Saturday, February 27, 2010

Robert G. Ingersoll Speech

Read this a few days ago and really liked it, so I thought I'd reprint it for anyone who hasn't heard it before.

"When I became convinced that the Universe is natural--that the ghosts and gods and myths, there entered into my brain, into my soul, into every drop of my blood, the sense, the feeling, the joy of freedom. The walls of my prison crumbled and fell, the dungeon was flooded with light, and all the bolts, and bars, and manacles became dust. I was no longer a servant, a serf, or a slave. There was for me no master in all the wide world--not even in infinite space. I was free--free to think, to express my thoughts--free to live to my own ideal--free to live for myself and those I loved--free to use all my faculties, all my senses--free to spread imagination's wings-free to investigate, to guess and dream and hope--free to judge and determine for myself--free to reject all ignorant and cruel creeds, all the "inspired" books that savages have produced, and all the barbarous legends of the past--free from popes and priests--free from all the "called" and "set apart"--free from sanctified mistakes and holy lies--free from the fear of eternal pain--free from the winged monsters of the night--free from devils, ghosts and gods. For the first time I was free. There were no prohibited places in all the realms of thought--no air, no space, where fancy could not spread her painted wings--no chains for my limbs--no lashes for my back--no fires for my flesh--no master's frown or threat--no following another's steps--no need to bow, or cringe, or crawl, or utter lying words. I was free. I stood erect and fearlessly, joyously, faced all worlds.
And then my heart was filled with gratitude, with thankfulness, and went out in love to all the heroes, the thinkers who gave their lives for the liberty of hand and brain--for the freedom of labor and thought--to those who fell in the fierce fields of war, to those who died in dungeons bound with chains--to those who proudly mounted scaffold's stairs--to those whose bones were crushed, whose flesh was scarred and torn-to those by fire consumed--to all the wise, the good, the brave of every land, whose thoughts and deeds have given freedom to the sons of men. And then I vowed to grasp the torch that they had held, and hold it high, that light might conquer darkness still."


  1. Interesting that he still refers to a "soul."

    His reference to atheism, especially towards the end, is inherently religious in its tone. A very interesting way to approach the atheist ideal, as a kind of gnosis.

    Of course, there are different visions of atheism than the one that views it from an essentially religious stance.

  2. Unfortunately I'm pretty ignorant about him, so I can't say one way or another his views on the soul or atheism/agnosticism. Just saw the speech and thought it was a nice piece of oratory.

  3. Oh yes, it is a brilliant piece of rhetoric. It essentially co-ops religious language to describe the moment of atheist awakening. This is something that one strand of atheism has always been quite interested in doing as a rhetorical strategy. Nietzsche did this quite well in Also Sprach Zarathustra, for example. He portrayed the idea of the death of God as a prophetic revelation, a message to be spoken (thus the German word Sprach in the title) by a messenger, Zarathustra.

  4. You have a mistake in the first line. The "and" between gods / myths should be the word "are".

    It should read: When I became convinced that the Universe is natural--that all the ghosts and gods are myths, there entered into my brain

    Here is the Google Books link to the actual text: