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any virtuous action which we might have neglected to perform without incurring blame or reproach.” But let this pass.
Your “persecution of Christians by sceptics” is surely a jest. But I suppose the Spanish inquisitors, when they lighted, in the streets of Madrid, their heretic fires, complained, too, that the Holy Catholic Church was persecuted by the scoffs of unbelievers. Yet history does not very deeply sympathize with these same persecuted inquisitors. If there be, for those who desire to walk through this world peaceably and unchallenged, win. ning a cheap reputation, and obtaining easy absolution for the follies or even the vices in which they may indulge themselves -if
, for such persons, there be a more easy, comfortable cloak than the all-concealing domino of orthodoxy, I have yet to learn what it is; and if, by wearing so convenient a mantle, they are to inspire pity as persecuted sufferers, or admiration as heroes and martyrs," all I can say is, the pity and the admiration are cheaply purchased.
Your assertions, sir, regarding the superficial religious knowledge of distinguished sceptics, are unsupported and unauthorized. Paine, you remind us, wrote his “Age of Reason” without having a Bible before him: a pretty convincing proof, methinks, that he was tolerably acquainted with its contents. Were there not abundant evidence in the writings of Hume, of Gibbon, and Voltaire, that they too, nad most carefully weighed in reason's scales the evidences of theology, and found them wanting, should we find Christians giving themselves such unwearied trouble to refute their arguments, and bring their persons into discredit or contempt? Men do not fight windmills now-a-days, whatever they may have done in the days of Cervantes.
As regards the glory of God, my opponent and myself, it seems, feel very differently. Were he the creator of caterpillars endowed with reason, he would require them, he now thinks, to honour and adore him: and, as an inferior can honour a superior, he would feel himself honoured by their adoration. He would also cause (or permit,) them to sin, that his own glory might be increased. Able to render them perfectly good and happy, he would prefer to make them vicious and miserable, that he might evince his mercy in the remission of their vice and his justice in its punishment.
Strange indeed must it appear to those who have not watched the aberrations of human reason, that any sane mind should conceive, and should imagine it finds comfort in conceiving, such a God as this ! Every idea of wisdom, of justice, of disa interestedness, of benevolence, is (to my feelings) outraged in the conception. Could I believe in such a deity, I should be a iniserable mortal. To live under an earthly tyrant who derives revenue from tolerated vices, and seeks his glory at expense of the peace or the life's blood of his vassals, is a sufficiently wretched fate. To imagine oneself the subject of a heavenly autocrat who seeks to gain glory, not to give happiness, is far, far worse. Happy the man who escapes from the fears and the thraidom of such a conception! If this were the character of a creator of the universe-if a being thus vain-glorious, thus jealous, thus “angry with the wicked every day,” were indeed the monarch of the skies, of a truth the text were appropriate which tells us : “It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God !” The rack of the inquisition were but a paltry foretaste of the tortures that await the miserable victims of the eternal auto-da-fe!
Time is it-more than time—that phantoms so appalling should fade away before the light of reality. Enough, and more than enough of fear and misery and tyranny, have we al-' ready in the world, without conjuring forth from the prolific regions of fancy, monstrous shapes to worship, and inconceivable attributes to adore. Let us not cast our dreams and our fears and our sophisms into the bubbling cauldron of imagination, thence to concoct an idol which we ourselves, its creators, fall down and abjectly venerate, as did the heathen of yore their molten Gods. Let us follow human virtue ; let us seek human happiness; let us speculate on human phenomena. If Gods exist, their ways, their thoughts, their doings, have nothing in common with ours. We cannot see them, hear them, feel them, imitate them. By searching we may not discover them; they and their ways, as the holy book of Christians tells us, are 'past finding out.” In the language of the same book : “ Like as the ground is given unto the wood and the sea to its floods, so they that dwell upon the earth may understand nothing but that which is upon the earth; and he that dwelleth upon the heavens may only understand the things that are above the height of the heavens."
Why, then, idly consume our time when life is so short ? Why vainly tax our reason, when reason has so much to do here on earth, in unearthly cogitations ? Why madly pursue a phan. tom-science, in the investigation of which the human mind exerts its best powers in vain? Why seek to discover the existence, or to interpret the wishes, of a being, whom even the Scriptures declare to be incomprehensible ?
In the opinion that reason leads us not to a knowledge of God, I am far from being singular. Very orthodox authority can be adduced in its support. The Scottish Demosthenes, Chalmers, in his celebrated “Evidences of Christianity," admits, that the only mode in which the existence of God can be proved, is by first proving the inspiration of the Scriptures. The most famous of natural theologians, Paley, confesses, (p. 297, j. that when we think of the deity, “ the mind feels its powers sink under the subject.” The Christian Pascal complains that we cannot know God.* And Bishop Watson, the
* His words are: “Voyant trop pour nier, et trop peu pour m'assurer, es uis dens un état à plaindre, et où j'ai souhaité cent fois que, si un Dieu
celebrated opponent of Thomas Paine, thus combats the idea, put forth by Paine, (who by the way was a devout deist,) that nature proves a God: “What think you,” said the bishop, in his well-known “Apology for the Bible,
what think you of an uncaused cause of every thing ? of a being who has 110 relation to time, not being older to-day than he was yesterday, nor younger to-day than he will be to-morrow; who has no relation to space, not being a part here and a part there, or a whole any where ? &c., &c.”
The erudite Amobius, too, the ingenious and learned author of “ Adversus Gentes,” says, in that work, (b. i., chap. xxxi., xxxiii., edit. Orell.,) “0, unseen and incomprehensible, thou art the place and space and foundation of all things, without quality, quantity, position, or motion, of whom nothing can be said and expressed in the signification of mortal words: to understand whom we must be silent, and to obtain a vague and obscure glimpse of whom we must not utter a syllable! Oh, supreme king! it is not wonderful thou art not known; it would rather be wonderful if thou wert known."*
I am content to follow the bishop-philosopher's advice, and to be silent. I am content to know nothing of celestial spirits, and to confine my speculations to the affairs of our own planet.
