Robert Green Ingersoll 1833 – 1899 was a orator during the Golden Age of Free Thought. He was nicknamed “The Great Agnostic”.
Persecuted for his agnostic beliefs
He was a prominent member of the Republican Party but his agnosticism effectively prevented him from ever pursuing or holding political offices. Illinois Republicans tried to persuade him to campaign for governor on the condition that Ingersoll conceal his agnosticism during the campaign, which he refused to do.
The Great Infidels
In a lecture entitled “The Great Infidels”, he attacked the doctrine of Hell: “All the meanness, all the revenge, all the selfishness, all the cruelty, all the hatred, all the infamy of which the heart of man is capable, grew blossomed, and bore fruit in this one word – Hell.
The Age of Reason
Ingersoll popularized Thomas Paine’s “The Age of Reason” where Paine postulated that men, not God, had written the Bible, and Ingersoll included this work in his lectures on freethinking. As a freethinker with a wide audience he reintroduced Paine’s ideas to a new generation.
Ingersoll enjoyed a friendship with the poet Walt Whitman, who considered Ingersoll the greatest orator of his time. “It should not be surprising that I am drawn to Ingersoll, for he is ‘Leaves of Grass’ … He lives, embodies, the individuality, I preach. I see in Bob [Ingersoll] the noblest specimen – American-flavored – pure out of the soil, spreading, giving, demanding light.”
The feeling was mutual. Upon Whitman’s death in 1892, Ingersoll delivered the eulogy at the poet’s funeral. The eulogy was published to great acclaim and is considered a classic panegyric.
Gods by Robert Ingersoll
Robert G. Ingersoll was a tireless advocate of rational thought, who battled superstition and hypocrisy. He was far ahead of his time, advocating birth control, voting rights for landless men and women, the advancement of science, civil rights, and freedom of speech. His advocacy of such iconoclastic ideals made him a pioneer in the development of the Secular Humanist Movement.
Gods expresses his anti-clericalism and his defense of agnosticism and rationalism. “The Gods” examines religion and its relationship to the happiness – or despair – of humankind.
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