Freethinkers: The Truth

 

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From Robert Ingersoll (1833 – 1899)

THE TRUTH

Through millions of ages, by countless efforts to satisfy his wants, to gratify his passions, his appetites, man slowly developed his brain, changed two of his feet into hands and forced into the darkness of his brain a few gleams and glimmerings of reason. He was hindered by ignorance, by fear, by mistakes, and he advanced only as he found the truth—the absolute facts. Through countless years he has groped and crawled and struggled and climbed and stumbled toward the light. He has been hindered and delayed and deceived by augurs and prophets—by popes and priests. He has been betrayed by saints, misled by apostles and Christs, frightened by devils and ghosts—enslaved by chiefs and kings—robbed by altars and thrones. In the name of education his mind has been filled with mistakes, with miracles, and lies, with the impossible, the absurd and infamous. In the name of religion he has been taught humility and arrogance, love and hatred, forgiveness and revenge.

But the world is changing. We are tired of barbarian bibles and savage creeds.

Nothing is greater, nothing is of more importance, than to find amid the errors and darkness of this life, a shining truth.

Truth is the intellectual wealth of the world.

The noblest of occupations is to search for truth.

Truth is the foundation, the superstructure, and the glittering dome of progress.

Truth is the mother of joy. Truth civilizes, ennobles, and purifies. The grandest ambition that can enter the soul is to know the truth.

Truth gives man the greatest power for good. Truth is sword and shield. It is the sacred light of the soul.

The man who finds a truth lights a torch.

How is Truth to be Found?

By investigation, experiment and reason.

Every human being should be allowed to investigate to the extent of his desire—his ability. The literature of the world should be open to him—nothing prohibited, sealed or hidden. No subject can be too sacred to be understood. Each person should be allowed to reach his own conclusions and to speak his honest thought.

He who threatens the investigator with punishment here, or hereafter, is an enemy of the human race. And he who tries to bribe the investigator with the promise of eternal joy is a traitor to his fellow-men.

There is no real investigation without freedom—freedom from the fear of gods and men.

So, all investigation—all experiment—should be pursued in the light of reason.

Every man should be true to himself—true to the inward light. Each man, in the laboratory of his own mind, and for himself alone, should test the so-called facts—the theories of all the world. Truth, in accordance with his reason, should be his guide and master.

To love the truth, thus perceived, is mental virtue—intellectual purity. This is true manhood. This is freedom.

To throw away your reason at the command of churches, popes, parties, kings or gods, is to be a serf, a slave.

It is not simply the right, but it is the duty of every man to think—to investigate for himself—and every man who tries to prevent this by force or fear, is doing all he can to degrade and enslave his fellow-men.

Every Man Should be Mentally Honest.

He should preserve as his most precious jewel the perfect veracity of his soul.

He should examine all questions presented to his mind, without prejudice,—unbiased by hatred or love—by desire or fear. His object and his only object should be to find the truth. He knows, if he listens to reason, that truth is not dangerous and that error is. He should weigh the evidence, the arguments, in honest scales—scales that passion or interest cannot change. He should care nothing for authority—nothing for names, customs or creeds—nothing for anything that his reason does not say is true.

Of his world he should be the sovereign, and his soul should wear the purple. From his dominions should be banished the hosts of force and fear.

He Should be Intellectually Hospitable.

Prejudice, egotism, hatred, contempt, disdain, are the enemies of truth and progress.

The real searcher after truth will not receive the old because it is old, or reject the new because it is new. He will not believe men because they are dead, or contradict them because they are alive. With him an utterance is worth the truth, the reason it contains, without the slightest regard to the author. He may have been a king or serf—a philosopher or servant,—but the utterance neither gains nor loses in truth or reason. Its value is absolutely independent of the fame or station of the man who gave it to the world.

Nothing but falsehood needs the assistance of fame and place, of robes and mitres, of tiaras and crowns.

The wise, the really honest and intelligent, are not swayed or governed by numbers—by majorities.

They accept what they really believe to be true. They care nothing for the opinions of ancestors, nothing for creeds, assertions and theories, unless they satisfy the reason.

In all directions they seek for truth, and when found, accept it with joy—accept it in spite of preconceived opinions—in spite of prejudice and hatred.

This is the course pursued by wise and honest men, and no other course is possible for them.

In every department of human endeavor men are seeking for the truth—for the facts. The statesman reads the history of the world, gathers the statistics of all nations to the end that his country may avoid the mistakes of the past. The geologist penetrates the rocks in search of facts—climbs mountains, visits the extinct craters, traverses islands and continents that he may know something of the history of the world. He wants the truth.

