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Robert Ingersoll Debate V Field 2

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V Field 2

Robert Green Ingersoll

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Part 2 -- FIELD - INGERSOLL debate.



"Doubt is called the beacon of the wise."

My Dear Mr. Field:

I answer your letter because it is manly, candid and generous.
It is not often that a minister of the gospel of universal
benevolence speaks of an unbeliever except in terms of reproach,
contempt and hatred. The meek are often malicious. The statement in
your letter, that some of your brethren look upon me as a monster
on account of my unbelief, tends to show that those who love God
are not always the friends of their fellow-men.

Is it not strange that people who admit that they ought to be
eternally damned, that they are by nature totally depraved, and
that there is no soundness or health in them, can be so arrogantly
egotistic as to look upon others as "monsters"? And yet "some of
your brethren," who regard unbelievers as infamous, rely for
salvation entirely on the goodness of another, and expect to
receive as alms an eternity of joy.

The first question that arises between us, is as to the
innocence of honest error -- as to the right to express an honest

You must know that perfectly honest men differ on many
important subjects. Some believe in free trade, others are the
advocates of protection. There are honest Democrats and sincere
Republicans. How do you account for these differences? Educated
men, presidents of colleges, cannot agree upon questions capable of
solution -- questions that the mind can grasp, concerning which the
evidence is open to all and where the facts can be with accuracy
ascertained. How do you explain this? If such differences can exist
consistently with the good faith of those who differ, can you not
conceive of honest people entertaining different views on subjects
about which nothing can be positively known?

You do not regard me as a monster. "Some of your brethren" do.
How do you account for this difference? Of course, your brethren --
their hearts having been softened by the Presbyterian God -- are
governed by charity and love. They do not regard me as a monster
because I have committed an infamous crime, but simply for the
reason that I have expressed my honest thoughts.

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What should I have done? I have read the Bible with great
care, and the conclusion has forced itself upon my mind not only
that it is not inspired, but that it is not true. Was it my duty to
speak or act contrary to this conclusion? Was it my duty to remain
silent? If I had been untrue to myself, if I had joined the
majority, -- if I had declared the book to be the inspired word of
God, -- would your brethren still have regarded me as a monster?
Has religion had control of the world so long that an honest man
seems monstrous?

According to your creed -- according to your Bible -- the same
Being who made the mind of man, who fashioned every brain, and
sowed within those wondrous fields the seeds of every thought and
deed, inspired the Bible's every word, and gave it as a guide to
all the world. Surely the book should satisfy the brain. And yet,
there are millions who do not believe in the inspiration of the
Scriptures. Some of the greatest and best have held the claim of
inspiration in contempt. No Presbyterian ever stood higher in the
realm of thought than Humboldt. He was familiar with Nature from
sands to stars, and gave his thoughts, his discoveries and
conclusions, "more precious than the tested gold," to all mankind.
Yet he not only rejected the religion of your brethren, but denied
the existence of their God. Certainly, Charles Darwin was one of
the greatest and purest of men, -- as free horn prejudice as the
mariner's compass, -- desiring only to find amid the mists and
clouds of ignorance the star of truth. No man ever exerted a
greater influence on the intellectual world. His discoveries,
carried to their legitimate conclusion, destroy the creeds and
sacred Scriptures of mankind. In the light of "Natural Selection,"
"The Survival of the Fittest," and "The Origin of Species," even
the Christian religion becomes a gross and cruel superstition. Yet
Darwin was an honest, thoughtful, brave and generous man.

Compare, I beg of you, these men, Humboldt and Darwin, with
the founders of the Presbyterian Church. Read the life of Spinoza,
the loving pantheist, and then that of John Calvin, and tell me,
candidly, which, in your opinion, was a "monster." Even your
brethren do not claim that men are to be eternally punished for
having been mistaken as to the truths of geology, astronomy, or
mathematics. A man may deny the rotundity and rotation of the
earth, laugh at the attraction of gravitation, scout the nebular
hypothesis, and hold the multiplication table in abhorrence, and
yet join at last the angelic choir. I insist upon the same freedom
of thought in all departments of human knowledge. Reason is the
supreme and final test.

If God has made a revelation to man, it must have been
addressed to his reason. There is no other faculty that could even
decipher the address. I admit that reason is a small and feeble
flame, a flickering torch by stumblers carried in the starless
night, -- blown and flared by passion's storm, -- and yet it is the
only light. Extinguish that, and nought remains.

You draw a distinction between what you are pleased to call
"superstition" and religion. You are shocked at the Hindoo mother
when she gives her child to death at the supposed command of her
God. What do you think of Abraham, of Jephthah? What is your

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opinion of jehovah himself? Is not the sacrifice of a child to a
phantom as horrible in Palestine as in India? Why should a God
demand a sacrifice from man? Why should the infinite ask anything
from the finite? Should the sun beg of the glow-worm, and should
the momentary spark excite the envy or the source of light?

You must remember that the Hindoo mother believes that her
child will be forever blest -- that it will become the especial
care of the God to whom it has been given. This is a sacrifice
through a false belief on the part of the mother. She breaks her
heart for the love of her babe. But what do you think of the
Christian mother who expects to be happy in heaven, with her child
a convict in the eternal prison -- a prison in which none die, and
from which none escape? What do you say of those Christians who
believe that they, in heaven, will be so filled with ecstasy that
all the loved of earth will be forgotten -- that all the sacred
relations of life, and all the passions of the heart, will fade and
die, so that they will look with stony, unreplying, happy eyes upon
the miseries of the lost?

You have laid down a rule by which superstition can be
distinguished from religion. It is this: "It makes that a crime
which is not a crime, and that a virtue which is not a virtue." Let
us test your religion by this rule.

Is it a crime to investigate, to think, to reason, to observe?
Is it a crime to be governed by that which to you is evidence, and
is it infamous to express your honest thought? There is also
another question: Is credulity a virtue? Is the open mouth of
ignorant wonder the only entrance to Paradise?

According to your creed, those who believe are to be saved,
and those who do not believe are to be eternally lost. When you
condemn men to everlasting pain for unbelief -- that is to say,
for, acting in accordance with that which is evidence to them -- do
you not make that a crime which is not a crime? And when you reward
men with an eternity of joy for simply believing that which happens
to be in accord with their minds, do you not make that a virtue
which is not a virtue? In other words, do you not bring your own
religion exactly within your own definition of superstition?

The truth is, that no one can justly be held responsible for
his thoughts. The brain thinks without asking our consent. We
believe, or we disbelieve, without an effort of the will. Belief is
a result. It is the effect of evidence upon the mind. The scales
turn in spite of him who watches. There is no opportunity of being
honest or dishonest in the formation of an opinion. The conclusion
is entirely independent of desire. We must believe, or we must
doubt, in spite of what we wish.

That which must be, has the right to be.

We think in spite of ourselves. The brain thinks as the heart
beats, as the eyes see, as the blood pursues its course in the old
accustomed ways.

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The question then is, not have we the right to think, -- that
being a necessity, -- but have we the right to express our honest
thoughts? You certainly have the right to express yours, and you
have exercised that right. Some of your brethren, who regard me as
a monster, have expressed theirs. The question now is, have I the
right to express mine? In other words, have I the right to answer
your letter? To make that a crime in me which is a virtue in you,
certainly comes within your definition of superstition. To exercise
a right yourself which you deny to me is simply the act of a
tyrant. Where did you get your right to express your honest
thoughts? When, and where, and how did I lose mine?

