The Ghosts and other lectures, by Robert Green Ingersoll

A Tribute to the Rev. Alexander Clark.

UPON the grave of the Reverend Alexander Clark I wish to place one flower.

Utterly destitute of cold dogmatic pride that often passes for the love of God; without the arrogance of the “elect”— simple, free, and kind — this earnest man made me his friend by being mine. I forgot that he was a Christian, and he seemed to forget that I was not, while each remembered that the other was a man.

Frank, candid, and sincere, he practiced what he preached, and looked with the holy eyes of charity upon the failings and mistakes of men. He believed in the power of kindness, and spanned with divine sympathy the hideous gulf that separates the fallen from the pure.

Giving freely to others the rights that he claimed for himself, it never occurred to him that his God hated a brave and honest unbeliever. He remembered that even an infidel has rights that love respects; that hatred has no saving power, and that in order to be a Christian it is not necessary to become less than a man. He knew that no one can be maligned into kindness; that epithets cannot convince; that curses are not arguments, and that the finger of scorn never points towards heaven. With the generosity of an honest man, he accorded to all the fullest liberty of thought, knowing, as he did, that in the realm of mind a chain is but a curse.

For this man I entertained the profoundest respect. In spite of the taunts and jeers of his brethren, he publicly proclaimed that he would treat infidels with fairness and respect; that he would endeavor to convince them by argument and win them with love. He insisted that the God he worshipped loved the well-being even of an atheist. In this grand position he stood almost alone. Tender, just, and loving where others were harsh, vindictive, and cruel, he challenged the respect and admiration of every honest man.

A few more such clergymen might drive calumny from the lips of faith and render the pulpit worthy of respect.

The heartiness and kindness with which this generous man treated me can never be excelled. He admitted that I had not lost, and could not lose a single right by the expression of my honest thought. Neither did he believe that a servant could win the respect of a generous master by persecuting and maligning those whom the master would willingly forgive.

While this good man was living, his brethren blamed him for having treated me with fairness. But, I trust, now that he has left the shore touched by the mysterious sea that never yet has borne, on any wave, the image of a homeward sail, this crime will be forgiven him by those who still remain to preach the love of God.

His sympathies were not confined within the prison of a creed, but ran out and over the walls like vines, hiding the cruel rocks and rusted bars with leaf and flower. He could not echo with his heart the fiendish sentence of eternal fire. In spite of book and creed, he read “between the lines” the words of tenderness and love, with promises for all the world. Above, beyond the dogmas of his church — humane even to the verge of heresy — causing some to doubt his love of God because he failed to hate his unbelieving fellow-men, he labored for the welfare of mankind, and to his work gave up his life with all his heart.

Robert G. Ingersoll.

Washington, D. C,

July 11, 1879

Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 11:56