My Reviewers Reviewed, by Robert Ingersoll

This lecture was delivered by Col. Robert Ingersoll in San Francisco Cal., June 27, 1877. It was a reply to various clergymen of that city, who had made violent attacks upon him after the delivery of his lectures, "The Liberty of Man, Woman and Child," and "The Ghosts." Thanks once again to Julian Haydon for sending me this.

My Reviewers Reviewed, by Robert Ingersoll

AGAINST the aspersions of the pulpit and the religious press, I offer in evidence this magnificent audience. Although I represent but a small part of the holy cause of intellectual liberty, even that part shall not be defiled or smirched by a single personality. Whatever I say, I shall say because I believe it will tend to make this world grander, man nearer just, the father kinder, the mother more loving, the children more affectionate, and because I believe it will make an additional flower bloom in the pathway of every one who hears me. 

In the first place, what have I said? What has been my offence? What have I done? I am spoken of by the clergy as though I were a wolf that in the absence of the good shepherd had fattened upon his innocent flock. What have I said?

I delivered a lecture entitled, "The Liberty of Man, Woman and Child." In that lecture I said that man was entitled to physical and intellectual liberty. I defined physical liberty to be the right to do right; the right to do anything that did not interfere with the real happiness of others. I defined intellectual liberty to be the right to think right, and the right to think wrong—provided you did your best to think right.

This must be so, because thought is only an instrumentality by which we seek to ascertain the truth. Every man has the right to think, whether his thought is in reality right or wrong; and he cannot be accountable to any being for thinking wrong. There is upon man, so far as thought is concerned, the obligation to think the best he can, and to honestly express his best thought. Whenever he finds what is right, or what he honestly believes to be the right, he is less than a man if he fears to express his conviction before an assembled world.

The right to do right is my definition of physical liberty. "The right of one human being ceases where the right of another commences." My definition of intellectual liberty is, the right to think, whether you think right or wrong, provided you do your best to think right.

I believe in Liberty, Fraternity and Equality—the Blessed Trinity of Humanity.

I believe in Observation, Reason and Experience—the Blessed Trinity of Science.

I believe in Man, Woman and Child—the Blessed Trinity of Life and Joy.

I have said, and still say, that you have no right to endeavor by force to compel another to think your way—that man has no right to compel his fellow-man to adopt his creed, by torture or social ostracism. I have said, and still say, that even an infinite God has and can have no right to compel by force or threats even the meanest of mankind to accept a dogma abhorrent to his mind. As a matter of fact such a power is incapable of being exercised. You may compel a man to say that he has changed his mind. You may force him to say that he agrees with you. In this way, however, you make hypocrites, not converts. Is it possible that a god wishes the worship of a slave? Does a god desire the homage of a coward? Does he really long for the adoration of a hypocrite? Is it possible that he requires the worship of one who dare not think?

If I were a god it seems to me that I had rather have the esteem and love of one grand, brave man, with plenty of heart and plenty of brain, than the blind worship, the ignorant adoration, the trembling homage of a universe of men afraid to reason. And yet I am warned by the orthodox guardians of this great city not to think. I am told that I am in danger of hell; that for me to express my honest convictions is to excite the wrath of God. They inform me that unless I believe in a certain way, meaning their way, I am in danger of everlasting fire.

There was a time when these threats whitened the faces of men with fear. That time has substantially passed away. For a hundred years hell has been gradually growing cool, the flames have been slowly dying out, the brimstone is nearly exhausted, the fires have been burning lower and lower, and the climate gradually changing. To such an extent has the change already been effected that if I were going there to-night I would take an overcoat and a box of matches.

They say that the eternal future of man depends upon his belief. I deny it. A conclusion honestly arrived at by the brain cannot possibly be a crime; and the man who says it is, does not think so. The god who punishes it as a crime is simply an infamous tyrant. As for me, I would a thousand times rather go to perdition and suffer its torments with the brave, grand thinkers of the world, than go to heaven and keep the company of a god who would damn his children for an honest belief.

