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Jun 03 2012

“Upon That Rock I Stand”

I don’t usually publish enormous chunks of text from long-dead authors, but this is an instance in which I shall make an exception. I recently finished Volume I of the Complete Works of Robert Ingersoll, and this excerpt cries out for sharing.

The only known image of American orator Robert G. Ingersoll before an audience. Image courtesy Wikimedia Commons and the Robert Green Ingersoll Birthplace Museum.

One thing I’ve noticed in reading the works of 19th century freethinkers is that the New Atheism indeed isn’t quite new, and that many of the tired old objections thrown up by theists today were hurled by them then. In this section, Robert Ingersoll addresses the protest of theists and faitheists alike:

XI. WHAT DO YOU PROPOSE?

THEN they say to me: “What do you propose? You have torn this down, what do you propose to give us in 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 star that shines in the horizon of human despair, nor in the sky 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 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, actions are important. Judge by deed, not by creed. Good fellowship—good friends—sincere men and women—mutual forbearance, born of mutual respect. 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 a 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 do not drink.”

“Will you smoke a cigar?”

“I do not smoke.”

“Maybe you will chew something?”

“I do not chew.”

“Let us eat some hay.”

“I tell you I do not eat hay.”

“Well, then, good-by, 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 pay some attention to our bodies. Take care of our bodies, and our souls will take care of themselves. Good health! And I believe 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 will study ourselves, and understand the laws of health and then 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 believe in the 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 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 as it is preached by the church. We do not need the forgiveness of God, but of each other and of ourselves. 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 the forgiveness of God, how does that help her? If there is another world, we have got to settle with the people we have wronged in this. No bankrupt court there. Every cent must be paid.

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 on the slate.” It will not 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 woe, as with a garment of pain, you will never be quite as happy as though you had not done that thing. No forgiveness by the gods. Eternal, inexorable, everlasting justice, so far as Nature is concerned. You must reap the result of your acts. Even when forgiven by the one you have injured, it is not as though the injury had not been done. That is what I believe in. And if it goes hard with me, I will stand it, and I will cling to my 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 a man 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. Humanity—that word embraces all there is.

So I believe in this great gospel of Humanity.

“Ah! but,” they say, “it will not 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 ignorance and 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 will find that he can not 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 upon the man who does right the cross turns to wings that will bear him upward forever. He will find that even 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, 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 is my doctrine.

It is said in this 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 eternal life is eternal sleep. 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 burning touch of tears. Lips touched by eternal silence will never speak again the broken words of grief. Hearts of dust do not break. The dead do not weep. Within the tomb no veiled and weeping sorrow sits, and in the ray-less gloom is crouched no shuddering fear.

I had rather think of those I have loved, and lost, as having returned to earth, as having become a part of the elemental wealth of the world—I would rather think of them as unconscious dust, I would rather dream of them as gurgling in the streams, floating in the clouds, bursting in the foam of light upon the shores of worlds, I would rather think of them as the lost visions of a forgotten night, than to have even the faintest fear that their naked souls have been clutched by an orthodox god. I will leave my dead where nature leaves them. Whatever flower of hope springs up in my heart I will cherish, I will give it breath of sighs and rain of tears. But I can not believe that there is any being in this universe who has created a human soul for eternal pain. 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, than 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 not torture 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.

Upon that rock I stand.

The honest man, the good woman, the happy child, have nothing to fear, either in this world or the world to come.

Upon that rock I stand.

 

It seems like a good rock to me. That won’t prevent me from taking a chip out of it with a rock hammer, mind, because we geologists know the importance of seeing a fresh surface, but when I give it a rap, it rings solid. It seems we can build a good foundation on it. It’s certainly a better foundation than the rotten old creeds that are causing so much misery and pain in this world, at this moment, for so very many.

Let’s stand.

Moi on Glacial Erratic, Ravenna Park, Seattle, WA. I can report it's a completely awesome rock upon which to stand.

4 comments

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  1. 1
    JeffT

    Thanks, Dana. Ingersoll was awesome!

  2. 2
    'Tis Himself

    Ingersoll was an eloquent writer who covered pretty much all the objections theists throw at atheists. He was a “New Atheist” long before that label got applied to us. I enjoy reading him because he has something profound to say to us.

  3. 3
    1000 Needles

    I had no idea that Ingersoll was such a badass. Thanks! I’ll start reading him right away.

  4. 4
    Crudely Wrott

    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 a man 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. Humanity—that word embraces all there is.

    This. ^ Now, geologically speaking:

    I’ll take a flake of granite sparkling with inclusions of mica over a diamond any day. I’ll take the virtuosity of chaotic metamorphic history over the simple perfection of crystalline monotony. While both have worthy histories and can inform us of the paths they took to come to my hand, the former is more engaging, more like my own history, more like our collective history. More like people are, closer to the uncertainties and surprises of our own stories.

    Movie stars and bankers can have all the diamonds they want; I’ll take garnets and opals and silicate fossils, thank you. Even more so if I find them myself and tumble and polish them until they seem to hold the whole earth and sun and stars within them. They do, you know.

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