Sunday, 25 October 2009

‘Sacred Scriptures of the Human Race’ [updated]

    Too many atheists are content to grant religionists of all brands a monopoly over what they call the 'spiritual.'  “We haven't any spiritual goals or qualities,” they say, “All we care for is material things.”
    And religionists are all too happy to let them believe that, since as long as they’ve got a stranglehold on the things of ‘the spirit’ then they retain the important high ground -- and still have a toe-hold on intellectual respectability.
    Robert Ingersoll's writing is the perfect antidote to both religionists and materialists, which is is why I’m reposting this piece on Ingersoll from
The Rational Capitalist blog, where it first appeared.  (And if you’re looking for commentary, analysis, and links upholding reason, individualism, and capitalism, you should add it to your regular reading list.)

Robert G. Ingersoll was part of the Free Thought movement of the 19th century and an outspoken opponent of religion. In 1894, he wrote a brilliant piece titled About the Holy Bible that not only provides a thorough expose of biblical contradiction but more importantly recognizes the fundamental conflict between religion and liberty, or, more specifically, between religion and man's happiness on earth. As the left, in addition to the right, turns towards religion, it is important to understand this conflict. The below excerpts represent a partial reprint of a previous post, but I believe his writing is so outstanding I am posting this part again. I enjoy his writing more for its style than any technical philosophy (he was a famous orator) and his ability to articulate the essence of this conflict in such a passionate and eloquent way:

    THERE ARE MANY MILLIONS of people who believe the Bible to be the inspired word of God -- millions who think that this book is staff and guide, counselor and consoler; that it fills the present with peace and the future with hope -- millions who believe that it is the fountain of law, Justice and mercy, and that to its wise and benign teachings the world is indebted for its liberty, wealth and civilization -- millions who imagine that this book is a revelation from the wisdom and love of God to the brain and heart of man -- millions who regard this book as a torch that conquers the darkness of death, and pours its radiance on another world -- a world without a tear.
    They forget its ignorance and savagery, its hatred of liberty, its religious persecution; they remember heaven, but they forget the dungeon of eternal pain. They forget that it imprisons the brain and corrupts the heart. They forget that it is the enemy of intellectual freedom. Liberty is my religion. Liberty of hand and brain -- of thought and labor, liberty is a word hated by kings -- loathed by popes. It is a word that shatters thrones and altars -- that leaves the crowned without subjects, and the outstretched hand of superstition without alms. Liberty is the blossom and fruit of justice -- the perfume of mercy. Liberty is the seed and soil, the air and light, the dew and rain of progress, love and joy.
In a section titled Is Christ Our Example?, Ingersoll writes:

    HE NEVER SAID A word in favor of education. He never even hinted at the existence of any science. He never uttered a word in favor of industry, economy or of any effort to better our condition in this world. He was the enemy of the successful, of the wealthy. Dives was sent to hell, not because he was bad, but because he was rich. Lazarus went to heaven, not because he was good, but because he was poor.
    Christ cared nothing for painting, for sculpture, for music -- nothing for any art. He said nothing about the duties of nation to nation, of king to subject; nothing about the rights of man; nothing about intellectual liberty or the freedom of speech. He said nothing about the sacredness of home; not one word for the fireside; not a word in favor of marriage, in honor of maternity.
    He never married. He wandered homeless from place to place with a few disciples. None of them seem to have been engaged in any useful business, and they seem to have lived on alms.

    All human ties were held in contempt; this world was sacrificed for the next; all human effort was discouraged. God would support and protect.
    At last, in the dusk of death, Christ, finding that he was mistaken, cried out: "My God My God! Why hast thou forsaken me?"
    We have found that man must depend on himself. He must clear the land; he must build the home; he must plow and plant; he must invent; he must work with hand and brain; he must overcome the difficulties and obstructions; he must conquer and enslave the forces of nature to the end that they may do the work of the world.

