Elihu Palmer's Principles of Nature


I'd like to thank fellow Deists Steve Dowell and Jay Boswell for their hard work in transcribing this important Deist work by Deist pioneer and personal friend of Thomas Paine, Elihu Palmer, and allowing the WUD to use it!

Elihu Palmer was a Presbyterian minister who became blind from the effects of yellow fever. As a Deist, Mr. Palmer did much to advance the cause! With the help of his wife, he gave talks on Deism, wrote and edited a Deist publication called The Prospect and wrote an outstanding book on God, Deism, "revealed" religions, etc. called Principles of Nature which we have below in its entirety.

Elihu Palmer's writing style is similar to Thomas Paine's in that he pulled no punches and was very honest. Regarding Elihu Palmer's writing Thomas Paine had this to say, "I received by Mr. Livingston the letter you wrote me, and the excellent work you have published. I see you have thought deeply on the subject, and expressed your thoughts in a strong and clear style. The hinting and intimating manner of writing that was formerly used on subjects of this kind produced skepticism, but not conviction. It is necessary to be bold."

To read and/or download this book in PDF please click here.


Principles of Nature;
or, A Development of the Moral Causes of Happiness and Misery Among the Human Species

by Elihu Palmer


  ITS PROGRESS......................................................
THEOLOGY AND ITS EFFECTS............................................
CHRISTIAN THEOLOGY..................................................
  DELIVERED IN NEW YORK, DEC. 1796..................................
ORIGIN OF THE EARTH.................................................
UNIVERSAL DELUGE....................................................
CHRISTIAN WONDERS...................................................
  DIVINE ORIGIN OF THE CHRISTIAN RELIGION?..........................
  NOT OF DIVINE ORIGIN..............................................





"I'll not be made a soft and dull ey'd fool,
To shake the head, relent and sigh and yield
To Christian intercessors," -- Shakespeare
"Prove all things."  I Thess. v. 21.




"God, to remove his ways from human sense,
Plac'd Heaven from earth so far, that earthly sight,
If it presume, might err in things too high,
And no advantage gain." -- Milton


