Thursday, 5 March 2015

Unreasonable Faith - Robert G. Ingersoll

Why is Robert G. Ingersoll not better known in America, or the rest of the world, for that matter? He wrote and spoke with such power and passion, and regard for truth and honesty above all, that his writing is a joy to read, more lyrical even than that of Thomas Paine and worthy of Christopher Hitchens at his best.

Here he is delivering a 'Thanksgiving Sermon'. This is a cut-down version; the full sermon can be read here.

A THANKSGIVING SERMON.

MANY ages ago our fathers were living in dens and caves. Their bodies, their low foreheads, were covered with hair. They were eating berries, roots, bark and vermin. They were fond of snakes and raw fish. They discovered fire and, probably by accident, learned how to cause it by friction. They found how to warm themselve — to fight the frost and storm. They fashioned clubs and rude weapons of stone with which they killed the larger beasts and now and then each other. Slowly, painfully, almost imperceptibly they advanced. They crawled and stumbled, staggered and struggled toward the light. To them the world was unknown. On every hand was the mysterious, the sinister, the hurtful. The forests were filled with monsters, and the darkness was crowded with ghosts, devils, and fiendish gods.

These poor wretches were the slaves of fear, the sport of dreams.

Now and then, one rose a little above his fellows — used his senses — the little reason that he had — found something new — some better way. Then the people killed him and afterward knelt with reverence at his grave. Then another thinker gave his thought — was murdered — another tomb became sacred — another step was taken in advance. And so through countless years of ignorance and cruelty — of thought and crime — of murder and worship, of heroism, suffering, and self-denial, the race has reached the heights where now we stand.

Looking back over the long and devious roads that lie between the barbarism of the past and the civilization of to-day, thinking of the centuries that rolled like waves between these distant shores, we can form some idea of what our fathers suffered — of the mistakes they made — some idea of their ignorance, their stupidity — and some idea of their sense, their goodness, their heroism.

It is a long road from the savage to the scientist — from a den to a mansion — from leaves to clothes — from a flickering rush to the arc-light — from a hammer of stone to the modern mill — a long distance from the pipe of Pan to the violin — to the orchestra — from a floating log to the steamship — from a sickle to a reaper — from a flail to a threshing machine — from a crooked stick to a plow — from a spinning wheel to a spinning jenny — from a hand loom to a Jacquard — a Jacquard that weaves fair forms and wondrous flowers beyond Arachne’s utmost dream — from a few hieroglyphics on the skins of beasts — on bricks of clay — to a printing press, to a library — a long distance from the messenger, traveling on foot, to the electric spark — from knives and tools of stone to those of steel — a long distance from sand to telescopes — from echo to the phonograph, the phonograph that buries in indented lines and dots the sounds of living speech, and then gives back to life the very words and voices of the dead — a long way from the trumpet to the telephone, the telephone that transports speech as swift as thought and drops the words, perfect as minted coins, in listening ears — a long way from a fallen tree to the suspension bridge — from the dried sinews of beasts to the cables of steel — from the oar to the propeller — from the sling to the rifle — from the catapult to the cannon — a long distance from revenge to law — from the club to the Legislature — from slavery to freedom — from appearance to fact — from fear to reason.

And yet the distance has been traveled by the human race. Countless obstructions have been overcome — numberless enemies have been conquered — thousands and thousands of victories have been won for the right, and millions have lived, labored and died for their fellow-men.

For the blessings we enjoy — for the happiness that is ours, we ought to be grateful. Our hearts should blossom with thankfulness.

Whom, what, should we thank?

Let us be honest — generous.

Should we thank the church?

Christianity has controlled Christendom for at least fifteen hundred years.

During these centuries what have the orthodox churches accomplished, for the good of man?

In this life man needs raiment and roof, food and fuel. He must be protected from heat and cold, from snow and storm. He must take thought for the morrow. In the summer of youth he must prepare for the winter of age. He must know something of the causes of disease — of the conditions of health. If possible he must conquer pain, increase happiness and lengthen life. He must supply the wants of the body — and feed the hunger of the mind.

What good has the church done?

Has it taught men to cultivate the earth? to build homes? to weave cloth to cure or prevent disease? to build ships, to navigate the seas? to conquer pain, or to lengthen life?

