Lectures of Col. R.G. Ingersoll, Volume 1

Ghosts and their followers always took delight in torturing with unusual pain any infraction of their laws, and generally death was the penalty. Sometimes, when a man committed only murder, he was permitted to flee to a place of refuge—murder being only a crime against man—but for saying certain words, or denying certain doctrines, or for worshiping wrong ghosts, or for failing to pray to the right one, or for laughing at a priest, or for saying that wine was not blood, or bread was not flesh, or for failing to regard rams' horns as artillery, or for saying that a raven as a rule, was a poor landlord, death, produced by all the ways that ingenuity or hatred could devise, was the penalty suffered by these men. I tell you tonight law is a growth; law is a science. Right and wrong exist in the nature of things. Things are not right because they are commanded; they are not wrong because they are prohibited. They are prohibited because we believe them wrong; they are commended because we believe them right. There are real crimes enough without creating artificial ones. All progress in legislation for a thousand years has consisted in repealing the laws of the ghosts. The idea of right and wrong is born of man's capacity to enjoy and suffer. If man could not suffer, if he could not inflict injury upon his brother, if he could neither feel nor inflict punishment, the idea of law, the idea of right, the idea of wrong, never could have entered into his brain. If man could not suffer, if he could not inflict suffering, the word conscience never would have passed the lips of man. There is one good—happiness. There is one sin—selfishness. All laws should be for the preservation of the one and the destruction of the other. Under the regime of the ghosts the laws were not understood to exist in the nature of things; they were supposed to be irresponsible commands, and these commands were not supposed to rest upon reason; they were simply the product of arbitrary will. These penalties for the violations of those laws were as cruel as the penalties were absurd. There were over two hundred offenses for which man was punished with death. Think of it! And these laws are said to have come from a most merciful God. And yet we have become civilized to that degree in this country that in the State of New York there is only one crime punishable with death. Think of it! Did I not tell you that we were now civilizing our gods? The tendency of those horrible laws, the tendency of those frightful penalties, was to blot the idea of justice from the human soul. Now, I want to show you how perfectly every department of human knowledge, or rather of ignorance, was saturated with superstition. I will for a moment refer to the science of language.

It was thought by our fathers that Hebrew was the original language; that it was taught to Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden by the Almighty himself. Every fact inconsistent with that idea was thrown away. According to the ghosts, the trouble at the Tower of Babel accounted for the fact that all the people did not speak the Hebrew language. The Babel question settled all questions in the science of language. After a time so many facts were found to be so inconsistent with the Hebrew idea that it began to fall into disrepute, and other languages began to be used. Andrew Kent published a work on the science of language, in which he stated that God spoke to Adam, and Adam answered, in Hebrew, and that the serpent probably spoke to Eve in French. In 1580 another celebrated work was published at Antwerp, in which the whole matter was put at rest, showing beyond a doubt that the language spoken in Paradise was neither more nor less than plain Holland Dutch. Another celebrated writer, a contemporary of Sir Isaac Newton, discouraged the idea that all languages could be traced to one; he maintained that language was of natural growth; that we speak as naturally as we grow; we talk as naturally as sings a bird, or as blooms and blossoms a flower. Experience teaches us that this be so; words are continually dying and continually may being born—words are the garments of thought. Through the lapse of time some were as rude as the skins of wild beasts, and others pleasing and cultured like silk and gold. Words have been born of hatred and revenge, of love and self sacrifice and fear, of agony and joy the stars have fashioned them, and in them mingled the darkness and the dawn.

Every word that we get from the past is, so to speak, a mummy robed in the linen of the grave. They are the crystallizations of human history, of all that man enjoyed, of all that man has suffered, his victories and defeats, all that he has lost and won. Words are the shadows of all that has been; they are the mirrors of all that is. The ghosts also enlightened our fathers in astronomy and geology. According to them the world was made out of nothing, and a little more nothing having been taken than was used in the construction of the world, the stars were made out of the scraps that were left over. Cosmos, in the sixth century, taught that the stars were impelled by angels, who carried them upon their shoulders, rolled them in front of them, or drew them after. He also taught that each angel who pushed a star took great pains to observe what the other angels were doing, so that the relative distances between the stars might always remain the same.