The next thing I have said is, that woman is the equal of man; that she has every right that man has, and one more—the right to be protected, because she is the weaker. I have said that marriage should be an absolutely perfect partnership of body and soul; that a man should treat his wife like a splendid flower, and that she should fill his life with perfume and with joy. I have said that a husband had no right to be morose; that he had no right to assassinate the sunshine and murder the joy of life.

I have said that when he went home he should go like a ray of light, and fill his house so full of joy that it would burst out of the doors and windows and illumine even the darkness of night. I said that marriage was the holiest, highest, the most sacred institution among men; that it took millions of years for woman to advance from the condition of absolute servitude, from the absolute slavery where the Bible found her and left her, up to the position she occupies at present.

I have pleaded for the rights of woman, for the rights of wives, and what is more, for the rights of little children. I have said that they could be governed by affection, by love, and that my heart went out to all the children of poverty and of crime; to the children that live in the narrow streets and in the sub-cellars; to the children that run and hide when they hear the footsteps of a brutal father, the children that grow pale when they hear their names pronounced even by a mother; to all the little children, the flotsam and jetsam upon the wide, rude sea of life. I have said that my heart goes out to them one and all; I have asked fathers and mothers to cease beating their own flesh and blood. I have said to them, When your child does wrong, put your arms around him; let him feel your heart beat against his. It is easier to control your child with a kiss than with a club.

For expressing these sentiments, I have been denounced by the religious press and by ministers in their pulpits as a demon, as an enemy of order, as a fiend, as an infamous man. Of this, however, I make no complaint. A few years ago they would have burned me at the stake and I should have been compelled to look upon their hypocritical faces through flame and smoke. They cannot do it now or they would.

One hundred years ago I would have been burned, simply for pleading for the rights of men. Fifty years ago I would have been imprisoned. Fifty years ago my wife and my children would have been torn from my arms in the name of the most merciful God. Twenty-five years ago I could not have made a living in the United States at the practice of law; but I can now. I would not then have been allowed to express my thought; but I can now, and I will. And when I think about the liberty I now enjoy, the whole horizon is illuminated with glory and the air is filled with wings.

I then delivered another lecture entitled "Ghosts," in which I sought to show that man had been controlled by phantoms of his own imagination; in which I sought to show these imps of darkness, these devils, had all been produced by superstition; in which I endeavored to prove that man had groveled in the dust before monsters of his own creation; in which I endeavored to demonstrate that the many had delved in the soil that the few might live in idleness, that the many had lived in caves and dens that the few might dwell in palaces of gold; in which I endeavored to show that man had received nothing from these ghosts except hatred, except ignorance, except unhappiness, and that in the name of phantoms man had covered the face of the world with tears.

And for this, I have been assailed, in the name, I presume, of universal forgiveness. So far as any argument I have produced is concerned, it cannot in any way make the slightest difference whether I am a good or a bad man. It cannot in any way make the slightest difference whether my personal character is good or bad. That is not the question, though, so far as I am concerned, I am willing to stake the whole question upon that issue. That is not, however, the thing to be discussed, nor the thing to be decided. The question is, whether what I said is true.

I did say that from ghosts we had obtained certain things—among other things a book known as the Bible. From the ghosts we received that book; and the believers in ghosts pretend that upon that book rests the doctrine of the immortality of the human soul. This I deny.

Whether or not the soul is immortal is a fact in nature and cannot be changed by any book whatever. If I am immortal, I am. If am not, no book can render me so. It is no mure wonderful that I should live again than that I do live.

The doctrine of immortality is not based upon any book. The foundation of that idea is not a creed. The idea of immortality, which, like a sea, has ebbed and flowed in the human heart, beating with its countless waves of hope and fear against the shores and rocks of fate and time, was not born of any book, was not born of a creed. It is not the child of any religion. It was born of human affection; and it will continue to ebb and flow beneath the mists and clouds of doubt and darkness as long as love kisses the lips of death. It is the eternal bow—Hope shining upon the tears of Grief.

