My Reviewers Reviewed, by Robert Ingersoll

This is the final part of a lecture delivered by Col. 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 this excerpt].

MY REVIEWERS REVIEWED, by Robert Ingersol.

These gentlemen who attack me are orthodox now, but the men who started their churches were heretics.

The first Presbyterian was a heretic. The first Baptist was a heretic. The first Congregationalist was a heretic. The first Christian was denounced as a blasphemer. And yet these heretics, the moment they get numerous enough to be in the majority in some locality, begin to call themselves orthodox. Can there be any impudence beyond this?

The first Baptist, as I said before, was a heretic; and he was the best Baptist that I have ever heard anything about. I always liked him. He was a good man—Roger Williams. He was the first man, so far as I know, in this country, who publicly said that the soul of man should be free. And it was a wonder to me that a man who had sense enough to say that, could think that any particular form of baptism was necessary to salvation. It does strike me that a man of great brain and thought could not possibly think the eternal welfare of a human being, the question whether he should dwell with angels, or be tossed upon eternal waves of fire, should be settled by the manner in which he had been baptized. That seems, to me so utterly destitute of thought and heart, that it is a matter of amazement to me that any man ever looked upon the ordinance of baptism as of any importance whatever. If we were at the judgment seat to-night, and the Supreme Being, in our hearing, should ask a man:

"Have you been a good man?" and the man replied:

"Tolerably good."

"Did you love your wife and children?"


"Did you try and make them happy?"


"Did you try and make your neighbors happy?" "Yes, I paid my debts: I gave heaping measure, and I never cared whether I was thanked for it or not."

Suppose the Supreme Being then should say:

"Were you ever baptized?" and the man should reply:

"I am sorry to say I never was."

Could a solitary person of sense hear that question asked, by the Supreme Being, without laughing, even if he knew that his own case was to be called next?

I happened to be in the company of six or seven Baptist elders—how I ever got into such bad company, I don't know,—and one of them asked what I thought about baptism. Well, I never thought much about it; did not know much about it; didn't want to say anything, but they insisted upon it. I said, "Well, I'll give you my opinion—with soap, baptism is a good thing."

The Reverend Mr. Guard has answered me, as I am informed, upon several occasions. I have read the reports of his remarks, and have boiled them down. He said some things about me not entirely pleasant, which I do not wish to repeat. In his reply he takes the ground:

First. That the Bible is not an immoral book, because he swore upon it or by it when he joined the Masons.

Second. He excuses Solomon for all his crimes upon the supposition that he had softening of the brain, or a fatty degeneration of the heart.

Third. That the Hebrews had the right to slay all the inhabitants of Canaan, according to the doctrine of the "survival of the fittest." He takes the ground that the destruction of these Canaanites, the ripping open of women with child by the sword of war, was an act of sublime mercy. He justifies a war of extermination; he applauds every act of cruelty and murder. He says that the Canaanites ought to have been turned from their homes; that men guilty of no crime except fighting for their country, old men with gray hairs, old mothers and little, dimpled, prattling children, ought to have been sacrificed upon the altar of war; that it was an act of sublime mercy to plunge the sword of religious persecution into the bodies of all, old and young. This is what the reverend gentleman is pleased to call mercy. If this is mercy let us have injustice. If there is in the heavens such a God I am sorry that man exists. All this, however, is justified upon the ground that God has the right to do as he pleases with the being he has created. This I deny. Such a doctrine is infamously false. Suppose I could take a stone and in one moment change it into a sentient, hoping, loving human being, would I have the right to torture it? Would I have the right to give it pain? No one but a fiend would either exercise or justify such a right. Even if there is a God who created us all he has no such right. Above any God that can exist, in the infinite serenity forever sits the figure of justice; and this God, no matter how great and infinite he may be, is bound to do justice.

Fourth. That God chose the Jews and governed them personally for thousands of years, and drove out the Canaanites in order that his peculiar people might not be corrupted by the example of idolaters; that he wished to make of the Hebrews a great nation, and that, consequently, he was justified in destroying the original inhabitants of that country. It seems to me that the end hardly justified the means. According to the account, God governed the Jews personally for many ages and succeeded in civilizing them to that degree, that they crucified him the first opportunity they had. Such an administration can hardly be called a success.

Fifth. The reverend gentleman seems to think that the practice of polygamy after all is not a bad thing when compared with the crime of exhibiting a picture of Antony and Cleopatra. Upon the corrupting influence of such pictures he descants at great length, and attacks with all the bitterness of the narrow theologian the masterpieces of art. Allow me to say one word about art. That is one of the most beautiful words in our language—Art. And it never seemed to me necessary for art to go in partnership with a rag. I like the paintings of Angelo, of Raffaelle. I like the productions of those splendid souls that put their ideas of beauty upon the canvas uncovered.

"There are brave souls in every land
Who worship nature, grand and nude,
And who with swift indignant hand
Tear off the fig leaves of the prude."

Sixth. That it may be true that the Bible sanctions slavery, but that it is not an immoral book even if it does.