    The establishment of theological systems, claiming divine
origin, has been among the most destructive causes by which the life
of man has been afflicted. History furnishes an awful picture of the
sad and fatal effects of fanaticism among the nations of the earth;
but history furnishes only the exterior; there is a deeper internal
wound, which superstition has inflicted in the bosom of society,
subversive of all moral sympathy and the fairest traits in the
character of man. The sincerity with which many upright minds are
attached to the Christian religion, can form no substantial objection
against an unqualified investigation into its truth of falsehood. If
it be founded in truth, it will stand the test of every examination -
it will stand the test of all future ages, and become immortal. It is
a point of justice to observe, that this work has been written under
the misfortune and embarrassment of a total loss of sight. This, in
the estimation of candid minds, will form at least a partial apology
for verbal incorrectness, or the want of better arrangement in the
construction of sentences; but it is not offered as constituting any
kind of apology for errors of opinion or principle. On this head the
fullest examination is invited; and, if any one can point out in what
respect the principles herein advanced are inconsistent and
erroneous, the author will be among the first to reject and condemn
them. But this must be done upon the ground of evidence, and not of
authority, as the latter bears no relation to truth. The great moral
and political questions which now agitate the world, cannot be
settled by an appeal to the authority of law books, theological
books, or the decisions of ecclesiastical councils; they rest upon
the broad basis of evidence, and by this principle alone they must be
determined. The circumstance that the author was once a public
speaker in the cause of Christianity, which is here opposed, so far
from forming a reasonable objection against the perusal of this work,
ought to become an additional motive of attention; for it was by a
candid and attentive investigation into the character of revealed
religion, that he became convinced that it was neither true nor
divine. It was, therefore, a duty which he owed to the integrity of
his own mind, and what was deemed the best interests of human
society, to abandon that system, and assume a higher and better
ground - that of Nature, and the immutability of her laws. If any one
should be disposed to censure on this account, let him remember that
there is more honour and much more utility in the relinquishment than
in the retention of errors. The new chapters contained in this
edition are intended to awaken a spirit of philosophic inquiry in
every description of adherents to the ancient regimen, and to induce
them to pass once more in review the religious theories to which they
have been so strongly attached. The principal design of the author,
through the whole of this work, has been to give to moral principle a
basis as durable as time, and as immortal as the specific succession
of human existence; and to render the sentiment of virtue, as far as
possible, independent of all the theological reveries of antiquity.
    The sources of hope and consolation to the human race are to be
sought for in the energy of intellectual powers. To these, every
specific amelioration must bear a constant and invariable reference;
and whatever opposes the progress of such a power, is unquestionably
in most pointed opposition to the best and most important interests
of our species. The organic construction of man induces a strong
conclusion that no limits can possibly be assigned to his moral and
scientific improvements. The question relative to the nature and
substance of the human mind, is of much less consequence than that
which relates to the extent of force and capacity, and the
diversified modes of beneficial application. The strength of human
understanding is incalculable, its keenness of discernment would
ultimately penetrate into every part of nature, were it permitted to
operate with uncontrolled and unqualified freedom. It is because this
sublime principle of man has been constantly the object of the most
scurrilous abuse, and the most detestable invective from
superstition, that his moral existence has been buried in the gulf of
ignorance, and his intellectual powers tarnished by the ferocious and
impure hand of fanaticism. Although we are made capable of sublime
reflections, it has hitherto been deemed a crime to think, and a
still greater crime to speak our thoughts after they have been
conceived. The despotism of the universe had waged war against the
power of the human understanding, and for many ages successfully
combated its efforts, but the natural energy of this immortal
property of human existence was incapable of being controlled by such
extraneous and degrading restraints. It burst the walls of its
prison, explored the earth, discovered the properties of its
component parts, analyzed their natures, and gave to them specific
classification and arrangement. Not content with terrestrial
researches, intellect abandoned the earth, and travelled in quest of
science through the celestial regions. The heavens were explored, the
stars were counted, and the revolutions of the planets subjected to
mathematical calculation. All nature became the theatre of human
action, and man in his unbounded and ardent desire attempted to
embrace the universe. Such was the nature of his powers, such their
strength and fervour, that hopes and anticipations were unqualified
and unlimited. The subordinate objects in the great mass of existence
were decompounded, and the essential peculiarities of their different
natures delineated with astonishing accuracy and wonderful precision.
Situated in the midst of a world of physical wonders, and having made
some progress in the analytical decomposition of material substances,
and the relative position of revolving orbs, man began to turn his
powers to the nice disquisitions of the subtle properties of his
mental existence. Here the force of his faculties was opposed by the
darkness and difficulties of the subject; and superstition, ever
ready to arrest and destroy moral improvement, cast innumerable
difficulties in the way, and the bewildered mind found this part of
the system of nature less accessible than the physical universe,
whose prominent disparities struck the understanding and presented
clear discrimination. The ignorance and barbarism of former ages, it
is said, furnish an awful intimation of the imbecility of our mental
powers, and the hopeless condition of the human race. If thought be
reflected back for the purpose of recognizing through a long night of
time, the miseries and ignorance of the species, there will be found,
no doubt, powerful causes of lamentation; but courage will be
resuscitated when the energy of intellect is displayed, and the
improvement of the world, which has been already made, shall be
clearly exhibited to view. It is not sufficient that man acknowledge
the possession of his intellectual powers, it is also necessary that
these powers should be developed, and their force directed to the
discovery of direct principle, and the useful application of it to
social life; errors, evils, and vices, every where exist, and by
these the world has been rendered continually wretched, and the
history of mankind furnishes the dreadful lessons, and shocks the
sensibility of every human being. The savage ferocity of despotism
has destroyed the harmony of society; the unrelenting cruelty of
superstition has cut asunder the finest fibres that ever concreted
the hearts of intelligent beings. It has buried beneath its gloomy
vale all the moral properties of our existence, and entombed in the
grave of ignorance and terror, the most sublime energies, and the
purest affections of the human mind. An important duty is therefore
imposed upon intellect, and a departure from its faithful performance
should be ranked among the crimes which have most disgraced and
injured the felicity of the world. If the few philanthropists who
have embarked in the cause of humanity, have not been adequately
rewarded, it is, nevertheless, true, that the principle and force of
duty remain the same, unbroken and incapable of being abrogated. It
is the discovery and propagation of truth which ought to engage the
attention of man, and call forth the powerful activity of his mind.
    The nature of ancient institutions, instead of forming a reason
against the activity of mind, should be considered as constituting a
double stimulus; these institutions are such a complete abandonment
of every just and correct principle; they have been so destructive in
their operation and effects, that nothing but the strong and
energetic movement of the human understanding will be capable of
subverting them. The whole earth has been made the wretched abode of
ignorance and misery; and to priests and tyrants these dreadful
effects are to be attributed. These are the privileged monsters who
have subjugated the earth, destroyed the peace and industry of
society, and committed the most atrocious of all robberies; that
which had robbed human nature of its intellectual property, leaving
all in a state of waste and barrenness. Moses, Zoroaster, Jesus, and
Mahomet, are names celebrated in history; but what are they
celebrated for? Have their institutions softened the savage ferocity
of man? Have they developed a clear system of principle, either
moral, scientific, or philosophical? Have they encouraged the free
and unqualified operation of intellect, or, rather, by their
institutions, has not a gloom been thrown over the clearest subjects,
and their examination prohibited under the severest penalties? The
successors and followers of these men have adhered to the destructive
lessons of their masters with undeviating tenacity. This has formed
one of the most powerful obstacles to the progress of improvement,
and still threatens, with eternal "damnation", that man who shall
call in question the truth of their "dogmas", or the divinity of
their systems.
    The political tyranny of the earth coalesced with this phalanx
of religious despots, and the love of science and of virtue was
nearly banished from the world. Twelve centuries of moral and
political darkness, in which Europe was involved, had nearly
completed the destruction of human dignity, and every thing valuable
or ornamental in the character of man. During this long and doleful
night of ignorance, slavery, and superstition, Christianity reigned
triumphant; its doctrines and divinity were not called in question.
The power of the Pope, the clergy, and the church, were omnipotent;
nothing could restrain their phrenzy, nothing could control the
cruelty of their fanaticism; with mad enthusiasm they set on foot the
most bloody and terrific crusades, the object of which was to recover
from infidels the "Holy Land". Seven hundred thousand men are said to
have perished in the two first expeditions, which had been thus
commenced and carried on by the pious zeal of the Christian church,
and in the total amount, several millions were found numbered with
the dead: the awful effects of religious fanaticism presuming upon
the aid of heaven. It was then that man lost all his dignity, and
sunk to the condition of a brute; it was then that intellect received
a deadly blow, from which it did not recover till the fifteenth
century. From that time to the present, the progress of knowledge has
been constantly accelerated; independence of mind has been asserted,
and opposing obstacles have been gradually diminished. The church has
resigned a part of her power, the better to retain the remainder;
civil tyranny has been shaken to its centre in both hemispheres; the
malignity of superstition is abating, and every species of
"quackery", imposture, and imposition, are yielding to the light and
power of science. An awful contest has commenced, which must
terminate in the destruction of thrones and civil despotism; in the
annihilation of ecclesiastical pride and domination; or, on the other
hand, intellect, science, and manly virtue, will be crushed in one
general ruin, and the world will retrograde towards a state of
ignorance, barbarism, and misery. The latter however is an event
rendered almost impossible by the discovery of the art of printing,
by the expansion of mind, and the general augmentation of knowledge.
Church and State may unite to form an insurmountable barrier against
the extension of thought, the moral progress of nations and the
felicity of nature; but let it be recollected, that the guarantee for
the moral and political emancipation is already deposited in the
archives of every school and college, and in the mind of every
cultivated and enlightened man of all countries. It will henceforth
be a vain and fruitless attempt to reduce the earth to that state of
slavery of which the history of former ages has furnished such an
awful picture. The crimes of ecclesiastical despots are still
corroding upon the very vitals of human society; the severities of
civil power will never be forgotten. The destructive influence of
ancient institutions will teach us to seek in nature and the
knowledge of her laws, for the discovery of those principles whose
operation alone can emancipate the world from dreadful bondage. If in
the succeeding chapters we shall be able to destroy any considerable
portion of human errors, and establish some solid truths, our labours
will bear a relation to the progressive improvement of the human
race, which, to intelligent minds, is of all considerations the most
beneficial and important.
    The impressions that are made on the human mind by the awful and
tremendous powers of nature, have filled it with terror and
astonishment. If by a laborious investigation of the universe, and
the laws by which it is regulated; if by an examination of our own
constitution and the refined properties of our existence; if from a
view of the moral and physical world, in the aggregate, we are led to
the idea of simple Theism including all possible perfection; it will
nevertheless be found substantially true, that with all savage
nations, and even with the mass of the people in civilized countries,
that no such sublime conception has ever formed any part of their
systems of theology. Rude, immoral, and incoherent opinions have been
heaped together upon this subject, and gods innumerable have been
fabricated by a distempered and disordered imagination. It is only
with those who have made some progress in science, that any clear and
correct ideas of theology have been found; the God of Ignorance has
always been an immortal monster, whose attributes spread terror
through the whole animal world. The power of thought, directed to the
examination of the laws of nature, or to the science of ontology, is
pressed by an ultimate necessity to the admission of an immortal
principle, to the faint conception of an eternal Being, whose
perfections guarantee the existence and harmony of the universe. The
essence of such a Being is inconceivable, and that mind which has no
doubt on the reality of the case, is, nevertheless, incompetent to
the discovery of mode, manner, or place of residence. If the material
world be excluded from constituting any share in the essence of such
a Being, the refinements and speculations will afterwards become
extremely subtle, and conception will, perhaps, be nearly lost in the
spirituality of the subject. The principle of causation is, of all
others, the most difficult of examination, because it includes the
idea of an infinite series in which the last point at which the mind
arrives presents a new difficulty not less than the former, and
involving the idea of eternal progression. Metaphysical reasoning on
the subject is, however, reserved to occupy a place near the close of
this Work, where Theism and its combatants will receive a suitable
share of reflection. At present it is sufficient that we refer the
universe, its laws, and order, to the divinity of thought emanating
from the most perfect of all beings. It has been a great question,
how far the principle of theology affects the principle and practice
of virtue. It can be matter of no doubt, in the first place, that a
corrupt and vitiated theology has ever been the bane of morality, and
produced effects of the most destructive and detestable nature. An
infinite Being, clothed with immoral attributes, and yet made an
object of worship and affection, will indubitably pervert the finest
sensations of the human heart, and render savage and ferocious the
character of man. This is not conjecture, it is verified by facts;
the history of all churches proves it beyond contradiction. It is
natural to expect such an effect; the Being that is worshipped is
presented as a pattern, and to imitate his properties is declared to
be an essential duty. If such a Being commit murder, or at any time
gives orders to the human race to perform such a cruel act, the order
once given is the signal for military assassination, national
vengeance, or the exercise of domestic resentment. The world becomes
a field of blood, and man is slaughtered in the name of Heaven. From
the introduction of Christianity into the world to the present
moment, there is scarcely a single war that has taken place in Europe
but what has verified this opinion. The church has always been in
danger, it is in danger still, and always will be, so long as there
shall be found on earth a single privileged impostor, to sound in the
name of Heaven, the trumpet of alarm among the nations of the world.
The purest ideas of the Divinity are necessary for the correct
operation of the moral powers of man; there cannot remain a shadow of
doubt, when recourse is made to the history of the Jews and
Christians, that the god or gods whom they have adored have produced
an unfavourable effect upon their moral temperament and habits. The
Jewish god is denominated a god of vengeance, wrath, and fury. He
gives commands for the indiscriminate massacre of men, women, and
children, declaring that not a soul should be left alive. The God of
the Jews is inherited by the Christians with additional specimens of
injustice and immorality. An infinite and eternal Son, equal to
himself, becomes the object of his wrath, and on him with unrelenting
severity he wreaks his terrible vengeance. This awful and immoral
action is considered in the view of the Christian believer, as an
excellent preparatory step to the exercise of gratitude, and the
overflowings of filial affections. When man makes to himself gods of
such a character, it were far better that he had been destitute of
all theological opinions, or that his adoration should have been
offered to that resplendent luminary that enlightens the world, and
vivifies the productions of the earth. The principle of morality is
founded in the nature of man, and modified by his reciprocal
relations; this principle cannot be augmented in its force or
application by a reference to those barbarous phantoms and
incongruous beings which the theology of the Jews and Christians, as
well as all savage nations, has presented to view. Individuals and
nations will always be wicked so long as they adore a divinity of
loose and immoral character. Theology must first be rendered pure,
and then it will become a question of magnitude, what influential
relation it bears to the science of morality and happiness of the
    Believers in the Christian system of religion are seldom aware
of the difficulties into which their theological theories have
plunged them. They are in habits of bestowing on this religion the
most unqualified applause, and in most cases, no doubt, the most
sincere approbation; but the errors and absurdities, the immorality
and the incorrectness of principle, have never made any serious
impression upon their minds. The dreadful idea of opposing that which
has been called divine, strikes with terror the uninstructed mind,
and ignorance feeds the ecclesiastical deception. Ignorance is an
excellent friend to an ancient system of error, to the church and the
different projects by which mankind have been enslaved. If you can
once persuade a man that he is totally ignorant of the subject on
which you are about to discourse, you can make him believe any thing.
Impositions of this kind are furnished by every day's experience; and
the victim of such imposition is commonly the first to applaud the
instrument of his ruin.
    Nothing can be more true, nothing more certain, or important,
than that a man owes to himself due respect, that his intellect is an
object of veneration, and its result interwoven with the best
interests of human society. The distorted exhibitions of imaginary
beings contained in all ancient theology, ought to excite within us a
strong desire to discover truth, and reclaim the dignity which nature
gave to man. Fanaticism, when armed with the artillery of Heaven,
ought not to be permitted to shake the throne or empire of reason;
the base is immortal, and the superstructure will be augmented in
beauty and excellence, in proportion to the progress of knowledge and
the destruction of religious bigotry. It is remarkable, that with
many honest minds the consciousness of intellectual independence has
never been realized, and fear has prevented the activity of thought
and the development of truth. Names have assumed a weight and
authority, which in reality does not belong to them. The church and
its maxims have been revered; subordinate agents of the Creator have
produced universal trepidation; the Devil has broke into the felicity
of the moral world, and God himself, even with the Christian church,
is an object of terror and dismay. These subjects carry along with
them the most dreadful alarm, and man, amidst the reveries of
supernatural theology, becomes either feeble or foolish, his power
relaxed, his energy is gone, and he sinks beneath the system of fear,
which it is the office of cultivated reason alone to destroy. Such
are the fatal effects of all theology, but more particularly of that
which is denominated Christian. The Christian world worships three
infinite Gods, and one omniscient and omnipresent Devil.(1) This last
being is an object rather of terror and frightful apprehension, than
of worship and adoration; but as he is clothed with nearly all of the
attributes which this system of religion has ascribed to its
divinity, or divinities, and as the latter is also clothed with the
awful qualities of wrath and vengeance, it would be difficult to
offer any good reason why the one should be entitled, in the view of
the Christian believer, to more homage than the other, since between
them there is so striking a resemblance of character. But whether
Christian theology represents the Devil as an object of worship or
only of fear, it is nevertheless certain, that he is a very important
and essential character in the drama therein acted. He holds a
prominent and conspicuous place in this wonderful system of
mythology, and his destruction would go far to the ruin of the scheme
itself. There are many other subordinate agents, who are actors in
the Christian scenes, such as angels, ghosts, and witches; these,
however, are not considered as objects of adoration, but are only to
be treated with that degree of civility and respect, to which their
station in this celestial and mythological aristocracy may justly
entitle them. This variegated groupe of gods, devils, angels, ghosts,
and witches, is what constitutes essentially the supernatural
theology, or rather mythology of the Christian world. One sect, the
most ancient, and like all others, in their own estimation, the most
orthodox, have added one female divinity to complete the beauty and
wonder of the scheme. The "Virgin Mary", among the Papists, is called
the mother of God; and having produced so respectable an offspring,
is frequently addressed with prayers and supplications, and to her,
also, divine honours are paid.
[1. These assertions have been objected to as incorrect by some
believers who read the first edition of this work. The explanatory
and qualifying remarks which follow this phrase in the text, ought to
have silenced objections of this kind; but there are other Scriptural
considerations which will abundantly destroy the force of the
objection. God is represented as a being of wrath, vengeance, and
fury - so also is the Devil! The worship of God consists in a very
high degree in the sentiment of fear. The fear of the Lord is the
beginning of wisdom, fear God and keep his commandments, &c.
Christian believers are also most terribly afraid of the Devil; if
the sentiment of fear be worship in the one case, why should it not
be so considered in the other case? But this is not all; the
description given of these two beings in Holy Writ, is so perfectly
similar, that believers, in order to be consistent, ought to include
them both as objects of worship. Speaking of God, the Scriptures say,
"He was unto me as a Bear lying in wait, and as a Lion in secret
places." Lam. iii. 10. And of the Devil, "He goeth about like a
roaring Lion, seeking whom he may devour." I Peter v. 8. The only
distinction here is, that the one was a roaring lion, and the other
did not roar; but this deficiency is made up by coupling with the
still lion, and a still bear also; for these two put together would
probably be about equal, in point of terror, to the roaring lion.
When Christian believers are so inconsistent as to worship these
immoral monsters, or either of them, they ought to cease to charge
others with lies and blasphemies. As to the first part of the phrase,
That the Christian world worships three infinite Gods - this is
"certainly" true, and demonstrated by the single consideration, that
they attribute infinite perfection to each person in the Trinity. The
unintelligible union of these three persons cannot destroy in any
degree whatever, the infinite perfection ascribed to each; it
therefore remains true, that the Christian world really worship three
infinite Gods, or infinite persons, which is exactly the same thing.]
    Next to the absurdity of the leading idea contained in the
nature of this theological system, is that branch of it which
violates all the rules of arithmetical calculation, and mathematical
proportion; that which violates all ideas of common sense and common
understanding, the awful doctrine of the Trinity. "The Father is God,
the Son is God, and the Holy Ghost is God; and yet there are not
Three Gods, but One God. The Father is Almighty, the Son is Almighty,
and the Holy Ghost is Almighty; yet there are not three Almighties,
but one Almighty."(1) The essence of this doctrine is, that there is
but one infinite and perfect being, yet there are three infinite and
perfect beings. When the Christian is asked how many Gods there are,
he will answer, there is but one. If the inquiry be made, how many
persons this God is divided into, the answer is three; but to each of
these three persons all possible perfection is attributed, and yet in
a compound state, the whole mass of perfection continues the same.
Let this doctrine be subjected to rational investigation, and its
absurdity and contradiction must strike with astonishment every
correct mind. There cannot possibly exist in nature more than one
infinite, eternal, and perfect being; one infinity swallows up all
others, and it is impossible to add to that which is already as great
as it can be. If God the Father posseses all possible excellence, if
he be infinite in extent, infinite in duration, there can be no space
or time in which any other infinite being could possibly exist. Two
infinities must either coincide and coalesce, and then they would
become one, or they would destroy each other. If the Father is
possessed of infinite wisdom, such attribute cannot belong either to
the Son, or to the Holy Ghost; if the Son, the second person,
possessed such infinite wisdom, it would operate as a
disfranchisement of the other two; the same will apply to the "Holy
Ghost", in exclusion of his competitors; there can be but one
infinite; a double infinite is a double absurdity, and the
Trinitarian idea in incongruous and impossible. If the assertion be
made, that one is equal to three, and that three are no more than
one, all numerical distinction is totally destroyed, and man consents
to become a fool upon the plainest points. Trinitarian declarations
are direct contradictions to each other; the part is as great as the
whole, and the whole is no greater than the part; three infinities
put together make only one, and the destruction of two of them does
not diminish the mass of existence or perfection. If facts did not
stare us in the face, we should never have believed that it was in
the power of superstition to have perverted in so gross a manner the
human understanding. In all the common concerns and calculations of
human life, Christians themselves, practically declare, that they do
not believe in the doctrine of the Trinity. In these concerns, they
would be very unwilling that a part should be considered as equal to
the whole, or that the whole should be estimated no higher than the
part; they would not consent to destroy all numerical distinction,
nor would they be willing to annihilate the just ideas of
discrimination, by which their interest is supported; but although in
common life they would reject all this, yet in theology the nature of
things is stripped of its true character, and every species of just
distinction is perverted or destroyed. This doctrine of the Trinity,
Christianity has borrowed from the ancient heathen ideas, and the
church has incorporated it for the purposes of mystery and
ecclesiastical imposition. It was found among the reveries of Plato,
and being transferred to the followers of Jesus, it has appeared
under the modification, and with the names of Father, Son, and Holy
Ghost. Thus modified, it became the foundation of a cruel and
ferocious dogma, that eternal damnation should be the portion of him
who called in question this holy mystery. The spirit of this
trinitarian opinion has diffused itself through several other parts
of the Christian system, and the idea of an atonement is not the
least shocking amongst the consequences that are to be ascribed to
this theological absurdity. The followers of the Son of Mary boast of
the purity of their theistical doctrine; but a candid examination of
it proves, that it is nothing more than a modification of the
mythological opinions of all ancient and barbarous nations.
[1. See St. Athanasius's Creed.]
    Among all nations that have pretended to any kind of literary
improvement, there have always been found ambitious, designing, and
fanatic men, who are impelled by one or the other of these
considerations to become leaders of influential characters among the
beings who surround them. Superiority of talents or improvements,
constituted a ground of hope and strong belief, that they should
succeed in an attempt of this kind. Advantage was taken of human
ignorance, and the most destructive and erroneous plans were
introduced and established by length of time and the force of
authority. In nations not at all, or very little improved, tradition
has supplied the place of sacred writings, and they have been equally
the dupes of those unprincipled chieftains who have assumed authority
over them. Moses and Mahomet governed their followers with a rod of
iron, and a military despotism. They were savage and ferocious men,
crafty and intriguing, and they knew how to subject to their will the
stupid but unfortunate followers who were devoted to their views. If
Jesus was more mild, benevolent, and temperate, it was because he had
less power, and because his disposition was less cruel and resentful.
His followers, when clothed with power, have not paid a very high
compliment to their master, for the history of their conduct evinces
the most malignant design, and the earth has been drenched in blood,
to defend that system of religion, of which the meek and lowly Jesus
is reputed to be the author.
    The Christian religion is a compound and combination of all the
theological writings of the followers of Moses and Jesus. We have no
evidence that either of these men wrote any part, either of the Old
or New Testament. From Genesis to the Apocalypse of St. John, a vast
variety of fact, fable, principle, wickedness, and error is exhibited
to view. The book, though bound together, appears to be in many
respects discordant; the historical part has no accurate connection;
the moral part is distorted, deficient, or wicked; the doctrinal
parts are either unintelligible, or contrary to moral and
philosophical truth. These positions shall be proved in the course of
the examination of these sacred writings; it is sufficient for the
present that the consideration which relates to the origin and nature
of such productions, should form the basis of our inquiry. It is
because man has forgotten the dignity of his nature; it is because he
does not realize the force of his faculties, that he consents to
yield to the impositions of superstition. What is a book, whether it
be denominated sacred or not, unless the human mind is capable of
discovering the evidence by which the truth of such book can be
substantiated? The Bible, which means nothing more than a book; the
scriptures of the Old and New Testaments, which means nothing more
than the heterogeneous writings contained in the former, and the
incoherent and unintelligible will of various beings contained in the
latter; what are all these to the correct decisions of human
intellect, unless the matter therein contained can be collated with
the immortal principles of truth in the system of nature?
    The title page of the Bible subjects it to a strong suspicion of
fraud and deception, of error, alteration, and absurdity. It is as
follows, and ought to be examined: "The Holy Bible, containing the
Old and New Testaments, translated out of the original tongues, and
with the former translations, diligently compared and revised, by his
Majesty's special command. Appointed to be read in churches." The
title page of this book, which for many centuries has been the rule
of faith and action in the Christian world, is of itself sufficient
to destroy its supernatural origin and divine authority. It is to be
observed, that the book in the first place was denominated holy; but
its holiness and divinity are both destroyed before we get through
the title page. It is a well known fact, that this book was not
written at first in the English language, but in Hebrew, Greek, and
Latin; that it has been translated out of these languages into
English; and the believer who understands no language but English,
rests his faith upon the knowledge and integrity of the translators
alone. He cannot tell whether these men were either scientific or
honest, and consequently he does not know whether he believes what
was really contained in the original writings or not. He cannot
determine whether the sentiments which have drawn forth the
affections of his heart, have really emanated from God, or proceeded
from the mind of man; he cannot tell whether the supposed truths of
the gospel are the result of human or divine power. If the sentiments
and the doctrines be consistent with the nature of things, he may, on
this account, pronounce them true; but they are true because they are
consistent, and not because they have been revealed. This single
consideration, that the English believer knows nothing of the
original state of the Bible, is of itself sufficient to annihilate
all his confidence. But this is not all; this book is said to be
given by divine inspiration; but is it possible that inspiration can
be either transferred, translated, altered, or revised? Certainly the
very nature of the thing forbids it. If the scriptures be given by
divine inspiration, their contents must be communicated to certain
individuals by supernatural power. These individuals had no such
power to transfer to other individuals with the same force of
authority, the celestial information which they had received. If it
were binding on the first persons who received it, it could not be
equally so upon the second, for the nature and force of the
communications were essentially destroyed. The first power that
communicated was divine, the second was human; the first was
incapable of error, the second deceptive and fallacious. If it were
therefore to be admitted that any human beings were ever inspired, it
would not follow that the result of that inspiration could be
communicated with certitude or divine authority to any other minds.
The idea of transferring celestial information received by
supernatural means, is absurd and impossible; it is as impossible as
that man could become a God, and exercise the attributes of the
Divinity. The idea of translating a supernatural system of religion,
is equally incorrect. The readers of such a system, even in the
original languages, could not know that the things therein contained
were inspired by God himself, if those few be accepted who were
supposed to be the recipients of such sacred instruction; much less
could the reader in subsequent ages be assured of the truth or
validity of such translated doctrines. To render this system correct,
and keep up the chain of divine connection, it is not only necessary
that the first prophets and apostles should have been inspired, but
that all the translators, transcribers, printers, and printers' boys,
should have been inspired also. In deficiency of such arrangement,
the Christian believer at the present day must be uncertain whether
he believes in holy writ, or the imaginary conceptions and wild
reveries of the human understanding. If inspiration be a thing
founded in truth, there can be no occasion to alter or revise it. It
is defect alone that creates the necessity of alteration and
revision. If, therefore, the Bible was right at first, every
alteration is a deviation from that rectitude; and, consequently, in
proportion as the scriptures have been altered and revised in modern
times, the Christian believer has been led astray; he has not
believed in the real and true word of God. If the scripture was wrong
at first, the faith of the primitive Christian was nothing more than
a delusive error; in either of these cases we are thrown into a
dilemma, from which clerical ingenuity alone will be able to
extricate us. The last resort of the believer, must be to the
authority and command of his Majesty, who has kindly interfered for
the purpose of rendering divine and holy, a book, whose indecency and
immorality shocks all common sense and common honesty.
    This, my friends, we are told is Christmas-day; and while the
pious and learned divines of all Christendom are extolling the
beauties, the excellencies, and the divinity of the Christian
religion; while its doctrines are represented as the most pure and
celestial, its morality exalted above that of any other ethical
treatise, and the goodness of the Creator represented as demanding
the most unreserved gratitude, and the highest affection of the human
heart: while this absurd and cruel system is every where held up to
admiration, as containing the height of divine perfection and the
most unbounded displays of infinite benevolence; while an ignorant
and astonished world are called upon to yield an unqualified credence
to the mysterious dogmas of this mysterious religion; while, in a
word, the thundering voice of the Christian world is proclaiming to
the elect few the joys which are reserved as their unfailing portion,
and damnation to the many who are unfortunately destitute of what
they call saving and supernatural faith; be it our task to inquire
into the truth or falsehood of these declarations. This inquiry shall
be made without reference to any other principle than that of truth,
or any other effect than that of the happiness of mankind. Elevated
in our conceptions above every possible consideration resulting from
hope or fear, and having truth only for our object, we shall proceed
to an unreserved examination of this so much celebrated system of
religion, called Christianity. The world has been so long in the
habit of believing it to be true, that the mind seems to have lost
all traces of independent investigation; a mental stupidity has taken
possession of the human faculties, and liberal inquiry has been lost
in the vortex of clerical authority. A general torpor has reigned for
ages past, and it is now time to throw in our aid, to awaken the
mental energy of intelligent beings. Let us proceed, then, to an
unprejudiced discussion of the subject; and in order to do this with
perspicuity, the following method shall be observed: - 
1st. We shall make some remarks concerning Jesus Christ.
2dly. We shall consider the doctrines of the Christian religion.
3dly. The morality of this religion.
4thly. The effects of the introduction of Christianity into the world.
    With respect to the first proposition, we may observe, that
among other strange and marvellous things contained in this scheme of
religion, the conception of Jesus Christ is very singular and
unnatural; he is ushered into the world in a manner neither credible
nor cognizable by the human mind; he has a mother, it is true, but he
has no father; for although the lineal descent is traced through many
generations down to the person who ought to have been his father, yet
the chain is here broken, and he is said to have been begotten by a
ghost. To what purpose is this genealogy given, when the lineal
descent is to be wholly destroyed in the conclusion of the scene? And
after having destroyed it, and ascribed the conception to an unknown
phantom, called the Holy Ghost, he is then said to be the eternal Son
of the Father, that is, of the Creator and Preserver of the universe.
If he is the only-begotten Son of the Father, how can he be the Son
of the Holy Ghost? And if he was really begotten by this Ghost, what
had the Father to do with this scene of debauchery? At any rate, what
conception can the human mind form of this absurd and contradictory
representation? This child, when born, appears to be a human being,
and yet his is supernaturally begotten by two supernatural fathers,
and he is as old as either of them. Sophistry and folly united cannot
exhibit a greater specimen of nonsense and irrationality. This story
of the virgin and the ghost, to say no more of it, does not wear the
appearance of much religion; and it would not, it is presumed, be
difficult in any age or country, to find a sufficient number of men
who would pretend to be ghosts, if by such pretensions they could
obtain similar favours, especially with the consoling reflection
superadded, of becoming the progenitors of the pretended Saviour of a
wicked and apostate world. How absurd and contradictory are the
principles and the doctrines of this religion! In vain do its
advocates attempt to cover this transaction with the machinery of
ghosts and supernatural agents. The simple truth is, that their
pretended Saviour is nothing more than an illegitimate Jew, and their
hopes of salvation through him rest on no better foundation than that
of fornication or adultery.
    But let us suppose that the mode of bringing him into the world
was natural and consistent; what valuable purpose has been effected
by it? There has been none, either in his conception, his birth, his
life, or his death, unless the horrid cruelties, the murderous wars
and devastations, which have disgraced the annals of the Christian
world, can be considered as blessings to mankind. In every moral
point of view, the world is infinitely worse, and so far as relates
to their felicity, we may boldly assert, that wretchedness has been
increased; yet this was the man who was to do away sin, and bring in
an everlasting righteousness; this was the source whence innumerable
benefits were to be derived; but, alas! wickedness and misery have
been the continued and uniform result.
    But to proceed, - What was the conduct of this person, called
Jesus Christ? Was it like the conduct of a deity, or like that of an
ignorant uninformed man? Was it the conduct of divine wisdom, or that
of imbecility and distrustful apprehension? If this man, Jesus
Christ, had really entered into a coalition with the Creator of the
world, for the accomplishment of important purposes relative to the
happiness of the human race; if the stipulation had been well
understood by the two contracting parties, in the origin of the
business; if the intelligent Creator of the world on his part, had
asserted that there was no other mode of producing the benefits
intended, than by the death of his only begotten Son, and the
multiplicity of sufferings and calamities which necessarily resulted
from so arduous and important an undertaking; and if, on the other
hand, this pretended Son of God was apprized of the unavoidable evils
which were connected with his mission; if all the previous
arrangements and subsequent events had been well and clearly
determined between them; and if the whole had been directed by
infinite wisdom, power, and goodness, what ought to have been the
final effect of this splendid celestial embassy? Ought we not to
conclude, that the general felicity of intelligent beings on the
surface of the globe, must have been the unavoidable consequence? Are
we not bound to suppose that a plan of operation formed in the
cabinet of eternal wisdom, must have answered all the purposes which
that wisdom was calculated to produce? Instead of this, how
wretchedly are we disappointed? Vice is not destroyed, and the fears
of future damnation are increased. Three infinite Gods have laboured
in vain, and their united efforts have not been able to rescue
mankind from endless torments. But further, why was not this
pretended Saviour exhibited to the world, the nature of his scheme,
and extensive benefits of his mission? Was he uninformed, or was he
incapable of communicating to intelligent beings the knowledge of a
plan on which their eternal felicity depended? If, as is pretended,
he had been God himself, or if he had been enlightened by the wisdom
of the Creator, no progressive steps of science could be applicable
to his condition. It could not be necessary for him to go to a school
or academy in order to learn to read or write, and yet we have no
evidence that he was capable of either, and the negative evidence on
this point is almost conclusive, as to his want of common
information. To have convinced the world of his supernatural
conception and celestial mission, he ought to have written a moral
and theological treatise, in which the principles of his mission
should have been elucidated in a manner intelligible to every living
creature, interested in the possession of such knowledge. But
unfortunately for mankind, this has not been the case; all is doubt -
all is uncertainty; and we are left to depend on the opinions and
declarations of others, who seem to have known but little of the
matter. They tell us an unconnected and inconsistent story, of the
conception, the life, the death, and the resurrection of Jesus
Christ; but they have no system, and their development of moral
principles is partial, and inaccurate; but the concluding scene of
his life exhibits some information worthy of our impartial attention.
In his last moments he cries out, "My God, my God, why hast thou
forsaken me!" What conclusion is it natural to draw from this
distressing exclamation? It appears to be this, that on the part of
Jesus Christ, there was a virtual renunciation of his confidence in
the Creator; and on the supposition that there was originally a
concerted plan of execution well understood by both the parties, the
fulfilment of it seems here to have been relinquished, and the
beneficial effects annihilated. On the part of Jesus, it is saying,
"I have been deceived in this undertaking. I did not expect that I
should have been forsaken in this hour of my greatest distress; but I
rested with confidence on eternal wisdom, for a timely escape from
this wretched misfortune." On the part of the Father, there is a want
of attention and support in this trying hour. He forsakes his beloved
Son; he gives him up to the murderous fury of vindictive enemies; and
neither the one nor the other of the parties exhibits that spirit of
fortitude and constancy which might justly have been expected on so
interesting an occasion. The reflecting mind concludes, therefore,
that the whole is but a fiction, and that no such stipulation ever
took place between the man Jesus Christ, and the Creator of the world.
    We shall now proceed to an examination of the doctrines of the
Christian religion, and compare them with the principles of a genuine
and natural morality, the nature and character of man, and the
perfections of the intelligent Creator of the universe. If the
founder of this religion was destitute of authority in his mission,
the doctrines which are applicable to him will fall of course; but so
strong are the prejudices of mankind in favour of these doctrines,
that it becomes necessary to expose the immorality of them before we
can expect that they will be relinquished. The most important
doctrines of this supposed celestial scheme, are those of original
sin, atonement, faith, and regeneration. The first two of these are
essentially immoral in their nature. The third, though considered as
a virtue by Christians, has nothing in it either of merit or demerit,
and the last being supernatural, is not cognizable by the faculties
of the human mind. This strange and unnatural system, call the the
Christian religion, commences the development of its dogmas, by the
destruction of every principle of distributive justice. It makes the
intelligent beings who are now in existence accountable for the
errors and vices of a man who lived six thousand years ago; a man
who, its advocates say, God created upright, free from every kind of
impurity, and placed in a state of uniform happiness, with a strong
natural propensity to the practice of every virtue, and an equally
strong aversion to every vicious and immoral principle; created in
the image of God himself, and possessing an unqualified attachment to
celestial purity and goodness. This man, nevertheless, transgressed
the divine law, and this solitary violation becomes temporarily and
eternally fatal to the human race. Moral impurity assumes a new
shape, and becomes transferable through successive generations.
Though none of this man's descendants could possibly be partakers of
this original criminality, they are, nevertheless, implicated in the
consequences and effects of his primary apostacy. "They sinned with
him, and fell with him, in his first transgression." This is the
language of pious and learned divines, and of the rectitude of the
principle we are not permitted to doubt, under pain of eternal
damnation. But the truth compels us to assert, that this doctrine,
called original sin, is, in the first place, totally impossible, and
in the second place, that it is as immoral and unjust, as the Creator
is righteous and benevolent. The virtues and the vices of intelligent
beings are not of a transferable but of a personal nature. In a moral
point of view, the amiable or useful qualities of one man cannot
become those of another, neither can the vices of one be justifiably
punished in the person of another. Every man is accountable for
himself; and when he can take no cognizance of the intentions or
actions of any other man, how can he be justly responsible for their
injurious effects, or applauded for any benefits resulting from them?
If Adam or any other man, who lived several thousand years ago, was
guilty of an immoral conduct, what has that to do with the moral
condition of the present generation? Is a man to become criminal
before he has existed? or, is he to be criminated afterwards, by the
immoral conduct of those who lived long before him? Has not every man
errors enough of his own to answer for, without being implicated in
the injurious consequences resulting from the bad conduct of his
neighbour? Shall there be no line of moral precision, by which human
beings can be tried, condemned, or acquitted? It seems by the general
tenor of this doctrine, that every rule of moral precision is here
totally disregarded, and setting aside the want of justice, the whole
business wears a farcical and ludicrous appearance. This original
evil so destructive to the human race, commences by the eating of
what is called the forbidden fruit. Whether the fruit was an apple, a
peach, or an orange, is not material for us to know; if it was either
the one or the other of these, and the fruit was good, there could be
no harm in eating it, and if bad, let him take the consequence whose
ignorance or temerity induced the action. But whether good or bad,
whether eaten or not eaten, is nothing to us, and we are neither
worse nor better for reading this foolish story. The moral impurity
of the heart can bear no possible relation to the criminality of
Adam, or any other man of that day or generation. Let Adam,
therefore, and his partner Eve, together with the Devil and his
snakes, attend to their own concerns, and if they have fallen into
difficulties by their own follies and vices, let them extricate
themselves as well as they are able. For myself, I have so much
regard for all of them, that I hope they will not be damned for ever.
For notwithstanding much noise and clamour has been raised, I think
that neither party was so bad as the pious ambassadors of Heaven have
represented them. The story is almost too foolish to deserve a
serious examination. Let intelligent man study his own nature, and
the passions of his heart, let him observe his relative condition and
the springs of his action, and he will soon discern the causes of his
calamity. He will find that disorganization or physical death is an
unavoidable appendage of animal life. That the very construction of
his nature insures the certainty of a subsequent derangement, and
that the primary qualities of all sensitive beings gradually lead to
dissolution. No organic perfectibility of animal existence has been
discovered yet, which is capable of excluding the anticipation of
decay through the progressive operations of physical causes upon the
constitution; and perfect moral rectitude, though it were capable of
extending the period, could not give ultimate durability to beings
organized like ourselves; nevertheless, we are told that death(1)
spiritual, temporal, and eternal, are the consequence of his
primitive apostacy. By spiritual death is meant moral turpitude of
the heart and character; but this in many beings obtains but
partially, and is always the effect of personal infraction of moral
principle, bearing no possible relation to Adam. By temporal death,
is meant that death which experience teaches us to be the fate of
every creature in the present world, and this death, though an
essential ingredient in the constitution of nature, is foolishly and
unphilosophically attributed to the sin of Adam. If Adam, previous to
his supposed apostacy, had been thrown into a fire, or immersed in
water, would not one of these elements have disorganized him, or the
other have drowned him? or would he have returned from these trials
with all the beauties of youth and vivacity in his appearance? If it
be contended that he would, a constitution must then be attributed to
him of which the human mind can form no conception. If it be admitted
that he must have perished, temporal death can then no longer be
attributed to the commission of moral evil, and it must be
acknowledged as an essential property of our primary and physical
organization; and that death is as natural as life in the order of
the world. By eternal death, is meant a state of endless punishment;
and so powerful is the influence of this sin of Adam upon the human
race, that they all become liable to eternal torments on this
account. One would have supposed that after having brought temporal
death into the world by this transgression, and after having
corrupted every moral principle of the human heart, the contrivers of
the scheme might have been contented, without annexing to this crime
any other fatal consequences; but fanaticism and superstition delight
in murder, misery, and eternal fire; and to this flaming lake I wish
them a speedy passage, never more to rise to insult the dignity, or
destroy the happiness of the human race. To punish the temporary and
finite crimes of a finite life with eternal fire, would be to
relinquish every principle of distributive justice, and to act like
an arbitrary and malevolent tyrant. All the sins that ever have been
committed do not deserve this unlimited severity of punishment; and
to attribute to one solitary infraction of a moral law these terrible
consequences, is to lose sight of infinite benevolence and eternal
justice. It is to represent the God of Nature as cruel and
vindictive, and even less merciful than the majority of his
creatures; it destroys all degrees in moral turpitude, and inflicts
on a petty offender a punishment not merited by the greatest
criminal. It is therefore evident that this original sin has not
produced, and that it could not produce, any of the consequences
which have been attributed to it, for death is one of the physical
properties of our nature. Vice is the result of individual and
