The Historical Library is provided for those doing research into the history of nontheism. It is not intended to be--and should not be used as--a source of modern, up-to-date information regarding atheistic issues. DO NOT CONTACT US ABOUT THESE DOCUMENTS. Please read the full Historical Library Disclaimer
This file has been made available by the Bank of Wisdom.

Order books by and about Robert Ingersoll now.

V Field 1

Robert Green Ingersoll

                        13 page printout.

    Reproducible Electronic Publishing can defeat censorship.
                          ****     ****

          This file, its printout, or copies of either
          are to be copied and given away, but NOT sold.

          Bank of Wisdom, Box 926, Louisville, KY 40201

                The Works of ROBERT G. INGERSOLL

                          ****    ****
               Part 1 -- FIELD - INGERSOLL debate.

                              1887

             An Open Letter to Robert G. Ingersoll.
                      by Dr. Henry M. Field

     Dear Sir: I am glad that I know you, even though some of my
brethren look upon you as a monster because of your unbelief. I
shall never forget the long evening I spent at your house in
Washington; and in what I have to say, however it may fail to
convince you, I trust you will feel that I have not shown myself
unworthy of your courtesy or confidence.

     Your conversation, then and at other times, interested me
greatly. I recognized at once the elements of your power over large
audiences, in your wit and dramatic talent -- impersonating
characters and imitating tones of voice and expressions of
countenance -- and your remarkable use of language, which even in
familiar talk often rose to a high degree of eloquence. All this
was a keen intellectual stimulus. I was, for the most part, a
listener; but as we talked freely of religious matters, I protested
against your unbelief as utterly without reason. Yet there was no
offence given or taken, and we parted, I trust, with a feeling of
mutual respect.

     Still further, we found many points of sympathy. I do not
hesitate to say that there are many things in which I agree with
you, in which I love what you love and hate what you hate. A man's
hatreds are not the least important part of him; they are among the
best indications of his character. You love truth, and hate lying
and hypocrisy -- all the petty arts and deceits of the world by
which men represent themselves to be other than they are -- as well
as the pride and arrogance, in which they assume superiority over
their fellow-beings. Above all, you hate every form of injustice
and oppression. Nothing moves your indignation so much as "man's
inhumanity to man," and you mutter "curses, not loud but deep," on
the whole race of tyrants and oppressors, whom you would sweep from
the face of the earth. And yet, you do not hate oppression more
than I, nor love liberty more. Nor will I admit that you have any
stronger desire for that intellectual freedom, to the attainment of
which you look forward as the last and greatest emancipation of
mankind.

     Nor have you a greater horror of superstition. Indeed, I might
say that you cannot have so great, for the best of all reasons,
that you have not seen so much of it; you have not stood on the
banks of the Ganges, and seen the Hindoos by tens of thousands

                         Bank of Wisdom
                  Box 926, Louisville, KY 40201
                                1

                 THE FIELD-INGERSOLL DISCUSSION.
                      by Dr. Henry M. Field

rushing madly to throw themselves into the sacred river, even
carrying the ashes of their dead to cast them upon the waters. It
seems but yesterday that I was sitting on the back of an elephant,
looking down on this horrible scene of human degradation. Such
superstition overthrows the very foundations of morality. In place
of the natural sense of right and wrong, which is written in men's
consciences and hearts, it introduces an artificial standard, by
which the order of things is totally reversed: right is made wrong,
and wrong is made right. It makes that a virtue which is not a
virtue, and that a crime which is not a crime. Religion consists in
a round of observances that have no relation whatever to natural
goodness, but which rather exclude it by being a substitute for it.
Penances and pilgrimages take the place of justice and mercy,
benevolence and charity. Such a religion, so far from being a
purifier, is the greatest corrupter of morals; so that it is no
extravagance to say of the Hindoos, who are a gentle race, that
they might be virtuous and good if they were not so religious. But
this colossal superstition weighs upon their very existence,
crushing out even natural virtue. Such a religion is an
immeasurable curse.

     I hope this language is strong enough to satisfy even your own
intense hatred of superstition. You cannot loathe it more than I
do. So far we agree perfectly. But unfortunately you do not limit
your crusade to the religions of Asia, but turn the same style of
argument against the religion of Europe and America, and, indeed,
against the religious belief and worship of every country and
clime. In this matter you make no distinctions: you would sweep
them all away; church and cathedral must go with the temple and the
pagoda, as alike manifestations of human credulity, and proofs of
the intellectual feebleness and folly of mankind. While under the
impression of that memorable evening at your house, I took up some
of your public addresses, and experienced a strange revulsion of
feeling. I could hardly believe my eyes as I read, so inexpressibly
was I shocked. Things which I held sacred you not only rejected
with unbelief, but sneered at with contempt. Your words were full
of a bitterness so unlike anything I had heard from your lips, that
I could not reconcile the two, till I reflected that in Robert
Ingersoll (as in the most of us) there were two men, who were not
only distinct, but contrary the one to the other -- the one gentle
and sweet-tempered; the other delighting in war as his native
element. Between the two, I have a decided preference for the
former. I have no dispute with the quiet and peaceable gentleman,
whose kindly spirit makes sunshine in his home; but it is that
other man over yonder, who comes forth into the arena like a
gladiator, defiant and belligerent, that rouses my antagonism. And
yet I do not intend to stand up even against him; but if he will
only sit down and listen patiently, and answer in those soft tones
of voice which he knows so well how to use, we can have a quiet
talk, which will certainly do him no harm, while it relieves my
troubled mind.

