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NO writer probably has exposed the impositions practised upon inankınd under the garb of religion with more effect than Thomas Paine ; and no one has borne a greater share of obloquy from those who conceive their interests to be connected with a continuance of the fraud. The pulpit and the press have teemed incessantly with the most virulent censures against him.-But patient and persevering, temperate and firm, he suffered no error to escape him, and the exposure of the blunders and absurdities of his adversaries is the only revenge which he has condescended to take for their insolent abuse. His object was the happiness of man, and no calumny could divert him from his purpose. He conscientiously believed that human happiness depended on the belief of one God, and the practice of moral virtue ; and that all religious faith beyond that led to persecution and misery. History gives an awful confirmation of the justness of his opinion. Dr. Bellamy, author of “ The history of all religions," comes to this conclusion at last, that he was “ well assured that true religion consists neither in doctrines, nor opinions, but in uprightness of neart.
Religion has been most shamefully perverted, for sinister purposes, and made to consist in the belief of something supernatural and incomprehensible ; and these in comprehensible beliefs are made to vary in different countries as may suit those who tyrannize over the minds and consciences of men. Thus, in some countries, he who says he believes, that a certain man, in former times, was translated bodily to heaven, that another took a journey leisurely there in a fiery chariot, and that a third arrested the course of the sun to give him more daylight for human slaughter, is denominated a pious, good man. In other countries, a person to gain the same appellation, must believe that Mahomet, in one night, took a ride to heaven upon his horse Borack, had a long conversation with the angel Gabriel, visited all the planets, and got to bed with his wife before morning; and, upon another occasion, that he cut the moon in two parts, and carried the one half in his pocket to light his army. Whilst on the contrary the philosopher, who, wishing to instruct and render his fellow men happy, honestly declares that he puts no faith in such idle stories, is considered an impious, wicked man.
It is time that these prejudices, so disgraceful to the intelligence of the present age, should be banished from the world, and it behoves all men of understanding and talents to lend a helping hand to effect it.
“ Prejudices,” says Lequinio, an elegant French writer, in his work entitled, “Les Prejuges Detruits," "" arise out of ignorance and the want of reflection; these are the basis on which the system of despotism is erected, and it is the master piece of art in a tyrant, to perpetuate the stupidity of a nation, in order to perpetuate its slavery and his own dominion. If the multitude knew how to think, would they be dupes to phantoms, ghosts, hobgoblins, spirits, &c. as they have been at all times and in all nations. What is nobility for example, to a man who thinks ? What are all those abstract beings, children of an exalted imagination, which have no existence but in vulgar credulity, and who cease to have being as soon as we cease to believe in them? The greatest, the most absurd, and the most foolish of all prejudices, is that very prejudice which induces men to beliere that they are necessary for their happiness, and for the very existence of society.'
The same writer observes, that “ while there are religions, we are told there will be fanaticism, miracles, wars, knaves, and dupes. There are penitents, fanatics,
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and hypocrites, in China and in Turkey, as well as in France ;* but there is not ang religion, perhaps, in which there exists such a spirit of intolerance as in that profess ed by the christian priests, the author of which preached up toleration by his example, as well as by his precepts."
Notwithstanding the intolerant spirit which prevails pretty universally among all those, who call themselves true believers ; notwithstanding the persecutions and inquisitorial tortures which take place daily, in a greater or less degrec, throughout the christian world, there are many who, although they profess liberal opinions, are so indifferent in matters of religion, as to contend, that they ought not to be discussed, except by those whose peculiar province it is to teach them. Upon this principle, Mr. Paine has been condemned by many, even of his friends, as though all men had not an equal stake at issue, and an equal right to express their opinions on so momentous a subject. This sentiment exhibits an apathy to human suffering, in those who express it, that is certainly not very flattering to their goodness of heart.
Were it not for the writings of philosophers, which, where they have been permitted to be read, have in some measure softened the asperity of fanaticism, all christendom would, no doubt, now experience the same sufferings as are at this time indured in Spain, under the government of the pious Ferdiuand.
Even Bishop Watson, who wrote an “apology for the Bible," in answer to the “ Age of Reason,” disclaims the above illiberal sentiment; graciously conceding the right of private judgment in matters of religion. He says, “it would give me much uneasiness to be reported an enemy to free inquiry in religious matters, or as capable of being animated into any degree of personal malevolence against those who differ from me in opinion. On the contrary, I look upon the right of private judgment, in every concern respecting God and ourselves, as superior to the controul of human authority.”
It is with some reluctance that I make the following extract of a private letter, a copy of which has lately been inclosed to me by my correspondent at New-York ; but the contents are so much in point on this occasion, that I am induced to take the liberty. It was written by one of the most distinguished patriots of the American revolution, and who still remains a living witness of the services of those who essentially contributed to that memorable event, in answer to a letter covering that of Mr. Taine to Andrew A. Dean; which will appear in this publication.— I thank you, sir, for the inedited letter of Thomas Paine, which you have been so kind as to send me. I recognize in it the strong pen and dauntless mind of Common Sense, which among the numerous pamphlets written on the same occasion, so pre-eminently united us in our revolutionary opposition.
