Robert G. Ingersoll

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Love is natural. Back of all ceremony burns and will forever burn the sacred flame. There has been no time in the world's history when that torch was extinguished. In all ages, in all climes, among all people, there has been true, pure, and unselfish love.

Robert Green Ingersoll (August 11, 1833July 21, 1899) was a lawyer, a Civil War veteran, political leader, and orator of the United States during the Golden Age of Freethought, noted for his broad range of culture and his defense of agnosticism. He was nicknamed "The Great Agnostic".


While utterly discarding all creeds, and denying the truth of all religions, there is neither in my heart nor upon my lips a sneer for the hopeful, loving and tender souls who believe that from all this discord will result a perfect harmony; that every evil will in some mysterious way become a good, and that above and over all there is a being who, in some way, will reclaim and glorify every one of the children of men...
Music is the voice of love.
Justice is the only worship.
Love is the only priest.
Ignorance is the only slavery.
Happiness is the only good.
The time to be happy is now,
The place to be happy is here,
The way to be happy is to make others so.
The present is the necessary product of all the past, the necessary cause of all the future.
By comparing long periods of time, we more clearly perceive the advance that has been made.
The present is the child, and the necessary child, of all the past, and the mother of all the future.
It is far better to be free, to leave the forts and barricades of fear, to stand erect and face the future with a smile. It is far better to give yourself sometimes to negligence, to drift with wave and tide, with the blind force of the world...
The more false we destroy the more room there will be for the true.
All laws for the purpose of making man worship God, are born of the same spirit that kindled the fires of the auto da fe, and lovingly built the dungeons of the Inquisition.
We do not need the forgiveness of God, but of each other and of ourselves.
Every human being longs to be happy, to satisfy the wants of the body with food, with roof and raiment, and to feed the hunger of the mind, according to his capacity, with love, wisdom, philosophy, art and song.
I have made up my mind that if there is a God, he will be merciful to the merciful.
Upon that rock I stand.
There are in nature neither rewards nor punishments — there are consequences. The life of Christ is worth its example, its moral force, its heroism of benevolence.
  • Men and women are not virtuous by law. Law itself does not of itself create virtue, nor is it the foundation or fountain of love. Law should protect virtue, and law should protect the wife, if she has kept her contract, and the man, if he has fulfilled his. But the death of love is the end of marriage. Love is natural. Back of all ceremony burns and will forever burn the sacred flame. There has been no time in the world's history when that torch was extinguished. In all ages, in all climes, among all people, there has been true, pure, and unselfish love.
  • A fact never went into partnership with a miracle. Truth does not need the assistance of miracle. A fact will fit every other fact in the Universe, because it is the product of all other facts. A lie will fit nothing except another lie made for the express purpose of fitting it.
    • The Works of Robert G. Ingersoll, Vol. II (in 12 volumes): "Lectures" ; "Some Mistakes of Moses", VI "Monday", Pg. 59
  • The Declaration of Independence announces the sublime truth, that all power comes from the people. This was a denial, and the first denial of a nation, of the infamous dogma that God confers the right upon one man to govern others. It was the first grand assertion of the dignity of the human race. It declared the governed to be the source of power, and in fact denied the authority of any and all gods. Through the ages of slavery — through the weary centuries of the lash and chain, God was the acknowledged ruler of the world. To enthrone man, was to dethrone God.
  • An honest God is the noblest work of man.
    • This is derived from Alexander Pope's "An honest man's the noblest work of God." Motto of the essay "The Gods" (1876) as published in The Gods and Other Lectures (1879).
  • Day by day, religious conceptions grow less and less intense. Day by day, the old spirit dies out of book and creed. The burning enthusiasm, the quenchless zeal of the early church have gone, never, never to return. The ceremonies remain, but the ancient faith is fading out of the human heart. The worn-out arguments fail to convince, and denunciations that once blanched the faces of a race, excite in us only derision and disgust. As time rolls on, the miracles grow mean and small, and the evidences our fathers thought conclusive utterly fail to satisfy us.
    • "The Gods" (1876) as published in The Gods and Other Lectures (1879).
  • While utterly discarding all creeds, and denying the truth of all religions, there is neither in my heart nor upon my lips a sneer for the hopeful, loving and tender souls who believe that from all this discord will result a perfect harmony; that every evil will in some mysterious way become a good, and that above and over all there is a being who, in some way, will reclaim and glorify every one of the children of men; but for those who heartlessly try to prove that salvation is almost impossible; that damnation is almost certain; that the highway of the universe leads to hell; who fill life with fear and death with horror; who curse the cradle and mock the tomb, it is impossible to entertain other than feelings of pity, contempt and scorn.
    • "The Gods" (1876) as published in The Gods and Other Lectures (1879).
  • Reason, Observation and Experience — the Holy Trinity of Science — have taught us that happiness is the only good; that the time to be happy is now, and the way to be happy is to make others so. This is enough for us. In this belief we are content to live and die. If by any possibility the existence of a power superior to, and independent of, nature shall be demonstrated, there will then be time enough to kneel. Until then, let us stand erect.
    • "The Gods" (1876) as published in The Gods and Other Lectures (1879); this was one of his earliest versions of what became known as his "Creed". Some variants:
    • Justice is the only worship.
      Love is the only priest.
      Ignorance is the only slavery.
      Happiness is the only good.
      The time to be happy is now,
      The place to be happy is here,
      The way to be happy is to make others so.

      Wisdom is the science of happiness.
      • As quoted in Familiar Quotations (1937) edited by Christopher Morley, p. 603
    • Happiness is the only good.
      The place to be happy is here.
      The time to be happy is now.
      The way to be happy is to make others so.
      • Variant, as it appears on a manuscript copy he jotted down for a fan (26 March 1897)
  • 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.
  • Churches are becoming political organizations... It probably will not be long until the churches will divide as sharply upon political, as upon theological questions; and when that day comes, if there are not liberals enough to hold the balance of power, this Government will be destroyed. The liberty of man is not safe in the hands of any church. Wherever the Bible and sword are in partnership, man is a slave. All laws for the purpose of making man worship God, are born of the same spirit that kindled the fires of the auto da fe, and lovingly built the dungeons of the Inquisition. All laws defining and punishing blasphemy — making it a crime to give your honest ideas about the Bible, or to laugh at the ignorance of the ancient Jews, or to enjoy yourself on the Sabbath, or to give your opinion of Jehovah, were passed by impudent bigots, and should be at once repealed by honest men. An infinite God ought to be able to protect himself, without going in partnership with State Legislatures. Certainly he ought not so to act that laws become necessary to keep him from being laughed at. No one thinks of protecting Shakespeare from ridicule, by the threat of fine and imprisonment. It strikes me that God might write a book that would not necessarily excite the laughter of his children. In fact, I think it would be safe to say that a real God could produce a work that would excite the admiration of mankind. Surely politicians could be better employed than in passing laws to protect the literary reputation of the Jewish God.
  • I would rather have been a French peasant and worn wooden shoes; I would rather have lived in a hut, with a vine growing over the door and the grapes growing and ripening in the autumn sun; I would rather have been that peasant, with my wife by my side and my children upon my knees, twining their arms of affection about me; I would rather have been that poor French peasant and gone down at last to the eternal promiscuity of the dust, followed by those who loved me; I would a thousand times rather have been that French peasant than that imperial personative of force and murder; and so I would —ten thousand thousand times.
    • Soliloquy at the tomb of Napoleon (1882); noted to have been misreported as "I would rather be the humblest peasant that ever lived … at peace with the world than be the greatest Christian that ever lived" by Billy Sunday (May 26, 1912), as reported in Paul F. Boller, Jr., and John George, They Never Said It: A Book of Fake Quotes, Misquotes, & Misleading Attributions (1989), p. 52-53.
  • Love is the only bow on Life's dark cloud. It is the morning and the evening star. It shines upon the babe, and sheds its radiance on the quiet tomb. It is the mother of art, inspirer of poet, patriot and philosopher. It is the air and light of every heart — builder of every home, kindler of every fire on every hearth. It was the first to dream of immortality. It fills the world with melody — for music is the voice of love. Love is the magician, the enchanter, that changes worthless things to Joy, and makes royal kings and queens of common clay. It is the perfume of that wondrous flower, the heart, and without that sacred passion, that divine swoon, we are less than beasts; but with it, earth is heaven, and we are gods.
    • Orthodoxy (1884).
  • The more false we destroy the more room there will be for the true.
    • "Orthodoxy" (1884). The Complete Works of Robert G. Ingersoll (1902) Vol. 2. p. 343
  • Nothing discloses real character like the use of power. It is easy for the weak to be gentle. Most people can bear adversity. But if you wish to know what a man really is, give him power. This is the supreme test.
    • "Motley and Monarch", The North American Review, December 1885
  • Too great praise challenges attention, and often brings to light a thousand faults that otherwise the general eye would never see. Were we allowed to read the Bible as we do all other books, we would admire its beauties, treasure its worthy thoughts, and account for all its absurd, grotesque and cruel things, by saying that its authors lived in rude, barbaric times. But we are told that it was written by inspired men; that it contains the will of God; that it is perfect, pure, and true in all its parts; the source and standard of all moral and religious truth; that it is the star and anchor of all human hope; the only guide for man, the only torch in Nature's night. These claims are so at variance with every known recorded fact, so palpably absurd, that every free unbiased soul is forced to raise the standard of revolt.
  • I do not believe in forgiveness as it is preached by the church. We do not need the forgiveness of God, but of each other and of ourselves. If I rob Mr. Smith and God forgives me, how does that help Smith? If I, by slander, cover some poor girl with the leprosy of some imputed crime, and she withers away like a blighted flower and afterward I get the forgiveness of God, how does that help her? If there is another world, we have got to settle with the people we have wronged in this. No bankrupt court there. Every cent must be paid.
  • I cannot believe that there is any being in this universe who has created a human soul for eternal pain. I would rather that every god would destroy himself; I would rather that we all should go to eternal chaos, to black and starless night, than that just one soul should suffer eternal agony.
  • I have made up my mind that if there is a God, he will be merciful to the merciful.
    Upon that rock I stand.

    That he will not torture the forgiving.
    Upon that rock I stand.
    That every man should be true to himself, and that there is no world, no star, in which honesty is a crime.
    Upon that rock I stand.
    The honest man, the good woman, the happy child, have nothing to fear, either in this world or the world to come.
    Upon that rock I stand.
  • "Oh," but they say to me, "you take away immortality." I do not. If we are immortal it is a fact in nature, and we are not indebted to priests for it, nor to bibles for it, and it cannot be destroyed by unbelief.
  • Is there beyond the silent night
    An endless day?
    Is death a door that leads to light?
    We cannot say.
    • "The Devil" (1899) Section IX, "Conclusion: Declaration of the Free" Compare: "the door of Darkness", The Rubaiyat, stanza 64.
  • Life is a narrow vale between the cold and barren peaks of two eternities. We strive in vain to look beyond the heights. We cry aloud — and the only answer is the echo of our wailing cry. From the voiceless lips of the unreplying dead there comes no word. But in the night of Death Hope sees a star and listening Love can hear the rustling of a wing.
  • There are in nature neither rewards nor punishments — there are consequences. The life of Christ is worth its example, its moral force, its heroism of benevolence.
    • "The Christian Religion" The North American Review, August 1881[1][2]
    • Variants:
    • We must remember that in nature there are neither rewards nor punishments there are consequences. The life and death of Christ do not constitute an atonement. They are worth the example, the moral force, the heroism of benevolence, and in so far as the life of Christ produces emulation in the direction of goodness, it has been of value to mankind.
    • In nature, there are neither rewards nor punishments — there are consequences.
      • Letters and Essays, 3rd Series. Some Reasons Why, viii.
  • Every sect is a certificate that God has not plainly revealed his will to man. To each reader the Bible conveys a different meaning. About the meaning of this book, called a revelation, there have been ages of war, and centuries of sword and flame. If written by an infinite God, he must have known that these results must follow; and thus knowing, he must be responsible for all.
  • The men who declare that woman is the intellectual inferior of man, do not, and cannot, by offering themselves in evidence, substantiate their declaration.
    • Preface to Helen Hamilton Gardner, Men, Women and Gods (1885)
  • Give to every human being every right that you claim for yourself.
    • "The Limitations of Toleration" (8 May 1888), in The Works of Robert G. Ingersoll, Vol VII
  • For the most part we inherit our opinions. We are the heirs of habits and mental customs. Our beliefs, like the fashion of our garments, depend on where we were born. We are molded and fashioned by our surroundings.
  • Religion can never reform mankind because religion is slavery. It is far better to be free, to leave the forts and barricades of fear, to stand erect and face the future with a smile. It is far better to give yourself sometimes to negligence, to drift with wave and tide, with the blind force of the world, to think and dream, to forget the chains and limitations of the breathing life, to forget purpose and object, to lounge in the picture gallery of the brain, to feel once more the clasps and kisses of the past, to bring life's morning back, to see again the forms and faces of the dead, to paint fair pictures for the coming years, to forget all Gods, their promises and threats, to feel within your veins life's joyous stream and hear the martial music, the rhythmic beating of your fearless heart. And then to rouse yourself to do all useful things, to reach with thought and deed the ideal in your brain, to give your fancies wing, that they, like chemist bees, may find art's nectar in the weeds of common things, to look with trained and steady eyes for facts, to find the subtle threads that join the distant with the now, to increase knowledge, to take burdens from the weak, to develop the brain, to defend the right, to make a palace for the soul. This is real religion. This is real worship.
  • So much has already been accomplished for the workingman that I have hope, and great hope, of the future. The hours of labor have been shortened, and materially shortened, in many countries. There was a time when men worked fifteen and sixteen hours a day. Now, generally, a day’s work is not longer than ten hours, and the tendency is to still further decrease the hours. By comparing long periods of time, we more clearly perceive the advance that has been made. In 1860, the average amount earned by the laboring men, workmen, mechanics, per year, was about two hundred and eighty-five dollars. It is now about five hundred dollars, and a dollar to-day will purchase more of the necessaries of life, more food, clothing and fuel, than it would in 1860. These facts are full of hope for the future.
  • I belong to the Great Church which holds the world within its starlit aisles; that claims the great and good of every race and clime; that finds with joy the grain of gold in every creed, and floods with light and love the germs of good in every soul.
    • Robert G. Ingersoll, a declaration in discussion with Rev. Henry M. Field on Faith and Agnosticism, quoted in Vol. VI of Farrell's edition of his works, also in Hoyt's New Cyclopedia Of Practical Quotations (1922) edited by Kate Louise Roberts, p. 663.
  • Good-by, gentlemen! I am not asking to be Governor of Illinois … I have in my composition that which I have declared to the world as my views upon religion. My position I would not, under any circumstances, not even for my life, seem to renounce. I would rather refuse to be President of the United States than to do so. My religious belief is my own. It belongs to me, not to the State of Illinois. I would not smother one sentiment of my heart to be the Emperor of the round world.
  • I am the inferior of any man whose rights I trample under foot. Men are not superior by reason of the accidents of race or color. They are superior who have the best heart — the best brain.
    • Liberty.
  • The superior man is the providence of the inferior. He is eyes for the blind, strength for the weak, and a shield for the defenseless. He stands erect by bending above the fallen. He rises by lifting others.
    • Liberty.
  • Our ancestors in the ages that are gone really believed that by force you could convince a man. You cannot change the conclusion of the brain by force, but I will tell you what you can do by force, and what you have done by force. You can make hypocrites by the million.
    • [] Ingersoll's Lecture on Liberty of Man, Woman and Child
  • Blasphemy is a padlock which hypocrisy tries to put on the lips of all honest men.
    • Blasphemy lecture delivered at Brooklyn, N.Y., prior to Ingersoll's departure for Europe, February 22d, 1885 (reproduced at pg. 105).

