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Christianity, I happened to fall into company with an Atheist*, and heard for the first time, an argument against the existence of a supernatural being. I must own, although no Christian at the time, further than being brought up in a Christian family, that, at first, I felt shocked at such an opinion. Yet, Sir, I never after lost sight of it, and, unlike my previous reasoning on the Christian sects, the more I reasoned, the more reasonable did it appear. I am now well convinced, that no one who examined the question as to the existence or non-existence of a supernatural being, candidly, with an unprejudiced mind, and a desire to decide on the side of truth, be it which it may, ever arrived at a different conclusion, I embraced every opportunity of reading and studying scientific subjects, and, as I proceeded, I became more and more convinced of the correctness of atheistical principles, and the absurdity of every thing in the shape of religion. This brings me to the most eventful period of my past life, as it drew me forth an open and strenuous supporter of those opinions, of which, before, I was but an humble and silent admirer. Up to this time, the fear of being censured by my neighbours, and having no particular aim to gratify by acting to the contrary, had induced me to confine my sentiments to my own breast; but when I heard, that you were making attempts to convert Mr. Carlile, (whom although then unknown to me, I respected for his principles,) I determined no longer to lie dormant, but, by paying Mr. Carlile a visit, convince him, that if Cerne produced an officious Vicar, it could likewise produce a warm friend. What passed after this visit up to the time I left home for London, I shall endeavour to be brief in describing. You were the first to learn, and to publisht his step to my neighbours, with the hopes, no doubt, that it wonld deter me from again visiting Mr. C. or professing those opinions which you said it was evident Ibelieved in. Had you gone no farther than this, it is not likely my name would have been before the public; 'but when you attempted, by every means in your power, (and there were not a few,) to deprive me of my friends, and, of the countenance of my neighbours, by stating that I was a corrupt and dange.. rous member of society, I was compelled to step forward in my own defence; and having once entered the lists, my pride would not allow me to retreat. Feeling the benefit of the very small stock of knowledge I then possessed, in aiding me to defend my principles, my spare time was now principally occupied in mak
* The priests propagate many doctrines which they erroneously call atheistical creeds; I disclaim all such: the whole that I understand by the word atheist, as regards opinions, is, a person who denies the existence of a supernatural power under the the name of God. Under the above definition I own, that I am un Atheist; and, if belief comes from conviction alone, every man is as much an Atheist as myself.
ing additions to it; not forgeting you at times, as you well know. Nor can I tax you with forgetting me; for, what with sermons and prayers for my conversion, it seems that I occupied some considerable portion of your attention. At any rate I can assure you, I obtained more useful knowledge in six months, than, without your invigorating opposition, I should have obtained in seven years.
It may not be improper here to remark, how much the antiChristian cause owes its present flourishing condition to this general spirit of opposition. This spirit, so evidently manifested by the priests, has been almost the sole cause of its present existence: for although here and there, by deep philosophical studies, a few individuals might have become Atheists, it never would have arrived at a tythe of its present prosperity, but for opposition*. It was opposition made Mr. Carlile, what he at present is, the most powerful Anti-Christian writer that ever existed. But for opposition, he might have conducted business, unknown but to a few friends, and his genius and ability would have remained dormant for want of circumstances to bring them into action; whereas, now, his name has resounded throughout the kingdom, the thinking part of society have become proselytes to his principles, and every liberal mind commends his conduct and sympathizes with his fate. It is opposition which hath drawn forth the numerous and able body of correspondents, whose shining genius and ability has so conspicuously shone forth in the pages of the Republican—genius and ability which, but for opposition, might have been lost to mankind, or, at farthest, confined to a small circle of friends. It was the opposition to be met, that stimulated the “ noble army of martyrs” who preceeded me, to make such a noble and effectual stand, so ably to support, and so extensively to promulgate their principles. I repeat it again, it was your individual opposition that occasioned me to become an open and strenuous supporter of anti-Christian principles; and I believe I may add, without vanity, that I have not laboured in vain.
