The articles below are from The Prospect, a magazine started by Elihu Palmer, and to which Paine contributed 13 essays. Four essays in this collection are deattributed works: “Of Cain and Abel” (Palmer is the author), “Of the Old and New Testaments” (author unknown), “To the Members of the Society”(unknown), and “On the Sabbath Day in Connecticut”(unknown). These appear in the Works Removed from the Paine Canon.
From the February 18, 1804 Prospect issue:
A protestant minister in England, preached and published a sermon against what he calls “Modern Infidelity.” A copy of it was sent to a gentleman in America, with a request for his opinion thereon. That gentleman sent it to a friend of his in New-York, with the request written on the cover — and this last sent it to Thomas Paine, who wrote the following observations on the blank leaf at the end of the Sermon.
REMARKS ON THE FOREGOING SERMON.
The preacher of the foregoing sermon speaks a great deal about infidelity, but does not define what he means by it. His harangue is a general exclamation. Everything, I suppose, that is not in his creed is infidelity with him, and his creed is infidelity with me. Infidelity is believing falsely. If what christians believe is not true, it is the christians that are the infidels.
The point between deists and christians is not about doctrine, but about fact — for if the things believed by the christians to be facts, are not facts, the doctrine founded thereon falls of itself. There is such a book as the bible, but is it a fact that the bible is revealed religion? The christians cannot prove it is. They put tradition in place of evidence, and tradition is not proof. If it were, the reality of witches could be proved by the same kind of evidence.
The bible is a history of the times of which it speaks, and history is not revelation. The obscene and vulgar stories in the bible are as repugnant to our ideas of the purity of a divine Being, as the horrid cruelties and murders it ascribes to him, are repugnant to our ideas of His justice. It is the reverence of the Deists for the attributes of the DEITY, that causes them to reject the bible.
Is the account which the christian church gives of the person called Jesus Christ, a fact or a fable? Is it a fact that he was begotten by the holy Ghost? The christians cannot prove it, for the case does not admit of proof. The things called miracles in the bible, such, for instance as raising the dead, admitted, if true, of occular demonstration, but the story of the conception of Jesus Christ in the womb is a case beyond miracle, for it did not admit of demonstration. Mary, the reputed mother of Jesus, who must be supposed to know best, never said so herself, and all the evidence of it is, that the book of Matthew says, that Joseph dreamed an angel told him so. Had an old maid two or three hundred years of age, brought forth a child, it would have been much better presumptive evidence of a supernatural conception than Matthew’s story of Joseph’s dream about his young wife.
Is it a fact that Jesus Christ died for the sins of the world, and how is it proved? If a God, he could not die, and as a man he could not redeem, how then is this redemption proved to be fact? It is said that Adam eat of the forbidden fruit, commonly called an apple, and thereby subjected himself and all his posterity for ever to eternal damnation. — This is worse than visiting the sins of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generations. But how was the death of Jesus Christ to affect or alter the case? — Did God thirst for blood? If so, would it not have been better to have crucified Adam at once upon the forbidden tree, and made a new man? Would not this have been more creator like than repairing the old one? Or did God, when He made Adam, supposing the story to be true, exclude Himself from the right of making another? Or impose on himself the necessity of breeding from the old stock? Priests should first prove facts and deduce doctrines from them afterwards. But instead of this they assume every thing and prove nothing. Authorities drawn from the bible are no more than authorities drawn from other books, unless it can be proved that the bible is revelation.
The story of the redemption will not stand examination. That man should redeem himself from the sin of eating an apple by committing a murder on Jesus Christ, is the strangest system of religion ever set up. Deism is perfect purity compared with this. It is an established principle with the Quakers not to shed blood — suppose then all Jerusalem had been quakers when Christ lived, there would have been nobody to crucify him, and in that case, if man is redeemed by his blood, which is the belief of the church, there could have been no redemption — and the people of Jerusalem must all have been damned because they were too good to commit murder. The christian system of religion is an outrage on common sense. Why is man afraid to think?
Why do not the christians, to be consistent, make saints of Judas and Pontius Pilate, for they were the persons who accomplished the acts of salvation. The merit of a sacrifice, if there can be any merit in it, was never in the thing sacrificed, but in the persons offering up the sacrifice — and therefore Judas and Pontius Pilate ought to stand first on the calendar of saints.
From the March 3, 1804 Prospect issue:
OF THE WORD RELIGION, AND OTHER WORDS OF UNCERTAIN SIGNIFICATION.
The word religion is a word of forced application when used with respect to the worship of God. The root of the word is the Latin verb ligo, to tie or bind. From ligo, comes religo, to tie or bind over again, to make more fast — from religo, comes the substantive religio, which with the addition of n makes the English substantive religion. The French use the word properly — when a woman enters a convent she is called a noviciate, that is, she is upon trial or probation. When she takes the oath, she is called a religieuse, that is, she is tied or bound by that oath to the performance of it. We use the word in the same kind of sense when we say we will religiously perform the promise that we make.
But the word, without referring to its etymology has, in the manner it is used, no definite meaning, because it does not designate what religion a man is of. There is the religion of the Chinese, of the Tartars, of the Bramins, of the Persians, of the Jews, of the Turks, &c.
The word christianity is equally as vague as the word religion. No two sectaries can agree what it is. It is lo here and lo there. The two principal sectaries, Papists and Protestants, have often cut each other’s throats about it: — The papists call the protestants heretics, and the protestants call the papists idolators. The minor sectaries have shewn the same spirit of rancour, but as the civil law restrains them from blood, they content themselves with preaching damnation against each other.
The word protestant has a positive signification in the sense it is used. It means protesting against the authority of the Pope, and this is the only article in which the protestants agree. In every other sense, with respect to religion, the word protestant, is as vague as the word christian. When we say an episcopalian, a presbyterian, a baptist, a quaker, we know what those persons are, and what tenets they hold — but when we say a christian we know he is not a Jew nor a Mahometan, but we know not if he be a trinitarian or an anti-trinitarian, a believer in what is called the immaculate conception or a disbeliever, a man of seven sacraments, or of two sacraments, or of none. The word christian describes what a man is not, but not what he is.
The word Theology, from Theos, the Greek word for God, and meaning the study and knowledge of God, is a word, that strictly speaking, belongs to Theists or Deists, and not to the christians. The head of the christian church is the person called Christ — but the head of the church of the Theists, or Deists, as they are more commonly called, from Deus, the Latin word for God, is God himself, and therefore the word Theology belongs to that church which has Theos or God for its head, and not to the christian church which has the person called Christ for its head. Their technical word is christianity and they cannot agree on what christianity is.
The words revealed religion and natural religion, require also explanation. They are both invented terms, contrived by the church for the support of priest-craft. With respect to the first, there is no evidence of any such thing, except in the universal revelation, that God has made of his power, his wisdom, his goodness, in the structure of the universe, and in all the works of creation. We have no cause for ground from any thing we behold in those works, to suppose God would deal partially by mankind, and reveal knowledge to one nation and withhold it from another, and then damn them for not knowing it. The sun shines an equal quantity of light all over the world — and mankind in all ages and countries are endued with reason, and blessed with sight, to read the visible works of God in the creation, and so intelligent is this book that he that runs may read. We admire the wisdom of the ancients, yet they had no bibles nor books called revelation. They cultivated the reason that God gave them, studied him in His works, and arose to eminence.
As to the Bible, whether true or fabulous, it is a history, and history is not revelation. If Solomon had seven hundred wives, and three hundred concubines, and if Samson slept in Delila’s lap, and she cut his hair off, the relation of those things is mere history that needed no revelation from heaven to tell it; neither does it need any revelation to tell us that Samson was a fool for his pains and Solomon too.
As to the expressions so often used in the bible, that the word of the Lord, came to such an one, or such an one, it was the fashion of speaking in those times, like the expression used by a quaker, that the spirit moveth him, or that used by priests, that they have a call. We ought not to be deceived by phrases because they are ancient. But if we admit the supposition that God would condescend to reveal himself in words, we ought not to believe it would be in such idle and profligate stories as are in the bible, and it is for this reason, among others which our reverence to God inspires, that the Deists deny that the book called the bible is the word of God, or that it is revealed religion.
With respect to the term, natural religion, it is upon the face of it, the opposite of artificial religion, and it is impossible for any man to be certain that what is called revealed religion is not artificial. Man has the power of making books, inventing stories of God, and calling them revelation or the Word of God. The Koran exists as an instance that this can be done, and we must be credulous indeed to suppose that this is the only instance, and Mahomet the only impostor. The Jews could match him, and the church of Rome could overmatch the Jews. The Mahometans believe the Koran, the Christians believe the Bible, and it is education makes all the difference.
