From The Archives
ROBERT INGERSOLL (1833 – 1899)
The Great Agnostic
GOD the Father.
The Jehovah of the Old Testament is the God of the Christians.
He it was who created the Universe, who made all substance, all force, all life, from nothing. He it is who has governed and still governs the world. He has established and destroyed empires and kingdoms, despotisms and republics. He has enslaved and liberated the sons of men. He has caused the sun to rise on the good and on the evil, and his rain to fall on the just and the unjust.
This shows his goodness.
He has caused his volcanoes to devour the good and the bad, his cyclones to wreck and rend the generous and the cruel, his floods to drown the loving and the hateful, his lightning to kill the virtuous and the vicious, his famines to starve the innocent and criminal and his plagues to destroy the wise and good, the ignorant and wicked. He has allowed his enemies to imprison, to torture and to kill his friends. He has permitted blasphemers to flay his worshipers alive, to dislocate their joints upon racks, and to burn them at the stake. He has allowed men to enslave their brothers and to sell babes from the breasts of mothers.
This shows his impartiality.
The pious negro who commenced his prayer: “O thou great and unscrupulous God,” was nearer right than he knew.
Ministers ask: Is it possible for God to forgive man?
And when I think of what has been suffered—of the centuries of agony and tears, I ask: Is it possible for man to forgive God?
How do Christians prove the existence of their God? Is it possible to think of an infinite being? Does the word God correspond with any image in the mind? Does the word God stand for what we know or for what we do not know?
Is not this unthinkable God a guess, an inference?
Can we think of a being without form, without body, without parts, without passions? Why should we speak of a being without body as of the masculine gender?
Why should the Bible speak of this God as a man?—of his walking in the garden in the cool of the evening—of his talking, hearing and smelling? If he has no passions why is he spoken of as jealous, revengeful, angry, pleased and loving?
In the Bible God is spoken of as a person in the form of man, journeying from place to place, as having a home and occupying a throne. These ideas have been abandoned, and now the Christian’s God is the infinite, the incomprehensible, the formless, bodiless and passionless.
Of the existence of such a being there can be, in the nature of things, no evidence.
Confronted with the universe, with fields of space sown thick with stars, with all there is of life, the wise man, being asked the origin and destiny of all, replies: “I do not know. These questions are beyond the powers of my mind.” The wise man is thoughtful and modest. He clings to facts. Beyond his intellectual horizon he does not pretend to see. He does not mistake hope for evidence or desire for demonstration. He is honest. He neither deceives himself nor others.
The theologian arrives at the unthinkable, the inconceivable, and he calls this God. The scientist arrives at the unthinkable, the inconceivable, and calls it the Unknown.
The theologian insists that his inconceivable governs the world, that it, or he, or they, can be influenced by prayers and ceremonies, that it, or he, or they, punishes and rewards, that it, or he, or they, has priests and temples.
The scientist insist that the Unknown is not changed so far as he knows by prayers of people or priests. He admits that he does not know whether the Unknown is good or bad—whether he, or it, wants or whether he, or it, is worthy of worship. He does not say that the Unknown is God, that it created substance and force, life and thought. He simply says that of the Unknown he knows nothing.
Why should Christians insist that a God of infinite wisdom, goodness and power governs the world?
Why did he allow millions of his children to be enslaved? Why did he allow millions of mothers to be robbed of their babes? Why has he allowed injustice to triumph? Why has he permitted the innocent to be imprisoned and the good to be burned? Why has he withheld his rain and starved millions of the children of men? Why has he allowed the volcanoes to destroy, the earthquakes to devour, and the tempest to wreck and rend?