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Bill Bucko


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Great Free-Thinkers of History



a selection from his works

compiled by Bill Bucko

Somebody ought to tell the truth about the Bible. The preachers dare not, because they would be driven from their pulpits. Professors in colleges dare not, because they would lose their salaries. Politicians dare not. They would be defeated. Editors dare not. They would lose subscribers. Merchants dare not, because they might lose customers. Men of fashion dare not, fearing that they would lose caste. Even clerks dare not, because they might be discharged. And so, I thought I would do it myself.

With those words, Bob Ingersoll began his pamphlet “The Truth About the Holy Bible.” And tell the truth he did. Robert G. Ingersoll (1833-1899) was one of the most popular lecturers in the United States, in the late 1800’s. Born in New York, the son of a minister, he became a successful lawyer and prominent politician in the Democratic Party of Illinois. He hated slavery so much that in 1862 he raised a regiment of cavalry to fight as a colonel in the Union Army, becoming a lifelong convert to the Republican Party in the process. After the Civil War he earned a handsome living as the “Great Agnostic,” ready to take on orthodoxy at the drop of a hat on lecture platforms across the country. When ministers denounced him, he laughed that perhaps they were upset because he drew bigger audiences at a dollar a head than they could gather for free ... In spite of his controversial views he was asked to run for governor of Illinois, and in 1882 even to run for president. Both times he declined, saying he didn’t want to bring the religious disputes that would inevitably follow into the realm of politics, where they did not belong.

Ingersoll himself, with typical dry wit, placed his disillusionment with the Bible at an early date:

That which has happened to all, happened to me. I was born, and this event which has never for a moment ceased to influence my life, took place, according to an entry found in one Bible, on the 12th day of August in the year of grace 1833, according to another entry in another Bible, on the 11th of August in the same year. So you will see, that a contradiction was about the first thing I found in the Bible, and I have continued to find contradictions in the Sacred Volume all my life.

[introduction to “A Few Reasons for Doubting the Inspiration of the Bible”]

Like his great predecessor Thomas Paine, he was an intellectual go-between, one of the thinkers who conveyed the pro-reason ideas of the Enlightenment to the general public. In scores of lectures, speeches, and press interviews he tackled Christian bigotry and ignorance head-on, fighting prehistoric superstition with logic and decency as his only weapons. He became the most well-known unbeliever of the 19th century, and his name was a household word.

Let’s examine some more quotes from Ingersoll’s works:


Ingersoll easily disposed of the argument that the universe requires a Creator:

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.

[“Debates with the Clergy,” p. 11]

Why not say that the universe has existed from eternity, as well as to say that a Creator has existed from eternity? And do you not thus avoid at least one absurdity ...?

[“65 Press Interviews,” p. 66]

Is there any merit to the argument that the universe shows evidence of an intelligent Planner? Ingersoll’s answer was straightforward:

You must remember, too, that the argument of design is applicable to all. You are not at liberty to stop at sunrise and sunset and growing corn and all that adds to the happiness of man; you must go farther. You must admit that an infinitely wise and merciful God designed the fangs of serpents, the machinery by which the poison is distilled, the ducts by which it is carried to the fang, and that the same intelligence impressed this serpent with a desire to deposit this deadly virus in the flesh of man ... Do you see the same design in cancers that you do in wheat and corn? Did God invent tumors for the brain?

[“Faith or Agnosticism?,” p. 44]

Only a few days ago our President [Wm. McKinley] by proclamation, thanked God for giving us the victory at Santiago. He did not thank him for sending the yellow fever. To be consistent the President should have thanked him equally for both. Man should think; he should use all his senses; he should examine; he should reason.

[“Christ and the Colonel,” p. 89]

Nor does anything else said about this alleged god make sense:

You insist that a knowledge of God—a belief in God—is the foundation of social order; and yet this God of infinite tenderness has left for thousands and thousands of years nearly all of his children without a revelation. Why should infinite goodness leave the existence of God in doubt? ... Why did he leave this great truth to a few half-crazed prophets, or to a cruel, heartless and ignorant Church? The sentence “There is a God” could have been imprinted on every blade of grass, on every leaf, on every star. An infinite God has no excuse for leaving his children in doubt and darkness.

[“Faith or Agnosticism?”, pp. 44-45]

If a revelation from God was actually necessary to the happiness of man here and to his salvation hereafter, it is not easy to see why such revelation was not given to all the nations of the earth. Why were the millions of Asia, Egypt, and America left to the insufficient light of nature?

[“A Few Reasons for Doubting ...”, pp. 4-5]

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? ... If a man standing on the railway should ascertain that a bridge had been carried off by a flood, and if he also knew that the train was coming filled with men, women, and children ... if he made no effort to stop that train ... he would be denounced by every good man as the most monstrous of human beings. And yet this is exactly what the supposed God does.

[“Debates with the Clergy,” p. 15]

If you had the power to give sight to the blind, to cleanse the leper, and would not exercise it, what would be thought of you?

[“Faith or Agnosticism?”, p. 25]

Ingersoll correctly observed that Deism suffers from some of the same difficulties as belief in the God of the Bible:

A few years ago the Deists denied the inspiration of the Bible on account of its cruelty. At the same time they worshipped what they were pleased to call the God of Nature. Now we are convinced that Nature is as cruel as the Bible; so that, if the God of Nature did not write the Bible, this God at least has caused earthquakes and pestilence and famine, and this God has allowed millions of his children to destroy one another.

[“65 Press Interviews,” p. 109]

Belief in God is due to a deficient education:

There was a time when the Protestant clergy were in favor of education; that is to say, education enough to make a Catholic a Protestant, but not enough to make a Protestant a philosopher. The Catholics are also in favor of education enough to make a savage a Catholic, and there they stop. The Christian should never unsettle his belief. If he studies, if he reads, he is in danger. A new idea is a doubt; a doubt is the threshold of infidelity.

