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CORRESPONDENCE BETWEEN A DOCTOR OF MEDICINE AND A UNITARIAN PREACHER, BOTH OF DUNDEE, IN CONSEQUENCE OF A LOAN, FROM THE FORMER TO THE LATTER, OF A COPY OF NUMBER 1, VOL. IX. OF "THE REPUBLICAN."
(Continued from page 250.)
PRIEST TO THE DOCTOR.
Well Pocter, February 18, 1824.
I Have digested your last dose; but it has not cured me yet of what you consider my fanaticism. You have prepared it no doubt secundum artem; but still there is not eHough of Essentia Logica to do the business.
You.charge Christianity with "incongruities—with obscure dogmas, revolting to common sense; and you think, that there is little wonder, that men, escaped from the bondage of early prejudices, throw such doctrines into the hack ground as altogether unworthy of their attention." But men, in their escape from early prejudices, may run into other prejudices, and be prejudiced against what they consider prejudice. It is not an easy matter to hold the mind in a fair equipoise of impatiality, between higotry on the one hand and indifference on the other; and they who think that they have escaped from prejudice, may therefore still be under its fetters; and though they may have changed one prejudice for another, they may not, however, have changed prejudice for impartiality. Take care then, Doctor, take care.
If you take your views of Christianity from certain creeds, and not from the discourses of its founder, and its apostles, you may no doubt find doctrines revolting to common sense. But, in the view of Christianity which 1 entertain, I see nothing that is not rational. My wonder may be excited, but my reason is not confounded. What is wonderful, is not however for that reason, irrational. A thing may be right wonderful, may be inexplicable, and yet be true.
But you say, that "whilst Christianity is connected with objects that are entirely inaccessible to our senses, and of course incapable of demonstration, you shall always be convinced, that it has no more claim to credit than the pretensions of a thousand other religions," &c. Indeed! If demonstration is to be our criterion of what is truth, our circle of truths will be exceedingly narrow indeed. History must be all blotted out—ten thousand times ten thousand things which we call facts, and are accustomed to act upon as facts, must be all pronounced delusions1.
The demonstration which you want is not necessary for belief. Indeed there would be no thanks to a man for believing that for which he had such demonstration—that belief could cost him no exertion of intellect, and the conduct resulting from it could have no merit—he could have no alternative, and therefore I say no thanks to him.
I had denied in my last letter, that Mahomet ever made any pretensions to miracles. I have not the Alcoran beside me, and therefore I may have been mistaken. But what you say in reply does not altogether correct me, if I be mistaken. You seem to produce only what his followers say of him2: but it was not to what his followers believe of him that I referred, but to the pretensions which he himself made. Now I am not sure, that he himself pretended to perform miracles before the eyes of spectators. To dreams and to visions, of which nobody could be a judge, he may have pretended, but I am afraid you will find it difficult to prove that he made any pretensions to work miracles before the eyes of the multitude. This, however, is a questiou of no moment: it does not.signify to what Mahomet did or did not pretend. The grand question is, whether the evidence of his pretensions is equal to that of the claims of Jesus. Men may pretend any thing, but it is not about what they pretend that we are to care so much, as it is what they prove. Now, I think the evidence of the claims of Jesus altogether different from that of the pretensions of any impostor. His miracles were day-light miracles—they were not done in the dark, nor were they done in a corner. Above all, they were done to establish pretensions not agreeable, but opposed, to the prejudices of those before whom they were performed. This is an important conside
1 Demonstration does not require that we see every thing acted over again; but that narrations of circumstances be such as we now see to be practicable. And we now see nothing of supernatural agency. R. C.
* That is the only foundation on which the miracles of Jesus Christ rests. R. C.
ration. If it had been the case that Jesus had no enemies in J udea interested in scrutinizing his pretensions and in exposing the imposture if they could find any, the evidence of his miracles would have lost much of its weight. But seeing that they were done in an enemy's country—seeing that the claims of Jesus were obnoxious to the prejudices of the multitude, and most hostile to the interests of the learned, the miracles of Jesus are altogether different in evidence from that of any " lying wonders" pretended to, not before prejudice, but before a credulous partiality, and protected by the powers, not opposed by them. Nothing but the consciousness of truth could in these circumstances animate Jesus —nothing but the force of truth could in these circumstances make him trinmph
With respect to the dark ages, I only hazarded a conjecture; but I do not yet see sufficient reason to dismiss it. I still doubt not that there were many, even during these, on whom Christian truth exerted its influence: but this does not signify: whatever influence it had during these, it certainly had a marvellous influence in previous ages, and it still exerts a mighty influence, and will still exert it. We do not know how long the world is to last—we do not know but that Christianity, in its genuine simplicity and purity, will make the earth a paradise for a much longer period than that which has elapsed since the mission of Jesus.