personal infractions of moral law, and an eternal Hell is a bugbear
of superstition, which has never answered, and never can answer, any
valuable purpose even in preventing crimes.
[1. See chapter on Death.] 
    Another important doctrine in the Christian religion is the
atonement supposed to have been made by the death and sufferings of
the pretended Saviour of the world; and this is grounded upon
principles as regardless of justice as the doctrine of original sin.
It exhibits a spectacle truly distressing to the feelings of a
benevolent mind, it calls innocence and virtue into a scene of
suffering and reputed guilt, in order to destroy the injurious
effects of real vice. It pretends to free the world from the fatal
effects of a primary apostacy, by the sacrifice of an innocent being.
Evil has already been introduced into the world, and in order to
remove it, a fresh accumulation of crimes becomes necessary. In plain
terms, to destroy one evil, another must be committed. To teach
mankind virtue, they are to be presented with the example of murder;
to render them happy, it is necessary to exhibit innocence in
distress; to provide for them the joys of Heaven, wretchedness is to
be made their portion on earth. To make them love one another, they
must be taught that the Deity, regardless of this principle,
voluntarily sacrificed his only begotten Son. In fine, to procure for
intelligent beings the happiness suited to their nature, cruelty and
vindictive malice must be exhibited for their contemplation. This
doctrine presented in its true colours contains neither justice nor
utility. Its principle is vicious, and its consequences are not
beneficial. The reflecting mind which views the operation of causes
and their natural effects, possesses a nice and accurate power of
discrimination. Moral precision is an important object of attention,
and although it traces the nature of the infinitely combined
relations subsisting among beings of the same species, it cannot
discern either the justice or the the utility of the relation which
suffering virtue can bear to the destruction of moral evil. No
connection can be discovered between the exclamations of expiring
innocence, and the triumphant march of vice over an apostate world.
Does the suffering of the virtuous man destroy the evil habits or
propensities of him who is vicious and abandoned, especially when he
is told that these sufferings are to annihilate his own crimes? Can
this induce the mind to exhibit any efforts wearing the appearance of
reformation? Does it not rather contribute to the practice of vice,
from the belief that the burden and effect must be sustained by
another person? Yet this is the true ground on which this scheme of
atonement is promulgated. It is exhibited as a substitute for moral
perfection. It teaches man that his own virtues are insufficient for
his felicity; that the cultivation of his faculties, and the
discovery and practice of moral truth, can never lead to substantial
happiness. This must be obtained from the sufferings and expiring
groans of the Deity himself. But even on Christian principles, what
useful purpose has this atonement answered? Though the believers of
this religion have sacrificed the God of Nature to gratify their
pride, have they by this means accomplished their end? Have they
established a sure foundation for the destruction of moral evil? Have
they insured permanent happiness to every intelligent being? No; this
desirable end is not completed. Sin, say they, is an infinite evil.
Was the atonement infinite? Alas! No; for although Jesus Christ, who
suffered, was equal to God himself, yet all of them acknowledge that
it was the human, not the divine nature that partook of this
suffering. If, therefore, it was the human nature only that suffered,
this suffering could only make a finite atonement, and if the sin was
infinite, this atonement could not reach its nature or destroy its
effects; for to have done this, the atonement must have been
commensurate with the evil to be destroyed; but as the one is finite,
and the other infinite, no relation could have subsisted between
them, and no beneficial effect has been or can be produced from it.
This method of destroying evil is an unfortunate one; it is
essentially unjust in its principles, and useless in its effects; it
professes to sacrifice an infinite being, but it denies the
possibility of this sacrifice producing any thing more than a finite
atonement. If an atonement was necessary, it ought to have been as
extensive and complete in its nature as the offences intended to be
destroyed by its influence. But instead of this, every thing is
reversed. According to believers themselves, this atonement has not
reached the condition of more than one-tenth part of the human race.
The efforts of Trinitarian wisdom have all failed, and
notwithstanding the pretended good news of the Gospel, every living
creature is destined to never-ending torment. The elect themselves
are incapable of escaping eternal damnation, for without an atonement
they cannot be saved, and the atonement that has been made is not
equal to the crime committed. If, therefore, our hopes of salvation
are to rest on this vicarious suffering, we shall be essentially
disappointed, and endless misery must be the lot of man. Priests and
fanatics of the world! is this your scheme of infinite benevolence?
This your theme of divine eloquence? Is this the only way in which
you can exhibit the perfections of your God, and adore his eternal
wisdom? Are murder, carnage, and injustice, the objects in which you
delight? Have you lost all attachment to moral virtue, all veneration
for the dignity and faculties of your nature? Have you dismissed all
respect for nature and for truth? Will you never learn wisdom from
the book of Nature, will you never derive instruction from the
permanency of her laws? Is it only among miracles, ghosts, and
crucified Gods that you delight to walk? Oh! prejudiced and
superstitious man, look at the splendid beauties of Nature, look at
the vast machinery of the universe, and through these thou mayest
discover the intelligent organizer of the whole, perfect in all his
attributes, and worthy of thy adoration.
    The next principle of discussion is, that of Christian faith;
and this among the believers of this religion has been considered as
a great virtue. But is this substantially true? What is the real
meaning of the word "Faith"? It is necessary to inquire concerning
its true definition, and from this inquiry we shall be able to draw a
conclusion whether or not the principle of faith is meritorious.
Faith is an assent of the mind to the truth of a proposition
supported by evidence. If the evidence adduced is sufficient to
convince the mind, credence is the necessary result; if the evidence
be insufficient, belief becomes impossible. In religion, therefore,
or in any other of the concerns of life, if the mind discerns that
quantum of evidence necessary to establish the truth of any
proposition, it will yield to the force and effect of the proofs
which are produced; if, on the other hand, the intelligence of man
does not discern the necessary influence of such evidence, infidelity
will be the natural and unavoidable result. Why then is the principle
of faith considered a virtue? If a man beholds the sun in its
meridian splendour, and declares the truth of this exhibition, is he
meritorious in making this acknowledgment? If any truth in nature is
well substantiated and supported by the testimony of his mind or
senses, does he deserve credit for his mental acquiescence? No. Why
then have the Christian world annexed to this principle of belief any
degree of merit? Is necessary acquiescence a virtue? Does man become
entitled to praise for the acknowledgment of facts guaranteed by his
senses, or essentially supported through the channel of his mental
faculties? Does truth really exist in the system of nature? And is
this truth discoverable by the operations of the human mind? And
shall man, notwithstanding this, arrogate to himself a high degree of
importance, for the rejection of the splendid testimonies which are
exhibited for his contemplation? No; after a full display of
evidence, the mind must yield to its necessary and unavoidable
influence. When, therefore, the Christian religion represents faith
as being meritorious, it loses sight of the natural operations of the
human mind; it betrays an ignorance of nature, and becomes censurable
by its deviation from the primary and essential arrangements. Yet in
this holy book we are told, that "he that believeth not shall be
damned." But what are we to believe? Are we to believe that the
Creator of the universe is the parent and friend of the whole human
race? Are we to believe that his wisdom acts in coincidence with
general felicity, or operates on the ground of universal happiness?
Are we to believe that the establishment of general laws is
sufficient for the well-being of intelligent agents? Are we to
believe the vast machinery of the universe to be under the guidance
and direction of eternal perfection? Are we to believe that the
primary principles of our nature are sufficient for our improvement
and ultimate perfectibility? Are we to believe that the practice of
moral virtue is essentially connected with the dignity and final
improvement of the human species? Are we to believe that the
establishment of good laws, and the exhibitions of moral energies,
are essentially interwoven with the permanent happiness of sensitive
creatures? No! We are not permitted to believe this. What then is
Christian belief? What are the dogmas and principles to which we are
required to give an unqualified credence? However painful it may be
to declare it, they are of the following nature: - That the great
Creator of the world sacrificed his only-begotten Son for the
happiness of the human race; that he sent numerous prophets and
apostles to teach and instruct mankind; that they were charged with
the disclosure of every species of celestial knowledge, relative to
the future felicity of intelligent beings; that they were unwearied
in their attention to enlighten and inform the human race; that they
exhibited every possible effort for the accomplishment of this
desirable end, and all this to no valuable purpose; that man is to be
criminated for the bad conduct of a person who lived 6,000 years ago;
that he can be made happy only by a crucified God; that he can
perform no virtue of himself, and yet, that without being perfectly
holy, he cannot be happy; that he must give an unlimited credence to
the greatest absurdities, and most palpable contradictions, and view
the most immoral specimens of human actions as sanctioned by the
Deity; that he must venerate the most senseless opinions, admire the
most unexampled ignorance, and love the most detestable crimes; in
fact, that he must believe in a book which contains, systematically
considered, neither truth nor morality, neither purity of sentiment
nor principle, neither propriety of arrangement, nor progression of
human improvement; erroneous in all its primary establishments and
vindictive in all its consequences; unjust in its origin and
malevolent in all its subsequent movements; incorrect in its
relations and impure in its intentions; destructive to science, an
insult to morality, and essentially injurious to human felicity.
    This then is Christian faith. Great God of Nature! Must we then
renounce the justifiable exercise of all our faculties, in order to
be happy? To attain felicity, is it necessary that we believe in
contradictions? Must we deem cruelty one of the attributes of
divinity? Must the benevolent mind be called to the view of murder,
in order to be fitted for the performance of its essential duties?
Must injustice and revenge be interwoven with the morality of man?
Shall we never be permitted to love truth, admire nature, and
practice a pure and genuine morality? Oh, superstition! how much thou
hast to answer for! thine influence has corrupted the faculties of
man, debased his heart, and rendered wretched the whole human race.
Thou hast spread ruin, misery, and devastation over a beautiful and
productive earth, and thou art deserving of the curses of every
intelligent being in every part of the universe.
    Another divine doctrine of this divine religion is that of
regeneration. This doctrine appears to be scarcely deserving of a
serious consideration. When the mind of man takes cognizance of the
operations of nature, it discerns no effect which can possibly
include an event of this sort. We behold the renovations and
alterations in the material world; we observe the principles and
progression of gradual decay, in all its essential and relative
movements, and we recognize the benefits which result from the
principle of mutability. The principles of disorganization and
reproduction, are every where discoverable in the works of nature,
but no justifiable analogy can possibly be drawn from this view of
the subject. The renovation in the material world bears no
resemblance to the Christian principle of regeneration. The one is
cognizable and rests on natural grounds, the other is inconsistent
with the knowledge derived from experience. The human mind, through
the channels of its observation, discovers the means of perpetuating
the species; but this mental regeneration bears no relation to these
progressive means of production. It is necessary, therefore, that we
examine what is meant by this unintelligible principle, called
regeneration. It seems to be almost impossible to obtain any accurate
or definite idea, from the representation which is given concerning
this pretended and important change. Those who are the subjects of it
profess themselves to be incapable of disclosing its real movements
or genuine operations. If it were an event, of which the human mind
had any real knowledge or experience, one would suppose that the
faculty of communication would render it in some measure intelligible
to others; but enthusiasm delights in mystery, and by embracing this
doctrine, has given a powerful specimen of its fanaticism and
importance. It pretends to the acquisition of something, concerning
which, it can exhibit no adequate idea or useful information. It is a
mysterious and inexplicable change of the mind, pretendedly for the
better, and yet no valuable purposes seem to be answered by this
divine renovation. The being, who is the subject of it, becomes
neither the wiser nor the better; he is not the wiser, because he can
give no proofs of additional knowledge; his disposition is not
amended, for his conduct continues the same. For the truth of this
observation we may appeal to experience. Are the saints of the world
more just, more honest, more benevolent, or charitable, than those
who make no pretensions to supernatural grace? Is their heart or
their temper of mind ameliorated? Is their conduct in stricter
conformity with useful or exalted virtue? Do they sympathize more
with the unfortunate, or exhibit greater specimens of genuine
benevolence? Is the heart tranquillized, the mind improved, and their
actions more consistent with the invariable principles of rectitude?
Have they diminished human misery, or improved the condition of human
nature? No! Where then is the utility of this thing called
regeneration? If the heart be not improved, the mind cultivated, or
morality extended in the sphere of its influence, no advantage has
resulted from this pretended change. If any benefit has been derived,
it ought to be shown; but the history of the Christian world forbids
the attempt.
    But further, the performance of the duty which is assigned to
the being called the Holy Ghost, seems to have been attended to in a
manner not discernible by the highest faculties of the human mind. If
this being had really undertaken the moral renovation of the human
species, he ought to have rendered it universal, and explained its
operations on cognizable grounds. But no such thing having been done,
the rational conclusion must be, that the whole is a delusion. Indeed
the New Testament representation of this affair bears an unequivocal
and unmeaning appearance. It is there declared, "Except a man be born
again, he cannot see the kingdom of God." And when Nicodemus makes
the rational inquiry how such an event could possibly happen, he is
put off with an evasive answer, (John chap. 3.) "Nicodemus saith unto
him, how can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter the second
time into his mother's womb, and be born? Jesus answered, verily I
say unto thee; except a man be born of water and of the spirit, he
cannot enter into the kingdom of God. Marvel not that I said unto
thee, ye must be born again. The wind bloweth where it listeth, and
thou hearest the sound thereof, but canst not tell whence it cometh,
and whether it goeth, so is every one that is born of the spirit.
Nicodemus answered and said unto him, how can these things be? Jesus
answered and said unto him, Art thou a master of Israel, and knowest
not these things? Verily, verily, I say unto thee, we speak that we
do know, and testify that we have seen, and ye receive not our
witness. If I have told you earthly things, and ye believe not, how
shall ye believe if I tell you of heavenly things?" &c. From this
passage it is evident that Jesus, who made the answer to Nicodemus,
knew nothing of the nature of this marvellous change. Being born of
water and of the spirit is a phrase without meaning; what ideas can
this possibly convey to the mind? but the advocates of this doctrine
contend that one part of this sentence relates to baptism, and the
other to the influence of the Holy Ghost. This does not mend the
matter, neither does it exhibit any new species of information; for
what has baptism to do with the moral condition of man? Can water,
externally applied, destroy internal moral turpitude? If human vices
could be cured through this channel, the more rational efforts for
the renovation and improvement of our character would become
unnecessary. But it is clearly discernible, that as vice is a
violation of moral law, the way to remedy the mischiefs resulting
from this violation, is not to pour water on the face, which can have
no possible influence on the mind, but to return to uniform conduct,
consistent with the primary principles of moral virtue. And further,
to be born of the Spirit, being unintelligible, and without any
beneficial effect, is equally ridiculous and absurd. The comparison
of this regeneration with the blowing of the wind, exhibits nothing
but the ignorance of him who made it. Indeed the principle on which
the doctrine rests, is so unnatural and so destitute of any valuable
effects, that it is unworthy of further consideration. 
    The next point of examination is the morality of the Christian
religion. On this head, the advocates of this revealed system have
made a mistake injurious to themselves, by extolling its morality
above that of any other moral treatise; they have provoked inquiry
and comparison, and the result serves only to diminish the pretended
excellence of their scheme. It is not denied that this religion
contains some good moral maxims. But it is denied that it contains
any thing like a pure "system" of genuine morality. Its moral maxims
are but thinly interspersed, and they are inaccurate and incomplete,
trifling, and often without utility, destitute of justifiable
application to the moral condition of intellectual life. All morality
that is genuine, is drawn from the nature and condition of rational
beings. It is calculated to preserve and augment their happiness, to
raise and extend the dignity and utility of social existence. It
assumes for its basis, the genuine principles of reciprocal justice,
and an extensive benevolence. While it regards the felicity of
others, it also regards the preservation of our own life and
happiness. But the moral doctrine concerning injuries, contained in
the Christian religion, is not established upon a principle of this
mutual nature, but solicits an accumulation of insult, by commanding
us after being smitten on one cheek to turn the other also. This is
sacrificing the dignity of our character, and inviting fresh
injuries. It is surrendering up the manly part of our nature, into
the hands of him who is sure to trample it under foot. And again it
is said, "If any man will sue thee at the law, and take away thy
coat, let him have thy cloak also;" that is, after thine enemy hath
unjustly taken away a part of thy property, it becomes thy duty to
bestow upon him the remainder. If thy coat is already gone, thou must
give away the remainder of thy garments, and go naked thyself. If
thine enemy do thee all possible injury, thou must in return exercise
towards him sincere love and affection. If he persecute thee, thou
shouldst bless him for his curses and persecutions. In short, to
comply with the spirit of this morality, we must invert the order of
nature, and bestow on crimes and continued abuse, the most endearing
affections of our heart. Where is the believer who puts this morality
into practice? It is not considered by every one as merely
theoretical. Have you who are believers in this system, coats and
other garments to bestow, in order to comply with its injunctions?
Are you willing to surrender your natural dignity, to sink your
nature to a level of a spaniel, in order to become a true Christian?
And can you, with any appearance of truth and justice, advocate the
purity and celestial nature of this species of moral maxims? It may
reasonably be presumed that if one coat had been obtained through the
channel of a law suit, another law suit would be necessary in order
to obtain the cloak. And thus this celestial morality would become
the cause of endless litigation. But if we should accede to the truth
of the assertion, that all the maxims held as moral by the professors
of Christianity, were really and truly so, this would not prove the
celestial origin of their religion. For if we attribute to them all
the excellence which is contended for, they still fall below ancient
and modern dissertations on this subject. This religion does not draw
its morality from the right source. But the correct, the elegant, the
useful maxims of Confucius, Antoninus, Seneca, Price, and Volney,
beautifully display its principles from the physical and moral
organization of intelligent beings. The writings of these men are in
the hands of the public, and may be perused by every one whose
prejudices do not forbid it, and when examined with a spirit of
candour, they will rise far superior to the boasted morality of the
Christian system. But when the numerous, cruel, and immoral maxims
contained in the Bible, are placed in the balance, they greatly
outweigh all its genuine morality, and the influence of this religion
upon the human heart and human actions verifies the remark.
    But of this we shall speak in the next division of the subject,
which is the consideration of the effects produced by the
introduction of the Christian religion into the world.
    When the human mind takes a retrospective view of past ages,
through the mirror of history; when it calls up to its contemplation,
the murderous devastations, the horrid wars and cruelties which have
desolated the Christian world; when it beholds the fagot every where
lighted up for the destruction of man; when gibbets, imprisonment,
and persecutions are presented on every quarter; when it sees
domestic peace and tranquillity tortured and almost annihilated,
malevolence and sectarian spirit enkindling the most unbridled
resentments to disturb the benevolent sentiments of the human heart;
when, in fact, all Christendom exhibits a spectacle shocking to
humanity, the weeping voice of Nature cries aloud, and demands a
disclosure of the causes which have produced this general misery and
distress. It asks, in the name of Reason and Truth, whence all these
calamities, whence these innumerable evils that have overwhelmed and
laid waste a beautiful and productive earth? Where is the source of
these human misfortunes? Where the fountain whence these miseries
proceed? Righteous God of Nature! What questions are these to ask in
the face of the Christian church? But however painful the task, truth
compels us to declare, that to this "holy" religion they are to be
attributed. In this wonderful system of divine benevolence, we must
seek for the origin. 
"Does the God of Nature then require devastation for homage, or
conflagration for sacrifice? Would he have groans for hymns?
Murderers to worship him, and a desert and ravaged world for his
temple? Yet such, holy and faithful generations, are your works!
These the fruits of your piety! You have massacred the people,
reduced cities to ashes, destroyed all traces of cultivation, made
the earth a solitude, and you demand the reward of your labours. For
myself, I solemnly affirm by all laws, human and divine, by the laws
of the human heart, that the hypocrite and the deceiver shall be
themselves deceived. The unjust man shall perish in his rapacity, and
the tyrant in his usurpation; the sun shall change his course, before
folly shall prevail over wisdom and science, before stupidity shall
surpass prudential economy in the delicate art of procuring to man
his true enjoyments, and of building his happiness on a solid
[1. Volney's "Ruins".]
    We now proceed to exhibit, more particularly, the fatal effects
of the Christian religion, relative to science, to morality, and
human happiness. In vain do the advocates of this system contend for
its beneficial effects as it regards these three principles. Science
has been suppressed, morality insulted, and human happiness partially
    If the introduction of this religion into the world had been
calculated to accelerate the progress of human improvement, or to
render mankind wiser and happier, history should have recorded the
progressive steps of this accumulating knowledge. But instead of
this, the reverse stands confessed on the face of the record. When
did the light of science begin to extend its benign influence over
the surface of the globe? Was it at the commencement of the Christian
era, and did it keep pace with the progressive belief of the
Christian doctrines? Did the mind of man receive any impulse
beneficial to the cause of knowledge, when this religion was first
promulgated; and did the extension of useful information bear any
justifiable relation to the diffusion of Christian principles? Did
the world become either wiser or better after this religion had
unfolded its genuine effects for more than fifteen centuries? Was
this the cause of giving energy to the intellectual faculties of man?
Were the genuine principles of science, which are contained in the
system of nature, displayed and manifested by the establishment of
this religion? In a word, has Christianity enlightened the world? No!
But it has served as a means to suppress useful knowledge; for
neither the commencement nor progressive establishment of this
religion has contributed to useful information. If science were
connected with the establishment and belief of Christianity, its
advancement ought to have kept pace with the accelerated operation of
its cause. But the reverse is the fact, for while the Christian
religion has its greatest effect on the human mind, the useful
branches of science were totally neglected, and the world was buried
in the most profound darkness and ignorance; but when the physical
energy of man roused itself from its slumbering and depressed
condition, it took cognizance of primary principles, and discovered
truth from the invariable laws of nature. While the mind was under
the influence of clerical authority, independent reflection was
effectually suppressed, and fear had destroyed all scientific
efforts. Geography, astronomy, and natural philosophy, in short, the
whole science of physics was denied the privilege of liberal inquiry
and discussion. Religion affirmed the earth to be as flat as a
trencher, and he who denied this assertion, was charged with a
damnable heresy. Religion denied the existence of the Antipodes, and
Genius trembled beneath its threatening rod. Religion inverted the
whole order of nature, and truth and science had no safe or
beneficial appeal. Religion pronounced damnation to the philosophic
inquirer, and he sought tranquillity in the dark abodes of ignorance,
or the suppression of useful knowledge. In short, religion governed
by terror, and the mind of man painfully submitted to its destructive
influence, till, at length, wearied and distressed by this degrading
authority, it boldly asserted its own natural dignity and
independence, and dared to draw its knowledge from the pure fountain
of nature. As knowledge began to increase, the influence of the
Christian religion and the authority of the church were seen to
diminish; and as in the one case, ignorance kept pace with the
promulgated influence of this religion, so in the other, science has
kept pace, and extended itself in proportion to the destruction of
Christian influence and authority; and where at this period there is
the most science, there the least credence is given to revealed
religion; where the principles of physics, morality, and politics
have been most clearly understood, there the least respect is paid to
this system of fanaticism and superstition. In short, they are
incompatible with each other, and it may be confidently maintained
that the world must either retrograde to a state of darkness, or that
the belief of the Christian religion must become wholly extinct. If
the mind of man should progressively advance towards a state of
perfectibility, this system of religion, so injurious to its
researches and so incompatible with the dignity and happiness of his
nature, must be forever annihilated and destroyed. If, on the other
hand, this unnatural scheme of ethics is permitted to retain its
mischievous influence, the highest and best hopes of the
philanthropist must be abandoned, and ignorance and misery become the
lot of mortals. But God forbid that this should ever be the case. The
benevolent mind, while reflecting on the subject, entertains a strong
hope, that the reverse will obtain, and that the world will
ultimately become virtuous and happy.
    Again, this religion claiming with so much imperious austerity,
celestial origin, has not been less injurious to the cause of
morality, than to that of science. Its fundamental principles are of
a nature destructive to all moral virtue, its doctrines openly
disavow all benefit resulting from the practice of a genuine
morality. Faith, atonement, and supernatural grace are the essential
requisites of eternal happiness, and these have nothing to do with
the mental or moral energies of our nature. The cultivation of our
minds, the improvement of our faculties, and the performance of moral
duties, by which alone man can expect or deserve to enjoy permanent
felicity, are not considered as the proper means of acquiring it; but
a blind an unintelligible faith, a mysterious and inexplicable belief
in carnage and murder, are to become the objects of our highest
admiration! "Not of works," says Paul, (the apostle of fanaticism and
superstition) "lest any man should boast." And again, "It is not of
him that willeth, nor of him that runneth, but of God that sheweth
mercy." When maxims such as these are fundamental in any system of
religion, what beneficial effects can result from it? It goes to the
destruction of all moral effects. It represents man as incapable of
performing any virtuous action. "For of yourselves ye can do
nothing," is another maxim of this "holy religion". If man then can
do nothing, nothing ought to be required of him; and if he is capable
of practicing moral virtue, he ought to receive his reward. But
inspiration teaches, that he ought to depend on the merit of another,
and fanaticism cries aloud, that in Jesus alone you have hope; when
the truth is, that neither the hopes, the welfare, or the happiness
of man, can bear any possible relation to Jesus Christ or his
opinions. Man is a being possessed of certain powers and faculties,
and it is only through the justifiable exercise of these that he can
be happy. But when he is taught to believe that his highest moral
efforts can avail nothing; that he is completely under condemnation,
in consequence of the imputed sin of him who lived six thousand years
ago; that he can be relieved from the effects of this primary
apostacy, only by the murder of an innocent person; that he can lay
claim to this relief only through the channel of supernatural grace
and divine aid; in fact, that of himself, he can do nothing; when he
is taught to believe all this, what inducement can remain to the
practice of virtue? There is none, and the mind is left to the gloomy
anticipation of eternal fire. Was this religion instituted for the
benefit and improvement of man? And do its professors deny him the
power and beneficial results of moral exertions? Do they call him to
virtuous activity for the purpose of insulting the useful energy of
his nature? Do they in one breath represent him as an intelligent
being, and in the next degrade him to the condition of a beast or a
devil? It may be pronounced with certainty, that morality or real
virtue can never be promoted by a scheme of religion containing such
contradictions and absurdities, and that human enjoyment has been
essentially diminished by the promulgation of such unnatural
principles. Since it has already been shown that the Christian
religion has been destructive to science and to morals, it seems
almost unnecessary to make any observations on its relation to
general happiness; for since the happiness of man depends essentially
on the possession of knowledge and the practice of virtue, whatever
injures these must be detrimental to his true felicity. The
descriptions given in this religion of the character and conduct of
the Almighty, are shocking to the reflections of the benevolent mind;
they represent the Creator of the world, not as the friend, but as
the enemy of man; as a being agitated by passions, and acting
capriciously for the gratification of his own resentment; sometimes
he is said to be merciful, at other times cruel and vindictive;
sometimes just, at other times malevolent and revengeful; sometimes
permanent and immutable in his actions and designs, at other times
changeable, and to have repented of what he had previously determined
to perform; at one time unbounded in his love, at another time
unlimited in his fury and vengeance; sometimes the God of peace, at
other times the God of wars and battles; now mild and peaceable, the
next moment angry and resentful. "In short, this Christian God is
ever at variance with himself," and in him no genuine confidence can
be reposed. Can any one then be happy who trusts to a being of this
description? To one who is imperfect, unstable, passionate, and
revengeful? To a being who has, in fact, no uniformity of conduct, no
system of action, and no immutability of procedure? No! Those who
place their confidence here must be wretchedly disappointed, and an
agitated mind will be their unavoidable portion. Yet to all this is
added, the fear of an eternal Hell, as the certain and inevitable lot
of nine-tenths of the human race. To say, therefore, that this
religion has made mankind happy, is to disregard all the operations
of the human heart, and the most justifiable hopes of the human mind.
    Man! If thou wouldst be happy, thou must come home to Nature,
admire her splendid beauties, develope truth from the permanence of
her laws, cultivate real virtue, improve and exalt thy character,
extend the sphere of thy utility, and invariably adhere to the
practice of a pure and genuine morality.
    Supernatural religion has been fertile in inventing systems
concerning the origin of the world. The period which has been
assigned to its duration has been extremely different among different
nations of the earth, and has been limited or extended by theological
authority. The Chinese records ascribe to the earth a duration of
more than 20,000 years, and according to the opinions of some, of
more than 40,000 years. These opinions are controverted by Christian
believers, because, according to their sacred writings, the age of
the earth is only about 6,000 years. Every opinion on this subject,
which is supported by a popular and supernatural theology, is
maintained with a tenacity which fanatic dogmatism never fails to
inspire. It is, no doubt, a matter of curious inquiry when and by
what means the earth was produced, what important changes it has
undergone, and by what means these changes have been effectuated, and
what will be their final result upon the modification and existence
of the earth. While we inquire into the origin of the earth, we are
also naturally led to the idea of the other extreme, and are
solicitous to ascertain the ultimate extent of its duration. It is,
however, a subject of vast difficulty, and involved in so much
darkness and uncertainty, that it will probably always be impossible
to reduce to absolute certitude any philosophical ideas upon this
abstruse and difficult case. One thing, however, is certain, that if
philosophy be ignorant upon the origin of the earth, theology, from
the nature of its character, must be still more ignorant; philosophy
investigates with patient and temperate perseverance, while theology
is impelled by the gales of ranting enthusiasm. The latter is
certain, without evidence, and the former is in doubt because it is
deficient in evidence. When it is asserted by Christian believers,
that without the Bible we should know nothing of the beginning or the
end of this world, what do they say more than this, that we must take
the authority and declaration of a theological book for absolute and
positive truth, that assertion must supply the place of evidence; the
ignorance of antiquity is to be preferred to the science of modern
times; the decisions of the church ought to have more weight than the
demonstration of intellect; that the mythology of every nation should
be put into the balance against the strength of human judgment, and a
comprehensible development of moral and physical laws. The earth
which we inhabit occupies a station in that vast system which is
presented to our view in the regions of space; it is the residence of
beings whose powers are inadequate to a comprehension of all those
vast objects which surround them; it is this ignorance that has
induced the necessity of so many false and whimsical conjectures
concerning the origin of the world. 
    There is, however, in this case one substantial consideration,
to which we ought to direct our reflections. It is among the
philosophical truths which cannot be controverted, that nothing can
never become something, and that something can never become nothing.
If this truth be applied to the present case, we shall have in part a
solution of the difficulty, so far as it relates to the existence of
the materials of which the earth is composed; but modification and
local situation in the planetary system will constitute another part
of the inquiry. Christian philosophers themselves have acceded to the
axiom, that from nothing, nothing can be made; if this be true, as it
clearly is, the eternal duration of the earth, in some form or other,
will follow as a necessary consequence. It is declared in the 1st
chapter of Genesis, that in the beginning God created the Heaven and
the earth. But we are not told from what materials, or in what manner
this work was performed. One thing, however, is remarkable in the
account, that there were three days and three nights before the
creation of the sun, which is the sole cause of day and night. This
proves that Moses, or whoever wrote the 1st chapter of Genesis, was
neither a good world-maker, nor a good astronomer. If the whimsical
and incongruous opinions of theologists were to be credited, every
part of the physical universe would be distorted, and all the useful
discoveries of philosophy would be destroyed by a single dash of
authority. Moses makes day and night without the existence of the
sun; Joshua stops the course of the sun; and the author of the gospel
of St. Matthew precipitates the stars from their celestial condition,
and causes them to descend upon the earth with as little difficulty
"as if they had been so many pebble stones." It is not in the
fanciful reveries of religionists that we are to expect to discover
physical truth; the smallest frantic impulse is sufficient to
overturn the beauty and harmony of Nature, and there is scarcely a
religious zealot on earth who would not sacrifice natural truth to
the phrenzy of his enthusiasm. When the temperate philosopher asserts
that it is probable, in his view of the subject, that the earth has
existed from all eternity, the Christian fanatic rises in all the
power of holy and vindictive resentment, as if the question, in its
ultimate tendency, involved the best interest of moral existence, and
all the practical considerations of human life. Progressive
investigation upon this subject will constantly be attended with a
diminution of respect for theological opinions; but a doctrine once
established in "supernatural religion" is henceforth to be
denominated absolutely true and infallible; the most abstract
speculations of a philosophical kind are damnable heresies, and the
authors and supporters of them destined hereafter to experience the
vindictive fury and unrelenting vengeance of the Jewish and Christian
    The eternal duration of the earth, in some form or other, is
rendered certain, by the essential properties of matter; whatever
does exist must have existed from all eternity, and must, from its
very nature, continue to exist for ever. Creation and annihilation,
so far as these words are applied to the essence of things, are words
without meaning, but so far as they are applied to a specific
modification, they are intelligible and universal. Experience bears
testimony to this solemn truth; but if the earth existed from all
eternity, did it always hold the same relative position in regard to
the sun and other planets? This is a question that can receive only a
partial and probable solution, nor is it of importance to the true
interest of philosophy that it should engage any high degree the
attachment and energy of human intellect. The productions on the
surface of the globe constitute, in some small degree, the foundation
of ingenuous conjecture. The vivifying influence of the sun seems to
be an operating cause, without which vegetation and life would be
unknown; in the present condition of the earth, the effect of the sun
is clearly discovered, and the productions which we behold are the
result of its celestial power. Men exist, large animals of various
species also exist, together with all subordinate exhibitions of
physical energy. Procreation and reproduction of specific kind and
class are the invariable laws of Nature. But the question of the
greatest difficulty is that which relates to the origin of the first
and most powerful kind of animals that exist upon the earth; the
position which the globe at present holds in relation to the sun does
not warrant us in the conclusion, that either man or the larger kinds
of animals in brute creation could have resulted from this position.
The same power that formerly produced them would be able to produce
them still, and in addition to the ordinary process of reproduction,
we should have a right to expect new beauties and wonders, equal, at
least, to the most excellent which we now behold. This, however, is
not the case, and the fair deduction on the ground of philosophy, is,
that the relative position of the earth and sun must formerly have
been different from what it is at present, and that it is upon a
hypothesis of this kind that we are to seek for a solution of the
highest difficulties with which we are presented in the animal world.
    There is one other idea of analogical weight in the discussion
of this part of the subject. Nature is every where periodical in her
exertions and energies; she is susceptible of fatigue and lassitude,
and her most powerful operations are followed by proportionate
debility and inactivity. It is therefore possible in the order of
Nature, that the most powerful animals might have been the result of
an inconceivable exertion, to which Nature for millions of years
after might have been totally incompetent. Among the human species
there is evidently a great diversity of external appearance; the
white and the black man are as different in some other respects, as
they are in the colour of their skin; the long straight hair of the
one, and the curled wool of the other, is a verification of this
remark. Both races are intelligent, and it is presumed that the
intellectual powers are not in any essential degree dissimilar.
Improvement has made more difference than Nature, and the immoral
opinion, that the whites have a right to enslave the blacks, is a
complete abandonment of the principle of reciprocal justice, and a
violation of the fundamental laws of Nature. The only consideration
which induced the mention of this subject, was to show, that it is
probable that Nature has, at different times, made great exertion in
the work of creation or production, and that from man down to the
lowest insect, a graduated modification of physical energy has been
exhibited throughout a past eternity. It will be then inquired,
whether this conjecture can be analogized with the idea of new
productions in the planetary system? The answer to this inquiry must
be given unequivocally in the negative. The axiom, that from nothing,
nothing can be made, here applies with correct and indubitable force,
and unless comets or planets interfere and derange each other's
existence, there can be no new production; and even in such a case,
it would be form alone that was new, and not essence and matter. The
changes that are exhibited in Nature are infinitely diversified, and
the causes of these changes not clearly to be discovered. The mass of
existence must remain for ever the same; but its modifications will
vary throughout infinite space, and through all the successive
periods of the eternal duration of time, or, to speak more correctly,
through the progression of an interminable futurity. The whole mass
of material existence is to us infinite, or at least
incomprehensible. To its extent in the regions of space no limits can
be assigned, and to its duration, anterior or subsequent, we can fix
no period. The most probable conclusion resulting from the nature of
matter, and the stability of physical laws, is, that the universe has
existed from all eternity, and that its duration hereafter will be
endless. Upon the earth all the different kinds of animals and all
the individuals of each kind are seen in succession to die and
dissolve into Nature; it is from this inferred, that death is a
universal law so far as it relates to all the productions of earth.
But we cannot analogize these facts with the planetary system. We
have never seen a planet die or dissolve into the vast ocean of
space, we have therefore no good reason to believe that any such
event will ever take place. If such a fact had been discovered in one
single instance, it would be strong analogical evidence, that the
same fate would ultimately overtake all the vast orbs which fill the
unlimited regions of space, or that universal death is a universal
law of Nature. The constancy of existence, and the immutability of
physical laws, will, however, be a sufficient consolation to timid
minds, apprehensive of a final dissolution of the beautiful system of
the material world. Human nature may repose in these laws the utmost
confidence, they will probably operate with "divine" energy
throughout an endless futurity. 
    The highest delight of theology is the destruction of the
beauty, order, and harmony of the universe. A world regularly
existing from all eternity, and continuing so to exist through an
endless futurity, would be, in the estimation of supernatural
theology, an object of disgust. To nourish the superstitious pride
and folly of man, it is necessary to derange, overturn, and destroy
the splendid beauties and majestic grandeur of the vast empire of
Nature. Not content with the scheme of prediction, whose fulfilment
including the ultimate dissolution of the earth, Superstition
conceived it was necessary to retrace and discover in the history of
past ages, an event equally distressing and terrific. For this
purpose the story of the universal deluge was contrived, in which all
the animals on the surface of the earth, a select number only
excepted, fell a sacrifice to the vindictive vengeance of the Jewish
God. The nature and details of this story are exposed to strong
objections, and by an examination of the Bible account, the
inconsistency and even impossibility of the case will be discovered.
It will also appear by recurrence to the law of nature, that such an
event is in no shape whatever deserving of human credence. The law of
fluids and the deficiency of water render it physically impossible
that the whole globe should be overflowed at one and the same time.
It is well known, that water always seeks its level; where the
equilibrium is destroyed, there will be instantly a powerful effort
to restore it. If, therefore, the water was elevated sufficiently
high to cover the highest mountains, the seas would become dry, a
vast cavity would be formed below, and the waters would be
precipitated with inconceivable fury and force to supply the cavities
below, and re-establish the consistent harmony of nature. The
mountains of Andes, in South America, by far the most exalted land
upon the surface of the earth, is, at the point of Chimberazo, 20,000
feet above the common surface of the ocean. There is, therefore, a
great deficiency of water to answer the purposes of a universal
deluge. For as by the law of fluids, water uniformly seeks its level,
it is necessary that all around the globe the water should be raised
20,000 feet, otherwise the American Andes would not have been
covered, and the deluge would not have been universal. Let any one
calculate what a vast quantity of water would have been necessary to
have covered the whole earth to such a height, and he will soon
discover the absurdity of this marvellous account, and still more
marvellous event, related in the book of Genesis. To say that God
created such a vast body of water for the sole purpose of drowning
the world and all the creatures which he made in it, and afterwards
annihilated it, is to assert, in the first place, that which is
impossible, and throw upon the moral character of God a sarcasm, at
which man ought to be ashamed, at which he ought to blush and be
confounded. The account which is given of the deluge, subjects itself
to strong suspicion of incorrectness and want of truth. It is
impossible that the ark or any other vessel that every was built,
could have contained all the animals which are said to have taken
refuge in it. This ark, according to the Bible description of it, was
in length about 525 feet, in breadth 87 1/2 feet, and in height 52
1/2 feet. It is easy to perceive, that a vessel of such dimensions
had not the capacity of containing the numbers, and all the various
kinds of animals which are said to have been rescued from the fatal
effects of this general deluge. It is in vain that the advocates of
this wonderful event fly to miracles, or the operations of
supernatural powers. Miracle on miracle must have been performed, the
nature of things perverted, her laws wholly changed, and the
immutability of the divine character completely annihilated, before
it could be possible for the human mind to accede to the truth of
this marvellous event. Some curious and philosophical observations
concerning the deluge, taken from Emmerson, a British writer, are
here subjoined: -
    "Concerning the cause of this flood, some suppose it brought
about by natural causes; and others, by nothing less than a divine
power. Those that are for natural causes, imagine a comet to have
passed near the earth at that time, and by its approach to have
raised a very strong tide, which would increase as the comet
approached earth. The effect of this would be, that this great tide
would lay all places under water, and would consequently drown all
the inhabitants so far as it reached. That such a cause as this is
capable of producing this dismal effect, is very evident. For if so
small a body as the moon, at the distance of sixty of the earth's
semi-diameters, be able to raise a strong tide in the ocean, of
twelve or fifteen feet high, a comet as big as the earth, and coming
very near it would raise a prodigious tide, capable of overflowing
all that side of the earth which is next to the comet, and also the
opposite side. But then this could not drown all places at once; for
at the quadratures, or in those places which have the comet in their
horizon, they would have as great an ebb, but then it would have this
effect, to overflow and drown all places successively. For this huge
spheroid of water, always pointing towards the comet, would by the
earth's rotation pass over all the countries of the world; and,
therefore, in the space of twenty-four hours, the whole earth would
be involved in water, and all animals as effectively destroyed as if
the water staid 150 days upon the earth, especially as the earth must
needs make several rotations after this manner, before it could get
clear of this disturbing force of the comet. The natural and
necessary effect of all this would be, that by such a prodigious and
rapid motion of this vast body of water round the earth in twenty-
four hours, all plants and trees must be torn up by the roots, and
carried along with the current; all buildings demolished; the rocks,
hills, and mountains dashed to pieces, and torn away; all the product
of the sea, as fishes, shells, teeth, bones, &c. carried along with
the flood, and thrown upon the earth, or even to the tops of
mountains, promiscuously with other bodies; hardly any thing could be
found strong enough to withstand its force. In such a case as this,
it would be impossible for any ark to live, or the strongest man-of-
war to exist upon the surface of the ocean."
    The arguments, physical and moral, against an event of this
kind, are strong and conclusive. Nature is incompetent to any such
exhibition, and the moral perfections of Deity forbid it. The flood
is therefore a chimera, and one of the theological errors contained
in the Bible system of religion. If no other errors of greater
magnitude or more pernicious consequences were to be found in this
"holy" book, it would be an object rather of pleasant amusement than
of severe remark and condemnation.
    The truth of a book is always to be suspected in proportion as
it deviates from consistency or the general laws of nature. The story
of the deluge, which was considered in the previous chapter, is
followed in the "Holy Bible" by a relation of other marvellous
circumstances, which necessarily create, in all candid minds, extreme
doubts of the validity or rectitude of such writings. The wonders
that are unfolded in the Old Testament, may, with propriety, be
denominated Christian, since it is by a union of the two books that
Christian doctors have constituted the essence and doctrines of
revealed religion. If this book, which is considered as divine, had
displayed with clearness, dignity, and solemnity, the character of
the Creator; if the principles of reciprocal justice, and genuine
morality, had been developed and marked with precision; if fact had
been substituted in the room of fable, it would not have been an
object of censure and condemnation, and the ridiculous and marvellous
accounts, which in the Old Testament make up a considerable part of
the book, would never have been presented to the human understanding
as objects of veneration, belief, and attachment.
    The destruction of the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah by fire and
brimstone precipitated from Heaven in the form of rain; the blowing
down the walls of Jericho with rams' horns, by the triumphant march
of the priesthood round the city; the marvellous and frightful story
of the witch of Endor; the woeful condition of Daniel in the den of
lions; the hot sultry situation of Shadrach and his two companions in
the fiery furnace; together with the unnatural and hopeless abode of
poor Jonah in the belly of the whale; all these are specimens of that
miserable and disgusting extravagance with which this "Holy Bible" is
every where replete.
    These are a few out of the number of that long catalogue of
foolish detail for which the scriptures of the Old and New Testament
are so remarkable. If any man of the present day, who writes for the
instruction and benefit of mankind, were to interlard his works with
such idle, extravagant, and useless stories, he would be considered
in a state of insanity, and his writings would be contemned even by
Christian believers themselves. A rain of fire and brimstone is
impossible in the order of nature, and inconsistent with the moral
perfection of that Being who governs the world. In throwing down the
walls of Jericho, there is something in the detail of the story
which, in the first place, is calculated to excite in human nature
sentiments of humour and ridicule. The pompous and solemn parade of