Did Christ or any of his apostles add to the sum of useful knowledge? Did they say one word in favor of any science, of any art? Did they teach their fellow-men how to make a living, how to overcome the obstructions of nature, how to prevent sickness — how to protect themselves from pain, from famine, from misery and rags?

Did they explain any of the phenomena of nature? any of the facts that affect the life of man? Did they say anything in favor of investigation — of study — of thought? Did they teach the gospel of self-reliance, of industry — of honest effort? Can any farmer, mechanic, or scientist find in the New Testament one useful fact? Is there anything in the sacred book that can help the geologist, the astronomer, the biologist, the physician, the inventor — the manufacturer of any useful thing?

What has the church done?

From the very first it taught the vanity — the worthlessness of all earthly things. It taught the wickedness of wealth, the blessedness of poverty. It taught that the business of this life was to prepare for death. It insisted that a certain belief was necessary to insure salvation, and that all who failed to believe, or doubted in the least would suffer eternal pain. According to the church the natural desires, ambitions and passions of man were all wicked and depraved.

To love God, to practice self-denial, to overcome desire, to despise wealth, to hate prosperity, to desert wife and children, to live on roots and berries, to repeat prayers, to wear rags, to live in filth, and drive love from the heart — these, for centuries, were the highest and most perfect virtues, and those who practiced them were saints.

The saints did not assist their fellow-men. Their fellow-men assisted them. They did not labor for others. They were beggars — parasites — vermin. They were insane. They followed the teachings of Christ. They took no thought for the morrow. They mutilated their bodies — scarred their flesh and destroyed their minds for the sake of happiness in another world. During the journey of life they kept their eyes on the grave. They gathered no flowers by the way — they walked in the dust of the road — avoided the green fields. Their moans made all the music they wished to hear. The babble of brooks, the songs of birds, the laughter of children, were nothing to them. Pleasure was the child of sin, and the happy needed a change of heart. They were sinless and miserable — but they had faith — they were pious and wretched — but they were limping towards heaven.

What has the church done?

It has denounced pride and luxury — all things that adorn and enrich life — all the pleasures of sense — the ecstasies of love — the happiness of the hearth — the clasp and kiss of wife and child.

And the church has done this because it regarded this life as a period of probation — a time to prepare — to become spiritual — to overcome the natural — to fix the affections on the invisible — to become passionless — to subdue the flesh — to congeal the blood — to fold the wings of fancy — to become dead to the world — so that when you appeared before God you would be the exact opposite of what he made you.

What has the church done?

It pretended to have a revelation from God. It knew the road to eternal joy, the way to death. It preached salvation by faith, and declared that only orthodox believers could become angels, and all doubters would be damned. It knew this, and so knowing it became the enemy of discussion, of investigation, of thought. Why investigate, why discuss, why think when you know? It sought to enslave the world. It appealed to force. It unsheathed the sword, lighted the fagot, forged the chain, built the dungeon, erected the scaffold, invented and used the instruments of torture. It branded, maimed and mutilated — it imprisoned and tortured — it blinded and burned, hanged and crucified, and utterly destroyed millions and millions of human beings. It touched every nerve of the body — produced every pain that can be felt, every agony that can be endured.

And it did all this to preserve what it called the truth — to destroy heresy and doubt, and to save, if possible, the souls of a few. It was honest. It was necessary to prevent the development of the brain — to arrest all progress — and to do this the church used all its power. If men were allowed to think and express their thoughts they would fill their minds and the minds of others with doubts. If they were allowed to think they would investigate, and then they might contradict the creed, dispute the words of priests and defy the church. The priests cried to the people: “It is for us to talk. It is for you to hear. Our duty is to preach and yours is to believe.”

What has the church done?

There have been thousands of councils and synods — thousands and thousands of occasions when the clergy have met and discussed and quarreled — when pope and cardinals, bishops and priests have added to or explained their creeds — and denied the rights of others. What useful truth did they discover? What fact did they find? Did they add to the intellectual wealth of the world? Did they increase the sum of knowledge?

I admit that they looked over a number of Jewish books and picked out the ones that Jehovah wrote.

