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to do, and what Socrates would have done, had he read this work and found it unanswerable. That is, to abandon the religion ef my forefathers, and confess the truth of that which Bonnet vindicates.
For, assuredly, could I ever be base enough to let prudence hold the balance against integrity and the love of the troth, I should yet, in this case, find them all in the same scale. I am fully convinced that this act of yours sprung from a pure source, and I can impute to you none but amiable and philanthropic motives.
I should be worthy of no honest man's esteem, if 1 did not answer with a' grateful heart, the friendly dispositions you manifest towards me in the dedication. But I cannot deny it, that this writing from you strongly surprises me. I could have expected any thing sooner than a public challenge from Lavater. Since you still recollect the confidential discourse I had the pleasure to hold with you, and your worthy friends, in my chamber, you cannot have forgotten how often I sought to turn the conversation from religious to more indifferent subjects; how much you and your friends were forced to press me, before I could be brought to open my mind on a question of so much importance tn the heart.
If I do not mistake, assurances were at that time given that no public use should ever be made of any thing then said. Yet I would rather suppose myself in an error, than impute to you the violation of a promise.
But, if, in my chamber, and among a small number of worthy persons of whose good intentions I had reason to be persuaded, I so sedulously avoided an explanation, it was easy to guess that I must be extremely averse to a public one; and that I must be exceedingly embarrassed when the voice which demands it cannot be a contemptible one. What, then, could induce you thus, contrary to my will, which was known to you, to force me into the arena, which I so heartily wished never to enter? And if you even ascribed my aversion to mere timidity or bash fulness, does not such a weakness deserve the toleration and indulgence of an amiable mind? But my scruple against entering into religious controversy has been neither weakness nor timidity. I can say that it was not yesterday I began to examine my religion. I very early felt the duty of trying my opinions and actions; and if I have, since my larly youth, devoted my leisure hours to science and polite literature, it has been almost solely as a preparation to this necessary trial: other motives J could not have had. In my situation I could not expect the least temporal advantages from the sciences. I knew too well that / could not find prosperity in the world by such means. And pleasure f Oh! my esteemed Philanthropist! The condition to which my brethren in faith are condemned in civil WGp is so far removed from all free exercise of the powers of the mind, that I certainly could not increase my contentment by learning to know the rights of humanity on their true side. I avoid a nearer explanation on this point.
He who knows our condition, and has a humane heart, will feel more than I can express.
After the* inquiry of many years, if the decision had not been perfectly in favour of my religion, it would have been necessarily known by a public act. I cannot imagine what should bind me to a religion in appearance so severe, and so generally despised, if I were not in my heart persuaded of its truth.
Whatever the result had been, so soon as I found the religion of my fathers was not the true one, I must have deserted it. Were 1 in my heart convinced of the truth of any other, it would be the lowest vileness in me to bid defiance to" my conviction and bejunwilling to recognise the truth; and what could seduce me to such vileness?
I have already said, that prudence, integrity and love of truth were on one side* Had I been in different to both religions, and laughed at or despised all revelation, I know very well what prudence advises when conscience is silent: What should withhold me? Fear of former brethren? Their temporal power is too trifling to be feared: Obstinacy? Indolence? Adherence to habitual notions?
Since I have devoted the greater part of my life to inquiry, I shall be allowed to have acquired wisdom enough not to sacrifice the fruits of my labour to such weakness. You see hence, that but for an upright conviction of the truth of my religion, the consequence of my inquiry must have shown itself by a public act; since, however, it strengthened me in that of my fathers, I could proceed on my coarse in silence, without giving to the world an account of my conviction.
I shall not deny, that I see in my religion human additions and abuses, which alas! but too much obscure it. What friend of truth can boast, that his religion has been found free from raischevious human additions i All of us recognise the poisoned hand of hypocrisy and superstition, who, seeking rtie truth, wish to purify it, without injuring the good and the true; but of the essence of my religion, I am as firmly and irrefragably assured, as you, Mr. Bonnet, or any other, can be of yours: And I here testify in the name of the God of truth, your and my Creator and Father, by whom you have in your dedication conjured me, that I will retain my principles so long as my soul retains its nature: my remoteness from your religion, which I avowed to you and your friends, has, in the mean while, in no respect diminished.
And my esteem for its founder f You ought not to have omitted the condition which I expressly, added, and I should then have granted as much now.
There are certain inquiries which one must at some time of one's
life have ended, in order to proceedfurther. I may assert that with respect to religion, I have done this several years ago.