Heretics and Heresies (1874)

Full text online
Whoever has an opinion of his own, and honestly expresses it, will be guilty of heresy.
  • Whoever has an opinion of his own, and honestly expresses it, will be guilty of heresy. Heresy is what the minority believe; it is the name given by the powerful to the doctrine of the weak.
  • It is claimed that God wrote a book called the Bible, and it is generally admitted that this book is somewhat difficult to understand. As long as the church had all the copies of this book, and the people were not allowed to read it, there was comparatively little heresy in the world; but when it was printed and read, people began honestly to differ as to its meaning. A few were independent and brave enough to give the world their real thoughts, and for the extermination of these men the church used all her power. Protestants and Catholics vied with each other in the work of enslaving the human mind. For ages they were rivals in the infamous effort to rid the earth of honest people.
  • Give any orthodox church the power, and to-day they would punish heresy with whip, and chain, and fire. As long as a church deems a certain belief essential to salvation, just so long it will kill and burn if it has the power.
  • Every church pretends that it has a revelation from God, and that this revelation must be given to the people through the church; that the church acts through its priests, and that ordinary mortals must be content with a revelation — not from God — but from the church. Had the people submitted to this preposterous claim, of course there could have been but one church, and that church never could have advanced. It might have retrograded, because it is not necessary to think or investigate in order to forget. Without heresy there could have been no progress.
  • According to the theologians, God, the Father of us all, wrote a letter to his children. The children have always differed somewhat as to the meaning of this letter. In consequence of these honest differences, these brothers began to cut out each other's hearts. In every land, where this letter from God has been read, the children to whom and for whom it was written have been filled with hatred and malice. They have imprisoned and murdered each other, and the wives and children of each other. In the name of God every possible crime has been committed, every conceivable outrage has been perpetrated. Brave men, tender and loving women, beautiful girls, and prattling babes have been exterminated in the name of Jesus Christ.
The heretics have not thought and suffered and died in vain. Every heretic has been, and is, a ray of light.
  • I do not say, and I do not believe, that Christians are as bad as their creeds. In spite of church and dogma, there have been millions and millions of men and women true to the loftiest and most generous promptings of the human heart. They have been true to their convictions, and, with a self-denial and fortitude excelled by none, have labored and suffered for the salvation of men. Imbued with the spirit of self-sacrifice, believing that by personal effort they could rescue at least a few souls from the infinite shadow of hell, they have cheerfully endured every hardship and scorned every danger. And yet, notwithstanding all this, they believed that honest error was a crime. They knew that the Bible so declared, and they believed that all unbelievers would be eternally lost. They believed that religion was of God, and all heresy of the devil. They killed heretics in defence of their own souls and the souls of their children. They killed them because, according to their idea, they were the enemies of God, and because the Bible teaches that the blood of the unbeliever is a most acceptable sacrifice to heaven.
  • Nature never prompted a loving mother to throw her child into the Ganges. Nature never prompted men to exterminate each other for a difference of opinion concerning the baptism of infants. These crimes have been produced by religions filled with all that is illogical, cruel and hideous. These religions were produced for the most part by ignorance, tyranny and hypocrisy. Under the impression that the infinite ruler and creator of the universe had commanded the destruction of heretics and infidels, the church perpetrated all these crimes:
    Men and women have been burned for thinking there is but one God; that there was none; that the Holy Ghost is younger than God; that God was somewhat older than his son; for insisting that good works will save a man without faith; that faith will do without good works; for declaring that a sweet babe will not be burned eternally, because its parents failed to have its head wet by a priest; for speaking of God as though he had a nose; for denying that Christ was his own father; for contending that three persons, rightly added together, make more than one; for believing in purgatory; for denying the reality of hell; for pretending that priests can forgive sins; for preaching that God is an essence; for denying that witches rode through the air on sticks; for doubting the total depravity of the human heart; for laughing at irresistible grace, predestination and particular redemption; for denying that good bread could be made of the body of a dead man; for pretending that the pope was not managing this world for God, and in the place of God; for disputing the efficacy of a vicarious atonement; for thinking the Virgin Mary was born like other people; for thinking that a man's rib was hardly sufficient to make a good-sized woman; for denying that God used his finger for a pen; for asserting that prayers are not answered, that diseases are not sent to punish unbelief; for denying the authority of the Bible; for having a Bible in their possession; for attending mass, and for refusing to attend; for wearing a surplice; for carrying a cross, and for refusing; for being a Catholic, and for being a Protestant; for being an Episcopalian, a Presbyterian, a Baptist, and for being a Quaker. In short, every virtue has been a crime, and every crime a virtue. The church has burned honesty and rewarded hypocrisy. And all this, because it was commanded by a book — a book that men had been taught implicitly to believe, long before they knew one word that was in it. They had been taught that to doubt the truth of this book — to examine it, even — was a crime of such enormity that it could not be forgiven, either in this world or in the next.
  • How long, O how long will mankind worship a book? How long will they grovel in the dust before the ignorant legends of the barbaric past? How long, O how long will they pursue phantoms in a darkness deeper than death?
  • The heretics have not thought and suffered and died in vain. Every heretic has been, and is, a ray of light.
  • Heresy is the eternal dawn, the morning star, the glittering herald of the day. Heresy is the last and best thought. It is the perpetual New World, the unknown sea, toward which the brave all sail. It is the eternal horizon of progress.
    Heresy extends the hospitalities of the brain to a new thought.
    Heresy is a cradle; orthodoxy, a coffin.
  • Why should man be afraid to think, and why should he fear to express his thoughts?
    Is it possible that an infinite Deity is unwilling that a man should investigate the phenomena by which he is surrounded? Is it possible that a god delights in threatening and terrifying men? What glory, what honor and renown a god must win on such a field! The ocean raving at a drop; a star envious of a candle; the sun jealous of a fire-fly.
  • By this time the whole world should know that the real Bible has not yet been written, but is being written, and that it will never be finished until the race begins its downward march, or ceases to exist.
    The real Bible is not the work of inspired men, nor prophets, nor apostles, nor evangelists, nor of Christs. Every man who finds a fact, adds, as it were, a word to this great book. It is not attested by prophecy, by miracles or signs. It makes no appeal to faith, to ignorance, to credulity or fear. It has no punishment for unbelief, and no reward for hypocrisy. It appeals to man in the name of demonstration. It has nothing to conceal. It has no fear of being read, of being contradicted, of being investigated and understood. It does not pretend to be holy, or sacred; it simply claims to be true. It challenges the scrutiny of all, and implores every reader to verify every line for himself. It is incapable of being blasphemed. This book appeals to all the surroundings of man. Each thing that exists testifies of its perfection. The earth, with its heart of fire and crowns of snow; with its forests and plains, its rocks and seas; with its every wave and cloud; with its every leaf and bud and flower, confirms its every word, and the solemn stars, shining in the infinite abysses, are the eternal witnesses of its truth.
  • One hundred years ago, our fathers retired the gods from politics.

    The Declaration of Independence is the grandest, the bravest, and the profoundest political document that was ever signed by the representatives of a people. It is the embodiment of physical and moral courage and of political wisdom.

  • Such things had occasionally been said by some political enthusiast in the olden time, but, for the first time in the history of the world, the representatives of a nation, the representatives of a real, living, breathing, hoping people, declared that all men are created equal. With one blow, with one stroke of the pen, they struck down all the cruel, heartless barriers that aristocracy, that priestcraft, that king-craft had raised between man and man. They struck down with one immortal blow that infamous spirit of caste that makes a God almost a beast, and a beast almost a god. With one word, with one blow, they wiped away and utterly destroyed, all that had been done by centuries of war — centuries of hypocrisy — centuries of injustice.
  • Our fathers founded the first secular government that was ever founded in this world. Recollect that. The first secular government; the first government that said every church has exactly the same rights, and no more; every religion has the same rights, and no more. In other words, our fathers were the first men who had the sense, who had the genius, to know that no church should be allowed to have a sword; that it should be allowed only to exert its moral influence.
  • The rights of all are equal: justice, poised and balanced in eternal calm, will shake from the golden scales in which are weighed the acts of men, the very dust of prejudice and caste: No race, no color, no previous condition, can change the rights of men.

My Reviewers Reviewed (lecture from June 27, 1877, San Francisco, CA)

  • For a hundred years hell has been gradually growing cool, the flames have been slowly dying out, the brimstone is nearly exhausted, the fires have been burning lower and lower, and the climate gradually changing. To such an extent has the change already been effected that if I were going there to-night I would take an overcoat and a box of matches.
  • They say that the eternal future of man depends upon his belief. I deny it. A conclusion honestly arrived at by the brain cannot possibly be a crime; and the man who says it is, does not think so. The god who punishes it as a crime is simply an infamous tyrant. As for me, I would a thousand times rather go to perdition and suffer its torments with the brave, grand thinkers of the world, than go to heaven and keep the company of a god who would damn his children for an honest belief.
  • I have pleaded for the rights of woman, for the rights of wives, and what is more, for the rights of little children. I have said that they could be governed by affection, by love, and that my heart went out to all the children of poverty and of crime; to the children that live in the narrow streets and in the sub-cellars; to the children that run and hide when they hear the footsteps of a brutal father, the children that grow pale when they hear their names pronounced even by a mother; to all the little children, the flotsam and jetsam upon the wide, rude sea of life. I have said that my heart goes out to them one and all; I have asked fathers and mothers to cease beating their own flesh and blood. I have said to them, When your child does wrong, put your arms around him; let him feel your heart beat against his. It is easier to control your child with a kiss than with a club.
  • I have been denounced by the religious press and by ministers in their pulpits as a demon, as an enemy of order, as a fiend, as an infamous man. Of this, however, I make no complaint. A few years ago they would have burned me at the stake and I should have been compelled to look upon their hypocritical faces through flame and smoke. They cannot do it now or they would.
  • Whether or not the soul is immortal is a fact in nature and cannot be changed by any book whatever. If I am immortal, I am. If am not, no book can render me so. It is no more wonderful that I should live again than that I do live.
  • As soon as I had said these things, various gentlemen felt called upon to answer me. I want to say that if there is anything I like in the world it is fairness. And one reason I like it so well is that I have had so little of it.
  • I can say, if I wish, extremely mean and hateful things. I have read a great many religious papers and discussions and think that I now know all the infamous words in our language.
  • There is, however, no propriety in wasting any time about the science of metaphysics. I will give you my definition of metaphysics: Two fools get together; each admits what neither can prove, and thereupon both of them say, “hence we infer.” That is all there is of metaphysics.
  • Every superstition in the world that is now held sacred has been made so by mothers, by fathers, by the recollections of home. I know what it has cost the noble, the brave, the tender, to throw away every superstition, although sanctified by the memory of those they loved.
  • I like Voltaire, because for half a century he was the intellectual emperor of Europe. I like him, because from his throne at the foot of the Alps he pointed the finger of scorn at every hypocrite in Christendom.
  • The great question is not, who died right, but who lived right? There is infinitely more responsibility in living than in dying. The moment of death is the most unimportant moment of life. Nothing can be done then. You cannot even do a favor for a friend, except to remember him in your will.
  • The first Presbyterian was a heretic. The first Baptist was a heretic. The first Congregationalist was a heretic. The first Christian was denounced as a blasphemer. And yet these heretics, the moment they get numerous enough to be in the majority in some locality, begin to call themselves orthodox. Can there be any impudence beyond this?
  • I happened to be in the company of six or seven Baptist elders—how I ever got into such bad company, I don’t know,—and one of them asked what I thought about baptism. Well, I never thought much about it; did not know much about it; didn’t want to say anything, but they insisted upon it. I said, “Well, I’ll give you my opinion—with soap, baptism is a good thing.”
  • The next gentleman who has endeavored to answer what I have said, is the Rev. Samuel Robinson. This he has done in his sermon entitled “Ghosts against God or Ingersoll against Honesty.” I presume he imagines himself to be the defendant in both cases.
  • The brave men of the past endured the instruments of torture. They were stretched upon racks; their feet were crushed in iron boots; they stood upon the shores of exile and gazed with tearful eyes toward home and native land. They were taken from their firesides, from their wives, from their children; they were taken to the public square; they were chained to stakes, and their ashes were scattered by the countless hands of hatred. I am satisfied. The disciples of fear cannot touch me.
  • This gentlemen hated to contribute a cent to the support of a “materialistic demon.” When I saw that statement I will tell you what I did. I knew the man’s conscience must be writhing in his bosom to think that he had contributed a dollar toward my support, toward the support of a “materialistic demon.” I wrote him a letter and I said: “My Dear Sir: In order to relieve your conscience of the crime of having contributed to the support of an unbeliever in ghosts, I hereby enclose the amount you paid to attend my lecture.” I then gave him a little good advice. I advised him to be charitable, to be kind, and regretted exceedingly that any man could listen to one of my talks for an hour and a half and not go away satisfied that all men had the same right to think. This man denied having received the money, but it was traced to him through a blot on the envelope.
  • Who sold white Quaker children into slavery? Protestants. Who cut out the tongues of Quakers? Who burned and destroyed men and women and children charged with impossible crimes? Protestants. The Protestants have persecuted exactly to the extent of their power. The Catholics have done the same.
  • There may have been sometime in the history of the world a worse religion than Old School Presbyterianism, but if there ever was, from cannibalism to civilization, I have never heard of it.
  • It is a mystery to me why the editors of religious papers are so malicious, why they endeavor to answer argument with calumny. Is it because they feel the sceptre slowly slipping from their hands? Is it the result of impotent rage? Is it because there is being written upon every orthodox brain a certificate of intellectual inferiority?
  • If this “sacred” book teaches man to enslave his brother, it is not inspired. A god who would establish slavery is as cruel and heartless as any devil could be.
  • This is the kind of slavery established by the most merciful God. The reason given for all this, is, that the persons whom they enslaved were heathen. You may enslave them because they are not orthodox. If you can find anybody who does not believe in me, the God of the Jews, you may steal his wife from his arms, and her babe from the cradle. If you can find a woman that does not believe in the Hebrew Jehovah, you may steal her prattling child from her breast. Can any one conceive of anything more infamous? Can any one find in the literature of this world more frightful words ascribed even to a demon?
  • “If his master have given him a wife, and she hath borne him sons or daughters; the wife and her children shall be her master’s, and he shall go out by himself…The slave is allowed to have his liberty if he will give up his wife and children. He must remain in slavery for the sake of wife and child. This is another of the laws of the most merciful God. This God changes even love into a chain. Children are used by him as manacles and fetters, and wives become the keepers of prisons. Any man who believes that such hideous laws were made by an infinitely wise and benevolent God is, in my judgment, insane or totally depraved.
  • It certainly must be an immense pleasure to God to see a man work patiently for nothing. It must please the Most High to see a slave with his wife and child sold upon the auction block. If this slave escapes from slavery and is pursued, how musical the baying of the bloodhound must be to the ears of this most merciful God. All this is simply infamous. On the throne of this universe there sits no such monster.
  • I have read somewhere of a sermon preached by one of these in the Cathedral of Notre Dame. This old priest, among other things, said that the soul of a beggar was as dear to God as the soul of the richest of his people, and that Jesus Christ died as much for a beggar as for a prince. One French peasant, rough with labor, cried out: “I propose three cheers for Jesus Christ.” I like such things. I like to hear of them. I like to repeat them.
  • It is a waste of money to pay priests to frighten our children, and paralyze the intellect of women.
  • For hundreds of years it was contended by all Christians that the earth was made in six days, literal days of twenty-four hours each, and that on the seventh day the Lord rested from his labor. Geologists have driven the church from this position, and it is now claimed that the days mentioned in the Bible are periods of time. This is a simple evasion, not in any way supported by the Scriptures. The Bible distinctly and clearly says that the world was created in six days. There is not within its lids a clearer statement.
  • And the reason why they were to keep the Sabbath was because the Creator rested on the seventh day—not period. If you say six periods, instead of six days, what becomes of your Sabbath? The only reason given in the Bible for observing the Sabbath is that God observed it—that he rested from his work that day and was refreshed. Take this reason away and the sacredness of that day has no foundation in the Scriptures.
  • When the utter absurdity of the Mosaic account of creation became apparent to all thoughtful men, the church changed the reading of the Bible. Then it was pretended that the “days” of creation were vast periods of time. When it was shown to be utterly impossible that the sun revolved around the earth, then the account given by Joshua of the sun standing still for the space of a whole day, was changed into a figure of speech. It was said that Joshua merely conformed to the mode of speech common in his day; and that when he said the sun stood still, he merely intended to convey the idea that the earth ceased turning upon its axis. Is there a sensible man in the world who believes this wretched piece of ignorance?
  • The earth, rotating at the rate of one thousand miles an hour, was stopped. The motion of this vast globe would have instantly been changed into heat. It has been calculated by one of the greatest scientists of the present day that to stop the earth would generate as much heat as could be produced by burning a world as large as this of solid coal. And yet, all this force was expended for the paltry purpose of defeating a few poor barbarians. The employment of so much force for the accomplishment of so insignificant an object would be as useless as bringing all the intellect of a great man to bear in answering the arguments of the clergymen of San Francisco.
  • The waste of that immense force in stopping the planets in their grand courses, for the purpose claimed, would be like using a Krupp gun to destroy an insect to which a single drop of water is “an unbounded world.” How is it possible for men of ordinary intellect, not only to endorse such ignorant falsehoods, but to malign those who do not? Can anything be more debasing to the intellect of man than a belief in the astronomy of the Bible?
  • The great argument made by Cosmas to show that the earth must be flat, was the fact that the Bible stated that when Christ should come the second time, in glory, the whole world should see him. “Now,” said Cosmas, “if the world is round, how could the people on the other side see the Lord when he comes?” This settled the question.
  • The Bible was regarded as not only true, but as the best of all truth. Any new theory advanced, was immediately examined in the light, or rather in the darkness, of revelation, and if according to that test it was false, it was denounced, and the person bringing it forward forced to recant. It would have been a far better course to have discovered every theory found to be in harmony with the Scriptures.
  • It was said by Sir Thomas More that to give up witchcraft was to give up the Bible itself. This idea was entertained by nearly all the eminent theologians of a hundred years ago. In my judgment, they were right. To give up witchcraft is to give up, in a great degree at least, the supernatural. To throw away the little ghosts simply prepares the mind of man to give up the great ones. The founders of nearly all creeds, and of all religions properly so called, have taught the existence of good and evil spirits. They have peopled the dark with devils and the light with angels. They have crowded hell with demons and heaven with seraphs. The moment these good and evil spirits, these angels and fiends, disappear from the imaginations of men, and phenomena are accounted for by natural rather than by supernatural means, a great step has been taken in the direction of what is now known as materialism. While the church believes in witchcraft, it is in a greatly modified form. The evil spirits are not as plenty as in former times, and more phenomena are accounted for by natural means. Just to the extent that belief has been lost in spirits, just to that extent the church has lost its power and authority. When men ceased to account for the happening of any event by ascribing it to the direct action of good or evil spirits, and began to reason from known premises, the chains of superstition began to grow weak.
  • And thereupon the Lord gave Satan the power to destroy the property and children of Job. In a little while these high contracting parties met again; and the Lord seemed somewhat elated with his success, and called again the attention of Satan to the sinlessness of Job. Satan then told him to touch his body and he would curse him. And thereupon power was given to Satan over the body of Job, and he covered his body with boils. Yet in all this, Job did not sin with his lips. This book seems to have been written to show the excellence of patience, and to prove that at last God will reward all who will bear the afflictions of heaven with fortitude and without complaint. The sons and daughters of Job had been slain, and then the Lord, in order to reward Job, gave him other children, other sons and other daughters—not the same ones he had lost; but others. And this, according to the writer, made ample amends. Is that the idea we now have of love? If I have a child, no matter how deformed that child may be, and if it dies, nobody can make the loss to me good by bringing a more beautiful child. I want the one I loved and the one I lost.
  • “Therefore, as the Church is subject unto Christ, so let the wives be to their own husbands in everything.”— Eph. V. Even the Savior did not put man and woman upon an equality. A man could divorce his wife, but the wife could not divorce her husband. Every noble woman should hold such apostles and such ideas in contempt. According to the Old Testament, woman had to ask pardon and had to be purified from the crime of having born sons and daughters. To make love and maternity crimes is infamous.
  • 10. “When thou goest forth to war against thine enemies, and the Lord thy God hath delivered them into thine hands, and thou hast taken them captive, 11. “And seest among the captives a beautiful woman, and hast a desire unto her, that thou wouldest have her to thy wife, 12. “Then thou shalt bring her home to thy house; and she shall shave her head, and pare her nails.”— Deut. Xxi. This is barbarism, no matter whether it came from heaven or from hell, from a God or from a devil, from the golden streets of the New Jerusalem or from the very Sodom of perdition. It is barbarism complete and utter.
  • 23. “But the Lord thy God shall deliver them unto thee, and shall destroy them with a mighty destruction, until they be destroyed. 24. “And he shall deliver their kings into thine hand, and thou shalt destroy their name from under heaven; there shall no man be able to stand before thee, until thou have destroyed them.”— Deut. Vii. If these words had proceeded from the mouth of a demon, if they had been spoken by some enraged and infinitely malicious fiend, I should not have been surprised. But these things are attributed to a God of infinite mercy.
  • Can there be such a thing as mercy in eternal punishment? And yet this same Deity says to me, “resist not evil; pray for those that despitefully use you; love your enemies, but I will eternally damn mine.” It seems to me that even gods should practice what they preach.

