From ROBERT INGERSOLL (1880)
The Great Agnostic
THE GOSPEL OF MARK
Let us now see what Mark thought it necessary for a man to do to save his soul. In the fourth chapter, after Jesus had given to the multitude by the sea the parable of the sower, his disciples, when they were again alone, asked him the meaning of the parable. Jesus replied:
“Unto you it is given to know the mystery of the kingdom of God: but unto them that are Without, all these things are done in parables.
That seeing, they may see, and not perceive; and hearing they may hear, and not understand; lest at any time they should be converted, and their sins should be forgiven them.”
It is a little hard to understand why he should have preached to people that he did not intend should know his meaning. Neither is it quite clear why he objected to their being converted. This, I suppose, is one of the mysteries that we should simply believe without endeavoring to comprehend.
With the above exception, and one other that I will mention hereafter, Mark substantially agrees with Matthew, and says that God will be merciful to the merciful, that he will be kind to the kind, that he will pity the pitying, and love the loving. Mark upholds the religion of Matthew until we come to the fifteenth and sixteenth verses of the sixteenth chanter, and then I strike an interpolation put in by hypocrisy, put in by priests who longed to grasp with bloody hands the scepter of universal power. Let me read it to you. It is the most infamous passage in the Bible. Christ never said it. No sensible man ever said it.
“And He said unto them” (that is, unto his disciples), “go ye into, all the world and preach the gospel to every creature. He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned.”
That passage was written so that fear would give alms to hypocrisy. Now, I propose to prove to you that this is an interpolation. How will I do it? In the first place, not one word is said about belief, in Matthew. In the next place. not one word about belief, in Mark, until I come to that verse, and where is that said to have beer spoken? According to Mark, it is a part of the last conversation of Jesus Christ, — just before, according to the account, he ascended bodily before their eyes. If there ever was any important thing happened in this world that was it. If there is any conversation that people would be apt to recollect, it would be the last conversation with a god before he rose visibly through the air and seated himself upon the throne of the infinite. We have in this Testament five accounts of the last conversation happening between Jesus Christ and his apostles. Matthew gives it, and yet Matthew does not state that in that conversation Christ said: “Whoso believeth and is baptized shall be saved, and whoso believeth not shall be damned.” And if he did say those words they were the most important that ever fell from lips. Matthew did not hear it, or did not believe it, or forgot it.
Then I turn to Luke, and he gives an account of this same last conversation, and not one word does he say upon that subject. Luke does not pretend that Christ said that whoso believeth not shall be damned. Luke certainly did not hear it. Maybe he forgot it. Perhaps he did not think that it was worth recording. Now, it is the most important thing, if Christ said it, that he ever said.
Then I turn to John, and he gives an account of the last conversation, but not one solitary word on the subject of belief or unbelief. Not one solitary word on the subject of damnation. Not one. John might not have been listening.
Then I turn to the first chapter of the Acts, and there I find an account of the last conversation; and in that conversation there is not one word upon this subject. This is a demonstration that the passage in Mark is an interpolation. What other reason have I got? There is not one particle of sense in it. Why? No man can control his belief. You hear evidence for and against, and the integrity of the soul stands at the scales and tells which side rises and which side falls. You can not believe as you wish. You must believe as you must. And he might as well have said. “Go into the world and preach the gospel, and whosoever has red hair shall be saved, and whosoever hath not shall be damned.”
I have another reason. I am much obliged to the gentleman who interpolated these passages. I am much obliged to him that he put in some more — two more. Now hear:
“And these signs shall follow them that believe “Good!
“In my name shall they cast out devils; they shall speak with new tongues; they shall take up serpents, and if they drink any deadly thing it shall not hurt them. They shall lay hands on the sick and they shall recover.”
Bring on your believer! Let him cast out a devil. I do not ask for a large one. Just a little one for a cent. Let him take up serpents. “And if they drink any deadly thing it shall not hurt them.” Let me mix up a dose for the believer, and if it does not hurt him I will join a church. “Oh! but,” they say, “those things only lasted through the Apostolic age.” Let us see. “Go into all the world and preach the gospel, and whosoever believes and is baptized shall be saved, and these signs shall follow them that believe.”
