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The Great Infidels

History of Human Progress Written in the Lives and Careers of Doubters and Agnostics -- Chicago Tribune, May 5, 1881.




NEW YORK, May 1.-- Robert G. Ingersoll delivered another new lecture this evening to an immense audience. Booth's Theater was found to be too small for the crowd which flocked to hear him last Sunday night, so for this occasion he secured the Academy of Music. The change proved disastrous to ticket speculators, for there was room in the great building for all who came, and before the lecture began, scalpers were selling on the sidewalks at box office prices. The audience was highly intelligent, and listened attentively for two hours and ten minutes to probably Ingersoll's best effort. There were not less than 3,000 persons present. The title of the lecture was "The Great Infidels." The lecturer appeared on stage at 8:20, and placing the manuscript on the desk, broke into the subject at once. He spoke as follows:
LADIES AND GENTLEMEN: There is nothing grander in this world than to rescue from the leprosy of slander a great and splendid name. (Applause.) There is nothing nobler than to benefit our benefactors. The infidels of one age have been the aureole saints of the next. The destroyers of the old have always been the creators of the new. The old passes away and the new becomes old. There in the intellectual world, as in the material, decay and growth; and ever by the sunken grave of age stand youth and joy. The history of progress is written in the lives of infidels. Political rights have been preserved by traitors; intellectual rights by infidels. (Applause.) To attack the Kings was treason; to dispute the priests blasphemy. The sword and cross have always been allies; they defended each other. The throne and altar are twins,--vultures born of the same egg. It was James I. who said: "No King no Bishop; no church no crown; no tyrant in Heaven no tyrant on earth." (Applause.) Every monarchy that has disgraced the world, every despotism that has covered the cheeks of men with fear has been copied after the supposed despotism of Hell. The King owned the bodies and the priest owned the souls; one lived on taxes and the other on alms; one was a robber and the other a beggar. (Applause and laughter.) The history of the world will not show you one charitable beggar. He who lives on charity never has anything to give away. The robbers and beggars controlled not only this world, but the next. The King made laws, the priest made creeds; with bowed backs the people received and bore the burdens of the one, and with the open mouth of wonder the creed of the other. If any aspired to be free they were crushed by the King, and every priest was a hero who slaughtered the children of the brave. The King ruled by force, the priest by fear and by the Bible. The King said to the people: "God made you peasants and me a King; He clothed you in rags and housed you in hovels; upon me He put robes and gave me a palace." Such is the justice of God. The priest said to the people: "God made you ignorant and vile; me holy and wise; obey me or God will punish you here and hereafter." Such is the mercy of God. (Applause.) Infidels are the intellectual discoverers. Infidels have sailed the unknown sea and have discovered the isles and continents in the vast realms of thought. What would the world have been had infidels never existed? What the infidel is in religion the inventor is in mechanics. What the infidel is in religion the man willing to fight the hosts of tyranny is in the political world. An infidel is a gentleman who has discovered a fact and is not afraid to talk about it. (Applause.)