Books, whether Bibles or Korans, carry no evidence of being the work of any other power than man. It is only that which man cannot do that carries the evidence of being the work of a superior power. Man could not invent and make a universe — he could not invent nature, for nature is of divine origin. It is the laws by which the universe is governed. When, therefore, we look through nature up to nature’s God, we are in the right road of happiness, but when we trust to books as the word of God, and confide in them as revealed religion, we are afloat on the ocean of uncertainty, and shatter into contending factions. The term, therefore, natural religion, explains itself to be divine religion, and the term revealed religion involves in it the suspicion of being artificial.
To shew the necessity of understanding the meaning of words, I will mention an instance of a minister, I believe of the episcopalian church of Newark, in Jersey. He wrote and published a book, and entitled it, “An Antidote to Deism.” An antidote to Deism must be Atheism. It has no other antidote — for what can be an antidote to the belief of a God, but the disbelief of God. Under the tuition of such pastors, what but ignorance and false information can be expected?
From the March 24, 1804 Prospect issue:
THE TOWER OF BABEL
The story of the tower of Babel is told in the eleventh chapter of Genesis. It begins thus. — “And the whole earth (it was but a very little part of it they knew) was of one language and of one speech. — And it came to pass, as they journeyed from the east, that they found a plain in the land of Shinar and they dwelt there. — And they said one to another, Go to, let us make brick and burn them thoroughly, and they had brick for stone, and slime had they for mortar. — And they said, Go to, let us build us a city, and a tower whose top may reach unto heaven, and let us make us a name, lest we be scattered abroad upon the face of the whole earth. — And the Lord came down to see the city and the tower which the children of men builded. — And the Lord said, behold the people is one, and they have all one language, and this they begin to do, and now nothing will be restrained from them which they have imagined to do. — Go to, let us go down and there confound their language, that they may not understand one another’s speech. — So (that is, by that means) the Lord scattered them abroad from thence upon the face of all the earth, and they left off building the city.”
This is the story, and a very foolish inconsistent story it is. In the first place, the familiar and irreverend manner in which the almighty is spoken of in this chapter is offensive to a serious mind. As to the project of building a tower whose top should reach to heaven, there never could be a people so foolish as to have such a notion; but to represent the Almighty as jealous of the attempt, as the writer of the story has done, is adding profanation to folly. — “Go to,” says the builders, “let us build us a tower whose top shall reach to heaven. Go to, says God, let us go down and confound their language.” This quaintness is indecent, and the reason given for it is worse, for, “now nothing will be restrained from them which they have imagined to do.” This is representing the Almighty as jealous of their getting into heaven. The story is too ridiculous, even as a fable, to account for the diversity of languages in the world, for which it seems to have been intended.
As to the project of confounding their language for the purpose of making them separate, it is altogether inconsistent; because, instead of producing this effect, it would, by increasing their difficulties, render them more necessary to each other, and cause them to keep together. Where could they go to better themselves?
Another observation upon this story is, the inconsistency of it with respect to the opinion that the Bible is the Word of God given for the information of mankind; for nothing could so effectually prevent such a word from being known by mankind as confounding their language. The people, who after this spoke different languages, could no more understand such a word generally, than the builders of Babel could understand one another. It would have been necessary, therefore, had such word ever been given or intended to be given, that the whole earth should be, as they say it was at first, of one language and of one speech, and that it should never have been confounded.
The case however is, that the bible will not bear examination in any part of it, which it would do if it was the word of God. Those who most believe it are those who know least about it, and priests always take care to keep the inconsistent and contradictory parts out of sight.
From the June 30, and July 7, 1804 Prospect issues:
Of the Religion of Deism compared with the Christian Religion, and the superiority of the former over the latter.
Every person, of whatever religious denomination he may be is a DEIST in the first article of his Creed. Deism from the Latin word Deus, God, is the belief of a God, and this belief is the first article of every man’s creed.
It is on this article, universally consented to by all mankind, that the Deist builds his church, and here he rests. Whenever we step aside from this article, by mixing it with articles of human invention, we wander into a labyrinth of uncertainty and fable, and become exposed to every kind of imposition by pretenders to revelation. The Persian shews the Zendavista of Zoroaster the lawgiver of Persia, and calls it the divine law; the Bremen shews the shaster, revealed, he says by God to Brama, and given to him out of a cloud; the Jew shews what he calls the law of Moses, given, he says, by God on the Mount Sinai; the Christian shews a collection of books and epistles written by nobody knows who, and called the New Testament, and the Mahometan shews the Koran, given, he says, by God to Mahomet; each of these calls itself revealed religion, and the only true Word of God, and this the followers of each profess to believe from the habit of education, and each believes the others are imposed upon.
But when the divine gift of reason begins to expand itself in the mind and calls man to reflection, he then reads and contemplates God and his works and not in the books pretending to be revelation. The Creation is the bible of the true believer in God. Every thing in this vast volume inspires him with sublime ideas of the Creator. The little and paltry, and often obscene, tales of the bible sink into wretchedness when put in comparison with this mighty work. The Deist needs none of those tricks and shows called miracles to confirm his faith, for what can be a greater miracle than the creation itself and his own existence.
There is a happiness in Deism, when rightly understood, that is not to be found in any other system of religion. All other systems have something in them that either shock our reason or are repugnant to it, and man, if he thinks at all, must stifle his reason in order to force himself to believe them. But in Deism our reason and our belief become happily united. The wonderful structure of the universe and every thing we behold in the system of the creation prove to us, far better than books can do, the existence of a God, and at the same time proclaim his attributes. It is by the exercise of our reason that we are enabled to contemplate God in His works, and imitate him in his ways. When we see his care and goodness extended over all his creatures, it teaches us our duty toward each other, while it calls forth our gratitude to him. It is by forgetting God in his works, and running after the books of pretended revelation that man has wandered from the strait path of duty and happiness, and become by turns the victim of doubt and the dupe of delusion.
Except in the first article in the Christian creed, that of believing in God, there is not an article in it but fills the mind with doubt as to the truth of it the instant man begins to think. Now every article in a creed that is necessary to the happiness and salvation of man ought to be as evident to the reason and comprehension of man as the first article is, for God has not given us reason for the purpose of confounding us, but that we should use it for our own happiness and his glory.
The truth of the first article is proved by God himself and is universal, for the creation is of itself demonstration of the existence of a Creator. But the second article, that of God’s begetting a son, is not proved in like manner, and stands on no other authority than that of tale. Certain books in what is called the New Testament tell us that Joseph dreamed that the angel told him so. (Matthew chap. 1, v. 20) “And behold the angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream, saying, Joseph thou son of David, fear not to take unto thee Mary thy wife, for that which is conceived in her is of the holy ghost.” The evidence upon this article bears no comparison with the evidence upon the first article, and therefore is not entitled to the same credit, and ought not to be made an article in a creed, because the evidence of it is defective, and what evidence there is, is doubtful and suspicious. We do not believe the first article on the authority of books, whether called Bibles or Korans, nor yet on the visionary authority of dreams, but on the authority of God’s own visible works in the creation. The nations who never heard of such books, nor of such people as Jews, Christians or Mahometans, believe the existence of a God as fully as we do, because it is self evident. The work of man’s hands is a proof of the existence of man as fully as his personal appearance would be. When we see a watch, we have as positive evidence of the existence of a watchmaker as if we saw him; and in like manner the creation is evidence to our reason and our senses of the existence of a Creator. But there is nothing in the works of God that is evidence that he begat a son, nor any thing in the system of creation that corroborates such an idea, and therefore, we are not authorised in believing it. What truth there may be in the story that Mary, before she was married to Joseph, was kept by one of the Roman soldiers, and was with child by him, I leave to be settled between the Jews and the Christians. The story, however has probability on its side, for her husband Joseph suspected and was jealous of her, and was going to put her away. “Joseph her husband being a just man, and not willing to make her a public example, was going to put her away privately.” (Matthew chap. I, v. 19).
I have already said that “whenever we step aside from the first article (that of believing in God), we wander into a labyrinth of uncertainty,” and here is evidence of the justness of the remark, for it is impossible for us to decide who was Jesus Christ’s father. But presumption can assume any thing, and therefore it makes Joseph’s dream to be of equal authority with the existence of God, and to help it on calls it revelation. It is impossible for the mind of man in its serious moments, however it may have been entangled by education, or beset by priest craft, not to stand still and doubt upon the truth of this article and of its creed. But this is not all.
The second article of the Christian creed having brought the son of Mary into the world (and this Mary according to the Chronological tables, was a girl of only fifteen years of age when this son was born) the next article goes on to account for his being begotten, which was that when he grew a man he should be put to death, to expiate, they say, the sin that Adam brought into the world by eating an apple or some kind of forbidden fruit.
