Robert G. Ingersoll and His Infidelity
By J. B. Hawthorne (1837- 1910)
"The law of the Lord is perfect, converting the soul... The statutes of the Lord are right, rejoicing the heart" (Psalm 19:7-8).
Mr. Ingersoll is a very successful trimmer. He would not say in this latitude what he has said in other regions of our country. Down here in the South, where Christian sentiment prevails, he is simply an agnostic, and refrains from much of the blasphemous ribaldry that has characterized his utterances in some sections of the North. Among the infidel Germans of the Northwest he is more than an agnostic, he is an atheist, unsparing in his denunciations of everything sacred to the Christian. The fact that this man is heard by multitudes of people, and that some have had the faith of their childhood disturbed and even uprooted by his assaults upon Christianity, is a sufficient warrant for a brief discussion of some of his views.
Mr. Ingersoll assumes that belief in God is incompatible with reason, and that men who cherish this belief are weak and foolish. The Bible declares that "the fool hath said in his heart, there is no God," and it requires only a moderate exercise of our reason to prove this true, and that Mr. Ingersoll, and not the believer in God, is the fool.
Every rational man must and does admit the eternal existence of something. If Mr. Ingersoll denies that the universe came from something he is the only infidel who does. Only a lunatic or an idiot would say that something came from nothing. It is incontrovertibly and everlastingly true that "from nothing nothing comes." This being true, we are compelled to believe that something has always existed, and that in that eternal something which antedates all other things, the universe had its origin. If Mr. Ingersoll is not at variance with all other infidels he accepts this conclusion.
What is that something which antedates all other things, and from which all other things derive their existence? The Bible calls it God, but Mr. Spencer has named it the "unknown and unknowable." The name is not essential; but whether you call it protoplasm, or fire-mist, or force, or the unknown and unknowable, or God, you must admit that it is eternal, and that out of it all things have come into existence.
If that original something is the parent of all other things, it has intelligence. If that original something is protoplasm, it is thinking protoplasm. If it is fire-mist, it is intelligent fire-mist. If it is force, it is rational force.
Why do I say this? Because it is a self-evident truth that a thing can communicate only what it possesses. Was that first thing protoplasm? Then you and I came from it, and if you and I are intelligent beings there is intelligence in protoplasm. If it has intelligence, it is supreme intelligence, for there is nothing anterior or superior to it.
What was the origin of matter? Was it created? If it was, there must be a personal creator, because a creation without a creator is unthinkable. If you say that matter was not created but has always existed, I will ask you another question, What was the origin of motion? Was it created? If it was, there must be a personal creator, because there cannot be a creation without a creator.
If you say that motion is eternal, that it never had a beginning, I will ask you a third question, What is the origin of thought? Is it a creation? If it is, there is a personal creator. If it is not a creation and has existed from all eternity, then we are compelled to admit the existence of an eternal thinking being.
I challenge this infidel teacher, who comes to enlighten the benighted minds of our people for a consideration of five hundred dollars a night, to inject into his next performance an answer to this argument.
In common with other materialists, Mr. Ingersoll claims that human life is transmitted. I will not controvert that proposition. But let him tell us from what the first man's life was transmitted. Perhaps he would answer, "From the monkey." If that is true, from what was the monkey's life transmitted? Perhaps he would answer, "From the alligator." If that is true, from what was the alligator's life transmitted? From the lizard. Then from what was the lizard's life transmitted? Thus we may go back and back until we come to protoplasm.
What a relief to men like Ingersoll if the human mind would stop there. But it will not stop there. No sooner has the infidel declared that human life had its origin in protoplasm than I, and all other men who think, want to know where protoplasm got its life.
Who then is the fool? The man who believes in a personal Creator or the man who goes through the world selling his atheism for a consideration of five hundred dollars a night?
In one of his lectures Mr. Ingersoll declares that the miracles of the Bible are frauds — the mere tricks of men who made their living by imposing upon human ignorance and credulity. He claims that Jesus Christ was "only a sleight-of-hand man," and that He gained His pre-eminence among His associates only by His superior skill in feats of legerdemain [deception; trickery - jd].
