(BEING CONTINUED FROM 7/03/18)
THE BIBLE, OR THE SACRED WRITINGS OF THE JEWS AND CHRISTIANS.
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 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.
ORIGINAL SIN, ATONEMENT, FAITH, &c. A CHRISTMAS DISCOURSE, DELIVERED IN NEW YORK, DEC. 1796.
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.]
(TO BE CONTINUED)