The Liberty of Man, Woman and Child (1877)

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  • There is no slavery but ignorance. Liberty is the child of intelligence.
    The history of man is simply the history of slavery, of injustice and brutality, together with the means by which he has, through the dead and desolate years, slowly and painfully advanced.
  • Nothing has been left undone by the enemies of freedom. Every art and artifice, every cruelty and outrage has been practiced and perpetrated to destroy the rights of man. In this great struggle every crime has been rewarded and every virtue has been punished. Reading, writing, thinking and investigating have all been crimes.
    Every science has been an outcast.
    All the altars and all the thrones united to arrest the forward march of the human race. The king said that mankind must not work for themselves. The priest said that mankind must not think for themselves. One forged chains for the hands, the other for the soul.
  • Only a few years ago there was a great awakening of the human mind. Men began to inquire by what right a crowned robber made them work for him? The man who asked this question was called a traitor. Others asked by what right does a robed hypocrite rule my thought? Such men were called infidels. The priest said, and the king said, where is this spirit of investigation to stop? They said then and they say now, that it is dangerous for man to be free. I deny it. Out on the intellectual sea there is room enough for every sail. In the intellectual air there is space enough for every wing.
    The man who does not do his own thinking is a slave, and is a traitor to himself and to his fellow-men.
  • Standing in the presence of the Unknown, all have the same right to think, and all are equally interested in the great questions of origin and destiny. All I claim, all I plead for, is liberty of thought and expression. That is all. I do not pretend to tell what is absolutely true, but what I think is true. I do not pretend to tell all the truth.
    I do not claim that I have floated level with the heights of thought, or that I have descended to the very depths of things. I simply claim that what ideas I have, I have a right to express; and that any man who denies that right to me is an intellectual thief and robber. That is all.
  • the good men, the good women, are tired of the whip and lash in the realm of thought. They remember the chain and fagot with a shudder. They are free, and they give liberty to others; whoever claims any right that he is unwilling to accord to his fellow-men is dishonest and infamous.
  • You cannot change the conclusion of the brain by torture; nor by social ostracism. But I will tell you what you can do by these, and what you have done. You can make hypocrites by the million. You can make a man say that he has changed his mind; but he remains of the same opinion still. Put fetters all over him; crush his feet in iron boots; stretch him to the last gasp upon the holy rack; burn him, if you please, but his ashes will be of the same opinion still.
  • In the old times of which I have spoken, they desired to make all men think exactly alike. All the mechanical ingenuity of the world cannot make two clocks run exactly alike, and how are you going to make hundreds of millions of people, differing in brain and disposition, in education and aspiration, in conditions and surroundings, each clad in a living robe of passionate flesh — how are you going to make them think and feel alike? If there is an infinite god, one who made us, and wishes us to think alike, why did he give a spoonful of brains to one, and a magnificent intellectual development to another? Why is it that we have all degrees of intelligence, from orthodoxy to genius, if it was intended that all should think and feel alike?
  • There has never been upon the earth a generation of free men and women. It is not yet time to write a creed. Wait until the chains are broken — until dungeons are not regarded as temples. Wait until solemnity is not mistaken for wisdom — until mental cowardice ceases to be known as reverence. Wait until the living are considered the equals of the dead — until the cradle takes precedence of the coffin. Wait until what we know can be spoken without regard to what others may believe. Wait until teachers take the place of preachers — until followers become investigators. Wait until the world is free before you write a creed.
    In this creed there will be but one word — Liberty.
  • I know not what discoveries, what inventions, what thoughts may leap from the brain of the world. I know not what garments of glory may be woven by the years to come. I cannot dream of the victories to be won upon the fields of thought; but I do know, that coming from the infinite sea of the future, there will never touch this "bank and shoal of time" a richer gift, a rarer blessing than liberty for man, for woman, and for child.

Interview with the Chicago Times, Feb. 14, 1881.

  • By Christianity I do not mean charity, mercy, kindness, forgiveness. I mean no natural virtue, because all the natural virtues existed and had been practiced by hundreds and thousands of millions before Christ was born. There certainly were some good men even in the days of Christ in Jerusalem, before his death. By Christianity I mean the ideas of redemption, atonement, a good man dying for a bad man, and the bad man getting a receipt in full. By Christianity I mean that system that insists that in the next world a few will be forever happy, while the many will be eternally miserable. Christianity, as I have explained it, must be protected, guarded, and sustained by law. It was founded by the sword that is to say, by physical force,—and must be preserved by like means.
  • Christianity, in order to defend itself, puts the brand of infamy on the brow of honesty. Christianity marks with a letter “C,” standing for “convict” every brain that is great enough to discover the frauds.
  • They act as ‘most anybody would, raised in Delaware, in the shadow of the whipping-post and the pillory. We must remember that Delaware was a slave State; that the Bible became extremely dear to the people because it upheld that peculiar institution.
  • The objection I have to the whipping-post is that it is a punishment which cannot be inflicted by a gentleman. The person who administers the punishment must, of necessity, be fully as degraded as the person who receives it.
  • The trouble now is that most of the wife-beating is among the extremely poor, so that the wife by informing against her husband, takes the last crust out of her own mouth.
  • Another good remedy for wife-beating is the abolition of the Catholic Church.
  • We should also do away with the idea that a marriage is a sacrament, and that there is any God who is rendered happy by seeing a husband and wife live together, although the husband gets most of his earthly enjoyment from whipping his wife.
  • Delaware has not had the best of opportunities. You must remember that it is next to New Jersey, which is quite an obstacle in the path of progress.
  • It is just beyond Maryland, which is another obstacle. I heard the other day that God originally made oysters with legs, and afterward took them off, knowing that the people of Delaware would starve to death before they would run to catch anything.
  • Nothing could tempt me to do this man injustice, though I could hardly add to the injury he has done himself.

Some Reasons Why (1881)

  • A Christian nation has never had the slightest respect for the rights of barbarians; neither has any Christian sect any respect for the rights of other sects. Anciently, the sects discussed with fire and sword, and even now, something happens almost every day to show that the old spirit that was in the Inquisition still slumbers in the Christian breast.
  • Whoever imagines himself a favorite with God, holds other people in contempt. Whenever a man believes that he has the exact truth from God, there is in that man no spirit of compromise. He has not the modesty born of the imperfections of human nature; he has the arrogance of theological certainty and the tyranny born of ignorant assurance. Believing himself to be the slave of God, he imitates his master, and of all tyrants, the worst is a slave in power.
  • When a man really believes that it is necessary to do a certain thing to be happy forever, or that a certain belief is necessary to ensure eternal joy, there is in that man no spirit of concession. He divides the whole world into saints and sinners, into believers and unbelievers, into God’s sheep and Devil’s goats, into people who will be glorified and people who will be damned. If Christ, in fact, said “I came not to bring peace but a sword,” it is the only prophecy in the New Testament that has been literally fulfilled.
  • Some tell us that it is the desire of God that we should worship him. What for? Why does he desire worship? Others tell us that we should sacrifice something to him. What for? Is he in want? Can we assist him? Is he unhappy? Is he in trouble?
  • Suppose then, that I do read this Bible honestly, fairly, and when I get through I am compelled to say, “The book is not true.” If this is the honest result, then you are compelled to say, either that God has made no revelation to me, or that the revelation that it is not true, is the revelation made to me, and by which I am bound. If the book and my brain are both the work of the same Infinite God, whose fault is it that the book and the brain do not agree? Either God should have written a book to fit my brain, or should have made my brain to fit his book.
  • he took a few, the tribe of Abraham. He established a perfect despotism—with no schools, with no philosophy, with no art, with no music—nothing but the sacrifices of dumb beasts—nothing but the abject worship of a slave. Not a word upon geology, upon astronomy; nothing, even, upon the science of medicine. Thus God spent hours and hours with Moses upon the top of Sinai, giving directions for ascertaining the presence of leprosy and for preventing its spread, but it never occurred to Jehovah to tell Moses how it could be cured. He told them a few things about what they might eat—prohibiting among other things four-footed birds, and one thing upon the subject of cooking. From the thunders and lightnings of Sinai he proclaimed this vast and wonderful fact: “Thou shalt not seethe a kid in its mother’s milk.”
  • The believer in the inspiration of the Bible is compelled to say, that there was a time when slavery was right, when women could sell their babes, when polygamy was the highest form of virtue, when wars of extermination were waged with the sword of mercy, when religious toleration was a crime, and when death was the just penalty for having expressed an honest thought. He is compelled to insist that Jehovah is as bad now as he was then; that he is as good now as he was then. Once, all the crimes that I have mentioned were commanded by God; now they are prohibited. Once, God was in favor of them all; now the Devil is their defender. In other words, the Devil entertains the same opinion to-day that God held four thousand years ago. The Devil is as good now as Jehovah was then, and God was as bad then as the Devil is now.
  • It may be said that it is unfair to call attention to bad things in the Bible. To this it may be replied that a divine being ought not to put bad things in his book.
  • My great objection to the Old Testament is the cruelty said to have been commanded by God. All these cruelties ceased with death. The vengeance of Jehovah stopped at the tomb. He never threatened to punish the dead; and there is not one word, from the first mistake in Genesis to the last curse of Malachi, containing the slightest intimation that God will take his revenge in another world. It was reserved for the New Testament to make known the doctrine of eternal pain. The teacher of universal benevolence rent the veil between time and eternity, and fixed the horrified gaze of man upon the lurid gulf of hell. Within the breast of non-resistance coiled the worm that never dies. Compared with this, the doctrine of slavery, the wars of extermination, the curses, the punishments of the Old Testament were all merciful and just.
  • The most minute directions were given as to the killing of these animals. Every priest became a butcher, every synagogue a slaughter-house. Nothing could be more utterly shocking to a refined soul, nothing better calculated to harden the heart, than the continual shedding of innocent blood. This terrible system culminated in the sacrifice of Christ. His blood took the place of all other. It is not necessary to shed any more. The law at last is satisfied, satiated, surfeited.
  • The Mosaic dispensation was better adapted to prevent the commission of sin than the Christian system. Under that dispensation, if you committed a sin, you had to bring a sacrifice—dove, sheep, or bullock, now, when a sin is committed, the Christian says, “Charge it,” “Put it on the slate, If I don’t pay it the Savior will.” In this way, rascality is sold on a credit, and the credit system of religion breeds extravagance in sin. The Mosaic dispensation was based upon far better business principles. The debt had to be paid, and by the man who owed it. We are told that the sinner is in debt to God, and that the obligation is discharged by the Savior. The best that can be said of such a transaction is that the debt is transferred, not paid. As a matter of fact, the sinner is in debt to the person he has injured. If you injure a man, it is not enough to get the forgiveness of God—you must get the man’s forgiveness, you must get your own. If a man puts his hand in the fire and God forgives him, his hand will smart just as badly.
  • If, when Christ was on his way to Calvary, some brave soul had rescued him from the pious mob, he would not only have been damned for his pains, but would have rendered impossible the salvation of any human being.  The Christian world has been trying for nearly two thousand years to explain the atonement, and every effort has ended in an admission that it cannot be understood, and a declaration that it must be believed. Has the promise and hope of forgiveness ever prevented the commission of a sin? Can men be made better by being taught that sin gives happiness here; that to live a virtuous life is to bear a cross; that men can repent between the last sin and the last breath; and that repentance washes every stain of the soul away?
  • He came, they tell us, to make a revelation, and what did he reveal? “Love thy neighbor as thyself”? That was in the Old Testament. “Love God with all thy heart”? That was in the Old Testament. “Return good for evil”? That was said by Buddha, seven hundred years before Christ was born. “Do unto others as ye would that they should do unto you”? That was the doctrine of Lao-tsze. Did he come to give a rule of action? Zoroaster had done this long before: “Whenever thou art in doubt as to whether an action is good or bad, abstain from it.”

The Great Infidels (1881)

Infinite punishment is infinite cruelty, endless injustice, immortal meanness. To worship an eternal gaoler hardens, debases, and pollutes even the vilest soul. While there is one sad and breaking heart in the universe, no good being can be perfectly happy.
Martyrdom, as a rule, establishes the sincerity of the martyr, — never the correctness of his thought. Things are true or false in themselves. Truth cannot be affected by opinions; it cannot be changed, established, or affected by martyrdom. An error cannot be believed sincerely enough to make it a truth.
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  • I do not believe that the tendency is to make men and women brave and glorious when you tell them that there are certain ideas upon certain subjects that they must never express; that they must go through life with a pretence as a shield; that their neighbors will think much more of them if they will only keep still; and that above all is a God who despises one who honestly expresses what he believes. For my part, I believe men will be nearer honest in business, in politics, grander in art — in everything that is good and grand and beautiful, if they are taught from the cradle to the coffin to tell their honest opinion.
  • It is incredible that only idiots are absolutely sure of salvation. It is incredible that the more brain you have the less your chance is. There can be no danger in honest thought, and if the world ever advances beyond what it is to-day, it must be led by men who express their real opinions.
  • In the estimation of good orthodox Christians I am a criminal, because I am trying to take from loving mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters, husbands, wives, and lovers the consolations naturally arising from a belief in an eternity of grief and pain. I want to tear, break, and scatter to the winds the God that priests erected in the fields of innocent pleasure — a God made of sticks called creeds, and of old clothes called myths. I shall endeavor to take from the coffin its horror, from the cradle its curse, and put out the fires of revenge kindled by an infinite fiend.
    Is it necessary that Heaven should borrow its light from the glare of Hell?
    Infinite punishment is infinite cruelty, endless injustice, immortal meanness. To worship an eternal gaoler hardens, debases, and pollutes even the vilest soul. While there is one sad and breaking heart in the universe, no good being can be perfectly happy.
  • The God of Hell should be held in loathing, contempt and scorn. A God who threatens eternal pain should be hated, not loved — cursed, not worshiped. A heaven presided over by such a God must be below the lowest hell. I want no part in any heaven in which the saved, the ransomed and redeemed will drown with shouts of joy the cries and sobs of hell — in which happiness will forget misery, where the tears of the lost only increase laughter and double bliss.
  • The idea of hell was born of ignorance, brutality, fear, cowardice, and revenge. This idea testifies that our remote ancestors were the lowest beasts. Only from dens, lairs, and caves, only from mouths filled with cruel fangs, only from hearts of fear and hatred, only from the conscience of hunger and lust, only from the lowest and most debased could come this most cruel, heartless and bestial of all dogmas.
  • Whoever attacks a custom or a creed, will be confronted with a list of the names of the dead who upheld the custom, or believed the creed. He is asked in a very triumphant and sneering way, if he knows more than all the great and honored of the past. Every defender of a creed has graven upon his memory the names of all "great" men whose actions or words can be tortured into evidence for his doctrine.
  • The truth is, that in favor of almost every sect, the names of some great men can be pronounced.
  • The fact is, very few men are right in everything.
  • Great virtues may draw attention from defects, they cannot sanctify them. A pebble surrounded by diamonds remains a common stone, and a diamond surrounded by pebbles is still a gem. No one should attempt to refute an argument by pronouncing the name of some man, unless he is willing to adopt all the ideas and beliefs of that man. It is better to give reasons and facts than names. An argument should not depend for its force upon the name of its author. Facts need no pedigree, logic has no heraldry, and the living should not awed by the mistakes of the dead.
  • The greatest men the world has produced have known but little. They had a few facts, mingled with mistakes without number. In some departments they towered above their fellows, while in others they fell below the common level of mankind.
  • Volumes might be written upon the follies and imbecilities of great men. A full rounded man — a man of sterling sense and natural logic — is just as rare as a great painter, poet, or sculptor. If you tell your friend that he is not a painter, that he has no genius for poetry, he will probably admit the truth of what you say, without feeling that he has been insulted in the least. But if you tell him that he is not a logician, that he has but little idea of the value of a fact, that he has no real conception of what evidence is, and that he never had an original thought in his life, he will cut your acquaintance.
  • Most men are followers, and implicitly rely upon the judgment of others. They mistake solemnity for wisdom, and regard a grave countenance as the title page and Preface to a most learned volume. So they are easily imposed upon by forms, strange garments, and solemn ceremonies. And when the teaching of parents, the customs of neighbors, and the general tongue approve and justify a belief or creed, no matter how absurd, it is hard even for the strongest to hold the citadel of his soul. In each country, in defence of each religion, the same arguments would be urged.
The night of the Middle Ages lasted for a thousand years. The first star that enriched the horizon of this universal gloom was Giordano Bruno. He was the herald of the dawn.
  • All the martyrs in the history of the world are not sufficient to establish the correctness of an opinion. Martyrdom, as a rule, establishes the sincerity of the martyr, — never the correctness of his thought. Things are true or false in themselves. Truth cannot be affected by opinions; it cannot be changed, established, or affected by martyrdom. An error cannot be believed sincerely enough to make it a truth.
  • The murderer upon the scaffold, with a priest on either side, smilingly exhorts the multitude to meet him in heaven. The man who has succeeded in making his home a hell, meets death without a quiver, provided he has never expressed any doubt as to the divinity of Christ, or the eternal "procession" of the Holy Ghost. The king who has waged cruel and useless war, who has filled countries with widows and fatherless children, with the maimed and diseased, and who has succeeded in offering to the Moloch of ambition the best and bravest of his subjects, dies like a saint.
  • The Emperor Constantine, who lifted Christianity into power, murdered his wife Fausta, and his eldest son Crispus, the same year that he convened the Council of Nice to decide whether Jesus Christ was a man or the Son of God. The council decided that Christ was consubstantial with the father. This was in the year 325. We are thus indebted to a wife-murderer for settling the vexed question of the divinity of the Savior.
  • The night of the Middle Ages lasted for a thousand years. The first star that enriched the horizon of this universal gloom was Giordano Bruno. He was the herald of the dawn.
  • Had it not been for Thomas Paine I could not deliver this lecture here to-night.
    It is still fashionable to calumniate this man — and yet Channing, Theodore Parker, Longfellow, Emerson, and in fact all the liberal Unitarians and Universalists of the world have adopted the opinions of Thomas Paine.
  • Let us be honest. 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 the 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 human liberty as Thomas Paine? — as much for science as Charles Darwin?
  • The infidels have been the brave and thoughtful men; the flower of all the world; the pioneers and heralds of the blessed day of liberty and love; the generous spirits of the unworthy past; the seers and prophets of our race; the great chivalric souls, proud victors on the battlefields of thought, the creditors of all the years to be.

