Robert G. Ingersoll

ingersollThe promotion of reason in opposition to faith is nothing new. Colonel Robert Green Ingersoll (August 11, 1833 – July 21, 1899) was a Civil War veteran, American political leader, and orator during the Golden Age of Freethought, noted for his broad range of culture and his defense of agnosticism. His arguments have not lost their force. Also a prominent member of the Republican Party, he refused to run for office, and is best known for his speeches for which the public paid as much as $1 to attend. Below is a collection of some of his most salient quotes from books and speeches.


  1. Nothing is greater than to break the chains from the bodies of men — nothing nobler than to destroy the phantom of the soul.
    —Robert Green Ingersoll, quoted from the Address, Ingersoll the Magnificent, delivered by Joseph Lewis on August 11th 1954 dedicating, as a Public Memorial, the house in which Robert G Ingersoll was born, Dresden, Yates County, in the state of New York.


  2. The man who does not do his own thinking is a slave, and is a traitor to himself and to his fellow-men.
    —Robert Green Ingersoll, “The Liberty of Man, Woman and Child”


  3. They knew no better, but I do not propose to follow the example of a barbarian because he was honestly a barbarian.
    —Robert Green Ingersoll, “The Limitations of Toleration”


  4. The doctrine of eternal punishment is in perfect harmony with the savagery of the men who made the orthodox creeds. It is in harmony with torture, with flaying alive, and with burnings. The men who burned their fellow-men for a moment, believed that God would burn his enemies forever.
    —Robert Green Ingersoll, “Crumbling Creeds”


  5. We have heard talk enough. We have listened to all the drowsy, idealess, vapid sermons that we wish to hear. We have read your Bible and the works of your best minds. We have heard your prayers, your solemn groans and your reverential amens. All these amount to less than nothing. We want one fact. We beg at the doors of your churches for just one little fact. We pass our hats along your pews and under your pulpits and implore you for just one fact. We know all about your mouldy wonders and your stale miracles. We want a this year’s fact. We ask only one. Give us one fact for charity. Your miracles are too ancient. The witnesses have been dead for nearly two thousand years.
    —Robert Green Ingersoll, “The Gods” (1872)


  6. Who can over estimate the progress of the world if all the money wasted in superstition could be used to enlighten, elevate and civilize mankind?
    —Robert Green Ingersoll, “Some Mistakes of Moses”


  7. We have already compared the benefits of theology and science. When the theologian governed the world, it was covered with huts and hovels for the many, palaces and cathedrals for the few. To nearly all the children of men, reading and writing were unknown arts. The poor were clad in rags and skins — they devoured crusts, and gnawed bones. The day of Science dawned, and the luxuries of a century ago are the necessities of to-day. Men in the middle ranks of life have more of the conveniences and elegancies than the princes and kings of the theological times. But above and over all this, is the development of mind. There is more of value in the brain of an average man of to-day — of a master-mechanic, of a chemist, of a naturalist, of an inventor, than there was in the brain of the world four hundred years ago.
    These blessings did not fall from the skies. These benefits did not drop from the outstretched hands of priests. They were not found in cathedrals or behind altars — neither were they searched for with holy candles. They were not discovered by the closed eyes of prayer, nor did they come in answer to superstitious supplication. They are the children of freedom, the gifts of reason, observation and experience — and for them all, man is indebted to man.

    —Robert Green Ingersoll, “God In The Constitution”


  8. Orthodox Christians have the habit of claiming all great men, all men who have held important positions, men of reputation, men of wealth. As soon as the funeral is over clergymen begin to relate imaginary conversations with the deceased, and in a very little while the great man is changed to a Christian — possibly to a saint.
    —Robert Green Ingersoll, “The Religious Belief of Abraham Lincoln”

    The Bible is not my book nor Christianity my profession.
    —Abraham Lincoln, quoted by Joseph Lewis in “Lincoln the Freethinker”

    My earlier views of the unsoundness of the Christian scheme of salvation and the human origin of the scriptures, have become clearer and stronger with advancing years and I see no reason for thinking I shall ever change them.
    —Abraham Lincoln, to Judge J S Wakefield
    [ source ]


