A Biographical Appreciation of
Robert Green Ingersoll
DID HE ATTACK ‘THE THEOLOGY OF FIFTY YEARS AGO’?
OR DID HE ATTACK THE CHRISTIANITY OF THE TIME?
A Criticism very frequently heard from those who seem to have in view the double object of belittling Ingersoll’s work and strengthening their own position is, that he showed no familiarity with the achievements of modern biblical scholarship, — the so-called “higher criticism,” — and that, consequently, it was not the real Christianity of his day which he opposed, but rather, the Christianity, or theology, ‘of fifty years ago.’ And this assertion is made in spite of the fact that much of his time was devoted to rescuing the character and teachings of “the man Christ” from the aspersions of theology. It is interesting to note, however, that the criticism mentioned was rarely urged while Ingersoll lived. And it is very hard to resist the temptation of inquiring why, said criticism be Just, such distinguished Christian controversialists as Judge Black, Dr. Field, Cardinal Manning, and Mr. Gladstone felt called upon to enter the arena against him. Or were they, blind to the results of the higher criticism, and therefore unable to recognize that the Great Agnostic did not come legitimately within their range? And if the arguments which they sought to meet were not directed against the Christian religion proper, is it not logical to expect the Christian critics to disclaim, as foreign to their system, all that Ingersoll opposed, and to cling only to so much thereof as he did not oppose? Is the Christen world ready to take this step?
Assuming, however, that there is reason for questioning Ingersoll’s attitude toward the genuine Christian doctrines, let us carefully consider some of his arguments in the premises. To insure perfect dearness, we will begin with what is believed to be not only a basic, but an absolutely indispensable quotation from the Great Agnostic himself: —
“Among the evangelical churches there is a substantial agreement upon what they consider the fundamental truths of the gospel. These fundamental truths, as I understand them are:
“That there is a personal God, the creator of the material universe; that he made man of dust, and woman from part of the man; that the man and woman were tempted by the devil; that they were turned out of the Garden of Eden; about fifteen hundred years afterward, God’s patience having been exhausted by the wickedness of mankind, he drowned his children with the exception of eight persons; that afterward he selected from their descendants Abraham, and through him the Jewish people; that he gave laws to these people, and tried to govern them in all things; that he made known his will in many ways; that he wrought a vast number of miracles; that he inspired men to write the Bible; that in the fullness of time, it having been impossible to reform mankind, this God came upon earth as a child of the Virgin Mary; that he lived in Palestine; that he preached for about three years, going from place to place, occasionally raising the dead, curing the blind and the halt; that he was crucified — for the crime of blasphemy, as the Jews supposed, but that, as a matter of fact, he was offered as a sacrifice for the sins of all who might have faith in him; that he was raised from the dead and ascended into heaven, where he now is, making intercession for his followers; that he will forgive the sins of all who believe on him, and that those who do not believe will be consigned to the dungeons of eternal pain. These — it may be with the addition of the sacraments of Baptism and the Last Supper — constitute what is generally known as the Christian religion.”
To demonstrate by quotations from Ingersoll, or otherwise, that he produced exhaustive arguments in refutation of each of the so-called “fundamental truths” of Christianity would be not merely specifically impossible, but unnecessary. It would be unnecessary for the reason that, if he refuted the first of these “truths,” he refuted, at least by logical implication, not only all the rest, but all those of every other religion, natural or supernatural. I shall therefore present his views of such only of the “truths” in question as are universally conceded to be indispensable to the Christian religion.
Now, although I have previously indicated that he produced the arguments of a scientist and philosopher to prove that both substance and energy are from and to eternity, and that, therefore, no First Cause, or Creator, — no God of the Bible, — ever existed, it will be well, I think, to quote, just here, his own words on this basic point. He says: —
“If we have a theory, we must have facts for the foundation. We must have corner-stones. We must not build on guesses, fancies, analogies or inferences. The structure must have a basement. If we build, we must begin at the bottom.
“I have a theory and I have four corner-stones.
“The first stone is that matter — substance — cannot be destroyed, cannot be annihilated.
“The second stone is that force cannot be destroyed, cannot be annihilated.
“The third stone is that matter and force cannot exist apart — no matter without force — no force without matter.
“The fourth stone is that which cannot be destroyed could not have been created; that the indestructible is the uncreatable.
