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

Now, the next Church that comes along in the way that I wish to speak of is the Episcopalian. That was founded by Henry VIII., now in heaven. He cast off Queen Catherine and Catholicism together. And he accepted Episcopalianism and Annie Boleyn at the same time. That Church, if it had a few more ceremonies, would be Catholic. If it had a few less, nothing. We have an Episcopalian Church in this country, and it has all the imperfection of a poor relation. It is always boasting of a rich relative. In England the creed is made by law, the same as we pass statutes here. And when a gentleman dies in England, in order to determine whether he shall be saved or not, it is necessary for the power of heaven to read the acts of Parliament. It becomes a question of law, and sometimes a man is damned on a very nice point. Lost on demurrer.

A few years ago, a gentleman by the name of Seabury, Samuel Seabury, was sent over to England to get some apostolic succession. We hadn't a drop in the house. It was necessary for the bishops of the English church to put their hands upon his head. They refused; there was no act of Parliament justifying—it. He had then to go to the Scotch Bishops; and, had the Scotch Bishops refused, we never would have had any apostolic succession in the new world. And God would have been driven out of half the world; and the true church never could have been founded. But the Scotch Bishops put their hands on his head, and now we have an unbroken succession of heads and hands from St. Paul to the last bishop.

In this country the Episcopal Church has done some good, and I want to thank that Church. Having, on an average, less religion than the others, on an average you have done more good to mankind. You preserved some of the humanities. You did not hate music, you did not absolutely despise painting, and you did not altogether abhor architecture, and you finally admitted that it was no worse to keep time with your feet than with your hands. And some went so far as to say that people could play cards, and God would overlook it, or would look the other way. For all these things accept my thanks.

When I was a boy, the other Churches looked upon dancing as probably the mysterious sin against the Holy Ghost; and they used to teach that when four boys got in a hay-mow, playing seven-up, that the Eternal God stood whetting the sword of His eternal wrath waiting to strike them down to the lowest hell. And so that Church has done some good.

After a while, in England, a couple of gentlemen, or a couple of men by the name of Wesley and Whitfield, said: "If everybody is going to hell, nearly, somebody ought to mention it." The Episcopal clergy said: "Keep still; don't tear your gown." Wesley and Whitfield said: "This frightful truth ought to be proclaimed from the housetops at every opportunity, from the highway of every occasion." They were good, honest men. They believed their doctrine. And they said: "If there is a hell, and a Niagara of souls pouring over an eternal precipice of ignorance, somebody ought to say something." They were right; somebody ought, if such thing was true. Wesley was a believer in the Bible. He believed in the actual presence of the Almighty. God used to do miracles for him; used to put off a rain several days to give his meeting a chance; used to cure his horse of lameness; used to cure Mr. Wesley's headaches.

And Mr. Wesley also believed in the actual existence of the devil. He believed that devils had possession of people. He talked to the devil when he was in folks, and the devil told him that he was going to leave; and that he was going into another person; that he would be there at a certain time; and Wesley went to that other person, and there the devil was, prompt to the minute. He regarded every conversion as an absolute warfare between God and this devil for the possession of that human soul. Honest, no doubt. Mr. Wesley did not believe in human liberty. Honest, no doubt. Was opposed to the liberty of the colonies. Honestly so. Mr. Wesley preached a sermon entitled, "The Cause and Cure of Earthquakes," in which he took the ground that earthquakes were caused by sin and the only way to stop them was to believe in the Lord Jesus Christ. No doubt an honest man.

Wesley and Whitfield fell out on the question of predestination. Wesley insisted that God invited everybody to the feast. Whitfield said He did not invite those He knew would not come. Wesley said He did. Whitfield said: "Well, He didn't put plates for them, anyway." Wesley said He did. So that, when they were in hell, he could show them that there was a seat left for them. And that Church that they founded is still active. And probably no Church in the world has done so much preaching for as little money as the Methodists. Whitfield believed in slavery and advocated the slave trade. And it was of Whitfield that Whittier made the two lines:

He bade the slave ships speed from coast to coast, Fanned by the wings of the Holy Ghost.