  9. The ministers, who preached at these revivals, were in earnest. They were zealous and sincere. They were not philosophers. To them science was the name of a vague dread — a dangerous enemy. They did not know much, but they believed a great deal.
    —Robert Green Ingersoll, from “Why I Am an Agnostic” (1896)


  10. The old lady who said there must be a devil, else how could they make pictures that looked exactly like him, reasoned like a trained theologian — like a doctor of divinity.
    —Robert Green Ingersoll, from “Superstition” (1898)


  11. The doctrine that future happiness depends upon belief is monstrous. It is the infamy of infamies. 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.” What man, who ever thinks, can believe that blood can appease God? And yet, our entire system of religion is based upon that belief. The Jews pacified Jehovah with the blood of animals, and according to the Christian system, the blood of Jesus softened the heart of God a little, and rendered possible the salvation of a fortunate few. It is hard to conceive how the human mind can give assent to such terrible ideas, or how any sane man can read the Bible and still believe in the doctrine of inspiration.
    —Robert Green Ingersoll, The Gods


  12. It is contended by many that ours is a Christian government, founded upon the Bible, and that all who look upon the book as false or foolish are destroying the foundation of our country. The truth is, our government is not founded upon the rights of gods, but upon the rights of men. Our Constitution was framed, not to declare and uphold the deity of Christ, but the sacredness of humanity. Ours is the first government made by the people and for the people. It is the only nation with which the gods have had nothing to do. And yet there are some judges dishonest and cowardly enough to solemnly decide that this is a Christian country, and that our free institutions are based upon the infamous laws of Jehovah.
    —Robert Green Ingersoll, “Individuality” (1873)


  13. Our civilization is not Christian. It does not come from the skies. It is not a result of “inspiration.” It is the child of invention, of discovery, of applied knowledge — that is to say, of science. When man becomes great and grand enough to admit that all have equal rights; when thought is untrammeled; when worship shall consist in doing useful things; when religion means the discharge of obligations to our fellow-men, then, and not until then, will the world be civilized.
    —Robert Green Ingersoll, “Reply To The Indianapolis Clergy” The Iconoclast, Indianapolis, Indiana (1882)


  14. Blasphemy is an epithet bestowed by superstition upon common sense. Whoever investigates a religion as he would any department of science is called a blasphemer. Whoever contradicts a priest; whoever has the impudence to use his own reason; whoever is brave enough to express his honest thought, is a blasphemer. When the missionary speaks slightingly of the wooden god of a savage, the savage regards him as a blasphemer. To laugh at the pretensions of Mohammed in Constantinople is blasphemy. To say in St Peter’s that Mohammed was a prophet of God is blasphemy. There was a time when to acknowledge the divinity of Christ in Jerusalem was blasphemy. To deny his divinity is now blasphemy in New York.
    —Robert Green Ingersoll, “Interviews,” Works, v. 5, p. 50, quoted from Joseph Lewis, The Ten Commandment, “Third Commandment,” pp. 212-3


  15. Good-by, gentlemen! I am not asking to be Governor of Illinois … I have in my composition that which I have declared to the world as my views upon religion. My position I would not, under any circumstances, not even for my life, seem to renounce. I would rather refuse to be President of the United States than to do so. My religious belief is my own. It belongs to me, not to the State of Illinois. I would not smother one sentiment of my heart to be the Emperor of the round world.
    —Robert Green Ingersoll, to the delegation from the Republican Party upon their asking him to be their candidate for Governor of Illinois — on condition that he remain silent about his religous views (not to change them, simply to remain silent), quoted by Joseph Lewis in “Ingersoll the Magnificent”


  16. We are satisfied that there can be but little liberty on earth while men worship a tyrant in heaven.
    —Robert Green Ingersoll, “The Gods” (1872)


  17. 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.
    —Robert Green Ingersoll, sentiments later echoed by Albert Einstein (“One thing I have learned in a long life: that all our science, measured against reality, is primitive and childlike — and yet it is the most precious thing we have.”), from the Field-Ingersoll Debate (Part 2): “A Reply To The Rev Henry M Field, DD”