He stated that this world was a vast body of water, with a strip of land on the outside; that Adam and Eve lived on the outer strip; that their descendants were drowned on the outer strip, all except Noah and his family; he accounted for night and day by saying that on the outer strip of land was a mountain, around which the sun revolved, producing darkness when it was hidden from sight, and daylight when it emerged; he also declared the earth to be flat. This he proved by many passages from the Bible; among other reasons for believing the earth to be flat he referred to a passage in the New Testament, which says that Christ shall come again in glory and power, and every eye shall see him, and said, now, if the world is round how are the people on the other side going to see Christ when he comes? That settled the question, and the church not only indorsed this book but declared that whoever believed either less or more was a heretic and would be dealt with as such.

In those blessed days ignorance was a king and science was an outcast. The church knew that the moment the earth ceased to be the center of the universe, and became a mere speck in the starry sphere of existence, every religion would become a thing of the past. In the name and by the authority of the ghosts, men enslaved their fellowmen; they trampled upon the rights of women and children. In the name and by the authority of ghosts, they bought and sold each other. They filled heaven with tyrants and the earth with slaves. They filled the present with intolerance and the future with horror. In the name and by the authority of the ghosts, they declared superstition to be the real religion. In the name and by the authority of the ghosts, they imprisoned the human mind; they polluted the conscience, they subverted justice, and they sainted hypocrisy. I have endeavored in some degree to show you what has been and always will be when men are governed by superstition.

When they destroy the sublime standard of reason; when they take the words of others and do not investigate them themselves, even the great men of those days appear nearly as weak as the most ignorant. One of the greatest men of the world, an astronomer second to none, discoverer of the three great laws that explain the solar system, was an astrologer and believed that he could predict the career of a man by finding what star was in the ascendant at his birth. He believed in what is called the music of the spheres, and he ascribed the qualities of the music—alto, bass, tenor and treble—to certain of the planets. Another man kept an idiot, whose words he put down and then put them together in such a manner as to make promises, and waited patiently to see that they were fulfilled. Luther believed he had actually seen the devil and discussed points of theology with him. The human mind was enchained. Every idea, almost, was a mystery. Facts were looked upon as worthless; only the wonderful was worth preserving. Devils were thought to be the most industrious beings in the universe, and with these imps every occurrence of an unusual character was connected. There was no order, certainty; everything depended upon ghosts and phantoms, and man, for the most part, considered himself at the mercy of malevolent spirits. He protected himself as best he could with holy water, and with tapers, and wafers, and cathedrals. He made noises to frighten the ghosts and music to charm them; he fasted when he was hungry and he feasted when he was not; he believed everything unreasonable; he humbled himself; he crawled in the dust; he shut the doors and windows; and excluded every ray of light from his soul; and he delayed not a day to repair the walls of his own prison; and from the garden of the human heart they plucked and trampled into the bloody dust the flowers and blossoms; they denounced man as totally depraved; they made reason blasphemy; they made pity a crime; nothing so delighted them as painting the torments and tortures of the damned. Over the worm that never dies they grew poetic. According to them, the cries ascending from hell were the perfume of heaven.

They divided the world into saints and sinners, and all the saints were going to heaven, and all the sinners yonder. Now, then, you stand in the presence of a great disaster. A house is on fire, and there is seen at a window the frightened face of a woman with a babe in her arms, appealing for help; humanity cries out: "Will someone go to the rescue?" They do not ask for a Methodist, a Baptist, or a Catholic; they ask for a man; all at once there starts from the crowd one that nobody ever suspected of being a saint; one may be, with a bad reputation; but he goes up the ladder and is lost in the smoke and flame; and a moment after he emerges, and the great circles of flame hiss around him; in a moment more he has reached the window; in another moment, with the woman and child in his arms, he reaches the ground and gives his fainting burden to the bystanders and the people all stand hushed for a moment, as they always do at such times, and then the air is rent with acclamations. Tell me that that man is going to be sent to hell, to eternal flames, who is willing to risk his life rather than a woman and child should suffer from the fire one moment! I despise that doctrine of hell! Any man that believes in eternal hell is afflicted with at least two diseases—petrifaction of the heart and petrifaction of the brain.

I have seen upon the field of battle a boy sixteen years of age struck by a fragment of a shell; I have seen him fall; I have seen him die with a curse upon his lips and the face of his mother in his heart. Tell me that his soul will be hurled from the field of battle where he lost his life that his country might live—where he lost his life for the liberties of man—tell me that he will be hurled from that field to eternal torment! I pronounce it an infamous lie. And yet, according to these gentlemen, that is to be the fate of nearly all the splendid fellows in this world.