I have read, compared, reflected, and held fast to that which I thought good: and yet, I would have suffered Judaism to be overthrown by every polemical lecture-book, and led in triumph in every school exercise, without stirring a step in its defence. Without the least contradiction on my side, I would have allowed every scholar, and half scholar, to represent out of Scharteck, (whom no intelligent Jew now reads,) to himself and readers, the most ridiculous ideas of Jewish faith. I wish to be able to destroy the contemptuous opinion which is generally formed of a Jew; not by controversial writings, but by virtue.
My religion, my philosophy, my situation in civil life, all give me the strongest motives to avoid all religious disputes, and in public writings to speak only of those truths which are equally important to all religions.
According to the principles of my religion, I ought not to attempt the conversion of any who are not born under our law. This spirit of proselytism, whose oritrin some would gladly throw on the Jewish religion, is in fact directly averse to it; all our Rabbies agree, that the written and oral laws, in which our revealed religion consists, are only obligatory on our nation. Moses has given to us the law. It is an heritance of the tribe of Jacob. We believe that all other nations are directed by God to abide by the law of nature and the religion of the Patriarchs. They who live according to the laws of their religion, of nature, and of reason, are called the virtuous men of other nations, and these are children of eternal salvation.
Our Rabbies are so far from having the spirit of conversion, that they even command us to dissuade him, by serious remonstrances, from his intention, who of his own accord would embrace our faith.
We ought to inform him, that by this measure, he subjects himself, without necessity, to a heavy burthen; that in his present situation he has only to fulfil the duties of a Nochide, in order to be blessed, but that, so soon as he adopts the religion of the Israelites, he obliges himself voluntarily to the severe laws of their faith, and he must then obey them, or expect the punishment which the legislator has annexed to the infraction of them.
We are also bound faithfully to represent to him the miseries and troubles and contempt in which the nation at present lives, in order to deter him from a step perhaps precipitate, and which in the event he may repent of.
The religion of my fathers, therefore, will not be extended. It is not our duty, therefore, to send missionaries to both Indies and to Greenland, to preach our faith to its remote inhabitants: The latter in particular, who, according to the description of travellers, observe the laws of nature, alas! better than we, and are, according to our religious creed, and enviable people.
Whoso is not born to our laws ought not to live according to our laws; we consider ourselves alone as bound to observe them, and this cannot give offence to our fellow men.
Our opinions are thought absurd. It is unnecessary to raise a dispute about them. We act according to our conviction; and others are at liberty to raise doubts against the validity of laws, which according to our own confession do not bind them.
Whether they act justly or benevolently who so deride our laws and customs, we leave to their own consciences: So long as we do
not seek to convince others of our opinions, all contest is to no purpose. If a Confucius or Solon lived amongst my cotemporaries, I could, according to the principles of my religion, love and admire the great man, without having the ridiculous thought of conveting a Confucius or Solon.—Convert? For what? As he does not belong to the tribe of Jacob, my religious laws do not bind him; and on doctrinal points we should understand each other. Do I believe he could be saved? Oh! I believe truly, that he who in this life has led men to virtue, cannot be condemned in the other; and I stand in fear of no reverend college, which like the Sorbonne towards the upright Marmontel, can censure me for this opinion.
I have the happiness to possess many excellent friends, men who are not of my faith; we love each other heartily and honestly, though we suppose, and take for granted, that in matter of faith we are of different opinions. I enjoy the luxury of their society, which improves and delights me. My heart has never secretly cried out to me: "wo to the excellent soul."
He who believes that out of his church there is no salvation, must have this sigh often weighing upon his breast.
It is doubtless the duty of every man, to spread knowledge and virtue amongst his fellow men, and root out prejudices and errors according to his power—hence it might be believed to be the duty of every man openly to oppose religious opinions which he believes false. But all prejudices are not equally injurious, and therefore we are not to treat in the same way all the prejudices which we believe we see in our fellow men. Some are immediately hostile to the happiness of the human race; their influence on morals is clearly ruinous, and we cannot expect from them even accidental benefit. Such must be directly attacked by every friend to man, and the more direct the assault the better : all delays by circuitous means are unjustifiable. Of this nature are all the errors and prejudices which destroy their own and their neighbours' contentment and peace, and root out the seed of truth and virtue in men before it can shoot.
On the one side, fanaticism, hatred, and the spirit of persecution; on the other side, vanity, debauchery, and immoral libertinism.
But sometimes the opinions of my fellow men, which I hold to