A taste of Robert Ingersoll 15

To say one is “agnostic” is to say one does not know – eg. whether a god exists or not.

If one does not know that a god exists, one cannot be in a state of belief that he does. A person who says “I am an agnostic” is, at that moment, an atheist. He might be leaving open the possibility that one day he will know for sure whether or not there is a god, but he does not know it now. For now, he is without belief in a god. For now he is an atheist.

To call oneself “an agnostic” is, we think, an attempt to make a statement of unbelief softer, less challenging; to put a little powder on the bare face of atheism.

Robert G. Ingersoll called himself an agnostic. Although we would argue over the implications of that self-description, we like much of what he wrote and said.

Here is the conclusion of Ingersoll’s lectureWhy I am an Agnostic (1896):

One Sunday I went with my brother to hear a Free Will Baptist preacher. He was a large man, dressed like a farmer, but he was an orator. He could paint a picture with words.

He took for his text the parable of “the rich man and Lazarus”. He described Dives, the rich man – his manner of life, the excesses in which he indulged, his extravagance, his riotous nights, his purple and fine linen, his feasts, his wines, and his beautiful women.

Then he described Lazarus, his poverty, his rags and wretchedness, his poor body eaten by disease, the crusts and crumbs he devoured, the dogs that pitied him. He pictured his lonely life, his friendless death.

Then, changing his tone of pity to one of triumph – leaping from tears to the heights of exultation – from defeat to victory – he described the glorious company of angels, who with white and outspread wings carried the soul of the despised pauper to Paradise – to the bosom of Abraham.

Then, changing his voice to one of scorn and loathing, he told of the rich man’s death. He was in his palace, on his costly couch, the air heavy with perfume, the room filled with servants and physicians. His gold was worthless then. He could not buy another breath. He died, and in hell he lifted up his eyes, being in torment.

Then, assuming a dramatic attitude, putting his right hand to his ear, he whispered, “Hark! I hear the rich man’s voice. What does he say? Hark! ‘Father Abraham! Father Abraham! I pray thee send Lazarus that he may dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my parched tongue, for I am tormented in this flame’.”

“Oh, my hearers, he has been making that request for more than eighteen hundred years. And millions of ages hence that wail will cross the gulf that lies between the saved and lost and still will be heard the cry: ‘Father Abraham! Father Abraham! I pray thee send Lazarus that he may dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my parched tongue, for I am tormented in this flame’.”

For the first time I understood the dogma of eternal pain – appreciated “the glad tidings of great joy”. For the first time my imagination grasped the height and depth of the Christian horror. Then I said: “It is a lie, and I hate your religion. If it is true, I hate your God.”

From that day I have had no fear, no doubt. For me, on that day, the flames of hell were quenched. From that day I have passionately hated every orthodox creed. That Sermon did some good.

We cannot understand how Christians can believe that their god loves every human being but will condemn anyone who offends him to everlasting torment.

But then, we fail to understand how anyone can believe anything that Christianity teaches, from the triune god all the way down.

Posted under Atheism, Christianity, Commentary, Religion general, Theology by Jillian Becker on Saturday, December 27, 2014

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