     What then is the basis of this religion which you despise? At
the foundation of every form of religious faith and worship, is the
idea of God. Here you take your stand; you do not believe in God.
Of course you do not deny absolutely the existence of a Creative
Power: for that would be to assume a knowledge which no human being

                         Bank of Wisdom
                  Box 926, Louisville, KY 40201
                                2

                 THE FIELD-INGERSOLL DISCUSSION.
                      by Dr. Henry M. Field

can possess. How small is the distance that we can see before us!
The candle of our intelligence throws its beams but a little way,
beyond which the circle of light is compassed by universal
darkness. Upon this no one insists more than yourself I have heard
you discourse upon the insignificance of man in a way to put many
preachers to shame. I remember your illustration from the myriads
of creatures that live on plants, from which you picked out, to
represent human insignificance, an insect too small to be seen by
the naked eye, whose world was a leaf, and whose life lasted but a
single day! Surely a creature that can only be seen with a
microscope, cannot know that a Creator does not exist!

     This, I must do you the justice to say, you do not affirm. All
that you can say is, that if there be no knowledge on one side,
neither is there on the other; that it is only a matter of
probability; and that, judging from such evidence as appeals to
your senses and your understanding, you do not believe that there
is a God. Whether this be a reasonable conclusion or not, it is at
least an intelligible state of mind.

     Now I am not going to argue against what the Catholics call
"invincible ignorance" -- an incapacity on account of temperament
-- for I hold that the belief in God, like the belief in all
spiritual things, comes to some minds by a kind of intuition. There
are natures so finely strung that they are sensitive to influences
which do not touch others. You may say that it is mere poetical
rhapsody when Shelley writes:

     "The awful shadow of some unseen power,
      Floats, through unseen, among us."

     But there are natures which are not at all poetical or dreamy,
only most simple and pure, which, in moments of spiritual
exaltation, are almost conscious of a Presence that is not of this
world. But this, which is a matter of experience, will have no
weight with those who do not have that experience. For the present,
therefore, I would not be swayed one particle by mere sentiment,
but look at the question in the cold light of reason alone.

     The idea of God is, indeed, the grandest and most awful that
can be entertained by the human mind. Its very greatness overpowers
us, so that it seems impossible that such a Being should exist. But
if it is hard to conceive of Infinity, it is still harder to get
any intelligible explanation of the present order of things without
admitting the existence of an intelligent Creator and Upholder of
all. Galileo, when he swept the sky with his telescope, traced the
finger of God in every movement of the heavenly bodies. Napoleon,
when the French savants on the voyage to Egypt argued that there
was no God, disdained any other answer than to point upward to the
stars and ask, "Who made all these?" This is the first question,
and it is the last. The farther we go, the more we are forced to
one conclusion. No man ever studied nature with a more simple
desire to know the truth than Agassiz, and yet the more he
explored, the more he was startled as he found himself constantly
face to face with the evidences of MIND.

                         Bank of Wisdom
                  Box 926, Louisville, KY 40201
                                3

                 THE FIELD-INGERSOLL DISCUSSION.
                      by Dr. Henry M. Field

     Do you say this is "a great mystery," meaning that it is
something that we do not know anything about? Of course, it is "a
mystery." But do you think to escape mystery by denying the Divine
existence? You only exchange one mystery for another. The first of
all mysteries is, not that God exists, but that we exist. Here we
are. How did we come here? We go back to our ancestors; but that
does not take away the difficulty; it only removes it farther off.
Once begin to climb the stairway of past generations, and you will
find that it is a Jacob's ladder, on which you mount higher and
higher until you step into the very presence of the Almighty.

     But even if we know that there is a God, what can we know of
His character? You say, "God is whatever we conceive Him to be." We
frame an image of Deity out of our consciousness -- it is simply a
reflection of our own personality, cast upon the sky like the image
seen in the Alps in certain states of the atmosphere -- and then
fall down and worship that which we have created, not indeed with
our hands, but out of our minds. This may be true to some extent of
the gods of mythology, but not of the God of Nature, who is as
inflexible as Nature itself. You might as well say that the laws of
nature are whatever we imagine them to be. But we do not go far
before we find that, instead of being pliant to our will, they are
rigid and inexorable, and we dash ourselves against them to our own
destruction. So God does not bend to human thought any more than to
human will. The more we study Him the more we find that He is not
what we imagined him to be; that He is far greater than any image
of Him that we could frame.

