TO MY FELLOW-CITIZENS OF THE UNITED STATES OFAMERICA:
I PUT the following work under your protection. It contains my opinions uponReligion. You will do me the justice to rememberthat I have always strenuouslysupported the Right of every Man to his own opinionhowever different thatopinion might be to mine. He who denies to another this rightmakes a slave ofhimself to his present opinionbecause he precludes himself the right ofchanging it.
The most formidable weapon against errors of every kind is Reason. I have neverused any otherand I trust I never shall.
Your affectionate friend and fellow-citizen
Second Year of the French Republicone and indivisible.
January 27O. S. 1794.
IT has been my intentionfor several years pastto publish mythoughts upon religion. I am well aware of the difficulties that attend thesubjectand from that considerationhad reserved it to a more advanced periodof life. I intended it to be the last offering I should make to myfellow-citizens of all nationsand that at a time when the purity of the motivethat induced me to itcould not admit of a questioneven by those who mightdisapprove the work.
The circumstance that has now taken place in France of the total abolition ofthe whole national order of priesthoodand of everything appertaining tocompulsive systems of religionand compulsive articles of faithhas not onlyprecipitated my intentionbut rendered a work of this kind exceedinglynecessarylest in the general wreck of superstitionof false systems ofgovernmentand false theologywe lose sight of moralityof humanityand ofthe theology that is true.
As several of my colleagues and others of my fellow-citizens of France havegiven me the example of making their voluntary and individual profession offaithI also will make mine; and I do this with all that sincerity andfrankness with which the mind of man communicates with itself.
I believe in one Godand no more; and I hope for happiness beyond this life.
I believe in the equality of man; and I believe that religious duties consistin doing justiceloving mercyand endeavoring to make our fellow-creatureshappy.
Butlest it should be supposed that I believe in many other things inaddition to theseI shallin the progress of this workdeclare the things Ido not believeand my reasons for not believing them.
I do not believe in the creed professed by the Jewish churchby the Romanchurchby the Greek churchby the Turkish churchby the Protestant churchnor by any church that I know of. My own mind is my own church.
All national institutions of churcheswhether JewishChristian or Turkishappear to me no other than human inventionsset up to terrify and enslavemankindand monopolize power and profit.
I do not mean by this declaration to condemn those who believe otherwise;they have the same right to their belief as I have to mine. But it is necessaryto the happiness of manthat he be mentally faithful to himself. Infidelitydoes not consist in believingor in disbelieving; it consists in professing tobelieve what he does not believe.
It is impossible to calculate the moral mischiefif I may so express itthat mental lying has produced in society. When a man has so far corrupted andprostituted the chastity of his mindas to subscribe his professional belief tothings he does not believehe has prepared himself for the commission of everyother crime. He takes up the trade of a priest for the sake of gainand inorder to qualify himself for that tradehe begins with a perjury. Can weconceive any thing more destructive to morality than this?
Soon after I had published the pamphlet Common Sensein AmericaI saw theexceeding probability that a revolution in the system of government would befollowed by a revolution in the system of religion. The adulterous connection ofchurch and statewherever it had taken placewhether JewishChristianorTurkishhad so effectually prohibited by pains and penaltiesevery discussionupon established creedsand upon first principles of religionthat until thesystem of government should be changedthose subjects could not be broughtfairly and openly before the world; but that whenever this should be donearevolution in the system of religion would follow. Human inventions andpriestcraft would be detected; and man would return to the pureunmixed andunadulterated belief of one Godand no more.
Every national church or religion has established itself by pretending somespecial mission from Godcommunicated to certain individuals. The Jews havetheir Moses; the Christians their Jesus Christtheir apostles and saints; andthe Turks their Mahometas if the way to God was not open to every man alike.
Each of those churches show certain bookswhich they call revelationor theword of God. The Jews saythat their word of God was given by God to Mosesface to face; the Christians saythat their word of God came by divineinspiration: and the Turks saythat their word of God (the Koran) was broughtby an angel from Heaven. Each of those churches accuse the other of unbelief;and for my own partI disbelieve them all.
As it is necessary to affix right ideas to wordsI willbefore I proceedfurther into the subjectoffer some other observations on the word revelation.Revelationwhen applied to religionmeans something communicated immediatelyfrom God to man.
No one will deny or dispute the power of the Almighty to make such acommunicationif he pleases. But admittingfor the sake of a casethatsomething has been revealed to a certain personand not revealed to any otherpersonit is revelation to that person only. When he tells it to a secondpersona second to a thirda third to a fourthand so onit ceases to be arevelation to all those persons. It is revelation to the first person onlyandhearsay to every otherand consequently they are not obliged to believe it.
It is a contradiction in terms and ideasto call anything a revelation thatcomes to us at second-handeither verbally or in writing. Revelation isnecessarily limited to the first communication — after thisit is only anaccount of something which that person says was a revelation made to him; andthough he may find himself obliged to believe itit cannot be incumbent on meto believe it in the same manner; for it was not a revelation made to meand Ihave only his word for it that it was made to him.
When Moses told the children of Israel that he received the two tables of thecommandments from the hands of Godthey were not obliged to believe himbecause they had no other authority for it than his telling them so; and I haveno other authority for it than some historian telling me so. The commandmentscarry no internal evidence of divinity with them; they contain some good moralpreceptssuch as any man qualified to be a lawgiveror a legislatorcouldproduce himselfwithout having recourse to supernatural intervention.*
[* It ishowevernecessary to except the declaration whichsays that God visits the sins of the fathers upon the children; it is contraryto every principle of moral justice.]
When I am told that the Koran was written in Heaven and brought to Mahomet byan angelthe account comes too near the same kind of hearsay evidence andsecond-hand authority as the former. I did not see the angel myselfandthereforeI have a right not to believe it.
When also I am told that a woman called the Virgin Marysaidor gave outthat she was with child without any cohabitation with a manand that herbetrothed husbandJosephsaid that an angel told him soI have a right tobelieve them or not; such a circumstance required a much stronger evidence thantheir bare word for it; but we have not even this — for neither Joseph norMary wrote any such matter themselves; it is only reported by others that theysaid so — it is hearsay upon hearsayand I do not choose to rest my beliefupon such evidence.
It ishowevernot difficult to account for the credit that was given to thestory of Jesus Christ being the son of God. He was born when the heathenmythology had still some fashion and repute in the worldand that mythology hadprepared the people for the belief of such a story. Almost all the extraordinarymen that lived under the heathen mythology were reputed to be the sons of someof their gods. It was not a new thingat that timeto believe a man to havebeen celestially begotten; the intercourse of gods with women was then a matterof familiar opinion. Their Jupiteraccording to their accountshad cohabitedwith hundreds: the storythereforehad nothing in it either newwonderfulorobscene; it was conformable to the opinions that then prevailed among the peoplecalled Gentilesor Mythologistsand it was those people only that believed it.The Jews who had kept strictly to the belief of one Godand no moreand whohad always rejected the heathen mythologynever credited the story.
It is curious to observe how the theory of what is called the Christianchurch sprung out of the tail of the heathen mythology. A direct incorporationtook place in the first instanceby making the reputed founder to becelestially begotten. The trinity of gods that then followed was no other than areduction of the former pluralitywhich was about twenty or thirty thousand:the statue of Mary succeeded the statue of Diana of Ephesus; the deification ofheroes changed into the canonization of saints; the Mythologists had gods foreverything; the Christian Mythologists had saints for everything; the churchbecame as crowded with oneas the Pantheon had been with the otherand Romewas the place of both. The Christian theory is little else than the idolatry ofthe ancient Mythologistsaccommodated to the purposes of power and revenue; andit yet remains to reason and philosophy to abolish the amphibious fraud.
Nothing that is here said can applyeven with the most distant disrespectto the real character of Jesus Christ. He was a virtuous and an amiable man. Themorality that he preached and practised was of the most benevolent kind; andthough similar systems of morality had been preached by Confuciusand by someof the Greek philosophersmany years before; by the Quakers since; and by manygood men in all agesit has not been exceeded by any.
Jesus Christ wrote no account of himselfof his birthparentageor anything else; not a line of what is called the New Testament is of his own writing.The history of him is altogether the work of other people; and as to the accountgiven of his resurrection and ascensionit was the necessary counterpart to thestory of his birth. His historians having brought him into the world in asupernatural mannerwere obliged to take him out again in the same mannerorthe first part of the story must have fallen to the ground.
The wretched contrivance with which this latter part is told exceeds everything that went before it. The first partthat of the miraculous conceptionwas not a thing that admitted of publicity; and therefore the tellers of thispart of the story had this advantagethat though they might not be creditedthey could not be detected. They could not be expected to prove itbecause itwas not one of those things that admitted of proofand it was impossible thatthe person of whom it was told could prove it himself.
But the resurrection of a dead person from the graveand his ascensionthrough the airis a thing very different as to the evidence it admits oftothe invisible conception of a child in the womb. The resurrection and ascensionsupposing them to have taken placeadmitted of public and ocular demonstrationlike that of the ascension of a balloonor the sun at noon-dayto allJerusalem at least. A thing which everybody is required to believerequiresthat the proof and evidence of it should be equal to alland universal; and asthe public visibility of this last related act was the only evidence that couldgive sanction to the former partthe whole of it falls to the groundbecausethat evidence never was given. Instead of thisa small number of personsnotmore than eight or nineare introduced as proxies for the whole worldto saythey saw itand all the rest of the world are called upon to believe it. But itappears that Thomas did not believe the resurrectionandas they saywouldnot believe without having ocular and manual demonstration himself. So neitherwill Iand the reason is equally as good for meand for every other personasfor Thomas.
It is in vain to attempt to palliate or disguise this matter. The storysofar as relates to the supernatural parthas every mark of fraud and impositionstamped upon the face of it. Who were the authors of it is as impossible for usnow to knowas it is for us to be assured that the books in which the accountis related were written by the persons whose names they bear; the best survivingevidence we now have respecting that affair is the Jews. They are regularlydescended from the people who lived in the times this resurrection and ascensionis said to have happenedand they sayit is not true. It has long appeared tome a strange inconsistency to cite the Jews as a proof of the truth of thestory. It is just the same as if a man were to sayI will prove the truth ofwhat I have told you by producing the people who say it is false.
That such a person as Jesus Christ existedand that he was crucifiedwhichwas the mode of execution at that dayare historical relations strictly withinthe limits of probability. He preached most excellent morality and the equalityof man; but he preached also against the corruptions and avarice of the Jewishpriestsand this brought upon him the hatred and vengeance of the whole orderof priesthood. The accusation which those priests brought against him was thatof sedition and conspiracy against the Roman governmentto which the Jews werethen subject and tributary; and it is not improbable that the Roman governmentmight have some secret apprehensions of the effects of his doctrineas well asthe Jewish priests; neither is it improbable that Jesus Christ had incontemplation the delivery of the Jewish nation from the bondage of the Romans.Between the twohoweverthis virtuous reformer and revolutionist lost hislife.
It is upon this plain narrative of factstogether with another case I amgoing to mentionthat the Christian Mythologistscalling themselves theChristian Churchhave erected their fablewhichfor absurdity andextravaganceis not exceeded by anything that is to be found in the mythologyof the ancients.
The ancient Mythologists tell us that the race of Giants made war againstJupiterand that one of them threw a hundred rocks against him at one throw;that Jupiter defeated him with thunderand confined him afterward under MountEtnaand that every time the Giant turns himself Mount Etna belches fire.
It is here easy to see that the circumstance of the mountainthat of itsbeing a volcanosuggested the idea of the fable; and that the fable is made tofit and wind itself up with that circumstance.
The Christian Mythologists tell us that their Satan made war against theAlmightywho defeated himand confined him afterwardnot under a mountainbut in a pit. It is here easy to see that the first fable suggested the idea ofthe second; for the fable of Jupiter and the Giants was told many hundred yearsbefore that of Satan.
Thus far the ancient and the Christian Mythologists differ very little fromeach other. But the latter have contrived to carry the matter much farther. Theyhave contrived to connect the fabulous part of the story of Jesus Christ withthe fable originating from Mount Etna; and in order to make all the parts of thestory tie togetherthey have taken to their aid the traditions of the Jews; forthe Christian mythology is made up partly from the ancient mythology and partlyfrom the Jewish traditions.