“If these corner-stones are facts, it follows as a necessity that matter and force are from and to eternity; that they can neither be increased nor dimmished.
“It follows that nothing has been or can be created; that there never has been or can be a creator.”
And in the following collated paragraphs, Ingersoll objects to the Christian conception of God as a personality: —
“This God must be, if he exists, a person — a conscious being.”
“As a matter of fact, it is impossible for a man to conceive of a personal God, other than as a being having the human form. No one can think of an infinite being having the form of a horse, or of a bird, or of any animal beneath man. It is one of the necessities of the mind to associate forms with intellectual capacities. The highest form of which we have any conception is man’s, and consequently, his is the only form that we can find in imagination to give to a personal God, because all other forms are, in our minds, connected with lower intelligences.
“It is impossible to think of a personal God as a spirit without form. We can use these words, but they do not convey to the mind any real and tangible meaning. Every one who thinks of a personal God at all, thinks of him as having the human form. Take from God the idea of form; speak of him simply as an all-pervading spirit — which means an all-pervading something about which we know nothing — and Pantheism is the result.”
“Is it possible for the human mind to conceive of an infinite personality? Can it imagine a beginningless being, infinitely powerful and intelligent? If such a being existed, then there must have been an eternity during which nothing did exist except this being; because, if the Universe was created, there must have been a time when it was not, and back of that there must have been an eternity during which nothing but infinite personality existed. Is it possible to imagine an infinite intelligence dwelling for an eternity in infinite nothing? How could such a being be intelligent? What was there to be intelligent about? There was but one thing to know, namely, that there was nothing except this being. How could such a being be powerful? There was nothing to exercise force upon. There was nothing in the universe to suggest an idea. Relations could not exist — except the relation between infinite intelligence and infinite nothing.”
As before stated, it of course follows, by logical implication, that, in endeavoring to prove that belief in the God of the Bible is untenable, Ingersoll endeavored to prove that the Christian belief in the “special creation” of man is untenable; but as I am anxious to show that he left nothing to inference; that he took no chances with the illogic and the inconsistency of mankind; that, indeed, there was no solitary point upon the enemy’s battleground at which he failed to plant a mine or drop a shell, I shall give, in his own words, his views concerning the origin of man — views which, expressed with characteristic earnestness in his earliest lectures, were set forth with even deeper conviction in his very last.
In describing his mental evolution; in presenting us with a panorama of his upward journey, from the orthodox quagmire of his youthful environment, to the “skyish head” of Olympian reason, from which he viewed the superstitions of mankind, he said: —
“Then I studied biology — not much — just enough to know something of animal forms, enough to know that life existed when the Lutheran rocks were made — just enough to know that implements of stone, implements that had been formed by human hands, had been found mingled with the bones of extinct animals, bones that had been split with these implements, and that these animals had ceased to exist hundreds of thousands of years before the manufacture of Adam and Eve.”
After thus showing that neither the purely biblical, nor any theological, account of man’s “special creation” can by any possibility whatsoever be accepted as chronologically true, he presents the scientific explanation of our origin; and he marshals his facts as a general marshals his battalions: —
“If matter and force are from eternity, then we can say that man had no intelligent creator, that man was not a special creation.
“We now know, if we know anything, that Jehovah, the divine potter, did not mix and mould clay into the forms of men and women, and then breath the breath of life into these forms.
“We now know that our first parents were not foreigners. We know that they were natives of this world, produced here, and that their life did not come from the breath of any God. We now know, if we know anything, that the universe is natural, and that men and women have been naturally produced. We now know our ancestors, our pedigree. We have a family tree.
“We have all the links of the chain, twenty-six links inclusive from moner to man.
“We did not get our information from inspired books. We have fossil facts and living forms.
“From the simplest creatures, from blind sensation, from [an]organism, from [with] one vague want, to a single cell with a nucleus, to a hollow ball filled with fluid, to a cup with double walls, to a flat worm, to a something that begins to breath, to an organism that has a spinal chord, to a link between the invertebrate to [and] the vertebrate, to one that has a cranium — a house for a brain — to one with fins, still onward to one with fore and hinder fins, to the reptile [to the] mammalia, to the marsupials, to the lemurs, dwellers in trees, to the simple, to the pithecanthropi, and lastly, to man.”