[“Debates with the Clergy,” pp. 25-26]

In spite of his many intellectual virtues Ingersoll called himself an agnostic. Apparently he did not fully understand the epistemological issues involved; some of his statements advance an agnostic position, while others are clearly atheistic.


The Bible is such a long book that the typical Christian (who, after all, became Christian through mental laziness) never bothers to read the “inspired” book at all, much less from cover to cover. So when some smart-aleck unbeliever points out that the Bible boasts of more atrocities than Hitler ever dreamed of, the believer tries to evade and blank it out. But Ingersoll did all he could to make that evasion harder. Following the lead of Thomas Paine’s classic The Age of Reason (1794-95), he fearlessly attacked the Bible on moral grounds:

The Bible is opposed to religious toleration—to religious liberty. Whoever differed with the majority was stoned to death. Investigation was a crime. Husbands were ordered to denounce and to assist in killing their unbelieving wives ... Is the Bible civilized? It upholds lying, larceny, robbery, murder, the selling of diseased meat to strangers, even the sacrifice of human beings to Jehovah.

[“The Truth About the Holy Bible,” p. 6]

Must we believe that God sanctioned and commanded all the cruelties and horrors described in the Old Testament; that he waged the most relentless and heartless wars; that he declared mercy a crime; that to spare life was to excite his wrath; that he smiled when maidens were violated, laughed when mothers were ripped open with a sword, and shouted with joy when babes were butchered in their mothers’ arms? Read the infamous book of Joshua, and then worship the God who inspired it if you can.

[“A Few Reasons for Doubting ...”, p. 17]

Can we blame the Hebrews for getting tired of their God? Never was a people so murdered, starved, stoned, burned, deceived, humiliated, robbed, and outraged. Never was there so little liberty among men. Never did the meanest king so meddle, eavesdrop, spy out, harass, torment, and persecute his people. Never was such ceremony, such mummery, such stuff about bullocks, goats, doves, red heifers, lambs, and unleavened dough—never were such directions about kidneys and blood, ashes and fat, about curtains, tongs, fringes, ribands, and brass pins—never such details for killing of animals and men and the sprinkling of blood and the cutting of clothes. Never were such unjust laws, such punishments, such damned ignorance and infamy!

[“A Few Reasons for Doubting ...”, p. 17-18]

If the Pentateuch [first 5 books of the Bible] is inspired, the civilization of our day is a mistake and crime. There should be no political liberty. Heresy should be trodden out beneath the bigot’s brutal feet ... We should sell our own flesh and blood, and have the right to kill our slaves. Men and women should be stoned to death for laboring on the seventh day ... Every vestige of mental liberty should be destroyed, and reason’s holy torch extinguished in the martyr’s blood.

[“A Few Reasons for Doubting ...”, p. 23]

These books [the Pentateuch] are filled with the most minute directions about killing sheep, and goats and doves; about making clothes for priests, about fashioning tongs and snuffers; and yet, they contain not one word against polygamy. It never occurred to the inspired writers that polygamy was a crime.

[“What Can You Believe in the Bible?”, pp. 20-21]

The institution of polygamy is infamous and disgusting beyond expression. It destroys what we call, and what all civilized people call, “the family” ... It is, however one of the institutions of Jehovah. It is protected by the Bible. It has inspiration on its side ... The beloved of God practiced it, and, according to the sacred word, the wisest man had, I believe, about 700 wives.

[“65 Press Interviews,” p. 84]

Was there not room enough on the tables of stone for just one word on this subject? Had he no time to give a commandment against slavery?

[“What Can You Believe in the Bible?”, p. 21]

In fact, Jehovah approved of the “peculiar institution” (see Exodus 21 and Leviticus 25); and Ingersoll never let his audiences forget it:

Those who paid for labor with the lash, and who made blows a legal tender, were Christians. Those who engaged in the slave trade were believers in a personal God. One slave ship was called “The Jehovah.” Those who pursued with hounds the fugitive led by the Northern Star prayed fervently to Christ to crown their efforts with success, and the stealers of babes, just before falling asleep, commended their souls to the keeping of the Most High.

[“Faith or Agnosticism?”, p. 25]

For my part, I never will, I never can, worship a God who upholds the institution of slavery. Such a God I hate and defy. I neither want his heaven, nor fear his hell.

[“Some Mistakes of Moses,” in The Works of Robert G. Ingersoll, Dresden edition, (New York, 1915), volume 2, p. 249]

This book [the Bible] was the auction block on which the slave-mother stood when she was sold from her child. This book filled the sails of the slave-trader and made merchandise of human flesh. This book lighted the fires that burned “witches” and “wizards.” This book filled the darkness with ghouls and ghosts, and the bodies of men and women with devils ... This book made credulity the greatest of virtues, and investigation the greatest of crimes.

[“The Truth About the Holy Bible,” p. 23]

When ministers replied that God (who, remember, is supposed to be infinitely powerful!) had to accommodate His teaching to the customs of the ancient Jews and teach them gradually how to behave, Ingersoll’s reply was devastating:

For instance: if we wanted to break cannibals of eating missionaries, we should not tell them all at once that it was wrong, that it was wicked, to eat missionaries raw; we should induce them first to cook the missionaries, and gradually wean them from raw flesh. This would be the first great step. We would stew the missionaries, and after a time put a little mutton in the stew, not enough to excite the suspicion of the cannibal, but just enough to get him in the habit of eating mutton without knowing it. Day after day we would put in more mutton and less missionary, until finally, the cannibal would be perfectly satisfied with clear mutton. Then we would tell him that it was wrong to eat missionary. After the cannibal got so that he liked mutton, and cared nothing for missionary, then it would be safe to have a law on the subject.

