Classic EssaysRevilo P. Oliver

When Newspapers Were Still American

Colonel Ingersoll and two of his grandchildren

by Revilo P. Oliver

THE American Atheist Press in Austin, Texas, has published a booklet by Colonel Robert G. Ingersoll under the title, A Christmas Sermon and the Controversy it Aroused, with an introduction by Jon G. Murray, a son of the famous Madalyn Murray O’Hair. The booklet contains (with many regrettable typographical errors) Ingersoll’s very short “Christmas Sermon” and his replies to the furious attacks on him by holy men who had read it or heard of it and recognized it as bad for the salvation-business.

What Ingersoll says in the booklet are now the merest truisms that all educated men take for granted. His point in the “Sermon” was that the festivities that take place on 25 December are simply a continuation of the immemorially ancient celebration of the Winter Solstice and first perceptible lengthening of the day, which heralds the eventual coming of Spring and the rebirth of the life on which our lives depend. The factitious association of the twenty-fifth of December with the Christian myth was merely a late invention of Christian propaganda.

It is now a matter of common knowledge that the early Christian theologians had various ideas about what date it would be most advantageous to select as the birthday of their Jesus to focus the piety of the True Believers on that day. Dates in January, March, April, and May were especially favored, the choice perhaps depending on local conditions. In Rome, perhaps shortly before an official calendar was compiled by the local church there in 354, the twenty-fifth of December was selected as the supposed date of the birth of Jesus, obviously in open competition with the Mithraic religion, which had long celebrated that day as the birthday of its Savior, Mithra, and with Aurelian’s cult of Sol Invictus, which very reasonably fixed the birthday of its solar god at the Winter Solstice, when the sun is, in effect, reborn for the new year. This clever and bold filching of the holy day of the two major religions of Rome, and the vaguely implied association of the Christian’s revolutionary cult with the ancient and then reasonable practice of heliolatry, was a brilliant stroke, and by the sixth century the date set in Rome had been accepted by almost all of the surviving Christian cults. I suspect, but cannot prove, that the selection of 25 December was the work of the famous Damasus, who perhaps did more than any other one man to extend the power of the Bishops in Rome over a large part of the Christian faction of the ambitious dervishes who are now called the Fathers of the Church.(1) Damasus was thus one of the real creators of the Papacy, which became a very powerful institution after it gained the power to use the Roman judiciary and army to crush competing Christian factions.

In Ingersoll’s replies to the enraged holy men, he dealt with various other fabrications then in vogue among the clergy, such, for example, as the lie about Voltaire’s death-bed repentance, a lie then commonly told in churches, but which no one would take seriously now.

The contents of the booklet, therefore, are almost platitudinous today, and my only reason for mentioning it is the one really significant datum in it.

Ingersoll’s “Sermon” was published on 19 December 1891 in The Evening Telegram, one of the leading newspapers of that time. The simple truth stated by Ingersoll roused to fury a Methodist salvation-huckster, the Reverend Dr. J.M. Buckley, who, with the arrogant vulgarity of his kind, began to yell for a boycott of The Evening Telegram by all Christians “and Jews.” Since the holy man could not use troops to arrest and imprison the editor of the paper, and did not have himself the courage to plant a bomb for the glory of his god, he tried to destroy the newspaper by organizing a boycott.

The editor of The Evening Telegram, far from being intimidated by the pious thug, printed his attack on Ingersoll and Ingersoll’s reply to it, and so the controversy over the “Sermon,” which occupies less than a printed page in the reprint, was (to use currently fashionable jargon) escalated into a controversy that must have taken up many columns of the Telegram, since Ingersoll’s replies occupy forty-five pages in the booklet.

That was in 1891, before the Jewish occupation of the United States became an accomplished fact. Can you imagine today an editor of any large daily newspaper who would have the courage to publish the “Sermon”? Who wouldn’t fall in a dead faint at the hint of a boycott by the Jesus-boys and the omnipotent Jews?

This booklet is noteworthy because it shows that freedom of the press existed in the United States as late as 1891. In fact, a few vestiges of it survived until the Master Race fully consolidated their control of the daily press after they contrived the Suicide of the West in 1945.

If your local newspaper occasionally pretends that there is “freedom of the press,” you may feel inclined to amuse yourself in the way I recently suggested to a correspondent. He sent me a cutting of a newspaper column conducted by a certain Bishop Clark, whose praenomen and ecclesiastical affiliation are unstated, but who is said to house his holiness in Silver Spring, Maryland.

Clark assures his readers that “The truth is there is not one fact of either science or history that contradicts the Bible.” Since we have only the printed words before us, we cannot tell whether Clark was able to keep a poker face while writing them. What is proved, of course, is that there is no truth in holy men. The facts are that there is no statement about physics, geology, astronomy, or biology in the Bible that scientific investigation has not shown to be an ignorant error, and no ostensibly historical statement that is not either false or unverifiable by our extant historical records, exception being made only for the commonplaces that appear in the Biblical tales just as they do in the Arabian Nights. There was, for example, a Roman ruler named Augustus, as stated in one tale in the “New Testament,” just as there was a Caliph Harun-al-Rashid, as stated in several tales of the Arabian Nights. Such references, however, do not verify the adventures attributed to Jesus or to Sinbad, some of which, in both tales, were physically impossible.

The rest of the columns sent me exhibit the unction with which holy men habitually grease the skids for the minds of persons who credulously consult them.

If your newspaper prints Clark’s column or a similar one, call on the editor and suggest that he can prove the freedom of the press by publishing a corresponding column by, say, James Hervey Johnson, the editor of The Truth Seeker, or, for that matter, Madalyn O’Hair or her son. You could even cite the example of fairness set by the editor of the Evening Telegram in 1891.

I do not know what your editor will do. He may have a conniption fit and require medical succor. If he does not, the chances are that he will scream, “You must be a wicked Nazi! You’re trying to get me in trouble with the Jew who owns me!”


(1) Damasus, whom the Roman Catholics have properly sainted, was a first-rate Christian theologian. He understood that the road to power was through the favor of the ruling Emperor, and in the civil war in Rome between rival bishops, he knew how to be on the winning side so long as it was winning and to abandon it before it became the losing side. He was evidently a man of some cultivation and urbanity, who knew how to flatter women and conspire with men. He was a deacon when Ursinus was elected Bishop of Rome, but he knew how simultaneously to organize a riot in which 137 godly folk perished and to ingratiate himself further with Valentinian I, whose governor in Rome was probably Damasus’s confederate. Thus Damasus became Bishop of Rome (Pope) in 366, and by adroitly using ecclesiastical politics and the Roman army to suppress competition from the Arians, Donatists, Macedonians, Luciferians, and other sects, he gradually extended the power of his see to make Papal claim to paramount authority a reality in the West. He shrewdly employed his secretary, Jerome, to produce a version of the Bible that eventually supplanted all others as the official Word of God, never seriously challenged until the Protestant Reformation. Damasus is particularly remembered as the patron of the calligrapher, Furius Dionysius Philocalus, whose monumental inscriptions revived a long-forgotten art and recalled the finished epigraphy of the time of Trajan and Hadrian. If you are interested in lettering as showing the underlying spirit of a cultural age, see the impressive conjectures of Stanley Morison in his Politics and Script (Oxford, Clarendon Press, 1972). He devotes considerable attention to Philocalus and Damasus’s reasons for patronizing him.

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Source: Liberty Bell magazine, April 1985

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