At A Child's Grave (1882)

I had rather live and love where death is king, than have eternal life where love is not.
Eulogy (8 January 1882)
  • I know how vain it is to gild a grief with words, and yet I wish to take from every grave its fear. Here in this world, where life and death are equal kings, all should be brave enough to meet what all the dead have met. The future has been filled with fear, stained and polluted by the heartless past.
  • Why should we fear that which will come to all that is?
    We cannot tell, we do not know, which is the greater blessing — life or death. We do not know whether the grave is the end of this life, or the door of another, or whether the night here is not somewhere else at dawn. Neither can we tell which is the more fortunate — the child dying in its mother's arms, before its lips have learned to form a word, or he who journeys all the length of life's uneven road, painfully taking the last slow steps with staff and crutch.
  • Every cradle asks us, "Whence?" and every coffin, "Whither?" The poor barbarian, weeping above his dead, can answer these questions as intelligently as the robed priest of the most authentic creed.
  • No man, standing where the horizon of a life has touched a grave, has any right to prophesy a future filled with pain and tears. It may be that death gives all there is of worth to life. If those we press and strain against our hearts could never die, perhaps that love would wither from the earth. Maybe this common fate treads from out the paths between our hearts the weeds of selfishness and hate, and I had rather live and love where death is king, than have eternal life where love is not.
    • Paraphrased variant: I would rather live and love where death is king than have eternal life where love is not.
  • The dead do not suffer. And if they live again, their lives will surely be as good as ours. We have no fear. We are all children of the same mother, and the same fate awaits us all.
    We, too, have our religion, and it is this: Help for the living, hope for the dead.

"To the Indianapolis Clergy." The Iconoclast (Indianapolis, IN) (1883)

  • So, too, when it is recorded that he drove the money changers from the temple. This, had it happened, would have been the act simply of one who had respect for this temple and not for the religion taught in it. It would seem that, at first, Christ believed substantially in the religion of his time; that afterward, seeing its faults, he wished to reform it; and finally, comprehending it in all its enormity, he devoted his life to its destruction.
  • There is also this remarkable fact: Paul quotes none of the miracles of the New Testament. He says not one word about the multitude being fed miraculously, not one word about the resurrection of Lazarus, nor of the widow’s son. He had never heard of the lame, the halt, and the blind that had been cured; or if he had, he did not think these incidents of enough importance to be embalmed in an epistle.
  • At first it was believed that Christ was a direct descendant from David. At that time the disciples of Christ, of course, were Jews. The Messiah was expected through the blood of David.—For that reason, the genealogy of Joseph, a descendant of David, was given. It was not until long after, that the idea came into the minds of Christians that Christ was the son of the Holy Ghost. If they, at the time the genealogy was given, believed that Christ was in fact the son of the Holy Ghost, why did they give the genealogy of Joseph to show that Christ was related to David? In other words, why should the son of God attempt to get glory out of the fact that he had in his veins the blood of a barbarian king? There is only one answer to this. The Jews expected the Messiah through David, and in order to prove that Christ was the Messiah, they gave the genealogy of Joseph. Afterward, the idea became popularized that Christ was the son of God, and then were interpolated the words “as was supposed” in the genealogy of Christ.
  • It is of no earthly importance whether he changed water into wine or not. All his miracles are simply dust and darkness compared with what he actually said and actually did. We should be kind to each other whether Lazarus was raised or not. We should be just and forgiving whether Christ lived or not. All the miracles in the world are of no use to virtue, morality, or justice. Miracles belong to superstition, to ignorance, to fear and folly. Neither does it make any difference who wrote the Gospels. They are worth the truth that is in them and no more.
  • ...for the man Christ, I feel only admiration and respect. I think he was in many things mistaken. His reliance upon the goodness of God was perfect. He seemed to believe that his father in heaven would protect him. He thought that if God clothed the lilies of the field in beauty, if he provided for the sparrows, he would surely protect a perfectly just and loving man. In this he was mistaken; and in the darkness of death, overwhelmed, he cried out: “Why hast thou forsaken me?”
  • To me, it has always been a matter of wonder that Christ said nothing as to the obligation man is under to his country, nothing as to the rights of the people as against the wish and will of kings, nothing against the frightful system of human slavery—almost universal in his time. What he did not say is altogether more wonderful than what he did say. It is marvelous that he said nothing upon the subject of intemperance, nothing about education, nothing about philosophy, nothing about nature, nothing about art. He said nothing in favor of the home, except to offer a reward to those who would desert their wives and families.
  • As a result of what he did not teach in connection with what he did teach, his followers saw no harm in slavery, no harm in polygamy. They belittled this world and exaggerated the importance of the next. They consoled the slave by telling him that in a little while he would exchange his chains for wings. They comforted the captive by saying that in a few days he would leave his dungeon for the bowers of Paradise. His followers believed that he had said that “Whosoever believeth not shall be damned.” This passage was the cross upon which intellectual liberty was crucified. If Christ had given us the laws of health; if he had told us how to cure disease by natural means; if he had set the captive free; if he had crowned the people with their rightful power; if he had placed the home above the church; if he had broken all the mental chains; if he had flooded all the caves and dens of fear with light, and filled the future with a common joy, he would in truth have been the Savior of this world.
  • The inventor of paper—and he was not a Christian—did more than all the early fathers for mankind. The inventors of plows, of sickles, of cradles, of reapers; the inventors of wagons, coaches, locomotives; the inventors of skiffs, sail-vessels, steamships; the men who have made looms—in short, the inventors of all useful things—they are the civilizers taken in connection with the great thinkers, the poets, the musicians, the actors, the painters, the sculptors. The men who have invented the useful, and the men who have made the useful beautiful, are the real civilizers of mankind. The priests, in all ages, have been hindrances—stumbling-blocks. They have prevented man from using his reason. They have told ghost stories to courage until courage became fear. They have done all in their power to keep men from growing intellectually, to keep the world in a state of childhood, that they themselves might be deemed great and good and wise. They have always known that their reputation for wisdom depended upon the ignorance of the people.
  • I account in part for the civilization of America by the fact that our fathers were wise enough, and jealous of each other enough, to absolutely divorce church and state. They regarded the church as a dangerous mistress—one not fit to govern a president. This divorce was obtained because men like Jefferson and Paine were at that time prominent in the councils of the people. There is this peculiarity in our country—the only men who can be trusted with human liberty are the ones who are not to be angels hereafter. Liberty is safe so long as the sinners have an opportunity to be heard.
  • Sometimes I suspect that our own civilization is not altogether perfect. When I think of the penitentiaries crammed to suffocation, and of the many who ought to be in; of the want, the filth, the depravity of the great cities; of the starvation in the manufacturing centers of Great Britain, and, in fact, of all Europe; when I see women working like beasts of burden, and little children deprived, not simply of education, but of air, light and food, there is a suspicion in my mind that Christian civilization is not a complete and overwhelming success.
  • I do not rely upon superstition, but upon knowledge; not upon miracles, but upon facts; not upon the dead, but upon the living; and when we become absolutely civilized, we shall look back upon the superstitions of the world, not simply with contempt, but with pity.
  • What has been called Christianity has been a disturber of the public peace in all countries and at all times. Nothing has so alienated nations, nothing has so destroyed the natural justice of mankind, as what has been known as religion. The idea that all men must worship the same God, believe the same dogmas, has for thousands of years plucked with bloody hands the flower of pity from the human heart.
  • After all, of what use is it to search for a creator? The difficulty is not thus solved. You leave your creator as much in need of a creator as anything your creator is supposed to have created. The bottom of your stairs rests on nothing, and the top of your stairs leans upon nothing. You have reached no solution. The word “God” is simply born of our ignorance. We go as far as we can, and we say the rest of the way is “God.” We look as far as we can, and beyond the horizon, where there is nought so far as we know but blindness, we place our Deity. We see an infinitesimal segment of a circle, and we say the rest is “God.”
  • No one knows the origin of life, or of matter, or of what we call mind. The whence and the whither are questions that no man can answer. In the presence of these questions all intellects are upon a level. The barbarian knows exactly the same as the scientist, the fool as the philosopher. Only those who think that they have had some supernatural information pretend to answer these questions, and the unknowable, the impossible, the unfathomable, is the realm wholly occupied by the “inspired.”
  • I find that people who believe in immortality—or at least those who say they do—are just as afraid of death as anybody else. I find that the most devout Christian weeps as bitterly above his dead, as the man who says that death ends all. You see the promises are so far away, and the dead are so near. Still, I do not say that man is not immortal; but I do say that there is nothing in the Bible to show that he is. The Old Testament has not a word upon the subject—except to show us how we lost immortality.
  • I cannot see why we should expect an infinite God to do better in another world than he does in this. If he allows injustice to prevail here, why will he not allow the same thing in the world to come?
  • Some people have insisted that this life is a kind of school for the production of self-denying men and women—that is, for the production of character. The statistics show that a large majority die under five years of age. What would we think of a schoolmaster who killed the most of his pupils the first day? If this doctrine is true, and if manhood cannot be produced in heaven, those who die in childhood are infinitely unfortunate.
  • But whatever theories we have, we have at last to be governed by the facts. We are in a world where vice, deformity, weakness, and disease are hereditary. In the presence of this immense and solemn truth rises the religion of the body. Every man should refuse to increase the misery of this world.
  • And whether there is a heaven or hell here, or hereafter, every good man has enough to do to make this world a little better than it is. Millions of lives are wasted in the vain effort to find the origin of things, and the destiny of man. This world has been neglected. We have been taught that life should be merely a preparation for death.
  • To me, there is no doctrine so infinitely absurd as the idea that this life is a probationary state—that the few moments spent here decide the fate of a human soul forever. Nothing can be conceived more merciless, more unjust. I am doing all I can to destroy that doctrine. I want, if possible, to get the shadow of hell from the human heart. Why has any life been a failure here? If God is a being of infinite wisdom and kindness, why does he make failures? What excuse has infinite wisdom for peopling the world with savages? Why should one feel grateful to God for having made him with a poor, weak and diseased brain; for having allowed him to be the heir of consumption, of scrofula, or of insanity? Why should one thank God, who lived and died a slave

"The Brooklyn Divines." Brooklyn Union (Brooklyn, NY), 1883.

  • Only a few years ago science was superstition’s hired man. The scientific men apologized for every fact they happened to find. With hat in hand they begged pardon of the parson for finding a fossil, and asked the forgiveness of God for making any discovery in nature.
  • Now everything has changed, and everybody knows it except the clergy. Now religion is taking off its hat to science. Religion is finding out new meanings for old texts. We are told that God spoke in the language of the common people; that he was not teaching any science; that he allowed his children not only to remain in error, but kept them there. It is now admitted that the Bible is no authority on any question of natural fact; it is inspired only in morality, in a spiritual way. All, except the Brooklyn ministers, see that the Bible has ceased to be regarded as authority. Nobody appeals to a passage to settle a dispute of fact. The most intellectual men of the world laugh at the idea of inspiration.
  • I see that the Rev. Dr. Eddy advises ministers not to answer the arguments of infidels in the pulpit, and gives this wonderful reason: That the hearers will get more doubts from the answer than from reading the original arguments. So the Rev. Dr. Hawkins admits that he cannot defend Christianity from infidel attacks without creating more infidelity.
  • These “worldly” people have cleared the forests, plowed the land, built the cities, the steamships, the telegraphs, and have produced all there is of worth and wonder in the world. Yet the preachers denounce them. Were it not for “worldly” people how would the preachers get along? Who would build the churches? Who would fill the contribution boxes and plates, and who (most serious of all questions) would pay the salaries?
  • Ministers look upon theaters as rival attractions, and most of their hatred is born of business views. They think people ought to be driven to church by having all other places closed. In my judgment the theater has done good, while the church has done harm. The drama never has insisted upon burning anybody.
  • In the pulpit, hypocrites have been worshiped; upon the stage they have been held up to derision and execration.
  • The clergy have always had great faith in famine, in affliction, in pestilence. They know that a man is a thousand times more apt to thank God for a crust or a crumb than for a banquet.
  • They think we should be more “spiritual;” that is to say, willing to live upon the labor of others; willing to ask alms, saying, in the meantime, “It is more blessed to give than to receive.” If this is so, why not give the money back?
  • If the rich man regarded the sermon as a means of grace, as a kind of rope thrown by the minister to a man just above the falls; if he regarded it as a lifeboat, or as a lighthouse, he would not allow his coachman to remain outside. If he really believed that the coachman had an immortal soul, capable of eternal joy, liable to everlasting pain, he would do his utmost to make the calling and election of the said coachman sure. As a matter of fact the rich man now cares but little for servants. They are not included in the scheme of salvation, except as a kind of job lot. The church has become a club. It is a social affair, and the rich do not care to associate in the week days with the poor they may happen to meet at church. As they expect to be in heaven together forever, they can afford to be separated here. There will certainly be time enough there to get acquainted.
  • Another thing is the magnificence of the churches. The church depends absolutely upon the rich. Poor people feel out of place in such magnificent buildings. They drop into the nearest seat; like poor relations, they sit on the extreme edge of the chair. At the table of Christ they are below the salt. They are constantly humiliated. When subscriptions are asked for they feel ashamed to have their mite compared with the thousands given by the millionaire. The pennies feel ashamed to mingle with the silver in the contribution plate. The result is that most of them avoid the church. It costs too much to worship God in public. Good clothes are necessary, fashionably cut.
  • It is only when we discard the idea of a deity, the idea of cruelty or goodness in nature, that we are able ever to bear with patience the ills of life.
  • Neither do I say that man is not immortal. Upon that point I admit that I do not know, and the declarations of all the priests in the world upon that subject give me no light, and do not even tend to add to my information on the subject, because I know that they know that they do not know.
  • The intelligent men of the world do not believe in orthodox Christianity. It is today a symptom of intellectual decay. The conservative ministers are the stupid ones.
  • Orthodox religion is a kind of boa-constrictor; anything it can not dodge it will swallow.
  • They will find new readings for old texts. They will re-punctuate and re-parse the Old Testament. They will find that “flat” meant “a little rounding;” that “six days” meant “six long times;” that the word “flood” should have been translated “dampness,” “dew,” or “threatened rain...”
  • They will not change the words of the creed; they will simply give “new meanings and the highest criticism to-day is that which confesses and avoids. In other words, the churches will change as the people change. They will keep for sale that which can be sold. Already the old goods are being “marked down.”
  • There was a time when an unbeliever, open and pronounced, was a wonder. At that time the church had great power; it could retaliate; it could destroy. The church abandoned the stake only when too many men objected to being burned.
  • Of late years the thoughts of men have been turned, by virtue of modern discoveries, as the result of countless influences, to an investigation of the foundation of orthodox religion. Other religions were put in the crucible of criticism, and nothing was found but dross. At last it occurred to the intelligent to examine our own religion, and this examination has excited great interest and great comment. People want to hear, and they want to hear because they have already about concluded themselves that the creeds are founded in error.
  • Christianity is this: A belief in the inspiration of the Scriptures, the atonement, the life, death, and resurrection of Christ, an eternal reward for the believers in Christ, and eternal punishment for the rest of us. Now, take from Christianity its miracles, its absurdities of the atonement and fall of man and the inspiration of the Scriptures, and I have no objection to it as I understand it. I believe, in the main, in the Christianity which I suppose Christ taught, that is, in kindness, gentleness, forgiveness. I do not believe in loving enemies; I have pretty hard work to love my friends.
  • Morality does not come from the clouds; it is born of human want and human experience. We need no inspiration, no inspired work. The industrious man knows that the idle has no right to rob him of the product of his labor, and the idle man knows that he has no right to do it. It is not wrong because we find it in the Bible, but I presume it was put in the Bible because it is wrong.
  • It has always seemed a little curious to me that joy should be held in such contempt here, and yet promised hereafter as an eternal reward. Why not be happy here, as well as in heaven. Why not have joy here? Why not go to heaven now—that is, to-day? Why not enjoy the sunshine of this world, and all there is of good in it? It is bad enough; so bad that I do not believe it was ever created by a beneficent deity; but what little good there is in it, why not have it?
  • Neither do I believe that it is the end of man to glorify God. How can the Infinite be glorified? Does he wish for reputation?... Why should he wish the flattery of the average Presbyterian? What good will it do him to know that his course has been approved of by the Methodist Episcopal Church? What does he care, even, for the religious weeklies, or the presidents of religious colleges? I do not see how we can help God, or hurt him. If there be an infinite Being, certainly nothing we can do can in any way affect him. We can affect each other, and therefore man should be careful not to sin against man.

