Now Wait Not for Heaven
Im now in my 68th year, so Ive gradually begun cutting back. For example, instead of working 80 home baseball telecasts with the Pittsburgh Pirates, this season Im only doing 23. So Ive got some spare time. And what do retiring baby boomers do with their free time? Travel!
On July 11, 2014, I drove to Bath, in the Finger Lakes region of upstate New York, to begin a brief three-day vacation. The next day, I visited three historical sites. Have you ever heard of any of these New York towns: Hammondsport, Dresden, or Jordan?
My prime destination was the middle town, Dresden. Ill tell that story in the second half of this article. Another article will focus on the farthest city on my trip, Syracuse. But lets begin with my first stop, at the southern end of Keuka Lake just seven miles up the road from Bath.
The Curtiss Museum, outside Hammondsport, honors native son Glenn H. Curtiss, a pioneer of early aviation. His fame has been overshadowed by that of the Wright Brothers.
I almost drove right past the museum until I happened to notice the big old C-46 parked beside the driveway. This Commando was one of the few actual airplanes on display. Inside the building, I found mostly reproductions and models.
I also learned more about Lieutenant Thomas Selfridge. I already knew his name; he was the first person to die in an airplane crash.
It seems that in 1908, the Army was considering buying a plane from the Wrights. They arranged a demonstration outside Washington, D.C. Orville Wright was the pilot, and he took the Army's Lt. Selfridge along in the passenger seat. Everything was going well until a propeller broke and the craft nose-dived into the ground from an altitude of about 75 feet. Wright was seriously injured, and the lieutenant died of a broken skull. Protective gear as simple as a football helmet might have saved him.
From this sketchy account, I pictured Lt. Selfridge as a terrified victim hanging on to the flimsy plane for dear life. At the Curtiss Museum, however, I learned that he was almost as skilled an aviator as was his more famous pilot.
The year before, he had been named the governments representative to the Aerial Experiment Association. The AEA, headed by Alexander Graham Bell, included Glenn Curtiss among its members.
Selfridges first flight was in 1907 on a Bell-designed kite. Then he himself designed the AEAs first powered aircraft, Red Wing, which took off from the ice of Keuka Lake in March 1908 and flew nearly 319 feet.
In August he and two other officers learned how to fly Army Dirigible Number One. And then in September he was sent to Fort Myer for the acceptance trials of the Wright aircraft.
I always assumed Selfridge had been plucked from the ranks at Fort Myer and ordered to climb aboard the newfangled flying machine. I imagined that he accepted the dangerous assignment with great trepidation. But he was much more of an aviation expert than that.
Later that Saturday, I visited another historical site farther north, the grounds of a public school in Jordan, New York. Actually, this place is historical only to me. It was there that I worked my first TV sports remote. In the summer of 1970, I was the audio engineer for the telecast of a competitive event. Ive described those Firematic Races in great detail elsewhere on this website, but I had never returned to Jordan since that day.
The landscape has changed a bit in the last 44 years, of course. The school property has been expanded with more classrooms and a much bigger parking area. The volunteer firemen still convene here occasionally, and a local resident told me about getting splashed during a competition out in the new parking lot.
As I mentioned above, the central reason I was in Central New York was to visit the little village of Dresden. Here on the shore of Seneca Lake was the birthplace in 1833 of a hero of mine, the once-famous orator Robert Green Ingersoll. Ive previously quoted him on this website.
The Ingersoll home looked like this late in the 19th century. It has required restoration more than once in the intervening years.
I have long subscribed to the publications of The Committee for Skeptical Inquiry and its parent organization, the Council for Secular Humanism, both based in Amherst, New York. The Council asked for donations to help restore the Ingersoll birthplace, and I contributed nearly $2,000 between 2009 and 2012. Now I had spare time to travel, and I decided I ought to see where my money went!
First, a little background. Ingersolls father John was a radical preacher but not a very good one. One lay leader called him abrasive, ineffective, tedious and long-winded. He couldnt keep a job and had to move frequently. For part of 1833 he was the pastor of Dresdens Presbyterian Church, and it was during that summer that his son Robert was born on August 11.
That year of 1833 also saw the founding, in a forest clearing way out in Ohio, of Oberlin College my alma mater.