But though this is the creed of the church of Rome, from whence the Protestants borrowed it, it is a creed which that Church has manufactured of itself, for it is not contained in, nor derived from, the book called the New Testament. The four books called the Evangelists, Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, which give, or pretend to give, the birth, sayings, life, preaching, and death of Jesus Christ, make no mention of what is called the fall of man, nor is the name of Adam to be found in any of those books, which it certainly would be if the writers of them believed that Jesus was begotten, born, and died for the purpose of redeeming mankind from the sin which Adam had brought into the world. Jesus never speaks of Adam himself, of the Garden of Eden, nor of what is called the fall of man. Neither did the early Christians believe the story of the fall of man to be fact, but held it to be allegory. The person called St. Augustine, says in his City of God, that the adventure of Eve and the serpent, and the account of Paradise, were generally considered at the time as allegory, and he treats them as such himself without attempting to give any explanation of them, but thinks a better might be given than had been offered.
Origen, another of the ancient fathers of the Church, treats the account of the creation in Genesis, and the story of the Garden of Eden and the fall of man, as fable or fiction.
What man of good sense, says he, can ever persuade himself that there was a first, a second, and a third day, and that each of those days had a night, when there was yet neither sun, moon, nor stars! (N.B. According to the account of Genesis, chap. I, the sun and moon was not made until the fourth day) — What man, continues he can be stipid enough to believe that God acting the part of gardener had planted a garden in the east; that the tree of life was a real tree, and that the fruit of it had the virtue of making those who eat it live forever.
The Jews did not believe the first chapters of Genisis to be fact. Maimonides, one of the most learned and celebrated of the Jewish authors who lived in the eleventh century, says, in is book MORE NEBACHIM. We ought not to understand nor take according to the letter that which is written in the book of the creation, (the book of Genesis.) Taken, says he, according to the letter, especially with respect to the work of four days, it gives the most absurd and extravagant ideas of God.
But the Church of Rome having set up its new religion, which it called Christianity, and invented the creed which it named the apostles’s creed, in which it calls Jesus the only son of God, conceived by the Holy Ghost, and born of the Virgin Mary, things of which it is impossible that man or woman can have any idea, and consequently no belief but in words, and for which there is no authority but the idle story of Joseph’s dream in the first chapter of Matthew, which any designing impostor or foolish fanatic might make, it then manufactured the allegories in the book of Genesis into fact, and the allegorical tree of life and the tree of knowledge into real trees, contrary to the belief of the first christians, and for which there is not the least authority in any of the books of the New Testament, for in none of them is there any mention made of such place as the Garden of Eden, nor of any thing that is said to have happened there.
But the Church of Rome could not erect the person called Jesus into a Saviour of the World without making the allegories in the book of Genesis into fact, though the New Testament, as before observed, gives no authority for it. All at once the allegorical tree of knowledge became, according to the church, a real tree, the fruit of it real fruit, and the eating of it sinful. As priest-craft was always the enemy of knowledge, because priest craft supports itself by keeping people in delusion and ignorance, it was consistent with its policy to make the acquisition of knowledge a real sin.
The church of Rome having done this, it then brings forward Jesus the son of Mary as suffering death to redeem mankind from sin, which Adam, it says, had brought into the world by eating the fruit of the tree of knowledge. But as it is impossible for reason to believe such a story, because it can see no reason for it, nor have any evidence of it, the church then tells us we must not regard our reason, but must believe, as it were, and that through thick and thin, as if God had given man reason like a plaything, or a rattle, on purpose to make fun of him. Reason is the forbidden tree of priest-craft, and may serve to explain the allegory of the forbidden tree of knowledge, for we may reasonably suppose the allegory had some meaning and application at the time it was invented. It was the practice of the Eastern nations to convey their meaning by allegory, and relate it in the manner of fact. Jesus followed the same method, yet nobody ever supposed the allegory or parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus, the Prodigal Son, the Ten Virgins, &c. were facts. Why then should the tree of knowledge, which is far more romantic in idea than the parables in the New Testament are, be supposed to be a real tree. (The remark of the Emperor Julien, on the story of the Tree of Knowledge is worth observing. “If,” said he, “there ever had been, or could be, a Tree of Knowledge, instead of God forbidding man to eat thereof, it would be that of which he would order him to eat the most.”) The answer to this is, because the Church could not make its new-fangled system, which is called Christianity, hold together without it. To have made Christ to die on account of an allegorical tree would have been too bare-faced a fable.
But the account, as it is given of Jesus in the New Testament even visionary as it is, does not support the creed of the church that he died for the redemption of the world. According to that account he was crucified and buried on the Friday and rose again in good health on the Sunday morning, for we do not hear that he was sick. This cannot be called dying, and is rather making fun of death than suffering it. There are thousands of men and women also, who if they could know they should come back again in good health in about thirty-six hours, would prefer such kind of death for the sake of the experiment, and to know what the other side of the grave was. Why then should that which would be only a voyage of curious amusement to us be magnified into merit and suffering in him? If a God he could not suffer death, for immortality cannot die, and as a man his death could be no more than the death of any other person.
The belief of the redemption of Jesus Christ is altogether an invention of the church of Rome, not the doctrine of the New Testament. What the writers of the New Testament attempted to prove by the story of Jesus is, the resurrection of the same body from the grave, which was the belief of the Pharisees, in opposition to the Sadducees (a sect of Jews) who denied it. Paul, who was brought up a Pharisee, labours hard at this point for it, was the creed of his own Pharisaical Church. The XV chap, I of Corinthians is full of supposed cases and assertions about the resurrection of the same body, but there is not a word in it about redemption. This chapter makes part of the funeral services of the Episcopal church. The dogma of the redemption is the fable of priest-craft invented since the time the New Testament was compiled, and the agreeable delusion of it suited with the depravity of immoral livers. When men are taught to ascribe all their crimes and vices to the temptations of the Devil, and to believe that Jesus, by his death, rubs all off and pays their passage to heaven gratis, they become as careless in morals as a spendthrift would be of money, were he told that his father had engaged to pay off all his scores. It is a doctrine not only dangerous to morals in this world, but to our happiness in the next world, because it holds out such a cheap, easy, and lazy way of getting to heaven as has a tendency to induce men to hug the delusion of it to their own injury.
But there are times when men have serious thoughts, and it is at such times, when they begin to think, that they begin to doubt the truth of the Christian Religion, and well they may, for it is too fanciful and too full of conjecture, inconsistency, improbability, and irrationality, to afford consolation to the thoughtful man. His reason revolts against his creed. He sees that none of its articles are proved, or can be proved. He may believe that such a person as is called Jesus (for Christ was not his name) was born and grew to be a man, because it is no more than a natural and probable case. But who is to prove he is the son of God, that he was begotten by the Holy Ghost? Of these things there can be no proof, and that which admits not of proof, and is against the laws of probability and the order of nature, which God himself has established, is not an object for belief. God has not given man reason to embarrass him, but to prevent his being imposed upon.
He may believe that Jesus was crucified, because many others were crucified, but who is to prove he was crucified for the sins of the world? This article has no evidence not even in the New Testament; and if it had, where is the proof that the New Testament, in relating things neither probable nor proveable, is to be believed as true? When an article in a creed does not admit of proof nor of probability the salvo is to call it revelation; But this is only putting one difficulty in the place of another, for it is as impossible to prove a thing to be revelation as it is to prove that Mary was gotten with child by the Holy Ghost.
Here it is that the religion of Deism is superior to the Christian religion. It is free from all those invented and torturing articles that shock our reason or injure our humanity, and with which the Christian religion abounds. Its creed is pure, and sublimely simple. It believes in God and there it rests. It honours reason as the choicest gift of God to man, and the faculty by which he is enabled to contemplate the power, wisdom, and goodness of the Creator displayed in the creation; and reposing itself on his protection, both here and hereafter, it avoids all presumptuous beliefs, and rejects, as the fabulous inventions of men, all books pretending to revelation.
From the July 21, 1804 prospect issue:
Hints towards forming a Society for enquiring into the Truth or Falshood of Ancient History, so far as History is connected with systems of Religion ancient and modern.
It has been customary to class History into three divisions, distinguished by the names of Sacred, Profane and Ecclesiastical. By the first is meant the Bible; by the second, the history of nations, of men and things; and by the third, the history of the church and its priesthood.
