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Robert Ingersoll Letters Plumb

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Dr. Plumb

Robert Green Ingersoll


Question. Last Sunday the Rev. Dr. Plumb paid some attention
to the lecture which you delivered here on the 23rd of October.
Have you read a report of it, and what have you to say?

Answer. Dr. Plumb attacks not only myself, but the Rev. Mr.
Mills. I do not know the position that Mr. Mills takes, but from
what Dr. Plumb says, I suppose that he has mingled a little
philosophy with his religion and some science with his
superstition. Dr. Plumb appears to have successfully avoided both.
His manners do not appear to me to be of the best. Why should he
call an opponent coarse and blasphemous, simply because he does not
happen to believe as he does? Is it blasphemous to say that this
"poor" world never was visited by a Redeemer from Heaven, a
majestic being -- unique -- peculiar -- who "trod the sea and
hushed the storm and raised the dead"? Why does Dr. Plumb call this
world a "poor" world? According to his creed, it was created by
infinite wisdom, infinite goodness and infinite power. How dare he
call the work of such a being "poor"?

Is it not blasphemous for a Boston minister to denounce the
work of the Infinite and say to God that he made a "poor" world? If
I believed this world had been made by an infinitely wise and good
Being, I should certainly insist that this is not a poor world,
but, on the contrary, a perfect world. I would insist that
everything that happens is for the best. Whether it looks wise or
foolish to us, I would insist that the fault we thought we saw,
lies in us and not in the infinitely wise and benevolent Creator.

Dr. Plumb may love God, but he certainly regards him as a poor
mechanic and a failure as a manufacturer. There Dr. Plumb, like all
religious preachers, takes several things for granted; things that
have not been established by evidence, and things which in their
nature cannot be established.

He tells us that this poor world was visited by a mighty
Redeemer from Heaven. How does he know? Does he know where heaven
is? Does he know that any such place exists? Is he perfectly sure
that an infinite God would be foolish enough to make people who
needed a redeemer?

He also says that this Being "trod the sea, hushed the storm
and raised the dead." Is there any evidence that this Being trod
the sea? Any more evidence than that Venus rose from the foam of
the ocean? Any evidence that he hushed the storm any more than

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there is that the storm comes from the cave of AEolus? Is there any
evidence that he raised the dead? How would it be possible to prove
that the dead were raised? How could we prove such a thing if it
happened now? Who would believe the evidence? As a matter of fact,
the witnesses themselves would not believe and could not believe
until raising of the dead became so general as to be regarded as

Dr. Plumb knows, if he knows anything, that gospel gossip is
the only evidence he has, or anybody has, that Christ trod the sea,
hushed the storm and raised the dead. He also knows, if he knows
anything, that these stories were not written until Christ himself
had been dead for at least four generations. He knows also that
these accounts were written at a time when the belief in miracles
was almost universal, and when everything that actually happened
was regarded of no particular importance, and only the things that
did not happen were carefully written out with all the details.

So Dr. Plumb says that this man who hushed the storm "spake as
never man spake." Did the Doctor ever read Zeno? Zeno, who
denounced human slavery many years before Christ was born? Did he
ever read Epicurus, one of the greatest of the Greeks? Has he read
anything from Buddha? Has he read the dialogues between Ariuna and
Krishna? If he has, he knows that every great and splendid
utterance of Christ was uttered centuries before he lived. Did he
ever read Lao-tsze? If he did -- and this man lived many centuries
before the coming of our Lord -- he knows that Lao-tsze said "we
should render benefits for injuries. We should love our enemies,
and we should not resist evil." So it will hardly do now to say
that Christ spake as never man spake, because he repeated the very
things that other men had said.

So he says that I am endeavoring to carry people back to a
dimly groping Socrates or a vague Confucius. Did Dr. Plumb ever
read Confucius? Only a little while ago a book was published by Mr.
Forlong showing the origin of the principal religion and the creeds
that have been taught. In this book you will find the cream of
Buddha, of Christ, of Zoroaster, and you will also find a few pages
devoted to the philosophy of Confucius; and after you have read the
others, then read what Confucius says, and you will find that his
philosophy rises like a monolith touching the clouds, while the
creeds and sayings of the others appear like heaps of stone or
piles of rubbish. The reason of this is that Confucius was not
simply a sentimentalist. He was not controlled entirely by feeling,
but he had intelligence -- a great brain in which burned the torch
of reason. Read Confucius, and you will think that he must have
known the sciences of to-day; that is to say, the conclusions that
have been reached by modern thinkers. It could have been easily
said of Confucius in his day that he spake as never man had spoken,
and it may be that after you read him you will change your mind
just a little as to the wisdom and the intelligence contained in
many of the sayings of our Lord.

Dr. Plumb charges that Mr. Mills is trying to reconstruct
theology. Whether he is right in this charge I do not know, but I
do know that I am not trying to reconstruct theology. I am
endeavoring to destroy it. I have no more confidence in theology

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than I have in astrology or in the black art. Theology is a science
that exists wholly independent of facts, and that reaches
conclusions without the assistance of evidence. It also scorns
experience and does what little it can to do away with thought.