Both John Ingersoll and Oberlin were fiercely opposed to slavery. So was the Second Free Church down in New York City. The pastor there, the famous Charles Grandison Finney, regularly preached to a congregation of more than 2,000.
It's said that when the evangelist returned, he surveyed the remnant of a congregation that was left. He gave Ingersoll a withering look and demanded, Where is the church I left in your charge? Ingersoll reportedly buried his face in his hands and wept.
The next year, Finney accepted a professorship at Oberlin. He held revival services in a tent on Tappan Square. Eventually he would become the colleges second president. Ingersoll himself was in Oberlin in 1840. In September he and Finney both took part at an ordination ceremony where Ingersoll delivered a sermon.
By that year of 1840, seven-year-old Bob Ingersoll had already heard too many preachers warning their listeners about the terrible punishments of hell, the outer darkness, with its wailing and gnashing of teeth forever, and forever, and forever.
I have heard them preach, Robert said later, when I sat in the pew and my feet did not touch the floor, about the final home of the unconverted. Think of such an infamous doctrine being taught to children!
For the most part we inherit our opinions. Our beliefs, like the fashion of our garments, depend on where we were born. As a rule, children love their parents, believe what they teach, and take great pride in saying that the religion of mother is good enough for them.
From my childhood I had heard read, and read the Bible myself. All the seeds of Christianity, of superstition, were sown in my mind and cultivated with great diligence and care. Yet in spite of my surroundings, of my education, I had no love for God. He was so anxious to kill, so ready to assassinate, that I hated him with all my heart.
When I speak of God, I mean that god who made heaven for the few, hell for the many, and who will gloat forever and ever upon the writhings of the lost and damned.
It is impossible to conceive of a more thoroughly despicable, hateful, and arrogant being. The God of Hell should be held in loathing, contempt and scorn. A God who threatens eternal pain should be hated, not loved cursed, not worshiped.
The ministers who preached at these revivals were in earnest. They were zealous and sincere. They were not philosophers. To them science was the name of a vague dread a dangerous enemy. They did not know much, but they believed a great deal.
As he grew up, Robert wrote, his father was grand enough to say to me, that I had the same right to my opinion that he had to his. He was great enough to tell me to read the Bible for myself, to be honest with myself, and if after reading it I concluded it was not the word of God, that it was my duty to say so.
And he said so, repeatedly and eloquently. He noted, To each reader the Bible conveys a different meaning. Every sect is a certificate that God has not plainly revealed his will to man. To hate man and worship God seems to be the sum of all the creeds.
At his birthplace, you can hear him say, in scratchy recordings made by Thomas Edison in 1895:
The birthplace museum in Dresden is open only on Saturday and Sunday afternoons, and not at all in the winter. This website describes it. Youre invited to watch the orientation video.
But be not misled by the opening scenes, in which a tour bus arrives with a throng of visitors. I arrived early on a Saturday afternoon, and when I was there, no one else was. I may have been the first, and possibly the only, guest of the weekend. Ingersoll has almost been forgotten.
Although theres not a lot to see in the museum, the experience leads one to delve into the writings of the Great Agnostic.
Ingersoll spoke out in the 19th century on many issues that are still contentious in the 21st. Today, scientists with dubious credentials still claim that the Genesis of scripture and the evolution of Darwin dont contradict each other. Today, people still assert that America was founded as a Christian nation. Today, we still debate how to avoid unwanted births.
I close this article with some edited Ingersoll quotations from more than a century ago.
I want no part in that unhappy mixture of insanity and ignorance called "faith." The notion that faith in Christ is to be rewarded by an eternity of bliss while a dependence upon reason, observation and experience merits everlasting pain is too absurd for refutation.
In nature there are neither rewards nor punishments. There are consequences.
Happiness is not a reward it is a consequence.
Suffering is not a punishment it is a result.
ADMITTING ONES NONBELIEF
The more a man knows, the more willing he is to learn. The less a man knows, the more positive he is that he knows everything. The Church never doubts, never inquires. To doubt is heresy. To inquire is to admit that you do not know. The Church does neither.
The agnostic does not simply say, "I do not know." He goes another step, and he says, with great emphasis, that you do not know. The clergy know that I know that they know that they do not know.
Not one of the orthodox ministers dares preach what he thinks, if he knows a majority of his congregation think otherwise. He knows that he is not expected to search after the truth, but that he is employed to defend the creed. Every pulpit is a pillory, in which stands a hired culprit, defending the justice of his own imprisonment.