We have lately had a meeting of the Methodists, and I find, by their statistics, that they believe they have converted 130,000 folks in a year. That in order to do this, they have 26,000 preachers, 226,000 Sunday-school scholars, and about $1,000,000,000 invested in church property. I find, in looking over the history of the world, that there are 40,000,000 or 50,000,000,000 of people born a year, and if they are saved at the rate of 30,000 a year, about how long will it take that doctrine to save this world? Good, honest people; they are mistaken.

In old times they were very simple. Churches used to be like barns. They used to have them divided—men on that side, and women on this. A little barbarous. We have advanced since then, and we now find as a fact, demonstrated by experience, that a man sitting by the woman he loves can thank God as heartily as though sitting between two men that he has never been introduced to.

There is another thing these Methodists should remember, and that is, that the Episcopalians were the greatest enemies they ever had. And they should remember that the Free-Thinkers have always treated them kindly and well.

There is one thing about the Methodist Church in the North that I like. But I find that it is not Methodism that does that. I find that the Methodist Church in the South is as much opposed to liberty as the Methodist Church North is in favor of liberty. So it is not Methodism that is in favor of liberty or slavery. They differ a little in their creed from the rest. They do not believe that God does everything. They believe that He does His part, and that you must do the rest, and that getting to heaven is a partnership business.

The next church is the Presbyterians—in my judgment the worst of all, as far as creed is concerned. This Church was founded by John Calvin, a murderer! John Calvin, having power in Geneva, inaugurated human torture. Voltaire abolished torture in France. The man who abolished torture, if the Christian religion be true, God is now torturing in hell; and the man who inaugurated torture, is now a glorified angel in heaven. It won't do.

John Knox started this doctrine in Scotland, and there is this peculiarity about Presbyterianism, it grows best where the soil is poorest. I read the other day an account of a meeting between John Knox and John Calvin. Imagine a dialogue between a pestilence and a famine! Imagine a conversation between a block and an ax! As I read their conversation it seemed to me as though John Knox and John Calvin were made for each other; that they fitted each other like the upper and lower jaws of a wild beast. They believed happiness was a crime; they looked upon laughter as blasphemy, and they did all they could to destroy every human feeling, and to fill the mind with the infinite gloom of predestination and eternal damnation. They taught the doctrine that God had a right to damn us because He made us. That is just the reason that He has not a right to damn us. There is some dust. Unconscious dust! What right has God to change that unconscious dust into a human being, when He knows that human being will sin; and He knows that human being will suffer eternal agony? Why not leave him in the unconscious dust? What right has an infinite God to add to the sum of human agony? Suppose I knew that I could change that piece of furniture into a living, sentient human being, and I knew that that being would suffer untold agony forever. If I did it, I would be a fiend. I would leave that being in the unconscious dust. And yet we are told that we must believe such a doctrine, or we are to be eternally damned! It won't do.

In 1839 there was a division in this Church, and they had a lawsuit to see which was the Church of God. And they tried it by a judge and jury, and the jury decided that the new school was the Church of God, and then they got a new trial, and the next jury decided that the old school was the Church of God, and that settled it. That Church teaches that infinite innocence was sacrificed for me! I don't want it! I don't wish to go to heaven unless I can settle by the books, and go there because I ought to go there. I have said, and I say again, I don't want to be a charity angel. I have no ambition to become a winged pauper of the skies.

The other day a young gentleman, a Presbyterian, who had just been converted, came to me and gave me a tract and he told me he was perfectly happy. Ugh! Says I: "Do you think a great many people are going to hell?" "Oh, yes." "And you are perfectly happy?" "Well, he didn't know as he was quite." "Wouldn't you be happier if they were all going to heaven?" "O, yes." "Well, then you are not perfectly happy?" "No, he didn't think he was." Says I: "When you get to heaven, then you would be perfectly happy?" "Oh, yes." "Now, when we are only going to hell, you are not quite happy; but when we are in hell, and you in heaven, then you will be perfectly happy?" You won't be as decent when you get to be an angel as you are now, will you? "Well," he said, "that was not exactly it." Said I: "Suppose your mother were in hell, would you be happy in heaven then?" "Well," he says, "I suppose God would know the best place for mother." And I thought to myself, then, if I was a woman, I would like to have five or six boys like that.