I did say that these ghosts taught that human slavery was right. If there is a crime beneath the shining stars it is the crime of enslaving a human being. Slavery enslaves not only the slave, but the master as well. When you put a chain upon the limbs of another, you put a fetter also upon your own brain. I had rather be a slave than a slaveholder. The slave can at least be just—the slaveholder cannot. I had rather be robbed than be a robber. I had rather be stolen from than to be a thief. I have said, and I do say, that the Bible upheld, sustained and sanctioned the institution of human slavery; and before I get through I will prove it.

I said that to the same book we are indebted, to a great degree, for the doctrine of witchcraft. Relying upon its supposed sacred texts, people were hanged and their bodies burned for getting up storms at sea with the intent of drowning royal vermin. Every possible offence was punished under the name of witchcraft, from souring beer to high treason.

I also said, and I still say, that the book we obtained from the ghosts, for the guidance of man, upheld the infamy of infamies, called polygamy; and I will also prove that. And the same book teaches, not political liberty, but political tyranny.

I also said that the author of the book given us by the ghosts knew nothing about astronomy, still less about geology, still less, if possible, about medicine, and still less about legislation.

This is what I have said concerning the aristocracy of the air. I am well aware that having said it I ought to be able to prove the truth of my words. I have said these things. No one ever said them in better nature than I have. I have not the slightest malice—a victor never felt malice. As soon as I had said these things, various gentlemen felt called upon to answer me. I want to say that if there is anything I like in the world it is fairness. And one reason I like it so well is that I have had so little of it. I can say, if I wish, extremely mean and hateful things. I have read a great many religious papers and discussions and think that I now know all the infamous words in our language. I know how to account for every noble action by a mean and wretched motive, and that, in my judgment, embraces nearly the entire science of modern theology. The moment I delivered a lecture upon "The Liberty of Man, Woman and Child," I was charged with having said that there is nothing back of nature, and that nature with its infinite arms embraces everything; and thereupon I was informed that I believed in nothing but matter and force, that I believed only in earth, that I did not believe in spirit. If by spirit you mean that which thinks, then I am a believer in spirit. If you mean by spirit the something that says "I," the something that reasons, hopes, loves and aspires, then I am a believer in spirit.

Whatever spirit there is in the universe must be a natural thing, and not superimposed upon nature. All that I can say is, that whatever is, is natural. And there is as much goodness, in my judgment, as much spirit in this world as in any other; and you are just as near the heart of the universe here as you can be anywhere. One of your clergymen says in answer, as he supposes, to me, that there is matter and force and spirit. Well, can matter exist without force? What would keep it together? What would keep the finest possible conceivable atom together unless there was force? Can you imagine such a thing as matter without force? Can you conceive of force without matter? Can you conceive of force floating about attached to nothing? Can you possibly conceive of this? No human being can conceive of force without matter. "You cannot conceive of force being harnessed or hitched to matter as you would hitch horses to a carriage." You cannot. Now, what is spirit? They say spirit is the first thing that was. It seems to me, however, as though spirit was the blossom, the fruit of all, not the commencement.

They say it was first. Very well. Spirit without force, a spirit without any matter—what would that spirit do? No force, no matter!—a spirit living in an infinite vacuum. What would such a spirit turn its particular attention to? This spirit, according to these theologians, created the world, the universe; and if it did, there must have been a time when it commenced to create; and back of that there must have been an eternity spent in absolute idleness. Now, is it possible that a spirit existed during an eternity without any force and without any matter? Is it possible that force could exist without matter or spirit? Is it possible that matter could exist alone, if by matter you mean something without force? The only answer I can give to all these questions is, I do not know.