They are poor; they are in business; and they know that should they tell their honest thought, persons will refuse to patronize them to trade with them. They wish to get bread for their little children; they wish to take care of their wives; they wish to have homes and the comforts of life. Every such person is a certificate of the meanness of the community in which he resides.
Like the most of you, I was raised among people who knew who were certain. They did not reason or investigate. They had no doubts. They knew that they had the truth. They knew all about the Flood. They knew that God, with the exception of eight, drowned all his children the old and young, the bowed patriarch and the dimpled babe, the young man and the merry maiden, the loving mother and the laughing child because his mercy endureth forever.
If there is a God who will damn his children forever, I would rather go to hell than to go to heaven and keep the society of such an infamous tyrant. I make my choice now. I despise that doctrine.
GENOCIDE IN CANAAN
If the Bible be true, God commanded his chosen people to destroy men simply for the crime of defending their native land.
Science, the only possible savior of mankind, must put it in the power of woman to decide for herself whether she will or will not become a mother. This is the solution of the whole question. This frees woman. The babes that are then born will be welcome. They will be clasped with glad hands to happy breasts. They will fill homes with light and joy.
I look forward to this time when men and women by reason of their knowledge of consequences, of the morality born of intelligence, will refuse to perpetuate disease and pain, will refuse to fill the world with failures. When that time comes the prison walls will fall poverty and crime will be childless the whole world will be intelligent, virtuous and free.
If that little child should die, I cannot think of a sweeter way to spend an autumn afternoon than to go out to the cemetery when the maples are clad in tender gold, and little scarlet runners are coming, like poems of regret, from the sad heart of the earth and sit down upon the grave and look at that photograph, and think of the flesh, now dust, that you beat.
I tell you it is wrong! It is no way to raise children! Make your home happy. Be honest with them. Divide fairly with them in everything.
Is there an intelligent man or woman now in the world who believes in the Garden of Eden story? If you find any man who believes it, strike his forehead and you will hear an echo. Something is for rent.
Intelligent men, who are not frightened, whose brains have not been paralyzed by fear, know that the sacred story of creation was written by an ignorant savage. The story is inconsistent with all known facts, and every star shining in the heavens testifies that its author was an uninspired barbarian.
The Church demonstrated the falsity and folly of Darwin's theories by showing that they contradicted the Mosaic account of creation, and now that the theories of Darwin have been fairly established, the Church says that the Mosaic account is true because it is in harmony with Darwin. Now, if it should turn out that Darwin was mistaken, what then?
At present, a good many men engaged in scientific pursuits, and who have signally failed in gaining recognition among their fellows, are endeavoring to make reputations among the churches by delivering weak and vapid lectures upon the harmony of Genesis and Geology. Like all hypocrites, these men overstate the case to such a degree, and so turn and pervert facts and words, that they succeed only in gaining the applause of other hypocrites like themselves.
CHURCH AND STATE
It is contended by many that ours is a Christian government, founded upon the Bible, and that all who look upon the book as false or foolish are destroying the foundation of our country. The truth is, our government is not founded upon the rights of gods, but upon the rights of men. Our Constitution was framed not to declare and uphold the deity of Christ but the sacredness of humanity.
Ours is the first government made by the people and for the people. It is the only nation with which the gods have had nothing to do. And yet there are some judges dishonest and cowardly enough to solemnly decide that this is a Christian country, and that our free institutions are based upon the infamous laws of Jehovah.
It probably will not be long until the churches will divide as sharply upon political, as upon theological questions; and when that day comes, if there are not liberals enough to hold the balance of power, this Government will be destroyed. The liberty of man is not safe in the hands of any church.
An infinite God ought to be able to protect himself without going in partnership with State Legislatures.
It may be that ministers really think that their prayers do good, and it may be that frogs imagine that their croaking brings spring.
With soap, baptism is a good thing.
Ministers say that they teach charity. This is natural. They live on alms. All beggars teach that others should give.
AN EARLY EXAMPLE OF IT IS WHAT IT IS
Is man immortal? I do not know. One thing I do know, and that is that neither hope, nor fear, nor belief, nor denial, can change the fact. It is as it is, and it will be as it must be.
Give every other human being every right you claim for yourself.