The Christian Mythologistsafter having confined Satan in a pitwereobliged to let him out again to bring on the sequel of the fable. He is thenintroduced into the Garden of Edenin the shape of a snake or a serpentand inthat shape he enters into familiar conversation with Evewho is no waysurprised to hear a snake talk; and the issue of this tete-a-tete is that hepersuades her to eat an appleand the eating of that apple damns all mankind.
After giving Satan this triumph over the whole creationone would havesupposed that the Church Mythologists would have been kind enough to send himback again to the pit; orif they had not done thisthat they would have put amountain upon him (for they say that their faith can remove a mountain)or haveput him under a mountainas the former mythologists had doneto prevent hisgetting again among the women and doing more mischief. But instead of this theyleave him at largewithout even obliging him to give his parole — the secretof which isthat they could not do without him; and after being at the troubleof making himthey bribed him to stay. They promised him ALL the JewsALL theTurks by anticipationnine-tenths of the world besideand Mahomet into thebargain. After thiswho can doubt the bountifulness of the Christian Mythology?
Having thus made an insurrection and a battle in Heavenin which none of thecombatants could be either killed or wounded — put Satan into the pit — lethim out again — giving him a triumph over the whole creation — damned allmankind by the eating of an applethese Christian Mythologists bring the twoends of their fable together. They represent this virtuous and amiable manJesus Christto be at once both God and Manand also the Son of Godcelestially begottenon purpose to be sacrificedbecause they say that Eve inher longing had eaten an apple.
Putting aside everything that might excite laughter by its absurdityordetestation by its profanenessand confining ourselves merely to an examinationof the partsit is impossible to conceive a story more derogatory to theAlmightymore inconsistent with his wisdommore contradictory to his powerthan this story is.
In order to make for it a foundation to rise uponthe inventors were underthe necessity of giving to the being whom they call Satana power equally asgreatif not greater than they attribute to the Almighty. They have not onlygiven him the power of liberating himself from the pitafter what they call hisfallbut they have made that power increase afterward to infinity. Before thisfall they represent him only as an angel of limited existenceas they representthe rest. After his fallhe becomesby their accountomnipresent. He existseverywhereand at the same time. He occupies the whole immensity of space.
Not content with this deification of Satanthey represent him as defeatingby stratagemin the shape of an animal of the creationall the power andwisdom of the Almighty. They represent him as having compelled the Almighty tothe direct necessity either of surrendering the whole of the creation to thegovernment and sovereignty of this Satanor of capitulating for its redemptionby coming down upon earthand exhibiting himself upon a cross in the shape of aman.
Had the inventors of this story told it the contrary waythat ishad theyrepresented the Almighty as compelling Satan to exhibit himself on a crossinthe shape of a snakeas a punishment for his new transgressionthe story wouldhave been less absurd — less contradictory. But instead of thisthey make thetransgressor triumphand the Almighty fall.
That many good men have believed this strange fableand lived very goodlives under that belief (for credulity is not a crime)is what I have no doubtof. In the first placethey were educated to believe itand they would havebelieved anything else in the same manner. There are also many who have been soenthusiastically enraptured by what they conceived to be the infinite love ofGod to manin making a sacrifice of himselfthat the vehemence of the idea hasforbidden and deterred them from examining into the absurdity and profaneness ofthe story. The more unnatural anything isthe more it is capable of becomingthe object of dismal admiration.
But if objects for gratitude and admiration are our desiredo they notpresent themselves every hour to our eyes? Do we not see a fair creationprepared to receive us the instant we are born — a world furnished to ourhandsthat cost us nothing? Is it we that light up the sunthat pour down therainand fill the earth with abundance? Whether we sleep or wakethe vastmachinery of the universe still goes on. Are these thingsand the blessingsthey indicate in futurenothing to us? Can our gross feelings be excited by noother subjects than tragedy and suicide? Or is the gloomy pride of man become sointolerablethat nothing can flatter it but a sacrifice of the Creator?
I know that this bold investigation will alarm manybut it would be payingtoo great a compliment to their credulity to forbear it on their account; thetimes and the subject demand it to be done. The suspicion that the theory ofwhat is called the Christian Church is fabulous is becoming very extensive inall countries; and it will be a consolation to men staggering under thatsuspicionand doubting what to believe and what to disbelieveto see theobject freely investigated. I therefore pass on to an examination of the bookscalled the Old and New Testament.
These booksbeginning with Genesis and ending with Revelation (whichby thebyis a book of riddles that requires a revelation to explain it)arewe aretoldthe word of God. It isthereforeproper for us to know who told us sothat we may know what credit to give to the report. The answer to this questionisthat nobody can tellexcept that we tell one another so. The casehoweverhistorically appears to be as follows:
When the Church Mythologists established their systemthey collected all thewritings they could findand managed them as they pleased. It is a matteraltogether of uncertainty to us whether such of the writings as now appear underthe name of the Old and New Testament are in the same state in which thosecollectors say they found themor whether they addedalteredabridgedordressed them up.
Be this as it maythey decided by vote which of the books Gut of thecollection they had made should be the WORD OF GODand which should not. Theyrejected several; they voted others to be doubtfulsuch as the books called theApocrypha; and those books which had a majority of voteswere voted to be theword of God. Had they voted otherwiseall the peoplesince calling themselvesChristianshad believed otherwise — for the belief of the one comes from thevote of the other. Who the people were that did all thiswe know nothing of;they called themselves by the general name of the Churchand this is all weknow of the matter.
As we have no other external evidence or authority for believing these booksto be the word of God than what I have mentionedwhich is no evidence orauthority at allI comein the next placeto examine the internal evidencecontained in the books themselves.
In the former part of this EssayI have spoken of revelation; I now proceedfurther with that subjectfor the purpose of applying it to the books inquestion.
Revelation is a communication of something which the person to whom thatthing is revealed did not know before. For if I have done a thingor seen itdoneit needs no revelation to tell me I have done itor seen itnor toenable me to tell itor to write it.
Revelationthereforecannot be applied to anything done upon earthofwhich man himself is the actor or the witness; and consequently all thehistorical and anecdotal parts of the Biblewhich is almost the whole of itisnot within the meaning and compass of the word revelationandthereforeisnot the word of God.
When Samson ran off with the gate-posts of Gazaif he ever did so (andwhether he did or not is nothing to us)or when he visited his Delilahorcaught his foxesor did any thing elsewhat has revelation to do with thesethings? If they were factshe could tell them himselfor his secretaryif hekept onecould write themif they were worth either telling or writing; and ifthey were fictionsrevelation could not make them true; and whether true or notwe are neither the better nor the wiser for knowing them. When we contemplatethe immensity of that Being who directs and governs the incomprehensible WHOLEof which the utmost ken of human sight can discover but a partwe ought to feelshame at calling such paltry stories the word of God.
As to the account of the Creationwith which the Book of Genesis opensithas all the appearance of being a tradition which the Israelites had among thembefore they came into Egypt; and after their departure from that country theyput it at the head of their historywithout telling (as it is most probable)that they did not know how they came by it. The manner in which the accountopens shows it to be traditionary. It begins abruptly; it is nobody that speaks;it is nobody that hears; it is addressed to nobody; it has neither firstsecondnor third person; it has every criterion of being a tradition; it has novoucher. Moses does not take it upon himself by introducing it with theformality that he uses on other occasionssuch as that of saying“The Lordspake unto Mosessaying.”
Why it has been called the Mosaic account of the CreationI am at a loss toconceive. MosesI believewas too good a judge of such subjects to put hisname to that account. He had been educated among The Egyptianswho were apeople as well skilled in scienceand particularly in astronomyas any peopleof their day; and the silence and caution that Moses observes in notauthenticating the accountis a good negative evidence that he neither told itnor believed it The case isthat every nation of people has been world-makersand the Israelites had as much right to set up the trade of world-making as anyof the rest; and as Moses was not an Israelitehe might not choose tocontradict the tradition. The accounthoweveris harmless; and this is morethan can be said of many other parts of the Bible.
Whenever we read the obscene storiesthe voluptuous debaucheriesthe crueland torturous executionsthe unrelenting vindictivenesswith which more thanhalf the Bible is filledit would be more consistent that we called it the wordof a demonthan the word of God. It is a history of wickednessthat has servedto corrupt and brutalize mankind; andfor my partI sincerely detest itas Idetest everything that is cruel.
We scarcely meet with anythinga few phrases exceptedbut what deserveseither our abhorrence or our contempttill we come to the miscellaneous partsof the Bible. In the anonymous publicationsthe Psalmsand the Book of Jobmore particularly in the latterwe find a great deal of elevated sentimentreverentially expressed of the power and benignity of the Almighty; but theystand on no higher rank than many other compositions on similar subjectsaswell before that time as since.
The Proverbs which are said to be Solomon'sthough most probably acollection (because they discover a knowledge of life which his situationexcluded him from knowing)are an instructive table of ethics. They areinferior in keenness to the proverbs of the Spaniardsand not more wise andeconomical than those of the American Franklin.
All the remaining parts of the Biblegenerally known by the name of theProphetsare the works of the Jewish poets and itinerant preacherswho mixedpoetry* anecdoteand devotion together — and those works still retain theair and style of poetrythough in translation.
[* As there are many readers who do not see that a compositionis poetry unless it be in rhymeit is for their information that I add thisnote.]
Poetry consists principally in two things — imagery and composition. Thecomposition of poetry differs from that of prose in the manner of mixing longand short syllables together. Take a long syllable out of a line of poetryandput a short one in the room of itor put a long syllable where a short oneshould beand that line will lose its poetical harmony. It will have an effectupon the line like that of misplacing a note in a song. The imagery in thesebookscalled the Prophetsappertains altogether to poetry. It is fictitiousand oft en extravagantand not admissible in any other kind of writing thanpoetry. To show that these writings are composed in poetical numbersI willtake ten syllablesas they stand in the bookand make a line of the samenumber of syllables(heroic measure) that shall rhyme with the last word. Itwill then be seen that the composition of these books is poetical measure. Theinstance I shall produce is from Isaiah:
“HearO ye heavensand give earO earth!”
'Tis God himself that calls attention forth.
Another instance I shall quote is from the mournful Jeremiahtowhich I shall add two other linesfor the purpose of carrying out the figureand showing the intention the poet:
“O! that mine head were waters and mine eyes”
Were fountains flowing like the liquid skies;
Then would I give the mighty flood release
And weep a deluge for the human race.
There is notthroughout the whole book called the Bibleanyword that describes to us what we call a poetnor any word that describes whatwe call poetry. The case isthat the word prophetto which latter times haveaffixed a new ideawas the Bible word for poetand the word prophesying meantthe art of making poetry. It also meant the art of playing poetry to a tune uponany instrument of music.
We read of prophesying with pipestabretsand horns — of prophesying withharpswith psalterieswith cymbalsand with every other instrument of musicthen in fashion. Were we now to speak of prophesying with a fiddleor with apipe and taborthe expression would have no meaning or would appear ridiculousand to some people contemptuousbecause we have changed the meaning of theword.
We are told of Saul being among the prophetsand also that he prophesied;but we are not told what they prophesiednor what he prophesied. The case isthere was nothing to tell; for these prophets were a company of musicians andpoetsand Saul joined in the concertand this was called prophesying.
The account given of this affair in the book called Samuel isthat Saul meta company of prophets; a whole company of them! coming down with a psalteryatabreta pipe and a harpand that they prophesiedand that he prophesied withthem. But it appears afterwardthat Saul prophesied badly; that isheperformed his part badly; for it is saidthat an “evil spirit from God”*came upon Sauland he prophesied.
[* As those men who call themselves divines and commentatorsare very fond of puzzling one anotherI leave them to contest the meaning ofthe first part of the phrasethat of an evil spirit from God. I keep to my text— I keep to the meaning of the word prophesy.]
Nowwere there no other passage in the book called the Bible than thistodemonstrate to us that we have lost the original meaning of the word prophesyand substituted another meaning in its placethis alone would be sufficient;for it is impossible to use and apply the word prophesyin the place it is hereused and appliedif we give to it the sense which latter times have affixed toit. The manner in which it is here used strips it of all religious meaningandshows that a man might then be a prophetor he might prophesyas he may now bea poet or a musicianwithout any regard to the morality or immorality of hischaracter. The word was originally a term of sciencepromiscuously applied topoetry and to musicand not restricted to any subject upon which poetry andmusic might be exercised.