the priesthood, marching with great dignity around this walled city,
with crooked rams' horns in their hands, and exhausting the whole
force of their lungs with an expectation, that by this puffing effort
they should be able to throw down the stony walls of a city, has
something in it of a laughable nature; but the conclusion of the
story, if it had any truth in it, would be to a correct mind
productive of distress, since indiscriminate and unrelenting murder
forms the painful picture. The story of the witch of Endor is too
contemptible for serious remark; but when coupled with Lot's wife and
with Sampson, the pillar of salt, and the wonderful strength in
Sampson's hair, it might serve to frighten children and amuse fools;
but to sedate minds, attached to nature and truth, such incoherent
stuff must become an object of the highest contempt; the bare mention
of such extravagant vagaries ought to be their open refutation. The
laws of nature are permanent. God is immutable and truth is immortal.
To these great objects the energy of intellect ought to be directed.
It is time, therefore, to proceed to the examination of arguments,
which the most respectable and enlightened believers in Christianity
have deemed sufficient to establish its divine origin. These
arguments shall be taken up and stated in their full force, that in
this respect Christians shall have no right to complain; the success
attending an effort to confute them, must be judged of by the result
and mode of execution. It is sufficient that a sincere desire to
discover truth will be a constant concomitant of those inquiries.
    The sun rises in the eastern horizon with all its resplendent
beauties and divine energies, and yet carries along with it no terror
or disorder, no trouble or uneasiness in the mind of man. Its motion
is known to be regulated by a constancy of impulse; by a cause, whose
nature and power are invariable and uniform; by a cause, in which man
reposes the utmost confidence. The stars glisten in the firmament,
unshaken in their position; the moon performs her wonted duty in the
planetary world; in other words, the solar system is guided by laws,
of which mathematical science has taken the most indubitable
cognizance. The productions of earth are subject to no supernatural
derangement; they are exhibited with a constancy and specific
similarity which discard every idea of perversion in physical law,
and present the material world as a theatre of certitude which the
efforts of superstition cannot destroy. The tides ebb and flow, and
all the relative operations of nature are preserved entire, in
despite of the malignity of superstition. This vast whole, this
extensive universe, thus subjected to the operation of immutable
laws, is, nevertheless, distorted and deranged by Christian theology;
its Author is insulted, and the scientific deductions of human
intellect perverted or destroyed. Religion, not content with the
consistency and harmony of Nature, has sought for redress in the
violation of her laws, and nothing short of miracles could satisfy
the extravagant desires of "pious and holy fanaticism". Pride and
vanity have tempted man to establish religion upon a supernatural
basis. The idea of associating with heaven, and holding an
intercourse with celestial powers, was a circumstance of extravagant
and delicious enjoyment, with a privileged order, and laid the
foundation of that terrifying severity of judgment contained in the
gospel declaration, "He that believeth not shall be damned."
    If supernatural religion were a thing founded in truth, it would
not seek for so many divers means of support, but would rest itself
upon the decisions of human judgments and the general science of the
world. A true system of ethics disclaims all foreign aid, all
violation of Nature's laws, and stands upon its own intrinsic merit.
Miracles make it neither better nor worse; if it be false, miracles
cannot make it true, and if it be true in its own nature, the working
of miracles cannot make it more true. There cannot, therefore, be any
use in miracles, since they do not alter the nature of things, or
destroy the force and extent of evidence.
    The evidence deduced from the supposed existence of miracles is
considered by Christian believers incontrovertible, in regard to the
sacred truths in their religion. It is astonishing, say they, that
any man can have the audacity to call in question the truth of this
system, whose divinity has been proved by the working of so many
miracles. Both under the Jewish and Christian dispensations, God
manifested his power, and displayed his eternal perfections in
support of the holy nature and celestial origin of revealed religion;
he stopped the course of the sun, parted the seas, and dried up the
rivers, that his chosen people might pass through with safety upon
dry land. He raised the dead in the presence of vast multitudes,
whose testimony has descended down to us, with undiminished weight
and convincing energy. "He has arrested in turn all the powerful laws
of nature, in consequence of which, he has established, in the face
of the world, the divine origin of the Christian religion. It is,
therefore, something worse than folly, it is blindness and madness,
mingled with the grossest effrontery to the majesty of Heaven, even
to suspect the holy truths of this holy and supernatural system." All
the "may" be true; but of its truth we shall be better able to judge
when we have thoroughly investigated the subject. Assertions cannot
be substituted for arguments, and we have yet to learn, whether the
weight of evidence drawn from miracles, be as great as Christian
believers represent. A miracle is a violation of the laws of nature,
by "supernatural power". In the act of such violation there must have
been some great object in view, which could not otherwise be
accomplished; the violation therefore must have been considered as
the least of two evils, and the result as productive, upon the whole,
of the greatest possible good. But this represents an omnipotent God,
surrounded with difficulties, and like imperfect creatures, disposed
to make the best of a bad situation.
    It will be necessary for those who advocate the doctrine of
miracles, to recur to the cause and primary establishment of the laws
of nature. God is infinite in all his perfections; the laws of nature
are an effect of the divine attributes, and must have been modified
in the best possible manner, and to answer the best and wisest
purposes. To alter, therefore, that which already had been done in
the best possible manner, would be to make it worse, for no
alteration or amendment could make that better which was already as
good as it could be. If the world and the laws by which the world was
governed, are the offspring of infinite wisdom, they must have been
right in the first place, for it is a necessary character of infinite
wisdom, to perform whatever it does perform in the best possible
manner. All alterations or violations in any system or set of laws,
argues imperfection and want of discernment; but such imperfection
and want of discernment cannot be the property of a perfect being. If
God, therefore, is perfect, such perfection would enable him to
conceive and execute with a masterly hand. The mechanic who builds a
machine, frequently alters his plan, and is under the necessity of
attending to amendments and repairs; but his ignorance was the ground
work of this, and a competent knowledge of the principles by which
the machine was constructed, would have precluded the necessity of
subsequent correction and amendment. The Creator of the world knew
perfectly well the force and effect of principle before it was
applied to the accomplishment of the variegated motions and
operations of existence; ignorance, therefore, could have no share in
modifying the vast powers of the universe, or the immutable
principles by which it is directed. Wisdom, power, and goodness,
combined in the management of the whole, and consequently the whole
is formed exactly in such a manner as these three leading perfections
of the divine character at first intended. To work a miracle,
therefore, would answer no very valuable purpose, and is derogatory
to the attributes of God, by which it is supposed to be wrought. To
establish a system of religion by evidence drawn from miracles, is to
establish it upon the ruin of the consistent harmony of the divine
perfections; upon the ruin of all principle and all confidence. When
the consistent character of the author of such religion is destroyed,
the religion itself is not worth much. Either God did things in the
first place as they ought to be done, or he did not; if he did them
as they ought be done, there could have been no need of alteration,
and consequently there could have been no such thing as a miracle; if
he did not, then he must have been either imperfect, or have acted
inconsistent with good principle; in either of which cases, his
character as God would be destroyed, and the perfection of his
existence sacrificed upon the alter of human folly. Fanaticism, which
attempts to exalt its God by making him work wonders, is as great an
enemy to true Theism, as the open and professed Atheist. A wonder-
working God, who violates his own laws, and acts inconsistently with
the principles which he himself has established, is no God at all. It
is an immoral phantom conjured up in the wild vagaries of
superstitious imagination. It is easy to perceive that if there be in
nature a perfect God, he cannot be the author of those marvellous and
even ridiculous violations of the laws of nature detailed in the Old
and New Testament. His character must be uniform, consistent and
perfect, just and equitable, and in perfect coincidence with the
immortal laws of the moral and physical world.
    All things, it is said, are possible with God. This is one of
the maxims of that religion which has perverted all the principles of
truth and justice; but this maxim is not true, it is not possible,
for instance, that God should destroy his own existence; it is not
possible that he should act inconsistently with the properties and
principles of his nature. This extravagant assertion, instead of
exalting the character of the Creator, would absolutely destroy it,
by causing him to act without rule and without justice. But
superstition can never do enough for her God, until she has done a
great deal too much. A consistent and immutable Deity, acting in
strict conformity to the essential properties of his existence, would
be, in the estimation of inconsistent superstition, an object far
inferior to those wild and unruly divinities, who overturn states and
empires, pervert the general order of nature, and occasionally, by
way of amusement, drown the whole world, with all the inhabitants and
animals therein existing. A man walking regularly upon the earth, and
performing with fidelity all his moral duties, "is by no means an
object of attachment", but one walking upon the water, without doing
any good, will draw forth the admiration of a gazing, foolish, and
superstitious world. The passion for the marvellous has carried man
from earth to heaven; and, in the ranting fury of his zeal, he has
supposed that his God would be pleased with all those moral
distortions which at such unhappy moments agitated his own delirious
mind. The idea of the existence of a miracle will be wholly destroyed
by a just recurrence to the counter-balancing evidence, drawn from
the experience of mankind. This experience bears testimony to the
uniform operation of Nature's laws; it teaches man to repose in them
unqualified confidence, and, in all the common concerns of life, this
confidence serves as the foundation of his courage, his activity, and
his consolation. Here are, then, two kinds of evidence opposed to
each other; the one human experience, and the other human testimony.
    Those who contend that miracles prove the divinity of the
Christian religion, appeal to the testimony of witnesses to support
the truth and existence of such miracles. Let this case be examined,
and the superior weight of evidence will appear with convincing
force. Believers declare that the miracles which were wrought to
prove the truth of the holy Scriptures, were numerous, and performed
before great numbers of people. That the credit and veracity of these
witnesses cannot be doubted; that they were honest and disinterested
men; that they did not wish to be deceived themselves, nor could they
possibly reap any advantage from deceiving others; that some of the
eye witnesses were inspired men, in whom there was no guile, and that
others were mere men of the world, whose feelings and interest would
have rejected, if possible, the splendour of such supernatural
evidence; that all these, however, yielded to the mighty energy of
the mighty God; that they pronounced him a wonder-working God, and
that such marvellous facts had never before been presented to a
wicked and apostate world. It is also declared and maintained, that
the result of these pure and incorruptible witnesses has been
transmitted down for more than two thousand years through the holy
and incorruptible channel of the Church of Christ; that the present
generation might as well doubt of the existence of Scipio or of
Caesar, as to doubt of the existence of Jesus Christ and his
apostles, and the miracles which by them were performed; that the
unbeliever at this time is working against all his own positions,
destroying the nature of evidence, and unhinging the moral world.
    Formidable as this statement may appear, it will perhaps vanish
when compared with the weight of evidence drawn from the almost
universal experience of the human race. The laws of nature are
uniform and immutable. This is declared to be a fact by the testimony
of all ages and all countries. Observation and experience are the
sources which must be resorted to in such cases, and these do not
warrant a conclusion that the laws of nature have ever been violated.
Through a long succession of ages, the same general facts and events
have been presented; the same causes appear to have been in a
constant state of action, productive of the same or similar effects,
and to the general order of the physical world, every living creature
now bears testimony. When, therefore, it is asserted, that in former
ages all this beauty and harmony of the world was destroyed, this
ought not to overbalance the convincing force of evidence drawn from
our own observations. If we say that we believe the former
extravagant accounts, we contradict the testimony of our own senses;
we abandon the instructive guide of our own experience, and affirm
that the testimony of a few men has more weight than our own positive
    The human mind is bound to decide according to the greatest
portion of evidence; in any given case, therefore, the nature and
portion of evidence ought to be fairly called up before the mind, and
perspicuity of statement, will probably induce the necessity of a
favourable and upright decision. Will any Christian believer say that
he has as much evidence that nature's laws have been violated, or
that miracles have been wrought, as he has that the laws of nature
have not been violated, and that no miracles have been wrought?
Certainly the testimony of a few men bears no proportion to the
universal experience and general observation of the human species.
All mankind, with a few exceptions, declare that the world is
governed by laws which do not change. A few men who lived many ages
ago, declared that these laws did change, and that they had been
witnesses to several astonishing facts of this kind. If we give
credit to those men, we give the lie to all the world beside; if we
repose confidence in the testimony of our own senses, and the general
experience of mankind, we shall have reason to believe, that those
few men, who relate prodigies and miracles, were either deceived
themselves, or that they had a design to deceive others. It is not
extraordinary for ignorant men, or even the most scientific, to be
frequently deceived; nor is it at all extraordinary, that either the
ignorant or the learned should form a settled plan for deceiving
their fellow creatures. Either of these cases is much more probable
than that God should violate his own laws, or act contrary to the
essential properties of his existence. Either of these cases is much
more probable, than that the experience and observation of all
mankind, in almost all ages, should have been incorrect or incapable
of judging upon so plain a case as the operation of the laws of
nature. Men are frequently interested in the practice of deception,
or at least they conceive that a temporary advantage would be the
result; they therefore yield to an impulse productive of misery in
the end, but calculated to gratify for the moment the extravagant and
vicious inclinations of the individual. Men are sometimes disposed to
tell lies, but nature speaks the language of solemn truth. To
controvert, therefore, this truth, and adhere to the stories of a few
fanatic and ignorant individuals, is the height of folly. In no other
case is man so unwise; in no other case does he so essentially depart
from the rules of evidence and the respect which he owes to the
dignity of his intellectual existence.
    Further considerations of corroborative weight and influence
will be found essentially connected with the nature of this subject,
by a recurrence to the history of intellectual existence, and the
state of improvement in society. It is extraordinary, that all
miracles have been wrought during the dark ages; and that a
cultivated state of human existence has always excluded and rejected
all such marvellous events. The smallest attention that has been paid
to the historical progress of science, will convince us that there
are most wonders where there is most ignorance. That knowledge has
been always unfriendly to the existence of miracles; that ghosts,
witches, and devils, with all their concomitant train of mischievous
and malignant phantoms, have generally existed amidst the darkness,
the ignorance, and the superstition of former ages; and that in
proportion as science advanced, miracle receded; in proportion as
knowledge was generally diffused, the marvellous stories of antiquity
became less respectable, and their supposed truth more universally
doubted. There was a time, and that not very far distant, in which
the foolish story of the witch of Endor was received with the
greatest respect; at this moment, enlightened Christians themselves
are ashamed of it. In proportion as man makes progress in physical
knowledge, he ceases to be the dupe of superstition, and what before
appeared marvellous, now becomes plain and intelligible. In natural
philosophy we may discover a hundred proofs of the truth of this
assertion; the rapid lightning of Heaven, which darts with
inconceivable velocity through the regions of space, was once
considered as a powerful weapon of destruction in the hands of God,
and that no human power could control it. This modification of
physical energy, among enlightened minds, has lost all its terror,
and in many places is completely subjected to the will of man. The
cause of earthquakes is known, and scientific presumption has gone so
far as to make even those that are artificial. The charms and
deceptions of legerdemain tricks have lost, in a high degree, their
influence, and strength of intellect is determined to oppose with
constancy and firmness such impositions upon the human race.
    If there were no other circumstance which operated against
miracles, the ignorance, with which believers applaud them, would, of
itself, be a sufficient condemnation and refutation of such idle and
foolish stories. The witches of antiquity have fled to the mountains;
the prophets are no longer credited, and the possibility of miracles
is not admitted by the mathematical and physical reasonor. If
miracles ever had any existence, why should they not have an
existence still? There is as much reason for them now as there ever
was, and the necessity is increased by the infidelity of the present
day. If miracles were necessary to establish Christianity in the
first instance, they are equally proper and necessary now; for proofs
ought to be equal to all, where equal credence is demanded. To make
the Christian religion consistent, it is necessary there should be a
constant string of miracles in every age and in all countries; but
this would destroy the very nature of miracles, by making them so
frequent, that it would be impossible to distinguish between these
events, and those which were produced by the common operations of
Nature. It is, therefore, impossible to give equal proof to all those
who are equally interested in the ultimate decision upon revealed
    Every supernatural system has pretended to miracles, to
something mysterious and marvellous, to something out of the order of
Nature, and which would be calculated to excite alarm amongst weak
and ignorant people. The truth is, there can be no such thing as a
miracle, and the religion that is built upon this foundation is
false, and cannot be permanent. The laws of Nature are immutable, and
God, their author, is free from every species of imperfection. Truth,
immortality, and eternal uniformity of action, are essential to his
character and existence. The evidence drawn from universal experience
is against the possibility of a miracle, and the history of mankind
corroborates the impressive opinion, that the moral and physical
world is governed by laws "inherent in the nature of things,
identified with their existence", and incapable of being altered by
the properties or exertion of any being whatever. Christian believers
assert that their system is the only one supported by miracles; but
they ought to know that Mahomet lays equal claim to the working of
miracles, have declared that he travelled through ninety heavens in
one night, and returned to Mecca, in Arabia, before the next morning.
That he saw God Almighty, and held with him a personal conversation,
together with many other strange things of a miraculous and
terrifying nature. There is as much reason to believe Mahomet as to
believe Moses and Jesus, and their apostles and followers.
    The fact is, there is no reason to believe any of them, unless
the stories which they relate are consistent with the nature of
things, and the character of God. All deviations from this divine
standard are to be suspected of error; and miracles most of all. It
is extraordinary that Jesus, who is said to have wrought so many
miracles, was afterwards put to death in the very place where they
were wrought, and by the very persons who had been eye witnesses of
such divine and supernatural power. "If the Jews demanded the death
of Jesus, his miracles are at once annihilated in the mind of every
rational man." It cannot be presumed, that a man clothed with
supernatural power, would be a proper object of execution, in the
estimation of those who really believed that he was in the possession
and exercise of such power, and that all his efforts were aided and
sanctioned by the Creator himself. If the proofs of this celestial
mission of Jesus had been clearly exhibited through the channel of
miraculous operations, the Jews and all the surrounding multitude
would have adored him as a God, and they would have been terrified at
the very idea of laying violent hands upon one whose omnipotence
could have instantly crushed them to atoms. The following remarks
upon this subject, taken from a powerful reasoner, deserve to be
inserted here:
    "To suppose that God can alter the settled laws of Nature, which
he himself formed, is to suppose his will and wisdom mutable, and
that they are not the best laws of the most perfect being; for if he
is the author of them, they must be immutable as he is; so that he
cannot alter them to make them better, and will not alter them to
make them worse. Neither of these can be agreeable to his attributes.
If the course of nature is not the best, the only best and fittest
that could be, it is not the offspring of perfect wisdom, nor was it
settled by divine will; and then God is not the author of nature, if
the laws thereof can be altered; for if the laws of nature are God's
laws, he cannot alter them in any degree, without being in some
degree changeable. If all nature is under the direction of an
immutable mind, what can make a change in that direction? God must be
allowed to be eternal, therefore he necessarily exists, and is
necessarily whatever he is; therefore it is not in his own power to
change himself; it is his perfection to be immutable; for if his
nature could possibly change, it might err; for whosoever is
changeable is not perfect. Beside, an eternal and a perfect nature
must necessarily be unchangeable; and as long as the first moving
cause is the same, all subsequent and second causes can never vary."
    This reasoning is energetic and conclusive against the doctrine
of miracles. If, then, there can be no such thing as a miracle,
Christianity, which is built upon this foundation, must also be
false. Man must therefore resort to a system of morality and religion
which coincides with the laws of nature, and which discards all
supernatural violation of its divine order and harmony.
    The fulfilment of the prophecies is considered by Christian
believers, as strong proof of the sacred and celestial nature of
their religion. They speak in language positive, and in confidence
bold and firm, that the divinity of that holy system, which they
believe, is substantiated by many wonders, and that they have a
surplus of evidence in favour of its "holy truths". Miracles,
although sufficient of themselves to prove that revealed religion is
true, are corroborated by the convincing evidence drawn from
predictive declaration contained in the scriptures. Many centuries
ago, and even thousands of years, the favourites of heaven were
inspired with a clear and certain knowledge of important events,
which subsequent times should disclose to the human race. The
predictions of these men have been literally fulfilled, and this
circumstance of itself ought to be sufficient to destroy the
infidelity of the present age. This idea is considered by Christians
as founded in truth, and they challenge a confutation of its force
and effect. It is therefore necessary that we inquire whether this
species of evidence can have weight in the present case. Prophecy is
in some respects like miracles, they both partake of the marvellous,
they are both supernatural, they are both inconsistent with the order
of nature. There is, however, in man, a pride and vanity which
induces him to pretend to a knowledge of futurity, and that his
knowledge is the result of a secret and mysterious intercourse with
celestial powers. In all ages there have been prophets who imposed
upon the mass of mankind, and made others believe that the events of
future ages were opened to their view. It is not extraordinary that
such men should have existed, nor is it extraordinary that many of
the human race should have reposed a confidence in them. Ignorance is
the cause of credulity, and it is with ignorance that imposture
always works, but it is extraordinary that learned men have cited the
scripture prophecies in proof of their religion, as will appear more
fully when the objections to which these prophecies are exposed, are
fully disclosed and examined. The argument which goes to destroy the
nature of a miracle, equally destroys the possibility of man's
possessing from God a prophetic spirit; it is a violation of the laws
of nature, a derangement of its natural and regular course, an
infringement of the correct operation of the moral and mental
faculties of our existence. But there are two grand objections which
lie against scripture prophecies, and which must destroy all their
credit and authority. The first is, that they are so vague and
indefinite, that they cannot be applied to any specific object,
person, or event. The second is, that those which are the most clear
and explicit, have absolutely failed in their accomplishment, and
this of itself is sufficient to overturn the divinity of any book in
which such prophecies are to be found. A third consideration of
weight, is the deception and lying character of the Bible prophets,
and even God himself is blasphemously charged of having a hand in
this wicked business, by putting a lying spirit into the mouth of one
of his prophets. (See 2d Chron. chapter 18.)
    If the business of prophesying were admissible in any shape, it
is that only which includes the perspicuity and certainty of time,
place, person, object, and circumstance. There can be no use in
prophesying, if nobody can tell to what object it is directed, and
what is its real and true meaning. A prophecy that may be applied to
twenty different objects, is no prophecy at all; or at least there
would be no occasion for a divine spirit in such predictions. It
ought to be called conjecture or mere "guess work", for any man might
prophesy after this manner; if it did not suit one thing, it would
perhaps another, and in the multitude of events that are constantly
disclosed, it would be strange indeed if there was not some event to
which the prophecy would in some measure apply. Fanaticism would then
step in to aid the application, and a few councils, synods, and
presbyteries, by the force of zeal and authority, could easily place
the matter beyond the confutation of all the infidels of the world;
at any rate, they could declare that if any man did not believe that
the prophecy meant exactly what they said it meant, "he should be
damned". This, if it did not make the prediction clear, would at
least make the church strong, and in its authority henceforth
    It is pretended that the coming and second coming of Jesus
Christ is clearly predicted in the "sacred books" of the Jews and
Christians; but those predictions in the Old Testament, which divines
so dexterously apply to the Advent of the Son of Mary, are as
applicable to any other person as they are to Jesus. It is sufficient
in this place, to notice two or three passages which have always been
prominent in the estimation of believers upon this subject. "The
sceptre shall not depart from Judah, nor a lawgiver from between his
feet, until Shiloh come." This, it is said, has an immediate
reference to the first appearance of the Saviour of the world; but
admitting that the prophecy was correct in point of time, it is
deficient in designation of person. It is impossible to tell who
"Shiloh" is, and it would apply as well to Mahomet as to Jesus. The
Christians assert that this prophecy was fulfilled; but the Jews, who
ought to understand their own sacred writings better than the
followers of Jesus, declare that it has not been fulfilled. If,
however, the passage really had reference to the coming of Christ,
why did it not express, in plain terms that could not have been
mistaken, its real meaning, together with the name of the person, the
place where he was born, and the time and place when and where he was
executed, and by whom. This would have put the matter beyond
controversy; the designation of Jesus by name, the name of his
mother, and the peculiar circumstance of his death, would have been
much better calculated to silence the objections of individuals, and
prophecy would have become much more respectable in the view of
reason. The seed of the woman shall bruise the serpent's head, is
another prophecy which Christians declare relates immediately to
their Saviour. But it is impossible to discover any specific
application of such a vague and indefinite assertion as this. The
plainest explanation that can be given to the phrase is, that men,
being the offspring of women, should find in themselves a disposition
to bruise the heads of serpents, wherever they could find them; but
what has this to do with religion or the coming of Jesus Christ? If
the passage has any meaning of this latter kind, the words are not
calculated to disclose such meaning, and we are just as ignorant as
if it had never been spoken.
    In the 7th chapter of Isaiah, there is another famous prophecy
in the following words: "Behold a Virgin shall conceive and bear a
son, and shall call his name Emanuel. Butter and honey shall he eat,
that he may know to refuse the evil, and choose the good." This
prophecy declares that at some future time, some girl or other should
be with child, and that the child's name should be called Emanuel;
this is the whole amount of it, and it is easy to perceive that it is
remarkably deficient in all definite properties of perspicuous
prediction. The name of Mary is not mentioned, nor the name of Jesus;
nobody knows who this virgin was, or by whom she became pregnant; all
that is pointed and specific in this prophecy, is the name of the
child, and this is Emanuel, and not Jesus. The son of Mary,
therefore, whom the Christians have exalted to be the Saviour of a
wicked world, is not included within the meaning of this prophecy; or
at least, if they meant that the prophecy should apply to Christ, it
is a pity that they had not called him by name, and pointed out the
time and place of his birth. This would have prevented much doubt and
difficulty, and been more consistent with the perfections of that God
who is bound to instruct and not deceive his creatures. There is one
further observation upon the nature of this prophetic passage, which
is, that after declaring that Emanuel should eat butter and honey,
and the reason that is offered for this, is, that he might know how
to refuse the evil and choose the good; as if the way to discriminate
with correctness between moral and immoral principles, was to live
upon butter and honey. It is probably true that such a mode of living
rendered habitual would be favourable to the moral temperament of
man, and that the use of animal food makes him savage and ferocious.
It ought not, however, to have been mentioned as a principal cause of
distinguishing between good and evil. This is the work of the moral
and mental faculties of our existence, and some men might eat honey
during their whole lives, and die at last totally ignorant of moral
principle. This passage of holy writ, in its real nature and
character, does not deserve the least comment or observation; but
when Christian theology has made mole hills into mountains, it is a
duty which we owe to the cause of truth, to strip the film from off
the eye, that nature may appear correct and without distortion. When
prophecies are expressed in such a loose and unmeaning manner, they
lose all their character and credit, and can never be cited as proof
of the divinity of that religion in which they are found.
    Whoever wishes to be more fully convinced, that scripture
prophecies are destitute of all certitude, is referred to the perusal
of a work, entitled, "Christianity as old as the Creation", in which
numerous passages of this kind are called up to view, and the reader
is furnished with chapter and verse in various places of the Old and
New Testament. In the second place, that prophecies do not prove the
truth of the Christian religion, is evident from the consideration,
that some of those which are most clear and explicit, have absolutely
failed in their accomplishment. The twenty-fourth chapter of Matthew
is adduced to prove the present assertion; in that chapter Christ
foretelleth the destruction of Jerusalem, and the end of the world;
the inquiry being made, when shall these things be accomplished, the
answer is, that this generation shall not pass away till all these
things be fulfilled. But it is necessary to quote the whole passage,
to show that this prophecy, which is as clear and definite as any one
contained either in the Old or New Testament, has not been fulfilled;
that the time of its fulfilment expired long ago, even in that
generation in which it was spoken, and that this of itself ought to
destroy the validity of all Christian prophecies; because, when
detected in one positive and absolute falsehood, the veracity of
Testament writers is for ever afterwards to be suspected. (Ver. 29th)
"Immediately after the tribulation of those days, shall the sun be
darkened, and the moon shall not give her light, and the stars shall
fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens shall be shaken. And
then shall appear the sign of the son of man in heaven; and then
shall all the tribes of the earth mourn, and they shall see the son
of man coming in the clouds of heaven with power and great glory; and
he shall send his angels with a great sound of a trumpet, and they
shall gather together his elect from the four winds, from one end of
heaven to the other. Now learn the parable of the fig tree; when his
branches are yet tender, and putteth forth leaves, ye know that
summer is nigh; so likewise ye, when ye shall see all these things,
know that it is near, even at the doors. Verily I say unto you, this
generation shall not pass till all these things be fulfilled. Heaven
and earth shall pass away, but my word shall not pass away."
    The things predicted in this passage have not come to pass. The
sun has not been darkened, nor has the moon ceased to give her light;
the stars still shine in brilliant splendour, they glisten in the
expansive firmament, they still hold their stationary predicament in
the regions of space, and are expressive of the majestic grandeur and
resplendent glory of the Creator. There is no Christian that can
contend that this prophecy has been fulfilled; every thing contained
in it was to have taken place before that generation should pass
away; but not only that generation, but many others have passed away;
eighteen hundred years have elapsed, and the things spoken of are not
yet accomplished; there is a complete failure, the prophecy is false,
and this falsifies the book in which it is contained. A single
detection of this kind is enough to destroy the credit and authority,
the pretended divinity and celestial origin of the New Testament. If
God the Creator had inspired the men who wrote it, they would have
written nothing but truth, for it is impossible that he should have
inspired them with lies. There are many other places in the New
Testament which speak of the day of judgment, and the final
termination of the world, as if it were expected that those events
would actually have taken place during the life-time of the apostles
or immediate followers of Jesus. (See Cor. x. 11., Heb. ix. 21., I
John ii. 18.) If those men who pretended to be inspired, were
nevertheless so grossly deceived, what confidence can the human race
now repose in their writings? It is evident that the end of the world
was expected as an event that must shortly happen, and that the
apostles waited for it with trembling anxiety, frequently impressing
on each other the importance of being prepared for the opening of
such a terrific scene.
    Nature, which is constant, stable, and uniform, has given lie to
all these predictions, and taught man a lesson of impressive science,
that God is just, immutable, and eternal; that he regards with
parental benevolence the creation which he has made, and that he will
not wantonly destroy it to gratify the imaginary whims of a blind and
bigotted fanaticism. But there is still a more weighty charge, a more
important accusation lying against the Bible prophecies. They charge
the Creator of the world with a want of veracity; that one part of
his business has been to deceive his own prophets, and to infuse into
their minds falsehood and lies. The Bible represents him as copartner
in human guilt, and exhibiting on many occasions a departure from the
rules of moral excellence, which departure in itself would be
derogatory to the character of any individual of the human race. In
the 2d Chronicles, chapter xviii. we shall find matter to verify what
has been said. The passage is as follows: "And the Lord said, who
shall entice Ahab king of Israel, that he may go up and fall at
Ramoth Gilead? And one spake saying after this manner. Then there
came out a spirit and stood before the Lord, and said, I will entice
him, and the Lord said unto him, wherewith? And he said, I will go
out and be a lying spirit in the mouth of all his prophets. And the
Lord said, thou shalt entice him, and thou shalt also prevail; go out
and do even so. Now, therefore, behold the Lord hath put a lying
spirit in the mouth of these thy prophets, and the Lord hath spoken
evil against thee." Here God is positively charged with having put a
lying spirit into the mouth of his prophet, and this, if true, would
completely destroy his moral character; if it be not true, the
assertion in the Bible is false, and of course destroys the divine
authenticity of the book. In either alternative, the believer is
involved in equal difficulty; the truth of the book or the character
of God must be sacrificed. Another example of this kind of
prophesying, is found in the 18th chapter of Deuteronomy. "When a
prophet speaketh in the name of the Lord, if the thing follow not,
nor come to pass, that is the thing which the Lord has not spoken,
but the prophet hath spoken it presumptuously, thou shalt not be
afraid of him." The prophet Jeremiah says, "O Lord, thou hast
deceived me, and I was deceived; thou are stronger than I, and hast
prevailed. Wilt thou be altogether unto me as a liar, and as waters
that fail?" And in another prophet, the Lord says, "the days are
prolonged and every vision fails;" and though the Lord adds, "thus
shall none of my words be prolonged any more, but the word which I
have spoken shall be done;" yet he afterwards says, if the prophet be
deceived when he hath spoken a thing, "I the Lord have deceived that
prophet." And if the prophet is deceived, must not the people who
rely on that prophet be deceived? And does not the prophet Jeremiah
say, "Ah! Lord God, surely thou hast greatly deceived this people!"
(See Tindal, page 220.)
    It is not the intention, nor is it necessary in a work of this
kind, to examine all the pages of the sacred writings of the
Christians, in proof of their falsehood or immorality; a few
specimens are sufficient to substantiate the principle which is
placed in opposition to the character and doctrine of revealed
religion. God cannot lie; he is incapable of deception, and a book
which charges him with these crimes is false upon the very face of
the record. This charge which has been exhibited in the quotations
which are made above, furnishes a strong ground of belief, that those
who wrote the scriptures were unacquainted with the nature of moral
principles, and that they had no correct idea of the nature of
Theism. Lying prophets, a lying book, and a God that coincides with
such detestable principles, are circumstances irreconcilable,
inconsistent, unjust, and destitute of all truth. A prophet who tells
lies himself, and then attributes these lies to the Creator of the
world, is a character which reason ought to abhor. This impious
connection between earth and heaven; this pretended combination for
the purposes of fraud and deception, is calculated only to disgust an
innocent mind, and produce an implacable hatred against all religion.
It would be more consistent with the true interest of man, that he
should be destitute of all theological ideas, than that he should
yield to the reception of such incoherent and unjust opinions of the
divine character. Atheism is far preferable to that theology which
includes folly, cruelty, and ferocious fanaticism. A God that
inspires people with lies is worse than no God at all, and such is
the character of the Bible God, if the passages of scripture cited
above are to be credited. Prophecy has nothing to do with the order
of nature, it is not in conformity to it, it is a wild and injurious
effect of the most extravagant superstition. It appears from the
preceding inquiry, that many of the scripture prophecies are vague
and indefinite, that they prove nothing in regard to the supernatural
origin of revealed religion; in other cases, the prophetic spirit has
not hit the mark, and the prophecy has completely failed of
accomplishment; in others, the lies and deception incorporated with
these celestial predictions, annihilate at once all the vestiges of
truth, and leave the moral world in a state of mental decrepitude,
ignorance, and superstition. To assert, therefore, that the evidence
drawn from prophecies is sufficient to substantiate the divinity of
the Christian religion is a complete abandonment of all the laws and
principles by which nature is governed. It is a surrender of
intellect to the capricious and extravagant operations of a cruel and
superstitious opinion. It is substituting conjecture for truth, and
making the imagination more correct and powerful than reason. It is
not possible that the intellectual powers of human nature can ever
reach an exalted state of improvement, till they rise above all the
degrading impressions of theological superstition, and rest with
confidence upon the basis of their own energy.
    It is extraordinary, that among other sources of evidence to
which Christians have resorted, for the purpose of proving their
religion divine and supernatural, they have yielded to a belief, that
in point of moral excellence, the Bible is superior to all other
books. If all external evidence were swept away, it would,
nevertheless, appear by the internal purity of this system, that it
is divine. Its morality is declared to be pure, excellent, and
celestial; that it rises above the earth, and partakes of the nature
of heaven, that its maxims are sublime, its doctrines holy, its moral
precepts universally unexceptionable, and that the mind that does not
perceive in the Christian religion indubitable marks of its divinity,
must be blind to that blaze of internal evidence which shines with
refulgent splendour through this revealed system. Such in substance
is the opinion, such the sentiments and feelings of the Christian
believer. It is certainly of the highest importance, that every
system of religion should be immaculate in its moral principles; and
in deficiency of this, its pretended claim to divinity sinks into
nothing, and merits absolute contempt. All the miracles in the world
can never prove that religion to be true, whose internal maxims are
immoral and destructive. Purity of rules and principles, must be
fundamental in every ethical treatise; that nature of our existence
demands it, our powers bear a constant relation to the production of
moral effects, and our happiness cannot be secured by any other
means. A single departure from the pre-eminent principles of an
exalted virtue, is sufficient to condemn to everlasting infamy, any
pretended supernatural system, in which such departure is discovered.
It is expected, in mere human productions, that errors will
frequently appear; but in a work that is divine, there can be no
excuse for faults of any kind, not even in a single instance. If the
Christian religion be the work of a divine and Almighty mind, it
should have been presented free from blemish and moral impurity; it
should have been clear, intelligible, upright, and immaculate in all
its principles; it should have come clothed with innocence, and
untarnished by that debauchery and blood, which now constitute so
considerable a portion of this "holy" and "divine" system. It is
called a system, but in what respect it deserves this appellation, it
is impossible to say. It is in conformity to common phraseology that
we so frequently include it under this name. It is not systematic
either in its history, its doctrines, or its morality; it consists of
detached historical anecdotes, false or mutilated moral rules, and
unintelligible dogmas. They are bound up together in one book; but
they have as little connection with each other, as the history of
Greece and the accounts of the Salem witchcraft. In a genuine system
of ethics, it is expected, at least, that glaring immorality will be
excluded, and that the fundamental principles will coincide with the
nature and powers of man. But when we behold in a book the grossest
violation of theoretic moral excellence and practical purity, the
greatest indecency and the most disgusting indelicacy of sentiment,
there is good ground to suspect that such a book has been the
production or weak and vicious men, and the the work of infinite
wisdom. It is, however, denied by Christians, that their religion
contains maxims and principles of an immoral nature; it is therefore
necessary to furnish incontrovertible proofs of this position, and
show in what respects the Bible is at war with moral virtue, the
peace of society, and the best interests of man. It is necessary to
show that this book contains maxims and commands which are said to
have come from God, which would disgrace the character of any honest
man, and make him a candidate for a state prison or the gallows.
    When the chosen people of God were about to leave the land of
Egypt, he commanded them to borrow from the Egyptians, jewels of
silver, and jewels of gold, without any intention of ever returning
them to their proper owners, but to march off and appropriate them
exclusively to their own use. Here was deception, and a breach of
trust of so black a complexion, that it was very little better than
downright theft or open plunder. Of a similar nature is the conduct
of Jesus, when he sent his disciples to bring him a colt that was
none of his own. In case of a detection or attack, he ordered his
disciples to answer, that the Lord had need of him. Such a trifling
evasion at the present day would not be considered as a valid excuse
for feloniously taking and carrying away anther man's property. If it
was right at that time to steal in the name of the Lord, or get clear
of the crime, by saying that the Lord had need of the stolen goods,
it is right yet, and such a maxim once admitted would overturn the
empire of justice, and subvert the order and peace of society. There
are many heavy crimes and high handed misdemeanors, which lie very
strong against the chosen people of God; and if the accounts of
immorality detailed in the Old Testament, concerning the Jews, are
true, we should be led to conclude that God had not made a very wise
choice. The history of that barbarous people, is the history of
carnage and murder, of theft, robbery, and almost every species of
villany, that ever disgraced an ignorant and savage nation. It is to
be presumed, that if God would condescend to become partial to any of
the human race, and make them his chosen people, he would choose
those that were already strongly attached to the practice of an
exalted virtue, or that he would instantly instruct them in the
knowledge of useful, moral, and sublime principles. This, however, is
not the fact of the present case; the Jews knew nothing of morality
or science, before God made them his chosen people, and they knew
nothing of it afterward; so that their intimacy with their God was of
no advantage to "them", and still less to their "neighbours". To
their neighbours it was the sword of vengeance and slaughter; for
when they were impelled to the abominable crimes of unrelenting
murder and universal pillage, they charge it upon God, and said, for
so doing, they had his immediate command. In proof of this, various
passages might be cited; but a few are sufficient to destroy the
credit of the Bible, and free the divine character from such odious
imputations. In the 20th chapter of Deuteronomy, the following bloody
and exterminating commands are given, and these commands are
attributed to God himself, (Verse 13th) "And when the Lord thy God
hath delivered it into thine hands, thou shalt smite every male
thereof with the edge of the sword. But the women and little ones,
and the cattle, and all that is in the city, even all the spoil
thereof shalt thou take unto thyself." (Verse 16th) "But of the
cities of these people, which the Lord thy God doth give thee for an
inheritance, thou shalt save alive nothing that breatheth. But thou
shalt utterly destroy them."  In the sixth chapter of Joshua, there
is another specimen of the immoral and murdering spirit of God's
chosen people. (Verse 21) "And they utterly destroyed all that was in
the city, both man and woman, young and old, and ox, and sheep, and
ass, with the edge of the sword." To charge the Creator of the world
with such a violation of all justice, with such a dereliction of
every humane sentiment, is to deprive him of all his moral
perfections, and to make him equal in villany to Moses and Joshua, or
any of the eminent murderers whose names have been recorded in the
bloody history of the human race. It is strange to observe, that in
reasoning upon theological subjects, men are disposed to abandon the
correct ground of moral decision, and contend that those actions
which would be unjust in man, would nevertheless be just when
performed by the Creator. This is a mode of reasoning that perverts
all the faculties of our existence, destroys the moral excellence of
Deity, and overturns the foundation of principle. In all beings that
are intelligent, moral principle is the same; and God has no more
right to violate it, than any other being. He is essentially bound by
the properties of his existence, and his character cannot be
sustained without an undeviating attention to the immutable principle
of justice.
    In the history of David and Solomon, there is such a flagrant
violation of justice and decency, that the character of these men is
most certainly incompatible with the idea of celestial association.
David, who is said to be a man after God's own heart, was,
nevertheless, a murderer and adulterer. Solomon, though declared by
Christians to be the wisest man, was, probably, one of the most
debauched characters that ever disgraced the annals of human history.
The chapters in which his love intrigues are celebrated, are an
extravagant specimen of the most sensual and lascivious enjoyment. It
is impossible to read at the head of some of the chapters, "Christ's
love to the Church", without smiling at theological stupidity, or
being disgusted with religious deception. There is not a word in all
the songs of Solomon, which has the least relation to religion; they
are descriptive of sensual love. In some places grossly, and in
others delicately touched off by the hand of a descriptive artist. If
the Church of Christ at the present day possessed moral sentiment
enough to produce a blush, its cheek would be crimsoned over at the
idea of incorporating with a system of divinity, this ludicrous and
lascivious poem. But fanaticism is blind to the errors and
imperfections of any book to which it is determined to be attached.
Zeal propels the faculties to discover in nature, debauched or
distorted, a real love between Christ and the Church, or a system of
morality far superior to every other ethical treatise. This wicked
system, which inculcates theft, murder, fornication, and lies, is
denominated "holy writ". If such be the character of holy writ, it is
far better to seek for moral consolation in productions of another
kind. It is a blasphemous application of the terms, and subverts all
human confidence in the purity and truth of natural religion. In this
religion there is certitude, consistency, and moral virtue. Of all
the books that ever were published, Volney's "Ruins" is pre-eminently
entitled to the appellation of "Holy Writ, and ought to be appointed
to be read in Churches"; not by his majesty's special command, but by
the universal consent and approbation of all those who love nature,
truth, and human happiness. 
    In the New Testament, many principles are advanced inconsistent
with moral truth, destructive of the peace of society, and subversive
of the best interests of the human race. Some of these ruinous and
immoral sentiments must be noticed, and made the subject of useful
comment. "The gospel of Jesus Christ" is announced to a wicked world,
as a great and important blessing; but an examination of this system
will show that it is calculated to annihilate every thing valuable in
human existence; to create endless wars among the nations of the
earth; to destroy peace and tranquillity; discourage industry, and
arrest the energetic progress of the human faculties in their career
of beneficial improvement. In proof of these assertions, the
following passages are quoted: (Luke chap. xiv. verse 26) "If any man
come to me, and hate not his father, and mother, and wife, and
children, and brethren, and sisters, yea, and his own life, he cannot
be my disciple." In the gospel of St. Matthew we are commanded to
love our enemies. By what strange perversion of moral sentiment is
it, that we are commanded in one place to hate our nearest relations,
and in another to exercise a tender and affectionate regard to our
implacable enemies? Such a violation of consistency in a moral code,
annihilates at once all human confidence, destroys the finest
feelings of the heart, and renders it indubitably certain that such a
book cannot be divine or true.
    The above passage is also inconsistent with that part of the
decalogue which says, "Honour thy father and thy mother"; for surely
we cannot hate and honour them at the same time. It is also expressly
contradictory to the mild and benevolent temper so frequently
exhibited in the Epistles of John. "If any man say that he is in the