     But, after all, you rejoin that the conception of a Supreme
Being is merely an abstract idea, of no practical importance, with
no bearing upon human life. I answer, it is of immeasurable
importance. Let go the idea of God, and you have let go the highest
moral restraint. There is no Ruler above man; he is a law unto
himself -- a law which is as impotent to produce order, and to hold
society together, as man is with his little hands to hold the stars
in their courses.

     I know how you reason against the Divine existence from the
moral disorder of the world. The argument is one that takes strong
hold of the imagination, and may be used with tremendous effect.
You set forth in colors none too strong the injustice that prevails
in the relations of men to one another -- the inequalities of
society; the haughtiness of the rich and the misery of the poor;
you draw lurid pictures of the vice and crime which run riot in the
great capitals which are the centers of civilization; and when you
have wound up your audience to the highest pitch, you ask, "How can
it be that there is a just God in heaven, who looks down upon the
earth and sees all this horrible confusion, and yet does not lift
His hand to avenge the innocent or punish the guilty? "To this I
will make but one answer: Does it convince yourself? I do not mean
to imply that you are conscious of insincerity. But an orator is
sometimes carried away by his own eloquence, and states things more
strongly than he would in his cooler moments. So I venture to ask:
With all your tendency to skepticism, do you really believe that
there is no moral government of the world -- no Power behind nature
"making for righteousness?" Are there no retribution in history?
When Lincoln stood on the field of Gettysburg, so lately drenched

                         Bank of Wisdom
                  Box 926, Louisville, KY 40201
                                4

                 THE FIELD-INGERSOLL DISCUSSION.
                      by Dr. Henry M. Field

with blood, and, reviewing the carnage of that terrible day,
accepted it as the punishment of our national sins, was it a mere
theatrical flourish in him to lift his hand to heaven, and exclaim,
"Just and true arc Thy ways, Lord God Almighty!"

     Having settled it to your own satisfaction that there is no
God, you proceed in the same easy way to dispose of that other
belief which lies at the foundation of all religion -- the
immortality of the soul. With an air of modesty and diffidence that
would carry an audience by storm, you confess your ignorance of
what, perhaps, others are better acquainted with, when you say,
"This world is all that I know anything about, so far as I
recollect." This is very wittily put, and some may suppose it
contains an argument; but do you really mean to say that you do not
know anything except what you "recollect," or what you have seen
with your eyes? Perhaps you never saw your grandparents; but have
you any more doubt of their existence than of that of your father
and mother whom you did see?

     Here, as when you speak of the existence of God, you carefully
avoid any positive affirmation: you neither affirm nor deny. You
are ready for whatever may "turn up." In your jaunty style, if you
find yourself hereafter in some new and unexpected situation, you
will accept it and make the best of it, and be "as ready as the
next man to enter on any remunerative occupation!"

     But while airing this pleasant fancy, you plainly regard the
hope of another life as a beggar's dream -- the momentary illusion
of one who, stumbling along life's highway, sets him down by the
roadside, footsore and weary, cold and hungry, and falls asleep,
and dreams of a time when he shall have riches and plenty. Poor
creature! let him dream; it helps him to forget his misery, and may
give him a little courage for his rude awaking to the hard reality
of life. But it is all a dream, which dissolves in thin air, and
floats away and disappears. This illustration I do not take from
you, but simply choose to set forth what (as I infer from the
sentences above quoted and many like expressions) may describe, not
unfairly, your state of mind. Your treatment of the subject is one
of trifling. You do not speak of it in a serious way, but lightly
and flippantly, as if it were all a matter of fancy and conjecture,
and not worthy of sober consideration.

     Now, does it never occur to you that there is something very
cruel in this treatment of the belief of your fellow-creatures, on
whose hope of another life hangs all that relieves the darkness of
their present existence? To many of them life is a burden to carry,
and they need all the helps to carry it that can be found in
reason, in philosophy, or in religion. But what support does your
hollow creed supply? You are a man of warm heart, of the tenderest
sympathies. Those who know you best, and love you most, tell me
that you cannot bear the sight of suffering even in animals; that
your natural sensibility is such that you find no pleasure in
sports, in hunting or fishing; to shoot a robin would make you feel
like a murderer. If you see a poor man in trouble your first
impulse is to help him. You cannot see a child in tears but you
want to take up the little fellow in your arms, and make him smile
again. And yet, with all your sensibility, you hold the most

                         Bank of Wisdom
                  Box 926, Louisville, KY 40201
                                5

                 THE FIELD-INGERSOLL DISCUSSION.
                      by Dr. Henry M. Field

remorseless and pitiless creed in the world -- a creed in which
there is not a gleam of mercy or of hope. A mother has lost her
only son. She goes to his grave and throws herself upon it, the
very picture of woe. One thought only keeps her from despair: it is
that beyond this life there is a world where she may once more
clasp her boy in her arms. What will you say to that mother? You
are silent, and your silence is a sentence of death to her hopes.
By that grave you cannot speak; for if you were to open your lips
and tell that mother what you really believe, it would be that her
son is blotted out of existence, and that she can never look upon
his face again. Thus with your iron heel do you trample down and
crush the last hope of a broken heart.