Did they find the medicinal virtue that dwells in any weed or flower?

I know that they decided that the Holy Ghost was not created — not begotten — but that he proceeded.

Did they teach us the mysteries of the metals and how to purify the ores in furnace flames?

They shouted: “Great is the mystery of Godliness.”

Did they show us how to improve our condition in this world?

They informed us that Christ had two natures and two wills.

Did they give us even a hint as to any useful thing?

They gave us predestination, foreordination and just enough “free will” to go to hell.

Did they discover or show us how to produce anything for food?

Did they produce anything to satisfy the hunger of man?

Instead of this they discovered that a peasant girl who lived in Palestine, was the mother of God. This they proved by a book, and to make the book evidence they called it inspired.

Did they tell us anything about chemistry — how to combine and separate substances — how to subtract the hurtful — how to produce the useful?

They told us that bread, by making certain motions and mumbling certain prayers, could be changed into the flesh of God, and that in the same way wine could be changed to his blood. And this, notwithstanding the fact that God never had any flesh or blood, but has always been a spirit without body, parts or passions.

What has the church done?

It gave us the history of the world — of the stars, and the beginning of all things. It taught the geology of Moses — the astronomy of Joshua and Elijah. It taught the fall of man and the atonement — proved that a Jewish peasant was God — established the existence of hell, purgatory and heaven.

It pretended to have a revelation from God — the Scriptures, in which could be found all knowledge — everything that man could need in the journey of life. Nothing outside of the inspired book — except legends and prayers — could be of any value. Books that contradicted the Bible were hurtful, those that agreed with it — useless. Nothing was of importance except faith, credulity — belief. The church said: “Let philosophy alone, count your beads. Ask no questions, fall upon your knees. Shut your eyes, and save your souls.”

What has the church done?

For centuries it kept the earth flat, for centuries it made all the hosts of heaven travel around this world — for centuries it clung to “sacred” knowledge, and fought facts with the ferocity of a fiend. For centuries it hated the useful. It was the deadly enemy of medicine. Disease was produced by devils and could be cured only by priests, decaying bones, and holy water. Doctors were the rivals of priests. They diverted the revenues.

The church opposed the study of anatomy — was against the dissection of the dead. Man had no right to cure disease — God would do that through his priests.

Man had no right to prevent disease — diseases were sent by God as judgments.

The church opposed inoculation — vaccination, and the use of chloroform and ether. It was declared to be a sin, a crime for a woman to lessen the pangs of motherhood. The church declared that woman must bear the curse of the merciful Jehovah.

What has the church done?

It taught that the insane were inhabited by devils. Insanity was not a disease. It was produced by demons. It could be cured by prayers — gifts, amulets and charms. All these had to be paid for. This enriched the church. These ideas were honestly entertained by Protestants as well as Catholics — by Luther, Calvin, Knox and Wesley.

What has the church done?

It taught the awful doctrine of witchcraft. It filled the darkness with demons — the air with devils, and the world with grief and shame. It charged men, women and children with being in league with Satan to injure their fellows. Old women were convicted for causing storms at sea — for preventing rain and for bringing frost. Girls were convicted for having changed themselves into wolves, snakes and toads. These witches were burned for causing diseases — for selling their souls and for souring beer. All these things were done with the aid of the Devil who sought to persecute the faithful, the lambs of God. Satan sought in many ways to scandalize the church. He sometimes assumed the appearance of a priest and committed crimes.

On one occasion he personated a bishop — a bishop renowned for his sanctity — allowed himself to be discovered and dragged from the room of a beautiful widow. So perfectly did he counterfeit the features and form of the bishop, that many who were well acquainted with the prelate, were actually deceived, and the widow herself thought her lover was the bishop. All this was done by the Devil to bring reproach upon holy men.

Hundreds of like instances could be given, as the war waged between demons and priests was long and bitter.

These popes and priests — these clergymen, were not hypocrites. They believed in the New Testament — in the teachings of Christ, and they knew that the principal business of the Savior was casting out devils.

What has the church done?