It will not do. Heaven is where are those we love, and those who love us. And I wish to go to no world unless I can be accompanied by those who love me here. Talk about the consolations of this infamous doctrine. The consolations of a doctrine that makes a father say, "I can be happy with my daughter in hell"; that makes a mother say, "I can be happy with my generous, brave boy in hell"; that makes a boy say, "I can enjoy the glory of heaven with the woman who bore me, the woman who would have died for me, in eternal agony." And they call that tidings of great joy.

I have not time to speak of the Baptists,—that Jeremy Taylor said were as much to be rooted out as anything that is the greatest pest and nuisance on the earth. Nor of the Quakers, the best of all, and abused by all. I can not forget that George Fox, in the year of grace 1640, was put in the pillory and whipped from town to town, scarred, put in a dungeon, beaten, trampled upon, and what for? Simply because he preached the doctrine: "Thou shalt not resist evil with evil. Thou shalt love thy enemies." Think what the Church must have been that day to scar the flesh of that loving man! Just think of it! I say I have not time to speak of all these sects. And of the varieties of Presbyterians and Campbellites. The people who think they must dive in order to go up. There are hundreds and hundreds of these sects, all founded upon this creed that I read, differing simply in degree. Ah but they say to me: "You are fighting something that is dead. Nobody believes this, now." The preachers do not believe what they preach in the pulpit. The people in the pews do not believe what they hear preached. And they say to me: "You are fighting something that is dead. This is all a form, we do not believe a solitary creed in it. We sign it and swear that we believe it, but we don't. And none of us do. And all the ministers they say in private, admit that they do not believe it, not quite." I don't know whether this is so or not. I take it that they believe what they preach. I take it that when they meet and solemnly agree to a creed, I take it they are honest and solemnly believe in that creed.

The Evangelical Alliance, made up of all orthodox denominations of the world, met only a few years ago, and here is their creed: They believe in the divine inspiration, authority, and sufficiency of the Holy Scriptures; the right and duty of private judgment in the interpretation of Holy Scriptures, but if you interpret wrong you are damned. They believe in the unity of the Godhead and the trinity of the persons therein. They believe in the utter depravity of human nature. There can be no more infamous doctrine than that. They look upon a little child as a lump of depravity. I look upon it as a bud of humanity, that will, under proper circumstances, blossom into rich and glorious life.

Total depravity of human nature! Here is a woman whose husband has been lost at sea; the news comes that he has been drowned by the ever-hungry waves, and she waits. There is something in her heart that tells her he is alive. And she waits. And years afterwards as she looks down toward the little gate, she sees him; he has been given back by the sea, and she rushes to his arms and covers his face with kisses, and with tears. And if that infamous doctrine is true, every tear is a crime, and every kiss a blasphemy. It won't do. According to that doctrine, if a man steals and repents, and takes back the property, the repentance and the taking back of the property are two other crimes if he is totally depraved: It is an infamy. What else do they believe? "The justification of a sinner by faith alone," without works, just faith. Believing something that you don't understand. Of course God cannot afford to reward a man for believing anything that is reasonable. God rewards only for believing something that is unreasonable, if you believe something that you know is not so. What else? They believe in the eternal blessedness of the righteous, and in the eternal punishment of the wicked. Tidings of great joy! They are so good that they will not associate with Universalists. They will not associate with Unitarians. They will not associate with scientists. They will only associate with those who believed that God so loved the world that He made up his mind to damn the most of us. Then they say to me: "What do you propose? You have torn this down; what do you propose to give in the place of it?" I have not torn the good down. I have only endeavored to trample out the ignorant, cruel fires of hell. I do not tear away the passage, "God will be merciful to the merciful." I do not destroy the promise, "If you will forgive others, God will forgive you." I would not for anything blot out the faintest stars that shine in the horizon of human despair, nor in the horizon of human hope; but I will do what I can to get that infinite shadow out of the heart of man.

"What do you propose to put in place of this?"