light and hateth his brother, he is in darkness, even until now." If
the above passage in Luke be true, the condition on which we are to
become the disciples of Christ, is that of hating our brother, and
all our relations; while in the writings of John, love is absolutely
necessary to the idea of true religion. How these opposite
declarations can stand together, it is difficult to conceive.
Christian fanaticism is able, perhaps, to reconcile them; but reason
sees in them nothing but inconsistency, and the heated zeal of an
incorrect and disordered imagination. Another passage of most
destructive immorality, is in Matthew's Gospel (chap. x. verse 35)
"Think not that I am come to send peace on earth; I come not to send
peace, but a sword. For I am come to set a man at variance against
his father, and the daughter against her mother, and the daughter in
law against her mother in law, and a man's foes shall be of his own
household." If this was really the object of Christ's mission, no man
was ever sent upon a more bloody and baneful expedition. This is
carrying the sword of war into the hearts of nations, and sowing the
seeds of private animosity, in the bosom of domestic life. It is
inconsistent with the goodness of God, that he should have been the
author of a religion which has annihilated rational peace, and
subverted the foundation of social and domestic tranquillity. The
same dreadful idea is expressed in other parts of the New Testament,
and furnishes an immutable ground of decision against the moral
principle and divinity of this religion. But not content with
spreading far and wide the baleful effects of public and private
calamity, this revealed system has positively enjoined, what, if
reduced to practice, would bring upon the world universal starvation,
and cause the human race to become extinct. (See Matthew chap. vi.)
"Therefore I say unto you, take no thought for your life, what ye
shall eat or what ye shall drink; nor yet for your body what ye shall
put on. Is not the life more than meat, and the body than raiment?
Behold the fowls of the air; for they sow not, neither do they reap,
nor gather into barns, yet your heavenly Father feedeth them. Are ye
not much better than they? Which of you by taking thought, can add
one cubit unto his stature? And why take ye thought for raiment?
Consider the lilies of the field how they grow; they toil not,
neither do they spin; And yet I say unto you that even Solomon in all
his glory, was not arrayed like one of these. Therefore take no
thought saying, what shall we eat; or what shall we drink, or
wherewithal shall we be clothed?" If these directions were followed,
the corporeal and mental industry of man would be destroyed, and
famine, ignorance, and misery would be the necessary consequence. It
is in vain that we are told that these passages do not mean what they
express; if, when we are told that we ought to love our enemies, it
is meant that we should "not" love them; and when we are told that we
ought to hate our nearest relations, it is meant that we should "not"
hate them; if when we are told that we ought to take no thought for
the morrow, it is meant that we "should" take thought. If such be the
explanatory methods by which the injurious force of these passages is
to be done away, there is an end to all confidence in language, and
the religion of Jesus is better calculated for deception than
instruction. The writings of Paul, that heated and fanatic zealot in
the Christian faith, are equally noxious to the cause of moral
virtue, and are calculated to annihilate the most virtuous efforts of
every individual. "It is not of him that willeth nor of him that
runneth; not of works lest any man should boast; of ourselves we can
do nothing"; together with a hundred other passages of a similar
nature, which go directly to suppress all the elevated exertions of
the human faculties, and if literally followed, would turn man from
intelligent activity, to a state of brutal indolence. It is extremely
destructive to the moral happiness of mankind to teach them the want
of powers, or the inadequacy of those they possess; because the fact
is otherwise, because it is a solemn truth that the powers of man are
competent to provide for his happiness; they are equal to the
exigencies of his existence. It is superstition that has made him a
fool, it is religious tyranny that has enslaved his mind, perverted
his faculties, and tarnished the glory of his intellectual energies.
Christianity has taught him two awful and destructive lessons; first,
that he is incapacitated for the performance of moral actions; and
secondly in case he "should" perform them, they would add no merit or
superior excellence to his character; that his best righteousness is
like filthy rags which God would treat with marked abhorrence.
    The repetition of such discouraging impressions must necessarily
work an effect remarkably injurious to the virtuous activity of the
human race. It is in conformity to this immoral instruction, that we
see fanatic Christians every where boasting of their own inability,
and doing violence to that internal sentiment which would otherwise
constantly impel them to the performance of acts of justice,
benevolence, and universal charity. In addition to the pointed
declarations of the "holy scriptures" against the power and practice
of morality, the inventors and promoters of the Christian religion
have set up various kinds of doctrines, which diminish the motives to
good actions, and lead the uninstructed mind to repose confidence in
something foreign from its own exertions and merit, such as
atonement, baptism, faith, sacramental suppers, oblations, and
ablutions, together with many other idle ceremonies and wild vagaries
of a distempered and fanatic brain.
    The idea that Jesus the son of Mary died for the sins of the
world, and that henceforth moral virtue can have no saving efficacy,
is among the most destructive conceptions by which the moral world
has been insulted and perverted. The supernatural grace of God, which
Christians for so many ages have been in search of, has hitherto
eluded the grasp of all rational and philosophic men; and to those
who pretend to be acquainted with this celestial gift, it has been at
times more trouble than profit; since innumerable doubts have been
created concerning its reality and modes of operation in the human
    The cursory survey that has been taken of the immoral precepts
and principles contained "in the Old and New Testament", clearly
proves that these books are not of divine origin. The God of the Jews
and Christians, according to their own description, is a changeable,
passionate, angry, unjust, and revengeful being; infuriate in his
wrath, capricious in his conduct, and destitute, in many respects, of
those sublime and immutable properties which really belong to the
Preserver of the universe. The characters spoken of in the
scriptures, as the favourites of Heaven, such as Moses, Joshua,
David, Solomon, Jesus, and Paul, are none of them good moral
characters; it is not probable, therefore, that they were selected by
the Creator as the organs of celestial communication. In the "Old
Testament", national and individual justice is disregarded, and God
is made the accomplice of crimes which human nature abhors. The
maxims of the "New Testament" are a perversion of all correct
principles in a code of moral virtue. The whole system is calculated
to take man out of himself, to destroy his confidence in his own
energies, to debase his faculties, vitiate his social affections, and
brutalize the most useful qualities of human existence. The highest
dignity of the human race consists in the practice of an exalted
virtue, in the exercise of a fine sympathetic benevolence, in
reciprocating our feelings and affections, in promoting the justice
and order of society, in relieving the unfortunate and supporting the
cause of truth, in diminishing evil and augmenting good; in short, in
promoting universally the science, the virtue, and happiness of the
world. There is, however, no possibility of faithfully performing
these duties while under the shackles of Jewish and Christian
superstition. The remedy consists in a return to nature, and in
elevating our views and conceptions above those theological
absurdities which have degraded man to a level with the beast, and
taught him to respect his civil and ecclesiastical tyrants as beings
of a higher order, or celestial messengers from a vindictive and
revengeful God.
    When all other arguments fail, we are called to contemplate the
wonderful fortitude of those martyrs who have suffered and died in
the cause of Christianity. Such religious heroism, it is said, could
proceed only from a conscious certainty of the existence of those
sublime and holy truths contained in the system which inspired such
preternatural courage. The slightest knowledge of the history of the
human passions would furnish a complete refutation of the argument in
favour of revelation. Extravagant zeal and unbounded enthusiasm are
frequently exhibited in many of the important concerns of human life;
there are martyrs in the worst of causes, and if martyrdom could
prove Christianity to be true, it would prove a hundred other things
to be true which are in pointed opposition to that system. The
Mahometan condemns the Christian, and the Christian condemns the
Mahometan; their creeds are different, and in many respects
contradictory; but they have both had martyrs without number; both
systems have sacrificed millions upon the alter of theological
fanaticism. Zeal among the Mahometans is not less infuriate nor less
sincere, than among the Christians; and Mahometanism might as well be
proved to be divine, from this kind of evidence, as the religion of
Jesus. The historical fact is the same of all religions, especially
of those which claim supernatural origin. Madmen and enthusiasts are
to be found every where, and celestial enthusiasm is generally the
most ranting and extravagant.
    But when recurrence is made to the universal conduct of mankind
in every age, and upon every important occasion, it is strange that
an argument drawn from the conduct of Christian martyrs, should have
been advanced in favour of the divine origin of this religion. The
spirit of fanaticism, which made Europe, during several centuries,
the slaughter-house of the world, will not, surely, be adduced in
favour of the mild and celestial nature of the religion of Jesus; yet
the crusades prove as much as individual martyrdom, and neither of
these proves more than that human nature is susceptible of strong and
rancorous passions, and that to the variety in the modification of
these passions there is no end. A heated and delirious imagination
always overturns the empire of reason, and subverts the throne of
justice. The extent of real attachment which individuals may show
towards any cause, in not conclusive evidence that such cause is
right. It is evidence only, that such persons are deeply interested
in it; but the interest which they take may be nourished by a
thousand other causes, than a clear and comprehensive view of truth.
The savage of America, has excelled in the patient fortitude of
suffering beyond all that can be boasted by all the Christian martyrs
of the world; yet this uncultivated man of the western world, holds
in contempt the doctrines and promises of the Christian religion. It
is directly in the face of all historical facts, to contend that the
conduct of Christian martyrs substantiates, in any degree, the
divinity of the Old or New Testament. From the banks of the
Mississippi, to the island of Japan, there is not a spot of earth,
but what has furnished martyrs in some cause or other; and if the
idea contended for by believers, were true, it is certain that more
than five hundred religious sectaries, all different in the tenets
which they hold, could instantly prove the sacredness of their
theological opinions, by reference to a spirit of fanatical
martyrdom; which spirit, instead of bearing the least relation to
truth, has served only to make man a miserable idiot, and deluge the
world in blood.
    The Church of Christ, in all ages, has come in for a share of
influence and authority, to prove that the scriptures are true. "The
Church has always believed in the Bible, and therefore the Bible is
true. The Bible declares the Church to be right, and therefore the
Church cannot be wrong; the Church proves the Bible, and the Bible
proves the Church; thus the divinity of the one, and the
infallibility of the other is rendered incontrovertible." If it were
admitted that the authority or opinion of the Church could prove any
thing, it would nevertheless be difficult to discover who are the
Church. The sectarian divisions are so numerous, that it is
impossible to determine which is the true Church. This would be a
much more difficult task than to determine which is the erroneous
Church. They continually dispute with each other concerning the truth
of their doctrine, they anathematize one another, and are liberal in
the charges of heresy; they are all heretics in the estimation of
each other, and they have no standard to determine with certitude
their theological differences. To bring the Church, therefore, to
prove the Christian religion, is to bring nothing at all, for nobody
can tell who, or what the Church is. It ought to be first settled
which Church is to be relied on, or rather which is to be considered
as the true Church, and then it would be time enough to decide
whether even that one had any just claim to settle for all mankind
the problematical points of truth and error. If, however, all the
Churches in the world, were agreed in their doctrines, this would not
prove them to be true; but amidst such ecclesiastical differences of
opinion, an honest enquirer of truth will find but little
consolation. These heterogeneous and contradictory ideas upon
supernatural theology necessarily destroy the validity and pretended
divinity of all these systems. The Church has carried every thing
with a high hand, and attempted to settle questions of truth by the
force of authority; but force has no relation to truth, and all
authority of all the Churches can never annihilate, in a single
instance, the necessary and essential connection between the truth of
a proposition, and the evidence by which it is supported. In former
ages they held many councils to decide upon ecclesiastical truths,
and at every successive council some alteration was made; truth was
never the same with them, and the final decisions were regulated by
the temperament, views, and interest of those learned and pious
clergymen, who composed those ecclesiastical associations. When the
power of the councils was not sufficient, the sword was resorted to,
and this constituted the "last reason" of the Church, as well as of
kings. To historize the conduct of the Church, from the third century
to the commencement of the sixteenth, would fill many volumes, and
after all it would be nothing more that a dark history of cruelty,
force, persecution, burning of heretics, and shedding, in the name of
heaven, the blood of the human race.
    If a corrupted Church and priesthood have believed in an error
for a thousand years, this does not change the nature of that error,
and cannot convert it into truth. "It is contended, that whoever
calls in question the divinity of revealed religion, is flying in the
face of the Church, and controverting its ancient and respectable
opinions; that these opinions have stood the test of ages; that they
have been believed by many pious and learned men, and cannot now be
overturned by a new and infidel philosophy." To all this it may be
answered, that a Church that has always been quarrelling with itself
concerning doctrines, is always to be suspected; it is absolutely
necessary for the Church, first to settle its own disputes, before it
calls others to account for unbelief. The bloody and ferocious
conduct; the cruelties, differences, and persecutions of the
Christian Church, in all ages, ought to destroy all its weight and
authority. Truth has not been its object, for sincere inquiries after
truth are disposed to mutual friendship and assistance; but this has
never been the case with those religious despots, whose opinions have
kept the world in an uproar for more than fifteen hundred years. It
was at one a "famous" dispute among the clergy in Europe, "whether
Jesus Christ was sitting, kneeling, or standing at the right hand of
the Father in Heaven." This foolish and despicable altercation
generated the most envenomed malice, and the most rancorous passions
were let loose upon this occasion, to the destruction of order,
peace, and human happiness. "But the Church is the repository of
power; the Church knows every thing; the Church is always right, and
woe be to that daring infidel who does not believe as the Church
believes." It is high time for that reason of man to rise in all its
energy, and sweep away such childish nonsense. "The opinions of the
Church have stood the test of ages." But how, in what manner have
they stood the test? as soon as the principles of science began to be
investigated; as soon as philosophy had thrown off the shackles of
authority, the opinions of the Church were called in question;
revealed religion began to be doubted, and every supernatural system
was subjected to a bold examination, which terminated against its
truth and utility. In proportion as science advanced, infidelity has
increased; in proportion as man has become acquainted with the nature
of physical and moral principle, his respect for unnatural theology
has constantly diminished. During fourteen hundred years of moral
darkness, in which Europe was involved, it was impossible that the
Christian religion should be brought to the test of a fair
examination, and upright decision; the learning of those ages was
almost exclusively confined to the clergy, and as they were
universally attached, either from pure or interested motives, to the
Christian religion, it was not possible that there should be any free
inquiry upon the subject. It is very easy for a thing to stand the
test where every body is in favour of it; this is exactly the case in
regard to revealed religion; it stood the test very well when nobody
had the sense or courage to oppose it. But when philosophy had opened
her treasures, and developed some of the most sublime and important
truths of nature; when reason had acquired strength, and taken the
resolution to act for itself, "the test of ages" was shaken to its
centre. It is only within the last two centuries, that the great
question concerning the truth of the Christian religion has been at
all agitated; during this period, the contest has been always vastly
unequal; the strength of civil and ecclesiastical despotism has been
malignantly opposed to a peaceful and contemplative philosophy.
    Notwithstanding all this, the progress has been great, error has
been attacked on every side, new truths unfolded, and a door of
consoling hope opened to the future generations of mankind; the
opinions of pious and learned men ought never to be adduced to prove
the celestial origin of the Christian religion. These same men,
celebrated for piety and learning, have believed in the grossest
absurdities, and the most childish errors. They have believed that
the earth was the centre of the planetary system, and that the sun
constantly performed its revolution round it; whereas the reverse is
the truth, the sun is the centre of the planetary system, and round
that resplendent luminary all the planets constantly revolve. They
have believed in witchcraft, dreams, apparitions, and all that
numerous train of ancient gentry, which have so much troubled the
repose of credulous fools. Since then, it is certain, that they have
submitted to the most childish and degrading credulity, their
opinions cannot be cited in proof of any system whatever; they have
been, however, honest, and in many instances, respectable men. Error
is a misfortune and not a crime; but truth can never be substantiated
by adducing, in support of it, the opinions of superstitious and
deluded men.
    The facts in the physical world are, many of them, difficult of
solution; those of the moral world have perplexed still more the
operations of the human understanding. The subtilty, the
abstruseness, the incognizable character of moral existence, place it
beyond the power of clear intellectual perception, and the mind loses
itself in those metaphysical combinations, whose successive
variations are incalculable. But the difficulties which nature has
thrown in the way of this inquiry are much less numerous than those
presented by superstition. A design has been formed, and carried into
effect, whose object it was to cover the moral world with a mantle of
mystery, and exclude it wholly from the view of vulgar eyes, and
common comprehension. It is only necessary to conceal the real nature
and character of a thing, and then deformities and distortions may be
made to pass for positive properties, or essential qualities inherent
in any specific mode of existence. If the subtilty of thought, and
the difficulty of moral discrimination, have in many cases presented
to human investigation a barrier to farther progress; the intentional
malignant descriptions of superstition have, in almost every age and
country, terrified the mind of man, and prevented the development of
substantial moral principle. Nature furnishes some difficulties, but
supernatural theology exhibits many more.
    In no one instance is this remark more substantially verified,
than in the inquiries which man has made concerning the source or
origin of moral evil. Reason and theology, philosophy and
superstition, are at war upon this subject. The believers in the
Christian religion, following the examples of their theological and
fanatic predecessors, have searched the universe in quest of a
satisfactory solution to that long altercated question - Whence came
moral evil? One religious sectary, willing to screen the divinity
from any just accusation relative to so nefarious a concern, have
descended into hell, and discovered there all the characters and
distorted machinery necessary to the production of such an effect;
but here metaphysical and fanatic invention indulged itself in all
the extravagance of delusion. It was necessary first to create this
"infernal" country, and then to create inhabitants suited to the
nature of the climate, and the unfortunate condition in which they
were to reside. The idea of a Devil was accordingly formed, and the
reality of his existence rendered an indubitable truth by the
reiterated assertions of superstition. Ignorance and fanaticism
greedily swallowed the foolish "infernal" dose which had been
    There is a remarkable disposition in the human mind to remove
the point of intellectual difficulty as far from the reality of the
case as possible, and then it triumphantly imagines that a solution
has been given. This is a fact particularly in theological inquiry,
in which a few retrogressive efforts of the mind have been considered
as an ample illustration of all the difficulties relative to the
subject of Theism, and the existence of the physical universe.
Similar to this idea is the doctrine concerning moral evil, and the
disposition which theologians have exhibited to remove the burden
from their own shoulders, and place it upon the devil's back. The
whole "infernal" machinery with which we are presented by
superstition, serves only to detach the mind from the true and real
source of moral evil. While reflection is directed to another world,
it is incompetent to a clear view of the facts existing in this, and
the habit of such reveries produces a fanatic delirium subversive of
all correctness of judgment. The existence of hell, and the beings
that dwell therein, being only supported by what is called divine
revelation, it follows, of course, that if this revelation is not
true, a belief in any thing that is a mere result of that system
cannot be substantially founded. Since then it is presumed, that in
these chapters a competent refutation is given to the doctrine
contained in the sacred books of the Jews and Christians, the idea of
descending into hell, or having recourse to a devil, in search of
moral evil, is futile and inconsistent.
    Another part of the Christian world, willing to avoid
difficulties which their antagonists had thrown in their way,
abandoned the "infernal" abodes, and ascended into the celestial
world, in quest of the origin of evil. They exhibited ingenious
metaphysical reasoning upon the subject, declaring that God was the
Creator of all things; that sin was something, and not nothing, and
therefore he must be the Creator of sin or moral evil. This puzzled
the advocates of the "hell scheme", and a clerical warfare was
engendered concerning two theological opinions, neither of which had
any kind of existence in the nature of things. After heaven and hell
had been searched through and through to find something which did not
belong to either of them, the terror-struck inquirer, as if fatigued
with his atmospheric journey, seated himself once more upon the
earth, and saw, or might have seen, in the very bosom of society, and
the perverted character of man, a clear and satisfactory solution of
that difficult question, which, for so long a time, had occupied his
attention in distant regions. It is in this manner, that the plainest
subject is rendered mysterious, when a superstitious religion is
industriously employed in subverting the independent power of
thought. It is neither in the upper nor lower regions; it is not in
heaven nor in hell, that the origin of moral evil will be discovered;
it is to be found only among those intelligent beings who exist upon
the earth. "Man has created it, and man must destroy it."
    But it is necessary to exhibit the proofs of this last
assertion, and convince Christian theology of the innumerable errors,
which for ages past have been imposed upon a credulous and deluded
world. What is it, then, that constitutes a moral evil? It is the
violation of a law of justice or utility, by any one of the human
species, competent to distinguish between right and wrong. We have no
other cognizable idea upon this subject. Facts and practice are
presented continually to the view of the human mind; the decision of
a correct mind is always according to the nature and character of the
case. The character of a human being is made either good or bad by
the actions he commits. If these actions are conformable to the
principles of justice and universal benevolence, they are with great
propriety denominated good; if they are unjust, cruel, and
destructive to sensitive and intellectual life, they are denominated
bad. There are certain fundamental laws, suitable for the government
of rational beings, and it is a departure from these laws that
vitiates the human character. It is proved in another part of this
work, that virtue and vice are personal qualities, and that they
result from personal adherence to, or personal infraction of moral law.
    It is only necessary in this place to call the attention once
more to the nature of human actions, and to the characteristic
difference between them, in order to establish the position
principally assumed in this inquiry; for it ought to be recollected,
that even if it "could" be proved, which by the way it cannot, that
even a deity or a devil had violated moral law, this would not effect
the decision upon the subject in regard to man; because that evil
could not be transferred from a different kind of beings in the other
world, to those who exist upon earth. As the moral properties of all
intelligent agents are personal; are essentially their own and not
another's; as there can be no justifiable transfer between man and
man, so it follows that there can be none between man and devil.
Every intellectual being must depend upon himself; must rest upon his
own energies and be responsible for himself. Man must, therefore,
relinquish that position, which has been assumed by Christian
theology, relative to the transferable nature of moral qualities.
Christianity presents us with two grand leading character, to whom we
are always referred in our inquiries upon the subject of moral evil.
Adam and Jesus are these persons, and in them is said to have been
concentrated the sin and righteousness of the human race. The new
Testament declares that, "as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall
all be made alive." This is a sweeping clause, in regard to the moral
existence of man, and flies in the face of universal experience.
Facts are at war with this scriptural declaration, and it is
impossible to reduce the sentiment to practice, without producing in
common life the grossest violations of justice. Admitting for a
moment the existence of such a man as Adam, which by the way is
extremely problematical, it will not follow, that there was in him
either a moral or physical death of the human race. Physically it is
impossible, and morally it is unjust.(1) If Christian theology has
made a recurrence to Adam, to aid the solution of difficulties,
relative to the origin of moral evil; if it has by this idea
perverted the eternal principles of discriminative justice, it has
also been equally unfortunate in calling in the righteous Jesus to
its assistance, in expectation of ultimately destroying the
immorality of the world. The scriptures invite us to behold the Lamb
of God, that taketh away the sins of the world. The Lamb is Jesus,
the only begotten of the Father; he is reputed to be divine and
uncontaminated with any kind of moral turpitude. His is made the
victim of Jehovah's wrath, and falls a sacrifice to the vindictive
fury of his benevolent father, and all this for the purpose of
removing crimes for which apostate man should have been scourged and
afflicted. Means more unsuitable or incompetent to the production of
such an effect, could never have been invented by the delirious brain
of fanaticism itself; but the absurd and incompetent methods which
Christian theology has invented for the destruction of moral evil,
are not so much the objects of the present investigation, as the
means which reason has in view to effectuate the moral renovation of
the species. It is a common complaint among theological doctors, that
the "world is growing worse and worse".
[1. See chapter on Death, or the disorganization of intelligent
    Passing by any strictures upon the ill compliment which
theologists pay to themselves by indulging such a sentiment, the
truth of the opinion itself will become a more important matter of
discussion. The organic construction, the powers and the properties
of human existence, the aggregate amount of virtue and vice in the
present generation, these are objects subjected to the inspection of
the human mind; but the conduct and character of man, in former ages,
is to be drawn from history. Histories, however, are not always
faithful to the realities of the case, and description is sometimes
excessive and sometimes deficient. But judging from what we know, and
including in the ground of decision, similarity of organic structure,
cogent proofs will be exhibited against the admission of an opinion
hostile to the ultimate perfectibility of intelligent life. The
expansion of mind, the development of principles, and the cultivation
of the arts, in a degree far superior to all the specimens of high
antiquity, evince an incontrovertible amelioration in the present
race. The accommodations favourable to the comfort and happiness of
life, with which man has surrounded himself, demonstrate that there
exists in the constitution of his nature a strong and indestructible
impulse to progressive improvement; to the diminution of evil, and
the augmentation of good. The fine moral qualities of the heart,
which adorn cultivated life, give to it a splendid brilliancy, and
triumphant exaltation above the coarse, instinctive brutality of
former ages. If personal malignity and national warfare continue, the
first is diminished in the acrimony of its character, and the second
has regulated its movements, in some measure, upon the principles of
a reciprocal humanity, and a greater respect for the dignity of human
existence. These are facts with which we are every moment presented
in the history of modern times; those who controvert these assertions
must have forgotten, or never knew, the names of Alexander, of Nero,
and Caligula; of the numerous ecclesiastical despots and persecutors
with which the history of the Christian Church presents us, anterior
to the commencement of the sixteenth century; nay farther, they must
have neglected the reading of the "Holy Scripture", and have lost
sight of the character of Moses, that eminent murderer of antiquity.
The Mahometan arguments in favour of belief must also have escaped
their notice; in short, the advocates of pre-eminent virtue in former
ages have shut their eyes against the history of kings and priests;
against the knowledge of those dreadful effects, which the compound
despotism of the church and state has produced upon the human race.
    If the modern "Suwarrow" be brought as an example of refutation
of these remarks, it is admitted in its full force, and this eminent
murderer of modern times is consigned, by the sentiment of humanity,
to the grave of eternal infamy. But the cases of such savage
barbarity are growing less numerous in proportion as the knowledge of
principle advances, and the correspondent moral practice flowing from
such knowledge. Reason, or the intellectual powers of man, must
eventually become both the deposit and the guardian of the rights and
happiness of human existence. Reason has already acquired such
strength, and so far unfolded its powers, that it has already sealed
the future destiny of the human race. It is the peculiar office of
reason to look to the utter demolition of the ancient regimen of
church and state. These twin sisters of iniquity are the moral
giants, which have stalked with huge devastation over the face of the
whole globe. Political despotism and supernatural religion have done
more to render the human race vicious and depraved, than all other
causes conjointly combined. If the passions of man and the impulses
of his nature have frequently produced a moral eccentricity in his
conduct, it is certain that a corrupt government and a corrupt
religion have rendered him habitually wicked; have perverted all the
conceptions of the mind upon moral and political subjects, and
brutalized his intellectual existence.
    The most important step which can be taken for the extermination
of vice and misery, is to destroy the artificial causes by which such
evils are perpetrated. If other causes should be found to exist in
the constitution of nature, they will be progressively removed by the
light and power of science, and a more comprehensive view of the true
interest of the human species. But efforts tending to make the
individuals of a nation virtuous and happy, will never succeed
extensively till the civil and religious tyranny under which they
groan shall be completely annihilated. This will lead to the
application of force in the political revolutions of the world; an
expedient, however, the rectitude of which some benevolent
philosophers have called in question. An ample discussion of this
point, however, is reserved to occupy a place in a political work,
which the author is preparing for the press, and which will be
presented to the view of the public as soon as it is completed. 
    It is sufficient at this time to remark, that despotism gives no
encouragement to any kind of improvement, and the hope of human
amelioration from this quarter will ever prove to be fallacious.
Reason, righteousness and immortal reason, with the argument of the
printing types in one hand, and the keen argument of the sword in the
other, must attack the thrones and the hierarchies of the world, and
level them with the dust of the earth; then the emancipated slave
must be raised by the power of science into the character of an
enlightened citizen; thus possessing a knowledge of his rights, a
knowledge of his duties will consequently follow, and he will
discover the intimate and essential union between the highest
interests of existence, and the practice of an exalted virtue. If
civil and ecclesiastical despotism were destroyed, knowledge would
become universal, and its progress inconceivably accelerated. It
would be impossible, in such a case, that moral virtue should fail of
a correspondent acceleration, and the ultimate extirpation of vice
would become an inevitable consequence. Ages must elapse before the
accomplishment of an object so important to the elevated concerns of
intelligent life; but the causes are already in operation, and
nothing can arrest or destroy the benignant effects which they are
calculated to produce. The power of reason, the knowledge of
printing, the overthrow of political and ecclesiastical despotism,
the universal diffusion of the light of science, and the universal
enjoyment of republican liberty; these will become the harbingers and
procuring causes of real virtue in every individual, and universal
happiness will become the lot of man.
    The discovery of the art of printing was a deadly blow to
religious fanaticism, and to every species of error. The clergy
rejoiced in this discovery, but their rejoicing was an untimely
delusion of the heart; they were blind to the consequences of this
fortunate and consoling discovery. The consideration of exhibiting,
in a new form, the sublime and holy truths of the Christian religion,
was to them a matter of the most elevated satisfaction, and they
anticipated a result directly the reverse of what has taken place. It
was believed, that a religion sent from heaven to benefit only a
small part of the human race, would have been always confined within
the power and discretion of a privileged and ecclesiastical order. To
this sacred hand learning had been hitherto been confined, and it was
perceived that the art of printing was calculated to break the charm,
and diffuse among the nations of the earth a moral light, consoling
to the heart of ignorant and unfortunate man. Such, however, was the
result, and the human mind received and experienced a new and
powerful motive to energize its powers and provide for its happiness.
Many important causes combined at one and the same time to excite
fresh vigour, and increase the activity of intellectual strength. The
ecclesiastical dissensions in Europe; the discovery of the new world;
the discovery of the art of printing; the philosophical
investigations of French, English, and German philanthropists; all
these, and many other powerful circumstances, were concentred, and
produced a new era in the intellectual history of man.
    Newton, profiting by the errors of those great philosophers,
Descartes and Bacon; Newton, whose original genius and comprehensive
mind have immortalized his name and character, developed with
clearness the physical principles and order of the planetary system,
and struck with everlasting death and eternal silence the theological
pretension of all former ages. The ignorance and stupidity of Moses,
Joshua,, and Jesus, were exposed, and their opinions were sacrificed
upon the alter of philosophical truth and mathematical demonstration.
Newton's mind was honest and discerning, but partially obscured by
the moral darkness of the age in which he lived, and the theological
impressions of early life. He was reputed to be a Christian upon a
graduated scale; but the habit of mathematical precision had led him
to a rejection of the doctrine of the trinity, and some other
prominent absurdities in the theology of Christians. His discoveries,
however, in the physical world, were vastly important to the cause of
human science, and have been productive of a more accurate mode of
reasoning, than any that had been adopted in former ages. The
demonstrations of Newton were compared to the theological reveries of
Moses and Joshua. The consequences of which was, that the scientific
philosopher rejected the imaginary conceptions of fanaticism, and
bestowed on solid argument a due portion of respect and attachment.
    It was not the discovery of physical truths alone that bore
relation to the renovation of the human species; it was reserved for
Locke, and other powerful minds, to unfold the internal structure of
the intellectual world; explain the operations of the human
understanding; explore the sources of thought, and unite sensation
and intellect in the same subject, and in a manner cognizable by the
human faculties. Locke has, perhaps, done more than Newton, to
subvert the credit of "divine Revelation"; but neither of them
discovered the extent of the doctrines upon the moral interests of
man. Sensation being established as the source and cause of all human
ideas, a system of true and material philosophy necessarily followed.
Organization was, of course, considered essential to the production
of intellect, and disorganization bearing very hard against a
conscious reminiscence of identified existence, speculations upon the
doctrines concerning futurity became frequent, and the ultimate
decision rested upon the discoveries which had been made in human
sensation. In addition to these leading features of a sound
philosophy destined to emancipate the world from a religious bondage,
other collateral and subsequent aids were experienced, and had a
powerful effect in ameliorating the moral condition of society.
Mirabaud, Rousseau, Voltaire, Hume, and Bolingbroke, together with
twenty other philosophers of France and England, combined their
strength in the philanthropic cause of human improvement; they
destroyed error by wholesale, and swept away the rubbish of ancient
superstition, by the irresistible force of a keen and active
intelligence. Those moral luminaries were followed by those of more
modern times, and the present age is pre-eminently distinguished by a
numerous and respectable band of philanthropic philosophers, whose
labours are calculated to destroy error, and elevate truth upon the
ruins of every thing injurious to the peace and dignity of human
    The writings of Paine bear the most striking relation to the
immediate improvement and moral felicity of the intelligent world. He
writes upon principle, and he always understands the principle on
which he writes; he reasons without logic, and convinces without
argumentation; he strangles error by his first grasp, and develops
truth with much simplicity, but with irresistible force. He is one of
the first and best of writers, and probably the most useful man that
ever existed upon the face of the earth. His moral and political
writings are equally excellent, and the beneficial influence of the
principles for which he has contended, will be felt through all
succeeding ages.
    Volney and Condorcet, Godwin and Barlow, are justly entitled to
the universal gratitude and applause of the human race. They have
attacked error in its strongest holds; they have pursued it with a
powerful and discriminating intellect. It has already lost half of
its force; and the philosophy that is denominated infidel, will, ere
long, chase it out of existence. It is this philosophy that has
developed the laws of the physical world, and exhibited the
principles on which its systematic order depends; it is this
philosophy that has unfolded the moral energies of human nature,
which has become an object of calumny in the estimation of a cruel
and persecuting superstition.
    All the opprobrious epithets in the English language have been
bestowed upon that mild and peaceful philosophy, whose object is the
discovery of truth, and whose first wish is to emancipate the world
from the double despotism of church and state. This philosophy has
already destroyed innumerable errors; it has disclosed all the
fundamental principles which have been employed in the construction
of machines, mathematical instruments, and the arrangement of those
moral and political systems which have softened the savage and
ferocious heart of man, and raised the ignorant slave from the dust,
into the elevated character of an enlightened citizen. Its only
weapons are thought, contemplation, argument, demonstration,
experiment, and probable conjecture; whilst, on the other hand, the
only weapons of despotism are "cold steel", or "leaden balls". This
despotism, however, whether it be political or ecclesiastical, is
malignantly employed in opposing and calumniating that philosophy,
which has sought with an ardent benevolence for the scientific
improvement of man, and the tranquillity of nations. The philosophy
of Europe armed itself with a spirit of truth and the sword of
justice; it humanely marched forth to conquer the errors and vices of
nations, and restore to man his lost dignity, which had long ago been
sacrificed upon the alter of theological fanaticism. This effort,
propelled by wisdom and humanity, was denounced by the thundering
voice of the church, and the resentful malice of monarchical tyranny.
    The "Illuminati" in Europe have been represented as a vicious
combination of persons, whose object was the destruction of all the
governments and religions of the world. If the enemies of philosophy,
in that part of the globe, mean by governments the corrupt monarchies
of the earth, and by religion, popular superstition, founded upon the
idea of a supposed mysterious intercourse between beings of the earth
and celestial powers, then they are right in this respect; for these
are the governments and religions against which reason and philosophy
ought to direct their energies; but if by government they mean a
system of genuine republicanism, founded upon the equal rights of
man, and by religion the idea of simple Theism, and the immortality
of moral virtue, then their assertions are false, and their
productions a calumny against reason and the rights of human nature.
The plain truth of the case is, that those who oppose philosophy, and
bestow upon it harsh and malignant epithets, are interested in
keeping up a privileged system of plunder and robbery, which make
nine-tenths of the human race absolute slaves, to support the other
tenth in indolence, extravagance, pride and luxury. The purest
systems of morals that could possibly be exhibited, and the
demonstrable axioms of the soundest philosophy, would become objects
of unbounded reproach, and their abettors marked as objects of the
bitterest censure, if the ancient regimen of church and state were to
be in any shape whatever injured by such development. The physical
force of nations would be drawn forth to suppress the independent
power of thought, destroy damnable heresy, and arrest, in the name of
heaven, those infidel philosophers, whose efforts had been directed
to the emancipation and moral felicity of these malicious and
tyrannical persecutors. The cry of vengeance and merciless punishment
against the benevolent philosophers of all countries of the present
day has not deterred them from the faithful discharge of their duty,
and the most unremitting attention to the best interest of individual
and national happiness. The strong arm of despotism can never reach
the subtle activity of thought, or subvert the dignified empire of
reason. It is now the object of despotism to stop the progress of
intellect, or prevent the universal diffusion of useful knowledge.
The substantial happiness of the human species depends upon the
activity of reason, and the liberty of the press; they have gained
too much strength to be crushed by all the civil and religious
tyranny of the world.
    Man will never cease to be erroneous in his reasonings, while he
departs from the simple and uniform ground of nature; the only solid
basis of all conclusive argumentation, the only true source of all
important science. It is in the physical constitution of existence in
its real relations, in its energies, in its effects, that he must
seek for principles by which to construct a useful and well cemented
fabric; by which to arrange and methodize thought, and apply it to
the diversified purposes of human life. The imperfection of his
faculties does not enable him to seize upon all these objects in such
a manner to preclude the possibility, and even probability of many
errors; but these errors are to be destroyed only by a constant
recurrence to the fundamental "data", from which correct conclusions
must ever be deduced.
    Man has lost himself in the wanderings of a fantastic
imagination, in the fleeting dreams of fanaticism, and the malignant
fury of a blind superstition; he has sought for truth where it is not
to be found, his mind has diverged from the line of reality, and he
has become the victim of innumerable prejudices. The most common
phenomena have been ascribed to causes which had no existence, and
effects have been attributed to those chimerical combinations which
were to be found only in the distorted brain of an enthusiastic
religious zealot. The simplicity, the uniformity, the grandeur of the
physical universe, have been abandoned, while the fictions and non-
entities of delirious mortals have been substituted as the ground of
evidence, and the principle of correct conclusion. It was not in the
organization of the material world, that man sought for truth, but in
the deceptive schemes of religion, which interested zeal imposed upon
    The sensation, the intellect, the capacities of man, taught him
that he was subject to a variety of evils; but instead of searching
for the cause of these evils, where only they were to be found, he
suffered the operations of intellect to be subjugated by the pride
and arrogance of superstition, and he no longer discerned the true
connection between the miseries which he felt, and the active and
natural causes which produced them; he no longer beheld his true
condition in nature, but weakly imagined that he had become the
object of malevolent intention in some superior being, who took
delight in his torture, and wilfully subjected him to the diversified
misfortunes with which he was assailed. In this unfortunate
predicament, with too much weakness to abandon his errors, and too
much prejudice to discover the truth, he wandered over the face of
Nature, the devoted victim of that ignorance and superstition which
for so long a time had destroyed the tranquillity of his heart, and
suppressed the operation of his mind; he inquired with anxious
solicitude into the causes of his sufferings; he sought in a
vindictive theology for a solution of the difficulty, but his inquiry
ended in an accumulation of sorrow, and a repetition of the
misfortunes from which in vain he had endeavoured to escape. By dint
of investigation, by constancy of intellectual inquiry, he at length
was led to discover, that the evils which he suffered were to be
accounted for by a single comparison and application of the law of
power in surrounding objects, and the law of sensation, by which his
life was every moment modified; the development and explanation of
this solid truth will constitute the true ground of the present
    While physical existence continues what it now is, while its
powers, its modes of operation, its essential energies remain the
same, it will be impossible to modify a sensible being so as to
prevent his being necessarily subjected to a diversity of unpleasant
and painful sensations. Power and activity are essential to the
existence of matter, and capacity of sensation to every specific
modification of life; an undue proportion of this power, applied to
any sensitive agent, will necessarily damage, in some partial degree,
the natural organization of which he is possessed; it is the nature
of life to feel, to be sensible, to be capable of perception; it is
the nature of physical objects to make impressions, and if the
impressions from surrounding objects are not properly apportioned to
the capacity of sensation, the natural result will be pain, distress,
or complete misery, according to the nature and quantity of that
power which in any case may be applied; such consequences must
inevitably follow, while the law of power in physical objects, and
the law of sensation in modified life, maintain the same relation
which they now bear to each other. It will, therefore, be for ever
impossible wholly to prevent pain, unless you destroy the law of
power in material nature, or the law of sensation in animal life. The
relation and connection now subsisting between them, necessarily
includes the possibility, and even the absolute certainty of the
existence of pain, or some portion of real misery. It will be
perceived, in this method of reasoning, that every idea of suspension
or violation of the laws of nature is excluded, and that identity of
power and quality in specific portions of nature is presumed to be
perpetuated with undeviating uniformity.
    To show the correctness of this opinion, it is only necessary to
have recourse to a few familiar examples in the ordinary concerns of
human life; for instance, if a man were to thrust his hand into the
fire, or if by any other means fire should come in contact with any
part of a sensitive being, the feeling experienced must necessarily
be painful, because the law of power or activity in fire, and the law
of sensation in modified life, necessarily includes the impossibility
of preventing such consequence. Again, if any one were situated so
that a heavy body falling from above should come directly upon him,
it would be impossible to prevent disorganization or death, unless
the law of gravitation were suspended, or his own peculiar structure
of body instantaneously changed. In short, the whole application of
the power of physical existence to the condition of sensitive
creatures will ever prove, that such necessary consequences must be
    Look through the whole order of nature, and this solemn truth is
clearly perceived, that every being possessed of feeling must
eternally be exposed to a vast variety of complicated evils, painful
sensation, and diversified misfortune, resulting from the
constitution of the universe, and the laws by which it is governed.
The same reasoning will apply to all the higher operations of nature,
and those astonishing phenomena that surprise and terrify the mind of
man! Earthquakes, volcanoes, lightning, inundations, are all the
result of the operation of physical laws, and it is impossible to
prevent the misery which they occasion, without a suspension or
violation of the laws by which they were produced.
    A similar mode of reasoning will partially apply in regard to
those evils that attack associated bodies of men, where
superabundance of population, with a variety of other causes, has
laid the foundation of inevitable disease, such as plagues, malignant
fevers, and many others to which large and populous cities are
subjected. But this part of the subject requires particular
examination, since it is here that superstition has raised a rampart
impregnable to the attacks of reason. The pride, the fanaticism, and
the intemperate zeal of man will never cease to mislead his judgment;
cause the energies of intellect to diverge from the line of truth,
and to subject him to the baneful influence of opinions, erroneous
and destructive in their consequences. Man is ignorant, and this
ignorance produces in him an attachment to the marvellous; he is both
delighted and terrified with strange and unnatural appearances, with
events out of the common order of things, with those phenomena which
approach or seem to approach the idea of a miraculous occurrence; he
seems to take a pride also in attributing these events to the special
interventions of Divine Providence, to the supernatural operations of
a vindictive God; to the cruel and arbitrary arrangements of an
omnipotent tyrant, to the malice and premeditated revenge of that
ferocious being, who exists only in his own distorted imagination,
and the admission of whose existence would be the sure presage of the
annihilation of the vast fabric of nature. The fanaticism and
intemperate zeal of all supernatural religion has ever desired to
represent the God of nature as partial in his operations, revengeful
in his intentions, and inconsiderably destructive in all those
arrangements of which he is supposed to be the author and contriver.
All the various religious parties and sectaries that have ever
existed on earth, have pretended that God was enlisted in their
service, and consequently, that he had proclaimed war, and the most
implacable resentment against every other man or set of men who had
not embraced the true and orthodox faith. 
    This terrible representation of the divinity, as destitute of
truth as it was pernicious in its consequences, was, at length,
diversified and decompounded, and afterwards recombined for purposes
of systematic terror; the partial distribution of favours, and the
dreadful torture of the human race under the name of divine
vengeance. The professors of different religious opinions having
armed their God in their own cause, became the merciless distributors
of those dreadful punishments and calamities which they expected
would result from the character of that barbarous divinity, which
their imaginations had described. The malice of the individual, the
savage cruelty of man, was transferred to this imaginary God, and he
appeared in turn the object of terror to every living mortal. Man
thus wishing to gratify his resentment against his neighbour, of an
opposite religious opinion, has never failed to engage his God in is
own quarrels; and if in the course of events, if any misfortune befel
his enemy, the doctrine of special providence was then verified in
his mind, and he triumphantly asserted that the Almighty had made
bare the arm of his justice, and brought ruin and destruction upon
the objects of his wrath. This doctrine, so humiliating to the
character of man, and so disgraceful to the intelligent preserver of
nature, has been fundamental in every religious system of
supernatural origin. It took its rise in the weakness and malevolence
of human nature, and its destructive consequences will have no end,
till reason shall enlighten and renovate the world.
    To expose the absurdity of this doctrine, it is only necessary
to have recourse to the plainest facts, and the incontestible
evidence resulting from a view of those events which are every where
presented to the contemplation of man. If in any of those cases which
include the admission of a special providence, recurrence were made
to the most obvious and striking truths, the error must inevitably be
corrected. If plagues, malignant fevers, or national calamities of
any kind be considered as the scourges of divine vengeance for the
punishment of sin, why do they fall indiscriminately upon the
virtuous and the vicious, upon the young and the old, upon the weak
and the strong, in fact, upon every class of intelligent beings,
whatever may be their character, their circumstances, and condition
in life? Why does not divine justice apportion these punishments to
the actual degree of criminality in each individual that is made the
object of is displeasure? Why does he not pour out his beneficence
upon the chosen children of his love, and mark with tokens of
displeasure those only who are his real enemies, those only who are
disobedient and incorrigibly wicked? But no! this is not the manner
of his operation; this arrangement of distributive justice is no
where to be discovered. The child of God, and the child of the devil,
are often involved in the same calamity; frequently subjected to the
same disease, and eventually fall a sacrifice to the same complaint.
This proves that the event has been produced by the uniform
operations of the laws of nature, and not by any special judgment
from God; this proves incontestibly, a want of moral discrimination,
and overturns every argument which Superstition has arranged for the
accomplishment of her wicked intentions.
    Whoever will deign to look at facts, will be necessitated to
yield to the truth of these operations; they stand verified by
observation, by the universal experience of all mankind. There is
not, perhaps, a single case in which man reasons so much in the face
of facts, as in the admission of a special providence in the
government of the world. These reflections, though they may at first
appear to operate against the cause of virtue, will, when attentively
examined, be found to produce an opposite effect, and present to the
human mind the strongest inducements to the practice of genuine
morality; for no one can with justice pretend that the discovery and
the disclosure of truth can injure the moral improvement of the
species; and although the world is governed by general laws, and
consequently every description of character is necessarily involved
in the result of their operation, yet it is also certain, that the
design and the practice of virtue are the surest grounds on which to
rest the expectation of moral felicity. It is true, indeed, that no
degree of virtue can effectually secure man against the effects of
physical evil; because whatever may be the excellence of his
character, this excellence will not prevent the uniformity of
operation in the material world, nor change the immutable laws by
which it is governed, nor can it destroy that universal relation
which every where exists between sensation and the law of power in
external objects. In vain shall we search for a solution of
difficulties in the mutable decrees of a capricious divinity: it will
ever be necessary to have a recourse to the fundamental laws by which
the material universe is regulated; it will ever be necessary to
abide faithfully by the universal principles of nature in all our
decisions on this important subject.
    No system can more effectually disgrace the moral character of
God, than that which includes the idea of partial arrangement in the
government of the world; and no system is more incontestibly proved
by facts, than that which admits universality of operation in the
whole of physical existence. The evils of which man complains, and
which he unphilosophically denominates the judgments of God, are
consequences resulting from the establishment of immutable laws; and
the want of moral discrimination relative to the suffering objects,
verifies this principle incontrovertibly.
    It is further to be considered what terrible consequences would
flow from the doctrine of special judgments. This doctrine
practically forbids benevolent intention, and would frequently
criminate the efforts of humanity in relieving distress, and
mitigating the circumstances of the unfortunate. If it be the will of
the Divinity to pour out his wrath upon a whole city, and to destroy
its inhabitants by malignant fevers, who shall dare to oppose his
determination? Who shall presume to exercise the healing art, when
Heaven decrees sickness and death? Who shall be found hardy enough to
enter the lists with the Creator, and attempt to avert his judgment?
In short, if this doctrine were admitted and reduced to practice, it
would destroy, in some of the most essential cases, all the friendly
and social virtues of man, and brutalize the human race. But,
fortunate for man, if in theory he hold this doctrine sacred, his
practical conduct humanely varies from the theory. The smallest
recurrence to facts in the single instance of malignant fevers, would
clearly substantiate this assertion. Superstition may darken the mind
and derange its theoretic speculation, but the benevolence of the
heart rises superior to these doleful illusions, and delights in the
performance of duty.
    In vain then do you speak of special judgments to that man whose
family is attacked with malignant disease: he practically denies the
truth of the doctrine, and humanely proceeds, as he ought, to
administer the proper and necessary relief; even those who pretend to
believe in this manifestation of divine vengeance, are often the
first to oppose the will of Heaven, and restore health to a
distracted family. Whence this difference between doctrine and
action, between theory and practice? Will man never learn to be
consistent, will he never forsake his errors and return to nature? It
is on this grand system alone that he can find consolation; it is
here only that the ardent desires of his heart can be satisfied, and
confidence restored to his soul. Every deviation from nature is the
establishment of a cause which must sooner or later work ruin to his
sensations, or essentially disturb the tranquillity of his mind; he
will find no happiness in error, and the most dreadful of all his
errors is to be found in the terrible descriptions of the Divinity
that he worships; he falsely attributes to this Divinity the
diversified evils which he himself has produced, and while he remains
under the impression of such an opinion, he will be for ever ignorant
of the true sources of those miseries to which he is continually
    "How long will man importune the heavens with unjust complaints?
How long with vain clamours will he accuse fate as the author of his
calamities? Will he then never open his eyes to the light, and his
heart to the insinuations of truth and reason? This truth every where
presents itself in radiant brightness, and he does not see it! the
voice of reason strikes his ear; and he does not hear it! Unjust man!
If you can for a moment suspend the delusions which fascinates your
senses; if your heart be capable of comprehending the language of
argumentation, interrogate nature."
    "In what consists the maledictions of heaven against these
countries? Where is the divine curse that perpetuates this scene of
desolation? Monuments of past ages! say, have the heavens changed
their laws; and the earth its course? Has the sun extinguished his
fires in the regions of space? Do the seas no longer send forth
clouds? Are the rain and the dew fixed in the air? Do the mountains
retain their springs? Are the streams dried up? And do the plants no
more bear fruit and seed? Answer, race of falsehood and iniquity! Has
God troubled the primitive and invariable order, which he himself
assigned to nature? Has heaven denied to the earth, and the earth to
its inhabitants, the blessings that were formerly dispensed! If the
creation has remained the same, if its sources and its instruments
are exactly what they once were, wherefore should not the present
race have every thing within their reach that their ancestors
enjoyed? Falsely do you accuse fate and the divinity; injuriously
refer to God the cause of your evils."
    "Tell me, perverse and hypocritical race, if these places are
desolate, if powerful cities are reduced to solitude, is it he that
has occasioned the ruin? Is it his hand that has thrown down these
walls, sapped these temples, mutilated these pillars? Or is it the
hand of man? Is it the arm of God that has introduced the sword into
the city, and set fire to the country, murdered the people, burned
the harvests, rooted up the trees, and ravaged the pastures? Or is it
the arm of man? And when, after this devastation, famine has started
up, is it the vengeance of God that has sent it, or the mad fury of
mortals? When, during the famine, the people are fed with unwholesome
provisions, and pestilence ensues, is it inflicted by the anger of
heaven, or brought about by human imprudence? When war, famine, and
pestilence united, have swept away the inhabitants, and the land has
become a desert, is it God who has depopulated it? Is it his rapacity
that plunders the labourer, ravages the productive fields, and lays
waste the country; or the rapacity of those who govern? It is his
pride that creates murderous wars, or the pride of kings and their
ministers? Is it the venality of his decisions that overthrows the
fortune of families, or the venality of the organs of the law? Are
they his passions that; under a thousand forms, torment individuals
and nations, or the passions of human beings? And if in the anguish
of their misfortunes they perceive not the remedies, is it the
ignorance of God that is in fault, or their own ignorance? Cease,
then, to accuse the decrees of fate, or the judgments of heaven! If
God is good, will he be the author of your punishment? No, no; the
caprice of which man complains, is not the caprice of destiny; the
darkness that misleads his reason, is not the darkness of God; the
source of his calamities is not in the distant heavens, but near to
him upon the earth; it is not concealed in the bosom of the divinity;
it resides in himself, man bears it in his heart."
    "You murmur and say, Why have an unbelieving people enjoyed the
blessings of Heaven and of earth? Why is a holy and chosen race less
fortunate than impious generations? Deluded man! where is the
contradiction at which you take offence? Where is the inconsistency
in which you suppose the justice of God to be involved? Take the
balance of blessings and calamities, of causes and effects, and tell
me, when those infidels observed the laws of the earth and the
heavens, when they regulated their intelligent labours by the order
of the seasons, and the course of the stars, ought God to have
troubled the equilibrium of the world to defeat their prudence? When
they cultivated with care and toil the face of the country around
you, ought he to have turned aside the rain to have withheld the
fertilizing dews, and caused thorns to spring up?"
    "When to render this parched and barren soil productive, their
industry constructed aqueducts, dug canals, and brought the distant
waters across the deserts; ought he to have blighted the harvests
which art had created; to have desolated a country that had been
peopled in peace; to have demolished the towns which labour had
caused to flourish; in fine, to have deranged and confounded the
order established by the wisdom of man? And what is this
'infidelity', which founded empires by prudence, defended them by
courage, and strengthened them by justice; which raised magnificent
cities, formed vast ports, drained pestilential marshes, covered the
seas with ships, the earth with inhabitants, and, like the creative
spirit, diffused life and motion through the world? If such is
impiety, what is true belief?"(1)
[1. See Volney's "Ruins", page 23, et seq.]
    The correct and unprejudiced observer of nature, the genuine
moralist, will necessarily accede to the truth of the above remarks,
and in all his reasonings he will analyze facts, and attribute events
to the real causes which have produced them; he will be under the
necessity of rejecting those senseless opinions which have never
failed to involve human inquiries in the doleful predicament of
endless contradictions and absurdity. There can be no errors more
pernicious than those which destroy the uniformity of operation in
the physical world, and despoil the Creator of the honour of
governing the universe by immutable laws. So long as the belief of
special judgments shall obtain, man will for ever tremble before a
capricious tyrant, who deserves neither gratitude nor admiration; but
if the evils of life be attributed to their true sources, he will
learn to provide against them, and to found his happiness upon a
comprehensive view and knowledge of those principles by which the
conservation of all existence is rendered sure and certain to every
intelligent being. Prophecies, miracles, special judgments, and
divine vengeance, are phrases without meaning, and phantoms without
existence, calculated only to disgrace the character of God, and
derange the intellectual faculties of man. Philosophy teaches us to
seek in nature, and the knowledge of her laws, for the cause of every
event, and when this knowledge shall become universal, man will
relinquish with elevated satisfaction his attachment to those
supernatural schemes of a vindictive theology, which have served only
to destroy the harmony of nature, and demoralize the intelligent
world. O, man! return in thy inquiries to the basis of physical
existence, develope its principles, cultivate science, love truth,
practice justice, and thy life shall be rendered happy.
    In the examination of the Christian religion, it would be
improper to pass over, in silence, a character of so much power and
importance as that of the devil. If accounts are true, he has acted a
very conspicuous part upon the theatre of theological delusion. He
was the leader of a refractory band of insurgents in the celestial
world; a vast and tremendous conflict ensued, in which it became
necessary for Jehovah to draw forth all his forces to quell the
rioters. It was with difficulty that this grand object was
accomplished by the united exertions of the angelic hosts, under the
guidance of the most distinguished officers of the upper regions.
    Milton has described in a terrific manner, these heated and
resentful combats, and given to the most enthusiastic fictions the
character and effect of real existence. His poetic fancy, the extent
of his imagination, and brilliancy of conception, have been, and will
long continue to be, admired; but his Paradise Lost, in the
estimation of sound philosophy, and considered in its relation to
philosophical truth, is an object of censure and contempt. He has
done more to immortalize the marvellous character of a fictitious
being, than even the Bible itself. He has given to "airy phantoms, a
local habitation, and a name." The Christian devil is seen performing
very marvellous feats in several different places in the Bible. He
has vast powers of modifying his form and appearance, and can exhibit
himself in an infinite variety of shapes. He assumes the form of a
serpent, and very cunningly introduces himself to the original mother
of the human race. It is in this fanciful scene so dexterously played
off in the garden of Eden, that commenced the innumerable troubles,
and destructive evils, that have since overwhelmed the life of man,
and rendered miserable the fair creation of God. In almost all the
cases where the Devil has brought his powers into vigorous action, he
has succeeded, in despite and defiance even of Omnipotence itself.
God made the world for his own glory, for the purposes of virtue and
felicity, but the Devil overturned the scheme, before it had come
fairly into operation; and thus, in the very commencement of the
business, defeated the wisdom, and disordered the creation of the
"Most High". It is very extraordinary that a being of perfect wisdom
and goodness, whose object must have been to extend the empire of
happy and intelligent life, should have made such bad calculation,
and so soon have been deranged in the correctness and benevolence of
his designs.
    It is remarkable, that in the sentences of condemnation which
were passed upon the several offenders, there is a difficulty and
singularity in that which relates to the the serpent. "And the Lord
God said unto the serpent, because thou hast done this, thou art
cursed above all cattle, and above every beast of the field; upon thy
belly shalt thou go, and dust shalt thy eat all the days of thy
life." It is a question of magnitude, which ought to engage the
attention of theological doctors to inform us, in what manner the
serpent performed loco-motion, previous to his transgression, for
which he received the condemnatory sentence of going upon his belly.
Did he walk about erect like a man? if so, he must have cut a curious
figure, travelling about upon the point of his tail; and the
condemnation which brought him to a horizontal position, was rather
in his favour than against him. This story, in its nature, is too
childish and trifling for serious remark. It is, however, a story
which has found its way into other theological systems of great
antiquity. And the followers of Moses have to contend with many of
the eastern nations, such as Egyptians, Persians, and Indians, upon
the merit of originality. There is a similarity in almost all
supernatural systems of theology; they are all founded in a
disgusting distortion of nature; they are all interwoven with the
"marvellous"; they have all their serpents, their ghosts, and their
devils. It is not of importance who first invented these theological
wonders; they are not the less foolish and injurious, whether they
were first propagated by the followers of Moses, or the disciples of
Zoroaster; whether they are of Egyptian or Indian origin. They are
still the dreams of fanaticism, and have perverted all the pure ideas
of God and Nature, which man otherwise would have formed.
    Concerning the invention of the Devil, of good and bad spirits,
with which all ancient theology is replete, there is, in Volney's
"Ruins", a most striking passage, which throws much philosophic light
upon the subject. "In Persia, it was the serpent which, under the
name of Ahrimanes, formed the basis of the system of Zoroaster; and
it is the same, Christians and Jews, that is become your serpent of
Eve; (the celestial origin) and that of the cross in both cases, the
emblem of Satan, the great adversary of the ancient of days sung by
Daniel. In Syria, it was the hog, or wild boar, enemy of Adonis;
because in that country the office of the northern bear was made to
devolve upon the animal whose fondness for mire and dirt emblematical
of winter. And it is for this reason that you, children of Moses and
Mahomet, hold this animal in abhorrence, in imitation of the priests
of Memphis and Balbec, who detested him as the murderer of their god,
the sun. This is likewise. O Indians! the type of your Chiben, which
was once the Pluto of your brethren, the Greeks and Romans; your
Brama also, (God the creator) is only the Persian Ormuzd, and the
Osiris of Egypt, whose very name expresses a creative power, producer
of forms. And these gods are worshipped in a manner analogous to the
real or fictitious attributes; and the worship, on account of the
difference of its objects, was divided into two distinct branches; in
one, the benign God received a worship of joy and love, whence are
derived all religious acts of a gay nature, festivals, dances,
banquets, offerings of flowers, milk, honey, perfumes, in a word, of
every thing that delights the senses and the soul. In the other, the
malign, on the contrary, received a worship of fear and pain, whence
originated all religious acts of the sombre kind, tears, grief,
mourning, self-denial, blood-offerings, and cruel sacrifices. You now
understand," continued the orator, addressing himself to the Indians,
Persians, Jews, Christians, and Musselmen, "you now understand the
origin of those ideas of combats and rebellions, which equally
pervade your respective mythology."
    It is thus that this beautiful writer has developed the origin
of these religious ideas; and it is in this manner that the
disordered imagination has operated upon subjects that could not be
reduced to certitude. There is not, however, perhaps one malignant
character amongst all those which theology has created, who has acted
a more conspicuous part than the Christian Devil, or Satan. He comes
forth under this latter name in the book of Job, and there assumes to
himself the right of keeping the best of company, and carrying on
vast projects of ruin, mischief, and rascality. He introduces himself
among the sons of God, and holds a familiar and social conversation
with the Creator himself. God, according to the story, condescends to
indulge him in this kind of intimacy, and they unite in forming a
scheme to torment and ruin the unfortunate Job. The coalition and the
project so effectually disgrace the character of the Deity, that no
genuine Theist can read the story without emotions of disgust and
resentment against its foolish fabricators. Satan is here put upon a
par with God himself, and they mutually coalesce in a scheme to
torment and destroy an upright and honest man. Such representations
of God annihilate at once the validity of any book in which they are
found. Another extraordinary story concerning the Devil is told in
the New Testament, which describes him as having fallen into much
worse company than he had been accustomed to keep, according to the
accounts in the book of Job. There he was found among the sons of
God; but in the latter case, amongst a herd of swine. This passage
must be quoted, because it is worthy of comment; it shows how
miserably inconsistent is the Christian system of religion; it shows
the extent of fanatic credulity, and the impositions which
priestcraft has laid upon uninstructed man.
    "And there was a good way off from them an herd of many swine
feeding. So the devils besought him, saying, if thou cast us out,
suffer us to go away into the herd of swine. And he said unto them,
go. And when they were come out, they went into the herd of swine;
and behold the whole herd of swine ran violently down a steep place,
and perished in the waters." (Matthew chap. viii.)
    It appears by this passage, that these devils had a desire to
change their residence, which was granted to them, and they forthwith
entered the swine, and took up their abode there; but it seems that
these brute animals, by some unknown impulse, probably of a devilish
kind, since it is clear that the Devil was in them, plunged into the
water, and were instantly drowned. Now the morality and utility of
the business must be settled by Christian theologists. Whether were
the devils in this case drowned with the hogs, or did they make their
escape the moment that they were immersed in water? If they really
made their escape, there could be no use in sending them into the
swine; and if they were actually drowned, then one might with truth
assert, that the Devil is dead. In the fifth chapter of Mark, this
same story is related, and it is said, that the swine, into which the
devils entered, were about 2,000 in number, and that they all ran
violently down a steep place, and were drowned in the sea. To have
given this impulse to the whole herd, it is necessary that each one
should have been possessed with a devil; it follows, therefore, that
2,000 devils must have been drowned, or, if they made their escape,
that 2,000 hogs must have perished for valuable purpose whatever.
    In any view of the story it is is marked with injustice and
inhumanity; injustice toward those who were the rightful owners of
these swine, and inhumanity or cruelty toward the swine themselves.
It is a tale of a childish nature; but it shows what strange
conceptions theology has formed concerning devils, and many other
airy phantoms. In another part of Matthew's gospel, the Devil is said
to have taken Jesus up into a high mountain, for the purpose of
tempting him, and offering him all the kingdoms of the earth for his
homage and worship. This same Jesus, Christians believe to be God
himself, or equal to God, and yet he condescends to be led about by
the Devil, and holds with him a conversation. A book that exhibits
such accounts, such dereliction of all dignity and correctness of
conduct in the Creator, could never be written by a spirit of truth.
The Devil is represented as being every where at the same time;
ubiquity is one of his leading attributes, and he goeth about like a
roaring lion seeking whom he may devour; he is omniscient as well as
omnipresent, he knows every thing that is going on in heaven, earth,
and hell, and is continually exerting his power to defeat the
projects of his celestial competitor. Such is the description which
Christian theology gives of that malignant Devil, which it has
created to answer the purposes of interest and terror. This being is
so essential to the clerical scheme and its advocates, that a certain
writer observes, that they could not do without him. But it will
perhaps be said, that the Devil has a powerful effect in restraining
men from vice; his existence, combined with the idea of hell, is
necessary to deter the multitude from the commission of enormous
    In this point of view, the subject assumes a more serious
character, and merits attention. An appeal to the nature of the case,
and to facts, will furnish, in some measure, the satisfactory
solution of any supposed difficulty upon the present subject. It is a
well known truth, that an immediate and certain evil of a much less
severe nature, of much less weight and magnitude, has much greater
effect upon the human mind, than those that are distant and
uncertain, even when their size and terrific appearance become
extended in an infinite degree. Show to a man the certain and sudden
consequences of an action; let his mind be strongly impressed with an
idea that there is no escape from such fatal effect, and he will
recoil with horror from the perpetration of a deed, which would bring
along with it such a speedy ruin and excruciating misery. In the
apprehension which relates to distant punishment, there is a great
drawback upon its acuteness and severity, arising from the single
consideration that it may never happen, or that intervening causes
may diminish the malignity of its nature, or the fury of its
operation. When, for instance, a man is about to take feloniously his
neighbour's goods, he does not look behind him to see whether the
Devil is watching his motions; no, but he keeps a vigilant eye upon
the owner of the property, or the bystanders in general; if these can
be evaded, the Devil is set at defiance. The account can be settled
with him at a future day; but with the owner of the goods there can
be no postponement of the business.
    With the civil law, the settlement must be instant, and the
compensation adequate and complete; there is a corporal, moral, and
pecuniary punishment, which has a powerful effect in restraining man
from vice, and without these, all the hells of fanaticism would never
be able to hold him to the point of substantial virtue: he would fly
off in a moral tangent, from the great circle of human happiness, and
sow the seeds of disorder in the very bosom of society. Take away
from man these restraints, justly imposed by the civil law; take away
the love of reputation, which is a strong and active sentiment of the
human heart; take away that internal idea of discrimination in the
character of human actions; the idea that one class is useful and
amiable, and that another is injurious and detestable; take from the
constitution of man these powerful motives in the cause of virtue,
and you will strip him of the most influential considerations by
which he is bound to the faithful performance of his duty; let him
loose under these circumstances, and neither the Devil, nor the fear
of hell, would be sufficient to fasten his attention upon the
practice of an exalted morality.
    In support of this assertion, we may safely appeal to the
evidence of facts. For many hundred years past the Christian
religion, and its powerful advocates, the clergy, have combined to
restrain a wicked world from acts of degrading and destructive
criminality; they have pourtrayed the subject in all the frightful
and impressive points of view, of which it was susceptible; they have
represented hell with all its horrors, the Devil in all his
malignity, and, combined with these, an angry God, not less terrific
in his character; notwithstanding all this, these pious men are
continually crying out that the world is growing worse and worse;
that infidelity is increasing, and that we are treasuring up wrath
against the day of wrath, and the righteous display of the awful
vengeance of God. If such be the fact, these boasted restraints have
not answered the purpose; if such be the fact, they might as well
have been without a Devil, for he appears to have answered them no
purpose. Men who do not believe in this immoral monster, are
frequently more virtuous, and never more vicious, than many who
declare that they would not for all the world renounce the belief of
a Devil. Among those nations, where the reign of terror has been the
most complete, there has been the least virtue, the least morality,
the least attention to the rights and dignity of human nature. Spain,
Portugal, and Italy, have been eminent for their attachment to the
Christian religion; for their pious zeal and unshaken faith in the
gospel, and yet there is scarcely a spot upon the globe where moral
principle is less understood, or more universally abandoned in
practice, than it is in these wretched and superstitious countries.
    If the machinery of the Christian religion could have answered
the purpose of moral restraint, a fair opportunity has been given
among many Christian nations for proving, in this respect, the
efficacy of this religion. It has not, however, been proved, and the
fact is, that the most religious countries have been the most
immoral. The horrors of the inquisition, the cruelties of Spain and
other countries of Europe, upon the peaceable and unoffending
inhabitants of America, are not yet forgotten; they are still fresh
in the mind, and evince with indubitable certainty, that the spirit
of Christianity is ferocious cruelty, and not a generous and exalted
benevolence toward the human race. Facts are therefore in pointed
opposition to the opinion, that the terrific part of revealed
religion has aided the cause of moral virtue. The condition of man in
nature impels him to virtue; but superstition has perverted his
heart, and deranged the operations of his understanding. It is the
business and the duty of reason to restore him to intellectual
sanity, to exalt the feelings of his heart, and give to his energies
a new impulse productive of universal happiness.
    Painful sensations are often the consequences of surveying the
history of man. The means of ingenious torture are every where
discovered, and the imagination gives an accumulating impulse to the
development of their operations. The ingenuity and the fury of
fanaticism are continually busied in manufacturing misery for
unfortunate mortals. The natural and unavoidable evils which are
connected with the condition of human life are not sufficient; the
disordered fancy of man seeks in the distant heavens, or in futurity,
the causes calculated to produce by anticipation, a new modification
of distress; and, in this respect, enthusiasm has been extremely
successful. It has awakened all the fears of weak and ignorant
mortals, and taken special care to convert this to its own profit and
advantage. Death, which is as natural as life, has been converted
into a fruitful source of revenue, and clerical avarice has been
satiated through the channel of human frailty and destruction. It is
not sufficient that man is every where subjected to the natural and
unavoidable influence of the elementary world; to pain, sickness, and
inevitable calamities of every sort, without being alarmed by the
terrors which superstition has connected with his ultimate
dissolution. Must this final event of our temporary existence become
the cause of perpetual torture during our life? Must the mind of man
be for ever on the rack, in consequence of an anticipated evil, which
no prudence or foresight can possibly prevent? Must the unpleasant
sensations, which result from the capacity of our natures, be
increased by the artificial ingenuities of a blind and fanatic zeal?
Is there no source from whence to draw consolation and mental
tranquillity; no fundamental principles of repose and happiness; no
primary objects, of delight, calculated to dissipate the mist of
ignorance and general wretchedness? Yes, and they are to be found in
the established order of nature. My object, therefore, in this
chapter, is to reconcile man to his fate; to tranquillize his mind,
and raise it above the superstitious fears of death; to call into
action his fortitude and his reason, and by a justifiable exhibition
of the general and uniform operation of the laws of nature, to
increase the quantity of human happiness. To do this with success, it
is necessary to destroy the prejudices and the evils which are
connected with the belief of ancient systems.
    It is universally agreed and verified by the experience of all
past ages, that death is the inevitable fate of every sensitive and
intelligent agent: but it is denied by philosophy, that this death is
the consequence of any primary apostacy of the supposed first parents
of the human race. But since a contrary belief has obtained
throughout all the Christian world, it becomes our duty to make the
necessary inquiry respecting this strange and unnatural doctrine, and
develope the true causes of ultimate disorganization in the human
species. In doing this, we shall examine the threefold death of the
    First, Spiritual Death.
    Secondly, Temporal Death.
    Thirdly, Eternal Death.
    These three kinds of death have been foolishly attributed to the
sin of Adam, when, in fact, the first and the last are not true, and
neither of them bears any relation to the supposed violation of moral
law. By spiritual death, Christians understand a total corruption and
debasement of the moral qualities of our nature, by which man is
rendered incapable of the performance of any virtuous action; and
this, they say, has been the fatal consequence of the primitive
defection of Adam, who violated the command of heaven, by eating of
the forbidden fruit. Let us examine this doctrine on the principle of
nature, reason, and justice.
    The moral qualities of our nature are capable of being drawn
into action, in perfect coincidence with the fundamental principles
of an exalted virtue; but it is also conceded, that they are capable
of being vitiated. In every intelligent agent, actions of the most
opposite nature will sometimes obtain; man is not wholly virtuous,
nor is he wholly vicious; but he consists of a compound of these two
different kinds of action; but whether virtuous or vicious, it is the
result of his own choice, and the use of the moral energies of his
nature; his virtue is always personal, and his vices are to be
attributed to a source which entitles them to a similar denomination.
He acts as an independent moral agent; he acts for himself, he is
accountable for himself, and "he" cannot be justifiably criminated by
the vices of another, neither can another be criminated by "his"
violation of moral rectitude. In this case, personal moral agency is
the correct ground of decision, and to this tribunal alone the whole
must be deferred.
    From this statement it ought to be perceived, that the partial
corruption of our natures and character is admitted through its
proper channel; but it ought also to be evident, that no concession
is made relative to a transfer of personal immorality. What, then,
can these spiritual doctors mean, when they speak of a spiritual
death referable to the primary apostacy of Adam? Do they mean that
these personal infractions of moral law are to be attributed to the
conduct of him who lived six thousand years ago? Do they mean to
exhibit the idea of a double crimination, in consequence of one
present and personal infraction? Do they mean to charge "Adam" with
the sins of the whole world, and afterward each individual with "his"
portion of the national debt of iniquity? Would they procure two
judgments, two payments, and then remain unsatisfied? Yes, "and after
all, the whole debt must be eventually cancelled by the death and
sufferings of Jesus Christ."
    Christians, can you examine seriously the nature of human
actions, and still contend for the propriety of such unnatural
doctrines? Will you never give to man his due degree of merit, and
reward him for his real virtue. Is there nothing tender, nothing
sympathetic, nothing moral in the heart of an intelligent being? Is
there no justice for the benefit of society, no benevolence to
brighten the character of man, no humanity for the relief of
distressed objects? Is the heart wholly corrupted, and the mental
qualities of our nature totally vitiated? Are there no principles
preserved in operation, honourable to the character of the human
species? It is in vain to attempt, at this enlightened day, to impose
a religion upon the world, which tortures all the social faculties of
our nature, and reduces man to the condition of a brute; it is in
vain to say there is no moral goodness, no elevated sentiments of
virtue, no beneficial operations of the heart, by which to preserve
the happiness of the human species. Society could never exist without
the influence of moral principles, and the practice of real virtue;
but since it both exists and proceeds in a manner mutually beneficial
to all its members, it is fair to conclude, that its preservation is
to be ascribed to the exercise of a social morality, and this
morality fundamentally connected with the nature and condition of man.
    But admitting for a moment that the world is as vicious as it
has been represented, it does not follow that this aggregate of
wickedness is to be attributed to the sin of Adam; but the contrary
is evident from the personal nature of moral actions, and the
responsibility connected with the character of intelligent beings.
Let fanaticism and superstition therefore exhibit their laboured
discourses on this supposed spiritual death; they speak of phantoms
and not of realities, they lose sight of the moral nature of man, and
the sources of human action; virtue and vice are confounded and their
transferable nature serves only to perplex the understanding, and
destroy the line of personal and discriminative justice. This
spiritual death may serve to augment the mysteries and follies of the
Christian religion; but I am confident it will never serve the cause
of virtue, or lead to the practice of genuine morality. I proceed to
the consideration of temporal death.
    This temporal death, which is the death that every man suffers
when he leaves the theatre of human action, seems to be less
mysterious and more cognizable by the human mind; we are taught the
knowledge of it by the experience of all ages and all countries; by
our own observation on the facts and events constantly presented to
our contemplation. Death is the inevitable portion of every living
creature; it is the certain fate of every organized being; it is the
counterpart of our original construction; it is a change in the mode
of existence; it is a dissolution of the combined modifications of
animal life; it is a physical property of every sensitive agent; it
is the eternal mutability of infinitely diversified modes of being;
it is established in the primary arrangements of Nature; it is a
property, and ever will be, of the parts of all existence. Death is
as natural and as necessary as life; the preservation of the latter
is an unavoidable effect of the former. Change or mutability is
essentially connected with the uniform harmony and preservation of
the great fabric of the universe; and no one can expect to be
excepted from the operation of this general law. Vice is not the
cause, though it may accelerate the event; the seeds of death are
contained in the original organizations of our natures; sensation and
reflection by their necessary operation lead to decay. Life is
naturally progressive to a certain point, which, having passed, it
necessarily retrogrades toward a state of dissolution. This is the
true condition, the just and eternal order of organized existence,
and the knowledge of this ought to be the highest consolation of a
reflecting mind. But here, Superstition, from her dismal and dark
recess, cries out heresy, and proclaims damnation to the man who
dares to reason on the ground of nature; we hear her awful voice
sounding hollow in her dark and gloomy abodes, and we regard it not.
Reason whispers in our ear and says, Pursue with indefatigable zeal
the cause of Nature, develope truth, and labour for the happiness of
the human race.
    But after all, how is it possible we can attribute temporal
death to the sin of Adam? Did this transgression change the physical
organization of man? Did it destroy any of his natural faculties, or
make an addition to those he was already possessed of? If so, what
was the construction of Adam previous to his supposed fall from a
state of innocence? If he was possessed of sensation, he must have
been exposed to pain; if he was exposed to pain, he was liable to
death, for death is often the consequence of severity of pain; if he
was not possessed of sensation, he must have been a being entirely
different from ourselves, and consequently could not have been the
parent of the human race. It follows, therefore, that there is no
point of view in which this subject can be considered, which will
warrant the conclusion, that death is to be attributed to the
primitive apostacy of Adam. It follows, both physically and morally,
it is unjust. Some other cause of corporeal dissolution should,
therefore, be discovered, and this, as we have seen, is to be found
in our natural texture and arrangement. The next principle of
discussion is what is called eternal death, or a state of endless
    This kind of death cannot be the consequence either of Adam's
transgression, or the aggregate wickedness of the whole human race.
It is an idea which has been generated in the brain of fanaticism,
and supported by the enthusiastic zeal of persecuting superstition.
It was not sufficient to subject mankind to the terrible effects of
total moral turpitude, and temporal disorganization; but the fury of
religious malignity has been exerted to invent a new species of
torture to endure for endless ages. In the invention and
establishment of this doctrine, the nature of human actions and the
principles of justice have been entirely disregarded. To verify this
assertion, it is only necessary to examine the qualities of human
actions, and the crimes which are supposed to merit this terrible
infliction of punishment.
    Man is a being possessed of certain powers and faculties; of
certain passions and propensities to actions, and these, by a primary
law of nature, are subjected to control of reason, and are to be
directed by conscience, or an internal moral sense of right and
wrong. But what are these faculties, what these passions which are
essentially connected with the character and condition of intelligent
agents? Our existence and all the properties of it are of a limited
and finite nature; there is not one single quality of man that is not
imperfect; the parts of the aggregate of his life do not constitute
any thing like infinity. In all his movements, in all his energies,
in all the capacities of his being, he is regulated by finite and not
by infinite principles. He is incapable of any actions which do not
result essentially from the faculties which he is possessed of; all
his conduct must have a strict reference to the causes which have
produced it, and every effect must bear a proportion to its
productive cause. If the cause be limited and imperfect, the effect
must also be imperfect, for the effect can never rise superior to the
cause which has given it birth.
    Before we speak, therefore, of an infinite sin, or an infinite
evil, we should consider the capacity of those beings to whom this
evil is attributed; if the acting agents are infinite in their nature
and character, the effects of their operations may be so too, but if
they are finite, their actions can lay no claim to an infinite
effect. Sin is the consequence of the infraction of moral law; if
this infraction be made by an infinite being, the criminality would
be like the being who made it, that is of an infinite quality; but if
the infraction be made by an imperfect being, the criminality is
finite, and limited in its essential nature. It follows, of course,
as man is a finite and imperfect agent; if he cannot do an infinite
act, he is incapable of an infinite evil, and does not deserve an
infinite punishment; consequently, the idea of eternal death is
unjust and unreasonable.
    But further, if every sin were an infinite evil, which is the
Christian doctrine, it would merit an infinite punishment; but if one
sin deserves an infinite punishment, what must be the punishment of
him who is guilty of ten thousand sins? According to this doctrine he
must be liable to ten thousand infinite punishments, which is a
physical and moral absurdity. This doctrine of eternal death or
infinite punishment, disregards the nature of human actions, and
every principle of distributive justice. It inflicts on the smallest
offender as great extent and severity of punishment as on the most
abandoned criminal. It goes to the destruction of all moral virtue,
by inducing man to believe, that the commission of one vicious action
is as odious in the sight of God, and deserves as much punishment as
a thousand violations of moral rectitude. It destroys all relation
between the actions of men and the beneficial arrangements of
corrective improvement. It makes man infinite, and the Deity unjust;
both of which are inconsistent with the nature of things and the
principles of eternal truth.
    It is impossible that there should be more than one infinite
being in existence, and this being is the God of nature, the
intelligent organizer of the universe; possessed of all possible
perfection and excellence, and directing the vast concerns of nature
with the greatest harmony, and the most divine benevolence. This
being is incapable of any infraction of moral law, and this excludes
from the system of nature, the possibility of an infinite evil, and
consequently the justice of an infinite punishment is also excluded,
and with it the principle of eternal death. Thus the belief of an
eternal Hell is essentially erroneous, and can claim no justifiable
foundation in Nature or Nature's God. This doctrine of endless
punishment tortures the whole system of distributive justice; is
pernicious to the well-being of society; is virtually destructive of
the moral energies of man, and degrades the dignity and perfections
of the divine Creator of the universe.
    The Christian doctrine of death, spiritual, temporal, and
eternal, has now been considered, and the whole proved to bear no
relation to the sin of Adam, or the primitive apostacy of the reputed
parents of the human race. It has been shown that spiritual death is
nothing more than a partial corruption of the moral qualities of our
nature, and even this partial corruption has resulted from personal
violation of moral law. It has been shown also, that temporal death
is the physical property of our existence, and has been
unphilosophically attributed to the sin of Adam. It has also been
proved, that eternal death or endless punishment, is inconsistent
with the nature of human actions, and the qualities and properties of
finite agents. In short, the Christian idea of death is inconsistent
with reason, bears no affinity to truth or nature, and violates the
primitive order of the world established by God himself. Some
observations, therefore, deduced from the reason and nature of
things, shall conclude this chapter.
    In examining the vast machinery of the universe, presented for
our contemplation by the great Creator, the human mind is lost in a
labyrinth of reflection, and swallowed up in the most profound
meditations! We behold on every side the most ineffable beauties and
the most astonishing wonders; the most splendid exhibitions of
eternal wisdom, the most unbounded displays of infinite benevolence,
and the most perfect testimonies of an incomprehensible power. In
this vast system, there are many things inexplicable to man; many
events beyond the power of human solution, and many arrangements
incomprehensible by the most scrutinizing efforts of human wisdom.
But man should consider himself as a unit in the totality of
existence; as a part of a widely extended whole, bearing a relation
to every other part, and every other part bearing a relation to his
own modification of life. He should reflect that the world is
governed by general and immutable laws, and that the immutable
operation of these laws produces perpetual mutability in the
infinitely diversified parts and portions of the great fabric of
nature. He ought to learn that change is the eternal order in the
established arrangements of the world, and he ought not to expect to
be excluded from the general influence of fundamental laws
established by eternal wisdom. He should learn to be reconciled to
his fate, and consider death as a necessary and justifiable appendage
of the present modification of existence. He should be taught to love
and practice virtue, but not through the fear of an eternal hell; but
because it is useful to society, and contributes to his individual
happiness. He should be taught to revere the power which animates and
enlivens the great system of nature; but not to fear God on the one
hand, nor flatter him on the other, with an expectation of obtaining
his favour. He should disregard all ideas of ghosts, demons, and
malignant spirits, and reason on the cognizable properties of real
existence. The mind of man should be elevated above the practice of
vice, above the frowns of fortune, and the fears of death. He ought
to be the strong advocate of nature, "and have confidence in his own
energies;" his principles should be just and correct, his actions
strictly moral, and his sentiment in coincidence with the system of
benevolence and utility. No bugbears of superstition, no ghosts of
fanaticism, no demons of hell should be permitted to disturb his
brain; but, rising above all vice and all prejudice, he should
consider himself as an associated being, and live for the benefit of
himself and his fellow creatures.
    Every production must of necessity bear a strict relation to its
cause. If the cause be imperfect, it is to be expected that the
production will exhibit some strong feature of imperfection. If, on
the contrary, the cause be perfect, the effect will carry along with
it the unequivocal proofs of that perfection. If these assertions be
applied to a system of religion, it would not be difficult to
ascertain the source and origin of such religion. A religion,
therefore, claiming divine origin, ought, by the nature of its
doctrines and principles, to produce conviction in the mind, that it
is really supernatural and divine. It ought to exhibit the proof of
this celestial birth in so clear and striking a manner, as to be
capable of being embraced by every capacity interested in a knowledge
of its nature and consequences.
    It is unreasonable and unjust in the advocates of any system to
announce divinity of origin where the internal evidence derived from
the scheme itself is sufficient to demonstrate imperfection. A
supernatural code of theological principles should be incapable of
being charged with any of those defects which are unavoidably
connected with all human productions; contradictions,
inconsistencies, and immorality, can never be found in the mandates
of a being infinitely perfect; infinite perfection precludes the
possibility of such effect, and wherever the defect is discovered,
the evidence growing out of such defect is abundant against the
admission of divine origin. Keeping these principles constantly in
view, as marks by which to direct our inquiries, we shall be able to
ascertain what degree of respect we ought to bestow upon a system of
theology, which has heretofore demanded the unqualified credence of
every living creature to whom it has been presented; we shall be able
to ascertain whether ignorance, superstition, and a fanatic zeal,
have had any share of influence in producing the marvellous
attachment which the votaries of every unnatural religion have
inconsiderately bestowed upon the mysterious doctrines therein
contained. It is with difficulty, amidst the prejudices that assail
us, that the mind has recourse to the fundamental principles of
truth, and the immutable laws from which it results; but we should
learn to dismiss our unreasonable attachments, and exercise affection
toward those principles only which are sanctioned by the voice of
reason, and which bear a constant relation to the order of the
physical world. Man is essentially interested in the discovery of
truth, and the diversified application of its principles to all the
concerns of human life; he is equally interested in the practice of a
pure natural virtue; truth, however, will make but little progress,
where religious bigotry has seized upon the mental faculties, and
suppressed the elevated conception of the understanding; nor will
practical virtue share a better fate, where its beneficent effects
are opposed by similar causes; the hope, therefore, of constituting a
useful character, compounded of the love of truth, and the practice
of genuine morality, will become evanescent, unless man can be
persuaded that he is interested in a speedy return to nature, from
which, in all his inquiries, he has so long deviated. The plan of
revealed religion, in which man for so many ages has reposed the
confidence of his mind, should be re-examined under the impressions
inducing an invincible attachment to the development of solemn truth,
and the diffusion of general felicity; and it is with sentiments of
this kind that we proceed to the examination of the subject proposed.
If the Christian religion be true, we are essentially interested in a
knowledge of this truth; if it be false, our happiness must be
increased by a disclosure of those proofs which invalidate its
authenticity. It is presumed, that forcible evidence can be adduced
from the partiality of the scheme itself. This religion, destined to
enlighten mankind, and lead them to the possession of sublime
happiness, has, by its supposed author, been concealed from a
considerable part of those very beings who must all be equally
interested in the knowledge and the application of its doctrines. The
assertion will not be controverted by any Christian advocates, who
have any tolerable portion of geographical information.
    It is in strict conformity with truth to say, that two-thirds of
mankind, and perhaps three-fourths of them, are destitute of any
knowledge of the Christian religion; and to verify this assertion,
the learned geographer must indulge us while we take a short view of
the situation of the globe in this respect. In America, it is true,
that the Christian religion has been disseminated among all its
civilized inhabitants; but there is a large portion of an opposite
description, that have not been thus highly favoured by the Divinity.
Almost all the aborigines of this country are entirely destitute of
any knowledge of supernatural religion; they grovel in their native
darkness, abandoned in this respect "by the divine power that
produced them," and left to form a variety of conjectures relative to
a subject so essentially interesting to their present and their
future welfare. In travelling to the old world, and including the
aggregate of population, the feelings of the Christian heart will not
be better consoled. Europe, it is true, with some trifling
exceptions, may be considered as nominally Christian, but in going
