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Robert Ingersoll Wooden God

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Wooden God

Robert Green Ingersoll

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A letter to the Chicago Times, written at Washington, D.C.,
March 27, 1890.


TO THE EDITOR: To-day Messrs. Wright, Dickey, O'Connor, and
Murch, of the select committee on the causes of the present
depression of labor, presented the majority special report upon
Chinese immigration.

These gentlemen are in great fear for the future of our most
holy and perfectly authenticated religion, and have, like faithful
watchmen, from the walls and towers of Zion, hastened to give the
alarm. They have informed Congress that "Joss has his temple of
worship in the Chinese quarters, in San Francisco. Within the walls
of a dilapidated structure is exposed to the view of the faithful
the god of the Chinaman, and here are his altars of worship. Here
he tears up his pieces of paper; here he offers up his prayers;
here he receives his religious consolations, and here is his road
to the celestial land;" that "Joss is located in a long, narrow
room in a building in a back alley, upon a kind of altar;" that "he
is a wooden image, looking as much like an alligator as like a
human being;" that the Chinese "think there is such a place as
heaven;" that "all classes of Chinamen worship idols;" that "the
temple is open every day at all hours;" that "the Chinese have no
Sunday;" that this heathen god has "huge jaws, a big red tongue,
large white teeth, a half-dozen arms, and big, fiery eyeballs.
About him are placed offerings of meat and other eatables -- a
sacrificial offering."

No wonder that these members of the committee were shocked at
such an image of God, knowing as they did that the only true God
was correctly described by the inspired lunatic of Patmos in the
following words:

"And there sat in the midst of the seven golden
candlesticks one like unto the Son of man, clothed with a
garment down to the foot, and girt about the paps with a
golden girdle. His head and his hairs were white like wool, as
white as snow; and his eyes were as a flame of fire; and his
feet like unto fine brass, as if they burned in a furnace; and

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his voice as the sound of many waters. And he had in his right
hand seven stars: and out of his mouth went a sharp, two-edged
sword: and his countenance was as the sun shineth in his

Certainly a large mouth filled with white teeth is preferable
to one used as the scabbard of a sharp, two-edged sword. Why should
these gentlemen object to a god with big, fiery eyeballs, when
their own Deity has eyes like a flame of fire?

Is it not a little late in the day to object to people because
they sacrifice meat and other eatables to their god? We all know
that for thousands of years the "real" God was exceedingly fond of
roasted meat; that he loved the savor of burning flesh, and
delighted in the perfume of fresh, warm blood.

The following account of the manner in which the living God
"desired that his chosen people should sacrifice, tends to show the
degradation and religious blindness of the Chinese:

"Aaron therefore went unto the altar, and slew the calf
of the sin offering, which was for himself. And the sons of
Aaron brought the blood unto him: and he dipped his finger in
the blood, and put it upon the horns of the altar, and poured
out the blood at the bottom of the altar: But the fat, and the
kidneys, and the caul above the liver of the sin offering, he
burnt upon the altar; as the Lord commanded Moses. And the
flesh and the hide he burnt with fire without the camp. And he
slew the burnt offering; and Aaron's sons presented unto him
the blood, which he sprinkled round about upon the altar. * *
* And he brought the meat offering, and took a handful
thereof, and burnt it upon the altar. * * * He slew also the
bullock and the ram for a sacrifice of peace offering, which
was for the people: and Aaron's sons presented unto him the
blood, which he sprinkled upon the altar round about, and the
fat of the bullock and of the ram, the rump, and that which
covereth the inwards and the kidneys, and the caul above the
liver, and they put the fat upon the breasts, and he burnt the
fat upon the altar. And the breast and the right shoulder
Aaron waved for a wave offering before the Lord, as Moses

If the Chinese only did something like this, we would know
that they worshiped the "living" God. The idea that the supreme
head of the "American system of religion" can be placated with a
little meat and "ordinary eatables" is simply preposterous. He has
always asked for blood, and has always asserted that without the
shedding of blood there is no remission of sin.

The world is also informed by these gentlemen that "the
idolatry of the Chinese produces a demoralizing effect upon our
American youth by bringing sacred things into disrespect, and
making religion a theme of disgust and contempt."

In San Francisco there are some three hundred thousand people.
Is it possible that a few Chinese can bring our "holy religion"
into disgust and contempt? In that city there are fifty times as
many churches as joss-houses. Scores of sermons are uttered every

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week; religious books and papers are plentiful as leaves in autumn,
and some-what dryer; thousands of Bibles are within the reach of
all. And there, too, is the example of a Christian city.