You would not burn, you would not even imprison me, because I
differ with you on a subject about which neither of us knows
anything. To you the savagery of the Inquisition is only a proof of
the depravity of man. You are far better than your creed. You
believe that even the Christian world is outgrowing the frightful
feeling that fagot, and dungeon, and thumb-screw are legitimate
arguments, calculated to convince those upon whom they are used,
that the religion of those who use them was founded by a God of
infinite compassion. You will admit that he who now persecutes for
opinion's sake is infamous. And yet, the God you worship will,
according to your creed, torture through all the endless years the
man who entertains an honest doubt. A belief in such a God is the
foundation and cause of all religious persecution. You may reply
that only the belief in a false God causes believers to be inhuman.
But you must admit that the Jews believed in the true God, and you
are forced to say that they were so malicious, so cruel, so savage,
that they crucified the only Sinless Being who ever lived. This
crime was committed, not in spite of their religion, but in
accordance with it. They simply obeyed the command of Jehovah. And
the followers of this Sinless Being, who, for all these centuries,
have denounced the cruelty of the Jews for crucifying a man on
account of his opinion, have destroyed millions and millions of
their fellow-men for differing with them. And this same Sinless
Being threatens to torture in eternal fire countless myriads for
the same offence. Beyond this, inconsistency cannot go. At this
point absurdity becomes infinite.

Your creed transfers the Inquisition to another world, making
it eternal. Your God becomes, or rather is, an infinite Torquemada,
who denies to his countless victims even the mercy of death. And
this you call "a consolation."

You insist that at the foundation of every religion is the
idea of God, According to your creed, all ideas of God, except
those entertained by those of your faith, are absolutely false. You
are not called upon to defend the Gods of the nations dead, nor the
Gods of heretics. It is your business to defend the God of the
Bible -- the God of the Presbyterian Church. When in the ranks
doing battle for your creed, you must wear the uniform of your
church. You dare not say that it is sufficient to insure the
salvation of a soul to believe in a god, or in some god. According
to your creed, man must believe in your God. All the nations dead
believed in gods, and all the worshipers of Zeus, and Jupiter, and
Isis, and Osiris, and Brahma prayed and sacrificed in vain. Their

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petitions were not answered, and their souls were not saved. Surely
you do not claim that it is sufficient to believe in any one of the
heathen gods.

What right have you to occupy the position of the deists, and
to put forth arguments that even Christians have answered? The
deist denounced the God of the Bible because of his cruelty, and at
the same time lauded the God of Nature. The Christian replied that
the God of Nature was as cruel as the God of the Bible. This answer
was complete.

I feel that you are entitled to the admission that none have
been, that none are, too ignorant, too degraded, to believe in the
supernatural; and I freely give you the advantage of this
admission. Only a few -- and they among the wisest, noblest, and
purest of the human race -- have regarded all gods as monstrous
myths. Yet a belief in "the true God" does not seem to make men
charitable or just. For most people, theism is the easiest solution
of the universe. They are satisfied with saying that there must be
a Being who created and who governs the world. But the universality
of a belief does not tend to establish its truth. The belief in the
existence of a malignant Devil has been as universal as the belief
in a beneficent God, yet few intelligent men will say that the
universality of this belief in an infinite demon even tends to
prove his existence. In the world of thought, majorities count for
nothing. Truth has always dwelt with the few.

Man has filled the world with impossible monsters, and he has
been the sport and prey of these phantoms born of ignorance and
hope and fear. To appease the wrath of these monsters man has
sacrificed his fellow-man. He has shed the blood of wife and child;
he has fasted and prayed; he has suffered beyond the power of
language to express, and yet he has received nothing from these
gods -- they have heard no supplication. they have answered no

You may reply that your God "sends his rain on the just and on
the unjust," and that this fact proves that he is merciful to all
alike. I answer, that your God sends his pestilence on the just and
on the unjust -- that his earthquakes devour and his cyclones rend
and wreck the loving and the vicious, the honest and the criminal.
Do not these facts prove that your God is cruel to all alike? In
other words, do they not demonstrate the absolute impartiality of
divine negligence?

Do you not believe that any honest man of average
intelligence, having absolute control of the rain, could do vastly
better than is being done? Certainly there would be no droughts or
floods; the crops would not be permitted to wither and die, while
rain was being wasted in the sea. Is it conceivable that a good man
with power to control the winds would not prevent cyclones? Would
you not rather trust a wise and honest man with the lightning?

Why should an infinitely wise and powerful God destroy the
good and preserve the vile? Why should he treat all alike here, and
in another world make an infinite difference? Why should your God
allow his worshipers, his adorers, to be destroyed by his enemies?
Why should he allow the honest, the loving, the noble, to perish at

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the stake? Can you answer these questions? Does it not seem to you
that your God must have felt a touch of shame when the poor slave
mother -- one that had been robbed of her babe -- knelt and with
clasped hands, in a voice broken with sobs, commenced her prayer
with the words "Our Father"?

It gave me pleasure to find that, notwithstanding your creed,
you are philosophical enough to say that some men are
incapacitated, by reason of temperament, for believing in the
existence of a God. Now, if a belief in God is necessary to the
salvation of the soul, why should God create a soul without this
capacity? Why should he create souls that he know would be lost?
You seem to think that it is necessary to be poetical, or dreamy,
in order to be religious, and by inference, at least, you deny
certain qualities to me that you deem necessary. Do you account for
the atheism of Shelley by saying that he was not poetic, and do you
quote his lines to prove the existence of the very God whose being
he so passionately denied? Is it possible that Napoleon -- one of
the most infamous of men -- had a nature so finely strung that he
was sensitive to the divine influences? Are you driven to the
necessity of proving the existence of one tyrant by the words of
another? Personally, I have but little confidence in a religion
that satisfied the heart of a man who, to gratify his ambition,
filled half the world with widows and orphans. In regard to
Agassiz, it is just to say that he furnished a vast amount of
testimony in favor of the truth of the theories of Charles Darwin,
and then denied the correctness of these theories -- preferring the
good opinions of Harvard for a few days to the lasting applause of
the intellectual world.

I agree with you that the world is a mystery, not only, but
that everything in nature is equally mysterious, and that there is
no way of escape from the mystery of life and death. To me, the
crystallization of the snow is as mysterious as the constellations.
But when you endeavor to explain the mystery of the universe by the
mystery of God, you do not even exchange mysteries -- you simply
make one more.

Nothing can be mysterious enough to become an explanation.

The mystery of man cannot be explained by the mystery of God.
That mystery still asks for explanation. The mind is so that it
cannot grasp the idea of an infinite personality, That is beyond
the circumference. This being so, it is impossible that man can be
convinced by any evidence of the existence of that which he cannot
in any measure comprehend. Such evidence would be equally
incomprehensible with the incomprehensible fact sought to be
established by it, and the intellect of man can grasp neither the
one nor the other.

You admit that the God of Nature -- that is to say, your God
-- is as inflexible as nature itself. Why should man worship the
inflexible? Why should he kneel to the unchangeable? you say that
your God "does not bend to human thought any more than to human
will," and that "the more we study him, the more we find that he is
not what we imagined him to be." So that, after all, the only thing
you are really certain of in relation to your God is, that he is

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not what you think he is. Is it not almost absurd to insist that
such a state of mind is necessary to salvation, or that it is a
moral restraint, or that it is the foundation of social order?

