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But the whole church, say they, composes such a body, and Christ is the head of it. But Christ's headship makes Christians no more one body politic with respect to ecclesiasticals than to civils." Here we must show the reason and necessity of the church being a corporation all over the world: to avoid heresies, and preserve fundamentals, and hinder the corrupting of Scripture, &c. But there are no such necessities in government to be the same everywhere, &c. It is something like the colleges in a university; they are all independent, yet joined are one body. So a general council consisteth of many persons independent of one another, &c.
However, there is such a thing as jus gentium, &c. And he that is doctor of physic or law is so in any university of Europe, like the Respublica Literaria. Nor to me does there seem anything contradicting or improper in this notion of the Catholic church; and for want of such a communion religion is so much corrupted, and would be more if there were not more communion in this than in civils. It is of no import to mankind how nations are governed; but the preserving the purity of religion is best held up by endeavouring to make it one body over the world. Something like as there is in trade. So to be able to communicate with all Christians we come among is at least to be wished and aimed at as much as we can.
Page 384. "In a word, if the bishops are not supreme," &c. Here he reassumes his arguments for popery, that there cannot be a body politic of the church through the whole world without a visible head to have recourse to. These were formerly writ to advance popery, and now to put an absurdity upon the hypothesis of a Catholic church. As they say in Ireland, in king James's time they built mass-houses which we make very good barns of.
Page 388. "Bishops are under a premunire obliged to confirm and consecrate the person named in the congé d'élire." This perhaps is complained of. He is permitted to do it. We allow the legislature may hinder if they please; as they may turn out Christianity if they think fit.
Page 389. "It is the magistrate who empowers them to do more for other bishops than they can for themselves, since they cannot appoint their own successors. Yes they could if the magistrate would let them. Here is an endless splutter and a parcel of perplexed distinctions upon no occasion. All that the clergy pretend to is a right of qualifying men for the ministry, something like what a university doth with degrees. This power they claim from God, and that the civil power cannot do it as pleasing to God without them; but they may choose whether they will suffer it or not. A religion cannot be crammed down a nation's throat against their will; but when they receive a religion, it is supposed they receive it as their converters give it; and upon that foot they cannot justly mingle their own methods that contradict that religion, &c.
Page 390. "With us the bishops act only ministerially and by virtue of the regal commission, by which the prince firmly enjoins and commands them to proceed in choosing, confirming, and consecrating, &c." Suppose we held it unlawful to do so how can we help it? But does that make it rightful if it be not so? Suppose the author lived in a heathen country, where a law would be made to call Christianity idolatrous; would that be a topic for him to prove it so by, &c? And why do the clergy incur a premunire? to frighten them? Because the law understandeth that if they refuse the chosen cannot be a bishop. But, if the clergy had an order to do it otherwise than they have prescribed, they ought and would incur a hundred rather.
of his scheme. By what he says in these pages it is certain his design is either to run down Christianity or set up popery; the latter it is more charitable to think, and from his past life, highly probable.
Page 405. "That which gave the papists so great advantage was, clergymen's talking so very inconsistent with themselves," &c. State the difference here between our separation from Rome and the dissenters from us, and show the falseness of what he says. I wish he would tell us what he leaves for a clergyman to do, if he may not instruct the people in religion, and if they should not receive his instructions.
Page 411. "The restraint of the press a badge of popery." Why is that a badge of popery? why not restrain the press to those who would confound religion as in civil matters? But this toucheth himself. He would starve perhaps, &c. Let him get some honester livelihood then. It is plain all his arguments against constraint, &c., favour the papists as much as dissenters; for both have opinions that may affect the peace of the state.
Page 402. "I believe the Catholic church," &c. Here he ridicules the Apostles' Creed. Another part
"It must be owned, however, that this species of rhetorical figure is too refined, at least in the present instance, to be adapted to the apprehension and discernment of the poor, for whom it is professedly intended; but perhaps that profession was ironical too.