How long? I think at least until they had gone into all the world. Certainly those signs should follow until all the world had been visited. And yet if that declaration was in the mouth of Christ, he then knew that one-half of the world was unknown, and that he would be dead fourteen hundred and fifty-nine years before his disciples would know that there was another continent. And yet he said, “Go into all the world and preach the gospel,” and he knew then that it would be fourteen hundred and fifty-nine years before anybody could go. Well, if it was worth while to have signs follow believers in the Old World, surely it was worth while to have signs follow believers in the New. And the very reason that signs should follow would be to convince the unbeliever, and there are as many unbelievers now as ever, and the signs are as necessary to-day as they ever were. I would like a few myself.
This frightful declaration, “He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved, but he that believeth not shall be damned,” has filled the world with agony and crime. Every letter of this passage has been sword and fagot; every word has been dungeon and chain. That passage made the sword of persecution drip with innocent blood through centuries of agony and crime. That passage made the horizon of a thousand years lurid with the fagot’s flames. That passage contradicts the Sermon on the Mount; travesties the Lord’s prayer; turns the splendid religion of deed and duty into the superstition of creed and cruelty. I deny it. It is infamous! Christ never said it.
THE GOSPEL OF LUKE.
It is sufficient to say that Luke agrees substantially with Matthew and Mark.
“Be ye therefore merciful, as your Father also is merciful.” Good!
“Judge not and ye shall not be Judged: condemn not and ye shall not be condemned: forgive and ye shall be Forgiven.” Good!
“Give and it shall be given unto you: good measure, pressed down, and shaken together, and running over.” Good! I like it.
“For with the same measure that ye mete withal, it shall be measured to you again.”
He agrees substantially with Mark; he agrees substantially with Matthew; and I come at last to the nineteenth chapter.
“And Zaccheus stood and said unto the Lord, ‘Behold, Lord, the half of my goods I give to the poor, and if I have taken anything from any man by false accusation, I restore him four fold.’ And Jesus said unto him, ‘this day is salvation come to this house.
That is good doctrine. He did not ask Zaccheus what he believed. He did not ask him, “Do you believe in the Bible? Do you believe in the five points? Have you ever been baptized — sprinkled? Oh! immersed? “Half of my goods I give to the poor, and if I have taken anything from any man by false accusation, I restore him four fold.” “And Christ said, this day is salvation come to this house.” Good!
I read also in Luke that Christ when upon the cross forgave his murderers, and that is considered the shining gem in the crown of his mercy. He forgave his murderers. He forgave the men who drove the nails in his hands, in his feet, that plunged a spear in his side; the soldier that in the hour of death offered him in mockery the bitterness to drink. He forgave them all freely, and yet. although he would forgive them, he will in the nineteenth century, as we are told by the orthodox church, damn to eternal fire a noble man for the expression of his honest thoughts. That will not do. I find, too, in Luke, an account of two thieves that were crucified at the same time. The other gospels speak of them. One says they both railed upon him. Another says nothing about it. In Luke we are told that one railed upon him, but one of the thieves looked and pitied Christ, and Christ said to that thief:
“To-day shalt thou be with me in Paradise.”
Why did he say that? Because the thief pitied him. God can not afford to trample beneath the feet of his infinite wrath the smallest blossom of pity that ever shed its perfume in the human heart!
Who was this thief? To what church did he belong? I do not know. The fact that he was a thief throws no light on that question. Who was he? What did he believe? I do not know. Did he believe in the Old Testament? In the miracles? I do not know. Did he believe that Christ was God? I do not know. Why then was the promise made to him that he should meet Christ in Paradise? Simply because he pitied suffering innocence upon the cross.
God can not afford to damn any man who is capable of pitying anybody.
THE GOSPEL OF JOHN.
And now we come to John, and that is where the trouble commences.
The other gospels teach that God will be merciful to the merciful, forgiving to the forgiving, kind to the kind, loving to the loving, Just to the just, merciful to the good.
Now we come to John, and here is another doctrine. And allow me to say that John was not written until long after the others. John was mostly written by the church.
“Jesus answered and said unto him: verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born again he can not see the kingdom of God.”
Why did he not tell Matthew that? Why did he not tell Luke that? Why did he not tell Mark: that? They never heard of it, or forgot it, or they did not believe it.
“Except a man be born of water and of the spirit, he can not enter into the kingdom of God.” Why?
