Why the People’s Church
Would Fellowship Colonel Ingersoll
January 10, 1896 — The People’s Church, Kalamazoo MI
In stating, “Why the People’s Church Would Fellowship Colonel Ingersoll,” I shall speak, first, of the People’s Church and its basis of fellowship; secondly, of Colonel [Robert G.] Ingersoll and his qualifications for membership.
The principle of fellowship of the People’s Church grows out of its belief that the things which divide men are superficial, and that the things which unite them are fundamental. Let us see how this is in life.
We have, first of all, our common humanity; our common source, our common destiny. As to the materials of life, those things which are essential are the things which we all possess in common. We tread the same earth. We breathe the same air. The same blue sky bends above us all. The rain falls upon us, the just and the unjust. The same sun lights our daily course. The same darkness shrouds us at night. The same bounty and beauty of the earth are offered unto all. And then, our commonest wants are the same; our wants of food, and clothing, and all the material comforts of life. And the deepest human experiences come to us all — birth and growth, joy and sorrow, success and defeat, love and death. And so have we in common our higher longings, which express themselves more or less fully in social compacts, in friendships, and in the family which bind husband and wife together, and both to their children. We have in common, too, the sense of mystery which shrouds the past and the future (and the deepest present, also) from our gaze; we have the common yearning to solve these mysteries, and the common longing for continuance of life beyond what we call death.
Now, he is the real interpreter of humanity who perceives the unity of humanity; who seizes upon the things that are fundamental and is able to voice them in a way that appeals to the universal human heart. It is no the man who writes the sonnets of the parlor, merely, nor the epics of the battle-field, merely; but the man who is able, with one tough of nature, to make us all akin. The world listens to Shakespeare, who can make us feel a thrill of sympathy even with a woman like Lady Macbeth and a man like Falstaff; to Goethe, who in portraying the temptation and fall and ultimate rise of a simple peasant girl, illumines to us the profound of our own person lives; to Bobby Burns who can sing “A man’s a man for a’that and a’that” ; to Victor Hugo who can show us in the character of John the Convict something which is worth saving, something that can and shall e redeemed; to George Eliot who can thrill us with deepest interest in the common factor hands and miners of the rural districts of England. It is such geniuses as these who are al to show us the fundamental likenesses between all humanity, and to demonstrate that these things are the profound things, and that the differences are superficial and largely accidental.
But human society is divided into sections largely upon the superficial and accidental lines. The accidents of birth, of rearing, of education, of wealth, of poverty, of political affiliations, of social distinctions, and a thousand other things, tend to divide human society into classes, and to institute class strife; the rich against the poor; capital against labor; white against black.
But we believe that we have in this country, (if not in practice at least in theory), an ideal government; “a government of the people, by the people and for the people”; a government built up, not upon class distinctions, but upon those fundamental likenesses and unities which are below everything else, and above everything else, and within everything else in humanity; a government which as far as it can, in theory, if not in practice, ignores differences and emphasizes agreements among men. To respect all men; to defend the rights and secure life and liberty and pursuit of happiness to all — that is the plain duty of a government of and by and for the people. To recognize the manhood in all men and to exalt the fundamental unities which bind together, instead of the superficial things which divide, is the duty of a democratic government.
Now, a church which aims to be and which dares to call itself a People’s Church, should not be less democratic than is a government which calls itself a government of and by and for the people. This People’s Church believes that in religion there is far more which unites men than divides them; that the things which divide men in religion as in every-day life (and religion is simply the art of higher living) are superficial; that the tings which unite them are fundamental and profound.
Now, all really religion people (never mind what their theological belief may be) long to be wiser and better; want to live purer, more unselfish, more helpful lives. They want to throw themselves wit all their mind and heart and strength upon the side which makes for truth and righteousness and love in the world. The passion for righteousness; the longing to keep one’s self pure; the longing to life up and comfort and strengthen and save the weak and sorrowing and sinning; the impulse to self-sacrifice — these are what make the heart of religion in any man or woman, whether it be Cardinal Manning the devout Catholic, Dr. Parkhurst the militant Presbyterian, Edward Everett Hale the philanthropic Unitarian, or the verist agnostic of agnostics, whose motto is, “One world at a time; but let us labor to make this world without a crime or a tear.”