Orthodoxy (1884)

  • You can remember, so can I, when the old allopathists, the bleeders and blisterers, reigned supreme. If there was anything the matter with a man they let out his blood. Called to the bedside, they took him on the point of a lancet to the edge of eternity, and then practiced all their art to bring him back. One can hardly imagine how perfect a constitution it took a few years ago to stand the assault of a doctor.
  • In 1473 Copernicus was born. In 1543 his great work appeared. In 1616 the system of Copernicus was condemned by the pope, by the infallible Catholic Church, and the church was about as near right upon that subject as upon any other. The system of Copernicus was denounced. And how long do you suppose the church fought that? Let me tell you. It was revoked by Pius VII. in the year of grace 1821. For two hundred and seventy-eight years after the death of Copernicus the church insisted that his system was false, and that the old Bible astronomy was true.
  • This century will be called Darwin’s century. He was one of the greatest men who ever touched this globe. He has explained more of the phenomena of life than all of the religious teachers. Write the name of Charles Darwin on the one hand and the name of every theologian who ever lived on the other, and from that name has come more light to the world than from all of those.
  • The church teaches that man was created perfect, and that for six thousand years he has degenerated. Darwin demonstrated the falsity of this dogma. He shows that man has for thousands of ages steadily advanced; that the Garden of Eden is an ignorant myth; that the doctrine of original sin has no foundation in fact; that the atonement is an absurdity; that the serpent did not tempt, and that man did not “fall.” Charles Darwin destroyed the foundation of orthodox Christianity. There is nothing left but faith in what we know could not and did not happen. Religion and science are enemies. One is a superstition; the other is a fact. One rests upon the false, the other upon the true. One is the result of fear and faith, the other of investigation and reason.
  • How do they answer all this? They say that God “permits” it. What would you say to me if I stood by and saw a ruffian beat out the brains of a child, when I had full and perfect power to prevent it? You would say truthfully that I was as bad as the murderer. Is it possible for this God to prevent it? Then, if he does not he is a fiend; he is no god. But they say he “permits” it. What for? So that we may have freedom of choice. What for? So that God may find, I suppose, who are good and who are bad. Did he not know that when he made us? Did he not know exactly just what he was making?
  • Is there an intelligent man or woman now in the world who believes in the Garden of Eden story? If you find any man who believes it, strike his forehead and you will hear an echo. Something is for rent.
  • Does anybody now believe in the story of the serpent? I pity any man or woman who, in this nineteenth century, believes in that childish fable. Why did Adam and Eve disobey? Why, they were tempted. By whom? The devil. Who made the devil? God. What did God make him for? Why did he not tell Adam and Eve about this serpent? Why did he not watch the devil, instead of watching Adam and Eve? Instead of turning them out, why did he not keep him from getting in? Why did he not have his flood first, and drown the devil, before he made a man and woman. And yet, people who call themselves intelligent—professors in colleges and presidents of venerable institutions—teach children and young men that the Garden of Eden story is an absolute historical fact. I defy any man to think of a more childish thing. This God, waiting around Eden—knowing all the while what would happen—having made them on purpose so that it would happen, then does what? Holds all of us responsible, and we were not there.
  • Here is a representative before the constituency had been born. Before I am bound by a representative I want a chance to vote for or against him; and if I had been there, and known all the circumstances, I should have voted “No!” And yet, I am held responsible.
  • A god that cannot make a soul that is not totally depraved, I respectfully suggest, should retire from the business. And if a god has made us, knowing that we are totally depraved, why should we go to the same being to be “born again?”
  • The church insists that we must be “born again” and that all who are not the subjects of this second birth are heirs of everlasting fire. Would it not have been much better to have made another Adam and Eve? Would it not have been better to change Noah and his people, so that after that a second birth would not have been necessary? Why not purify the fountain of all human life? Why allow the earth to be peopled with depraved and monstrous beings, each one of whom must be re-made, re-formed, and born again?
  • If the devil had written upon the subject of slavery, which side would he have taken? Let every minister answer. If you knew the devil had written a work on human slavery, in your judgment, would he uphold slavery, or denounce it? Would you regard it as any evidence that he ever wrote it, if it upheld slavery? And yet, here you have a work upholding slavery, and you say that it was written by an infinitely good God!
  • Why should a Christian hesitate to kill a man that his God is waiting to damn? Why should a Christian pity an unbeliever—one who has rejected the Bible—when he knows that God will be pitiless forever?
  • Rome had no Bible. God cared nothing for the Roman Empire. He let the men come up by chance. His time was taken up with the Jewish people. And yet Rome conquered the world, including the chosen people of God. The people who had the Bible were defeated by the people who had not.
  • The Christians mistake an incident for a cause, and honestly imagine that the Bible is the foundation of modern liberty and law. They forget physical conditions, make no account of commerce, care nothing for inventions and discoveries, and ignorantly give the credit to their inspired book.
  • I cannot believe in the miraculous origin of Jesus Christ. I believe he was the son of Joseph and Mary; that Joseph and Mary had been duly and legally married; that he was the legitimate offspring of that union. Nobody ever believed the contrary until he had been dead at least one hundred and fifty years. Neither Matthew, Mark, nor Luke ever dreamed that he was of divine origin. He did not say to either Matthew, Mark, or Luke, or to any one in their hearing, that he was the Son of God, or that he was miraculously conceived. He did not say it.
  • Besides, God may have changed his mind on many things; he has on slavery, and polygamy at least, according to the church; and yet his church now wants to go and destroy polygamy in Utah with the sword. Why do they not send missionaries there with copies of the Old Testament?
  • The resurrection. I want to speak about it as we would about any ordinary transaction. In the first place, I do not believe that any miracle was ever performed, and if there was, you cannot prove it. Why? Because it is altogether more reasonable to believe that the people were mistaken about it than that it happened. And why? Because, according to human experience, we know that people will not always tell the truth, and we never saw a miracle ourselves, and we must be governed by our experience; and if we go by our experience, we must say that the miracle never happened—that the witnesses were mistaken.
  • There is one wonderful thing about the dead people that were raised—we do not hear of them any more. What became of them? If there was a man in this city who had been raised from the dead, I would go to see him to-night. I would say, “Where were you when you got the notice to come back? What kind of a country is it? What kind of opening there for a young man? How did you like it? Did you meet there the friends you had lost? Is there a world without death, without pain, without a tear? Is there a land without a grave, and where good-bye is never heard?”
  • Let us be honest. Suppose a man came into this city and should meet a funeral procession, and say, “Who is dead?” and they should reply, “The son of a widow; her only support.” Suppose he should say to the procession, “Halt!” and to the undertaker, “Take out that coffin, unscrew that lid. Young man, I say unto thee, arise!” and the dead should step from the coffin and in a moment afterward hold his mother in his arms. Suppose this stranger should go to your cemetery and find some woman holding a little child in each hand, while the tears fell upon a new-made grave, and he should say to her, “Who lies buried here?” and she should reply, “My husband;” and he should cry, “I say unto thee, oh grave, give up thy dead!” and the husband should rise, and in a moment after have his lips upon his wife’s, and the little children with their arms around his neck; do you think that the people of this city would kill him? Do you think any one would wish to crucify him? Do you not rather believe that every one who had a loved one out in that cemetery would go to him, even upon their knees, and beg him to give back their dead? Do you believe that any man was ever crucified who was the master of death?
  • Stories that made Christianity powerful then, weaken it now.
  • If Christ wished to convince his fellow-men by miracles, why did he not do something that could not by any means have been a counterfeit? Instead of healing a withered arm, why did he not find some man whose arm had been cut off, and make another grow?
  • Do away with the miracles, and the superhuman character of Christ is destroyed. He becomes what he really was—a man. Do away with the wonders, and the teachings of Christ cease to be authoritative. They are then worth the reason, the truth that is in them, and nothing more. Do away with the miracles, and then we can measure the utterances of Christ with the standard of our reason. We are no longer intellectual serfs, believing what is unreasonable in obedience to the command of a supposed god.
  • Mark says: “So, then, after the Lord had spoken unto them he was received up into heaven and sat on the right hand of God.” This is all he says about the most wonderful vision that ever astonished human eyes, a miracle great enough to have stuffed credulity to bursting; and yet all we have is this one, poor, meagre verse.
  • The church must not abandon its belief in devils. Orthodoxy cannot afford to put out the fires of hell. Throw away a belief in the devil, and most of the miracles of the New Testament become impossible, even if we admit the supernatural. If there is no devil, who was the original tempter in the garden of Eden? If there is no hell, from what are we saved; to what purpose is the atonement? Upon the obverse of the Christian shield is God, upon the reverse, the devil. No devil, no hell. No hell, no atonement. No atonement, no preaching, no gospel.
  • We are told “God so loved the world” that he is going to damn almost everybody.
  • Only a little while ago, when the great flood came upon the Ohio, sent by him who is ruling the world and paying particular attention to the affairs of nations, just in the gray of the morning they saw a house floating down and on its top a human being. A few men went out to the rescue. They found there a woman, a mother, and they wished to save her life. She said: “No, I am going to stay where I am. In this house I have three dead babes; I will not desert them.” Think of a love so limitless—stronger and deeper than despair and death! And yet, the Christian religion says, that if that woman, that mother, did not happen to believe in their creed God would send her soul to eternal fire!
  • The doctrine of eternal pain is my trouble with this Christian religion. I reject it on account of its infinite heartlessness. I cannot tell them too often, that during our last war Christians, who knew that if they were shot they would go right to heaven, went and hired wicked men to take their places, perfectly willing that these men should go to hell provided they could stay at home.
  • Theologians, pretenders, soothsayers, parsons, priests, popes, bishops, have taken advantage of that. They have stood by graves and promised heaven. They have stood by graves and prophesied a future filled with pain. They have erected their toll-gates on the highway of life and have collected money from fear.

The trial of Charles B. Reynolds for blasphemy (1887)