Well, in the first place, I propose good fellowship—good friends all around. No matter what we believe, shake hands and let it go. That is your opinion. This is mine: "Let us be friends." Science makes friends, religion—superstition—makes enemies. They say, "Belief is important." I say no, good actions are important. Judge by deed, not by creed, good fellowship. We have had too many of these solemn people. Whenever I see an exceedingly solemn man, I know he is an exceedingly stupid man. No man of any humor ever founded any religion—never. Humor sees both sides, while reason is the holy light; humor carries the lantern and the man with a keen sense of humor is preserved from the solemn stupidities of superstition. I like a man who has got good feeling for everybody—good fellowship. One man said to another:

"Will you take a glass of wine?"

"I don't drink."

"Will you smoke a cigar?"

"I don't smoke."

"Maybe you will chew something?"

"I don't chew."

"Let us eat some hay."

"I tell you I don't eat hay."

"Well, then, good-bye; for you are no company for man or beast."

I believe in the gospel of cheerfulness, the gospel of good nature, the gospel of good health. Let us pray to our bodies. Take care of our bodies, and our souls will take care of themselves. Good health! And I believe that the time will come when the public thought will be so great and grand that it will be looked upon as infamous to perpetuate disease. I believe the time will come when man will not fill the future with consumption and insanity. I believe the time will come when we study ourselves, and understand the laws of health, that we will say, "We are under obligation to put the flags of health in the cheeks of our children." Even if I got to heaven, and had a harp, I would hate to look back upon my children and grandchildren, and see them diseased, deformed, crazed, all suffering the penalties of crimes I had committed.

I, then, believe in the gospel of good health, and I believe in a gospel of good living. You can not make any God happy by fasting. Let us have good food, and let us have it well cooked—and it is a thousand times better to know how to cook it than it is to understand any theology in the world. I believe in the gospel of good clothes. I believe in the gospel of good houses, in the gospel of water and soap. I believe in the gospel of intelligence, in the gospel of education. The school-house is my cathedral. The universe is my Bible. I believe in that gospel of justice that we must reap what we sow.

I do not believe in forgiveness. If I rob Mr. Smith and God forgives me, how does that help Smith? If I, by slander, cover some poor girl with the leprosy of some imputed crime, and she withers away like a blighted flower, and afterward I get forgiveness, how does that help her? If there is another world we have got to settle. No bankrupt court there. Pay down. The Christians say, that among the ancient Jews, if you committed a crime you had to kill a sheep, now they say,—"Charge it." "Put it upon the slate." It won't do, for every crime you commit you must answer to yourself and to the one you injure. And if you have ever clothed another with unhappiness, as with a garment of pain, you will never be quite as happy as though you hadn't done that thing. No forgiveness. Eternal, inexorable, everlasting justice. That is what I believe in. And if it goes hard with me, I will stand it, and I will stick to in logic and I will bear it like a man.

And I believe, too, in the gospel of liberty, in giving to others what we claim for ourselves. I believe there is room everywhere for thought, and the more liberty you give away the more you will have. In liberty, extravagance is economy. Let us be just. Let us be generous to each other.

I believe in the gospel of intelligence. That is the only lever capable of raising mankind. Intelligence must be the savior of this world. Humanity is the grand religion, and no God can put another in hell in another world who has made a little heaven in this. God cannot make a man miserable if that man has made somebody else happy. God cannot hate anybody who is capable of loving anybody.

So I believe in this great gospel of generosity.

"Ah! but," they say, "it won't do. You must believe. I say no. My gospel of health will bring life. My gospel of intelligence, my gospel of good living, my gospel of good-fellowship will cover the world with happy homes. My doctrine will put carpets upon your floors, pictures upon your walls. My doctrine will put books upon your shelves, ideas in your minds. My doctrine will rid the world of the abnormal monsters born of the ignorance of superstition. My doctrine will give us health, wealth, and happiness. That is what I want. That is what I believe in. Give us intelligence. In a little while a man may find that he cannot steal without robbing himself. He will find that he cannot murder without assassinating his own joy. He will find that every crime is a mistake. He will find that only that man carries the cross who does wrong, and that the man who does right the cross turns to wings upon his shoulders that will bear him upwards forever. He will find that intelligent self-love embraces within its mighty arms all the human race.

"Oh," but they say to me, "you take away immortality." I do not. If we are immortal it is a fact in nature, and we are not indebted to priests for it, nor to Bibles for it, and it cannot be destroyed by unbelief.

