Home > Comments and Articles > Robert Ingersoll - What Would You Substitute for the Bible as a Moral Guide?
by Robert G. Ingersoll
You ask me what I would "substitute for the Bible as a moral guide."
I know that many people regard the Bible as the only moral guide and believe that in that book only can be found the true and perfect standard of morality.
There are many good precepts, many wise sayings and many good regulations and laws in the Bible, and these are mingled with bad precepts, with foolish sayings, with absurd rules and cruel laws.
But we must remember that the Bible is a collection of many books written centuries apart, and that it in part represents the growth and tells in part the history of a people. We must also remember. that the writers treat of many subjects. Many of these writers have nothing to say about right or wrong, about vice or virtue.
The book of Genesis has nothing about morality. There is not a line in it calculated to shed light on the path of conduct. No one can call that book a moral guide. It is made up of myth and miracle, of tradition and legend.
In Exodus we have an account of the manner in which Jehovah delivered the Jews from Egyptian bondage.
We now know that the Jews were never enslaved by the Egyptians; that the entire story is a fiction. We know this, because there is not found in Hebrew a word of Egyptian origin, and there is not found in the language of the Egyptians a word of Hebrew origin. This being so, we know that the Hebrews and Egyptians could not have lived together for hundreds of years.
Certainly Exodus was not written to teach morality. In that book you cannot find one word against human slavery. As a matter of fact, Jehovah was a believer in that institution.
The killing of cattle with disease and hail, the murder of the first-born, so that in every house was death, because the king refused to let the Hebrews go, certainly was not moral; it was fiendish. The writer of that book regarded all the people of Egypt, their children, their flocks and herds, as the property of Pharaoh, and these people and these cattle were killed, not because they had done anything wrong, but simply for the purpose of punishing the king. Is it possible to get any morality out of this history?
All the laws found in Exodus, including the Ten Commandments, so far as they are really good and sensible, were at that time in force among all the peoples of the world.
Murder is, and always was, a crime, and always will be, as long as a majority of people object to being murdered.
Industry always has been and always will be the enemy of larceny.
The nature of man is such that he admires the teller of truth and despises the liar. Among all tribes, among all people, truth- telling has been considered a virtue and false swearing or false speaking a vice.
The love of parents for children is natural, and this love is found among all the animals that live. So the love of children for parents is natural, and was not and cannot be created by law. Love does not spring from a sense of duty, nor does it bow in obedience to commands.
So men and women are not virtuous because of anything in books or creeds.
All the Ten Commandments that are good were old, were the result of experience. The commandments that were original with Jehovah were foolish.
The worship of "any other God" could not have been worse than the worship of Jehovah, and nothing could have been more absurd than the sacredness of the Sabbath.
If commandments had been given against slavery and polygamy, against wars of invasion and extermination, against religious persecution in all its forms, so that the world could be free, so that the brain might be developed and the heart civilized, then we might, with propriety, call such commandments a moral guide.
Before we can truthfully say that the Ten Commandments constitute a moral guide, we must add and subtract. We must throw away some, and write others in their places.
The commandments that have a known application here, in this world, and treat of human obligations are good, the others have no basis in fact, or experience.
Many of the regulations found in Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy, are good. Many are absurd and cruel.
The entire ceremonial of worship is insane.
Most of the punishment for violations of laws are unphilosophic and brutal. . . . The fact is that the Pentateuch upholds nearly all crimes, and to call it a moral guide is as absurd as to say that it is merciful or true.
Nothing of a moral nature can be found in Joshua or Judges. These books are filled with crimes, with massacres and murders. They are about the same as the real history of the Apache Indians.
The story of Ruth is not particularly moral.
In first and second Samuel there is not one word calculated to develop the brain or conscience.
Jehovah murdered seventy thousand Jews because David took a census of the people. David, according to the account, was the guilty one, but only the innocent were killed.
In first and second Kings can be found nothing of ethical value. All the kings who refused to obey the priests were denounced, and all the crowned wretches who assisted the priests, were declared to be the favorites of Jehovah. In these books there cannot be found one word in favor of liberty.
There are some good Psalms, and there are some that are infamous. Most of these Psalms are selfish. Many of them are passionate appeals for revenge.
The story of Job shocks the heart of every good man. In this book there is some poetry, some pathos, and some philosophy, but the story of this drama called Job, is heart-less to the last degree. The children of Job are murdered to settle a little wager between God and the Devil. Afterward, Job having remained firm, other children are given in the place of the murdered ones. Nothing, however, is done for the children who were murdered.
The book of Esther is utterly absurd, and the only redeeming feature in the book is that the name of Jehovah is not mentioned.
I like the Song of Solomon because it tells of human love, and that is something I can understand. That book in my judgment is worth all the ones that go before it, and is a far better moral guide.
There are some wise and merciful Proverbs. Some are selfish and some are flat and commonplace.
I like the book of Ecclesiastes because there you find some sense, some poetry, and some philosophy. Take away the interpolations and it is a good book.