There has been for many thousands of year an idea prevalent that in some way you can prove whether the theories defended or advanced by a man are right or wrong by showing what kind of a man he was, what kind of life he lived, and what manner of death he died. There is nothing to this. It make no difference what the character of the man was who made the first multiplication table. It is absolutely true, and whenever you find an absolute fact, it makes no difference who discovered it. The Golden Rule would have been just as good if it had first been whispered by the Devil. (Applause.) It is good for what it contains, not because a certain man said it. Gold is just as good in the hands of crime as in the hands of virtue. Wherever it may be, it is gold. A statement made by a great man is not necessarily true. A man entertains certain opinions, and then he is proscribed because he refuses to change his mind. He is burned to ashes, and in the midst of the flames he cries out that he is of the same opinion still. Hundreds then say that he has sealed his testimony with his blood, and that this doctrine must be true. Al the martyrs in the history of the world are not sufficient to establish the correctness of any one opinion. Martyrdom as a rule establishes the sincerity of the martyr, not the correctness of thought. Things are true or false interdependently of the man who entertains them. Truth cannot be affected by opinion; an error cannot be believed sincerely enough to make it a truth. No Christian will admit that any amount of heroism displayed by a Mormon is sufficient to show that Joseph Smith was an inspired prophet. All the courage and culture, all the poetry and art of ancient Greece do not even tend to establish the truth of any myth. The testimony of the dying, concerning some other world, or in regard to the supernatural, cannot be any better than that of the living. In the early days of Christian experience an intrepid faith was regarded as a testimony in favor of the Church. No doubt in the arms of death many a one went back and died in the lap of the old faith. After awhile Christians got to dying and clinging to their faith; and then it was that Christians began to say: "No man can die serenely without clinging to the cross." According to the theologians, God has always punished the dying who did not happen to believe in Him. As long as men did nothing except to render their fellow-men wretched, God maintained the strictest neutrality, but when some honest man expressed a doubt, as to the Jewish Scriptures, or prayed to the wrong God, or the right God, then the real God leaped like a wounded tiger upon this dying man, and from his body tore a wretched soul. There is no recorded instances where the uplifted hand of murder has been paralyzed, or the innocent have been shielded by God. Thousands of crimes are committed every day and God has no time to prevent them. (Applause.) He is too busy numbering hairs and matching sparrows: He is listening for blasphemy; He is looking for persons who laugh at priests; He is watching professors in college who begin to doubt the geology of Moses or the astronomy of Joshua. All kinds of criminals, except infidels, meet death with reasonable serenity. As a rule, there is nothing in the death of a pirate to cast discredit upon his profession. The murderer upon the scaffold smilingly exhorts the multitude to meet him in Heaven. The Emperor Constantine, who lifted Christianity into power, murdered his wife and oldest sons. Now and then, in the history of the world, there has been a man of genius, a man of intellectual honesty. These men have denounced the superstition of their day. They were honest enough to tell their thoughts. Some of them died naturally in their beds, but it would not do for the Church to admit that they died peaceably; that would show that religion was not necessary in the last moments. The first grave, the first cathedral; the first corpse was the first priest. If there was no death in the world there would be no superstition. The Church has taken great pains to show that the last moments of all infidels have been infinitely wretched. Upon this point Catholics and Protestants have always stood together. They are no longer men; they have become hyenas; they dig open graves. They devour the dead. It is an auto-de-fé presided over by God and his angels. These men believed in the accountability of men in the practice of virtue and justice. They believed in liberty, but they did not believe in the inspiration of the Bible. That was their crime. In order to show that infidels died overwhelmingly with remorse and fear they have generally selected from all the infidels since the days of Christ until now, five men, -- the Emperor Julian, Bruno, Diderot, David Hume, and Thomas Paine.


They forgot that Christ himself was not a Christian; that He did what He could to tear down the religion of His day; that He held the temple in contempt. I like Him because He held the old Jewish religion in contempt; because he had sense enough to say that doctrine was not true. In vain have their calumniators been called upon to prove their statements. They simply charge it, they simply relate it, but that is no evidence. The Emperor Julian did what he could to prevent Christians from destroying each other. He held pomp and pride in contempt. In battle with the Persians he was mortally wounded. Feeling that he had but a short time to live, he spent his last hour in discussing with his friends the immortality of the soul. He declared that he was satisfied with his conduct, and that he had no remorse to express for any act he had ever done.


The first great infidel was Giordhna Bruno. He was born in the year of grace 1550. he was a Dominican friar, -- Catholic, -- and afterwards he changed his mind. The reason he changed was because he had a mind. (Applause.) He was a lover of nature, and said to the poor hermits in their caves, to the poor monks in their monasteries, to the poor nuns in their cells, "Come out in the glad fields; come and breathe fresh, free air; come and enjoy all the beauty there is in this world. There is no God who can be made happier by your being miserable; there is no god who delights to see upon the human face the tears of pain, of grief, of agony; come out and enjoy all there is of human life; enjoy progress, enjoy thought, enjoy being somebody and belonging to yourself." (Applause.) He revolted at the idea of transubstantiation; he revolted at the idea of that the eternal God could be in a wafer. (Laughter). He revolted at the idea that you could make the trinity out of dough,-- bake God in an oven as you would a biscuit. (Laughter.) I should think he would have revolted.


