From The Archives
ROBERT INGERSOLL (1833 – 1899)
The Great Agnostic
Many ages ago our fathers were living in dens and caves. Their bodies, their low foreheads, were covered with hair. They were eating berries, roots, bark and vermin. They were fond of snakes and raw fish. They discovered fire and, probably by accident, learned how to cause it by friction. They found how to warm themselves—to fight the frost and storm. They fashioned clubs and rude weapons of stone with which they killed the larger beasts and now and then each other. Slowly, painfully, almost imperceptibly they advanced. They crawled and stumbled, staggered and struggled toward the light. To them the world was unknown. On every hand was the mysterious, the sinister, the hurtful. The forests were filled with monsters, and the darkness was crowded with ghosts, devils, and fiendish gods.
These poor wretches were the slaves of fear, the sport of dreams.
Now and then, one rose a little above his fellows—used his senses—the little reason that he had—found something new—some better way. Then the people killed him and afterward knelt with reverence at his grave. Then another thinker gave his thought—was murdered—another tomb became sacred—another step was taken in advance. And so through countless years of ignorance and cruelty—of thought and crime—of murder and worship, of heroism, suffering, and self-denial, the race has reached the heights where now we stand.
Looking back over the long and devious roads that lie between the barbarism of the past and the civilization of to-day, thinking of the centuries that rolled like waves between these distant shores, we can form some idea of what our fathers suffered—of the mistakes they made—some idea of their ignorance, their stupidity—and some idea of their sense, their goodness, their heroism.