From ROBERT INGERSOLL (1880)
The Great Agnostic
If what is known as the Christian Religion is true, nothing can be more wonderful than the fact that Matthew, Mark and Luke say nothing about “salvation by faith;” that they do not even hint at the doctrine of the atonement, and are as silent as empty tombs as to the necessity of believing anything to secure happiness in this world or another.
For a good many years it has been claimed that the writers, of these gospels knew something about the teachings of Christ, and had, at least, a general knowledge of the conditions of salvation. It now seems to be substantiated that the early Christians did not place implicit confidence in the gospels, and did not hesitate to make such changes and additions as they thought proper. Such changes and additions are about the only passages in the New Testament that the Evangelical Churches now consider sacred. That portion of the last chapter of Mark, in which unbelievers are so cheerfully and promptly damned, has been shown to be an interpolation, and it is asserted that in the revised edition of the New Testament, soon to be issued, the infamous passages will not appear. With these expunged, there is not one word in Matthew, Mark, or Luke, even tending to show that belief in Christ has, or can have, any effect upon the destiny of the soul.
The four gospels are the four corner-stones upon which rests the fabric of orthodox Christianity. Three of these stones have crumbled, and the fourth is not likely to outlast this generation. The gospel of John cannot alone uphold the infinite absurdity of vicarious virtue and vice, and it cannot, without the aid of “interpolation,” sustain the illogical and immoral dogma of salvation by faith. These frightful doctrines must be abandoned; the miraculous must be given up, the wonderful stories must be expunged, and from the creed of noble deeds the forgeries of superstition must be blotted out. From the temple of Morality and Truth — from the great windows towards the sun — the parasitic and poisonous vines of faith and fable must be torn.
The church will be compelled at last to rest its case, not upon the wonders Christ is said to have performed, but upon the system of morality he taught. All the miracles, including the resurrection and ascension, are, when compared with portions of the “Sermon on the Mount,” but dust and darkness.
The careful reader of the New Testament will find three Christs described: — One who wished to preserve Judaism — one who wished to reform it, and one who built a system of his own. The apostles and their disciples, utterly unable to comprehend a religion that did away with sacrifices, churches, priests, and creeds, constructed a Christianity for themselves, so that the orthodox churches of to-day rest — first, upon what Christ endeavored to destroy — second, upon what he never said, and, third, upon a misunderstanding of what he did say. If a certain belief is necessary to insure the salvation of the soul, the church ought to explain, and without any unnecessary delay, why such an infinitely important fact was utterly ignored by Matthew, Mark and Luke. There are only two explanations possible. Either belief is unnecessary, or the writers of these three Gospels did not understand the Christian system. The “sacredness” of the subject cannot longer hide the absurdity of the “scheme of salvation.” nor the failure of Matthew, Mark and Luke to mention what is now claimed to have been the entire mission of Christ. The church must take from the New Testament the supernatural; the idea that an intellectual conviction can subject an honest man to eternal pain — the awful doctrine that the innocent can justly suffer for the guilty, and allow the remainder to be discussed, denied or believed without punishment and without reward. No one will object to the preaching of kindness, honesty and justice. To preach less is a crime, and to practice more is impossible.
There is one thing that ought to be again impressed upon the average theologian, and that is the utter futility of trying to answer arguments with personal abuse. It should be understood once for all that these questions are in no sense personal. If it should turn out that all the professed Christians in the world are sinless saints, the question of how Matthew, Mark, and Luke, came to say nothing about the atonement and the scheme of salvation by faith, would still be asked. And if it should then be shown that all the doubters, deists, and atheists, are vile and vicious wretches, the question still would wait for a reply.
The origin of all religions, creeds, and sacred books, is substantially the same, and the history of one, is, in the main, the history of all. Thus far these religions have been the mistaken explanations of our surroundings. The appearances of nature have imposed upon the ignorance and fear of man. But Back of all honest creeds was, and is, the desire to know, to understand, and to explain, and that desire will, as I most fervently hope and earnestly believe, be gratified at last by the discovery of the truth. Until then, let us bear with the theories, hopes, dreams, mistakes, and honest thoughts of all.
WHAT MUST WE DO TO BE SAVED?
“THE NUREMBERG MAN WAS OPERATED BY A COMBINATION OF PIPES AND LEVERS, AND THOUGH HE COULD BREATHE AND DIGEST PERFECTLY, AND EVEN REASON AS WELL AS MOST THEOLOGIANS, WAS MADE OF NOTHING BUT WOOD AND LEATHER.”
The whole world has been filled with fear. Ignorance has been the refuge of the soul. For thousands of years the intellectual ocean was ravaged by the buccaneers of reason. Pious souls clung to the shore and looked at the lighthouse. The seas were filled with monsters and the islands with sirens. The people were driven in the middle of a narrow road while priests went before, beating the hedges on either side to frighten the robbers from their lairs. The poor followers seeing no robbers, thanked their brave leaders with all their hearts.
