Blog reader Kristen put this quote on my boards and asked for my reaction.
ROBERT GREEN INGERSOLL, Why I Am An Agnostic
When I became convinced that the Universe is natural--that all the ghosts and gods are myths, there entered into my brain, into my soul, into every drop of my blood, the sense, the feeling, the joy of freedom. The walls of my prison crumbled and fell, the dungeon was flooded with light, and all the bolts, and bars, and manacles became dust. I was no longer a servant, a serf, or a slave. There was for me no master in all the wide world--not even in infinite space. I was free--free to think, to express my thoughts--free to live to my own ideal--free to live for myself and those I loved--free to use all my faculties, all my senses--free to spread imagination's wings--free to investigate, to guess and dream and hope--free to judge and determine for myself--free to reject all ignorant and cruel creeds, all the "inspired" books that savages have produced, and all the barbarous legends of the past--free from popes and priests--free from all the "called" and "set apart"--free from sanctified mistakes and holy lies--free from the fear of eternal pain--free from the winged monsters of the night--free from devils, ghosts, and gods. For the first time I was free. There were no prohibited places in all the realms of thought--no air, no space, where fancy could not spread her painted wings--no chains for my limbs--no lashes for my back--no fires for my flesh--no master's frown or threat--no following another's steps- -no need to bow, or cringe, or crawl, or utter lying words. I was free. I stood erect and fearlessly, joyously, faced all worlds.
Kristen asked for my reaction. My reaction is one of bemusement. I hear this kind of assertion a lot and it's really funny, becuase such people have no concept of what I feel. They don't know God so they have no idea of what it means to know God. I can't account for how Ingersoll felt about his own sense of belief but I would be willing to guess he never had a "personal relationship with Jesus" (not that I really know) but he sure doesn't have seem to have had the sort of one I have. Such people imagine that all all religious people are like slave, crouching in fear and scared to look up at the sy for fear they admire the stars and offend God, scared to death that if we stop prying for a single second we will go straight to hell, thus we must live in a panic of anxiety always signing and yearning and secretly hating God and longing to free ourselves form the "chains of superstition" yada yada yada. What this reminds me of is a passage by Kierkegaard. I don't remember where it's found now, but he says something to the effect that everyone sees how he gave up everything, quite his social life, how much time he spends on his writing, all the does it go out to eat for an hour and then return to write for the rest of the day and night. In spite of his aches and pains and in spite of how others think he's miserable he's actually deliriously happy.
Of course the truth is atheists who were formerly associated with religious institutions imagine that everyone there was as board as they were. They imagine that everyone involved in belief is as afraid as they were. I am so far from fitting the profile of Ingersolls man of fear that strikes me that perhaps I should fear that I'm too lax, but I don't. I am a slob, I am having fun I don't give a damn and I don't fear either God or devils. I don't refuse to fear God in the sense of the righteous fear of the Lord, sure I so. I don't stick forks in light sockets either. That's hardly reason to go to a shrink. But I do not fear that God will send to hell for making mistakes. I don't fear that God will send to hell if I don't pray. I should fear this because I don't pray nearly as much as I should given the results I've gotten, it's a positive crime but I don't feel fear, I know God is loving and kind and I don't fear that a loving kind center of goodness will do something stupid or capricious. Of course I had a wonderful father, and mother too, this might make a difference. The attitude that religious mentality is a slave mentality is absurdly stupid because I've never seen more fear or slave mentality than in my arguments with atheists. They are positively scared to death to think new ideas or to disagree with the pack (Christians have flocks, or herds, atheists have packs). Atheists slavishly follow by wrote, I can predict what any atheist will say to any given idea becasue I've seen them say the same things thousands of times. Jesus said "he who is forgiven much loves much." I think that means the reason for this fear is that not having experienced the forgiveness of God, not having sought it and not having found it they understand it. That's just part of the internationalizing the values of the good that I talk about in connection with the theodicy arguments that I make. God wants us to go on a search for truth because it is only through seeking and finding on a personal existential level that we can truly interlace the rich sense of God's love and forgiveness. Otherwise it's just resentment because we feel forced to follow a bunch of rules. It's only when you see deeper than the rules that you are able to see past them to spirit of love behind them.
The kind of fear that Ingersoll describes is the fear of the rule keeper. It's the discovery of God's grace and the meaning of grace that blows away such fear the rule keeping mentality that goes with it. By "blows away" I don't mean hurtfully but as a conceptual enlightenment. The rule keeper says "I want to drink a beer, but I can't allow myself beer because that's against the rules, that's a sin." The rule keeper lives in fear of violating the rules, o no! I broke the rules now I'll get in trouble. Paul says the rules are against us. Atheists often express incredulity because they don't see what that means. What it means is the rule keeper is not for the rules, the rule keeper struggles against the rules, he keeps only because he fears punishment. The rule keeper doesn't agree with the rules, he only keeps them them because he fears not keeping them, thus his/her whole spiritual life is a struggle agaisnt the will of the maker of rules. When we discover grace we realize not only unmerited favor, we need not earn our way in we have the "in" automatically all we need dos is love, but we also discover the power of God which gives us the strength not to break the spirit of the rules. We also gain a deeper insight, the spirit of the rules, becasue we care about the reason, the thing they are aiming at not just getting in under the bar but actually fulfilling the purpose for which the rule is made. Then if the rules bent or broken they are not necessarily violated if we are still seeking to fulfill the purpose. That's the lesson Jesus taught when he picked wheat on the sabbath so the disciples could make bread. Or when David ate the show bread, that's the example Jesus followed. The rule keeper doesn't care about the purpose, he/she only cares about fitting the minimum requirement. So the rule keeper cant imagine actually wanting what God wants and not fearing, the lone living under grace has a hard time remembering being afraid.