The most religious nations have been the most immoral, the
cruelest and the most unjust. Italy was far worse under the Popes
than under the Casars. Was there ever a barbarian nation more
savage than the Spain of the sixteenth century? Certainly you must
know that what you call religion has produced a thousand civil
wars, and has severed with the sword all the natural ties that
produce "the unity and married calm of States." Theology is the
fruitful mother of discord; order is the child of reason. If you
will candidly consider this question -- if you will for a few
moments forget your preconceived opinions -- you will instantly see
that the instinct of self-preservation holds society together.
Religion itself was born of this instinct. People, being ignorant,
believed that the Gods were jealous and revengeful. They peopled
space with phantoms that demanded worship and delighted in
sacrifice and ceremony, phantoms that could be flattered by praise
and changed by prayer. These ignorant people wished to preserve
themselves. They supposed that they could in this way avoid
pestilence and famine, and postpone perhaps the day of death. Do
you not see that self-preservation lies at the foundation of
worship? Nations, like individuals, defend and protect themselves.
Nations, like individuals, have fears, have ideals, and live for
the accomplishment of certain ends. Men defend their property
because it is of value. Industry is the enemy of then. Men, as a
rule, desire to live, and for that reason murder is a crime. Fraud
is hateful to the victim. The majority of mankind work and produce
the necessities, the comforts, and the luxuries of life. They wish
to retain the fruits of their labor. Government is one of the
instrumentalities for the preservation of what man deems of value.
This is the foundation of social order, and this holds society

Religion has been the enemy of social order, because it
directs the attention of man to another world. Religion teaches its
votaries to sacrifice this world for the sake of that other. The
effect is to weaken the ties that hold families and States
together. Of what consequence is anything in this world compared
with eternal joy?

You insist that man is not capable of self-government, and
that God made the mistake of filling a world with failures -- in
other words, that man must be governed not by himself, but by your
God, and that your God produces order, and establishes and
preserves all the nations of the earth. This being so, your God is
responsible for the government of this world. Does he preserve
order in Russia? Is he accountable for Siberia? Did he establish
the institution of slavery? Was he the founder of the Inquisition?

You answer all these questions by calling my attention to "the
retributions of history." What are the retributions of history? The
honest were burned at the stake; the patriotic, the generous, and
the noble were allowed to die in dungeons; whole races were
enslaved; millions of mothers were robbed of their babes. What were

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the retributions of history? They who committed these crimes wore
crowns, and they who justified these infamies were adorned with the

You are mistaken when you say that Lincoln at Gettysburg said:
"Just and true are thy judgments, Lord God Almighty." Something
like this occurs in his last inaugural, in which he says, --
speaking of his hope that the war might soon be ended, -- "If it
shall continue until every drop of blood drawn by the lash shall be
paid by another drawn with the sword, still it must be said, 'The
judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether.'" But
admitting that you are correct in the assertion, let me ask you one
question: could one standing over the body of Lincoln, the blood
slowly oozing from the madman's wound, have truthfully said: "Just
and true are thy judgments, Lord God Almighty"?

Do you really believe that this world is governed by an
infinitely wise and good God? Have you convinced even yourself of
this? Why should God permit the triumph of injustice? Why should
the loving be tortured? Why should the noblest be destroyed? Why
should the world be filled with misery, with ignorance, and with
want? What reason have you for believing that your God will do
better in another world than he has done and is doing in this? Will
he be wiser? Will he have more power? Will he be more merciful?

When I say "your God," of course I mean the God described in
the Bible and the Presbyterian Confession of Faith. But again I
say, that in the nature of things, there can be no evidence of the
existence of an infinite being.

An infinite being must be conditionless, and for that reason
there is nothing that a finite being can do that can by any
possibility affect the well-being of the conditionless. This being
so, man can neither owe nor discharge any debt or duty to an
infinite being. The infinite cannot want, and man can do nothing
for a being who wants nothing. A conditioned being can be made
happy, or miserable, by changing conditions, but the conditionless
is absolutely independent of cause and effect.

I do not say that a God does not exist, neither do I say that
a God does exist; but I say that I do not know -- that there can be
no evidence to my mind of the existence of such a being, and that
my mind is so that it is incapable of even thinking of an infinite
personality. I know that in your creed you describe God as "without
body, parts, or passions." This, to my mind, is simply a
description of an infinite vacuum. I have had no experience with
gods. This world is the only one with which I am acquainted, and I
was surprised to find in your letter the expression that "perhaps
others are better acquainted with that of which I am so ignorant."
Did you, by this, intend to say that you know anything of any other
state of existence -- that you have inhabited some other planet --
that you lived before you were born, and that you recollect
something of that other world, or of that other state?

Upon the question of immortality you have done me,
unintentionally, a great injustice. With regard to that hope, I
have never uttered "a flippant or a trivial" word. I have said a
thousand times, and I say again, that the idea of immortality,

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that, like a sea, has ebbed and flowed in the human heart, with its
countless waves of hope and fear beating against the shores and
rocks of time and fate, was not born of any book, nor of any creed,
nor of any religion. It was born of human affection, and it will
continue to ebb and flow beneath the mists and clouds of doubt and
darkness as long as love kisses the lips of death.

I have said a thousand times, and I say again, that we do not
know, we cannot say, whether death is a wall or a door -- the
beginning, or end, of a day -- the spreading of pinions to soar, or
the folding forever of wings -- the rise or the set of a sun, or an
endless life, that brings rapture and love to every one.

The belief in immorality is far older than Christianity.
Thousands of years before Christ was born billions of people had
lived and died in that hope. Upon countless graves had been laid in
love and tears the emblems of another life. The heaven of the New
Testament was to be in this world. The dead, after they were
raised, were to live here. Not one satisfactory word was said to
have been uttered by Christ -- nothing philosophic, nothing clear,
nothing that adorns, like a bow of promise, the cloud of doubt.

According to the account in the New Testament, Christ was dead
for a period of nearly three days. After his resurrection, why did
not some one of his disciples ask him where he had been? Why did he
not tell them what world he had visited? There was the opportunity
to "bring life and immortality to light." And yet he was as silent
as the grave that he had left -- speechless as the stone that
angels had rolled away.

How do you account for this? Was it not infinitely cruel to
leave the world in darkness and in doubt, when one word could have
filled all time with hope and light?

The hope of immortality is the great oak round which have
climbed the poisonous vines of superstition. The vines have not
supported the oak -- the oak has supported the vines. As long as
men live and love and die, this hope will blossom in the human

All I have said upon this subject has been to express my hope
and confess my lack of knowledge. Neither by word nor look have I
expressed any other feeling than sympathy with those who hope to
live again -- for those who bend above their dead and dream of life
to come. But I have denounced the selfishness and heartlessness of
those who expect for themselves an eternity of joy, and for the
rest of mankind predict, without a tear, a world of endless pain.
Nothing can be more contemptible than such a hope -- a hope that
can give satisfaction only to the hyenas of the human race.

When I say that I do not know -- when I deny the existence of
perdition, you reply that "there is something very cruel in this
treatment of the belief of my fellow-creatures."

You have had the goodness to invite me to a grave over which
a mother bends and weeps for her only son. I accept your
invitation. We will go together. Do not, I pray you, deal in

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splendid generalities. Be explicit. Remember that the son for whom
the loving mother weeps was not a Christian, not a believer in the
inspiration of the Bible nor in the divinity of Jesus Christ. The
mother turns to you for consolation, for some star of hope in the
midnight of her grief. What must you say? Do not desert the
Presbyterian creed. Do not forget the threatenings of Jesus Christ.
What must you say? Will you read a portion of the Presbyterian
Confession of Faith? Will you read this?

"Although the light of Nature. and the works of creation and
Providence. do so far manifest the goodness, wisdom. and power of
God as to leave man inexcusable, yet they are not sufficient to
give that knowledge of God and of his will which is necessary to

Or, will you read this?

"By the decree of God, for the manifestation of his glory,
some men and angels are predestined unto everlasting life and
others foreordained to everlasting death. These angels and men,
thus predestined and foreordained, are particularly and
unchangeably destined, and their number is so certain and definite
that it cannot be either increased or diminished."

Suppose the mother, lifting her tear-stained face, should say:
"My son was good, generous, loving and kind. He gave his life for
me. Is there no hope for him?" Would you then put this serpent in
her breast?

"Men not professing the Christian religion cannot be saved in
any other way whatsoever, be they ever so diligent to conform their
lives according to the light of Nature. We cannot by our best works
merit pardon of sin. There is no sin so small but that it deserves
damnation. Works done by unregenerate men, although, for the matter
of that, there may be things which God commands, and of good use
both to themselves and others, are sinful and cannot please God or
make a man meet to receive Christ or God"

And suppose the mother should then sobbingly ask: "What has
become of my son? Where is he now?" Would you still read from your
Confession of Faith, or from your Catechism this?

