From The Archives
ROBERT INGERSOLL (1833 – 1899)
The Great Agnostic
One great objection to the Old Testament is the cruelty said to have been commanded by God. All these cruelties ceased with death. The vengeance of Jehovah stopped at the tomb. He never threatened to punish the dead; and there is not one word, from the first mistake in Genesis to the last curse of Malachi, containing the slightest intimation that God will take his revenge in another world. It was reserved for the New Testament to make known the doctrine of eternal pain.
The teacher of universal benevolence rent the veil between time and eternity, and fixed the horrified gaze of man upon the lurid gulf of hell. Within the breast of non-resistance coiled the worm that never dies. Compared with this, the doctrine of slavery, the wars of extermination, the curses, the punishments of the Old Testament were all merciful and just.
The Old Testament filled this world with tyranny and injustice, and the New gives us a future filled with pain for nearly all of the sons of men. \The Old Testament describes the hell of the past, and the New the hell of the future.
The Old Testament tells us the frightful things that God has done, the New the frightful things that he will do.
These two books give us the sufferings of the past and the future – the injustice, the agony and the tears of both worlds.
Take this Old Testament, then, with all its stories of murder and massacre; with all its foolish and cruel fables; with all its infamous doctrines; with its spirit of caste; with its spirit of hatred, and tell me whether it was written by a good God. If you will read the maledictions and curses of that book, you will think that God, like Lear, had divided heaven among his daughters, and then, in the insanity of despair, had launched his curses on the human race.
And yet, I must say – I must admit – that the Old Testament is better than the New. In the Old Testament, when God had a man dead, he let him alone. When he saw him quietly in his grave he was satisfied. The muscles relaxed, and the frown gave place to a smile.
But in the New Testament the trouble commences at death. In the New Testament God is to wreak his revenge forever and ever. It was reserved for one who said, “Love your enemies,” to tear asunder the veil between time and eternity and fix the horrified gaze of man upon the gulfs of eternal fire.
The New Testament is just as much worse than the Old, as hell is worse than sleep; just as much worse, as infinite cruelty is worse than dreamless rest; and yet, the New Testament is claimed to be a gospel of love and peace.
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.
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 order to have his words preserved – words upon which hung the salvation of a world?
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.
Here in our own country, only a few years ago, men claimed to have found golden plates upon which was written a revelation from God. They founded a new religion and, according to their statement, did many miracles. They were treated as outcasts, and their leader was murdered. These men made their “depositions” “in the immediate prospect of death.” They were mobbed, persecuted, derided, and yet they insisted that their prophet had miraculous power and that he, too, could swing back the hingeless door of death.
The followers of these men have increased, in these few years, so that now the murdered prophet has at least two hundred thousand disciples [In 2010 over fourteen million!] It will be hard to find a contradiction of these pretended miracles, although this is an age filled with papers, magazines, and books.
As a matter of fact, the claims of Joseph Smith were so preposterous that sensible people did not take the pains to write and print denials. When we remember that eighteen hundred years ago there were but few people who could write, and that a manuscript did not become public in any modern sense, it was possible for the gospels to have been written with all the foolish claims in reference to miracles without exciting comment or denial.
There is not, in all the contemporaneous literature of the world, a single word about Christ or his apostles. The paragraph in Josephus is admitted to be an interpolation, and the letters, the account of the trial, and several other documents forged by the zeal of the early fathers, are now admitted to be false.