[“What Can You Believe in the Bible?”, p. 21]

When a minister objected to laymen such as Ingersoll judging the Bible, Ingersoll replied:

Was not God able to write a book that would command the love and admiration of the world? If the God of Mr. Talmage is infinite, he knew exactly how the stories of the Old Testament would strike a gentleman of the 19th century ... Why does not God furnish more evidence? Just in proportion as man has developed intellectually, he has demanded additional testimony. That which satisfies a barbarian, excites only the laughter of a civilized man. Certainly God should furnish evidence in harmony with the spirit of the age.

[“What Can You Believe in the Bible?”, p. 25]

God is a guess ... The dogma of the Trinity multiplies the difficulty by three. Christianity, with its ignorant and jealous God—its loving and revengeful Christ—its childish legends—its grotesque miracles—its “fall of man”—its atonement—its salvation by faith—its heaven for stupidity, and its hell for genius, does not and cannot satisfy the free brain and the good heart.

[“Christ and the Colonel,” p. 88]


Ingersoll’s special target, the one doctrine more odious to him than anything else religion preached, was the notion of hell:

Your creed transfers the Inquisition to another world, making it eternal. Your God becomes, or rather is, an infinite Torquemada, who denies to his countless victims even the mercy of death. And this you call a “consolation.”

[“Faith or Agnosticism?”, p. 16]

Christians believe in infinite torture, in eternal pain. Eternal pain! All the meanness of which the heart of man is capable is in that one word—Hell. That word is a den, a cave, in which crawl the slimy reptiles of revenge. That word certifies to the savagery of primitive man. That word is the depth, the dungeon, the abyss, from which civilized man has emerged. That word is the disgrace, the shame, the infamy, of our revealed religion. That word fills all the future with the shrieks of the damned. That word brutalizes the New Testament, changes the Sermon on the Mount to hypocrisy and cant, and pollutes and hardens the very heart of Christ. That word adds an infinite horror to death, and makes the cradle as terrible as the coffin.

[“The Foundations of Faith,” p. 20]

... I beg of you not to pollute the soul of childhood, not to furrow the cheeks of mothers, by preaching a creed that should be shrieked in a mad-house ... Preach, I pray you, the gospel of Intellectual Hospitality—the liberty of thought and speech ... Do not proclaim as “tidings of great joy” that an Infinite Spider is weaving webs to catch the souls of men.

[“Faith or Agnosticism?”, p. 32]

Ingersoll reserved his heaviest sarcasm for the deadening moral effect of that belief. Relating a conversation he had with a young Christian:

Said I, “Suppose your mother were in hell, would you be happy in heaven then?” “Well,” he says, “I suppose God would know the best place for mother.” And I thought to myself, then, if I was a woman, I would like to have five or six boys like that.

[“What Must We Do to Be Saved?”, p. 20]

It is impossible for me to believe in the eternity of punishment. If that doctrine be true, Jehovah is insane.

[“Faith or Agnosticism?”, p. 31]

Consequently I simply believe in absolute liberty of mind. And I have no fear about any other world—not the slightest. When I get there, I will give my honest opinion of that country; I will give my honest thought there; and if for that I lose my soul, I will keep at least my self-respect.

[“Debates with the Clergy,” p. 38]

Can I commit a sin against God by thinking? If God did not intend I should think, why did he give me a thinker?

[“What Must We Do to Be Saved?”, pp. 5-6]

Ingersoll had the satisfaction of seeing his father, a Presbyterian minister, eventually renounce some of his old beliefs:

He utterly gave up the idea of eternal punishment, and before he died he had the happiness of believing that God was almost as good and generous as he was himself.

[“65 Press Interviews,” p. 6]

Ingersoll recognized that bigotry and persecution were not accidental, but were inevitable consequences of belief in the Bible:

But why should I expect kindness from a Christian? Can a minister be expected to treat with fairness a man whom his God intends to damn? If a good God is going to burn an infidel forever, in the world to come, surely a Christian should have the right to persecute him a little here.

[“What Can You Believe in the Bible?”, p. 43]

If God is going to have the supreme happiness of burning them forever, certainly he ought not to begrudge to us the joy of burning them for an hour or two.

[“Intellectual Development,” in Selected Speeches, (Regan Publishing, Chicago: 1926), p. 118]

According to the New Testament, nobody could be saved unless he believed in the Lord Jesus Christ ... They also believed that they had a right to defend themselves and their children from “heretics” ... If we have the right to kill people who are simply trying to kill the bodies of our children, of course we have the right to kill them when they are endeavoring to assassinate, not simply their bodies, but their souls. It was in this way Christians reasoned. If the Testament is right, their reasoning was correct.

[“What Can You Believe in the Bible?”, p. 65]

There can be but little liberty on earth while men worship a tyrant in heaven.

[from “Humanist Credo,” quoted in the Dresden edition, volume 5, title page]

When a prominent clergyman accused him of blasphemy, he told the press:

Blasphemy is an epithet bestowed by superstition on common sense. Whoever investigates a religion as he would any department of science, is called a blasphemer ... Blasphemy is to a considerable extent a geographical question. It depends not only on what you say, but where you are when you say it. Blasphemy is what the old calls the new ... Some savages think that a dried snake-skin stuffed with leaves is sacred, and he who thinks otherwise is a blasphemer ... Many people think it is blasphemous to tell your real opinion of the Jewish Jehovah ... but nothing can be more absurd than a crime against God. If God is infinite, you cannot injure him ... The cry of blasphemy means only that the argument of the blasphemer cannot be answered ... It is the last resort of a defeated priest.

[“What Can You Believe in the Bible?”, pp. 16, 17]

If the average Christian had been born in Turkey, he would have been a Mohammedan; and if the average Mohammedan had been born in New England and educated at Andover, he would have regarded the damnation of the heathen as the “tidings of great joy.”