The next of the alleged “fundamental truths which is sufficiently important to require attention here is, that Jehovah wrought a vast number of miracles. Following Ingersoll’s arguments for the eternal and inexorable persistence of substance and energy, an elaborate demonstration of the fact that he sought to prove that all miracles are impossible would be a work of supererogation. I shall therefore introduce only a few of his own specific view of the subject: —
“Jehovah, according to the Scriptures, wrought hundreds of miracles for the benefit of the Jews.” … “Mr. Locke was in the habit of saying: ‘Define your terms.’ So the first question is, What is a miracle?
“If a man could make a perfect circle, the diameter of which was exactly one-half the circumference, that would be a miracle in geometry. If a man could make twice four, nine, that would be a miracle in mathematics. If a man could make a stone, falling in the air, pass through a space of ten feet the first second, twenty-five feet the second second, and five feet the third second, that would be a miracle in physics. If a man could put together hydrogen, oxygen and nitrogen and produce pure gold, that would be a miracle in chemistry. * * * To make a square triangle would be a most wonderful miracle. To cause a mirror to reflect the faces of persons who stand behind it, instead of those who stand in front, would be a miracle. To make echo answer a question would be a miracle. In other words, to do anything contrary to or without regard to the facts in nature is to perform a miracle.”
Having thus given what he believes to be “the only honest definition of a miracle,” and having cited several phenomena the production of which would constitute miracles, he proceeds, with the weapons of science and logic, to demonstrate their impossibility. He says: —
“Now we are convinced of what is called the ‘uniformity of nature.’ We believe that all things act and are acted upon in accordance with their nature; that under like conditions the results will always be substantially the same; that like ever has and ever will produce like. We now believe that events have natural parents and that none die childless.” … “Science asserts the absolute, the unvarying uniformity of nature.”
“If, again, we take the ground of some of the more advanced clergy, that a miracle is in accordance with the facts in nature, but with facts unknown to man, then we are compelled to say that a miracle is performed by a divine slight-of-hand; as, for instance, that our senses are deceived; or, that it is perfectly simple to this higher intelligence, while inexplicable to us. If we give this explanation, then man has been imposed upon by a superior intelligence. It is as though one acquainted with the sciences — with the action of electricity — should excite the wonder of savages by sending messages to his partner. The savages would say, ‘A miracle;’ but the one who sent the message would say, ‘There is no miracle; it is in accordance with facts in nature unknown to you.’ So that, after all, the word miracle grows in the soil of ignorance.”
“Miracles are not simply impossible, but they are unthinkable by any man capable of thinking.
“Now an intelligent man cannot believe that a miracle ever was, or ever will be, performed.”
My next task is to show how, if at all, Ingersoll dealt with the assertion, that “God came upon earth as a child born of the Virgin Mary.” Probably all Christians, except a small handful of Christian Scientists and Unitarians (the latter having been said, by Fawcett, to represent “one of the drollest of compromises between Christianity and Agnosticism”), will admit that a belief in Jesus Christ, as the divine Son of God, is essential to Christianity. Indeed, it is inconceivable that any one outside the Christian Science and Unitarian churches should deny that the miracles of the birth, life, crucifixion, resurrection, and ascension of Christ are the very foundations of the Christian edifice, and that to put underneath them the dynamite of denial is to leave Christendom to struggle and perish in a heap of theological ruin.
Now, it is not even remotely suspected that the average person who has read Ingersoll’s arguments in opposition to the theory of a First Cause, Creator, or God of the Bible, will consider it possible that the Great Agnostic believed in a Son of God, — a Jesus Christ, — in the true supernatural sense. But as there may be readers who are not familiar with Ingersoll’s views of Christ, and as it is of the utmost importance that nothing be left to inference, I shall here present, verbatim, some of those views. Of the birth of Christ, he says: —
“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 years.” … “In order to place themselves on an equality with Pagans they started the claim of divinity, and also took the second step requisite in that country: First, a god for his father, and second, a virgin for his mother. This was the Pagan combination of greatness, and the Christians added to this that Christ was God.” … “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. The angel Gabriel, who, they say, brought the news, never wrote a word upon the subject. His alleged father never wrote a word upon the subject, and Joseph never admitted the story. We are lacking in the matter of witnesses. … “At that time Matthew and Luke believed that Christ was the son of Joseph and Mary. And why? They say he descended from David, and in order to show that he was of the blood of David, they gave the genealogy of Joseph. And if Joseph was not his father, why did they not give the genealogy of Pontius Pilate or of Harod? Could they, by giving the genealogy of Joseph, show that he was of the blood of David if Joseph was in no way related to Christ? And yet that is the position into which the Christian world is driven.”