The idea of a man devouring the Creator of the Universe by swallowing a piece of bread. (Laughter). And yet that is just as sensible as any of it. Those who, when smitten on one cheek turn the other, threatened to kill this man. He fled from his native land and was a vagabond in nearly every nation of Europe. He declared that he fought not what men really believed, but what they pretended to believe, and, do you know, that is the business I am in? (Laughter.) I am simply saying what other people think; I am furnishing clothes for their children, I am putting on exhibition their offspring, and they like to hear it, they like to see it. We have passed midnight in the history of this world. Bruno was driven from his native country because he taught the rotation of the earth; you can see what a dangerous man he must have been in a well-regulated monarchy. (Laughter.) You see he had found a fact, and a fact has the same effect upon religion that dynamite has upon a Russian Czar. A fellow with a new fact was suspected and arrested, and they always thought they could destroy it by burning him, but they never did. All the fires of martyrdom never destroyed one truth; all the churches of the world have never made one lie true. (Applause.) Germany and France would not tolerate Bruno. According to the Christian system this world was the center of everything. The stars were made out of what little God happened to have left when He got the world done. (Laughter.) God lived up in the sky, and they said this earth must rest upon something, and finally science passed its hand clear under, and there was nothing. It was self-existent in infinite space. Then the church began to say they didn't say it was flat (laughter) -- not so awful flat,--it was kind of rounding. (Laughter). According to the ancient Christians, God lived from all eternity, and never worked but six days in His whole life, and then had the impudence to tell us to be industrious. (Laughter.) I heard of a man going to California over the plains, and there was a clergyman on board and he had a great deal to say, and finally he fell in conversation with the forty-niner, and the latter said to the clergyman, "Do you believe that God made this world in six days?" "Yes, I do." They were then going along the Humboldt. Says he, "Don't you think He could put in another day to advantage right around here?" (Laughter.) Bruno went to England and delivered lectures at Oxford. He found that there was nothing taught there but superstition, and so called Oxford the "wisdom of learning." Then they told him they didn't want him any more. He went back to Italy, where there was a kind of fascination that drew him back to the very doors of the Inquisition. He was arrested for teaching that there were other worlds, and that stars are suns around which revolve other planets. He was in prison for six years. During those six years Galileo was teaching mathematics; six years in a dungeon, and then he was tried, denounced by the Inquisition, excommunicated, condemned by brute force pushed upon his knees while he received the benediction of the Church, and on the 16th of February, in the year of our Lord 1600, he was burned at the stake. He believed that the world is animated by an intelligent soul, the cause of force, but not of matter, that matter and force have existed from eternity; that this force lives in all things, even in such as appear not to live, in the rock as much as in the man; that matter is the mother of forms and the grace of forms, that the matter and force together constitute God. He was a pantheist,--that is to say, he was an atheist. He had the courage to die for what he believed to be right. The murder of Bruno will never, in my judgment, be completely and perfectly revenged until the city of Rome shall be swept every vestige of priests and pope -- (applause); until from the shapeless ruin of St. Peter's, the crumbled Vatican and the fallen cross of Rome, rises a monument sacred to the philosopher, the benefactor, and the martyr--Bruno. (Applause).


Voltaire was born in 1694. When he was born, the natural was about the only thing that the Church did not believe in. Monks sold amulets, and the priests cured in the name of the Church. The worship of the Devil was actually established, which today is the religion of China. They say, "God is good; He won't bother you: Joss is the one." They offer him gifts, and try to soften his heart; so in the Middle ages the poor people tried to see if they could not get a short cut, and trade directly with the Devil, instead of going round-about through the Church. In these days witnesses were cross-examined with instruments of torture. Voltaire did more for human liberty than any other man who ever lived or died. He appealed to the common sense of mankind,--he held up the great contradictions of the sacred Scriptures in a way that no man once having read him could forget. For one, I thank Voltaire for the liberty I am now enjoying this moment. How small a man a priest looked when he pointed his finger at him; how contemptible a King. Toward the last of May, 1778, it was whispered in Paris that Voltaire was dying. He expired with the most perfect tranquility. There have been constructed more shameless lies about the death of this great and wonderful man, compared with who all of his calumniators, living or dead, were but dust and vermin. (Applause.) From his throne at the foot of the Alps he pointed the finger of scorn at every hypocrite in Europe. he was the pioneer of his century.


In 1771, in Scotland, David Hume was born. Scotch Presbyterianism is the worst form of religion that has ever been produced. (Laughter.) The Scotch Kirk had all the faults of the Church of Rome, without a redeeming feature.


