« AnteriorContinuar »
the terms which are used; and they can have this the more easily, as every term they use, refers to something that can be defined. Those who go beyond nature have not this advantage, consequently, the words which they use (referring to no reality) become only mere sounds.
Now, Mr. Able Bywater of Sheffield Park, I believe that you, and those who have been trained to believe as you now believe, have been able to argue so long, and so successfully, solely, because you have had the adroitness to mix up a great deal that is both natural and rational with your unnatural and irrational notioris. You have exhibited this mixture as one substance. Had the parties who oppose you--instead of endeavouring to bring down the truth with your errors-made a complete separation; had they exhibited your absurdities in their naked deformity; our rulers, instead of giving one class of individuals thousands annually for defending and disseminating these absurdities, and imprisoning and plundering others, for contradicting them ---would have found no one who could have held up his face to assert a belief in their truth or consistency.
We certainly get our knowledge God from the visible works of the creation; and we can obtain knowledge of any
kind no other where. But I can perceive, in these works, no proofs to confirm the absurd assumptions to which I have referred. In fact, the proof which they atford is directly opposite, for you must be aware, that a potatoe field, for instance, fenced with a double row of Methodists--the one kneeling in prayer, and the other singing Hallelujahs-would produce no more effect, upon the power that produces the potatoes, than a common hedge planted and dressed by Richard Carlile. It is therefore, in my opinion, the essence of insanity, to bring forward the works of creation, as proof of your unnatural and irrational assertions, when every light in which we can view these works, proves directly the reverse.
I have stated what the word " nature” means-and I see no reason to doubt the truth of any portion of the Bible which is agreeable to nature. I have also stater what the word “reason" means, and I have no objection, to acknowledge my obligation to obey every injunction which the Bible contains —which is agreeable to reason; and I say so, because I am convinced, that the happiness of myself, and others will be augmented by such a mode of acting. Yet—though ALL the adherents to nature and reason are of one mind in this respect, still, (in the seventh page of your pamphlet) you bring forward the dying agonies of the profligate and immoral BELIEVERS in your unnatural doctrines, as proof of the bad effects of adhering to morality and of disbelieving these doctrines; exhibiting thus, in your own person, a melancholy illustration of the effects of your irrational notions in destroying the intellectual faculties.
I admit, that the power that governs the universe can communicate “ intelligence;" but if I see no proof, that this power pos
“ either organie structure or dimensions," and if my conception can attach intelligence to nothing that is without these-it would certainly be irrational in me to say otherwise. I follow demonstration, because, even allowing the truth of your assumption, that the great governing Power of the universe “ sits upon a throne at the head of the universe, clothed in the form and majesty of the king of kings"-still, I say, if demonstration reveals nothing of this existence, it must be his will that we should now be ignorant of his nature and existence; and we could only offend him by professing to know what he had intended to conceal.
All that a rational being could do, in such circumstances, would be to obey the laws which govern our nature, and to wait patiently till more knowledge was obtained. The difficulty which I experience in receiving this notion, arises from my inability to form an idea of a king, or intelligent being of any kind, who does not himself require the assistance of the power that pervades all space, to regulate his movements. Perhaps, you and your friends possess a power of perception which I want; but still this can be no - good reason for me to state what is not the case.
I shall conclude my remarks by a short hint to those who wish to adhere to nature and reason.
It is my opinion that you cannot more effectually aid the cause of truth, than by cheerfnlly trying how far yon can yield to opposing parties. Go always as far with them as truth will allow you to go-when you come to this point, state that you must stopnot because you are unwilling, but because you are unable to proceed. If you give them the least ground to believe that you deny any part of their doctrine which is in unison with nature and reason, you cease to be the friends of truth; you become the most powerful supporters of error; because, error always clings to truth, and dreads nothing so much as a separation-which would exhibit the one, in its native deformity, and shew the other in its native simplicity. If conviction be your object, you can succeed by no other mode. If, however, you should prefer controversy to conviction, then the mixture is your mark, stick by it, and your controversy, as a matter of necessity, must be endless. The clergy have succeeded in rendering the adherents to nature and reason objects of detestation in the eyes of an ignorant multitude, solely by making them believe, that the former are enemies to the morality of the Scriptures, and that they deny the self evident truths of the Bible. And I have been often grieved to observe, that they have been aided in this “ laudable purpose" by those whose intentions were directly opposite. This can only be avoided by explicit statements, and by making it a rule never to use any sweeping declamations (as they are called) which take in truth and error, together.
