I’m nervous… in a few hours I’ll be in our nations capitol reading a lecture by the great American orator Robert G. Ingersoll. I won’t be posting this until after the event is over, so I can append a recording of it to the post (assuming it turns out well). No matter what mundane or crazy shit I’ve done in front of an audience, I’ve always been plagued with nervousness before beginning. From making an announcement in a room or doing an interview over the phone, to being cut open in a blood ritual performance or crawling across a ceiling half-naked covered in silver paint – I’m a bit of a wreck until I start doing whatever it is I need to be doing. I’m not an extrovert by nature, but I’ve been performing in front of audiences since I was in Elementary School.
I think I took this chance to help subdue that fear response a bit, but then here I am waking up at 6:30 am when my alarm is set for 8. Typing a blog post because I need a distraction.
There was a study recently that showed men looking at breasts had a calming effect. I think it was carried out by the University of Something to Tell My Wife, in the Dept. of NoDuh.
I have my problems with his worldview outside of his agnosticism, but that he was well known and well received in the late 1800’s for making remarks on stage that would infuriate most general audiences in 2009 makes me respect him greatly. That I have such a shitty memory makes me frustrated that I’ll probably be doing more reading of a page than proper oratory.
The event is sponsored by a few groups, none of which I am a member. All the details can be found here.
I’ve chosen (predictably) his lecture on blasphemy and I’ve had to heavily truncate it in order to fit within the 3-6 minutes allowed. My greatest concern is that I’ll be the 5th or 6th person to recite some of the same words, and boring the audience instead of entertaining. The orig. text can be found here.
My total time tends to be about 6 and a half to 7 minutes, but the introduction runs around a minute +, so the actual lecture is within the regulation time limit. There was a joke about half-way through, but I took it out because I didn’t think I could pull it off.
The event will be video recorded (I started writing “taped”, but that’s probably not technically true) and I’ll record the audio as well. As you can see in the introduction I’ve included a “Blasphemy Challenge” – thematically appropriate, and a fun addition.
—back from event—
I just got in from my drive back from DC. I dropped a dear friend who went to support me at home and I’m trying to finish and post this thing…
Out of the 20 possible contestants only 14 ended up speaking. From the star my chances for winning were statistically better. I drew “12” as my order number, but since there were 20 numbers and 14 people, I didn’t have to wait through 12 speakers. My time was intermittently crouching and listening and pacing and smoking near the back of the audience. When it was my time to go up I was terribly nervous, all the moisture from my mouth vanished when I hit the podium.
At one point my papers flew away in the wind. I think I handled it well, moving on to the next section of the speech without too much of a lapse. I couldn’t get my pages to turn on the last page. I figured that shouldn’t be too much of a problem with only three pages, but I was wrong. Next time I’ll put some sticky tabs on each sheet or something.
My pal Erin was in charge of the camera and forgot to take photos while I was speaking, so we’ve got scant few photos. Her support meant more than her failure to photographically capture the moment, so all is well.
I wore my black suit, fedora and a plantation tie, and everyone assumed it was a costume for the event. I don’t mind that so much, when I was in Vegas with friends in ’06 people stopped us on the street and asked us if we were performing somewhere and if they could get a photo… “no” and “no” were the answers. I thought it was funny though and I took that and changed my introduction in my head a few minutes before I spoke – it allowed me to more personalize the introduction and inject a little more humor. I had two great lines that I thought up and I subsequently forgot to utter, and I don’t think they’d come across well just typing ’em out here. I’ll just let them lie in some corner of my brain until they dissolve away.
Though many of the speakers were very good, and one even committing his entirely to memory, quite a number of folks left me with the impression that I was certainly in the top tier of presenters. Though I did have to reference my notes, and at one point my papers flew away in the wind, I’m proud of the job that I did – ultimately it wasn’t enough to impress the judges. Even though they gave a tie to fourth place – giving a total of 5 winners out of 14, somehow my speech was scored in the bottom 9.
I got quite a few hearty “congrats” immediately after speaking, and one lady even turned to me and said “that was so wonderful, you gave me goosebumps!”, but when they were calling out the winners, my name was no where to be heard.
The kicker, walking to the car a guy who introduced himself to me earlier that day before I talked was walking back toward DuPont Circle. I guess he’d stepped away at some point and was returning, missing the awards. I must have made an impression because he called out my name from a distance, “Kevin!”
“How did it go?” he asked.
“Pretty well, I enjoyed myself.”
“Did you win?”
“No, I didn’t even come in fourth.”
“WHA?!?” he seemed to express sincere disbelief.