"The souls of the wicked are cast into hell, where they remain
in torment and utter darkness, reserved to the judgment of the
great day. At the last day the righteous shall come into
everlasting life, but the wicked shall be cast into eternal torment
and punished with unspeakable torment, both of body and soul, with
the devil and his angels forever."

If the poor mother still wept, still refused to be comforted,
would you thrust this dagger in her heart?

"At the Day of Judgment you, being caught up to Christ in the
clouds, shall be seated at his right hand and there openly
acknowledged and acquitted, and you shall join with him in the
damnation of your son."

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If this failed to still the beatings of her aching heart,
would you repeat these words which you say came from the loving
soul of Christ?

"They who believe and are baptized shall be saved, and they
who believe not shall be damned: and these shall no away into
everlasting fire prepared for the devil and his angels."

Would you not be compelled, according to your belief, to tell
this mother that "there is but one name given under heaven and
among men whereby" the souls of men can enter the gates of
Paradise? Would you not be compelled to say: "Your son lived in a
Christian land. The means of grace were within his reach. He died
not having experienced a change of heart, and your son is forever
lost. You can meet your son again only by dying in your sins; but
if you will give your heart to God you can never clasp him to your
breast again."

What could I say? Let me tell you: "My dear madam, this
reverend gentleman knows nothing of another world. He cannot see
beyond the tomb. He has simply stated to you the superstitions of
ignorance, of cruelty and fear. If there be in this universe a God,
he certainly is as good as you are. Why should he have loved your
son in life loved him, according to this reverend gentleman, to
that degree that he gave his life for him; and why should that love
be changed to hatred the moment your son was dead?

"My dear woman, there are no punishments, there are no rewards
-- there are consequences; and of one thing you may rest assured,
and that is, that every soul, no matter what sphere it may inhabit,
will have the everlasting opportunity of doing right.

"If death ends all, and if this handful of dust over which you
weep is all there is, you have this consolation: Your son is not
within the power of this reverend gentleman's God -- that is
something. Your son does not suffer. Next to a life of joy is the
dreamless sleep of death."

Does it not seem to you infinitely absurd to call orthodox
Christianity "a consolation"? Here in this world, where every human
being is enshrouded in cloud and mist, -- where all lives are
filled with mistakes, -- where no one claims to be perfect, is it
"a consolation" to say that "the smallest sin deserves eternal
pain"? Is it possible for the ingenuity of man to extract from the
doctrine of hell one drop, one ray, of "consolation"? If that
doctrine be true, is not your God an infinite criminal? Why should
he have created uncounted billions destined to suffer forever? Why
did he not leave them unconscious dust? Compared with this crime,
any crime that man can by any possibility commit is a virtue.

Think for a moment of your God, -- the keeper of an infinite
penitentiary filled with immortal convicts, -- your God an eternal
turnkey, without the pardoning power. In the presence of this
infinite horror, you complacently speak of the atonement, -- a
scheme that has not yet gathered within its horizon a billionth
part of the human race, -- an atonement with one-half the world
remaining undiscovered for fifteen hundred years after it was made.

Bank of Wisdom
Box 926, Louisville, KY 40201


If there could be no suffering, there could be no sin. To
unjustly cause suffering is the only possible crime. How can a God
accept the suffering of the innocent in lieu of the punishment of
the guilty?

According to your theory, this infinite being, by his mere
will, makes right and wrong. This I do not admit. Right and wrong
exist in the nature of things -- in the relation they bear to man,
and to sentient beings. You have already admitted that "Nature is
inflexible, and that a violated law calls for its consequences. "I
insist that no God can step between an act and its natural effects.
If God exists, he has nothing to do with punishment, nothing to do
with reward. From certain acts flow certain consequences; these
consequences increase or decrease the happiness of man; and the
consequences must be borne.

A man who has forfeited his life, to the commonwealth may be
pardoned, but a man who has violated a condition of his own well-
being cannot he pardoned -- there is no pardoning power. The laws
of the State are made, and, being made, can be changed; but the
facts of the universe cannot be changed. The relation of act to
consequence cannot be altered. This is above all power, and,
consequently, there is no analogy between the laws of the State and
the facts in Nature. An infinite God could not change the relation
between the diameter and circumference of the circle.

A man having committed a crime may be pardoned, but I deny the
right of the State to punish an innocent man in the place of the
pardoned -- no matter how willing the innocent man may be to suffer
the punishment. There is no law in Nature, no fact in Nature, by
which the innocent can be justly punished to the end that the
guilty may go free. Let it be understood once for all: Nature
cannot pardon.

You have recognized this truth. You have asked me what is to
become of one who seduces and betrays, of the criminal with the
blood of his victim upon his hands? Without the slightest
hesitation I answer, whoever commits a crime against another must,
to the utmost of his power in this world and in another, if there
be one, make full and ample restitution, and in addition must bear
the natural consequences of his offence. No man can be perfectly
happy, either in this world or in any other, who has by his perfidy
broken a loving and confiding heart. No power can step between acts
and consequences -- no forgiveness, no atonement.

But, my dear friend, you have taught for many years, if you
are a Presbyterian, or an evangelical Christian, that a man may
seduce and betray, and that the poor victim, driven to insanity,
leaping from some wharf at night where ships strain at their
anchors in storm and darkness -- you have taught that this poor
girl may be tormented forever by a God of infinite compassion. This
is not all that you have taught. You have said to the seducer, to
the betrayer, to the one who would not listen to her wailing cry,
-- who would not even stretch forth his hand to catch her
fluttering garments, -- you have said to him: "Believe in the Lord
Jesus Christ, and you shall be happy forever; you shall live in the
realm of infinite delight, from which you can, without a shadow

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Box 926, Louisville, KY 40201


falling upon your face, observe the poor girl, your victim,
writhing in the agonies of hell." You have taught this. For my
part, I do not see how an angel in heaven meeting another angel
whom he had robbed on the earth, could feel entirely blissful. I go
further. Any decent angel, no matter if sitting at the right hand
of God, should he see in hell one of his victims, would leave
heaven itself for the purpose of wiping one tear from the cheek of
the damned.

You seem to have forgotten your statement in the commencement
of your letter, that your God is as inflexible as Nature -- that he
bends not to human thought nor to human will. You seem to have
forgotten the line which you emphasized with italics: "The effect
of everything which is of the nature of a cause, is eternal." In
the light of this sentence, where do you find a place for
forgiveness -- for your atonement? Where is a way to escape from
the effect of a cause that is eternal? Do you not see that this
sentence is a cord with which I easily tie your hands? The
scientific part of your letter destroys the theological. You have
put "new wine into old bottles," and the predicted result has
followed. Will the angels in heaven, the redeemed of earth, lose
their memory? Will not all the redeemed rascals remember their
rascality? Will not all the redeemed assassins remember the faces
of the dead? Will not all the seducers and betrayers remember her
sighs, her tears, and the tones of her voice, and will not the
conscience of the redeemed be as inexorable as the conscience of
the damned?

If memory is to be forever "the warder of the brain," and if
the redeemed can never forget the sins they committed, the pain and
anguish they caused, then they can never be perfectly happy; and if
the lost can never forget the good they did, the kind actions, the
loving words, the heroic deeds; and if the memory of good deeds
gives the slightest pleasure, then the lost can never be perfectly
miserable. Ought not the memory of a good action to live as long as
the memory of a bad one? So that the undying memory of the good, in
heaven, brings undying pain, and the undying memory of those in
hell brings undying pleasure. Do you not see that if men have done
good and bad, the future can have neither a perfect heaven nor a
perfect hell?

