The Works of Robert G. Ingersoll
Dresden Memorial Edition (XI, 491-595)
HTML, Editing by Cliff Walker
What Infidels Have Done.
One hundred years after Christ had died suppose some one had asked a Christian, What hospitals have you built? What asylums have you founded? They would have said "None." Suppose three hundred years after the death of Christ the same questions had been asked the Christian, he would have said "None, not one." Two hundred years more and the answer would have been the same. And at that time the Christian could have told the questioner that the Mohammedans had built asylums before the Christians. He could also have told him that there had been orphan asylums in China for hundreds and hundreds of years, hospitals in India, and hospitals for the sick at Athens.
Here it may be well enough to say that all hospitals and asylums are not built for charity. They are built because people do not want to be annoyed by the sick and the insane. If a sick man should come down the street and sit upon your doorstep, what would you do with him? You would have to take him into your house or leave him to suffer. Private families do not wish to take the burden of the sick. Consequently, in self-defence, hospitals are built so that any wanderer coming to a house, dying, or suffering from any disease, may immediately be packed off to a hospital and not become a burden upon private charity. The fact that many diseases are contagious rendered hospitals necessary for the preservation of the lives of the citizens. The same thing is true of the asylums. People do not, as a rule, want to take into their families, all the children who happen to have no fathers and mothers. So they endow and build an asylum where those children can be sent -- and where they can be whipped according to law, Nobody wants an insane stranger in his house. The consequence is, that the community, to get rid of these people, to get rid of the trouble, build public institutions and send them there.
Now, then, to come to the point, to answer the interrogatory often flung at us from the pulpit, What institutions have Infidels built? In the first place, there have not been many Infidels for many years and, as a rule, a known Infidel cannot get very rich, for the reason that the Christians are so forgiving and loving they boycott him. If the average Infidel, freely stating his opinion, could get through the world himself, for the last several hundred years, he has been in good luck. But as a matter of fact there have been some Infidels who have done some good, even from a Christian standpoint. The greatest charity ever established in the United States by a man -- not by a community to get rid of a nuisance, but by a man who wished to do good and wished that good to last after his death -- is the Girard College in the city of Philadelphia. Girard was an Infidel. He gained his first publicity by going like a common person into the hospitals and taking care of those suffering from contagious diseases -- from cholera and smallpox. So there is a man by the name of James Lick, an Infidel, who has given the finest observatory ever given to the world. And it is a good thing for an Infidel to increase the sight of men. The reason people are theologians is because they cannot see. Mr. Lick has increased human vision, and I can say right here that nothing has been seen through the telescope calculated to prove the astronomy of Joshua. Neither can you see with that telescope a star that bears a Christian name. The reason is that Christianity was opposed to astronomy. So astronomers took their revenge, and now there is not one star that glitters in all the vast firmament of the boundless heavens that has a Christian name. Mr. Carnegie has been what they call a public-spirited man. He has given millions of dollars for libraries and other institutions, and he certainly is not an orthodox Christian.
Infidels, however, have done much better even than that. They have increased the sum of human knowledge. John W. Draper, in his work on "The Intellectual Development of Europe," has done more good to the American people and to the civilized world than all the priests in it. He was an Infidel. Buckle is another who has added to the sum of human knowledge. Thomas Paine, an Infidel, did more for this country than any other man who ever lived in it.
Most of the colleges in this country have, I admit, been founded by Christians, and the money for their support has been donated by Christians, but most of the colleges of this country have simply classified ignorance, and I think the United States would be more learned than it is to-day if there never had been a Christian college in it. But whether Christians gave or Infidels gave has nothing to do with the probability of the Jonah story or with the probability that the mark on the dial went back ten degrees to prove that a little Jewish king was not going to die of a boil. And if the Infidels are all stingy and the Christians are all generous it does not even tend to prove that three men were in a fiery furnace heated seven times hotter than was its wont without even scorching their clothes.
The best college in this country -- or, at least, for a long time the best -- was the institution founded by Ezra Cornell. That is a school where people try to teach what they know instead of what they guess. Yet Cornell University was attacked by every orthodox college in the United States at the time it was founded, because they said it was without religion.