You blame the religion of Jesus with the crimes of its professors, and there is a hit of contradiction in what you say on that topic. You say, " if ever it exalted any to the state of angels and brought forward a few who were willing to make sacrifices; on the other hand it has sent millions into the gulph of perdition." If it has been so direful in its effects, it must be too much to grant even an if to the assertion, that it has had opposite effects. Christ says, in one of his discourses, " Do men gather grapes of thorns, or figs of thistles?"
It is an error to charge Christianity with the crimes of Christians3; Christianity frowns upon these crimes and denounces them. It is not the belief of Christianity that has been the cause of the crimes; but the belief of something else. There is an Anti-Christianity which calls itself Christianity—a system expressly predicted in the scripture, see 2 Thessalonians chap. ii. 1 Timothy chap. iv.
You still contend, that if Christianity be divine it should have been universal. But still, I think, that if there be po
'But if Christianity does not regulate the actions of Christians; for what is it good? R. C.
No. 9, Vol. X.
sitive evidence in proof of the divine mission of Jesus, the consideration that Christianity is not universal, will not disprove that fact. It does not disprove the fact of the wisdom or goodness of the Deity—the consideration that all the creatures of the universe are not alike in faculties, in circumstances or in privileges. If there be wise laws for this, may there not be wise laws for the other case. I should like to see wise reasons for the superiority of one or a few nations to the rest which will not justify Providence with respect to the mission of Christ4.
Christianity was marching fast to universality, when some of its professors, who were only professors, did by their own wickedness involve the world in a great measure in darkness5. What was to be done in this case? Was Christ to descend from heaven and again die for mankind? This would have been too much to expect. Was God to hurl his thunderbolts on the beads of its corrupters? The same fate might as well be the portion of every tyrant, and the same wisdom which permits a Ferdinand to involve unhappy Spain again in darkness, saw it good to leave unpunished the spoilers of the simplicity of Christianity6.
Before I finish, I will tell you what you must do before you overthrow Christianity. N You must prove that Jesus and his apostles were impostors7, though, on the supposition of imposture, they could have had no hopes of success, and had every possible motive to deter them from their enterprise. Or you will have to prove them enthusiasts, though crowds, in spite of early prejudices, and in spite of persecution, adhered to them as the oracles of God; and though the body of Jesus was never produced by the Jews from its grave to confound the statements of the apostles respecting it. This is what you will have to do, Doctor. On the determination of these questions, Christianity stands or falls. Let us determine these then first, and settle other matters afterwards.—And in the mean time accept this as a token of the regards of Yours, &c.
* The variance as to the characters of nations is the best of all proofs that there is no Providence in the matter. There you have the wisest reason. R. C.
* This Priest knows very little about the history of Christianity. R. C.
6 Excellent argument to prove an all-wise Providence!
7 Enough, to prove that Jesus is a fictious character.
DOCTOR TO THE PRIEST.
Sir, February 25, 1824.
The dose which you acknowledge to have received, I observe, has not cured you of your fanaticism; it has, however, I am inclined to think, convinced you, that, upon the principles of nature, reason, and common sense, christianity cannot be defended. You have certainly steered clear of the ground upon which any rational explanation can take place; and the total silence upon those principles, to which, in a particular manner, 1 directed you, sufficiently indicates, that the arguments which I have offered, have had a tolerable good effect; without coming to such views, I was well aware, that the correspondence might be carried on ad infinitum, as I knew that no decision could possibly be obtained, if I had confined myself to the general history that Christianity presents. Each sect and each individual have their own particular ideas, and, as every one wrangles or contends that his is the best, a rational being can only establish the verity of his opinions, regarding religion, upon the great standard of nature herself. Her volume lies open to all, and is seldom read with that perversity of intellect which always accompanies the prejudices of theological sectarians, " who continually have recourse to their Bible, each most absurdly assuming the dangerous and wicked principle," that
Hie liber est in quo quoerit sua dogmata quisque,
Atque in quo reperit dogmata quisque sua.* In looking over your epistle, I find you rest principally upon calling upon me to- prove that Jesus and his apostles were impostors. My former observations, I think, pretty strongly confirm this. Overlooking, at present, the many strange stories, which appear to me in no other light thau the most superstitious legends, I merely advert to what is called Christ's ascension into heaven, an event, which, to have gained credit, ought to have been fully and accuratelyrelated by men who were witnesses of it. To have ascended publicly, would at least have convinced his advesaries, and would have given to mankind an incontestible proof of his divinity; but, in place of this, all is doubt and obscurity. Matthew never alludes to such an event: John does not say that it even happened; and, as they were both the disciples of Christ when this grand event took place, it is certainly strange why they have omitted it. Mark and Luke, who were not present at the ascension, (if such an improhable' thing ever occurred) are the only writers who pretend to give an account of it. Mark relates it in the most abrupt manner imaginable. Luke's( narrative is equally vague; the one asserting, that Jesus ascended at Jerusalem, the * Here is a book in which every one seeks his own dogmas, And in which every one finds them.