Because the rule keeper is locked in a battle of will with the rule maker, for the rule keeper its about fulfilling his/her own will. When a rule keeper decides not to mess with the rules anymore, he/she mistakes his/her own will for freedom. When is free one is allowed to do one's own will and thus the rule keeper, who known only the struggle to fit the letter of the law, knows only either limitation on will or the freedom to do one's own will and thus imagines this all that of which freedom consists. This is like ignoring the distinction between constriction and responsibility. Like a child who stays up past bedtime the rule keeper is giddy with excitement at the possibility of the triumph of the will in some small area. The God lover who lives under grace understands that with freedom comes responsibility. He or She is free, but doesn't choose to use that freedom in ways that displease God. Seeking the will of one we love is not slavery, it's love. The immature emotionally distressed rule keeper doesn't understand this. This is not to say of cousre that all you do not believe in God are emotionally immature. Plenty of religious people fall into this category. That is one thing Ingeroll is right about, many Christians do think the way he did. At least those we might term "chruch goers only," might think this way. Using responsibility is not slavery, just as refusing to play on the free way is not cowardice.
This statement by Ingersoll reminds me of my attitude toward God when I was six and seven years old. In those years I was just coming to read history and to comprehend the rhetoric of patriotism and cold war anti-communism. I valued freedom above all else. Statements about being free and how great freedom is always grabbed my attention and gave me a sense of values oriented around the Texan concepts of rugged individualism and lack of formality, which we Texans mistake for real freedom. I was appalled at the idea of slavery (and still am) so when I would heard things about God is "the Lord" and connected that to feudalism I would say "why do we have to slaves!?? It seemed incredibly unjust that some big God man in the sky would tell me what to do. I ask my father, sitting in chruch during the sermon (the perfect time to get a non answer) "are we God's slaves" he didn't know what I was asking he just brushed me off saying something like "Of cousre, keep quite!" He was a great guy but also almost def and lived in his own little world, it was hard for him to hear the sermon. He wasn't always quick on the uptake to really grasp what really bothered me, not to say that he didn't care. I blistered with anger "why do we have to slaves!?" A few years latter I got over it by just realizing that it's not the same sense, it's not a feudalistic thing. God is not a salve driver we are not required to build pyramids. Then the only problems of control revolve around people and their vain ambitions to control in God's name. I came to that when I was eleven. I suppose I was ahead of Ingersoll at that age, at least in this regard.
What this quotation reminds me of is the attitude I had when I first got saved. When I realized for the time moment that God was real and that he loved me, these two moments did not at the same time, but they did eventually merge into the same instant. When I first realized that the foundation of all reality was a center of love and goodness that actually was there, is there, all the loneliness, rejection, frustration, were things of the past in my life because the reality was love, there entered into my brain, into my soul, into every drop of my blood the sense and feeling of the joy that I was set free by Jesus' blood. The walls of the prison that had been constructed for me by my own sense of rejection and outcast nature of people's selfish game playing crumbled and fell and the dungeon was flooded with God's pure light of truth and reason. That mental space of confinement was flooded with the lightning bolts of logic and I realized that I was free to find truth and to know with an utter deep confidence that permeated the depths of my soul that I had found true answers to the problems of life with which I struggled and agonized since I was a child. The chains of guilt, shame, rejection and insecurity and inferiority fell away. I was no longer a slave to my own sense of inadequacy or to the harsh judgment of those who jockeyed for their own sense of self esteem based upon ridicule of others.. I was a willing servant, which is not humiliating, service is noble not oppressive. I was not a slave, I did not understand God as "master" but as father, guardian, friend. I began to express my thoughts more, not less. I began to think more because I had much more to think about. I had an ideal to live our for the first time. I had had ideals before, but not really the kind one can live, just the kind one reads about and argues over in coffee shops. I did not seek to live for self alone because I was for the first time in a love relationship and wanted to please the other. I was not concerned with getting my way becuase I did strive against a set of rules but sought to live out the purpose for which the rules were made. I was free to love without fear of rejection or inability to sacrifice. The limits of selfishness were gone. I was for the first time able to judge for myself because now I actually had a deep sense of what I knew. I was and still am free to reject ignorance or any ignorance creed in any form, especially those of the atheists, as I grew in faith and developed more knowledge, I began to realize that I was free to reject false concepts of inerrency and seek to understand the true nature of inspiration. I was now free to use faculties of reason plus those I never realized I had, spiritual gifts, intuition, discernment. I was free to reject anything in or beyond the Christian tradition that I thought was ignorant, and I still am. I am free form the bigoted misuse of concepts about primitive people and racist nonsense about "savages" and free form the bigoted stupidity that people spout about ancinet religions they don't understand. I am free from crule creeds and free to exercise the insight that not all creeds are cruel. I am free from popes, why I'm a protestant, I'm free from the priesthood and also free to be a priest. Also free to be prophet and king. I do not fear ghosts or demons weather they exist or not. Atheists only decline fear in what they believe not to exist. I have no reason to fear the forces of hell even if they are real. For the first time I was free from the clutches of sin, and still am. I am free to seek the good and free to shun sin which I despise. I am also free to overcome sin that I carve but know is evil. I have no prohibited places in the realms of thought. I am free to seek truth and love and to live up to the light I have been given without fear and without strife. I stand erect adn fearless able to face all worlds. I do not fear economic collapse. I do not fear humans or demons nor do i fear that any highest or depth or principalities or powers can hurt me in any way that God does not sanction and nothing that happens in this life can effect what happens in the next.Nothing can separate me from the love of God.