Nothing is more easy than to give names, and therefore mere names signify nothing unless they lead to the discovery of some cause for which that name was given. For example, Sunday is the name given to the first day of the week, in the English language, and it is the same in the Latin, that is, it has the same meaning (Dies Solis), and also in the German and in several other languages. Why then was this name given to that day? Because it was the day dedicated by the ancient world to the luminary, which in the English we call the Sun, and therefore the day Sun-day, or the day of the Sun; as in the like manner we call the second day Monday, the day dedicated to the Moon.
Here the name, Sunday, leads to the cause of its being called so, and we have visible evidence of the fact, because we behold the Sun from whence the name comes; but this is not the case when we distinguish one part of history from another by the name of sacred. All histories have been written by men. We have no evidence, nor any cause to believe, that any have been written by God. That part of the Bible called the Old Testament, is the History of the Jewish nation, from the time of Abraham, which begins in the 11th chap. of Genesis to the downfall of that nation by Nebuchadnezar, and is no more entitled to be called sacred than any other history. It is altogether the contrivance of priestcraft that has given it that name. So far from its being sacred it has not the appearance of being true in many of the things it relates. It must be better authority than a book, which any impostor might make, as Mahomet made the Koran, to make a thoughtful man believe that the Sun and Moon stood still, or that Moses and Aaron turned the Nile, which is larger than the Delaware, into blood, and that the Egyptian magicians did the same. These things have too much the appearance of romance to be believed for fact.
It would be of use to enquire, and ascertain the time, when that part of the Bible called the Old Testament first appeared. From all that can be collected there was no such book till after the Jews returned from captivity in Babylon, and that is the work of the Pharisees of the Second Temple. How they came to make the 19th chapter of the 2d book of King, and the 37 of Isaiah, word for word alike, can only be accounted for by their having no plan to go by, and not knowing what they were about. The same is the case with respect to the last verses in the 2d book of Chronicles, and the first verses in Ezra, they also are word for word alike, which shews that the Bible has been put together at random.
But besides these things there is great reason to believe we have been imposed upon, with respect to the antiquity of the bible, and especially with respect to the books ascribed to Moses. Herodotus, who is called the father of history, and is the most ancient historian whose works have reached to our time, and who traveled into Egypt, conversed with the priests, historians, astronomers and learned men of that country, for the purpose of obtaining all the information of it he could, and who gives an account of the ancient state of it, makes no mention of such a man as Moses, though the Bible makes him to have been the greatest hero there, nor of any one circumstance mentioned in the book of Exodus, respecting Egypt, such as turning the rivers into blood, the dust into lice, the death of the first born throughout all the land of Egypt, the passage of the Red Sea, the drowning of Pharaoh and all his host, things which could not have been a secret in Egypt, and must have been generally known, had they been facts; and therefore as no such things were known in Egypt, nor any such man as Moses at the time Herodotus was there, which is about two thousand two hundred years ago, it shews that the account of these things in the books ascribed to Moses is a made story of later times, that is, after the return of the Jews from the Babylonian captivity, and that Moses is not the author of the books ascribed to him.
With respect to the cosmogony, or account of the creation, in the first chapter of Genesis, of the Garden of Eden in the second chapter, and of what is called the fall of man in the third chapter, there is something concerning them we are not historically acquainted with. In none of the books of the bible after Genesis, are any of these things mentioned, or even alluded to. How is this to be accounted for? The obvious inference is, that either they were not known, or not believed to be facts, by the writers of the other books of the bible, and that Moses is not the author of the chapters where these accounts are given.
The next question on the case is how did the Jews come by these notions, and at what time were they written?
To answer this question we must first consider what the state of the world was at the time the Jews began to be a people, for the Jews are but a modern race, compared with the antiquity of other nations. At the time there were, even by their own account, but thirteen Jews or Israelites in the world, Jacob and his twelve sons, and four of these were bastards. The nations of Egypt, Chaldea, Persia and India, were great and populous, abounding in learning and science, particularly in the knowledge of astronomy of which the Jews were always ignorant. The chronological tables mention, that Eclypsis were observed at Babylon above two thousand years before the Christian era, which was before there was a single Jew or Israelite in the world.
All those ancient nations had their cosmogonies, that is, their accounts how the creation was made, long before there was such people as Jews or Israelites. An account of these cosmogonies of India and Persia is given by Henry Lord, Chaplain to the East India Company, at Surat, and published in London in 1630. The writer of this has seen a copy of the edition of 1630, and made extracts from it. The work, which is now scarce, was dedicated by Lord to the Arch Bishop of Canterbury.
We know that the Jews were carried captive into Babylon by Nebuchadnezar, and remained in captivity several years, when they were liberated by Cyrus, king of Persia. During their captivity they would have had an opportunity of acquiring some knowledge of the cosmogony of the Persians, or at least of getting some ideas how to fabricate one to put at the head of their own history after their return from captivity. This will account for the cause, for some cause there must have been, that no mention nor reference is made to the cosmogony in Genesis in any of the books of the bible supposed to have been written before the captivity, nor is the name of Adam to be found in any of those books.
The Books of Chronicles were written after the return of the Jews from captivity, for the third chapter of the first book gives a list of all the Jewish kings from David to Zedekiah, who was carried captive into Babylon, and to four generations beyond the time of Zedekiah. In the first verse of the first chapter of this book the name of Adam is mentioned, but not in any book in the bible, written before that time, nor could it be, for Adam and Eve are names taken from the cosmogony of the Persians. Henry Lord, in his book, written from Surat, and dedicated, as I have already said, to the Arch Bishop of Canterbury, says that in the Persian cosmogony the name of the first man was Adamob and of the woman Hevah. (In an English edition of the Bible, in 1583, the first woman is called Hevah.) From hence comes the Adam and Eve of the book of Genesis. In the cosmogony of India, of which I shall speak in a future number, the name of the first man was Pourous, and of the woman Parcoutee. We want a knowledge of the Sanscrit language of India to understand the meaning of the names, and I mentioned it in this place, only to show that it is from the cosmogony of Persia rather than that of India that the cosmogony in Genesis has been fabricated by the Jews, who returned from captivity by the liberality of Cyrus, King of Persia. There is, however, reason to conclude, on the authority of Sir William Jones, who resided several years in India, that these names were very expressive in the language to which they belonged, for in speaking of this language, he says (see the Asiatic researches) “The Sanscrit language, whatever be its antiquity, is of wonderful structure; it is more perfect than the Greek, more copious than the Latin, and more exquisitely re- fined than either.”
These hints, which are intended to be continued, will serve to shew that a society for inquiring into the ancient state of the world, and the state of ancient history, so far as history is connected with systems of religion, ancient and modern, may become a useful and instructive institution. There is good reason to believe we have been in great error with respect to the antiquity of the Bible, as well as imposed upon by its contents. Truth ought to be the object of every man; for without truth there can be no real happiness to a thoughtful mind, or any assurance of happiness hereafter. It is the duty of man to obtain all the knowledge he can and then make the best use of it.
From the August 4, 1804 Prospect issue:
To MR. MOORE, of New-York, Commonly called BISHOP MOORE.
I have read in the newspapers your account of the visit you made to the unfortunate General Hamilton, and of administering to him a ceremony of your church which you call the Holy Communion.
I regret the fate of General Hamilton, and I so far hope with you that it will be a warning to thoughtless man not to sport away the life that God has given him; but with respect to other parts of your letter I think it very reprehensible and betrays great ignorance of what true religion is. But you are a priest, you get your living by it, and it is not your worldly interest to undeceive yourself.
After giving an account of your administering to the deceased what you call the Holy Communion, you add, “By reflecting on this melancholy event let the humble believer be encouraged ever to hold fast that precious faith which is the only source of true consolation in the last extremity of nature. Let the infidel be persuaded to abandon his opposition to the Gospel.”
To shew you, sir, that your promise of consolation from scripture has no foundation to stand upon, I will cite to you one of the greatest falshoods upon record, and which was given, as the record says, for the purpose, and as a promise, of consolation.
In the epistle called “the First Epistle of Paul to the Thessalonians,” (chap. 4) The writer consoles the Thessalonians as to the case of their friends who were already dead. He does this by informing them, and he does it he says, by the word of the Lord, (a most notorious falshood) that the general resurrection of the dead, and the ascension of the living, will be in his and their days; that their friends will then come to life again; that the dead in Christ will rise first. — “Then WE (says he, v. 17) which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with THEM in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air, and so shall we ever be with the Lord — Wherefore comfort one another with these words.”
Delusion and falshood cannot be carried higher than they are in this passage. You, sir, are but a novice in the art. The words admit of no equivocation. The whole passage is in the first person and the present tense, “We which are alive!” Had the writer meant a future time, and a distant generation, it must have been in the third person and the future tense. “They who shall then be alive.” I am thus particular for the purpose of nailing you down to the text, that you may not ramble from it, nor put other constructions upon the words than they will bear, which priests are very apt to do.
