July 2013

Centennial Oration
Robert Green Ingersoll

July 4, 1876. Robert Ingersoll delivered an amazing speech celebrating the Centennial of our country. The following is an edited version. The entire text can be found on the Secular Web.

One hundred years ago, our fathers retired the gods from politics.

Robert Ingersoll

THE Declaration of Independence is the grandest, the bravest, and the profoundest political document that was ever signed by the representatives of a people. It is the embodiment of physical and moral courage and of political wisdom.

I say of physical courage, because it was a declaration of war against the most powerful nation then on the globe; a declaration of war by thirteen weak, unorganized colonies; a declaration of war by a few people, without military stores, without wealth, without strength, against the most powerful kingdom on the earth; a declaration of war made when the British navy, at that day the mistress of every sea, was hovering along the coast of America, looking after defenseless towns and villages to ravage and destroy. It was made when thousands of English soldiers were upon our soil, and when the principal cities of America were in the substantial possession of the enemy. And so, I say, all things considered, it was the bravest political document ever signed by man. And if it was physically brave, the moral courage of the document is almost infinitely beyond the physical. They had the courage not only, but they had the almost infinite wisdom, to declare that all men are created equal.

Such things had occasionally been said by some political enthusiast in the olden time, but, for the first time in the history of the world, the representatives of a nation, the representatives of a real, living, breathing, hoping people, declared that all men are created equal. With one blow, with one stroke of the pen, they struck down all the cruel, heartless barriers that aristocracy, that priestcraft, that king-craft had raised between man and man. They struck down with one immortal blow that infamous spirit of caste that makes a God almost a beast, and a beast almost a god. With one word, with one blow, they wiped away and utterly destroyed, all that had been done by centuries of war–centuries of hypocrisy–centuries of injustice.

What more did they do? They then declared that each man has a right to live. And what does that mean? It means that he has the right to make his living. It means that he has the right to breathe the air, to work the land, that he stands the equal of every other human being beneath the shining stars; entitled to the product of his labor–the labor of his hand and of his brain.

What more? That every man has the right to pursue his own happiness in his own way. Grander words than these have never been spoken by man.

And what more did these men say? They laid down the doctrine that governments were instituted among men for the purpose of preserving the rights of the people. The old idea was that people existed solely for the benefit of the state–that is to say, for kings and nobles.

The old idea was that the people were the wards of king and priest–that their bodies belonged to one and their souls to the other.

And what more? That the people are the source of political power. That was not only a revelation, but it was a revolution. It changed the ideas of people with regard to the source of political power. For the first time it made human beings men. What was the old idea? The old idea was that no political power came from, or in any manner belonged to, the people. The old idea was that the political power came from the clouds; that the political power came in some miraculous way from heaven; that it came down to kings, and queens, and robbers. That was the old idea. The nobles lived upon the labor of the people; the people had no rights; the nobles stole what they had and divided with the kings, and the kings pretended to divide what they stole with God Almighty. The source, then, of political power was from above. The people were responsible to the nobles, the nobles to the king, and the people had no political rights whatever, no more than the wild beasts of the forest. The kings were responsible to God; not to the people. The kings were responsible to the clouds; not to the toiling millions they robbed and plundered…

So many religions met in our country–so many theories and dogmas came in contact–so many follies, mistakes, and stupidities became acquainted with each other, that religion began to fall somewhat into disrepute. Besides this, the question of a new nation began to take precedence of all others.

The people were too much interested in this world to quarrel about the next. The preacher was lost in the patriot. The Bible was read to find passages against kings.

Everybody was discussing the rights of man. Farmers and mechanics suddenly became statesmen, and in every shop and cabin nearly every question was asked and answered.

During these years of political excitement the interest in religion abated to that degree that a common purpose animated men of all sects and creeds…

They met in Philadelphia; and the resolution was moved by Lee of Virginia, that the colonies ought to be independent states, and ought to dissolve their political connection with Great Britain.

They made up their minds that a new nation must be formed. All nations had been, so to speak, the wards of some church. The religious idea as to the source of power had been at the foundation of all governments, and had been the bane and curse of man.

Happily for us, there was no church strong enough to dictate to the rest. Fortunately for us, the colonists not only, but the colonies differed widely in their religious views. There were the Puritans who hated the Episcopalians, and Episcopalians who hated the Catholics, and the Catholics who hated both, while the Quakers held them all in contempt. There they were, of every sort, and color and kind, and how was it that they came together? They had a common aspiration. They wanted to form a new nation. More than that, most of them cordially hated Great Britain; and they pledged each other to forget these religious prejudices, for a time at least, and agreed that there should be only one religion until they got through, and that was the religion of patriotism. They solemnly agreed that the new nation should not belong to any particular church, but that it should secure the rights of all.

Our fathers founded the first secular government that was ever founded in this world. Recollect that. The first secular government; the first government that said every church has exactly the same rights and no more; every religion has the same rights, and no more. In other words, our fathers were the first men who had the sense, had the genius, to know that no church should be allowed to have a sword; than it should be allowed only to exert its moral influence…

They turned, as I tell you, everything squarely about. They derived all their authority from the people. They did away forever with the theological idea of government…

The world has changed…

Are you not more than glad that in 1776 was announced the sublime principle that political power resides with the people? That our fathers then made up their minds nevermore to be colonists and subjects, but that they would be free and independent citizens of America?…

I have had the supreme pleasure of seeing a man–once a slave–sitting in the seat of his former master in the Congress of the United States. I have had that pleasure, and when I saw it my eyes were filled with tears. I felt that we had carried out the Declaration of Independence–that we had given reality to it, and breathed the breath of life into its every word. I felt that our flag would float over and protect the colored man and his little children, standing straight in the sun, just the same as though he were white and worth a million. I would protect him more, because the rich white man could protect himself.