As long as we love we will hope to live, and when the one dies that we love, we will say: "Oh, that we could meet again!" And whether we do or not, it will not be the work of theology. It will be a fact in nature. I would not for my life destroy one star of human hope; but I want it so that when a poor woman rocks the cradle, and sings a lullaby to the dimpled darling, that she will not be compelled to believe that, ninety-nine chances in a hundred, she is raising kindling-wood for hell. One world at a time—that is my doctrine.

It is said in the Testament, "Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof" and I say, sufficient unto each world is the evil thereof. And suppose, after all, that death does end all, next to eternal joy, next to being forever with those we love and those who have loved us, next to that is to be wrapt in the dreamless drapery of eternal peace.

Next to external life is eternal death. Upon the shadowy shore of death the sea of trouble casts no wave. Eyes that have been curtained by the everlasting dark will never know again the touch of tears. Lips that have been touched by eternal silence will never utter another word of grief. Hearts of dust do not break; the dead do not weep. And I had rather think of those I have loved, and those I have lost, as having returned, as having become a part of the elemental wealth of the world—I would rather think of them as unconscious dust—I would rather think of them as gurgling in the stream, floating in the clouds, bursting in the foam of light upon the shores of worlds—I would rather think of them as the inanimate and eternally unconscious, that to have even a suspicion that their naked souls had been clutched by an orthodox God.

But for me, I will leave the dead where nature leaves them. And whatever flower of hope springs up in my heart I will cherish; but I can not believe that there is any being in this universe who has created a human soul for eternal pain. And I would rather that every God would destroy himself; I would rather that we all should go to eternal chaos, to black and starless night, that that just one soul should suffer eternal agony. I have made up my mind that if there is a God, he will be merciful to the merciful. Upon that rock I stand. That he will forgive the forgiving. Upon that rock I stand. That every man should be true to himself, and that there is no world, no star, in which honesty is a crime. And upon that rock I stand. The honest man, the good, kind, sweet woman, the happy child, has nothing to fear, neither in this world, nor the world to come. And upon that rock I stand.


After looking over the replies made to his new lecture, Col. Ingersoll was asked by a Tribune reporter what he thought of them. He replied as follows:

I think they dodge the point. The real point is this: If salvation by faith is the real doctrine of Christianity, I asked on Sunday before last, and I still ask, why didn't Matthew tell it? I still insist that Mark should have remembered it, and I shall always believe that Luke ought, at least, to have noticed it. I was endeavoring to show that modern Christianity has for its basis an interpolation. I think I showed it. The only gospel on the orthodox side is that of John, and that was certainly not written, or did not appear in its present form, until long after the others were written. I know very well that the Catholic Church claimed during the Dark Ages, and still claims, that references had been made to the gospels by persons living in the first, second and third centuries; but I believe such manuscripts were manufactured by the Catholic Church. For many years in Europe there was not one person in 20,000 who could read and write. During that time the Church had in its keeping the literature of our world. They interpolated as they pleased. They created. They destroyed. In other words, they did whatever in their opinion was necessary to substantiate the faith. The gentlemen who saw fit to reply did not answer the question, and I again call upon the clergy to explain to the people why, if salvation depended upon belief in the Lord Jesus Christ, Matthew did not mention it. Some one has said that Christ didn't make known this doctrine of salvation by belief or faith until after His resurrection. Certainly none of the gospels were written until after His resurrection; and if He made that doctrine known after His resurrection, and before His ascension, it should have been in Matthew, Mark, and Luke, as well as John.

The replies of the clergy show that they have not investigated the subject; that they are not well acquainted with the New Testament. In other words, they have not read it except with the regulation theological bias. There is one thing I wish to correct here. In an editorial in the Tribune it was stated that I had admitted that Christ was beyond and above Buddha, Zoroaster, Confucius, and others. I didn't say so. Another point was made against me, and those who made it seemed to think it was a good one. In my lecture I asked why it was that the Disciples of Christ wrote in Greek, whereas, in fact, they understood only Hebrew. It is now claimed that Greek was the language of Jerusalem at that time; that Hebrew had fallen into disuse; that no one understood it except the literati and the highly educated. If I fell into an error upon this point it was because I relied upon the New Testament. I find in the twenty-first chapter of the Acts an account of Paul having been mobbed in the city of Jerusalem; that he was protected by a Chief Captain and some soldiers; that, when upon the stairs of the castle to which he was being taken for protection, he obtained leave from the Captain to speak unto the people. In the fortieth verse of that chapter I find the following:

"And when he had given him license, Paul stood on the stairs and beckoned with the hand unto the people; and when there was made a great silence he spake unto them in the Hebrew tongue, saying—"

And then follows the speech of Paul, wherein he gives an account of his conversion. It seems a little curious to me that Paul for the purpose of quieting the mob, would speak to that mob in an unknown language. If I were mobbed in the city of Chicago, and wished to defend myself with an explanation, I certainly would not make that explanation in Chocktaw, even if I understood that tongue. My present opinion is that I would speak in English; and the reason I would speak in English is, because that language is generally understood in this city. And so I conclude from the account in the twenty-first chapter of the Acts that "Hebrew was the language of Jerusalem at that time, or that Paul would not have addressed the mob in that tongue."

"Did you read Mr. Courtney's answer?"

"I read what Mr. Courtney read from others, and think some of his quotations very good; and have no doubt that the authors will feel complimented by being quoted."

"But what about there being belief in Matthew?"

"Mr. Courtney says that certain people were cured of diseases on account of faith. Admitting that mumps, measles, and whooping-cough could be cured in that way, there is not even a suggestion that salvation depended upon a like faith. I think he can hardly afford to rely upon the miracles of the New Testament to prove his doctrine. There is one instance in which a miracle was performed by Christ without His knowledge. And I hardly think that even Mr. Courtney would insist that any faith could have been great enough for that. The fact is, I believe that all these miracles were ascribed to Christ long after His death, and that Christ never, at any time or place, pretended to have any supernatural power whatever. Neither do I believe that He claimed any supernatural origin. He claimed simply to be a man—no less, no more. I don't believe Mr. Courtney is satisfied with his own reply."

"And now as to Prof. Swing?"

"Mr. Swing has been out of the orthodox church so long that he seems to have forgotten the reasons for which he left it. I don't believe there is an orthodox minister in the city of Chicago who will agree with Mr. Swing that salvation by faith is no longer preached. Prof. Swing seems to think it of no importance who wrote the Gospel of St. Matthew. In this I agree with him. Judging from what he said, there is hardly difference enough of opinion between us to justify a reply on his part. He, however, makes one mistake. I did not in the lecture say one word about tearing churches down. I have no objection to people building all the churches they wish. While I admit that it is a pretty sight to see children on a morning in June going through the fields to the country church, I still insist that the beauty of that sight doesn't answer the question how it is that Matthew forgot to say anything about salvation through Christ. Prof. Swing is a man of poetic temperament; but this is not a poetic question."

"How did the card of Dr. Thomas strike you?"

"I think the reply of Dr. Thomas in the best possible spirit. I regard him to day as the best intellect in the Methodist denomination. He seems to have what is generally understood as a Christian spirit. He has always treated me with perfect fairness, and I should have said long ago many grateful things, had I not feared I might hurt with his own people. He seems to be by nature a perfectly fair man; and I know of no man in the United States for whom I have a profounder respect. Of course I don't agree with Mr. Thomas. I think in many things he is mistaken. But I believe him to be perfectly sincere. There is one trouble about him,—he is growing; and this fact will no doubt give great trouble to many of his brethren. Certain Methodist hazelbrush feel a little uneasy in the shadow of his oak."

"Are you going to make a formal reply to their sermons."

"Not unless something better is done than has been. Of course I don't know what another Sabbath may bring forth. I am waiting. But of one thing I feel perfectly assured; that no man in the United States, or in the world, can account for the fact, if we are to be saved only by faith in Christ, that Matthew forgot it, that Luke said nothing about it, and that Mark never mentioned it except in two passages written by another person. Until that is answered, as one grave-digger says to the other in "Hamlet," I shall say: 'Ay, tell me that and unyoke.' In the meantime, I wish to keep on the best terms with all parties concerned. I cannot see why my forgiving spirit fails to gain their sincere praise."

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