Ingersoll could not understand the mind of those who, once having been told the truth, preferred to remain under the spell of superstition and in ignorance. He could not understand why people would not accept 'new truths with gladness.' He also knew, however, that once a person's mind had been poisoned with religious superstition, it was almost impossible to free it from the paralyzing fear which destroyed its ability to think.
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The history of man proves that religion perverts man's concept of life and the universe, and has made him a cringing coward before the blind forces of nature. If you believe that there is a God; that man was 'created'; that he was forbidden to eat of the fruit of the 'tree of knowledge'; that he disobeyed; that he is a 'fallen angel'; that he is paying the penalty for his 'sins, ' then you devote your time praying to appease an angry and jealous God. If, on the other hand, you believe that the universe is a great mystery; that man is the product of evolution; that he is born without knowledge; that intelligence comes from experience, then you devote your time and energies to improving his condition with the hope of securing a little happiness here for yourself and your fellow man. That is the difference. If man was 'created, ' then someone made a grievous mistake.
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It is inconceivable that any form of intelligence would waste so much time and effort to make such an inferior piece of life-with all the 'ills that flesh is heir to, ' and with all the misery and suffering that is so essential a part of living. If man is a 'fallen angel, ' by the commission of a 'sin, ' then disease and sorrow are part of God's inscrutable plan as a penalty imposed upon him for his 'disobedience, ' and man's entire life is devoted to the expiation of that sin so as to soften the indictment before the 'Throne of God.' Man's atonement consists in making himself as miserable as possible by praying, fasting, masochism, flagellations and other forms of torture. This sadistic delusion causes him to insist that others-under pain of punishment-be as miserable as himself, for fear that if others fail to do as he does, it will provoke the wrath of his tyrant God to a more severe chastisement. The inevitable result is that Man devotes his life, not to the essentials of living and the making of a happy home, but to the building of temples and churches where he can 'lift his voice to God' in a frenzy of fanaticism, and eventually he becomes a victim of hysteria. His time and energy are wasted to cleanse his 'soul, ' which he does not possess, and to save himself from a future punishment in hell which exists only in his imagination.
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When man comes to the realization that he is not the "favorite" of God; that he was not specially created, that the universe was not made for his benefit, and that he is subject to the same laws of nature as all other forms of life, then, and not until then, will he understand that he must rely upon himself, and himself alone, for whatever benefits he is to enjoy; and devote his time and energies to helping himself and his fellow men to meet the exigencies of life and to set about to solve the difficult and intricate problems of living. The recognition of a problem is the first step to its solution- We are not "fallen" angels, nor were we "created" perfect. On the contrary, we are the product of millions of years of an unpurposed evolution. We are the descendants and inheritors of all the defects of our primitive ancestry-the evolution of the myriad forms of life from the infinitesimal to the mammoth-from the worm to the dinosaur.
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You are to make up your mind whether it is to be God or man. Whether you are to be free or a slave. Whether it is to be progress or stagnation. As long as man loves a phantom in the sky more than he loves his fellow man, there will never be peace upon this earth; so long as man worships a Tyrant as the "Fatherhood of God, " there will never be a "Brotherhood of Man." You must make the choice, you must come to the decision. Is it to be God or Man? Churches or Homes-preparation for death or happiness for the living? If ever man needed an example of the benefit of the one against the other, he need but read the pages of history for proof of how religion retarded progress and provoked hatred among the children of men. When theology ruled the world, man was a slave. The people lived in huts and hovels. They were clad in rags and skins; they devoured crusts and gnawed bones; the priests wore garments of silk and satin; carried mitres of gold and precious stones, robbed the poor and lived upon the fat of the land! Here and there a brave man appeared to question their authority. These martyrs to intellectual emancipation slowly and painfully broke the spell of superstition and ushered in the Age of Reason and the Dawn of Science. Man became the only god that man can know. He no longer fell upon his knees in fear. He began to enjoy the fruits of his own labor. He discovered a way to relieve himself from the drudgery of continuous toil; he began to enjoy a few comforts of life-and for the first time upon this earth he found a few moments for happiness. It is far more important to learn how to live than to learn how to pray. A new day and a new era dawned for him. His labors produced enormous dividends. He looked at the sky for the first time and saw that it was blue! He searched the heavens and found no God. He no longer feared the manifestations of nature.
