Let Us Advance

By Robert G. Ingersoll

I did not really appreciate the infamies that have been committed in the name of religion, until I saw the Thumbscrew–two little pieces of iron, armed on the inner suraces with protuberances, to prevent their slipping; through each end a screw uniting the two pieces. And when some man denied the efficacy of baptism, or maybe said, I do not believe that a fish ever swallowed a man to keep him from drowning,” then they put his thumb between these pieces of iron and in the name of love and universal forgiveness, began to screw these pieces together. When this was done most men said, “I will recant.” Probably I should have done the same. Probably I would have said: “Stop; I will admit anything that you wish; I will admit that there is one god or a million, one hell or a billion; suit yourself; but stop.”

But there was now and then a man who would not swerve the breadth of a hair. There was now and then some sublime heart, willing to die for an intellectual conviction. Had it not been for such men, we would be savages to-night. Had it not been for a few grave, heroic souls in every age, we would have been cannibals, with pictures of wild beasts tattooed upon our flesh, dancing around some dried snake fetish.

Let us thank every good and noble man who stood so grandly, so proudly, in spite of opposition, of hatred and death, for what he believed to be the truth.

Heroism did not excite the respect of our fathers. The man who would not recant was not forgiven. They screwed the thumbscrews down to the last pang, and then threw their victim into some dungeon, where, in the throbbing silence and darkness, he might suffer the agonies of the fabled damned. This was done in the name of love–in the name of mercy–in the name of the compassionate Christ.” . . .

This is my doctrine: Give every other human being every right you claim for yourself. Keep your mind open to the influences of nature. Receive new thoughts with hospitality. Let us advance.

From the lecture, “The Liberty of Man, Woman and Child” (1887), Volume I, Dresden Memorial Edition.

To learn more about America’s most illustrious freethinker, the 19th-century attorney and orator Robert Green Ingersoll, read American Infidel, a biography by Orvin Larson (FFRF reprint, $20 ppd).

Freedom From Religion Foundation