Huddled in folds they listened with wide eyes while the shepherds told of ravening wolves. With great gladness they exchanged their fleeces for security. Shorn and shivering, they had the happiness of seeing their protectors comfortable and warm.
Through all the years, those who plowed divided with those who prayed. Wicked industry supported pious idleness, the hut gave to the cathedral, and frightened poverty gave even its rags to buy a robe for hypocrisy.
Fear is the dungeon of the mind, and superstition is a dagger with which hypocrisy assassinates the soul. Courage is liberty. I am in favor of absolute freedom of thought. In the realm of mind every one is monarch; every one is robed, sceptered, and crowned, and every one wears the Purple of authority. I belong to the republic of intellectual liberty, and only those are good citizens of that republic who depend upon reason and upon persuasion, and only those are traitors who resort to brute force.
Now, I beg of you all to forget just for a few moments that you are Methodists or Baptists or Catholics or Presbyterians, and let us for an hour or two remember only that we are men and women. And allow me to say “man” and “woman” are the highest titles that can be bestowed upon humanity.
Let us, if possible, banish all fear from the mind. Do not imagine that there is some being in the infinite expanse who is not willing that every man and woman should think for himself and herself. Do not imagine that there is any being who would give to his children the holy torch of reason, and then damn them for following that sacred light. Let us have courage.
Priests have invented a crime called “blasphemy,” and behind that crime hypocrisy has crouched for thousands of years. There is but one blasphemy, and that is injustice. There is but one worship, and that is Justice!
You need not fear the anger of a god that you cannot injure. Rather fear to injure your fellow-men. Do not be afraid of a crime you can not commit. Rather be afraid of the one that you may commit. The reason that you cannot injure God is that the Infinite is conditionless. You cannot increase or diminish the happiness of any being without changing that being’s condition. If God is conditionless, you can neither injure nor benefit him.
Their was a Jewish gentleman went into a restaurant to get his dinner, and the devil of temptation whispered in his ear: “Eat some bacon.” He knew if there was anything in the universe calculated to excite the wrath of an infinite being, who made every shining star, it was to see a gentleman eating bacon. He knew it, and he knew the infinite being was looking, that he was the eternal eavesdropper of the universe. But his appetite got the better of his conscience, as it often has with us all, and he ate that bacon. He knew it was wrong, and his conscience felt the blood of shame in its cheek. When he went into that restaurant the weather was delightful, the sky was as blue as June, and when he came out the sky was covered with angry clouds, the lightning leaping from one to the other, and the earth shaking beneath the voice of the thunder. He went back into that restaurant with a face as white as milk, and he said to one of the keepers:
“My God, did you ever hear such a fuss about a little piece of bacon?”
As long as we harbor such opinions of infinity; as long as we imagine the heavens to be filled with such tyranny, just so long the sons of men will be cringing, intellectual cowards. Let us think, and let us honestly express our thought.
Do not imagine for a moment that I think people who disagree with me are bad people. I admit, and I cheerfully admit, that a very large proportion of mankind, and a very large majority, a vast number are reasonably honest. I believe that most Christians believe what they teach; that most ministers are endeavoring to make this world better. I do not pretend to be better than they are. It is an intellectual question. It is a question, first, of intellectual liberty, and after that, a question to be settled at the bar of human reason. I do not pretend to be better than they are. Probably I am a good deal worse than many of them, but that is not the question. The question is: Bad as I am, have I the right to think? And I think I have for two reasons:
First, I cannot help it. And secondly, I like it.
The whole question is right at a point. If I have not a right to express my thoughts, who has?
“Oh,” they say, “we will allow you to think, we will not burn you.”
“All right; why won’t you burn me?”
“Because we think a decent man will allow others to think and to express his thought.”
“Then the reason you do not persecute me for my thought is that you believe it would be infamous in you?”
“And yet you worship a God who will, as you declare, punish me forever?”
Surely an infinite God ought to be as just as man. Surely no God can have the right to punish his children for being honest. He should not reward hypocrisy with heaven, and punish candor with eternal pain.
The next question then is: Can I commit a sin against God by thinking? If God did not intend I should think, why did he give me a thinker? For one, I am convinced, not only that I have the right to think, but that it is my duty to express my honest thoughts. Whatever the gods may say we must be true to ourselves.
We have got what they call the Christian system of religion, and thousands of people wonder how I can be wicked enough to attack that system.
There are many good things about it, and I shall never attack anything that I believe to be good! I shall never fear to attack anything I honestly believe to be wrong! We have what they call the Christian religion, and I find, Just in proportion that nations have been religious, just in the proportion they have clung to the religion of their founders, they have gone back to barbarism. I find that Spain, Portugal, Italy, are the three worst nations in Europe. I find that the nation nearest infidel is the most prosperous — France.
And so I say there can be no danger in the exercise of absolute intellectual freeborn. I find among ourselves the men who think are at least as good as those who do not.