[“Christ and the Colonel,” p. 82]


He replied to his critics with sparkling wit as well as logic:

You ask me to take “the sober second thought.” I beg of you to take the first, and if you do, you will throw away the Presbyterian creed ... you will become convinced that an infinite God who creates billions of men knowing that they will suffer through all the countless years is an infinite demon ... and that the supernatural does not and cannot exist.

[“Faith or Agnosticism?”, p. 32]

I often swear. In other words, I take the name of God in vain; that is to say, I take it without any practical thing resulting from it, and in that sense I think most ministers are guilty of the same thing ... I admit that I have not always spoken of the Devil in a respectful way; that I have sometimes referred to his residence when it was not a necessary part of the conversation ...

[“65 Press Interviews,” p. 12]

A reporter once asked him whether he would rather go to heaven or hell. Ingersoll replied:

... I would prefer hell. I had a thousand times rather associate with the pagan philosophers than with the inquisitors of the Middle Ages. I certainly should prefer the worst man in Greek or Roman history to John Calvin ... I would trade off my harp any minute for a seat in the other country. All the poets will be in perdition, and the greatest thinkers, and, I should think, most of the women whose society would tend to increase the happiness of man; nearly all the painters, nearly all the sculptors, nearly all the writers of plays, nearly all the great actors, most of the best musicians, and nearly all the good fellows—the persons who know stories, who can sing songs, or who will loan a friend a dollar.

[“65 Press Interviews,” p. 8]

Though his major efforts were directed toward combating the evil moral influence of the Bible, he occasionally turned his guns against some of its foolish stories:

Dr. Henry also tells us the lions, while in the ark, ate straw like oxen. Nothing could be more amusing than to see a few lions eating good, dry straw. This commentator assures us that the waters rose so high that the loftiest mountains were overflowed 15 cubits, so that salvation was not hoped for from any hills or mountains. He tells us that some of the people got on top of the ark, and hoped to shift for themselves, but that, in all probability, they were washed off by the rain. When we consider that the rain must have fallen at the rate of about 800 feet a day, I am inclined to think that they were washed off.

[“What Can You Believe in the Bible?”, p. 12]

In this story of Jonah, we are told that “the Lord spake unto the fish.” In what language? It must be remembered that this fish was only a few hours old. He had been prepared during the storm, for the sole purpose of swallowing Jonah. He was a fish of exceedingly limited experience ... but, if Mr. Talmage is right, I think an order to the fish would have been entirely unnecessary. When we take into consideration that a thing the size of a man had been promenading up and down the stomach of this fish for three days and three nights, successfully baffling the efforts of gastric juice, we can readily believe that the fish was as anxious to have Jonah go, as Jonah was to leave.

[“What Can You Believe in the Bible?”, pp. 29-30]

When a revivalist publicly insulted him, he showed the press this reply:

Buffalo, Feb. 24th, 1878


My dear Madam: Were you constrained by the love of Christ to call a man who has never injured you “a poor barking dog”? Did you make this remark as a Christian, or as a lady? Did you say these words to illustrate in some faint degree the refining influence upon woman of the religion you preach?

What would you think of me if I should retort, using your language, changing only the sex of the last word?

I have the honor to remain,

Yours truly,


[“65 Press Interviews,” p. 4]

When an angry minister compared Ingersoll’s talks to a circus, the infidel responded:

The reverend gentleman pays me a great compliment by comparing me to a circus. Everybody enjoys the circus. They love to see the acrobats, the walkers on the tight rope, the beautiful girls on the horses, and they laugh at the wit of the clown ... No sermon ever pleased them as much, and in comparison even the Sunday school is tame and dull. To feel that I give as much joy as the circus, fills me with pleasure. What chance would the Rev. Dr. Banks stand against a circus?

[“65 Press Interviews,” p. 143]

Ingersoll was a genial family man, who held that Sundays are best spent enjoying good music, nature, and the company of your family:

It is far more important to love your wife than to love God, and I will tell you why. You cannot help him, but you can help her ... It is far more important that you love your children than that you love Jesus Christ. And why? If he is God you cannot help him, but you can plant a little flower of happiness in every footstep of the child ... it is far more important to build a home than to erect a church.

[“What Must We Do to Be Saved?”, p. 10]


Ingersoll did not share the common, mindless adulation of Christ, on the part of people who never bothered to think for themselves:

Is Christ our example? He never said a word in favor of education. He never even hinted at the existence of any science. He never uttered a word in favor of industry, economy or of any effort to better our condition in this world. He was the enemy of the successful, of the wealthy. Dives [in one of the parables] was sent to hell, not because he was bad, but because he was rich. Lazarus went to heaven, not because he was good, but because he was poor. Christ said nothing for painting, for sculpture, for music—nothing for any art. He said nothing about the duties of nation to nation, of king to subject; nothing about the rights of man; nothing about intellectual liberty or the freedom of speech. He said nothing about the sacredness of home; not one word for the fireside; not a word in favor of marriage, in honor of maternity ... All human ties were held in contempt; this world was sacrificed for the next; all human effort was discouraged. God would support and protect.

[“The Truth About the Holy Bible,” p. 20]

... Christ said nothing in favor of the family relation. As a matter of fact, his life tended to cast discredit upon marriage. He said nothing against the institution of slavery; nothing against the tyranny of government; nothing of our treatment of animals; nothing about education, about intellectual progress; nothing of art, declared no scientific truth, and said nothing as to the rights and duties of nations.

[“Faith or Agnosticism?”, p. 23]

Christ said nothing about the Western Hemisphere because he did not know that it existed. He did not know the shape of the earth. He was not a scientist—never even hinted at any science—never told anybody to investigate—to think. His idea was that this life should be spent in preparing for the next. For all the evils of this life, and the next, faith was his remedy.