No man who admits that the universe is a creation and that it came from the hands of a personal Creator, can with any show of reason deny the possibility of miracles. To declare that a miracle is an impossibility is equivalent to saying that God is incapable of performing a miracle. It is unmitigated folly to assume that God cannot do anything that He chooses to do.
If it is admitted that God has performed one miracle, it is perfectly compatible with sound reasoning to believe that he has performed other miracles. "In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth." "The worlds were made by the word of God." The fact here recorded was a miracle. Creation, whether by evolution or otherwise, was a miracle. The creation of the germ or the germs out of which the whole physical universe has grown, was a miraculous work, because it brought into existence something at a period when nothing existed but the divine Creator.
Did Christ perform miracles? Nicodemus believed that He did, for he went to Him in person and said, "No man can do these miracles which thou doest, except God be with him." Nicodemus was a member of the great ecclesiastical high court of the Jews, a man of intelligence and learning, and one not liable to become the victim of a base trickster.
The evangelists tell us that Jesus performed miracles; but Mr. Ingersoll says no one knows who wrote the four Gospels. When he says this he convicts himself either of stupidity or dishonesty.
He does not doubt that John Milton wrote Paradise Lost, or that Isaac Newton wrote The Principia, or that Tom Paine wrote The Age of Reason. Why does he not doubt it? Because he accepts the testimony of history and tradition.
When Mr. Ingersoll says that no one knows who wrote the four Gospels, he charges all the earliest writers of the Christian era who quoted from these books, believing them to be the works of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, with disgraceful ignorance and stupid credulity.
Celsus, Porphyry, and Julian hated Christianity as bitterly as he, but their writings abound in quotations from the New Testament, and they never questioned its authenticity. They never insinuated in the remotest degree that Christians of their day were mistaken as to the authorship of the four Gospels or any other part of the New Testament.
I defy this infidel traducer to furnish one jot or tittle of evidence to show that any opponent of Christianity, during the first four centuries after Christ, ever questioned the genuiness of the New Testament, or expressed even a doubt as to the honesty of the men who claimed to be eyewitnesses of the miracles which they recorded.
Mr. Ingersoll says that if Jesus had wrought the miracles which it is said He performed, the Jews would not have crucified Him. This is a specimen of his ignorance of history. Every student of the Bible knows that the Jews did not deny the reality of the miracles of Jesus, but claimed that He worked these miracles through Satanic power.
Mr. Ingersoll does not deny that Christ claimed to perform miracles, but declares that He was a deceiver, a sleight-of-hand man, a peripatetic trickster, who bamboozled the ignorant and unsuspecting rabble that followed Him.
What respect can any rational man have for such an indictment? Can you believe that the man who taught the purest morality every given to the world, and who lived the most benevolent life that men ever witnessed, and who died to bear testimony to what He taught, was a mere wandering vendor of tricks which He had learned from Egyptian magicians? No, you cannot believe it. Neither does Mr. Ingersoll believe it. Why then does he say it? Ask the ticket man when you go to purchase your next admission to his lecture.
When Mr. Ingersoll says that "the Bible is the most infamous book in the universe," he means, evidently, that of all the books in the universe, its standard of ethics is the lowest. Is there any basis of reason or fact for this accusation? What is the morality of the Bible? We may learn what it is, not by listening to a man who gets five hundred dollars a night for misrepresenting the Bible, but by going directly to the book itself.
Here are some samples of Bible ethics. "Honor thy father and thy mother." "Children, obey your parents." "Thou shalt not commit adultery." "Thou shalt not steal." "Thou shalt not murder." "Thou shalt not bear false witness." "Love thy neighbor as thyself." "As ye have opportunity do good unto all men." "As ye would that men should do unto you, do ye even so to them." "Love your enemies." "Above all things have fervent charity." "See that none render evil for evil unto any man." "If it be possible, as much as lieth in you, live peaceably with all men." "Keep thyself pure." "Shun the very appearance of evil."
