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Ingersoll's Views on Politics and Religion

Ingersoll's Views on Politics and Religion by Robert G. Ingersoll
Chicago Times, November 14, 1879.

In order to ascertain the Colonel's views of the political situation and any new dogmas he might have acquired, a Times reporter called upon him yesterday, and the following was the net result:
Reporter-What do you think about the recent election, and what will be its effect upon political matters and the issues and candidates of 1880?
Col. Ingersoll-I think the republicans have met with this almost universal success on account, first, of the position taken by the democracy on the currency question that is to say, the party was divided, and was willing to go in partnership with anybody, whatever their doctrine might be, for the sake of success in that particular locality. The republican party felt it of paramount importance not only to pay the debt but to pay it in that which the world regards as money. The next reason for the victory if the position assumed by the democracy in Congress during the called session. The threats they then made of what they would do in the event that the executive did not comply with their demands showed that the spirit of that party had not been chastened to any considerable extent by the late war. The people of this country will not, in my judgment, allow the South to take charge of this country until it shows its ability to protect the rights of citizens in their respective states.


R.--Then, as you regard the victories, they are largely due to a firm adherence to principle, and the failure of the democratic party is due to their abandonment of principle and their desire to unite with anybody and everything at the sacrifice of principle to attain success?
Col. I.-Yes. The democratic party is a general desire for office without organization. Most people are democrats because they hate something, and most people are republicans because they love something.


R.-Do you think the election has brought about any particular change in the issues that will be involved in the campaign of 1880?
Col. I.-I think the only issue is who shall rule this country.


R.-Do you think, then, the question of state rights, hard or soft money, and other questions that have been prominent in the campaign, are practically settled, and so regarded by the people?
Col. I.-I think the money question is, absolutely. I think the question of state rights is dead, except that it can still be used to defeat the democracy. It is what might be called a convenient political corpse.


R.-Who do you think will be the candidate for president in the next campaign?
Col. I.-On the republican side, either Grant or Blaine.


R.-In the light of present events, which one seems most likely to win the prize?
Col. I.-If Grant wants it, I should think that he could have it. I regard him as the greatest soldier the English-speaking people ever produced. Personally, I would like to see Blaine succeed.


R.-Your views in regard to Mr. Blaine, your admiration and friendship for him, have not changed since 1876, I presume?
Col. I.-No; I like him first rate. I think he would make an excellent president, and would do as much as any man could do to harmonize the different sections of the country.


R.-You say the republican candidates are Blaine and Grant. Don't you think Sherman stands an equal chance with them to secure the nomination?
Col. I.-I do not. In the first place, he is from Ohio, and I think the people have probably had enough of that state for a few years to come. In the second place, his brother is general of the army, and I doubt whether the American people would be willing to give the presidency and generalship of the army to the same family, coming from the same state, and at the same time.


R.-In your opinion, whom are the democrats liable to bring forward?
Col. I.-Well, most of their candidates have recently passed away. I suppose Mr. Tilden is out of the race, and that Mr. Thurman is in the same position, and I think there is no hope of their being heard from again. What the democracy needs today for a candidate is a man who was utterly opposed to the war, but never said so. If some such man could be found he would, in my judgment, make a formidable opponent for any man the republicans could nominate.


R.-Mr. Bayard?
Col. I.-Mr. Bayard is a good man, and an exceedingly correct man. He has never done anything great enough to make him popular, nor bad enough to become notorious; besides, his state is tolerably certain to vote the democratic ticket. So I see no reason for his nomination.


R.-What do you think of the proposed combination of a New York man and an Indiana man?
Col. I.-New York has furnished too many defeated candidates; and, in my opinion, the democracy will not take a man from that state. The quarrels in New York will make it necessary to take an outside man. The man that New York would present would have to be the choice of Tammany, and a man who is the choice of Tammany is not the choice of the people of this country. My opinion is that the democracy could come nearer electing David Davis than any other man in the United States. He is an honest man, and everybody knows the country would be safe while he was president; but Judge Davis is in this peculiar position: He is hardly democratic enough to get the nomination, and maybe a little too democratic to get the votes. But he is a good man, and I like him.


R.-Now, to leave the political field and go to the religious, at one jump. Since your last visit here much has been said and written and published to the effect that a great change, or a considerable change, at least, has taken place in your religious, or irreligious, views. I would like to know if that is so?
Col. I.-The only change that has occurred in my religious views is the result of finding more and more arguments in favor of my position; and, as a consequence, if there is any difference, I am stronger in my convictions than ever before.


