prevented man from using his reason. They have told ghost stories to courage until courage became fear. They have done all in their power to keep men from growing intellectually, to keep the world in a state of childhood, that they themselves might be deemed great and good and wise. They have always known that their reputation for wisdom depended upon the ignorance of the people. Christianity endeavors to destroy intellectual liberty. Nothing is better calculated to retain barbarism than to deny to every human being the right to think. The church, for a thousand years, did all within its power to prevent the expression of honest thought; and when the church had power, there was in this world no civilization.
“Blasphemy is an epithet bestowed by superstition upon common sense. Whoever investigates a religion as he would any department of science, is called a blasphemer. Whoever contradicts a priest, whoever has the impudence to use his own reason, whoever is brave enough to express his honest thought, is a blasphemer in the eyes of the religionist. When a missionary speaks slightingly of the wooden god of a savage, the savage regards him as a blasphemer. To laugh at the pretensions of Mohammed in Constantinople is blasphemy. To say in St. Petersburg that Mohammed was a prophet of God is also blasphemy. There was a time when to acknowledge the divinity of Christ in Jerusalem was blasphemy. To deny his divinity is now blasphemy in New York. Blasphemy is to a considerable extent a geographical question. It depends not only on what you say, but where you are when you say it. Blasphemy is what the old calls the new, -- what last year's leaf says to this year's bud. The founder of every religion was a blasphemer. The Jews so regarded Christ, and the Athenians had the same opinion of Socrates. Catholics have always looked upon Protestants as blasphemers, and Protestants have always held the same generous opinion of Catholics. To deny that Mary is the Mother of God is blasphemy. To say that she is the Mother of God is blasphemy.”
Ingersoll was offended at the sheer futility of trying to impose thought and belief by force. “For thousands of years people have been trying to force other people to think their way. Did they succeed? No. Will they succeed? No. Why? Because brute force is not an argument. You can stand with the lash over a man, or you can stand by the prison door, or beneath the gallows, or by the stake, and say to this man: "Recant, or the lash descends, the prison door is locked upon you, the rope is put about your neck, or the torch is given to the fagot." And so the man recants. Is he convinced? Not at all. Have you produced a new argument? Not the slightest. And yet the ignorant bigots of this world have been trying for thousands of years to rule the minds of men by brute force. They have endeavored to improve the mind by torturing the flesh -- to spread religion with the sword and torch. They have tried to convince their brothers by putting their feet in iron boots, by putting fathers, mothers, patriots, philosophers and philanthropists in dungeons. And what has been the result? Are we any nearer thinking alike to-day than we were then?
“No orthodox church ever had power that it did not endeavor to make people think its way by force and flame. And yet every church that ever was established commenced in the minority, and while it was in the minority advocated free speech -- every one. John Calvin, the founder of the Presbyterian Church, while he lived in France, wrote a book on religious toleration in order to show that all men had an equal right to think; and yet that man afterward, clothed in a little authority, forgot all his sentiments about religious liberty, and had poor Serviettes burned at the stake, for differing with him on a question that neither of them knew anything about. In the minority, Calvin advocated toleration -- in the majority, he practiced murder.
“I want you to understand what has been done in the world to force men to think alike. It seems to me that if there is some infinite being who wants us to think alike he would have made us alike. Why did he not do so? Why did he make your brain so that you could not by any possibility be a Methodist? Why did he make yours so that you could not be a Catholic? And why did he make the brain of another so that he is an unbeliever -- why the brain of another so that he became a Mohammedan -- if he wanted us all to believe alike? … Suppose that we put Mr. Reynolds in jail. The argument has not been sent to jail. That is still going the rounds, free as the winds. Suppose you keep him at hard labor a year -- all the time he is there, hundreds and thousands of people will be reading some account, or some fragment, of this trial. There is the trouble. If you could only imprison a thought, then intellectual tyranny might succeed. If you could only take an argument and put a striped suit of clothes on it -- if you could only take a good, splendid shining fact and lock it up in some dungeon of ignorance, so that its light would never again enter the mind of man, then you might succeed in stopping human progress. Otherwise, no.”