It made the wife a slave — the property of the husband, and it placed the husband as much above the wife as Christ was above the husband. It taught that a nun is purer, nobler than a mother. It induced millions of pure and conscientious girls to renounce the joys of life — to take the veil woven of night and death, to wear the habiliments of the dead — made them believe that they were the brides of Christ.

For my part, I would as soon be a widow as the bride of a man who had been dead for eighteen hundred years.

The poor deluded girls imagined that they, in some mysterious way, were in spiritual wedlock united with God. All worldly desires were driven from their hearts. They filled their lives with fastings — with prayers — with self-accusings. They forgot fathers and mothers and gave their love to the invisible. They were the victims, the convicts of superstition — prisoners in the penitentiaries of God. Conscientious, good, sincere — insane.

These loving women gave their hearts to a phantom, their lives to a dream.

A few years ago, at a revival, a fine buxom girl was “converted,” “born again.” In her excitement she cried, “I’m married to Christ — I’m married to Christ.” In her delirium she threw her arms around the neck of an old man and again cried, “I’m married to Christ.” The old man, who happened to be a kind of skeptic, gently removed her hands, saying at the same time: “I don’t know much about your husband, but I have great respect for your father-in-law.”

Priests, theologians, have taken advantage of women — of their gentleness — their love of approbation. They have lived upon their hopes and fears. Like vampires, they have sucked their blood. They have made them responsible for the sins of the world. They have taught them the slave virtues — meekness, humility — implicit obedience. They have fed their minds with mistakes, mysteries and absurdities. They have endeavored to weaken and shrivel their brains, until, to them, there would be no possible connection between evidence and belief — between fact and faith.

What has the church done?

It was the enemy of commerce — of business. It denounced the taking of interest for money. Without taking interest for money, progress is impossible. The steamships, the great factories, the railroads have all been built with borrowed money, money on which interest was promised and for the most part paid.

The church was opposed to fire insurance — to life insurance. It denounced insurance in any form as gambling, as immoral. To insure your life was to declare that you had no confidence in God — that you relied on a corporation instead of divine providence. It was declared that God would provide for your widow and your fatherless children.

To insure your life was to insult heaven.

What has the church done?

The church regarded epidemics as the messengers of the good God. The “Black Death” was sent by the eternal Father, whose mercy spared some and whose justice murdered the rest. To stop the scourge, they tried to soften the heart of God by kneelings and prostrations — by processions and prayers — by burning incense and by making vows. They did not try to remove the cause. The cause was God. They did not ask for pure water, but for holy water. Faith and filth lived or rather died together. Religion and rags, piety and pollution kept company. Sanctity kept its odor.

What has the church done?

It was the enemy of art and literature. It destroyed the marbles of Greece and Rome. Beauty was Pagan. It destroyed so far as it could the best literature of the world. It feared thought — but it preserved the Scriptures, the ravings of insane saints, the falsehoods of the Fathers, the bulls of popes, the accounts of miracles performed by shrines, by dried blood and faded hair, by pieces of bones and wood, by rusty nails and thorns, by handkerchiefs and rags, by water and beads and by a finger of the Holy Ghost.

This was the literature of the church.

I admit that the priests were honest — as honest as ignorant. More could not be said.

What has the church done?

Christianity claims, with great pride, that it established asylums for the insane. Yes, it did. But the insane were treated as criminals. They were regarded as the homes — as the tenement-houses of devils. They were persecuted and tormented. They were chained and flogged, starved and killed. The asylums were prisons, dungeons, the insane were victims and the keepers were ignorant, conscientious, pious fiends. They were not trying to help men, they were fighting devils — destroying demons. They were not actuated by love — but by hate and fear.

What has the church done?

It founded schools where facts were denied, where science was denounced and philosophy despised. Schools, where priests were made — where they were taught to hate reason and to look upon doubts as the suggestions of the Devil. Schools where the heart was hardened and the brain shriveled. Schools in which lies were sacred and truths profane. Schools for the more general diffusion of ignorance — schools to prevent thought — to suppress knowledge. Schools for the purpose of enslaving the world. Schools in which teachers knew less than pupils.

What has the church done?