eastward, and entering the vast regions of the Asiatic world, we
there behold 500,000,000 of inhabitants, which is more than half the
human race, totally deprived of every information concerning this
holy religion, deemed by its advocates essential to the felicity of
intelligent beings. The exceptions in this part of the globe are too
inconsiderable to engage our attention in this general calculation.
Here the number of proselytes might have been somewhat greater, had
not the conduct of the Christian missionaries laid the foundation of
their expulsion for ever. In Africa, the remaining quarter of the
globe, our inquiries will terminate in a discovery of the same
ignorance relative to revealed religion. The exceptions here are as
inconsiderable as those already noticed in regard to Asia. For the
truth of these assertions an appeal is made to the best information
of the civilized world.
    The application of these facts to the subject under
consideration, will operate essentially against the benevolence of
that being, who is said to be the author and promulgator of this
religion. It will be necessary, on the one hand, for the advocates of
revelation to abandon the idea of its universal necessity, and the
consideration that it is the sole cause of procuring felicity: or, on
the other, to acknowledge that the God they worship is a partial,
cruel, and vindictive parent, depriving his creatures of necessary
information, and consigning them to future destruction for
involuntary ignorance. It is a maxim of this celestial religion, that
he that believeth not shall be damned; but how is man to believe a
proposition of which he has no knowledge? How can he embrace a
religion which he has never heard of? And, above all, how can
criminality be attached by a just God to a want of belief, where no
opportunity has been afforded of bestowing an assent? Are not all the
human race equally the children of one common and benevolent parent?
Are they not all fed by his bounty, and supported by his universal
beneficence? Do they not all experience the benefits resulting from
that luminous body, which in turn enlightens and fructifies the
earth? Whence then this unjust discrimination, this partial
arrangement in the moral concerns of man? But the advocates of the
Christian religion will perhaps retort and say, "Do you believe that
God is the author of the system of nature?" Yes. "Do you contend that
he has been impartial, and that he has bestowed equal talents and
faculties on all?" No. "Why, then, if you admit partiality in one
case, do you complain of it in another?" The objection is plausible,
and deserves an answer.
    In doing this it is to be remarked, that there is an essential
difference in the nature of the two cases. In the case of the
Christian religion, man is subjected to damnation, either because he
is ignorant of the system, or because his mind cannot discern the
quantum of evidence necessary to establish its divine origin; but in
the system of nature, although there is a real difference in regard
to the possession of talents, yet the man weak in intellect cannot,
in justice, be subjected to punishment on this account. No Christian
will contend that great mental energy will entitle a man to
salvation, or, on the other hand, that a feeble understanding will,
in the mind of the Deity, be considered as a justifiable cause of
damnation. No; if God be just, he will require only the due and
proper exercise of those diversified talents which he had variously
bestowed upon his creatures. If one be weak and another strong, one
foolish and another discerning, the justice of God demands a mode of
treatment exactly adjusted to these different powers and faculties.
The Christian religion, therefore, in order to accord with the system
of nature, should have annexed no penalty to unbelief, whether that
belief resulted from total ignorance, or an honest dissent of mind,
after a due examination of the evidence. The evidence of any system
of religion ought to be equal to all, where equal credence is
demanded of all. By what rules of moral justice does the Deity demand
the unqualified belief of the present generation upon a less degree
of evidence than he is said to have formerly exhibited? If miracles
be necessary in one age to establish the truth of Christianity, they
are equally necessary in every age. If one country be favoured with
supernatural proofs, all other countries are equally entitled to the
same unequivocal, convincing, and demonstrative testimony. If
impartiality be considered as an attribute of God, this impartiality
should at all times and in all places be preserved with an
undeviating uniformity; but in every case where merit is attributed
to the human assent, on the ground of supernatural proof, and in
every other case where demerit is attached to unbelief, when the
evidence in quantity and quality is of an inferior nature, this
principle is notoriously abandoned.
    Again, if the Christian religion be true, the proofs ought not
only to be universally exhibited, but they ought also to be
universally convincing; and this results essentially from the nature
of that evidence which is employed to substantiate the system. It is
not strange that man should often doubt, where human testimony is the
only ground of conviction, but when the proof rises higher and claims
a divine origin, one would suppose that the mind must necessarily
yield to the force of such divine testimony, otherwise the means made
use of by divine power for the accomplishment of the end, are
inadequate and deficient; but as no such imbecility can justly be
attributed to a being possessing infinite wisdom, it is to be
presumed, that the exhibition of evidence in the present case ought
to be complete and satisfactory, universal and every where
convincing. If human projects miscarry, this failure is to be
ascribed to the imperfection of human nature; and the believer ought
to perceive that he does virtually ascribe to his God the same kind
of imperfection, whenever he acknowledges a defeat in the completion
of any object, the producing of which was deemed important in the
mind of the Supreme Being. It were less pernicious for man to believe
in no God, than to believe in one that is wicked and imperfect,
partial and vindictive, establishing his systems upon no principle of
distributive justice, and acting upon principles neither correct,
beneficial, nor universally understood. Those immoral monsters to
whom men in all ages have paid adoration, have served only to corrupt
the morality of the human heart, and exhibit examples destructive to
the cause of virtue. Such, however, is the character of all those
beings who have been made the authors of supernatural schemes of
religion. It is time that man should abandon his errors, and return
to nature; it is time that he should elevate his conceptions above
the prejudices resulting from a partial religion, and attribute to
the benevolent parent of universal existence, those attributes only
which can possibly adorn his character. The barbarous divinity of the
Christian religion has marked all his arrangements with a partiality
and vindictive cruelty, which strip him of every amiable property,
and subject the mind to the terrific impressions which naturally flow
from anger and revenge. When believers shall prove their God to be
just and impartial, they may solicit with confidence the gratitude of
the human heart; but the rational mind beholds in the arrangements of
supernatural religion the most unequivocal injustice, and the
abandonment of every principle by which the preserver of nature ought
ever to be influenced. Show us a religion universally promulgated and
universally proved, and man will soon discover both its truth and
utility, and that its revelation is worthy of the being whom he
adores. This religion is the religion of nature, it is the practice
of justice, it consists in acts of extensive beneficence, it is not
confined to any age or country, it is established over the face of
the whole earth, it is complete and universal, it is comprehensible
by every mind, it is useful to every creature, it is the
indestructible cement of intelligent nature in every part of the
    The different religious sectaries, which have prevailed in the
world, have furnished innumerable proofs of the bigoted tenacity so
strikingly characteristic of supernatural theology. It is not only in
regard to their doctrines that this disposition has appeared, but
each sect has laid claim to a pre-eminent preservation of morals, and
to the power of rendering good and happy a wicked and apostate race
of men. The fulminating anathemas of the Church have been poured
forth in every direction, and the most petty sectary has raised
around itself a rampart for the alternate purpose of self-defence,
and attack upon heretics and unbelievers. They have universally
charged each other with holding doctrines of a demoralizing nature,
and subversive of the moral purity of rational existence. In such a
state of things reason owes to the happiness of man the faithful
discharge of an important duty, consisting of a candid and temperate
investigation concerning theological ideas, and the foundation of
moral principles. Reason has indulged an opinion that virtue rests
upon a more stable basis, than the sectarian theology of past ages,
and that the aggregate number of sectaries have been altercating
superficially the reciprocal relation which their respective
doctrines bear to each other; that they have abandoned the ground of
substantial support, which nature has given to the principles of a
pure and incorruptible morality, and that their acrimonious
strictures and recriminations have served only to perplex the mind
and vitiate the heart. The Jewish, the Christian, and the Mahometan
theology furnishes the most incontrovertible facts, and presents the
most convincing evidence respecting an ultimate decision of the
present subject. But the internal and essential character of the
inquiry first merits attention, before the collateral and subsequent
consideration of sectarianism can lay any just claim to a share of
influence in the final determination.
    The mind of man, in every age of the world, has given
diversified specimens of its ideas concerning supernatural powers.
The physical universe is a grand and impressive spectacle, whose
phenomena alarmed the terror-struck beholder, generating at one and
the same time a thousand hopes and fears in the agitated and
uninstructed intellect of man. The physical world was the grand
    It was the common source of Theological eductions, and every
species of fanaticism drew from this fountain beings of such form and
character as would best answer the various purposes for which they
were intended. The characteristic differences and the moral or
immoral shades of each deified object, were regulated by a thousand
different causes existing in the passions and properties of
intelligent life. The aggregate of nature was a terrible spectacle in
the view of ignorance, and the parts of this grand whole being
necessarily subjected to a more scrutinizing inspection of intellect,
were discovered to be capable of producing various conjectures
concerning spiritual substances and concealed agents of a benevolent
or malignant kind. Various moral effects will no doubt be produced by
the generation of so many spiritual monsters; but the effects
produced upon moral practices are one thing, and the substantial
basis of moral principle is another; they are quite different in
their essential characters.
    It is an old maxim, that evil communications corrupt good
manners; and although corrupt associations, even with the pretext
that one party is of celestial birth and character, will produce
pernicious consequences, yet these are considerations separate and
distinct from the true foundation of those immortal principles of
virtue, by which the life of man ought to be governed. If a thousand
Gods existed, or if nature existed independent of any, the moral
relation between man and man would remain exactly the same in either
case. Moral principle is the result of this relation, it is founded
in the properties of our nature, and it is as indestructible as the
basis on which it rests.
    If we could abandon, for a moment, every theistical idea, it
would nevertheless remain substantially true, that the happiness of
society must depend upon the exercise of equal and reciprocal
justice. It would also be true, that benevolence is an amiable trait
in the character of man; that the cultivation of his faculties is a
duty imposed on him, because the faithful performance of his duty
extends the circle of his real felicity; that vice is the bane of
individual and social existence; that truth is to be preferred to
falsehood, activity to indolence, temperance to debauchery, and,
generally, that science and virtue claim pre-eminently over ignorance
and vice, the universal attachment of the human race. All these, and
many other particulars of a like nature, would stand as immortal
monuments of the real nature of moral principles, even after
cultivated intellect shall have performed the last solemn act of duty
relative to the ancient regimen, and shall have recalled bewildered
man to the happy contemplation of the laws and immutable energies of
the physical universe.
    If this be true, in regard to the essential nature of
theological ideas, how much more powerfully will it hold upon every
sectarian modification of the subject. If pure theism be independent
of morality, and morality independent of that, because it rests upon
the relations and the properties of human life, then it will be easy
to conceive that the subordinate descriptions of sectarian theology
must be still more unconnected with the present subject. The
character, however, of all the gods of antiquity, is, of itself, a
sufficient consideration to exclude them from any participation in
the concerns of an exalted virtue. The Jewish God commands theft and
murder; he puts a lying spirit into the mouth of his prophets; he
repents and grieves for his past conduct; he is a God of fury, wrath,
and vengeance. These actions and qualities are all attributed to him
in the Old Testament! Is it possible that any man of common sense can
believe, that moral principles which are so important to the best
interests of human society, should be placed upon such an immoral and
vindictive foundation? Can any one imagine that a being, so destitute
of moral justice and benevolence himself, could serve as a solid
basis on which to rest these qualities in human nature? No, this
sectarian God, this malignant phantom of former ages, this compound
of weakness and wickedness, is calculated to subvert all moral
principle, both in theory and practice, and present the moral world
in the full exercise of the most detestable passions.
    The wrathful and unrelenting character of the Christian
divinity, is not less hostile to the immaculate principles of a sound
and excellent morality; imbittered in anger, and infuriate in his
vengeance, he lays his hand upon his innocent Son, and offers him up
a living sacrifice for the purposes which reason abhors, and justice
utterly disclaims. Under the modification, name, and character of the
Holy Ghost, this being introduces himself to a woman, and violates
those correct and delicate sentiments which ought to guide an
intelligent being in cases of this kind. Under the name and character
of Jesus Christ, he exhibits the most flagrant departures from the
purity of moral sentiment and moral practice. In proof of this, the
reader is referred to the 9th chapter of this work.
    The sectarian divinity, which Christianity presents to us, is
represented as a consuming fire, as a being possessing fiery
indignation and an uncontrollable vengeance; as a being who
disregards all just discrimination upon the subject of moral
principle. He declares in some parts of the New Testament, that every
thing shall be regulated by his arbitrary will without regard to the
nature or character of the case. "He will have mercy on whom he will
have mercy, and whom he will he hardeneth." (See Rom. chap. ix. &c.)
Is it possible that even a Christian believer can suppose, for a
single moment, that the principles of genuine morality can rest upon
such an arbitrary basis? No; a divinity of immoral description is the
bane of moral virtue. The purest theism is independent of morality,
and morality is independent of that; much less then can the corrupt
and vitiated conceptions of barbarous ages be produced in support of
a principle which could, not exist without the intellectual faculties
of man and which cannot be destroyed while these faculties exist. The
principle and the practice of immortal virtue will long remain, after
the plundering and bloody theology of Moses, Jesus, and Mahomet, has
ceased to afflict the human race. The essential principles of
morality are founded in the nature of man, they cannot be
annihilated, they are as indestructible as human existence itself.
    The sentiment which includes the whole sensitive and intelligent
world, within the sphere of its benignant operations, is justly
denominated universal benevolence. Every organized being, whether of
a high or low station in animal existence, is susceptible of pleasure
and pain; they are all alternately affected by the wishes, the
passions, and the conduct of each other, and this influence is
extended much further than at first view would strike the mind of the
most correct and accurate observer. The universe is a vast assemblage
of living creatures, whose relations are reciprocal and reciprocated
under a thousand different forms, and supported by a thousand
different ligaments of an imperceptible nature. The parts are
interested in the whole, and the whole is interested in the
preservation and diversified modification of the parts. Nothing is
foreign or irrelative in the vast fabric to which we belong. Union is
most intimate, and the intellectual destiny which awaits the human
race will ultimately disclose the consoling secret, that man's
highest happiness consists in perspicuously discovering his true
connection with nature, and the eternal duration of this connection.
The circumscribed condition of man's existence, his wants, his social
duties, his appetites, and his passions, constitute a considerable
drawback upon the comprehensive conceptions, which he would otherwise
have been capable of forming concerning his relationship with nature,
and the ultimate destination to which the powers of nature have
devoted the component and immortal parts of his existence. The
intellectual properties of man are, however, capable of being
expanded so far as to indulge an opinion subversive of those narrow
views, which have excited sentiments of hostility between individuals
and nations whose interests were the same, and whose duties ought to
have been universally reciprocated.
    It is, no doubt, extremely natural, and even absolutely
necessary, that each individual should feel an anxiety extremely
impulsive respecting the preservation of his own existence, and the
means by which it is to be rendered tranquil and comfortable; but
this sensation, the first which is experienced by a sensitive
creature, does not preclude that expansion of mind which would
benevolently extend the circle of man's moral affections and duties,
and which also prepares for himself an additional portion of exalted
enjoyment. Sensation alone, or, in other words, mere animal
existence, must be deprived in a high degree of the power and the
pleasure of reciprocating those sentiments of moral sympathy, to
which intelligent man is indebted for his highest happiness. The
gradual increase of the capacity of sensation constitutes a continual
approach toward the possession of those properties on which the
sublimity of thought depends, and by which human reason recognizes
the benefit of benevolent reciprocation. It is, however, denied by
some, that man possesses any other qualities than those which are
merely selfish or individual; that his sensual impulses repel every
sentiment of comprehensive kindness and affection; that in every
respect he is a being of insulated nature and character, and that the
powers and properties of his existence are necessarily in a high
degree hostile to the interest and well-being of others.
    Two points of prominent and conspicuous importance invite the
activity of mind in the solution of the present difficulty. The one
point is the physical relation of man to all existence: the other is
his moral relation to his own species and to all other inferior
animals. The component parts of which man is formed are all drawn
from the great fountain of existence; they are essentially material
in their nature, and destined to return to the source from which they
sprang. Organized matter cannot lay claim to a pre-eminent essence;
it is modification and refinement which produces visible exaltation,
and not the native properties contained in the substance of which man
is composed. The constant interchange of matter with matter, is a
primary and immutable law of nature, and should teach man through the
channel of observation the ultimate destiny that awaits him, it
should teach him that the pain which he inflicts upon sensitive
existence will return upon himself with interest, and will pave the
way for eternizing a system of misery, fatal to the sensations of the
whole animal world.
    Humanity has lessons of a different kind, pregnant with salutary
instructions, calculated to enforce conviction upon the intellectual
powers of man. The spiritualization of human existence has made man a
fool, it has taught him to spurn at matter, to contemn its power and
ridicule its essence; whereas, on the contrary, sound philosophy,
which unfolds the connection between man and nature, is calculated to
produce in the mind sentiments of respect and tranquillity; respect
for the aggregate of existence to which he belongs, and tranquillity
at the idea of an eternal interest in this indestructible mass. The
successive changes through which he is destined to pass, and the
impossibility of relinquishing his connection with nature, should
inspire him with feelings of universal sympathy, with sentiments of
universal benevolence. Human reason has an important duty to perform
in the institutions which it establishes; for these institutions will
effect in succession all the portions of matter destined to pass
through an organized predicament.
    It is, no doubt, difficult to convince the human understanding
of this physical or universal connection, or to make man see his true
interest in this respect. It is, nevertheless, a solemn and
philosophic truth that our sensations are, at this moment, suffering
under the cruel lash of ancient institutions; that the whole animal
world are reciprocating with each other a system of extensive and
perpetual wretchedness, resulting principally from the contempt which
has been thrown upon the capacity of material substance, and our
ignorance of an important and an indestructible connection with the
great body of nature. If man had a comprehensive view of the
successive changes of his existence, and a correct idea of the nature
of sensation continually resulting from the renovation of organic
forms, sympathy or universal benevolence would become irresistibly
impressive upon his moral powers, and form the basis of his
subsequent conduct.
    In the second place, man's moral relation to his own species,
and to all other inferior animals, furnishes cogent evidence in
favour of moral sympathy or universal benevolence. If the subject of
man's physical connection presents us with some philosophical
difficulties, the repeated and frequent necessity of performing his
moral duties will furnish a mass of instruction adequate to every
important decision. The single idea of establishing the doctrine of
perpetual reprisals, ought to constitute an ample refutation of those
selfish opinions which regard only the individual, to the exclusion
of all the other members of society. It is the interest as well as
the duty of every man to be just and benevolent; an opposite conduct
would become the signal of universal discord, and the selfish
principle, which at first had for its object the preservation of
self, would become the procuring cause of self destruction.
    The powers and the properties of human existence are of a
similar nature, and require a correspondent method of treatment;
beside, the intimate connection which subsists between us in this
respect, our enjoyments and our capacity of enjoying, are augmented
by every effort which the mind makes in a comprehensive system of
philanthropy. The narrow prejudice which makes one man the enemy of
another and one country the enemy of another, is not only
disgraceful, but subversive of the best interests of human society.
Political governments, and the prejudices which have been created and
nurtured by these governments, have set individuals and nations in
battle array against each other, without any good or substantial
reason whatever. What is there in the nature of the case which should
make a Frenchman and an Englishman hostile to each other? Are they
not both men, possessed of similar faculties, equally indebted to
nature for the resources of their felicity, and capable of being made
happy or miserable by the operation of the same causes? Yes, and it
is the iniquity of corrupt government which has perverted those
sentiments of the human heart, by which one human being is bound to
another in a general system of interest, sympathy, and universal
    This principle should also be extended to the whole animal
world, so as to exclude acts of cruelty, and annihilate every species
of injustice. The child that is permitted in early life to run a pin
through a fly, is already half prepared to run dagger through the
heart of his fellow creature! It is the duty of parents and the
business of instruction, to correct the ferocious errors of former
ages, and inspire society with sentiments of sympathy and universal
goodness. But to do this with effect, our political institutions must
be changed, and placed upon the broad basis of universal liberty and
universal justice. This would be a work of time, but it is as certain
in the ultimate issue of things, as the progress of the earth around
the sun, or the general revolution of the planetary system. The
individual that withholds his intellectual contribution in this
respect, is either grossly ignorant, or a wicked traitor in the great
cause of human existence.
    The causes which have produced personal celebrity are numerous,
and diversified by a thousand indescribable shades in their modes of
operation. It also sometimes happens that the means of popular
exaltation and perpetual fame have been either of a passive or
uncontrollable nature. Such is the fact in the present case. Moses
and Mahomet were active villains, whose characters cannot be examined
without horror and detestation. They were both eminent murderers, and
their debaucheries have been signalized by acts of barbarous
brutality, of which the love-struck Solomon seems to be more
destitute. The military ferocities and immoral decrees of these two
"celestial" impostors, have placed upon their characters an indelible
stain, which the pretended sanctity of the priesthood can never wipe
    Believers in Christianity, in reading the history and conduct of
Moses, ought to blush for his crimes, and spurn at his blasphemy in
attributing these crimes to the God whom he pretended to adore. He
issues orders for the indiscriminate massacre of men, women, and
children, in a defenceless condition, making an exception only of
that part of the captives whose sexual predicament invited the
passions of man to indulge in the gratification of criminal desires.
(See Numbers chap. xxxi. verse 18, &c.)
    But this is only a single specimen of the murdering temper of
this meek man of God! From the time that he murdered the Egyptian and
hid him in the sand, till the moment in which he expired, and was
buried without any man knowing where he was buried, he exhibited
examples of legerdemain tricks, pretended familiarities with God,
scenes of debauchery and malignant slaughter of the human race, which
would disgrace the most cruel despot of ancient or modern times. For
the truth of this remark an appeal is made to the historic details
contained in the books of Exodus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy.
    To show fully the immoral character of Moses, it would be
necessary to quote almost every chapter in these "holy and inspired"
books. Believers in revealed religion, who still believe that Moses
was a pious and meek man, ought, once more, to pass in review the
conduct and transactions which the Bible has attributed to him:
especially those details which are contained in the books already
mentioned. If there be any member of the Christian church who can
believe that God and Moses ever united in the execution of those
barbarous decrees and immoral sentiments stated in these books, he
must be lost to all clear ideas of justice, and must have abandoned
every principle of humanity by which the life of man is to be
rendered comfortable and happy. The author of "The Age of Reason",
has placed these enormities in a striking point of light, and, with
his wonted acuteness of discernment, has presented, in the way of
Bishop Watson, difficulties which no Christian bishop will ever be
able to surmount. Murder and theft are crimes of so detestable a
nature, and so destructive to the best interests of society, that
they never can be sanctioned either by human or divine power. God and
Moses, in these books, are said to have sanctioned both; it follows,
therefore, that God and Moses are both bad characters, or else the
books are not true. The latter, however, is the fact, and the
character of the real God of Nature remains unimpeached.
    The character of Mahomet is of a savage, military, and
tyrannical cast; but he speaks in the name of heaven, and, like
Moses, pretends, that his murders, cruelties, and assassinations have
been sanctioned by the divinity which he adores. He frequently begins
his chapters in the name of the most merciful God; but, in the course
of the chapter, is sure to consign to damnation those who do not
accede to the system of revelation which he has received from God.
"The chosen people of the Most High", under the Jewish dispensation,
took the liberty of exercising a principle of indiscriminate
extirpation toward all heathen nations; the Mahometans pursued a
similar course in the destructive wars wherever they have been
engaged, and to which they have been conducted by their fanatic
leaders. The Christian world is not a whit behind either of these two
grand divisions in the exercise of a censorious and military spirit.
The crusades and the domestic quarrels of the Christian church will
furnish an abundant verification of this remark.
    The character of Jesus, considered in an individual and personal
point of view, is of a less frightful and destructive nature. The
first and the last of these three religious impostors were ferocious
men. It was necessary, therefore, to present them conjointly,
reserving the character and conduct of Jesus a matter of distinct
inquiry. It will not be necessary, however, to say much upon this
part of the subject; for while it is admitted that Jesus, in a public
and national point of view, has produced less misery than either
Moses, or Mahomet, yet it is believed that the New Testament presents
us with immoral deviations from principle in the personal conduct of
him whom the Christian world has declared to be the only begotten son
of God.
    The followers of Jesus, however, have made up for his personal
deficiency, and the Christian world has not been deficient in the
number of fanatic phlebotomists disposed to destroy the moral and
political plethora of the human race. Christians and Deists have
sometimes coincided in their opinion that Jesus was a good character.
This opinion, so far as it was acceded to by some of the first
unbelievers, was either the result of ignorance, or an effect of
fear. The Christian exalted this same Jesus into the character of a
God, and, by their doctrines, made him equal to the Creator; such a
circumstance struck terror into the human mind, and the idea of
associating crimes with the divinity prevented independent inquiry.
    The New Testament, so far as proof of this kind goes, furnishes
us with facts and circumstances which make strongly against the moral
character of Jesus. Beside the general duplicity which characterizes
his answers to the multitude, he is guilty also of sending his
disciples secretly to take and carry away a colt which did not belong
either to him or his disciples. The doing of such an act in modern
times would be denominated theft, even by pious Christians
themselves. He is guilty of sowing the seeds of domestic and national
warfare, and declaring that no man could be his disciple without
hating his father and his mother; and also that he came not to send
peace but a sword. If any man at the present day were to enter
society with actions and avowed intentions of this kind, he would be
considered as an enemy to moral virtue, and deserving of that
punishment which domestic justice and public tranquillity required.
It is in vain to applaud the conduct and opinions of Jesus, when the
same conduct and opinions applied to another being would be
considered as criminal, and hostile to the best interests of human
    In the first edition of this work, and in the chapter concerning
the immoralities of the scriptures, ideas and arguments were advanced
that supersede the necessity of prosecuting farther the present
subject. Moses, Mahomet, and Jesus, can lay as little claim to moral
merit, or to the character of the benefactors of mankind, as any
three men that ever lived upon the face of the earth. They were all
of them impostors; two of them notorious murderers in practice, and
the other a murderer in principle; and their existence united has,
perhaps, cost the human race more blood, and produced more
substantial misery, than all the other fanatics of the world.
    The discovery and the development of truth, as it really exists
in the system of nature, is of the highest importance to the true
interests of mankind; but how to present this truth to the view of
the mind in a manner calculated to attract its attention, is
difficult to say; for although the uncorrupted faculties of man
cannot be opposed to the attractive charms of truth, or the brilliant
beauties of her native appearance, yet so numerous are the causes,
and so powerful their operation which serve to mislead the mind and
produce injurious impressions upon it, that perspicuity and
regularity of thought are essentially deranged, and the clearness of
scientific deductions are swallowed up in the gulf of error and
deception. This process, prejudicial to our mental operations,
commences in the early stages of our existence, and proceeds with a
regularity of mischievous consequences, to the period when man
assumes the dignity of intellectual independence; and fortunate
indeed is that individual who arrives to this elevated predicament of
mental existence. The energy of thought when applied to the discovery
of truth, is naturally calculated to sweep away the rubbish of error,
and cut up those deep-rooted prejudices which have so long retarded
the useful improvement of our species. The grand object of
philosophic philanthropists should be, to extend the sphere of mental
energy, to enlarge the circle of its influence, and to oppose a
persevering activity of mind to the fallen rancour of superstition,
and the destroying fury of fanaticism. Religious enthusiasm, bigotry,
and superstition, conjoined with the strong arm of political
despotism, have rendered man in the past ages of the world the
degraded instrument of their own pernicious and destructive purposes;
it is here we must seek for the source of any human misfortunes, and
the perpetuation of those prejudices by which the body and mind are
both enslaved; it is true that the natural imbecility and
imperfection of our faculties, and the extensive nature and variety
of those moral and physical combinations, from which science is to be
deduced, evince the strong probability that man may frequently be
erroneous in the conclusions which he draws from certain premises,
because the force of his faculties is not adequate to a full and
complete investigation of the compounded and diversified relations of
existence; but these natural obstacles to the clear deductions of
science, are neither of a discouraging or an insurmountable nature.
    The energy of the human mind is prodigious in the disclosure of
natural principles, and its activity must be measured on a scale of
endless progression. Nature is correct and righteous in all her
operations; man is wrong only when he deviates from her laws. Our
errors, our prejudices, and our vices, are so many instances of a
departure from the beneficial laws of moral and physical existence,
and our education is calculated to favour this unfortunate
dereliction. The idle and foolish stories of nurses, and the still
more ruinous tales and doctrines of priests, are calculated only to
corrupt the heart, and bury the human mind in the gulf of the most
destructive prejudices. How is it possible that man should have any
clear conceptions of natural truth, when his understanding is
constantly insulted with a thousand incongruous and non-existent
relations, such as ghosts, witches, and devils, which perpetually
disturb the imagination, and draw the rational faculties into the
vortex of fancy and fanaticism? and this will ever be the case so
long as superstition, or, which is the same thing, a religion
claiming a supernatural birth, shall spread its bloody and baneful
influence among intelligent beings. The faculties of man ought to be
circumscribed only by that extensive circle which embraces the full
extent of their native and accumulated activity. When religious
prejudices are permitted to mingle their gloomy effects with the
exalted conceptions of enlightened reason, the important cause of
truth and the dearest interests of humanity become perceptibly
retrograde, and darkness instead of light pervades the moral world.
When Moses, by authority pretendedly divine, diffused light over the
world previous to the creation of the sun, Superstition greedily
swallowed the holy absurdity; but when Galileo asserted the
sphericity of the earth, they cried heresy, and armed against science
and philosophy, and yet the latter was an important truth in the
system of nature; the former, a stupid blunder of ignorance and
fanaticism. Such, O Superstition! are thy pious efforts to blind the
human mind, the better to subjugate its powers, and rob man of the
fruits of his industry.
    There is no system either of education, politics, or religion,
which ought to be excepted from the severest scrutiny of the human
mind, or the closest examination which the human faculties can bestow
upon it; yet habit and custom of long duration have so strongly
attached man to his errors, that he reluctantly relinquishes those
tenets which serve only to disturb his peace, and destroy his
happiness; while the privileged impostors of the world, or those who
feast upon the continuation or error and prejudice, unite their
strongest exertions to persuade man that his most important interests
in time and eternity depend upon the preservation of ancient and
unnatural establishments; which, in fact, are as destructive to human
felicity, as they are derogatory to the divine purity of supreme
intelligence. The influence of authority, the fear of incurring
clerical displeasure, and the dread of eternal torments, have
partially annihilated the energy of intellectual powers, and taught
man tremblingly to submit to the grossest imposition.
    If the disclosure of my thoughts and reflections resulting from
a constant habit of contemplating Nature in her diversified relations
and real modes of existence, can throw a single ray of light into the
darkened intellect of man, it will increase my hopes of future
progression, and essentially tranquillize the sensations of my heart.
It ought to be perceived by every enlightened mind, that long-
established prejudices are not to be suddenly eradicated; but by
protruding the activity of intellect into the field of actual
existence, some diminution of human misery may be reasonably
expected. Man sees not with clearness, that his sufferings are
frequently the consequences of his blind attachment to error and
superstition; he seeks for their origin in the distant heavens, or
the anger or resentment of supposed supernatural agents, while the
truth often is, that his own prepossessions are the causes of his
    Nothing is more difficult, while the mind is under the influence
of prejudice, than to persuade it of the necessity of removing or
destroying that prejudice; prejudice destroys the discerning power of
the understanding, and conviction becomes impossible while the force
of evidence necessary to produce it is not discovered. The same idea
of right, the same ideas of truth, associate themselves with a
prejudiced mind, as are to be found in the clearest operation of the
most enlightened; and the fool is as confident in error, as the wise
man standing on the broad basis of moral and natural truth. No hopes
of reform can be entertained relative to such obstinate minds, until
you can render them susceptible of the impressions of doubt or
uncertainty; the man who never doubts, or calls in question the truth
of any deduction which he has made, is but badly calculated for the
development of real principle; there is no extension or perfection of
mind which excludes the possibility of error, and it is only by
repeated examination of our own opinions, that we can arrive through
the process of investigation to that elevated situation which unfolds
the sublime truths contained in the system of nature.
    If it were possible to conceive of a mind whose strength and
energy had elevated it above all the impressions of associated life,
and the deductions drawn from early combinations, and the primary
influence of scientific pursuits, we should then behold the intellect
of man exhibited in that point of view, which would promise a fair
discussion of all the diversified relations of existence, by which we
are enabled to deduce all those fundamental laws contained in the
physical, mental, and moral world. But in those cases where the human
mind attempts the discussion of any philosophic subject, under the
impression of a previous bias, every part and view of the subject is
subjected to the influence of associated habits, and the unreasonable
attachment of an unrestrained imagination, or a cruel and atrocious
fanaticism. This is remarkably verified by the conduct of every
religious sectary in the world, whose opinions, however variant from
the standard of truth, are ever considered by the individual advocate
as the only true means of obtaining divine favour. The Jew, the
Christian, the Mahometan, are all equally tenacious of those
doctrines and opinions in which they have been educated; they contend
with equal tenacity for the supposed truth of their respective
tenets, and the liberal bestowment of the most virulent anathemas
constitutes a prominent characteristic of each religion.
    The tenacity of prejudice and irritability of temper, are not
difficult to be accounted for. Every fanatic sect of religion speaks
in the name of heaven. It has enlisted Jehovah on its side, it keeps
up a familiar intercourse with celestial powers, and discerns, in all
the operations of those powers, the most decided partiality in favour
of the particular doctrines which its members have embraced. With
weak and fanatic minds, the confidence is prodigious which results
from a supposed alliance with heaven. A being armed in the name of a
ferocious God, slaughters with relentless cruelty every other being
who does not pay homage to the barbarous divinity, which his own
heated imagination has depicted. No prejudices are so deep rooted,
none so violent, as those of a religious nature, and their pernicious
effects are generally in proportion to the ignorance of the human
mind, and the barbarous condition of society. It is the light of
science alone that can destroy such causes of human wretchedness;
science opposes its own strength to the injurious effects of error
and prejudice, and in proportion as the former shall increase, the
latter will decrease; so that the hopes of the human race rest upon
the diffusion of knowledge, and the general cultivation of science.
Ignorance is a soil in which the rankest prejudices appear the most
flourishing, and promise the greatest portion of misery to mankind.
It is ignorance and interest united, which preserve the prejudices in
favour of those systems of religion so injurious to the operation of
intellectual power, and so destructive to the general felicity of man.
    It is to be remarked, that the prejudices existing between
different nations or individuals, are frequently destroyed by an
extension of acquaintance, and the farther knowledge of those facts,
from which righteous conclusions can be drawn; the same may be said
in regard to systems, subjects, or principles. A partial or imperfect
view leads to wrong attachments or erroneous deductions; while a
comprehensive examination may teach the mind to suspend, alter, or
rectify, its final determinations. The different religious sectaries
all reject each other's doctrines, and too frequently hate and detest
each other on account of difference in opinions; while the scientific
mind, rising above early prejudices, perceives the errors of all
parties, and pities the ignorance, which binds man to such stupid and
senseless doctrines. But it is more lamentable, that such ignorance
and error of mind should be found united with the grossest perversion
of moral principle; a difference of opinion is followed by a most
rancorous spirit of malevolence, and the exercise of the most glaring
and destructive vices. It is to be presumed, however, that there is
in nature a substantial foundation for moral principle; that the
source of this principle is to be sought for in the organic
construction of human existence; that doubts or differences upon this
subject will be, in a high degree, removed, when stripped of
theological delusion, and that the human mind is capable of being
inspired with a moral confidence, which will seldom be shaken by the
current of events, or the difficulty of new cases. 
    In the sacred writings of the Jews and Christians, in all
ancient and theological compositions, the idea of correct and moral
principle had been so frequently abandoned, and so grossly violated,
that the energy of thought, for many ages, was inadequate to an
upright and full investigation of the nature of human actions. This
subject is, no doubt, connected with considerable difficulties; but
these difficulties have been essentially augmented by the rubbish
with which superstition has covered the moral character of man. The
proofs of any inquiry, which relate to moral principle, adhere so
closely to the realities of physical and intellectual existence, that
the errors of an upright and intelligent mind can never assume a
frightful and destructive character. They will be continually
modified, and undergo frequent corrections by the new information of
which the mind is continually susceptible.
    Moral science cannot, perhaps, be reduced to absolute certitude,
or become susceptible of absolute perfection; it is in its nature
progressive, and the infinite diversity of sensations, which
constitute the essential basis of all our intellectual combinations
and deductions, will furnish, at least, a suspicion, that the
decisions of the mind upon this subject ought frequently to be re-
examined and subjected to a new and more accurate scrutiny. All the
theological systems that ever have been written, have never thrown a
particle of light upon this most interesting inquiry; they have
established precepts, some few of which are good, and others
extremely immoral; but no analysis of the physical or moral powers of
man has ever been exhibited; no development of the principle of
causation, or the nature of those effects, which have essentially
resulted from the constitution of animal or intellectual existence.
In all these cases, supernatural theology has prudently observed an
absolute silence, probably from a consciousness of the most profound
ignorance. This single truth, of itself, evinces the moral deficiency
of supernatural religion, and the necessity of returning to the basis
of nature for a correct development of principle. Every thing that is
discordant to this has been established by the force of authority,
and the reasonableness of such establishment has never been a ground
of serious inquiry.
    If it should be objected, that it is impossible, even upon the
basis of nature, to find a universal standard of morality, it will
nevertheless appear, that a continual approach toward such a standard
must be far preferable to those arbitrary decisions which theology
has made upon this subject. There can be no internal force or
excellence connected with a system established solely by external
power, without reference to the essence or character of the
principles which constitute the body of such a system. The internal
excellence of the principle itself, together with capacity of mental
discernment, is essential to the ultimate benefit which may be
expected from the natural operation of legal codes. But there is no
better method of rendering a principle intelligible than by showing
that it is consistent with nature, that it has resulted from her
laws, that it is useful in its effect, that it is capable of being
reduced to practice; in a word, that it is suited to the powers,
condition, and character of the human species.
    There is another previous consideration also, which ought to be
taken into the account before we shall be able to comprehend the
essence of moral principle, or to understand the nature of those
duties which result from our original constitutions. That
intellectual part of man, which supernatural theology has denominated
a soul, has been viewed separate and distinct from the body, as a
kind of spiritual and celestial inhabitant of a mean and material
tenement; that their union would be of short duration, and that their
final destination was extremely different. This led to reasonings and
conjectures that were erroneous; for as the corporeal sensations were
entirely excluded from a participation in the cause, by which moral
influence was produced, an accurate knowledge of the sources of
action was necessarily excluded, and spiritual mystery was
substituted for philosophic demonstration.
    The human mind is incapable of forming any conception of that
which is not material; man is a being whose composition is purely
physical, and moral properties or intellect are the necessary results
of organic construction. To ascertain, therefore, the foundation of
moral principle, it is necessary to revert to the physical
constitution of human nature, it is necessary to go to the source of
sensation, to the cause of impressions, and the diversity of these
impressions; to the universality of the fact, that all human nature
possesses the same or similar sensations, together with all the other
additional circumstances resulting from the subsequent intellectual
combinations of our existence. All human beings are susceptible of
pain, they are also all susceptible of pleasure; they are all
possessed of the same senses, subjected to the same wants, exhibit
the same desires, and are satisfied with the same enjoyments. These
positions cannot be controverted, they are true in the general
features of their character, and the inconsiderable deviations
resulting from the variations of animal structure, cannot, in any
eminent degree, shake the rectitude or universality of these
positions. The modification of the principle of animal structure in
intelligent existence, is, no doubt, diversified by a nice and
inscrutable gradation, but the aggregate amount of organic result
must be nearly the same, and though the animal sensation were to vary
in a still higher degree, yet it would, nevertheless, be
substantially true, that certain comprehensive axioms might be laid
down, which would necessarily include within the sphere of their
imperious effect, every possible diversification of the sensitive
faculties of human nature.
    That happiness is to be preferred to misery, pleasure to pain,
virtue to vice, truth to falsehood, science to ignorance, order to
confusion, universal good to universal evil, are positions which no
rational being can possibly controvert. They are positions to which
mankind, in all ages and countries, must yield assent. They are
positions, the truth of which is never denied, the essence of which
is never controverted; it is the form and application only which has
been the cause of social contention, and not the reality or
excellence of the axioms themselves.
    That universality of the principle of sensation generates
universal capacity of enjoying pleasure and suffering pain; this
circumstance modifies the character of human actions, and renders it
necessary that every man should regard every other man with an eye of
strict justice, with a tender and delicate sensibility, with a
constant reference to the preservation of his feelings, and the
extension of his happiness; in a word, that the exercise of eternal
justice should be constantly reciprocated by all the individuals of
the same species. If I assume to myself the pretended right of
injuring the sensations, the moral sentiments, or general happiness
of my neighbour, he has, undoubtedly, an equal right to commit the
same violence upon me; this would go to the destruction of all right,
to the total subversion of all justice; it would reduce society
instantly to a state of warfare, and introduce the reign of terror
and of misery.
    It is a contradiction in terms to assert that any man has a
right to do wrong; the exercise of such a pretended right is the
absolute destruction of all right, and the first human being who
commits violence, has already prepared for himself a hell of
retaliation, the justice of which his own mind can never deny. It is,
therefore, inconsistent with truth to say, that there is no such
thing as a general standard of moral principle; this standard has a
real existence in the construction of our nature; it is ascertained
and regulated by the rule of reciprocal justice. It is absolute in
the most important duties of human life; but in other cases of less
weight and magnitude, it is discovered by the calculations of
judgment, by the process of the understanding, and will sometimes
vibrate between the impressions of sense and the subtle combinations
which constitute an ultimate moral decision.
    If it be objected upon the suggestion of this idea, that the
system of natural morality is less perfect than that which has been
revealed, the true answer is, that revealed authority, in the most
intelligible cases, is incorrect and absurd; and in the more refined
cases of difficulty, a total ignorance is manifested; so that it is
evident, upon the very face of the record, that the subject of moral
principle, in its subtle discriminations, was never examined or
understood by theological writers. The boasted maxim of the Christian
religion, "All things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you,
do ye even so to them," is incorrect in point of phraseology, and in
point of principle does not exceed any of the moral writers of
antiquity, who lived many hundred years before Jesus Christ. If this
scriptual declaration means to establish the doctrine of reciprocal
justice, it is incontrovertibly right; but the idea of placing the
essence of virtue in the "wishes" of the human heart, is not very
correct. It is very possible that one human being may desire another
to do unto him many things which ought not to be done, and which are,
in their own nature, improper or immoral. To say, therefore, that our
desires should constitute the basis of moral decision, is a
declaration not consistent with truth, and which, in many cases,
would subvert the very essence of moral principle.
    There is a fitness or suitableness in the thing itself, united
with the consideration of the good or bad effect that would be
produced, which ought to become the ground of uniform and universal
judgment in the human mind. My neighbour may wish me to do unto him
an act of serious and substantial injury, which being performed,
ought to be returned to me in manner and form exactly the same; and
thus, by an adherence to this maxim as it is now stated, a double
injury would be produced, and the foundation of virtue shaken to the
centre. But waiving any criticism of this kind, and giving to this
scripture declaration the full extent of what is contended for, it
is, nevertheless, no more than a plain maxim of justice, which had
been know and practiced, in a greater or less degree, at all times
and in all countries. All the local and unjust institutions of
mankind in former ages have not destroyed the essential relation
which man bears to man, nor have they been able wholly to efface a