Deborah and Barak are called prophetsnot because they predicted anythingbut because they composed the poem or song that bears their namein celebrationof an act already done. David is ranked among the prophetsfor he was amusicianand was also reputed to be (though perhaps very erroneously) theauthor of the Psalms. But AbrahamIsaacand Jacob are not called prophets; itdoes not appear from any accounts we have that they could either singplaymusicor make poetry.
We are told of the greater and the lesser prophets. They might as well tellus of the greater and the lesser God; for there cannot be degrees in prophesyingconsistently with its modern sense. But there are degrees in poetryandtherefore the phrase is reconcilable to the casewhen we understand by it thegreater and the lesser poets.
It is altogether unnecessaryafter thisto offer any observations upon whatthose menstyled prophetshave written. The axe goes at once to the rootbyshowing that the original meaning of the word has been mistaken and consequentlyall the inferences that have been drawn from those booksthe devotional respectthat has been paid to themand the labored commentaries that have been writtenupon themunder that mistaken meaningare not worth disputing about. In manythingshoweverthe writings of the Jewish poets deserve a better fate thanthat of being bound upas they now are with the trash that accompanies themunder the abused name of the word of God.
If we permit ourselves to conceive right ideas of thingswe must necessarilyaffix the ideanot only of unchangeablenessbut of the utter impossibility ofany change taking placeby any means or accident whateverin that which wewould honor with the name of the word of God; and therefore the word of Godcannot exist in any written or human language.
The continually progressive change to which the meaning of words is subjectthe want of a universal language which renders translation necessarythe errorsto which translations are again subjectthe mistakes of copyists and printerstogether with the possibility of willful alterationare of themselves evidencesthat the human languagewhether in speech or in printcannot be the vehicle ofthe word of God. The word of God exists in something else.
Did the book called the Bible excel in purity of ideas and expression all thebooks that are now extant in the worldI would not take it for my rule of faithas being the word of Godbecause the possibility would nevertheless exist of mybeing imposed upon. But when I see throughout the greater part of this bookscarcely anything but a history of the grossest vices and a collection of themost paltry and contemptible talesI cannot dishonor my Creator by calling itby his name.
Thus much for the Bible; I now go on to the book called the New Testament.The New Testament! that isthe new willas if there could be two wills of theCreator.
Had it been the object or the intention of Jesus Christ to establish a newreligionhe would undoubtedly have written the system himselfor procured itto be written in his life-time. But there is no publication extant authenticatedwith his name. All the books called the New Testament were written after hisdeath. He was a Jew by birth and by profession; and he was the son of God inlike manner that every other person is — for the Creator is the Father of All.
The first four bookscalled MatthewMarkLukeand Johndo not give ahistory of the life of Jesus Christbut only detached anecdotes of him. Itappears from these books that the whole time of his being a preacher was notmore than eighteen months; and it was only during this short time that these menbecame acquainted with him. They make mention of him at the age of twelve yearssittingthey sayamong the Jewish doctorsasking and answering them questions.As this was several years before their acquaintance with him beganit is mostprobable they had this anecdote from his parents. From this time there is noaccount of him for about sixteen years. Where he livedor how he employedhimself during this intervalis not known. Most probably he was working at hisfather's tradewhich was that of a carpenter. It does not appear that he hadany school educationand the probability isthat he could not writefor hisparents were extremely pooras appears from their not being able to pay for abed when he was born.
It is somewhat curious that the three persons whose names are the mostuniversally recordedwere of very obscure parentage. Moses was a foundling;Jesus Christ was born in a stable; and Mahomet was a mule driver. The first andlast of these men were founders of different systems of religion; but JesusChrist founded no new system. He called men to the practice of moral virtues andthe belief of one God. The great trait in his character is philanthropy.
The manner in which he was apprehended shows that he was not much known atthat time; and it shows alsothat the meetings he then held with his followerswere in secret; and that he had given over or suspended preaching publicly.Judas could not otherwise betray him than by giving information where he wasand pointing him out to the officers that went to arrest him; and the reason foremploying and paying Judas to do this could arise only from the cause alreadymentionedthat of his not being much known and living concealed.
The idea of his concealment not only agrees very ill with his reputeddivinitybut associates with it something of pusillanimity; and his beingbetrayedor in other wordshis being apprehendedon the information of one ofhis followersshows that he did not intend to be apprehendedand consequentlythat he did not intend to be crucified.
The Christian Mythologists tell usthat Christ died for the sins of theworldand that he came on purpose to die. Would it not then have been the sameif he had died of a fever or of the small-poxof old ageor of anything else?
The declaratory sentence whichthey saywas passed upon Adamin case heeat of the applewas notthat thou shall surely be crucifiedbut thou shaltsurely die — the sentence of deathand not the manner of dying. Crucifixionthereforeor any other particular manner of dyingmade no part of the sentencethat Adam was to sufferand consequentlyeven upon their own tacticsit couldmake no part of the sentence that Christ was to suffer in the room of Adam. Afever would have done as well as a crossif there was any occasion for either.
The sentence of deathwhich they tell us was thus passed upon Adam musteither have meant dying naturallythat isceasing to liveor have meant whatthese Mythologists call damnation; andconsequentlythe act of dying on thepart of Jesus Christmustaccording to their systemapply as a prevention toone or other of these two things happening to Adam and to us.
That it does not prevent our dying is evidentbecause we all die; and iftheir accounts of longevity be truemen die faster since the crucifixion thanbefore; and with respect to the second explanation (including with it thenatural death of Jesus Christ as a substitute for the eternal death or damnationof all mankind)it is impertinently representing the Creator as coming offorrevoking the sentenceby a pun or a quibble upon the word death. Thatmanufacturer of quibblesSt. Paulif he wrote the books that bear his namehas helped this quibble on by making another quibble upon the word Adam. Hemakes there to be two Adams; the one who sins in factand suffers by proxy; theother who sins by proxyand suffers in fact. A religion thus interlarded withquibblesubterfugeand pun has a tendency to instruct its professors in thepractice of these arts. They acquire the habit without being aware of the cause.
If Jesus Christ was the being which those Mythologists tell us he wasandthat he came into this world to sufferwhich is a word they sometimes useinstead of to diethe only real suffering he could have enduredwould havebeen to live. His existence here was a state of exilement or transportation fromHeavenand the way back to his original country was to die. In fineeverythingin this strange system is the reverse of what it pretends to be. It is thereverse of truthand I become so tired of examining into its inconsistenciesand absurditiesthat I hasten to the conclusion of itin order to proceed tosomething better.
How much or what parts of the books called the New Testamentwere written bythe persons whose names they bearis what we can know nothing of; neither arewe certain in what language they were originally written. The matters they nowcontain may be classed under two beads — anecdote and epistolarycorrespondence.
The four books already mentionedMatthewMarkLukeand Johnarealtogether anecdotal. They relate events after they had taken place. They tellwhat Jesus Christ did and saidand what others did and said to him; and inseveral instances they relate the same event differently. Revelation isnecessarily out of the question with respect to those books; not only because ofthe disagreement of the writersbut because revelation cannot be applied to therelating of facts by the person who saw them donenor to the relating orrecording of any discourse or conversation by those who beard it. The bookcalled the Acts of the Apostles (an anonymous work) belongs also to theanecdotal part.
All the other parts of the New Testamentexcept the book of enigmas calledthe Revelationsare a collection of letters under the name of epistles; and theforgery of letters has been such a common practice in the worldthat theprobability is at least equalwhether they are genuine or forged. One thinghoweveris much less equivocalwhich isthat out of the matters contained inthose bookstogether with the assistance of some old storiesthe Church hasset up a system of religion very contradictory to the character of the personwhose name it bears. It has set up a religion of pomp and revenuein pretendedimitation of a person whose life was humility and poverty.
The invention of purgatoryand of the releasing of souls therefrom byprayers bought of the church with money; the selling of pardonsdispensationsand indulgencesare revenue lawswithout bearing that name or carrying thatappearance. But the case nevertheless isthat those things derive their originfrom the paroxysm of the crucifixion and the theory deduced therefromwhich wasthat one person could stand in the place of anotherand could performmeritorious service for him. The probabilitythereforeis that the wholetheory or doctrine of what is called the redemption (which is said to have beenaccomplished by the act of one person in the room of another) was originallyfabricated on purpose to bring forward and build all those secondary andpecuniary redemptions upon; and that the passages in the booksupon which theidea or theory of redemption is builthave been manufactured and fabricated forthat purpose. Why are we to give this Church credit when she tells us that thosebooks are genuine in every partany more than we give her credit for everythingelse she has told usor for the miracles she says she had performed? That shecould fabricate writings is certainbecause she could write; and thecomposition of the writings in question is of that kind that anybody might doit; and that she did fabricate them is not more inconsistent with probabilitythan that she could tell usas she has donethat she could and did workmiracles.
Sincethen no external evidence canat this long distance of timebeproduced to prove whether the Church fabricated the doctrines called redemptionor not (for such evidencewhether for or againstwould be subject to the samesuspicion of being fabricated)the case can only be referred to the internalevidence which the thing carries within itself; and this affords a very strongpresumption of its being a fabrication. For the internal evidence is that thetheory or doctrine of redemption bas for its base an idea of pecuniary Justiceand not that of moral Justice.
If I owe a person moneyand cannot pay himand he threatens to put me inprisonanother person can take the debt upon himselfand pay it for me; but ifI have committed a crimeevery circumstance of the case is changed; moralJustice cannot take the innocent for the guiltyeven if the innocent wouldoffer itself. To suppose Justice to do thisis to destroy the principle of itsexistencewhich is the thing itself; it is then no longer Justiceit isindiscriminate revenge.
This single reflection will showthat the doctrine of redemption is foundedon a mere pecuniary idea corresponding to that of a debt which another personmight pay; and as this pecuniary idea corresponds again with the system ofsecond redemptionobtained through the means of money given to the Church forpardonsthe probability is that the same persons fabricated both the one andthe other of those theories; and thatin truth there is no such thing asredemption — that it is fabulousand that man stands in the same relativecondition with his Maker as he ever did stand since man existedand that it ishis greatest consolation to think so.
Let him believe thisand he will live more consistently and morally than byany other system; it is by his being taught to contemplate himself as an outlawas an outcastas a beggaras a mumperas one thrownas it wereon adunghill at an immense distance from his Creatorand who must make hisapproaches by creeping and cringing to intermediate beingsthat he conceiveseither a contemptuous disregard for everything under the name of religionorbecomes indifferentor turns what he calls devout. In the latter caseheconsumes his life in griefor the affectation of it; his prayers arereproaches; his humility is ingratitude; he calls himself a wormand thefertile earth a dunghill; and all the blessings of life by the thankless name ofvanities; he despises the choicest gift of God to manthe GIFT OF REASON; andhaving endeavored to force upon himself the belief of a system against whichreason revoltshe ungratefully calls it human reasonas if man could givereason to himself.
Yetwith all this strange appearance of humility and this contempt for humanreasonhe ventures into the boldest presumptions; he finds fault witheverything; his selfishness is never satisfied; his ingratitude is never at anend. He takes on himself to direct the Almighty what to doeven in thegovernment of the universe; he prays dictatorially; when it is sunshineheprays for rainand when it is rainhe prays for sunshine; he follows the sameidea in everything that he prays for; for what is the amount of all his prayersbut an attempt to make the Almighty change his mindand act otherwise than hedoes? It is as if he were to say: Thou knowest not so well as I.
But someperhapswill say: Are we to have no word of God — no revelation?I answerYes; there is a word of God; there is a revelation.
THE WORD OF GOD IS THE CREATION WE BEHOLD and it is in this wordwhich nohuman invention can counterfeit or alterthat God speaketh universally to man.
Human language is local and changeableand is therefore incapable of beingused as the means of unchangeable and universal information. The idea that Godsent Jesus Christ to publishas they saythe glad tidings to all nationsfromone end of the earth to the otheris consistent only with the ignorance ofthose who knew nothing of the extent of the worldand who believedas thoseworld-saviours believedand continued to believe for several centuries (andthat in contradiction to the discoveries of philosophers and the experience ofnavigators)that the earth was flat like a trencherand that man might walk tothe end of it.
