The idea that one day in the week is better than the others and should be set apart for religious purposes; that it should be considered holy; that no useful work should be done on that day; that it should be given over to pious idleness and sad ceremonies connected with the worship of a supposed Being, seems to have been originated by the Jews.
According to the Old Testament, the Sabbath was marvelously sacred for two reasons; the first being, that Jehovah created the universe in six days and rested on the seventh: and the second, because the Jews had been delivered from the Egyptians.
The first of these reasons we now know to be false; and the second has nothing, so far as we are concerned, to do with the question.
There is no reason for our keeping the seventh day because the Hebrews were delivered from the Egyptians.
The Sabbath was a Jewish institution, and, according to the Bible, only the Jews were commanded to keep that day. Jehovah said nothing to the Egyptians on that subject; nothing to the Philistines, nothing to the Gentiles.
The Jews kept that day with infinite strictness, and with them this space of time known as the Sabbath became so holy that he who violated it by working was put to death. Sabbath-breaking and murder were equal crimes. On the Sabbath the pious Jew would not build a fire in his house. He ate cold victuals and thanked God. The gates of the city were closed. No business was done, and the traveler who arrived at the city on that day remained outside until evening. If he happened to fall, he remained where he fell until the sun had gone done.
The early Christians did not hold the seventh day in such veneration. As a matter of fact, they ceased to regard it as holy, and changed the sacred day from the seventh to the first. This change was really made by Constantine, because the first day of the week was the Sunday of the Pagans; and this day had been given to pleasure and recreation and to religious ceremonies for many centuries.
After Constantine designated the first day to be kept and observed by Christians, our Sunday became the sacred time.
The early Christians, however, kept the day much as it had been kept by the Pagans. They attended church in the morning, and in the afternoon enjoyed themselves as best they could.
The Catholic Church fell in with the prevailing customs, and to accommodate itself to Pagan ways and superstitions, it agreed, as far as it could, with the ideas of the Pagan.
Up to the time of the Reformation, Sunday had been divided between the discharge of religious duties and recreation.
Luther did not believe in the sacredness of the Sabbath. After church he enjoyed himself by playing games, and wanted others to do the same.
Even John Calvin, whose view had been blurred by the "Five Points," allowed the people to enjoy themselves on Sunday afternoon.
The reformers on the continent never had the Jewish idea of the sacredness of the Sabbath.
In Geneva, Germany and France, all kinds of innocent amusement were allowed on that day; and I believe the same was true of Holland.
But in Scotland the Jewish idea was adopted to the fullest extent. There Sabbath-breaking was one of the blackest and one of the most terrible crimes. Nothing was considered quite as sacred as the Sabbath.
The Scotch went so far as to take the ground that it was wrong to save people who were drowning on Sunday, the drowning being a punishment inflicted by God. Upon the question of keeping the Sabbath most of the Scottish people became insane.
The same notions about the holy day were adopted by the Dissenters in England, and it became the principal tenet in their creed.
The Puritans and Pilgrims were substantially crazy about the sacredness of Sunday. With them the first day of the week was set apart for preaching, praying, attending church, reading the Bible and studying the catechism. Walking, riding, playing on musical instruments, boating, swimming and courting, were all crimes.
No one had the right to be happy on that blessed day. It was a time of gloom, sacred, solemn and religiously stupid.
They did their best to strip their religion of every redeeming feature. They hated art and music -- everything calculated to produce joy. They despised everything except the Bible, the church, God, Sunday and the creed.
The influence of these people has been felt in every part of our country. The Sabbath superstition became almost universal. No laughter, no smiles on that day; no games, no recreation, no riding, no walking through the perfumed fields or by the winding streams or the shore of the sea. No communion with the subtitle beauties of nature; no wandering in the woods with wife and children, no reading of poetry and fiction; nothing but solemnity and gloom, listening to sermons, thinking about sin, death, graves, coffins, shrouds, epitaphs and ceremonies and the marvelous truths of sectarian religion, and the weaknesses of those who were natural enough and sensible enough to enjoy themselves on the Sabbath day.