     When such sorrow comes to you, you feel it as keenly as any
man. With your strong domestic attachments one cannot pass out of
your little circle without leaving a great void in your heart, and
your grief is as eloquent as it is hopeless. No sadder words ever
fell from human lips than these, spoken over the coffin of one to
whom you were tenderly attached: "Life is but a narrow vale,
between the cold and barren peaks of two eternities!" This is a
doom of annihilation, which strike a chill to the stoutest heart.
Even you must envy the faith which, as it looks upward, sees those
"peaks of two eternities," not "cold and barren," but warm with the
glow of the setting sun, which gives promise of a happier tomorrow!

     I think I hear you say, "So might it be! Would that I could
believe it! "for no one recognizes more the emptiness of life as it
is. I do not forget the tone in which you said: "Life is very sad
to me; it is very pitiful; there isn't much to it." True indeed!
With your belief, or want of belief, there is very little to it;
and if this were all, it would be a fair question whether life were
worth living. In the name of humanity, let us cling to all that is
left us that can bring a ray of hope into its darkness, and thus
lighten its otherwise impenetrable gloom.

     I observe that you not infrequently entertain yourself and
your audiences by caricaturing certain doctrines of the Christian
religion. The "Atonement," as you look upon it, is simply
"punishing the wrong man" -- letting the guilty escape and putting
the innocent to death. This is vindicating justice by permitting
injustice. But is there not another side to this? Does not the idea
of sacrifice run through human life, and ennoble human character?
You see a mother denying herself for her children, foregoing every
comfort, enduring every hardship, till at last, worn out by her
labor and her privation, she folds her hands upon her breast. May
it not be said truly that she gives her life for the life of her
children? History is full of sacrifice, and it is the best part of
history. I will not speak of "the noble army of martyrs, "but of
heroes who have died for their country or for liberty -- what is it
but this element of devotion for the good of others that gives such
glory to their immortal names? How then should it be thought a
thing without reason that a Deliverer of the race should give His
life for the life of the world?

     So, too, you find a subject for caricature in the doctrine of
"Regeneration." But what is regeneration but a change of character
shown in a change of life? Is that so very absurd? Have you never

                         Bank of Wisdom
                  Box 926, Louisville, KY 40201
                                6

                 THE FIELD-INGERSOLL DISCUSSION.
                      by Dr. Henry M. Field

seen a drunkard reformed? Have you never seen a man of impure life,
who, after running his evil course, had, like the prodigal, "come
to himself" -- that is, awakened to his shame, and turning from it,
come back to the path of purity, and finally regained a true and
noble manhood? Probably you would admit this, but say that the
change was the result of reflection, and of the man's own strength
of will. The doctrine of regeneration only adds to the will of man
the power of God. We believe that man is weak, but that God is
mighty; and that when man tries to raise himself, an arm is
stretched out to lift him up to a height which he could not attain
alone. Sometimes one who has led the worst life, after being
plunged into such remorse and despair that he feels as if he were
enduring the agonies of hell, turns back and takes another course:
he becomes "a new creature," whom his friends can hardly recognize
as he "sits clothed and in his right mind." The change is from
darkness to light, from death to life; and he who has known but one
such case will never say that the language is too strong which
describes that man as "born again."

     If you think that I pass lightly over these doctrines, not
bringing out all the meaning which they bear, I admit it. I am not
writing an essay in theology, but would only show, in passing, by
your favorite method of illustration, that the principles involved
are the same with which you are familiar in everyday life.

     But the doctrine which excites your bitterest animosity is
that of Future Retribution. The prospect of another life, reaching
on into an unknown futurity, you would contemplate with composure
were it not for the dark shadow hanging over it. But to live only
to suffer; to live when asking to die; to "long for death, and not
be able to find it" -- is a prospect which arouses the anger of one
who would look with calmness upon death as an eternal sleep. The
doctrine loses none of its terrors in passing through your hands;
for it is one of the means by which you work upon the feelings of
your hearers. You pronounce it "the most horrible belief that ever
entered the human mind: that the Creator should bring beings into
existence to destroy them! This would make Him the most fearful
tyrant in the universe -- a Moloch devouring his own children!" I
shudder when I recall the fierce energy with which you spoke as you
said, "Such a God I hate with all the intensity of my being!"

     But gently, gently, Sir! We will let this burst of fury pass
before we resume the conversation. When you are a little more
tranquil, I would modestly suggest that perhaps you are fighting a
figment of your imagination. I never heard of any Christian teacher
who said that "the Creator brought beings into the world to destroy
them! " Is it not better to moderate yourself to exact statements,
especially when, with all modifications, the subject is one to
awaken a feeling the most solemn and profound?