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Man's inhumanity to man will continue as long as man loves God more than he loves his fellow man. The love of God means wasted love. 'For God and Country' means a divided allegiance-a 50 per cent patriot. The most abused word in the language of man is the word 'God.' The reason for this is that it is subject to so much abuse. There is no other word in the human language that is as meaningless and incapable of explanation as is the word 'God.' It is the beginning and end of nothing. It is the Alpha and Omega of Ignorance. It has as many meanings as there are minds. And as each person has an opinion of what the word God ought to mean, it is a word without premise, without foundation, and without substance. It is without validity. It is all things to all people, and is as meaningless as it is indefinable. It is the most dangerous in the hands of the unscrupulous, and is the joker that trumps the ace. It is the poisoned word that has paralyzed the brain of man. 'The fear of the Lord' is not the beginning of wisdom; on the contrary, it has made man a groveling slave; it has made raving lunatics of those who have attempted to interpret what God 'is' and what is supposed to be our 'duty' to God. It has made man prostitute the most precious things of life-it has made him sacrifice wife, and child, and home. 'In the name of God' means in the name of nothing-it has caused man to be a wastrel with the precious elixir of life, because there is no God.
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The Biblical writers not only had no knowledge of these things, but they had a perverted concept of life and the universe. Their concept was that man was a victim of blood pollution and his only salvation was by a blood atonement. I remember once seeing a small pamphlet entitled, 'What the Bible Teaches about Morality.' On opening the little booklet, it was discovered to be nothing but blank pages! Another such pamphlet might very appropriately be published entitled, 'What the Bible Reveals about Disease, Medicine and Health, ' and blank pages should be used for all the Bible contains about these vital subjects. On the contrary, these benefits have been denounced by the believers in the Bible, and by the representatives of the Bible's deity as being contrary to 'God's Plan.' Does not the Bible plainly state that only by the sweat of his brow is man to labor for the bread he eats? Here is the exact Biblical quotation: 'In the sweat of thy face thou shalt eat bread... ' and why? Only because he sought knowledge. And does not the Bible God place a curse upon man for the knowledge that has been such a solace and benefit to him? Here is another exact Biblical quotation: '... cursed be the ground for thy sake; in pain thou shalt eat of it all the days of thy life.' The Bible is a lie. It is a fake and a fraud. I denounce this book and its God. I hold it in utter detestation. Every man and woman who has contributed to the relief of the pain and suffering of humanity has been an infidel to the Bible God! Every new invention, every new discovery for the benefit of man violates these Biblical edicts! I say, seek knowledge-defy this tyrant God-it is your only salvation.
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Many ask what difference does it make whether man believes in a God or not. It makes a big difference. It makes all the difference in the world. It is the difference between being right and being wrong; it is the difference between truth and surmises-facts or delusion. It is the difference between the earth being flat, and the earth being round. It is the difference between the earth being the center of the universe, or a tiny speck in this vast and uncharted sea of multitudinous suns and galaxies. It is the difference in the proper concept of life, or conclusions based upon illusion. It is the difference between verified knowledge and the faith of religion. It is a question of Progress or the Dark Ages.
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We not only do not believe that man is punished for his 'sins, ' but emphatically state that there is no such thing as sin. There are wrongs and injustices, but no sin. Sin, like purgatory and hell, was invented by priests, first to frighten, and then to rob the living. We do not fear these myths and curses, and that is why we devote our time and energies to help our fellow man. That is why we build educational institutions and seek, by a slow and painful process, to teach man the true nature of the universe and a proper understanding of his place as a member in society. At the same time we try to fortify his mind with courage to withstand the rebuffs, the trials and tribulations of life. That it is a difficult and arduous task no one can deny because we cannot correct all of 'God's mistakes' in one life time. As Ingersoll so succinctly states: 'Nature cannot pardon.' Remember this: You are not a depraved human being. You have no sins to atone for. There is no need for fear. There are no ghosts-holy or otherwise. Stop making yourself miserable for 'the love of God.' Drive this monster of tyrannic fear from your mind, and enjoy the inestimable freedom of an emancipated human being.