In these passages we have an epitome of biblical morality. Is there anything here that will warrant this man in calling the Bible "the most infamous book in the universe"? What manner of man would Mr. Ingersoll become if he should obey all of these righteous precepts? A good man? Or the bad man that he is?
Jesus Christ, in His incarnate life, was the perfect embodiment and illustration of the ethics of the gospel which He preached. What was there in His life that deserved condemnation from any man? Set over against Mr. Ingersoll's reprobation of the morals of the New Testament the words of Mr. [William Edward Hartpole - jd] Lecky, one of the most intellectual and learned men of modern times. In his History of European Morals he says:"It was reserved for Christianity to present to the world an ideal character, which through all the changes of eighteen centuries has inspired the hearts of men with impassioned love; which has shown itself capable of acting on all nations, ages, temperaments, and conditions; which has not only been the highest pattern of virtue, but the strongest incentive to its practice, and has exercised so deep an influence that it may be truly said that the simple record of his three short years of active life has done more to regenerate and soften mankind than all the disquisitions of philosophers and all the exhortations of moralists."This is the testimony of a great scholar and critic, a man whose learning is as much deeper than Mr. Ingersoll's as mid-ocean is deeper than the little artificial lake on the grounds of our late Tennessee Centennial Exposition.
An infallible and universal standard of right and wrong is an absolute necessity to mankind. There must be such a standard somewhere. But where is it? It is not in ourselves. It is not what we feel, or think. That would make as many standards as there are individuals in the world, because no two human beings feel and think exactly alike.
If every man were a law unto himself, there would be nothing but social chaos on the earth. The infallible and universal standard is the morality of the Bible, the essence of which is expressed in the Golden Rule, "As ye would that men should do unto you, do ye even so unto them." Neither man nor angel can conceive of anything higher and better than that.
As Mr. Ingersoll does not admit the existence of God he does not believe in any universal law of human rectitude. If there is no God, every man must decide for himself what is right and what is wrong. This is Mr. Ingersoll's doctrine. He claims to be the ultimate judge for himself as to what is good and what is evil. What he commends is right, and what he condemns is wrong.
This infidel is perfectly consistent with himself when he says, "I do not believe in the New Testament doctrine of non-resistance." He believes that a man ought to resist anything that infringes on his natural liberty, the liberty to do whatever he desires to do.
Society, in its organized capacity, is ever infringing upon man's natural liberties. It demands, as a consideration for the protection which it gives an individual, that he surrender his right to do anything that he wishes to do. Theoretically, at least, Ingersoll is an anarchist. He is against all external government, human or divine.
He is consistent with this doctrine when he defends suicide. He believes that any man who is tired of life has the right to blow his brains out, and leave his dependent wife and children to endure the woes of poverty. Some years ago one of his disciples poisoned himself, and beside his dead body was one of Ingersoll's books containing his damnable defense of suicide.
But Mr. Ingersoll was strangely inconsistent with himself when he said, "Slavery is a crime that includes all other crimes; it is the joint product of the kidnapper, pirate, thief, murderer and hypocrite."
I suppose there is not a man among us who does not rejoice at the downfall of slavery in this country, though he may deprecate the methods by which its overthrow was accomplished. But we are not prepared to believe that every man in this republic who owned a slave was a pirate, or a thief, or a murderer, or a hypocrite. We do not believe that Patrick Henry, James Madison, Thomas Jefferson, and George Washington, were pirates, thieves, murderers, and hypocrites. We do not believe that even Mr. Ingersoll's New England ancestors, the first slaveholders on American soil, were a combination of pirates, thieves, murderers, and hypocrites.
"There is no God, or if there be one, we cannot know it. The Bible is a lie; Jesus Christ was a sleight-of-hand man; whatever a man believes to be right is right; death is an eternal sleep; or, if there be another life, we cannot know it."
This is Mr. Ingersoll's creed. Does any man in his right mind believe it is better than Christianity? Mr. Ingersoll said here: "I hate your religion; I hate your God; while I live I am going to try to civilize Christians; I always hated Jehovah, and used to wish that somebody would kill him."