For my part, I do not know what spirit is, if there is any. I do not know what matter is, neither am I acquainted with the elements of force. If you mean by matter that which I can touch, that which occupies space, then I believe in matter. If you mean by force anything that can overcome weight, that can overcome what we call gravity or inertia; if you mean by force that which moves the molecules of matter, or the movement itself, then I believe in force. If you mean by spirit that which thinks and loves, then I believe in spirit. There is, however, no propriety in wasting any time about the science of metaphysics. I will give you my definition of metaphysics: Two fools get together; each admits what neither can prove, and thereupon both of them say, "hence we infer." That is all there is of metaphysics.

These gentlemen, however, say to me that all my doctrine about the treatment of wives and children, all my ideas of the rights of man, all these are wrong, because I am not exactly correct as to my notion of spirit. They say that spirit existed first, at least an eternity before there was any force or any matter. Exactly how spirit could act without force we do not understand. That we must take upon credit. How spirit could create matter without force is a serious question, and we are too reverent to press such an inquiry. We are bound to be satisfied, however, that spirit is entirely independent of force and matter, and any man who denies this must be "a malevolent and infamous wretch."

Another reverend gentleman proceeds to denounce all I have said as the doctrine of negation. And we are informed by him—speaking I presume from experience—that negation is a poor thing to die by. He tells us that the last hours are the grand testing hours. They are the hours when atheists disown their principles and infidels bewail their folly—"that Voltaire and Thomas Paine wrote sharply against Christianity, but their death-bed scenes are too harrowing for recital"—He also states that "another French infidel philosopher tried in vain to fortify Voltaire, but that a stronger man than Voltaire had taken possession of him, and he cried 'Retire! it is you that have brought me to my present state—Begone! what a rich glory you have brought me.'"

This, my friends, is the same old, old falsehood that has been repeated again and again by the lips of hatred and hypocrisy. There is not in one of these stories a solitary word of truth; and every intelligent man knows all these death-bed accounts to be entirely and utterly false. They are taken, however, by the mass of the church as evidence that all opposition to Christianity, so-called, fills the bed of the dying infidel and scoffer with serpents and scorpions. So far as my experience goes, the bad die in many instances as placidly as the good. I have sometimes thought that a hardened wretch, upon whose memory is engraved the record of nearly every possible crime, dies without a shudder, without a tremor, while some grand, good man, remembering during his last moments an unkind word spoken to a stranger, it may be in the heat of anger, dies with remorseful words upon his lips.

Nearly every murderer who is hanged, dies with an immensity of nerve, but I never thought it proved that he had lived a good and useful life. Neither have I imagined that it sanctified the crime for which he suffered death. The fact is, that when man approaches natural death, his powers, his intellectual faculties fail and grow dim. He becomes a child. He has less and less sense. And just in proportion as he loses his reasoning powers, he goes back to the superstitions of his childhood. The scenes of youth cluster about him and he is again in the lap of his mother.

Of this very fact, there is not a more beautiful description than that given by Shakespeare when he takes that old mass of wit and filth, Jack Falstaff, in his arms, and Mrs Quickly says:

 "A' made a finer end, and went away, an it had been my christom child; a' parted ev'n just between twelve and one, ev'n at the turning o' the tide; for after I saw him fumble with the sheets, and play with flowers, and smile upon his fingers' end, I knew there was but one way; for his nose was as sharp as a pen, and a' babbled of green fields."
As the genius of Shakespeare makes Falstaff a child again upon sunny slopes, decked with daisies, so death takes the dying back to the scenes of their childhood, and they are clasped once more to the breasts of mothers. They go back, for the reason that nearly every superstition in the world has been sanctified by some sweet and placid mother.

Remember, the superstition has never sanctified the mother, but the mother has sanctified the superstition. The young Mohammedan, who now lies dying upon some field of battle, thinks sweet and tender thoughts of home and mother, and will, as the blood oozes from his veins, repeat some holy verse from the blessed Koran.

Every superstition in the world that is now held sacred has been made so by mothers, by fathers, by the recollections of home. I know what it has cost the noble, the brave, the tender, to throw away every superstition, although sanctified by the memory of those they loved. Whoever has thrown away these superstitions has been pursued by his fellow-men, From the day of the death of Voltaire the church has pursued him as though he had been the vilest criminal.