But how was Jesus Christ to make anything known to all nations? He couldspeak but one language which was Hebrewand there are in the world severalhundred languages. Scarcely any two nations speak the same languageorunderstand each other; and as to translationsevery man who knows anything oflanguages knows that it is impossible to translate from one language to anothernot only without losing a great part of the originalbut frequently ofmistaking the sense; and besides all thisthe art of printing was whollyunknown at the time Christ lived.
It is always necessary that the means that are to accomplish any end be equalto the accomplishment of that endor the end cannot be accomplished. It is inthis that the difference between finite and infinite power and wisdom discoversitself. Man frequently fails in accomplishing his endsfrom a natural inabilityof the power to the purposeand frequently from the want of wisdom to applypower properly. But it is impossible for infinite power and wisdom to fail asman faileth. The means it useth are always equal to the end; but human languagemore especially as there is not an universal languageis incapable of beingused as an universal means of unchangeable and uniform informationandtherefore it is not the means that God useth in manifesting himself universallyto man.
It is only in the CREATION that all our ideas and conceptions of a word ofGod can unite. The Creation speaketh an universal languageindependently ofhuman speech or human languagemultiplied and various as they may be. It is anever-existing originalwhich every man can read. It cannot be forged; it cannotbe counterfeited; it cannot be lost; it cannot be altered; it cannot besuppressed. It does not depend upon the will of man whether it shall bepublished or not; it publishes itself from one end of the earth to the other. Itpreaches to all nations and to all worlds; and this word of God reveals to manall that is necessary for man to know of God.
Do we want to contemplate his power? We see it in the immensity of theCreation. Do we want to contemplate his wisdom? We see it in the unchangeableorder by which the incomprehensible whole is governed! Do we want to contemplatehis munificence? We see it in the abundance with which he fills the earth. Do wewant to contemplate his mercy? We see it in his not withholding that abundanceeven from the unthankful. In finedo we want to know what God is? Search notthe book called the Scripturewhich any human hand might makebut theScripture called the Creation.
The only idea man can affix to the name of God is that of a first causethecause of all things. And incomprehensible and difficult as it is for a man toconceive what a first cause ishe arrives at the belief of it from the tenfoldgreater difficulty of disbelieving it. It is difficult beyond description toconceive that space can have no end; but it is more difficult to conceive anend. It is difficult beyond the power of man to conceive an eternal duration ofwhat we call time; but it is more impossible to conceive a time when there shallbe no time.
In like manner of reasoningeverything we behold carries in itself theinternal evidence that it did not make itself Every man is an evidence tohimself that he did not make himself; neither could his father make himselfnorhis grandfathernor any of his race; neither could any treeplantor animalmake itself; and it is the conviction arising from this evidence that carries usonas it wereby necessity to the belief of a first cause eternally existingof a nature totally different to any material existence we know ofand by thepower of which all things exist; and this first cause man calls God.
It is only by the exercise of reason that man can discover God. Take awaythat reasonand he would be incapable of understanding anything; andin thiscaseit would be just as consistent to read even the book called the Bible to ahorse as to a man. Howthenis it that those people pretend to reject reason?
Almost the only parts in the book called the Bible that convey to us any ideaof Godare some chapters in Job and the 19th Psalm; I recollect no other. Thoseparts are true deistical compositionsfor they treat of the Deity through hisworks. They take the book of Creation as the word of Godthey refer to no otherbookand all the inferences they make are drawn from that volume.
I insert in this place the 19th Psalmas paraphrased into English verse byAddison. I recollect not the proseand where I write this I have not theopportunity of seeing it.
“The spacious firmament on high
With all the blue ethereal sky
And spangled heavensa shining frame
Their great original proclaim.
The unwearied sunfrom day to day
Does his Creator's power display;
And publishes to every land
The work of an Almighty hand.
“Soon as the evening shades prevail
The moon takes up the wondrous tale
And nightly to the list'ning earth
Repeats the story of her birth;
While all the stars that round her burn
And all the planetsin their turn
Confirm the tidings as they roll
And spread the truth from pole to pole.
“What though in solemn silence all
Move round this dark terrestrial ball?
What though no real voiceor sound
Amidst their radiant orbs be found?
In reason's ear they all rejoice
And utter forth a glorious voice
Forever singingas they shine
THE HAND THAT MADE US IS DIVINE.”
What more does man want to know than that the hand or power that made thesethings is divineis omnipotent? Let him believe this with the force it isimpossible to repelif he permits his reason to actand his rule of moral lifewill follow of course.
The allusions in Job haveall of themthe same tendency with this Psalm;that of deducing or proving a truth that would be otherwise unknownfrom truthsalready known.
I recollect not enough of the passages in Job to insert them correctly; butthere is one occurs to me that is applicable to the subject I am speaking upon.“Canst thou by searching find out God? Canst thou find out the Almighty toperfection?”
I know not how the printers have pointed this passagefor I keep no Bible;but it contains two distinct questions that admit of distinct answers.
First— Canst thou by searching find out God? Yes becausein the firstplaceI know I did not make myselfand yet I have existence; and by searchinginto the nature of other thingsI find that no other thing could make itself;and yet millions of other things exist; therefore it isthat I knowbypositive conclusion resulting from this searchthat there is a power superiorto all those thingsand that power is God.
Secondly— Canst thou find out the Almighty to perfection? No; not onlybecause the power and wisdom He has manifested in the structure of the Creationthat I behold is to me incomprehensiblebut because even this manifestationgreat as it isis probably but a small display of that immensity of power andwisdom by which millions of other worldsto me invisible by their distancewere created and continue to exist.
It is evident that both these questions were put to the reason of the personto whom they are supposed to have been addressed; and it is only by admittingthe first question to be answered affirmativelythat the second could follow.It would have been unnecessary and even absurdto have put a second questionmore difficult than the firstif the first question had been answerednegatively. The two questions have different objects; the first refers to theexistence of Godthe second to his attributes; reason can discover the onebutit falls infinitely short in discovering the whole of the other.
I recollect not a single passage in all the writings ascribed to the mencalled apostlesthat conveys any idea of what God is. Those writings arechiefly controversial; and the subjects they dwell uponthat of a man dying inagony on a crossis better suited to the gloomy genius of a monk in a cellbywhom it is not impossible they were writtenthan to any man breathing the openair of the Creation. The only passage that occurs to methat has any referenceto the works of Godby which only his power and wisdom can be knownis relatedto have been spoken by Jesus Christ as a remedy against distrustful care.“Behold the lilies of the fieldthey toil notneither do they spin.” Thishoweveris far inferior to the allusions in Job and in the 19th Psalm; but itis similar in ideaand the modesty of the imagery is correspondent to themodesty of the man.
As to the Christian system of faithit appears to me as a species of Atheism— a sort of religious denial of God. It professes to believe in a man ratherthan in God. It is a compound made up chiefly of Manism with but little Deismand is as near to Atheism as twilight is to darkness. It introduces between manand his Maker an opaque bodywhich it calls a Redeemeras the moon introducesher opaque self between the earth and the sunand it produces by this means areligiousor an irreligiouseclipse of light. It has put the whole orbit ofreason into shade.
The effect of this obscurity has been that of turning everything upside downand representing it in reverseand among the revolutions it has thus magicallyproducedit has made a revolution in theology.
That which is now called natural philosophyembracing the whole circle ofscienceof which astronomy occupies the chief placeis the study of the worksof Godand of the power and wisdom of God in his worksand is the truetheology.
As to the theology that is now studied in its placeit is the study of humanopinions and of human fancies concerning God. It is not the study of God himselfin the works that he has madebut in the works or writings that man has made;and it is not among the least of the mischiefs that the Christian system hasdone to the worldthat it has abandoned the original and beautiful system oftheologylike a beautiful innocentto distress and reproachto make room forthe hag of superstition.
The Book of Job and the 19th Psalmwhich even the Church admits to be moreancient than the chronological order in which they stand in the book called theBibleare theological orations conformable to the original system of theology.The internal evidence of those orations proves to a demonstration that the studyand contemplation of the works of creationand of the power and wisdom of Godrevealed and manifested in those worksmade a great part in the religiousdevotion of the times in which they were written; and it was this devotionalstudy and contemplation that led to the discovery of the principles upon whichwhat are now called sciences are established; and it is to the discovery ofthese principles that almost all the arts that contribute to the convenience ofhuman life owe their existence. Every principal art has some science for itsparentthough the person who mechanically performs the work does not alwaysand but very seldomperceive the connection.
It is a fraud of the Christian system to call the sciences human invention;it is only the application of them that is human. Every science has for itsbasis a system of principles as fixed and unalterable as those by which theuniverse is regulated and governed. Man cannot make principleshe can onlydiscover them.
For example: Every person who looks at an almanac sees an account when aneclipse will take placeand he sees also that it never fails to take placeaccording to the account there given. This shows that man is acquainted with thelaws by which the heavenly bodies move. But it would be something worse thanignorancewere any Church on earth to say that those laws are a humaninvention. It would also be ignoranceor something worseto say that thescientific principles by the aid of which man is enabled to calculate andforeknow when an eclipse will take placeare a human invention. Man cannotinvent a thing that is eternal and immutable; and the scientific principles heemploys for this purpose must beand are of necessityas eternal and immutableas the laws by which the heavenly bodies moveor they could not be used as theyare to ascertain the time whenand the manner howan eclipse will take place.
The scientific principles that man employs to obtain the foreknowledge of aneclipseor of anything else relating to the motion of the heavenly bodiesarecontained chiefly in that part of science which is called trigonometryor theproperties of a trianglewhichwhen applied to the study of the heavenlybodiesis called astronomy; when applied to direct the course of a ship on theoceanit is called navigation; when applied to the construction of figuresdrawn by rule and compassit is called geometry; when applied to theconstruction of plans or edificesit is called architecture; when applied tothe measurement of any portion of the surface of the earthit is called landsurveying. In fineit is the soul of science; it is an eternal truth; itcontains the mathematical demonstration of which man speaksand the extent ofits uses is unknown.
It may be said that man can make or draw a triangleand therefore a triangleis a human invention.
But the trianglewhen drawnis no other than the image of the principle; itis a delineation to the eyeand from thence to the mindof a principle thatwould otherwise be imperceptible. The triangle does not make the principleanymore than a candle taken into a room that was dark makes the chairs and tablesthat before were invisible. All the properties of a triangle exist independentlyof the figureand existed before any triangle was drawn or thought of by man.Man had no more to do in the formation of these properties or principlesthanhe had to do in making the laws by which the heavenly bodies move; and thereforethe one must have the same Divine origin as the other.
In the same manneras it may be saidthat man can make a triangleso alsomay it be saidhe can make the mechanical instrument called a lever; but theprinciple by which the lever acts is a thing distinct from the instrumentandwould exist if the instrument did not; it attaches itself to the instrumentafter it is made; the instrumentthereforecannot act otherwise than it doesact; neither can all the efforts of human invention make it act otherwise —that whichin all such casesman calls the effect is no other than theprinciple itself rendered perceptible to the senses.
Sincethenman cannot make principlesfrom whence did he gain a knowledgeof themso as to be able to apply themnot only to things on earthbut toascertain the motion of bodies so immensely distant from him as all the heavenlybodies are? From whenceI askcould he gain that knowledgebut from the studyof the true theology?
It is the structure of the universe that has taught this knowledge to man.That structure is an ever-existing exhibition of every principle upon whichevery part of mathematical science is founded. The offspring of this science ismechanics; for mechanics is no other than the principles of science appliedpractically. The man who proportions the several parts of a milluses the samescientific principles as if he had the power of constructing a universe; but ashe cannot give to matter that invisible agency by which all the component partsof the immense machine of the universe have influence upon each otherand actin motional unison togetherwithout any apparent contactand to which man hasgiven the name of attractiongravitationand repulsionhe supplies the placeof that agency by the humble imitation of teeth and cogs. All the parts of man'smicrocosm must visibly touch; but could he gain a knowledge of that agencysoas to be able to apply it in practicewe might then say that another canonicalbook of the Word of God had been discovered.
