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Robert Ingersoll Spirituality

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Robert Green Ingersoll


IF there is an abused word in our language, it is

It has been repeated over and over for several hundred years
by pious pretenders and snivelers as though it belonged exclusively
to them.

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In the early days of Christianity, the "spiritual" renounced
the world with all its duties and obligations. They deserted their
wives and children. They became hermits and dwelt in caves. They
spent their useless years in praying for their shriveled and
worthless souls. They were too "spiritual" to love women, to build
homes and to labor for children. They were too "spiritual" to earn
their bread, so they became beggars and stood by the highways of
Life and held out their hands and asked alms of Industry and
Courage. They were too "spiritual" to be merciful. They preached
the dogma of eternal pain and gloried in "the wrath to come." They
were too "spiritual" to be civilized, so they persecuted their
fellow-men for expressing their honest thoughts. They were so
"spiritual" that they invented instruments of torture, founded the
Inquisition, appealed to the whip, the rack, the sword and the
fagot. They tore the flesh of their fellow-men with hooks of iron,
buried their neighbors alive, cut off their eyelids, dashed out the
brains of babes and cut off the breasts of mothers. These
"spiritual" wretches spent day and night on their knees, praying
for their own salvation and asking God to curse the best and
noblest of the world.

John Calvin was intensely "spiritual" when he warmed his
fleshless hands at the flames that consumed Servetus.

John Knox was constrained by his "spirituality" to utter low
and loathsome calumnies against all women. All the witch-burners
and Quaker-maimers and mutilators were so "spiritual" that they
constantly looked heavenward and longed for the skies.

These lovers of God -- these haters of men -- looked upon the
Greek marbles as unclean, and denounced the glories of Art as the
snares and pitfalls of perdition.

These "spiritual" mendicants hated laughter and smiles and
dimples, and exhausted their diseased and polluted imaginations in
the effort to make love loathsome.

From almost every pulpit was heard the denunciation of all
that adds to the wealth, the joy and glory of life. It became the
fashion for the "spiritual" to malign every hope and passion that
tends to humanize and refine the heart. Man was denounced as
totally depraved. Woman was declared to be a perpetual temptation
-- her beauty a snare and her touch pollution.

Even in our own time and country some of the ministers, no
matter how radical they claim to be, retain the aroma, the odor, or
the smell of the "spiritual."

They denounce some of the best and greatest -- some of the
benefactors of the race -- for having lived on the low plane of
usefulness -- and for having had the pitiful ambition to make their
fellows happy in this world.

Thomas Paine was a groveling wretch because he devoted his
life to the preservation of the rights of man, and Voltaire lacked
the "spiritual" because he abolished torture in France and
attacked, with the enthusiasm of a divine madness, the monster that
was endeavoring to drive the hope of liberty from the heart of man.

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Humboldt was not "spiritual" enough to repeat with closed eyes
the absurdities of superstition, but was so lost to all the "skyey
influences" that he was satisfied to add to the intellectual wealth
of the world.

Darwin lacked "spirituality," and in its place had nothing but
sincerity, patience, intelligence, the spirit of investigation and
the courage to give his honest conclusions to the world. He
contented himself with giving to his fellow-men the greatest and
the sublime truths that man has spoken since lips have uttered

But we are now told that these soldiers of science, these
heroes of liberty, these sculptors and painters, these singers of
songs, these composers of music, lack "spirituality" and after all
were only common clay.

This word "spirituality" is the fortress, the breastwork, the
rifle-pit of the Pharisee. It sustains the same relation to
sincerity that Dutch metal does to pure gold.

There seems to be something about a pulpit that poisons the
occupant -- that changes his nature -- that causes him to denounce
what he really loves and to laud with the fervor of insanity a joy
that he never felt -- a rapture that never thrilled his soul.
Hypnotised by his surroundings, he unconsciously brings to market
that which he supposes the purchasers desire.

In every church, whether orthodox or radical, there are two
parties -- one conservative, looking backward, one radical, looking
forward, and generally a minister "spiritual" enough to look both

A minister who seems to be a philosopher on the street, or in
the home of a sensible man, cannot withstand the atmosphere of the
pulpit. The moment he stands behind the Bible cushion, like Bottom,
he is "translated" and the Titania of superstition "kisses his
large, fair ears."

Nothing is more amusing than to hear a clergyman denounce
worldliness -- ask his hearers what it will profit them to build
railways and palaces and lose their own souls -- inquire of the
common folks before him why they waste their precious years in
following trades and professions, in gathering treasures that moths
corrupt and rust devours, giving their days to the vulgar business
of making money, -- and then see him take up a collection, knowing
perfectly well that only the worldly, the very people he has
denounced, can by any possibility give a dollar.

"Spirituality" for the most part is a mask worn by idleness,
arrogance and greed.

Some people imagine that they are "spiritual" when they are

It may be well enough to ask: What is it to be really

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The spiritual man lives to his ideal. He endeavors to make
others happy. He does not despise the passions that have filled the
world with art and glory. He loves his wife and children -- home
and fireside. He cultivates the amenities and refinements of life.
He is the friend and champion of the oppressed. His sympathies are
with the poor and the suffering. He attacks what he believes to be
wrong, though defended by the many, and he is willing to stand for
the right against the world. He enjoys the beautiful. In the
presence of the highest creations of Art his eyes are suffused with
tears. When he listens to the great melodies, the divine harmonies,
he feels the sorrows and the raptures of death and love. He is
intensely human. He carries in his heart the burdens of the world.
He searches for the deeper meanings. He appreciates the harmonies
of conduct, the melody of a perfect life.

He loves his wife and children better than any god. He cares
more for the world he lives in than for any other. He tries to
discharge the duties of this life, to help those that he can reach.
He believes in being useful -- in making money to feed and clothe
and educate the ones he loves -- to assist the deserving and to
support himself. He does not wish to be a burden on others. He is
just, generous and sincere,

Spirituality is all of this world. It is a child of this
earth, born and cradled here. It comes from no heaven, but it makes
a heaven where it is.

There is no possible connection between superstition and the
spiritual, or between theology and the spiritual.

The spiritually-minded man is a poet. If he does not write
poetry, he lives it. He is an artist. If he does not paint pictures
or chisel statues, he feels them, and their beauty softens his
heart. He fills the temple of his soul with all that is beautiful,
and he worships at the shrine of the Ideal.

In all the relations of life he is faithful and true. He asks
for nothing that he does not earn. He does not wish to be happy in
heaven if he must receive happiness as alms. He does not rely on
the goodness of another. He is not ambitious to become a winged

Spirituality is the perfect health of the soul. It is noble,
manly, generous, brave, free-spoken, natural, superb.

Nothing is more sickening than the "spiritual" whine -- the
pretence that crawls at first and talks about humility and then
suddenly becomes arrogant and says: "I am 'spiritual.' I hold in
contempt the vulgar joys of this life. You work and toil and build
homes and sing songs and weave your delicate robes, You love women
and children and adorn yourselves. You subdue the earth and dig for
gold, You have your theaters, your operas and all the luxuries of
life; but I, beggar that I am, Pharisee that I am, am your superior
because I am 'spiritual.'"

Above all things, let us be sincere. --

The Conservator, Philadelphia 1891.

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Box 926, Louisville, KY 40201

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