Why I Am Agnostic (Part X)
By: Robert Green Ingersoll
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This God must be, if he exists, a person -- a conscious being. Who can imagine an infinite personality? This God must have force, and we cannot conceive of force apart from matter. This God must be material. He must have the means by which he changes force to what we call thought. When he thinks he uses force, force that must be replaced. Yet we are told that he is infinitely wise. If he is, he does not think. Thought is a ladder -- a process by which we reach a conclusion. He who knows all conclusions cannot think. He cannot hope or fear. When knowledge is perfect there can be no passion, no emotion. If God is infinite he does not want. He has all. He who does not want does not act. The infinite must dwell in eternal calm.
It is as impossible to conceive of such a being as to imagine a square triangle, or to think of a circle without a diameter.
Yet we are told that it is our duty to love this God. Can we love the unknown, the inconceivable? Can it be our duty to love anybody? It is our duty to act justly, honestly, but it cannot be our duty to love. We cannot be under obligation to admire a painting -- to be charmed with a poem -- or thrilled with music. Admiration cannot be controlled. Taste and love are not the servants of the will. Love is, and must be free. It rises from the heart like perfume from a flower.
For thousands of ages men and women have been trying to love the gods -- trying to soften their hearts -- trying to get their aid.
I see them all. The panorama passes before me. I see them with outstretched hands -- with reverently closed eyes -- worshiping the sun. I see them bowing, in their fear and need, to meteoric stones -- imploring serpents, beasts and sacred trees -- praying to idols wrought of wood and stone. I see them building altars to the unseen powers, staining them with blood of child and beast. I see the countless priests and hear their solemn chants. I see the dying victims, the smoking altars, the swinging censers, and the rising clouds. I see the half-god men -- the mournful Christs, in many lands. I see the common things of life change to miracles as they speed from mouth to mouth. I see the insane prophets reading the secret book of fate by signs and dreams. I see them all -- the Assyrians chanting the praises of Asshur and Ishtar -- the Hindus worshiping Brahma, Vishnu and Draupadi, the whitearmed -- the Chaldeans sacrificing to Bel and Hea -- the Egyptians bowing to Ptah and Fta, Osiris and Isis -- the Medes placating the storm, worshiping the fire -- the Babylonians supplicating Bel and Murodach -- I see them all by the Euphrates, the Tigris, the Ganges and the Nile. I see the Greeks building temples for Zeus, Neptune and Venus. I see the Romans kneeling to a hundred gods. I see others spurning idols and pouring out their hopes and fears to a vague image in the mind. I see the multitudes, with open mouths, receive as truths the myths and fables of the vanished years. I see them give their toil, their wealth to robe the priests, to build the vaulted roofs, the spacious aisles, the glittering domes. I see them clad in rags, huddled in dens and huts, devouring crusts and scraps, that they may give the more to ghosts and gods. I see them make their cruel creeds and fill the world with hatred, war, and death. I see them with their faces in the dust in the dark days of plague and sudden death, when cheeks are wan and lips are white for lack of bread. I hear their prayers, their sighs, their sobs. I see them kiss the unconscious lips as their hot tears fall on the pallid faces of the dead. I see the nations as they fade and fail. I see them captured and enslaved. I see their altars mingle with the common earth, their temples crumble slowly back to dust. I see their gods grow old and weak, infirm and faint. I see them fall from vague and misty thrones, helpless and dead. The worshipers receive no help. Injustice triumphs. Toilers are paid with the lash, -- babes are sold, -- the innocent stand on scaffolds, and the heroic perish in flames. I see the earthquakes devour, the volcanoes overwhelm, the cyclones wreck, the floods destroy, and the lightnings kill.
The nations perished. The gods died. The toil and wealth were lost. The temples were built in vain, and all the prayers died unanswered in the heedless air.
Then I asked myself the question: Is there a supernatural power -- an arbitrary mind -- an enthroned God -- a supreme will that sways the tides and currents of the world -- to which all causes bow?
I do not deny. I do not know -- but I do not believe. I believe that the natural is supreme -- that from the infinite chain no link can be lost or broken -- that there is no supernatural power that can answer prayer -- no power that worship can persuade or change -- no power that cares for man.
I believe that with infinite arms Nature embraces the all -- that there is no interference -- no chance -- that behind every event are the necessary and countless causes, and that beyond every event will be and must be the necessary and countless effects.
Man must protect himself. He cannot depend upon the supernatural -- upon an imaginary father in the skies. He must protect himself by finding the facts in Nature, by developing his brain, to the end that he may overcome the obstructions and take advantage of the forces of Nature.
Is there a God?
I do not know.
Is man immortal?
I do not know.
One thing I do know, and that is, that neither hope, nor fear, belief, nor denial, can change the fact. It is as it is, and it will be as it must be.
We wait and hope.