I’ve been tracking down quotes from Robert G. Ingersoll, the subject of Susan Jacoby’s new book, The Great Agnostic: Robert G. Ingersoll and American Freethought. I’ve been mightily impressed with the man: he was a strident atheist before it was cool (or uncool) to be strident, and as eloquent as Hitchens. He was also reputed to be of impeccable charm and character. It would do us all good to read more of him, and realize that New Atheism isn’t the first in-your-face form of godlessless. (I presume that’s one reason Jacoby wrote her book.)
Anyway, checking an e-version of Ingersoll’s 1879 book, The Gods and Other Lectures, I found this as the frontispiece:
That’s about as strident as you could get for 1879!
And I must include a relevant quote I’ve used before, from Ingersoll’s 1890 essay God in the Constitution:
“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.”