So universal became the Sabbath superstition that the Legislatures of all the States, or nearly all, passed laws to prevent work and enjoyment on that day, and declared all contracts void relating to business entered into on Sunday.
The Germans gave us the first valuable lesson on this subject. They came to this country in great numbers; they did not keep the American Sabbath. They listened to music and they drank beer on that holy day. They took their wives and children with them and enjoyed themselves; yet they were good, kind, industrious people. They paid their debts and their credit was the best.
Our people saw that men could be good and women virtuous without "keeping" the Sabbath.
This did us great good, and changed the opinions of hundreds of thousands of Americans.
But the churches insisted on the old way. Gradually our people began to appreciate the fact that one-seventh of the time was being stolen by superstition. They began to ask for the opening of libraries, for music in the parks and to be allowed to visit museums and public places on the Sabbath.
In several States these demands were granted, and the privileges have never been abused, The people were orderly, polite to officials and to each other.
In 1876, when the Centennial was held at Philadelphia, the Sabbatarians had control. Philadelphia was a Sunday city, and so the gates of the Centennial were closed on that day.
This was in Philadelphia where the Sabbath superstition had been so virulent that chains had been put across the streets to prevent stages and carriages from passing at that holy time.
At that time millions of Americans felt that a great wrong was done by closing the Centennial to the laboring people; but the managers -- most of them being politicians -- took care of themselves and kept the gates closed.
In 1876 the Sabbatarians triumphed, and when it was determined to hold a world's fair at Chicago they made up their minds that no one should look upon the world's wonders on the Sabbath day.
To accomplish this pious and foolish purpose committees were appointed all over the country; money was raised to make a campaign; persons were employed to go about and arouse the enthusiasm of religious people; petitions by the thousand were sent to Congress and to the officers of the World's Fair, signed by thousands of people who never saw them; resolutions were passed in favor of Sunday closing by conventions, presbyters, councils and associations. Lobbyists were employed to influence members of Congress. Great bodies of Christians threatened to boycott the fair and yet the World's Fair is open on Sunday.
What is the meaning of this? Let me tell you. It means that in this country the Scotch New England Sabbath has ceased to be; it means that it is dead. The last great effort for its salvation has been put forth, and has failed. It belonged to the creed of Jonathan Edwards and the belief of the witch burners, and in this age it is out of place.
There was a time when the minister and priest were regarded as the foundation of wisdom; when information came from the altar, from the pulpit; and when the sheep were the property of the shepherd.
That day in intelligent communities has passed. We no longer go to the minister or the church for information. The orthodox minister is losing his power, and the Sabbath is now regarded as a day of rest, of recreation and of pleasure.
The church must keep up with the people. The minister must take another step. The multitude care but little about controversies in churches, but they do care about the practical questions that directly affect their daily lives.
Must we waste one day in seven; must we make ourselves unhappy or melancholy one-seventh of the time?
These are important questions and for many years the church in our country has answered them both in the affirmative, and a vast number of people not Christians have also said "yes" because they wanted votes, or because they feared to incite the hatred of the church.
Now in this year of 1893 a World's Fair answered this question in the negative, and a large majority of the citizens of the Republic say that the officers of the Fair have done right.
This marks an epoch in the history of the Sabbath. It is to be sacred in a religious sense in this country no longer. Henceforth in the United States the Sabbath is for the use of man.
Many of those who labored for the closing of the Fair on Sunday took the ground that if the gates were opened, God would visit this nation with famine, flood and fire.
It hardly seems possible that God will destroy thousands of women and children who had nothing to do with the opening of the Fair; still, if he is the same God described in the Christian Bible, he may destroy our babes as he did those of the Egyptians. It is a little hard to tell in advance what a God of that kind will do.