If man could alter the properties of the leverso also could he alter theproperties of the trianglefor a lever (taking that sort of lever which iscalled a steelyardfor the sake of explanation) formswhen in motionatriangle. The line it descends from (one point of that line being in thefulcrum)the line it descends toand the cord of the arc which the end of thelever describes in the airare the three sides of a triangle. The other arm ofthe lever describes also a triangle; and the corresponding sides of those twotrianglescalculated scientificallyor measured geometricallyand also thesinestangentsand secants generated from the anglesand geometricallymeasuredhave the same proportions to each otheras the different weights havethat will balance each other on the leverleaving the weight of the lever outof the case.
It may also be saidthat man can make a wheel and axis; that he can putwheels of different magnitudes togetherand produce a mill. Still the casecomes back to the same pointwhich isthat he did not make the principle thatgives the wheels those powers. That principle is as unalterable as in the formercaseor rather it is the same principle under a different appearance to theeye.
The power that two wheels of different magnitudes have upon each otheris inthe same proportion as if the semi-diameter of the two wheels were joinedtogether and made into that kind of lever I have describedsuspended at thepart where the semi-diameters join; for the two wheelsscientificallyconsideredare no other than the two circles generated by the motion of thecompound lever.
It is from the study of the true theology that all out knowledge of scienceis derivedand it is from that knowledge that all the arts have originated.
The Almighty Lecturerby displaying the principles of science in thestructure of the universehas invited man to study and to imitation. It is asif He had said to the inhabitants of this globethat we call ours“I havemade an earth for man to dwell uponand I have rendered the starry heavensvisibleto teach him science and the arts. He can now provide for his owncomfortAND LEARN FROM MY MUNIFICENCE TO ALLTO BE KIND TO EACH OTHER.”
Of what use is itunless it be to teach man somethingthat his eye isendowed with the power of beholding to an incomprehensible distanceanimmensity of worlds revolving in the ocean of space? Or of what use is it thatthis immensity of worlds is visible to man? What has man to do with thePleiadeswith Orionwith Siriuswith the star he calls the North Starwiththe moving orbs he has named SaturnJupiterMarsVenusand Mercuryif nouses are to follow from their being visible? A less power of vision would havebeen sufficient for manif the immensity he now possesses were given only towaste itselfas it wereon an immense desert of space glittering with shows.
It is only by contemplating what he calls the starry heavensas the book andschool of sciencethat he discovers any use in their being visible to himorany advantage resulting from his immensity of vision. But when he contemplatesthe subject in this light he sees an additional motive for sayingthat nothingwas made in vain; for in vain would be this power of vision if it taught mannothing.
As the Christian system of faith has made a revolution in theologyso alsohas it made a revolution in the state of learning. That which is now calledlearningwas not learning originally. Learning does not consistas the schoolsnow make it consistin the knowledge of languagesbut in the knowledge ofthings to which language gives names.
The Greeks were a learned peoplebut learning with them did not consist inspeaking Greekany more than in a Roman's speaking Latinor a Frenchman'sspeaking Frenchor an Englishman's speaking English. From what we know of theGreeksit does not appear that they knew or studied any language but their ownand this was one cause of their becoming so learned: it afforded them more timeto apply themselves to better studies. The schools of the Greeks were schools ofscience and philosophyand not of languages; and it is in the knowledge of thethings that science and philosophy teachthat learning consists.
Almost all the scientific learning that now exists came to us from theGreeksor the people who spoke the Greek language. Itthereforebecamenecessary for the people of other nations who spoke a different language thatsome among them should learn the Greek languagein order that the learning theGreeks hadmight be made known in those nationsby translating the Greek booksof science and philosophy into the mother tongue of each nation.
The studythereforeof the Greek language (and in the same manner for theLatin) was no other than the drudgery business of a linguist; and the languagethus obtainedwas no other than the meansas it were the toolsemployed toobtain the learning the Greeks had. It made no part of the learning itselfandwas so distinct from itas to make it exceedingly probable that the persons whohad studied Greek sufficiently to translate those workssuchfor instanceasEuclid's Elementsdid not understand any of the learning the works contained.
As there is now nothing new to be learned from the dead languagesall theuseful books being already translatedthe languages are become uselessand thetime expended in teaching and learning them is wasted. So far as the study oflanguages may contribute to the progress and communication of knowledge(for ithas nothing to do with the creation of knowledge)it is only in the livinglanguages that new knowledge is to be found; and certain it is thatin generala youth will learn more of a living language in one yearthan of a deadlanguage in sevenand it is but seldom that the teacher knows much of ithimself. The difficulty of learning the dead languages does not arise from anysuperior abstruseness in the languages themselvesbut in their being deadandthe pronunciation entirely lost. It would be the same thing with any otherlanguage when it becomes dead. The best Greek linguist that now exists does notunderstand Greek so well as a Grecian plowman didor a Grecian milkmaid; andthe same for the Latincompared with a plowman or milkmaid of the Romans; itwould therefore be advantageous to the state of learning to abolish the study ofthe dead languagesand to make learning consistas it originally didinscientific knowledge.
The apology that is sometimes made for continuing to teach the dead languagesisthat they are taught at a time when a child is not capable of exerting anyother mental faculty than that of memory; but that is altogether erroneous. Thehuman mind has a natural disposition to scientific knowledgeand to the thingsconnected with it. The first and favorite amusement of a childeven before itbegins to playis that of imitating the works of man. It builds houses withcards or sticks; it navigates the little ocean of a bowl of water with a paperboator dams the stream of a gutter and contrives something which it calls amill; and it interests itself in the fate of its works with a care thatresembles affection. It afterwards goes to schoolwhere its genius is killed bythe barren study of a dead languageand the philosopher is lost in thelinguist.
But the apology that is now made for continuing to teach the dead languagescould not be the causeat firstof cutting down learning to the narrow andhumble sphere of linguistry; the causethereforemust be sought for elsewhere.In all researches of this kindthe best evidence that can be producedis theinternal evidence the thing carries with itselfand the evidence ofcircumstances that unite with it; both of whichin this caseare not difficultto be discovered.
Putting then asideas a matter of distinct considerationthe outrageoffered to the moral justice of God by supposing him to make the innocent sufferfor the guiltyand also the loose morality and low contrivance of supposing himto change himself into the shape of a manin order to make an excuse to himselffor not executing his supposed sentence upon Adam — puttingI saythosethings aside as matter of distinct considerationit is certain that what iscalled the Christian system of faithincluding in it the whimsical account ofthe creation — the strange story of Eve — the snake and the apple — theambiguous idea of a man-god — the corporeal idea of the death of a god — themythological idea of a family of godsand the Christian system of arithmeticthat three are oneand one is threeare all irreconcilablenot only to thedivine gift of reason that God hath given to manbut to the knowledge that mangains of the power and wisdom of Godby the aid of the sciences and by studyingthe structure of the universe that God has made.
The setters-upthereforeand the advocates of the Christian system of faithcould not but foresee that the continually progressive knowledge that man wouldgainby the aid of scienceof the power and wisdom of Godmanifested in thestructure of the universe and in all the works of Creationwould militateagainstand call into questionthe truth of their system of faith; andtherefore it became necessary to their purpose to cut learning down to a sizeless dangerous to their projectand this they effected by restricting the ideaof learning to the dead study of dead languages.
They not only rejected the study of science out of the Christian schoolsbutthey persecuted itand it is only within about the last two centuries that thestudy has been revived. So late as 1610Galileoa Florentinediscovered andintroduced the use of telescopesand by applying them to observe the motionsand appearances of the heavenly bodiesafforded additional means forascertaining the true structure of the universe. Instead of being esteemed forthose discoverieshe was sentenced to renounce themor the opinions resultingfrom themas a damnable heresy. Andprior to that timeVigilius was condemnedto be burned for asserting the antipodesor in other words that the earth was aglobeand habitable in every part where there was land; yet the truth of thisis now too well known even to be told.
If the belief of errors not morally bad did no mischiefit would make nopart of the moral duty of man to oppose and remove them. There was no moral illin believing the earth was flat like a trencherany more than there was moralvirtue in believing that it was round like a globe; neither was there any moralill in believing that the Creator made no other world than thisany more thanthere was moral virtue in believing that he made millionsand that the infinityof space is filled with worlds. But when a system of religion is made to growout of a supposed system of creation that is not trueand to unite itselftherewith in a manner almost inseparable therefromthe case assumes an entirelydifferent ground. It is then that errors not morally bad become fraught with thesame mischiefs as if they were. It is then that the truththough otherwiseindifferent itselfbecomes an essential by becoming the criterion that eitherconfirms by corresponding evidenceor denies by contradictory evidencethereality of the religion itself. In this view of the caseit is the moral dutyof man to obtain every possible evidence that the structure of the heavensorany other part of creation affordswith respect to systems of religion. Butthisthe supporters or partisans of the Christian systemas if dreading theresultincessantly opposedand not only rejected the sciencesbut persecutedthe professors. Had Newton or Descartes lived three or four hundred years agoand pursued their studies as they didit is most probable they would not havelived to finish them; and had Franklin drawn lightning from the clouds at thesame timeit would have been at the hazard of expiring for it in the flames.
Later times have laid all the blame upon the Goths and Vandals; buthoweverunwilling the partisans of the Christian system may be to believe or toacknowledge itit is nevertheless true that the age of ignorance commenced withthe Christian system. There was more knowledge in the world before that periodthan for many centuries afterwards; and as to religious knowledgethe Christiansystemas already said was only another species of mythologyand the mythologyto which it succeeded was a corruption of an ancient system of theism.*
[* It is impossible for us now to know at what time theheathen mythology began; but it is certainfrom the internal evidence that itcarriesthat it did not begin in the same state or condition in which it ended.All the gods of that mythologyexcept Saturnwere of modern invention. Thesupposed reign of Saturn was prior to that which is called the heathenmythologyand was so far a species of theismthat it admitted the belief ofonly one God. Saturn is supposed to have abdicated the government in favor ofhis three sons and one daughterJupiterPlutoNeptuneand Juno; after thisthousands of other Gods and demi-gods were imaginarily createdand the calendarof gods increased as fast as the calendar of saints and the calendars of courtshave increased since.]
All the corruptions that have taken place in theology and in religionhavebeen produced by admitting of what man calls revealed religion. The Mythologistspretended to more revealed religion than the Christians do. They had theiroracles and their priestswho were supposed to receive and deliver the word ofGod verballyon almost all occasions.
Sincethenall corruptionsdown from Moloch to modern predestinarianismand the human sacrifices of the heathens to the Christian sacrifice of theCreatorhave been produced by admitting of what is called revealed religionthe most effectual means to prevent all such evils and impositions is not toadmit of any other revelation than that which is manifested in the book ofcreationand to contemplate the creation as the only true and real word of Godthat ever did or ever will exist; and that everything elsecalled the word ofGodis fable and imposition.
It is owing to this long interregnum of scienceand to no other causethatwe have now to look through a vast chasm of many hundred years to therespectable characters we call the ancients. Had the progression of knowledgegone on proportionably with that stock that before existedthat chasm wouldhave been filled up with characters rising superior in knowledge to each other;and those ancients we now so much admire would have appeared respectably in thebackground of the scene. But the Christian system laid all waste; and if we takeour stand about the beginning of the sixteenth centurywe look back throughthat long chasm to the times of the ancientsas over a vast sandy desertinwhich not a shrub appears to intercept the vision to the fertile hills beyond.
It is an inconsistency scarcely possible to be creditedthat anything shouldexistunder the name of a religionthat held it to be irreligious to study andcontemplate the structure of the universe that God has made. But the fact is toowell established to be denied. The event that served more than any other tobreak the first link in this long chain of despotic ignorance is that known bythe name of the Reformation by Luther. From that timethough it does not appearto have made any part of the intention of Lutheror of those who are calledreformersthe sciences began to reviveand liberalitytheir naturalassociatebegan to appear. This was the only public good the Reformation did;for with respect to religious goodit might as well not have taken place. Themythology still continued the sameand a multiplicity of National Popes grewout of the downfall of the Pope of Christendom.
