« AnteriorContinuar »
-to the Hon. T. Erskine, on the prosecution of
Letter to George Washington,
Letters to the Citizens of the United States,
Epitaph for the Tomb of Paine, by a Friend,
HAD not religion been made an article of merchandise, and a class of men set apart to retail it for the benefit of themselves, the enormous evils that have resulted, would not have occurred. As it is, an opposition to the dogmas of a preacher of any denomination has a direct tendency, by lowering his tenets in the estimation of the public, to depreciate the profits of his trade. In self defence, therefore, he turns upon the assailant, and applies to him names to which he attaches opprobrious meanings, such as heretic, infidel, &c. Heretic, however, in the literal sense of the term, means simply a person who entertains an opinion on doctrinal points of religion contrary to the generally received opinion, at any particular period. Thus the catholics, by way of reproach, denominate the protestants heretics, and the protestants, in their turn, apply the same epithet to universalists and unitarians. The late Rev. John Mason, to show his strong disapprobation of the latter sect, went so far as to declare to his congregation, that he would not disgrace the devil so much as to compare them to him.
As to the term infidel, all sects are infidels to each other, in consequence of the discrepance in their respective tenets, which laymen have taken no more part in forming than in their own creation. They are made for them by persons who are paid for their services, and whose interest it is to render them obscure, that they may require explanation. As well, therefore, might mankind quarrel about their stature, as about a difference of opinions in the acquirement of which they have been entirely passive, and of the truth of which, neither laymen nor their teachers can have the least possible knowledge.
The whole mystery, as before observed, of the heart burnings and ill will among Christian sects, arises from having made of religion a trade; which has caused a rivalry and contention
among the professors of the art of soul-saving that would disgrace any other business whatever. It is of course the interest of every sectarian preacher to draw after him as many hearers as possible, in order to increase his emoluments; and the means naturally suggested to effect this, is to abuse and vilify all other schemes of salvation but his own.
Thus have religious parties been formed, and deadly animosities engendered and cherished throughout christendom ever since the introduction of the Jewish and Christian dogmas; and the gibbet and the stake have been appealed to as the ultimate reason of fanatics. Well, therefore, might the venerable John Adams exclaim, as reported by Jefferson, "This would be the best of worlds, if there were no religion in it."
The only cure for the evils of religion, the curse of supersti tion, which has been entailed upon mankind by an interested priesthood, is for every one to think for himself, and not pay others to think for him; to reassume that common sense with which nature has endowed him, and of which he has been de prived by his spiritual teachers.
"We have," says Jefferson, (see Correspondence, vol. iv. p. 322,) "most unwisely committed to the hierophants of our particular superstition, the direction of public opinion, that lord of the universe. We have given them stated and privileged days to collect and catechise us, opportunities of delivering their oracles to the people in mass, and of moulding their minds as wax in the hollow of their hands. But in despite of their fulminations against endeavours to enlighten the general mind, to improve the reason of the people, and encourage them in the use of it, the liberality of this state will support this institution,* and give fair play to the cultivation of reason."
The manner in which ministers of the gospel are got up, worthy a passing notice. Young men who receive a collegiate education, are governed in the choice of business, by the advice of parents, the opinion they entertain of the abilities they possess, or the apparent prospect of the greatest gain in either of the learned professions, without regard to their religious propensities. Those who determine on divinity, in the last year of their term at college, hold conference meetings, and exercise themselves in the art of praying, and in disquisitions on religion
Divines thus formed, can readily accommodate their religion to circumstances. If they find the pulpit overstocked in the persuasion in which they were educated, they often change their opinion, and adopt another creed. There are several instances in this city, of young men, who were educated presbyterians, becoming episcopal clergymen, in consequence, as they declared to intimate friends, of that church paying better than the one they abandoned. Men of liberal education, who have gained
*The University of Charlottesville, in Virginia, of which Mr. Jefferson was the founder.
some knowledge of the frauds of religion, can easier change their creeds than sincere devotees who are duped by them.
And what does their preaching amount to? What is the mighty boon obtained, as is said, by the excruciating sufferings even of a God; the glad tidings trumpeted forth by divines, and hailed with great joy by their grateful hearers? What is it, but that a very small portion of the human species will be made happy in another life, and that the remainder will be roasted, in a brimstone fire, to all eternity? Are these glad tidings? Are they not rather to be deprecated as the tidings of damnation? Shall human reason be tortured for arguments in proof of a doctrine so abhorrent to justice and humanity; so abhorrent to any rational idea that can be conceived of a Creator, and of every principle of right and wrong established among men? The chances in this lottery of life and death, according to the statements of theologians, are at least, a thousand to one against every living soul; and yet the scheme is cherished as an infinite benefit to mankind. And what are the alleged causes that involved the human race in this shocking predicament? Why, that a woman in some age of the world, nobody knows when or where, eat an apple, or some other fruit, contrary to the commands of her Maker.
"The very head and front of her offending
Upon this pitiful story, the whole foundation of priestcraft is aid. It is followed up with the sacrifice of a god to atone for the monstrous offence of poor Eve; and then comes the great benefit of the boasted atonement; which, by the way, is to procure salvation only for those who had been previously elected for that purpose; and who are coerced into the true faith through the instrumentality of the Holy Ghost, without the least claims on account of their own merits; whilst the rest, who could be no more implicated in the faux pas of the first pair than the former, are debarred that favour by an absolute decree. "Without controversy, great is the mystery of godliness."
It is matter of surprise that any person, who believes in the existence of a Supreme Being, should have the hardihood to attribute to him such deliberate cruelty, such pitiful subterfuge, such palpable mockery of justice?
All clergymen deem themselves to be numbered among the elect, and are so considered by their followers; and that the bulk of their congregations are doomed to perdition. In this point of view, it is heart-rending for a man of sense and feeling to witness with what sang froid, and cruel, I had almost said savage exultation, they expatiate upon the tortures of the damned; whilst their hearers, as tame and passive as lambs, listen with reverential awe and respect, and appear to acquiesce in the justness of their condemnation. In fact, the members of presbyterian congregations, in general, would not like their minister if he