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Meditations Of Robert Green Ingersoll

“A Church Of The Future. . .Without God”

In The Chicago Tribune, November 1891, Ingersoll was asked, “What is going to take the place of the pulpit?”  His response is chilling for believers, and cause for celebration among the happy infidels.  What he describes is nothing less than a Secular Church for Freethinkers.  Centered in education with “something of use” to thinking women, men and children, The Great Agnostic heralds a new day with a new gospel for people who are eager to leave the superstitions and supernatural distractions of the past for something even more super:  reason and delightful curiosity.  In this congregation, we might find it hard to choose between staying in for the sermon or running into the fields and woods with the Sunday School class! (note: the gender language needs some updating, though it will be good to remember that RGI was friend and co-freethinker with Elizabeth Cady Stanton, both outspoken champions of women’s rights)

Pond with floating leaves“I have for a long time wondered why somebody didn’t start a church on a sensible basis. My idea is this: There are, of course, in every community, lawyers, doctors, merchants, and people of all trades and professions who have not the time during the week to pay any particular attention to history, poetry, art, or song. Now, it seems to me that it would be a good thing to have a church and for these men to employ a man of ability, of talent, to preach to them Sundays, and let this man say to his congregation: ‘Now, I am going to preach to you for the first few Sundays—eight or ten or twenty, we will say—on the art, poetry, and intellectual achievements of the Greeks.’ Let this man study all the week and tell his congregation Sunday what he has ascertained. Let him give to his people the history of such men as Plato, as Socrates, what they did; of Aristotle, of his philosophy; of the great Greeks, their statesmen, their poets, actors, and sculptors, and let him show the debt that modern civilization owes to these people. Let him, too, give their religions, their mythology—a mythology that has sown the seed of beauty in every land. Then let him take up Rome. Let him show what a wonderful and practical people they were; let him give an idea of their statesmen, orators, poets, lawyers—because probably the Romans were the greatest lawyers. And so let him go through with nation after nation, biography after biography, and at the same time let there be a Sunday school connected with this church where the children shall be taught something of importance. For instance, teach them botany, and when a Sunday is fair, clear, and beautiful, let them go into the fields and woods with their teachers, and in a little while they will become acquainted with all kinds of trees and shrubs and flowering plants. They could also be taught entomology, so that every bug Orange and yellow fall leaveswould be interesting, for they would see the facts in science—something of use to them. I believe that such a church and such a Sunday school would at the end of a few years be the most intelligent collection of people in the United States. . . .

The church says, ‘He that hath ears to hear let him hear.’ I say: ‘He that hath brains to think, let him think.’ . . . .

Music is taking the place of creed, and there is more real devotional feeling summoned from the temple of the mind by great music than by any sermon ever delivered. . . .

Astrology was displaced by astronomy. Alchemy and the black art gave way to chemistry. Science is destined to take the place of superstition. In my judgment, the religion of the future will be Reason.”

from “The Tendency of Modern Thought,” Works of Robert Green Ingersoll, Vol 8.


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Chris Highland is a teacher and writer in Asheville, NC.  A former protestant minister and interfaith chaplain, he is now a humanist celebrant and has led several “secular sanctuary” gatherings in California and North Carolina.  He blogs at and