You know Harris, and Sagan, and Carlin, and Dawkins, Tyson, and Maher, and Ayaan, and Hitchens, but do you recall the greatest Bible bashing heathen of all?
Agnostic, atheist, heretic, heathen, humanitarian, free thinker, call him what you will. In the battle of individual liberty over religious dogma there has been no greater warrior than Robert Green Ingersoll. His conviction, wit and tenacity cannot be matched, only admired and imitated.
The following writings from 1896 hit on the same issues that are still debated today and provide an excellent arsenal for those who are continuing Ingersoll’s work. His harshest criticisms are directed at religious dogmatism and Biblical cruelty, not towards religious people. His hope was for a liberal interpretation of the Bible that included the rejection of hell to be dominant in the Christian community. He believed as a civilization advanced, so would the interpretation of god.
I have broken up the writings into 10 sections. Enjoy.
10. On religion being a matter of geography and heredity, not divinity.
If we had been born in Constantinople, the most of us would have said: "There is no God but Allah, and Mohammed is his prophet." If our parents had lived on the banks of the Ganges, we would have been worshipers of Siva, longing for the heaven of Nirvana.
As a rule, children love their parents, believe what they teach, and take great pride in saying that the religion of mother is good enough for them.
Most people love peace. They do not like to differ with their neighbors. They like company. They are social. They enjoy traveling on the highway with the multitude. They hate to walk alone.
The Scotch are Calvinists because their fathers were. The Irish are Catholics because their fathers were. The English are Episcopalians because their fathers were, and the Americans are divided in a hundred sects because their fathers were. This is the general rule, to which there are many exceptions. Children sometimes are superior to their parents, modify their ideas, change their customs, and arrive at different conclusions. But this is generally so gradual that the departure is scarcely noticed, and those who change usually insist that they are still following the fathers.
It is claimed by Christian historians that the religion of a nation was sometimes suddenly changed, and that millions of Pagans were made into Christians by the command of a king. Philosophers do not agree with these historians. Names have been changed, altars have been overthrown, but opinions, customs and beliefs remained the same. A Pagan, beneath the drawn sword of a Christian, would probably change his religious views, and a Christian, with a scimitar above his head, might suddenly become a Mohammedan, but as a matter of fact both would remain exactly as they were before -- except in speech.
9. On hell and child indoctrination
All who doubted or denied would be lost. To live a moral and honest life -- to keep your contracts, to take care of wife and child -- to make a happy home -- to be a good citizen, a patriot, a just and thoughtful man, was simply a respectable way of going to hell.
God did not reward men for being honest, generous and brave, but for the act of faith. Without faith, all the so-called virtues were sins. and the men who practiced these virtues, without faith, deserved to suffer eternal pain.
All of these comforting and reasonable things were taught by the ministers in their pulpits -- by teachers in Sunday schools and by parents at home. The children were victims. They were assaulted in the cradle -- in their mother's arms. Then, the schoolmaster carried on the war against their natural sense, and all the books they read were filled with the same impossible truths. The poor children were helpless. The atmosphere they breathed was filled with lies -- lies that mingled with their blood.
8. On the ministers who hide from knowledge and doubt
The ministers, who preached at these revivals, were in earnest. They were zealous and sincere. They were not philosophers. To them science was the name of a vague dread -- a dangerous enemy. They did not know much, but they believed a great deal. To them hell was a burning reality -- they could see the smoke and flames. The Devil was no myth. He was an actual person. a rival of God, an enemy of mankind. They thought that the important business of this life was to save your soul -- that all should resist and scorn the pleasures of sense, and keep their eyes steadily fixed on the golden gate of the New Jerusalem. They were unbalanced, emotional, hysterical, bigoted, hateful, loving, and insane. They really believed the Bible to be the actual word of God -- a book without mistake or contradiction. They called its cruelties, justice – its absurdities, mysteries -- its miracles, facts, and the idiotic passages were regarded as profoundly spiritual. They dwelt on the pangs, the regrets, the infinite agonies of the lost, and showed how easily they could be avoided, and how cheaply heaven could be obtained. They told their hearers to believe, to have faith, to give their hearts to God, their sins to Christ, who would bear their burdens and make their souls as white as snow.