I would not wish to live in a world where I could not express my honest opinions. Men who deny to others the right of speech are not fit to live with honest men.
If there is one subject in this world worthy of being discussed, worthy of being understood, it is the question of intellectual liberty. Without that, we are simply painted clay; without that, we are poor, miserable serfs and slaves.
Appeal to the jury in the trial of C.B. Reynolds for blasphemy (May 1887) Full text online at Project Gutenberg · The accused C. B. Reynolds had been indicted on a charge of "Blasphemy" and brought before a Morristown New Jersey jury which returned a verdict of "guilty" and a fine of $25.00. Ingersoll himself paid the fine and costs imposed on Reynolds by the trial.
I would defend the freedom of speech. And why? Because no attack can be answered by force, no argument can be refuted by a blow, or by imprisonment, or by fine. You may imprison the man, but the argument is free; you may fell the man to the earth, but the statement stands.
Nothing is sacred but the truth, and by truth I mean what a man sincerely and honestly believes.
There is a law higher than men can make. The facts as they exist in this poor world -- the absolute consequences of certain acts -- they are above all. And this higher law is the breath of progress, the very outstretched wings of civilization, under which we enjoy the freedom we have.
Humor is one of the most valuable things in the human brain. It is the torch of the mind -- it sheds light. Humor is the readiest test of truth -- of the natural, of the sensible -- and when you take from a man all sense of humor, there will only be enough left to make a bigot.
There is no more perfect picture on the earth, or within the imagination of man, than a mother holding in her thrilled and happy arms a child, the fruit of love.
I am a believer in liberty. That is my religion — to give to every other human being every right that I claim for myself, and I grant to every other human being, not the right — because it is his right — but instead of granting I declare that it is his right, to attack every doctrine that I maintain, to answer every argument that I may urge — in other words, he must have absolute freedom of speech.
The most important thing in this world is liberty. More important than food or clothes — more important than gold or houses or lands — more important than art or science — more important than all religions, is the liberty of man.
To forge chains, to build dungeons, for your honest fellow-men — that is blasphemy. To pollute the souls of children with the dogma of eternal pain — that is blasphemy. To violate your conscience — that is blasphemy.
The liberty of man is of far more importance than any book; the rights of man, more sacred than any religion — than any Scriptures, whether inspired or not.
What light is to the eyes, what love is to the heart, Liberty is to the soul of man. Without it, there come suffocation, degradation and death.
Liberty is the condition of progress. Without Liberty, there remains only barbarism. Without Liberty, there can be no civilization.
Take the word Liberty from human speech and all the other words become poor, withered, meaningless sounds — but with that word realized — with that word understood, the world becomes a paradise.
  • The question to be tried by you is whether a man has the right to express his honest thought; and for that reason there can be no case of greater importance submitted to a jury. And it may be well enough for me, at the outset, to admit that there could be no case in which I could take a greater — a deeper interest. For my part, I would not wish to live in a world where I could not express my honest opinions. Men who deny to others the right of speech are not fit to live with honest men.
    I deny the right of any man, of any number of men, of any church, of any State, to put a padlock on the lips — to make the tongue a convict. I passionately deny the right of the Herod of authority to kill the children of the brain.
    A man has a right to work with his hands, to plow the earth, to sow the seed, and that man has a right to reap the harvest. If we have not that right, then all are slaves except those who take these rights from their fellow-men.
  • If you have the right to work with your hands and to gather the harvest for yourself and your children, have you not a right to cultivate your brain? Have you not the right to read, to observe, to investigate — and when you have so read and so investigated, have you not the right to reap that field? And what is it to reap that field? It is simply to express what you have ascertained — simply to give your thoughts to your fellow-men.
  • If there is one subject in this world worthy of being discussed, worthy of being understood, it is the question of intellectual liberty. Without that, we are simply painted clay; without that, we are poor, miserable serfs and slaves.
  • And the brain thinks in spite of you. Should you express that thought? Certainly you should, if others express theirs. You have exactly the same right. He who takes it from you is a robber.
  • For thousands of years people have been trying to force other people to think their way. Did they succeed? No. Will they succeed? No. Why? Because brute force is not an argument.
  • No orthodox church ever had power that it did not endeavor to make people think its way by force and flame.
  • I want you to understand what has been done in the world to force men to think alike. It seems to me that if there is some infinite being who wants us to think alike he would have made us alike. Why did he not do so? Why did he make your brain so that you could not by any possibility be a Methodist? Why did he make yours so that you could not be a Catholic? And why did he make the brain of another so that he is an unbeliever — why the brain of another so that he became a Mohammedan — if he wanted us all to believe alike?
    After all, maybe Nature is good enough and grand enough and broad enough to give us the diversity born of liberty. Maybe, after all, it would not be best for us all to be just the same. What a stupid world, if everybody said yes to everything that everybody else might say.
    The most important thing in this world is liberty. More important than food or clothes — more important than gold or houses or lands — more important than art or science — more important than all religions, is the liberty of man.
  • How has the church in every age, when in authority, defended itself? Always by a statute against blasphemy, against argument, against free speech. And there never was such a statute that did not stain the book that it was in and that did not certify to the savagery of the men who passed it.
  • By making a statute and by defining blasphemy, the church sought to prevent discussion -- sought to prevent argument -- sought to prevent a man giving his honest opinion. Certainly a tenet, a dogma, a doctrine, is safe when hedged about by a statute that prevents your speaking against it. In the silence of slavery it exists. It lives because lips are locked. It lives because men are slaves.
  • I am a believer in liberty. That is my religion — to give to every other human being every right that I claim for myself, and I grant to every other human being, not the right — because it is his right — but instead of granting I declare that it is his right, to attack every doctrine that I maintain, to answer every argument that I may urge — in other words, he must have absolute freedom of speech.
  • I am a believer in what I call "intellectual hospitality." A man comes to your door. If you are a gentleman and he appears to be a good man, you receive him with a smile. You ask after his health. You say: "Take a chair; are you thirsty, are you hungry, will you not break bread with me?" That is what a hospitable, good man does -- he does not set the dog on him. Now, how should we treat a new thought? I say that the brain should be hospitable and say to the new thought: "Come in; sit down; I want to cross-examine you; I want to find whether you are good or bad; if good, stay; if bad, I don't want to hurt you -- probably you think you are all right, -- but your room is better than your company, and I will take another idea in your place."
  • Every man who has thought, knows not only how little he knows, but how little every other human being knows, and how ignorant, after all, the world must be.
  • Now, gentlemen, what is blasphemy? Of course nobody knows what it is, unless he takes into consideration where he is. What is blasphemy in one country would be a religious exhortation in another. It is owing to where you are and who is in authority. And let me call your attention to the impudence and bigotry of the American Christians, We send missionaries to other countries. What for? To tell them that their religion is false, that their gods are myths and monsters, that their saviors and apostles were impostors, and that our religion is true. You send a man from Morristown — a Presbyterian, over to Turkey. He goes there, and he tells the Mohammedans — and he has it in a pamphlet and he distributes it — that the Koran is a lie, that Mohammed was not a prophet of God, that the angel Gabriel is not so large that it is four hundred leagues between his eyes — that it is all a mistake — there never was an angel so large as that. Then what would the Turks do? Suppose the Turks had a law like this statute in New Jersey. They would put the Morristown missionary in jail, and he would send home word, and then what would the people of Morristown say? Honestly -- what do you think they would say? They would say, "Why, look at those poor, heathen wretches. We sent a man over there armed with the truth, and yet they were so blinded by their idolatrous religion, so steeped in superstition, that they actually put that man in prison." Gentlemen, does not that show the need of more missionaries? I would say, yes.
  • If you could only imprison a thought, then intellectual tyranny might succeed. If you could only take an argument and put a striped suit of clothes on it -- if you could only take a good, splendid shining fact and lock it up in some dungeon of ignorance, so that its light would never again enter the mind of man, then you might succeed in stopping human progress. Otherwise, no.
  • "Every person may freely speak, write, or publish his sentiments on all subjects, being responsible for the abuse of that right" That is in the constitution of nearly every State in the Union, and the intention of that is to cover slanderous words -- to cover a case where a man under pretence of enjoying the freedom of speech falsely assails or accuses his neighbor. Of course he should be held responsible for that abuse.
  • There is a constitution higher than any statute. There is a law higher than any constitution. It is the law of the human conscience, and no man who is a man will defile and pollute his conscience at the bidding of any legislature. Above all things, one should maintain his self-respect, and there is but one way to do that, and that is to live in accordance with your highest ideal.
  • There is a law higher than men can make. The facts as they exist in this poor world -- the absolute consequences of certain acts -- they are above all. And this higher law is the breath of progress, the very outstretched wings of civilization, under which we enjoy the freedom we have. Keep that in your minds. There never was a legislature great enough -- there never was a constitution sacred enough, to compel a civilized man to stand between a black man and his liberty. There never was a constitution great enough to make me stand between any human being and his right to express his honest thoughts. Such a constitution is an insult to the human soul, and I would care no more for it than I would for the growl of a wild beast.
  • I want to say right here — many a man has cursed the God of another man. The Catholics have cursed the God of the Protestant. The Presbyterians have cursed the God of the Catholics — charged them with idolatry — cursed their images, laughed at their ceremonies. And these compliments have been interchanged between all the religions of the world. But I say here today that no man unless a raving maniac, ever cursed the God in whom he believed. No man, no human being, has ever lived who cursed his own idea of God. He always curses the idea that somebody else entertains. No human being ever yet cursed what he believed to be infinite wisdom and infinite goodness — and you know it. Every man on this jury knows that. He feels that that must be an absolute certainty. Then what have they cursed? Some God they did not believe in — that is all. And has a man that right? I say, yes. He has a right to give his opinion of Jupiter, and there is nobody in Morristown who will deny him that right. But several thousands years ago it would have been very dangerous for him to have cursed Jupiter, and yet Jupiter is just as powerful now as be was then, but the Roman people are not powerful, and that is all there was to Jupiter — the Roman people.
    So there was a time when you could have cursed Zeus, the god of the Greeks, and like Socrates, they would have compelled you to drink hemlock. Yet now everybody can curse this god. Why? Is the god dead? No. He is just as alive as he ever was. Then what has happened? The Greeks have passed away. That is all. So in all of our churches here. Whenever a church is in the minority it clamors for free speech. When it gets in the majority, no. I do not believe the history of the world will show that any orthodox church when in the majority ever had the courage to face the free lips of the world. It sends for a constable. And is it not wonderful that they should do this when they preach the gospel of universal forgiveness -- when they say, "if a man strike you on one cheek turn to him the other also -- but if he laughs at your religion, put him in the penitentiary"? Is that the doctrine? Is that the law?
  • I will never have any religion that I cannot defend -- that is, that I do not believe I can defend. I may be mistaken, because no man is absolutely certain that he knows. We all understand that. Every one is liable to be mistaken. The horizon of each individual is very narrow, and in his poor sky the stars are few and very small.
  • By force you can make hypocrites -- men who will agree with you from the teeth out, and in their hearts hate you. We want no more hypocrites. We have enough in every community. And how are you going to keep from having more? By having the air free, -- by wiping from your statute books such miserable and infamous laws as this.
  • Why, gentlemen, humor is one of the most valuable things in the human brain. It is the torch of the mind -- it sheds light. Humor is the readiest test of truth -- of the natural, of the sensible -- and when you take from a man all sense of humor, there will only be enough left to make a bigot.
  • Anything that can be laughed out of this world ought not to stay in it.
  • Religions are for a day. They are the clouds. Humanity is the eternal blue. Religions are the waves of the sea. These waves depend upon the force and direction of the wind -- that is to say, of passion; but Humanity is the great sea. And so our religions change from day to day, and it is a blessed thing that they do. Why? Because we grow, and we are getting a little more civilized every day, -- and any man that is not willing to let another man express his opinion, is not a civilized man, and you know it. Any man that does not give to everybody else the rights he claims for himself, is not an honest man.
  • So I say, let us judge each other by our actions, not by theories, not by what we happen to believe -- because that depends very much on where we were born.
  • If you want to know the opinion of your neighbor, you want his honest opinion. You do not want to be deceived. You do not want to talk with a hypocrite. You want to get straight at his honest mind -- and then you are going to judge him, not by what he says but by what he does.
  • It is very easy to sail along with the majority -- easy to sail the way the boats are going -- easy to float with the stream; but when you come to swim against the tide, with the men on the shore throwing rocks at you, you will get a good deal of exercise in this world.
  • We have now a science called astronomy. That science has done more to enlarge the horizon of human thought than all things else. We now live in an infinite universe. We know that the sun is a million times larger than our earth, and we know that there are other great luminaries millions of times larger than our sun. We know that there are planets so far away that light, traveling at the rate of one hundred and eighty- five thousand miles a second, requires fifteen thousand years to reach this grain of sand, this tear, we call the earth -- and we now know that all the fields of space are sown thick with constellations. If that statute had been enforced, that science would not now be the property of the human mind. That science is contrary to the Bible, and for asserting the truth you become a criminal. For what sum of money, for what amount of wealth, would the world have the science of astronomy expunged from the brain of man? We learned the story of the stars in spite of that statute.
  • I believe in intellectual hospitality. I love men that have a little horizon to their minds -- a little sky, a little scope. I hate anything that is narrow and pinched and withered and mean and crawling, and that is willing to live on dust. I believe in creating such an atmosphere that things will burst into blossom. I believe in good will, good health, good fellowship, good feeling -- and if there is any God on the earth, or in heaven, let us hope that he will be generous and grand. Do you not see what the effect will be? I am not cursing you because you are a Methodist, and not damning you because you are a Catholic, or because you are an Infidel -- a good man is more than all of these. The grandest of all things is to be in the highest and noblest sense a man.
  • the defendant had the right to say every word with which he is charged in this indictment. He had the right to give his honest thought, no matter whether any human being agreed with what he said or not, and no matter whether any other man approved of the manner in which he said these things. I defend his right to speak, whether I believe in what he spoke or not, or in the propriety of saying what he did. I should defend a man just as cheerfully who had spoken against my doctrine, as one who had spoken against the popular superstitions of my time. It would make no difference to me how unjust the attack was upon my belief -- how maliciously ingenious; and no matter how sacred the conviction that was attacked, I would defend the freedom of speech. And why? Because no attack can be answered by force, no argument can be refuted by a blow, or by imprisonment, or by fine. You may imprison the man, but the argument is free; you may fell the man to the earth, but the statement stands.
  • The defendant in this case has attacked certain beliefs, thought by the Christian world to be sacred. Yet, after all, nothing is sacred but the truth, and by truth I mean what a man sincerely and honestly believes.
  • There is no more perfect picture on the earth, or within the imagination of man, than a mother holding in her thrilled and happy arms a child, the fruit of love.
  • Imagination, like the atmosphere of spring, woos every seed of earth to seek the blue of heaven, and whispers of bud and flower and fruit. Imagination gathers from every field of thought and pours the wealth of many lives into the lap of one.
  • After all, sympathy is genius. A man who really sympathizes with another understands him. A man who sympathizes with a religion, instantly sees the good that is in it, and the man who sympathizes with the right, sees the evil that a creed contains.
  • Any law Made for the preserve of a human right, made to guard a human being, cannot sleep long enough to die; but any law that deprives a human being of a natural right -- if that law goes to sleep, it never wakes, it sleeps the sleep of death.
  • When a statute attacks an individual right, the State must never let it sleep. When it attacks the right of the public at large and is allowed to pass into a state of slumber, it cannot be raised for the purpose of punishing an individual.
  • It may be, however, sufficient to say, that wherever the church has had power it has been a crime for any man to speak his honest thought. No church has ever been willing that any opponent should give a transcript of his mind. Every church in power has appealed to brute force, to the sword, for the purpose of sustaining its creed. Not one has had the courage to occupy the open field. The church has not been satisfied with calling Infidels and unbelievers blasphemers. Each church has accused nearly every other church of being a blasphemer. Every pioneer has been branded as a criminal. The Catholics called Martin Luther a blasphemer, and Martin Luther called Copernicus a blasphemer. Pious ignorance always regards intelligence as a kind of blasphemy. Some of the greatest men of the world, some of the best, have been put to death for the crime of blasphemy, that is to say, for the crime of endeavoring to benefit their fellow-men.
  • As long as the church has the power to close the lips of men, so long and no longer will superstition rule this world.
  • Blasphemy is the word that the majority hisses into the ear of the few.
  • Blasphemy is what an old mistake says of a newly discovered truth.
    Blasphemy is what a withered last year's leaf says to a this year's bud.
    Blasphemy is the bulwark of religious prejudice.
    Blasphemy is the breastplate of the heartless.
    And let me say now, that the crime of blasphemy, as set out in this statute, is impossible. No man can blaspheme a book. No man can commit blasphemy by telling his honest thought. No man can blaspheme a God, or a Holy Ghost, or a Son of God. The Infinite cannot be blasphemed.
  • What is blasphemy? I will give you a definition; I will give you my thought upon this subject. What is real blasphemy?
    To live on the unpaid labor of other men — that is blasphemy.
    To enslave your fellow-man, to put chains upon his body — that is blasphemy.
    To enslave the minds of men, to put manacles upon the brain, padlocks upon the lips — that is blasphemy.
    To deny what you believe to be true, to admit to be true what you believe to be a lie — that is blasphemy.
    To strike the weak and unprotected, in order that you may gain the applause of the ignorant and superstitious mob — that is blasphemy.
    To persecute the intelligent few, at the command of the ignorant many — that is blasphemy.
    To forge chains, to build dungeons, for your honest fellow-men — that is blasphemy.
    To pollute the souls of children with the dogma of eternal pain — that is blasphemy.
    To violate your conscience — that is blasphemy.
    The jury that gives an unjust verdict, and the judge who pronounces an unjust sentence, are blasphemers.
    The man who bows to public opinion against his better judgment and against his honest conviction, is a blasphemer.

    Why should we fear our fellow-men? Why should not each human being have the right, so far as thought and its expression are concerned, of all the world? What harm can come from an honest interchange of thought?
  • I have given you my definition of blasphemy, and now the question arises, what is worship? Who is a worshiper? What is prayer? What is real religion? Let me answer these questions.
    Good, honest, faithful work, is worship.
    The man who ploughs the fields and fells the forests; the man who works in mines, the man who battles with the winds and waves out on the wide sea, controlling the commerce of the world; these men are worshipers. The man who goes into the forest, leading his wife by the hand, who builds him a cabin, who makes a home in the wilderness, who helps to people and civilize and cultivate a continent, is a worshiper.
    Labor is the only prayer that Nature answers; it is the only prayer that deserves an answer, — good, honest, noble work. A woman whose husband has gone down to the gutter, gone down to degradation and filth; the woman who follows him and lifts him out of the mire and presses him to her noble heart, until he becomes a man once more, this woman is a worshiper. Her act is worship.
    The poor man and the poor woman who work night and day, in order that they may give education to their children, so that they may have a better life than their father and mother had; the parents who deny themselves the comforts of life, that they may lay up something to help their children to a higher place -- they are worshipers; and the children who, after they reap the benefit of this worship, become ashamed of their parents, are blasphemers.
    The man who sits by the bed of his invalid wife, -- a wife prematurely old and gray, -- the husband who sits by her bed and holds her thin, wan hand in his as lovingly, and kisses it as rapturously, as passionately, as when it was dimpled, -- that is worship; that man is a worshiper; that is real religion.
  • Whoever increases the sum of human joy, is a worshiper. He who adds to the sum of human misery, is a blasphemer.
  • Gentlemen, you can never make me believe — no statute can ever convince me, that there is any infinite Being in this universe who hates an honest man. It is impossible to satisfy me that there is any God, or can be any God, who holds in abhorrence a soul that has the courage to express his thought. Neither can the whole world convince me that any man should be punished, either in this world or in the next, for being candid with his fellow-men. If you send men to the penitentiary for speaking their thoughts, for endeavoring to enlighten their fellows, then the penitentiary will become a place of honor, and the victim will step from it — not stained, not disgraced, but clad in robes of glory.
    Let us take one more step.
    What is holy, what is sacred? I reply that human happiness is holy, human rights are holy. The body and soul of man — these are sacred. The liberty of man is of far more importance than any book; the rights of man, more sacred than any religion — than any Scriptures, whether inspired or not.
    What we want is the truth, and does any one suppose that all of the truth is confined in one book — that the mysteries of the whole world are explained by one volume?
    All that is — all that conveys information to man — all that has been produced by the past — all that now exists — should be considered by an intelligent man. All the known truths of this world — all the philosophy, all the poems, all the pictures, all the statues, all the entrancing music — the prattle of babes, the lullaby of mothers, the words of honest men, the trumpet calls to duty — all these make up the bible of the world — everything that is noble and true and free, you will find in this great book.
    If we wish to be true to ourselves, — if we wish to benefit our fellow-men — if we wish to live honorable lives — we will give to every other human being every right that we claim for ourselves.
  • Any church that imprisons a man because he has used an argument against its creed, will simply convince the world that it cannot answer the argument.
  • What light is to the eyes, what love is to the heart, Liberty is to the soul of man. Without it, there come suffocation, degradation and death.
  • Liberty is the condition of progress. Without Liberty, there remains only barbarism. Without Liberty, there can be no civilization.
    If another man has not the right to think, you have not even the right to think that he thinks wrong. If every man has not the right to think, the people of New Jersey had no right to make a statute, or to adopt a constitution — no jury has the right to render a verdict, and no court to pass its sentence.
    In other words, without liberty of thought, no human being has the right to form a judgment. It is impossible that there should be such a thing as real religion without liberty. Without liberty there can be no such thing as conscience, no such word as justice. All human actions — all good, all bad — have for a foundation the idea of human liberty, and without Liberty there can be no vice, and there can be no virtue.
    Without Liberty there can be no worship, no blasphemy — no love, no hatred, no justice, no progress.
    Take the word Liberty from human speech and all the other words become poor, withered, meaningless sounds — but with that word realized — with that word understood, the world becomes a paradise.