Does any man, who is not bereft of reason, believe that the universal adoption of such blasphemous sentiments would advance the world in virtue, happiness, and prosperity? Would it reform the drunkard? Would it make virtuous and useful men of thieves, bandits, and murderers? Would it elevate our characters, dignify the objects of our pursuit, and render us patient and cheerful in adversity?
Would it improve our social condition? Would it subdue wrong and establish justice? Would it enlarge our sympathies, harmonize, discordant elements, and bind together the dissevered races of mankind in the bonds of a great, virtuous, loving, and happy brotherhood?
No man, who has mind enough to understand the influence of principles upon conduct, believes that the prevalence of Ingersollism would accomplish these results.
Mr. Ingersoll himself sees in this proposed substitute for Christianity no real benefit to the world. The only tangible blessing to any one which comes within the range of his agnostic vision, when he discusses these questions, is the five hundred dollars which he is to receive for his blasphemous work.
I make no hasty and reckless assertion when I say that the desire on the part of thousands and hundreds of thousands of men and women to re-organize society on the basis of Ingersoll's infidelity, is at the bottom of the evils which now threaten the existence of this government.
All this unjust legislation in the interest of monopoly had its origin in the hearts of men who repudiate moral government and the doctrine of retribution after death. All these wild anarchistic methods, which certain elements of the oppressed classes are adopting for the redress of their grievances, are inspired by a belief in the utterances of Mr. Ingersoll.
Ingersoll may harbor in his breast no revolutionary purpose. I am inclined to believe that he has nothing in view beyond the accumulation of money and the gratification of his mad passion for vulgar notoriety. But the doctrine which he teaches, falling as it does upon the ears of millions of ignorant and already dissatisfied people, if not counteracted, is destined to bring forth an unprecedented harvest of debauchery, lawlessness, and crime.
Christianity is not an experiment. It has been tried and it has not failed. Wherever it has been taught in its original simplicity and purity, it has made men better and advanced every interest of society.
As authority upon this subject, every intelligent person would put James Anthony Froude immeasurably above Robert G. Ingersoll. In a recent work he says, "All that we call modern civilization, in a sense which deserves the name, is the visible expression of the transforming power of the gospel."
Gladstone, the most colossal man of modern England, was persistent in declaring that all that is best in the civilization of this century is traceable directly or indirectly to the gospel of the Man of Galilee.
Bismark, who was a diligent and devout reader of the Bible, said that he could not understand how any one could endure existence unsustained by a belief in its teachings.
How foolish to turn away from the mature wisdom of these majestic men to listen to the rhetorical vaporings and silly ribaldry of an infidel hireling.
"The law of the Lord is perfect, converting the soul." It puts into earthy, corrupt, groveling human nature a new principle of life. It quickens and unfetters all the higher and finer faculties of the human soul, starts it on a career of noblest service here, and fits it for an immortality of honor and blessedness in a life to come. A religion that does this is surely not "the most infamous thing in the universe." A God who has given us such a religion does not deserve to be "hated and killed."
Run a parallel between the life of Robert Ingersoll, a hired defamer of the Christian's God and Saviour, and the life of Florence Nightingale, who, animated by the spirit of Him who "went about doing good," devoted every capacity and energy of her existence to the relief of human suffering, and went to her grave laden with the benedictions of a grateful world. Make the comparison and you will see something of the infinite superiority of the gospel of love and immortality over the gospel of dirt and suicide.
[From Milburn Cockrell, Editor, The Berea Baptist Banner, June 1986, pp. 1, 13-14 and July, pp. 3-4. J. B. Hawthorne, An Unshaken Trust And Other Sermons, pp. 136-151, 1899 edition). Scanned and formatted by Jim Duvall.]
More on J. B. Hawthorne
You may also be interested in The Bible Agnostics and Agnosticism, by John J. Pusey, D. D., Virginia, The National Baptist Magazine, 1901.
Baptist History Homepage