Monday, October 12, 2009

Sacred Scriptures of the Human Race

Robert G. Ingersoll was part of the Freethought movement of the 19th century and an outspoken opponent of religion. In 1894, he wrote a brilliant piece titled About the Holy Bible that not only provides a thorough expose of biblical contradiction but more importantly recognizes the fundamental conflict between religion and liberty, or, more specifically, between religion and man's happiness on earth. As the left, in addition to the right, turns towards religion, it is important to understand this conflict. The below excerpts represent a partial reprint of a previous post, but I believe his writing is so outstanding I am posting this part again. I enjoy his writing more for its style than any technical philosophy (he was a famous orator) and his ability to articulate the essence of this conflict in such a passionate and eloquent way:

There are many millions of people who believe the Bible to be the inspired word of God -- millions who think that this book is staff and guide, counselor and consoler; that it fills the present with peace and the future with hope -- millions who believe that it is the fountain of law, Justice and mercy, and that to its wise and benign teachings the world is indebted for its liberty, wealth and civilization -- millions who imagine that this book is a revelation from the wisdom and love of God to the brain and heart of man -- millions who regard this book as a torch that conquers the darkness of death, and pours its radiance on another world -- a world without a tear.

They forget its ignorance and savagery, its hatred of liberty, its religious persecution; they remember heaven, but they forget the dungeon of eternal pain. They forget that it imprisons the brain and corrupts the heart. They forget that it is the enemy of intellectual freedom. Liberty is my religion. Liberty of hand and brain -- of thought and labor, liberty is a word hated by kings -- loathed by popes. It is a word that shatters thrones and altars -- that leaves the crowned without subjects, and the outstretched hand of superstition without alms. Liberty is the blossom and fruit of justice -- the perfume of mercy. Liberty is the seed and soil, the air and light, the dew and rain of progress, love and joy.
In a section titled Is Christ Our Example?, Ingersoll writes:

He never said a word in favor of education. He never even hinted at the existence of any science. He never uttered a word in favor of industry, economy or of any effort to better our condition in this world. He was the enemy of the successful, of the wealthy. Dives was sent to hell, not because he was bad, but because he was rich. Lazarus went to heaven, not because he was good, but because he was poor.

Christ cared nothing for painting, for sculpture, for music -- nothing for any art. He said nothing about the duties of nation to nation, of king to subject; nothing about the rights of man; nothing about intellectual liberty or the freedom of speech. He said nothing about the sacredness of home; not one word for the fireside; not a word in favor of marriage, in honor of maternity.

He never married. He wandered homeless from place to place with a few disciples. None of them seem to have been engaged in any useful business, and they seem to have lived on alms.

All human ties were held in contempt; this world was sacrificed for the next; all human effort was discouraged. God would support and protect.

At last, in the dusk of death, Christ, finding that he was mistaken, cried out: "My God My God! Why hast thou forsaken me?"

We have found that man must depend on himself. He must clear the land; he must build the home; he must plow and plant; he must invent; he must work with hand and brain; he must overcome the difficulties and obstructions; he must conquer and enslave the forces of nature to the end that they may do the work of the world.

Here is my favorite excerpt:

For thousands of years men have been writing the real Bible, and it is being written from day to day, and it will never be finished while man has life. All the facts that we know, all the truly recorded events, all the discoveries and inventions, all the wonderful machines whose wheels and levers seem to think, all the poems, crystals from the brain, flowers from the heart, all the songs of love and joy, of smiles and tears, the great dramas of Imagination's world, the wondrous paintings, miracles of form and color, of light and shade, the marvelous marbles that seem to live and breathe, the secrets told by rock and star, by dust and flower, by rain and snow, by frost and flame, by winding stream and desert sand, by mountain range and billowed sea.

All the wisdom that lengthens and ennobles life, all that avoids or cures disease, or conquers pain -- all just and perfect laws and rules that guide and shape our lives, all thoughts that feed the flames of love the music that transfigures, enraptures and enthralls the victories of heart and brain, the miracles that hands have wrought, the deft and cunning hands of those who worked for wife and child, the histories of noble deeds, of brave and useful men, of faithful loving wives, of quenchless mother-love, of conflicts for the right, of sufferings for the truth, of all the best that all the men and women of the world have said, and thought and done through all the years.

These treasures of the heart and brain -- these are the Sacred Scriptures of the human race.

5 comments:

Beth said...

Hmmm. Thanks. Those quotes are a pleasure to read.

Burgess Laughlin said...

Thank you for highlighting Ingersoll. The passages you have quoted show that every writer throughout history who supports reason has something to say to us today. In that sense, all objective writers are contemporaries.

In contrast, the enemies of reason stand in a line going back even before philosophy began as the universal science. Some of your readers might be interested in a review of the book, The Tragedy of Reason, in which the author, a philosophy professor who admires the ancient philosophers, takes on post-modernist philosophical enemies of reason who, ironically, have made Plato their target. The author's analysis is flawed but informative and breath-taking in scope.

Whether from religionists or pseudo-philosophizers, reason is now and has always been under attack. One advantage of living in our time is that, for advocates of reason, the battle lines are very clear.

Doug Reich said...

Burgess,

Thanks for the comment and this insight that "all objective writers are contemporaries." I like that a lot.

I did read your review and meant to leave you a comment. I thought your review was excellent and I plan on reading his book. It sounds like a great survey of the topic from the perpective of a reasonable modern academic philosopher (no pun intended...). Anyway, I encourage those interested to read your review.

thanks again.

Galileo Blogs said...

Doug,

Thank you for highlighting Robert Ingersoll. I first encountered his writings in college when I ran an atheist organization on campus. To raise hell on campus -- you can say I created a little bit of hell on earth for the religionists (yes, I thoroughly enjoyed it!) -- we used to advertise an atheistic or anti-Christian quote every week in the student newspaper.

We regularly featured Ingersoll, but also Jefferson, Adams, Washington, Lincoln, Paine, and a host of other figures. I especially took pleasure in quoting our Founding Fathers who regularly expressed deep skepticism about Christianity, organized religion, and even the existence of God.

But I have actually read very little of Ingersoll, apart from obtaining some good quotes for our campus newspaper. Your quotes remind me to rectify that and to be inspired by a voice that spoke so eloquently and publicly on this subject more than 100 years ago.

(It also shows how just being anti-religious is not good enough. Ingersoll appears to go far in stating a positive philosophy, but I learned in college that anti-religion, while sometimes fun and good in itself, does not carry far in fighting unreason.)

Doug Reich said...

GB,

"It also shows how just being anti-religious is not good enough. Ingersoll appears to go far in stating a positive philosophy.."

You make a great point. That is particularly why I like these passages from Ingersoll because he makes this connection that religion, by its nature, is anti-reason and therefore anti-freedom. I rarely see that connection made explicitly or at least as eloquently.

He appears to have been an agnostic rather than an atheist so I do not know how far his philosophy went and I sure am not an expert on his work, but I think he captured this particular issue very beautifully especially at a time when I imagine it was not very popular to do so.

I originally heard of him in an auto-biography of Edison who was apparently influenced by him.