  18. Every sect is a certificate that God has not plainly revealed his will to man. To each reader the Bible conveys a different meaning.
    —Robert Green Ingersoll, “Some Mistakes of Moses,” XII Saturday


  19. 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.
    —Robert Green Ingersoll, quoted from the Address, Ingersoll the Magnificent, delivered by Joseph Lewis on August 11th 1954 dedicating, as a Public Memorial, the house in which Robert G Ingersoll was born, Dresden, Yates County, in the state of New York


  20. The mechanic, when a wheel refuses to turn, never thinks of dropping on his knees and asking the assistance of some divine power. He knows there is a reason. He knows that something is too large or too small; that there is something wrong with his machine; and he goes to work and he makes it larger or smaller, here or there, until the wheel will turn.
    —Robert Green Ingersoll, “The Liberty Of All” (1877)


  21. The founder of a religion must be able to turn water into wine — cure with a word the blind and lame, and raise with a simple touch the dead to life. It was necessary for him to demonstrate to the satisfaction of his barbarian disciple, that he was superior to nature. In times of ignorance this was easy to do. The credulity of the savage was almost boundless. To him the marvelous was the beautiful, the mysterious was the sublime. Consequently, every religion has for its foundation a miracle — that is to say, a violation of nature — that is to say, a falsehood.
    No one, in the world’s whole history, ever attempted to substantiate a truth by a miracle. Truth scorns the assistance of a miracle. Nothing but falsehood ever attested itself by signs and wonders. No miracle ever was performed, and no sane man ever thought he had performed one, and until one is performed, there can be no evidence of the existence of any power superior to, and independent of, nature.

    —Robert Green Ingersoll, “The Gods” (1872)


  22. Only the very ignorant are perfectly satisfied that they know. To the common man the great problems are easy. He has no trouble in accounting for the universe. He can tell you the origin and destiny of man and the why and wherefore of things.
    —Robert Green Ingersoll, “Liberty In Literature” (1890)


  23. But honest men do not pretend to know; they are candid and sincere; they love the truth; they admit their ignorance, and they say, “We do not know.”
    —Robert Green Ingersoll, “Superstition” (1898)


  24. The agnostic does not simply say, “l do not know.” He goes another step, and he says, with great emphasis, that you do not know. He insists that you are trading on the ignorance of others, and on the fear of others. He is not satisfied with saying that you do not know, — he demonstrates that you do not know, and he drives you from the field of fact — he drives you from the realm of reason — he drives you from the light, into the darkness of conjecture — into the world of dreams and shadows, and he compels you to say, at last, that your faith has no foundation in fact.
    —Robert Green Ingersoll, “Reply To Dr. Lyman Abbott” (This unfinished article was written as a reply to the Rev Lyman Abbott’s article entitled, “Flaws in Ingersollism,” which was printed in the April 1890 number of the North American Review.)


  25. A few years ago the Deists denied the inspiration of the Bible on account of its cruelty. At the same time they worshiped what they were pleased to call the God of Nature. Now we are convinced that Nature is as cruel as the Bible; so that, if the God of Nature did not write the Bible, this God at least has caused earthquakes and pestilence and famine, and this God has allowed millions of his children to destroy one another. So that now we have arrived at the question — not as to whether the Bible is inspired and not as to whether Jehovah is the real God, but whether there is a God or not.
    —Robert Green Ingersoll, quoted from the book Ingersoll the Magnificent, edited by Joseph Lewis, which does not cite references


  26. Every pulpit is a pillory, in which stands a hired culprit, defending the justice of his own imprisonment.
    —Robert Green Ingersoll, “Individuality” (1873)


  27. Ministers say that they teach charity. This is natural. They live on alms. All beggars teach that others should give.
    —Robert Green Ingersoll, “The Truth” (1897)


  28. The inspiration of the Bible depends upon the ignorance of the gentleman who reads it.
    —Robert Green Ingersoll, speech (1881), quoted from Jonathon Green, The Cassell Dictionary of Cynical Quotations


  29. The book, called the Bible, is filled with passages equally horrible, unjust and atrocious. This is the book to be read in schools in order to make our children loving, kind and gentle! This is the book they wish to be recognized in our Constitution as the source of all authority and justice!
    —Robert G Ingersoll, “The Gods” (1872)


