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of the whole passage in your letter refered 'to, I am afraid, will lead all Christians to suppose that your intention is to bring the whole book into discredit, and also that you mean to accomplish this by force and abuse, and not by arguments. As I never put an unnatural interpretation upon any thing, nor draw an irrational conclusion from it, if I can do otherwise I consequently cannot believe that you have any such intention; I only say that Christians (who are not much in the habit of reflecting correctly) will do so; and I also think that your words are calculated to produce this impression on their minds. You say that “mildness will not do, in a discussion with Christians," and that “ to conquer them” you must “set upon them with all possible force.” If, by this, you mean--that before you can convince the judgment of an individual “ that he is daily suffering many unnecessary painful sensations, upon account of his belief of errors, which he has been trained to venerate,” it is necessary to harrow up his feelings, and thereby force him to look upon you--not as a friend, anxious to do him a service, but as an enemy bent upon doing him a serious mischief?. If you think that this is the most effectual way of getting him to digest your words, or to receive your cousel. If in order to lead his mind to suspect the truth of errors which when shewn by themselves no rational being can entertain, you think it necessary to force him to renounce a belief in truths, which when shewn by themselves, no human being can deny. If, in fact, you think you can accomplish any useful purpose whatever, by means of force, then are your ideas and mine completely at variance'.
I have already said, that there are two ways of accounting for a difference in ideas, the one arising from our own errors, and the other from the misconceptions of the opposite party. I have also stated, that I uniformly endeavour to trace the difference to an error in my own mind, before I attribute it to the other party. When I am unable to do this, I have no alternative, and all I can do is to endeavour to discover the cause of the error in the mind of the individual who differs from me. Acting upon this principle, I have been able to perceive no cause from your prefixing a mode, which, as far as my experience goes, has been when compared with the opposite mode, uniformly unsuccessful* except
? There can be nothing inimical, no mischief done or intended, in any mode or manner of convincing man of error. Argument, ridicule, demonstration, all is alike fair and wholesome, and to convince is to conquer. The words have the same derivation.
R. C. 3 You should have explained what kind of force you mean.
No degree of mental force can be too forcible, nor operate injuriously. Milk and water will not cure enthusiastic fanaticism.
R. C. * Really, I cannot so see it, or I should act differently. The question
an idea (which is as false as it is general) “ that individuals have power at will to change from error to truth.” It is the belief of this single error which has produced all the religious persecutions, and angry contentions which have so long afficted humanity. Your prosecutors believe that you have power at will to embrace their notions; and they also believe that “mildness will not do in a discussion” with infidels. That “ they cannot make a truce” with an infidel, that “he must be conquered",” and that to conquer him “he must be set upon with all possible force.” This is their opinion—founded as you must know by experience upon a gross error, nevertheless, they have continued for a long series of years to act upon it, while you, and many other intelligent, patriotic, virtuous, and sincerely honest individuals, have suffered, and are now suffering, most grievously, only because your sincerity and patriotism is superior to other individuals.
But while I designate the conduct of your prosecutors towards you, as proud, implacable, unmerciful, and unjust, I cannot with the same sincerity, approve of your acting upon the same principle, and from the same causeo. I am aware, that you will immediately reply " that the force you mean to use, is the force of words; but every thing that causes unnecessary pain, is in my opinion, a species of force---every thing that does not appeal to the judgment, and tend to effect a change in the inclinations, is an attempt to make the individual believe against his judgment and inclination, which is a physical impossibility. I am well aware that you would spurn the idea of resorting to physical force, to support your opinions, but you have no merit in this, because in the first place you
had the will, and in the second place you maintain your present opinions against all others without the aid of force, But are not the Christians equally liberal in this respect. Have they ever persecuted, when they were weak; or have they ever resorted to force in opposing any opinions, which they could oppose with argument? Is their liberality and forbearance towards all the existing superstitions, not a proof of this? If you act towards them now, in the way which must, as a matter of necessity, give them the greatest mental agony, might it not, with some degree of justice, be inferred from this, that you, in other circumstances, would increase this suffering--I mean, might we not infer, that you would resort to physical force to support your opinions, if you considered these opinions is how best to excite thought in the thoughtless-how best to change erroneous reflections to some that shall be a correct view of things.
R. C. Yes, but my proposed conquest is over the mind, by mental means; and not to reduce the mind by torturing the body.
R. C. 6, I do not; there is not a shade of similarity.
a matter of extreme importance, and perceived that you corild support them by, no better mode?? This is exactly the situation of the Christians; and it is for your sake, and for the sake of those who are now suffering in the same cause, that I am anxious, that the ignorant wrath of your oppressors should be appeased. I have said, that it is for your sakes, but perhaps, I should be more correct if I said it was for my own sake, for seldom does a whole day pass without an idea occurring to my mind, of the great discomfort and deprivations to which so many individuals are daily subjected, merely because nature and circumstances have made them superior to their fellows, and this idea is always painful to my mind. This shews how truly selfish we are, for my desire to see you in possession of your property, and enjoying the air and exercise to which nature invites you,” arises altogether from the wish to avoid the painful sensations which the idea of your present situation invariably produces in my mind.