Everybody knows that Christianity does not tend to generosity. Christianity says: "Save your own soul, whether anybody else saves his or not." Christianity says: "Let the great ship go down. You get into the little life-boat of the gospel and paddle ashore, no matter what becomes of the rest." Christianity says you must love God, or something in the sky, better than you love your wife and children. And the Christian, even when giving, expects to get a very large compound interest in another world. The Infidel who gives, asks no return except the joy that comes from relieving the wants of another.
Again the Christians, although they have built colleges, have built them for the purpose of spreading their superstitions, and have poisoned the minds of the world, while the Infidel teachers have filled the world with light. Darwin did more for mankind than if he had built a thousand hospitals. Voltaire did more than if he had built a thousand asylums for the insane. He will prevent thousands from going insane that otherwise might be driven into insanity by the "glad tidings of great joy." Haeckel is filling the world with light.
I am perfectly willing that the results of the labors of Christians and the labors of Infidels should be compared. Then let it be understood that Infidels have been in this world but a very short time. A few years ago there were hardly any. I can remember when I was the only Infidel in the town where I lived. Give us time and we will build colleges in which something will be taught that is of use. We hope to build temples that will be dedicated to reason and common sense, and where every effort will be made to reform mankind and make them better and better in this world.
I am saying nothing against the charity of Christians; nothing against any kindness or goodness. But I say the Christians, in my judgment, have done more harm than they have done good. They may talk of the asylums they have built, but they have not built asylums enough to hold the people who have been driven insane by their teachings. Orthodox religion has opposed liberty. It has opposed investigation and free-thought. If all the churches in Europe had been observatories, if the cathedrals had been universities where facts were taught and where nature was studied, if all the priests had been real teachers, this world would have been far, far beyond what it is to-day.
There is an idea that Christianity is positive, and Infidelity is negative. If this be so, then falsehood is positive and truth is negative. What I contend is that Infidelity is a positive religion; that Christianity is a negative religion. Christianity denies and Infidelity admits. Infidelity stands by facts; it demonstrates by the conclusions of the reason. Infidelity does all it can to develop the brain and the heart of man. That is positive. Religion asks man to give up this world for one he knows nothing about. That is negative. I stand by the religion of reason. I stand by the dogmas of demonstration.
The Works of Robert G. Ingersoll
Dresden Memorial Edition (XI, 537-544)
HTML, Editing by Cliff Walker
What Would You Substitute
for the Bible as a Moral Guide?
You ask me what I would "substitute for the Bible as a moral guide."
I know that many people regard the Bible as the only moral guide and believe that in that book only can be found the true and perfect standard of morality.
There are many good precepts, many wise sayings and many good regulations and laws in the Bible, and these are mingled with bad precepts, with foolish sayings, with absurd rules and cruel laws.
But we must remember that the Bible is a collection of many books written centuries apart, and that it in part represents the growth and tells in part the history of a people. We must also remember. that the writers treat of many subjects. Many of these writers have nothing to say about right or wrong, about vice or virtue.
The book of Genesis has nothing about morality. There is not a line in it calculated to shed light on the path of conduct. No one can call that book a moral guide. It is made up of myth and miracle, of tradition and legend.
In Exodus we have an account of the manner in which Jehovah delivered the Jews from Egyptian bondage.
We now know that the Jews were never enslaved by the Egyptians; that the entire story is a fiction. We know this, because there is not found in Hebrew a word of Egyptian origin, and there is not found in the language of the Egyptians a word of Hebrew origin. This being so, we know that the Hebrews and Egyptians could not have lived together for hundreds of years.
Certainly Exodus was not written to teach morality. In that book you cannot find one word against human slavery. As a matter of fact, Jehovah was a believer in that institution.
The killing of cattle with disease and hail, the murder of the first-born, so that in every house was death, because the king refused to let the Hebrews go, certainly was not moral; it was fiendish. The writer of that book regarded all the people of Egypt, their children, their flocks and herds, as the property of Pharaoh, and these people and these cattle were killed, not because they had done anything wrong, but simply for the purpose of punishing the king. Is it possible to get any morality out of this history?