Arthur Collins, esq., published in 1713 his memorable" Discourse of Freethinking, occasioned by the rise and growth of a sect called Freethinkers." This made a great noise; and was attacked among others by Mr. Hoadly, and by Dr. Bentley under the name of Phileleutherus Lipsiensis; and was at the same time exposed by the admirable irony of Dr. Swift.-Whilst all parties exerted their zeal against it in England, the author went abroad; and was treated with great civility by all sorts of people, priests. Jesuits, Calvinists, Arminians, &c. He went from Holland to Flanders, with a design of visiting France and Italy; but was recalled by the sudden death of a near relation. In 1715, he published "A philosophical Enquiry concerning Human Liberty;" and retired that year into Essex, for which county he was chosen treasurer in 1718, an office in which his strict integrity gained him much reputation. In 1724, he published" A Discourse of the Grounds and Reasons of the Christian Faith," which produced a number of answers; as did his "Scheme of Literal Prophecy," which appeared in 1727. After having been some years in a declining state of health, and severely afflicted with the stone, he died Dec. 13, 1729.
Mr. Collins called his discourse "A Letter to ***, esq.” N.
OUR party having failed by all their political arguments to re-establish their power, the wise leaders have determined that the last and principal remedy should be made use of for opening the eyes of this blinded nation; and that a short but perfect system of their divinity should be published, to which we are all of us ready to subscribe, and which we lay down as a model, bearing a close analogy to our schemes in religion. Crafty, designing men, that they might keep the world in awe, have, in their several forms of government, placed a Supreme Power on earth to keep human kind in fear of being hanged, and a Supreme Power in heaven for fear of being damned. In order to cure men's apprehensions of the former, several of our learned members have written many profound treatises on anarchy; but a brief complete body of atheology seemed yet wanting till this irrefragable discourse appeared. However, it so happens that our ablest brethren, in their elaborate disquisitions upon this subject, have written with so much caution that ignorant unbelievers have edified very little by them. I grant that those daring spirits who first adventured to write against the direct rules of the gospel, the current of antiquity, the religion of the magistrate, and the laws of the land, had some measures to keep; and particularly where they railed at religion, were in the right to use little artful disguises, by which a jury could only find them guilty of abusing heathenism or popery. But the mystery is now revealed, that there is no such thing as mystery or revelation; and though our friends are out of place and power, yet we may have so much confidence in the present ministry to be secure that those who suffer so many free speeches against their sovereign and themselves to pass unpunished will never resent our expressing the freest thoughts against their religion; but think with Tiberius, that, if there be a God, he is able enough to revenge any injuries done to himself, without expecting the civil power to interpose. By these reflections I was brought to think that the most ingenious author of the Discourse upon Freethinking, in a letter to Somebody, esq., although he has used less reserve than any of his predecessors, might yet have been more free and open. I considered that several well-willers to infidelity might be discouraged by a show of logic and a multiplicity of quotations scattered through his book, which to understandings of that size might carry an appearance of something like book-learning, and consequently fright them from reading for their improvement. I could see no reason why these great discoveries should be hid from our youth of quality who frequent White's and Tom's; why they should not be adapted to the capacities of the Kitcat and Hanover clubs, who might then be able to read lectures on them to their several toasts: and it will be allowed on all hands that nothing can sooner help to restore our abdicated cause than a firm universal belief of the principles laid down by this sublime author: for I am sensible that nothing would more contribute to "the continuance of the war" and the restoration of the late ministry than to have the doctrines delivered in this treatise well infused into the people. I have therefore compiled them into the following abstract, wherein I have adhered to the very words of our author, only adding some few explanations of my own where the terms happen to be too learned, and consequently a little beyond the comprehension of those for whom the work was principally intended-I mean the nobility and gentry of our party: after which I hope it will be impossible for the malice of a Jacobite, high-flying, priest-ridden faction to misrepresent us. The few additions I have made are for no other use than to help the transition, which could not otherwise be kept in an
abstract: but I have not presumed to advance anything of my own; which, besides, would be needless to an author who has so fully handled and demonstrated every particular. I shall only add that, though this writer, when he speaks of priests, desires chiefly to be understood to mean the English clergy, yet he includes all priests whatsoever, except the ancient and modern heathens, the Turks, Quakers, and Socinians.
