From The Archives
ROBERT INGERSOLL (1833 – 1899)
The Great Agnostic
In the New Testament we find the teachings and sayings of Christ. If we say that the book is inspired, then we must admit that Christ really said all the things attributed to him by the various writers. If the book is inspired we must accept it all. We have no right to reject the contradictory and absurd and accept the reasonable and good. We must take it all just as it is.
My own observation has led me to believe that men are generally consistent in their theories and inconsistent in their lives.
So, I think that Christ in his utterances was true to his theory, to his philosophy.
If I find in the Testament sayings of a contradictory character, I conclude that some of those sayings were never uttered by him. The sayings that are, in my judgment, in accordance with what I believe to have been his philosophy, I accept, and the others I throw away.
There are some of his sayings which show him to have been a devout Jew, others that he wished to destroy Judaism, others showing that he held all people except the Jews in contempt and that he wished to save no others, others showing that he wished to convert the world, still others showing that he was forgiving, self-denying and loving, others that he was revengeful and malicious, others, that he was an ascetic, holding all human ties in utter contempt.
The following passages show that Christ was a devout Jew.
“Swear not, neither by heaven, for it is God’s throne, nor by the earth for it is his footstool, neither by Jerusalem for it is his holy city.”
“Think not that I am come to destroy the law or the prophets, I am not come to destroy, but to fulfill.” “For after all these things, (clothing, food and drink) do the Gentiles seek.”
So, when he cured a leper, he said: “Go thy way, show thyself unto the priest and offer the gift that Moses commanded.”
Jesus sent his disciples forth saying: “Go not into the way of the Gentiles, and into any city of the Samaritans enter ye not, but go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.”
A woman came out of Canaan and cried to Jesus: “Have mercy on me, my daughter is sorely vexed with a devil”—but he would not answer. Then the disciples asked him to send her away, and he said: “I am not sent but unto the lost sheep of the house of Israel.”
Then the woman worshiped him and said: “Lord help me.” But he answered and said: “It is not meet to take the children’s bread and cast it unto dogs.” Yet for her faith he cured her child.
So, when the young man asked him what he must do to be saved, he said: “Keep the commandments.”
Christ said: “The scribes and the Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat, all therefore whatsoever they bid you observe, that observe and do.”
“And it is easier for heaven and earth to pass, than one tittle of the law to fail.”
Christ went into the temple and cast out them that sold and bought there, and said: “It is written, my house is the house of prayer: but ye have made it a den of thieves.”
“We know what we worship for salvation is of the Jews.”
Certainly all these passages were written by persons who regarded Christ as the Messiah.
Many of the sayings attributed to Christ show that he was an ascetic, that he cared nothing for kindred, nothing for father and mother, nothing for brothers or sisters, and nothing for the pleasures of life.
Christ said to a man: “Follow me.” The man said: “Suffer me first to go and bury my father.” Christ answered: “Let the dead bury their dead.” Another said: “I will follow thee, but first let me go bid them farewell which are at home.”
Jesus said: “No man having put his hand to the plough, and looking back is fit for the kingdom of God. If thine right eye offend thee pluck it out. If thy right hand offend thee cut it off.”
One said unto him: “Behold thy mother and thy brethren stand without, desiring to speak with thee.” And he answered: “Who is my mother, and who are my brethren?” Then he stretched forth his hand toward his disciples and said: “Behold my mother and my brethren.”
“And every one that hath forsaken houses, or brethren or sisters, or father or mother, or wife or children, or lands for my name’s sake shall receive an hundred fold and shall inherit everlasting life.”
“He that loveth father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; and he that loveth son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me.”
Christ it seems had a philosophy.
He believed that God was a loving father, that he would take care of his children, that they need do nothing except to rely implicitly on God.
“Blessed are the merciful: for they shall obtain mercy.”
“Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you and pray for them which despitefully use you and persecute you.”
“Take no thought for your life, what ye shall eat or what ye shall drink, nor yet for your body, what ye shall put on…. For your heavenly Father knoweth that ye have need of all these things.”
“Ask and it shall be given you. Whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them. If ye forgive men their trespasses your heavenly Father will also forgive you. The very hairs of your head are all numbered.”
Christ seemed to rely absolutely on the protection of God until the darkness of death gathered about him, and then he cried: “My God! my God! why hast thou forsaken me?”
While there are many passages in the New Testament showing Christ to have been forgiving and tender, there are many others, showing that he was exactly the opposite.
What must have been the spirit of one who said: “I am come to send fire on the earth? Suppose ye that I am come to give peace on earth? I tell you, nay, but rather division. For from henceforth there shall be five in one house divided, three against two, and two against three. The father shall be divided against the son, and the son against the father, the mother against the daughter and the daughter against the mother, the mother-in-law against her daughter-in-law, and the daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law.”
“If any man come to me and hate not his father and mother, and wife, and children and brethren and sisters, yea, and his own life also, he cannot be my disciple.”
“But those mine enemies, which would not that I should reign over them, bring hither and slay them before me.”