Again, other speakers did a great job. I don’t know what the scores were, and I’m generally very humble about my work and performances. This, I think I should have at least placed. But I didn’t, and I’m not complaining. It was a beautiful day in the park, and I publicly blasphemed, on film (and audio)…
One of the organizers videotaped the event and will theoretically be putting some portions online. If I make it, I’ll post it here, of course.
I have pasted the text that I took with me to read below. Where I’ve added or changed a word, it is set off in brackets. Where I’ve truncated in the middle of a sentence I’ve used the ellipses. Of course, what I have below and what I ws able to actually get out of my mouth diverge somewhat slightly…
UPDATE: I found a few photos on facebook from someone who was there, so I was able to add a few of me actually speaking! The photographer has given me permission to use the images here and here is a link to all his photos from the event (on Facebook)!
UPDATE 2: A few more photos of the Devil’s Angry Man… photos below by Bruce Press
UPDATE 10-28-09: The videos…
CFI edited every speaker down to their own video, here is just my part:
The AHA took the winners of the event and a few other speakers and edited to about an hour (I’m at the 35 minute mark):
Ingersoll’s Lecture on “Blasphemy”
Robert Ingersoll Oratory Contest
Washington, DC, October 4th, 2009
According to the rules I may give a brief introduction to why I selected this bit of text. How do you truncate the words of a man who would sometimes spend three hours pontificating on a topic into 3-5 minutes. All the speakers here have done an admirable job and I hope that I have distilled the essence of this speech on the topic of Blasphemy to fit into that time.
My name is Kevin Slaughter and what follows this preface are Ingersoll’s words alone, but I take them as my own. I am not just honoring a great orator and thinker, I am telling you how I feel. Before I begin to speak his words, I will make it utterly clear: “I deny the Holy Spirit.”
This rejection of god means not just that I am a free thinker, but standing in our nation’s capitol today, it it a pronouncement that I am a free man!
Ladies and Gentlemen …what is the origin of the crime known as blasphemy?
It is the belief in a God who is cruel, revengeful, quick tempered and capricious;
a God who punishes the innocent for the guilty;
a God who listens with delight to the shrieks of the tortured and gazes enraptured on their spurting blood.
You must hold this belief before you can believe in the doctrine of blasphemy.
[You see,] God was a kind of juggler. He did not wish man to be impudent or curious about how He did things. You must sit in audience and watch the tricks and ask no questions. In front of every fact He has hung the impenetrable curtain of blasphemy. Now … all the … reason that … man ha[s] is useless.
To say anything against the priest was blasphemy
and to say anything against God was blasphemy—
to ask a question was blasphemy.
Finally we sank to the level of fetishism [and] we began to worship inanimate things.
If you will read your bible you will find that the Jews had a sacred box. … To touch this box was a crime. [And] You [may] remember that one time when a… [man] thought the box was going to tip he held it.
God killed him.
It always has been blasphemy to say “I do not know whether God exists or not.”
In all Catholic countries it is blasphemy to doubt the bible, to doubt the sacredness of the relics.
It always has been blasphemy to laugh at a priest, to ask questions, to investigate the Trinity.
In a world of superstition, reason is blasphemy.
In a world of ignorance, facts are blasphemy.
In a world of cruelty, sympathy is a crime,
and in a world of lies, truth is blasphemy.
Last night there was a fire in Philadelphia, and at a window fifty feet above the ground Mr. King stood amid flame and smoke and pressed his children to his [chest] one after the other, kissed them, and threw them to the rescuers with a prayer. That was man.
[This book says that on] the last day God takes His children with a curse and hurls them into eternal fire. That’s … God as [this book] describe Him. [And] If this creed be true, God is the insane keeper of a mad house.
Blasphemy is a padlock which hypocrisy tries to put on the lips of all honest men. At one time Christianity succeeded in silencing the infidel, and then came the dark ages, when all rule was ecclesiastical, when the air was filled with devils and spooks, when birth was a misfortune, life a prolonged misery of fear and torment, and death a horrible nightmare. They crushed the infidels, Galileo, Kepler, Copernicus, wherever a ray of light appeared in the ecclesiastical darkness. I want to tell [you all gathered] that that day is passed. All the churches in the United States can not even crush me. The day for that has gone, never to return. If they think they can crush free thought in this country, let them try it.
I’ll tell you what is blasphemy. It is blasphemy to live on the fruits of other men’s labor, to prevent the growth of the human mind, to persecute for opinion’s sake, to abuse your wife and children, to increase in any manner the sum of human misery.
I’ll tell you what is sacred. Our bodies are sacred, our rights are sacred, justice and liberty are sacred. I’ll tell you what is the true bible. It is the sum of all actual knowledge of man, and every man who discovers a new fact adds a new verse to this bible. It is different from the other bible, because that is the sum of all that its writers and readers do not know.