SIR, I send you this apology for freethinking without the least hopes of doing good, but purely to comply with your request; for those truths which nobody can deny will do no good to those who deny them. The clergy who are so impudent to teach the people the doctrines of faith, are all either cunning knaves or mad fools; for none but artificial, designing men, and crack-brained enthusiasts, presume to be guides to others in matters of speculation, which all the doctrines of Christianity are; and whoever has a mind to learn the Christian religion naturally, chooses such knaves and fools to teach them. Now the Bible, which contains the precepts of the priests' religion, is the most difficult book in the world to be understood: it requires a thorough knowledge in natural, civil, ecclesiastical history, law, husbandry, sailing, physic, pharmacy, mathematics, metaphysics, ethics, and everything else that can be named: and everybody who believes it ought to understand it, and must do so by force of his own freethinking without any guide or instructor.
How can a man think at all if he does not think freely? A man who does not eat and drink freely, does not eat and drink at all. Why may not I be denied the liberty of freeseeing as well as freethinking? Yet nobody pretends that the first is unlawful, for a cat may look on a king; though you be near-sighted, or have weak or sore eyes, or are blind, you may be a freeseer; you ought to see for yourself, and not trust to a guide to choose the colour of your stockings or save you from falling into a ditch.
In like manner, there ought to be no restraint at all on thinking freely upon any proposition, however impious or absurd. There is not the least hurt in the wickedest thoughts, provided they be free; nor in tell. ing those thoughts to everybody, and endeavouring to convince the world of them; for all this is included in the doctrine of freethinking, as I shall plainly show you in what follows; and therefore you are all along to understand the word freethinking in this sense.
If you are apt to be afraid of the devil, think freely of him and you destroy him and his kingdom. Freethinking has done him more mischief than all the clergy in the world ever could do: they believe in the devil, they have an interest in him, and therefore are the great supports of his kingdom. The devil was in the states-general before they began to be freethinkers; for England and Holland were formerly the Christian territories of the devil. I told you how he left Holland; and freethinking and the Revolution banished him from England; I defy all the clergy to show me when they ever had such success against him. My meaning is, that to think freely of the devil is to think there is no devil at all; and he that thinks So, the devil is in him if he be afraid of the devil.
But within these two or three years the devil has come into England again; and Dr. Sacheverell has given him commission to appear in the shape of a cat, and carry old women about upon broomsticks: and the devil has now so many "ministers ordained to his service," that they have rendered freethinking odious, and nothing but the second coming of Christ can restore it.
The priests tell me I am to believe the Bible; but freethinking tells me otherwise in many particulars. The Bible says the Jews were a nation favoured by God; but I, who am a freethinker, say that cannot be, because the Jews lived in a corner of the earth, and freethinking makes it clear that those who live in corners cannot be favourites of God. The New Testament all along asserts the truth of Christianity, but freethinking denies it; because Christianity was communicated but to a few, and whatever is communicated but to a few cannot be true; for that is like whispering, and the proverb says "that there is no whispering without lying."
Here is a society in London for propagating_freethinking throughout the world, encouraged and supported by the queen and many others. You say, perhaps, it is for propagating the gospel. Do you think the missionaries we send will tell the heathens that they must not think freely? No, surely; why then, it is manifest those missionaries must be freethinkers and make the heathens so too. But why should not the king of Siam, whose religion is heathenism and idolatry, send over a parcel of his priests to convert us to his church, as well as we send missionaries there? Both projects are exactly of a piece and equally reasonable; and if those heathen priests were here, it would be our duty to hearken to them, and think freely whether they may not be in the right rather than we. I heartily wish a detachment of such divines as Dr. Atterbury, Dr. Smallridge, Dr. Swift, Dr. Sacheverell, and some others, were sent every year to the farthest part of the heathen world, and that we had a cargo of their priests in return who would spread freethinking among us. Then the war would go on, the late ministry be restored, and faction cease; which our priests inflame by haranguing upon texts, and falsely call that "preaching the gospel."