Here is my favorite excerpt:

    FOR THOUSANDS OF YEARS men have been writing the real Bible, and it is being written from day to day, and it will never be finished while man has life. All the facts that we know, all the truly recorded events, all the discoveries and inventions, all the wonderful machines whose wheels and levers seem to think, all the poems, crystals from the brain, flowers from the heart, all the songs of love and joy, of smiles and tears, the great dramas of Imagination's world, the wondrous paintings, miracles of form and color, of light and shade, the marvelous marbles that seem to live and breathe, the secrets told by rock and star, by dust and flower, by rain and snow, by frost and flame, by winding stream and desert sand, by mountain range and billowed sea.

    All the wisdom that lengthens and ennobles life, all that avoids or cures disease, or conquers pain -- all just and perfect laws and rules that guide and shape our lives, all thoughts that feed the flames of love the music that transfigures, enraptures and enthralls the victories of heart and brain, the miracles that hands have wrought, the deft and cunning hands of those who worked for wife and child, the histories of noble deeds, of brave and useful men, of faithful loving wives, of quenchless mother-love, of conflicts for the right, of sufferings for the truth, of all the best that all the men and women of the world have said, and thought and done through all the years.
    These treasures of the heart and brain -- these are the Sacred Scriptures of the human race.



  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. @Redbaiter

    A dedication to reason. You use the word "obsession" to give PC's efforts negative conotations.

    If one believes something to be true, has evidence to support it and the good nature to tell others about what he knows, then that's a good thing.

  3. Ingersoll needs to read Psalm 22 and actually understand Sacred Scriptures. Like so many others, he argues with what he thinks scripture is saying, as opposed to what it actually says.

  4. Psalm 22, you say? We need to read what it actually says?

    Yes, it's wonderful stuff, isn't it. If you're psychotic. Or enjoy whimpering.

    "O my God, I cry in the day time, but thou hearest not; and in the night season, and am not silent.
    But thou art holy, O thou that inhabitest the praises of Israel. "

    Pardon my whinging, O Great One. But if you've got a moment . . .

    "But I am a worm, and no man; a reproach of men, and despised of the people."

    With good cause, by the looks of things.

    "Be not far from me; for trouble is near; for there is none to help.
    Many bulls have compassed me: strong bulls of Bashan have beset me round. Many calves have surrounded me.
    They gaped upon me with their mouths, as a ravening and a roaring lion.
    I am poured out like water, and all my bones are out of joint: my heart is like wax; it is melted in the midst of my bowels.
    My strength is dried up like a potsherd; and my tongue cleaveth to my jaws; and thou hast brought me into the dust of death.
    For dogs have compassed me: the assembly of the wicked have inclosed me: they pierced my hands and my feet."

    Go the calves, I say.

    "Deliver my soul from the sword; my darling from the power of the dog.
    Save me from the lion's mouth: for thou hast heard me from the horns of the unicorns."

    And there are people who say the Psalms read like poetry. Sheesh.

    But your point is?

    "I will declare thy name unto my brethren: in the midst of the congregation will I praise thee.
    Ye that fear the LORD, praise him; all ye the seed of Jacob, glorify him; and fear him, all ye the seed of Israel.
    For he hath not despised nor abhorred the affliction of the afflicted; neither hath he hid his face from him; but when he cried unto him, he heard. "

    So what's to understand? Bloke's in the pooh; instead of getting himself out of it he whimpers about being a worm, and calls on help from on high -- from a God who, if he existed, was responsible for putting him there, probably so He could enjoy the spectacle.

    Makes perfect sense.

    And in any case, even by the evidence of his own book, He's not a God that actually likes rushing to the rescue, is he. More the sort of God who (according to His Book) likes playing with folk the same way a cat likes playing with a mouse. Just ask Isaiah:
    "And when ye spread forth your hands, I will hide mine eyes from you: yea, when ye make many prayers, I will not hear. . .
    Verily thou art a God that hidest thyself. "

    Or Ezekiel:
    "Thus saith the Lord GOD; Are ye come to enquire of me? As I live, saith the Lord GOD, I will not be enquired of by you. "

    Or Habakkuk:
    "O LORD, how long shall I cry, and thou wilt not hear! even cry out unto thee of violence, and thou wilt not save! "

    Or Hosea:
    "They shall go with their flocks and with their herds to seek the LORD; but they shall not find him; he hath withdrawn himself from them. "

    Or Job.