All who stand beneath our banner are free. Ours is the only flag that has in reality written upon it: Liberty, Fraternity, Equality–the three grandest words in all the languages of men…

I want you to go away with an eternal hatred in your breast of injustice, of aristocracy, of caste, of the idea that one man has more rights than another because he has better clothes, more land, more money, because he owns a railroad, or is famous and in high position. Remember that all men have equal rights. Remember that the man who acts best his part–who loves his friends the best–is most willing to help others–truest to the discharge of obligation–who has the best heart–the most feeling–the deepest sympathies–and who freely gives to others the rights that he claims for himself is the best man. I am willing to swear to this.

What has made this country? I say again, liberty and labor. What would we be without labor? I want every farmer when plowing the rustling corn of June–while mowing in the perfumed fields–to feel that he is adding to the wealth and glory of the United States. I want every mechanic–every man of toil, to know and feel that he is keeping the cars running, the telegraph wires in the air; that he is making the statues and painting the pictures; that he is writing and printing the books; that he is helping to fill the world with honor, with happiness, with love and law.

Our country is founded upon the dignity of labor–upon the equality of man. Ours is the first real Republic in the history of the world. Beneath our flag the people are free. We have retired the gods from politics. We have found that man is the only source of political power, and that the governed should govern. We have disfranchised the aristocrats of the air and have given one country to mankind.

~Book Review~

I am a big fan of Dan Brown’s writings and so I picked up his newest novel, Inferno, pretty much as soon as it was available. This book was released by Doubleday on May 13, 2013.

Unsurprisingly, I found it a real page turner and I enjoyed it very much. The twists and turns of the plot caught me more than once and I had to read all the way to the end.

I am reviewing this novel in our newsletter because the “villains” of the story adhere to a philosophy called “transhumanism.” I had not heard this term before and was a little startled by the word. Here is the first reference to the movement in the book, “Transhumanism is an intellectual movement, a philosophy of sorts, and it’s quickly taking root in the scientific community. It essentially states that humans should use technology to transcend the weaknesses inherent in our human bodies in other words, the next step in human evolution should be that we begin biologically engineering ourselves.” Movement members are all extremely high IQ, very misunderstood, and even psychologically troubled people. They are definite social misfits but seem to have the best interests of the earth and its inhabitants as their driving force. Can the villain be the good guy?

A Google search for transhumanism finds numerous hits. I have not researched it in detail, but the Wikipedia page descriptions sound to me like in general the movement, sometimes referred to as H+ or h+, has a new age feel.

Inferno by Anόnimo ca 1520

Inferno is set in Italy and Turkey in old buildings in old cities. The transhumanist antagonist is convinced that the world population must be immediately culled by 33% to ensure the health of the overall population. He is a student of Dante and an expert on the Inferno portion of the Divine Comedy. Symbologist Robert Langdon follows clues to try to prevent a catastrophic event that he believes will end the world. If you have enjoyed Langdon’s previous adventures in Da Vinci Code, Angels and Demons, and Lost Symbol you will almost certainly enjoy Inferno. If you have not read any of Brown’s books, this might be a good starting place!

—Wayne Wilson

Web Site Of The Month
Humanist Learning Systems

Think Better—Have Better Relationships—Feel More Fulfilled. This site, recommended by Flo Wineriter is a great introduction to the humanist philosophy


President’s Report

It is hot out there, really hot out there. I know because I have been replacing my mother’s swamp cooler in this heat. You can’t work on a roof for long when it’s over 100 degrees.

It is tempting to use this heat and drought to point to climate change and global warming as suspect causes. But one thing the study of geography teaches you is that climate is what you expect, weather is what you get. One or two events or changes are not enough. But studying events over long periods of time is one of the tools for understanding climate.

But there are a number of ways to study the changes that occur or do not occur that together can point us in certain directions in regards to climate. The study of ice on the planet is one of the areas that show us directly that change is happening as the overall ice budget of the planet continues to shrink. This shrinkage has been and continues to be quantified and studied.

As a student of geography, I was interested in the frozen regions of the planet, so studying the edge of the frozen world was what I could do here in Utah. In the Uinta Mountains, with peaks over 12,000 feet, there are some areas of periglacial zones. That is, where there are some varying amounts of ice year round (nival patches, rock glaciers, etc.) Anyway, I may have a few words to say about what I learned in the mountains before we watch the video at our July meeting. But not to worry, I have no plans to get long winded.

For anyone who is interested in learning more about the frozen regions of the planet, I recommend two web sites, the National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC) and the Extreme Ice Survey (EIS).

The Chasing Ice video we will be showing is a presentation of the EIS. It is an excellent video presentation of this shrinking of the ice budget. The photography is quite beautiful and informative at the same time. Glaciers are huge dynamic features of the planet, yet in a way quite delicate in the face of rising temperatures. I hope you will join us on Thursday, July 11th. There will be goodies and good conversation, so bring a friend and get out of the heat with us.

—Robert Lane
President, HoU