The chemist, with crucible and retort, with countless experiments, is trying to find the qualities of substances—to ravel what nature has woven.

The great mechanics dwell in the realm of the real. They seek by natural means to conquer and use the forces of nature. They want the truth—the actual facts.

The physicians, the surgeons, rely on observation, experiment and reason. They become acquainted with the human body—with muscle, blood and nerve—with the wonders of the brain. They want nothing but the truth.

And so it is with the students of every science. On every hand they look for facts, and it is of the utmost importance that they give to the world the facts they find.

Their courage should equal their intelligence. No matter what the dead have said, or the living believe, they should tell what they know. They should have intellectual courage.

If it be good for man to find the truth—good for him to be intellectually honest and hospitable, then it is good for others to know the truths thus found.

Every man should have the courage to give his honest thought. This makes the finder and publisher of truth a public benefactor.

Those who prevent, or try to prevent, the expression of honest thought, are the foes of civilization—the enemies of truth. Nothing can exceed the egotism and impudence of the man who claims the right to express his thought and denies the same right to others.

It will not do to say that certain ideas are sacred, and that man has not the right to investigate and test these ideas for himself.

Who knows that they are sacred? Can anything be sacred to us that we do not know to be true?

For many centuries free speech has been an insult to God. Nothing has been more blasphemous than the expression of honest thought. For many ages the lips of the wise were sealed. The torches that truth had lighted, that courage carried and held aloft, were extinguished with blood.

Truth has always been in favor of free speech—has always asked to be investigated—has always longed to be known and understood. Freedom, discussion, honesty, investigation and courage are the friends and allies of truth. Truth loves the light and the open field. It appeals to the senses—to the judgment, the reason, to all the higher and nobler faculties and powers of the mind. It seeks to calm the passions, to destroy prejudice and to increase the volume and intensity of reason’s flame.

It does not ask man to cringe or crawl. It does not desire the worship of the ignorant or the prayers and praises of the frightened. It says to every human being, “Think for yourself. Enjoy the freedom of a god, and have the goodness and the courage to express your honest thought.”

Why should we pursue the truth? and why should we investigate and reason? and why should we be mentally honest and hospitable? and why should we express our honest thoughts? To this there is but one answer: for the benefit of mankind.

The brain must be developed. The world must think. Speech must be free. The world must learn that credulity is not a virtue and that no question is settled until reason is fully satisfied.

By these means man will overcome many of the obstructions of nature. He will cure or avoid many diseases. He will lessen pain. He will lengthen, ennoble and enrich life. In every direction he will increase his power. He will satisfy his wants, gratify his tastes. He will put roof and raiment, food and fuel, home and happiness within the reach of all.

He will drive want and crime from the world. He will destroy the serpents of fear, the monsters of superstition. He will become intelligent and free, honest and serene.

The monarch of the skies will be dethroned—the flames of hell will be extinguished. Pious beggars will become honest and useful men. Hypocrisy will collect no tolls from fear, lies will not be regarded as sacred, this life will not be sacrificed for another, human beings will love each other instead of gods, men will do right, not for the sake of reward in some other world, but for the sake of happiness here. Man will find that Nature is the only revelation, and that he, by his own efforts, must learn to read the stories told by star and cloud, by rock and soil, by sea and stream, by rain and fire, by plant and flower, by life in all its curious forms, and all the things and forces of the world.

When he reads these stories, these records, he will know that man must rely on himself,—that the supernatural does not exist, and that man must be the providence of man.

It is impossible to conceive of an argument against the freedom of thought—against maintaining your self-respect and preserving the spotless and stainless veracity of the soul.

II.

ALL that I have said seems to be true—almost self-evident,—and you may ask who it is that says slavery is better than liberty. Let me tell you.

All the popes and priests, all the orthodox churches and clergymen, say that they have a revelation from God.

The Protestants say that it is the duty of every person to read, to understand, and to believe this revelation—that a man should use his reason; but if he honestly concludes that the Bible is not a revelation from God, and dies with that conclusion in his mind, he will be tormented forever. They say:—”Read,” and then add: “Believe, or be damned.”

“No matter how unreasonable the Bible may appear to you, you must believe. No matter how impossible the miracles may seem, you must believe. No matter how cruel the laws, your heart must approve them all!”

This is what the church calls the liberty of thought. We read the Bible under the scowl and threat of God. We read by the glare of hell. On one side is the devil, with the instruments of torture in his hands. On the other, God, ready to launch the infinite curse. And the church says to the readers: “You are free to decide. God is good, and he gives you the liberty to choose.”

The popes and the priests say to the poor people: “You need not read the Bible. You cannot understand it. That is the reason it is called a revelation. We will read it for you, and you must believe what we say. We carry the key of hell. Contradict us and you will become eternal convicts in the prison of God.”