  5. Fisk this one then.

    'It is given unto man once to die, then the judgement'


  6. Fisk this then, from 'Die Walkure.' When Brunnhilde comes to take Siegmund in the name of Wotan, her father, Siegmund responds as any red-blooded man should to being "called by the Gods" to their side:

    SIEGMUND (the Walsung, replying to Brunnhilde):
    If death be his, whither tak'st thou the hero?

    BRUNNHILDE (the God's daughter):
    To Wotan, for such is his will; Hence with me awaits Valhalla for thee. The fallen heroes' hallowed band shall greet thee there . . . His father there will the Wälsung find. . . Wishmaidens wait on thee there: Wotan's daughter faithfully there fills thy cup.

    Fair art thou, and holy before me stands Wotan's child: yet one thing tell me, immortal! Go brother and bride to Walhall together? shall there Siegmund & Sieglinde find?

    Lone on earth must she still linger: Siegmund will see Sieglinde no more.

    SIEGMUND (bending softly over his bride Sieglinde, kisses her gently on the brow, and turns tranquilly to Brunnhilde):
    Then greet for me Walhall, greet for me Wotan,
    Greet for me the Wolsung and all the heroes;
    Greet too the beauteous wish-maidens.
    To them I'll follow thee not.

    That's the response of any red-blooded man to the Gods -- to each and every one of their corrupt, fictional, man-made, entreaties: "Away with your gods, and your bloodless love. I'll settle for the real thing right here on this earth!"

  7. I've enjoyed your blog until recently but I generally avoid blogs which decide to preach about religion, one way or another.

    Religion is a matter of an individual's basic postulates. And as such are not a matter of discussion and debate between the truly rational, but is big a big deal with the rationalizing.

    Which is why you see so little of it in Rand's books. I hope you continue to work for freedom, but I've taken you off my blog role as you seem stuck on this issue.

    Best regards.

  8. @K

    The essence of what you're saying is that there is a domain of thought - "religion", "spirituality" or whatever you wish to call it - that ought be placed outside reason.

    You're saying that there are some thoughts that ought not be subject to critical evaluation.

    Why do you find critical analysis of most ideas desirable, but analysis of another set of ideas undesirable?

  9. PC, if the response to this post is lukewarm it's because Ingersoll's work amounts to a misinformed "Gish gallop" of innuendo and half truth that does not address the substance and character of Christianity. It's just a polemic to reinforce the prejudiced notions of atheists. His errors are so numerous that a point by point rebuttal is not feasible. However here is a brief response to Ingersoll's tactics.

  10. Religion is a matter of an individual's basic postulates. And as such are not a matter of discussion and debate between the truly rational.

    Except if it's Islam - Christians and sundry religious rightists don't mind positing opinions on that, do they?

    ALL religions should be given the respect they deserve - which is none.

    And make no mistake - Christians would still be on the rampage today just like militant Islamists if they had not been marginalised by the political process in the West.

  11. PC,
    The circumstances and ultimate purpose of Jesus death were prophesied ~1000 years beforehand in Psalm 22, written by King David. Jesus quoted the Psalm as he was crucified, as this was the moment of its prophetic fulfilment.

    I'm not sure what your method of bible interpretation is, but the argument from incredulity and ignorance probably isn't likely to work in an academic setting, where scholars make use of novel approaches like cultural context, history and sensible exegesis.

    When someone says "make no mistake" you can be certain their next pronouncement will be a hysterical misrepresentation of the facts.

    I was hoping that people here might be sincere skeptics, but unfortunately all I can see is ranting atheists.

  12. Ropata when christians - and catholics in particular - admit that for Jews and Muslims the crusades were genocide, mass murder, and mass extermination of innocent people then you may have a rational conversation.

    Have some respect for the victims of the "first holocaust" before you and your ideological allies start blowing off about the evils of Islam and so on.

    How DARE you take the moral high ground.

  13. Ruth,
    Now it's an argument from outrage and another tangential rant. By your debating standards then, all atheists must provide a defense for the mass murders of the 20th century.