I had in my possession a little while ago a piece of fresco that used to adorn a church at Stratford-on-Avon, the place where Shakespeare lived, and there was a picture representing the morning of the resurrection and people were getting out of their graves and devils were grabbing them by their heels. And there was an immense monster, with jaws open so wide that a man could walk down its throat, and the flames were issuing therefrom, and there were devils driving people in droves down the throat of this monster; and there was an immense kettle in which they had put these men, and the fire was being stirred under it, and hot pitch was being poured on top, and little devils were setting it on fire and then on the walls there were hundreds hung up by their tongues to hooks and nails; and then the saved—there were some five or six saved—upon the horizon, and they had a most self-satisfied grin of "I told you so."

At the risk of being tiresome, I have said that I have to show the direction of the human mind in slavery, the effects of widespread ignorance, and the result of fear. I want to convince you that every form of slavery, physical or mental, is a viper that will finally fill with poison the breast of any man alive. I want to show you that there should be republicanism in the domain of thought as well as in civil government. The first step toward progress is for man to cease to be the slave of the creatures of his creation. Men found at last that the event is more valuable than the prophecy, especially if it never comes to pass. They found that diseases were not produced by spirits; that they could not be cured by frightening them away. They found that death was as natural as life. They began to study the anatomy and chemistry of the human body, and they found that all was natural, and the conjurer and the sorcerer were dismissed, and the physician and surgeon were employed. They learned that being born under a star or planet had nothing to do with their luck; the astrologer was discharged and the astronomer took his place. They found that the world had swept through the constellation for millions of ages. They found that diseases were produced as easily as grass, and were not sent as punishment on men for failing to believe a creed. They found that man, through intelligence, could take advantage of the affairs of nature; that he could make the waves, the winds, the flames, and the lightnings slaves at his bidding to administer to his wants; they found the ghosts knew nothing of benefit to man; that they were entirely ignorant of history; that they were bad doctors and worse surgeons; that they knew nothing of the law and less of justice that they were poor politicians; that they were tyrants, and that they were without brains and utterly destitute of hearts.

The condition of this world during the dark ages shows exactly the result of enslaving the souls of men. In those days there was no liberty. Liberty was despised, and the laborer was considered but little above the beast. Ignorance, like a vast cowl, covered the brain of the world; superstition ran riot, and credulity sat upon the throne of the soul. Murder and hypocrisy were the companions of man, and industry was a slave. Every country maintained that it was no robbery to take the property of Mohammedans by force, and no murder to kill the owner. Lord Bacon was the first man who maintained that a Christian country was bound to keep its plighted faith with a Mohammedan nation. Every man who could read or write was suspected of being a heretic in those days. Only one person in 40,000 could read or write. All thought was discouraged. The whole earth was ruled by the mitre and sceptre, by the altar and throne, by fear and force, by ignorance and faith, by ghouls and ghosts. In the 15th century the following law was in force in England: "Whosoever reads the Scripture in the mother tongue shall forfeit land, cattle, life and goods, for themselves and their heirs forever, and should be condemned for heretics to God, enemies to the crown, and traitors to the land."

During the period this law was in force, thirty-nine were hanged and their bodies burned. In the 16th century men were burned because they failed to kneel to a procession of monks. Even the Reformers, so called, had no idea of liberty only when in the minority; the moment they were clothed with power, they began to exterminate with fire and sword. Castillo—and I want you to recollect it—was the first minister in the world that declared in favor of universal toleration. Castillo was pursued by John Calvin like a wild beast. Calvin said that such a monstrous doctrine he crucified Christ afresh, and they pursued that man until he died; recollect it! They can't do that now-a-days! You don't know how splendid I feel about the liberty I have. The horizon is filled with glory and the air is filled with wings. If there are any in this world who think they had better not tell what they really think because it will take bread from their little children, because it will take clothing from their families—don't do it! don't make martyrs of yourselves! I don't believe in martyrdom! Go right along with them; go to church and say amen as near the right place as you can. I will do your talking for you. They can't take the bread away from me. I will talk. Bodemus, a lawyer of France, wrote a few words in favor of freedom of conscience. Montaigne was the first to raise his voice against torture in France; but what was the voice of one man against the terrible cry of ignorant, infatuated, malevolent millions! I intend to do what little I can, and I am going to do it kindly. I am going to appeal to reason and to charity, to justice, to science, and to the future. For my part, I glory in the fact that in the New World, in the United States, liberty of conscience was first granted to man, and that the Constitution of the United States was the first great decree entered in the high court of human equity forever divorcing Church and State. It is the grandest step ever taken by the human race and the Declaration of Independence was the first document that retired ghosts from politics. It is the first document that said authority does not come from the phantoms of the air; authority is not from that direction; it comes from the people themselves. The Declaration of Independence enthroned man and dethroned the phantoms. You will ask what has caused this change in three hundred years. I answer, the inventions and discoveries of the few; the brave thoughts and heroic utterances of the few; the acquisition of a few facts; getting acquainted with our mother, Nature. Besides this, you must remember that every wrong in some way, tends to abolish itself. It is hard to make a lie last always. A lie will not fit the truth; it will only fit another lie told on purpose to fit it. Nothing but truth lives.