[“65 Press Interviews,” p. 144]

If Christ was in fact God, he knew all the future ... He knew what crimes, what horrors, what infamies would be committed in his name ... He knew that the church would invent and use instruments of torture; that his followers would appeal to whip and faggot, to chain and rack ... knew that they would persecute and destroy the discoverers, thinkers and inventors; knew that his church would extinguish reason’s holy light and leave the world without a star ... And yet he died with voiceless lips. Why did he fail to speak? Why did he not tell his disciples, and through them the world: “You shall not burn, imprison and torture in my name. You shall not persecute your fellow-men” ... why did he not explain the Trinity? Why did he not tell the mode of baptism that was pleasing to him? Why did he not write a creed? Why did he not break the chains of slaves? ... Why did he not say something positive, definite and satisfactory about another world? ... Why did he not tell us something of the rights of man, of the liberty of hand and brain? Why did he go humbly to his death, leaving the world to misery and to doubt? I will tell you why. He was a man and did not know.

[“The Truth About the Holy Bible,” pp. 21, 22]

He was not only ignorant and misguided, he appears to have been intellectually dishonest (at least, judging by the gospel accounts):

A religion, to command the respect of intelligent men, should rest on a foundation of established facts ... 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 man who gives money to a judge or juror for a decision or verdict is guilty of a crime ... The bribe is not evidence. So, 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 ... Intelligent people would not ask for rewards, but reasons. Only hypocrites would ask for the money. Yet, according to the New Testament, Christ offered a reward to those who would believe, and this promised reward was to take the place of evidence. When Christ made this promise he forgot, ignored, or held in contempt the rectitude of a brave, free and natural soul.

[“The Truth,” pp. 82-83, in the Dresden edition, vol.4]

Of course, in the absence of any reliable accounts of his life and teachings, we cannot be sure what he was like. Ingersoll points out, half-humorously:

In his day Christ was an Infidel, and made himself unpopular by denouncing the church as it then existed. He called them liars, hypocrites, thieves, vipers, whited sepulchres and fools. From the description given of the church in that day, I am afraid that should he come again, he would be provoked into using similar language.

[“65 Press Interviews,” p. 5]


Does belief in God lead to virtue, Ingersoll asked?

In order that you may see the effect of belief in the formation of character, it is only necessary to call your attention to the fact that your Bible shows that the Devil himself is a believer in the existence of your God, in the inspiration of the Scriptures, and in the divinity of Jesus Christ. He not only believes these things, but he knows them, and yet, in spite of it all, he remains a devil still.

[“Faith or Agnosticism?”, p. 25]

But we do not need a god—we have reality:

According to your theory, this infinite being, by his mere will, makes right and wrong. This I do not admit. Right and wrong exist in the nature of things—in the relation they bear to man, and to sentient beings ... morality has nothing to do with religion. Morality does not depend upon the supernatural. Morality does not walk with the crutches of miracles. Morality appeals to the experience of mankind. It cares nothing about faith, nothing about sacred books. Morality depends upon facts, something that can be seen, something known, the product of which can be estimated. It needs no priest, no ceremony, no mummery. It believes in the freedom of the human mind. It asks for investigation. It is founded upon truth. It is the enemy of all religion, because it has to do with this world, and with this world alone.

[“Faith or Agnosticism?”, pp. 21, 28]

Christianity debases character (remember, members of the Mafia are Christians, not atheists):

Christianity has sold, and continues to sell, crime on a credit. It has taught, and it still teaches, that there is forgiveness for all. Of course it teaches morality. It says: “Do not steal, do not murder;” but it adds, “but if you do both, there is a way of escape: believe in the Lord Jesus Christ and thou shalt be saved.”

[“Faith or Agnosticism?”, pp. 27-28]

The doctrine of forgiveness—the idea that somebody else can suffer in place of the guilty—the notion that just at the last the whole account can be settled—these ideas, doctrines, and notions are calculated to fill penitentiaries. Nothing breeds extravagance like the credit system.

[“What Can You Believe in the Bible?”, p. 9]


Character cannot be made by another for you. You must be the architect of your own.

[“Debates with the Clergy,” p. 16]

How fortunate it is for us all that it is somewhat unnatural for a human being to obey. Universal obedience is universal stagnation; disobedience is one of the conditions of progress ... It is a blessed thing that in every age some one has had individuality enough and courage enough to stand by his own convictions—some one who had the grandeur to say his say. I believe it was Magellan who said, “The church says the earth is flat; but I have seen its shadow on the moon, and I have more confidence even in a shadow than in the church.”

[“The Enemies of Individuality and Mental Freedom,” p. 3]

[Historical note: That quote is probably apocryphal. The writers of the Old and New Testaments clearly implied that the earth is flat; and many Church Fathers stated the flat-earth hypothesis as part of the Catholic faith. But even by the 1400’s all educated Europeans knew the earth was round—thanks to the observations and arguments of Greek science preserved by Aristotle, and rediscovered in the 1200’s ... It is a beautiful quote, nonetheless!]

Ingersoll describes an exhibit of man’s inventions down through the ages, starting with the crude dug-outs and tom-toms of primitive man:

Now, all I claim is that same right to improve on that gentleman’s politics, as on the dug-out, and the same right to improve upon his religion as upon his plough ... suppose the King and Priest had said: “That boat is the best boat that ever can be built; we got the model of that from Neptune, the god of the seas, and I guess the god of the water knows how to build a boat, and any man that says he can improve it by putting a stick in the middle with a rag on the end of it ... is a heretic—he is a blasphemer.” Honor bright—what in your judgment would have been the effect upon the circumnavigation of the globe? I think we would have been on the other side yet ... All I claim is the same right to improve upon this barbarian’s ideas of politics and religion as upon everything else, and whether it is an improvement or not, I have a right to suggest it—that is my doctrine.