Why should we send missionaries to China if we can not convert
the heathen when they come here? When missionaries go to a foreign
land, the poor, benighted people have to take their word for the
blessings showered upon a Christian people; but when the heathen
come here they can see for themselves, What was simply a story
becomes a demonstrated fact. They come in contact with people who
love their enemies. They see that in a Christian land men tell the
truth; that they will not take advantage of strangers -- that they
are just and patient, kind and tender; that they never resort to
force; that they have no prejudice on account of color, race, or
religion; that they look upon mankind as brethren; that they speak
of God as a universal Father, and are willing to work, and even to
suffer, for the good not only of their own countrymen, but of the
heathen as well. All this the Chinese see and know, and why they
still cling to the religion of their country is to me a matter of

We all know that the disciples of Jesus do unto others as they
would that others should do unto them, and that those of Confucius
do not unto others anything that they would not that others should
do unto them. Surely, such peoples ought to live together in
perfect peace.

Rising with the subject, growing heated with a kind of holy
indignation, these Christian representatives of a Christian people
most solemnly declare that:

"Anyone who is really endowed with a correct knowledge of our
religious system, which acknowledges the existence of a living God
and an accountability to him, and a future state of reward and
punishment, who feels that he has an apology for this abominable
pagan worship is not a fit person to be ranked as a good citizen of
the American Union. It is absurd to make any apology for its
toleration. It must be abolished, and the sooner the decree goes
forth by the power of this Government the better it will be for the
interests of this land."

I take this, the earliest opportunity, to inform these
gentlemen composing a majority of the committee, that we have in
the United States no "religious system"; that this is a secular
Government. That it has no religious creed; that it does not
believe or disbelieve in a future state of reward and punishment;
that it neither affirms nor denies the existence of a "living God";
and that the only god, so far as this Government is concerned, is
the legally expressed will of a majority of the people. Under our
flag the Chinese have the same right to worship a wooden god that
you have to worship any other. The Constitution protects equally
the church of Jehovah and the house of Joss. Whatever their
relative positions may be in heaven, they stand upon a perfect
equality in the United States.

This Government is an Infidel Government. We have a
Constitution with man put in and God left out; and it is the glory
of this country that we have such a Constitution.

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It may be surprising to you that I have an apology for pagan
worship, yet I have. And it is the same one that I have for the
writers of this report. I account for both by the word
superstition. Why should we object to their worshiping God as they
please? If the worship is improper, the protestation should come
not from a committee of Congress, but from God himself. If he is
satisfied that is sufficient.

Our religion can only be brought into contempt by the actions
of those who profess to be governed by its teachings. This report
will do more in that direction than millions of Chinese could do by
burning pieces of paper before a wooden image. If you wish to
impress the Chinese with the value of your religion, of what you
are pleased to call "The American system," show them that
Christians are better than heathens. Prove to them that what you
are pleased to call the "living God" teaches higher and holier
things, a grander and purer code of morals than can be found upon
pagan pages. Excel these wretches in industry, in honesty, in
reverence for parents, in cleanliness, in frugality; and above all
by advocating the absolute liberty of human thought.

Do not trample upon these people because they have a different
conception of things about which even this committee knows nothing.

Give them the same privilege you enjoy of making a God after
their own fashion. And let them describe him as they will. Would
you be willing to have them remain, if one of their race, thousands
of years ago, had pretended to have seen God, and had written of
him as follows:

"There went up a smoke out of his nostrils, and fire out
of his mouth devoured: coals were kindled by it, and he rode
upon a cherub and did fly."

Why should you object to these people on account of their
religion? Your objection has in it the spirit of hate and
intolerance. Of that spirit the Inquisition was born. That spirit
lighted the fagot, made the thumbscrew, put chains upon the limbs,
and lashes upon the backs of Men. The same spirit bought and sold,
captured and kidnapped human beings; sold babes, and justified all
the horrors of slavery.

Congress has nothing to do with the religion of the people.
Its members are not responsible to God for the opinions of their
constituents, and it may tend to the happiness of the constituents
for me to state that they are in no way responsible for the
religion of the members. Religion is an individual, not a national,
matter. And where the nation interferes with the right of
conscience, the liberties of the people are devoured by the monster

If you wish to drive out the Chinese, do not make a pretext of
religion. Do not pretend that you are trying to do God a favor.
Injustice in his name is doubly detestable. The assassin can not
sanctify his dagger by falling on his knees, and it does not help
a falsehood if it be uttered as a prayer. Religion, used to
intensify the hatred of men toward men under the pretence of
pleasing God, has cursed this world.

