Friday, 8 July 2016

COLONEL ROBERT G. INGERSOLL

[BY S.G. MEE]
No living man has been more grossly maligned and insulted—especially by the so-called religious Press—than Robert G. Ingersoll, the bosom friend and death-bed confidant of the late illustrious and world lamented American President.  It is, however, upon calm reflection, not surprising that the men who live and flourish upon the mental delusions of the people—upon the (as Carlyle styles them) "incredible incredited traditions, solemnly sordid hypocrisies, and beggarly deliriums old and new"—should dislike and calumniate those who endeavour by pen and voice to dispel those illusions and deliriums. In the preface to a volume of his admirable lectures, Colonel Ingersoll truly says :—"Nothing can exceed the mendacity of the religious Press. . . . the average religious editor is intolerant and insolent.  He knows nothing of affairs.  He has the envy of failure, the malice of impotence, and always accounts for the brave and generous action of unbelievers by low, base, and unworthy motives."  The above is intrinsically true ; and there is no question that the semporendom bigotry, intolerance, and implacability of the Roman Catholic Church is—however much they may deny it—inherent also in all the Protestant Churches.  The some spirit that put Socrates to death for denying the absurd gods of his day, is still extant and vital in the breasts of the priests and adherents of the quite as absurd orthodox Deity of the countless creeds of Christendom.
And yet, why should the spiritual guides of the people be so fierce and vindictive against one who simply tells them what the ex-Baptist minister, Mr. Greenwood, as a Freethought lecturer, now thunders into the ears of his former dupes? Only a Sunday or two since, he told his vast audience at the Theatre Royal, Sydney, that his former clerical colleagues no more believe in the orthodox dogmas of their so-called inspired Book than he himself does, and added—"Before many years I believe the dogmas now held by the Church will be repudiated by the civilised world." . . .
In his preface to "The Ghosts and other Lectures," Colonel Ingersoll says : "By this time even the clergy should know that the intellect of the Nineteenth Century needs no guardian. They should cease to regard themselves as shepherds defending flocks of weak, silly, and fearful sheep from the claws and teeth of ravening wolves. By this time they should know that the religion of the ignorant and brutal Past no longer satisfies the heart and brain—that miracles have become contemptible, that the "evidences" have ceased to convince, that the spirit of investigation cannot be stopped nor stayed, that the Church is losing her power, that the young are holding in a kind of tender contempt the sacred follies of the world, that the pulpits and pews no longer represent the culture and morality of the world, and that the brand of inferiority is upon the orthodox brain."

Then, in his most trenchant style, we have Ingersoll's reasons for impeaching and opposing the Church in the concrete :
"I oppose the Church," he says, "because her dogmas are infamous and cruel ; because she humiliates and degrades woman ; because she teaches the doctrines of eternal torment and the natural depravity of man ; because she insists upon the absurd, the impossible, and the senseless ; because she resorts to falsehood and slander ; because she is arrogant and revengeful ; because she allows men to sin on a credit ; because she discourages self-reliance and laughs at good works ; because she believes in vicarious virtue and vicarious vice—vicarious punishment and vicarious reward ; because she regards repentance of more importance than restitution; and because she sacrifices the world we have to one we know not of."
In his lecture on "The Gods," Colonel Ingersoll says :—"Every religion has for its foundation a miracle —that is to say, a violation of nature : that is to say, a falsehood. . . . Truth scorns the assistance of miracle. Nothing but falsehood ever attested itself by signs and wonders. No miracle was ever performed, and no sane man ever thought he had performed one. . . . Your miracles are too ancient. The witnesses have been dead for nearly two thousand years. Give us a new miracle, and substantiate it by witnesses who still have the cheerful habit of living in this world. Do not send us to Jericho to hear the winding horns, nor put us in the fire with Shadrach, Meschech, and Abednego.  Do not compel us to navigate the sea with Captain Jonah nor dine with Mr. Ezekiel.  There is no sort of use in sending us fox-hunting with Sampson.  We have positively lost all interest in that little speech so eloquently delivered by Balaam's inspired donkey.  It is worse than useless to show us fishes with money in their mouths, and call our attention to vast multitudes stuffing themselves with five crackers and two sardines.  We demand a new miracle—and we demand it now.  Let the Church furnish, at least, ONE—or for ever after hold her peace."
"Although many eminent men," he says, "have endeavoured to harmonise necessity and free will —the existence of evil and the infinite power and goodness of God—they have succeeded only in producing learned and ingenious failures. Immense efforts have been made to reconcile ideas utterly inconsistent with the facts by which we are surrounded ; and all persons who have failed to perceive the pretended reconciliation have been denounced as infidels, atheists, and scoffers." In another portion of the same eloquent lecture, in a few incisive sentences, it is pointed out how impossible it is for a reflective man to reconcile the ubiquity of infinite pain with the attributes of infinite mercy and benevolence, which latter all the creeds alike claim for their common Deity. "Who can appreciate the mercy," says the Colonel, "of so making the world that all animals devour animals? Is it possible to discover infinite intelligence and love in universal and eternal carnage ?  What should we think of a father who should give a farm to his children, and before giving them possession should plant upon it thousands of deadly shrubs and vines ; should stock it with ferocious beasts and poisonous reptiles ; should take pains to put a few swamps in the neighbourhood to breed malaria ; should so arrange matters that the ground would occasionally open and swallow a few of his darlings ; and, besides all this, should establish a few volcanoes in the immediate vicinity that might, at any moment, overwhelm his children with rivers of fire ? . . . And yet this is exactly what the orthodox God has done. Notwithstanding which we are told that the world is perfect— that it was created by a perfect Being, and is, therefore, necessarily perfect." "The truth is," says Ingersoll, "that it is impossible to harmonise all the ills and pains and agonies of this world with the idea that we were created by and are watched over and protected by and infinitely wise, powerful, and beneficent God who is superior to and independent of nature."
Now the above, albeit by the orthodox it might be deemed blasphemous, is the only rational conclusion that anyone who dares to think for himself can possibly come to. This universe of pain and evil, as John Stuart Mill tells us, was the great stumbling block too in the way of his father's acceptance of any of the creeds or religions of the day : "He found it impossible to believe that a world so full of evil was the work of an Author combining infinite power with perfect goodness and righteousness." This universality of evil it was that caused the tender-hearted and benevolent Voltaire to exclaim—" Who can without horror consider the whole world as an empire of destruction? It abounds with wonders ; it also abounds with victims. It is a vast field of carnage and contagion. Every species is, without pity, pursued and torn to pieces through the earth and air and water. In man there is more wretchedness than in all the other animals put together."
...... Nor is Colonel Ingersoll (like most other Secularists of the age) at all hopeless of a better time coming for all human kind. Having discarded the creeds of Credulity, he, like noble John Stuart Mill, is an ardent advocate of the Religion of Humanity. In the concluding of his lecture on "the Gods" he, with enthusiastic hopefulness declares:— "We are laying the foundations of the grand temple of the future—not the temple of all the gods, but of all the people— wherein, with appropriate rites, will be celebrated the Religion of Humanity. We are doing what little we can do hasten the coming of the day when society shall cease producing millionaires and mendicants—gorged indolence and famished industry—truth in rags; and superstition robed and crowned. We are looking for the time when the useful shall be the beautiful ; when the true shall be the beautiful ; and when REASON, throned upon the world's brain, shall be the King of Kings, and God of Gods.


Northern Miner (Charters Towers, Qld. : 1874 - 1954), Tuesday 14 February 1882, page 2

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