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they should repent and be saved. He said that whosoever sinned against the Holy Ghost should never be forgiven, and that whosoever believed not on him should be damned: these and many similar sayings teach the lenity and goodness of God, and are certainly matchless; but they do not display much lenity to men, and ought not to be zealously forced on us as divine revelation. The preacher argues that Jesus gave a perfect system of religion in Christianity, but this is evidently untrue; he taught no regulur system whatever and did nothing to model that which has been founded on bis name; he did not explain clearly what he was himself nor who was his father; he gave no directions concerning Church government, and no clear instruction concerning particular practices and doctrines that have been much contested ; and his twelve apostles did as little as himself. Chirstianity was at first so imperfect that it had no distinct or tangible form, and in succeeding ages it has assumed many various forms according to the spirit of the times or the temper and circumstances of its professors. This revelation is so very imperfect that there cannot be any close or permanent agreement among Christians. If any almighty intelligent power should really engage to establish a pure and perfect system of religion among mankind, that power would certainly accomplish its purpose in a more perfect manner than has been done, more effectual means would surely be taken to accomplish the end, than these imperfect instructions, and contradictory narratives, of doubtful events and useless miracles. The preacher (like Christians in general) is anxious to shew that great men were Christians, that “the sagacious Boyle, the acute and judicious Locke, the sublime Newton, with innumerable other worthies," believed in the divine origin of Christianity, and supported its doctrines; but this argument proves nothing in support of its claim; no name however great can change error into truth; every cause ought to stand on its own merits alone: no man ever yet had a perfect knowledge of every thing; Boyle and Locke were not nearly perfect in their most favourite studies; Newton himself was weak and inaccurate as a theologian, and absent almost to stupidity in the ordinary affairs of life.
There is another subject ardently laid hold of by Christians in support of their religion, that changes that may take place in the opinions of unbeleivers on their death beds; but this proves just as little as the opinions of great men. The professors of every religion can furnish an abundance of stories concerning recantations or the death bed horrors of those who have left them, or have been their enemies. That these stories are often fabricated I have good reason to beleive* ; but even if all these stories were
* About ten months ago, I was thought to be dying, and a report was circulated that I had changed my opinion; wbich was utterly false, it had no foundation but in the moans of sickness. The same report took place a few weeks ago with a very worthy friend of mine, who is now recovered and declared that the report concerning hiin is without foundation; but even if we bad both done so it would have proved nothing.
true, they would not prove the truth of any religion; they would only shew that when near dissolution, the bodily frame is generally unnerved, and the mind consequently agitated ready to be disturbed by any fear, and to grasp at any hope however visionary. In bodily sickness and agitation of mind, few men can examine deliberately and judge correctly concerning such doubtful matters. In that state of body and mind, any settlement of worldly affairs would be held invalid in law and be set aside; and if so, how can men be said to judge accurately concerning affairs that are much more dark and doubtful? It is only when men are in bodily health and sound mind that thay can examine the grounds of faith impartially and judge correctly concerning them.
I observe, that Christians are anxious to shew that Thomas Pain, wished to recant on his death bed, and died in horror of mind; there is no proof of it whatever; there is some to the contrary; but if he had died in horror of mind, it would have proved nothing more than this, that the opinion of a man whose faculties were impaired by age and sickness, had been changed by these circumstances. The arguments advanced in the “ Age of Reason" would have been equally as strong, and the reasoning quite as accurate, if his opinions had really changed, as if they had continued the same to the close of his life. Every system of religion ought to stand on its own merits alone, and bear the closest examination in bodily health and sound reason. The system is rotten, that trusts for support to sickly opinion, and stories of death bed recantation. If Sir Isaac Newton's opinions had changed on his death bed, if he had then (in a state of nervous alarm excited by the superstitious fears of his surrounding friends) declared that his former philosophical reasonings concerning the rotundity of the earth, the motions of the heavenly bodies, and the laws of gravitation were false ; that agreeable to the Holy Scriptures, he now believed that the earth was an outstretched plain, that there was no planitary system, nor regular motion of these bodies; and that the laws of gravitation were visionary and absurd ; that in accordance with divine revelation, he beleived that there was a concave arch over our heads called in scripture a firmament; that the stars were fixed to it, and that the sun moved round the earth; such a change of his opinions would not have made his former sound reasonings false, nor have proved that such sickly opinions were true; it would only have shewn, that his faculties were impaired and his mind agitated, and that in such a state he was incapable of reasoning accurately on the subject! In like manner, if Thomas Paine's opinions had been changed in his death sickness, the case would have been the same with his reasonings as is here supposed with those of Sir Isaac Newton.