     Now I am not going to enter into a discussion of this
doctrine. I will not quote a single text. I only ask you whether it
is not a scientific truth that the effect of everything which is of
the nature of a cause is eternal. Science has opened our eyes to
some very strange facts in nature. The theory of vibrations is
carried by the physicists to an alarming extent. They tell us that
it is literally and mathematically true that you cannot throw a

                         Bank of Wisdom
                  Box 926, Louisville, KY 40201
                                7

                 THE FIELD-INGERSOLL DISCUSSION.
                      by Dr. Henry M. Field

ball in the air but it shakes the solar system. Thus all things act
upon all. What is true in space may be true in time, and the law of
physics may hold in the spiritual realm. When the soul of man
departs out of the body, being released from the grossness of the
flesh, it may enter on a life a thousand times more intense than
this: in which it will not need the dull senses as avenues of
knowledge, because the spirit itself will be all eye, all ear, all
intelligence; while memory, like an electric flash, will in an
instant bring the whole of the past into view; and the moral sense
will be quickened as never before. Here then we have all the
conditions of retribution -- a world which, however shadowy it may
be seem, is yet as real as the homes and habitations and activities
of our present state; with memory trailing the deeds of a lifetime
behind it, and conscience, more inexorable than any judge, giving
its solemn and final verdict.

     With such conditions assumed, let us take a case which would
awaken your just indignation -- that of a selfish, hardhearted, and
cruel man; who sacrifices the interests of everybody to his own;
who grinds the faces of the poor, robbing the widow and the orphan
of their little all; and who, so far from making restitution, dies
with his ill-gotten gains held fast in his clenched hand. How long
must the night be to sleep away the memory of such a hideous life?
If he wakes, will not the recollection cling to him still? Are
there any waters of oblivion that can cleanse his miserable soul?
If not -- if he cannot forget -- surely he cannot forgive himself
for the baseness which now he has no opportunity to repair. Here,
then, is a retribution which is inseparable from his being, which
is a part of his very existence. The undying memory brings the
undying pain.

     Take another case -- alas! too sadly frequent. A man of
pleasure betrays a young, innocent, trusting woman by the promise
of his love, and then casts her off, leaving her to sink down,
down, through every degree of misery and shame, till she is lost in
depths, which plummet never sounded, and disappears. Is he not to
suffer for this poor creature's ruin? Can he rid himself of it by
fleeing beyond "that borne from whence no traveler returns"? Not
unless he can flee from himself: for in the lowest depths of the
under-world -- a world in which the sun never shines -- that image
will still pursue him. As he wanders in its gloomy shades a pale
form glides by him like an affrighted ghost. The face is the same,
beautiful even in its sorrow, but with a look upon it as of one who
has already suffered an eternity of woe. In an instant all the past
comes back again. He sees the young, unblessed mother wandering in
some lonely place, that only the heavens may witness her agony and
her despair. There he sees her holding up in her arms the babe that
had no right to be born, and calling upon God to judge her
betrayer. How far in the future must he travel to forget that look?
Is there any escape except by plunging into the gulf of
annihilation?

     Thus far in this paper I have taken a tone of defence. But I
do not admit that the Christian religion needs any apology, -- it
needs only to be rightly understood to furnish its own complete
vindication. Instead of considering its "evidences," which is but
going round the outer walls, let us enter the gates of the temple

                         Bank of Wisdom
                  Box 926, Louisville, KY 40201
                                8

                 THE FIELD-INGERSOLL DISCUSSION.
                      by Dr. Henry M. Field

and see what is within. Here we find something better than "towers
and bulwarks" in the character of Him who is the Founder of our
Religion, and not its Founder only, but its very core and being.
Christ is Christianity. Not only is He the Great Teacher, but the
central subject of what He taught, so that the whole stands or
falls with Him.

     In our first conversation, I observed that, with all your
sharp comments on things sacred, you professed great respect for
the ethics of Christianity, and for its author. "Make the Sermon on
the Mount your religion," you said, "and there I am with you." Very
well! So far, so good. And now, if you will go a little further,
you may find still more food for reflection.

     All who have made a study of the character and teachings of
Christ, even those who utterly deny the supernatural, stand in awe
and wonder before the gigantic figure which is here revealed. Renan
closes his "Life of Jesus" with this as the result of his long
study: "Jesus will never be surpassed. His worship will be renewed
without ceasing; his story [legend] will draw tears from beautiful
eyes without end; his sufferings will touch the finest natures; ALL
THE AGES WILL PROCLAIM THAT AMONG THE SONS OF MEN THERE HAS NOT
RISEN A GREATER THAN JESUS, "SOCRATES DIED LIKE A PHILOSOPHER, BUT
JESUS CHRIST LIKE A GOD!"

