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Religious Intolerance

About eight o'clock Colonel Ingersoll advanced to the front of the stage unattended. He alone occupied the stage. As he approached the footlights, a neat bouquet -- the offering of the Pittsburgh Liberal League -- was presented him by the president of the association. The lecturer quietly laid the flowers upon a table and with the announcement that he ought probably to say something concerning the Sabbath, began his eloquent oration:


"How anybody ever came to the conclusion that there was any God who demanded that you should feel sorrowful and miserable and bleak one-seventh of the time is beyond my comprehension. Neither can I conceive how they can say that one-seventh of the time is holy. That day is the most sacred day on which the most good has been done for mankind. Now, there was a time among the Jews when if a man violated the Sabbath they would kill him. They said God told them to do it. I think they were mistaken. If not, if any God did tell them to kill, then I think he was mistaken. I hope the time will come when every man can spend the Sabbath just as he pleases, provided he does not interfere with the happiness of others. I would fight just as earnestly that the Christian may go to church as that the infidel may have the right to spend the Sabbath as he chooses. Are the people who go to church the only good people? Are there not a great many bad people who go to church? Not a bank in Pittsburgh will lend a dollar to the man who belongs to the church, without security, quicker than the man who don't go to church. Now, I believe that all laws on the statute books should be enforced. I do not blame anybody in this town. I am perfectly willing that every preacher in this town should preach. They are employed to preach, and to preach a certain doctrine, and if they don't preach that doctrine they will be turned out. (Laughter.) I have no objection to that. But I want the same privilege to express my views, and what is the difference whether a man pays the day he goes in or pays for it the weeks before by subscription.


"What would the church people think if the theatrical people should attempt to suppress the churches? What harm would do to have an opera here to-night? It would elevate us more than to hear ten thousand sermons on the worm that never dies. (Laughter.) This is more practical wisdom in one of the plays of Shakespeare than in all the sacred books ever written. What wrong would there be to see one of those grand plays on Sunday? There was a time when the church would not allow you to cook on Sunday. You had to eat your victuals cold. There was a time when they thought the more miserable you feel the better God feels. (Laughter.) There are sixty odd thousand preachers in the United States. Some people regard them as a necessary evil; some as an unnecessary evil. There are sixty odd thousand churches in the United States; and it does seem to me that with all the wealth on their side; with all the good people on their side; with Providence on their side; with all these advantages they ought to let us at least have the right to speak our thoughts."


Col. Ingersoll next entered into his argument on the origin of religion, referring to the first impressions of the savage. Having enunciated these views, which have before been published in reports given in these columns of his lectures, the speaker continued:


"The history of the world shows me that the right has not always prevailed. When you see innocent men chained to the stake and flames licking their flesh, it is natural to ask, why does God permit this? If you see a man in prison with the chains eating into his flesh simply for loving God, you've got to ask why does not a just God interfere? You've got to meet this. If won't do to say that it will all come out for the best. That may do very well for God, but it's awful hard on the man. (Laughter.) Where was the God that permitted slavery for two hundred years in these United States? The history of the world shows that when a mean thing was done, man did it; when a good thing was done, man did it.


"But there was a time when there was a drought, and this tribe of savages with their false notions of religion said somebody had been wicked. Somebody had been lecturing on Sunday (Laughter.) Then the tribe hunted out the wicked man. They said you've got to stop. We cannot allow you to continue your wickedness, which brings punishment upon the whole of us. What is the reason they allow me to speaks to-night? Because the Christians are not as firm in their belief now as they were a thousand years ago. The lukewarmness and hypocrisy of Christians now permit me to speak to-night. If they felt as they did a thousand years ago they would kill me. So religious persecution was born of the instinct of self-defense.


"Is there any duty we owe to God? Can we help him? Can we add to his glory or happiness? They tell me this God is infinitely wise, I cannot add to his wisdom; infinitely happy -- I cannot add to his happiness. What can I do? Maybe he wants me to make prayers that won't be answered. I cannot see any relation that can exist between the finite and the infinite. I acknowledge that I am under obligations to my fellow man. We owe duties to our fellow man. And what? Simply to make them happy.


"The only good thing is happiness; and the only evil is misery or unhappiness. Only those things are right that tend to increase the happiness of man; only those things are wrong that tend to increase the misery of man. That is the basis of right and wrong. There never would have been the idea of wrong except that man can inflict suffering upon others. Utility, then, is the basis of the idea of right and wrong.


"The church tells us this world is a school to prepare us for another, that it is a place to build character. Well, if that is the only way character can be developed it is bad for children who die before they get any character. What would you think of a school-master who would kill half his pupils the first day?


"Now, I read the Bible, and I find that God so loved the world that He made up his mind to damn the most of us. (Laughter.) I have read this book, and what shall I say of it? I believe it is generally better to be honest. Now, I don't believe the Bible. Had I not better say so? They say that if you do your will regret it when you come to die. If that be true, I know a great many religious people who will have no cause to regret it -- they don't tell their honest convictions about the Bible. There are two great arguments of the church -- the great man argument and the death-bed. They say the religion of your fathers is good enough. Why should a father object to your inventing a better plow than he had? They say to me, do you know more than all the theologians dead? Being a perfectly modest man I say I think I do. Now we have come to the conclusion that every man has a right to think. Would God give a bird wings and make it a crime to fly? Would he give me brains and make it a crime to think? Any God that would damn one of his children for the expression of his honest thought wouldn't make a decent thief. When I read a book and don't believe it, I ought to say so. I will do so and take the consequences like a man.


"And so I object to paying for the support of any other man's belief. I am in favor of the taxation of all church property. If that property belongs to God, he is able to pay the tax. (Laughter.) If we exempt anything, let us exempt the home of the widow and orphan. (Applause).


A voice here interrupted the speaker.
Col. Ingersoll--What did the gentleman say?
A Voice -- O, he's drunk.
Col. Ingersoll -- I don't think any Christian ought to get drunk and come here to disturb us. (Laughter).


The speaker resumed.


The church has to-day $600,000,000 or $700,000,000 of property in this country. It must cost $2,000,000 a week, that is to say $500 a minute to run these churches. You give me this money and if I don't do more good with it than four times as many churches I'll resign. Let them make the churches attractive and they'll get more hearers. They will have less empty pews if they have less empty heads in the pulpit. (Laughter.) The time will come when the preacher will become a teacher.


Admitting that the Bible is the Book of God, is that His only good job? Will not a man be damned as quick for denying the equator as denying the Bible? Will he not be damned as quick for denying geology as denying the scheme of salvation? When the Bible was first written it was not believed. Had they known as much about science as we know now, that Bible would not have been written.


Col. Ingersoll next gave his views of the Puritans, declared they left Holland to escape persecution, and came here to persecute others. He referred to the persecutions heaped upon those of other religious belief by the Puritans, paid the Catholics the compliment to say that Maryland, which they ruled, was the first colony to enact a law tolerating religious views not held by themselves, and went on to explain that God was never mentioned in the Constitution of the United States because each colony had a different religious belief, and each sect preferred to have God not mentioned at all than to have another religious belief than their own recognized. "In 1776," said the speaker, "our forefathers retired God from politics. They said all power comes from the people. They kept God out of the Constitution and allowed each State to settle the question for itself."


The present laws of different States were next reviewed, so far as they relate to the prevention of infidels giving testimony and to religious intolerance in any way, and these features were all branded and discussed as a gigantic evil.


The lecture was attentively listened to by the immense audience from beginning to the end, and the speaker's most blasphemous flights were the most loudly applauded.

Friends and Colleagues