In speaking of the preachers of Christianity you generally use the term “ Priests,” and, (1 suppose as a term of reproach) and speak of them with considerable bitterness*; you have no doubt
* Not so indeed, every preacher of religion is a Priest. I have no presbyterian feelings about me, to consider the word “ Priest" a term of reproach, or an allusion to a minister of the “ scarlet whore."
much cause to hate both Christianity and its ministers, but you have as much reason to reproach the majority of the people for bigotry as the priests; a great proportion of the people are quite as bitter as enemies to you as the clergy, the men who have done you the most injury are of the laity; without whose support and assistance the Priests could do little against you, as a remedy our efforts should be chiefly directed to clear away superstition from the minds of the people. The fears and superstitious devotion of an ignorant people seem first to have produced Priests, and still support them; and they in their turn foster and cherish that superstition; but if the Priests did not preach against unbelief, and consign unbelievers to eternal perdition, a great proportion of the people would not hear them, but would raise up other preachers to excite their devotion and satisfy their passions. I observe that the most furious preachers are generally best attended, we had some experience of this disposition in many of the people at the time the Zetetic Society was dispersed by the Sheriff. I still remember the furious scowl of the crowd on that occasion, as soon as it was publicly known, that we were infidels, some ladies in the New Town would not use the articles that had been got in my brother's shop; and most of them in his neighbourhood charged their servants not to enter it again. We were well informed, that many people charitably said that most of us ought to he hanged or transported, and generally, the softer sex so remarkable for kindness and humanity were our most bitter enemies. That feeling still, exists in some force, with those who are guided more by devotion than by reason. A respectable and well informed lady, whom I lately desired to peruse Mrs. Wright's trial, and excellent defence, told me when returning it, that she was certainly a woman of abilities, but applied them to a very bad use; and that you who instigated her to such a line of conduct ought to have your head struck off, that ministers had hitherto trifled with you. In short, I conceive, that, the very religious people would allow much less freedom of discussion on the merits of Christianity than we at present actually enjoy.
When an order of Priests are established by law, and we are compelled to support that priesthood, they are a public burden, and we ought to dislike them, and endeavour to get rid of them; but when people willingly support preachers of their own (which most of them do) the Priests if conscientious, ought not to be blamed for enjoying a comfortable living; and the people deserve no sympathy for this voluntary burden in such cases; I consider preachers and people as nearly alike, and have generally found these sects more bitter enemies to unbelievers that the members of the established Church..
I have often felt very indignant at the superstitious intolerance of the people, but am generally checked by this consideration, that no man can form or alter his own opinions; that they are generally formed by education, and changed or maintained by circumstances over which he has little or no controul. I consider the origin of religion to be in the nervous organization of the human body, and in the particular circumstances in which mankind are placed; having their minds agitated by the various passions of love and hatred, hope and fear, joy and sorrow. Fear seems to be the principal support of religion, this is excited by the evils and threatening aspect of nature, the dark and gloomy night, the raging storm, the violent hurricane, the rolling thunder, the darting lightning, the apalling earthquake, &c. the troubles of our condition in life, sorrow for the loss of dear friends, the fear of death and an unknown or imaginary future state.
Devotion and superstition are nourished by the quiet and timid, fostered and supported by the devout and ignorant, excited and inflamed by fanatics and enthusiasts, and moulded into various systems of worship according to particular circumstances. I consider nature as the parent of devotion, and superstitions of all kinds. These are some of the many evils which nature produces; but even this has profusedly some counterbalancing good, as good and evil are in almost every case intermixed.
There are many Materialists who seem as ardent in admiriog nature and her laws, as the most devout Christians are of a personal God; but their unmixed praise is liable to great objections. Nature's laws are certainly admirable in many things, and curious in all, but they are a strange compound of good and evil, producing pleasure and pain, enjoyment and suffering, consider thunder storms, and hurricanes, lions and tygers, eagles and vultures, sharks, crocodiles, and serpents, all made to destroy, go to a common slaughter house, survey it, and then pronounce if nature's laws are altogether admirable or good; nature, though kind in many respects, has, in others, been a cruel step-mother to man and all animated beings; more than a half of the habitable globe is unhealthy, or uncomfortable to live in. Is this admirable ? Every man, in himself is a miniature picture of the system of nature, a strange compound of good and evil, yet, as perfect as any part of it; our reason is the best endowment we receive from nature, by the right use of it we may in most cases better our condition, and remedy many of the evils by which we are surrounded. If education and other circumstances did not prevent us. The evils and imperfections are equally afflicting, whether we admit a first cause distinct from nature, or consider nature herself as producing all, which seems most obvious ; it is necessary for us to study nature's laws; but we have little reason to admire them all, and as little to worhip their supposed author. Yours truly,
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