Now, Sir, it is impossible for serious man, to whom God has given the divine gift of reason, and who employs that reason to reverence and adore the God that gave it, it is, I say, impossible for such a man to put confidence in a book that abounds with fable and falsehood as the New Testament does. This passage is but a sample of what I could give you.
You call on those whom you stile “infidels,” (and they in return might call you an idolator, a worshiper of false Gods, a preacher of false doctrine) “to abandon their opposition to the Gospel.” Prove, sir, the Gospel to be true and the opposition will cease of itself; but until you do this, (which we know you cannot do) you have no right to expect they will notice your call. If by infidels you mean Deists (and you must be exceedingly ignorant of the origin of the word Deist, and know but little of Deus, to put that construction upon it), you will find yourself over-matched if you begin to engage in a controversy with them. Priests may dispute with priests, and sectaries with sectaries, about the meaning of what they agree to call scripture and end as they began; but when you engage with a Deist you must keep to fact. Now, Sir, you cannot prove a single article of your religion to be true, and we tell you so publicly. Do it, if you can. The Deistical article, the belief of a God, with which your creed begins, has been borrowed by your church from the ancient Deists, and even this article you dishonour by putting a dream- begotten Phantom which you call his son, over His head, and treating God as if he was superannuated. (The first chapter of Matthew, relates that Joseph, the betrothed husband of Mary, dreamed that the angel told him that his intended bride was with child by the Holy Ghost. It is not every husband, whether carpenter or priest, that can be so easily satisfied, for lo! it was a dream. Whether Mary was in a dream when this was done we are not told. It is, however, a comical story. There is no woman living can understand it.) Deism is the only profession of religion that admits of worshiping and reverencing God in purity, and the only one on which the thoughtful mind can repose with undisturbed tranquility. God is almost forgotten in the Christian religion. Every thing, even the creation, is ascribed to the son of Mary.
In religion, as in everything else, perfection consists in simplicity. The Christian religion of Gods within Gods, like wheels within wheels, is like a complicated machine that never goes right, and every projector in the art of Christianity is trying to mend it. It is its defects that have caused such a number and variety of tinkers to be hammering at it, and still it goes wrong. In the visible world no time-keeper can go equally true with the sun; and in like manner, no complicated religion can be equally true with the pure and unmixed religion of Deism.
Had you not offensively glanced at a description of men whom you call by a false name, you would not have been troubled nor honoured with this address; neither has the writer of it any desire or intention to enter into controversy with you. He thinks the temporal establishment of your church politically unjust and offensively unfair; but with respect to religion itself, distinct from temporal establishments, he is happy in the enjoyment of his own, and he leaves you to make the best you can of yours.
A MEMBER OF THE DEISTICAL CHURCH.
From the August 18, 1804 Prospect issue:
To the Rev. JOHN MASON, One of the Ministers of the Scotch Presbyterian church, of New-York; With Remarks on his account of the visit he made to the late General Hamilton.
“Come now, let us REASON together, saith the Lord.” This is one of the passages you quoted from your bible, in your conversation with General Hamilton, as given in your letter, signed with your name, and published in the Commercial Advertiser, and other New York papers, and I re-quote the passage to shew that your Text and your Religion contradict each other.
It is impossible to reason upon things not comprehensible by reason; and therefore, if you keep to your text, which priests seldom do, (for they are generally either above it, or below it, or forget it) you must admit a religion to which reason can apply, and this certainly is not the Christian religion.
There is not an article in the Christian religion that is cognizable by religion. The Deistical article of your religion, the belief of a God, is no more a Christian article than it is a Mahometan article. It is an universal article, common to all religions, and which is held in greater purity by Turks than by Christians; but the Deistical church is the only one which holds it in real purity; because that church acknowledges no co- partnership with God. It believes in him solely; and knows nothing of Sons, married Virgins, nor Ghosts. It holds all these things to be the fables of priest-craft.
Why then do you talk of reason, or refer to it, since your religion has nothing to do with reason, nor reason with that. You tell people, as you told Hamilton, that they must have faith. Faith in what? You ought to know that before the mind can have faith in any thing, it must either know it as a fact, or see cause to believe it on the probability of that kind of evidence that is cognizable by reason: But your religion is not within either of these cases; for, in the first place, you cannot prove it to be fact; and in the second place, you cannot support it by reason, not only because it is not cognizable by reason, but because it is contrary to reason. What reason can there be in supposing, or believing, that God put himself to death, to satisfy himself, and be revenged on the Devil on account of Adam; for tell the story which way you will it comes to this at last.
As you can make no appeal to reason in support of an unreasonable religion, you then (and others of your profession) bring yourselves off by telling people, they must not believe in reason but in revelation. This is the artifice of habit without reflection. It is putting words in the place of things; for do you not see, that when you tell people to believe in revelation, you must first prove that what you call revelation, is revelation; and as you cannot do this, you put the word which is easily spoken, in the place of the thing you cannot prove. You have no more evidence that your Gospel is revelation than the Turks have that their Koran is revelation, and the only difference between them and you is, that they preach their delusion and you preach yours.
In your conversation with General Hamilton, you say to him, “The simple truths of the Gospel which require no abstruse investigation, but faith in the veracity of God, who cannot lie, are best suited to your present condition.”
If those matters you call “simple truths,” are what you call them, and require no abstruse investigation, they would be so obvious that reason would easily comprehend them; yet the doctrine you preach at other times is, That the mysteries of the Gospel are beyond the reach of reason. If your first position be true, that they are”* simple truths*,” priests are unnecessary, for we do not want preachers to tell us the sun shines: and if your second be true, the case, as to effect, is the same, for it is waste of money to pay a man to explain unexplainable things, and loss of time to listen to him. That “God cannot lie,” is no advantage to your argument, because it is no proof that priests cannot, or that the Bible does not. Did not Paul lie when he told the Thessalonians that the general resurrection of the dead would be in his life-time, and that he should go up alive along with them into the clouds to meet the Lord in the air? I Thess. chap. 4, v. 27.
You spoke of what you call, “the precious blood of Christ.” This savage stile of language belongs to the priests of the Christian religion. The professors of this religion say they are shocked at the accounts of human sacrifices of which they read in the histories of some countries. Do they not see that their own religion is founded on a human sacrifice, the blood of man, of which their priests talk like so many butchers. It is no wonder the Christian religion has been so bloody in its effects, for it began in blood, and many thousands of human sacrifices have since been offered on the altar of the Christian religion.
It is necessary to the character of a religion, as being true, and immutable as God Himself is, that the evidence of it be equally the same through all periods of time and circumstance. This is not the case with the Christian religion, nor with that of the Jews that preceded it, (for there was a time, and that within the knowledge of history, when these religions did not exist) nor is it the case with any religion we know of but the religion of Deism. In this the evidences are eternal and universal — “The heavens declare the glory of God and the firmament showeth his handiwork, — Day unto day uttereth speech, and night unto night sheweth knowledge.” (This Psalm (19) which is a Deistical Psalm, is so much in the manner of some parts of the book of Job (which is not a book of the Jews, and does not belong to the bible) that it has the appearance of having been translated into Hebrew from the same language in which the book of Job was originally written, and brought by the Jews from Chaldea or Persia, when they returned from captivity. The contemplation of the Heavens made a great part of the religious devotion of the Chaldeans and Persians, and their religious festivals were regulated by the progress of the sun through the twelve signs of the Zodiac. But the Jews knew nothing about the Heavens, or they would not have told the foolish story of the sun’s standing still upon a hill, and the moon in a valley. What could they want the moon for in the day time?) But all other religions are made to arise from some local circumstance, and are introduced by some temporary trifle which its partisans call a miracle, but of which there is no proof but the story of it.
The Jewish religion, according to the history of it, began in a wilderness, and the Christian religion in a stable. The Jewish books tell us of wonders exhibited upon Mount Sinai. It happened that nobody lived there to contradict the account. The Christian books tell us of a star that hung over the stable at the birth of Jesus. There is no star there now, nor any person living that saw it. But all the stars in the Heavens bear eternal evidence to the truth of Deism. It did not begin in a stable, nor in a wilderness. It began every where. The theater of the universe is the place of its birth.
As adoration paid to any being but GOD himself is idolatry, the Christian religion by paying adoration to a man, born of a woman, called Mary, belongs to the Idolatrous class of religions; consequently the consolation drawn from it is delusion. Between you and your rival in communion ceremonies, Dr. Moore, of the Episcopal church, you have, in order to make yourselves appear of some importance, reduced General Hamilton’s character to that of a feeble-minded man, who in going out of the world wanted a passport from a priest. Which of you was first or last applied to for this purpose is a matter of no consequence.