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A portion of this most remarkable report is intensely
religious. There is in it almost the odor of sanctity; and when
reading it, one is impressed with the living piety of its authors.
But on the twenty-fifth page there are a few passages that must
pain the hearts of true believers. Leaving their religious views,
the members immediately betake themselves to philosophy and
prediction. Listen:

The Chinese race and the American citizen, whether
native-born or one who is eligible to our naturalization laws
and becomes a citizen, are in a state of antagonism. They
cannot, or will not, ever meet upon common ground, and occupy
together the same social level. This is impossible. The pagan
and the Christian travel different paths. This one believes in
a living God; and that one in a type of monsters and the
worship of wood and stone. Thus in the religion of the two
races of men they are as wide apart as the poles of the two
hemispheres. They cannot now and never will approach the same
religious altar. The Christian will not recede to barbarism,
nor will the Chinese advance to the enlightened belt (whatever
it is) of civilization. * * * He cannot be converted to those
modern ideas of religious worship which have been accepted by
Europe and which crown the American system."

Christians used to believe that through their religion all the
nations of the earth were finally to be blest. In accordance with
that belief missionaries have been sent to every land, and untold
wealth has been expended for what has been called the spread of the

I am almost sure that I have read somewhere that Christ died
for all men," and that "God is no respecter of persons." It was
once taught that it was the duty of Christians to tell all people
the "tidings of great joy." I have never believed these things
myself, but have always contended that an honest merchant was the
best missionary. Commerce makes friends, religion makes enemies;
the one enriches, and the other impoverishes; the one thrives best
where the truth is told, the other where falsehoods are believed.
For myself, I have but little confidence in any business or
enterprise or investment that promises dividends only after the
death of the stockholders.

But I am astonished that four Christian statesmen, four
members of Congress, in the last quarter of the nineteenth century,
who seriously object to people on account of their religious
convictions, should still assert that the very religion in which
they believe -- and the only religion established by the "living
God," head of the American system -- is not adapted to the
spiritual needs of one -- third of the human race. It is amazing
that these four gentlemen have, in the defence of the Christian
religion, announced the discovery that it is wholly inadequate for
the civilization of mankind; that the light of the cross can never
penetrate the darkness of China; "that all the labors of the
missionary, the example of the good, the exalted character of our
civilization, make no impression upon the pagan life of the
Chinese;" and that even the report of this committee will not tend
to elevate, refine, and Christianize the yellow heathen of the

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Pacific coast. In the name of religion these gentlemen have denied
its power, and mocked at the enthusiasm of its founder. Worse than
this, they have predicted for the Chinese a future of ignorance and
idolatry in this world, and, if the "American system" of religion
is true, hell-fire in the next.

For the benefit of these four philosophers and prophets I will
give a few extracts from the writings of Confucius, that will, in
my judgment, compare favorably with the best passages of their

"My doctrine is that man must be true to the principles
of his nature, and the benevolent exercise of them toward

With coarse rice to eat, with water to drink, and with my
bended arm for a pillow, I still have joy.

Riches and honor acquired by injustice are to me but
floating clouds.

The man who, in view of gain, thinks of righteousness;
who, in view of danger, forgets life, and who remembers an old
agreement, however far back it extends, such a man may be
reckoned a complete man.

Recompense injury with justice, and kindness with

There is one word which may serve as a rule of practice
for all one's life: Reciprocity is that word."

When the ancestors of the four Christian Congressmen were
barbarians, when they lived in caves, gnawed bones, and worshiped
dried snakes, the infamous Chinese were reading these sublime
sentences of Confucius. When the forefathers of these Christian
statesmen were hunting toads to get the jewels out of their heads,
to be used as charms, the wretched Chinese were calculating
eclipses, and measuring the circumference of the earth. When the
progenitors of these representatives of the "American system of
religion" were burning women charged with nursing devils, the
people "incapable of being influenced by the exalted character of
our civilization," were building asylums for the insane.

Neither should it be forgotten that, for thousands of years,
the Chinese have honestly practiced the great principle known as
Civil Service Reform -- a something that even the administration of
Mr. Hayes has reached only through the proxy of promise.

If we wish to prevent the immigration of the Chinese, let us
reform our treaties with the vast empire from whence they came. For
thousands of years the Chinese secluded themselves from the rest of
the world. They did not deem the Christian nations fit to associate
with. We forced ourselves upon them. We called, not with cards, but
with cannon. The English battered down the door in the names of
opium and Christ. This infamy was regarded as another triumph for
the gospel. At last, in self-defence, the Chinese allowed

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Christians to touch their shores. Their wise men, their
philosophers, protested, and prophesied that time would show that
Christians could not be trusted. This report proves that the wise
men were not only philosophers, but prophets.

Treat China as you would England. Keep a treaty while it is in
force. Change it if you will, according to the laws of nations, but
on no account excuse a breach of national faith by pretending that
we are dishonest for God's sake.

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Reproducible Electronic Publishing can defeat censorship.

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

The Free Market-Place of Ideas.

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

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