R.-I would like to know something of the history of your religious views.
Col. I.-I may say right here that the Christian idea that any God can make me His friend by killing mine is about as great a mistake as could be made. They seem to have the idea that just as soon as God kills all the people that a person loves, he will then begin to love the Lord. What drew my attention first to these questions was the doctrine of eternal punishment. This was so abhorrent to my mind that I began to hate the book in which it was taught. Then, in reading law, going back to find the origin of laws, I found one had to go but a little way before the legislator and priest united. This led me to study a good many of the religions of the world. At first I was greatly astonished to find most of them better than ours. I then studied our own system to the best of my ability, and found that people were palming off upon children and upon one another as the inspired words of God a book that upheld slavery, polygamy, and almost every other crime. Whether I am right or wrong, I am convinced that the Bible is not an inspired book; and then the only question for me to settle was as to whether I should say what I believed or not. This really was not the question in my mind, because, before even thinking of such a question, I expressed my belief; and I simply claim that right, and expect to exercise it as long as I live. I may be damned for it in the next world, but it is a great source of pleasure to me in this.


R.-It is reported that you are the son of a Presbyterian minister.
Col. I.-Yes, I am the son of a New School Presbyterian minister.


R.-About what age were you when you began this investigation which led to your present convictions?
Col. I.-I can't remember when I believed the Bible doctrine of eternal punishment. I have a dim recollection of hating Jehovah when I was exceedingly small.


R.-I suppose this gossip about a change in your religious views arose or was created by the expression used at your brother's funeral: "In the night of death hope sees a star, and listening love can hear the rustle of a wing"
Col. I.-I never willingly will destroy a solitary human hope I have always said that I did not know whether man was or was not immortal; but years before my brother died, in a lecture entitled "The Ghosts," which has since been published, I used the following words "The idea of immortality, which like a sea ebbs and flows in the human heart, beating against the sands and rocks of time and fate, was not born to any book, nor to any creed, nor of any religion. It was born of human affection, and it will continue to ebb and flow beneath the mists and clouds of doubt and darkness as long as love kisses the lips of death."


R.-The great objection to your teaching, urged by your enemies, is that you constantly tear down and never build up.
Col. I.-I have just published a little book, entitled "Some Mistakes of Moses, in which I have endeavored to give most of the arguments I have urged against the Pentateuch in a lecture delivered under that title. The motto on the title page is "A destroyer of weeds, thistles and thorns is a benefactor, whether he soweth grain or not" I cannot for my life see why one should be charged with tearing down and not rebuilding simply because he exposes a sham or detests a lie. I do not feel any obligation to build something in the place of a detected falsehood. All I think I am under obligation to put in the place of a detected lie is the detection. Most religionists talk as if mistakes were valuable things, and they did not wish to part with them without a consideration. Just how much they regard lies worth a dozen I don't know. If the price is reasonable I am willing to give it, rather than to see them live and give their lives to the defense of delusions. I am firmly convinced that to be happy here will not in the least detract from our happiness in another world, should we be so fortunate as to reach another world; and I cannot see the value of any philosophy that reaches beyond the intelligent happiness of the present. There may be a God who will make us happy in another world. If he does, it will be more than he has accomplished in this. I suppose that He will never have more than infinite power, and never have less than infinite wisdom; and why people should expect that He should do better in another world than He has in this is something that I have never been able to explain. A being who has the power to prevent it, and yet who allows thousands and millions of His children to starve; who devours them with earthquakes; who allows whole nations to be enslaved, cannot, in my judgment, be implicitly depended upon to do justice in another world.


R -How do the clergy generally treat you.
Col. I.-Well, of course, there are the same distinctions among clergymen as among other people. Some of them are quite respectable gentlemen, especially these with whom I am not acquainted. I think that since the loss of my brother nothing could exceed the heartlessness of the remarks made by the average clergyman. There have been some noble exceptions, to whom I feel not only thankful but grateful; but a very large majority have taken this occasion to say most unfeeling and brutal things. I do not ask the clergy to forgive me, but I do request that they will so act that I will not have to forgive them. I have always insisted that those who have their enemies should at least tell the truth about their friends; but I suppose, after all, that religion must be supported by the same means as those by which it was founded. Of course, there are thousands of good ministers, men who are endeavoring to make the world better, and whose failure is no particular fault of their own. I have always been in doubt as to whether the clergy were a necessary or an unnecessary evil.