We have, I say, a Christian system, and that system is founded upon what they are pleased to call the “New Testament.” Who wrote the New Testament? I do not know. Who does know? Nobody. We have found many manuscripts containing portions of the New Testament. Some of these manuscripts leave out five or six books — many of them. Others more; others less. No two of these manuscripts agree. Nobody knows who wrote these manuscripts. They are all written in Greek. The disciples of Christ, so far as we know, knew only Hebrew. Nobody ever saw, so far as we know, one of the original Hebrew manuscripts.
Nobody ever saw anybody who had seen anybody who had heard of anybody that had ever seen anybody that had ever seen one of the original Hebrew manuscripts. No doubt the clergy of your city have told you these facts thousands of times, and they will be obliged to me for having repeated them once more. These manuscripts are written in what are called capital Greek letters. They are called Uncial manuscripts, and the New Testament was not divided into chapters and verses, even, until the year of grace 1551. In the original the manuscripts and gospels are signed by nobody. The epistles are addressed to nobody; and they are signed by the same person. All the addresses, all the pretended ear-marks showing to whom they were written, and by whom they were written, are simply interpolations, and everybody who has studied the subject knows it.
It is further admitted that even these manuscripts have not been properly translated, and they have a syndicate now making a new translation; and I suppose that I can not tell weather I really believe the New Testament or not until I see that new translation.
You must remember, also, one other thing. Christ never wrote a solitary word of the New Testament — not one word. There is an account that he once stooped and wrote something in the sand, but that has not been preserved. He never told anybody to write a word. He never said: “Matthew, remember this. Mark, do not forget to put that down. Luke, be sure that in your gospel you have this. John, do not forget it.” Not one word. And it has always seemed to me that a being coming from another world, with a message of infinite importance to mankind, should at least have verified that message by his own signature. Is it not wonderful that not one word was written by Christ? Is it not strange that he gave no orders to have his words preserved — words upon which hung the salvation of a world?
Why was nothing written? I will tell you. In my Judgment they expected the end of the world in a few days. That generation was not to pass away until the heavens should be rolled up as a scroll, and until the earth should melt with fervent heat. That was their belief. They believed that the world was to be destroyed, and that there was to be another coming, and that the saints were then to govern the earth. And they even went so far among the apostles, as we frequently do now before election, as to divide out the offices in advance. This Testament, as it now is, was not written for hundreds of years after the apostles were dust. Many of the pretended facts lived in the open mouth of credulity, They were in the wastebaskets of forgetfulness. They depended upon the inaccuracy of legend, and for centuries these doctrines and stories were blown about by the inconstant winds. And when reduced to writing, some gentleman would write by the side of the passage his idea of it, and the next copyist would put that in as a part of the text. And, when it was mostly written, and the church got into trouble, and wanted a passage to help it out, one was interpolated to order. So that now it is among the easiest things in the world to pick out at least one hundred interpolations in the Testament. And I will pick some of them out before I get through.
And let me say here, once for all, that for the man Christ I have infinite respect. Let me say, once for all, that the place where man has died for man is holy ground. And let me say, once for all, that to that great and serene man I gladly pay, I gladly pay, the tribute of my admiration and my tears. He was a reformer in his day. He was an infidel in his time. He was regarded as a blasphemer, and his life was destroyed by hypocrites, who have, in all ages, done what they could to trample freedom and manhood out of the human mind. Had I lived at that time I would have been his friend, and should he come again he will not find a better friend than I will be.
That is for the man. For the theological creation I have a different feeling. If he was, in fact, God, he knew there was no such thing as death. He knew that what we called death was but the eternal opening of the golden gates of everlasting joy; and it took no heroism to face a death that was eternal life.
But when a man, when a poor boy sixteen years of age, goes upon the field of battle to keep his flag in heaven, not knowing but that death ends all; not knowing but that when the shadows creep over him, the darkness will be eternal, there is heroism. For the man who, in the darkness, said: “My God, why hast thou forsaken me?” — for that man I have nothing but respect, admiration, and love. Back of the theological shreds, rags, and patches, hiding the real Christ, I see a genuine man.
A while ago I made up my mind to find out what was necessary for me to do in order to be saved. If I have got a soul, I want it saved. I do not wish to lose anything that is of value.
For thousands of years the world has been asking that question:
“What must we do to be saved?”
Saved from poverty? No. Saved from crime? No. Tyranny? No. But “What must we do to be saved from the eternal wrath of the God who made us all?”
If God made us, he will not destroy us. Infinite wisdom never made a poor investment, Upon all the works of an infinite God, a dividend must finally be declared. Why should God make failures? Why should he waste material? Why should he not correct his mistakes, instead of damning them? The pulpit has cast a shadow over even the cradle. The doctrine of endless punishment has covered the cheeks of this world with tears. I despise it, and I deny it.
I made up my mind, I say, to see what I had to do in order to save my soul according to the Testament, and thereupon I read it. I read the gospels, Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, and found that the church had been deceiving me. I found that the clergy did not understand their own book; that they had been building upon passages that had been interpolated; upon passages that were entirely untrue, and I will tell you why I think so…
To be continued…