All the laws found in Exodus, including the Ten Commandments, so far as they are really good and sensible, were at that time in force among all the peoples of the world.
Murder is, and always was, a crime, and always will be, as long as a majority of people object to being murdered.
Industry always has been and always will be the enemy of larceny.
The nature of man is such that he admires the teller of truth and despises the liar. Among all tribes, among all people, truth-telling has been considered a virtue and false swearing or false speaking a vice.
The love of parents for children is natural, and this love is found among all the animals that live. So the love of children for parents is natural, and was not and cannot be created by law. Love does not spring from a sense of duty, nor does it bow in obedience to commands.
So men and women are not virtuous because of anything in books or creeds.
All the Ten Commandments that are good were old, were the result of experience. The commandments that were original with Jehovah were foolish.
The worship of "any other God" could not have been worse than the worship of Jehovah, and nothing could have been more absurd than the sacredness of the Sabbath.
If commandments had been given against slavery and polygamy, against wars of invasion and extermination, against religious persecution in all its forms, so that the world could be free, so that the brain might be developed and the heart civilized, then we might, with propriety, call such commandments a moral guide.
Before we can truthfully say that the Ten Commandments constitute a moral guide, we must add and subtract. We must throw away some, and write others in their places.
The commandments that have a known application here, in this world, and treat of human obligations are good, the others have no basis in fact, or experience.
Many of the regulations found in Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy, are good. Many are absurd and cruel.
The entire ceremonial of worship is insane.
Most of the punishment for violations of laws are unphilosophic and brutal.... The fact is that the Pentateuch upholds nearly all crimes, and to call it a moral guide is as absurd as to say that it is merciful or true.
Nothing of a moral nature can be found in Joshua or Judges. These books are filled with crimes, with massacres and murders. They are about the same as the real history of the Apache Indians.
The story of Ruth is not particularly moral.
In first and second Samuel there is not one word calculated to develop the brain or conscience.
Jehovah murdered seventy thousand Jews because David took a census of the people. David, according to the account, was the guilty one, but only the innocent were killed.
In first and second Kings can be found nothing of ethical value. All the kings who refused to obey the priests were denounced, and all the crowned wretches who assisted the priests, were declared to be the favorites of Jehovah. In these books there cannot be found one word in favor of liberty.
There are some good Psalms, and there are some that are infamous. Most of these Psalms are selfish. Many of them are passionate appeals for revenge.
The story of Job shocks the heart of every good man. In this book there is some poetry, some pathos, and some philosophy, but the story of this drama called Job, is heartless to the last degree. The children of Job are murdered to settle a little wager between God and the Devil. Afterward, Job having remained firm, other children are given in the place of the murdered ones. Nothing, however, is done for the children who were murdered.
The book of Esther is utterly absurd, and the only redeeming feature in the book is that the name of Jehovah is not mentioned.
I like the Song of Solomon because it tells of human love, and that is something I can understand. That book in my judgment is worth all the ones that go before it, and is a far better moral guide.
There are some wise and merciful Proverbs. Some are selfish and some are flat and commonplace.
I like the book of Ecclesiastes because there you find some sense, some poetry, and some philosophy. Take away the interpolations and it is a good book.
Of course there is nothing in Nehemiah or Ezra to make men better, nothing in Jeremiah or Lamentations calculated to lessen vice, and only a few passages in Isaiah that can be used in a good cause.
In Ezekiel and Daniel we find only ravings of the insane.
In some of the minor prophets there is now and then a good verse, now and then an elevated thought.
You can, by selecting passages from different books, make a very good creed, and by selecting passages from different books, you can make a very bad creed.
The trouble is that the spirit of the Old Testament, its disposition, its temperament, is bad, selfish and cruel. The most fiendish things are commanded, commended and applauded.
The stories that are told of Joseph, of Elisha, of Daniel and Gideon, and of many others, are hideous; hellish.
On the whole, the Old Testament cannot be considered a moral guide.
Jehovah was not a moral God. He had all the vices, and he lacked all the virtues. He generally carried out his threats, but he never faithfully kept a promise.
