Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Robert Ingersoll, "The Great Agnostic"

A. B. Simpson called him "a daring blasphemer".

A Texas town named in his honor changed its designation to Redwater after a Christian revival swept the town a decade later.

He lectured in every state except Mississippi, North Carolina, and Oklahoma, using humor and education to open minds.

Robert's father was a preacher. Though strictly religious and an adherent to the Bible, he was a kind man and a devoted father, willing to make any sacrifice for his children. He acknowledged they had as much right to their own opinions as he did to his own. "He was great enough to tell me to read the Bible for myself, to be honest with myself, and if after reading it I concluded it was not the word of God, that it was my duty to say so." Over the years, the senior Ingersoll maintained a rich dialogue with his agnostic son, and himself came to give up the doctrine of hell.

Robert Ingersoll was an outspoken critic of religion and superstition, and an equally outspoken advocate for science, reason, racial equality, women's rights, children's rights, and free speech.

In this speech, he takes on the Old Testament God, quoting from Deuteronomy 20:
"And when the Lord thy God hath delivered it into thy hands, thou shalt smite every male thereof with the edge of the sword. But the women and the little ones, and the cattle, and all that is in the city, even all the spoil thereof, shalt thou take unto thyself, and thou shalt eat the spoil of thine enemies which the Lord thy God hath given thee. Thus shalt thou do unto all the cities which are very far off from thee, which are not of the cities of these nations. But of the cities of these people which the Lord thy God doth give thee for an inheritance, thou shalt save alive nothing that breatheth."
Is it possible for man to conceive of anything more perfectly infamous? Can you believe that such directions were given by any being except an infinite fiend? Remember that the army receiving these instructions was one of invasion. Peace was offered upon condition that the people submitting should be the slaves of the invader; but if any should have the courage to defend their homes, to fight for the love of wife and child, then the sword was to spare none—not even the prattling, dimpled babe.

And we are called upon to worship such a God; to get upon our knees and tell him that he is good, that he is merciful, that he is just, that he is love. We are asked to stifle every noble sentiment of the soul, and to trample under foot all the sweet charities of the heart. Because we refuse to stultify ourselves—refuse to become liars—we are denounced, hated, traduced and ostracized here, and this same god threatens to torment us in eternal fire the moment death allows him to fiercely clutch our naked helpless souls. Let the people hate, let the god threaten—we will educate them, and we will despise and defy him.

The book, called the Bible, is filled with passages equally horrible, unjust and atrocious. This is the book to be read in schools in order to make our children loving, kind and gentle! This is the book to be recognized in our Constitution as the source of all authority and justice!

Strange! that no one has ever been persecuted by the church for believing God bad, while hundreds of millions have been destroyed for thinking him good. The orthodox church never will forgive the Universalist for saying "God is love." It has always been considered as one of the very highest evidences of true and undefiled religion to insist that all men, women and children deserve eternal damnation. It has always been heresy to say, "God will at last save all."

Excerpt from The Gods, The Complete Works of Robert Ingersoll (1900)

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