I believe in the manly doctrine that every human being must
bear the consequences of his acts, and that no man can be justly
saved or damned on account of the goodness or the wickedness of

If by atonement you mean the natural effect of self-sacrifice,
the effects following a noble and disinterested action; if you mean
that the life and death of Christ are worth their effect upon the
human race, -- which your letter seems to show, -- then there is no
question between us. If you have thrown away the old and barbarous
idea that a law had been broken, that God demanded a sacrifice, and
that Christ, the innocent, was offered up for us, and that he bore
the wrath of God and suffered in our place, then I congratulate you
with all my heart.

Bank of Wisdom
Box 926, Louisville, KY 40201


It seems to me impossible that life should be exceedingly
joyous to any one who is acquainted with its miseries, its burdens,
and its tears. I know that as darkness follows light around the
globe, so misery and misfortune follow the sons of men. According
to your creed, the future state will be worse than this. Here, the
vicious may reform; here, the wicked may repent; here, a few gleams
of sunshine may fall upon the darkest life. But in your future
state, for countless billions of the human race, there will be no
reform, no opportunity of doing right, and no possible gleam of
sunshine can ever touch their souls. Do you not see that your
future state is infinitely worse than this? You seem to mistake the
glare of hell for the light of morning.

Let us throw away the dogma of eternal retribution. Let us
"cling to all that can bring a ray of hope into the darkness of
this life."

You have been kind enough to say that I find a subject for
caricature in the doctrine of regeneration. If, by regeneration,
you mean reformation, -- if you mean that there comes a time in the
life of a young man when he feels the touch of responsibility, and
that he leaves his foolish or vicious ways, and concludes to act
like an honest man, -- if this is what you mean by regeneration, I
am a believer. But that is not the definition of regeneration in
your creed -- that is not Christian regeneration. There is some
mysterious, miraculous, supernatural, invisible agency, called, I
believe, the Holy Ghost, that enters and changes the heart of man,
and this mysterious agency is like the wind, under the control,
apparently, of no one, coming and going when and whither it
willeth. It is this illogical and absurd view of regeneration that
I have attacked.

You ask me how it came to pass that a Hebrew peasant, born
among the hills of Galilee, had a wisdom above that of Socrates or
Plato, of Confucius or Buddha, and you conclude by saying, "This is
the greatest of miracle -- that such a being should live and die on
the earth."

I can hardly admit your conclusion, because I remember that
Christ said nothing in favor of the family relation. As a matter of
fact, his life tended to cast discredit upon marriage. He said
nothing against the institution of slavery; nothing against the
tyranny of government; nothing of our treatment of animals; nothing
about education, about intellectual progress; nothing of art.
declared no scientific truth, and said nothing as to the rights and
duties of nations.

You may reply that all this is included in "Do unto others as
you would be done by;" and "Resist not evil." More than this is
necessary to educate the human race. It is not enough to say to
your child or to your pupil, "Do right." The great question still
remains: What is right? Neither is there any wisdom in the idea of
non-resistance. Force without mercy is tyranny. Mercy without force
is but a waste of tears. Take from virtue the right of self-defence
and vice becomes the master of the world.

Bank of Wisdom
Box 926, Louisville, KY 40201


Let me ask you how it came to pass that an ignorant driver of
camels, a man without family, without wealth, became master of
hundreds of millions of human beings? How is it that he conquered
and overran more than half of the Christian world? How is it that
on a thousand fields the banner of the cross went down in blood,
while that of the crescent floated in triumph? How do you account
for the fact that the flag of this impostor floats to-day above the
sepulchre of Christ? Was this a miracle? Was Mohammed inspired? How
do you account for Confucius, whose name is known wherever the sky
bends? Was he inspired -- this man who for many centuries has stood
first, and who has been acknowledged the superior of all men by
hundreds and thousands of millions of his fellow-men? How do you
account for Buddha, -- in many respects the greatest religious
teacher this world has ever known, -- the broadest, the most
intellectual of them all; he who was great enough, hundreds of
years before Christ was born, to declare the universal brotherhood
of man, great enough to say that intelligence is the only lever
capable of raising mankind? How do you account for him, who has had
more followers than any other? Are you willing to say that all
success is divine? How do you account for Shakespeare, born of
parents who could neither read nor write, held in the lap of
ignorance and love, nursed at the breast of poverty -- how do you
account for him, by far the greatest of the human race, the wings
of whose imagination still fill the horizon of human thought;
Shakespeare, who was perfectly acquainted with the human heart,
knew all depths of sorrow, all heights of joy, and in whose mind
were the fruit of all thought, of all experience, and a prophecy of
all to be; Shakespeare, the wisdom and beauty and depth of whose
words increase with the intelligence and civilization of mankind?
How do you account for this miracle? Do you believe that any
founder of any religion could have written "Lear" or "Hamlet"? Did
Greece produce a man who could by any possibility have been the
author of "Troilus and Cressida"? Was there among all the countless
millions of almighty Rome an intellect that could have written the
tragedy of "Julius Caesar"? Is not the play of "Antony and
Cleopatra" as Egyptian as the Nile? How do you account for this
man, within whose veins there seemed to be the blood of every race,
and in whose brain there were the poetry and philosophy of a world?

You ask me to tell my opinion of Christ. Let me say here, once
for all, that for the man Christ -- for the man who, in the
darkness, cried out, "My God, why hast thou forsaken me!" -- for
that man I have the greatest possible respect. And let me say, once
for all, that the place where man has died for man is holy ground.
To that great and serene peasant of Palestine I gladly pay the
tribute of my admiration and my tears. He was a reformer in his day
-- an infidel in his time. Back of the theological mask, and in
spite of the interpolations of the New Testament, I see a great and
genuine man.

It is hard to see how you can consistently defend the course
pursued by Christ himself. He attacked with great bitterness "the
religion of others." It did not occur to him that "there was
something very cruel in this treatment of the belief of his
fellow-creatures." He denounced the chosen people of God as a
"generation of vipers." He compared them to "whited sepulchers."
How can you sustain the conduct of missionaries? They go to other

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Box 926, Louisville, KY 40201


lands and attack the sacred beliefs of others. They tell the people
of India and of all heathen lands, not only that their religion is
a lie, not only that their gods are myths, but that the ancestors
of these people -- their fathers and mothers who never heard of the
God of the Bible, or of Christ -- are all in perdition. Is not this
a cruel treatment of the belief of a fellow-creature?

A religion that is not manly and robust enough to bear attack
with smiling fortitude is unworthy of a place in the heart or
brain. A religion that takes refuge in sentimentality, that cries
out: "Do not, I pray you, tell me any truth calculated to hurt my
feelings," is fit only for asylums.

You believe that Christ was God, that he was infinite in
power. While in Jerusalem he cured the sick, raised a few from the
dead, and opened the eyes of the blind. Did he do these things
because he loved mankind, or did he do these miracles simply to
establish the fact that he was the very Christ? If he was actuated
by love, is he not as powerful now as he was then? Why does he not
open the eyes of the blind now? Why does he not with a touch make
the leper clean? If you had the power to give sight to the blind,
to cleanse the leper, and would not exercise it, what would be
thought of you? What is the difference between one who can and will
not cure, and one who causes disease?

Only the other day I saw a beautiful girl -- a paralytic, and
yet her brave and cheerful spirit shone over the wreck and ruin of
her body like morning on the desert. What would I think of myself,
had I the power by a word to send the blood through all her
withered limbs freighted again with life, should I refuse?

Most theologians seem to imagine that the virtues have been
produced by and are really the children of religion.