The Church hated music, despised painting, abhorred statuary, and held architecture in contempt. Anything touched with humanity, with the weakness of love, with the dimple of joy, was detested by the Scotch Kirk. God was to be feared; God was infinitely practical, no nonsense about God. They used to preach four times a day. They preached on Friday before the Sunday upon which they partook of the sacrament, and then on Saturday; four sermons on Sunday, and two or three on Monday to sober up on. (Laughter.) They were bigoted and heartless. One case will illustrate. In the beginning of this nineteenth century a boy 17 years of age was indicted at Edinburgh for blasphemy. He had given it as his opinion that Moses had learned magic in Egypt, and had fooled the Jews. (Laughter.) They proved that on two or three occasions, when he was real cold, he jocularly remarked that he wished he was in Hell, so that he could warm up. (Laughter.) He was tried, convicted, and sentenced to be hanged. He recanted; he even wrote that he believed the whole business, and that he just said it for pure devilment. It made no difference. They hung him, and his bruised and bleeding corpse was denied to his own mother, who came and besought them to let her take her boy home. That was Scotch Presbyterianism. If the Devil had been let loose in Scotland he would have improved that country at that time. (Laughter.) David Hume was one of the few Scotchmen who was not owned by the church. He had the courage to examine things for himself, and to give his conclusion to the world. His life was unstained by an unjust act. He did not, like Abraham turn a woman from his door with his child in her arms. (Applause.) He did not like King David, murder a man that he might steal his wife. (Applause.) He didn't believe in Scotch Presbyterianism. I don't see how any good men ever did. Just think of going to the day of judgment, if there is one, and standing up before God and admitting without a blush that you have lived and died a Scotch Presbyterian. (Laughter.) I would expect the next sentence would be, "Depart ye, cursed in everlasting fire." (Laughter.) Hume took the ground that a miracle could not be used as evidence until you had proved the miracle. Of course that excited the Church. Why? Because they could not prove one of them. How are you going to prove a miracle? Who saw it, and who would know a devil if he did see him? (Laughter.) Hume insisted that at the bottom of all good is something useful; that after all, human happiness was the great object, end, and aim of life; that virtue was not a termagant, with sunken cheeks and frightful eyes, but was the most beautiful thing in the world, and would strew your path with flowers from the cradle to the grave. When he died they gave an account of how he suffered. They knew that the horror of death would fall upon him, and that God would get his revenge. But his attending physician said that his death was the most serenest and most perfectly tranquil of any he had ever seen. Adam Smith said he was as near perfect as the frailty incident to humanity would allow human being to be. The next is Benedict Spinoza, a Jew, born at Amsterdam in 1632. He studied theology, and asked the rabbis too many questions, and talked too much about what he called reason and finally he was excommunicated from the synagogue and became an outcast at the age of 24, without friends. Cursed, anathematized, bearing upon his forehead the mark of Cain, he undertook to solve the problem of the universe. To him the universe was one. The infinite embraced the all. That all was God. He was right, the universe is all there is, and if God does not exist in the universe He exists nowhere. The idea of putting some little Jewish Jehovah outside the universe, as if to say tat from an eternity of idleness He woke up one morning and thought He would make something. (Laughter.) The propositions of Spinoza are as luminous as the stars, and his demonstrations, each one of them, is a Gibraltar, behind which logic sits laughing at all the sophistries of theological thought. (Applause.) In every relation of life he was just, true, gentle, patient, loving, affectionate. he died in 1677. In his life of 44 years he had climbed to the very highest alpine of human thought. He was a great and splendid man, an intellectual hero, one of the benefactors, one of the Titans of our race. (Applause.) And now I will say a few words about our infidels. We had three, to say the least,--Paine, Franklin and Jefferson. (Applause.) In their day the colonies were filled with superstition and the Puritans with the spirit of persecution. Law, savage, ignorant and malignant, had been passed in every colony for the purpose of destroying intellectual liberty. Manly freedom was unknown. The toleration act of Maryland tolerated only chickens, not thinkers, not investigators. It tolerated faith not brains. The charity of Roger Williams was not extended to one who denied the Bible. Let me show you how we have advanced. Suppose you took every man and woman out of the penitentiary in New England and shipped them to a new country, where men before had never trod, and told them to make a government, and constitution, and a code of laws for themselves. I say to-night that they would make a better constitution and a better code of laws than any that were made in any of the original thirteen colonies of the United States. (Applause.) Not that they are better men, not that they are more honest, but that they have got more sense. They have been touched with the dawn of eternal day of liberty that will finally come to this world. They would have more respect for others' rights than they had at that time. But the Churches were jealous of each other, and we got a constitution without religion in it from the mutual jealousies of the Church and from the genius of men like Paine, Franklin and Jefferson. (Applause.) We are indebted to them for a constitution without a God in it. They knew that if you put God in there, an infinite God, there wouldn't be any room for the people. (Laughter.) Our fathers retired Jehovah from Politics. (Laughter.) Our fathers, under the directions and leadership of those infidels, said, "All power comes from the consent of the governed." (Applause.) George Washington wanted to establish a Church by law in Virginia. Thomas Jefferson prevented it. (Applause.) Under the guaranty of liberty of conscience which was given, our legislature has improved, and it will not be many years before all laws touching liberty of conscience, excepting it may be in the state of Delaware (laughter) will be blotted out, and when that time comes we or our children may thank the infidels of 1776. The Church never pretended that Franklin died in fear. Franklin wrote no books against the Bible. He thought it was useless to cast the pearls of thought before the swine of his generation. Jefferson was a statesman. He was the author of the Declaration of Independence, founder of a university, father of a political body, President of the United States, a statesman and a philosopher. He was too powerful for the Churches of his day. Paine attacked the Trinity and the Bible both. He had done these things openly. His arguments were so good that his reputation got bad. (Laughter). I want you to recollect to-night that he was the first man who wrote these words: "The United States of America." (Applause). I want you to know to-night that he was the first man who suggested the Federal Constitution. I want you to know that he did more for the actual separation from Great Britain than any man that ever lived. (Applause.) I want you to know that he did as much for liberty with his pen as any soldier did with his sword. (Applause). I want you to know that during the Revolution his Crisis was the pillar of fire by night and a cloud by day. I want you to know that his Common Sense was the one star in the horizon of despotism. I want you to know that he did as much as any living man to give our free flag to the free air. (Applause.) He was not content to waste all his energies here. When the volcano covered Europe with the shreds of robes and the broken fragments of thrones, Paine went to France. He was elected by four constituencies. He had the courage to vote against the death of Louis, and was imprisoned. He wrote to Washington, the President, and asked him to interfere. Washington threw the letter in the waste basket of forgetfulness. When Paine was finally released, he gave his opinion of George Washington, and under such circumstances, I say, a man can be pardoned for having said even unjust things. (Applause.) The eighteenth century was crowning its gray hairs with the wreaths of progress, and Thomas Paine said: "I will do something to liberate mankind from superstition."


