Robert Ingersoll could stake a claim as a man of some accomplishment. He was a Civil War hero, a successful lawyer, and a political speechmaker. It was his ability as an orator though, that brought him the most notoriety. He was perhaps the best public speaker of his day, speaking passionately and brilliantly, usually without notes, about humanism, the natural world and freedom of thought.
He was opposed to slavery, an advocate for women’s rights, and an opponent of religion. His outspokenness on these issues generated significant negative press, but that didn’t stop him from commanding large audiences wherever he spoke. He once assailed the myth of hell as representing “all the meanness, all the revenge, all the selfishness, all the cruelty, all the hatred, all the infamy of which the heart of man is capable.”
He is buried in Arlington National Cemetery, a great honor, and a statue of him stands tall in Illinois. You can find the complete works of Mr. Ingersoll online in various locations and available as free eBooks in the Amazon Kindle store. I submit here a small section of “Which Way,” a lecture of his in which he delineates the paths one may follow; the path of the natural, or that of the supernatural, in the hopes I well whet your appetite for more.
There are two ways, — the natural and the supernatural. One way is to live for the world we are in, to develop the brain by study and investigation, to take, by invention, advantage of the forces of nature, to the end that we may have good houses, raiment and food, to the end that the hunger of the mind may be fed through art and science.
The other way is to live for another world that we expect, to sacrifice this life that we have for another that we know not of. The other way is by prayer and ceremony to obtain the assistance, the protection of some phantom above the clouds.
One way is to think — to investigate, to observe, and follow, the light, of reason. The other way is to believe, to accept, to follow, to deny the authority of your own senses, your own reason, and bow down to those who are impudent enough to declare that they know.
One way is to live for the benefit of your fellowmen — for your wife and children — to make those you love happy and to shield them from the sorrows of life. The other way is to live for ghosts, goblins, phantoms and gods with the hope that they will reward you in another world.
One way is to enthrone reason and rely on facts, the other to crown credulity and live on faith.
One way is to walk by the light within — by the flame that illumines the brain, verifying all by the senses — by touch and sight and sound. The other way is to extinguish the sacred light and follow blindly the steps of another.
One way is to be an honest man, giving to others your thought, standing erect, intrepid, careless of phantoms and hells. The other way is to cringe and crawl, to betray your nobler self and to deprive others of the liberty that you have not the courage to enjoy.
To read Which Way in its entirety, click here.