     Here is an argument for Christianity to which I pray you to
address yourself. As you do not believe in miracles, and are ready
to explain everything by natural causes, I beg you to tell us how
came it to pass that a Hebrew peasant, born among the hills of
Judea, had a wisdom above that of Socrates or Plato, of Confucius
or Buddha? This is the greatest of miracles, that such a Being has
lived and died on the earth.

     Since this is the chief argument for Religion, does it not
become one who undertakes to destroy it to set himself first to
this central position, instead of wasting his time on mere
outposts? When you next address one of the great audiences that
hang upon your words, is it unfair to ask that you lay aside such
familiar topics as Miracles or Ghosts, or a reply to Talmage, and
tell us what you think of JESUS CHRIST; whether you look upon Him
as an impostor, or merely as a dreamer -- a mild and harmless
enthusiast; or are you ready to acknowledge that He is entitled to
rank among the great teachers of mankind?

     But if you are compelled to admit the greatness of Christ, you
take your revenge on the Apostles, whom you do not hesitate to say
that you "don't think much of" In fact, you set them down in a most
peremptory way as "a poor lot." It did seem rather an unpromising
"lot," that of a boat-load of fishermen, from which to choose the
apostles of a religion -- almost as unpromising as it was to take
a rail-splitter to be the head of a nation in the greatest crisis
of its history! But perhaps in both cases there was a wisdom higher
than ours, that chose better than we. It might puzzle even you to
give a better definition of religion than this of the Apostle
James: "Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is
this: to visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and
to keep himself unspotted from the world;" or to find among those

                         Bank of Wisdom
                  Box 926, Louisville, KY 40201
                                9

                 THE FIELD-INGERSOLL DISCUSSION.
                      by Dr. Henry M. Field

sages of antiquity, with whose writings you are familiar, a more
complete and perfect delineation of that which is the essence of
all goodness and virtue, than Paul's description of the charity
which "suffereth long and is kind;" or to find in the sayings of
Confucius or of Buddha anything more sublime than this aphorism of
John: "God is love, and he that dwelleth in love dwelleth in God,
and God in him."

     And here you must allow me to make a remark, which is not
intended as a personal retort, but simply in the interest of that
truth which we both profess to seek, and to count worth more than
victory. Your language is too sweeping to indicate the careful
thinker, who measures his words and weighs them in a balance. Your
lectures remind me of the pictures of Gustave Dore, who preferred
to paint on a large canvas, with figures as gigantesque as those of
Michael Angelo in his Last Judgment. The effect is very powerful,
but if he had softened his colors a little, -- if there were a few
delicate touches, a mingling of light and shade, as when twilight
is stealing over the earth, -- the landscape would be more true to
nature. So, believe me, your words would be more weighty if they
were not so strong. But whenever you touch upon religion you seem
to lose control of yourself, and a vindictive feeling takes
possession of you, which causes you to see things so distorted from
their natural appearance that you cannot help running into the
broadest caricature. You swing your sentences as the woodman swings
his axe. Of course, this "slashing" style is very effective before
a popular audience, which does not care for nice distinctions, or
for evidence that has to be sifted and weighed. but wants opinions
off hand, and likes to have its prejudices and hatreds echoed back
in a ringing voice. This carries the crowd, but does not convince
the philosophic mind. The truth-seeker cannot cut a road through
the forest with sturdy blows; he has a hidden path to trace, and
must pick his way with slow and cautious step to find that which is
more precious than gold.

     But if it were possible for you to sweep away the "evidences
of Christianity," you have not swept away Christianity itself; it
still lives, not only in tradition, but in the hearts of the
people, entwined with all that is sweetest in their domestic life,
from which it must be torn out with unsparing hand before it can be
exterminated. To begin with, you turn your back upon history. All
that men have done and suffered for the sake of religion was folly.
The Pilgrims, who crossed the sea to find freedom to worship God in
the forests of the New World, were miserable fanatics, There is no
more place in the world for heroes and martyrs. He who sacrifices
his life for a faith, or an idea, is a fool. The only practical
wisdom is to have a sharp eye to the main chance. If you keep on in
this work of demolition, you will soon destroy all our ideals.
Family life withers under the cold sneer -- half pity and half
scorn -- with which you look down on household worship, Take from
our American firesides such scenes as that pictured in the Cotter's
Saturday Night, and you have taken from them their most sacred
hours and their tenderest memories.

     The same destructive spirit which intrudes into our domestic
as well as our religious life, would take away the beauty of our
villages as well as the sweetness of our homes. In the weary round

                         Bank of Wisdom
                  Box 926, Louisville, KY 40201
                               10

                 THE FIELD-INGERSOLL DISCUSSION.
                      by Dr. Henry M. Field

of a week of toil, there comes an interval of rest; the laborer
lays down his burden, and for a few hours breathes a serener air.
The Sabbath morning has come:

          "Sweet day! so cool, so calm, so bright,
           The bridal of the earth and sky."

