Tuesday, August 28, 2012

My Favorite Republicans, Part 1: Robert G. Ingersoll

In honor of the Republican National Convention that started yesterday today in Tampa, Florida, I am going to profile three of my favorite Republicans of all time. And, no, I'm not being sarcastic.

Top of the list is Robert Green Ingersoll, aka "The Great Agnostic." In the late 19th century, Ingersoll traveled the nation, speaking about his disbelief in God, the Bible, and in the supposed goodness of religion itself. He was a Union colonel in the Civil War, and even though he never held elected office (largely due to his atheist ways), he was a force of nature in bringing the ideas of freethought to thousands.

A comprehensive list of his speeches, writings, and sundry orations can be found on The Secular Web. Spend some time there. Please.

Otherwise, I recommend buying What's God Got to Do With It?, edited by Tim Page. It's a slim volume and gives you an excellent introduction to the thinking and eloquence of this most reasonable and compassionate of American freethinkers. The Republican Party was a whole different animal back in Ingersoll's day. Pray it becomes again what it once was. I mean, hope it becomes that.

Somewhat recently, I came across Ingersoll's "vow." It was in the foreward of Victor Stenger's The New Atheists. Somehow, in all my readings of Ingersoll's works, I seem to have barely scratched the surface. The words are stirring. The emphasis on freedom is what every freethinker should consider when confronted with the questions from religionists: What do you get out of atheism? What's the point of not believing?

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. The walls of my prison crumbled and fell, the dungeon was flooded with light, and all the bolts, and bars, and manacles became dust. I was no longer a servant, a serf, or a slave. There was for me no master in all the wide world--not even in infinite space. I was free--free to think, to express my thoughts--free to live to my own ideal--free to live for myself and those I loved--free to use all my faculties, all my senses--free to spread imagination's wings--free to investigate, to guess and dream and hope--free to judge and determine for myself--free to reject all ignorant and cruel creeds, all the "inspired" books that savages have produced, and all the barbarous legends of the past--free from popes and priests--free from all the "called" and "set apart"--free from sanctified mistakes and holy lies--free from the fear of eternal pain--free from the winged monsters of the night--free from devils, ghosts, and gods. For the first time I was free. There were no prohibited places in all the realms of thought--no air, no space, where fancy could not spread her painted wings--no chains for my limbs--no lashes for my back--no fires for my flesh--no master's frown or threat--no following another's steps--no need to bow, or cringe, or crawl, or utter lying words. 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--for the freedom of labor and thought--to those who fell in the fierce fields of war, to those who died in dungeons bound with chains--to those who proudly mounted scaffold's stairs--to those whose bones were crushed, whose flesh was scarred and torn--to those by fire consumed--to all the wise, the good, the brave of every land, whose thoughts and deeds have given freedom to the sons of men. And then I vowed to grasp the torch that they had held, and hold it high, that light might conquer darkness still. [Source]
(Updated 8/28/12)

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