Now, what is the reason this world is not saved by the religious people of the world? What is it that we get results which are so incommensurate with the efforts which are made? Is it not because the religious people in the world are so divided among themselves as to largely neutralize each other’s efforts? We have only to look at the past to know that the most cruel wars that have ever cursed this world have been in the name of Him who said: “Put up the sword.” “love your neighbor as yourself.” “Love your enemies.” We know that the inquisition tortures were contrived b what has dared to call itself religion. There heresy trials of to-day; the coldness and suspicion existing between different religious bodies; the holding aloof from a good work because “we” dd not start it, all prove that the church is wasting its time and its strength upon negatives, instead of heartily uniting to carry our undeniably good purposes which all good people wish to accomplish in the world. And yet it is true that all religious people have in common that which would save the world, if it were rightly applied.
Ow, what is it? Divested of all accidentals, what are the things which would, if they were applied to the salvation of the world, effect that salvation? I say, first, it is the aspiration for truth. Second, it is the aspiration after personal righteousness of life. Third, it is the aspiration to be a help and blessing to our fellow men. These are the universals; these are the things which are the heart of all religions. A man may believe all that John Calvin believed, and yet be a bad man, a bad citizen. A man may believe all that the Pope believes, and yet be a bad many, a bad citizen. A man may doubt the existence of God and the future life, and yet be a bad man, a bad citizen. But I say that a man, whether he be a Catholic or Calvinist or Agnostic, cannot be a seeker after truth, a doer of right, a lover of his brother-man, and not bedear to the heart of a just God. Whatever his belief or unbelief, I say that such a man is a religious man, and that he is actually engaged in building up God’s kingdom in the world.
Now, this People’s Church holds that the fundamental things in religion should be the basis of religious unity. It invites all those who seek to be better and to make the world better, to unite, if they will, on these purposes, and to see if more cannot be done in this way than in the old way. It does not seem to itself to be less, but rather more religious, because its fellowship is based upon the universal and changeless principles instead of the special and variable features of religion. Statements of theological belief, which constitute the creeds of the churches, vary form age to age, and are a constant source of disturbance and division. But the religion voiced in the Beatitudes and the Golden Rule is not even peculiar to Christianity. It is the essence of all religions that ever rose high enough to appeal to the heart of a civilized man. Any so-called religion is religious only in so far as it partakes of the spiritual unity which underlies all the diversities of creeds.
While we offer the hand of fellowship to all, we readily comprehend that most persons who hold that salvation depends upon any certain belief, will find more congenial fellowship in the church which bases itself upon that belief. That such persons should have no use for an unsectarianism, is, in a sense, the denial of the necessity of what they honestly regard as indispensable. Nevertheless, we offer the hand of fellowship to these, — glad to work with them here, even though they deem us lost hereafter; and we offer the hand of fellowship, too, to all whom the creed-built churches disfellowship on account of theological belief or unbelief.
What is this Bond of Union? A very simple thing. All who join this church say this: “Earnestly desiring to develop in ourselves, and in the world, honest, reverent thought; faithfulness to our highest conceptions of right living; the spirit of love and service to our fellow men, the allegiance towards all the interests of morality and religion as interpreted by the growing thought and purest lives of humanity, — we join ourselves together, hoping to help one another in all good things, and to advance the cause of pure and practical religion in the community; basing our union upon no creed-test, but upon the purpose herein expressed, and welcoming all who wish to join us to help establish truth, righteousness and love in the world.”