PETITIONING FOR THE LIBERTY OF
AFTER all that can be said about the propriety or impropriety of free discussion, it is, in its widest latitude, nothing more than the freedom of speech. To ask to be allowed to discuss a subject freely, is but saying: -" may I speak what I know upon that subject?” And, in this land of liberty! this envy and admiration of surrounding nations! under this most wise, most mild, and most tolerant goverpment! it is held to be criminal, to speak one's knowledge! Men are imprisoned five years, and have no right in property, for speaking in print what they and others know or have written! Surely, there never was so base a government on the face of the earth as the English government is at this moment! Religious persecutions, under a state of equal ignorance, have an excuse in that ignorance; but here is a government boasting of superior enlightenment, pretending to advocate a general education, and yet robbing and imprisoning individuals, treating them worse than felons or murderers are treated, because, they put in practice that instruction which this government clamours about and pretends to encourage! This is the true state of the case between the government and those prosecuted for Anti-Christian publications.
The following petition from Edinburgh was presented in the last session of parliament. We had not a copy at the time, nor did we know, until of late, that it had been published in the Morning Chronicle of the 18th of May. We now copy the report from the Chronicle adding the concluding prayer of the petition.
EDINBURGH FREETHINKERS. Mr. Hume said, he had had the petition wbich be held in his hand for a considerable time in his possession. Having been urged either to present it, or to place it in the hands of some other member, he begged leave to submit it to the house. He certainly did very much wish that no occasion had been given for the presentation of such a petition. The petition was from some hundreds of individuals in Edioburgh, who were formerly members of a society called “ The Edinburgh Freethinkers Zetetic Society.” They complained of the interference of the Magistracy and Police with their discussions. Their room bad been forcibly entered, and the whole of their books taken from them by the public officers. Were men in the present enlightened times to be subject to this kind of inquisition? There had lately appeared in the papers a decree, signed by Ferdinand, with whom we seemed to be running a race, in putting an end to all inquiry. Ferdinand, however, only took " forbidden books” from those who possessed them. We were not content with that, but we punished the persons of the possessors! Was it to be endured, that because a mau differed in opinion from the authorities in Scotland, he should on that account be at once imprisoned ? He trusted that some answer would be given to the case of the Petitioners.
On the motion that the petition be brought up,
The Lord Advocate observed, that the honourable member for Aberdeen was very ill-informed with respect to the circumstances of the case which he had described, into which, however, he (the Lord Advocate) would not go.
Mr. Hume remarked, that as the Learned Lord would not make any answer, he (Mr. Hume) should set it down that there was an inquisition in Scotland, and that the Learned Lord was the Grand Inquisitor. The petition was then brought up and read as follows:--
66 Unto the Honourable the Commons of the United
Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland, in Parlia. ment assembled; the Petition of the undersigned Individuals, who were Members of the Edinburgh
Freethinkers’ Zetetic Society; humbly sheweth, “ That your Petitioners are of of opinion, that severe laws,
made to suppress free discussion, and punish those who question the truth and divine origin of religion, are extremely pernicious to society; as they are often employed to support error and suppress truth, and thus fettering the buman mind in its progress of knowledge and improvement, they make men ignoraut bigots or pretending bypocrites. Such laws are seeming proofs of the weakness of religion, and make enquiring men suspect it is imperfect and cannot be supported by argument.
“ That, if the Christian religion is a divine revelation, no discussion can injure it, nor any human efforts overturn it; if it is founded on truth, free discussion will exhibit that truth, and consequently strengthen every rational mind in the belief of it; but if it is founded on errors, severe laws may, harrass individuals who criticise it, and may prop it
for a time; but cannot permanently support it against truth and reason.
" That the laws of Scotland, made for the support of the Church, and the punishment of what is called blasphemy, were so severe and oppressive, that they suppressed all inquiry into the foundation of Christianity, or the truth of its doctrines, and compelled every one to submit to the established opinion whether right or wrong.
“ That though two of the statutes which awarded the punishment of death for what is called blasphemy were repealed by the Unitarian Act, passed in 1813, yet as free discussion on religious subjects is still considered by every one to be very dangerous, your Petitioners apprehend that there are other laws yet in force for the protection of established religion, which are too severe for the enlightened and inquiring spirit of the present time.
“ That your Petitioners, though peaceable members of society, and strongly attached to their country, regard these laws as still allowed to exist for their oppression; and even if these laws should be considered in dissuetude (wbich is doubtful), the uncertainty of that matter, and the apprehension, lest they should be prosecuted for the open expression