The man, sir, who puts his trust and confidence in God, that leads a just and moral life, and endeavours to do good, does not trouble himself about priests when his hour of departure comes, nor permits priests to trouble themselves about him. They are, in general, mischievous Beings where character is concerned; a consultation of priests is worse than consultation of physicians.
A Member of the Deistical Congregation.
ON DEISM, AND THE WRITINGS OF THOMAS PAINE
From the Prospect, June 17, 1804.
The following reflections, written last winter, were occasioned by certain expressions in some of the public papers, against Deism, and the writings of Thomas Paine on that subject. “Great is Diana of the Ephesians,” was the cry of the people of Ephesus (Acts, c. 19, v. 28) and the cry of “our holy religion” has been the cry of superstition in some instances, and of hypocrisy in others, from that day to this.
The Bramin, the follower of Zoroaster, the Jew, the Mahometan, the church of Rome, the Greek church, the Protestant church, split into several hundred contradictory sectaries, preaching, in some instances, damnation against each other, all cry out, “our holy religion. The Calvinist who damns children of a span long to hell to burn for ever for the glory of God (and this is called christianity), and the Universalist who preaches that all shall be saved and none shall be damned (and this also is called christianity) boasts alike of their holy religion and their Christian faith. Something more, therefore, is necessary than mere cry and wholesale assertion, and that something is TRUTH; and as enquiry is the road to truth, he that is opposed to enquiry is not a friend to truth.
The God of Truth is not the God of fable; when, therefore, any book is introduced into the world as the Word of God, and made a ground-work for religion, it ought to be scrutinized more than other books to see if it bear evidence of being what it is called. Our reverence to God, demands that we do this, lest we ascribe to God what is not his, and our duty to ourselves demands it lest we take fable for fact, and rest our hope of salvation on a false foundation. It is not our calling a book holy that makes it so, any more than our calling a religion holy that entitles it to the name. Enquiry therefore is necessary in order to arrive at Truth. But enquiry must have some principle to proceed on, some standard to judge by, superior to human authority.
When we survey the works of creation, the revolutions of the planetary system, and the whole economy of what is called nature, which is no other than the laws the Creator has prescribed to matter, we see unerring order and universal harmony reigning throughout the whole. No one part contradicts another. The sun does not run against the moon, nor the moon against the sun, nor the planets against each other. — Every thing keeps its appointed time and place.
This harmony in the works of God is so obvious, that the farmer of the field, though he cannot calculate eclipses, is as sensible of it as the philosophical astronomer. He sees the God of order in every part of the visible universe.
Here then is the standard to which everything must be brought that pretends to be the work or word of God, and by this standard it must be judged, independently of any thing and every thing that man can say or do. His opinion is like a feather in the scale compared with the standard that God himself has set up.
It is, therefore, by this standard that the bible, and all other books pretending to be the word of God (and there are many of them in the world) must be judged and not by the opinions of men or the decrees of ecclesiastical councils. These have been so contradictory that they have often rejected in one council what they had voted to be the word of God in another, and admitted what had been before rejected. In this state of uncertainty in which we are, and which is rendered still more uncertain by the numerous contradictory sectaries that have sprung up since the time of Luther and Calvin, what is man to do? The answer is easy. Begin at the root — Begin with the Bible itself. Examine it with the utmost strictness. It is our duty so to do. Compare the parts with each other, and the whole with the harmonious magnificent order that reigns throughout the visible universe, and the result will be, that if the same Almighty wisdom that created the universe, dictated also the bible, the bible will be as harmonious and as magnificent in all its parts, and in the whole, as the universe is. But if, instead of this, the parts are found to be discordant, contradicting in one place what is said in another (as in 2 Sam. chap. 24, v. 1st, and the 1st. Chron. chap.21, v. 1st, where the same action is ascribed to God in one book and to Satan in the other), abounding also in idle and obscene stories, and representing the Almighty as a passionate whimsical Being continually changing his mind, making and unmaking his own works as if he did not know what he was about, we may take it for certainty that the creator of the universe is not the author of such a book, that it is not the word of God, and that to call it so is to dishonour his name. The Quakers, who are a people more moral and regular in their conduct than the people of other sectaries, and generally allowed so to be, do not hold the bible to be the word of God. They call it a history of the times, and a bad history it is, and also a history of bad men and of bad actions, and abounding with bad examples.
For several centuries past the dispute has been about doctrines. It is now about fact. Is the Bible the word of God, or is it not? for until this point is established no doctrine drawn from the bible can afford real consolation to man, and he ought to be careful he does not mistake delusion for truth. This is a case that concerns all men alike.
There has always existed in Europe, and also in America, since its establishment, a numerous description of men, (I do not here mean the Quakers) who did not, and do not, believe the bible to be the Word of God. These men never formed themselves into an established society, but are to be found in all the sectaries that exist, and are more numerous than any, perhaps equal to all, and are daily increasing. From Deus, the Latin word for God, they have been denominated Deists, that is believers in God. It is the most honourable appellation that can be given to man, because it is derived immediately from the Deity. It is not an artificial name like Episcopalian, Presbyterian, &c but is a name of sacred signification, and to revile it is to revile the name of God.
Since then there is so much doubt and uncertainty about the bible, some asserting, and others denying it to be the word of God, it is best that the whole matter come out. It is necessary for the information of the world that it should. A better time cannot offer than while the Government, patronizing no one sect or opinion in preference to another, protects equally the rights of all; and certainly every man must spurn the idea of an ecclesiastical tyranny engrossing the rights of the press and holding it free only for itself.
Whilst the terrors of the Church and the tyranny of the state, hung like a pointed sword over Europe, men were commanded to believe what the church told them, or go to the stake. All enquiries into the authenticity of the Bible were shut out by the inquisition. We ought therefore to suspect that a great mass of information respecting the bible and the introduction of it into the world has been suppressed by the united tyranny of Church and State, for the purpose of keeping people in ignorance, and which ought to be known. The bible has been received by the protestants on the authority of the Church of Rome, and on no other authority. It is she that has said it is the word of God. We do not admit the authority of that Church with respect to its pretended infallibility, its manufactured miracles, its setting itself up to forgive sins, its amphibious doctrine of transubstantiation, &c. and we ought to be watchful with respect to any book introduced by her, or her ecclesiastical councils, and called by her the Word of God; and the more so, because it was by propagating that belief and supporting it by fire and faggot that she kept up her temporal power. That the belief of the Bible does no good in the world may be seen by the irregular lives of those, as well priests as laymen, who profess to believe it to be the word of God, and the moral lives of the Quakers who do not. It abounds with too many ill examples to be made a rule for moral life, and were a man to copy after the lives of some of its most celebrated characters, he would come to the gallows.
Thomas Paine has written to shew that the bible is not the word of God, that the books it contains were not written by the persons to whom they are ascribed, that it is an anonymous book, and that we have no authority for calling it the word of God, or for saying it was written by inspired penmen, since we do not know who the writers were. This is the opinion not only of Thomas Paine, but of thousands and tens of thousands of the most respectable characters in the United States and in Europe. These men have the same right to their opinions as others have to contrary opinions, and the same right to publish them. Ecclesiastical tyranny is not admissible in the United States.
With respect to morality, the writings of Thomas Paine are remarkable for purity and benevolence; and though he often enlivens them with touches of wit and humor, he never loses sight of the real solemnity of his subject. No man’s morals, either with respect to his Maker, himself, or his neighbour, can suffer by the writings of Thomas Paine.
It is now too late to abuse Deism, especially in a country where the press is free, or where free presses can be established. It is a religion that has God for its patron and derives its name from him. The thoughtful mind of man, wearied with the endless contents of sectaries against sectaries, doctrines against doctrines, and priests against priests, finds its repose at last in the contemplative belief and worship of one God and the practice of morality; for as Pope wisely says,
“He can’t be wrong whose life is in the right.”
OF THE BOOKS OF THE NEW TESTAMENT.
Addressed to the believers in the book called the Scriptures.
from the Prospect, September 1 & 8, 1804.
The New Testament contains twenty-seven books, of which four are called Gospels; one called the Acts of the Apostles; fourteen called the Epistles of Paul; one of James; two of Peter; three of John; one of Jude; one called the Revelation.
None of those books have the appearance of being written by the persons whose names they bear, neither do we know who the authors were. They come to us on no other authority than the church of Rome, which the Protestant priests, especially those of New England, call the Whore of Babylon.
