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Ambrose Gwinett Bierce (1842-1914?)
American writer, characterized by his caustic wit and sense of realistic horror

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     • See our Religious Entries from: The Devils Dictionary

Ambrose BierceSome heathens whose Idol was greatly weatherworn threw it into a river, and erecting a new one, engaged in public worship at its base.
    "What is this all about?" inquired the New Idol.
    "Father of Joy and Gore," said the High Priest, "be patient and I will instruct you in the doctrines and rites of our holy religion."
    A year later, after a course of study in theology, the Idol asked to be thrown into the river, declaring himself an atheist.
    "Do not let that trouble you," said the High Priest -- "so am I"
-- Ambrose Bierce, "Two Sceptics," Fantastic Fables

Religions are conclusions for which the facts of nature supply no major premises.
-- Ambrose Bierce, Collected Works (1912)

Nothing is more logical than persecution. Religious tolerance is a kind of infidelity.
-- Ambrose Bierce, Collected Works (1912), quoted from James A Haught, ed, 2000 Years of Disbelief

Theology is a thing of unreason altogether, an edifice of assumption and dreams, a superstructure without a substructure.
-- Ambrose Bierce, Collected Works (1912), quoted from James A Haught, ed, 2000 Years of Disbelief

Camels and Christians receive their burdens kneeling.
-- Ambrose Bierce, quoted from James A Haught, ed, 2000 Years of Disbelief

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Entries in The Devil's Dictionary:

     • Return to:  TopAmbrose Gwinett Bierce

Academy, n. A modern school where football is taught.
-- Ambrose Bierce, The Devil's Dictionary (1911)

Adore, v. To venerate expectantly.
-- Ambrose Bierce, The Devil's Dictionary (1911)

Altar, n. The place whereon the priest formerly raveled out the small intestine of the sacrificial victim for purposes of divination and cooked its flesh for the gods. The word is now seldom used, except with reference to the sacrifice of their liberty and peace by a male and a female fool.
-- Ambrose Bierce, The Devil's Dictionary (1911)

Bigot, n. One who is obstinately and zealously attached to an opinion that you do not entertain.
-- Ambrose Bierce, The Devil's Dictionary (1911)

Brahma, n. He who created the Hindoos, who are preserved by Vishnu and destroyed by Siva -- a rather nearer division of labor than is found among the deities of some other nations. The Abracadabranese, for example, are created by Sin, maintained by Theft, and destroyed by Folly. The priests of Brahma, like those of the Abracadabranese, are holy and learned men who are never naughty.
     O Brahma, thou rare old Divinity,
     First Person of the Hindoo Trinity,
     You sit there so calm and securely,
     With feet folded up so demurely --
     You're the First Person Singular, surely.
               Polydore Smith
-- Ambrose Bierce, The Devil's Dictionary (1911)

Caaba, n. A large stone presented by the archangel Gabriel to the patriarch Abraham, and preserved at Mecca. The patriarch had perhaps asked the archangel for bread.
-- Ambrose Bierce, The Devil's Dictionary (1911)

Christian, n. One who believes that the New Testament is a divinely inspired book admirably suited to the spiritual needs of his neighbor. One who follows the teachings of Christ in so far as they are not inconsistent with a life of sin.
-- Ambrose Bierce, The Devil's Dictionary (1911)

Clairvoyant, n. A person, commonly a woman, who has the power of seeing that which is invisible to her patron -- namely, that he is a blockhead.
-- Ambrose Bierce, The Devil's Dictionary (1911)

Clergyman, n. A man who undertakes the management of our spiritual affairs as a method of bettering his temporal ones.
-- Ambrose Bierce, The Devil's Dictionary (1911)

Conservative, n. A statesman who is enamored of existing evils, as distinguished from the liberal, who wishes to replace them with others.
-- Ambrose Bierce, The Devil's Dictionary (1911)

Convent, n. A place of retirement for women who wish for leisure to meditate upon the sin of idleness.
-- Ambrose Bierce, The Devil's Dictionary (1911)