“That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Marvel not that I said unto thee, Ye must be born again.” “That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit,” and he might have added, that which is born of water is water.
“Marvel not that I said unto thee, ‘ye must be born again.’” And then the reason is given, and I admit I did not understand it myself until I read the reason, and when you hear the reason, you will understand it as well as I do; and here it is: “The wind bloweth where it listeth, and thou hearest the sound thereof, but canst not tell whence it cometh, and whither it goeth.” So, I find in the book of John the idea of the Real Presence.
“And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of man be lifted up;”
“That whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have eternal life.”
“For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish but have everlasting life,”
“For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through him might be saved.”
“He that believeth on him is not condemned; but he that believeth not is condemned already, because he hath not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.”
“He that believeth on the Son hath everlasting life: and he that believeth not the Son, shall not see life; but the wrath of God abideth on him.”
“Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that heareth my word, and believeth on him that sent me, hath everlasting life, and shall not come into condemnation: but is passed from death unto life.”
“Verily, verily, I say unto you, the hour is coming, and now is, when the dead shall hear the voice of the Son of God; and they that hear shall live.”
“And shall come forth; they that have done good unto the resurrection of life; and they that have done evil, unto the resurrection of damnation.”
“And this is the will of him that sent me, that everyone which seeth the Son, and believeth on him, may have everlasting life; and I will raise him up at the last day.”
“No man can come to me, except the Father, which hath sent me, draw him; and I will raise him up at the last day.”
“Verily, verily, I say unto you, he that believeth on me hath everlasting life.”
“I am that bread of life.”
“Your fathers did eat manna in the wilderness, and are dead.”
“This is the bread which cometh down from heaven, that a man may eat thereof, and not die.”
“I am the living bread which came down from heaven. If any man eat of this bread he shall live forever; and the bread that I will give is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world.”
“Then Jesus said unto them, verily, verily, I say unto you, except ye eat the flesh of the Son of man and drink his blood, ye have no life in you.”
“Whoso eateth my flesh and drinketh my blood, hath eternal life; and I will raise him up at the last day.”
“For my flesh is meat indeed, and my blood is drink indeed.”
“He that eateth my flesh, and drinketh my blood, dwelleth in me, and I in him.”
“As the living Father hath sent me, and I live by the Father; so he that eateth me, even he shall live by me.”
“This is that bread which came down from heaven; not as your fathers did eat manna, and are dead; he that eateth of this bread shall live forever.”
“And he said, Therefore said I unto you, that no man can come unto me, except it were given unto him of my Father.”
“Jesus said unto her, I am the resurrection and the life; he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live.”
“And whosoever liveth and believeth in me, shall never die.”
“He that loveth his life shall lose it; and he that hateth his life in this world, shall keep it unto life eternal.”
So I find in the book of John, that in order to be saved we must not only believe in Jesus Christ, but we must eat the flesh and we must drink the blood of Jesus Christ. If that gospel is true, the Catholic Church is right. But it is not true. I can not believe it, and yet for all that, it may be true. But I do not believe it. Neither do I believe there Is any god in the universe who will damn a man simply for expressing his belief.
“Why,” they say to me, “suppose all this should turn out to be true, and you should come to the day of Judgment and find all these things to be true. What would you do then?” I would walk up like a man, and say, “I was mistaken.”
“And suppose God was about to pass judgment upon you, what would you say?” I would say to him, “Do unto others as you would that others should do unto you.” Why not?
I am told that I must render good for evil. I am told that if smitten on one cheek I must turn the other. I am told that I must overcome evil with good. I am told that I must love my enemies; and will it do for this God who tells me to love my enemies to damn his? No, it will not do. It will not do.
In the book of John all these doctrines of regeneration — that it is necessary to believe in the Lord Jesus Christ; that salvation depends upon belief — in this book of John all these doctrines find their warrant; nowhere else.
Read Matthew, Mark, and Luke, and then read John, and you will agree with me that the three first gospels teach that if we are kind and forgiving to our fellows, God will be kind and forgiving to us. In John we are told that another man can be good for us, or bad for us, and that the only way to get to heaven is to believe something that we know is not so.
All these passages about believing in Christ, drinking his blood and eating his flesh, are afterthoughts. They were written by the theologians, and in a few years they will be considered unworthy of the lips of Christ.