I have another project in my head, which ought to be put in execution in order to make us freethinkers. It is a great hardship and injustice that our priests must not be disturbed while they are prating in their pulpit. For example: why should not William Penn the Quaker, or any Anabaptist, Papist, Muggletonion, Jew, or sweet-singer, have liberty to come into St. Paul's church in the midst of divine service, and endeavour to convert first the aldermen, then the preacher and singing-men? or pray, why might not poor Mr. Whiston, who denies the divinity of Christ, be allowed to come into the lower house of convocation and convert the clergy? But, alas! we are overrun with such false notions, that if Penn or Whiston should do their duty, they would be reckoned fanatics and disturbers of the holy synod; although they have as good a title to it as St. Paul had to go into the synagogues of the Jews; and their authority is full as divine as his.
mins have a book of scripture called the Shaster; the Persees their Zundivastaw; the bonzes in China have theirs, written by the disciples of Fohe, whom they call "God and Saviour of the world, who was born to teach the way of salvation, and to give satisfaction for all men's sins:" which, you see, is directly the same with what our priests pretend of Christ. And must we not think freely to find out which are in the right, whether the bishops or the bonzes? But the talapoins, or heathen clergy of Siam, approach yet nearer to the system of our priests; they have a book of scripture written by Sommonocodam, who, the Siamese say, was "born of a virgin," and was "the God expected by the universe;" just as our priests tell us that Jesus Christ was born of the Virgin Mary, and was the Messiah so long expected. The Turkish priests, or dervises, have their scripture which they call the Al
The Jews have the Old Testament for their scripture, and the Christians have both the Old and the New. Now, among all these scriptures there cannot above one be right; and how is it possible to know which is that without reading them all, and then thinking freely, every one of us for ourselves, without following the advice or instruction of any guide, before we venture to choose? The parliament ought to be at the charge of finding a sufficient number of these scriptures for every one of her majesty's subjects; for there are twenty to one against us that we may be in the wrong but a great deal of freethinking will at last set us all right, and every one will adhere to the scripture he likes best; by which means, religion, peace, and wealth will be for ever secured in her majesty's realms.
And it is the more necessary that the good people of England should have liberty to choose some other scripture, because all Christian priests differ so much about the copies of theirs, and about the various readings of the several manuscripts, which quite destroys the authority of the Bible: for what authority can a book pretend to where there are various readings? And for this reason it is manifest that no man can know the opinions of Aristotle or Plato, or believe the facts related by Thucydides or Livy, or be pleased with the poetry of Homer and Virgil, all which books are utterly useless upon account of their various readings. Some books of Scripture are said to be lost, and this utterly destroys the credit of those that are left: some we reject which the Africans and Coptics receive; and why may we not think freely and reject the rest? Some think the Scriptures wholly inspired, some partly, and some not at all. Now this is just the very case with the bramins, persees, bonzes, talapoins, dervises, rabbis, and all other priests, who build their religion upon books, as our priests do upon their Bibles. They all equally differ about the copies, various readings, and inspirations, of their several scriptures; and God knows which are in the right: freethinking alone can determine it.
It would be endless to show in how many particulars the priests of the heathen and Christian churches differ about the meaning even of those Scriptures which they universally receive as sacred. But to avoid prolixity I shall confine myself to the different opinions among the priests of the church of England; and here only give you a specimen, because even these are too many to be enumerated.
Christ himself commands us to be freethinkers; for he bids us search the Scriptures and take heed what and whom we hear: by which he plainly warns us not to believe our bishops and clergy; for Jesus Christ, when he considered that all the Jewish and heathen priests, whose religion he came to abolish, were his enemies, rightly concluded that those appointed by him to preach his own gospel would probably be so too; and could not be secure that any set of priests of the faith he delivered would ever be otherwise therefore it is fully demonstrated that the clergy of the church of England are mortal enemies to Christ, and ought not to be believed.