Decalogue, n. A series of commandments, ten in number -- just enough to permit an intelligent selection for observance, but not enough to embarrass the choice. Following is the revised edition of the Decalogue, calculated for this meridian.
     Thou shalt no God but me adore:
          'Twere too expensive to have more.
     No images nor idols make
          For *Robert Ingersoll to break.
     Take not God's name in vain; select
          A time when it will have effect.
     Work not on Sabbath days at all,
          But go to see the teams play ball.
     Honor thy parents. That creates
          For life insurance lower rates.
     Kill not, abet not those who kill;
          Thou shalt not pay thy butcher's bill.
     Kiss not thy neighbor's wife, unless
          Thine own thy neighbor doth caress.
     Don't steal; thou'lt never thus compete
          Successfully in business. Cheat.
     Bear not false witness -- that is low --
          But "'hear 'tis rumored so and so."
     Covet thou naught that thou hast not
          By hook or crook, or somehow, got.
                                                            GJ
-- Ambrose Bierce, The Devil's Dictionary (1911), some versions have "Roger Ingersoll" for our "Robert Ingersoll"; see also our "Which Ten Commandments?" handbill

Deluge, n. A notable first experiment in baptism which washed away the sins (and sinners) of the world.
-- Ambrose Bierce, The Devil's Dictionary (1911)

Delusion, n. The tither of a most respectable family, comprising Enthusiasm, Affection, Self-Denial, Faith, Hope, Charity and many other goodly sons and daughters.
-- Ambrose Bierce, The Devil's Dictionary (1911)

Education, n. That which discloses to the wise and disguises from the foolish their lack of understanding.
-- Ambrose Bierce, The Devil's Dictionary (1911)

Embalm, v. To cheat vegetation by locking up the gases upon which it feeds. By embalming their dead and thereby deranging the natural balance between animal and vegetable life, the Egyptians made their once fertile and populous country barren and incapable of supporting more than a meagre crew. The modern metallic burial casket is a step in the same direction, and many a dead man who ought now to be ornamenting his neighbor's lawn as a tree, or enriching his table as a bunch of radishes, is doomed to a long inutility. We shall get him after awhile if we are spared, but in the meantime the violet and the rose are languishing for a nibble at his glutaeus maximus.
-- Ambrose Bierce, The Devil's Dictionary (1911)

Evangelist, n. A bearer of good tidings, particularly (in a religious sense) such as assure us of our own salvation and the damnation of our neighbours.
-- Ambrose Bierce, The Devil's Dictionary (1911)

Excommunication, n. ... Damning, with bell, book and candle / Some sinner whose opinions are a scandal. / A rite permitting Satan to enslave him / Forever, and forbidding Christ to save him.
-- Ambrose Bierce, The Devil's Dictionary (1911)

Faith, n. Belief without evidence in what is told by one who speaks without knowledge, of things without parallel.
-- Ambrose Bierce, The Devil's Dictionary (1911)

Heathen, n. A benighted creature who has the folly to worship something he can see and feel.
-- Ambrose Bierce, The Devil's Dictionary (1911)

Houri, n. A comely female inhabiting the Mohammedan Paradise to make things cheery for the good Mussulman, whose belief in her existence marks a noble discontent with his earthly spouse, whom he denies a soul.
-- Ambrose Bierce, The Devil's Dictionary (1911)

Immortality, n.
     A toy which people cry for,
     And on their knees apply for,
     Dispute, contend and lie for,
          And if allowed
          Would be right proud
     Eternally to die for.
                    GJ
-- Ambrose Bierce, The Devil's Dictionary (1911)