Having thus shown from the internal evidence of things the cause thatproduced a change in the state of learningand the motive for substituting thestudy of the dead languages in the place of the sciencesI proceedin additionto several observations already made in the former part of this worktocompareor rather to confrontthe evidence that the structure of the universeaffords with the Christian system of religion; butas I cannot begin this partbetter than by referring to the ideas that occurred to me at an early part oflifeand which I doubt not have occurred in some degree to almost every personat one time or otherI shall state what those ideas wereand add thereto suchother matter as shall arise out of the subjectgiving to the wholeby way ofprefacea short introduction.
My father being of the Quaker professionit was my good fortune to have anexceedingly good moral educationand a tolerable stock of useful learning.Though I went to the grammar school* I did not learn Latinnot only because Ihad no inclination to learn languagesbut because of the objection the Quakershave against the books in which the language is taught. But this did not preventme from being acquainted with the subject of all the Latin books used in theschool.
[* The same schoolThetford In Norfolk that the presentCounsellor Mingay went to and under the same master.]
The natural bent of my mind was to science. I had some turnand I believesome talentfor poetry; but this I rather repressed than encouragedas leadingtoo much into the field of imagination. As soon as I was able I purchased a pairof globesand attended the philosophical lectures of Martin and Fergusonandbecame afterward acquainted with Dr. Bevisof the society called the RoyalSocietythen living in the Templeand an excellent astronomer.
I had no disposition for what is called politics. It presented to my mind noother idea than as contained in the word Jockeyship. When therefore I turned mythoughts toward matter of governmentI had to form a system for myself thataccorded with the moral and philosophic principles in which I have beeneducated. I sawor at least I thought I sawa vast scene opening itself to theworld in the affairs of Americaand it appeared to me that unless the Americanschanged the plan they were pursuing with respect to the government of Englandand declared themselves independentthey would not only involve themselves in amultiplicity of new difficultiesbut shut out the prospect that was thenoffering itself to mankind through their means. It was from these motives that Ipublished the work known by the name of Common Sensewhich was the first work Iever did publish; and so far as I can judge of myselfI believe I should neverhave been known in the world as an authoron any subject whateverhad it notbeen for the affairs of America. I wrote Common Sense the latter end of the year1775and published it the first of January1776. Independence was declared thefourth of July following.
Any person who has made observations on the state and progress of the humanmindby observing his owncannot but have observed that there are two distinctclasses of what are called thoughts — those that we produce in ourselves byreflection and the act of thinkingand those that bolt into the mind of theirown accord. I have always made it a rule to treat those voluntary visitors withcivilitytaking care to examineas well as I was ableif they were worthentertainingand it is from them I have acquired almost all the knowledge thatI have. As to the learning that any person gains from school educationitserves onlylike a small capitalto put him in a way of beginning learning forhimself afterward. Every person of learning is finally his own teacherthereason of which is that principlesbeing a distinct quality to circumstancescannot be impressed upon the memory; their place of mental residence is theunderstanding and they are never so lasting as when they begin by conception.Thus much for the introductory part.
From the time I was capable of conceiving an idea and acting upon it byreflectionI either doubted the truth of the Christian system or thought it tobe a strange affair; I scarcely knew which it wasbut I well rememberwhenabout seven or eight years of agehearing a sermon read by a relation of minewho was a great devotee of the Churchupon the subject of what is calledredemption by the death of the Son of God. After the sermon was endedI wentinto the gardenand as I was going down the garden steps (for I perfectlyrecollect the spot) I revolted at the recollection of what I had heardandthought to myself that it was making God Almighty act like a passionate manthat killed his son when he could not revenge himself in any other wayand as Iwas sure a man would be hanged that did such a thingI could not see for whatpurpose they preached such sermons. This was not one of that kind of thoughtsthat had anything in it of childish levity; it was to me a serious reflectionarising from the idea I had that God was too good to do such an actionand alsotoo almighty to be under any necessity of doing it. I believe in the same mannerat this moment; and I moreover believethat any system of religion that hasanything in it that shocks the mind of a childcannot be a true system.
It seems as if parents of the Christian profession were ashamed to tell theirchildren anything about the principles of their religion. They sometimesinstruct them in moralsand talk to them of the goodness of what they callProvidencefor the Christian mythology has five deities — there is God theFatherGod the SonGod the Holy Ghostthe God Providenceand the GoddessNature. But the Christian story of God the Father putting his son to deathoremploying people to do it (for that is the plain language of the story) cannotbe told by a parent to a child; and to tell him that it was done to make mankindhappier and better is making the story still worse — as if mankind could beimproved by the example of murder; and to tell him that all this is a mystery isonly making an excuse for the incredibility of it.
How different is this to the pure and simple profession of Deism! The trueDeist has but one Deityand his religion consists in contemplating the powerwisdomand benignity of the Deity in his worksand in endeavoring to imitatehim in everything moralscientificaland mechanical.
The religion that approaches the nearest of all others to true Deismin themoral and benign part thereofis that professed by the Quakers; but they havecontracted themselves too muchby leaving the works of God out of their system.Though I reverence their philanthropyI cannot help smiling at the conceitthat if the taste of a Quaker could have been consulted at the creationwhat asilent and drab-colored creation it would have been! Not a flower would haveblossomed its gayetiesnor a bird been permitted to sing.
Quitting these reflectionsI proceed to other matters. After I had mademyself master of the use of the globes and of the orrery* and conceived an ideaof the infinity of spaceand the eternal divisibility of matterand obtainedat least a general knowledge of what is called natural philosophyI began tocompareoras I have before saidto confront the eternal evidence thosethings afford with the Christian system of faith.
[* As this book may fall into the hands of persons who do notknow what an orrery isit is for their information I add this noteas the namegives no idea of the uses of thing. The orrery has its name from the person whoinvented it. It is a machinery of clock-workrepresenting the universe inminiatureand in which the revolution of the earth round itself and round thesunthe revolution of the moon round the earththe revolution of the planetsround the suntheir relative distances from the sunas the centre of the wholesystemtheir relative distances from each otherand their differentmagnitudesare represented as they really exist in what we call the heavens.]
Though it is not a direct article of the Christian systemthat this worldthat we inhabit is the whole of the habitable creationyet it is so worked uptherewithfrom what is called the Mosaic account of the Creationthe story ofEve and the appleand the counterpart of that storythe death of the Son ofGodthat to believe otherwisethat isto believe that God created a pluralityof worldsat least as numerous as what we call starsrenders the Christiansystem of faith at once little and ridiculousand scatters it in the mind likefeathers in the air. The two beliefs cannot be held together in the same mindand he who thinks that he believes bothhas thought but little of either.Though the belief of a plurality of worlds was familiar to the ancientsit onlywithin the last three centuries that the extent and dimensions of this globethat we inhabit have been ascertained. Several vesselsfollowing the tract ofthe oceanhave sailed entirely round the worldas a man may march in a circleand come round by the contrary side of the circle to the spot he set out from.The circular dimensions of our worldin the widest partas a man would measurethe widest round of an apple or ballis only twenty-five thousand and twentyEnglish milesreckoning sixty-nine miles and a half to an equatorial degreeand may be sailed round in the space of about three years.*
[* Allowing a ship to sailon an averagethree miles in anhourshe would sail entirely round the world in less than one yearif shecould sail in a direct circle; but she is obliged to follow the course of theocean.]
A world of this extent mayat first thoughtappear to us to be great; butif we compare it with the immensity of space in which it is suspendedlike abubble or balloon in the airit is infinitely less in proportion than thesmallest grain of sand is to the size of the worldor the finest particle ofdew to the whole oceanand is therefore but small; andas will be hereaftershownis only one of a system of worlds of which the universal creation iscomposed.
It is not difficult to gain some faint idea of the immensity of space inwhich this and all the other worlds are suspendedif we follow a progression ofideas. When we think of the size or dimensions of a roomour ideas limitthemselves to the wallsand there they stop; but when our eye or ourimagination darts into spacethat iswhen it looks upward into what we callthe open airwe cannot conceive any walls or boundaries it can haveand if forthe sake of resting our ideaswe suppose a boundarythe question immediatelyrenews itselfand askswhat is beyond that boundary? and in the same mannerwhat is beyond the next boundary? and so on till the fatigued imaginationreturns and saysThere is no end. Certainlythenthe Creator was not pent forroom when he made this world no larger than it isand we have to seek thereason in something else.
If we take a survey of our own worldor rather of thisof which the Creatorhas given us the use as our portion in the immense system of creationwe findevery part of it — the earththe watersand the air that surrounds it —filled andas it werecrowded with lifedown from the largest animals that weknow of to the smallest insects the naked eye can beholdand from thence toothers still smallerand totally invisible without the assistance of themicroscope. Every treeevery plantevery leafserves not only as a habitationbut as a world to some numerous racetill animal existence becomes soexceedingly refined that the effluvia of a blade of grass would be food forthousands.
Sincethenno part of our earth is left unoccupiedwhy is it to besupposed that the immensity of space is a naked voidlying in eternal waste?There is room for millions of worlds as large or larger than oursand each ofthem millions of miles apart from each other.
Having now arrived at this pointif we carry our ideas only one thoughtfurtherwe shall seeperhapsthe true reasonat least a very good reasonfor our happinesswhy the Creatorinstead of making one immense worldextending over an immense quantity of spacehas preferred dividing thatquantity of matter into several distinct and separate worldswhich we callplanetsof which our earth is one. But before I explain my ideas upon thissubjectit is necessary (not for the sake of those who already knowbut forthose who do not) to show what the system of the universe is.
That part of the universe that is called the solar system (meaning the systemof worlds to which our earth belongsand of which Solor in English languagethe Sunis the centre) consistsbesides the Sunof six distinct orbsorplanetsor worldsbesides the secondary called the satellites or moonsofwhich our earth has one that attends her in her annual revolution around theSunin like manner as the other satellites or moons attend the planets orworlds to which they severally belongas may be seen by the assistance of thetelescope.
The Sun is the centreround which those six worlds or planets revolve atdifferent distances therefromand in circles concentrate to each other. Eachworld keeps constantly in nearly the same track round the Sunand continuesatthe same timeturning round itself in nearly an upright positionas a topturns round itself when it is spinning on the groundand leans a littlesideways.
It is this leaning of the earth (23.5 degrees) that occasions summer andwinterand the different length of days and nights. If the earth turned rounditself in a position perpendicular to the plane or level of the circle it movesin around the Sunas a top turns round when it stands erect on the groundthedays and nights would be always of the same lengthtwelve hours day and twelvehours nightand the seasons would be uniformly the same throughout the year.
Every time that a planet (our earth for example) turns round itselfit makeswhat we call day and night; and every time it goes entirely round the Sun itmakes what we call a year; consequently our world turns three hundred andsixty-five times round itselfin going once round the Sun.*
[* Those who supposed that the sun went round the earth every24 hours made the same mistake in idea that a cook would do in factthat shouldmake the fire go round the meatinstead of the meat turning round itself towardthe fire.]
The names that the ancients gave to those six worldsand which are stillcalled by the same namesare MercuryVenusthis world that we call oursMarsJupiterand Saturn. They appear larger to the eye than the starsbeingmany million miles nearer to our earth than any of the stars are. The planetVenus is that which is called the evening starand sometimes the morning staras she happens to set after or rise before the Sunwhich in either case isnever more than three hours.
The Sunas before saidbeing the centrethe planet or world nearest theSun is Mercury; his distance from the Sun is thirty-four million milesand hemoves round in a circle always at that distance from the Sunas a top may besupposed to spin round in the track in which a horse goes in a mill. The secondworld is Venus; she is fifty-seven million miles distant from the Sunandconsequently moves round in a circle much greater than that of Mercury. Thethird world is this that we inhabitand which is eighty-eight million milesdistant from the Sunand consequently moves round in a circle greater than thatof Venus. The fourth world is Mars; he is distant from the Sun one hundred andthirty-four million milesand consequently moves round in a circle greater thanthat of our earth. The fifth is Jupiter; he is distant from the Sun five hundredand fifty-seven million milesand consequently moves round in a circle greaterthan that of Mars. The sixth world is Saturn; he is distant from the Sun sevenhundred and sixty-three million milesand consequently moves round in a circlethat surrounds the circlesor orbitsof all the other worlds or planets.
