I have finished reading a book by Robert Green Ingersoll, The Complete works of R.G Ingersoll Vol 8, a very interesting collection of different interviews on different subjects that he gave spanning quite a long period of time. Some of his thoughts have already been mentioned in different posts on this blog, especially thoughts on religion, superstition, rights of man and ghosts.
Before I go ahead to give a brief overview of this collection, I need help in understanding what happened to the Americans? Is it possible that they couldn’t produce more Ingersolls, Beecham, Lincolns, Jeffersons, Paines and all other great men whose lives and work were towards the betterment of our race? America now produces Pat Robertson and Hovind and other crazy nutheads. Before you lynch me, am not saying there are no longer great men and women, I read works of and watch videos of Lawrence Strauss a marvelous physicist, Jerry Coyne a brilliant biologist, the good guys at NASA and other great men and women but I don’t think they have filled the giant shoes worn by Lincoln, Luther King, JFK, Jefferson, Paine, Ingersoll and other giants and it is time this country that claims to be the world super power shone bright again. They can’t have as many jails as they have schools, they can’t have people in jail for smoking weed [I mean they should arrest the earth for letting it grow], they should no longer have death penalty in their statute books [it debases the society], they should divest their defense budget to humanitarian purposes. Time must come when right is might and not the other way. They can’t continue to spread democracy or whatever policy through the use of drones and call the death of civilians or anyone for that matter collateral. It is time the generals learnt, if they haven’t as yet, that these acts just like punishing a criminal does not make the world better. The first killing justifies the second one and we end up with a world where the strong rule by might. Lastly can all sensible Americans support the democratic government’s legislation aimed at controlling gun ownership among the general populace.
It is ridiculous that a people who think themselves most advanced and exceptional in the world would behave like savage man exception being that for his weapon and plaything he has a deadly killing machine. What madness is this? Are they so rich that they are insecure or are they so poor that they are insecure or the society so dysfunctional that the majority think to be safe they must own a gun or are they just stupid? My friends from the big continent please help me here!
In the time of Robert Ingersoll it is interesting to note that it is the Republican Party that stood with the people. Most liberal thinkers were republican, they supported the working men, they wanted better pay for the women and Ingersoll himself in many speeches and interviews campaigned for the women to be granted the same rights[right to vote, to equal pay & so on] as men were granted. In the last election it appeared to me, I could be wrong, that the Republican Party represented everything but progress. To an observer, like me , it appeared elitist, didn’t care for the working men, for the least in the society and some of their senators said very derogatory statements about women whether this is party policy or not I can’t comment on.
Robert G Ingersoll, as far as someone can deduce from the works, didn’t want any public office. He says he was contented with his law practice and the public speeches he gave and couldn’t understand why people want such burden of public office, but he was a Republican at heart. He delivered 3 speeches at different conventions. His political convictions are clear and consistent throughout as far as one can tell given the duration covered by the interviews.
He believed in American exceptionalism. He talks very highly of American actors, workingmen, companies and in most times says there is no greater country like America. I can’t begrudge him. It is also interesting the things one learns from these essays about the economies of France, Britain and Germany at the time he was writing. The French were prosperous, Germany wasn’t doing as well as it is doing now, Britain wasn’t that exceptional though he believed that Britain and America were great countries. It is, however, important to say here he thought Shakespeare the greatest poet and dramatist to have graced the earth, Wagner the greatest musician and Dickens the greatest novelist[ he mentions A Tale of two Cities, a great book by any standard though I think The Brothers Karamazov is a greater novel ever written or translated to the English language]
He believed in expanding American territory not through brute force but through negotiation.He wanted the Philipine Islands, Cuba, Canada and I can’t remember what else to be part of the United States of A.
He believed, as I do, that punishment debases man. That to punish a man for a criminal offence is like punishing a man for having the consumption. A man acts as he will and can’t be punished for his nature. It is the duty of society to protect itself but not by punishing offenders but by endeavoring to rehabilitate them and if this fails to isolate them from society so that they do not do harm. He proposed a situation where these people could be kept in prison till the end of their lives or to be kept away from society with no possibility of having offspring. He is right in saying that society reaps what it sows and to redeem the criminal, society which is the soil should be such that it favors the growth of good men. He was opposed, as all rational people are, to the death penalty. He proposed that those who work at the penitentiaries must be the best men in society, that the prisoner should be helped to be better. Punishment debases the person who punishes. And I can’t agree more with him. Anyone who objects to this should show me cause why they should be believed. He also proposed that the state guest should at the end of serving time should be shown accounts of what it cost to take care of him and what his labour amounted and to be given the difference to start a new life. He was opposed to state guests working for free, he argued correctly that this did not make them better men but brewed resentment in their hearts. They felt ostracized by society, abused by the system and robbed of their honest labour and would when released get their revenge. I want to know anyone who objects to this?
On matters divorce he defended the right of everyone to get a divorce if they no longer could live together. He also said gods and supernatural should be done away with in weddings and marriage matters unless the gods themselves would from time to time come to resolve the marital problems. Barring that, no one should claim that marriage was instituted in the Garden of Eden[who knows where it is?], that there is no word in the bible in favour of marriage, that Jesus if he existed did not believe in marriage, the apostles as far as we can tell if they existed were not married. So the priests/ministers/immams/pastors and whatever religious title, I hope you are listening. Unless your god is going to come to resolve marital issues, keep as far away as possible your superstitions from people’s lives.
On the question of labour, in as much he supported the rights of the workingmen to demand better working conditions, he disagreed with any means that resorted to brute force. Here is a man who believed fully in reason and lived by this ideal. I find his statement that every man should be his priest, his king to be very agreeable. Every man should think for himself, use his reason to weigh the beliefs or positions he hold and to believe according to his reason.
He defended separation of church and state.
He asked for churches to not be exempted from tax.
He wanted better schools, more libraries and theatres.
He said, and I agree with him, that no day can be sacred to the extent that man can’t be happy. He said farther that Sunday as a day of rest shouldn’t be spent in church listening to priests telling you how 99% of humanity is going to be damned. That is no rest.
He believed in protecting American companies and better pay for her workers.
He threw the matter of inspiration of the bible through the window. He said nobody ever met a man who met a man who had a met man who claimed to have met any writer of any passages in the bible. He already had come to the conclusion that the Pentateuch was not written by Moses, that no one knows who wrote the gospels, that Paul[or whoever wrote his epistles] did not read the gospels, that John was written much later, that Isaiah was written by at least two or more people, that Ecclesiastes was not written by a believer, that Job is not a Jewish book.
As I conclude, he said he wanted it written down in gods’ books[if any existed] that he defended them against cruelty. That no loving god could have created man just to damn him eternally.
Lastly that the universe is an efficient cause. There can never have been a time when matter was not. It is not possible to have anything existing before the universe came into existence[ a logical absurdity]. The universe is natural and there is no room for the unnatural, superstitious and miracles if by miracles anyone means anything that requires the suspension of Natural Laws.
I have not covered everything in the book here, but I do hope I have presented as precisely as I could his views on many subjects that are of interest to us today and for those who have 27 hours in their days, they could read the book and in case this is not possible, I hope I have done some justice to his views and made known to you the thoughts of a great statesman, a true friend of man and a citizen of the world.