Impale, v.t. In popular usage to pierce with any weapon which remains fixed in the wound. This, however, is inaccurate; to impale is, properly, to put to death by thrusting an upright sharp stake into the body, the victim being left in a sitting position. This was a common mode of punishment among many of the nations of antiquity, and is still in high favor in China and other parts of Asia. Down to the beginning of the fifteenth century it was widely employed in "churching" heretics and schismatics. Wolecraft calls it the "stoole of repentynge," and among the common people it was jocularly known as "riding the one legged horse." Ludwig Salzmann informs us that in Thibet impalement is considered the most appropriate punishment for crimes against religion; and although in China it is sometimes awarded for secular offences, it is most frequently adjudged in cases of sacrilege. To the person in actual experience of impalement it must be a matter of minor importance by what kind of civil or religious dissent he was made acquainted with its discomforts; but doubtless he would feel a certain satisfaction if able to contemplate himself in the character of a weather-cock on the spire of the True Church.
-- Ambrose Bierce, The Devil's Dictionary (1911)

Impiety, n. Your irreverence toward my deity.
-- Ambrose Bierce, The Devil's Dictionary (1911)

[Excerpt]
Infidel, n. In New York, one who does not believe in the Christian religion; in Constantinople, one who does.
-- Ambrose Bierce, The Devil's Dictionary (1911), seen in James A Haught, ed, 2000 Years of Disbelief, seen elsewhere

[Passage]
Infidel, n. In New York, one who does not believe in the Christian religion; in Constantinople, one who does. (See Giaour.) A kind of scoundrel imperfectly reverent of, and niggardly contributory to, divines, ecclesiastics, popes, parsons, canons, monks, mollahs, voodoos, presbyters, hierophants, prelates, obeah-men, abbes, nuns, missionaries, exhorters, deacons, friars, hadjis, high-priests, muezzins, brahmins, medicine-men, confessors, eminences, elders, primates, prebendaries, pilgrims, prophets, imaums, beneficiaries, clerks, vicars-choral, archbishops, bishops, abbots, priors, preachers, padres, abbotesses, caloyers, palmers, curates, patriarchs, bonezs, santons, beadsmen, canonesses, residentiaries, diocesans, deans, subdeans, rural deans, abdals, charm-sellers, archdeacons, hierarchs, class-leaders, incumbents, capitulars, sheiks, talapoins, postulants, scribes, gooroos, precentors, beadles, fakeers, sextons, reverences, revivalists, cenobites, perpetual curates, chaplains, mudjoes, readers, novices, vicars, pastors, rabbis, ulemas, lamas, sacristans, vergers, dervises, lectors, church wardens, cardinals, prioresses, suffragans, acolytes, rectors, cures, sophis, mutifs and pumpums.
-- Ambrose Bierce, The Devil's Dictionary (1911)

Irreligion, n. The principal one of the great faiths of the world.
-- Ambrose Bierce, The Devil's Dictionary (1911)

Koran, n. A book which the Mohammedans foolishly believe to have been written by divine inspiration, but which Christians know to be a wicked imposture, contradictory to the Holy Scriptures.
-- Ambrose Bierce, The Devil's Dictionary (1911)

Mammon (riches), n. The god of the world's leading religion.
-- Ambrose Bierce, The Devil's Dictionary (1911)

Patriotism, n. In Dr. Johnson's famous dictionary patriotism is defined as the last resort of a scoundrel. With all due respect to an enlightened but inferior lexicographer I beg to submit that it is the first.
-- Ambrose Bierce, The Devil's Dictionary (1911)

Piety, n. Reverence for the Supreme Being, based upon His supposed resemblance to man. The pig is taught by sermons and epistles / To think the God of Swine has snout and bristles.
-- Ambrose Bierce, The Devil's Dictionary (1911)

Politics, n. A strife of interests masquerading as a contest of principles.
-- Ambrose Bierce, The Devil's Dictionary (1911)

Pray, v. To ask that the laws of the universe be annulled in behalf of a single petitioner, confessedly unworthy.
-- Ambrose Bierce, The Devil's Dictionary (1911)

Rack, n. An argumentative implement formerly much used in persuading devotees of a false faith to embrace the living truth.
-- Ambrose Bierce, The Devil's Dictionary (1911)

