Thursday, 7 July 2016

ROBERT G. INGERSOLL.

[By S. G. Mee.]

A WELL KNOWN politician not long since declared his belief that "every man who seriously believed in such a creed as that of Rome labored under a grievous mental disability or defect. " Of truth of the foregoing I, for one, have long been convinced. But I believe further that every man who seriously believes in any creed based on the Supernatural is almost in as great a degree mentally defective or diseased. " As men's prayers are a disease of the will," says Emerson, "so are their creeds a disease of the intellect." And, in deploring the timidity of men in not daring, by casting off the leprosy of Superstition, to possess that superlative blessing— a mens sana in corpore sano— Emerson, with almost pathetic emphasis, exclaims :—" The centuries are conspirators against the sanity and majesty the soul !" Impressed with this knowledge, too, we find, that noblest advocate of mental freedom, J. S. Mill, declaring that many who could render giant service both to truth and to mankind if they believe that they could serve the one without loss to the other, are either totally paralysed, or led to confine their exertions to matters of minor detail, by the apprehension that any real freedom of speculation, or any considerable strengthening or enlargement of the thinking faculties of mankind at large, might, by making them unbelievers, be the surest way to render them vicious and miserable."

Colonel Ingersoll, in his lecture on "Individuality," has the following admirable remarks on this same persistent declaration and object of fear on the part of the orthodox of all creeds alike that, with the rejection of their ancient myths and fables, social anarchy would soon be in the ascendant. " Religion," he says, "does not, and cannot, contemplate man as free. She accepts only the homage of the prostrate, and scorns the offerings of those who stand erect. She cannot tolerate the liberty of thought. The wide and sunny fields belong not to her domain. The star-lit heights of genius and individuality are above and beyond her appreciation and her power. Her subjects cringe at her feet, covered with the dust of obedience. They are not athletes standing posed by rich life and brave endeavor like antique statues, but shrivelled deformities, studying with furtive glance the cruel face of power. No religionist seems capable of comprehending this plain truth. There is this difference between thought and action : for our actions we are responsibly to ourselves and to those injuriously affected; for thoughts, there can, in the nature of things, be no responsibility to gods or men here or here-after. And yet the Protestant has vied with the Catholic in denouncing freedom of thought; and while I was taught to hate Catholicism with every drop of my blood, it is only justice to say, that, in all essential particulars, it is precisely the same as any other religion. Luther denounced mental liberty, with all the coarse and brutal vigor of his nature ; Calvin despised, from the very bottom of his petrified heart, anything that even looked like religious toleration, and solemnly declared that to advocate it was to crucify Christ afresh. All the founders of all the orthodox churches have advocated the same infamous tenet. The truth is that what is called religion is necessarily inconsistent with free thought . . . .
Our fathers were slaves, and nearly all their children are mental serfs. The enfranchisement of the soul is a slow and painful process. Superstition, the mother of those hideous twins, Fear and Faith, from her throne of skulls, still rules the world, and will, until the mind of woman ceases to be the property of priests. . . . In religious ideas and conceptions there has been for ages a slow and steady development. At the bottom of the ladder is Catholicism, and at the top is Science. The intermediate rounds of this ladder are occupied by the various sects, whose name is legion."

In his lecture on " The Ghosts" Colonel Ingersoll truly says :—"Take from the orthodox church of to-day the threat and fear of hell, and it becomes an extinct volcano— Take from the church the miraculous, the supernatural, the incomprehensible, the unreasonable, the impossibly the unknowable, and the absurd, and nothing but a vacuum remains !" Never were truer words written or spoken than these !

The late Mr. W. R. Gregg in his "Enigmas of Life" says :—" Consider what might fairly be expected to he the present state of the civilised world, if the whole influence of the Church had been persistently and sagaciously directed towards the improvement of the moral and material condition of humanity on this earth, instead of towards the promulgation of an astounding scheme for securing it against eternal torments in future existence ; if, in a word, universal, not selfish, well-being here, instead of what is called salvation here-after, had been the aim and study of the great organisation called the Church, and of the hundreds of thousands of teachers both orthodox and unorthodox, who for centuries have ostensibly lived and worked for no other call."