     At the appointed hour the bell rings across the valley, and
sends its echoes among the hills; and from all the roads the people
come trooping to the village church. Here they gather, old and
young, rich and poor; and as they join in the same act of worship,
feel that God is the maker of them all? Is there in our national
life any influence more elevating than this one which tends more to
bring a community together; to promote neighborly feeling; to
refine the manners of the people; to breed true courtesy, and all
that makes a Christian village different from a cluster of Indian
wigwams -- a civilized community different from a tribe of savages?

     All this you would destroy: you would abolish the Sabbath, or
have it turned into a holiday; you would tear down the old church,
so full of tender associations of the living and the dead. or at
least have it "ruzeed," cutting off the tall spire that points,
upward to heaven; and the interior you would turn into an Assembly
room -- a place of entertainment, where the young people could have
their merry-makings, except perchance in the warm Summer-time, when
they could dance on the village green! So far you would have gained
your object. But would that be a more orderly community, more
refined or more truly happy?

     You may think this a mere sentiment -- that we care more for
the picturesque than for the true. But there is one result which is
fearfully real: the destructive creed, or no creed, which despoils
our churches and our homes, attacks society in its first principles
by taking away the support of morality. I do not believe that
general morality can be upheld without the sanctions of religion.
There may be individuals of great natural force of character, who
can stand alone -- men of superior intellect and strong will. But
in general human nature is weak, and virtue is not the spontaneous
growth of childish innocence. Men do not become pure and good by
instinct. Character, like mind, has to be developed by education;
and it needs all the elements of strength which can be given it,
from without as well as from within, from the government of man and
the government of God, To let go of these restraints is a peril to
public morality.

     You feel strong in the strength of a robust manhood, well
poised in body and mind, and in the center of a happy home, where
loving hearts cling to you like vines round the oak. But many to
whom you speak are quite otherwise, You address thousands of young
men who have come out of country homes, where they have been
brought up in the fear of God, and have heard the morning and
evening prayer. They come into a city full of temptations, but are
restrained from evil by the thought of father and mother, and
reverence for Him who is the Father of us all -- feeling which,
though it may not have taken the form of any profession, is yet at
the bottom of their hearts, and keeps them from many a wrong and
wayward step. A young man, who is thus "guarded and defended" as by

                         Bank of Wisdom
                  Box 926, Louisville, KY 40201
                               11

                 THE FIELD-INGERSOLL DISCUSSION.
                      by Dr. Henry M. Field

unseen angels, some evening when he feels very lonely, is invited
to "go and hear Ingersoll," and for a couple of hours listens to
your caricatures of religion, with descriptions of the prayers and
the psalm-singing, illustrated by devout grimaces and nasal tones,
which set the house in roars of laughter, and are received with
tumultuous applause. When it is all over, and the young man finds
himself again under the flaring lamps of the city streets, he is
conscious of a change; the faith of his childhood has been rudely
torn from him, and with it "a glory has passed away from the
earth;" the Bible which his mother gave him, the morning that he
came away, is "a mass of fables;" the sentence which she wished him
to hang on the wall, "Thou, God, seest me," has lost its power, for
there is no God that sees him, no moral government, no law and no
retribution. So he reasons as he walks slowly homeward, meeting the
temptations which haunt these streets at night -- temptations from
which he has hitherto turned with a shudder, but which he now meets
with a diminished power of resistance. Have you done that young man
any good in taking from him what he held sacred before? Have you
not left him morally weakened? From sneering at religion, it is but
a step to sneering at morality, and then but one step more to a
vicious and profligate career, How are you going to stop this
downward tendency? When you have stripped him of former restraints,
do you leave him anything in their stead, except indeed a sense of
honor, self-respect, and self-interest? -- worthy motives, no
doubt, but all too feeble to withstand the fearful temptations that
assail him. Is the chance of his resistance as good as if was
before? Watch him as he goes along that street at midnight! He
passes by the places of evil resort, of drinking and gambling --
those open mouths of hell; he hears the sound of music and dancing,
and for the first time pauses to listen. How long will it be before
he will venture in?

     With such dangers in his path, it is a grave responsibility to
loosen the restraints which hold such a young man to virtue. These
gibes and sneers which you utter so lightly, may have a sad echo in
a lost character and a wretched life. Many a young man has been
thus taunted until he has pushed off from the shore, under the idea
of gaining his "liberty," and ventured into the rapids, only to be
carried down the stream, and left a wreck in the whirlpool below.

