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LETTER TO CAMILLE JORDAN,
ONE OF THE COUNCIL OF FIVE HUNDRED,
OCCASIONED BY HIS REPORT ON THE PRIESTS PUBLIC WORSHIP, AND THE BELLS.
As every thing in your report, relating to what you call worship, connects itself with the books called the Scriptures, I begin with a quotation therefrom. It may serve to give us some idea of the fanciful origin and fabrication of those books. 2 Chronicles, chap. xxxiv. ver. 14, &c. "Hilkiah, the priest, found the book of the law of the Lord given by Moses. And Hilkiah, the priest, said to Shaphan, the scribe, I have found the book of the law in the house of the Lord, and Hilkiah delivered the book to Shaphan. And Shaphan, the scribe, told the king, (Josiah,) saying, Hilkiah, the priest, hath given me a book.”
This pretended finding was about a thousand years after the time that Moses is said to have lived. Before this pretended finding, there was no such thing practised or known in the world as that which is called the law of Moses. This being the case, there is every apparent evidence, that the books called the books of Moses (and which make the first part of what are called the Scriptures) are forgeries contrived between a priest and a limb of the law,* Hilkiah, and Shaphan, the scribe, a thousand years after Moses is said to have been dead.
Thus much for the first part of the Bible. Every other part is marked with circumstances equally as suspicious. We ought,
It happens that Camille Jordan is a limb of the law.
therefore, to be reverentially careful how we ascribe books as his word, of which there is no evidence, and against which there is abundant evidence to the contrary, and every cause to suspect imposition.
In your report you speak continually of something by the name of worship, and you confine yourself to speak of one kind only. as if there were but one, and that one was unquestionably true.
The modes of worship are as various as the sects are numerous; and amidst all this variety and multiplicity there is but one article of belief in which every religion in the world agrees. That article has universal sanction. It is the belief of a God, or wha the Greeks described by the word Theism, and the Latins by that of Deism. Upon this one article have been erected all the different super-structures of creeds and ceremonics continually warring with each other that now exists or ever existed. But the men most and best informed upon the subject of theology, rest themselves upon this universal article, and hold all the various superstructures erected thereon to be at least doubtful, if not altogether artificial.
The intellectual part of religion is a private affair between every man and his Maker, and in which no third party has any right to interfere. The practical part consists in our doing good to each other. But since religion has been made into a trade, the practical part has been made to consist of ceremonies performed by men called priests; and the people have been amused with ceremonial shows, processions, and bells. By devices of this kind true religion has been banished; and such means have been found out to extract money even from the pockets of the poor, instead of contributing to their relief.
*The precise date of the invention of bells cannot be traced. The ancients, it appears from Martial, Juvenal, Suetonius and others, had an article named tintinuabula, (usually translated bell,) by which the Romans were summoned to their baths and public places. It seems most probable, that the description of bells now used in churches, were invented about the year 400, and generally adopted before the commencement of the seventh century. Previous to their invention, however, sounding brass, and sometimes basins, were used; and to the present day the Greek church have boards, or iron plates, full of holes, which they strike with a hammer, or mallet, to summon the priests and others to divine service. We may also remark, that in our own country, it was the custom in monasteries to visit every person's cell early in the morning, and knock on the door with a similar instrument, called the wakening malletdoubtless no very pleasing intrusion on the slumbers of the Monks.
But, the use of bells having been established, it was found that devils were terrified at the sound, and slunk in haste away; in consequence of which it was thought necessary to bautize them in a solemn manner, which appears to
No man ought to make a living by religion. It is dishonest so to do. Religion is not an act that can be performed by proxy. One person cannot act religion for another. Every person must perform it for himself: and all that a priest can do is to take from him, he wants nothing but his money, and then to riot in the spoil and laugh at his credulity.
The only people, as a professional sect of Christians, who provide for the poor of their society, are people known by the name of Quakers. Those men have no priests. They assemble quietly in their places of meeting, and do not disturb their neighbours with shows and noise of bells. Religion does not unite itself to show and noise. True religion is without either. Where there is both there is no true religion.
The first object for inquiry in all cases, more especially in matters of religious concern, is TRUTH. We ought to inquire into the truth of whatever we are taught to believe, and it is certain that the books called the Scriptures stand, in this respect, in more than a doubtful predicament. They have been held in exis tence, and in a sort of credit among the common class of people, by art, terror, and persecution. They have little or no credit among the enlightened part, but they have been made the means
have been first done by Pope John XII. A. D. 968. A record of this practice still exists in the Tom of Lincoln, and the great Tom at Oxford, &c.
Having thus laid the foundation of superstitious veneration, in the hearts of the common people, it cannot be a matter of surprise, that they were soon used at rejoicings, and high festivals in the church (for the purpose of driving away any evil spirit which might be in the neighborhood) as well as on the arrival of any great personage, on which occasion the usual fee was one penny.
