Friday, August 11, 2006

Happiest of Happy Birthdays, Robert!

Today is the birthday of Robert Ingersoll. The great freethinker was born in 1833. As Ebonmuse says,

Both in his professional career and his personal life, Robert Ingersoll was a steadfast defender of the Bill of Rights and the true ideals of America, and a friend to those struggling for liberty everywhere. He spoke out tirelessly not just against religion, but against all evils that oppress the mind and chain the spirit. He was, for example, a fierce foe of slavery and of racism, which was still extremely common in his day; a tireless opponent of corporal punishment and child abuse; and an unapologetic advocate of female suffrage. In the 1800s, it need scarcely be noted, all of these were radical positions.

Ingersoll's lectures blended profound wisdom and courage with a warm, friendly charm and knowing humor, and his positive vision of a human future undergirded by reason and suffused with happiness stands out like a beacon. Thankfully, his eloquence has not been lost to us. His complete works, most of which he had committed completely to memory for his public lectures, are freely available on the Internet. We even have a few rare recordings of his voice, among the first sounds ever recorded on the prototype phonograph built by a prolific young inventor named Thomas Alva Edison.

Though Robert Ingersoll has long since passed on, the flame of freethought kindled by his words has never gone out. From generation to generation, through the darkest depths of fundamentalist resurgence and the bright dawnings of reason's victories, the torch has been passed from hand to hand. And everywhere it has passed through, it has kindled new lights in turn. There is more truth, beauty and wisdom in his works than in the Bible, the Qur'an and the Book of Mormon put together; and although we cannot and do not worship him or his writings, we can and do draw a powerful example from them. In times such as ours, we need a hundred more like him.

Here are a quick couple of excerpts of Ingersoll's writings:

It is far better to give yourself sometimes to negligence, to drift with wave and tide, with the blind force of the world, to think and dream, to forget the chains and limitations of the breathing life, to forget purpose and object, to lounge in the picture gallery of the brain, to feel once more the clasps and kisses of the past, to bring life's morning back, to see again the forms and faces of the dead, to paint fair pictures for the coming years, to forget all Gods, their promises and threats, to feel within your veins life's joyous stream and hear the martial music, the rhythmic beating of your fearless heart.
And then to rouse yourself to do all useful things, to reach with thought and deed the ideal in your brain, to give your fancies wing, that they, like chemist bees, may find art's nectar in the weeds of common things, to look with trained and steady eyes for facts, to find the subtle threads that join the distant with the now, to increase knowledge, to take burdens from the weak, to develop the brain, to defend the right, to make a palace for the soul.
This is real religion. This is real worship.

—"What Is Religion?" (1899)
We have no master on the land —
    No king in air —
Without a manacle we stand,
    Without a prayer,
Without a fear of coming night,
We seek the truth, we love the light.

We waste no time in useless dread,
    In trembling fear;
The present lives, the past is dead,
    And we are here,
All welcome guests at life's great feast —
We need no help from ghost or priest.

—"Declaration of the Free"

Check out Robert Ingersoll's Complete Works

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