I am pleased to perceive that, in the course of this discussion, you have not fallen into the vulgar argument, that a particular religious belief is necessary to moral virtue, and that he who does not fear God neither will he regard man. In abstaining from this argument, you have followed the example of Bacon, of Chalmers, and of the liberal portion of modern religionists. He who possesses a dignified consciousness of rectitude, feels that the springs of virtue lie deeper than speculative opinions; that the
light within,” as an amiable sect expresses it, is not of theological nor of sceptical origin; that it exists, where it exists at all, independent of all creeds, in spite of all creeds; and that it exerts, over the better portion of our species, an influence which no faith, nor any want of faith, can either create or destroy.
soutient la nature, elle le marquât sans équivoque, et que si les marques qu' elle en donne sont trompeuses, elle les supprimât tout-à-fait: qu'elle dît tout ou rien, afin que je visse quel parti je dois suivre.”
" Seeing too much to deny and too little to assert, I am in a pitiable situation; and I have a hundred times wished, that if a God sustains nature, she would furnish unequivocal proofs that he does; or ihat, if the indications she does afford are deceitful, she would suppress them altogether: that she would either say nothing or every thing, that I might know what I had to depend on.”
Had Pascal possessed a little more philosophy and a little less enthusiasm, he might have reflected, that it were just as rational to complain that we do not know the inhabitants we suppose in the moon, as those we have imagined in the heavens.
* The treatise from which the above extract is made, was so much es. te med by the Christian church, that it procured for its author, in the reign of Dioclesian, a bishoprick.
You may probably call to mind the passage of Bacon's works in which he speaks of the moral character of a world without religion. He says :
“ Atheism leaves men to sense, to philosophy, to natural piety, to laws, to reputation, all which may be guides to an outward moral virtue, though religion were not: but superstition dismounts all these, and erecteth an absolute monarchy in the minds of men. Therefore atheism did never perturb states ; for it makes men wary of themselves, as looking no further, and we see the times inclined to atheism (as the time of Augustus Cæsar,) were civil times : but superstition hath been the confusion of many states, and bringeth in a new primum mobile,” that ravisheth the spheres of government.”
Dr. Chalmers expresses a somewhat similar sentiment in one of his sermons :
“Conceive for a moment, that the belief of a God were to be altogether expunged from the world. We have no doubt that society would suffer most painfully in its temporal interests by such an event. But the machine of society might still be kept up; and on the face of it you might still meet with the same gradations of character, and the same varied distribution of praise, among the individuals who compose it. Suppose it possible that the world could be broken off from the system of God's administration altogether; and that we were to consign it, with all its present accommodations, and all its natural principles, to some far and solitary place beyond the limits of his economy, -We should still find ourselves in the midst of a moral variety of character; and men sitting in judgment over it, would say of some that they are good, and of others that they are evil. Even in this desolate region of atheism, the eye of the senti. mentalist might expatiate among beauteous and interesting spectacles-amiable mothers shedding their graceful tears over the tonib of departed infancy; high-toned integrity maintaining itself unsullied amid the allurements of corruption; benevolence plying its labours of usefulness, and patriotism earning its proud reward in the testimony of an approving people. Here, then, you have compassion and natural affection, and justice and public spirit,- but would it not be a glaring perversion of language to say that there was godliness in a world, where there was no feel. ing and no conviction about God ?"-Sermon IV., pp. 184-5.
It is not one of the least cheering among the signs of the times that we hear such statements as these from the orthodox pulpit.
It was the perfect conviction I entertain of the mental and moral advantages which I have gained by a change of opinion, that first induced me to enter upon this discussion, and it is the same conviction which bids me hope, that it will not be without interest, nor without utility to many: especially to those who still stand on the bank of the Rubicon, and who fear to try their strength in its waves, lest they be carried away by
the current, and thrown on some treacherous quicksand, or arid desert.
I have crossed in safety, and found the opposite shore fair and pleasant; a land of freedom and of virtue, whence terror is banished, and where tranquillity reigns. He that is a bold swimmer, let him fearlessly attempt the passage. He will never regret the efforts it may cost him. He will become a better, a wiser, and-my experience for it-a happier man.
Robert Dale Owen.
(From the Free Enquirer of March 12, 183i
GOD. Some of our readers may be curious to trace out a few of the ancient and modern opinions regarding a grcat spirit,” as the Indians poetically phrase it.
Thc stoics probably believed in a corporcal God. They thought God a fire, warmth, or animal spirits; and admitted, besides, a number of inferior Gods, some of them siderial.
Thales, the founder of the lonic scct, thought that all things were full of Gods and spirits, and proves this (oddly cnough, I think,) by referring to thc attractiveness of loadstone and amber: (sec Aleiners, “ de vero Dco." Cicero (in his
“ de nat. Deo.") says that Thales, like Homer, looked upon water as the principle of every thing.
Brucker (vol. i., p. 1077,) says, on the authority of Cyrillus Alexandrinus, that Pythagoras' deity was “a subtle mundane flame, endowed with the active faculty of moving, forming, and, accord. ing to certain laws, of disposing all things.” We have not got much further than this idca of the Samian philosopher, even in our days. Åleiners (“de vero Deo.” pp. 307, 308,) says the Pythagorcans derived all things from a number or numbers. What they meant by that let antiquarians explain.
Anaxagoras was one of the principal inventors of what we now call God. He spukc of two principles, God and matter, both eternal. But I have ncver belicvcd, and do not now believe, that