I have heard that someone has said, there is nothing in this bond at all. Nothing in it! Then I say there is nothing in the sermon on the Mount! There is nothing in these Beatitudes which we have just read! There is nothing in the Golden Rule! Now, friends, the truth is, that the very heart of Jesus’ religion and of all religions are just such things as are expressed in this bond of ours. They are not good because Jesus taught them. They would be eternally good and true and noble and divine if Jesus had never lived. He taught them they were good and because he was good, and because, therefore, those eternal principles found response in his heart; and so he spoke them with his lips, and, better, he lived them with his life. And what is more, no councils of the church have ever been called, no inquisition fires have ever bene lighted, to decide what Jesus meant when he said, “Blessed are the merciful;” “Love your neighbor as yourself;” “Do unto others as you would that they should do unto you.” Never has there been any quarrel, any heresy trial over these fundamental things. Why? Because all men say instantly and necessarily that these tings are divine and good and not to be quarreled about. And through the centuries of the church’s strife and bloodshed, has sounded the voice of Jesus saying, By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another.” And this has bene the bond which has held the church from utter self-destruction.
Now, friends, I have my own beliefs which are dear and necessary to me. But I ask, Why should I seek to exclude from membership in this church those who believe otherwise than I do? Why shall I say to those Sisters over there in the hospital, who kneel before the candle-lit altar and rise with peaceful faces and renewed strength, to do their tasks for sick humanity — why shall I say to these women, I would not fellowship you in my church, because you believe in the infallibility of the Pope. Why shall I say to that Jew, a fellow-countryman of Jesus of Nazareth and an honorable citizen, — I will not accept you as a member of my church, because, forsooth, you are no Christian. To the man who says to me, “I don’t know about any future life, but I know that I want to help to make this life, for myself and for others, better and truer and nobler,” — why shall I reply, The doors are barred to you unless you believe all the things I believe? I will not say these things; and if there were no church with doors wide enough to take in a whole honest human being, with all his beliefs and unbeliefs, then I would never be a minister or member of any church.
This church once bore the name of “Unitarian.” Why was the name relinquished? It is still descriptive of the personal theological opinions of a majority of our number. It is a noble name with a noble history. More than this; the Unitarian church has no creed to which its members must subscribe. Its boast is that it allows intellectual freedom to all. But the trouble is, that as applied to a church, the name itself is a little creed. To the ordinary sense, the word “Unitarian” is a theological word as much as the word “Trinitarian.” But we did not want a name placed upon this church which would bar out any Trinitarian, who believes in three-Gods-in-one. Neither did I want a name which would bar out even the man who could not believe in one God. And so we took a name which is absolutely unsectarian and untheological, not because (as is sometimes said) “none of us believe anything,” but because each of us would have himself and other free to believe what is to him believable, while we all unite heartily upon the fundamental things of conduct and aspiration and human helpfulness which make up the religion of daily life.
Now, having explained as best I can in the time allowed, the principle of fellowship of this church, — something about Colonel Ingersoll and his qualifications for membership:
Colonel Ingersoll needs no special defense. I do not appear as him champion. He is notably able to take care of himself. But I have some things to say about fair play toward Colonel Ingersoll or anyone else.
I once asked Father O’Brien, of St. Augustine’s church, to speak from our pulpit about Catholicism. I said, We hear enough people who are not Catholics tell what Catholicism is. Now, will you tell us what you think it is? The invitation was accepted and the address was published and circulated by the Unity Club, under whose auspices it was given. I think it is a good plan to hear both sides. Who was it who said, “It is better to stir a question without settling it than to settle it without stirring it”? I think it would be very well indeed for people who are answering Colonel Ingersoll, for instance, to hear him once. Colonel Ingersoll is called an an atheist; a blasphemer. What right has anyone to say that Colonel Ingersoll is an atheist, when he says repeatedly to the public that he is not any atheist? He says, “Concerning the existence of God, I confess m ignorance. I do not know.” We can rightfully call him an agnostic. It is said that Colonel Ingersoll is a blasphemer against everything which is sacred and holy; that he blasphemes the Bible; that he blasphemes Jesus; that he blasphemes God. Now what is the truth of this matter? In his recent lecture here, upon “The Foundations of Faith,” he said, in substance: “If the Bible were taken as a human book, then I would have nothing to say against it. In that case people would read it, taking what is good, rejecting what is evil, and it would be well. Even if taken as an inspired book, I would have no special quarrel with it if it were not for the fact that the Bible is used to do a fearful wrong to humanity; out of that book men fashion a gospel of an malevolent God, and Devil, and an eternal hell, which gospel they dare call the glad tidings of great joy.”