Ingersoll was irritated by ignorance in any form. “The most ignorant part of Christendom is the most orthodox. I find that theology is a subject that only the most ignorant are certain about, and that the more a man thinks, the less he knows. Whenever a statement in the Bible is unreasonable, and you believe it, you are considered quite a good Christian. If the statement is grossly absurd and infinitely impossible, and you still believe it, you are a saint…. For most people, theism is the easiest solution of the universe. They are satisfied with saying that there must be a Being who created and who governs the world. But the universality of a belief does not tend to establish its truth. The belief in the existence of a malignant Devil has been as universal as the belief in a beneficent God, yet few intelligent men will say that the universality of this belief in an infinite demon even tends to prove his existence. In the world of thought, majorities count for nothing. Truth has always dwelt with the few. Man has filled the world with impossible monsters, and he has been the sport and prey of these phantoms born of ignorance and hope and fear. To appease the wrath of these monsters man has sacrificed his fellow-man. He has shed the blood of wife and child; he has fasted and prayed; he has suffered beyond the power of language to express, and yet he has received nothing from these gods -- they have heard no supplication. They have answered no prayer….I have the right to do my own thinking. I am going to do it. I have never met any minister that I thought had brain enough to think for himself and for me too.”
He looked forward to a future with a little more logic and a little less faith. “I find everywhere the best people and the brightest people -- the people with the most heart and the best brain -- all tending toward free thought. Of course, a man of brain cannot believe the miracles of the Old and New Testaments. A man of heart cannot believe in the doctrine of eternal pain. The best religion, after all, is common sense; a religion for this world, one world at a time, a religion for to-day. If we wish to improve the condition of mankind -- if we wish for nobler men and women we must develop the brain, we must encourage thought and investigation. We must convince the world that credulity is a vice, -- that there is no virtue in believing without, or against evidence, and that the really honest man is true to himself. We must fill the world with intellectual light. We must applaud mental courage. We must educate the children, rescue them from ignorance and crime. School-houses are the real temples, and teachers are the true priests.”
Ingersoll unsurprisingly wanted to see more science and less faith in the schools too. “The pious denounce the secular schools as godless. They should be. The sciences are all secular, all godless. Get theology out of education. Nothing should be taught in a school that somebody does not know. There are plenty of things to be learned about this world, about this life. Every child should be taught to think, and that it is dangerous not to think. Children should not be taught the absurdities, the cruelties and imbecilities of superstition. No church should be allowed to control the common school, and public money should not be divided between the hateful and warring sects. …Many of our colleges are under the control of churches. Presidents and professors are mostly ministers of the gospel and the result is that all facts inconsistent with the creeds are either suppressed or denied. Only those professors who are naturally stupid or mentally dishonest can retain their places. Those who tell the truth, who teach the facts, are discharged. In every college truth should be a welcome guest. Every professor should be a finder, and every student a learner, of facts. Theology and intellectual dishonesty go together. The teacher of children should be intelligent and perfectly sincere.”
Likewise, theology was not his favorite subject. “Theology bears the same relation to science that the black art does to chemistry, that magic does to mathematics. It is something that cannot be taught, because it cannot be known. It has no foundation in fact. It neither produces, nor accords with, any image in the mind. It is not only unknowable but unthinkable. Through hundreds and thousands of generations men have been discussing, wrangling and fighting about theology. No advance has been made. The robed priest has only reached the point from which the savage tried to start. We know that theology always has and always will make enemies. It sows the seeds of hatred in families and nations. It is selfish, cruel, revengeful and malicious. It has heaven for the few and perdition for the many. We now know that credulity is not a virtue and that intellectual courage is. We must stop rewarding hypocrisy and bigotry. We must stop persecuting the thinkers, the investigators, the creators of light, the civilizers of the world.”