[“Intellectual Development,” in Selected Speeches, pp. 112-113]

Unfortunately, the church has been an enemy of reason:

And then the members of these churches, led by priests, popes, and clergymen, sought out their unbelieving neighbors—chained them in dungeons, stretched them on racks, crushed their bones, cut out their tongues, extinguished their eyes, flayed them alive and consumed their poor bodies in flames. All this was done because these Christian savages believed in the dogma of eternal pain. Because they believed that heaven was the reward for belief. So believing, they were the enemies of free thought and speech—they cared nothing for conscience, nothing for the veracity of a soul—nothing for the manhood of a man. In all ages most priests have been heartless and relentless. They have calumniated and tortured. In defeat they have crawled and whined. In victory they have killed ... 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.

[“The Truth,” pp. 84-86, in volume 4 of the Dresden edition]

This book, the Bible, has persecuted, even unto death, the wisest and the best. This book stayed and stopped the onward movement of the human race. This book poisoned the fountains of learning and misdirected the energies of man. This book is the enemy of freedom, the support of slavery. This book sowed the seeds of hatred in families and nations, fed the flames of war, and impoverished the world ... This book taught men to kill their fellows for religion’s sake. This book founded the inquisition, invented the instruments of torture, built the dungeons in which the good and loving languished, forged the chains that rusted in their flesh, erected the scaffolds where on they died. This book piled fagots about the feet of the just. This book drove reason from the minds of millions and filled the asylums with the insane.

[“The Truth About the Holy Bible,” p. 23]

Is it possible that an infinite God created this world simply to be the dwelling-place of slaves and serfs? simply for the purpose of raising orthodox Christians? ... I want no heaven for which I must give my reason; no happiness in exchange for my liberty, and no immortality that demands the surrender of my individuality. Better rot in the windowless tomb ... than wear the jeweled collar even of a god ... A believer is a bird in a cage, a Freethinker is an eagle parting the clouds with tireless wing.

[“The Enemies of Individuality and Mental Freedom,” p. 8]

The church hates a thinker precisely for the same reason a robber dislikes a sheriff, or a thief despises the prosecuting witness. Tyranny likes courtiers, flatterers, followers, fawners, and superstition wants believers, disciples, zealots, hypocrites, and subscribers. The church demands worship—the very thing that man should give to no being, human or divine ... We should all remember that the intellect has no knees, and that whatever the attitude of the body may be, the brave soul is always found erect.

[“The Enemies of Individuality and Mental Freedom,” p. 4]

Children should be taught only what somebody knows. Guesses should not be palmed off on them as demonstrated facts ...What I insist upon is that children should not be poisoned—should not be taken advantage of—that they should be treated fairly, honestly—that they should be allowed to develop from the inside instead of being crammed from the outside—that they should be taught to reason, not to believe—to think, to investigate and to use their senses, their minds.

[“The Enemies of Individuality and Mental Freedom,” p. 14]

It has always seemed a littler 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, today? Why not enjoy the sunshine of this world, and all there is of good in it?

[“Debates with the Clergy,” p. 32]

Any doctrine that will not bear investigation is not a fit tenant for the mind of an honest man. Any man who is afraid to have his doctrine investigated is not only a coward but a hypocrite ... The thoughts of a man who is not free are not worth much—not much. A man who thinks with the club of a creed above his head—a man who thinks casting his eye askance at the flames of Hell, is not apt to have very good thoughts ... Force will not make thinkers, but hypocrites. A minister told me awhile ago, “Ingersoll,” he says, “if you do not believe the Bible you ought not to say so.” Says I, “Do you believe the Bible?” He says, “I do.” I says, “I don’t know whether you do or not; may be you are following the advice you gave me; how shall I know whether you believe it or not?” Now, I shall die without knowing whether that man believed the Bible or not.

[“Intellectual Development,” in Selected Speeches, pp. 103-105]

Is it possible that God can be gratfied with the applause of moral cowards? Does he seek to enhance his glory by receiving the adulation of cringing slaves? Is God satisfied with the adoration of the frightened?

[“What Can You Believe in the Bible?”, p. 17]

... the church can take its choice between honest men, who differ, and hypocrites, who differ, but say they do not—you can have your choice, all of you. If you give us liberty, you will have in this country a splendid diversity of individuality; but if, on the contrary, you say men shall think so and so, you will have the sameness of stupid nonsense. In my judgment, it is the duty of every man to think and express his thoughts; but at the same time do not make martyrs of yourselves ... if you are afraid you cannot support your wife and children in this town and express your honest thought, why keep it to yourself, but if there is such a man here he is a living certificate of the meanness of the community in which he lives ... go along with them to church, say amen in as near the right place as you can, if you happen to be awake, and I will do your talking for you. I will say my say, and the time will come when every man in the country will be astonished that there ever was a time that everybody had not the right to speak his honest thoughts.

[“Intellectual Development,” in Selected Speeches, pp. 105-106]


While Ingersoll had no respect for the tyrants and bigots who have enslaved mankind, he did revere the great achievement of the Founding Fathers.

... it must be admitted that nothing is more atheistic than a fact. Pure science is necessarily godless. It is incapable of worship. It investigates and cannot afford to shut its eyes even long enough to pray. There was a time when those who disputed the divine right of kings were denounced as blasphemous; but the time came when liberty demanded that a personal god should be retired from politics. In our country this was substantially done in 1776, when our fathers declared that all power to govern came from the consent of the governed. The cloud theory was abandoned ...

[“Introduction,” in Selected Speeches, p. 170]

The old idea was that the political power came from the clouds; that the political power came in some miraculous way from heaven; that it came down to kings, and queens and robbers. That was the old idea. The nobles lived upon the labor of the people; the people had no rights; the nobles stole what they had and divided with the kings, and the kings pretended to divide what they stole with God Almighty.