Religion has to do with the supernatural. It defines our
duties and obligations to God. It prescribes a certain course of
conduct by means of which happiness can be attained in another
world. The result here is only an incident. The virtues are
secular. They have nothing whatever to do with the supernatural,
and are of no kindred to any religion. A man may be honest,
courageous, charitable, industrious, hospitable, loving and pure,
without being religious -- that is to say, without any belief in
the supernatural; and a man may be the exact opposite and at the
same time a sincere believer in the creed of any church -- that is
to say, in the existence of a personal God, the inspiration of the
Scriptures and in the divinity of Jesus Christ. A man who believes
in the Bible may or may not be kind to his family, and a man who is
kind and loving in his family may or may not believe in the Bible.

In order that you may see the effect of belief in the
formation of character, it is only necessary to call your attention
to the fact that your Bible shows that the devil himself is a
believer in the existence of your God, in the inspiration of the
Scriptures, and in the divinity of Jesus Christ. He not only
believes these things, but he knows them, and yet, in spite of it
all, he remains a devil still.

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Box 926, Louisville, KY 40201


Few religions have been bad enough to destroy all the natural
goodness in the human heart. In the deepest midnight of
superstition some natural virtues, like stars, have been visible in
the heavens. Man has committed every crime in the name of
Christianity -- or at least crimes that involved the commission of
all others. Those who paid for labor with the lash, and who made
blows a legal tender, were Christians. Those who engaged in the
slave trade were believers in a personal God. One slave ship was
called "The Jehovah." Those who pursued with hounds the fugitive
led by the Northern star prayed fervently to Christ to crown their
efforts with success, and the stealers of babes, just before
falling asleep, commended their souls to the keeping of the Most

As you have mentioned the apostles, let me call your attention
to an incident.

You remember the story of Ananias and Sapphira. The apostles,
having nothing themselves, conceived the idea of having all things
in common. Their followers who had something were to sell what
little they had, and turn the proceeds over to these theological
financiers. It seems that Ananias and Sapphira had a piece of land.

They sold it, and after talking the matter over, not being
entirely satisfied with the collateral, concluded to keep a little
-- just enough to keep them from starvation if the good and pious
bankers should abscond.

When Ananias brought the money, he was asked whether he had
kept back a part of the price. He said that he had not. Whereupon
God, the compassionate, struck him dead. As soon as the corpse was
removed, the apostles sent for his wife. They did not tell her that
her husband had been killed. They deliberately set a trap for her
life. Not one of them was good enough or noble enough to put her on
her guard; they allowed her to believe that her husband had told
his story, and that she was free to corroborate what he had said.
She probably felt that they were giving more than they could
afford, and, with the instinct of woman, wanted to keep a little.
She denied that any part of the price had been kept back. That
moment the arrow of divine vengeance entered her heart.

Will you be kind enough to tell me your opinion of the
apostles in the light of this story? Certainly murder is a greater
crime than mendacity.

You have been good enough, in a kind of fatherly way, to give
me some advice. You say that I ought to soften my colors, and that
my words would be more weighty if not so strong. Do you really
desire that I should add weight to my words? Do you really wish me
to succeed? It the commander of one army should send word to the
general of the other that his men were firing too high, do you
think the general would be misled? Can you conceive of his changing
his orders by reason of the message?

I deny that "the Pilgrims crossed the sea to find freedom to
worship God in the forests of the new world. "They came not in the
interest of freedom. It never entered their minds that other men
had the same right to worship God according to the dictates of

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Box 926, Louisville, KY 40201


their consciences that the Pilgrims themselves had. The moment they
had power they were ready to whip and brand, to imprison and burn.
They did not believe in religious freedom. They had no more idea of
liberty of conscience than Jehovah.

I do not say that there is no place in the world for heroes
and martyrs. On the contrary, I declare that the liberty we now
have was won for us by heroes and by martyrs, and millions of these
martyrs were burned, or flayed alive, or torn in pieces, or
assassinated by the church of God. The heroism was shown in
fighting the hordes of religious superstition.

Giordano Bruno was a martyr. He was a hero. He believed in no
God, in no heaven, and in no hell, yet he perished by fire. He was
offered liberty on condition that he would recant. There was no God
to please, no heaven to expect, no hell to fear, and yet he died by
fire, simply to preserve the unstained whiteness of his soul.

For hundreds of years every man who attacked the church was a
hero. The sword of Christianity has been wet for many centuries
with the blood of the noblest. Christianity has been ready with
whip and chain and fire to banish freedom from the earth.

Neither is it true that "family life withers under the cold
sneer -- half pity and half scorn -- with which I look down on
household worship."

Those who believe in the existence of God, and believe that
they are indebted to this divine being for the few gleams of
sunshine in this life, and who thank God for the little they have
enjoyed, have my entire respect. Never have I said one word against
the spirit of thankfulness. I understand the feeling of the man who
gathers his family about him after the storm, or after the scourge,
or after long sickness, and pours out his heart in thankfulness to
the supposed God who has protected his fireside. I understand the
spirit of the savage who thanks his idol of stone, or his fetich of
wood. It is not the wisdom of the one or of the other that I
respect, it is the goodness and thankfulness that prompt the

I believe in the family. I believe in family life; and one of
my objections to Christianity is that it divides the family. Upon
this subject I have said hundreds of times, and I say again, that
the roof-tree is sacred, from the smallest fibre that feels the
soft, cool clasp of earth, to the topmost flower that spreads its
bosom to the sun, and like a spendthrift gives its perfume to the
air. The home where virtue dwells with love is like a lily with a
heart of fire, the fairest flower in all this world.

What did Christianity in the early centuries do for the home?
What have nunneries and monasteries, and what has the glorification
of celibacy done for the family? Do you not know that Christ
himself offered rewards in this world and eternal happiness in
another to those who would desert their wives and children and
follow him? What effect has that promise had upon family life?

As a matter of fact, the family is regarded as nothing.
Christianity teaches that there is but one family, the family of

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Box 926, Louisville, KY 40201


Christ, and that all other relations are as nothing compared with
that. Christianity teaches the husband to desert the wife, the wife
to desert the husband, children to desert their parents, for the
miserable and selfish purpose of saving their own little, shriveled

lt is far better for a man to love his fellow-men than to love
God. It is better to love wife and children than to love Christ. It
is better to serve your neighbor than to serve your God -even if
God exists. The reason is palpable. You can do nothing for God. You
can do something for wife and children, You can add to the sunshine
of a life. You can plant flowers in the pathway of another.

It is true that I am an enemy of the orthodox Sabbath. It is
true that I do not believe in giving one-seventh of our time to the
service of superstition. The whole scheme of your religion can be
understood by any intelligent man in one day. Why should he waste
a seventh of his whole life in hearing the same thoughts repeated
again and again?

Nothing is more gloomy than an orthodox Sabbath. The mechanic
who has worked during the week in heat and dust, the laboring man
who has barely succeeded in keeping his soul in his body, the poor
woman who has been sewing for the rich, may go to the village
church which you have described. They answer the chimes of the
bell, and what do they hear in this village church? Is it that God
is the Father of the human race; is that all? If that were all, you
never would have heard an objection from my lips. That is not all.
If all ministers said: Bear the evils of this life; your Father in
heaven counts your tears; the time will come when pain and death
and grief will be forgotten words; I should have listened with the
rest. What else does the minister say to the poor people who have
answered the chimes of your bell? He says: "The smallest sin
deserves eternal pain." "A vast majority of men are doomed to
suffer the wrath of God forever." He fills the present with fear
and the future with fire. He has heaven for the few, hell for the
many. He describes a little grass-grown path that leads to heaven,
where travelers are "few and far between," and a great highway worn
with countless feet that leads to everlasting death.

Such Sabbaths are immoral. Such ministers are the real
savages. Gladly would I abolish such a Sabbath. Gladly would I turn
it into a holiday, a day of rest and peace, a day to get acquainted
with your wife and children, a day to exchange civilities with your
neighbors; and gladly would I see the church in which such sermons
are preached changed to a place of entertainment. Gladly would I
have the echoes of orthodox sermons -- the owls and bats among the
rafters, the snakes in crevices and corners -- driven out by the
glorious music of Wagner and Beethoven. Gladly would I see the
Sunday school where the doctrine of eternal fire is taught, changed
to a happy dance upon the village green.