And elsewhere, after pointing out that Apollo, Baldur, Chrishna, Hercules, Samson, Osiris, Bacchus, Zoroaster, Lao-tsze, and many other gods of mythological and religious history were sun- gods; that they all “had gods for fathers,” and virgins for mothers; that “the births of nearly all were announced by stars,” and “celebrated by celestial music”; that all “were born at the winter solstice — on Christmas” — “in humble places — in caves, under trees, in common inns”; that “tyrants sought to kill them all when they were babes”; that “nearly all were worshiped by ‘wise men'”; that “all of them fasted for forty days — all of them taught in parables — all of them wrought miracles — all met with a violent death, and all rose from the dead,” he declares: —
“The history of these gods is the history of our Christ.
“This is nor a coincidence — an accident. Christ was a sun- god. Christ was a new name for an old biography — a survival — the last of the sun-gods. Christ was not a man but a myth — not a life but a legend.”
And he also declared: —
“There is not, in all the contemporaneous literature of the world, a single word about Christ or his apostles. The paragraph in Josephus is admitted to be an interpolation, and the letters, the account of the trial, and several other documents forged by the zeal of the early fathers, are now admitted to be false.”
And he asks, in a tone that brings an affirming answer: —
“Is it not wonderful that Josephus, the best historian the Hebrews produced, says nothing about the life or death of Christ …?”
[NOTE: During three succeeding periods, Ingersoll held as many different views of the Christ of the New Testament: First, that he was a man; second, that he was either a myth or a man; third, that he was a myth. The views held during the first two periods were, of course, modified by more comprehensive research and thought.]
Having shown that Ingersoll denied not only the possibility of miracles, but the very existence of Christ as an historical character, I shall doubtless be credited by some with a gratuitous task if I here present any of the Great Agnostic’s arguments concerning the wonders wrought by the Nazarene, or concerning his crucifixion, resurrection, or ascension. Nevertheless, as a majority would doubtless not be satisfied with the bare knowledge of Ingersoll’s final conclusion that Jesus was merely a myth, — a sun-god, — and as it is deemed important to make as clear as possible the former’s position on the entire subject, I propose to go somewhat further, presenting next his contention, that, even if Christ did exist in physical form, he was a man, and nothing more:
“I do not believe that Christ ever claimed to be divine; ever claimed to be inspired; ever claimed to work a miracle. In short, I believe that he was a man. These claims were all put in his mouth by others — by mistaken friends, by ignorant worshipers, by zealous and credulous followers, and sometime by dishonest and designing priests.”
And elsewhere he inquires: —
“How could any man now, in any court, by any known rule of evidence, substantiate one of the miracles of Christ?”
“How could we prove, for instance, the miracle of the loves and fishes? There were, plenty of other loves and other fishes in the world. Each one of the five thousand could have had a loaf and a fish with him. We would have to show that there was no other possible way for the people to get the bread and fish except by miracle, and then we are only half through. We must show that they did, in fact, get enough to feed five thousand people, and that more was left than was had in the beginning.
“Of course this is simply impossible.”
Referring to Christ’s alleged raising of the dead, Ingersoll makes an observation that by no means detracts from his reputation as a judge of human nature: —
“If you should tell a man that the dead were raised two thousand years ago, he would probably say: ‘Yes, I know.’ If you should say that a hundred thousand years from now all the dead will be raised, he might say: ‘Probably they will.’ But if you should tell him that you saw a dead man raised and given life that day, he would likely ask the name of the insane asylum from which you had escaped.”
“There is one wonderful thing about the dead people that were raised — we do not hear of them any more. What became of them? * * * They did not even excite interest when they died a second time. Nobody said, ‘Why, that man is not afraid. He has been there once. He has walked through the valley of the shadow.’ Not a word. They pass quietly away.”