Now, I believe that Colonel Ingersoll is an earnest, honest, loving-hearted man. I believe that his very soul revolts against the teachings which have frightened little children when they have gone to their beds at night, and which have tinged many lives with needless gloom. I believe that his mental attitude is largely the result, by reaction ,of the theology against which he is contending. In his youth he felt its hurt. Because he was sincere, because he was imaginative, because he had a heart with some human blood in it; he felt the injuries and sorrows of those who were warped and weighted down by such teaching. He thought: “Someone should speak out upon the other side, and I will be one to do it.”
Now, because the Bible is used to teach that men are created to serve as living, suffering fuel to an endless fire, he undertakes to prove that the Bible is not infallible; that it contains absolute contradictions in matters of fact, and that it teaches, side by side with the noblest morality, the most utter barbarism. “If the Bible be inspired, then we have no criterion of conduct; because murder and charity are placed side by side; slavery and liberty are made equal; revenge and forgiveness are equally divine. Open your Bible and take what good there is in it (and there is much of good in it) but do not allow yourselves to have all individuality crushed out of you and be made a coward in the face of the universe, because of what any book says. Thing and feel and decide for yourselves; rise to the dignity of a unit.”
Now, I am free to say that I would like it better if Colonel Ingersoll would drop all ridicule and sarcasm in dealing with these matters, because I feel for the feelings of others who honestly regard everything touching the Bible as sacred. But one must confess that he has had little consideration set him as an example by his opponents. They have scoffed at his religion and his “star of hope” over his brother’s grave. They accuse him of wishing to rush into the chamber of grief and snatch away from the mother sorrowing over her dead child, the book of consolation. Before we are too severe upon Colonel Ingersoll, let us reflect upon “the rarity of Christian charity” shown toward him. And, whatever one may think of his methods, the facts are that his conclusions concerning the infallibility of the bible are borne out by the best scientists and the best Biblical critics of to-day, as well as by the common sense and the common human feeling of every person who will divest himself of all prejudice and consent to examine the Bible as he would examine any other book.
Now, what about Christ? Colonel Ingersoll has been variously reported. One minister has state that he denied that Christ was ever born. Others have stated that he said, that the world would be a thousand times better off if Christ never had been born. Now, really, if I were quoting Satan himself, I would try to quote him correctly. What is it that Colonel Ingersoll really said? If one who is going to “answer” Colonel Ingersoll doesn’t wish to hear him first, the printed lecture is obtainable, and leaves no excuse for misquotation. I will read to you Colonel Ingersoll’s own words:
“The best that can be said about Christ is that nearly nineteen centuries ago he was born in the land of Palestine in a country without wealth, without commerce, in the midst of a people who knew nothing of the greater world, — a people enslaved, crushed by the mighty power of Rome. That this babe, this child of poverty and want, grew to manhood without education, knowing nothing of art or science, and at about the age of thirty began wandering about the hills and hamlets of his native land, discussing with priests, talking with the poor and sorrowful, writing nothing, but leaving his words in the memory or forgetfulness of those to whom he spoke.
That he attacked the religion of his time, because it was cruel. That this excited the hatred of those in power, and that Christ was arrested, tried and crucified.
For many centuries this great Peasant of Palestine has been worshipped as God.
Millions and millions have given their lives to his service. The wealth of the world was lavished on his shrines. His name carried consolation to the diseased and dying. His name dispelled the darkness of death, and filled the dungeon with light. His name gave courage to the martyr, and in the midst of fire, with shriveling lips, the sufferer uttered it again and again. The outcasts, the deserted, the fallen felt that Christ was their friend, felt that he knew their sorrows and pitied their sufferings. The poor mother holding her dead babe in her arms, lovingly whispered his name. His gospel has been carried by millions to all parts of the globe, and his story has ben told by the self-denying and faithful to countless thousands of the sons of men. In his name have been preached charity, forgiveness and love.