I have said, that ill will (which I am sorry to say is manifested on both sides) arises altogether from a belief, that man has power to choose and to change his own ideas, although, I believe, that your mind is too much accustomed to reflection, to admit such a glaring absurdity, when stated broadly; yet it appears to me, that, as yet, your mind is not altogether familiar with the extent to which it would lead; for a little reflection will shew, that the judgment is formed, or constituted, almost if not altogether by the ideas which are imbibed: and the judgment is the power which regulates our actions, It is, indeed, a common notion, that an individual may act in opposition to his judgment. This is not correct, for he must, as a matter of necessity, obey the last decision of his judgment whatever it be. You perhaps will startle, if I say, that this doctrine refuses to allow you any merit, in all you have done and suffered for your country, and that your persecutors are in no way to blame for the excessive oppressions which they have heaped upon you, your family, and friends; but let not this thought cause you any unnecessary uneasiness, for if it shew that there can be
But, I am convinced that free discussion is all that is required to make truth triumph. I am also convinced, that I do not exceed the spirit of free and fair discussion, in what I advance against the Christian. And they who do not go so far as I do, and yet approve the end in view, are looked upon by me as men who have not yet shaken off those slavish fears in which they have been educated—the fears of persecution. It is an actual persecution, that any human being should live in fear of it—and seeing so much of this persecution among the whole of this and every other country, I am irritated into the most forcible demand for free discussion. I have conquered the fear of persecution in my own mind; and I aspire to the vast importance of a general conquest of that kind, solely by good example. Surely, all force, to this end is justifiable, even if it were physical.
neither merit nor demerit, in human actions, it at least allows that there is a right, and a wrong, in human actions, and it cannot remove the approbation of mankind, from that which is right, nor can it remove their disapprobation from that which is wrong. Neither can it remove the pleasure which arises from this approbation, or enable us to avoid the pain which is produced by this disapprobation, for all these are parts of the original constitution of our nature, which can, in no degree, be changed by an alteration of our opinions. It is after much reflection upon this important subject, that I am led to sympathise almost as much with the oppressors as with the victims of oppression. Only those who have experienced it can conceive the extent of the agonies produced by the perpetual fears and alarms, which haunt the mind of an individual when notions upon which his comfort rests, and which he has been trained to venerate, are about to be underminded and scattered before the wind. Though your mind is, and always must be a stranger to such sensations, yet you must know something of the pleasure which is derived from conscious integrity, and from knowing that your conduct is approved of, by all the intelligent portion of your fellow creatures. This pain, and this pleasure, are both so great, and so necessary, that I am not certain but the conduct of your persecutors has been the cause of more painful sensations to themselves, than it has been to you. And it it should be recollected that these sensations on either side are, as yet in some measure, only at the commencement. These are the rewards and punishment bestowed or inflicted by Nature, and when nature is understood, it will be found that they are the most impartial, so they are the most effectual.
THE PRESIDENT OF THE EDINBURGH ZETETIC SOCIETY TO MR. ABEL BYWATER, OF SHEFFIELD PARK.
have introduced the words of the Zetetic Society's Shorter Catechism into a religious pamphlet, as proof that the author of the said Catechism differed in sentiment from Mirabaud and other Materialists; but this apparent difference arises from attaching different meanings to the same words. When the word “ God” is mentioned, it generally conveys to the mind of a believer, a confused idea of “ the incomprehensible power that directs the atom and controuls the aggregate of matter;” while-to the mind of a Materialist—the same word conveys the idea of a Being organized, and acted upon, something like
As I am
himself. It is from this original misunderstanding, that disputes arise, and are protracted. There are two sources from which our ideas, on this subject, are derived. The one, the “ visible works of creation," and the other, “ the uncertain legends of the days of dark and gross ignorance." To those who derive all their ideas from the one, there can be no continued disagreement,—while those, who follow the other, must always be strangers to union; for they have no point upon which the mind can rest. anxious to go along with all parties as far as truth will allow me to go, I therefore say, that if, by “ God the Father," you mean simply " the power that governs the universe," and if-by the Son,” you mean the same power that governs the universe, and if by " the Holy Ghost" you
still mean the same power, I sincerely admit my belief in “Father, Son, and Holy Ghost," and also, that these three are one. The point at issue then is, not (as is often supposed) is there a God? or is there no God?—for if the views of different parties are directed to different objects, they cannot possibly see alike; while the sole use of discussion is to cause all
parties to see alike. The real question to decide is—is this power, or this God, if you wish it, subject to the variable feelings, which (as far as we know) are peculiar to the animal world? This is the FIRST POINT to settlem if it be settled in the affirmative (and I must say, that I have met no evidence sufficient to lead
my mind to this conclusion) the next question that presents itself is this--allowing that the Power which governs the universe, is subject to the variable feelings which are peculiar to the animal world, and can be beneficially or injuriously effected by the actions and opinions of human beings, -" what sort of actions and opinions ought we to consider most acceptable to the feelings of this great and incomprehensible Power ?" This constitutes the second point of difference, in which the contending parties are completely at variance. The one assuming, that the opinions, which are at variance with nature (and which have been the source of all the disputes and dissentions, and the cause of all the religious wars, and bloody persecutions) are the opinions most acceptable to the feelings of infinite wisdom; and that useless and superstitious rites and ceremonies, and fulsome and hypocritical praise and adulation, are actions most acceptable to Infinite Benevolence, than those which tend to add to the comfort, and diminish the misery of animated nature.
These are THE POINTS to which the attention of all parties ought to be continually directed. Those who adhere to nature and reason * ought always to have a complete understanding of
* The word "Nature" includes every thing that forms a part of the material universe: and “reason" means that « small still voice” which in every age, and in every language, approves or condemns, whatever augments or diminishes human happiness.