All this the ministers really believed. They were absolutely certain. In their minds the Devil had tried in vain to sow the seeds of doubt.
7. No love for god
From my childhood I had heard read, and read the Bible myself. Morning and evening the sacred volume was opened and prayers were said. The Bible was my first history, the Jews were the first people, and the events narrated by Moses and the other inspired writers, and those predicted by prophets were the all important things. In other books were found the thoughts and dreams of men, but in the Bible were the sacred truths of God.
Yet in spite of my surroundings, of my education, I had no love for God. He was so saving of mercy, so extravagant in murder, so anxious to kill, so ready to assassinate, that I hated him with all my heart. At his command, babes were butchered, women violated, and the white hair of trembling age stained with blood. This God visited the people with pestilence -- filled the houses and covered the streets with the dying and the dead -- saw babes starving on the empty breasts of pallid mothers, heard the sobs, saw the tears, the sunken cheeks, the sightless eyes, the new made graves, and remained as pitiless as the pestilence.
This God withheld the rain -- caused the famine, saw the fierce eyes of hunger -- the wasted forms, the white lips, saw mothers eating babes, and remained ferocious as famine.
It seems to me impossible for a civilized man to love or worship, or respect the God of the Old Testament. A really civilized man, a really civilized woman, must hold such a God in abhorrence and contempt.
6. On hell and salvation
For the first time I understood the dogma of eternal pain -- appreciated "the glad tidings of great joy." For the first time my imagination grasped the height and depth of the Christian horror. Then I said: "It is a lie, and I hate your religion. If it is true, I hate your God."
From that day I have had no fear, no doubt. For me, on that day, the flames of hell were quenched. From that day I have passionately hated every orthodox creed. That Sermon did some good.
In the Old Testament, they said. God is the judge -- but in the New, Christ is the merciful. As a matter of fact, the New Testament is infinitely worse than the Old. In the Old there is no threat of eternal pain. Jehovah had no eternal prison -- no everlasting fire. His hatred ended at the grave. His revenge was satisfied when his enemy was dead.
In the New Testament, death is not the end, but the beginning of punishment that has no end. In the New Testament the malice of God is infinite and the hunger of his revenge eternal.
The orthodox God, when clothed in human flesh, told his disciples not to resist evil, to love their enemies, and when smitten on one cheek to turn the other, and yet we are told that this same God, with the same loving lips, uttered these heartless, these fiendish words; "Depart ye cursed into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels."
These are the words of "eternal love."
No human being has imagination enough to conceive of this infinite horror.
All that the human race has suffered in war and want, in pestilence and famine, in fire and flood, -- all the pangs and pains of every disease and every death -- all this is as nothing compared with the agonies to be endured by one lost soul.
This is the consolation of the Christian religion. This is the justice of God -- the mercy of Christ.
This frightful dogma, this infinite lie, made me the implacable enemy of Christianity. The truth is that this belief in eternal pain has been the real persecutor. It founded the Inquisition, forged the chains, and furnished the fagots. It has darkened the lives of many millions. It made the cradle as terrible as the coffin. It enslaved nations and shed the blood of countless thousands. It sacrificed the wisest, the bravest and the best. It subverted the idea of justice, drove mercy from the heart, changed men to fiends and banished reason from the brain.
Like a venomous serpent it crawls and coils and hisses in every orthodox creed.
It makes man an eternal victim and God an eternal fiend. It is the one infinite horror. Every church in which it is taught is a public curse. Every preacher who teaches it is an enemy of mankind. Below this Christian dogma, savagery cannot go. It is the infinite of malice, hatred, and revenge.
Nothing could add to the horror of hell, except the presence of its creator, God.
While I have life, as long as I draw breath, I shall deny with all my strength, and hate with every drop of my blood, this infinite lie.
5. On the seeds of doubt
All the seeds of Christianity -- of superstition, were sown in my mind and
cultivated with great diligence and care.
