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It may admit of doubt, whether the open and unmingled contempt which the name of Paine excites among Christians, be justified by that fairness which they ought to feel, and which their religion can well afford to all its adversaries; or by a due regard to the restoration of those who may be in danger of being misled by the plausibilities of that well known writer. The disapprobation awakened by his shameless immorality, and the contempt necessarily inspired by his singular want of in formation on the subject about which he dogmatises, ought not to be extended to the talents which he had received from his Maker. These were more than ordinary. His “Common Sense,” and “Crisis," written in defence of our own Revolution, contributed essentially to the success of that righteous cause. His “Rights of Man" published in reply to Burke on the French Revolution, is a production of merit, distinguished by considerable acuteness of thought, play of fancy, and a pungent brevity of style; though at the same time, it must be allowed, disfigured by that infidelity which came forth at last in its unveiled hideousness in the " Age of Reason."
The just distinction which Paine had earned in the cause of freedom, paved the way for his ready and even enthusiastic reception as a writer on Religion. Here, however, his ordinary resources failed him. Even his head was no match for his heart; nor his natural acuteness, for his total ignorance of the first elements of Biblical Criticism. This, it is conceived is very conclusively demonstrated, in "Watson's Apology for the Bible.” This work though noticed at the time of its appearance, still remains unanswered. The attempts at reply have perished. An answer which shall show any of the vitality of the Apology, or even of
the work which the Apology exposes, must be felt to be a desideratum among Infidels. They must see that something more is required to aid their cause, than literally trampling on the Bible with Robert Taylor of England -an example which it would appear has been rather servilely copied nearer home. Nothing but the ruin of the Infidel cause ought to be anticipated from such a barrenness of invention. Paine would have been ashamed of it He thought he could write the Bible out of repute, and Watson proved he was mistaken; it remained for his disciples now-a-days to imagine they might kick it into contempt. Even they ought to know that the public will not fail to infer an incurable deficiency in the heads of those, who on such an emergency betake themselves to their heels.
W. D. STROBEL,
I AAVE lately met with a book of yours entitled THE AGE OF Reason, part the second, being an investigation of true and of fabulous theology; and I think it not inconsistent with my station, and the duty I owe to society, to trouble you and the world with some observations on so extraordinary a performance. Extraordinary I esteem it, not from any novelty in the objections which you have produced against revealed religion (for I find little or no novelty in them,) but from the zeal with which you labor to disseminate your opinions, and from the confidence with which you esteem them true. You perceive by this, that I give you credit for your sincerity, how much-soever I may question your wisdom, in writing in such a manner, on such a subject; and I have no reluctance in acknowledging, that you possess a considerable share of energy of language, and acuteness of investigation; though I must be allowed to lament, that these talents have not been applied in a manner more useful to human kind, and more creditable to yourself,
I begin with your preface. You therein state—that you had long had an intention of publishing your thoughts upon religion, but that you bad originally reserved it to a later period in life-I hope there is no want of charity in saying, that it would have been fortunate for the Christian world, had your life been terminated before you had fulfilled your intention. In accomplishing your purpose, you will have unsettled the faith of thousands; rooted from the minds of the unhappy virtuous all their comfortable assurances of a future recompense; have annihilated in the minds of the flagitious all their fears of future punishment; you will have given the reins to the domination of every passion, and have thereby contributed to the introduction of the public insecurity, and of the private unhappiness, usually and almost necessarily accompanying a state of corrupt morals.
No one can think worse of confession to a priest and subsequent absolution, as practised in the church of Rome, than I do; but I cannot, with you, attribute the guillotine massacres to that cause. Men's minds were not prepared, as you suppose, for the commission of all manner of crimes, by any doctrines of the church of Rome, corrupted as I eso teem it, but by their not thoroughly believing even that religion. What may not society expect from those, who shall imbibe the principles of your book ?
A fever, which you and those about you expected would prove mortal, made you remember, with renewed satisfaction, that you had written the former part of your Age of Reason and you know therefore, you say, by experience, the conscientious trial of your own principles. I admit this declaration to be a proof of the sincerity of your persuasion, but I cannot admit it to be any proof of the truth of your principles, What is conscience? Is it, as has been thought, an internal monitor implanted in us by the Supreme Being, and dictating to us, on all occasions, what is right, or wrong? Or is it merely our own judg. ment of the moral rectitude or turpitude of our own actions? I take the word (with Mr. Locke) in the latter, as the only intelligible sense. Now who sees not that our judgments of virtue and vice, right and wrong, are not always formed from an enlightened and dispassionate use of our reason, in the investigation of truth? They are more generally formed from the nature of the religion we profess; from the quality of the civil government under which we live ; from the general manners of the age, or the particular manners of the persons with whom we associate; from the education we have had in our youth; from the books we have read at a more advanced period; and from other accidental causes. Who sees not that, on this account, conscience may be conformable or repugnant to the law of nature ?—may be certain, or doubtful—and that it can be no criterion of moral rectitude, even when it is certain, because the certainty of an opinion is no proof of its being a right opinion? A man may be certainly persuaded of an error in reasoning, or an untruth in matters of fact.
It is a maxim of every law, human and divine, that a man ought never to act in opposition to his conscience, but it will not from thence follow, that he will, in obeying the dictates of his conscience, on all 'occasions act right. An inquisitor, who burns Jews and heretics; a Robespierre, who massacres innocent and harmless women; a robber, who thinks that all things ought to be in common, and that a state of propriety is an unjust infringement of natural liberty;—these, and a thousand perpetrators of different crimes, may all follow the dictates of conscience; and may, at the real or supposed approach of death, remember “with renewed satisfaction,” the worst of their transactions, and experience without dismay “a conscientious trial of their principles.” But this, their conscientious composure, can be no proof to others of the rectitude of their principles, and ought to be no pledge to themselves of their innocence, in adhering to them.
I have thought fit to make this remark, with a view of suggesting to you a consideration of great importance-whether you have examined calmly, and according to the best of your ability, the arguments by which the truth of revealed religion may, in the judgment of learned and impartial men, be established ?-You wili allow, that thousands of learned and impartial men, (I speak not of priests, who, however, are I trust, as learned and impartial as yourself, but of laymen of the most splendid talents)-you will allow, that thousands of these, in all ages, have embraced revealed religion as true. Whether these men have all been in an error, enveloped in the darkness of ignorance, shackled by the chains of superstition, whilst you and a few others have enjoyed light and liberty, is a question I submit to the decision of
readers If you have made the best examination you can, and yet reject revealed religion as an imposture, I pray that God may pardon what I esteem your error. And whether you have made this examination or not, does not become me or any man to determine. That Gospel, which you despise, has taught me this moderation; it has said to me “Who art thou that judgest another man's servant? To his own master he standeth or falleth.” I think that you are in an error; but