Colonel Ingersoll would, doubtless, acquiesce entirely in the above; but he points us to the only authentic and practical Priests of Progress. Although discarding all other gospels, like Carlyle he is still a firm believer in the " Gospel of Labor." "Labor," he says, "is the foundation of all. Without labor, and without great labor, progress is impossible. The progress off the world depends upon the men who walks in the fresh furrows and through the rustling corn; upon those who sow and reap; upon those whose faces are radiant with the glare of furnace fires; upon the delvers in the mines, and the workers in the shops ; upon those who give to the winter air the ringing music of the axe ; upon those who battle with the boisterous billows of the sea ; upon the inventors and discoverers ; upon the world's brave thinkers,"

In his noble lecture on "Humboldt," a terrible, though undeniably true picture is drawn of what are strangely called " the good old times." " For ages," he writes, "science was utterly ignored ; thought was a poor slave; an ignorant priest was master of the world ; faith put out the eyes of the soul ; the reason was a trembling coward ; imagination was set on fire of hell ; every human feeling was sought to be suppressed, love was considered infinitely sinful; pleasure was the road to eternal fire; and God was supposed to be happy only when his children were miserable. The world was governed by an Almighty's whim, prayers could change the order of things, halt the grand procession of nature, could produce rain"—[this latter superstition is still extant— as witness the assertion put forth by the Evangelical Standard that prayers, and not Pepper, produced the late downfall. Surely we are not yet quite out of the Dark Ages—at least the empiricism of the priestcraft of those ages is still dominant. The immutable laws of Nature have—so these professional "rain-bringers" assert— been altered to suit our local needs ; utterly forgetful, as the truth-teller Tyndall asserts, "that without a disturbance of natural law quite as serious as the stoppage of an eclipse, or the St. Lawrence up the Falls of Niagara, no acts of humiliation, individual or national, could call one shower from heaven, or deflect towards us one single beam of the sun !"]—It was believed that prayers could avert pestilence, famine, and death in all its forms. There was no idea of the certain ; all depended upon divine pleasure—or displeasure rather; heaven was full of inconsistent malevolence, and earth of ignorance. Everything was done to appease the divine wrath. To the poor multitude the earth was a kind of enchanted forest, full of demons ready to devour, and theological serpents lurking with infinite power to fascinate and torture the unhappy and impotent soul ; the very heavens were full of death ; the lightning was regarded as the glittering vengeance of God, and the earth was thick with snares for the unwary feet of man ; the flood, the tornado, the volcano, were all evidences of the displeasure of heaven, and the sinfulness of man. The blight that withered, the frost that blackened, the earthquake that devoured, were the messengers of the Creator.  The world was governed by Fear. Man in his helplessness endeavored to soften the heart of God! The faces of the multitude were blanched with fear, and wet with tears ; they were the prey of hypocrites, kings and priests.

"Slowly, beautifully, like the coming of the dawn, came the grand truth, that the universe is governed by law. . . . . The moment the fact was established that other worlds are governed by law, it was only natural to conclude that our own little world was also under its dominion. The old theological method of accounting for physical phenomena by the pleasure and displeasure of the Deity, was by the intellectual, abandoned.
 "Humboldt adopted none of the soul-shrinking creeds of his day ; wasted none of his time in the stupidities, vanities, and contradictions of theological metaphysics ; he did not endeavour to harmonise the astronomy and geology of a barbarous people with the science of the nineteenth century . .. . . He was never found on his knees before the altar of superstition ; he stood erect by the grand tranquil column of Reason!

" The world is his monument ; upon the eternal granite of her hills he inscribed his name; and, there, upon the everlasting stone, his genius wrote thus— the sublimest of truths :—

" 'THE UNIVERSE IS GOVERNED BY LAW!' "

Northern Miner (Charters Towers, Qld. : 1874 - 1954), Thursday 23 February 1882, page 2

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