[“Declaration of Independence,” in Selected Speeches, p. 9]

Liberty is born of intelligence. Only a few years ago there was a great awakening in the human mind. Men began to inquire: By what right does a crowned robber make me work for him? The man who asked this question was called a traitor. Others said, By what right does a robed priest rob me? That man was called an infidel. And whenever he asked a question of that kind, the clergy protested. When they found that the earth was round, the clergy protested; when they found that the stars were not made out of the scraps that were left over on the sixth day of creation, but were really great, shining, wheeling worlds, the clergy protested and said: “When is this spirit of investigation to stop?” They said then, and they say now, that it is dangerous for the mind of man to be free. I deny it.

[“Liberty of Man, Woman and Child,” in Selected Speeches, p. 29]

In 1776 our fathers endeavored to retire the gods from politics. They declared that all governments derive their just powers from the consent of the governed. This was a contradiction of the then political ideas of the world; it was, as many believe, an act of pure blasphemy—a renunciation of the Deity. It was in fact a declaration of the independence of the earth. It was a notice to all churches and priests that thereafter mankind would govern and protect themselves. Politically it tore down every altar and denied the authority of every “sacred book,” and appealed from the Providence of God to the Providence of Man.

[“Christ and the Colonel,” p. 80]

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

[“Declaration of Independence,” in Selected Speeches, p. 7]

Our fathers founded the first secular government that was ever founded in this world.

[ibid., p. 14]

The truth is, our government is not founded upon the rights of gods, but upon the rights of men. Our Constitution was framed, not to declare and uphold the deity of Christ, but the sacredness of humanity. Ours is the first government made by the people and for the people. It is the only nation with which the gods have had nothing to do.

[“The Enemies of Individuality and Mental Freedom,” p. 11]

Jefferson, when President, refused to issue what is known as the “Thanksgiving Proclamation,” on the ground that the Federal Government had no right to interfere in religious matters; that the people owed no religious duties to the Government; that the Government derived its powers, not from priests or gods, but from the people, and was responsible alone to the source of its power. The truth is, the framers of our Constitution intended that the Government should be secular in the broadest and best sense; and yet there are thousands and thousands of religious people in this country who are greatly scandalized because there is no recognition of God in the Federal Constitution.

[“65 Press Interviews,” p. 59]

Nor did Ingersoll pay mere lip-service to the ideals of freedom he preached. A black minister observed:

Ingersoll loved liberty. He was the ideal plumed knight ... who hurled his lance in the face, and through the shield of him who sought to enslave either the soul, the mind, or the body of his fellow man. When there came to Peoria that Prince, that King, “crowned in the shambles and the prison pen,” Frederick Douglass, “the noblest slave that ever God set free,” all doors were closed against him there save one. Colonel Ingersoll received him into his home, recognizing in him not a mere human thing, but a man.

[“Christ and the Colonel,” p. 43]


When I became convinced that the universe is natural—that all the ghosts and gods are myths, there entered into my brain, into my soul, into every drop of my blood, the sense, the feeling, the joy of freedom ... For the first time, I was free ... I stood erect and fearlessly, joyously, faced all worlds. And then my heart was filled with gratitude, with thankfulness, and went out in love to all the heroes, the thinkers who gave their lives for the liberty of hand and brain ... And then I vowed to grasp the torch that they had held, and hold it high, that light might conquer darkness still.

[frontispiece to volume 13 of the Dresden edition]

I want to do what little I can to make my country truly free, to broaden the intellectual horizon of our people, to destroy the prejudices born of ignorance and fear, to do away with the blind worship of the ignoble past, with the idea that all the great and good are dead, that the living are totally depraved, that all pleasures are sins, that sighs and groans are alone pleasing to God, that thought is dangerous, that intellectual courage is a crime, that cowardice is a virtue, that a certain belief is necessary to secure salvation, that to carry a cross in this world will give us a palm in the next, and that we must allow some priest to be the pilot of our souls.

[“Some Mistakes of Moses,” in the Dresden edition, volume 2, p. 13]

Speaking of a clergyman who attacked him, Ingersoll said mildly:

He ought to be my friend because I am doing the best I can to civilize his congregation.

[“65 Press Interviews,” p. 144]

But, says the prejudiced priest, the malicious minister, “You take away a future life.” I am not trying to destroy another world, but I am endeavoring to prevent the theologians from destroying this.

[“The Foundations of Faith,” p. 22]

My object is to drive fear out of the world. Fear is the jailer of the mind. Christianity, superstition—that is to say, the supernatural—makes every brain a prison and every soul a convict.

[“Faith or Agnosticism?”, p. 28]

It is a great pleasure to drive the fiend of fear out of the hearts of men, women and children. It is a positive joy to put out the fires of hell.

[“65 Press Interviews,” p. 60]

If Christians believed in hell as they once did, the faggots would be lighted again, heretics would be stretched on the rack, and all the instruments of torture would again be stained with innocent blood. Christianity has declined because intelligence has increased.

[“The Enemies of Individuality and Mental Freedom,” p. 22]

When I was a boy “Infidels” were rare. A man who denied the inspiration of the Bible was regarded as a monster. Now [1898] there are in this country millions who regard the Bible as the work of ignorant and superstitious men. A few years ago the Bible was the standard. All scientific theories were tested by the Bible. Now science is the standard and the Bible is tested by that.

[“65 Press Interviews,” p. 143]

And a significant amount of credit for that intellectual advance must go to Ingersoll himself. He was read by scientists, by businessmen, by students, by farmers, leaving the imprint of common sense wherever he could on the American scene. He fought to steer our country away from the horrors of theocracy, toward a free society (a task that must be performed anew every generation). But our struggle today is easier, thanks to Bob Ingersoll. If there are millions of people, today, who do not believe in hell, a great deal of the credit must go to him. Because of Ingersoll, decent people became ashamed of that brutal and benighted doctrine. They became, as he put it, “better than their creed.”