'Rome, or Reason? A Reply to Cardinal Manning. Part I. The North American Review (1888)

  • Majorities are not necessarily right. If anything is known—if anything can be known—we are sure that very large bodies of men have frequently been wrong.
  • In the progress of mankind, the few have been the nearest right. There have been centuries in which the light seemed to emanate only from a handful of men, while the rest of the world was enveloped in darkness. Some great man leads the way—he becomes the morning star, the prophet of a coming day. Afterward, many millions accept his views. But there are still heights above and beyond; there are other pioneers, and the old day, in comparison with the new, becomes a night. So, we cannot say that success demonstrates either divine origin or supernatural aid.
  • As a matter of fact, however, no church rises with everything against it. Something is favorable to it, or it could not exist. If it succeeds and grows, it is absolutely certain that the conditions are favorable. If it spreads rapidly, it simply shows that the conditions are exceedingly favorable, and that the forces in opposition are weak and easily overcome.
  • It is probably safe to say that at one time, or during one phase of the development of man, everything was miraculous. After a time, the mind slowly developing, certain phenomena, always happening under like conditions, were called “natural,” and none suspected any special interference. The domain of the miraculous grew less and less—the domain of the natural larger; that is to say, the common became the natural, but the uncommon was still regarded as the miraculous. The rising and setting of the sun ceased to excite the wonder of mankind—there was no miracle about that; but an eclipse of the sun was miraculous. Men did not then know that eclipses are periodical, that they happen with the same certainty that the sun rises. It took many observations through many generations to arrive at this conclusion. Ordinary rains became “natural,” floods remained “miraculous.” But it can all be summed up in this: The average man regards the common as natural, the uncommon as supernatural. The educated man—and by that I mean the developed man—is satisfied that all phenomena are natural, and that the supernatural does not and can not exist.
  • As a rule, an individual is egotistic in the proportion that he lacks intelligence. The same is true of nations and races. The barbarian is egotistic enough to suppose that an Infinite Being is constantly doing something, or failing to do something, on his account. But as man rises in the scale of civilization, as he becomes really great, he comes to the conclusion that nothing in Nature happens on his account—that he is hardly great enough to disturb the motions of the planets.
  • Is the success of the Catholic Church a marvel? If this church is of divine origin, if it has been under the especial care, protection and guidance of an Infinite Being, is not its failure far more wonderful than its success? For eighteen centuries it has persecuted and preached, and the salvation of the world is still remote. This is the result, and it may be asked whether it is worth while to try to convert the world to Catholicism.
  • According to the Bible, the apostles were ordered to go into all the world and preach the gospel—yet not one of them, nor one of their converts at any time, nor one of the vicars of God, for fifteen hundred years afterward, knew of the existence of the Western Hemisphere.
  • Thousands of “saints” have been the most malicious of the human race. If the history of the world proves anything, it proves that the Catholic Church was for many centuries the most merciless institution that ever existed among men.
  • I have no Protestant prejudices against Catholicism, and have no Catholic prejudices against Protestantism. I regard all religions either without prejudice or with the same prejudice. They were all, according to my belief, devised by men, and all have for a foundation ignorance of this world and fear of the next. All the Gods have been made by men. They are all equally powerful and equally useless.
  • This church, so “fruitful in all good things,” invented crimes that it might punish. This church tried men for a “suspicion of heresy”—imprisoned them for the vice of being suspected—stripped them of all they had on earth and allowed them to rot in dungeons, because they were guilty of the crime of having been suspected. This was a part of the Canon Law. It is too late to talk about the “invincible stability” of the Catholic Church.
  • The people became convinced—being ignorant, stupid and credulous—that the church held the keys of heaven and hell. The foundation for the most terrible mental tyranny that has existed among men was in this way laid. The Catholic Church enslaved to the extent of its power. It resorted to every possible form of fraud; it perverted every good instinct of the human heart; it rewarded every vice; it resorted to every artifice that ingenuity could devise, to reach the highest round of power. It tortured the accused to make them confess; it tortured witnesses to compel the commission of perjury; it tortured children for the purpose of making them convict their parents; it compelled men to establish their own innocence; it imprisoned without limit; it had the malicious patience to wait; it left the accused without trial, and left them in dungeons until released by death. There is no crime that the Catholic Church did not commit,—no cruelty that it did not practice,—no form of treachery that it did not reward, and no virtue that it did not persecute. It was the greatest and most powerful enemy of human rights. It did all that organization, cunning, piety, self-denial, heroism, treachery, zeal and brute force could do to enslave the children of men. It was the enemy of intelligence, the assassin of liberty, and the destroyer of progress.
  • And yet, I admit that the most infamous popes, the most heartless and fiendish bishops, friars, and priests were models of mercy, charity, and justice when compared with the orthodox God—with the God they worshiped. These popes, these bishops, these priests could persecute only for a few years—they could burn only for a few moments—but their God threatened to imprison and burn forever; and their God is as much worse than they were, as hell is worse than the Inquisition.
  • Among the “some two hundred and fifty-eight” Vicars of Christ there were probably some good men. This would have happened even if the intention had been to get all bad men, for the reason that man reaches perfection neither in good nor in evil; but if they were selected by Christ himself, if they were selected by a church with a divine origin and under divine guidance, then there is no way to account for the selection of a bad one. If one hypocrite was duly elected pope—one murderer, one strangler, one starver—this demonstrates that all the popes were selected by men, and by men only, and that the claim of divine guidance is born of zeal and uttered without knowledge.
  • There are two things that cannot exist in the same universe—an infinite God and a martyr.
  • "Whosoever will be saved, before all things it is necessary that he hold the Catholic faith." It is not necessary, before all things, that he be good, honest, merciful, charitable and just. Creed is more important than conduct. The most important of all things is, that he hold the Catholic faith. There were thousands of years during which it was not necessary to hold that faith, because that faith did not exist; and yet during that time the virtues were just as important as now, just as important as they ever can be. Millions of the noblest of the human race never heard of this creed. Millions of the bravest and best have heard of it, examined, and rejected it. Millions of the most infamous have believed it, and because of their belief, or notwithstanding their belief, have murdered millions of their fellows. We know that men can be, have been, and are just as wicked with it as without it.

Is Divorce Wrong? (1889)

  • The world for the most part is ruled by the tomb, and the living are tyrannized over by the dead. Old ideas, long after the conditions under which they were produced have passed away, often persist in surviving. Many are disposed to worship the ancient—to follow the old paths, without inquiring where they lead, and without knowing exactly where they wish to go themselves.
  • Nothing is said in the Testament about the families of the apostles; nothing of family life, of the sacredness of home; nothing about the necessity of education, the improvement and development of the mind. These things were forgotten, for the reason that nothing, in the presence of the expected event, was considered of any importance, except to be ready when the Son of Man should come. Such was the feeling, that rewards were offered by Christ himself to those who would desert their wives and children. Human love was spoken of with contempt. “Let the dead bury their dead. What is that to thee? Follow thou me.” They not only believed these things, but acted in accordance with them; and, as a consequence, all the relations of life were denied or avoided, and their obligations disregarded.
  • The priest said to the man who married: “Remember that you are caught for life. This door opens but once. Before this den of matrimony the tracks are all one way.” This was in the nature of a punishment for having married. The theologian felt that the contract of marriage, if not contrary to God’s command, was at least contrary to his advice, and that the married ought to suffer in some way, as a matter of justice. The fact that there could be no divorce, that a mistake could not be corrected, was held up as a warning. At every wedding feast this skeleton stretched its fleshless finger towards bride and groom.
  • Marriage is the most important, the most sacred, contract that human beings can make. No matter whether we call it a contract, or a sacrament, or both, it remains precisely the same. And no matter whether this contract is entered into in the presence of magistrate or priest, it is exactly the same.
  • Ought the world to be peopled by the children of hatred or disgust, the children of lust and loathing, or by the welcome babes of mutual love? Is it possible that an infinitely wise and compassionate God insists that a helpless woman shall remain the wife of a cruel wretch? Can this add to the joy of Paradise, or tend to keep one harp in tune?
  • Marriages are made by men and women; not by society; not by the state; not by the church; not by supernatural beings. By this time we should know that nothing is moral that does not tend to the well-being of sentient beings; that nothing is virtuous the result of which is not good. We know now, if we know anything, that all the reasons for doing right, and all the reasons against doing wrong, are here in this world.
  • To me, the tenderest word in our language, the most pathetic fact within our knowledge, is maternity. Around this sacred word cluster the joys and sorrows, the agonies and ecstasies, of the human race. The mother walks in the shadow of death that she may give another life. Upon the altar of love she puts her own life in pawn. When the world is civilized, no wife will become a mother against her will.

A Christmas Sermon (1890)

  • According to the orthodox creeds, Christianity came with the tidings that the human race was totally depraved, and that all men were in a lost condition, and that all who rejected or failed to believe the new religion, would be tormented in eternal fire. These were not “tidings of great joy.” If the passengers on some great ship were told that the ship was to be wrecked, that a few would be saved and that nearly all would go to the bottom, would they talk about “tidings of great joy”?  
  • Whenever an orthodox editor attacks an unbeliever, look out for kindness, charity and love.
  • The doctrine of eternal punishment is the infamy of infamies. As I have often said, the man who believes in eternal torment, in the justice of endless pain, is suffering from at least two diseases—petrifaction of the heart and putrefaction of the brain.
  • If this dogma be true, then God will never release a soul from hell—the pardoning power will never be exercised. How happy God will be and how happy all the saved will be, knowing that billions and billions of his children, of their fathers, mothers, brothers, sisters, wives, and children are convicts in the eternal dungeons, and that the words of pardon will never be spoken!
  • What have I to say to the Doctor’s personal abuse? Nothing. A man may call me a devil, or the devil, or he may say that I am incapable of telling the truth, or that I tell lies, and yet all this proves nothing. My arguments remain unanswered. I cannot afford to call Dr. Buckley names, I have good mental manners. The cause I represent (in part) is too great, too sacred, to be stained by an ignorant or a malicious personality.
  • A minister says to me that I am going to hell—that I am bound to be punished forever and ever—and thereupon I say to him: “There is no hell you are mistaken; your Bible is not inspired; no human being is to suffer agony forever;” and thereupon, with an injured look, he asks me this question: “Why do you hurt my feelings?” It does not occur to him that I have the slightest right to object to his sentence of eternal grief.
  • It is perfectly easy for any one with the slightest imagination to understand how other people differ from him. I do not attribute a bad motive to a man simply because he disagrees with me.
  • Back of all these superstitions you will find some self-interest. I do not say that this is true in every case, but I do say that if priests had not been fond of mutton, lambs never would have been sacrificed to God. Nothing was ever carried to the temple that the priest could not use, and it always so happened that God wanted what his agents liked. Now, I will not say that all priests have been priests “for revenue only,” but I must say that the history of the world tends to show that the sacerdotal class prefer revenue without religion to religion without revenue.
  • The church has had the field for eighteen hundred years. For most of this time it has held the sword and purse of the world. For many centuries it controlled colleges and universities and schools. It had within its gift wealth and honor. It held the keys, so far as this world is concerned, of heaven and hell—that is to say, of prosperity and misfortune. It pursued its enemies even to the grave. It reddened the scaffold with the best blood, and kept the sword of persecution wet for many centuries. Thousands and thousands have died in its dungeons. Millions of reputations have been blasted by its slanders. It has made millions of widows and orphans, and it has not only ruled this world, but it has pretended to hold the keys of eternity, and under this pretence (sic) it has sentenced countless millions to eternal flames.
  • When we take into consideration the fact that the Rev. Mr. Dixon is a minister and believes that he is called upon to deliver to the people a divine message, I do not wonder that he makes the following assertion: “If God could choose Balaam’s ass to speak a divine message, I do not see why he could not utilize the Colonel.” It is natural for a man to justify himself and to defend his own occupation. Mr. Dixon, however, will remember that the ass was much superior to the prophet of God, and that the argument was all on the side of the ass. And, furthermore, that the spiritual discernment of the ass far exceeded that of the prophet. It was the ass who saw the angel when the prophet’s eye was dim.
  • It does not seem possible to me that a God who loved men to that degree that he died that they might be saved, abandons his children the moment they are dead. It seems to me that an infinite God might do something for a soul after it has reached the other world.
  • The church has not been in the habit of pursuing enemies with kind words and charitable deeds. To tell the truth, it has always been rather relentless. It has preached forgiveness, but it has never forgiven. There is in the history of Christendom no instance where the church has extended the hand of friendship to a man who denied the truth of its creed. There is in the church no spirit—no climate—of compromise. In the nature of things there can be none, because the church claims that it is absolutely right—that there is only one road leading to heaven. It demands unconditional surrender. It will not bear contradiction. It claims to have the absolute truth. For these reasons it cannot consistently compromise, any more than a mathematician could change the multiplication table to meet the view of some one who should deny that five times five are twenty-five.
  • I do not remember that one science is mentioned in the New Testament. There is not one word, so far as I remember, about education—nothing about any science, nothing about art. The writers of the New Testament seem to have thought that the world was about coming to an end. This world was to be sacrificed absolutely to the next. The affairs of this life were not worth speaking of. All people were exhorted to prepare at once for the other life.
  • All that Christianity has added to morality is worthless and useless. Not only so—it has been hurtful. Take Christianity from morality and the useful is left, but take morality from Christianity and the useless remains.
  • We all know that the Bible upholds slavery in its very worst and most cruel form; and how it can be said that a religion founded upon a Bible that upholds the institution of slavery has taught and established the fact of human brotherhood, is beyond my imagination to conceive.
  • I cheerfully admit that we are indebted to Christianity for some learning, and that the human mind has been developed by the discussion of the absurdities of superstition. Certainly millions and millions have had what might be called mental exercise, and their minds may have been somewhat broadened by the examination, even, of these absurdities, contradictions, and impossibilities.
  • For hundreds of years the Bible was the standard, and whenever anything was asserted in any science contrary to-the Bible, the church immediately denounced the scientist. I admit the standard has been changed, and ministers are very busy, not trying to show that science does not agree with the Bible, but that the Bible agrees with science.
  • Christian chronology gives the age of the first man, and then gives the line from father to son down to the flood, and from the flood down to the coming of Christ, showing that men have been upon the earth only about six thousand years. This chronology is infinitely absurd, and I do not believe that there is an intelligent, well-educated Christian in the world, having examined the subject, who will say that the Christian chronology is correct.
  • If an infinite God created us all, he knew exactly what we would do. If he gave us free will it does not change the result, because he knew how we would use the free will. Now, if he knew that billions upon billions would refuse to take the remedy, and consequently would suffer eternal pain, why create them? There would have been much less misery in the world had he left them dust. What right has a God to make a failure? Why should he change dust into a sentient being, knowing that that being was to be the heir of endless agony?
  • The Rev. Mr. Hamilton, enjoying my dying agony in imagination, says: “Let the world wait but for a few years at the most, when Death’s icy fingers feel for the heartstrings of the boaster, and, as most of his like who have gone before him have done, he will sing another strain.” How shall I characterize the spirit that could prompt the writing of such a sentence? The reverend gentleman “loves his enemies,” and yet he is filled with glee when he thinks of the agonies I shall endure when Death’s icy fingers feel for the strings of my heart! Yet I have done him no harm.
  • The Good Samaritan was not a Hebrew. He was not one of “the chosen people.” He was a poor, “miserable heathen,” who knew nothing about the Jehovah of the Old Testament, and who had never heard of the “scheme of salvation.” And yet, according to Christ, he was far more charitable than the Levites—the priests of Jehovah, the highest of “the chosen people.” Is it not perfectly plain from this story that charity was in the world before Christianity was established?
  • Dr. Buckley, who, as I understand it, is a doctor of theology—and I should think such theology stood in need of a doctor…

Why I Am an Agnostic (1896)

  • They knew that many centuries ago God had left his throne and had been born a babe into this poor world—that he had suffered death for the sake of man—for the sake of saving a few. They also knew that the human heart was utterly depraved, so that man by nature was in love with wrong and hated God with all his might. At the same time they knew that God created man in his own image and was perfectly satisfied with his work.
  • They knew all about the Flood—knew that God, with the exception of eight, drowned all his children—the old and young—the bowed patriarch and the dimpled babe—the young man and the merry maiden—the loving mother and the laughing child—because his mercy endureth forever. They knew too, that he drowned the beasts and birds—everything that walked or crawled or flew—because his loving kindness is over all his works.
  • The ministers, who preached at these revivals, were in earnest. They were zealous and sincere. They were not philosophers. To them science was the name of a vague dread—a dangerous enemy. They did not know much, but they believed a great deal. To them hell was a burning reality—they could see the smoke and flames. The Devil was no myth. He was an actual person, a rival of God, an enemy of mankind. They thought that the important business of this life was to save your soul—that all should resist and scorn the pleasures of sense, and keep their eyes steadily fixed on the golden gate of the New Jerusalem. They were unbalanced, emotional, hysterical, bigoted, hateful, loving, and insane. They really believed the Bible to be the actual word of God—a book without mistake or contradiction. They called its cruelties, justice—its absurdities, mysteries—its miracles, facts, and the idiotic passages were regarded as profoundly spiritual.
  • The truth is that this belief in eternal pain has been the real persecutor. ...It has darkened the lives of many millions. It made the cradle as terrible as the coffin. It enslaved nations and shed the blood of countless thousands. It sacrificed the wisest, the bravest and the best. It subverted the idea of justice, drove mercy from the heart, changed men to fiends and banished reason from the brain. Like a venomous serpent it crawls and coils and hisses in every orthodox creed. It makes man an eternal victim and God an eternal fiend. It is the one infinite horror. Every church in which it is taught is a public curse. Every preacher who teaches it is an enemy of mankind. Below this Christian dogma, savagery cannot go. It is the infinite of malice, hatred, and revenge. Nothing could add to the horror of hell, except the presence of its creator, God.
  • The theology taught by Milton was dear to the Puritan heart. It was accepted by New England, and it poisoned the souls and ruined the lives of thousands. The genius of Shakespeare could not make the theology of Milton poetic. In the literature of the world there is nothing, outside of the “sacred books,” more perfectly absurd.
  • We all know the beautiful hymn commencing with the cheerful line: "Hark from the tombs, a doleful sound." Nothing could have been more appropriate for children. It is well to put a coffin where it can be seen from the cradle. When a mother nurses her child, an open grave should be at her feet. This would tend to make the babe serious, reflective, religious and miserable.
  • I gave up the Old Testament on account of its mistakes, its absurdities, its ignorance and its cruelty. I gave up the New because it vouched for the truth of the Old. I gave it up on account of its miracles, its contradictions, because Christ and his disciples believed in the existence of devils—talked and made bargains with them, expelled them from people and animals. This, of itself, is enough. We know, if we know anything, that devils do not exist—that Christ never cast them out, and that if he pretended to, he was either ignorant, dishonest or insane. These stories about devils demonstrate the human, the ignorant origin of the New Testament.
  • All the theologians—all the believers in “special creation” were absolutely wrong. The Garden of Eden faded away, Adam and Eve fell back to dust, the snake crawled into the grass, and Jehovah became a miserable myth.
  • What can be more frightful than a world at-war? Every leaf a battle-field—every flower a Golgotha—in every drop of water pursuit, capture and death. Under every piece of bark, life lying in wait for life. On every blade of grass, something that kills,—something that suffers. Everywhere the strong living on the weak—the superior on the inferior. Everywhere the weak, the insignificant, living on the strong—the inferior on the superior—the highest food for the lowest—man sacrificed for the sake of microbes. Murder universal. Everywhere pain, disease and death—death that does not wait for bent forms and gray hairs, but clutches babes and happy youths. Death that takes the mother from her helpless, dimpled child—death that fills the world with grief and tears. How can the orthodox Christian explain these things?
  • The theologian says that what we call evil is for our benefit—that we are placed in this world of sin and sorrow to develop character. If this is true I ask why the infant dies? Millions and millions draw a few breaths and fade away in the arms of their mothers. They are not allowed to develop character.
  • Suppose we had a man in this country who could control the wind, the rain and lightning, and suppose we elected him to govern these things, and suppose that he allowed whole States to dry and wither, and at the same time wasted the rain in the sea. Suppose that he allowed the winds to destroy cities and to crush to shapelessness thousands of men and women, and allowed the lightnings to strike the life out of mothers and babes. What would we say? What would we think of such a savage? And yet, according to the theologians, this is exactly the course pursued by God.