    Jesus' teaching on how to treat enemies:

    * Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, pray for them which despitefully use you (Matthew 5:44).
    * Resist not evil (Matthew 5:39).
    * If someone strikes you on one cheek, turn to them the other (Matthew 5:39).
    * If someone takes your coat, give them your shirt (Matthew 5:40).
    * If someone make you carry something one mile, carry it two (Matthew 5:41).
    * Forgive and you shall be forgiven (Matthew 6:14).
    * Judge not, that ye be not judged (Matthew 7:1).
    * Blessed are the peacemakers (Matthew 5:9).
    * Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy (Matthew 5:7).
    * Ye have heard that it was said, Thou shalt not kill, but I say who ever is angry with his brother is in danger of the judgment (Matthew 5:21-22).
    * Treat others the same way you want them to treat you (Luke 6:27-36).
    * Feed the hungry, clothe the naked, visit the sick, whatever you do to the very least you have done unto me (Matthew 25:40).

    Muhammad's teaching on how to treat enemies:

    * Infidels are your sworn enemies (Sura 4:101).
    * Be ruthless to the infidels (Sura 48:29).
    * Make war on the infidels who dwell around you (Sura 9:123, 66:9).
    * Fight those who believe not in Allah nor the Last Day (Sura 9:29).
    * Strike off the heads of infidels in battle (Sura 47:4).
    * If someone stops believing in Allah, kill him (al-Bukhari 9:84:57).
    * Take neither the Jews nor the Christians for your friends (Sura 5:51, 60:13).
    * Never be a helper to the disbelievers (Sura 28:86).
    * Kill the disbelievers wherever we find them (Sura 2:191).
    * No Muslim should be killed for killing an infidel (al-Bukhari 1:3:111).
    * The only reward of those who make war upon Allah and His messenger will be that they will be killed or crucified, or have their hands and feet on alternate sides cut off, or will be expelled out of the land (Sura 5:33).

    I think a quick look at the text will show Islam teaches violence and Christianity doesn't. Muslims attacking non Muslims is just Muslims following the teachings of the Qu'ran, while Christians attacking Christians and nonbelievers is in violation of Christianity.

    Human nature is violent. I am sure that many Muslims killed people without giving a flip on way or another what the Qu'ran said as I am equally sure many Christians killed people without giving a tinkers damn to what the New Testament taught. However the issue remains that the New Testament condemns violence and the Qu'ran encourages it.

    While the Crusades went too far in killing innocent Muslims it should be noted if Muslims had not been, pardon the phrase, Jihading all over the place this wouldn't have happened.

  14. Ropata: Oh how damned shallow can Christians like yourself be to continually wheel out the straw man of "atheists are responsible for the Nazis and the communists" bullshit.

    Rubbish. Anymore than vegetarians are responsible for Hitler because, funnily enough, he was one.

    The absence of a belief in a supernatural entity does not mean the embrace of totalitarianism. Atheism is NOT a comprehensive philosophy, it is just the repudiation of one source for philosophy - the supernatural (or rather the human interpretations of the supernatural).

    The Bible is brimming with violence, noticing you've very selectively chosen 2 books from it, you could go through the Old Testament and find rivers of blood, involving vast numbers of innocents, including children. The bloody violent history of Christianity was cauterised by the Enlightenment and secularism.

    Worth noting your Bible quotes drip of sacrifice and surrender, which of course is JUST as immoral against violent evil as is endorsing it.

    The common theme among Christians and Muslims is the attention and focus given to death and what happens after death. Sacrifice all in this life for death, since most Christians have given up forcing others, they let themselves surrender life for death, it's a shame that quite a few Muslims are still willing to murder en masse for essentially the same purpose.

    The Bible is a selected group of texts of diverse origins (which excludes others written at the same time) which hangs together rather loosely. You can pull from the Bible what you wish, as indeed you can from the Koran - which is why fundamentalists of both religions cry forth why other believers ignore what THEY rely upon to seek to do violence to the rest of us.

  15. God help us when the self-styled "rationalists" become useful idiots for Islamization, and discard our Christian heritage in a fit of pique. It's called the Good News for a reason.

    To continually impute the worst motives to the other side of a debate is offensive and unreasonable. It's no way to advance an argument, and reveals an ugly seam of ill will and prejudice. Reactionary hatred and condemnation of religion is an untenable and extremely arrogant dismissal of most of the human race.

