Remembering ‘The Great Agnostic’

Jul 3, 2018

By Mike Hibbard

He has been called the most remarkable American most people have never heard of.

His name is Robert Green Ingersoll, and his birthplace in this tiny Yates County village has reached a milestone anniversary.

Over the Memorial Day weekend, the Robert Green Ingersoll Birthplace Museum opened for its 25th consecutive season. Officials said for a quarter century, the museum has restored the incomparable orator and champion of reason to his rightful place in American history and serves as the anchor of the historic Freethought Trail.

“There has never been a better time for Americans to rediscover the words and ideas of Robert Ingersoll,” said Tom Flynn, museum director and editor of Free Inquiry magazine. “As science and reason are under assault, and as the country is awakening to entrenched inequality, Ingersoll’s wit, eloquence and sense of justice are more relevant than ever.”

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6 comments on “Remembering ‘The Great Agnostic’

  • I highly recommend the book The Great Agnostic by Susan Jacoby. I only wish I knew about Ingersoll years ago. It’s not easy to be a young atheist or agnostic in America and it would have been a great comfort to know about the existence of this great orator who had the courage to speak on views that all secularists hold near and dear and in such an eloquent, powerful way.

    In America, our best atheist leaders of the past have been swept under the rug. This cannot stand.

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  • Years ago I hunted for a book on Ingersoll and came across a kindly used-book store owner to help me in my search. I’ve clung to the book ever since. Ingersoll – the original “Horseman”!

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  • Thirty years ago, when I was in my late 20’s, I bought a two-story brick building on the courthouse square in a small town in rural Missouri. I opened my business there, which has sustained me and my family ever since.

    When I first bought the building, the second story was empty and dark. The windows were boarded over and the out-dated wiring had been cut. The professional office spaces upstairs, had been abandoned in favor of ground-floor locations since before World War II, and with the exception of painted letters on etched glass doors, little remained to indicate that the tenants had been a Dentist and a Lawyer. All that was left was some interesting trash, a calendar, (out-of-date by fifty years) and few discarded books.

    In the Lawyers office was a copy of, “[Ingersollia: Gems of Thought][1].” I don’t know how old it was, or what kind of shape it had been in, when last it was stacked on the shelf, but forty years under a leaky roof had taken their toll. The cover was gone, the glued spine was crazed and split and the pages were the color and texture of dried leaves. There was no, ‘turning’ of the pages. Each would simply snap at the spine, leaving the reader with a thin, brown, brittle, plate which would literally crumble into dust if held too tightly.

    I had never heard of Robert Ingersoll, and while I wasn’t particularly religious I certainly didn’t consider myself an atheist. But I’d also never read anything by anyone who openly questioned Christianity, so when I cracked it open, (in this case literally cracked it open) and read the two random pages there revealed, I was extremely surprised to find such, ‘forward’ thinking from such an, ‘ancient’ book. I broke it apart in a dozen more places, constantly surprised that every single page revealed at least one and usually several, quotable passages that excoriated the Christian God in particular, and the very idea of gods in general.

    (Aside, here…as I’m writing this, I did a google search on the word, “quotable” just be certain there wasn’t a better one and found the Urban Dictionary’s definition of quotable to be: “A phrase that is too mindnumbingly awesome to be forgotten.” so if that’s the definition we’re using, it’s DEFINITLY the right word.)

    Since then, I’ve read it cover to cover (metaphorically speaking, since it doesn’t have a cover) over a dozen times, carefully picking up the pages one at a time, and moving them from one stack to the other and vacuuming the table to pick up the crumbs when I’m done.

    Fortunately, today you need only Google the title to read it online. If you’ve never read Ingersoll, you owe it to yourself to do so. Once you have…pass it on. I can’t think of a better role model for modern atheism than the 19th century life of Robert Ingersoll. A significant part of who I am today is due in no small part to him.

    Thanks, Bob!

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  • From Ingersollia, Gems of Thought …

    How to Deal with Children

    Some Christians act as though they thought when the Lord said, “Suffer little children to come unto me,” that he had a rawhide under his mantle – they act as if they thought so. That is all wrong. I tell my children this” Go where you may, commit what crime you may, fall to what depths of degradation you may, I can never shut my arms, my heart or my door to you. As long as I live you shall have one sincere friend do not be afraid to tell anything wrong you have done; ten to one if I have not done the same thing. I am not perfection, and if it is necessary to sin in order to have sympathy, I am glad I have committed sin enough to have sympathy. The sterness of perfection I do not want. I am going to live so that my children can come to my grave and truthfully say, “He who sleeps here never gave us one moment of pain. “Whether you call that religion or infidelity, suit yourselves; that is the way I intend to do it.

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