This was published in the Charleston Gazette, today
Saturday, October 4, 2014
The consolation of Robert G. Ingersoll
I just finished reading Dan Cook’s “What is real and true?” for the second time (Gazette, Sept. 25). I can relate to it with all my heart and mind. I, too, spent much of my youth and even middle age listening to fundamentalist preachers and wondering about their absolutism and fending off their proselytizing.
I did what Dan Cook did. I decided to read everything I could that might shed light on the truth and untruth of the fundamentalists’ theology and all other preachers. I have a library of books that helped me to find the state of my present mind on religion. I am thankful for Dan Cook and many others for helping me find what seems to me close to the truth.
I have been subscribing to and reading avidly for years Free Inquiry, a secular humanist magazine. I would recommend it to anyone who questions what believers believe. From it I have learned about Robert G. Ingersoll. There are in the magazine frequently ads and articles about Ingersoll, the result of a person whose email is firstname.lastname@example.org, which is all he reveals about his identity and whom I hereby thank for the quotation from Ingersoll’s work that follows.
During the Depression I had to go live with my grandparents and spinster aunt. I had not attended church often with my parents owing to the split of the family resulting from the Depression and my father’s loss of work. But living with my grandparents meant that I was in church on Sunday morning and evening and often on Wednesday evening every week. Few sermons did not declare with emphasis and podium pounding that Hell Fire was the wages of sin unless one was born again and baptized. I listened impatiently until the end when I could be with my buddies and have a big Sunday meal and an afternoon to try to stay out of mischief.
But I questioned even at an early age what was preached. Why I did I don’t know, but I did. It was a skepticism that lasted all of my years and finally was the inspiration of my determination to read everything I could that would illuminate the truth. I am and have been for a number of years content that what I have learned is closer to the truth than what is preached and believed by the majority of this nation’s Christians and other denominations.
I am 93-plus years of age. I am not here much longer, but I have no hope of Heaven or fear of Hell. I have not lived a sin free life. I often have come in mind past acts and omissions that I pain to remember. But for the most part, I am pleased with my life. My children love and respect me. That is a fairly true measure of one’s life.
Robert G. Ingersoll (1833-1899) was called the Great Agnostic. And he certainly was great and certainly was an agnostic. If one wonders about religion he or she needs to get to know the man who wrote, among other aphorisms: “With soap, baptism is a good thing.” And “An honest God is the noblest work of man.” But his view of Hell and his general criticism of Christian theology are hard to ignore. Now to Robert G. Ingersoll:
“The idea that a certain belief is necessary to salvation unsheathed the swords and lighted the fagots of persecution. As long as heaven is the reward of creed instead of deed, just so long will every Orthodox Church be a bastille, every member a prisoner, and every priest a turnkey.
“I have tried to take from the coffin its horror, from the cradle its curse, and put out the fires of revenge kindled by the savages of the past. Is it necessary that heaven should borrow its light from the glare of hell? Infinite punishment is infinite cruelty, endless injustice, immortal meanness. To worship an eternal gaoler hardens, debases, and pollutes the soul.
“While there is one sad and breaking heart in the universe, no perfectly good being can be perfectly happy. Against the heartlessness of this doctrine every grand and generous soul should enter its solemn protest. I want no part of any heaven where the saved, the ransomed, and redeemed drown with merry shouts the cries and sobs of hell — in which happiness forgets misery — where the tears of the lost increase laughter and deepen the dimples of joy.
“The idea of hell was born of ignorance, brutality, fear, cowardice, and revenge. The idea tends to show that our remote ancestors were lowest beasts. Only from dens, lairs, and caves — only from mouths filled with cruel fangs — only from hearts of fear and hatred — only from the conscience of hunger and lust — only from the lowest and most debased, could come this most cruel, heartless, and absurd of all dogmas.”
Ingersoll lived in the 19th century. He died in 1899, the year of my father’s birth. So in this country he was an early agnostic. And he let the world know he was. His writings constitute 12 volumes. Thus, he is a consolation to those who do not subscribe to the Christian theological beliefs. He confounds the belief that God, Jesus and the Holy Ghost constitute an entity that is aware of the acts and thoughts of every living being and judges those acts and thoughts to be acceptable or sinful; and unless the sinful ones are not forgiven by being reborn and baptized then the sinner will spend after death an infinity in Hell suffering eternal pain and torment.
It is difficult for an agnostic, and should be for theists, to believe that the Jesus of the Sermon on the Mount would become willingly a believer of such a theology and an implementer of it.
Perry Mann is a lawyer in Hinton.