This Church, or, to use their own vulgar language; this Whore, appointed sundry Councils to be held, to compose creeds for the people, and to regulate church affairs. Two of the principal of these Councils were that of Nice, and of Laodocea (names of the places where the councils were held) about three hundred and fifty years after the time that Jesus is said to have lived. Before this time there was no such book as the New Testament. But the Church could not well go on without having something to shew, as the Persians shewed the Zendevesta, revealed, they say by God to Zoroaster; the Bramins of India, the Shaster, revealed, they say, by God to Bruma, and given to him out of a duskey cloud; the Jews, the books they call the Law of Moses, given they say also out of a cloud on Mount Sinai; the church set about forming a code for itself out of such materials as it could find or pick up. But where they got those materials, in what language they were written, or whose handwriting they were, or whether they were originals or copies, or on what authority they stood we know nothing of, nor does the New Testament tell us. The church was resolved to have a New Testament, and as after the lapse of more than three hundred years no handwriting could be proved or disproved, the church, which like former impostors, had then gotten possession of the state, had every thing its own way. It invented creeds, such as that called the Apostles Creed, the Nicean Creed, the Athanasian Creed, and out of the loads of rubbish that were presented, it voted four to be Gospels, and others to be Epistles as we now find them arranged.
Of those called Gospels above forty were presented, each pretending to be genuine. Four only were voted in, and entitled, The Gospel according to St. Matthew. The Gospel according to St. Mark. The Gospel according to St. Luke. The Gospel according to St. John.
This word according shews that those books have not been written by Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, but according to some accounts or traditions, picked up concerning them. The word according means agreeing with, and necessarily includes the idea of two things, or two persons. We cannot say, The Gospel written by Matthew according to Matthew; but we might say, The Gospel of some other person according to what was reported to have been the opinion of Matthew. Now we do not know who those other persons were, nor whether what they wrote accorded with anything that Matthew, Mark, Luke and John might have said. There is too little evidence, and too much contrivance, about those books to merit credit.
The next book after those called Gospels, is that called the Acts of the Apostles. This book is anonymous; neither do the Councils that compiled or contrived the New Testament tell us how they came by it. The Church, to supply this defect, say it was written by Luke, which shews that the Church and its priests have not compared that called the Gospel according to St. Luke, and the acts together, for the two contradict each other. The book of Luke, chap. 24, makes Jesus ascend into heaven the very same day that it makes him rise from the grave. The book of Acts, chap. 1, v. 3, says, that he remained on earth forty days after his crucifixion. There is no believing what either of them says.
The next to the book of Acts is that entitled, “The Epistle of Paul the Apostle to the Romans.”(According to the criterion of the Church, Paul was not an apostle; that appellation being given only to those called the twelve. Two sailors belonging to a man of war, got into a dispute upon this point, whether Paul was an apostle or not, and they agreed to refer it to the Boatswain, who decided very canonically that Paul was an acting apostle but not rated.) This is not an epistle, or letter, written by Paul or signed by him. It is an Epistle, or letter, written by a person who signs himself TERTIUS, and sent, as it is said in the end, by a servant woman called Phebe. The last chapter, v. 22, says, “I Tertius, who wrote this Epistle, salute you.” Who Tertius or Phebe were, we know nothing of. The epistle is not dated. The whole of it is written in the first person, and that person is Tertius, not Paul. But it suited the Church to ascribe it to Paul. There is nothing in it that is interesting except it be to contending and wrangling sectaries. The stupid metaphor of the potter and the clay is in the 9th chap.
The next book is entitled “The First Epistle of Paul the Apostle, to the Corinthians.” This, like the former, is not an epistle written by Paul, nor signed by him. The conclusion of the epistle says, “The first epistle, to the Corinthians, was written from Philippi, by Stephanas and Fortunatus and Achaicus and Timotheus.” The second epistle entitled “The second epistle of Paul the Apostle, to the Corinthians,” is in the same case with the first. The conclusion of it says, “It was written from Philippi, a city of Macedonia, by Titus and Lucas.”
A question may arise upon these cases, which is, are these persons the writers of the epistles originally, or are they the writers and attestors of copies sent to the councils who compiled the code or canon of the New Testament? If the epistles had been dated this question could be decided; but in either of the cases the evidences of Paul’s handwriting and of their being written by him is wanting, and therefore there is no authority for calling them Epistles of Paul. We know not whose Epistles they were, nor whether they are genuine or forged.
The next is entitled, “The Epistle of Paul the Apostle to the Galatians.” It contains six short chapters, yet the writer of it says, chap. 6, v. II, “Ye see how large a letter I have written to you with my own hand.” If Paul was the writer of this it shews he did not accustom himself to write long epistles; yet the epistle to the Romans, and the first to the Corinthians contain sixteen chapters each. The second to the Corinthians and that to the Hebrews thirteen each. There is something contradictory in these matters. But short as the epistle to the Galatians is, it does not carry the appearance of being the work or composition of one person. The fifth chap. v. 2, says, “If ye be circumcised Christ shall avail you nothing.” It does not say circumcision shall profit you nothing, but Christ shall profit you nothing. Yet in the sixth chap. v. 15, it says “For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision availeth anything nor uncircumcision, but a new creature.” These are not reconcilable passages, nor can contrivance make them so. The conclusion of the epistle says, it was written from Rome, but it is not dated, nor is there any signature to it, neither do the compilers of the New Testament say how they came by it. We are in the dark upon all these matters.
The next is entitled, “The Epistle of Paul the Apostle to the Ephesians.” This, like the Galatians, contains six short chapters, but Paul is not the writer. The conclusion of it says, “Written from Rome unto the Ephesians by Tychicus.”
The next is entitled, “The Epistle of Paul the Apostle to the Philippians.” This Epistle contains but four short chapters and occupies only four octavo pages. But this, short as it is, Paul is not the writer. The conclusion of it says, “It was written to the Philippians from Rome by Epaphroditus.” It is not dated. Query, were those men who wrote and signed those epistles Journeymen Apostles, who undertook to write in Paul’s name, as Paul is said to have preached in Christ’s name?
The next is entitled, “The Epistle of Paul the Apostle, to the Colossians.” This Epistle, like the former, contains only four short chapters, but Paul is not the writer. Doctor Luke is spoken of in this Epistle as sending his compliments. “Luke, the beloved physician, and Demas greet you.” Chap. 4 v. 14. It does not say a word about his writing any Gospel. The conclusion of the Epistle says, “Written from Rome to the Colossians, by Tychicus and Onesimus.”
The next is entitled, “The first Epistle of Paul the Apostle, to the Thessalonians.” It contains five short chapters, and the second Epistle contains three still shorter. Either the writer of these Epistles was a visionary enthusiast, or a direct impostor, for he tells the Thessalonians, and, he says, he tells them by the Word of the Lord, that the world will be at an end in his and their time; and after telling them that those who are already dead shall rise, he adds, chap. 4 v. 17, “Then WE which are alive and remain shall be caught up with them into the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so shall we be ever with the Lord.” Such detected lies as these ought to fill priests with confusion, when they preach such books to be the word of God. These two Epistles are said, in the conclusion of them, to be written from Athens. They are without date or signatures.
The next four Epistles are private letters. Two of them are private letters. Two of them are to Timothy, one to Titus, and one to Philemon. Who they were, nobody knows.
The first to Timothy contains six short chapters, and is said to be written from Laodicea. It is without date or signature. The second to Timothy contains four short chapters. It is said to be written from Rome, and is without date or signature. The Epistle to Titus contains three chapters. It is said to be written from Nicopolis in Macedonia. It is without date or signature. The Epistle to Philemon contains one chapter. It is said to be written from Rome by Onesimus. It is without date.
The last epistle ascribed to Paul is entitled, “The Epistle of Paul the Apostle to the Hebrews,” and is said in the conclusion to be written from Italy, by Timothy. This Timothy (according to the conclusion of the Epistle called the second Epistle of Paul to Timothy) was bishop of the church of the Ephesians, and consequently this is not an Epistle of Paul.
On what slender cob-web evidence do the priests and professors of the Christian religion hang their faith! The same degree of hear say evidence, and that at third and fourth hand, would not, in a court of Justice, give a man title to a cottage, and yet the priests of this profession presumptuously promise their deluded followers the kingdom of Heaven. A little reflection would teach men that those books are not to be trusted to; that so far from there being any proof they are the word of God, it is unknown who the writers of them were, or at what time they were written, within three hundred years after the reputed authors are said to have lived. It is not the interest of priests, who get their living by them, to examine into the insufficiency of the evidence upon which those books were received by the popish councils who compiled the New Testament. But if Messrs. Linn and Mason would occupy themselves upon this subject (it signifies not which side they take, for the event will be the same) they would be better employed than they were last presidential election, in writing jesuitical electioneering pamphlets. The very name of a priest attaches suspicion on to it the instant he becomes a dabbler in party politics. The New England priests set themselves up to govern the state, and they are falling into contempt for so doing. Men who have their farms and their several occupations to follow, and have a common interest with their neighbours in the public prosperity and tranquility of their country, neither want nor chuse to be told by a priest who they shall vote for, nor how they shall conduct their temporal concerns.