Before the last series of prosecutions commenced, from seeing the good effects resulting from an open, honest, and manly de. fence of our principles, and thinking myself capable of making such a defence, together with the knowledge that I should obtain by it, I stated to Mr. Carlile, not only a willingness, but an earnest wish, that in case of any more prosecutions, he would dispose of my services. This he consented to do; and I no sooner heard of the recommencement of the prosecutions, than I prepared to set of for the scene of action. And here, Sir, I would beg' pardon for my neglect in not.acquainting you with my intentions, and in not congratulating you on the prospect you had of being able to hold forth
* I make use of_the word opposition as being a milder term than persecution; but in my vocabulary, when speaking of the PRIESTS, the words are synonimous.
your doctrines from the pulpit, and to preach against infidel principles, without the danger of calling into action a mind, which though young and weak of itself, had proved, when directed against you, but too powerful. Arrived on the field of battle, I began like my predecessors to wield that terrible weapon against priestcraft, the “ Age of Reason.” The first shaft of the enemy was an arrest. On Friday May 28, I was taken to the Guildhall, charged with publishing the Age of Reason, and was committed to take trial at the Sessions, commencing on the following Wednesday. I was now in my glory; the time I had often wished for was now nearly arrived ; and the few days I had to spare before trial, was busily occupied in preparing my defence. At last the day arrived which was to decide whether I deserved to rank amongst the supporters of truth, or to be decried as a presumptuous aspirant for honours which I had not the merit to obtain. It is needless to describe what passed on that day, as you have doubtless seen the accounts long ere this; it suffices, to satisfy my vanity, and reward your spiritual care, to know, that the bigoted, intolerant, and Christian-like Recorder, Knowlys, considered me worthy of two years imprisonment, i. e. two years of useful schooling, which I can assure you, I shall not throw away.
Thus you see, Sir, how, from very small beginnings, with your aid, I have been enabled to arrive so near the pinnacle of my hopes: I have already had the honour of standing forth as a defender of the noblest and best of principles, for which I am daily receiving the thanks of my fellow countrymen; and, what to me is even more valuable, am placed in a situation where I am daily adding to my stock of knowledge; so that, before my two years are expired, I may fairly count on being, not only a match for the Vicar of* Cerne, but for every clergymen in the kingdom; and you may depend on it, Sir, I shall not fail to essay my strength, whenever I have an opportunity.
One day, since I have been here, as I sat musing (you must know, Sir, I am very fond of musing) on what had passed between you and me, I was powerfully struck with the likeness it bore to a fable I had somewhere heard of or seen, when a child. To the best of my recollection, the fable ran thus: one day, two game cocks, both claiming the supremacy of the yard, first came to words and then to blows upon the subject. At first, the battle was sharply contested, and it was difficult to decide which had the advantage. The Old Cock (you see, Sir, how well this agrees with our case) from his long experience and well known progreess in the spurring art, at first seemed to be a match for all the resolution and address of his young antagonist; but the young aspirant would not so easily be put down, and renewing his attack on all points with redoubled fury, at last drove the Old Cock with disgrace from the yard, over which he had so long held the mastership. (Observe, Sir, how admirably this applies.) The Old Cock, not half liking this defeat, slunk away to a corner, and was forced to content himself with now and then raising a feeble crow in his place of concealment, which, though it could not mend his own case, he thought might embitter the laurels of his vanquisher. (Observe, again, Sir, exactly your case! Now for mine.) The Young Cock, after struggling up and down with all the self-sufficiency and pride generally attendant on early acquired laurels, mounted to the top of a high wall, to proclaim his past victory, and to arouse those neighbouring Cocks which had not hitherto proved his prowess; when lo! a voracious Eagle which had long hovered over the spot, seized the precious moment, darted on its prey, and bore it off' triumphantly through the air. The Old Cock, who from his hiding place had been an eyewitness of this transaction, again issued forth among his old acquaintance and former campanions, attempted to forget that he had ever been vanquished, strutted about with great assurance, and again gallanted the Hens with all the ardour and spirit imaginable. Thus, Sir, ends the fable; but not so in our case: for instance, it is not said that the Young Cock ever came back to renew the contest while, I am about to renew our contest with more vigour than ever, and, from my increased knowledge, I believe you will find me a still more troublesome customer than before. As this letter may perhaps meet the eye of many of my fellow countrymen, who are ignorant of the powerful causes which could prompt me to forego every other consideration to support my principles, I shall attempt to explain these principles; and then, after drawing the attention of my countrymen to the different motives which prompted you to oppose me, the difference of our doctrines, and their effects on the happiness of mankind, I shall call on them to decide who is most worthy of their approbation and support.