    That is all, I have clearly wasted my time here.

  16. brian Scurfield27 Oct 2009, 07:35:00

    ALL religions should be given the respect they deserve - which is none.

    I disagee with this. Religious traditions contain good knowledge as well as bad and some traditions contain better knowledge than others. It is a mistake to accord traditions with good knowledge no respect. For example, the tradition of Judaism was responsible for the idea of ethical monotheism, the idea that there is objective morality, an excellent idea that has stood that tradition and the Western world in good stead. I salute Judaism for this.

    And make no mistake - Christians would still be on the rampage today just like militant Islamists if they had not been marginalised by the political process in the West.

    Christian reform began when the bible was subjected to critical scrutiny and people actually started pointing out and debating what was written in the book rather than relying on a privileged priesthood. If you look at the positive things in the New Testament I think it comes out a lot better than the Koran, as ropata pointed out. Saying they are as bad as each other or that you can pull from each what you wish is relativism in my opinion and, like all relativism, dangerous.

  17. Religions deserves respect as much as this-worldly philosophies do. That then becomes a matter of being selective. Christianity brought with it ethics that are rational, but not because it came from Christianity - it was fundamentally rational in the first place.

    Some of the 10 commandments make good rational sense, but it has nothing to do with belief in a supernatural being. Our numbers come from India and Arabia as well, something that critics of both Hinduism and Islam might think about.

    However, if the measure of philosophy is what does it contribute today, we know that reason and science do NOT owe themselves to Christianity, but to a battle to ringfence it. The Bible offers next to nothing useful to describe the world, and offers a basis for a whole spectrum of morality that ranges from the rational to the outright evil.

    Islamists cannot be fought by argument based on religion - quite simply it is saying your version of a god is different from theirs and you both hold the view based on faith.

    Far better to say life is the standard of value, and to uphold life human beings have rights to personal sovereignty, and to interact voluntarily. Within that realm you can have faith in whatsoever you wish, but do not let such faith infringe upon the rights of others to do otherwise, and live their lives peacefully as they see fit.

    If all Muslims, Christians, Jews, Hindus, agnostics and atheists did that, the world would be transformed out of all recognition, for the better.

  18. "Far better to say life is the standard of value, and to uphold life human beings have rights to personal sovereignty, and to interact voluntarily. Within that realm you can have faith in whatsoever you wish, but do not let such faith infringe upon the rights of others to do otherwise, and live their lives peacefully as they see fit."

    That works for me, too.

    The Christians & Jews of my acquaintance are very much of the pick & choose mould, and would never seek to impose their personal beliefs upon another, which suits me fine. I don't hold with the tunnel-vision of fundamentalism from any quarter.

    Ruth, surely only a diehard bible-thumper would try to deny the horror and barbarism of the crusades and subsequent atrocities committed by Christians. But in the 21st century, there is only one of the world's big three that openly, brazenly and even gleefully behead, stone and murder non-believers for the crime of being non-believers.

    Some context is required.

  19. Sus, it is worth noting that there are a few pockets of people using Catholicism (Croatia/Bosnia), Orthodox Christianity (Serbia/Bosnia), Hinduism and Buddhism (Sri Lanka) to justify spilling much blood in the name of god. Sectarianism which uses religion as a convenient totem (i.e. Ireland) remains a deadly disease.

  20. LS: I would suggest that the monsters you mention are motivated *politically*, using their religions as a convenient tool to get their followers going. In other words, their religious beliefs -- if they even have them -- take a distant second place to their political aims.

    I'm not sure the distinction is as clear-cut with the Islamists.

    However, I certainly take your point. A monster is a monster.

  21. "ALL religions should be given the respect they deserve - which is none."

    First time I think I've agreed with Ruth on anything.

  22. I know what you mean gregster. She's been making more and more sense lately. It's rather disconcerting. Still, credit where credit is due and all that.

  23. "the tradition of Judaism was responsible for the idea of ethical monotheism,"

    Incorrect. I believe Akhanaten an Egyptian disbanded polytheism for monotheism.

  24. Brian Scurfield29 Oct 2009, 08:44:00

    gregster - Can you tell me more about Akhanaten?


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