But without the privilege of freethinking, how is it possible to know which is the right Scripture? Here are perhaps twenty sorts of scriptures in the several parts of the world, and every set of priests contends that their scripture is the true one. The Indian bra
I have found out a bishop (though indeed his opinions are condemned by all his brethren) who allows the scriptures to be so difficult, that God has left them rather as a trial of our industry than a repository of our faith and furniture of creeds and articles of belief; with several other admirable schemes of freethinking, which you may consult at your leisure.
The doctrine of the Trinity is the most fundamental
point of the whole Christian religion. Nothing is more easy to a freethinker: yet what different notions of it do the English priests pretend to deduce from Scripture, explaining it by "specific unities, eternal modes of subsistence," and the like unintelligible jargon! Nay, it is a question whether this doctrine be fundamental or not; for though Dr. South and bishop Bull affirm it, yet bishop Taylor and Dr. Wallis deny it. And that excellent freethinking prelate bishop Taylor observes that Athanasius's example was followed with too much greediness: by which means it has happened that the greater number of our priests are in that sentiment, and think it necessary to believe the Trinity and incarnation of Christ.
Our priests likewise dispute several circumstances about the resurrection of the dead, the nature of our bodies after the resurrection, and in what manner they shall be united to our souls. They also attack one another "very weakly, with great vigour," about predestination. And it is certainly true (for bishop Taylor and Mr. Whiston the socinian say so) that all churches in prosperity alter their doctrines every age, and are neither satisfied with themselves nor their own confessions; neither does any clergyman of sense believe the thirty-nine articles.
Our priests differ about the eternity of hell torments. The famous Dr. Henry More, and the most pious and rational of all priests, Dr. Tillotson (both freethinkers), believe them to be not eternal. They differ about keeping the sabbath, the divine right of episcopacy, and the doctrine of original sin; which is the foundation of the whole Christian religion; for, if men are not liable to be damned for Adam's sin, the Christian religion is an imposture: yet this is now disputed among them; so is lay baptism; so was formerly the lawfulness of usury; but now the priests are common stock-jobbers, attorneys, and scriveners. In short, there is no end of disputing among priests: and therefore I conclude that there ought to be no such thing in the world as priests, teachers, or guides, for instructing ignorant people in religion, but that every man ought to think freely for himself.
I will tell you my meaning in all this. The priests dispute every point in the Christian religion as well as almost every text in the Bible; and the force of my argument lies here, that, whatever point is disputed by one or two divines, however condemned by the church, not only that particular point, but the whole article to which it relates, may lawfully be received or rejected by any freethinker. For instance, suppose More and Tillotson deny the eternity of hell torments, a freethinker may deny all future punishments whatsoever. The priests dispute about explaining the Trinity; therefore a freethinker may reject one or two, or the whole three persons; at least he may reject Christianity, because the Trinity is the most fundamental doctrine of that religion. So I affirm original sin, and that men are now liable to be damned for Adam's sin, to be the foundation of the whole Christian religion; but this point was formerly, and is now, disputed; therefore a freethinker may deny the whole. And I cannot help giving you one further direction, how I insinuate all along that the wisest freethinking priests, whom you may distinguish by the epithets I bestow on them, were those who differed most from the generality of their brethren.
But, besides, the conduct of our priests in many other points makes freethinking unavoidable; for some of them own that the doctrines of the church are contradictory to one another, as well as to reason; which I thus prove: Dr. Sacheverell says, in his speech at his trial, "That by abandoning passive obedience we must render ourselves the most inconsistent church in the world;" ergo, there must have been a great many
inconsistencies and contradictory doctrines in the church before. Dr. South describes the incarnation of Christ as an astonishing mystery, impossible to be conceived by man's reason; ergo, it is contradictory to itself and to reason, and ought to be exploded by all freethinkers. Another instance of the priests' conduct which multiplies freethinkers is their acknowledgment of abuses, defects, and false doctrines in the church; particularly that of eating black-pudding, which is so plainly forbid in the Old and New Testament, that I wonder those who pretend to believe a syllable in either will presume to taste it. Why should I mention the want of discipline and of a sideboard at the altar, with complaints of other great abuses and defects made by some of the priests, which no man can think on without freethinking, and consequently rejecting Christianity?