It has used its influence with God to get rain and sunshine — to stop flood and storm — to kill insects, rats, snakes and wild beasts — to stay pestilence and famine — to delay frost and snow — to lengthen the lives of kings and queens — to protect presidents — to give legislators wisdom — to increase collections and subscriptions. In marriages it has made God the party of the third part. It has sprinkled water on babes when they were named. It has put oil on the dying and repeated prayers for the dead. It has tried to protect the people from the malice of the Devil — from ghosts and spooks, from witches and wizards and all the leering fiends that seek to poison the souls of men. It has endeavored to protect the sheep of God from the wolves of science — from the wild beasts of doubt and investigation. It has tried to wean the lambs of the Lord from the delights, the pleasures, the joys, of life. According to the philosophy of the church, the virtuous weep and suffer, the vicious laugh and thrive, the good carry a cross, and the wicked fly. But in the next life this will be reversed. Then the good will be happy, and the bad will be damned.

The church filled the world with faith and crime.

It polluted the fountains of joy. It gave us an ignorant, jealous, revengeful and cruel God — sometimes merciful — sometimes ferocious. Now just, now infamous — sometimes wise — generally foolish. It gave us a Devil, cunning, malicious, almost the equal of God, not quite as strong — but quicker — not as profound — but sharper.

It gave us angels with wings — cherubim and seraphim and a heaven with harps and hallelujahs — with streets of gold and gates of pearl.

It gave us fiends and imps with wings like bats. It gave us ghosts and goblins, spooks and sprites, and little devils that swarmed in the bodies of men, and it gave us hell where the souls of men will roast in eternal flames. Shall we thank the church? Shall we thank the orthodox churches?

Shall we thank them for the hell they made here? Shall we thank them for the hell of the future?



WE must remember that the church was founded and has been protected by God, that all the popes, and cardinals, all the bishops, priests and monks, all the ministers and exhorters were selected and set apart — all sanctified and enlightened by the infinite God — that the Holy Scriptures were inspired by the same Being, and that all the orthodox creeds were really made by him.

We know what these men — filled with the Holy Ghost — have done. We know the part they have played. We know the souls they have saved and the bodies they have destroyed. We know the consolation they have given and the pain they have inflicted — the lies they have defended — the truths they have denied. We know that they convinced millions that celibacy is the greatest of all virtues — that women are perpetual temptations, the enemies of true holiness — that monks and priests are nobler than fathers, that nuns are purer than mothers. We know that they taught the blessed absurdity of the Trinity — that God once worked at the trade of a carpenter in Palestine. We know that they divided knowledge into sacred and profane — taught that Revelation was sacred — that Reason was blasphemous — that faith was holy and facts false. That the sin of Adam and Eve brought disease and pain, vice and death into the world. We know that they have taught the dogma of special providence — that all events are ordered and regulated by God — that he crowns and uncrowns kings — preserves and destroys — guards and kills — that it is the duty of man to submit to the divine will, and that no matter how much evil there may be — no matter how much suffering — how much pain and death, man should pour out-his heart in thankfulness that it is no worse.

Let me be understood. I do not say and I do not think that the church was dishonest, that the clergy were insincere. I admit that all religions, all creeds, all priests, have been naturally produced. I admit, and cheerfully admit, that the believers in the supernatural have done some good — not because they believed in gods and devils — but in spite of it.

I know that thousands and thousands of clergymen are honest, self-denying and humane — that they are doing what they believe to be their duty — doing what they can to induce men and women to live pure and noble lives. This is not the result of their creeds — it is because they are human.

What I say is that every honest teacher of the supernatural has been and is an unconscious enemy of the human race.

What is the philosophy of the church — of those who believe in the supernatural?

Back of all that is — back of all events — Christians put an infinite Juggler who with a wish creates, preserves, destroys. The world is his stage and mankind his puppets. He fills them with wants and desires, with appetites and ambitions — with hopes and fears — with love and hate. He touches the springs. He pulls the strings — baits the hooks, sets the traps and digs the pits.

The play is a continuous performance.

He watches these puppets as they struggle and fail. Sees them outwit each other and themselves — leads them to every crime, watches the births and deaths — hears lullabies at cradles and the fall of clods on coffins. He has no pity. He enjoys the tragedies — the desperation — the despair — the suicides. He smiles at the murders, the assassinations, — the seductions, the desertions — the abandoned babes of shame. He sees the weak enslaved — mothers robbed of babes — the innocent in dungeons — on scaffolds. He sees crime crowned and hypocrisy robed.