knowledge of those duties which result from these relations, and from
the powers and principles of human existence.
    The more the subject of moral principle is examined, the more it
will appear that there are certain general features in it which the
experience of man has partially recognized, and being fully developed
and reduced to practice, would constitute a solid foundation for
human felicity. The approach to such a standard of perfection will be
gradual and slow, but it must, nevertheless, from the very nature of
man, be constant and certain. "The following," says Volney, "is
conceived to be the primordial basis and physical origin of all
justice and right; whatever be the active power, the moving cause
that directs the universe, this power having given to all men the
same organs, the same sensations, and the same wants, has thereby
declared, that it has also given them the same rights to the use of
its benefits, and that in the order of nature all men are equal.
Secondly, inasmuch as this power has given to every man the ability
of preserving and maintaining his own existence, it clearly follows,
that all men are constituted independent of each other, that they are
created free, that no man can be subject, and no man sovereign, but
that all men are the unlimited proprietors of their own persons.
Equality, therefore, and liberty, are two essential attributes of
man, two laws of the Divinity, not less essential and immutable than
the physical properties of inanimate nature. Again, from the
principle that every man is the unlimited master of his own person,
it follows that one inseparable condition in every contract and
engagement is the free and voluntary consent of all the persons
therein bound; further, because every individual is equal to every
other individual, it follows that the balance of receipts and
payments in political society ought to be rigorously in equilibrium
with each other; so that from the idea of equality, immediately flows
that other idea, equity and justice."
    Again, the same author observes, that "there existed in the
order of the universe, and in the physical constitution of man,
eternal and immutable laws, which waited only his observance to
render him happy. O men of different climes! look to the heavens that
give you light, to the earth that nourishes you; since they present
to you all the same gifts; since the power that directs their motion
has bestowed on you the same life, the same organs, the same wants,
has it not also given you the same right to the use of its benefits?
Has it not hereby declared you to be all equal and free? What mortal
then shall dare refuse to his fellow-creature that which is granted
him by Nature? O nations, let us banish all tyranny and discord! Let
us form one society, one vast family; and since mankind are all
constituted alike, let there hencefore exist but one law, that of
nature; one code, that of reason; one throne, that of justice; one
altar, that of union."
    The foregoing impressive sentiments of this celebrated writer
disclose with clearness to the view of the human mind, the nature of
moral principle and the foundation of all right and of all virtue. It
is the reciprocation of sensation, the mutuality of condition, of
powers and wants, that constitute the immortal basis of justice, and
lead to the establishment of rules, whose operation must ever be in
strict coincidence with the happiness of the human species. The
exceptions to those fundamental principles are so few, and so
unimportant, as to form no strong objection against the general
assertion, that there exist in the constitution of human nature those
essential properties which confer upon man the character of moral
agent. To controvert, therefore, the existence of these moral
principles, or the idea of a general standard in the morality of
human actions, is to fly in the face of all experience, to oppose the
universal consciousness of the human understanding, and deny the most
conspicuous facts connected with the life of man.
    The universe is composed of an infinite mass of matter;(1) or at
least, to the human mind, it is infinite, because to this mass no
assignable boundary can be affixed. Space is unlimited or infinite,
and in this vast expanse, innumerable bodies of matter, of different
magnitudes, are continually performing variegated revolutions. Upon
these bodies or higher spheres of existence, other smaller bodies are
discovered, of specific modification and powers, essentially
connected in their natures with the larger orbs to which they
respectively belong. In all these bodies, great and small, motion is
an essential and inherent property. The inactivity of matter is a
doctrine contradicted by the evidence of our senses, and the clear
deductions of a sound philosophy. It is impossible to conceive matter
without power, or of power without matter; they are essentially
connected; their existence is interwoven, and cannot be separated
even in thought. The ancient doctrine of matter and motion, so long
exploded, and so much calumniated by theological priests, will
probably, at some future day, be considered as bearing a very strong
relation to a pure and incorruptible philosophy. Supernatural
religion has blinded the human understanding, and prevented upon this
subject every clear and correct conception.
[1. The New York Reviewers, in the review which they took of the
first edition of this work, after quoting a number of detached
sentences from this chapter, make the following observation: "Those
who have read the most celebrated atheistical writers, will see that,
Mr. Palmer is as determined an Atheist as any of them." It is
presumed that these learned Reviewers mean to take the Bible and
Testament descriptions of God as the standard of theism. Let us then
examine the case upon this ground, and we shall soon discover what it
is to be an Atheist in the estimation of the New York Reviewers. "And
the Lord spake unto Moses, face to face, as a man speaketh unto his
friend," (See Exodus chap. xxxiii. 11.) "And I will take away mine
hand, and thou shalt see my back parts; but my face shall not be
seen." (See Exodus chap. xxxiii. 23.) From these passages it appears,
that God is represented in the form and shape of a man, and that such
were the ideas of the inspired and chosen people of God concerning
the Creator. But there is another passage in the New Testament, which
places this matter in a still stronger light. In Paul's Epistle to
the Hebrews, speaking of Jesus Christ, he says that he was the
brightness of his father's glory, and the express image of his
person. Now both believers and infidels agree, that Jesus was in the
shape and form of a man; and as he was like God, of course God must
be like him; therefore, the Christian God is like a man, perhaps like
one of the New York Reviewers. Now the fair deduction from all this
is, that whosoever doth not believe that God is like a New York
Reviewer, is a most profane and abominable Atheist. What a sublime
and majestic spectacle of theism do these "learned" men present to
the human mind! In another place they charge the author of this work
with "affectation, inordinate vanity, and the want of comprehensive
views." How wonderfully comprehensive must be the views of those who
can place the material universe upon the shoulders of a God,
resembling in his existence a New York Reviewer. Such "literary"
heroes ought triumphantly to exclaim, that they have excelled in
brilliancy of conception, and in comprehensive views, the story of
the Indian, which places the earth upon a turtle's back, and then
declares the turtle stands upon nothing! Permit "us" miserable
Atheists to bow with great humility before such "splendid" talents,
and such "comprehensive views". Go on, gentlemen Reviewers, and
console yourselves in the preservation of that Trinitarian or
polytheistical scheme of religion to which you are so much attached;
but remember, the moment will arrive in the succession of future
ages, when those very mental "energies" of the intelligent world,
which you sneer at so much, will sweep away the whole bundle of
theological nonsense, leaving only the mighty power by which the
universe is sustained; and of the shape or form of this power, the
New York Reviewers have as little idea as "the author of the
Principles of Nature", or any of the profane and abominable Atheists,
whom the advocates of Christianity long ago sent down to the dismal
abodes of the damned, to dwell for ever in hell fire.]
   A belief in spirits had nearly, at one time, overturned the
empire of real existence; the power and excellence of matter were
exploded to make room for a world of fictions; of phantoms and things
that had in nature no positive, no real, or substantial being. Filled
with this idea, the dreams of theology were substituted for
philosophic truth, and fanaticism usurped the domination of reason.
Philosophers joined in the race of spiritual or material glory, and
the united effect of their different opinions constituted the
annihilation of nature. The spiritualists contended against the
matter, and the materialists against spirits; thus sweeping away, by
their opposite systems, every species of existence. Matter, and its
diversified modes of operation, are the only things of which human
intelligence can take cognizance. It is this vast body of which
demands our most serious investigation; it is this in which we are
interested, and with which we are most closely connected. Much has
been said concerning dead or inactive matter; much concerning its
"vis inertia"; but an appeal may be safely made to the phenomena of
the physical world for a complete refutation of this opinion. Every
fact that strikes our eyes, or presents itself to the contemplation
of the understanding; every movement in nature furnishes are argument
against a doctrine so unphilosophic and erroneous. Every thing that
we behold; all the elements are in continual flux; agitation or
motion is a universal and eternal law of nature. The earth, the
ocean, and the atmosphere, are constantly in a high degree of action;
the evidence of these facts are presented to every living creature.
The raging element of fire is never wholly at rest; it is always
powerfully or more silently operating in every part of the world. If
these ideas are controverted, let man inquire into their truth by an
immediate recourse to the energetic movements of physical existence.
In regard to fluids, this opinion, perhaps, will not be controverted;
but it will be asked, whether it be equally true in regard to solids?
To this, the answer is unequivocally in the affirmative; at least so
far as it relates to the question, motion or not motion, action or
not action. Beside the general revolutionary motion which the earth
has round the sun, the parts of its solid materials are constantly
combining and dissolving, as may be proved by the smallest recurrence
to the organic structure of vegetable and animal life, and the
property of disorganization essential to each specific mode of
existence. It will, however, be contended, that if this be true in
regard to organic matter, or to vegetable and animal existence, it
will not hold equally in regard to other portions of the material
world. There is, undoubtedly, a difference in the activity of matter,
or in degrees of motion, of which the several parts are capable; but
there is no such thing as absolute incapacity of motion; no such
thing as absolute and entire rest. For the truth of this, an appeal
is made to the power, pressure, and dissolving operation of the most
inert and stupid portions of material substance. An appeal is made
also to the activity of the most stupid parts of matter, in the
composition of vegetable productions. What regular industry do the
solids and fluids exhibit in the formation of a common vegetable? The
march of each particle to its destined post is with firm and
philosophic step; with constancy and physical zeal. There is no such
thing as dead matter; all is alive, all is active and energetic. The
rays of the sun fructify the earth, and these are considered among
the portions of dead matter. These rays, however, are so active, as
to travel 95,000,000 of miles in the space of seven minutes and a
half; a celerity of motion which substantiates, beyond all
contradiction, their essential power and activity. Every fact, in the
physical world, forces conviction in the human mind, and proves the
energetic nature of the material system. An investigation of the
properties of matter, a full development of its modes of operation,
would lead to the most salutary consequences, by instructing man in
regard to his true predicament in nature, and reconciling him to his
fate. To corroborate the ideas which have already been suggested upon
this subject, the following strong and philosophic reflections are
taken from an anonymous pamphlet, entitled, An Essay on Matter. "All
matter is possessed of life, spirit, action, or motion. What is
called inanimate matter, owes its motion of life no more to the
elements, than what is acknowledged to be animate. This elementary
influence presupposes the animation of bodies; for as these cannot
move without that influence, so neither can that influence where
there is no life. To say that the elements alone give motion, is to
say that the elements give life, which is denying a universal agent,
or making him appear to act more by intermediate agents than
philosophy will allow. No one, I presume, will doubt the independent
motion of matter in that form which we name animal, at least, that it
is as independent as man; we allow animals to be a composition of
matter without soul, yet we allow them to be possessed of the
principle of motion. It is from this motion solely that we allow them
to be possessed of life; for there is nothing beside that can or does
influence the mind to make it assent to this truth, that animals have
life; and it is from the different combinations of motion and matter
that we form our ideas of the different kinds of animals. It is then
from motion, and nothing else, that we judge of, and allow matter of
a particular kind of composition to be possessed of the living
principle; the same evidence must have the same weight in every other
kind of composition. Wherever motion is discoverable in matter, be
the form of it what it may, we must acknowledge it to entertain the
living principle; but it may be said, that though motion be an
evidence of life in matter in certain forms, and where the motion is
of certain kinds, yet motion of every kind will not prove the
existence of life in matter of every form. This absurdity of
supposing a 'caput mortuum', must appear to every one who considers
the connection and dependence which exits in all bodies upon each
other, the motion which this connection supposes, and life which
motion evidences. There is a perpetual exchange of matter with matter
of every form. The animal creation, for instance, is constantly
exchanging parts with the earth and its atmosphere. If the matter
composing animals be animate, and that of the earth inanimate, how
can these be united? This would be to suppose that two opposites
could exist in one body, whereas it is the nature of opposites to
recede from each other, and nothing can be greater opposites than
life and death. The independent motion of matter in that form called
vegetable, can be as little doubted as in animals. Storms,
earthquakes, fires, floods, do not cause vegetation any more than
they do generation in animal. The natural or preternatural motion of
bodies, no more contributes to the motion of matter in vegetables,
than in animals; they, like us, receive only the natural and gentle
influence of the elements, and thereby mark a link in that chain
which connects all matter, and which is the harmony of creation. We
shall be more particular in speaking of motion in vegetables, when we
come to treat of the nicer operation of matter in that action which
we call thinking. We come now to speak of the motion of matter in
those forms where it is less observable upon a superficial view of
things; but where, upon a nearer view, it is not less evident than in
either of the other forms mentioned."
    "Whoever doubts the motion of matter in the form of a stone, let
him take the trouble to look upon the first rock in his way, and he
will see its surface mouldering. Whatever decays, must be
replenished; for matter cannot waste. Stones, then, give to, and
receive matter from other bodies. Circulation is a very perfect
motion. Will any one assert, that the motion of giving and receiving
of its substance, does not exist in the stone, with only that
assistance, which, in common with us and animals, it receives from
the elements? The motion of matter in the various forms of minerals
is more observable, as it is more lively. There is a constant
fluctuation of matter in all mineral bodies. When miners open a mine,
and do not find the ore they are in pursuit of, in the quantity which
they expected, they say the mine is not ripe, and close it up again,
that the metal may have time to grow. If matter have not the vital
principle, then I have the power of creating. The bulk of my form is
increased by the matter which in the action of eating, inspiration,
and absorption, I add to myself. If this matter have not the
principle of life, how can I make it partake of me, and thereby
partake of life? Can I unite dead and living things, or can they be
united in me? Chemists tell us that the union of bodies depends upon
the affinity, i.e. the likeness which matter in one form has to
matter in another form, and tell us no further. We have before
mentioned the different kinds of union produced by affinity, the
perfect and imperfect; but what gives the quality of union, and
preserves the existence of the compound? It is the living principle
in one body, inclining it to associate with the living principle in
another body. Without this living principle, that inclination which
supposes motion could not exist."
    The above observations exhibit, with philosophic clearness, the
nature and property of matter. It is by a constant recurrence to the
operations of the material world, that man will be able to discover
those solemn and important truths on which his happiness is founded.
Our bodies are composed of the elements, compounded and organized by
the skill and energy of nature; from this organization, certain
consequences necessarily result; composition, decomposition, and
recomposition, are established in the order, and supported by the
laws of physical existence. The materials which are employed in any
specific composition possess inherent and indestructible qualities,
but the result may be augmented and power increased by organic
construction. Thus, for instance, matter in its most simple form,
may, perhaps, be destitute of intelligence; but when combined and
modified in the form of a man, intellect is a uniform consequence. It
is impossible to say, how far the properties or qualities of matter
may extend in a simple and uncompounded state. It is impossible from
the want of communication, to affirm, or deny with absolute
certitude, relative to the internal essence of the particles of
material existence. There must be in the essence of matter a
capacity, when combined in certain forms, to produce specific
results. The principle of life must be essentially inherent in the
whole system and every particle thereof; but to attribute to each
particle a specific kind of life analogous to that which is
discovered in large compositions of matter, cannot, perhaps, be
warranted by the knowledge or experience of nature. In all the
specific modifications of life, disorganization, or death, is a
universal law; but the universality of this law among specific
combinations upon the earth, cannot, perhaps, be extended to the
earth itself. The analogy is broken, when we go from individuals or
particulars to generals or universals. But more of this hereafter.
    It is by the laws of motion that combinations are formed, it is
by the same laws they are dissolved. Motion is an essential property
of universal existence. The following paragraph upon this subject, is
taken from the System of Nature, a powerful work, translated from the
French of the celebrated and philosophic Mirabaud.
    "Every thing in the universe is in motion; the essence of nature
is to act, and if we consider attentively its parts, we shall see
that there is not a particle that enjoys absolute repose. Those which
appear to us to be deprived of motion, are, in fact, only in relative
or apparent rest; they experience such an imperceptible motion, and
so little marked, that we cannot perceive the changes they undergo.
All that appears to us to be at rest, does not remain, however, one
instant in the same state. All beings are continually breeding,
increasing, decreasing, or dispersing, with more or less dulness or
rapidity. The insect called 'Ephemeron' is produced and perishes the
same day; of consequence, it very rapidly experiences the
considerable changes of its being. The combinations formed by the
most solid bodies, and which appear to enjoy the most perfect repose,
are decomposed, are dissolved in the course of time. The hardest
stones are by degrees destroyed by the contact of air. A mass of
iron, which time has gnawed into rust, must have been in motion from
the moment of its formation in the bowels of the earth, until the
instant that we see it in this state of dissolution." Mirabaud's
System of Nature, Vol. I. page 42.
    A philosophic investigation into the laws of nature, would
probably furnish a pretty clear solution of all the phenomena of the
intellectual world. A certain portion of matter organized upon a
certain specific plan, produces, in the animal we denominate man, all
the energetic and astonishing effects of mind.
    A question has been stated among speculative metaphysicians,
whether it be not probable that the earth and all the higher spheres
of existence in the planetary world, are possessed of strong
intellectual powers? Indeed, this conjecture has been carried so far
as to combine the whole of material existence, and attribute to it
all the properties, qualities, and powers of intelligent life. Nature
is considered as possessing a central power, a brain, or cognitive
faculty, whose operations on a higher scale are supposed to be
analogous to the brain or thinking faculty of man. And this, perhaps,
would be the most philosophic method by which to arrive at the idea
of supreme intelligence, or the governing power of the universe. But
whether the planets in their individual capacity be considered as
intellectual beings, or whether nature in its aggregate combination
be thus considered, are questions of speculation, concerning which,
perhaps the human mind will never receive any adequate or
satisfactory information. Man, however, should not fear to extend his
contemplation to the whole of nature, and, if possible, subject the
whole to the powerful examination of his intellectual energies.
    From the ideas that have been disclosed in this chapter, it will
be easy to perceive, that if the inquiry were now made, "where is the
origin of motion?" the philosophic answer would be, that it is in
matter itself, co-essential and co-eternal with it, and cannot be
separated from any part thereof, not even in thought.
    A further question, in some measure connected with the present
subject, is that which relates to the principle of action in the mind
of man, or the opinions relative to Liberty and Necessity. Moralists
and metaphysicians have for a long time been in a state of
altercation on this subject, nor is the point of discussion between
them yet completely settled. Perhaps the preceding reflections may
furnish us with some information and aid in the solution of a problem
so difficult. The principle of motion and action must exist
essentially somewhere; if this principle be in matter itself, or in a
foreign agent whose existence is presumed to be wholly extraneous
from the body of nature, the same consequence will, however,
necessarily follow. Man is an organized being, possessing powers of
motion and action; if the motion of which man is susceptible be the
result of the essential nature of matter in specific organic
construction, the motion in this being must be as independent,
absolute, and self-existent, as in the body or any part of nature;
that is, it must belong to the thing itself, co-essential with its
being, and acting by the internal force of the principle itself. If
the principle of motion be sought for in any intellectual agent
foreign to the body of nature, it must be independent and absolute
there; it must be self-existent, and as man must have proceeded from
one or the other of these two sources, he must be like the source
itself from which he emanated, and possess, in a partial degree at
least, that independence of power and action, which are so justly to
be attributed to these two great sources of all existence. To suppose
an infinite series in the principle of causation, exhibits nothing
more than a feeble effort of the mind, to get clear of a metaphysical
difficulty. The last point that is discovered, includes in it an
equal necessity of discovering another point, on which the last may
depend for its existence. The links in this chain would become
innumerable, its length infinite, and, after all, the difficulty
remain as great as ever.
    This doctrine, concerning the origin of motion, and of giving a
solution to the subject by means of an infinite series in the
principle of causation, can never satisfy the mind that is seriously
in quest of a first point, or essential spring of every action; in
short, it is nothing better than the story of the Indian, who placed
the earth upon a turtle's back, and afterwards declared, that the
turtle stood upon nothing. The fact is, man is independent in his
mind; it is the essence of his nature to act, and he feels, or ought
to feel, that he is not the slave of any of the phantoms of
superstition, or the fine spun reasonings of metaphysical philosophers.
    In a moral point of view, the doctrine of necessity is still
more objectionable, and goes to the destruction of all human merit,
and with it the dignity of the human character. If man be a moral
slave, his actions in relation to himself are neither good nor bad;
he is impelled by an irresistible necessity, and can no more in
justice be punished for his conduct, than a cannonball, which is
propelled forward by the explosion of gunpowder, can be punished for
taking off a man's leg. The one upon the doctrine of necessity is as
much a moral agent as the other, and punishment, in both cases,
equally absurd. It is essential to the dignity of man that he be free
and independent, both morally and politically. Political slavery is
not more derogatory to the human character, and human energy, than
moral slavery. They both sink and brutalize mankind; they both have a
tendency to diminish his efforts, and destroy his active zeal in the
cause of virtue. It is essential to the true and elevated character
of an intellectual agent, that he realize the strength of his powers;
"that he be confident in his energies;" that he hold in suitable
contempt every species of moral and political despotism. This
sentiment will raise him from a degraded condition, and form him into
the stature of a perfect man in the glorious system of nature.
    The nineteenth century opens to the human race with prospects of
a most extraordinary and astonishing nature. It is impossible, at
this moment, for the human mind to contemplate the past, and
anticipate the future, without yielding to the mingled emotions of
regret and joy; without perceiving itself to be alternately agitated
with sentiments of misery and happiness. The commencement of a new
century necessarily revives the idea of a recursive view of those
great events which have had the most powerful influence, and produced
the most important changes in the condition of human society. The
history of mankind has, in general, consisted either of uninteresting
details, or a frightful picture of universal carnage and military
ferocity. During the last century, however, something more valuable
and important has been combined with a mass of historic matter, and
amidst the unjust and destructive wars which the poison of monarchy
is still generating in the very bosom of the community, there is to
be seen a splendid display of those philosophic principles which
sustained the universe, and of those moral axioms which are
essentially interwoven with intelligent life, and by which it is
rendered susceptible of universal amelioration; of those political
laws whose essence is at war with tyranny, and whose final effects
will shake to the centre the thrones of the earth.
    It has been during the last century that these things have been
accomplished; the force of intellectual powers has been applied to
the development of principle, and the combination of human labours
already constitutes a colossus, against which the storms of unequal
and aristocratic governments may dash in vain. The art of printing is
so universally known, or rather the knowledge of it is diffused in so
many countries, that it will henceforth be impossible to destroy it.
The present moment exhibits the most astonishing effects of this
powerful invention in the hands of nations, by that universal
diffusion of principle and collision of thought, which are the most
substantial guarantee of the future scientific progress of the human
race. An effectual stand has been made, and resuscitated nations at
this moment bid defiance to the double despotism of church and state.
    The nineteenth century opens with lessons awfully impressive
upon kings and tyrants; with lessons, the truth of which has already
penetrated into the sacred recesses of ecclesiastical wickedness and
spiritual domination in high places. America, France, Switzerland,
Italy, Holland, Germany, and England, are in a high state of
intellectual fermentation; if the government in some of these
countries acts in opposition to the spirit of improvement, this
circumstance will constitute only a partial drawback on the rapidity
of the progress; the general agitation is national, the power of
thought has become vastly impulsive in all these countries. The
printing-press is operating, and if it be in some measure restrained,
it will, nevertheless, gradually undermine, and eventually subvert
the thrones of civil despots, and teach the hierarchy of every
country, that the time is fast approaching in which, if they pretend
to speak in the name of Heaven, they must exhibit unequivocal proofs
of their celestial authority; it is this pretended intercourse with
Heaven that has subverted every thing rational upon earth. Upon this
subject, and in describing the fatal effects of fanaticism, the
following passage from an original and eccentric writer ought to be
quoted. The passage exhibits in strong colours the indiscriminate
folly and mad enthusiasm of which ignorant and uninstructed man is
    "It has been the constant practice for moral doctors or teachers
to pretend to a new faculty of mind, called inspiration, or
communication with supernatural power; this is practiced by priests
in all parts of the world, from the Lapland Magi to the civilized
Pope, and if it was not an insult to good sense, to attempt, with
argument, the refutation of such absurdity, I would observe, that
inspiration, in proportion as it approaches and identifies with
Deity, the common source, the diversity of its streams or opinion is
augmented; the inspired Catholic abhors the inspired Protestant, this
the inspired Jew, the Jew the inspired Mahometan, and when these
bedlamites break loose, their victims burn each other at opposite
piles, despising that inspiration in others which they rage with
    I know but one remedy for this moral pestilence of superstition,
which is, to assemble the inspired idiots of all countries, that the
view of their contortions, convulsions, and delirious ravings, in the
presence of each other, might exhibit the portraiture of folly in so
strong a light, that Reason would burst her sides with laughter, and
Judgment must be restored." "Revelation of Nature".
    The meek and humble character of Christianity in its origin, the
fanatic zeal of its partizans, and the pretended renunciation of
worldly grandeur, led to a conclusion, that every attempt of uniting
with political tyranny would be pointedly discarded by the votaries
of this new and supernatural religion. The subsequent history of the
Church has, however, placed an indelible stamp of error upon this
opinion, and proved that the intimate associates of the celestial
Jesus were willing also to become the associates of terrestrial
lords, for the purposes of acquiring the support and strength of
tyrannical governments. Those who declared that their kingdom was not
of this world, were soon discovered to be willing to unite with the
kings of the earth, justly considering that earth and heaven united
would be competent to every object, even the universal subjection and
slavery of the human race. Such was, in a high degree, the effect,
when Christianity was embraced by the strong arm of the Roman
government. This holy religion at first sought for simple protection
from the mistress of the world: but no sooner was this accomplished,
than a new and more impulsive desire was perceived to be the ruling
sentiment of the Church, and it claimed from the civil power
toleration in all religious and ecclesiastical concerns. This new
success was followed with a new exhibition of ambitious views, and
the open disclosure of a bolder confidence in the ultimate triumph of
the then infant church of Christ. Spiritual domination, and the
ruling of nations with absolute despotism, which at first constituted
no part of the feeble hopes of Christian believers, was at length
attempted, and the success of the attempt was completely satisfactory
to the most ardent hopes of the new hierarchy.
    Thus it was that the meek, the humble, and the poverty-struck
followers of the meek and humble Jesus were transformed into what
sectarian secession has since denominated, "the scarlet whore seated
upon the throne of the Caesars." This event was followed by many
centuries of Christian barbarism, in which the spirit and principle
of the Gospel triumphed over and subverted every species of science,
and buried beneath its despotic weight the intellectual energies of
the intelligent world. This long period has been justly denominated
the night of ignorance, and may, with equal propriety, be denominated
the pure and uncontaminated reign of the Christian religion; because
it was at the period that the authority of the church was complete,
and the civil power was subjected to its absolute will; because at
that time the ecclesiastical dominion was believed to be essentially
incorporated with the purest directions of the founder of that holy
religion; and because every subsequent secession has, in the
estimation of the mother Church, been considered as a damnable
heresy, and an awful departure from the true faith.
    These secessions from the original Church have constituted a
cause which has been gradually operating for the amelioration of the
human species, and which must ultimately terminate in the triumph of
reason over the compound despotism of the world. The Church of Christ
received its death wound by the conduct of two bold and fanatic
leaders of the two grand sectaries which first protested against the
unqualified authority of the Roman Catholic Church. Luther, and
Calvin, with more fervent zeal and holy piety than those whom they
opposed, nevertheless, laid the foundation of subsequent events,
calculated to overturn every species of ecclesiastical dominion, and
bury in one common grave the various branches of celestial tyranny,
which for many ages had held the world in bondage.
    The spirit of sectarianism spread itself far and wide, dividing
and diversifying the opinions of the Church, and each new sectary
seemed to be endowed with a new portion of that rancorous malignity,
which has so universally marked the conduct of those whose pride and
folly have led them to conclude, that they spoke in the name of
heaven, and were the favourites of the Most High. Such sectarian
altercations, however, were destined eventually to destroy each
other. Men of contemplative minds began at length to suspect the
divine originality of a religion, which branched itself into so many
different species of doctrines, and generated amongst its professors
endless wars.
    Another consideration still more powerful, accelerated the
progress of moral improvement, and constantly diminished the force of
attachment toward the Christian system. Every new sect discarded some
of the absurdities of that from which it had separated, and passed a
general sentiment of condemnation upon all those who were in the rear
of this long and religious train. Luther and Calvin hurled their
religious thunderbolts against the power and absurd tenets of the
Church of Rome, and especially against the Pope, by whom this Church
was governed. The Armenians, the Arians, the Socinians, and the
Universalists, successively followed, with a purifying hand of
reason, pruning and lopping off the decayed branches of the old
theological tree, approaching still nearer to the source and
principles of nature, till at length, by regular progression, the
human mind discovered, that moral principle was placed upon a more
solid foundation than the reveries of sectarian fanaticism. It has
been in this manner that some portion of society has once more
obtained a true idea of the religion of nature, or of that which may
be denominated pure and simple Deism.
    It is this religion which, at the present period of the world,
creates, such frightful apprehensions in the household of faith, and
threatens to shake to the centre the chief corner stone on which the
Church is built. These apprehensions are daily disclosed by Christian
professors, and they depict in such strong colours the fatal effects
of Deism, that ignorant fanaticism believes it to be an immoral
monster, stalking with gigantic strides over the whole civilized
world, for the detestable purpose of producing universal disorder,
and subverting all the sound principles of social and intelligent
existence. Such are the horrid ideas which the enemies of this pure
and holy religion are every where propagating amongst their credulous
and deluded followers. This circumstance renders it necessary, that
the true idea of Deism be fairly stated, that it may be clearly
understood by those whose minds have hitherto been darkened by the
mysteries of faith.
    Deism declares to intelligent man the existence of one perfect
God, Creator and Preserver of the Universe; that the laws by which he
governs the world are like himself immutable, and, of course, that
violations of these laws, or miraculous interference in the movements
of nature, must be necessarily excluded from the grand system of
universal existence; that the Creator is justly entitled to the
adoration of every intellectual agent throughout the regions of
infinite space; and that he alone is entitled to it, having no co-
partners who have a right to share with him the homage of the
intelligent world. Deism also declares, that the practice of a pure,
natural, and uncorrupted virtue, is the essential duty, and
constitutes the highest dignity of man; that the powers of man are
competent to all the great purposes of human existence; that science,
virtue, and happiness, are the great objects which ought to awake the
mental energies, and draw forth the moral affections of the human race.
    These are some of the outlines of pure Deism, which Christian
superstition so dreadfully abhors, and whose votaries she would
willingly consign to endless tortue. But it is built upon a
substantial foundation, and will triumphantly diffuse happiness among
the nations of the earth, for ages after Christian superstition and
fanaticism have ceased to spread desolation and carnage through the
fair creation of God.
    In surveying the history of man, it is clearly discovered, that
the miseries and misfortunes of his existence are, in a high degree,
the result of his ignorance and his vices. Ignorance renders him
savage and ferocious; while science pours into his mind the benign
sentiments of humanity, and gives a new colouring to his moral
existence. Reason, which every kind of supernatural theology abhors;
reason, which is the glory of our nature, is destined eventually, in
the progress of future ages, to overturn the empire of superstition,
and erect upon its ruins a fabric, against which the storms of
despotism may beat in vain, against which superstition may reek her
vengeance without effect, from which she will be obliged to retire in
agonizing tortures.
    It has been the opinion of some honest and intelligent minds,
that the power of intellect is inadequate to the moral and political
emancipation of man. This opinion, though sometimes it is found to be
operative upon benevolent hearts, seems, however, to be at war with
the intellectual structure of our existence, and the facts furnished
by modern history. In the great question which relates to human
improvement, the cause which is productive of thought, cannot, in any
high degree, be included as influencing the final decision. It is
probable, however, that the opinion which refers intellect to organic
material combination would favour most an unlimited improvement of
the human species. If thought be an effect of matter finely
organized, and delicately constructed, the best method of augmenting
its power would be, to preserve the whole human system in the most
pure, regular, and natural mode of operation. Parents and
instructors, in this respect, are capable of doing great injury, or
of producing most important benefits to future ages.
    The science of the world has been, in some measure, diminished
by the propagation of an opinion, that there are only a few human
beings who are possessed of what is called genius, to the exclusion
of all the rest. This looks too much like mystery, and seems to
include in it the idea that man is sent from heaven, to occupy for a
short time a miserable and material tenement, and then return to its
native home. It ought to be recollected that earth is the abode of
man, and that of this the materials of his existence are composed,
all are confined to this place of residence, and to the amelioration
of sensitive and intelligent life all his labours ought to be
directed. He should learn to respect, and not despise his reason. He
should learn to consider moral virtue as the greatest good, as the
most substantial joy of his existence. In order, however, to be
eminently good, a full scope must be given to the operation of
intellectual powers, and man must feel an unqualified confidence in
his own energies.
    The double despotism of Church and state has borne so hard upon
human existence, that man is sunk beneath its dreadful weight; but
resuscitated nations are about to teach kings and tyrants a lesson
awfully impressive, in regard to the destiny which awaits the
aggregate injustice of the world. The period is at hand, in which
kings and thrones, and priests and hierarchies, and the long
catalogue of mischiefs which they have produced, shall be swept away
from the face of the earth, and buried in the grave of everlasting
destruction. Then will the era of human felicity, in which the heart
of unfortunate man shall be consoled; then will appear the moment of
national consolation, and universal freedom; then the empire of
reason, of science, and of virtue, will extend over the whole earth,
and man, emancipated from the barbarous despotism of antiquity, will
assume to himself his true predicament in nature, and become a
standing evidence of the divinity of thought and the unlimited power
of human reason.
"See matter next, with various life endued,
Press to one centre still, the general good.
See dying vegetables life sustain,
See life dissolving vegetate again:
All forms that perish other forms supply,
By turns we catch the vital breath and die.
Like bubbles on the sea of matter borne,
They rise, they break, and to that sea return." -- Pope's Essay On Man
    The subject of a future life, has, in every age and country, in
a greater or less degree, engaged the attention of man. That strong
sentiment by which we are attached to life, has given to human
sensations a most powerful impulse, and induced us to overleap the
boundaries of the visible world, and seek in unknown or non-existent
countries, the continuation of that existence which experience taught
us it was necessary to abandon here.
    The diversity of opinion which has prevailed upon this subject
shows the difficulties which in some measure are essentially
connected with the nature of the inquiry. The strong and active
impulse which binds man to his personal identity has led to
extravagant conceptions concerning the means of his preservation, and
the new modes of existence, which, in the succession of ages, he
imagined hew was destined to experience. Religious fanaticism has
indulged itself in the most unguarded manner, and enlisted heaven,
earth, and hell, on its side, the better to accomplish its purposes;
while philosophy, disgusted with the wild vagaries which religious
imposture every where presented, seemed to incline to the opposite
extreme. A contest commenced which has not yet terminated, and which
presented alternately to the hopes and fears of man, the means of
satisfying the one, and of destroying the other. Real consolation,
however, was not furnished to the human mind by the virulence of
their diversified discussions. It was to be expected in a case
embarrassed with so many difficulties, that speculations would be
endless, and decisions extremely variant.
    As it commonly happens that people see more ghosts and spectres
in the dark than in the light; so in the present case, the eagle eye
of Superstition saw, or pretended to see, in the distant ages of
futurity, and in the strange countries to which every intelligent
being was hastening, all the peculiarities and local circumstances
which would hereafter encircle the life of man. Thrones were erected,
marble seats prepared, pomp and splendour in abundance, as the
portion of that select company, whose ardent and fanatic hopes gave
them a full assurance of a triumphant entry into the mansions of
eternal glory; while, on the other hand, the hot, sulphurous, and
infernal abodes, presented to the vicious and panic-struck mortal the
dreadful considerations which stand connected with the idea of
endless torture. Philosophy viewed the frantic ravings of religious
enthusiasm with a mixed sentiment, composed of compassion and
disgust. She sought in the constitution of nature for the discovery
of some solid truths on which intelligent man might repose his
existence, without fear and without trembling.
    The progress of thought upon this subject has excited in
superstitious minds the most rancorous sentiments of malignity;
opprobrious epithets have been let out in abundance, merely because
Reason laboured to discover, and declared that it had in some measure
discovered, the real connection between man and nature. The terrific
idea of annihilation still hovered around the dreaming abodes of
Fanaticism, and the most substantial and philosophic truth, which a
knowledge of nature presented to man, became the ground of a most
personal persecution and envenomed malice. Theology, however,
frequently exhibits her weakness by condemning in others what might
with great justice be charged to her own account.
    If we advert for a moment to the sacred writings of the Jews and
Christians, the folly of their high pretensions to a superior
immortality will become very visible. The Old Testament furnishes no
information relative to the subject of a future life. "Dust thou art,
and unto dust thou shalt return: man has no pre-eminence above a
beast, as the one dieth so dieth the other," are phrases contained in
the Old Testament; and are sweeping clauses against every hope of a
future life, so far as such hope is founded upon this part of
revealed religion; but it will be said, that the Gospel has brought
life and immortality to light, and on this account rises in its
claims to respect above the contemptible materialism of modern
philosophy. It is true that the New Testament speaks of a future
life; of Heaven and Hell; of the resurrection of the dead, &c. but it
is necessary first to prove the truth of this part of the system
before substantial deductions can be drawn in favour of any species
of immortality. It is very easy to make naked and unsupported
assertions, but unless the reason and evidence of the thing accompany
these assertions, they are good for nothing. Paul, speaking of the
human body, and of the resurrection of the dead, says, "It is sown a
natural body, and it is raised a spiritual body;" by what kind of
chemical process it is that matter is to become spirit, must be left
to Paul and other spiritual chemists to determine.
    The physical universe presents to the human understanding a
grand and important spectacle of contemplation, in which the whole
and the parts are essentially and indestructibly connected. There is
no such thing as flying off in a spiritual or metaphysical tangent;
every thing is bound by eternal laws to pass through the routine of
its successive modes of existence, through the processive changes to
which the laws of matter and motion have destined it.
    There are two species of philosophical immortality; first, the
immortality of matter, in its essential nature and character; and,
secondly, the immortality of sensation in the aggregate mass of
sensitive and intelligent life. These two perceptions must form the
basis of every thing comprehensible upon this subject. The first
needs no particular explanation, as the truth of the axiom, "that
something can never become nothing," is now generally admitted to be
true; but the second idea ought to be rendered more intelligible. The
opinions upon this subject have always supposed the existence of a
spiritual, immaterial, and indestructible soul, which was capable of
making its escape through the body, and passing in a light and airy
manner through the atmospherical regions, spending an unconfined and
uncontrollable existence in a manner inconceivable by our gross
senses in their present condition.
    The doctrine of transmigration is a branch of this system, and
supposes that the souls of men may pass into other animals of an
inferior kind, and reside there for a given time, by way of atonement
for past crimes. These ideas of intellectual transmission, of
solitary and distinct spirituality, are among those theological
departures from philosophic truth which reason has to deplore, and
which have retarded, in a very considerable degree, the progress of
knowledge. It is in vain for man to deceive himself; a knowledge of
his true condition in nature, and his relationship with all
existence, will furnish a consolation far superior to all the
theological reveries of antiquity. Matter is every where in motion;
it is matter and motion, or the laws of the material world, by which
innumerable sensitive and intelligent creatures are successively
modified and disorganized. The rotation is eternal, and all the parts
of nature may in time pass through the strictures of animal
existence, and partake of the capacity of enjoying pleasure or
suffering pain. In this warfare there is no discharge; an undying
succession, an immortal mutation awaits the existence of every living
creature. Nothing is durable in regard to modification or identity.
In short, nothing is immortal but matter, its combinations and
results; to wit, sensation and intellect. 
    But it is easy to perceive, that the continuation is specific
and not personal; that man is destined to pass through an infinite
diversity of predicaments, partaking at all times of the immortality
essential to matter, and the perpetuated immortality of sensation in
successive forms of animal existence. That this idea, so far from
terrifying his mind, should furnish it with instructive lessons of
sympathy, justice, and universal benevolence.
    If it should be objected here, that this is not the immortality
to which man is so strongly attached, the answer is obvious, he must
be reconciled to that kind of immortality, which nature prepares for
her children, and which diffuses through the intelligent world a
sentiment of equality, terrifying to every species of spiritual or
political aristocracy. It has frequently been said, that the ardent
wishes of the human mind, in regard to immortal existence, furnish
strong presumptive proof in favour of retrospect identity; but this
error is visible upon the very face of the record. Thousands of
individuals most ardently wish to continue their life here for ever;
but this furnishes no barrier against the certain approach of death
and final dissolution of the body. Human nature is accustomed to wish
for more than it can obtain; its wishes, therefore, can never be
brought as the standard of truth. It might as well be expected that
man should become immensely rich, because he wished to be so, as that
he should immortalize his personal existence by the extent of his
desires in this respect. It is true, however, that whatever does
exist must continue to exist for ever; this assertion regards
substance and not forms; forms continually perish, but the essence of
things is indestructible.
    The ancient and orthodox idea is, that the (1)universe, with all
its component parts, was made out of nothing; and if so, it must
remain nothing, for it must be of the essence of which it was
composed. It is a gross error to imagine that the eternal nature of
things can be changed or destroyed by the operation of any power
whatever. The great machinery of nature is governed by immutable
laws; its motions are the result of its own internal energy. Hence it
may be inferred, that it is at once the cause and effect; the mode
and the substance, the design and the execution, and active and never
ceasing operator.
[1. Some of the remarks herein contained are taken from the
manuscript of a philosophic friend.]
    The existence of man is essentially connected with this vast
whole, and it is impossible that he should ever detach any part of
himself from the immortal system of which he forms a component part.
The intervolutions of matter with matter, are universal and eternal;
the essence of which man is composed, will therefore eternize its
reciprocal relation with the vast fabric of material substance, which
is presented to intelligent beings throughout the regions of space. A
comprehensive view of the energies and relations of the material
world, would, no doubt, shake to the centre the theological
absurdities of antiquity; but it would leave to contemplative man the
high consolation of having discovered from what source he originated,
and to what destination the unalterable laws of nature have devoted
his existence.
    The highest intellectual joy consists in the discovery of truth;
a knowledge of this truth will constantly tend to the practice of an
exalted virtue; this virtue will serve as the stable foundation of
human happiness, the immortal guarantee of the felicity of the
intelligent world. Reason anticipates a progress, which all the
powers of superstition can never arrest. Let reason then perform her
faithful duty, and ignorance, fanaticism, and misery, will be
banished from the earth. A new age, the true millennium will then
commence; the standard of truth and of science will then be erected
among the nations of the world, and man, the unlimited proprietor of
his own person, may applaud himself in the result of his energies,
contemplate with indescribable satisfaction the universal improvement
and happiness of the human race.


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News of Interest to Deists
A recent survey on religion shows there are 34 million Americans who are classified as "Nones", that is they do not embrace any of the "revealed" religions and the vast majority of them are not Atheists. In actuality, the vast majority of the "Nones" are actually Deists!

The survey shows a giant step forward for Deism in the fact that it actually uses the word "Deist" and for the very significant raw numbers it shows as representing the number of people who are Deists.  In reality, the number of Deists is actually higher than the survey shows because the survey uses an outdated definition of Deist. For a more accurate definition please see our Deism Defined page.

Click here to read the actual survey. (It's in PDF)
Astronomers report a recent study strongly indicates the Universe is infinite.
One of the reasons the freethinker Giordano Bruno was tortured and murdered by being burned alive by the Catholic Church during the Inquisition was that he said the Universe is eternal and infinite which violates the superstitions in the Bible found in Genesis. This new study vindicates Bruno.

Does the Abraham Accord Promote Peace or a Plan For War? 
The Abraham Accord between Israel, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and the US seems to be more of a war plan against Iran than any kind of legitimate peace agreement.

Help Us Continue to Get the Word Out About Deism! Thank You!