The Truth (1896)

  • The Protestants say that it is the duty of every person to read, to understand, and to believe this revelation—that a man should use his reason; but if he honestly concludes that the Bible is not a revelation from God, and dies with that conclusion in his mind, he will be tormented forever. They say:—“Read,” and then add: “Believe, or be damned.” “No matter how unreasonable the Bible may appear to you, you must believe. No matter how impossible the miracles may seem, you must believe. No matter how cruel the laws, your heart must approve them all!” This is what the church calls the liberty of thought. We read the Bible under the scowl and threat of God. We read by the glare of hell.
  • To compel man to desert the standard of Reason, the church does not entirely rely on the threat of eternal pain to be endured in another world, but holds out the reward of everlasting joy. To those who believe, it promises the endless ecstasies of heaven. If it cannot frighten, it will bribe
  • But the church cries: “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and thou shalt be saved.” Without this belief there is no salvation. Salvation is the reward for belief. Belief is, and forever must be, the result of evidence. A promised reward is not evidence. It sheds no intellectual light. It establishes no fact, answers no objection, and dissipates no doubt. Is it honest to offer a reward for belief?
  • The promise of Christ to reward those who will believe is a bribe. It is an attempt to make a promise take the place of evidence. He who says that he believes, and does this for the sake of the reward, corrupts his soul.
  • They put a monster—a master—a tyrant in the sky, and seek to enslave their fellow-men. They teach the cringing virtues of serfs. They abhor the courage of manly men. They hate the man who thinks. They long for revenge. They warm their hands at the imaginary fires of hell. I show them that hell does not exist and they denounce me for destroying their consolation.
  • In a theological seminary, if a professor finds a fact inconsistent with the creed, he must keep it secret or deny it, or lose his place. Mental veracity is a crime, cowardice and hypocrisy are virtues.
  • They attacked the astronomers as though they were criminals—the geologists as though they were assassins. They regarded physicians as the enemies of God—as men who were trying to defeat the decrees of Providence. The biologists, the anthropologists, the archaeologists, the readers of ancient inscriptions, the delvers in buried cities, were all hated by the theologians. They were afraid that these men might find something inconsistent with the Bible.
  • The theologians depend on assertions. They have no evidence. They claim that their inspired book is superior to reason and independent of evidence. They talk about probability—analogy—inferences—but they present no evidence. They say that they know that Christ lived, in the same way that they know that Cæsar lived. They might add that they know Moses talked with Jehovah on Sinai the same way they know that Brigham Young talked with God in Utah. The evidence in both cases is the same,—none in either. How do they prove that Christ rose from the dead? They find the account in a book. Who wrote the book? They do not know. What evidence is this? None, unless all things found in books are true.
  • When the minister leaves the seminary, he is not seeking the truth. He has it. He has a revelation from God, and he has a creed in exact accordance with that revelation. His business is to stand by that revelation and to defend that creed. Arguments against the revelation and the creed he will not read, he will not hear. All facts that are against his religion he will deny.
  • So, ministers say that they teach charity. This is natural. They live on alms. All beggars teach that others should give.
  • They are the enemies of pleasure. They denounce dancing as one of the deadly sins. They are shocked at the wickedness of the waltz—the pollution of the polka. They are the enemies of the theatre. They slander actors and actresses. They hate them because they are rivals.
  • They insist that for the glory of God, husbands and wives who loathe each other should be compelled to live together. They abhor all works of fiction, and love the Bible.
  • These men are the enemies of science—of intellectual progress. They ridicule and calumniate the great thinkers. They deny everything that conflicts with the “sacred Scriptures.” They still believe in the astronomy of Joshua and the geology of Moses. They believe in the miracles of the past, and deny the demonstrations of the present. They are the foes of facts—the enemies of knowledge. A desire to be happy here, they regard as wicked and worldly—but a desire to be happy in another world, as virtuous and spiritual.
  • Every orthodox church is founded on mistake and falsehood. Every good orthodox minister asserts what he does not know, and denies what he does know.
  • The God of the Christian is an enthroned guess—a perhaps—an inference.

A Thanksgiving Sermon (1897)

  • Did Christ or any of his apostles add to the sum of useful knowledge? Did they say one word in favor of any science, of any art? Did they teach their fellow-men how to make a living, how to overcome the obstructions of nature, how to prevent sickness—how to protect themselves from pain, from famine, from misery and rags? Did they explain any of the phenomena of nature? Any of the facts that affect the life of man? Did they say anything in favor of investigation—of study—of thought? Did they teach the gospel of self-reliance, of industry—of honest effort? Can any farmer, mechanic, or scientist find in the New Testament one useful fact? Is there anything in the sacred book that can help the geologist, the astronomer, the biologist, the physician, the inventor—the manufacturer of any useful thing?
  • It taught that the business of this life was to prepare for death. It insisted that a certain belief was necessary to insure salvation, and that all who failed to believe, or doubted in the least would suffer eternal pain. According to the church the natural desires, ambitions and passions of man were all wicked and depraved. To love God, to practice self-denial, to overcome desire, to despise wealth, to hate prosperity, to desert wife and children, to live on roots and berries, to repeat prayers, to wear rags, to live in filth, and drive love from the heart—these, for centuries, were the highest and most perfect virtues, and those who practiced them were saints. The saints did not assist their fellow-men. Their fellow-men assisted them. They did not labor for others. They were beggars—parasites—vermin. They were insane. They followed the teachings of Christ. They took no thought for the morrow. They mutilated their bodies—scarred their flesh and destroyed their minds for the sake of happiness in another world. During the journey of life they kept their eyes on the grave.
  • Disease was produced by devils and could be cured only by priests, decaying bones, and holy water. Doctors were the rivals of priests. They diverted the revenues. The church opposed the study of anatomy—was against the dissection of the dead. Man had no right to cure disease—God would do that through his priests. Man had no right to prevent disease—diseases were sent by God as judgments. The church opposed inoculation—vaccination, and the use of chloroform and ether. It was declared to be a sin, a crime for a woman to lessen the pangs of motherhood. The church declared that woman must bear the curse of the merciful Jehovah. What has the church done? It taught that the insane were inhabited by devils. Insanity was not a disease. It was produced by demons. It could be cured by prayers—gifts, amulets and charms. All these had to be paid for. This enriched the church. These ideas were honestly entertained by Protestants as well as Catholics—by Luther, Calvin, Knox and Wesley.
  • It taught the awful doctrine of witchcraft. It filled the darkness with demons—the air with devils, and the world with grief and shame. It charged men, women and children with being in league with Satan to injure their fellows. Old women were convicted for causing storms at sea—for preventing rain and for bringing frost. Girls were convicted for having changed themselves into wolves, snakes and toads. These witches were burned for causing diseases—for selling their souls and for souring beer. All these things were done with the aid of the Devil who sought to persecute the faithful, the lambs of God. Satan sought in many ways to scandalize the church. He sometimes assumed the appearance of a priest and committed crimes.
  • What has the church done? It made the wife a slave—the property of the husband, and it placed the husband as much above the wife as Christ was above the husband. It taught that a nun is purer, nobler than a mother. It induced millions of pure and conscientious girls to renounce the joys of life—to take the veil woven of night and death, to wear the habiliments of the dead—made them believe that they were the brides of Christ. For my part, I would as soon be a widow as the bride of a man who had been dead for eighteen hundred years. The poor deluded girls imagined that they, in some mysterious way, were in spiritual wedlock united with God. All worldly desires were driven from their hearts. They filled their lives with fastings—with prayers—with self-accusings. They forgot fathers and mothers and gave their love to the invisible. They were the victims, the convicts of superstition—prisoners in the penitentiaries of God. Conscientious, good, sincere—insane. These loving women gave their hearts to a phantom, their lives to a dream.
  • Priests, theologians, have taken advantage of women—of their gentleness—their love of approbation. They have lived upon their hopes and fears. Like vampires, they have sucked their blood. They have made them responsible for the sins of the world. They have taught them the slave virtues—meekness, humility—implicit obedience. They have fed their minds with mistakes, mysteries and absurdities. They have endeavored to weaken and shrivel their brains, until, to them, there would be no possible connection between evidence and belief—between fact and faith.
  • The church regarded epidemics as the messengers of the good God. The “Black Death” was sent by the eternal Father, whose mercy spared some and whose justice murdered the rest. To stop the scourge, they tried to soften the heart of God by kneelings and prostrations—by processions and prayers—by burning incense and by making vows. They did not try to remove the cause. The cause was God. They did not ask for pure water, but for holy water. Faith and filth lived or rather died together. Religion and rags, piety and pollution kept company. Sanctity kept its odor.
  • We know that they convinced millions that celibacy is the greatest of all virtues—that women are perpetual temptations, the enemies of true holiness—that monks and priests are nobler than fathers, that nuns are purer than mothers. We know that they taught the blessed absurdity of the Trinity—that God once worked at the trade of a carpenter in Palestine. We know that they divided knowledge into sacred and profane—taught that Revelation was sacred—that Reason was blasphemous—that faith was holy and facts false.
  • They thought the earth was flat—a little dishing if anything—that it was about five thousand years old, and that the stars were little sparkles made to beautify the night. The fact is that Christianity was in existence for fifteen hundred years before there was an astronomer in Christendom. No follower of Christ knew the shape of the earth.
  • I thank the great scientists—those who have reached the foundation, the bed-rock—who have built upon facts—the great scientists, in whose presence theologians look silly and feel malicious. The scientists never persecuted, never imprisoned their fellow-men. They forged no chains, built no dungeons, erected no scaffolds—tore no flesh with red hot pincers—dislocated no joints on racks—crushed no bones in iron boots—extinguished no eyes—tore out no tongues and lighted no fagots. They did not pretend to be inspired—did not claim to be prophets or saints or to have been born again. They were only intelligent and honest men. They did not appeal to force or fear. They did not regard men as slaves to be ruled by torture, by lash and chain, nor as children to be cheated with illusions, rocked in the cradle of an idiot creed and soothed by a lullaby of lies. They did not wound—they healed. They did not kill—they lengthened life. They did not enslave—they broke the chains and made men free. They sowed the seeds of knowledge, and many millions have reaped, are reaping, and will reap the harvest of joy.

The Children of the Stage (1899)

Full text online
  • The hands that help are holier than the lips that pray.

What Would You Substitute for the Bible as a Moral Guide? (1900)

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.
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.
Written for The Boston Investigator (unknown date), also published in The Works of Robert G. Ingersoll, Vol. XI : Miscellany (1900), p. 537 - Full essay online
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.
  • 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 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.
  • 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 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 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.

Answer to Lyman Abbott (unfinished), responding to Abbott, Lyman. "Flaws in Ingersollism." The North American Review 150, no. 401 (1890): 446-457.

  • I do not think idolatry the worst of sins. Cruelty is the worst of sins. It is far better to worship a false God, than to injure your neighbor—far better to bow before a monstrosity of stone, than to enslave your fellow-men.
  • I am glad that you admit that a bad God is worse than no God. If so, the atheist is far better than the believer in Jehovah, and far better than the believer in the divinity of Jesus Christ—because I am perfectly satisfied that none but a bad God would threaten to say to any human soul, “Depart, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels.” So that, before any Christian can be better than an atheist, he must reform his God.
  • The agnostic does not simply say, “I do not know.” He goes another step, and he says, with great emphasis, that you do not know. He insists that you are trading on the ignorance of others, and on the fear of others. He is not satisfied with saying that you do not know,—he demonstrates that you do not know, and he drives you from the field of fact—he drives you from the realm of reason—he drives you from the light, into the darkness of conjecture—into the world of dreams and shadows, and he compels you to say, at last, that your faith has no foundation in fact.
  • The church has not turned the minds of men toward principles of justice, mercy and truth—it has destroyed the foundation of justice. It does not minister comfort at the coffin—it fills the mourners with fear. It has never preached a gospel of “Peace on Earth”—it has never preached “Good Will toward men.”
  • I do not say that I do not know whether this faith is true, or not. I say distinctly and clearly, that I know it is not true. I admit that I do not know whether there is any infinite personality or not, because I do not know that my mind is an absolute standard. But according to my mind, there is no such personality; and according to my mind, it is an infinite absurdity to suppose that there is such an infinite personality. But I do know something of human nature; I do know a little of the history of mankind; and I know enough to know that what is known as the Christian faith, is not true. I am perfectly satisfied, beyond all doubt and beyond all per-adventure, that all miracles are falsehoods. I know as well as I know that I live—that others live—that what you call your faith, is not true.
  • The “magnificent Psalm of Praise to the Creator with which Genesis opens” is filled with magnificent mistakes, and is utterly absurd. “The beautiful legend of the first sin and its fateful consequences” is probably the most contemptible story that was ever written, and the treatment of the first pair by Jehovah is unparalleled in the cruelty of despotic governments. According to this infamous account, God cursed the mothers of the world, and added to the agonies of maternity. Not only so, but he made woman a slave, and man something, if possible, meaner—a master.


  • These heroes are dead. They died for liberty — they died for us. They are at rest. They sleep in the land they made free, under the flag they rendered stainless, under the solemn pines, the sad hemlocks, the tearful willows, the embracing vines. They sleep beneath the shadows of the clouds, careless alike of sunshine or storm, each in the windowless palace of rest. Earth may run red with other wars — they are at peace. In the midst of battles, in the roar of conflict, they found the serenity of death.
    • Memorial Day Vision. Reported in Bartlett's Familiar Quotations, 10th ed. (1919).


  • [O]ur forefathers retired God from politics…. The Declaration of Independence announces the sublime truth that all power comes from the people. This was a denial, and the first denial of a nation, of the infamous dogma that God confers the right upon one man to govern others…. Our fathers founded the first secular government that was ever founded in this world.
    • Misquoted by David Barton in Original Intent (1996), splicing part of Individuality (1973) into a misquote of 1876 Centennial Oration (see above).

Quotes about Ingersoll

  • Robert G. Ingersoll and Wendell Phillips were the two greatest orators of their time, and probably of all time. Their power sprang from their passion for freedom, for truth, for justice, for a world filled with light and with happy human beings. But for this divine passion neither would have scaled the sublime heights of immortal achievement. The sacred fire burned within them and when they were aroused it flashed from their eyes and rolled from their inspired lips in torrents of eloquence. Had Ingersoll and Phillips devoted their lives to the practice of law for pay the divine fire within them would have burned to ashes and they would have died in mediocrity.
  • I've just come to my room, Livy darling, I guess this was the memorable night of my life. By George, I never was so stirred since I was born. I heard four speeches which I can never forget... one by that splendid old soul, Col. Bob Ingersoll, — oh, it was just the supremest combination of English words that was ever put together since the world began. My soul, how handsome he looked, as he stood on that table, in the midst of those 500 shouting men, and poured the molten silver from his lips! Lord, what an organ is human speech when it is played by a master! All these speeches may look dull in print, but how the lightning glared around them when they were uttered, and how the crowd roared in response! It was a great night, a memorable night.
  • No images nor idols make
    For Robert Ingersoll to break.
  • Robert Ingersoll was humorist, iconoclast and lover of humanity.
    It is said that the difference between man and the lower animals is that man has the ability to laugh.
    When you laugh you relax, and when you relax you give freedom to muscles, nerves and brain-cells. Man seldom has use of his reason when his brain is tense. The sense of humor makes a condition where reason can act.
    Ingersoll knew that he must make his appeal to man's brain.
  • Robert Ingersoll preferred to every political and social honor the privilege of freeing humanity from the shackles of bondage and fear. He knew no holier thing than truth. He preferred using his own reason to receiving popular applause or approbation. His keen wit, clear brain and merciless sarcasm uncrowned the King of Superstition and made him a puppet in the court of reason.
  • It was Uncle Dan who first broke down my faith in the Bible stories, by reading Robert Ingersoll to me. "What a poor idea Noah must have had of ventilation!" I can remember him saying. "How could all those people and animals possibly have stayed alive in the Ark if the only time they had any air was when the one window was opened for the dove to fly out!" I was so fascinated both by Ingersoll's flowing beautiful language and his ideas, that I began to read everything of his I could lay my hands on. Ingersoll, known as "the great agnostic," was attacked by orthodox ministers all over the country. He had been a colonel in the Civil War and as a leading Republican lawyer could have held high political office. But his fearless agnostic lectures made this impossible. His writings were widely read for a generation and greatly influenced American thinking. No other orator except Debs has ever appealed to me as did Ingersoll. Deb's analogies and imagery were so like those of Ingersoll that people sometimes said he copied Ingersoll. This, of course, was not true, but Debs did soak himself in Ingersoll's writings before speaking and quoted Ingersoll frequently. Ingersoll, to be sure, knew nothing of the class struggle. His chief concern was to free people's minds of superstition-he was a revolutionary in religion only.
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