(from Wikipedia Commons)
On today's date, in 1833, Robert G. Ingersoll, "The Great Agnostic," was born. He seems to have been quite a guy.
With the outbreak of the American Civil War, he raised the 11th Regiment Illinois Volunteer Cavalry and took command. The regiment fought in the Battle of Shiloh. Ingersoll was later captured, then released on his promise that he would not fight again, which was common practice early in the war.
After the war, he served as Illinois Attorney General. He was a prominent member of the Republican Party and, though he never held an elected position, he was nonetheless an active participant in politics. His speech nominating James G. Blaine for the 1876 presidential election was unsuccessful, as Rutherford B. Hayes received the Republican nomination, but the speech itself, known as the "Plumed Knight" speech, was considered a model of political oratory. (Franklin Roosevelt probably used it as a model for his "Happy Warrior" speech when nominating Alfred E. Smith for president in 1928). His radical views on religion, slavery, woman's suffrage, and other issues of the day effectively prevented him from ever pursuing or holding political offices higher than that of state attorney general. Illinois Republicans tried to pressure him into running for governor on the condition that Ingersoll conceal his agnosticism during the campaign, which he refused to do on the basis that concealing information from the public was immoral. ...
Robert Ingersoll made many observations on religion during his life. Robert Ingersoll stated, the myth of hell represents "all the meanness, all the revenge, all the selfishness, all the cruelty, all the hatred, all the infamy of which the heart of man is capable."
Ingersoll was most noted as an orator, the most popular of the age, when oratory was public entertainment. He spoke on every subject, from Shakespeare to Reconstruction, but his most popular subjects were agnosticism and the sanctity and refuge of the family. He committed his speeches to memory although they were sometimes more than three hours long. His audiences were said never to be restless.
Many of Ingersoll's speeches advocated freethought and humanism, and often poked fun at religious belief. For this the press often attacked him, but neither his views nor the negative press could stop his rising popularity. At the height of Ingersoll's fame, audiences would pay $1 or more to hear him speak, a giant sum for his day.
I've never read any of Ingersoll's speeches, but I've got a number of his quotes in my email "fortune cookie" file:
"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, had the genius, to know that no church should be allowed to have a sword..."
"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."
"There is no difference. The Agnostic is an Atheist. The Atheist is an Agnostic. The Agnostic says: "I do not know, but I do not believe that there is any god." The Atheist says the same. The orthodox Christian says he knows there is a god. But we know that he does not know. He simply believes. He cannot know."
"Each nation has created a god, and the god has always resembled his creators. He hated and loved what they hated and loved, and he was invariably found on the side of those in power."
"I do not believe in putting out the sun to keep weeds from growing."
"As long as every question is answered by the word "God," scientific inquiry is simply impossible."
"Honest investigation is utterly impossible within the pale of any church, for the reason, that if you think the church is right you will not investigate, and if you think it wrong, the church will investigate you."
"Man must learn to rely upon himself. Reading bibles will not protect him from the blasts of winter, but houses, fires. and clothing will. To prevent famine, one plow is worth a million sermons, and even patent medicines will cure more diseases than all the prayers uttered since the beginning of the world."
"With soap, baptism is a good thing."
"Give me the storm and stress of thought and action rather than the dead calm of ignorance and faith. Banish me from Eden when you will but first let me eat of the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge."
"Theology is not what we know about God, but what we do not know about Nature."
"It is not true that intoxicating beverages are served at my table. It is not true that my son ever was drunk. It is not true that he had to be carried away from the table. Besides, I have no son!"
"I do not borrow ideas. I have a factory of my own."
"I admit that reason is a small and feeble flame, a flickering torch by stumblers carried in the star-less night - blown and flared by passion's storm - and yet, it is the only light. Extinguish that, and nought remains."
"The notion that faith in Christ is to be rewarded by an eternity of bliss, while a dependence upon reason, observation, and experience merits everlasting pain, is too absurd for refutation, and can be relieved only by that unhappy mixture of insanity and ignorance called 'faith'."
"Fear believes - courage doubts. Fear falls upon the earth and prays - courage stands erect and thinks. Fear is barbarism - courage is civilization. Fear believes in witchcraft, in devils and in ghosts. Fear is religion, courage is science."
"It may be that ministers really think that their prayers do good and it may be that frogs imagine that their croaking brings spring."
"We have no master on the land -
No king in air -
Without a manacle we stand,
Without a prayer,
Without a fear of coming night,
We seek the truth, we love the light."
As I said, he was quite a guy.