  30. It may be that ministers really think that their prayers do good and it may be that frogs imagine that their croaking brings spring.
    —Robert Green Ingersoll, “Which Way?” (1884)


  31. The ministers are in duty bound to denounce all intellectual pride, and show that we are never quite so dear to God as when we admit that we are poor, corrupt and idiotic worms; that we never should have been born; that we ought to be damned without the least delay…. The old creed is still taught. They still insist that God is infinitely wise, powerful and good, and that all men are totally depraved. They insist that the best man god ever made, deserved to be damned the moment he was finished.
    —Robert Green Ingersoll, “Some Mistakes of Moses” (1879)


  32. Christianity has such a contemptible opinion of human nature that it does not believe a man can tell the truth unless frightened by a belief in God. No lower opinion of the human race has ever been expressed.
    —Robert Green Ingersoll, discussing the practice of not allowing atheists to give testimony in court: “In most of the States of this Union I could not give testimony. Should a man be murdered before my eyes I could not tell a jury who did it.” — quoted from the book Ingersoll the Magnificent, edited by Joseph Lewis, which does not cite references


  33. Nothing could add to the horror of hell, except the presence of its creator, God. While I have life, as long as I draw breath, I shall deny with all my strength, and hate with every drop of my blood, this infinite lie.
    —Robert Green Ingersoll, from “Why I Am an Agnostic” (1896)


  34. I would not for my life destroy one star of human hope, but I want it so that when a poor woman rocks the cradle and sings a lullaby to the dimpled darling, she will not be compelled to believe that ninety-nine chances in a hundred she is raising kindling wood for hell.
    —Robert Green Ingersoll, “How To Be Saved” (1880)


  35. If there is a God who will damn his children forever, I would rather go to hell than to go to heaven and keep the society of such an infamous tyrant. I make my choice now. I despise that doctrine. It has covered the cheeks of this world with tears. It has polluted the hearts of children, and poisoned the imaginations of men…. What right have you, sir, Mr. clergyman, you, minister of the gospel to stand at the portals of the tomb, at the vestibule of eternity, and fill the future with horror and with fear? I do not believe this doctrine, neither do you. If you did, you could not sleep one moment. Any man who believes it, and has within his breast a decent, throbbing heart, will go insane. A man who believes that doctrine and does not go insane has the heart of a snake and the conscience of a hyena.
    —Robert Green Ingersoll, “The Liberty Of All” (1877)


  36. Is it a small thing to quench the flames of hell with the holy tears of pity — to unbind the martyr from the stake — break all the chains — put out the fires of civil war — stay the sword of the fanatic, and tear the bloody hands of the Church from the white throat of Science?
    Is it a small thing to make men truly free — to destroy the dogmas of ignorance, prejudice and power — the poisoned fables of superstition, and drive from the beautiful face of the earth the fiend of fear?

    —Robert Green Ingersoll, “Thomas Paine” (1870)


  37. It is told that the great Angelo, in decorating a church, painted some angels wearing sandals. A cardinal looking at the picture said to the artist: “Whoever saw angels with sandals?” Angelo answered with another question: “Whoever saw an angel barefooted?”
    —Robert Green Ingersoll, from “Superstition” (1898)


  38. Some president wishes to be re-elected, and thereupon speaks about the Bible as “the corner-stone of American Liberty.” This sentence is a mouth large enough to swallow any church, and from that time forward the religious people will be citing that remark of the politician to substantiate the inspiration of the Scriptures.
    —Robert Green Ingersoll, “Brooklyn Divines” (1883)


  39. In the presence of death I affirm and reaffirm the truth of all that I have said against the superstitions of the world. I would say that much on the subject with my last breath.
    —Robert Green Ingersoll, June 23, 1890, interview in The Post-Express of Rochester, NY, quoted from A Biographical Appreciation of Robert Green Ingersoll by Herman E Kittredge, Chapter 9


  40. As long as every question is answered by the word “God,” scientific inquiry is simply impossible.
    —Robert Green Ingersoll, “The Gods” (1872)


  41. The clergy know that I know that they know that they do not know.
    —Robert Green Ingersoll, “Orthodoxy” (1884)


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