Redemption, n. Deliverance of sinners from the penalty of their sin, through their murder of the deity against whom they sinned. The doctrine of Redemption is the fundamental mystery of our holy religion, and whoso believeth in it shall not perish, but have everlasting life in which to try to understand it.
-- Ambrose Bierce, The Devil's Dictionary (1911)

Religion, n. A daughter of Hope and Fear, explaining to Ignorance the nature of the Unknowable.
-- Ambrose Bierce, The Devil's Dictionary (1911)

Reliquary, n. A receptacle for such sacred objects as pieces of the true cross, short-ribs of saints, the ears of Balaam's ass, the lung of the cock that called Peter to repentance, and so forth. Reliquaries are commonly of metal, and provided with a lock to prevent the contents from coming out and performing miracles at unseasonable times.
-- Ambrose Bierce, The Devil's Dictionary (1911)

Reprobation, n. In theology, the state of a luckless mortal prenatally damned. The doctrine of reprobation was taught by Calvin, whose joy in it was somewhat marred by the sad sincerity of his conviction that although some are foredoomed to perdition, others are predestined to salvation.
-- Ambrose Bierce, The Devil's Dictionary (1911)

Revelation, n. A famous book in which St John the Divine concealed all that he knew. The revealing is done by the commentators, who know nothing.
-- Ambrose Bierce, The Devil's Dictionary (1911)

Reverence, n. The spiritual attitude of a man to a god and a dog to a man.
-- Ambrose Bierce, The Devil's Dictionary (1911)

Saint, n. A dead sinner revised and edited.
-- Ambrose Bierce, The Devil's Dictionary (1911)

Scriptures, n. The sacred books of our holy religion, as distinguished from the false and profane writings on which all other faiths are based.
-- Ambrose Bierce, The Devil's Dictionary (1911)

Theosophy, n. An ancient faith having all the certitude of religion and all the mystery of science. The modern Theosophist holds, with the Buddhists, that we live an incalculable number of times on this earth, in as many several bodies, because one life is not long enough for our complete spiritual development; that is, a single lifetime does not suffice for us to become as wise and good as we choose to wish to become. To be absolutely wise and good -- that is perfection; and the Theosophist is so keen-sighted as to have observed that everything desirous of improvement eventually attains perfection. Less competent observers are disposed to except cats, which seem neither wiser nor better than they were last year. The greatest and fattest of recent Theosophists was the late Madame Blavatsky, who had no cat.
-- Ambrose Bierce, The Devil's Dictionary (1911)

Trinity, n. In the multiplex theism of certain Christian churches, three entirely distinct deities consistent with only one. Subordinate deities of the polytheistic faith, such as devils and angels, are not dowered with the power of combination, and must urge individually their clames to adoration and propitiation. The Trinity is one of the most sublime mysteries of our holy religion. In rejecting it because it is incomprehensible, Unitarians betray their inadequate sense of theological fundamentals. In religion we believe only what we do not understand, except in the instance of an intelligible doctrine that contradicts an incomprehensible one. In that case we believe the former as a part of the latter.
-- Ambrose Bierce, The Devil's Dictionary (1911)

Zenith, n. The point in the heavens directly overhead to a man standing or a growing cabbage. A man in bed or a cabbage in the pot is not considered as having a zenith, though from this view of the matter there was once a considerably dissent among the learned, some holding that the posture of the body was immaterial. These were called Horizontalists, their opponents, Verticalists. The Horizontalist heresy was finally extinguished by Xanobus, the philosopher-king of Abara, a zealous Verticalist. Entering an assembly of philosophers who were debating the matter, he cast a severed human head at the feet of his opponents and asked them to determine its zenith, explaining that its body was hanging by the heels outside. Observing that it was the head of their leader, the Horizontalists hastened to profess themselves converted to whatever opinion the Crown might be pleased to hold, and Horizontalism took its place among fides defuncti.

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