He is was who, according to the faith, brought immortality to light, and many millions have entered the valley of the shadow with their hands in his.
All this is true, and if it were all, how beautiful, how touching, how glorious it would be. But it is not all. There is another side.
In his name millions and millions of men and women have been imprisoned, tortured and killed. In his name millions and millions have been enslaved. In his name the thinkers, the investigators have been branded as criminals, and his followers have shed the blood of the wisest and the best. In his name the progress of many nations was stayed for a thousand years. In his gospel was found the dogma of eternal pain, and his words added an infinite horror to death. His gospel filled the world with hatred and revenge; made intellectual honesty a crime; made happiness here the road to hell; denounced love as base and bestial; canonized credulity, crowned bigotry and destroyed the liberty of man.
It would have been far better had the New Testament never been written — far better had the theological Christ never lived. Had the writers of the Testament been regarded as uninspired, had Christ been thought of only as a man, had the good been accepted and the absurd, the impossible, and the revengeful thrown away mankind, would have escaped the wars, the tortures, the scaffolds, the dungeons, the agony and tears, the crimes and sorrows of a thousand years.”
Colonel Ingersoll also quoted from the Beatitudes and other passages of the scriptures, saying: “That is absolutely perfect; that is divine; nothing could be better than that, but,” he said, “when I read other things, s issuing from the lips of Christ, which are contradictory to this principle of love which seems to have dominated his life, I do not believe that he ever said these things. I do not believe, for instance, that Jesus ever was rude to his mother; or that he roughly rebuked a man who wanted to first go and bury his father before he became his follower; or that he ever said that a man must hate and desert his mother, his father, his wife and his children, in order to be his disciple; because,” said he,” It is contrary to his prevailing tone of love and tenderness. These things have crept into the record by false reports or interpolations, and I do not believe they are really the words of Christ.”
And neither do I so believe. If I did believe that Jesus said and did all that is recorded of him, it would not wholly destroy, but it would seriously abate the profound reverence I feel for him.
Now, with regard to God: It is said that Colonel Ingersoll blasphemes God. He simply says, he stands with science in this matter, and science says “I do not know.” Theology says “I do,” and there is the difference. Colonel Ingersoll is troubled because he sees that justice is not always triumphant in this world; because he sees the wea and the helpless sometimes cruelly oppressed by the powerful. He reflects upon the sufferings of the Russian peasants and the Armenians, and because he has a heart that can be deeply touched with the miseries of others, he asks: “Why is it, if there is a just and omnipotent God in this universe, that such things are permitted?” The cyclone sweeps away hundreds of people who have committee no more faults than you and I. The serpent strikes its fags into the little innocent child and causes its death. He says: “I do not understand these things. If there is a good and al-wise and all-powerful God, I should think he would prevent these things.” And so, with regard to these “evidence of design.” “Yes,” he says, “I can see a beautiful design in the April rain which causes the sprouting wheat to grow; but what about the cyclone? Yes, I see design in the unfolding rose, but what about the cancer?”
Now, friends, be honest. Haven’t every one of you, sometimes, perhaps many times, raised just such questions? I do not believe there is a man or woman here to-night who has not. Perhaps you have been too mentally indolent to follow it out, and seek some rational conclusion. Perhaps you have taken convenient refuge in the theory that God can do no wrong, and hence “whatever is, is right.” Colonel Ingersoll has not. These things stand in the way of his belief in a good and beneficent God, and he has simply had the courage to say no.