I can account for these statements, for these arguments, only as the reverend gentleman has accounted for the sins of Solomon—"by a softening of the brain, or a fatty degeneration of the heart."

It does seem to me that if I were a Christian, and really thought my fellow-man was going down to the bottomless pit; that he was going to misery and agony forever, it does seem to me that I would try and save him. It does seem to me, that instead of having my mouth filled with epithets and invectives; instead of drawing the lips of malice back from the teeth of hatred, it seems to me that my eyes would be filled with tears. It seems to me that I would do what little I could to reclaim him. I would talk to him and of him, in kindness. I would put the arms of affection about him. I would not speak of him as though he were a wild beast. I would not speak to him as though he were a brute. I would think of him as a man, as a man liable to eternal torture among the damned, and my heart would be filled with sympathy, not hatred—my eyes with tears, not scorn.

If there is anything pitiable, it is to see a man so narrowed and withered by the blight and breath of superstition, as cheerfully to defend the most frightful crimes of which we have a record—a man so hardened and petrified by creed and dogma that he hesitates not to defend even the institution of human slavery—so lost to all sense of pity that he applauds murder and rapine as though they were acts of the loftiest self-denial.

The next gentleman who has endeavored to answer what I have said, is the Rev. Samuel Robinson. This he has done in his sermon entitled "Ghosts against God or Ingersoll against Honesty." I presume he imagines himself to be the defendant in both cases.

This gentleman apologized for attending an infidel lecture, upon the ground that he had to contribute to the support of a "materialistic demon." To say the least, this is not charitable. But I am satisfied. I am willing to exchange facts for epithets. I fare so much better than did the infidels in the olden time that I am more than satisfied. It is a little thing that I bear.

The brave men of the past endured the instruments of torture. They were stretched upon racks; their feet were crushed in iron boots; they stood upon the shores of exile and gazed with tearful eyes toward home and native land. They were taken from their firesides, from their wives, from their children; they were taken to the public square; they were chained to stakes, and their ashes were scattered by the countless hands of hatred. I am satisfied. The disciples of fear cannot touch me.

This gentlemen hated to contribute a cent to the support of a "materialistic demon." When I saw that statement I will tell you what I did. I knew the man's conscience must be writhing in his bosom to think that he had contributed a dollar toward my support, toward the support of a "materialistic demon." I wrote him a letter and I said:

"My Dear Sir: In order to relieve your conscience of the crime of having contributed to the support of an unbeliever in ghosts, I hereby enclose the amount you paid to attend my lecture." I then gave him a little good advice. I advised him to be charitable, to be kind, and regretted exceedingly that any man could listen to one of my talks for an hour and a half and not go away satisfied that all men had the same right to think.

This man denied having received the money, but it was traced to him through a blot on the envelope.

This gentleman avers that everything that I said about persecution is applicable to the Catholic Church only. That is what he says. The Catholics have probably persecuted more than any other church, simply because that church has had more power, simply because it has been more of a church. It has to-day a better organization, and as a rule, the Catholics come nearer believing what they say about their church than other Christians do. Was it a Catholic persecution that drove the Puritan fathers from England? Was it not the storm of Episcopal persecution that filled the sails of the Mayflower? Was it not a Protestant persecution that drove the Ark and Dove to America? Let us be honest. Who went to Scotland and persecuted the Presbyterians? Who was it that chained to the stake that splendid girl by the sands of the sea for not saying "God save the king"? She was worthy to have been the mother of C├Žsar. She would not say "God save the king," but she would say "God save the king, if it be God's will." Protestants ordered her to say "God save the king," and no more. She said, "I will not," and they chained her to a stake in the sand and allowed her to be drowned by the rising of the inexorable tide. Who did this? Protestants. Who drove Roger Williams from Massachusetts? Protestants. Who sold white Quaker children into slavery? Protestants. Who cut out the tongues of Quakers? Who burned and destroyed men and women and children charged with impossible crimes? Protestants. The Protestants have persecuted exactly to the extent of their power. The Catholics have done the same.

I want, however, to be just. The first people to pass an act of religious toleration in the New World were the Catholics of Maryland. The next were the Baptists of Rhode Island, led by Roger Williams. The Catholics passed the act of religious toleration, and after the Protestants got into power again in England, and also in the colony of Maryland, they repealed the law of toleration and passed another law declaring the Catholics from under the protection of all law. Afterward, the Catholics again got into power and had the generosity and magnanimity to re-enact the old law. And, so far as I know, it is the only good record upon the subject of religious toleration the Catholics have in this world, and I am always willing to give them credit for it.

This gentleman also says that infidelity has done nothing for the world in the development of the arts and sciences. Does he not know that nearly every man who took a forward step was denounced by the church as a heretic and infidel? Does he not know that the church has in all ages persecuted the astronomers, the geologists, the logicians? Does he not know that even to-day the church slanders and maligns the foremost men? Has he ever heard of Tyndall, of Huxley? Is he acquainted with John W. Draper, one of the leading minds of the world? Did he ever hear of Auguste Comte, the great Frenchman? Did he ever hear of Descartes, of Laplace, of Spinoza? In short, has he ever heard of a man who took a step in advance of his time?