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I remember on one of my many visits with Thomas A. Edison, I brought up the question of Ingersoll. I asked this great genius what he thought of him, and he replied, 'He was grand.' I told Mr. Edison that I had been invited to deliver a radio address on Ingersoll, and would he be kind enough to write me a short appreciation of him. This he did, and a photostat of that letter is now a part of this house. In it you will read what Mr. Edison wrote. He said: 'I think that Ingersoll had all the attributes of a perfect man, and, in my opinion, no finer personality ever existed... ' I mention this as an indication of the tremendous influence Ingersoll had upon the intellectual life of his time. To what extent did Ingersoll influence Edison? It was Thomas A. Edison's freedom from the narrow boundaries of theological dogma, and his thorough emancipation from the degrading and stultifying creed of Christianity, that made it possible for him to wrest from nature her most cherished secrets, and bequeath to the human race the richest of legacies. Mr. Edison told me that when Ingersoll visited his laboratories, he made a record of his voice, but stated that the reproductive devices of that time were not as good as those later developed, and, therefore, his magnificent voice was lost to posterity.
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As long as there is one person suffering an injustice; as long as one person is forced to bear an unnecessary sorrow; as long as one person is subject to an undeserved pain, the worship of a God is a demoralizing humiliation. As long as there is one mistake in the universe; as long as one wrong is permitted to exist; as long as there is hatred and antagonism among mankind, the existence of a God is a moral impossibility. Ingersoll said: 'Injustice upon earth renders the justice of of heaven impossible.
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No institution of learning of Ingersoll's day had courage enough to confer upon him an honorary degree; not only for his own intellectual accomplishments, but also for his influence upon the minds of the learned men and women of his time and generation. Robert G. Ingersoll never received a prize for literature. The same prejudice and bigotry which prevented his getting an honorary college degree, militated against his being recognized as 'the greatest writer of the English language on the face of the earth, ' as Henry Ward Beecher characterized him. Aye, in all the history of literature, Robert G. Ingersoll has never been excelled - except by only one man, and that man was - William Shakespeare. And yet there are times when Ingersoll even surpassed the immortal Bard. Yes, there are times when Ingersoll excelled even Shakespeare, in expressing human emotions, and in the use of language to express a thought, or to paint a picture. I say this fully conscious of my own admiration for that 'intellectual ocean, whose waves touched all the shores of thought.' Ingersoll was perfection himself. Every word was properly used. Every sentence was perfectly formed. Every noun, every verb and every object was in its proper place. Every punctuation mark, every comma, every semicolon, and every period was expertly placed to separate and balance each sentence. To read Ingersoll, it seems that every idea came properly clothed from his brain. Something rare indeed in the history of man's use of language in the expression of his thoughts. Every thought came from his brain with all the beauty and perfection of the full blown rose, with the velvety petals delicately touching each other. Thoughts of diamonds and pearls, rubies and sapphires rolled off his tongue as if from an inexhaustible mine of precious stones. Just as the cut of the diamond reveals the splendor of its brilliance, so the words and construction of the sentences gave a charm and beauty and eloquence to Ingersoll's thoughts. Ingersoll had everything: The song of the skylark; the tenderness of the dove; the hiss of the snake; the bite of the tiger; the strength of the lion; and perhaps more significant was the fact that he used each of these qualities and attributes, in their proper place, and at their proper time. He knew when to embrace with the tenderness of affection, and to resist and denounce wickedness and tyranny with that power of denunciation which he, and he alone, knew how to express.
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It is because of the Biblical curse on man's search for knowledge, which has so paralyzed his mind during the past ages, and its detrimental effect upon progress, that makes the Bible the most wicked, the most detestable, the most pernicious, and the most obnoxious book ever published. It has been a curse to the human race. It is the duty of every brave and honest man and woman to do everything in his and her power to destroy the influence of this utterly stupid and vicious book, with its infantile concept of life and its nonsense concerning the universe. It is their duty to do everything within their power to stop its demoralizing and paralyzing influence upon the life of man. We will never achieve intellectual liberty until the wickedness of this book has been discarded with the belief in the flatness of the earth.
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When I visited George Bernard Shaw, in 1948, at his home in Aylot, a suburb of London, he was extremely anxious for me to tell him all that I knew about Ingersoll. During the course of the conversation, he told me that Ingersoll had made a tremendous impression upon him, and had exercised an influence upon him probably greater than that of any other man. He seemed particularly anxious to impress me with the importance of Ingersoll's influence upon his intellectual endeavors and accomplishments. In view of this admission, what percentage of the greatness of Shaw belongs to Ingersoll? If Ingersoll's influence upon so great an intellect as George Bernard Shaw was that extensive, what must have been his influence upon others? What seed of wisdom did he plant into the minds of others, and what accomplishments of theirs should be attributed to him? The world will never know. What about the countless thousands from whom he lifted the clouds of darkness and fear, and who were emancipated from the demoralizing dogmas and creeds of ignorance and superstition? What will be Ingersoll's influence upon the minds of future generations, who will come under the spell of his magic words, and who will be guided into the channels of human betterment by the unparalleled example of his courageous life? The debt the world owes Robert G. Ingersoll can never be paid.
