Robert G Ingersoll

American humanist

Robert Ingersoll was born near New York and became a teacher, but was sacked after making a joke about baptism. He then became a lawyer and an inspiring public speaker, one of the best-known agnostics in America. He claimed that he could not remember a time when he had not opposed the absurdities and cruelties of the Christian Church, but picked out a sermon on Hell which he heard at seven years old as particularly damaging.

He was a powerful and persuasive public speaker. As a lawyer he defended a free-thinker from a charge of blasphemy, arguing that,

“To deny what you believe to be true, to admit to be true what you believe to be lie, that is blasphemy.”

In his public lectures, he attacked the historicity and consistency of the Bible, questioned the existence of a personal or benevolent god or a first cause of the universe, and suggested that religion was based on fear and an obstacle to happiness:

“We know that doing away with gods and supernatural persons and powers is not an end. It is a means to an end – the real end being the happiness of man….”

“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.’”

When a clergyman challenged his view that Creation was imperfect by demanding that he suggest how he would improve things, he replied that he “would make good health catching instead of disease.”

His willingness to challenge not just Christian faith, but Christian morality too, influenced future free-thinkers. He rejected the Christian idea of returning kindness for injury, suggesting instead the more realistic and just: “For benefits return benefits, and for injuries return justice.”

Humanists often quote his remark: “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.”