From The Archives
ROBERT INGERSOLL (1833 – 1899)
The Great Agnostic
We are told that all who believe in this scheme of redemption and have faith in the redeemer will be rewarded with eternal joy. Some think that men can be saved by faith without works, and some think that faith and works are both essential, but all agree that without faith there is no salvation. If you repent and believe on Jesus Christ, then his goodness will be imputed to you and the penalty of the law, so far as you are concerned, will be satisfied by the sufferings of Christ.
You may repent and reform, you may make restitution, you may practice all the virtues, but without this belief in Christ, the gates of heaven will be shut against you forever.
Where is this heaven? The Christians do not know.
Does the Christian go there at death, or must he wait for the general resurrection?
They do not know.
The Testament teaches that the bodies of the dead are to be raised? Where are their souls in the meantime? They do not know.
Can the dead be raised? The atoms composing their bodies enter into new combinations, into new forms, into wheat and corn, into the flesh of animals and into the bodies of other men. Where one man dies, and some of his atoms pass into the body of another man and he dies, to whom will these atoms belong in the day of resurrection?
If Christianity were only stupid and unscientific, if its God was ignorant and kind, if it promised eternal joy to believers and if the believers practiced the forgiveness they teach, for one I should let the faith alone.
But there is another side to Christianity. It is not only stupid, but malicious. It is not only unscientific, but it is heartless. Its god is not only ignorant, but infinitely cruel. It not only promises the faithful an eternal reward, but declares that nearly all of the children of men, imprisoned in the dungeons of God will suffer eternal pain. This is the savagery of Christianity. This is why I hate its unthinkable God, its impossible Christ, its inspired lies, and its selfish, heartless heaven.
Christians believe in infinite torture, in eternal pain.
All the meanness of which the heart of man is capable is in that one word—Hell.
That word is a den, a cave, in which crawl the slimy reptiles of revenge.
That word certifies to the savagery of primitive man.
That word is the depth, the dungeon, the abyss, from which civilized man has emerged.
That word is the disgrace, the shame, the infamy, of our revealed religion.
That word fills all the future with the shrieks of the damned.
That word brutalizes the New Testament, changes the Sermon on the Mount to hypocrisy and cant, and pollutes and hardens the very heart of Christ.
That word adds an infinite horror to death, and makes the cradle as terrible as the coffin.
That word is the assassin of joy, the mocking murderer of hope. That word extinguishes the light of life and wraps the world in gloom. That word drives reason from his throne, and gives the crown to madness.
That word drove pity from the hearts of men, stained countless swords with blood, lighted fagots, forged chains, built dungeons, erected scaffolds, and filled the world with poverty and pain.
That word is a coiled serpent in the mother’s breast, that lifts its fanged head and hisses in her ear:—”Your child will be the fuel of eternal fire.”
That word blots from the firmament the star of hope and leaves the heavens black.
That word makes the Christian’s God an eternal torturer, an everlasting inquisitor—an infinite wild beast.
This is the Christian prophecy of the eternal future:
No hope in hell.
No pity in heaven.
No mercy in the heart of God.
The Old Testament is absurd, ignorant and cruel,—the New Testament is a mingling of the false and true—it is good and bad.
The Jehovah of the Jews is an impossible monster. The Trinity absurd and idiotic, Christ is a myth or a man.
The fall of man is contradicted by every fact concerning human history that we know. The scheme of redemption—through the atonement—is immoral and senseless. Hell was imagined by revenge, and the orthodox heaven is the selfish dream of heartless serfs and slaves. The foundations of the faith have crumbled and faded away. They were miracles, mistakes, and myths, ignorant and untrue, absurd, impossible, immoral, unnatural, cruel, childish, savage. Beneath the gaze of the scientist they vanished, confronted by facts they disappeared. The orthodox religion of our day has no foundation in truth. Beneath the superstructure can be found no fact.
Some may ask, “Are you trying to take our religion away?”
I answer, No—superstition is not religion. Belief without evidence is not religion. Faith without facts is not religion.
To love justice, to long for the right, to love mercy, to pity the suffering, to assist the weak, to forget wrongs and remember benefits—to love the truth, to be sincere, to utter honest words, to love liberty, to wage relentless war against slavery in all its forms, to love wife and child and friend, to make a happy home, to love the beautiful in art, in nature, to cultivate the mind, to be familiar with the mighty thoughts that genius has expressed, the noble deeds of all the world, to cultivate courage and cheerfulness, to make others happy, to fill life with the splendor of generous acts, the warmth of loving words, to discard error, to destroy prejudice, to receive new truths with gladness, to cultivate hope, to see the calm beyond the storm, the dawn beyond the night, to do the best that can be done and then to be resigned this is the religion of reason, the creed of science. This satisfies the brain and heart.
But, says the prejudiced priest, the malicious minister, “You take away a future life.”
I am not trying to destroy another world, but I am endeavoring to prevent the theologians from destroying this.
If we are immortal it is a fact in nature, and that fact does not depend on bibles, or Christs, or priests or creeds.
The hope of another life was in the heart, long before the “sacred books” were written, and will remain there long after all the “sacred books” are known to be the work of savage and superstitious men. Hope is the consolation of the world.
The wanderers hope for home.—Hope builds the house and plants the flowers and fills the air with song.
The sick and suffering hope for health.—Hope gives them health and paints the roses in their cheeks.
The lonely, the forsaken, hope for love.—Hope brings the lover to their arms. They feel the kisses on their eager lips.
The poor in tenements and huts, in spite of rags and hunger hope for wealth.—Hope fills their thin and trembling hands with gold.
The dying hopes that death is but another birth, and Love leans above the pallid face and whispers, “We shall meet again.”
Hope is the consolation of the world.
Let us hope, if there be a God that he is wise and good.
Let us hope that if there be another life it will bring peace and joy to all the children of men.
And let us hope that this poor earth on which we live, may be a perfect world—a world without a crime—without a tear.