One other custom remains to be explained, viz. tolling bell on the occasion of any person's death, a custom which, in the manner now practised, is totally different from its original institution. It appears to have been used as early as the 7th century, when bells were first generally used and to have been de nominated the soul bell, (as it signified the departing of the soul,) as also, the passing bell. Thus Wheatly tells us, "Our church, in imitation of the Saints of former ages, calls in the Minister and others who are at hand, to assist their brother in his last extremity; in order to this, she directs a bell should be tolled when any one is passing out of this life." Durand also says-"When any one is dying, bells must be tolled, that the people may put up their prayers for him; let this be done twice for a woman, and thrice for a man. If for a clergyman, as many times as he had orders; and, at the conclusion, a peal on all the bells, to distinguish the quality of the person for whom the people are to put up their prayers."-From these passages, it appears evident that the bell was to be tolled before a person's decease rather than after, as at the present day; and that the object was to obtain the prayers of all who heard it, for the repose of the soul of their departing neighbour. At first, when the tolling took place after the person's decease, it was deemed superstitious, and was partially disused, which was found materially to affect the revenue of the church. The priesthood having removed the objection, bells were again tolled, upon payment of the customary fees. English Paper.
of encumbering the world with a numerous priesthood, who have fattened on the labour of the people, and consumed the sustenance that ought to be applied to the widows and the poor.
It is a want of feeling to talk of priests and bells whilst so many infants are perishing in the hospitals, and aged and infirm poor in the streets, from the want of necessaries. The abundance that France produces is sufficient for every want, if rightly applied; but priests and bells, like articles of luxury, ought to be the least articles of consideration.
We talk of religion. Let us talk of truth; for that which is not truth, is not worthy the name of religion.
We see different parts of the world overspread with different books, each of which, though contradictory to the other, is said by its partisans, to be of divine origin, and is made a rule of faith and practice. In countries under despotic governments, where inquiry is always forbidden, the people are condemned to believe as they have been taught by their priests. This was for many centuries the case in France: but this link in the chain of slavery, is happily broken by the revolution; and, that it may never be rivetted again, let us employ a part of the liberty we enjoy in scrutinizing into the truth. Let us leave behind us some monument, that we have made the cause and honour of our Creator an object of our care. If we have been imposed upon by the terrors of government and the artifice of priests in matters of religion, let us do justice to our Creator by examining into the case. His name
is too sacred to be affixed to any thing which is fabulous; and it is our duty to inquire whether we believe, or encourage the people to believe, in fables or in facts.
It would be a project worthy the situation we are in, to invite in inquiry of this kind. We have committees for various objects; and, among others, a committee for bells. We have institutions, acaderies, and societies for various purposes; but we have none for inquiring into historical truth in matters of religious concern.
They show us certain books which they call the Holy Scriptures, the word of God, and other names of that kind; but we ought to know what evidence there is for our believing them to be so, and at what time they originated and in what manner. We know that men could make books, and we know that artifice and superstition could give them a name; could call them sacred. But we ought to be careful that the name of our Creator be not
abused. Let then all the evidence with respect to those books be made a subject of inquiry. If there be evidence to warrant our belief of them, let us encourage the propagation of it but if not, let us be careful not to promote the cause of delusion and falsehood.
I have already spoken of the Quakers-that they have no priests, no bells—and that they are remarkable for their care of the poor of their society. They are equally as remarkable for the education of their children. I am a descendant of a family of that profession; my father was a Quaker; and I presume I may be admitted an evidence of what I assert. The seeds of good principles, and the literary means of advancement in the world, are laid in early life. Instead, therefore, of consuming the substance of the nation upon priests, whose life at best is a life of idleness, let us think of providing for the education of those who have not the means of doing it themselves. One good schoolmaster is of more use than a hundred priests.
If we look back at what was the condition of France under the ancient regime, we cannot acquit the priests of corrupting the morals of the nation. Their pretended celibacy led them to carry debauchery and domestic infidelity into every family where they could gain admission; and their blasphemous pretensions to forgive sins, encouraged the commission of them. Why has the Revolution of France been stained with crimes which the Revolution of the United States of America was not? Men are physically the same in all countries; it is education that makes them different. Accustom a people to believe that priests, or any other class of men can forgive sins, and you will have sins in abundance. I come now to speak more particularly to the object of your report.
You claim a privilege incompatible with the constitution and with rights. The constitution protects equally, as it ought to do every profession of religion; it gives no exclusive privilege to any. The churches are the common property of all the people; they are national goods, and cannot be given exclusively to any one profession, because the right does not exist of giving to any one that which appertains to all. It would be consistent with right that the churches be sold, and the money arising therefrom be invested as a fund for the education of children of poor parents of every profession, and, if more than sufficient for this purpose,