Music refines. The doctrine of eternal punishment degrades.
Science civilizes. Superstition looks longingly back to savagery.

You do not believe that general morality can be upheld without
the sanctions of religion.

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Box 926, Louisville, KY 40201


Christianity has sold, and continues to sell, crime on a
credit. It has taught, and it still teaches, that there is
forgiveness for all. Of course it teaches morality. It says: "Do
not steal, do not murder;" but it adds, "but if you do both, there
is a way of escape: believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and thou shalt
be saved. "I insist that such a religion is no restraint. It is far
better to teach that there is no forgiveness, and that every human
being must bear the consequences of his acts.

The first great step toward national reformation is the
universal acceptance of the idea that there is no escape from the
consequences of our acts. The young men who come from their country
homes into a city filled with temptations, may be restrained by the
thought of father and mother. This is a natural restraint. They may
be restrained by their knowledge of the fact that a thing is evil
on account of its consequences, and that to do wrong is always a
mistake. I cannot conceive of such a man being more liable to
temptation because he has heard one of my lectures in which I have
told him that the only good is happiness -- that the only way to
attain that good is by doing what he believes to be right. I cannot
imagine that his moral character will be weakened by the statement
that there ia no escape from the consequences of his acts. You seem
to think that he will be instantly led astray -- that he will go
off under the flaring lamps to the riot of passion. Do you think
the Bible calculated to restrain him? To prevent this would you
recommend him to read the lives of Abraham, of Isaac, and of Jacob,
and the other holy polygamists of the Old Testament? Should he read
the life of David, and of Solomon? Do you think this would enable
him to withstand temptation? Would it not be far better to fill the
young man's mind with facts so that he may know exactly the
physical consequences of such acts? Do you regard ignorance as the
foundation of virtue? Is fear the arch that supports the moral
nature of man?

You seem to think that there is danger in knowledge, and that
the best chemists are most likely to poison themselves.

You say that to sneer at religion is only a step from sneering
at morality, and then only another step to that which is vicious
and profligate.

The Jews entertained the same opinion of the teachings of
Christ. He sneered at their religion. The Christians have
entertained the same opinion of every philosopher. Let me say to
you again -- and let me say it once for all -- that morality has
nothing to do with religion. Morality does not depend upon the
supernatural. Morality does not walk with the crutches of miracles.
Morality appeals to the experience. of mankind. It cares nothing
about faith, nothing about sacred books. Morality depends upon
facts, something that can be seen, something known, the product of
which can be estimated. It needs no priest, no ceremony, no
mummery. It believes in the freedom of the human mind. It asks for
investigation. It is founded upon truth. It is the enemy of all
religion, because it has to do with this world, and with this world

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Box 926, Louisville, KY 40201


My object is to drive fear out of the world. Fear is the
jailer of the mind. Christianity, superstition -- that is to say,
the supernatural -- makes every brain a prison and every soul a
convict. Under the government of a personal deity, consequences
partake of the nature of punishments and rewards. Under the
government of Nature, what you call punishments and rewards are
simply consequences. Nature does not punish. Nature does not
reward. Nature has no purpose. When the storm comes, I do not
think: "This is being done by a tyrant." When the sun shines. I do
not say: "This is being done by a friend. "Liberty means freedom
from personal dictation. It does not mean escape from the relations
we sustain to other facts in Nature. I believe in the restraining
influence of liberty. Temperance walks hand in hand with freedom.
To remove a chain from the body puts an additional responsibility
upon the soul. Liberty says to the man: You injure or benefit
yourself; you increase or decrease your own well-being. It is a
question of intelligence You need not bow to a supposed tyrant, or
to infinite goodness. You are responsible to yourself and to those
you injure, and to none other.

I rid myself of fear, believing as I do that there is no power
above which can help me in any extremity, and believing as I do
that there is no power above or below that can injure me in any
extremity. I do not believe that I am the sport of accident, or
that I may be dashed in pieces by the blind agency of Nature. There
is no accident, and there is no agency, That which happens must
happen. The present is the necessary child of all the past, the
mother of all the future.

Does it relieve mankind from fear to believe that there is
some God who will help them in extremity? What evidence have they
on which to found this belief? When has any God listened to the
prayer of any man? The water drowns, the cold freezes, the flood
destroys, the fire burns, the bolt of heaven falls -- when and
where has the prayer of man been answered?

Is the religious world to-day willing to test the efficacy of
prayer? Only a few years ago it was tested in the United States.
The Christians of Christendom, with one accord, fell upon their
knees and asked God to spare the life of one man. You know the
result. You know just as well as I that the forces of Nature
produce the good and bad alike. You know that the forces of Nature
destroy the good and bad alike. You know that the lightning feels
the same keen delight in striking to death the honest man that it
does or would in striking the assassin with his knife lifted above
the bosom of innocence.

Did God hear the prayers of the slaves? Did he hear the
prayers of imprisoned philosophers and patriots? Did he hear the
prayers of martyrs, or did he allow fiends, calling themselves his
followers, to pile the fagots round the forms of glorious men? Did
he allow the flames to devour the flesh of those whose hearts were
his? Why should any man depend on the goodness of a God who created
countless millions, knowing that they would suffer eternal grief?

The faith that you call sacred -- "sacred as the most delicate
manly or womanly sentiment of love and honor" -- is the faith that

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Box 926, Louisville, KY 40201


nearly all of your fellow-men are to be lost. Ought an honest man
to be restrained from denouncing that faith because those who
entertain it say that their feelings are hurt? You say to me:
"There is a hell. A man advocating the opinions you advocate will
go there when he dies." I answer: "There is no hell. The Bible that
teaches it is not true." And you say: "How can you hurt my

You seem to think that one who attacks the religion of his
parents is wanting in respect to his father and his mother.

Were the early Christians lacking in respect for their fathers
and mothers? Were the Pagans who embraced Christianity heartless
sons and daughters? What have you to say of the apostles? Did they
not heap contempt upon the religion of their fathers and mothers?
Did they not join with him who denounced their people as a
"generation of vipers"? Did they not follow one who offered a
reward to those who would desert fathers and mothers? Of course you
have only to go back a few generations in your family to find a
Field who was not a Presbyterian. After that you find a
Presbyterian. Was he base enough and infamous enough to heap
contempt upon the religion of his father and mother? All the
Protestants in the time of Luther lacked in respect for the
religion of their fathers and mothers. According to your idea,
Progress is a Prodigal Son. If one is bound by the religion of his
father and mother, and his father happens to be a Presbyterian and
his mother a Catholic, what is he to do? Do you not see that your
doctrine gives intellectual freedom only to foundlings?

If by Christianity you mean the goodness, the spirit of
forgiveness, the benevolence claimed by Christians to be a part,
and the principal part, of that peculiar religion, then I do not
agree with you when you say that "Christ is Christianity and that
it stands or falls with him." You have narrowed unnecessarily the
foundation of your religion. If it should be established beyond
doubt that Christ never existed, all that is of value in
Christianity would remain, and remain unimpaired. Suppose that we
should find that Euclid was a myth, the science known as
mathematics would not suffer. It makes no difference who painted or
chiseled the greatest pictures and statues, so long as we have the
pictures and statues. When he who has given the world a truth
passes from the earth, the truth is left. A truth dies only when
forgotten by the human race. Justice, love, mercy, forgiveness,
honor, all the virtues that ever blossomed in the human heart, were
known and practiced for uncounted ages before the birth of Christ.

You insist that religion does not leave man in "abject terror"
-- does not leave him "in utter darkness as to his fate."

