Ingersoll believed in Baptism! (Post No.4409)

Compiled by London Swaminathan 


Date: 18 NOVEMBER 2017


Time uploaded in London- 20-35



Post No. 4409

Pictures shown here are taken from various sources such as Facebook friends, Books, Google and newspapers; thanks.



Robert G.Ingersoll (1833-1899), an agnostic and a great orator of America attracted huge audience in spite of the negative publicity from the press. People were ready to pay one dollar to listen to his lecture. In those days, it was a big amount! His lectures are used by atheists even today.

M D Conway, who had met him, gives some interesting details about Ingersoll in his book “My pilgrimage to the Wise Men of the East (New York, 1906).

“It was a stage in my pilgrimage to visit in his handsome mansion in New York a man who had for some time appeared to me the most striking figure in religious America. Many years before, a young relative of my wife, William Jencks, had sent me to London a book on The Gods apparently made up of occasional addresses by Ingersoll. He was then styled Colonel Ingersoll because of his services in the Union War, and he had also been a member of Congress.


In one of these lectures, he said “An honest god is the noblest work of man” which became a sort of Western proverb.

In 1881, being on a visit to Boston, my wife and I found ourselves in the Parker House with the Ingesolls and went over to Charlestown to hear him lecture. His subject was ‘The Mistakes of Moses’ and it was a memorable experience.


Every variety of power was in this orator- logic, poetry, humour and imagination, simplicity and dramatic art, moral earnestness and boundless sympathy. The effect on the people was indescribable. The large theatre was crowded from pit to dome. The people were carried from plaudits of his argument to loud laughter at his humorous sentences, and his flexible voice carried the sympathies of the assembly with it, at times moving them to tears to his pathos.


The perfect freedom of Ingersoll’s mind was often illustrated in his lecture: as for instance after having cited from the Bible some narrative of terrible cruelty ascribed to the command of Jehovah, he paused for nearly a minute, then lifting his hand and looking upward he said solemnly, “I trust that God, if there be a God, will take notice that I am down here on earth denouncing this libel on his character.”

The country was full of incidents and anecdotes relating to these marvellous lectures. Once when he was lecturing at San Francisco on a Snday evening in a crowded theatre, some man in the audience cried,

“Do you believe in Baptism?:

Ingersoll replied good naturedly,

“Yes, — especially with a soap!”


Long before his reputation as a free thinker was made he was noted in the West for his great ability in defending persons in danger of injustice. Ingersoll was a lawyer. On one occasion, he defenced a humble man charged with manslaughter, which had occurred in some broil. Ingersoll came into court and after listening to the prosecution arose and said, “On my way to this room I stopped at the house of a poor woman. She had been confined while her husband was in prison—the prisoner at the bar. The woman lay on her bed with the infant beside her, and with tears in her eyes she said to me, “Send me back my husband; he is a good husband, good father, an industrious man. Oh, send me back my husband!”. There was a moment’s silence after Ingersoll said this in his tender voice, and then one of the jury cried out, “By God, Bob, we will do it”. He was a very able lawyer and by his profession gained reputation and wealth; hiss religious iconoclasm was incidental. As he was always ready to answer, his audiences swelled until it was difficult to get a seat in the always crowded theatres.

Anti- Bible Tirades

Ingersoll said, I will give any respectable clergyman a thousand dollars if he will read to his congregation on a Sunday every word of a chapter I shall select from the bible.” This challenge was of course not accepted, and it was a blow all the more effective because of the orator’s always unblemished personal character and his charities.


There were several months during which an ailment of the throat prevented Ingersoll in from speaking in public. Curiosity and interest in the South led me to an assembly in Brooklyn to welcome a Southern revivalist – Rev Sam Jones – who said in his address, “The only way with infidels is to stop their talking; a touch on the throat of Ingersoll’—a burst of laughter from the preachers present ended the sentence.


I was somewhat amused by Mrs Farrel, who in her boundless devotion to her brother confided to me that she had remarked that “every public speaker who had defamed Robert (Ingersoll) had somehow come to a bad end.”


Walt Whitman

On Ingersoll’s last visit to Walt Whitman, — to whom he was bountiful – he said, “Walt, the mistake of your life was that you did not marry. There ought to be a woman here,” he added, looking around at the poor chaotic room. (Ingersoll’s address at the funeral of Walt Whitman was the grandest and most impressive utterance of that kind which I have ever heard.)

One very intimate in the family told me that whenever one of them applied for money, Ingesoll never asked how much or what it was for, but pointed to a drawer and said, “There it is; help yourself.”


I have gone far ahead of the year when I first talked with Ingersoll in his own home. My call had no purpose except to pay some homage to the ablest free thinker America has produced I remember nothing of our conversation except he surprised me by his thorough knowledge of Shakespeare.”




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1 Comment

  1. This makes interesting reading. In the end, it appears that Ingersoll was not so much against God as such, as against the way God was portrayed in the Bible, especially the Old Testament, and interpreted and presented by the clergy through popular discourse. That is to say, he was against Christian theology!
    The Bible contains many beautiful passages, and teachings. But the clergy has resorted to induce fear and impose obedience by portraying their God as a vengeful creature- very much in the image of man, bigger and hence more vile than a mere human! Christians have also justified hatred for and violence towards other communities based on their love of their God!
    This will not be accepted by any decent human being as sensible, leave alone religious.

    Perhaps there is a level at which some people will have ‘fear of the Lord’ only if the Lord is shown as fearful! This however cannot be applied to the whole society. In theology , as in other matters, one size does not fit all! The real fear is a moral fear, fear induced by the magnitude of God and the Cosmos he rules over. As said,in the Psalm, “Lord, what is man that You are mindful of him!”. It is man’s realisation of his own insignificance in the Cosmos that induces a natural fear , born out of humility! This comes from wisdom, not theology-induced fear! “Fear of the Lord is the beginning of Wisdom”. Or, as the Kural will have it: “Of what use is learning if one does not worship at His feet, who is the source of Wisdom! ”
    [ கற்றதனாலாய பயனென் கொல் வாலவறிவன்
    நற்றாள் தொழாஅர் எனின்.]
    Source of Infinite Intelligence- this is how great scientists like Einstein have conceived of God, not in any anthropomorphic sense. But this appeals only to people with some higher sensibilities. Perhaps the ordinary humanity needs a stern God to discipline it ! This is where theology may have its uses, but men like Ingersoll are reminding us that we are capable of rising higher ! Great service, indeed!

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