By Gary Berg-Cross
Americans would be wiser and better informed if their reading and education included a good dose of the thoughts of 19th century freethinker Robert Green Ingersoll. It's a point made before in my blog - Hearing the Voice of Freethinking Robert Ingersoll. As Susan Jacoby illustrates in her new book Robert Ingersoll: "The Great Agnostic and American Freethought" Ingersoll is one of the indispensable public figures. He not only speaks bravely on the issues of the day, but helps protect the historical record and keeps a deeper, alternative version of history alive. In Ingersoll’s case that alternative history included Tom Paine’s forgotten secular history. In the case of issues from Ingersoll's time these included women's rights, immigration, humanistic literature and evolution. It is worth noting that these retain their divisive potency in our times. And it is wonderful to report that these and other topics were on display recently at the 3rd Ingersoll Oratory Contest held in DC.
While rain forced a change of venue Sunday (to James Hoban's Restaurant ) we had a very nice event. Eleven contestants, traveling from as far as Florida, Indiana, and Delaware competed for 4 prizes. Steve Lowe served nobly as Master of Ceremonies with assistance from Beth Kingsley, Brian Magee and Suzanne Perry. Links to photographs and videos will be posted on the Ingersoll Oratory Facebook site and now are available, but a random sample of quotes and images is below.
Carol Ardell kicked off the event by a reciting, from memory, Ingersoll’s Twentieth Anniversary Lotos Club Dinner speech(1890). It begins sagely:
YOU have talked so much of old age and gray hairs and thin locks, so much about the past, that I feel sad. Now, I want to destroy the impression that baldness is a sign of age. The very youngest people I ever saw were bald.
(These and other quotes from Secular Web)
It goes on:
I am perfectly satisfied that the highest possible philosophy is to enjoy today, not regretting yesterday, and not fearing tomorrow. So, let us suck this orange of life dry, so that when death does come, we can politely say to him, "You are welcome to the peelings. What little there was we have enjoyed."
Terrance Madden followed with a reading from “Thomas Paine (with his name left out the history of liberty cannot be written.)”
At the age of thirty-seven, Thomas Paine left England for
America, with the high hope of being instrumental in the
establishment of a free government. In his own country he could accomplish nothing. Those two vultures Church and State – were ready to tear in pieces and devour the heart of any one who might deny their divine right to enslave the world.
This was followed by Mike Schmidtmann who greeted fellow Humanists before reading “About the Bible” & “The Ten Commandments.” Donald Ardell also recited part of Ingersoll’s About the Holy Bible which starts:
Somebody ought to tell the truth about the Bible. The preachers dare not, because they would be driven from their pulpits. Professors in colleges dare not, because they would lose their salaries. Politicians dare not. They would be defeated. Editors dare not. They would lose subscribers. Merchants dare not, because they might lose customers. Men of fashion dare not, fearing that they would lose caste. Even clerks dare not, because they might be discharged. And so I thought I would do it myself."
Speaker selected topical talk including:
"There is no slavery but ignorance. Liberty is the child of intelligence."
Cody Smart heartfully recited, “What is Religion” - Ingersoll's last public address,delivered before the American Free Religious association, Boston, June 2, 1899.
"For many centuries and by many peoples it was believed that
this God demanded sacrifices; that he was pleased when parents
shedthe blood of their babes. Afterward it was supposed that he was
satisfied with the blood of oxen, lambs and doves, and that in
exchange for or on account of these sacrifices, this God gave rain,
sunshine and harvest. It was also believed that if the sacrifices
were not made, this God sent pestilence, famine, flood and
and Amelia Vogel read some of Ingersoll's beliefs from, “Suicide and Sanity.”
"man is under no obligation to the imaginary gods; that all his
obligations and duties are to be discharged and done in this world;
that right and wrong do not depend on the will of an infinite Being, but on the consequences of actions, and that these consequences
necessarily flow from the nature of things. I believe that the universe
As to what the 3 judges decided:
- Sarah Henry took first place reading from "Improved Man"
- Terence Madden took second place reading from Ingersoll's talk about Thomas Paine.
- Third place was won by Tya M. Pope who chose from two related speeches: "A Christmas Sermon" and What I Want for Christmas".
All agreed that the performances were excellent and left us a bit more thoughtful and perhaps wiser:
‘I believe that all actions that tend to the well-being
of sentient beings are virtuous and moral. I believe that real
religion consists in doing good. I do not believe in phantoms. I
believe in the uniformity of nature; that matter will forever
attract matter in proportion to mass and distance;’….
Partial answer to QUESTION: What is your belief about virtue, morality and religion? In Suicide N Sanity
Taken by Gary Berg-Cross at the Event.
Brian - a helper.