I make a very great distinction between theology and real
religion. I can conceive of no religion except usefulness. Now,
here we are, men and women in this world, and we have certain
faculties, certain senses. There are things that we can ascertain,
and by developing our brain we can avoid mistakes, keep a few
thorns out of our feet, a few thistles out of our hands, a few
diseases from our flesh. In my judgment, we should use all our
senses, gathering information from every possible quarter, and this
information should be only used for the purpose of ascertaining the
facts, for finding out the conditions of well-being, to the end
that we may add to the happiness of ourselves and fellows.

In other words, I believe in intellectual veracity and also in
mental hospitality. To me reason is the final arbiter, and when I
say reason, I mean my reason. It may be a very poor light, the
flame small and flickering, but, after all, it is the only light I
have, and never with my consent shall any preacher blow it out.

Now, Dr. Plumb thinks that I am trying to despoil my fellow-
men of their greatest inheritance; that is to say, divine Christ.
Why do you call Christ good? Is it because he was merciful? Then
why do you put him above mercy? Why do you call Christ good? Is it
because he was just? Why do you put him before justice? Suppose it
should turn out that no such person as Christ ever lived. What harm
would that do justice or mercy? Wouldn't the tear of pity be as
pure as now, and wouldn't justice, holding aloft her scales, from
which she blows even the dust of prejudice, be as noble, as
admirable as now? Is it not better to love justice and mercy than
to love a name, and when you put a name above justice, above mercy,
are you sure that you are benefiting your fellow-men?

If Dr. Plumb wanted to answer me, why did he not take my
argument instead of my motive? Why did he not point out my weakness
instead of telling the consequences that would follow from my
action? We have nothing to do with the consequences. I said that to
believe without evidence, or in spite of evidence, was
superstition. If that definition is correct. Dr. Plumb is a
superstitious man, because he believes at least without evidence.
What evidence has he that Christ was God? In the nature of things,
how could he have evidence? The only evidence he pretends to have
is the dream of Joseph, and he does not know that Joseph ever
dreamed the dream, because Joseph did not write an account of his
dream, so that Dr. Plumb has only hearsay for the dream, and the
dream is the foundation of his creed.

Now, when I say that that is superstition, Dr. Plumb charges
me with being a burglar -- a coarse, blasphemous burglar -- who
wishes to rob somebody of some great blessing. Dr. Plumb would not
hesitate to tell a Mohammedan that Mohammed was an impostor. He
would tell a Mormon in Utah that Joseph Smith was a vulgar liar and
that Brigham Young was no better. In other words, if in Turkey, he
would be a coarse and blasphemous burglar, and he would follow the

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same profession in Utah. So probably he would tell the Chinese that
Confucius was an ignorant wretch and that their religion was
idiotic, and the Chinese priest would denounce Dr. Plumb as a very
coarse and blasphemous burglar, and Dr. Plumb would be perfectly
astonished that a priest could be so low, so impudent and

Of course my wonder is not excited. I have become used to it.

If Dr. Plumb would think, if he would exercise his imagination
a little and put himself in the place of others, he would think, in
all probability, better things of his opponents. I do not know Dr.
Plumb, and yet I have no doubt that he is a good and sincere man;
a little superstitious, superficial, and possibly, mingled with his
many virtues, there may be a little righteous malice.

The Rev. Mr. Mills used to believe as Dr. Plumb does now, and
I suppose he has changed for reasons that were sufficient for him.
So I believe him to be an honest, conscientious man, and so far as
I am concerned, I have no objection to Mr. Mills doing what little
he can to get all the churches to act together. He may never
succeed, but I am not responsible for that.

So I have no objection to Dr. Plumb preaching what he believes
to be the gospel. I admit that he is honest when he says that an
infinitely good God made a poor world; that he made man and woman
and put them in the Garden of Eden, and that this same God before
that time had manufactured a devil, and that when he manufactured
this devil, he knew that he would corrupt the man and woman that he
had determined to make; that he could have defeated the devil, but
that for a wise purpose, he allowed his Satanic Majesty to succeed;
that at the time he allowed him to succeed, he knew that in
consequence of his success that he (God) in about fifteen or
sixteen hundred years would be compelled to drown the whole world
with the exception of eight people. These eight people he kept for
seed. At the time he kept them for seed, he knew that they were
totally depraved, that they were saturated with the sin of Adam and
Eve, and that their children would be their natural heirs. He also
knew at the time he allowed the devil to succeed, that he (God),
some four thousand years afterward, would be compelled to be born
in Palestine as a babe, to learn the carpenter's trade, and to go
about the country for three years preaching to the people and
discussing with the rabbis of his chosen people, and he also knew
that these chosen people -- these people who had been governed and
educated by him, to whom he had sent a multitude of prophets, would
at that time be so savage that they would crucify him, although he
would be at that time the only sinless being who had ever stood
upon the earth. This he knew would be the effect of his government,
of his education of his chosen people. He also knew at the time he
allowed the devil to succeed, that in consequence of that success
a vast majority of the human race would become eternal convicts in
the prison of hell.

All this he knew, and yet Dr. Plumb insists that he was and is
infinitely wise, infinitely powerful and infinitely good. What
would this God have done if he had lacked wisdom, or power, or

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Of all the religions that man has produced, of all the creeds
of savagery, there is none more perfectly absurd than Christianity.


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