It was believed for many centuries that God punished the Sabbath-breaking individual and the Sabbath-breaking nation. Of course facts never had anything to do with this belief, and the prophecies of the pulpit were never fulfilled. People who were drowned on Sunday, according to the church, lost their lives by the will of God. Those drowned on other days were the victims of storm or accident. The nations that kept the Sabbath were no more prosperous than those that broke the sacred day. Certainly France is as prosperous as Scotland.
Let us hope, however, that these zealous gentlemen who have predicted calamities were mistaken; let us be glad that hundreds of thousands of workingmen and women will be delighted and refined by looking at the statues, the paintings, the machinery, and the countless articles of use and beauty gathered together at the great Fair, and let us be glad that on the one day that they can spare from toil, the gates will be open to them.
The Works of Robert G. Ingersoll
Dresden Memorial Edition (XII, 369-375)
HTML, Editing by Cliff Walker
Essay on Christmas.
My family and I regard Christmas as a holiday -- that is to say, a day of rest and pleasure -- a day to get acquainted with each other, a day to recall old memories, and for the cultivation of social amenities. The festival now called Christmas is far older than Christianity. It was known and celebrated for thousands of years before the establishment of what is known as our religion. It is a relic of sun-worship. It is the day on which the sun triumphs over the hosts of darkness, and thousands of years before the New Testament was written, thousands of years before the republic of Rome existed, before one stone of Athens was laid, before the Pharaohs ruled in Egypt, before the religion of Brahma, before Sanskrit was spoken, men and women crawled out of their caves, pushed the matted hair from their eyes, and greeted the triumph of the sun over the powers of the night.
There are many relics of this worship -- among which is the shaving of the priest's head, leaving the spot shaven surrounded by hair, in imitation of the rays of the sun. There is still another relic -- the ministers of our day close their eyes in prayer. When men worshiped the sun -- when they looked at that luminary and implored its assistance -- they shut their eyes as a matter of necessity. Afterward the priests looking at their idols glittering with gems, shut their eyes in flattery, pretending that they could not bear the effulgence of the presence; and to-day, thousands of years after the old ideas have passed away, the modern parson, without knowing the origin of the custom, closes his eyes when he prays.
There are many other relics and souvenirs of the dead worship of the sun, and this festival was adopted by Egyptians, Greeks, Romans, and by Christians. As a matter of fact, Christianity furnished new steam for an old engine, infused a new spirit into an old religion, and, as a matter of course, the old festival remained.
For all of our festivals you will find corresponding pagan festivals. For instance, take the eucharist, the communion, where persons partake of the body and blood of the Deity. This is an exceedingly old custom. Among the ancients they ate cakes made of corn, in honor of Ceres and they called these cakes the flesh of the goddess, and they drank wine in honor of Bacchus, and called this the blood of their god. And so I could go on giving the pagan origin of every Christian ceremony and custom. The probability is that the worship of the sun was once substantially universal, and consequently the festival of Christ was equally wide spread.
As other religions have been produced, the old customs have been adopted and continued, so that the result is, this festival of Christmas is almost world-wide. It is popular because it is a holiday. Overworked people are glad of days that bring rest and recreation and allow them to meet their families and their friends. They are glad of days when they give and receive gifts -- evidences of friendship, of remembrance and love. It is popular because it is really human, and because it is interwoven with our customs, habits, literature, and thought.
For my part I am willing to have two or three a year -- the more holidays the better. Many people have an idea that I am opposed to Sunday. I am perfectly willing to have two a week. All I insist on is that these days shall be for the benefit of the people, and that they shall be kept not in a way to make folks miserable or sad or hungry, but in a way to make people happy, and to add a little to the joy of life. Of course, I am in favor of everybody keeping holidays to suit himself, provided he does not interfere with others, and I am perfectly willing that everybody should go to church on that day, provided he is willing that I should go somewhere else. -- The Tribune, New York, December, 1889.