“I do not believe these miracles,” continued the Great Agnostic, in language which very clearly shows his attitude with reference to the crucifixion: —
“There was a man who did all these things, and thereupon they crucified him. Let us be honest. Suppose a man came into this city and should meet a funeral procession, and say, ‘Who is dead?’ and they should reply, ‘The son of a widow; her only support.’ Suppose he should say to the procession, ‘Halt!’ and to the undertaker, ‘Take out the coffin, unscrew that lid. Young man, I say unto thee, arise!’ and the dead should step from the coffin and in a moment afterward hold his mother in his arms. Suppose this stranger should go to your cemetery and find some woman holding a little child in each hand, while the tears fell upon a new-made grave, and he should say to her, ‘Who lies buried here?’ And she should reply, ‘My husband,’ and he should cry, ‘I say unto thee, oh grave, give up thy dead!’ and the husband should rise, and in a moment after have his lips upon his wife’s, and the little children with their arms around his neck; do you think that the people of this city would kill him? Do you think any one would wish to crucify him? Do you not rather believe that every one 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?”
Of course, if there was no crucifixion, there was no resurrection; but justice to Ingersoll himself, and consideration for his critics, alike demand that we here note at least the gist of his thought on this phase of our subject: —
“The miracle of the resurrection I do not and cannot believe.” … “Why? Because it is altogether more reasonable to believe that the people were mistaken about it than that it happened. And why? Because, according to human experience, we know that people will not always tell the truth, and we never saw a miracle ourselves, and we must be governed by our experience; and if we go by our experience, we must say that the miracle never happened — that the witnesses were mistaken.” …
“How do they prove that Christ rose from the dead? They find the account in a book. Who wrote the book? They do not know. What evidence is there? None, unless all things found in books are true.”
“* * * 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?’ Simply because the resurrection is a myth.”
We find also, that the acme and tiara of events in the life of Christ, — the gravity-scorning incident known as the ascension, — met at the hands of Ingersoll no better fate. We find it subjected to the same analysis as other miracles. Concerning its improbability, he says: —
“After the story of the resurrection, the Ascension became a necessity. They had to dispose of the body.” … “I cannot believe in the miracle of the ascension of Jesus Christ. Where was he going? 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. Where was he going? Which way did he go? Of course that depends upon the time of day he left. If he left in the evening, he went exactly the opposite way from that he would have gone had he ascended in the morning. 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. Again I ask, where did he go? He must have had a natural body, for it was the same body that died. His body must have been material, otherwise he would not as he rose have circled the earth, and he would have passed from the sight of his disciples at the rate of more than a thousand miles per hour.”
Finally, as to the scriptural testimony concerning the ascension: —
“Matthew says nothing upon the subject. Either Matthew was not there, had never heard of the ascension, — or, having heard of it, did not believe it, or having seen it, thought it too unimportant to record. To this wonder of wonders Mark devotes one verse: ‘So then, after the Lord had spoken unto them, he was received up into heaven, and sat on the right-hand of God.’ Can we believe that this verse was written by one who witnessed the ascension of Jesus Christ; by one who watched his Master slowly rising through the air till distance riffed him from his tearful sight? Luke, another of the witnesses, says: ‘And it came to pass, while he blessed them, he was parted from them, and carried up into heaven.’ John corroborates Matthew by saying nothing on the subject. Now, we find that the last chapter of Mark, after the eighth verse, is an interpolation; so that Mark really says nothing about the occurrence. Either the ascension of Christ must be given up, or it must be admitted that the witnesses do not agree, and that three of them never heard of that most stupendous event.”
It seems necessary to indicate Ingersoll’s position in relation to but one more of the alleged “fundamental truths,” namely, that Christ “was offered as a sacrifice for the sins of all who might have faith in him.”
In discussing the atonement, Ingersoll begins, as in everything else, at the bottom. He declares that the doctrine is “far older than our religion,” and that, while it is not even hinted at by Matthew, Mark, or Luke,” * * * the necessity of belief, the atonement, and the scheme of salvation are all set forth in the Gospel of John — a gospel, in my opinion, not written until long after the others.” As to the real origin of the doctrine, he (Ingersoll) points out, that, under the Mosaic dispensation, there was no remission of sin, except through the shedding of blood; that when a man sinned, he would bring to the priest some animal; that the priest would lay his hands upon the animal, to which the sins of the man would thereby be transferred; that the animal would be killed in the place of the real sinner; and that when the animal’s blood had been sprinkled upon the altar, Jehovah was satisfied. Ingersoll says: —
“Every priest became a butcher, and every sanctuary a slaughterhouse. Nothing could be more utterly shocking to a refined and loving soul. Nothing could have been better calculated to harden the heart than this continual shedding of innocent blood. This terrible system is supposed to have culminated in the sacrifice of Christ. His blood took the place of all other. It is necessary to shed no more. The law at last is satisfied, satiated, surfeited. The idea that God wants blood is at the bottom of the atonement, and rests upon the most fearful savagery.”
And Ingersoll declares: —
“We are told that the first man committed a crime for which all his posterity are responsible, — in other words, that we are accountable, and can be justly punished for a sin we never in fact committed. This absurdity was the father of another, namely, that a man can be rewarded for a good action done by another. God, according to the modern theologians, made a law, with the penalty of eternal death for its infraction. All men, they say, have broken that law. In the economy of heaven, this law had to be vindicated. This could be done by damming the whole human race. Though what is known as the atonement, the salvation of a few was made possible. They insist that the law — whatever that is — demanded the extreme penalty, that justice called for its victims, and that even mercy ceased to plead. Under these circumstances, God, by allowing the innocent to suffer, satisfactorily settled with the law, and allowed a few of the guilty to escape. The law was satisfied with this arrangement. To carry out this scheme, God was born as a babe into this world * * * [and] was sacrificed as an atonement for man. It is claimed that he actually took our place, and bore our sins and our guilt; that in this way the justice of God was satisfied, and that the blood of Christ was an atonement, an expiation, for the sins of all who might believe on him.”
After this expression of Ingersoll’s views concerning the origin and development of the atonement, it is important that we should know his opinion as to the wisdom and justice of that institution, when examined in the light of our knowledge of cause and effect in human conduct and relations: —
“We are told that the sinner is in debt to God, and that the obligation is discharged by the Savior.” ” * * * how * * * is it possible to make the suffering of the innocent a justification for the criminal?” … “If I rob Mr. Smith, and God forgives me, how does that help Smith? If I, by slander cover some poor girl with the leprosy of some imputed crime, and she withers away like a blighted flower and afterward I get the forgiveness of God, how does that help her?” … “The best that can be said of such a transaction is that the debt is transferred, not paid. As a matter of fact, the sinner is in debt to the person he has injured.” … “Even when forgiven by the one you have injured, it is not as though the injury had not been done.” … “We must remember that in nature there are neither rewards nor punishments — there are consequences. The life and death of Christ do not constitute an atonement.” … “We are not accountable for the sins of ‘Adam’ and the virtues of Christ cannot be transferred to us. There can be no vicarious virtue, no vicarious vice.”
And elsewhere Ingersoll declares, that the doctrine of the atonement “is the enemy of morality,” because “it teaches that the innocent can justly suffer for the guilty, that consequences can be avoided by repentance, and that in the world of mind the great fact known as cause and effect does not apply.”
With the preceding sentence, I conclude the last of the arguments which I have chosen to represent Ingersoll’s position in relation to such, — and such only, — of the alleged “fundamental truths” as are universally conceded to be indispensable to the Christian religion. Considering the vast and bountiful field in which selections could be made, I have, of course, given only a comparative few of the arguments advanced by the Great Agnostic on the several “truths” that it is deemed necessary to mention; but, in my opinion, even these few indubitably prove, that Ingersoll attacked not only the Christianity, or theology, of fifty years ago, but the Christianity of his ripest years — yea, not only the Christianity of August 11, 1833, but the Christianity of July 21, 1899, or the latter has ceased to be a supernatural religion, and has become merely a code of morals.
