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statute hooks--it is in fact saying that there is a something -nobody knows what-that is reckoned by the law of the land as the highest misdemeanor ; and for ought I know, Mr. Editor, I may be guilty of this something at this moment.
If by“ blasphemy” be meant whatever tends to bring religion into ridicule and contempt, a few points must first be ascertained before we can determine what is blasphemy, and what not. Does the definition apply to some particular system of religion exclusively, or to any religion whatever ? if the latter, it will follow that the Lord Chief Justice, and the gentlemen of the jury, and the Attorney-general, are all guilty of blasphemy, because they would feel it their duty to bring into ridicule and contempt any religion whose doctrines appeared to them absurd and unreasonable-Mahometanism, for 'example. But if by “ blasphemy” be understood the attempt to bring into ridicule and contempt some particular system of religion, the question occurs to us at once-what particular system? If it should be answered, the established religion of the country-the reply is, that as England was once Papal, of course whatever tended to bring Catholicism into ridicule and contempt must have been adjudged by the laws of the land “blasphemy;” and we good Protestants, who have so happily succeeded in producing this desirable effect, must be all blasphe. mers—unless indeed the laws of blasphemy (if there are any such laws) have been altered, and then it is indispensably necessary that every man should know when such alteration took piace, and what was the precise form and tenor of these laws, after they had been thus altered. But what do I say! the idea of the laws of blasphemy being altered must not be entertained for a moment, because it would involve a supposition that they are not founded on the broad and immutable principles of justice, but merely arise out of the floating opinions and fluctuating sentiments of mankind; so that what is blasphemy to day may be perfectly innocent to-norrow.
But perhaps it may be said that “ blasphemy” consists in endea rouring to bring the Christian RELIGION into ridicule and contempt ; but who, I pray, shall determine what the Christian religion is? The Roman Catholic- the member of the establishment-each of the various sects of Protestant Dissenters, will tell you that their own particular mode of faith is the Christian religion; and I, if asked, would say that none of them have any claim to that character. One thing is certain—that system which supports itself by civil authority, and punishes with pains and penalties those who oppose itis not the Christian religion.
But to keep to the technical terms of the indictment-we are still in the dark as to what this crime can be-the “pub. lishing a blasphemous and prophane libel on the holy scriptures. Now according to the ideas commonly attached to terms, perhaps nothing can be a more blasphemous and pro. phane libel' on the scriptures, than to declare that they contain doctrines which war against every principle of reason, and contradict the plainest dictates of common sense that they degrade the nature of man, and insult the character of God- to publish, for example, that they teach a plurality of gods, with passions and caprices like the deities of the heathen mythologythat these gods had condemned to misery and perdition the human species for the single crime of a single individual, and that the wrath of the chief or father of the gods could not be appeased, nor his favour purchased for a few of mankind without the shedding innocent blood-without one of the gods descending on earth, partaking of the nature, and enduring the pains of humanity-to declare, I say, that such sentiments as these are taught in the scriptures, may perhaps come within the meaning of the criminal information for blasphemy. But because my Lord Ellenborough believes such sentiments, and would publish them to the world as Chris. tian truths, is be to be made responsible to the laws of his country ? Certainly not! on any principle of justice !
Suppose, Mr. Editor, that the pure truths of Christianity which you have so ardently laboured to inculcate, were suddenlysto become general--and that as a reward for your laudable exertions, you, Sir, were appointed Lord Chief Justice of the Court of King's Bench (a thing not very likely to be sure), and the present Lord Chief-Justice for propagating his opinions were brought before the Court in which you presided, to answer to a criminal information for publishing a blasphemous and prophane libel on the holy scriptures-how would your Lordship act in such a case ? with some such language as this, you would reflect true dignity on your office — By what authority is this man brought to the bar ? who are the abettors of this scandalous proceeding ?-Sir, the immutable laws of justice, and the sacred principles of liberty, have been violated in your person--your sentiments are certainly dangerous and fanatical-every sensible man must despise them; but you, who believe them to be true, have as much right to publish them to the world as I have my sentiments, or as the designing bigots who have dared to call in the interference of the law against you, have their's.-Law is intended to secure justice, not to prevent it! You are at liberty, Sir, to go and disseminate your sentiments as you please, and those who think them erroneous have the opportunity of proving them to be so, and of exploding them by reason and argument.'
Such, Mr. Editor, is the language which a generous love
of freedom would dictate--such is the treatment which, in an unsophisticated state of society; a defendant in such a prosecution would receive--and such, therefore, is not the treatment which the defendant receives in the present prosecution.-No! but a special jury are to determine whether he has or has not been guilty of a “blasphemous and prophane libel on the holy scriptures." Whether the gentlemen who sat on this jury were competent to decide on this point, without first agreeing on the ideas to be attached to the terms blasphemous, * prophane,”.“ libel,” &c. I will not say ; but it is likely that if the twelve gentlemen were severally consulted as to what they understood by such words, they would give at least twelve different meanings. And further, when we observe how readily the jury gave their verdict of guilly, one can hardly help asking, have the gentlemen ever read the book which they decided to be a blasphemous and prophane libel on the scriptures, or did they depend merely on a few garbled extracts put together by a lawyer, without order or connection, just to make out his case ?