The Works of Robert G. Ingersoll
Dresden Memorial Edition (XII, 389-391)
HTML, Editing by Cliff Walker
A Tribute to Ebon C. Ingersoll.
Washington D.C., May 31, 1879.
Dear friends: I am going to do that which the dead oft promised he would do for me.
The loved and loving brother, husband, father, friend, died where manhood's morning almost touches noon, and while the shadows still were falling toward the west.
He had not passed on life's highway the stone that marks the highest point; but being weary for a moment, he lay down by the wayside, and using his burden for a pillow, fell into that dreamless sleep that kisses down his eyelids still. While yet in love with life and raptured with the world, he passed to silence and pathetic dust.
Yet, after all, it may be best, just in the happiest, sunniest hour of all the voyage, while eager winds are kissing every sail, to dash against the unseen rock, and in an instant hear the billows roar above a sunken ship. For whether in mid-sea or 'mong the breakers of the farther shore, a wreck at last must mark the end of each and all. And every life, no matter if its every hour is rich with love and every moment jeweled with a joy, will, at its close, become a tragedy as sad and deep and dark as can be woven of the warp and woof of mystery and death.
This brave and tender man in every storm of life was oak and rock; but in the sunshine he was vine and flower. He was the friend of all heroic souls. He climbed the heights, and left all superstitions far below, while on his forehead fell the golden dawning of a grander day.
He loved the beautiful, and was with color, form, and music touched to tears. He sided with the weak, the poor, and wronged, and lovingly gave alms. With loyal heart and with the purest hands he faithfully discharged all public trusts.
He was a worshiper of liberty, a friend of the oppressed. A thousand times I have heard him quote these words: "For Justice all place a temple, and all season, summer." He believed that happiness is the only good, reason the only torch, justice the only worship, humanity the only religion, and love the only priest. He added to the sum of human joy; and were every one to whom he did some loving service to bring a blossom to his grave, he would sleep tonight beneath a wilderness of flowers.
Life is a narrow vale between the cold and barren peaks of two eternities. We strive in vain to look beyond the heights. We cry aloud, and the only answer is the echo of our wailing cry. From the voiceless lips of the unreplying dead there comes no word; but in the night of death hope sees a star and listening love can hear the rustle of a wing.
He who sleeps here, when dying, mistaking the approach of death for the return of health, whispered with his latest breath, "I am better now." Let us believe, in spite of doubts and dogmas, of fears and tears, that these dear words are true of all the countless dead.
The record of a generous life runs like a vine around the memory of our dead, and every sweet, unselfish act is now a perfumed flower.
And now, to you, who have been chosen, from among the many men he loved, to do the last sad office for the dead, we give his sacred dust.
Speech cannot contain our love. There was, there is, no gentler, stronger, manlier man.
The Works of Robert G. Ingersoll
Dresden Memorial Edition (XII, 395-396)
HTML, Editing by Cliff Walker
A Tribute to Reverend Alexander Clark
Washington D.C., July 13, 1879.
Upon the grave of the Reverend Alexander Clark I wish to place one flower. Utterly destitute of cold, dogmatic pride, that often passes for the love of God; without the arrogance of the "elect"; simple, free, and kind -- this earnest man made me his friend by being mine. I forgot that he was a Christian, and he seemed to forget that I was not, while each remembered that the other was at least a man.
Frank, candid, and sincere, he practiced what he preached, and looked with the holy eyes of charity upon the failings and mistakes of men. He believed in the power of kindness, and spanned with divine sympathy the hideous gulf that separates the fallen from the pure.
Giving freely to others the rights that he claimed for himself, it never occurred to him that his God hated a brave and honest unbeliever. He remembered that even an Infidel had rights that love respects; that hatred has no saving power, and that in order to be a Christian it is not necessary to become less that a human being. He knew that no one can be maligned into kindness; that epithets cannot convince; that curses are not arguments, and that the finger of scorn never points toward heaven. With the generosity of an honest man, he accorded to all the fullest liberty of thought, knowing, as he did, that in the realm of mind a chain is but a curse.