When I see an honest freethinking bishop endeavour to destroy the power and privileges of the church, and Dr. Atterbury angry with him for it, and calling it "dirty work," what can I conclude, by virtue of being a freethinker, but that Christianity is all a cheat?
Mr. Whiston has published several tracts wherein he absolutely denies the divinity of Christ. A bishop tells him, "Sir, in any matter where you have the church's judgment against you, you should be careful not to break the peace of the church by writing against it, though you are sure you are in the right." Now my opinion is directly contrary; and I affirm that, if ten thousand freethinkers thought differently from the received doctrine and from each other, they would be all in duty bound to publish their thoughts, provided they were all sure of being in the right, though it broke the peace of the church and state ten thousand times.
And here I must take leave to tell you, although you cannot but have perceived it from what I have already said, and shall be still more amply convinced by what is to follow, that freethinking signifies nothing without freespeaking and freewriting. It is the indispensable duty of a freethinker to endeavour forcing all the world to think as he does, and by that means make them freethinkers too. You are also to understand that I allow no man to be a freethinker any further than as he differs from the received doctrines of religion. Where a man falls in, though by perfect chance, with what is generally believed, he is in that point a confined and limited thinker; and you shall see by and by that I celebrate those for the noblest freethinkers in every age who differed from the religion of their countries in the most fundamental points, and especially in those which bear any analogy to the chief fundamentals of religion among us.
Another trick of the priests is, to charge all men with atheism who have more wit than themselves; which, therefore, I expect will be my case for writing this discourse. This is what makes them so implacable against Mr. Gildon, Dr. Tindal, Mr. Toland, and myself; and when they call us wits atheists, it provokes us to be freethinkers.
Again: the priests cannot agree when their Scripture was written. They differ about the number of canonical books, and the various readings. Now, those few among us who understand Latin are careful to tell this to our disciples, who presently fall a-freethinking, that the Bible is a book not to be depended upon in anything at all.
There is another thing that mightily spreads freethinking, which I believe you would hardly guess. The priests have got a way of late of writing books against freethinking; I mean treatises in dialogue, where they introduce atheists, deists, sceptics, and Socinians, offering their several arguments. Now these freethinkers are too hard for the priests themselves in their own books. And how can it be otherwise? For,
if the arguments usually offered by atheists are fairly represented in these books, they must needs convert everybody that reads them; because atheists, deists, sceptics, and Socinians, have certainly better arguments to maintain their opinions than any the priests can produce to maintain the contrary.
Mr. Creech, a priest, translated Lucretius into English, which is a complete system of atheism; and several young students, who were afterwards priests, wrote verses in praise of this translation. The arguments against Providence in that book are so strong that they have added mightily to the number of freethinkers.
Why should I mention the pious cheats of the priests, who in the New Testament translate the word ecclesia, sometimes the church, and sometimes the congregation; and episcopus sometimes a bishop, and sometimes an overseer? A priest, translating a book, left out a whole passage that reflected on the king, by which he was an enemy to political freethinking, a most considerable branch of our system. Another priest, translating a book of travels, left out a lying miracle, out of mere malice, to conceal an argument for freethinking. In short, these frauds are very common in all books which are published by priests. But, however, I love to excuse them whenever I can and as to this accusation, they may plead the authority of the ancient fathers of the church for forgery, corruption, and mangling authors, with more reason than for any of their articles of faith. St. Jerom, St. Hilary, Eusebius Vercellensis, Victorinus, and several others, were all guilty of arrant forgery and corruption: for when they translated the works of several freethinkers, whom they called heretics, they omitted all their heresies or freethinkings, and had the impudence to own it to the world.
From these many notorious instances of the priests' conduct, I conclude they are not to be relied on in any one thing relating to religion, but that every man must think freely for himself.