Of course there is nothing in Nehemiah or Ezra to make men better, nothing in Jeremiah or Lamentations calculated to lessen vice, and only a few passages in Isaiah that can be used in a good cause.
In Ezekiel and Daniel we find only ravings of the insane.
In some of the minor prophets there is now and then a good verse, now and then an elevated thought.
You can, by selecting passages from different books, make a very good creed, and by selecting passages from different books, you can make a very bad creed.
The trouble is that the spirit of the Old Testament, its disposition, its temperament, is bad, selfish and cruel. The most fiendish things are commanded, commended and applauded.
The stories that are told of Joseph, of Elisha, of Daniel and Gideon, and of many others, are hideous; hellish.
On the whole, the Old Testament cannot be considered a moral guide.
Jehovah was not a moral God. He had all the vices, and he lacked all the virtues. He generally carried out his threats, but he never faithfully kept a promise.
At the same time, we must remember that the Old Testament is a natural production, that it was written by savages who were slowly crawling toward the light. We must give them credit for the noble things they said, and we must be charitable enough to excuse their faults and even their crimes.
I know that many Christians regard the Old Testament as the foundation and the New as the superstructure, and while many admit that there are faults and mistakes in the Old Testament, they insist that the New is the flower and perfect fruit.
I admit that there are many good things in the New Testament, and if we take from that book the dogmas, of eternal pain, of infinite revenge, of the atonement, of human sacrifice, of the necessity of shedding blood; if we throw away the doctrine of non-resistance, of loving enemies, the idea that prosperity is the result of wickedness, that Poverty is a preparation for Paradise, if we throw all these away and take the good, sensible passages, applicable to conduct, then we can make a fairly good moral guide, -- narrow, but moral.
Of course, many important things would be left out. You would have nothing about human rights, nothing in favor of the family, nothing for education, nothing for investigation, for thought and reason, but still you would have a fairly good moral guide.
On the other hand, if you would take the foolish passages, the extreme ones, you could make a creed that would satisfy an insane asylum.
If you take the cruel passages, the verses that inculcate eternal hatred, verses that writhe and hiss like serpents, you can make a creed that would shock the heart of a hyena.
It may be that no book contains better passages than the New Testament, but certainly no book contains worse.
Below the blossom of love you find the thorn of hatred; on the lips that kiss, you find the poison of the cobra.
The Bible is not a moral guide.
Any man who follows faithfully all its teachings is an enemy of society and will probably end his days in a prison or an asylum.
What is morality?
In this world we need certain things. We have many wants. We are exposed to many dangers. We need food, fuel, raiment and shelter, and besides these wants, there is, what may be called, the hunger of the mind.
We are conditioned beings, and our happiness depends upon conditions. There are certain things that diminish, certain things that increase, well-being. There are certain things that destroy and there are others that preserve.
Happiness, including its highest forms, is after all the only good, and everything, the result of which is to produce or secure happiness, is good, that is to say, moral. Everything that destroys or diminishes well-being is bad, that is to say, immoral. In other words, all that is good is moral, and all that is bad is immoral.
What then is, or can be called, a moral guide? The shortest possible answer is one word: Intelligence.
We want the experience of mankind, the true history of the race. We want the history of intellectual development, of the growth of the ethical, of the idea of justice, of conscience, of charity, of self-denial. We want to know the paths and roads that have been traveled by the human mind.
These facts in general, these histories in outline, the results reached, the conclusions formed, the principles evolved, taken together, would form the best conceivable moral guide.
We cannot depend on what are called "inspired books," or the religions of the world. These religions are based on the supernatural, and according to them we are under obligation to worship and obey some supernatural being, or beings. All these religions are inconsistent with intellectual liberty. They are the enemies of thought, of investigation, of mental honesty. They destroy the manliness of man. They promise eternal rewards for belief, for credulity, for what they call faith.
These religions teach the slave virtues. They make inanimate things holy, and falsehoods sacred. They create artificial crimes. To eat meat on Friday, to enjoy yourself on Sunday, to eat on fast-days, to be happy in Lent, to dispute a priest, to ask for evidence, to deny a creed, to express your sincere thought, all these acts are sins, crimes against some god, To give your honest opinion about Jehovah, Mohammed or Christ, is far worse than to maliciously slander your neighbor. To question or doubt miracles. is far worse than to deny known facts. Only the obedient, the credulous, the cringers, the kneelers, the meek, the unquestioning, the true believers, are regarded as moral, as virtuous. It is not enough to be honest, generous and useful; not enough to be governed by evidence, by facts. In addition to this, you must believe. These things are the foes of morality. They subvert all natural conceptions of virtue.
All "inspired books," teaching that what the supernatural commands is right, and right because commanded, and that what the supernatural prohibits is wrong, and wrong because prohibited, are absurdly unphilosophic.
And all "inspired books," teaching that only those who obey the commands of the supernatural are, or can be, truly virtuous, and that unquestioning faith will be rewarded with eternal joy, are grossly immoral.
Again I say: Intelligence is the only moral guide.