For this man I felt the greatest possible regard. In spite of the taunts and jeers of his brethren, he publicly proclaimed that he would treat Infidels with fairness and respect; that he would endeavor to convince them by argument and win them with love. He insisted that the God he worshiped loved the wellbeing even of an Atheist. In this grand position he stood almost alone. Tender, just, and loving where others were harsh, vindictive, and cruel, he challenged the admiration of every honest man. A few more such clergymen might drive calumny from the lips of faith and render the pulpit worthy of esteem.
The heartiness and kindness with which this generous man treated me can never be excelled. He admitted that I had not lost, and could not lose, a single right by the expression of my honest thought. Neither did he believe that a servant could win the respect of a generous master by persecuting and maligning those whom the master would willingly forgive.
While this good man was living, his brethren blamed him for having treated me with fairness. But, I trust, now that he has left the shore touched by the mysterious sea that never yet has borne, on any wave, the image of a homeward sail, this crime will be forgiven him by those who still remain to preach the love of God.
His sympathies were not confined within the prison of a creed, but ran out and over the walls like vines, hiding the cruel rocks and rusted bars with leak and flower. He could not echo with his heart the fiendish sentence of eternal fire. In spite of book and creed, he read "between the lines" the words of tenderness and love, with promises for all the world. Above, beyond, the dogmas of his church -- humane even to the verge of heresy -- causing some to doubt his love of God because he failed to hate his unbelieving fellow-men, he labored for the welfare of mankind, and to his work gave up his life with all his heart.
The Works of Robert G. Ingersoll
Dresden Memorial Edition (XII, 399-400)
HTML, Editing by Cliff Walker
At A Child's Grave
Washington D.C., January 8, 1882.
I know how vain it is to gild a grief with words, and yet I wish to take from every grave its fear. Here in this world, where life and death are equal kings, all should be brave enough to meet what all the dead have met. The future has been filled with fear, stained and polluted by the heartless past. From the wondrous tree of life the buds and blossoms fall with ripened fruit, and in the common bed of earth, patriarchs and babes sleep side by side.
Why should we fear that which will come to all that is? We cannot tell, we do not know, which is the greater blessing -- life or death. We cannot say that death is not a good. We do not know whether the grave is the end of this life, or the door of another, or whether the night here is not somewhere else a dawn. Neither can we tell which is the more fortunate -- the child dying in its mother's arms, before its lips have learned to form a word, or he who journeys all the length of life's uneven road, painfully taking the last slow steps with staff and crutch.
Every cradle asks us "Whence?" and every coffin "Whither?" The poor barbarian, weeping above his dead, can answer these questions just as well as the robed priest of the most authentic creed. The tearful ignorance of the one, is as consoling as the learned and unmeaning words of the other. No man, standing where the horizon of a life has touched a grave, has any right to prophesy a future filled with pain and tears.
May be death gives all there is of worth to life. If those we press and strain within our arms could never die, perhaps that love would wither from the earth. May be this common fate treads out from the paths between our hearts the weeds of selfishness and hate. And I had rather live and love where death is king, than have eternal life where love is not. Another life is nought, unless we know and love again the ones who love us here.
They who stand with breaking hearts around this little grave, need have no fear. The larger and the nobler faith in all that is, and is to be, tells us that death, even at its worst, is only perfect rest. We know that through the common wants of life -- the needs and duties of each hour -- their grief will lessen day by day, until at last this grave will be to them a place of rest and peace -- almost of joy. There is for them this consolation: The dead do not suffer. If they live again, their lives will surely be as good as ours. We have no fear. We are all children of the same mother, and the same fate awaits us all. We, too, have our religion, and it is this: Help for the living -- Hope for the dead.