This passage built dungeons and lighted fagots.
“Depart ye cursed into everlasting fire prepared for the devil and his angels.”
“I came not to bring peace but a sword.”
All these sayings could not have been uttered by the same person. They are inconsistent with each other. Love does not speak the words of hatred. The real philanthropist does not despise all nations but his own. The teacher of universal forgiveness cannot believe in eternal torture.
From the interpolations, legends, accretions, mistakes and falsehoods in the New Testament is it possible to free the actual man? Clad in mist and myth, hidden by the draperies of gods, deformed, indistinct as faces in clouds, is it possible to find and recognize the features, the natural face of the actual Christ?
For many centuries our fathers closed their eyes to the contradictions and inconsistencies of the Testament and in spite of their reason harmonized the interpolations and mistakes.
This is no longer possible. The contradictions are too many, too glaring. There are contradictions of fact not only, but of philosophy, of theory.
The accounts of the trial, the crucifixion, and ascension of Christ do not agree. They are full of mistakes and contradictions.
According to one account Christ ascended the day of, or the day after his resurrection. According to another he remained forty days after rising from the dead. According to one account, he was seen after his resurrection only by a few women and his disciples. According to another he was seen by the women, by his disciples on several occasions and by hundreds of others.
According to Matthew, Luke and Mark, Christ remained for the most part in the country, seldom going to Jerusalem. According to John he remained mostly in Jerusalem, going occasionally into the country, and then generally to avoid his enemies.
According to Matthew, Mark and Luke, Christ taught that if you would forgive others God would forgive you. According to John, Christ said that the only way to get to heaven was to believe on him and be born again.
These contradictions are gross and palpable and demonstrate that the New Testament is not inspired, and that many of its statements must be false.
If we wish to save the character of Christ, many of the passages must be thrown away.
We must discard the miracles or admit that he was insane or an impostor. We must discard the passages that breathe the spirit of hatred and revenge, or admit that he was malevolent.
If Matthew was mistaken about the genealogy of Christ, about the wise men, the star, the flight into Egypt and the massacre of the babes by Herod,—then he may have been mistaken in many passages that he put in the mouth of Christ.
The same may be said in regard to Mark, Luke and John.
The church must admit that the writers of the New Testament were uninspired men—that they made many mistakes, that they accepted impossible legends as historical facts, that they were ignorant and superstitious, that they put malevolent, stupid, insane and unworthy words in the mouth of Christ, described him as the worker of impossible miracles and in many ways stained and belittled his character.
The best that can be said about Christ is that nearly nineteen centuries ago he was born in the land of Palestine in a country without wealth, without commerce, in the midst of a people who knew nothing of the greater world—a people enslaved, crushed by the mighty power of Rome. That this babe, this child of poverty and want grew to manhood without education, knowing nothing of art, or science, and at about the age of thirty began wandering about the hills and hamlets of his native land, discussing with priests, talking with the poor and sorrowful, writing nothing, but leaving his words in the memory or forgetfulness of those to whom he spoke.
That he attacked the religion of his time because it was cruel. That this excited the hatred of those in power, and that Christ was arrested, tried and crucified.
For many centuries this great Peasant of Palestine has been worshiped as God.
Millions and millions have given their lives to his service. The wealth of the world was lavished on his shrines. His name carried consolation to the diseased and dying. His name dispelled the darkness of death, and filled the dungeon with light. His name gave courage to the martyr, and in the midst of fire, with shriveling lips the sufferer uttered it again, and again. The outcasts, the deserted, the fallen, felt that Christ was their friend, felt that he knew their sorrows and pitied their sufferings.
The poor mother, holding her dead babe in her arms, lovingly whispered his name. His gospel has been carried by millions to all parts of the globe, and his story has been told by the self-denying and faithful to countless thousands of the sons of men. In his name have been preached charity,—forgiveness and love.
He it was, who according to the faith, brought immortality to light, and many millions have entered the valley of the shadow with their hands in his.
All this is true, and if it were all, how beautiful, how touching, how glorious it would be. But it is not all. There is another side.
In his name millions and millions of men and women have been imprisoned, tortured and killed. In his name millions and millions have been enslaved. In his name the thinkers, the investigators, have been branded as criminals, and his followers have shed the blood of the wisest and best. In his name the progress of many nations was stayed for a thousand years. In his gospel was found the dogma of eternal pain, and his words added an infinite horror to death. His gospel filled the world with hatred and revenge; made intellectual honesty a crime; made happiness here the road to hell, denounced love as base and bestial, canonized credulity, crowned bigotry and destroyed the liberty of man.
It would have been far better had the New Testament never been written—far better had the theological Christ never lived. Had the writers of the Testament been regarded as uninspired, had Christ been thought of only as a man, had the good been accepted and the absurd, the impossible, and the revengeful thrown away, mankind would have escaped the wars, the tortures, the scaffolds, the dungeons, the agony and tears, the crimes and sorrows of a thousand years.