The spacethereforein the airor in the immensity of spacethat oursolar system takes up for the several worlds to perform their revolutions inround the Sunis of the extent in a straight line of the whole diameter of theorbit or circlein which Saturn moves round the Sunwhich being double hisdistance from the Sunis fifteen hundred and twenty-six million miles and itscircular extent is nearly five thousand millionand its globular contents isalmost three thousand five hundred million times three thousand five hundredmillion square miles.*
[* If it should be askedhow can man know these things? Ihave one plain answer to givewhich isthat man knows how to calculate aneclipseand also how to calculate to a minute of time when the planet Venusinmaking her revolutions around the sun will come in a straight line between ourearth and the sunand will appear to us about the size of a large pea passingacross the face of the sun. This happens but twice in about a hundred yearsatthe distance of about eight years from each otherand has happened twice in ourtimeboth of which were foreknown by calculation. It can also be known whenthey will happen again for a thousand years to comeor to any other portion oftime. Asthereforeman could not be able to do these things if he did notunderstand the solar systemand the manner in which the revolutions of theseveral planets or worlds are performedthe fact of calculating an eclipseora transit of Venusis a proof in point that the knowledge exists; and as to afew thousandor even a few million milesmore or lessit makes scarcely anysensible difference in such immense distances.]
But thisimmense as it isis only one system of worlds. Beyond thisat avast distance into spacefar beyond all power of calculationare the starscalled the fixed stars. They are called fixedbecause they have norevolutionary motionas the six worlds or planets have that I have beendescribing. Those fixed stars continue always at the same distance from eachotherand always in the same placeas the Sun does in the centre of oursystem. The probabilitythereforeisthat each of these fixed stars is also aSunround which another system of worlds or planetsthough too remote for usto discoverperforms its revolutionsas our system of worlds does round ourcentral Sun.
By this easy progression of ideasthe immensity of space will appear to usto be filled with systems of worldsand that no part of space lies at wasteany more than any part of the globe of earth and water is left unoccupied.
Having thus endeavored to conveyin a familiar and easy mannersome idea ofthe structure of the universeI return to explain what I before alluded tonamelythe great benefits arising to man in consequence of the Creator havingmade a plurality of worldssuch as our system isconsisting of a central Sunand six worldsbesides satellitesin preference to that of creating one worldonly of a vast extent.
It is an idea I have never lost sight ofthat all our knowledge of scienceis derived from the revolutions (exhibited to our eye and from thence to ourunderstanding) which those several planets or worlds of which our system iscomposed make in their circuit round the Sun.
Hadthenthe quantity of matter which these six worlds contain been blendedinto one solitary globethe consequence to us would have beenthat either norevolutionary motion would have existedor not a sufficiency of it to give tous the idea and the knowledge of science we now have; and it is from thesciences that all the mechanical arts that contribute so much to our earthlyfelicity and comfort are derived.
Asthereforethe Creator made nothing in vainso also must it be believedthat he organized the structure of the universe in the most advantageous mannerfor the benefit of man; and as we seeand from experience feelthe benefits wederive from the structure of the universe formed as it iswhich benefits weshould not have had the opportunity of enjoyingif the structureso far asrelates to our systemhad been a solitary globe — we can discover at leastone reason why a plurality of worlds has been madeand that reason calls forththe devotional gratitude of manas well as his admiration.
But it is not to usthe inhabitants of this globeonlythat the benefitsarising from a plurality of worlds are limited. The inhabitants of each of theworlds of which our system is composed enjoy the same opportunities of knowledgeas we do. They behold the revolutionary motions of our earthas we beholdtheirs. All the planets revolve in sight of each otherandthereforethe sameuniversal school of science presents itself to all.
Neither does the knowledge stop here. The system of worlds next to usexhibitsin its revolutionsthe same principles and school of science to theinhabitants of their systemas our system does to usand in like mannerthroughout the immensity of space.
Our ideasnot only of the almightiness of the Creatorbut of his wisdom andhis beneficencebecome enlarged in proportion as we contemplate the extent andthe structure of the universe. The solitary idea of a solitary worldrolling orat rest in the immense ocean of spacegives place to the cheerful idea of asociety of worldsso happily contrived as to administereven by their motioninstruction to man. We see our own earth filled with abundancebut we forget toconsider how much of that abundance is owing to the scientific knowledge thevast machinery of the universe has unfolded.
Butin the midst of those reflectionswhat are we to think of the Christiansystem of faiththat forms itself upon the idea of only one worldand that ofno greater extentas is before shownthan twenty-five thousand miles? Anextent which a man walking at the rate of three miles an hourfor twelve hoursin the daycould he keep on in a circular directionwould walk entirely roundin less than two years. Alas! what is this to the mighty ocean of spaceand thealmighty power of the Creator?
From whencethencould arise the solitary and strange conceit that theAlmightywho had millions of worlds equally dependent on his protectionshouldquit the care of all the restand come to die in our worldbecausethey sayone man and one woman had eaten an apple? Andon the other handare we tosuppose that every world in the boundless creation had an Evean appleaserpentand a redeemer? In this casethe person who is irreverently called theSon of Godand sometimes God himselfwould have nothing else to do than totravel from world to worldin an endless succession of deathswith scarcely amomentary interval of life. It has been by rejecting the evidence that the wordor works of God in the creation afford to our sensesand the action of ourreason upon that evidencethat so many wild and whimsical systems of faith andof religion have been fabricated and set up. There may be many systems ofreligion thatso far from being morally badare in many respects morally good;but there can be but ONE that is true; and that one necessarily mustas it everwillbe in all things consistent with the ever-existing word of God that webehold in his works. But such is the strange construction of the Christiansystem of faith that every evidence the Heavens afford to man either directlycontradicts it or renders it absurd.
It is possible to believeand I always feel pleasure in encouraging myselfto believe itthat there have been men in the world who persuade themselvesthat what is called a pious fraud mightat least under particularcircumstancesbe productive of some good. But the fraud being once establishedcould not afterward be explainedfor it is with a pious fraud as with a badactionit begets a calamitous necessity of going on.
The persons who first preached the Christian system of faithand in somemeasure combined it with the morality preached by Jesus Christmight persuadethemselves that it was better than the heathen mythology that then prevailed.From the first preachers the fraud went on to the secondand to the thirdtillthe idea of its being a pious fraud became lost in the belief of its being true;and that belief became again encouraged by the interests of those who made alivelihood by preaching it.
But though such a belief might by such means be rendered almost general amongthe laityit is next to impossible to account for the continual persecutioncarried on by the Churchfor several hundred yearsagainst the sciences andagainst the professors of scienceif the Church had not some record ortradition that it was originally no other than a pious fraudor did not foreseethat it could not be maintained against the evidence that the structure of theuniverse afforded.
Having thus shown the irreconcilable inconsistencies between the real word ofGod existing in the universeand that which is called the Word of Godas shownto us in a printed book that any man might makeI proceed to speak of the threeprincipal means that have been employed in all agesand perhaps in allcountriesto impose upon mankind.
Those three means are MysteryMiracleand Prophecy. The two first areincompatible with true religionand the third ought always to be suspected.
With respect to mysteryeverything we behold isin one sensea mystery tous. Our own existence is a mystery; the whole vegetable world is a mystery. Wecannot account how it is that an acornwhen put into the groundis made todevelop itselfand become an oak. We know not how it is that the seed we sowunfolds and multiplies itselfand returns to us such an abundant interest forso small a capital.
The facthoweveras distinct from the operating causeis not a mysterybecause we see itand we know also the means we are to usewhich is no otherthan putting the seed into the ground. We knowthereforeas much as isnecessary for us to know; and that part of the operation that we do not knowand whichif we didwe could not performthe Creator takes upon himself andperforms it for us. We arethereforebetter off than if we had been let intothe secretand left to do it for ourselves.
But though every created thing isin this sensea mysterythe word mysterycannot be applied to moral truthany more than obscurity can be applied tolight. The God in whom we believe is a God of moral truthand not a God ofmystery or obscurity. Mystery is the antagonist of truth. It is a fog of humaninventionthat obscures truthand represents it in distortion. Truth neverenvelops itself in mysteryand the mystery in which it is at any time envelopedis the work of its antagonistand never of itself.
Religionthereforebeing the belief of a God and the practice of moraltruthcannot have connection with mystery. The belief of a Godso far fromhaving anything of mystery in itis of all beliefs the most easybecause itarises to usas is before observedout of necessity. And the practice of moraltruthorin other wordsa practical imitation of the moral goodness of Godis no other than our acting toward each other as he acts benignly toward all. Wecannot serve God in the manner we serve those who cannot do without suchservice; andthereforethe only idea we can have of serving Godis that ofcontributing to the happiness of the living creation that God has made. Thiscannot be done by retiring ourselves from the society of the world and spendinga recluse life in selfish devotion.
The very nature and design of religionif I may so express itprove even todemonstration that it must be free from everything of mysteryand unencumberedwith everything that is mysterious. Religionconsidered as a dutyis incumbentupon every living soul alikeandthereforemust be on a level with theunderstanding and comprehension of all. Man does not learn religion as he learnsthe secrets and mysteries of a trade. He learns the theory of religion byreflection. It arises out of the action of his own mind upon the things which heseesor upon what he may happen to hear or to readand the practice joinsitself thereto.
When menwhether from policy or pious fraudset up systems of religionincompatible with the word or works of God in the creationand not only abovebut repugnant to human comprehensionthey were under the necessity of inventingor adopting a word that should serve as a bar to all questionsinquiries andspeculation. The word mystery answered this purposeand thus it has happenedthat religionwhich is in itself without mysteryhas been corrupted into a fogof mysteries.
As mystery answered all general purposesmiracle followed as an occasionalauxiliary. The former served to bewilder the mindthe latter to puzzle thesenses. The one was the lingothe other the legerdemain.
But before going further into this subjectit will be proper to inquire whatis to be understood by a miracle.
In the same sense that everything may be said to be a mysteryso also may itbe said that everything is a miracleand that no one thing is a greater miraclethan another. The elephantthough largeris not a greater miracle than a mitenor a mountain a greater miracle than an atom. To an almighty powerit is nomore difficult to make the one than the otherand no more difficult to makemillions of worlds than to make one. Everythingthereforeis a miraclein onesensewhilst in the other sensethere is no such thing as a miracle. It is amiracle when compared to our power and to our comprehensionif not a miraclecompared to the power that performs it; but as nothing in this descriptionconveys the idea that is affixed to the word miracleit is necessary to carrythe inquiry further.
Mankind have conceived to themselves certain lawsby which what they callnature is supposed to act; and that miracle is something contrary to theoperation and effect of those laws; but unless we know the whole extent of thoselawsand of what are commonly called the powers of naturewe are not able tojudge whether anything that may appear to us wonderful or miraculous be withinor be beyondor be contrary toher natural power of acting.
The ascension of a man several miles high in the air would have everything init that constitutes the idea of a miracleif it were not known that a speciesof air can be generatedseveral times lighter than the common atmospheric airand yet possess elasticity enough to prevent the balloon in which that light airis enclosed from being compressed into as many times less bulk by the common airthat surrounds it. In like mannerextracting flames or sparks of fire from thehuman bodyas visible as from a steel struck with a flintand causing iron orsteel to move without any visible agentwould also give the idea of a miracleif we were not acquainted with electricity and magnetism. So also would manyother experiments in natural philosophyto those who are not acquainted withthe subject. The restoring persons to life who are to appearance deadas ispractised upon drowned personswould also be a miracleif it were not knownthat animation is capable of being suspended without being extinct.
Besides thesethere are performances by sleight-of-handand by personsacting in concertthat have a miraculous appearancewhich when known arethought nothing of. And besides thesethere are mechanical and opticaldeceptions. There is now an exhibition in Paris of ghosts or spectreswhichthough it is not imposed upon the spectators as a facthas an astonishingappearance. Asthereforewe know not the extent to which either nature or artcan gothere is no positive criterion to determine what a miracle isandmankindin giving credit to appearancesunder the idea of there beingmiraclesare subject to be continually imposed upon.
Sincethenappearances are so capable of deceivingand things not realhave a strong resemblance to things that arenothing can be more inconsistentthan to suppose that the Almighty would make use of means such as are calledmiraclesthat would subject the person who performed them to the suspicion ofbeing an impostorand the person who related them to be suspected of lyingandthe doctrine intended to be supported thereby to be suspected as a fabulousinvention.