Now, in reasoning upon these great matters, I come to conclusions very different from those reached by Colonel Ingersoll. This is not the occasion for me to present my personal views; however, let me say that this problem can be answered in such a way as to admit the belief that God is al-good, all-wise and all-powerful, even in the face of the existence of what we call evi. Just in a few sentences I will try to give the principles which I cannot now elaborate. Mr. Ingersoll says that when a man lifts an arm to commit a crime, he ought to be “paralyzed.” Now, this is shallow reasoning. If every attempted evil were thus frustrated, and man could act only in one direction — we would be simply automat, with no free will, no moral character whatever. Mr. Chadwick has well said: “A sinner acting freely is better than an automatic saint; a freely-acting Nero is better than a automatic Christ.” In this fact of free-will — a fact necessary to the development of character — lies the root of what we call moral evil. It seems cruel that the wicked can make the innocent suffer, but this is a necessary result of associated human life; and after all we can say, associated human life is all that makes life worth living. Who would relinquish it for a lonely existence beyond the reach or harm or help from other human beings?
And conquering physical evil, as typified in disease, in the cyclone and in the earthquake: To one bacterium hostile to man there are countless ones friendly to him, and absolutely indispensable to his life — working ceaselessly to tear to pieces old and worn-out matter and liberate its elements to build up the new vegetable and animal tissues for his use. When destructive bacteria, through our carelessness or ignorance, do gain entrance into the human system, a thousand policemen (the white blood corpuscles) rush to the point of entrance, and if in their normal state, surround and kill the intruder. If the system is unable to stop the invasion, we apply remedies such as anti-toxine and neuclein, elaborated out of nature, and the malady is cured. For one cancer there are a million roses, and the cancer has been created by some violation of nature’s law, and one day we will find a remedy in nature which will annihilate the cancer.
The earthquake and the tornado are bound up with laws which save and bless the earth. The earthquake is an earth-lifter which rescues and restores continents from the erosions of rivers and oceans which would otherwise eat the earth away from under our feet. The tornado is bound up with the laws of air-currents that bless a million times for once that they do harm.
But why must there be these flaws — “this millionth time”? I do not pretend to know, but I think it is because the universe is governed by fixed and unchanging law — not by caprice. All physical phenomena are produced by the operation of laws, such as the laws of gravitation, of cohesion, of chemical affinity, etc. These laws are in their operation overwhelmingly friendly to man, else how do you account for the development of human life from lower forms and the constant ascent of the race to higher and higher vantage ground? If the universe were hostile to man he would never have gotten far enough along to eat, drink and be merry, and construct a pessimistic philosophy. He wouldn’t have gotten himself created at all.
But fi the laws government nature are fixed, working ceaselessly for the maintaining and upbulding of life, how can those laws be suspended because men have unwittingly built a city of a weak spot of the earth’s crust, or because a ship is tossed in a storm at sea? Suppose it were the law of gravitation involved. Scientists tell us that if one single atom could refuse to obey the law of gravitation, it would make ruin of the universe. They cannot we see how even an omnipotent God cannot contradict himself — cannot, for the sake of the few, reverse the action of laws which are for the welfare of all? To save the prairie home from the cyclone, might be to turn Chaos loose in all the starry fields of space. This is a universe.
I know this is the merest bald suggestion along difficult lines which I do not pretend to have yet perfectly thought out, even for myself. But I ask you all to patiently try this way, before you take to the conclusion reached by Colonel Ingersoll.
Another great mistake of Colonel Ingersoll’s as it seems to me, is in making happiness the end and aim of existence. I think that not happiness, but character is the real end. He assumes that because the murderer’s arm is not paralyzed when he raises it against his victim, then evil is therefore triumphant over good. And yet, it is Colonel Ingersoll who quotes with approval that pagan prayer: “O God, have mercy on the wicked. Thou has already had mercy upon the just, in that thou has made him just.” I believe Colone Ingersoll’s warm heart and sense of justice would also approve Plato’s saying that it is always better to suffer injustice than to do an injustice. Then the murdered one is in a better state than his murderer. If Colonel Ingersoll took into account the future, as well as the present earthly life, this fact would be more apparent. Evil can never triumph over good. There is one grand fact ever to be remembered: That no one can conquer or enslave a man against his will. Though he chain him and burn him, he cannot touch the moral independence — the real being. Therefore it is, that evil can never really triumph over good.
