The Great Agnostic

RobertIngersollWriting in the Weekly Standard, here’s Katherine Mangu-Ward with an entertaining review of a new biography of Robert Ingersoll, the Great Agnostic:

While today’s GOP is associated with public displays of faith, the Republican party of Ingersoll’s day was more likely to be the home of freethinkers, such as the churchless Abraham Lincoln. The American public wasn’t ready for overt atheism in elected or appointed office, but Ingersoll’s talent on the stump made his endorsement valuable. Jacoby persuasively argues that Ingersoll fits into the classical liberal tradition, a thread that remains visible, if controversial, in the fabric of the modern Republican party…

His speeches were studded with jokes that played to American sensibilities: While explaining Charles Darwin’s still-controversial theory of evolution, he speculated how tough it would be for blood-proud European aristocrats to learn they were descended from “the duke Orang Outang, or the princess Chimpanzee.” Far from finding the prospect of a godless universe depressing, Ingersoll considered the theory of evolution a desirable replacement for the story of the Fall.

“I would rather belong to that race that commenced a skull-less vertebrate and produced Shakespeare, a race that has before it an infinite future, with an angel of progress leaning from the far horizon, beckoning men forward, upward, and onward forever—I had rather belong to such a race .  .  . than to have sprung from a perfect pair upon which the Lord has lost money every moment from that day to this.”


Read the whole thing.

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2 Responses to The Great Agnostic

  1. WmarkW says:

    Jacoby used to be a regular contributor to the Washington Post’s On Faith, where her Spirited Atheist column claimed it was “In search of a New Age of Reason.” In her mind, of course, reason equals liberal political positions, and I would frequently cite a column by one of the contributors of this site to rebut one of her points.

    It would be great if someone from this site could become an On Faith contributor, because the only political conservatism they ever represent comes from Southern-style Protestantism or an occasional Catholic on a sexuality issue.

  2. Polichinello says:

    “…with an angel of progress leaning from the far horizon, beckoning men forward, upward, and onward forever…”

    Wasn’t this Kodos’ campaign speech? Or was it Kang?

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