Wednesday, 2 January 2013

the great agnostic



Happy new year. I'm busy.

I've been meaning to post something about this long article about Robert Ingersoll for ages, ever since I heard about it on Slate's Political Gabfest. He toured America in the late 19th century lecturing to great crowds about the importance of science and the necessary split between church and state. But really what leaps from the article is that he seems to have been a great guy. This quotation from the article is long, but you'll live:

Ingersoll was better at making and spending money than he was at saving it, and although he did not die in debt, he left nothing like a fortune to his wife. He was fond of entertaining, and he and Eva gave legendary parties in the succession of Manhattan townhouses where they lived for the last 15 years of his life. He also gave away a good deal of money to freethought causes, the arts, and impecunious relatives and was, as he was the first to acknowledge, an inept investor. In a letter to his brother John, he wrote, “I have a positive genius for losing money.”

Ingersoll’s generosity elicited a disapproving tut-tut from the Times in its obituary. “He earned great sums of money, both as a lecturer and a lawyer, but he let them go like water,” the newspaper reported. “It was his habit to keep money in his house in an open drawer, to which any member of his family was free to go and take what was wanted.” Since all the members of Ingersoll’s immediate family were women, one suspects that what really shocked the obituary writer was the reckless dispersal of cash to females.
Perhaps because of his refusal to play the role of tightfisted Victorian paterfamilias, Ingersoll by all accounts (including his own and those of his wife and their two daughters) had had an extraordinarily happy marriage and family life. This abundance of creature comforts and domestic happiness did not sit well with orthodox believers, who thought that the evil of questioning the existence of God should be punished in both this life and the next.

This is from another obituary:

Had not Ingersoll been frank enough to express his opinion on religion he would have been President of the United States. Hypocrisy in religion pays. There will come a time when public men may speak their honest convictions in religion without being maligned by the ignorant and superstitious, but not yet.

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