But, with all his denials and uncertainties (concerning things which, I admit, none of us have a right to dogmatize about), Colonel Ingersoll has a positive religion, and he tell us what it is:
“To long for the right, to love mercy, to pity the suffering, to assist the weak, to forget wrongs and remember benefits, to love the truth, to be sincere, to utter honest words, to love liberty, to wage relentless war against slavery in all its forms, to love wife and child and friend, to make a happy home, to love the beautiful in art, in nature; to cultivate the mind, to be familiar with the mighty thoughts that genius has expressed, the noble deeds of all the world, to cultivate courage and cheerfulness, to make others happy, to fill life with the splendor of generous acts, the warmth of loving words, to discard error, to destroy prejudice, to receive new truths with gladness, to cultivate hope, to see the calm beyond the storm, the dawn beyond the night, to do the best that can be done and then to be resigned, — this is the religion of reason, the creed of science. This satisfies the brain and heart.”
No, it does not wholly satisfy my brain and heart; but I say, nevertheless, it is noble as far as it goes. And if any of us lived up to that religion, we would be making the world better every day of our lives. If we have something besides, which is a comfort and stay and inspiration to us, which Colonel Ingersoll has not, let us thank God that we have it; but let us not accuse him because he frankly says he has it not.
“But then,” he says, “people say, ‘You take away the future life.’ I am not trying to destroy another world, but I am endeavoring to prevent the religious from destroying this. If we are immortal it is a fact in nature, and that fact does not depend on bibles or upon Christ. The hope of another life was I the heart long before the sacred books were written and will remain there long after the sacred books are known to be the work of superstitious men. Hope is the consolation of the world. The sick and suffering hope for health. Hope gives them health and paints “the roses” in their cheeks. The dying hope that death is but another birth, and love leans above the pallid face and whispers, ‘we shall meet again.’ Hope is the consolation of the world. Let us hope that if there be a God, that he is wise and good. Let us hope that if there be another life, that it will bring peace and joy to all the children of men. And let us hope that this poor earth on which we live, may be a perfect world, a world without a crime — without a tear.”
To those who are praying for his conversion, he says, “I think that I had better remain as I am. I had better follow the light of my reason, be true to myself, express my honest thoughts and do the little I can for the destruction of superstition, the little I can for the development of the brain, for the increase of intellectual hospitality and the happiness of my fellow beings. One world at a time.”
I have tried to represent and not to misrepresent Colonel Ingersoll, even in those matters where I differ radically from him; and upon important points, I have quoted his own words. But here is atypical presentation made in print by a man who places “D.D.” after his name: “Colonel Ingersoll would rush into the chamber where a mother is bending heart-brokenly over her dead child, and seeking consolation in her Bible. He would snatch the book form her hands and say to her sneeringly, “Show me your God to whom you pray!”
O, what Colonel Ingersoll would do is something very different form that! He would go into that room, if he went at all, laying a tender hand upon the bowed head, and he would say: “My sorrowing woman, look up! If you find within the pages of that book anything which comforts you, take it, in the name of all that is good. But if you find there anything which fills your soul with fear that your “unrepentant” child who lies there dead before you has gone into eternal torment, I tell you it is false. If there is a God in this universe he must be at least as good and loving and just as you are, — if he put the mother-love in your heart; and your child is safe in the hands of such a God. If there be no God in the universe, and no future life at all, then that child of yours has simply gone into the peace of eternal sleep, whither you will one day follow him. Believe me, there is no cause to add fear to the heart-break of sorrow. At the worse. Death is not an evil. At the best, it may be the greatest blessing that ever came form the hand of nature to her children. Be comforted.”
