Wednesday, September 29, 2010

The Great Agnostic

I finally got around to reading Freethinkers: A History of American Secularism by Susan Jacoby.  It's an excellent history of the secular movement in America, from the founder's conscious decision to leave God out of the Constitution, to freethinkers' involvement in the American civil rights and feminist movements.  I've learned about many American freethinkers, atheists and agnostics of whom I had little, if any, knowledge prior to reading Jacoby's book. I was introduced to the great freethinking feminists, such as Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Ernestine Rose and Lucretia Mott, whom I knew very little about before.  I learned more about Thomas Paine and Abraham Lincoln's views on religion.  And most significantly to me, I learned about Robert Ingersoll.

Although I had heard his name mentioned in some books and blog posts before, I didn't really know anything about him.  After reading about him in Freethinkers, and then ripping through a number of his writings and speeches, I can see why he is such a respected American freethinker.  He's probably the reason that freethinking founders, such as Thomas Paine, are so well-known today.

The follow excerpt is from Ingersoll's speech "Gods."  It reminds me that although while we atheists and secularists are often fighting against the influence of religious fundamentalists, we also have a positive message:

Notwithstanding the fact that infidels in all ages have battled for the rights of man, and have at all times been the fearless advocates of liberty and justice, we are constantly charged by the Church with tearing down without building again...
We are not endeavoring to chain the future, but to free the present. We are not forgoing fetters for our children, but we are breaking those our fathers made for us. We are the advocates of inquiry, of investigation and thought. This of itself, is an admission that we are not perfectly satisfied with all our conclusions. Philosophy has not the egotism of faith... 
We are laying the foundations of the grand temple of the future not the temple of all the gods, but of all the people -- wherein, with appropriate rites, will be celebrated the religion of Humanity. We are doing what little we can to hasten the coming of the day when society shall cease producing millionaires and mendicants -- gorged indolence and famished industry -- truth in rags, and superstition robed and crowned. We are looking for the time when the useful shall be the honorable; and when Reason, throned upon the world's brain, shall be the King of Kings, and God of Gods. 

A transcription of the entire speech can be found here.
blog comments powered by Disqus