He withholds the rain and his puppets starve. He opens the earth and they are devoured. He sends the flood and they are drowned. He empties the volcano and they perish in fire. He sends the cyclone and they are torn and mangled. With quick lightnings they are dashed to death. He fills the air and water with the invisible enemies of life — the messengers of pain, and watches the puppets as they breathe and drink. He creates cancers to feed upon their flesh — their quivering nerves — serpents, to fill their veins with venom, — beasts to crunch their bones — to lap their blood.

Some of the poor puppets he makes insane — makes them struggle in the darkness with imagined monsters with glaring eyes and dripping jaws, and some are made without the flame of thought, to drool and drivel through the darkened days. He sees all the agony, the injustice, the rags of poverty, the withered hands of want — the motherless babes — the deformed — the maimed — the leprous, knows the tears that flow — hears the sobs and moans — sees the gleam of swords, hears the roar of the guns — sees the fields reddened with blood — the white faces of the dead. But he mocks when their fear cometh, and at their calamity he fills the heavens with laughter. And the poor puppets who are left alive, fall on their knees and thank the Juggler with all their hearts.

But after all, the gods have not supported the children of men, men have supported the gods. They have built the temples. They have sacrificed their babes, their lambs, their cattle. They have drenched the altars with blood. They have given their silver, their gold, their gems. They have fed and clothed their priests — but the gods have given nothing in return. Hidden in the shadows they have answered no prayer — heard no cry — given no sign — extended no hand — uttered no word. Unseen and unheard they have sat on their thrones, deaf and dumb — paralyzed and blind. In vain the steeples rise — in vain the prayers ascend.

And think what man has done to please the gods. He has renounced his reason — extinguished the torch of his brain, he has believed without evidence and against evidence. He has slandered and maligned himself. He has fasted and starved. He has mutilated his body — scarred his flesh — given his blood to vermin. He has persecuted, imprisoned and destroyed his fellows. He has deserted wife and child. He has lived alone in the desert. He has swung-censers and burned incense, counted beads and sprinkled himself with holy water — shut his eyes, clasped his hands — fallen upon his knees and groveled in the dust — but the gods have been silent — silent as stones.

Have these cringings and crawlings — these cruelties and absurdities — this faith and foolishness pleased the gods?

We do not know.

Has any disaster been averted — any blessing obtained? We do not know.

Shall we thank these gods?

Shall we thank the church’s God?



WHOM shall we thank? Standing here at the close of the 19th century — amid the trophies of thought — the triumphs of genius — here under the flag of the Great Republic — knowing something of the history of man — here on this day that has been set apart for thanksgiving, I most reverently thank the good men, the good women of the past, I thank the kind fathers, the loving mothers of the savage days. I thank the father who spoke the first gentle word, the mother who first smiled upon her babe. I thank the first true friend. I thank the savages who hunted and fished that they and their babes might live. I thank those who cultivated the ground and changed the forests into farms — those who built rude homes and watched the faces of their happy children in the glow of fireside flames — those who domesticated horses, cattle and sheep — those who invented wheels and looms and taught us to spin and weave — those who by cultivation changed wild grasses into wheat and corn, changed bitter things to fruit, and worthless weeds to flowers, that sowed within our souls the seeds of art. I thank the poets of the dawn — the tellers of legends — the makers of myths — the singers of joy and grief, of hope and love. I thank the artists who chiseled forms in stone and wrought with light and shade the face of man. I thank the philosophers, the thinkers, who taught us how to use our minds in the great search for truth. I thank the astronomers who explored the heavens, told us the secrets of the stars, the glories of the constellations — the geologists who found the story of the world in fossil forms, in memoranda kept in ancient rocks, in lines written by waves, by frost and fire — the anatomists who sought in muscle, nerve and bone for all the mysteries of life — the chemists who unraveled Nature’s work that they might learn her art — the physicians who have laid the hand of science on the brow of pain, the hand whose magic touch restores — the surgeons who have defeated Nature’s self and forced her to preserve the lives of those she labored to destroy.