Orthodoxy never advances. When it advances, it ceases to be orthodoxy and becomes heresy. Orthodoxy is putrefaction. It is intellectual cloaca; it cannot advance. What the church calls infidelity is simply free thought. Every man who really owns his own brain is, in the estimation of the church, an infidel.

There is a paper published in this city called The Occident. The Editor has seen fit to speak of me, and of the people who have assembled to hear me, in the lowest, vilest and most scurrilous terms possible. I cannot afford to reply in the same spirit. He alleges that the people who assemble to hear me are the low, the debauched and the infamous. The man who reads that paper ought to read it with tongs. It is a Presbyterian sheet; and would gladly treat me as John Calvin treated Castalio. Castalio was the first minister in the history of Christendom who acknowledged the innocence of honest error, and John Calvin followed him like a sleuth-hound of perdition. He called him a "dog of Satan;" said that he had crucified Christ afresh; and pursued him to the very grave. The editor of this paper is still warming his hands at the fire that burned Servetus. He has in his heart the same fierce hatred of everything that is free. But what right have we to expect anything good of a man who believes in the eternal damnation of infants?

There may have been sometime in the history of the world a worse religion than Old School Presbyterianism, but if there ever was, from cannibalism to civilization, I have never heard of it.

I make a distinction between the members and the creed of that church. I know many who are a thousand times better than the creed—good, warm and splendid friends of mine. I would do anything in the world for them. And I have said to them a hundred times, "You are a thousand times better than your creed." But when you come down to the doctrine of the damnation of infants, it is the deformity of deformities. The editor of this paper is engaged in giving the world the cheerful doctrines of fore-ordination and damnation—those twin comforts of the Presbyterian creed, and warning them against the frightful effects of reasoning in any manner for themselves. He regards the intellectually free as the lowest, the vilest and the meanest, as men who wish to sin, as men who are longing to commit crime, men who are anxious to throw off all restraint.

My friends, every chain thrown from the body puts an additional obligation upon the soul. Every man who is free, puts a responsibility upon his brain and upon his heart. You, who never want responsibility, give your souls to some church. You, who never want the feeling that you are under obligation to yourselves, give your souls away. But if you are willing to feel and meet responsibility; if you feel that you must give an account not only to yourselves but to every human being whom you injure, then you must be free. Where there is no freedom, there can be no responsibility.

It is a mystery to me why the editors of religious papers are so malicious, why they endeavor to answer argument with calumny. Is it because they feel the sceptre slowly slipping from their hands? Is it the result of impotent rage? Is it because there is being written upon every orthodox brain a certificate of intellectual inferiority?

This same editor assures his readers that what I say is not worth answering, and yet he devotes column after column of his journal to that very purpose. He states that I am no speaker, no orator; and upon the same page admits that he did not hear me, giving as a reason that he does not think it right to pay money for such a purpose. Recollect, that in a religious paper, a man who professes honesty, criticises a statue or a painting, condemns it, and at the end of the criticism says that he never saw it. He criticises what he calls the oratory of a man, and at the end says, "I never heard him, and I never saw him."

As a matter of fact, I have never heard of any of these gentlemen who thought it necessary to hear what any man said in order to answer him.

The next gentleman who answered me is the Rev. Mr. Ijams. And I must say, so far as I can see, in his argument, or in his mode of treatment, he is a kind and considerate gentleman. He makes several mistakes as to what I really said, but the fault I suppose must have been in the report. I am made to say in the report of his sermon, "There is no sacred place in all the universe." What I did say was, "There is no sacred place in all the universe of thought. There is nothing too holy to be investigated, nothing too divine to be understood. The fields of thought are fenceless, and without a wall." I say this to-night.

Mr. Ijams also says that I had declared that man had not only the right to do right, but also the right to do wrong. What I really said was, man has the right to do right, and the right to think right, and the right to think wrong. Thought is a means of ascertaining truth, a mode by which we arrive at conclusions. And if no one has a right to think, unless he thinks right, he would only have the right to think upon self-evident propositions. In all respects, with the exception of these misstatements to which I have called your attention, so far as I can see, Mr. Ijams was perfectly fair, and treated me as though I had the ordinary rights of a human being. I take this occasion to thank him.

A great many papers, a great many people, a good many ministers and a multitude of men, have had their say, and have expressed themselves with the utmost freedom. I cannot reply to them all. I can only reply to those who have made a parade of answering me. Many have said it is not worth answering, and then proceeded to answer. They have said, he has produced no argument, and then have endeavored to refute it. They have said it is simply the old straw that has been thrashed over and over again for years and years. If all I have said is nothing, if it is all idle and foolish, why do they take up the time of their fellow-men replying to me? Why do they fill their religious papers with criticisms, if all I have said and done reminds them, according to the Rev. Mr. Guard, of "some little dog barking at a railway train"? Why stop the train, why send for the directors, why hold a consultation and finally say, we must settle with that dog or stop running these cars?

Probably the best way to answer them all, is to prove beyond cavil the truth of what I have said.