An Agnostic Classic
by: Robert G. Ingersoll
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In that vast cemetery called the past, are most of the religions of men, and there, too, are nearly all their gods. The sacred temples of India were ruins long ago. Over column and cornice, over the painted and pictured walls, cling and creep the trailing vines. Brahma, the golden, with four heads and four arms ; Vishnu, the sombre, the punisher of the wicked, with his three eyes, his crescent, and his necklace of skulls ; Siva, the destroyer, red with seas of blood ; Kali, the goddess ; Draupadi, the white-armed, and Chrishna, the Christ, all passed away and left the thrones of heaven desolate.
Along the banks of the sacred Nile, Isis no longer wandering weeps, searching for the dead Osiris. The shadow of Typhon’s scowl falls no more upon the waves. The sun rises as of yore, and his golden beams still smite the lips of Memnon, but Memnon is as voiceless as the Sphinx. The sacred fanes are lost in desert sands ; the dusty mummies are still waiting for the resurrection promised by their priests, and the old beliefs, wrought in curiously sculptured stone, sleep in the mystery of a language lost and dead. Odin, the author of life and soul, Vili and Ve, and the mighty giant Ymir, strode long ago from the icy halls of the North ; and Thor, with iron glove and glittering hammer, dashes mountains to the earth no more.
Broken are the circles and cromlechs of the ancient Druids ; fallen upon the summits of the hills, and covered with the centuries’ moss, are the sacred cairns. The divine fires of Persia and of the Aztecs, have died out in the ashes of the past, and there is none to rekindle, and none to feed the holy flames. The harp of Orpheus is still ; the drained cup of Bacchus has been thrown aside ; Venus lies dead in stone, and her white bosom heaves no more with love. The streams still murmur, but no naiads bathe ; the trees still wave, but in the forest aisles no dryads dance.
The gods have flown from high Olympus. Not even the beautiful women can lure them back, and Danae lies unnoticed, naked to the stars. Hushed forever are the thunders of Sinai ; lost are the voices of the prophets, and the land once flowing with milk and honey is but a desert waste. One by one, the myths have faded from the clouds ; one by one, the phantom host has disappeared, and one by one, facts, truths and realities have taken their places. The supernatural has almost gone, but the natural remains. The gods have fled, but man is here.
Nations, like individuals, have their periods of youth, of manhood and decay. Religions are the same. The same inexorable destiny awaits them all. The gods created by the nations must perish with their creators. They were created by men, and like men, they must pass away. The deities of one age are the by-words of the next. The religion of our day, and country, is no more exempt from the sneer of the future than the others have been. When India was supreme, Brahma sat upon the world’s throne. When the sceptre passed to Egypt, Isis and Osiris received the homage of mankind. Greece, with her fierce valor, swept to empire, and Zeus put on the purple of authority. The earth trembled with the tread of Rome’s intrepid sons, and Jove grasped with mailed hand the thunderbolts of heaven. Rome fell, and Christians, from her territory, with the red sword of war carved out the ruling nations of the world, and now Christ sits upon the old throne. Who will be his successor?