The nobles and the kings quarreled; the priests began to dispute, and the millions began to get their rights. In 1441 printing was discovered. At that time the past was a vast cemetery, without an epitaph. The ideas of men had mostly perished in the brains that had produced them. Printing gives an opening for thought; it preserves ideas; it made it possible for a man to bequeath to the world the wealth of his thoughts. About the same time, or a little before, the Moors had gone into Europe, and it can be truthfully said that science was thrust into the brain of Europe upon the point of a Moorish lance. They gave us paper, and what is printing without paper?

A bird without wings. I tell you paper has been a splendid thing.

The discovery of America, whose shores were trod by the restless feet of adventure and the people of every nation—out of this strange mingling of facts and fancies came the great Republic. Every fact has pushed a superstition from the brain and a ghost from the cloud. Every mechanical art is an educator; every loom, every reaper, every mower, every steamboat, every locomotive, every engine, every press, every telegraph is a missionary of science and an apostle of progress; every mill, every furnace with its wheels and levers, in which something is made for the convenience, for the use and the comfort and the well-being of man, is my kind of church, and every schoolhouse is a temple. Education is the most radical thing in this world. To teach the alphabet is to inaugurate a revolution; to build a schoolhouse is to construct a fort; every library is an arsenal filled with the weapons and ammunition of progress; every fact is a monitor with sides of iron and a turret of steel. I thank the inventors and discoverers. I thank Columbus and Magellan. I thank Locke and Hume, Bacon and Shakespeare. I thank Fulton and Watt, Franklin and Morse, who made lightning the messenger of man. I thank Luther for protesting against the abuses of the Church, but denounce him because he was an enemy of liberty. I thank Calvin for writing a book in favor of religious freedom, but I abhor him because he burned Servetus. I thank the Puritans for saying that resistance to tyrants is obedience to God, and yet I am compelled to admit that they were tyrants themselves. I thank Thomas Paine because he was a believer in liberty. I thank Voltaire, that great man who for half a century was the intellectual monarch of Europe, and who, from his throne at the foot of the Alps, pointed the finger of scorn at every hypocrite in Christendom. I thank the inventors, I thank the discoverers, the thinkers and the scientists, and I thank the honest millions who have toiled. I thank the brave men with brave thoughts. They are the Atlases upon whose broad and mighty shoulders rests the grand fabric of civilization; they are the men who have broken, and are still breaking, the chains of superstition.

We are beginning to learn that to swap off a superstition for a fact, to ascertain the real, is to progress. All that gives us better bodies and minds and clothes and food and pictures, grander music, better heads, better hearts, and that makes us better husbands and wives and better citizens, all these things combined produce what we call the progress of the human race. Man advances only as he overcomes the obstacles of nature. It is done by labor and thought. Labor is the foundation. Without great labor it is impossible to progress. Without labor on the part of those who conduct all great industries of life, of those who battle with the obstacles of the sea, on the part of the inventors, the discoverers, and the brave, heroic thinkers, no surplus is produced; and from the surplus produced by labor, spring the schools and universities, the painters, the sculptors, the poets, the hopes, the loves and the aspirations of the world.

The surplus has given us the books. It has given us all there is of beauty and eloquence. I am aware there is a vast difference of opinion as to what progress is, and that many denounce my ideas. I know there are many worshipers of the past. They see no beauty in anything from which they do not blow the dust of ages with the breath of praise. They see nothing like the ancients; no orators, poets or statesmen like those who have been dust for thousands of years.

In a sermon on a certain evening, some time ago, the Rev. Dr. Magee of Albany, N. Y., stated that Colonel Ingersoll, referring to Jesus Christ, called him a "dirty little Jew." I denounce that as a dirty little lie.