Thomas Edison said of him: “Ingersoll had all the attributes of a perfect man, and in my opinion no finer personality ever existed.” Henry Ward Beecher, one of the few clergymen who did not detest Ingersoll, called him “the most brilliant speaker of the English language on the face of the globe.” “America doesn’t know how proud she ought to be of Ingersoll,” remarked his friend, poet Walt Whitman. Scientist Luther Burbank pointed out: “His works are an inspiration to the whole earth.” And Mark Twain added: “He was a great and beautiful spirit; he was a man, all man from his crown to his footsoles. My reverence for him was deep and genuine.”

* * *

The Dresden Publishing Company of New York published Ingersoll’s collected works and a biography in 13 volumes, in 1915. And there were numerous other editions as well. Look for them at your library! Eccentric publisher E. Haldeman-Julius reprinted many titles in paperback during the 1940’s, observing, in words that are as true now as they were then:

Yes, there are tens of millions of people who believe in the ideas that prevailed in the 13th century. In such a world, Ingersoll serves as a bomb. He blasts ignorance and superstition to rubble. He makes Fundamentalists run away or listen, and if they listen they’re doomed ... Ingersoll is intellectual dynamite. Ingersoll’s works are needed as an antidote against the poisons pouring from radio preachers. To listen to the Men of God over the radio any Sunday, one would imagine that the world’s great thinkers have done nothing to expose the superstitions, bigotry and ignorance of the Fundamentalists. Radio religionists give the impression that the intellectual world has left their gigantic guesses and assumptions untouched. That’s why we say that the world needs Ingersoll’s lectures and essays today more than ever before.

[“Robert G.Ingersoll Still Needed,” in his edition of “What Can You Believe in the Bible?”]

In most cases I have relied on Haldeman-Julius’s paperback editions, in compiling this article. Many of those titles have recently been reprinted by American Atheist Press. Several of Ingersoll’s works are also currently available from Prometheus Books (who publish George H. Smith’s very thorough Atheism: the Case Against God. And, as I said, you should look for his writings in libraries. Check them out! They are as timely as ever!

Copyright © 1993 by Bill Bucko


Happily, Ingersoll's complete works are now readily available, on a high-quality CD:

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I have the 12 volume set around here, of Ingersoll, and had always intended to put them onto CD-ROM myself. I thought he was absolutely incredible given his time.

I don't have the books at hand, but on one of the front pages of one of them is a stunning set of two "cartoons". On the top is a cross. On the bottom is a telegraph pole that looks substantially the same. The respective captions: "In the service of God." "In the service of Man." Just brilliant.

Thanks for reminding me of his work.

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Thanks for the great essay, Bill. I've heard Ingersoll's name mentioned in atheistic contexts & seen a few quotes of his over the years. I had no idea the depth & breadth of his writings, though. It's wonderful to hear about.

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Truly great stuff, Bill! Thanks for posting this.

Next time, you'll have to send me these kinds of quotes privately, so I can use them for the "Who said this ..." game. :D (Just kidding.)

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Thanks for the comments, everyone.

Next time, you'll have to send me these kinds of quotes privately, so I can use them for the "Who said this ..." game.  :D  (Just kidding.)

Ingersoll, of course, was an intellectual go-between, not a philosopher.

However, some of us who are still stuck at 0 in the standings dream of putting you on the spot, by asking you to identify quotes such as:

"Aber bei meiner Liebe und Hoffnung beschwoere ich dich: wirf den Helden in deiner Seele nicht weg! Halte heilig deine hoechste Hoffnung!"


"Ho de anexatastos bios ou biotos anthropo,"

(hoping you don't know German or Greek)! :D

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However, some of us who are still stuck at 0 in the standings dream of putting you on the spot, by asking you to identify quotes such as:

"Aber bei meiner Liebe und Hoffnung beschwoere ich dich: wirf den Helden in deiner Seele nicht weg!  Halte heilig deine hoechste Hoffnung!"


"Ho de anexatastos bios ou biotos anthropo,"

(hoping you don't know German or Greek)!  :D

Yikes! I don't know what is more scary: those quotes, or the fact that my quotes have warranted such retaliation. :D:D

With your obvious knowledge, it's only a matter of time before you'll be on the scoreboard. So, for God's sake, cheer up and dream about that imminent reality, instead of about stumping me! :D

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I guess we stumped you, then! Hoo ha! :D

The answers are:

(1) Nietzsche, Thus Spake Zarathustra, I, "The Tree on the Mountain":

But by my love and hope I beseech you: do not throw away the hero in your soul! Hold as holy your highest hope!


(2) Plato, Apology of Socrates, 38a5:

For the unexamined life is not worth living, for man.

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I guess we stumped you, then!  Hoo ha!  :D

Nah, I'm sure Alex was just being kind to you. Your "anexatastos" is a misspelling of "anexetastos." I guess you forgot to turn on the translator in our new spell checker. :D

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Yeah, I noticed the misspelling a few seconds after I posted it.

Isn't there some way I can blame the owner of The Forum for that?? :D

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Yeah, I noticed the misspelling a few seconds after I posted it.

Isn't there some way I can blame the owner of The Forum for that??  :D

Absolutely! I accept all blame, at no extra charge. You are absolved, my son. :D

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I accept all blame, at no extra charge.

All blame? Cool, I can stop now! All my life I've been telling everyone to blame me for everything: disease, the AMC Pacer, global warming, California cuisine, Pauly Shore - the list goes on and on. Certain current and former relatives will be surprised to learn that everything is not my fault, though... :D

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Wow! I'd never heard of Ingersoll! Thank you SOOOO much! I'll be looking him up! I've said things that sounded exactly like him before. Great :)

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