At the same time, we must remember that the Old Testament is a natural production, that it was written by savages who were slowly crawling toward the light. We must give them credit for the noble things they said, and we must be charitable enough to excuse their faults and even their crimes.
I know that many Christians regard the Old Testament as the foundation and the New as the superstructure, and while many admit that there are faults and mistakes in the Old Testament, they insist that the New is the flower and perfect fruit.
I admit that there are many good things in the New Testament, and if we take from that book the dogmas of eternal pain, of infinite revenge, of the atonement, of human sacrifice, of the necessity of shedding blood; if we throw away the doctrine of non-resistance, of loving enemies, the idea that prosperity is the result of wickedness, that poverty is a preparation for Paradise, if we throw all these away and take the good, sensible passages, applicable to conduct, then we can make a fairly good moral guide, -- narrow, but moral.
Of course, many important things would be left out. You would have nothing about human rights, nothing in favor of the family, nothing for education, nothing for investigation, for thought and reason, but still you would have a fairly good moral guide.
On the other hand, if you would take the foolish passages, the extreme ones, you could make a creed that would satisfy an insane asylum.
If you take the cruel passages, the verses that inculcate eternal hatred, verses that writhe and hiss like serpents, you can make a creed that would shock the heart of a hyena.
It may be that no book contains better passages than the New Testament, but certainly no book contains worse.
Below the blossom of love you find the thorn of hatred; on the lips that kiss, you find the poison of the cobra.
The Bible is not a moral guide.
Any man who follows faithfully all its teachings is an enemy of society and will probably end his days in a prison or an asylum.
What is morality?
In this world we need certain things. We have many wants. We are exposed to many dangers. We need food, fuel, raiment and shelter, and besides these wants, there is, what may be called, the hunger of the mind.
We are conditioned beings, and our happiness depends upon conditions. There are certain things that diminish, certain things that increase, well-being. There are certain things that destroy and there are others that preserve.
Happiness, including its highest forms, is after all the only good, and everything, the result of which is to produce or secure happiness, is good, that is to say, moral. Everything that destroys or diminishes well-being is bad, that is to say, immoral. In other words, all that is good is moral, and all that is bad is immoral.
What then is, or can be called, a moral guide? The shortest possible answer is one word: Intelligence.
We want the experience of mankind, the true history of the race. We want the history of intellectual development, of the growth of the ethical, of the idea of justice, of conscience, of charity, of self-denial. We want to know the paths and roads that have been traveled by the human mind.
These facts in general, these histories in outline, the results reached, the conclusions formed, the principles evolved, taken together, would form the best conceivable moral guide.
We cannot depend on what are called "inspired books," or the religions of the world. These religions are based on the supernatural, and according to them we are under obligation to worship and obey some supernatural being, or beings. All these religions are inconsistent with intellectual liberty. They are the enemies of thought, of investigation, of mental honesty. They destroy the manliness of man. They promise eternal rewards for belief, for credulity, for what they call faith.
This is not only absurd, but it is immoral.
These religions teach the slave virtues. They make inanimate things holy, and falsehoods sacred. They create artificial crimes. To eat meat on Friday, to enjoy yourself on Sunday, to eat on fast-days, to be happy in Lent, to dispute a priest, to ask for evidence, to deny a creed, to express your sincere thought, all these acts are sins, crimes against some god, To give your honest opinion about Jehovah, Mohammed or Christ, is far worse than to maliciously slander your neighbor. To question or doubt miracles. is far worse than to deny known facts. Only the obedient, the credulous, the cringers, the kneelers, the meek, the unquestioning, the true believers, are regarded as moral, as virtuous. It is not enough to be honest, generous and useful; not enough to be governed by evidence, by facts. In addition to this, you must believe. These things are the foes of morality. They subvert all natural conceptions of virtue.
All "inspired books," teaching that what the supernatural commands is right, and right because commanded, and that what the supernatural prohibits is wrong, and wrong because prohibited, are absurdly unphilosophic.
And all "inspired books," teaching that only those who obey the commands of the supernatural are, or can be, truly virtuous, and that unquestioning faith will be rewarded with eternal joy, are grossly immoral.
Again I say: Intelligence is the only moral guide.