If there be those who still believe in the existence of a legitimate Christianity, or, indeed, a legitimate supernatural religion of any form, which Ingersoll did not fairly and uncompromisingly assail, let them read, at first hand, the only words potent to set their minds aright. Let them go to the twelve volumes containing the wheat and efflorescence of that mighty brain for thirty-nine years, and they will marvel, not at the opinion just expressed, but at themselves. They will find that Ingersoll, the supreme general in controversial warfare, touched with “withering fire,” every inch of the enemy’s field; every inch of the vast Christian edifice, from the shattered and crumbling foundation-stones, to the tarnished and toppling dome; every point, “essential” or otherwise; every so-called “fundamental truth”; every particle of “evidence”; absolutely everything connected with the Christian system, — from its inconceivable First Cause, or creator of substance and energy, to its unpsychological and impossible “scheme” of atonement and paradise through faith, — from its barbaric and idiotic cosmogony, to its unthinkable heaven. They will find, in addition to the specific arguments which I have quoted, multitudinous ones to show that the God or Gods of our Bible, like all other gods, instead of being creators, were themselves created by barbarians, in a barbaric age — wombed in mental night, long before the first pale star trembled in the east of thought; that, in the biblical account of creation, contradictory to science and repugnant to common sense, there is nothing new; that it is unique to the extent that (according to Jews and Christians; it was copied into other similar accounts written many centuries before (!); that man, having already risen from the moner, was struggling for existence, upon this spinning speck we call the earth, hundreds of thousands of years before the names “Adam” and “Eve “fell from human lips; and that the universal Deluge, with the same claim to uniqueness, is simply a childish myth which Mother Nature was wont to tell in the nursery of the race. They will find, in full, the Great Agnostic’s contention, that biblical inspiration is merely pious pretension, — a poor, scarce viable foundling left by priestcraft on the doorsteps of intelligence, during the long night of the past; that the real question, after all, is not whether the Bible is inspired, but whether it is true; that if true, it needs no inspiration, but that if merely inspired, all human brains should have been inspired to read it, — should have been made precisely alike, chemically, atomically, physiologically, psychologically, in order to attach to it the same interpretation; that, far from being “the Book of Books,” it is a strange mingling of good and bad, of the monstrous, cruel and absurd; that it is an infallible guide in none of the human relations whatsoever; that, as art, as literature, as philosophy, it is infinitely below Shakespeare’s “book and volume of the brain”; and that, confined in its blood-stained, fire-lapped slave-tracked lids, it lies to-day upon the path of progress the greatest stumbling-block of the human race.
Let them read the twelve books of Ingersoll — those twelve apostles inspired by the glorious trinity of reason, justice, and humanity, and they will discover the best possible grounds for not merely a passive rejection of Christianity, but for an aggressive opposition to it, whether in the form in which it existed in Torquemada’s sunless day or in the form into which it is rapidly being molded by the pseudo-religious, pseudo-scientific, vacillating, abashed, and vertebrateless apologists.
They will find, in unmistakable words, the Great Agnostic’s contention that, in the mental temple of the really intelligent and unprejudiced, the figure of Christ can no longer occupy the topmost niche; that, in his teachings, there is absolutely nothing new, — nothing that had not been taught hundreds of years before; that in none of the attributes which we revere was he superior to Buddha, Chrishna, Zoroaster, Confucius, Lao-tsze, Socrates, or even Cicero; That, if we weigh in the scales of reason, observation, and experience all of the supposed sayings of Christ, we are compelled to state, that, while many of them contain the profoundest, tenderest, noblest, and loftiest thoughts, many others are absurd, impracticable, inhuman, and heartless; that Christ uttered no word in favor of the home, — no word in favor of science or education, — no word in favor of physical or intellectual liberty; and that he was ignorant of the very existence of the Western Hemisphere, although it was destined to become the hope and glory of the human race.
Let them read the twelve volumes, — listen to the silent voices of the twelve apostles, — and they will have presented to them, with all the virility of conviction born of logical, philosophical and historical insight, the argument that, in the Christian religion, there is absolutely nothing original, — nothing good which is absent from the other great religions, — nothing good which is not in every adequate code of morals; that Christianity simply “furnished new steam for an old engine”; that all its divine personages are “foreigners”; that its purgatory, hell, and heaven, its rites, customs, and holy days, its forms, symbols, and ceremonies, are only the revamped garments, the borrowed trappings and paraphernalia, of paganism; that, for example, baptism was practiced long before Christ was born; that the Hindoos, the Egyptians, the Greeks, and the Romans had holy-water; that the eucharist is pagan; and that the very cross at the waist of the priest is a pendent plagiarism.
They will also find in the twelve books of Ingersoll the contention, that Christian ethics is unpsychological and untenable — that its hopeless impracticability is evident in the conduct of every Christian nation, which, although professing the borrowed Golden Rule and the doctrine of non-resistance (itself impracticable and absurd), is continually resisting with mailed and bloody hands; that Christianity has always persecuted to the exact extent of its power; that it is opposed to real education, — to the universal dissemination of science unmixed with superstition, — to perfect freedom of thought and expression; and that, as a benefactor of mankind, it has, after a trial of nineteen hundred years, ignominiously failed.