All that time I knew nothing of any science -- nothing about the other side -- nothing of the objections that had been urged against the blessed Scriptures, or against the perfect Congregational creed. Of course I had heard the ministers speak of blasphemers, of infidel wretches, of scoffers who laughed at holy things. They did not answer their arguments, but they tore their characters into shreds and demonstrated by the fury of assertion that they had done the Devil's work. And yet in spite of all I heard -- of all I read. I could not quite believe. My brain and heart said No.
For a time I left the dreams, the insanities, the illusions and delusions, the nightmares of theology. I studied astronomy, just a little -- I examined maps of the heavens -- learned the names of some of the constellations -- of some of the stars -- found something of their size and the velocity with which they wheeled in their orbits -- obtained a faint conception of astronomical spaces -- found that some of the known stars were so far away in the depths of space that their light, traveling at the rate of nearly two hundred thousand miles a second, required many years to reach this little world -- found that, compared with the great stars, our earth was but a grain of sand -- an atom – found that the old belief that all the hosts of heaven had been created for the benefit of man, was infinitely absurd.
4. On Genesis
I compared what was really known about the stars with the account of creation as told in Genesis. I found that the writer of the inspired book had no knowledge of astronomy -- that he was as ignorant as a Choctaw chief -- as an Eskimo driver of dogs. Does any one imagine that the author of Genesis knew anything about the sun -- its size? that he was acquainted with Sirius, the North Star, with Capella, or that he knew anything of the clusters of stars so far away that their light, now visiting our eyes, has been traveling for two million years?
If he had known these facts would he have said that Jehovah worked nearly six days to make this world, and only a part of the afternoon of the fourth day to make the sun and moon and all the stars?
Yet millions of people insist that the writer of Genesis was inspired by the Creator of all worlds.
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.
I admit that this unknown writer was sincere, that he wrote what he believed to be true -- that he did the best he could. He did not claim to be inspired -- did not pretend that the story had been told to him by Jehovah. He simply stated the "facts" as he understood them.
After I had learned a little about the stars I concluded that this writer, this "inspired" scribe, had been misled by myth and legend, and that he knew no more about creation than the average theologian of my day. In other words, that he knew absolutely nothing.
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.
3. On theologians
Of course the theologians fought the facts found by the geologists, the scientists, and sought to sustain the sacred Scriptures. They mistook the bones of the mastodon for those of human beings, and by them proudly proved that "there were giants in those days." They accounted for the fossils by saying that God had made them to try our faith, or that the Devil had imitated the works of the Creator.
They answered the geologists by saying that the "days" in Genesis were long periods of time, and that after all the flood might have been local. They told the astronomers that the sun and moon were not actually, but only apparently, stopped. And that the appearance was produced by the reflection and refraction of light.
They excused the slavery and polygamy, the robbery and murder upheld in the Old Testament by saying that the people were so degraded that Jehovah was compelled to pander to their ignorance and prejudice.
In every way the clergy sought to evade the facts, to dodge the truth, to preserve the creed.
At first they flatly denied the facts -- then they belittled them -- then they harmonized them -- then they denied that they had denied them. Then they changed the meaning of the "inspired" book to fit the facts. At first they said that if the facts, as claimed, were true, the Bible was false and Christianity itself a superstition. Afterward they said the facts, as claimed, were true and that they established beyond all doubt the inspiration of the Bible and the divine origin of orthodox religion.
Anything they could not dodge, they swallowed and anything they could not swallow, they dodged.
I gave up the Old Testament on account of its mistakes, its absurdities, its ignorance and its cruelty. I gave up the New because it vouched for the truth of the Old. I gave it up on account of its miracles, its contradictions, because Christ and his disciples believe in the existence of devils -- talked and made bargains with them. expelled them from people and animals.
This, of itself, is enough. We know, if we know anything, that devils do not exist -- that Christ never cast them out, and that if he pretended to, he was either ignorant, dishonest or insane.
2. On Charles Darwin and other Naturalists
Darwin, with his Origin of Species, his theories about Natural Selection, the Survival of the Fittest, and the influence of environment, shed a flood of light upon the great problems of plant and animal life.
These things had been guessed, prophesied, asserted, hinted by many others, but Darwin, with infinite patience, with perfect care and candor, found the facts, fulfilled the prophecies, and demonstrated the truth of the guesses, hints and assertions. He was, in my judgment, the keenest observer, the best judge of the meaning and value of a fact, the greatest Naturalist the world has produced.