This is the freedom of the Catholic Church.

And all these priests and clergymen insist that the Bible is superior to human reason—that it is the duty of man to accept it—to believe it, whether he really thinks it is true or not, and without the slightest regard to evidence or reason.

It is his duty to cast out from the temple of his soul the goddess Reason, and bow before the coiled serpent of Fear.

This is what the church calls virtue.

Under these conditions what can thought be worth? The brain, swept by the sirocco of God’s curse, becomes a desert.

But this is not all. To compel man to desert the standard of Reason, the church does not entirely rely on the threat of eternal pain to be endured in another world, but holds out the reward of everlasting joy.

To those who believe, it promises the endless ecstasies of heaven. If it cannot frighten, it will bribe. It relies on fear and hope.

A religion, to command the respect of intelligent men, should rest on a foundation of established facts. It should appeal, not to passion, not to hope and fear, but to the judgment. It should ask that all the faculties of the mind, all the senses, should assemble and take counsel together, and that its claims be passed upon and tested without prejudice, without fear, in the calm of perfect candor.

But the church cries: “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and thou shalt be saved.” Without this belief there is no salvation. Salvation is the reward for belief.

Belief is, and forever must be, the result of evidence. A promised reward is not evidence. It sheds no intellectual light. It establishes no fact, answers no objection, and dissipates no doubt.

Is it honest to offer a reward for belief?

The man who gives money to a judge or juror for a decision or verdict is guilty of a crime. Why? Because he induces the judge, the juror, to decide, not according to the law, to the facts, the right, but according to the bribe.

The bribe is not evidence.

So, the promise of Christ to reward those who will believe is a bribe. It is an attempt to make a promise take the place of evidence. He who says that he believes, and does this for the sake of the reward, corrupts his soul.

Suppose I should say that at the center of the earth there is a diamond one hundred miles in diameter, and that I would give ten thousand dollars to any man who would believe my statement. Could such a promise be regarded as evidence?

Intelligent people would ask not for rewards, but reasons. Only hypocrites would ask for the money.

Yet, according to the New Testament, Christ offered a reward to those who would believe, and this promised reward was to take the place of evidence. When Christ made this promise he forgot, ignored, or held in contempt the rectitude of a brave, free and natural soul.

The declaration that salvation is the reward for belief is inconsistent with mental freedom, and could have been made by no man who thought that evidence sustained the slightest relation to belief.

Every sermon in which men have been told that they could save their souls by believing, has been an injury. Such sermons dull the moral sense and subvert the true conception of virtue and duty.

The true man, when asked to believe, asks for evidence. The true man, who asks another to believe, offers evidence.

But this is not all.

In spite of the threat of eternal pain—of the promise of everlasting joy, unbelievers increased, and the churches took another step.

The churches said to the unbelievers, the heretics: “Although our God will punish you forever in another world—in his prison—the doors of which open only to receive, we, unless you believe, will torment you now.”

And then the members of these churches, led by priests, popes, and clergymen, sought out their unbelieving neighbors—chained them in dungeons, stretched them on racks, crushed their bones, cut out their tongues, extinguished their eyes, flayed them alive and consumed their poor bodies in flames.

All this was done because these Christian savages believed in the dogma of eternal pain. Because they believed that heaven was the reward for belief. So believing, they were the enemies of free thought and speech—they cared nothing for conscience, nothing for the veracity of a soul,—nothing for the manhood of a man. In all ages most priests have been heartless and relentless. They have calumniated and tortured. In defeat they have crawled and whined. In victory they have killed. The flower of pity never blossomed in their hearts and in their brain. Justice never held aloft the scales. Now they are not as cruel. They have lost their power, but they are still trying to accomplish the impossible. They fill their pockets with “fool’s gold” and think they are rich. They stuff their minds with mistakes and think they are wise. They console themselves with legends and myths, have faith in fiction and forgery—give their hearts to ghosts and phantoms and seek the aid of the non-existent.

They put a monster—a master—a tyrant in the sky, and seek to enslave their fellow-men. They teach the cringing virtues of serfs. They abhor the courage of manly men. They hate the man who thinks. They long for revenge.

They warm their hands at the imaginary fires of hell.

I show them that hell does not exist and they denounce me for destroying their consolation.

Horace Greeley, as the story goes, one cold day went into a country store, took a seat by the stove, unbuttoned his coat and spread out his hands.

In a few minutes, a little boy who clerked in the store said: “Mr. Greeley, there aint no fire in that stove.”

“You d——d little rascal,” said Greeley, “What did you tell me for, I was getting real warm.”
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