Is it possible to know who will be saved? Can you read the
names mentioned in the decrees of the Infinite? Is it possible to
tell who is to be eternally lost? Can the imagination conceive a
worse fate than your religion predicts for a majority of the race?
Why should not every human being be in "abject terror" who believes
your doctrine? How many loving and sincere women are in the asylums
to-day fearing that they have committed "the unpardonable sin" --
a sin to which your God has attached the penalty of eternal

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Box 926, Louisville, KY 40201


torment, and yet has failed to describe the offence? Can tyranny go
beyond this -- fixing the penalty of eternal pain for the violation
of a law not written, not known, but kept in the secrecy of
infinite darkness? How much happier it is to know nothing about it,
and to believe nothing about it! How much better to have no God!

You discover a "Great Intelligence 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." This is an
old explanation -- probably as good as any. The idea is, that this
world is a school in which man becomes educated through tribulation
-- the muscles of character being developed by wrestling with
misfortune. If it is necessary to live this life in order to
develop character, in order to become worthy of a better world, how
do you account for the fact that billions of the human race die in
infancy, and are thus deprived of this necessary education and
development? What would you think of a schoolmaster who should kill
a large proportion of his scholars during the first day, before
they had even had the opportunity to look at A?

You insist that "there is a power behind Nature making for

If Nature is infinite, how can there be a power outside of
Nature? If you mean by "a power making for righteousness that man,
as he becomes civilized, as he becomes intelligent, not only takes
advantage of the forces of Nature for his own benefit, but
perceives more and more clearly that if he is to be happy he must
live in harmony with the conditions of his being, in harmony with
the facts by which he is surrounded, in harmony with the relations
he sustains to others and to things; if this is what you mean, then
there is "a power making for righteousness." But if you mean that
there is something supernatural back of Nature directing events,
then I insist that there can by no possibility be any evidence of
the existence of such a power.

The history of the human race shows that nations rise and
fall. There is a limit to the life of a race; so that it can be
said of every dead nation, that there was a period when it laid the
foundations of prosperity, when the combined intelligence and
virtue of the people constituted a power working for righteousness,
and that there came a time when this nation became a spendthrift,
when it ceased to accumulate, when it lived on the labors of its
youth, and passed from strength and glory to the weakness of old
age, and finally fell palsied to its tomb.

The intelligence of man guided by a sense of duty is the only
power that makes for righteousness.

You tell me that I am waging "a hopeless war," and you give as
a reason that the Christian religion began to be nearly two
thousand years before I was born, and that it will live two
thousand years after I am dead.

Is this an argument? Does it tend to convince even yourself?
Could not Caiaphas, the high priest, have said substantially this
to Christ? Could he not have said: "The religion of Jehovah began

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Box 926, Louisville, KY 40201


to be four thousand years before you were born, and it will live
two thousand years after you are dead"? Could not a follower of
Buddha make the same illogical remark to a missionary from Andover
with the glad tidings? Could he not say: "You are waging a hopeless
war. The religion of Buddha began to be twenty-five hundred years
before you were born, and hundreds of millions of people still
worship at Great Buddha's shrine"?

Do you insist that nothing except the right can live for two
thousand years? Why is it that the Catholic Church "lives on and
on, while nations and kingdoms perish"? Do you consider that the
"survival of the fittest"?

Is it the same Christian religion now living that lived during
the Middle Ages? Is it the same Christian religion that founded the
Inquisition and invented the thumbscrew? Do you see no difference
between the religion of Calvin and Jonathan Edwards and the
Christianity of to-day? Do you really think that it is the same
Christianity that has been living all these years? Have you noticed
any change in the last generation? Do you remember when scientists
endeavored to prove a theory by a passage from the Bible, and do
you now know that believers in the Bible are exceedingly anxious to
prove its truth by some fact that science has demonstrated? Do you
know that the standard has changed? Other things are not measured
by the Bible, but the Bible has to submit to another test. It no
longer owns the scales. It has to be weighed, -- it is being
weighed, -- it is growing lighter and lighter every day. Do you
know that only a few years ago "the glad tidings of great joy"
consisted mostly in a description of hell? Do you know that nearly
every intelligent minister is now ashamed to preach about it, or to
read about it, or to talk about it? Is there any change? Do you
know that but few ministers now believe in the "plenary
inspiration" of the Bible, that from thousands of pulpits people
are now told that the creation according to Genes's is a mistake,
that it never was as wet as the flood, and that the miracles of the
Old Testament are considered simply as myths or mistakes?

How long will what you call Christianity endure, if it changes
as rapidly during the next century as it has during the last? What
will there be left of the supernatural?

It does not seem possible that thoughtful people can, for many
years, believe that a being of infinite wisdom is the author of the
Old Testament, that a being of infinite purity and kindness upheld
polygamy and slavery, that he ordered his chosen people to massacre
their neighbors, and that he commanded husbands and fathers to
persecute wives and daughters unto death for opinion's sake.

It does not seem within the prospect of belief that Jehovah,
the cruel, the jealous, the ignorant, and the revengeful, is the
creator and preserver of the universe.

Does it seem possible that infinite goodness would create a
world in which life feeds on life, in which everything devours and
is devoured? Can there be a sadder fact than this: Innocence is not
a certain shield?

It is impossible for me to believe in the eternity of
punishment. If that doctrine be true, Jehovah is insane.

Box 926, Louisville, KY 40201


Day after day there are mournful processions of men and women,
patriots and mothers, girls whose only crime is that the word
Liberty burst into flower between their pure and loving lips,
driven like beasts across the melancholy wastes of Siberian snow.
These men, these women, these daughters, go to exile and to
slavery, to a land where hope is satisfied with death. Does it seem
possible to you that an "Infinite Father" sees all this and sits as
silent as a god of stone?

And yet, according to your Presbyterian creed, according to
your inspired book, according to your Christ, there is another
procession, in which are the noblest and the best, in which you
will find the wondrous spirits of this world, the lovers of the
human race, the teachers of their fellow-men, the greatest soldiers
that ever battled for the right; and this procession of countless
millions, in which you will find the most generous and the most
loving of the sons and daughters of men, is moving on to the
Siberia of God, the land of eternal exile, where agony becomes

How can you, how can any man with brain or heart, believe this
infinite lie?

Is there not room for a better, for a higher philosophy? After
all, is it not possible that we may find that everything has been
necessarily produced, that all religions and superstitions, all
mistakes and all crimes, were simply necessities? Is it not
possible that out of this perception may come not only love and
pity for others, but absolute justification for the individual? May
we not find that every soul has, like Mazeppa, been lashed to the
wild horse of passion, or like Prometheus to the rocks of fate?

You ask me to take the "sober second thought." I beg of you to
take the first, and if you do, you will throw away the Presbyterian
creed; you will instantly perceive that he who commits the
"smallest sin" no more deserves eternal pain than he who does the
smallest virtuous deed deserves eternal bliss; you will become
convinced that an infinite God who creates billions of men knowing
that they will suffer through all the countless years is an
infinite demon; you will be satisfied that the Bible, with its
philosophy and its folly, with its goodness and its cruelty, is but
the work of man, and that the supernatural does not and cannot

For you personally, I have the highest regard and the
sincerest respect, and I beg of you not to pollute the soul of
childhood, not to farrow the cheeks of mothers, by preaching a
creed that should be shrieked in a mad-house. Do not make the
cradle as terrible as the coffin. Preach, I pray you, the gospel of
Intellectual Hospitality -- the liberty of thought and speech. Take
from loving hearts the awful fear. Have mercy on your fellow-men.
Do not drive to madness the mothers whose tears are falling on the
pallid faces of those who died in unbelief. Pity the erring,
wayward, suffering, weeping world. Do not proclaim as "tidings of
great joy" that an Infinite Spider is weaving webs to catch the
souls of men.

Robert G. Ingersoll.

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Box 926, Louisville, KY 40201
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