Robert G. Ingersoll
It may surprise many to know that Robert Ingersoll, the Great Agnostic of the 19th century (1833-1899), was a great believer in Christmas. In that respect, at least, we are in agreement. He wrote and published at least four statements on the meaning of Christmas in the last ten years of his life. One was an "Essay on Christmas," published in the New York Tribune, December, 1889, another was a "Christmas Sermon," published in the New York Evening Telegram, in December 1891. The next year, the December 25 edition of the New York Journal published another, called "The Agnostic Christmas" on the Yule season. That was followed, in December 1897, by the publication in the Boston Arena of his most famous encomium to Christmas, called "What I Want for Christmas ."
Ingersoll's sentiments about the spirit of the season included these: "The good part of Christmas is not always Christian it is generally Pagan; that is to say, human, natural. It is popular because it is a holiday. Overworked people are glad of days that bring rest and recreation and allow them to meet their families and their friends. They are glad of days when they give and receive gifts evidences of friendship, of remembrance and love. It is popular because it is really human, and because it is interwoven with our customs, habits, literature, and thought. I believe in Christmas and in every day that has been set apart for joy. We in America have too much work and not enough play. We take our joys too sadly. I am in favor of all the good free days. Christmas is a good day to forgive and forget a good day to throw away prejudices and hatreds a good day to fill your heart and your house, and the hearts and houses of others, with sunshine. For my part I am willing to have two or three a year the more holidays the better."
Ingersoll, a life-long Republican, made a living giving public lectures, often on Sunday,
not only about religion but also about American heroes like Thomas Paine
So what did Ingersoll want for Christmas? His 1897 wish list is less than 500 words. You can find it online, just you can the others (see the links above). When you read it you will notice that some of his desires have been fulfilled in the last 105 years, though the tragedy is that it took more than a century! But I have my own list of wishes.
Given the advances in civilization and triumph of democracy since Ingersoll's death in 1899, as well as the current state of the Republic and the world, a Christmas wish list for 2003 would look a little different but not completely different. Here is my wish:
WHAT I WANT FOR CHRISTMAS 2003
(after Robert Green Ingersoll)
by Ronald Bruce Meyer
If I had the power to produce exactly what I want for Christmas, I would have all the authoritarian despots, of whatever religion, resign and allow the people to govern themselves. But I would have the people understand that revenge for oppression is not the same thing as justice.
I would have all the clergymen, rabbis and imams tell all their "flocks" to think for themselves, to be manly men and womanly women, and to do all in their power to increase the sum of human happiness. Or, if they will not, then at least not insist on equal time for religion in school unless they grant equal time for science in church.
I would have all the professors in all the colleges, all the teachers in schools of every kind, including those in Sunday schools, agree that they would teach only what they know; that they would not palm off guesses as demonstrated truths. I would like everyone to agree that "I don't know" is a perfectly acceptable answer for now.
I would like to see all the politicians in the United States changed to statesmen to men and women who long to keep this country great and to keep it free to men and women who care more for public good than private gain who use their powers not as an entitlement, but as if they were on loan from the people. I would like to see all politician-statesmen regard the affairs of the people (who vote and pay taxes) more seriously than the affairs of businesses (who can't vote and often don't pay taxes).
I would like to see all the editors of newspapers, magazines and cable news networks agree to publish the truth and distinguish it from opinion, to avoid all slander and misrepresentation, to make a clear division between entertainment and information, and to let the private affairs of the people, even famous people, alone. I would like to see, just once, a local TV news broadcast not lead off with a human tragedy.
I would like to see drugs and the drug war both disappear, and to remove the profit motive from both. If life is so unbearable that you need to escape from it by muddling your senses, you need to fix your life, not destroy it. But that if you think you need drugs, that is the affair of you and your doctor and no business of the police; that people should not be helped until they ask for help.
I would like to see the corporations unite and form a trust for the public good: they benefit from consumers, so they are obligated to give back to consumers. This trust should be allocated to clean up the pollution they cause in their pursuit of profit, and the human suffering they cause when they seek to provide for human wants. I would also like corporations to work into their business model the idea that there are no "free goods": that the air, the water and the earth are not commodities but shared resources. Business benefits from a favorable political environment in this country; it is consequently their duty to be loyal to this country, and that includes paying their fair share of taxes.
I would like to see a fair division of profits between capital and labor. In an unequal power balance, labor has only one defense against the political and pecuniary club of capitalism: collective action. The right to organize should be an unquestioned civil right.
I would like to see an international court established in which to settle disputes between nations. While I doubt that armies can ever be disbanded, or that weapons of mass destruction will ever rust in peace, there is no better model for determining culpability than an adversarial presentation of evidence before an impartial judge or panel of judges. War is a failure of political will, not an exercise of it.
Finally, I would like to see the whole world free free from injustice free from superstition free from fear.
That's all I can think of for this Christmas. I may want more next year. No need to wrap it I can use it here!
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Ronald Bruce Meyer is a freelance writer.