Papist and Protestant, Roundhead and Cavalier, and Whig and Tory now among us. I observe, the Turkish empire is more at peace within itself than Christian princes are with one another. Those noble Turkish virtues of charity and toleration are what contribute chiefly to the flourishing state of that happy monarchy. There Christians and Jews are tolerated, and live at ease, if they can hold their tongues and think freely, provided they never set foot within the mosques nor write against Mahomet. A few plunderings now and then by the janissaries are all they have to fear.
But to this it may be objected that the bulk of mankind is as well qualified for flying as thinking; and if every man thought it his duty to think freely, and trouble his neighbour with his thoughts (which is an essential part of freethinking), it would make wild work in the world. I answer; whoever cannot think freely may let it alone if he pleases by virtue of his right to think freely; that is to say, if such a man freely thinks that he cannot think freely, of which every man is a sufficient judge, why then he need not think freely unless he thinks fit.
Besides, if the bulk of mankind cannot think freely in matters of speculation, as the being of a God, the immortality of the soul, &c., why then freethinking is indeed no duty: but then the priests must allow that men are not concerned to believe whether there is a God or not. But still those who are disposed to think freely may think freely if they please. It is again objected that freethinking will produce endless divisions in opinion, and by consequence disorder society. To which I answer,—
When every single man comes to have a different opinion every day from the whole world and from himself, by virtue of freethinking, and thinks it his duty to convert every man to his own freethinking, as all we freethinkers do, how can that possibly create so great a diversity of opinions as to have a set of priests agree among themselves to teach the same opinions in their several parishes to all who will come to hear them? Besides, if all people were of the same opinion, the remedy would be worse than the disease; I will tell you the reason some other time.
It is objected that by freethinking men will think themselves into atheism; and indeed I have allowed all along that atheistical books convert men to freethinking. But suppose that to be true, I can bring you two divines who affirm superstition and enthusiasm to be worse than atheism, and more mischievous to society: and in short, it is necessary that the bulk of the people should be atheists or superstitious.
It is objected (by priests, no doubt, but I have forgot their names) that false speculations are necessary to be imposed upon men in order to assist the magistrate in keeping the peace; and that men ought therefore to be deceived, like children, for their own good. I answer, that zeal for imposing speculations, whether true or false (under which name of speculations I include all opinions of religion, as the belief of a God, providence, immortality of the soul, future rewards and punishments, &c.), has done more hurt than it is possible for religion to do good. It puts us to the charge of maintaining ten thousand priests in England, which is a burden upon society never felt on any other occasion; and a greater evil to the public than if these ecclesiastics were only employed in the most innocent offices of life, which I take to be eating and drinking. Now, if you offer to impose anything on mankind beside what relates to moral duties, as to pay your debts, not pick pockets, nor commit murder, and the like; that is to say, if, beside this, you oblige them to believe in God and Jesus Christ, what you add to their faith will take just so much off from their morality. By this argument it is manifest that a perfect moral man must be a perfect atheist; every inch of religion he gets loses him an inch of morality; for there is a certain quantum belongs to every man, of which there is nothing to spare. This is clear from the common practice of all our priests: they never once preach to you to love your neighbour, to be just in your dealings, or to be sober and temperate. The streets of London are full of common whores, publicly tolerated in their wickedness; yet the priests make no complaints against this enormity either from the pulpit or the press: I can affirm that neither you nor I, sir, have ever heard one sermon against whoring since we were boys. No, the priests allow all these vices, and love us the better for them, provided we will promise not
Besides, difference in opinion, especially in matters of great moment, breeds no confusion at all. Witness" to harangue upon a text," nor to sprinkle a little
It is objected that priests ought to be relied on by the people as lawyers and physicians, because it is their faculty. I answer, it is true, a man who is no lawyer is not suffered to plead for himself. But every man may be his own quack if he pleases, and he only ventures his life; but in the other case, the priest tells him he must be damned: therefore do not trust the priest, but think freely for yourself; and if you happen to think there is no hell, there certainly is none, and consequently you cannot be damned. I answer further, that wherever there is no lawyer, physician, or priest, that country is paradise. Besides, all priests (except the orthodox, and those are not ours, nor any that I know) are hired by the public to lead men into mischief: but lawyers and physicians are not; you hire them yourself.