I thank the discoverers of chloroform and ether, the two angels who give to their beloved sleep, and wrap the throbbing brain in the soft robes of dreams. I thank the great inventors — those who gave us movable type and the press, by means of which great thoughts and all discovered facts are made immortal — the inventors of engines, of the great ships, of the railways, the cables and telegraphs. I thank the great mechanics, the workers in iron and steel, in wood and stone. I thank the inventors and makers of the numberless things of use and luxury.

I thank the industrious men, the loving mothers, the useful women. They are the benefactors of our race.

The inventor of pins did a thousand times more good than all the popes and cardinals, the bishops and priests — than all the clergymen and parsons, exhorters and theologians that ever lived.

The inventor of matches did more for the comfort and convenience of mankind than all the founders of religions and the makers of all creeds — than all malicious monks and selfish saints.

I thank the honest men and women who have expressed their sincere thoughts, who have been true to themselves and have preserved the veracity of their souls.

I thank the thinkers of Greece and Rome, Zeno and Epicurus, Cicero and Lucretius. I thank Bruno, the bravest, and Spinoza, the subtlest of men.

I thank Voltaire, whose thought lighted a flame in the brain of man, unlocked the doors of superstition’s cells and gave liberty to many millions of his fellow-men. Voltaire — a name that sheds light. Voltaire — a star that superstition’s darkness cannot quench.

I thank the great poets — the dramatists. I thank Homer and Aeschylus, and I thank Shakespeare above them all. I thank Burns for the heart-throbs he changed into songs, for his lyrics of flame. I thank Shelley for his Skylark, Keats for his Grecian Urn and Byron for his Prisoner of Chillon. I thank the great novelists. I thank the great sculptors. I thank the unknown man who moulded and chiseled the Venus de Milo. I thank the great painters. I thank Rembrandt and Corot. I thank all who have adorned, enriched and ennobled life — all who have created the great, the noble, the heroic and artistic ideals.

I thank the statesmen who have preserved the rights of man. I thank Paine whose genius sowed the seeds of independence in the hearts of ’76. I thank Jefferson whose mighty words for liberty have made the circuit of the globe. I thank the founders, the defenders, the saviors of the Republic. I thank Ericsson, the greatest mechanic of his century, for the monitor. I thank Lincoln for the Proclamation. I thank Grant for his victories and the vast host that fought for the right, — for the freedom of man. I thank them all — the living and the dead.

I thank the great scientists — those who have reached the foundation, the bed-rock — who have built upon facts — the great scientists, in whose presence theologians look silly and feel malicious.

The scientists never persecuted, never imprisoned their fellow-men. They forged no chains, built no dungeons, erected no scaffolds — tore no flesh with red hot pincers — dislocated no joints on racks — crushed no bones in iron boots — extinguished no eyes — tore out no tongues and lighted no fagots. They did not pretend to be inspired — did not claim to be prophets or saints or to have been born again. They were only intelligent and honest men. They did not appeal to force or fear. They did not regard men as slaves to be ruled by torture, by lash and chain, nor as children to be cheated with illusions, rocked in the cradle of an idiot creed and soothed by a lullaby of lies.

They did not wound — they healed. They did not kill — they lengthened life. They did not enslave — they broke the chains and made men free. They sowed the seeds of knowledge, and many millions have reaped, are reaping, and will reap the harvest of joy.

I thank Humboldt and Helmholtz and Haeckel and Büchner. I thank Lamarck and Darwin — Darwin who revolutionized the thought of the intellectual world. I thank Huxley and Spencer. I thank the scientists one and all.

I thank the heroes, the destroyers of prejudice and fear — the dethroners of savage gods — the extinguishers of hate’s eternal fire — the heroes, the breakers of chains — the founders of free states — the makers of just laws — the heroes who fought and fell on countless fields — the heroes whose dungeons became shrines — the heroes whose blood made scaffolds sacred — the heroes, the apostles of reason, the disciples of truth, the soldiers of freedom — the heroes who held high the holy torch and filled the world with light.

With all my heart I thank them all.

Robert G. Ingersoll (The Ingersoll Times, Vol 4 4-50)

Why is this literature not taught and analysed in schools?


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