Robert Ingersoll on Blasphemy

Robert G. Ingersoll

Robert G. Ingersoll

Taken from Robert Ingersoll’s “Discussions”. Full text is available here.

Blasphemy is an epithet bestowed by superstition upon common sense. Whoever investigates a religion as he would any department of science, is called a blasphemer.

Whoever contradicts a priest, whoever has the impudence to use his own reason, whoever is brave enough to express his honest thought, is a blasphemer in the eyes of the religionist.

When a missionary speaks slightingly of the wooden god of a savage, the savage regards him as a blasphemer.

To laugh at the pretensions of Mohammed in Constantinople is blasphemy.

To say in St. Petersburg that Mohammed was a prophet of God is also blasphemy.

There was a time when to acknowledge the divinity of Christ in Jerusalem was blasphemy. To deny his divinity is now blasphemy in New York.

Blasphemy is to a considerable extent a geographical question. It depends not only on what you say, but where you are when you say it.

Blasphemy is what the old calls the new–what last year’s leaf says to this year’s bud.

The founder of every religion was a blasphemer.

The Jews so regarded Christ, and the Athenians had the same opinion of Socrates.

Catholics have always looked upon Protestants as blasphemers and Protestants have always held the same generous opinion of Catholics. To deny that Mary is the Mother of God is blasphemy. To say that she is the Mother of God is blasphemy.

Some savages think that a dried snake-skin stuffed with leaves is sacred, and he who thinks otherwise is a blasphemer. It was once blasphemy to laugh at Diana of the Ephesians. Many people think that it is blasphemous to tell your real opinion of the Jewish Jehovah. Others imagine that words can be printed upon paper, and the paper bound into a book covered with sheepskin, and that the book is sacred, and that to question its sacredness is blasphemy.

Blasphemy is also a crime against God but, nothing can be more absurd than a crime against God. If God is infinite, you cannot injure him. You cannot commit a crime against any being that you cannot injure. Of course, the infinite cannot be injured.

Man is a conditioned being. By changing his conditions, his surroundings, you can injure him; but if God is infinite, he is conditionless. If he is conditionless, he cannot by any possibility be injured. You can neither increase, nor decrease, the well-being of the infinite. Consequently, a crime against God is a demonstrated impossibility.

The cry of blasphemy means only that the argument of the blasphemer cannot be answered.

The sleight-of-hand performer, when someone tries to raise the curtain behind which he operates, cries “blasphemer!”

The priest finding that he has been attacked by common sense, by a fact, resorts to the same cry. Blasphemy is the black flag of theology, and it means: No argument and no quarter! It is an appeal to prejudice, to passions, to ignorance.

It is the last resort of a defeated priest. Blasphemy marks the point where argument stops and slander begins. In old times, it was the signal for throwing stones, for gathering fagots and for tearing flesh; now it means falsehood and calumny.

  • kebm

    I stopped believing in blasphemy along with everything else thankfully. Blasphemy cannot exist if there is no god to offend and if it were real, I wouldn’t want to worship a god that gets his feelings hurt over a little ol’ blasphemin here and there. This brings me to a very important point. How could “bible god” be truth when it is taught that god loves us and is angered by blasphemy. He takes vengeance on idol worshipers. These are all human emotions. How could an all powerful being be subjected to different states of emotions that impare judgement and skew logic.

    • trog69

      Exactly right. Look at all the injuries to his name, the patriarchy, the trivial becoming deadly, and it could only have come from the minds of men.

      Women, you get a pass on this one. In fact, if you were to use reason and logic, you’d be objectively anti-biblical in your beliefs, even if you chose to worship your Jesus.

  • Susan Humphreys

    I think the question should be whether one has the right, or whether it is right to intentionally offend someone by denigrating their beliefs or something they hold to be sacred? This is about how we as individuals chose to deal with religious differences. There are instances where oppression needs to be challenged BUT is it oppression that holds a book to be sacred or oppression that burns that book or oppression that declares how the book burner is to be dealt with? The first is NOT an instance of oppression the last two are.

    • AllenG

      The basic rules of human interaction suggest that intentionally offending people on a personal level is not a good idea. While that may entail the use of blasphemy, the problem is not the blasphemy, but making personal insults in direct interaction with other people on a personal level, whether you are addressing a sacred belief or their choice of hairstyle or car color. But when people publicly and openly advance a belief or idea, it is oppression to demand that no one else gets to speak negatively of that belief for fear of offending people who hear it in the public sphere.

      • Susan Humphreys

        Actually it isn’t oppression to demand that no one gets to speak negatively ONLY if people are prevented or jailed or beaten for speaking negatively. BUT there are ways to respond to bullies without lowering yourself to their level of discourse. For one stick to the facts. If something is your opinion state it as such. TRUTH needs no claim of divine authorship, wise words stand on their own merits. Address the issue not the person making the comments. This means you need to be prepared, do your homework, educate yourself, know your opponents arguments inside and out. Don’t or at least try not to get drawn into playing games of “tit for tat” (insult for insult). If necessary cut off the discussion if someone gets too abusive by simply saying you won’t talk with them until they clean up their act. stop the name calling and personal insults and address the issue responsibly.

  • Guest

    Very well put.

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