New York Herald Interview with Ingersoll on Suicide
Col. Robert G. Ingersoll was seen at his house and asked if he had read the Rev. Merle St. Croix Wright's sermon.
ANSWER: Yes. I have read the sermon, and also an interview had with the reverend gentleman.
Long ago I gave my views about suicide, and I entertain the same views still. Mr. Wright's sermon has stirred up quite a commotion among the orthodox ministers. This commotion may always be expected when anything sensible comes from a pulpit. Mr. Wright has mixed a little common sense with his theology, and, of course this has displeased the truly orthodox.
Sense is the bitterest foe that theology has. No system of supernatural religion can outlive a good dose of real good sense. The orthodox ministers take the ground that an infinite Being created man, put him on the earth and determined his days. They say that God desires every person to live until he, God, calls for his soul. They insist that we are all on guard and must remain so until relieved by a higher power—the superior officer.
The trouble with this doctrine is that it proves too much. It proves that God kills every person who dies as we say, "according to nature." It proves that we ought to say, "according to God." It proves that God sends the earthquake, the cyclone, the pestilence, for the purpose of killing people. It proves that all diseases and all accidents are his messengers, and that all who do not kill themselves, die by the act, and in accordance with the will of God. It also shows that when a man is murdered, it is in harmony with, and a part of the divine plan. When God created the man who was murdered, he knew that he would be murdered, and when he made the man who committed the murder, he knew exactly what he would do. So that the murder was the act of God.
Can it be said that God intended that thousands should die of famine and that he, to accomplish his purpose, withheld the rain? Can we say that he intended that thousands of innocent men should die in dungeons and on scaffolds?
Is it possible that a man, "slowly being devoured by a cancer," whose days and nights are filled with torture, who is useless to himself and a burden to others, is carrying out the will of God? Does God enjoy his agony? Is God thrilled by the music of his moans—the melody of his shrieks?
This frightful doctrine makes God an infinite monster, and every human being a slave; a victim. This doctrine is not only infamous but it is idiotic. It makes God the only criminal in the universe.
Now, if we are governed by reason, if we use our senses and our minds, and have courage enough to be honest; if we know a little of the world's history, then we know—if we know anything—that man has taken his chances, precisely the same as other animals. He has been destroyed by heat and cold, by flood and fire, by storm and famine, by countless diseases, by numberless accidents. By his intelligence, his cunning, his strength, his foresight, he has managed to escape utter destruction. He has defended himself. He has received no supernatural aid. Neither has he been attacked by any supernatural power. Nothing has ever happened in nature as the result of a purpose to benefit or injure the human race.
Consequently the question of the right or wrong of suicide is not in any way affected by a supposed obligation to the Infinite.
All theological considerations must be thrown aside because we see and know that the laws of life are the same for all living things—that when the conditions are favorable, the living multiply and life lengthens, and when the conditions are unfavorable, the living decrease and life shortens. We have no evidence of any interference of any power superior to nature. Taking into consideration the fact that all the duties and obligations of man must be to his fellows, to sentient beings, here in this world, and that he owes no duty and is under no obligation to any phantoms of the air, then it is easy to determine whether a man under certain circumstances has the right to end his life.
If he can be of no use to others—if he is of no use to himself—if he is a burden to others—a curse to himself—why should he remain? By ending his life he ends his sufferings and adds to the well-being of others. He lessens misery and increases happiness. Under such circumstances undoubtedly a man has the right to stop the pulse of pain and woo the sleep that has no dream.
I do not think that the discussion of this question is of much importance, but I am glad that a clergyman has taken a natural and a sensible position, and that he has reasoned not like a minister, but like a man.
When wisdom comes from the pulpit I am delighted and surprised. I feel then that there is a little light in the East, possibly the dawn of a better day.
I congratulate the Rev. Mr. Wright, and thank him for his brave and philosophic words.
There is still another thing. Certainly a man has the right to avoid death, to save himself from accident and disease. If he has this right, then the theologians must admit that God, in making his decrees, took into consideration the result of such actions. Now, if God knew that while most men would avoid death, some would seek it, and if his decrees were so made that they would harmonize with the acts of those who would avoid death, can we say that he did not, in making his decrees, take into consideration the acts of those who would seek death? Let us remember that all actions, good, bad and indifferent, are the necessary children of conditions—that there is no chance in the natural world in which we live.
So, we must keep in mind that all real opinions are honest, and that all have the same right to express their thoughts. Let us be charitable.
When some suffering wretch, wild with pain, crazed with regret, frenzied with fear, with desperate hand unties the knot of life, let us have pity -- Let us be generous.