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Myth And Miracle (1885)

Robert Green Ingersoll


Happiness is the true end and aim of life. It is the task of intelligence to ascertain the conditions of happiness, and when found the truly wise will live in accordance with them. By happiness is meant not simply the joy of eating and drinking--the gratification of the appetite--but good, well being, in the highest and noblest form. The joy that springs from obligation discharged, from duty done, from generous acts, from being true to the ideal, from a perception of the beautiful in nature, art and conduct. The happiness that is born of and gives birth to poetry and music, that follows the gratification of the highest wants.

Happiness is the result of all that is really right and sane. But there are many people who regard the desire to he happy as a very low and degrading ambition. These people call themselves spiritual. They pretend to care nothing for the pleasures of "sense." They hold this world, this life, in contempt. They do not want happiness in this world--but in another. Here, happiness degrades--there, it purifies and ennobles.

These spiritual people have been known as prophets, apostles, augurs, hermits, monks, priests, popes, bishops and parsons. They are devout and useless. They do not cultivate the soil. They produce nothing. They live on the labor of others. They are pious and parasitic. They pray for others, if the others will work for then. They claim to have been selected by the Infinite to instruct and govern mankind. They are "meek" and arrogant, "long-suffering" and revengeful.

They ever have been, now are, and always will be the enemies of liberty, of investigation and science. They are believers in the supernatural, the miraculous and the absurd. They have filled the world with hatred, bigotry and fear. In defence of their creeds they have committed every crime and practiced every cruelty.

They denounce as worldly and sensual, those who are gross enough to love wives and children, to build homes, to fell the forests, to navigate the seas, to cultivate the earth, to chisel statues, to paint pictures and fill the world with love and art.

They have denounced and maligned the thinkers, the poets, the dramatists, the composers, the actors, the orators, the workers--those who have conquered the world for man.

According to them this world is only the vestibule of the next, a kind of school, an ordeal, a place of Probation. They have always insisted that this life should be spent in preparing for the next; that those who supported and obeyed the "spiritual guides"--the shepherds. would be rewarded with an eternity of joy, and that all others would suffer eternal pain.

These spiritual people have always hated labor. They have added nothing to the wealth of the world. They have always lived on alms--on the labor of others. They have always been the enemies of innocent pleasure, and of human love.

These spiritual people have produced a literature. The books they have written are called sacred. Our sacred books are called the Bible. The Hindoos have the Vedas and many others, the Persians the Zend Avesta--the Egyptians had the Book of the Dead--the Aztecs the Popol Vuh, and the Mohammedans have the Koran.

These books, for the most part, treat of the unknowable. They describe gods and winged phantoms of the air. They give accounts of the origin of the universe, the creation of man and the worlds beyond this. They contain nothing of value. Millions and millions of people have wasted their lives studying these absurd and ignorant books.

The "spiritual people" in each country claimed that their books had been written by inspired men--that God was the real author, and that all men and women who denied this would be, after death, tormented forever.

And yet, the worldly people, the uninspired, the wicked, have produced a far greater literature than the spiritual and the inspired.

Not all the sacred books of the world combined equal Shakespeare's "volume of the brain." A purer philosophy, grander, nobler, fell from the lips of Shakespeare's clowns than the Old Testament or the New, contains.

The Declaration of Independence is nobler far than all the utterances from Sinai's cloud and flame. "A Man's a Man for a' That," by Robert Burns, is better than anything the sacred books contain. For my part, I would rather hear Beethoven's Sixth Symphony than to read the five books of Moses. Give me the Sixth Symphony--this sound-wrought picture of the fields and woods, of flowering hedge and happy home, where thrushes build and swallows fly, and mothers sing to babes; this echo of the babbled lullaby of brooks that, dallying, wind and fall where meadows bare their daisied bosoms to the sun; this joyous mimicry of summer rain, the laugh of children, and the rhythmic rustle of the whispering leaves; this strophe of peasant life; this perfect poem of content and love.

I would rather listen to Tristan and Isolde--that Mississippi of melody--where the great notes, winged like eagles, lift the soul above the cares and griefs of this weary world--than to all the orthodox sermons ever preached. I would rather look at the Venus de Milo than to read the Presbyterian creed.

The spiritual have endeavored to civilize the world through fear and faith--by the promise of reward and the threat of pain in other worlds. They taught men to hate and persecute their fellow-men. In all ages they have appealed to force. During all the years they have practiced fraud. They have pretended to have influence with the gods--that their prayers gave rain, sunshine and harvest--that their curses brought pestilence and famine, and that their blessings filled the world with plenty. They have subsisted on the fears their falsehoods created. Like poisonous vines, they have lived on the oak of labor. They have praised charity, but they never gave. They have denounced revenge, but they never forgave.

Whenever the spiritual have had power, art has died, learning has languished, science has been despised, liberty destroyed, the thinkers have been imprisoned, the intelligent and honest have been outcasts, and the brave have been murdered.

The "spiritual" have been, are, and always will be the enemies of the human race.

For all the blessings that we now enjoy--for progress in every form, for science and art--for all that has lengthened life, that has conquered disease, that has lessened pain, for raiment, roof and food, for music in its highest forms--for the poetry that has ennobled and enriched our lives--for the marvelous machines now working for the world--for all this we are indebted to the worldly--to those who turned their attention to the affairs of this life. They have been the only benefactors of our race.

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