“ I return the two numbers of the periodical paper, as they appear to make part of a regular file. The language of these is too harsh, more calculated to irritate than to convince or to persuade. A devoted friend, myself to freedom of religious inquiry and opinion, I am pleased to see others exercise the right without reproach or censure ; and I respect their conclusions, however different from my own. It is their own reason, not mine, nor that of any other, which has been given them by their creator for the investigation of truth, and of the evidences even of those truths which are presented to us as revealed by himself. Fanaticism, it is true, is not sparing of her invectives against those who refuse blindly to follow her dictates in abandonment'of their own reason. For the use of this reason, however, every one is responsible to the God who has planted it in his breast, as a light for his guidance, and that by which alone he will be judged. Yet why retort invectives? It is better always to set a good example than to follow a bad one.”
The advice recommended to controvertists in the foregoing letter is certainly wore thy to be adopted. That recrimination, however, should some times be resorted to, by those who advocate liberal opinions, is not surprising, when we take into consideration the dictatorial stile in which ignorance is cultivated by those who reap the advantage of it, and the asperity with which those are attacked who attempt to undeceive mankind, and to discover to them their true interests, by pointing out the errors with which they are surrounded.
“Error,” says St. Pierre, in his Indian Cottage, or Search after Truth, “is the work of man; it is always an evil. It is a false light which shines to lead us astray. I cannot better compare it than to the glare of a fire which consumes the habitation it illumines. It is worthy of remark, that there is not a single moral or physical evil but has an error for its principle. Tyrannies, slavery and wars, are founded on
*The author's country.
political errors, nay even on sacred ones ; for the tyrants who have propagated them have constantly derived them from the Divinity, or some virtue, to render them respected by their subjects.
It is, notwithstanding, very easy to distinguish error from truth. Truth is a natural light, which shines of itself throughout the whole earth, because it springs from God. Error is an artificial light, which needs to be fed incessantly, and which can never be universal, because it is nothing more than the work of man. Truth is useful to all men; error is profitable but to a few, and is hurtful to the generality, because individual interest, when it separates itself from it, is inimical to general interest.
Particular care should be taken not to confound fiction with error. Fiction is the veil of truth, whilst error is its phantom; and the former has been often invented to dissipate the latter. But, however innocent it may be in its principle, it becomes dangerous when it assumes the leading quality of error; that is to say, when it is · turned to the particular profit of any set of men.”
The christian religion answers exactly to this description of error, in every particular. It has been “ fed incessantly” for upwards of eighteen hundred years; millions upon millions have been expended on its priests to propagate it, and it is still far froin being universal. According to Bellamy's history of all Religions ; of eight hundred millions of souls, which the world is supposed to contain, “ one hundred and eighty-three millions only are christians. One hundred and thirty millions are Mahometans. Three millions are Jews, and four hundred and eighty-seven millions are Pagans.
Is not this a convincing proof that christianity cannot be true? If it had been divinely inspired, and God had actually visited this earth, for the purpose of teaching it to man, would it not, long before this time, have extended throughout the world? It is the work of man, and therefore can never become universal.
Ministers of the gospel, instead of teaching the principles of moral virtue, which would render them useful to their fellow men, are almost incessantly inculcating their peculiar and favorite dogmas: Wishing to make religion to consist in what it does not, in the belief of unintelligible creeds, in order to render the subject complex, that their preaching might be thought the more necessary to explain it.
A great portion of these ministers, moreover are mere boys; who, after learning a little Greek and Latin, set up the trade of preaching ; and anathematise all who do not submissively bow to their dictation. It is lamentable to see decriped age hobbling after such teachers in search of the road to heaven. One grain of common sense would save them all that trouble.
Although the injury, resulting from the heavy contributions required for the support of christianity, is not, perhaps, so great as that arising from the demoralizing effects of substituting nonsensical creeds for moral virtue, yet these expenditures are serious evils.
By a work lately published, relative to the consumption of wealth by the clergy, it appears, that the clergy of Great Britain alone receive annually, the enormous sum of 8,896,000 pounds sterling, which is divided among 18,400 clergymen; but very unequally. Bishop Watson gets, for his share of the booty, £7,000 a year, would think, was sufficient to induce him to vindicate the christian religion, or any other, equally productive.*
The primate Lord J. Beresford, archbishop of Armagh, has above 63,000 acres of land, of which more than 50,000 are arrable. His grace is a man in middle life, and of a healthy constitution. Suppose him to run his life against the leases let by his predecessor, he would have the power of ruining perhaps a bundred families, and obtaining for himself a rack rent of not less than £70,000 or £80,000 per annum.
The see of Dublin has upwards of 20,000 acres. Much of this being near the metropolis, must be considered as of extraordinary value.
But every thing is eclipsed by Derry; there we have 94,000 Irish acres appropriated to my lord the bishop-little short of 150,000 English acres ! and should his
*D.. Franklin, in a letter to Dr. Price, (1780) speaking of the religious tests, incorporated into the constitution of Massachusetts, observes, “If christian preachers had continued to teach as Christ and his apostles did, without salaries, and as the Quakers now do, I imagine tests would never have existed; for I think they were invented not so much to secure religion itself as the emolument of it. When a religion is good, I conceive it will support itself; and when it does not support itself, and God does not take care to support it, so that its professors are obliged to call for the help of the civil power, 'tis a sign, I apprehend, of its being a bad one.” Religious tests have been abrogated in Massachusetts by the late revision of its constitution.