Ingersoll Day—in honor of Robert Green Ingersoll—is a one such celebration we can add to our calendars, observed on or around his birthday of August 11. Observing the life and works of one of the most popular freethinkers in history can be a true reflection of our fourth Unitarian Universalist Principle: “a free and responsible search for truth and meaning.”
Recognized as the “Great Agnostic” who championed freethought, Ingersoll also campaigned tirelessly against slavery and for the rights of women. During a time when oratory was the dominant form of public entertainment, Ingersoll was truly a celebrity and drew large crowds to his public speeches.
Ingersoll Day can be considered a time to celebrate freethought. For young children, parents can provide challenges that encourage them to think and seek out new meaning. Puzzles, riddles, and activities that spark interest (such as scavenger hunts) are appropriate activities for celebrating Ingersoll Day. Older children, youth, and adults can stage their own “speeches” or oratorical presentations.
Freethinking and the search for truth can also be honored as a family with a candle-lighting ceremony. Give each person in the family a candle to light (little ones can be helped by parents) and as they do so, encourage them to share something that they used to think that they now think differently about. Older children and youth could share instead something about “so many people think [blank], but I think [blank].” This ritual could affirm their individual beliefs and help strengthen them in cases where youth are regularly met with opposition or disbelief by those people who think much differently than they do.
A family celebration that affirms the responsible search for truth and meaning centering around Ingersoll Day can lift up the importance of our Fourth Principle, and that sounds like a great idea for a Unitarian Universalist holiday to me.
Learn more about Ingersoll from this February 2010 sermon by the Rev. Don Beaudreault, minister of the UU Congregation of Venice, Fla., and read a speech Ingersoll delivered to the Unitarian Dinner Club in New York City in 1892.
Photo above by Matthew Brady, Levin Corbin Handy
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Michelle Richards is the author of Tending the Flame: The Art of Unitarian Universalist Parenting (Skinner House, 2010).