the year of LIVING UNOFFICIALLY

365 days of celebration

11
August

Ingersoll Day

Posted by Brittany

Robert IngersollRobert Green Ingersoll was born in Dresden, New York on August 11, 1833. A renowned speaker, he is noted as having been the person heard by more Americans than any other until the invention of movies and radio. His lectures encouraging freethought and the pursuit of Liberty attracted huge paying crowds, and his friend, the poet Walt Whitman, regarded him as the greatest orator of their time. During the Golden Age of Freethought he campaigned for the rights of oppressed people everywhere, including America’s slaves, women, and minorities. Ingersoll challenged Christian faith and morality, earning himself the nickname “The Great Agnostic;” when he defended a fellow free-thinker against a blasphemy charge he argued that “To deny what you believe to be true, to admit to be true what you believe to be lie, that is blasphemy.” Ingersoll Day is observed on Robert Ingersoll’s birth anniversary to celebrate his life and influential works.

I’m ashamed to admit it, but I had never heard of Robert Ingersoll until today. Or, if I did learn about him in school or have read any of his lectures, it has been long forgotten. But I’m always fascinated by the people in our world’s history who stood staunchly against the conventions of their day, sharing their beliefs in the hopes of benefiting their fellow man. Whether their focus was environmental, political, humanitarian, et cetera, it has been history’s non-conformists that re-shaped the paths that have led us to where we are today. Not only was Robert Ingersoll one of these people, but he also recognized and admired earlier pioneers in the pursuit of freethought.

In celebration of Robert Ingersoll Day I read one of The Great Agnostic’s lectures specifically trumpeting the character and accomplishments of one of the world’s best known freethinkers, Thomas Paine. Many of Ingersoll’s lectures can be found online, including The Life and Deeds of Thomas Pain. At first I was a little taken aback by the length of the lecture, finding myself wondering how parched he must have become while speaking (I presume passionately), about one of the founders of secular humanism. But as I read on, I became wrapped up Ingersoll’s story-telling, imagery, simple but profound logic, and persuasiveness. The lecture, over a century old, was neither dated nor difficult to understand, exhibiting a timeless, forward-thinking quality instead.

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