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To build a church when a school house is needed is to perpetrate a theft upon education. To build a church when a hospital is needed is to take from the parched lips of the sick the cup of relief and from the suffering the merciful hand of help. When the object of man's conduct will be to improve the conditions of his fellow man and not the appeasement of a mythical God, he will become more understanding and more indulgent of the frailties, mistakes, and action of others, and by the same token he will become more appreciative of their efforts. He will develop a greater consciousness to avoid mistakes and to prevent injury. Life and its living will take on a greater significance, and our efforts and energies will be devoted to creating as much joy and happiness as possible for all living creatures.
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If you do not want to stop the wheels of progress; if you do not want to go back to the Dark Ages; if you do not want to live again under tyranny, then you must guard your liberty, and you must not let the church get control of your government. If you do, you will lose the greatest legacy ever bequeathed to the human race-intellectual freedom. Now let me tell you another thing. If all the energy and wealth wasted upon religion-in all of its varied forms-had been spent to understand life and its problems, we would today be living under conditions that would seem almost like Utopia. Most of our social and domestic problems would have been solved, and equally as important, our understanding and relations with the other peoples of the world would have, by now, brought about universal peace. Man would have a better understanding of his motives and actions, and would have learned to curb his primitive instincts for revenge and retaliation. He would, by now, know that wars of hate, aggression, and aggrandizement are only productive of more hate and more human suffering. The enlightened and completely emancipated man from the fears of a God and the dogma of hate and revenge would make him a brother to his fellow man. He would devote his energies to discoveries and inventions, which theology previously condemned as a defiance of God, but which have proved so beneficial to him. He would no longer be a slave to a God and live in cringing fear!
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It is now established by verifiable evidence that religion stultifies the brain and is the great obstacle in the path of intellectual progress. The more religious a person is, the more he is steeped in ignorance and superstition, the less is his sense of moral responsibility. The more intelligent a person, the less religious he is. There is an old saying that 'where there are three scientists, there are two atheists.' The countries whose governments are dominated by religion and religious institutions are the most backward. By the same token, the countries whose people are the most enlightened, and whose governments are based upon the principle of secularism-the separation of church and state-are the most progressive. And let me tell you: When man is intellectually free, the progress he will make is beyond calculation.
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Could I but acquaint the world with Robert G. Ingersoll's humanity, with his ideas and his sentiments of love, patience and understanding, a renascence would automatically take place that would give life and living on this little earth of ours some semblance of what we call paradise. And this great and wonderful man had to die! I do not know the purpose of life, nor do I understand why death should come to all that is; but this I do know - that when Robert G. Ingersoll died, on July 21, 1899, then you and I, and the whole world, suffered a mortal blow. When the mighty heart, of his mighty body, that supplied the blood to his mighty brain, burst, never again was there to fall from his eloquent lips the pearls of thought that had been so wondrously formed in his brain. The mightiest voice in all the world was silenced, forever. No wonder the people wept when they heard that Ingersoll was dead. He was the greatest of the Great - the Mightiest of the Mighty. He was 'as constant as the Northern Star whose true fixed and resting quality there is no fellow in the firmament.' He was the indistinguishable star whose brilliance never dimmed. When Robert G. Ingersoll died, his death was 'the ruins of the noblest man that ever lived in the tide of time... When shall we ever see another?' When Robert G. Ingersoll died, the sky should have been rent asunder, and Nature should have gone into mourning. When this man died, Nature's masterpiece was destroyed, and hot tears of grief should have fallen from the heavens. Robert G. Ingersoll no longer belongs to his family; He no longer belongs to his friends; He no longer belongs to his country; Robert G. Ingersoll now belongs to all the world - the whole universe - He is immortal and eternal. Among the galaxies of Nature's masterpieces, none shine with a greater brilliance than the babe who was born in this house 121 years ago today, and named Robert Green Ingersoll.
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