Imágenes de páginas

terpretations, and method of investigation. He does not threaten with eternal torments those who resist bis arguments; he has not credit enough to promise heaven to such as yield to them; he pretends neither to constrain, nor to seduce those who do not think as he does. He is desirous only to calm the mind; allay animosity; and sooth the passions of those zealots, who are ever ready to harass their fellow creatures, on account of opinions which may not appear equally convincing to all the world. He promises to point out the ridiculous cruelty of those men of blood, who persecute for dogmas which they themselves do not understand. He ventures to flatter himself, that such of his readers as peruse this enquiry with coolness, will acknowledge, that it is very possible to doubt of the inspiration of the gospels, and of the divine mission of Jesus, without ceasing, notwithstanding that, to be a rational and honest man.

Such as are exasperated against this work, are entreated to remember, that faith is a gift of heaven; that the want of it is not a vice; that if the Jews, who were eye witnesses of the wonders of Christ, did not believe them, it is very pardonable to doubt them at the beginning of the nineteenth century, especially on finding that the narrative of these marvels, said to have been inspired by the Holy Ghost, are not uniform, nor placed in harmony with each other. In fine, fiery devotees are earnestly entreated to moderate their holy rage, and suffer the meekness, so often recommended by their divine Saviour, sometimes to occupy the place of that bitter zeal, and persecuting spirit, which creates so many enemies to the Christian religion and its doctors. Let them remember, that if it is to patience and forbearance Christ promises the

possession of the earth, it is much to be feared that pride, intolerance, and inhumanity, will render the ministers of the church detestable, and make them lose that empire over minds, which to them is so agreeable. If they wish to reign over rational men, they must display reason, knowledge, and, above all, virtues more useful than those wherewith the teachers of the gospel have so long infested society. Jesus has said, in the clearest manner, Happy are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth ;” unless indeed interpreters should pretend, that this only signifies the necessity of perseeuting, exterminating, and cutting the throats of those whose affections they wish to gain.*

If it were permitted to cite the maxims of a profane person by that of the Son of God, we would quote here the apophthegm of the profound Machiavel, that "empires are preserved by the same means whereby they are established.” ļt was by dint of meekness, patience, and precaution, that the disciples of Jesus succeeded in establishing Christianity. Their successors have employed violence; but not until they found themselves supported by devout tyrants. Since then, the gospel of peace has been the signal of war; the pacific disciples of Jesus have become implacable warriors ; have treated each other as ferocious beasts; and the church has been perpetually torn by dissensions, schisms, and factions. If the primitive spirit of patience and meekness does not quickly return to the aid of religion, it is to be feared that it will become the object of the hatred of nations, who begin to feel that morality is preferable to obscure dogmas, and that peace is of greater value than the holy frenzy of the ministers of the gospel.

* The modern religion of Europe, says the author of The System of Nature, has visibly caused more ravages and troubles than any other superstition ; it is in that respect very accordant to its principles. They may well preach tolerance and mildness in the name of a despotic God, who claims a right to the homage of the whole earth ; who is extremely jealous that any other doctrines should be received than what have his sanction; who punishes cruelly for erroneous opinions; who demands unbounded zeal from his adorers. Such-a being must consequently make fanatical persecutors of all men. The theology of the present day is a subtile venom, calculated, through the importance which is attached to it, to infect every one. By dint of metaphysics, modern theologians have become systematically absurd and wicked. By once admitting the odious ideas which they entertain of the divinity, it is impossible to make them understand that they ought to be humane, equitable, pacific, indulgent, and tolerant. They pretend that these huniane and social virtues are not seasonable in the cause of religion, and would be treason in the eyes of the celestial Monarch, to whoin every thing ought to be sacrificed.

We cannot, therefore, with too much earnestness ex, hort them, for their own sakes, to moderation. Let them imitate their divine Master, who never employed his Father's power to exterminate the Jews, of whom he had so much to complain. He did not make the armies of heaven descend, in order to establish his doctrine; he chose rather to surrender to the secular arm than give up the infidels, whom his prodigies and transcendent reasoning could not convince. Though he was the depositary of the power of the Most High ; though he was inspired by the Holy Spirit ; though he had at his command all the annals of Paradise; we do not find that he has performed any great miracles on the understandings of his auditory. He suffered them to remain in their blindness, though he had come on purpose to enlighten them. We cannot doubt, that a conduct so wise was intended to make the pastors of his church (who are not possessed of more persua. sive powers than their master), sensible that it is not by violence they can reconcile the mind to incredible things; and that it would be unjust to force others to comprehend what, without favour from above, it would be impossible for themselves to comprehend ; or what, even with such favour, they but very imperfectly understand.

But it is time to conclude an introduction, perhaps, already too long to a work which, even without preamble, may be tiresome to the clergy, and irritate the temper of the devout, particularly of female devotees, The author does himself the justice to believe, that he has written enough to be allowed the privilege of expecting to be attacked by a cloud of writers, obliged, by situation, to repel his blows, and to defend, right or wrong, a cause wherein they are so much interested. He reckons that, on his death, his book will be cruelly calumniated; his reputation torn; and his arguments taken to pieces or mutilated. He expects to be treat, ed as impious-a blasphemer--as antichrist; and to be loaded with all the epithets which the pious are in use to lavish on those who disquiet them. He will not, however, sleep the less tranquil for that; but as his sleep may prevent him from replying, he thinks it his duty to inform his antagonists before hand, that injuries are not reasons. He does more-he bequeaths them charitable advice, to which the defenders of religion do not usually pay sufficient attention. They are then apprised, that if, in their learned refuta. tions, they do not resolve completely all the objections brought against them, they will have done nothing for their cause. The infallible defenders of a religion, in which it is affirmed, that every thing is divinely inspired, are bound not to leave a single argument bebind, and ought to be convinced that answering to an argument is not always setting it aside. They should please also to keep in remembrance, that a single falsehood, a single absurdity, a single contradiction, or a single blunder, fairly pointed out in the gospels, is sufficient to render suspected, and even to overturn, the authority of a book which ought to be perfect in all its parts, if it be true, that it is the work of an infinitely perfect Being. An incredulous person, being but a man, may sometimes reason wrong; but it is never permitted to a God, or his instruments, either to contradict themselves, or to talk nonsense.


• They shut our moutlis, says Mirabaud, by asserting, that God himself hath spoken, and us made himself known to men. But when, where, and to whom hath he spoken ? Where are the divine oracles? An hundred voices raise themselves at the same moment; an hundred hands exhibit them to me in absurd and discordant collections. I run them over, and, through the whole, I find that the God of wisdom has spoken an obscure, insidious, and irrational language;, that the God of goodness has been cruel and sanguinary; that the God of justice has been unjust, partial, and ordered iniquity; that the God of mercies destines the most unhappy victims of his anger, to the most hideous punishments. Many obstacles, besides, present themselves when men attempt to verify the pretended precepts of a divinity, who has never literally held the same language in any two countries; who lias spoken in so many places; at so many times; and always so variously, that he appears every where to have shown himself, only with the determined design of throwing the human mind into the most strange perplexity.--"'ide System of Nature, vol. iii. p. 126.

« AnteriorContinuar »