When I consider the weakness of the Attorney-general's speech, and the fallacy of all his reasoning, I must suppose that it was not in consequence of any thing he had advanced, that the jury found their verdict against the defendant. Perhaps even the bar itself has seldom furnished a speech more destitute of every thing that is pertinent in observation, generous in sentiment, and exalted in conception.
The Attorney-general commenced by saying, "that he had, in the execution of his official duty, felt it incumbent on him to file this information for a libel, so full of impiety and blasphemy, that he had hoped the British press would never have been disgraced by any such production; and the jury had been informed in the opening of the pleadings, that the libel was against the Christian religion and the holy author of it." What shall we expect next, Mr. Editor, when even a crown lawyer undertakes to defend the Christian religion? “He knew not (he said) how to express in adequate terms his hora ror of the person who dared to disseminate such doctrines ; doctrines which denied the existence of that religion upon which we all depended, and to which we all looked for consolation.” Who is meant by “we”? Does the Attorney-general mean to say that he depends on the Christian religion, or looks to it for consolation?. If he were to say, that he depends on the religion of the established church, every body would understand him, and give him credit for the assertion, but the Christian religion might well have been spared from being associated with the belief and reverence of the pious lawyer.
“ The libel (continued the Attorney-general) asserted that
the holy scriptures were from beginning to end a fable, and an imposture-that the apostles were liars and deceivers. The author denied the miracles, the resurrection, the ascension of Jesus Christ; nay, his very existence as the son of God, and even as a man upon earth. He asserts: the whole history to he nearly fabulons, and places it on a level with the legends of the heathen mythology." Well'! and what then? If a man. pleases to make such gross and palpably false and absurd assertions, is there no way of confronting them but by law ? Suppose D.I. Eaton were to publish a book to prove that the Attorney-general is a most virtuous, patriotic, and independent man-a supporter of the rights and liberties of Englishmen, and a friend to justice and humanity--would there be any necessity of preventing the spread of such sentiments, by filing a criminal information against him for libel?
The learned gentleman next attempted an appeal to the feel. ings of the jury. He was addressing a jury, some of whom were advanced in years, and all' were doubtless corineeted by the links of human society ; some might perhaps be parents, and all had relations of a riper áge to whom they were naturally endeared. He would ask, whence did they derive their consolation in the close of life? Whither did they look, if they were conscious of having acted their parts well, to reward--if they were conscious of offences, to forgiveness --whither but to that Being whose very existence svas denied by the impious author of the libet before them.”—The allusion I suppose is to Jesus, whose existence Paine certainly does deny in this work; but from the artful manner in which the sentence is worded, the impression might be on the mind of the jury, that the book had denied the existence of God. This was far from ingenuous" of those who had families, the Attorney-general avould ask, what was the first duty they inculcated on their offspring ? Doubtless that religious truth, of the authenticity of which all wise inen who had duly considered the subject had. been persuaded ; and what would be their feelings if they found, that either introduced by art or accident, publications Jike the present had corrupted their religious, and, in the end, destroyed their moral principles ?" Their religious or moral principles eannot be worth much, if they are in danger of being destroyed by such a publication ; but it is these very trials
these ill-judged prosecutions—which produce all the mischief, by giving an importance to such publications, and crying out against them as alarming and dangerous. Even with ehildren. wlio have been at all accustomed to reason and to weigh-evidence, lam persuaded that this pamphlet might be put into their hands with perfect safety : for myself, I am free to dedare, that if any one thing has tended more than another
to rivet Christianity on my mind, it has been the perusal of the works of Paine and other deistical writers, and that at an early age.
It is childish to suppose that truth cannot stand the test of examination, or that it loses its importance from the opposition of sophisticated argument, or loose declamation.
But the fact is too clear---this publication, and most publications of the sort, assails a something besides Christianity-assails a system that is founded in error, and supported by civil power and authority ; and the Attorney-general knows that it must be'defended by similar means, or the mighty Fabric will crumble into dust.
Much of the argument of the learned gentleman is completely lawyer-like-rahounding in misrepresentation - calcuJated to mislead weak minds, and only worthy of himself, and the cause he had to advocate. “ The object of the book (he said) was to lay the axe to the very root of religion, utterly to expel it from the mind, by, treating the whole as a fiction.” Now the real object of the book is to prove, that the Christian religion is not a divine revelation; and priests and statesmen having succeeded to the utmost of their wishes in corrupting that religion, the author views it through the perverted medium of these corruptions, and reasons against it as though the whole were a fable and fabrication. But because a inan is carried away by his prejudices, and i`duced to disbelieve inany important truths, in the name of justice, is he to have ne credit for those wbich he does believe?
Mr. Paine declared himself a believer in the existence of God--that goodness and wisdom are his essential perfections
—that religion consists in acts of virtue, and justice, and good faith between man and man--and that those who act well their parts in this world, may indulge a hope of reward in a future state. I am bold then to say, that the object of the book is not to expel religion from the mind; nor.can it produce that effect, except through the officious interference of the Attorneygeneral.
The motives that induced Paine to write against the Christian religion cannot be ascertained--whether it was a love of fame, a love of novelty, or a love of opposition, is equally conjectural; but the base intentions which his base enemies have ascribed to him, I cannot believe he deserved. It will be one tribute of honour to his departed name at least, that he received the abuse and execrations of men, who were in point of fact, far greater enemies to Christianity than himself.
But it may be said, that this publication must be judged by its tendency, and that those who have professed then selves Deists, and disavowed all belief in Christianity, have generally