Of all the modes of evidence that ever were invented to obtain belief to anysystem or opinion to which the name of religion has been giventhat of miraclehowever successful the imposition may have beenis the most inconsistent. Forin the first placewhenever recourse is had to showfor the purpose ofprocuring that belief(for a miracleunder any idea of the wordis a show)it implies a lameness or weakness in the doctrine that is preached. Andin thesecond placeit is degrading the Almighty into the character of a showmanplaying tricks to amuse and make the people stare and wonder. It is also themost equivocal sort of evidence that can be set up; for the belief is not todepend upon the thing called a miraclebut upon the credit of the reporter whosays that he saw it; andthereforethe thingwere it truewould have nobetter chance of being believed than if it were a lie.
Suppose I were to saythat when I sat down to write this booka handpresented itself in the airtook up the penand wrote every word that isherein written; would anybody believe me? Certainly they would not. Would theybelieve me a whit the more if the thing had been a fact? Certainly they wouldnot. Sincethena real miraclewere it to happenwould be subject to thesame fate as the falsehoodthe inconsistency becomes the greater of supposingthe Almighty would make use of means that would not answer the purpose for whichthey were intendedeven if they were real.
If we are to suppose a miracle to be something so entirely out of the courseof what is called naturethat she must go out of that course to accomplish itand we see an account given of such miracle by the person who said he saw ititraises a question in the mind very easily decidedwhich isis it more probablethat nature should go out of her courseor that a man should tell a lie? Wehave never seenin our timenature go out of her course; but we have goodreason to believe that millions of lies have been told in the same time; it isthereforeat least millions to onethat the reporter of a miracle tells a lie.
The story of the whale swallowing Jonahthough a whale is large enough to doitborders greatly on the marvelous; but it would have approached nearer to theidea of a miracleif Jonah had swallowed the whale. In thiswhich may servefor all cases of miraclesthe matter would decide itselfas before statednamelyis it more that a man should have swallowed a whale or told a lie?
But suppose that Jonah had really swallowed the whaleand gone with it inhis belly to Ninevehandto convince the people that it was truehad cast itup in their sightof the full length and size of a whalewould they not havebelieved him to be the devilinstead of a prophet? Orif the whale had carriedJonah to Ninevahand cast him up in the same public mannerwould they not havebelieved the whale to have been the deviland Jonah one of his imps?
The most extraordinary of all the things called miraclesrelated in the NewTestamentis that of the devil flying away with Jesus Christand carrying himto the top of a high mountainand to the top of the highest pinnacle of thetempleand showing him and promising to him all the kingdoms of the World. Howhappened it that he did not discover Americaor is it only with kingdoms thathis sooty highness has any interest?
I have too much respect for the moral character of Christ to believe that hetold this whale of a miracle himself; neither is it easy to account for whatpurpose it could have been fabricatedunless it were to impose upon theconnoisseurs of Queen Anne's farthings and collectors of relics and antiquities;or to render the belief of miracles ridiculousby outdoing miraclesas DonQuixote outdid chivalry; or to embarrass the belief of miraclesby making itdoubtful by what powerwhether of God or of the devilanything called amiracle was performed. It requireshowevera great deal of faith in the devilto believe this miracle.
In every point of view in which those things called miracles can be placedand consideredthe reality of them is improbable and their existenceunnecessary. They would notas before observedanswer any useful purposeevenif they were true; for it is more difficult to obtain belief to a miraclethanto a principle evidently moral without any miracle. Moral principle speaksuniversally for itself. Miracle could be but a thing of the momentand seen butby a few; after this it requires a transfer of faith from God to man to believea miracle upon man's report. Insteadthereforeof admitting the recitals ofmiracles as evidence of any system of religion being truethey ought to beconsidered as symptoms of its being fabulous. It is necessary to the full andupright character of truth that it rejects the crutchand it is consistent withthe character of fable to seek the aid that truth rejects. Thus much for mysteryand miracle.
As mystery and miracle took charge of the past and the presentprophecy tookcharge of the future and rounded the tenses of faith. It was not sufficient toknow what had been donebut what would be done. The supposed prophet was thesupposed historian of times to come; and if he happenedin shooting with a longbow of a thousand yearsto strike within a thousand miles of a marktheingenuity of posterity could make it point-blank; and if he happened to bedirectly wrongit was only to supposeas in the case of Jonah and Ninevehthat God had repented himself and changed his mind. What a fool do fabuloussystems make of man!
It has been shownin a former part of this workthat the original meaningof the words prophet and prophesying has been changedand that a prophetinthe sense of the word as now usedis a creature of modern invention; and it isowing to this change in the meaning of the wordsthat the flights and metaphorsof the Jewish poetsand phrases and expressions now rendered obscure by our notbeing acquainted with the local circumstances to which they applied at the timethey were usedhave been erected into propheciesand made to bend toexplanations at the will and whimsical conceits of sectariesexpoundersandcommentators. Everything unintelligible was propheticaland everythinginsignificant was typical. A blunder would have served for a prophecyand adish-clout for a type.
If by a prophet we are to suppose a man to whom the Almighty communicatedsome event that would take place in futureeither there were such men or therewere not. If there wereit is consistent to believe that the event socommunicated would be told in terms that could be understoodand not related insuch a loose and obscure manner as to be out of the comprehension of those thatheard itand so equivocal as to fit almost any circumstance that may happenafterward. It is conceiving very irreverently of the Almightyto suppose thathe would deal in this jesting manner with mankindyet all the things calledprophecies in the book called the Bible come under this description.
But it is with prophecy as it is with miracle; it could not answer thepurpose even if it were real. Those to whom a prophecy should be toldcould nottell whether the man prophesied or liedor whether it had been revealed to himor whether he conceited it; and if the thing that he prophesiedor intended toprophesyshould happenor something like itamong the multitude of thingsthat are daily happeningnobody could again know whether he foreknew itorguessed at itor whether it was accidental. A prophetthereforeis acharacter useless and unnecessary; and the safe side of the case is to guardagainst being imposed upon by not giving credit to such relations.
Upon the wholemysterymiracleand prophecy are appendages that belong tofabulous and not to true religion. They are the means by which so many Loheres! and Lotheres! have been spread about the worldand religion been madeinto a trade. The success of one imposter gave encouragement to anotherand thequieting salvo of doing some good by keeping up a pious fraud protected themfrom remorse.
Having now extended the subject to a greater length than I first intendedIshall bring it to a close by abstracting a summary from the whole.
First — That the idea or belief of a word of God existing in printor inwritingor in speechis inconsistent in itself for reasons already assigned.These reasonsamong many othersare the want of a universal language; themutability of language; the errors to which translations are subject: thepossibility of totally suppressing such a word; the probability of altering itor of fabricating the wholeand imposing it upon the world.
Secondly — That the Creation we behold is the real and ever-existing wordof Godin which we cannot be deceived. It proclaims his powerit demonstrateshis wisdomit manifests his goodness and beneficence.
Thirdly — That the moral duty of man consists in imitating the moralgoodness and beneficence of Godmanifested in the creation toward all hiscreatures. That seeingas we daily dothe goodness of God to all menit is anexample calling upon all men to practise the same toward each other; andconsequentlythat everything of persecution and revenge between man and manand everything of cruelty to animalsis a violation of moral duty.
I trouble not myself about the manner of future existence. I content myselfwith believingeven to positive convictionthat the Power that gave meexistence is able to continue itin any form and manner he pleaseseither withor without this body; and it appears more probable to me that I shall continueto exist hereafterthan that I should have had existenceas I now havebeforethat existence began.
It is certain thatin one pointall the nations of the earth and allreligions agree — all believe in a God; the things in which they disagreearethe redundancies annexed to that belief; andthereforeif ever a universalreligion should prevailit will not be by believing anything newbut ingetting rid of redundanciesand believing as man believed at first. Adamifever there were such a manwas created a Deist; but in the meantimelet everyman followas he has a right to dothe religion and the worship he prefers.
Thus far I had written on the 28th of December1793. In the evening I wentto the Hotel Philadelphia (formerly White's Hotel)Passage des Petis Pereswhere I lodged when I came to Parisin consequence of being elected a member ofthe Conventionbut left the lodging about nine monthsand taken lodgings inthe Rue Fauxbourg St. Denisfor the sake of being more retired than I could bein the middle of the town.
Meeting with a company of Americans at the Hotel PhiladelphiaI agreed tospend the evening with them; andas my lodging was distant about a mile and ahalfI bespoke a bed at the hotel. The company broke up about twelve o'clockand I went directly to bed. About four in the morning I was awakened by arapping at my chamber door; when I opened itI saw a guardand the master ofthe hotel with them. The guard told me they came to put me under arrestationand to demand the key of my papers. I desired them to walk inand I would dressmyself and go with them immediately. It happened that Achilles AudibertofCalaiswas then in the hotel; and I desired to be conducted into his room. Whenwe came thereI told the guard that I had only lodged at the hotel for thenight; that I was printing a workand that part of that work was at the MaisonBretagneRue Jacob; and desired they would take me there firstwhich they did.
The printing-office at which the work was printing was near to the MaisonBretagnewhere Colonel Blackden and Joel Barlowof the United States ofAmericalodged; and I had desired Joel Barlow to compare the proof-sheets withthe copy as they came from the press. The remainder of the manuscriptfrom page32 to 76was at my lodging. But besides the necessity of my collecting all theparts of the work together that the publication might not be interrupted by myimprisonmentor by any event that might happen to meit was highly proper thatI should have a fellow-citizen of America with me during the examination of mypapersas I had letters of correspondence in my possession of the President ofCongress General Washington; the Minister of Foreign Affairs to Congress Mr.Jefferson; and the late Benjamin Franklin; and it might be necessary for me tomake a proces-verbal to send to Congress.
It happened that Joel Barlow had received only one proof-sheet of the workwhich he had compared with the copy and sent it back to the printing-office.
We then wentin company with Joel Barlowto my lodging; and the guardorcommissairestook with them the interpreter to the Committee of Surety-General.It was satisfactory to methat they went through the examination of my paperswith the strictness they did; and it is but justice that I saythey did it notonly with civilitybut with tokens of respect to my character.
I showed them the remainder of the manuscript of the foregoing work. Theinterpreter examined it and returned it to mesaying“It is an interestingwork; it will do much good.” I also showed him another manuscriptwhich I hadintended for the Committee of Public Safety. It is entitled“Observations onthe Commerce between the United States of America and France.”
After the examination of my papers was finishedthe guard conducted me tothe prison of the Luxembourgwhere they left me as they would a man whoseundeserved fate they regretted. I offered to write under the proces-verbal theyhad made that they had executed their orders with civilitybut they declinedit.
The Bible of the creation is inexhaustible in texts. Every part of sciencewhether connected with the geometry of the universewith the systems of animaland vegetable lifeor with the properties of inanimate matteris a text aswell for devotion as for philosophy — for gratitude as for human improvement.It will perhaps be saidthat if such a revolution in the system of religiontakes placeevery preacher ought to be a philosopher. Most certainly; and everyhouse of devotion a school of science.
It has been by wandering from the immutable laws of scienceand the rightuse of reasonand setting up an invented thing called revealed religionthatso many wild and blasphemous conceits have been formed of the Almighty. The Jewshave made him the assassin of the human species to make room for the religion ofthe Jews. The Christians have made him the murderer of himself and the founderof a new religionto supersede and expel the Jewish religion. And to findpretence and admission for these thingsthey must have supposed his power orhis wisdom imperfector his will changeable; and the changeableness of the willis imperfection of the judgement. The philosopher knows that the laws of theCreator have never changed with respect either to the principles of scienceorthe properties of matter. Whythenis it supposed they have changed withrespect to man?
I here close the subject. I have shown in all the foregoing parts of thisworkthat the Bible and Testament are impositions and forgeries; and I leavethe evidence I have produced in proof of itto be refutedif any one can doit: and I leave the ideas that are suggested in the conclusion of the worktorest on the mind of the reader; certain as I amthat when opinions are freeeither in matters of government or religiontruth will finally and powerfullyprevail.