Men, Women and Gods, by Robert Green Ingersoll

Address to the Clergy and Others.

Up to the present time I have tried to reply personally to each one who has favored me with a letter of thanks, criticism, or praise of the little book, “Men, Women, and Gods, and Other Lectures,” just published, but I find that if I continue to do this I shall have but little time for anything else.

The very unexpected welcome which the book has received prompts me to take this plan and means of replying to many who have honored me by writing me personal letters. First, permit me to thank those who have written letters of praise and gratitude, and to say that, although I may be unable to reply in a private letter, I am not indifferent to these evidences of your interest, and am greatly helped in my work by your sympathy and encouragement. I have also received most courteous letters from various clergymen who, disagreeing with me, desire to convert me either by mail or personal (private) interviews.

It is wholly impossible for me to grant these requests, since my time and strength are demanded in other work, but I wish to say here what I have written to several of my clerical correspondents, and desire to say to them all.

Although I cannot enter into private correspondence with, nor grant personal interviews to, such a number of your body, I am entirely willing to respond in a public way to any replies to my arguments which come under the following conditions:

1. On page fourteen of the introduction to my book Col. Ingersoll says: “No human being can answer her arguments. There is no answer. All the priests in the world cannot explain away her objections. There is no explanation. They should remain dumb unless they can show that the impossible is the probable, that slavery is better than freedom, that polygamy is the friend of woman, that the innocent can justly suffer for the guilty, and that to persecute for opinion’s sake is an act of love and worship.”

Now, whenever any one of these gentlemen who wish to convert me will show that the Colonel is wrong in this brief paragraph; whenever they will, in print or in public, refute the arguments to which he refers, and to which they object, I shall not be slow to respond.

2. It must be argument, not personal abuse, and it must be conducted in a courteous manner and tone.

3. It must proceed upon the basis that I am as honest, as earnest, and as virtuous in my motives and intentions as they are in theirs.

Now, surely these gentlemen cannot object to these simple requirements; and since some of them are men whose names are preceded by a title and followed by several capital letters (ranging from D.D. to O.S.F. —— which last I, in my ignorance, guess at as meaning Order of St. Francis, but shall like to be corrected if I am wrong) they must believe that to answer the arguments themselves is both simple and easy.

If they do not so believe they surely have no right to occupy the positions which they do occupy. If they do so believe it will do much more good to answer them publicly, since they have been made publicly, and are already in the hands of several thousand people, who could not be reached by any amount of eloquence poured out on ray devoted head in the privacy of my own parlor (or writing-desk).

Therefore, gentlemen, permit me to say to you all that which I have already written to several of you personally — that Col. Ingersoll’s paragraph, quoted above, expresses my own views and those of a great many other people, and will continue so to do so long as your efforts to show that he is wrong are only whispered to me behind a fan, or in the strict seclusion of a letter marked “private and personal.”

The arguments I have given against the prevailing Christian dogmas and usages, which you uphold, are neither private nor personal, nor shall I allow them to take that phase. Life is too short for me to spend hours day after day in sustaining, in private, a public argument which has never been (and, in my opinion, never will be), refuted. And it would do no good to the thousands whom you are pleased to say you fear will be led astray by my position. You have a magnificent opportunity to lead them back again by honest public letters, or lectures, or sermons, not by an afternoon’s chat with me.

And, while I recognize the courtesy of your pressing requests (made, without exception, in the most gentlemanly terms) to permit you to meet me personally and refute my arguments, I feel compelled to say that, unless you are willing to show the courage of your convictions, and the quality of your defense, to the public, I fear they would have no weight with me, and I should have wasted your precious time as well as my own, which I should feel I had no right to do, nor to allow you to do, without this frank statement of the case.

Now, do not suppose that I have the slightest objection to meeting the clergy personally and socially. Upon the contrary, many of my friends are clergymen — even bishops — but candor compels me to state that up to the present time not one of them has (either privately or otherwise) been able to answer either of the first two lectures in that little book, and as to the third one, no one of them, in my opinion, will ever try to answer it.

Time will show whether I am right in this.

In the mean time accept my thanks for your interest, and believe me,


Helen H. Gardener.

Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 11:54