R.-I would like to have a positive expression of your views as to a future state.
Col. I.-Somebody asked Confucius about another world, and his reply was "How should I, who know so little about this, know anything about another?" For my part, I know nothing of any other state of existence, either before or after this, and I have never become personally acquainted with anybody that did. There may be another life; and if there is, the best way to prepare for it is by making somebody happy in this. God certainly cannot afford to put a man in hell who has made a little heaven in this world. I propose simply to take my chances with the rest of the folks, and prepare to go where the people I am best acquainted with will probably settle. I can't afford to leave the great ship and sneak off to shore in some orthodox canoe; I hope there is another life, for I would like to see how things come out in this world when I am dead. There are some people I would like to see again, and hope there are some who would not object to seeing me; but if there is no other life I shall never know it. I don't remember the time when I did not exist; and if, when I die, that is the end, I shall not know it, because the last thing I will know is that I am alive, and if nothing is left, nothing will be left to know that I am dead; so that so far as I am concerned I am immortal; that is to say, I can't recollect when I did not exist, and there never will be a time when I will remember that I do not exist. I would like to have several millions of dollars, and I may say I have a lively hope that some day I may be rich; but to tell you the truth I have very little evidence of it. Our hope of immortality does not come from any religions, but nearly all religions come from that hope. The O1d Testament, instead of telling us that we are immortal, tells us how we lost immortality. You will recollect that if Adam and Eve could have gotten to the tree of life, they would have eaten of its fruit and would have lived forever, but for the purpose of preventing immortality God turned them out of the Garden of Eden, and put certain angels with swords or sabers at the gate to keep them from getting back. The Old Testament proves, if it proves anything-which I do not think it does--that there is no life after this, and the New Testament is not very specific on the subject. There were a great many opportunities for the Savior and his apostles to tell us about another world, but they didn't improve them to any great extent; and the only evidence, so far as I know about another life is, first, that we have no evidence; and, secondly, that we are rather sorry that we have put, and wish we had. That is about my position.


R.-According to your observation of men, and your reading in relation to the men and women of the world and of the church, if there is another world divided according to orthodox principles between the orthodox and heterodox, which of the two that are known as heaven and hell would contain, in your judgment, the most good society?
Col. I.-Since hanging has got to be a means of grace, I would prefer hell. I had a thousand times rather associate with the pagan philosophers than with the inquisitors of the Middle Ages. I certainly should prefer the worst man in Greek or Roman history to John Calvin; and I can imagine no man in the world that I would not rather sit on the same bench with than the Puritan fathers and the founders of orthodox churches. I would trade off my harp any minute for a seat in the other country. All the poets will be in perdition, and the greatest thinkers, and, I should think, most of the women whose society would tend to increase the happiness of man; nearly all the painters, nearly all the sculptors, nearly all the writers of plays, nearly all the great actors, most of the best musicians, and nearly all the good fellows-the persons who know stories, who can sing songs, or who will loan a friend a dollar. They will mostly all be in that country, and if I did not live there permanently, I certainly would want it so I could spend my winter months there. But, after all, what I really want to do is to destroy the idea of eternal punishment. That doctrine subverts all ideas of justice. That doctrine fills hell with honest men and heaven with intellectual and moral paupers. That doctrine allows people to sin on a credit. That doctrine allows the basest to be eternally happy and the most honorable to suffer eternal pain. I think of all doctrines it is the most infinitely infamous, and would disgrace the lowest savage, and any man who believes it, and has imagination enough to understand it: has the heart of a serpent and the conscience of a hyena.


R.-There is a good deal of talk about the case of D.M. Bennett and your connection with it. What had you to do in that matter?
Col. I-Bennet was indicted for sending through the mails a pamphlet called "Cupid's Yokes." After he was tried and convicted, I read a report of the trial, as well as the pamphlet, and became convinced that the book was not obscene, but simply a foolish argument against the institution of marriage. Bennett asked me to make an argument before the president in favor of his pardon. Feeling that his conviction was an outrage, and feeling that it was my duty to act in accordance with my convictions, irrespective of what the effect might be upon myself, I did so. The pamphlet was submitted to the attorney-general, and he decided that it was not an obscene book. The president decided the same way, and every sensible man who will read it will also say that it is not an obscene book. I believe that I am as strongly in favor of the institution of marriage as any man in the world, yet I admit that people have a right to discuss that question, and when we say that persons have a right to discuss a question, of course we admit that they have a right to discuss the other side. Now, while I hold the writer of that pamphlet in almost infinite contempt, I hold that his rights are as sacred as mine. Since the imprisonment of Bennett, a paper in Chicago has published what it claimed to be extracts from letters written by Bennett to some young lady. I was not well acquainted with Bennett, and never have seen him, I think but twice in my life, and, of course, never knew anything about these letters. If he wrote them, I am wasting my sympathy on the wrong man; but I am waiting to hear from him. I think he made a mistake in having anything to do with the pamphlet spoken of, but he did not, in that regard, commit a crime, and ought not to have been convicted. If, however, it turns out that he is a bad person it will simply show that even a person who edits an infidel paper is liable to take his place in history with the Daniels and Solomons, and with the popes, cardinals, priests, and ministers whose names are so familiar to most of your readers. So far as I am concerned I would rather err a thousand times through sympathy and through a love of justice than to be right forever through selfishness and a kind of base prudence born of fear.

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