     You tell me that your object is to drive fear out of the
world. That is a noble ambition; if you succeed, you will be indeed
a deliverer. Of course you mean only irrational fears. You would
not have men throw off the fear of violating the laws of nature;
for that would lead to incalculable misery. You aim only at the
terrors born of ignorance and superstition. But how are you going
to get rid of these? You trust to the progress of science, which
has dispelled so many fears arising from physical phenomena, by
showing that calamities ascribed to spiritual agencies are
explained by natural causes. But science can only go a certain way,
beyond which we come into the sphere of the unknown, where all is
dark as before. How can you relieve the fears of others -- indeed
how can you rid yourself of fear, believing as you do that there is
no Power above which can help you in any extremity; that you are
the sport of accident, and may be dashed in pieces by the blind
agency of nature? If I believed this, I should feel that I was in
the grasp of some terrible machinery which was crushing me to
atoms, with no possibility of escape.

                  Box 926, Louisville, KY 40201
                               12

                 THE FIELD-INGERSOLL DISCUSSION.
                      by Dr. Henry M. Field

     Not so does Religion leave man here on the earth, helpless and
hopeless -- in abject terror, as he is in utter darkness as to his
fate -- but opening the heaven above him, it discovers a Great
Intelligence, compassing all things, seeing the end from the
beginning, and ordering our little lives so that even the trials
that we bear, as they call out the finer elements of character,
conduce to our future happiness. God is our Father. We look up into
His face with childlike confidence, and find that "His service is
perfect freedom." "Love casts out fear." That, I beg to assure you,
is the way, and the only way, by which man can be delivered from
those fears by which he is all his lifetime subject to bondage.

     In your attacks upon Religion you do violence to your own
manliness. Knowing you as I do, I feel sure that you do not realize
where your blows fall, or whom they wound, or you would not use
your weapons so freely. The faiths of men are as sacred as the most
delicate manly or womanly sentiments of love and honor. They are
dear as the beloved faces that have passed from our sight. I should
think myself wanting in respect to the memory of my father and
mother if I could speak lightly of the faith in which they lived
and died. Surely this must be mere thoughtlessness, for I cannot
believe that you find pleasure in giving pain. I have not forgotten
the gentle hand that was laid upon your shoulder, and the gentle
voice which said, "Uncle Robert wouldn't hurt a fly." And yet you
bruise the tenderest sensibilities, and trample down what is most
cherished by millions of sisters and daughters and mothers, little
heeding that you are sporting with "human creatures' lives."

     You are waging a hopeless war -- a war in which you are
certain only of defeat. The Christian Religion began to be nearly
two thousand years before you and I were born, and it will live two
thousand years after we are dead. Why is it that it lives on and
on, while nations and kingdoms perish? Is not this "the survival of
the fittest?" Contend against it with all your wit and eloquence,
you will fail, as all have failed before you. You cannot fight
against the instincts of humanity. It is as natural for men to look
up to a Higher Power as it is to look up to the stars. Tell them
that there is no God! You might as well tell them that there is no
Sun in heaven, even while on that central light and heat all life
on earth depends.

     I do not presume to think that I have convinced you, or
changed your opinion; but it is always right to appeal to a man's
"sober second thought" -- to that better judgment that comes with
increasing knowledge and advancing years; and I will not give up
hope that you will yet see things more, clearly, and recognize the
mistake you have made in not distinguishing Religion from
Superstition -- two things as far apart as "the hither from the
utmost pole." Superstition is the greatest enemy of Religion. It is
the nightmare of the mind, filling it with all imaginable terrors
-- a black cloud which broods over half the world. Against this you
may well invoke the light of science to scatter its darkness.
Whoever helps to sweep it away, is a benefactor of his race. But
when this is done, and the moral atmosphere is made pure and sweet,
then you as well as we may be conscious of a new Presence coming
into the hushed and vacant air, as Religion, daughter of the skies,
descends to earth to bring peace and good will to men.

                                          HENRY M. FIELD.
                  Box 926, Louisville, KY 40201
                               13

Bank of Wisdom

The Bank of Wisdom is run by Emmett Fields out of his home in Kentucky. He painstakingly scanned in these works and put them on disks for others to have available. Mr. Fields makes these disks available for only the cost of the media.

Files made available from the Bank of Wisdom may be freely reproduced and given away, but may not be sold.

Reproducible Electronic Publishing can defeat censorship.

Bank of WisdomThe Bank of Wisdom is a collection of the most thoughtful, scholarly and factual books. These computer books are reprints of suppressed books and will cover American and world history; the Biographies and writings of famous persons, and especially of our nations Founding Fathers. They will include philosophy and religion. all these subjects, and more, will be made available to the public in electronic form, easily copied and distributed, so that America can again become what its Founders intended --

The Free Market-Place of Ideas.

The Bank of Wisdom is always looking for more of these old, hidden, suppressed and forgotten books that contain needed facts and information for today. If you have such books please contact us, we need to give them back to America.

Bank of Wisdom
Box 926
Louisville, KY 40201

/library/historical/disclaimer.html
The Historical Library is provided for those doing research into the history of nontheism. It is not intended to be--and should not be used as--a source of modern, up-to-date information regarding atheistic issues. DO NOT CONTACT US ABOUT THESE DOCUMENTS. Please read the full Historical Library Disclaimer
Top