Now, I would not have the world follow Colonel Ingersoll’s theology, and because I would not is one reason why I entered the liberal ministry. Another reason is, because I would not have the world follow the mediæval theology he seeks to destroy. I believe that this mediæval theology is responsible in large measure for Colonel Ingersoll’s agnosticism, and makes more infidels every year than he has made in all his life. I would simply ask for common justice to this man and to his gospel. I would ask people to remember that he speaks not out of hatred, but out of good-will for humanity; that he wishes not to rob them of anything which is helpful, but o take away from them a fear, an incubus, a nightmare which has haunted and cursed many a timid human soul. I believe that he wishes to believe in God, and am sure that he longs for faith in immortality. I hope that, yet, before the kind heart ceases to beat, it may hve the joy of such faith. But if not, then he will find out his mistakes upon the other side of the grave, just as you and I all will, friends; for what human being can hope that he has fathomed here all the mysteries of the hereafter? If I had to die to-day, choosing between the theology which Colonel Ingersoll combats and the theology which he preaches — faulty, inadequate and unsatisfactory to me as it is, — I would stand with that man. If I could have, after this life, heaven for myself and the few, knowing that hell was for the many, I would choose, rather, dreamless eternal sleep for us all. I thing God would respect one more who would so choose.
So much concerning Colonel Ingersoll and his attitude towards religion: Now, why did he commend the People’s Church? Was it because he thought this church held or promulgated theological views like his own? No. I told him that I believed in God and immortality and prayer, and that I preached always fearlessly what I believed. But I said, every member of this church is absolutely free to believe what is believable to him. Then I asked: “Colonel Ingersoll, if I could stand your prayerlessness, couldn’t you stand my prayer?” Yes,” he replied heartily; “and if all churches were like this, granting freedom to the human intellect, and open seven days in the week and working for the good of men and women and children, now and here, I would never have said one word against churches or religion.”
So the fundamental things of daily holiness and helpfulness (the heart of religion) reach and touch all men of right feeling and right purpose.
And now, to sum up and conclude:
1. The principle of fellowship of the People’s Church is based upon the conviction that the things which divide well-meaning people are superficial, while the things which unite them are fundamental. The passion for righteousness, the impulse to spend one’s self for others, is the essence of all religions that ever existed. The Presbyterian and the Agnostic, the Catholic and the Jew, the Christian and the Buddhist who have this in common are nearer akin to each other than are to men of precisely
2. Opinion is not religion; nor is religion dependent upon opinion. The Atheist whose heart burns with indignation against wrong, who would take God’s vacant place, if he could, to right that wrong, is a religious man, because he believes in and revers and serves the good (which others call God). The most orthodox Christian believer who, having wronged his neighbor, complacently counts on escaping the moral penalty by pleading the merits of Jesus, is a mean-spirited infidel to all that fills the name of God with divine significance.
3. The People’s Church would fellowship Col. Ingersoll for precisely the same reason that it offers fellowship to any man or woman, Catholic
For instance: The physical and moral evil in the world prevents Colonel Ingersoll from believing in God. I am sorry. But Colonel Ingersoll does believe in good, and wants to lessen this physical and moral evil — “Would like to see this world without a crime or a tear,” and so would you and I. Why should not we all join in the effort to make it so?
Friends, why not? Let the other churches have all the people who hold that salvation depends upon belief; let them work in ay way they will to save the world, and let us honor their sincerity and bit them God-speed, and rejoice in every good they do, and co-operate with them so far as permitted. But let us reach out hearty hands of fellow ship to all the honest, earnest, brave and kindly men and women who find themselves elsewhere disfellowshipped, and say to them, here is a church
“With room for every honest doubt
To freely turn itself about,
We need you and we believe that you need us, and we know the world needs the work that we could do together. And out of our effort to live in harmony with all that is good, and to be a part of the moral order of the universe, we will all come nearer to each other and to the heart of the divine mystery; the scoffer will cease to scoff, for what will there be left to scoff at, when all seek the same, though one call it “Good,” the other “God.”
Source: Why the People’s Church of Kalamazoo Would Fellowship Col. Ingersoll, by Caroline J. Bartlett, Minister (Kalamazoo: The Young Men’s Union of the People’s Church) 1896, pp. 7-37.