The theological view began to look small and mean.
Spencer gave his theory of evolution and sustained it by countless facts. He stood at a great height, and with the eyes of a philosopher, a profound thinker, surveyed the world. He has influenced the thought of the wisest.
Theology looked more absurd than ever.
Huxley entered the lists for Darwin. No man ever had a sharper sword -- a better shield. He challenged the world. The great theologians and the small scientists -- those who had more courage than sense, accepted the challenge. Their poor bodies were carried away by their friends.
Huxley had intelligence, industry, genius, and the courage to express his thought. He was absolutely loyal to what he thought was truth. Without prejudice and without fear, he followed the footsteps of life from the lowest to the highest forms.
Theology looked smaller still.
Haeckel began at the simplest cell, went from change to change -- from form to form -- followed the line of development, the path of life, until he reached the human race. It was all natural. There had been no interference from without.
I read the works of these great men -- of many others – and became convinced that they were right, and that all the theologians -- all the believers in "special creation" were absolutely wrong.
The Garden of Eden faded away, Adam and Eve fell back to dust, the snake crawled into the grass, and Jehovah became a miserable myth.
1. On breaking the chains of religion
When I became convinced that the Universe is natural – that all the ghosts and gods are myths, there entered into my brain, into my soul, into every drop of my blood, the sense, the feeling, the joy of freedom. The walls of my prison crumbled and fell, the dungeon was flooded with light and all the bolts, and bars, and manacles became dust. I was no longer a servant, a serf or a slave. There was for me no master in all the wide world -- not even in infinite space. I was free -- free to think, to express my thoughts -- free to live to my own ideal -- free to live for myself and those I loved -- free to use all my faculties, all my senses -- free to spread imagination's wings -- free to investigate, to guess and dream and hope -- free to judge and determine for myself -- free to reject all ignorant and cruel creeds, all the "inspired" books that savages have produced, and all the barbarous legends of the past -- free from popes and priests -- free from all the "called" and "set apart" -- free from sanctified mistakes and holy lies -- free from the fear of eternal pain -- free from the winged monsters of the night -- free from devils, ghosts and gods. For the first time I was free. There were no prohibited places in all the realms of thought -- no air, no space, where fancy could not spread her painted wings -- no chains for my limbs -- no lashes for my back -- no fires for my flesh -- no master's frown or threat – no following another's steps -- no need to bow, or cringe, or crawl, or utter lying words. I was free. I stood erect and fearlessly, joyously, faced all worlds.
And then my heart was filled with gratitude, with thankfulness, and went out in love to all the heroes, the thinkers who gave their lives for the liberty of hand and brain -- for the freedom of labor and thought -- to those who fell on the fierce fields of war, to those who died in dungeons bound with chains -- to those who proudly mounted scaffold's stairs -- to those whose bones were crushed, whose flesh was scarred and torn -- to those by fire consumed -- to all the wise, the good, the brave of every land, whose thoughts and deeds have given freedom to the sons of men. And then I vowed to grasp the torch that they had held, and hold it high, that light might conquer darkness still.
Let us be true to ourselves -- true to the facts we know, and let us, above all things, preserve the veracity of our souls.
If there be gods we cannot help them, but we can assist our fellow-men. We cannot love the inconceivable, but we can love wife and child and friend.
We can be as honest as we are ignorant. If we are, when asked what is beyond the horizon of the known, we must say that we do not know. We can tell the truth, and we can enjoy the blessed freedom that the brave have won. We can destroy the monsters of superstition, the hissing snakes of ignorance and fear. We can drive from our minds the frightful things that tear and wound with beak and fang. We can civilize our fellow-men. We can fill our lives with generous deeds, with loving words, with art and song, and all the ecstasies of love. We can flood our years with sunshine -- with the divine climate of kindness, and we can drain to the last drop the golden cup of joy.
I hope you have enjoyed these writings as I have. Be sure to read the work in its entirety in the link below.
-James Kirk Wall
Why I Am Agnostic – Robert Green Ingersoll
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