A little over one hundred years ago, Catholicism, the inventor of instruments of torture, red with the innocent blood of millions, felt in its heartless breast the dagger of Voltaire. From that blow the Catholic Church never can recover. Livid with hatred she launched at her assassin the curse of Rome, and ignorant Protestants have echoed that curse. For myself, I like Voltaire, and whenever I think of that name, it is to me as a plume floating above some grand knight—a knight who rides to a walled city and demands an unconditional surrender. I like him.

He was once imprisoned in the Bastile, and while in that frightful fortress—and I like to tell it—he changed his name. His name was Francois Marie Arouet. In his gloomy cell he changed this name to Voltaire, and when some sixty years afterward the Bastile was torn down to the very dust, "Voltaire" was the battle cry of the destroyers who did it. I like him because he did more for religious toleration than any other man who ever lived or died. I admire him because he did more to do away with torture in civil proceedings than any other man. I like him because he was always upon the side of justice, upon the side of progress.

I like him in spite of his faults, because he had many and splendid virtues. I like him because his doctrines have never brought unhappiness to any country. I like him because he hated tyranny; and when he died he died as serenely as ever mortal died; he spoke to his servant recognizing him as a man. He said to him, calling him by name: "My friend, farewell." These were the last words of Voltaire. And this was the only frightful scene enacted at his bed of death. I like Voltaire, because for half a century he was the intellectual emperor of Europe. I like him, because from his throne at the foot of the Alps he pointed the finger of scorn at every hypocrite in Christendom.

I will give to any clergyman in the city of San Francisco a thousand dollars in gold to substantiate the story that the death of Voltaire was not as peaceful as the coming of the dawn. The same absurd story is told of Thomas Paine. Thomas Paine was a patriot—he was the first man in the world to write these words: "The Free and Independent States of America." He was the first man to convince the American people that they ought to separate themselves from Great Britain. "His pen did as much, to say the least, for the liberty of America, as the sword of Washington." The men who have enjoyed the benefit of his heroic services repay them with slander and calumny. If there is in this world a crime, ingratitude is a crime. And as for myself, I am not willing to receive anything from any man without making at least an acknowledgment of my obligation. Y et these clergymen, whose very right to stand in their pulpits and preach, was secured to them by such men as Thomas Paine, delight in slandering the reputation of that great man. They tell their hearers that he died in fear,—that he died in agony, hearing devils rattle chains, and that the infinite God condescended to frighten a dying man. I will give one thousand dollars in gold to any clergyman in San Francisco who will substantiate the truth of the absurd stories concerning the death of Thomas Paine. There is not one word of truth in these accounts; not one word.


Let me ask one thing, and let me ask it, if you please, in what is called a reverent spirit. Suppose that Voltaire and Thomas Paine, and Volney and Hume and Hobbes had cried out when dying "My God, My God, why hast thou forsaken me?" what would the clergymen of this city then have said? To resort to these foolish calumnies about the great men who have opposed the superstitions of the world, is in my judgment, unbecoming any intelligent man.

The real question is not, who is afraid to die? The question is, who is right? The great question is not, who died right, but who lived right?

There is infinitely more responsibility in living than in dying. The moment of death is the most unimportant moment of life. Nothing can be done then. You cannot even do a favor for a friend, except to remember him in your will. It is a moment when life ceases to be of value. While living, while you have health and strength, you can augment the happiness of your fellow-men; and the man who has made others happy need not be afraid to die. Yet these believers, as they call themselves, these believers who hope for immortality—thousands of them, will rob their neighbors, thousands of them will do numberless acts of injustice, when, according to their belief, the witnesses of their infamy will live forever; and the men whom they have injured and outraged, will meet them in every glittering star through all the ages yet to be.

As for me, I would rather do a generous action, and read the record in the grateful faces of my fellow-men.




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