I have as much reverence for any man who ever did what he believed was right, and died in order to benefit mankind, as any man in this world. Do they treat an opponent with fairness? Are they investigating? Do they pull forward or do they hold back? Is science indebted to the Church for a single fact? Let us know what it is. What church has been the asylum for a persecuted truth? What reform has been inaugurated by the Church? Did the Church abolish slavery? No. Who commenced it? Such men as Garrison and Pillsbury and Wendel Phillips. They were the titans that attacked the monster, and not a solitary one of them ever belonged to a church. Has the Church raised its voice against war? No. Are men restrained by superstition? Are men restrained by what you call religion? I used to think they were not; now I admit they are. No man has ever been restrained from the commission of a real crime, but from an artificial one he has. There was a man who committed murder. They got the evidence, but he confessed that he did it. "What did you do it for?" "Money." "Did you get any money?" "Yes." "How much?" "Fifteen cents." "What kind of a man was he?" "A laboring man I killed." "What did you do with the money?" "I bought liquor with it." "Did he have anything else?" "I think he had some meat and bread." "What did you do with that?" "I ate the bread and threw away the meat; it was Friday." So you see it will restrain in some things.

Just to the extent that man has freed himself from the dominion of ghosts he has advanced; to that extent he has freed himself from the tyrant's poison. Man has found that he must give liberty to others in order to have it himself. He has found that a master is a slave; that a tyrant is also a slave. He has found that governments should be administered by men for men; that the rights of all are to be protected; that woman is at least the equal for man; that men existed before books; that all creeds were made by men; that the few have a right to contradict what the pulpit asserts; that man is responsible to himself and to others. True religion must be free; without liberty the brain is a dungeon and the mind the convict. The slave may bow and cringe and crawl, but he cannot worship, he cannot adore. True religion is the perfume of the free and grateful air. True religion is the subordination of the passions to the intellect. It is not a creed; it is a life. The theory that is afraid of investigation is not deserving of a place in the human mind.

I do not pretend to tell what all the truth is. I do not pretend to have fathomed the abyss, nor to have floated on outstretched wings level with the heights of thought. I simply plead for freedom. I denounce the cruelties and horrors of slavery. I ask for light and air for the souls of men. I say, take off those chains—break those manacles—free those limbs—release that brain. I plead for the right to think—to reason—to investigate. I ask that the future may be enriched with the honest thoughts of men. I implore every human being to be a soldier in the army of progress. I will not invade the rights of others. You have no right to erect your toll-gates upon the highways of thought. You have no right to leap from the hedges of superstition and strike down the pioneers of the human race. You have no right to sacrifice the liberties of man upon the altars of ghosts. Believe what you may; preach what you desire; have all the forms and ceremonies you please; exercise your liberties in your own way, and extend to all others the same right.

I attack the monsters, the phantoms of imagination that have ruled the world. I attack slavery. I ask for room—room for the human mind.

Why should we sacrifice a real world that we have for one we know not of? Why should we enslave ourselves? Why should we forge fetters for our own hands? Why should we be the slaves of phantoms—phantoms that we create ourselves? The darkness of barbarism was the womb of these shadows. In the light of science they cannot cloud the sky forever. They have reddened the hands of man with innocent blood. They made the cradle a curse, and the grave a place of torment.

They blinded the eyes and stopped the ears of the human race. They subverted all the ideas of justice by promising infinite rewards for finite virtues, and threatening infinite punishment for finite offenses.

I plead for light, for air, for opportunity. I plead for individual independence. I plead for the rights of labor and of thought. I plead for a chainless future. Let the ghosts go—justice remains. Let them disappear—men, women and children are left. Let the monster fade away—the world remains, with its hills and seas and plains, with its seasons of smiles and frowns, its Springs of leaf and bud, its Summer of shade and flower, its Autumn with the laden boughs, when

The withered banners of the corn are still,
And gathered fields are growing strangely wan,
While Death, poetic Death, with hands that color
Whate'er they touch, weaves in the Autumn wood
Her tapestries of gold and brown.

The world remains, with its Winters and homes and firesides, where grow and bloom the virtues of our race. All these are left; and music, with its sad and thrilling voice, and all there is of art and song and hope, and love and aspiration high. All these remain. Let the ghosts go—we will worship them no more.

Man is greater than these phantoms. Humanity is grander than all the creeds, than all the books. Humanity is the great sea, and these creeds and books and religions are but the waves of a day. Humanity is the sky, and these religions and dogmas and theories are but the mists and clouds, changing continually, destined finally to melt away.

Let the ghosts go. We will worship them no more. Let them cover their eyeless sockets with their fleshless hands, and fade forever from the imaginations of men.

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