He wrote the "Age of Reason." For his good he wrote it too soon; for ours not a day too quick. (Applause.) From that moment he was a despised and calumniated man. When he came back to this country he could not safely walk the streets for fear of being mobbed. Under the Constitution he had suggested, his rights were not safe; under the flag that he had helped give to heaven, with which he had enriched the air, his liberty was not safe. Is it not a disgrace to us all that the lies that have been told about him, are a perpetual disgrace? I tell you that upon the grave of Thomas Paine the Churches of America have sacrificed their reputation for veracity. (Laughter.) Who can hate a man with a creed, "I believe in one God and no more, and I hope for immortality; I believe in the equality of man, and that religious duty consists in doing justice, in doing mercy, and in endeavoring to make our fellow-creatures happy. It is necessary to the happiness of man that he be faithful to himself. One good schoolmaster is worth a thousand priests. Man has no property in man, and the key to Heaven is in the keeping of no saint." (Applause.) Grand, splendid, brave man! with some faults, with many virtues; the world is better because he lived,--and, if Thomas Paine had not lived, I could not have delivered this lecture here to-night. (Applause.) Did all the priests of Rome increase the mental wealth of man as much as Bruno? Did all the priests of France do as great a work for the civilization of this world as Diderot and Voltaire? Did all the ministers of Scotland add as much to the sum of human knowledge as David Hume? Have all the clergymen, monks, friars, ministers, priests, Bishops, Cardinals, and Popes from the day of Pentecost to the last election done as much for the human liberty as Thomas Paine? (Applause). What would the world be now if infidels had never been? Infidels have been the flower of all this world. Recollect, by infidels I mean every man who has made an intellectual advance. (Laughter.) By orthodox I mean a gentleman who is petrified in his mind, whopping around intellectually, simply to save the funeral expenses of his soul. (Laughter.) Infidels are the creditors of all the years to come. They have made this world fit to live in, and without them the human brain would be as empty as the chronicles soon will be. (Laughter.) Unless they preach something that the people want to hear, it is not a crime to benefit our fellow men intellectually. The churches point to their decayed saints, and their crumbled Popes, and say, "Do you know more than all the ministers that ever lived? And without the slightest egotism or blush I say, yes, and the name of Humboldt outweighs them all. The men who stand in the front rank, then men who know most of the secrets of nature, the men who know most are to-day the advanced infidels of this world. I have lived long enough to see the brand of intellectual inferiority on every orthodox brain. (Applause.)

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