He saw a need to defend real learning from its black-robed detractors. “In all countries where human beings are held in bondage, it is a crime to teach a slave to read and write. Masters know that education is an abolitionist, and theologians know that science is the deadly foe of every creed in Christendom. There is no harmony between religion and science. When science was a child, religion sought to strangle it in the cradle. Now that science has attained its youth, and superstition is in its dotage, the trembling, palsied wreck says to the athlete: Let us be friends. Science is the real redeemer. It will put honesty above hypocrisy; mental veracity above all belief. It will teach the religion of usefulness. It will destroy bigotry in all its forms. It will put thoughtful doubt above thoughtless faith. It will give us philosophers, thinkers and savants, instead of priests, theologians and saints. It will abolish poverty and crime, and greater, grander, nobler than all else, it will make the whole world free.”
Ingersoll trod the line between agnosticism and atheism nimbly. He flippantly described his view as “infidelity”, the act of not believing. At times he would sing the agnostic sheet music – “These questions of origin and destiny -- of infinite gods -- are beyond the powers of the human mind. They cannot be solved. We might as well try to travel fast enough to get beyond the horizon. It is like a man trying to run away from his girdle.” But sometimes he would steer that argument more in the direction of atheism, suggesting that he had little intention of entertaining the notion of God except in the unlikely event that someday science might trip over deities during its hunt for truth – “No human being has brain enough, or knowledge enough, or experience enough, to say whether there is, or is not, a God. Into this darkness Science has not yet carried its torch.”
Sometimes he would describe agnosticism in such a way that no one was sure whether he was advocating it. “The agnostic does not simply say, "l do not know." He goes another step, and he says, with great emphasis, that you do not know. He insists that you are trading on the ignorance of others, and on the fear of others. He is not satisfied with saying that you do not know, -- he demonstrates that you do not know, and he drives you from the field of fact -- he drives you from the realm of reason -- he drives you from the light, into the darkness of conjecture -- into the world of dreams and shadows, and he compels you to say, at last, that your faith has no foundation in fact.”
Ingersoll was, however, clear in explaining his rejection of the Bible: “It is not true; it is not inspired; it upholds human slavery; it sanctions concubinage; it commands the most infamously cruel acts of war, such as the utter destruction of old men and little children; after killing fathers, mothers and brothers, it commands the generals to divide the girls among the soldiers and priests; it upholds human sacrifice [a reference to Leviticus 28-29]; its laws are absurd, and the punishments cruel and unjust. -- Think of killing a man for making hair oil! Think of killing a man for picking up sticks on Sunday! -- it upholds polygamy; it knows nothing of astronomy, nothing of geology, nothing of any science whatever; it is opposed to religious liberty, and teaches a man to kill his own wife if she differs with him on religion; it treats woman like a beast, and man like a slave; it fills heaven with tyranny, and earth with hypocrisy and grief. There is no book in the world in which can be found so much that is thoroughly despicable and infamous. Of course there are some good passages, some good sentiments. But they are, at least in the Old Testament, few and far between.”
Ingersoll goaded the clergy into hardening their opinions – so much the better for recruiting for the other team. “Go on, presbyters and synods, go on! Thrust the heretics out of the church -- that is to say, throw away your brains, -- put out your eyes. The infidels will thank you. They are willing to adopt your exiles. Every deserter from your camp is a recruit for the army of progress. Cling to the ignorant dogmas of the past; read the 109th Psalm; gloat over the slaughter of mothers and babes; thank God for total depravity; shower your honors upon hypocrites, and silence every minister who is touched with that heresy called genius. Be true to your history. Turn out the astronomers, the geologists, the naturalists, the chemists, and all the honest scientists. With a whip of scorpions, drive them all out. We want them all. Keep the ignorant, the superstitious, the bigoted, and the writers of charges and specifications. Keep them, and keep them all. Repeat your pious platitudes in the drowsy ears of the faithful, and read your Bible to heretics, as kings read some forgotten riot-act to stop and stay the waves of revolution. You are too weak to excite anger. We forgive your efforts as the sun forgives a cloud -- as the air forgives the breath you waste.”