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by Donald B. Ardell, Ph. D.
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Celebrating Robert Green Ingersoll's Birthday and the Restoration of 1911 Statue in Peoria, IL on August 11

Friday August 26, 2016

Introduction

Plaque - RGIThe Peoria Park District, thanks to the efforts of the Freedom from Religion Foundation (FFRF), as well as the Center for Inquiry (CFI) and contributions from 238 Ingersoll admirers, hosted a restoration ceremony in the city's historic Glen Oak Park on August 11. The names of 16 donors who contributed $1,000 each to the restoration of the 1911 statue are now included on a plaque, as is one of Ingersoll's lovely creeds: 

    “Happiness is the only good.
    The time to be happy is now.
    The place to be happy is here.
    The way to be happy is to make others so.” 

His other creed, by the way, was:

    “Happiness is the only good;
    reason the only torch;
    justice the only worship, humanity the only religion,
    and love the only priest.”  

Highlights

The visit to Peoria included an FFRF-sponsored “Celebrating Ingersoll Soiree” dinner the night before the rededication. Speakers included FFRF's co-presidents Annie Laurie Gaylor and Dan Barker, Ingersoll descendants Jeff and R.E. (Elliott) Ingersoll, CFI's Tom Flynn, Humanist Grand Dame Margaret Downey, sculptor Zenos Frudakis and Peoria's leading secularist, Ken Hofbauer. All gave short, informative insights about Ingersoll, along with a sampling of memorable Ingersoll quotes. Dan Barker provided the evening's musical entertainment.
 
Luminaries at the ceremonyThe festivities coincided with a fine dinner and the celebration of Robert Green Ingersoll's 183rd birthday, topped off with multiple slices of delicious and presumably health-conscious birthday cakes.

Ingersoll and Peoria

In the latter half of the 19th century, Ingersoll was Peoria's most famous citizen. Though born in Dresden, N.Y., he launched his career in Peoria, where he met Eva Parker, his wife whom he would often praise as a woman without superstition.

When the Civil War erupted, he was asked to organize a regiment, which he trained and led into three major battles before being captured. After the war he resumed his law practice, and served as Illinois' first attorney general.  
 
As readers of the AWR well know, Ingersoll gained fame as an orator extraordinary, a fearless advocate for freethought, which he saw as a prerequisite for the exercise of reason, exuberance and liberty. Ingersoll performed in an era without sound amplification, yet he drew crowds as large as 10,000 and, on a few occasions, four to five times that many.

Ingersollian Snippets

As noted, the speakers delighted the crowd at the dinner, and most offered excerpts from his speeches, including a few of the following:RGI Ceremony

God cannot send to eternal pain a man who has done something toward improving the condition of his fellow man. If he can, I had rather go to hell than to heaven and keep company with such a god.

In most of the states of this union, I could not give testimony. Christianity has such a contemptible opinion of human nature that it does not believe that a man can tell the truth unless frightened by a belief in God.

Suppose there were no passages in the Bible except those upholding slavery, polygamy and wars of extermination. Would anybody claim that it was the word of God?

I pity the man who has only to brag that he is white.

The only thing that makes life endurable in this world is human love, and yet, according to Christianity, that is the very thing that we are not to have in the other world. We are to be so taken up with Jesus and angels, that we shall care nothing about our brothers and sisters that have been damned. We shall be so carried away with the music of the harp that we shall not even hear the wail of father and mother. Such a religion is a disgrace to human nature.

The Catholics have a Pope. Protestants laugh at them, and yet the Pope is capable of intellectual advancement. In addition to this, the Pope is mortal, and the church cannot be afflicted with the same idiot forever. The Protestants have a book for their Pope. The book cannot advance. Year after year, and century after century, the book remains as ignorant as ever.

The Agnostic ... occupies himself with this world, with things that can be ascertained and understood. He turns his attention to the sciences, to the solutions of questions that touch the well-being of man. He wishes to prevent and cure disease; to lengthen life; to provide homes and raiment and food for man; to supply the wants of the body. He also cultivates the arts. He believes in painting and sculpture, in music and the drama -- the needs of the soul. The Agnostic believes in developing the brain, in cultivating the affections, the tastes, the conscience, the judgment, to the end that man may be happy in this world.

Real religion means the doing of justice. Real religion means the giving to others every right you claim yourself. Real religion consists in duties of man to man, in feeding the hungry, in clothing the naked, in defending the innocent, and in saying what you believe to be true.

There is nothing spiritual in the worship of the unknown and unknowable, in the self-denial of a slave at the command of a master whom he fears. Fastings, prayings, mutilations, kneelings, and mortification are either the result of, or result in, insanity.

Is life worth living? Well, I can only answer for myself. I like to be alive, to breathe the air, to look at the landscape, the clouds, the stars, to repeat old poems, to look at pictures and statues, to hear music, the voices of the ones I love. I enjoy eating and smoking. I like good cold water. I like to talk with my wife, my girls, my grandchildren. I like to sleep and to dream. Yes, you can say that life, to me, is worth living.

I’m sure you agree with Ingersoll that life is indeed worth living, so look after yourself and be well.

Signed Don Ardell

(Ed. Note: Views expressed in this and other columns are those of the author and not necessarily those of the SeekWellness Editorial Board.)

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