It is true, as I have before said, that your opposition was the first and principal stimulus; yet can it be supposed, that that of itself could håve prompted me to exchange my friends, my home, and the pleasures of society, for the dull, dreary, and neverchanging scenes of a prison? No: I could have conducted my opposition against you more effectually with all these comforts around me. Then let us look for other and more powerful causes. I felt the happiness and ease attendant on a mind clearly rid of all superstitious notions, all fear of supernatural beings; I clearly saw, that it required but a candid and impartial examination, to bring every man into this desirable state; I found that prejudice was the greatest bar to this examination; and I also found that the best means of removing prejudice was a bold and honest defence of our principles. I likewise conceived it to be the bounden duty of every honest man, to defend and propagate those opinions which experience taught him would be most beneficial to mankind in general, and to decry those of a contrary tendency; I found, not only by my own feelings, but from actual experience
and observation on those of other persons, that all systems of religion are of an evil tendency, and that atheistical opinions and sound moral principles are alone calculated to obtain for man that share of happiness which he is capable of enjoying. Whe therefore I saw the strong arm of power in array against those principles, and attempting to crush freedom of thought and expression, I embraced the favourable opportunity OP DOING MY DUTY. These, Sir, are causes sufficient to direct any honest man, placed under, similar circumstances, to follow the same line of conduct as I have.
It may be said, that those who'step forward to support Mr. Carlile are influenced by the man, not by the principles which he advocates. That such a notion may prevail with the great body of Christians is quite natural. Being themselves directed and governed by a priest, of whose opinions and principles they know nothing, and whom they implicitly follow, without being able to give any other reason for so doing, than that he has commanded it, it is not surprising that they should consider others to be as easily led as themselves. But, Sir, let me assure you, that no such thing can possibly happen: no man can be an Atheist but from self-conviction; and I cannot conceive that a man would support atheistical principles, under such circumstances as they have been hitherto supported, unless himself an Atheist. Speaking for myself, I have as great a partiality for Mr. Carlile as for any man I know; yet that would not have induced me to subject myself to years of imprisonment in the support of an opinion, if that opinion had not been congenial with ny own. In too many instances for the happiness of mankind, the great mass of the people are led away by a designing few. These men endowed with a greater share of knowledge and craftiness make use of it to mislead their unsuspecting fellow citizens who are thus led on to ruin, while the leaders are revelling on the spoils obtained by their duplicity. But not so in our case: every man who supports our opinions and the line of conduct we pursue, is supposed to have an equal knowledge, (at least, according to his capability of obtaining it) of those opinions, and of the ends we propose to gain by supporting them. He consequently, feels an equal interest as to the issue.
Now, Sir, we will examine what could have been your motives. It was not a love of truth; for had you been guided by a desire of elucidating truth and exposing falsehood, you would not so shabbily have given up the contest-you would not have allowed the question to rest, until you had either satisfied me of my error, or had been convinced of your own. You sent me Bishop Watson's “ Apology for the Bible;” so far good; I returned you Dr. Francis's answer, and the “ Doubts of Infidels,” why did you not answer these? Why leave me to say, that you could not? Why allow me such strong proof, that you valued not whether your doctrine were true or false, so that your parishioners were