Robert G. Ingersoll Hardcover – April 1, 1991
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- Item Weight : 2 pounds
- Hardcover : 417 pages
- ISBN-10 : 0879755881
- ISBN-13 : 978-0879755881
- Dimensions : 6.3 x 1.2 x 9.3 inches
- Publisher : Prometheus (April 1, 1991)
- Language: : English
- Best Sellers Rank: #3,622,658 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
- Customer Reviews:
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His father was a Presbyterian minister; Ingersoll was an attorney who was heavily involved in politics, and he was a Colonel for the North in the Civil War. But when his earlier career in politics seemed to be over, “vibrant with appetite and ambition, Ingersoll sought a new world to conquer. He found it in religion. In his lecture ‘Why I Am an Agnostic’ Ingersoll reviewed the roadway of experience and reflection that led him to freethought… To the cosmic mystery he had discovered no answer. ‘I do not deny. I do not know and I do not believe.’ … In this lecture Ingersoll does not mention what part if any the religious establishment played in his political defeats. Certainly it was with some embittered defiance that he declared war against it.” (Pg. 83-84)
Smith notes, “A pious friend once had challenged [Ingersoll’s] idea that the world was full of imperfections. ‘Be kind enough,’ said his friend,’ to show even one improvement you would make if you had the power?’ ‘Well,’ said Ingersoll, ‘I would make health catching instead of disease.’” (Pg. 90)
He points out, “Ingersoll was already known as an outstanding friend of the black race, a reputation that would not falter but grow and spread with the years. Frederick Douglass affords a striking illustration. On a lecture tour in the dead of winter Douglass had to lay over for train connections one night in Peoria. He was afraid he would find no accommodation there … A friend advised him … that he would find a welcome at the Ingersolls’ at any hour of the night and in any weather… The next morning he went to check out the noted infidel and possible benefactor… So began a life-long friendship.” (Pg. 96)
He also notes, “Ingersoll neither believed nor disbelieved in immortality---he hoped for it. What he objected to was corruption of that idea by superstitious fear… If there were such a thing as immortality, it would be a fact in nature, not the product of any theology. And if there were no immortality he glorified eternal sleep…” (Pg. 143) Later, he adds, “Although Ingersoll was opposed to all belief in the supernatural including mystic faith in a divine presence, he did not seek battle with modern-minded believers in God who did not look to revealed religion for guidance.” (Pg. 274)
He explains, “What was it about Ingersoll that drew paying crowds to his lectures? He was a charismatic speaker who appeared on the scene at the right time. His theology was subversive but exciting, while his moral values were conventional, reassuring, heart-warming. He could speak for two hours without being boring… Wherever Ingersoll went lecturing he exhorted his enchanted audience to think for themselves, to use common sense, to follow the sound instincts of their hearts.” (Pg. 161)
He acknowledges, “The evening with the Nineteenth Century Club was the only time that Ingersoll ever engaged in a live debate on religion. The daily mail brought many challenges from unknowns eager to share the platform (and the proceeds) with the noted unbeliever. To be available for such entertainments with weak or eccentric opponents would be demeaning. He advised such challengers to read his lectures, to lecture or write against him, to acquire a reputation, and then challenge him again… He was ready to debate any cleric of substantial standing, but he challenged none, and none challenged him. He was interested in debating [Dwight L.] Moody, but nobody ever carried the possibility beyond preliminary suggestion.” (Pg. 278-279)
He points that Ingersoll “found in his office a stack of mail from the Christian Endeavorers… Was he annoyed by the Christian Endeavorers taking such a public interest in his conversion? ‘Dear me, no, they meant it kindly and for my own good. The only difference of opinion that we have is that I believe this world is natural and they believe that it is supernatural, something that was constructed by sleight of hand.’” (Pg. 353)
He suggests, “The career of Robert Ingersoll is a classic example of the insufficiency of freethought (secular humanism) as a total guide to social action. All freethinkers are opposed to belief in supernaturalism and subscribe in theory to freedom of belief and freedom of expression, democracy, and the scientific method. This is s sufficient program unto itself … but many in the movement in Ingersoll’s time and later have tried to press their fellow secularists into agreeing with them on other issues… Although Ingersoll distanced himself from any people who had accused him of selling out to other interests, he still had many friends and admirers among the leaders as well as the rank and file of the freethought movement… Ingersoll’s break with organized freethought did not impair his standing as the country’s leading attraction on the lecture circuit..” (Pg. 370-371)
He recounts, “Dwight L. Moody and Robert G. Ingersoll were the salient figures on the opposite ends of the religious spectrum. Nevertheless they treated each other gently. ‘Colonel Ingersoll,’ said Moody, ‘has a great many noble qualities’ and was right in opposing shams… And Ingersoll said, ‘I have no doubt that Mr. Moody intends to do right. I have confidence in his sincerity.’ Neither challenged the other to debate, and no entrepreneur pursued its possibility.” (Pg. 378)
He concludes, “Ingersoll sis not convert the nation or even a large part of it to freethought. Orthodoxy remained the dominant faith of the millions. The clergy was overstating the facts they said that he had not destroyed the religion of the people. Consider a hypothetical average American man of the 1890s… If literate and fair minded he might say of Ingersoll, ‘… He was in all his dealings a living example of the Golden Rule. He was a devoted husband, a kind father, a generous neighbor. Love was his religion, home was his heaven… His fatal flaw was not that he was an unbeliever, but that he paraded his unbelief and sought to destroy the faith of others. He tried to tear down the dearest possession God has given His children, and offered nothing in its place. Therefore is this man’s name, which should have been placed on high, written in sand.’” (Pg. 406)
This is the definitive biography of this seminal figure in the history of Freethought, and will be “must reading” for anyone wanting to know more about Ingersoll and his times.
This is an very well written biography and you get enough snippets of his speeches to understand what a unusual person he was for his day. His ideas on women, race, social justice, etc. may be rather mainstream today, but they certainly were not back then.