The cry of the priests, that the Church is in danger, is the cry of men who do not understand the interest of their own craft; for instead of exciting alarms and apprehensions for its safety, as they expect it excites suspicion that the foundation is not sound, and that it is necessary to take down and build it on a surer foundation. Nobody fears for the safety of a mountain, but a hillock of sand may be washed away! Blow then, O ye priests, “the Trumpet in Zion,” for the Hillock is in danger.
DETECTOR — P.
COMMUNICATION On Biblical Blasphemy.
From the Prospect issue April 7, 1804.
This verse tells us that the books of the old and new Testament or divine revelation, and without this revelation we could not have true ideas of God.
The deists, on the contrary, say, for those book are not divine revelation, and that were it not for the light of reason, and the religion of deism, those books, instead of teaching us true ideas of God, would teach us only false but blasphemous ideas of him.
Deism teaches us that God is a God whose truth and justice. Does the Bible teach the same doctrine? It does not.
The bible says (Jeremiah, chap. 20, v. 7) that God is a deceiver. “O Lord (says Jeremiah) thou hast deceived me, and I was deceived. Thou art stronger than I, and hast prevailed.”
Jeremiah not only upbraids God with deceiving him, but in chap. 4. V. 9, he upbraids God with deceiving the people of Jerusalem. “Ah! Lord God! (says he) surely thou hast greatly deceived this people and Jerusalem, saying, ye shall have peace, whereas the sword reachest unto my soul.”
In chap. 15, v. 8, the bible becomes more impudent, and calls God, in plain language a liar. “wilt thou, (says Jeremiah to God) be altogether unto me as a liar and as waters that fall.”
Ezekiel chap. 14, v. 9, makes God to say — “If the prophet be deceived when he hath spoken a thing, I the Lord hath deceived that prophet.” All this is downright blasphemy.
The prophet Micaiah, as he is called, 2 chron. chap. 18, v. 18, tells another blasphemous story of God. — “I saw, says he, the Lord sitting on his throne, and all the host of heaven standing on his right hand and on his left. And the Lord said, who shall entice Ahab king of Israel to go up and fall at Ramoth Gilead? And one spoke after this manner and another after that manner. Then there came out a spirit (Micaiah does not tell us where he came from) and stood before the Lord, (what impudent fellow this spirit was) 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. The Lord said thou shalt entice him, and thou shalt also prevail; go out and do even so.
We often hear of a gang of thieves plotting to rob and murder a man and laying a plan to entice him out of that they may execute their design, and we always feel shocked at the wickedness for such riches; but what must we think of a book that describes the Almighty acting in the same manner, and laying plans in heaven to entrap and ruin mankind. Our ideas of his justice and goodness forbid us to believe such stories, and therefore we say that a lying spirit has been in the mouth of the writers of the books of the bible.
TO THE EDITOR OF THE PROSPECT.
From the Prospect issue, March 10, 1804.
In addition to the judicious remarks in your 12th number, on the true story of Noah’s flood, in the 7th chapter of Genesis, I send you the following:
The 2d verse makes God to say to Noah, “Of every clean beast thou shalt take unto thee by sevens, the male and his female, and of every beast that are not clean, by two, the male and his female.”
Now, there was no such thing as beasts clean and unclean in the time of Noah. Neither were there any such people as Jews or Israelites at that time, to whom that distinction was a law. The law, called the law of Moses, by which a distinction is made, beasts clean and unclean, was not until several hundred years after the time that Noah is said to have lived. The story therefore detects itself, because the inventor of it from God himself, by making God make use of an expression that could not be used at the time. The blunder is of the same kinds, as if a man in telling a story about America a hundred years ago, should quote an expression from Mr. Jefferson’s inaugural speech as if spoken by him at that time.
My opinion of this story is the same as was a man once said to another, who asked him in a drawling tone of voice, “Do you believe the account about No-ah?” The other re-replied in the same tone of voice, ah-no.
From the Prospect issue of April 14, 1804.
The following publication, which has appeared in several newspapers in different parts of the United States, shows in the most striking manner the character and effects of religious fanaticism, and to what extravagant lengths it will carry its unruly and destructive operations. We give it a place in the Prospect, because we think the perusal of it will be gratifying to our subscribers; and because, by exposing the true character of such frantic zeal, we hope to produce some influence upon the reason of man, and induce him to rise superior to such dreadful illusions. The judicious remarks at the end of this account were communicated to us by a very intelligent and faithful friend to the cause of Deism.
Extract of a Letter of the Rev. George Scott, of Mill Creek, Washington County, Pennsylvania, to Colonel William M’Farran, of Mount Bethel, Northampton County, Pa., dated November 3. 1802.
“My dear friend,
“We have wonderful times here. God has been pleased to visit this barren corner with abundance of his grace. The work began in a neighbouring congregation, at a sacramental occasion, about the last of September. It did not make its appearance in my congregation till the first Tuesday of October. After society, in the night, there appeared an evident stir among the young people, but nothing of the appearance of what appeared afterwards. On Saturday evening following we had society, but it was dull throughout. On Sabbath day one cried out, but nothing else extraordinary appeared. — That evening I went part of the way to the Raccoon congregation, where the sacrament of the supper was administered; but on Monday morning a very strong impression of duty constrained me to return to my congregation in the Flats, where the work was begun. We met in the afternoon at the meeting-house, where we had a warm society. In the evening we removed to a neighbouring house, where we continued in society till midnight; numbers were falling all the time of society. — After the people were dismissed, a considerable number staid and sung hymns, till perhaps two o’clock in the morning, when the work began, to the astonishment of all. Only five or six were left able to take care of the rest, to the number perhaps of near forty. — They fell in all directions, on benches, on beds and on the floor. Next morning the people began to flock in from all quarters. One girl came early in the morning, but did not get within one hundred yards of the house before she fell powerless, and was carried in. We could not leave the house, and, therefore, continued society all that day and all that night, and on Wednesday morning I was obliged to leave a number of them on the spot. On Thursday evening we met again, when the work was amazing; about twenty persons lay to all appearances dead for near two and a half hours, and a great number cried out with sore distress. — Friday I preached at Mill Creek. Here nothing appeared more than an unusual solemnity. That evening we had society, where great numbers were brought under conviction, but none fell. On sabbath-day, I preached at Mill Creek. This day and evening was a very solemn time but none fell. On Monday I went to attend presbytery, but returned on Thursday evening to the Flats, where society was appointed, when numbers were struck down. On Saturday evening we had society, and a very solemn time — about a dozen persons lay dead three and a half hours by the watch. On Sabbath a number fell, and we were obliged to continue all night in society, as we had done every evening we had met before. On Monday a Mr. Hughes preached at Mill Creek, but nothing extraordinary appeared, only a great deal of falling. We concluded to divide that evening into two societies, in order to accommodate the people. Mr. H. attended the one and I the other. Nothing strange appeared when Mr. H. attended; but where I attended God was present in the most wonderful manner. I believe there was not one present but was more or less affected. A considerable number fell powerless, and two or three, after laying some time, recovered with joy, and spoke near half an hour. One, especially, declared in a surprising manner the wonderful view she had of the person, character and offices of Christ, with such accuracy of language that I was astonished to hear it. Surely this must be the work of God! On Thursday evening we had a lively society, but not much falling down. On Saturday we all went to the Cross Roads and attended a sacrament. Here were, perhaps, about 4000 people collected. The weather was uncomfortable; on the Sabbath-day it rained, and on Monday it snowed. We had thirteen ministers present. The exercises began on Saturday, and continued on night and day with little or no intermission. Great numbers fell; to speak within bounds, there were upwards of one hundred and fifty down at one time, and some of them continued three or four hours with but little appearance of life. Numbers came to, rejoicing, while others were deeply distressed. The scene was wonderful; the cries of the distressed, and the agonizing groans, gave some faint representation of the awful cries and the bitter screams which will no doubt be extorted from the damned in hell. But what is to me the most surprising, of those who have been subjects among my people with whom I have conversed, but three had any terrors of hell during their exercise. The principal cry is, O how long have I rejected Christ! O how often have I embrued my hands in his precious blood! O how often have I waded through his precious blood by stifling conviction! O this dreadful hard heart! O what a dreadful monster sin is! It was my sin that nailed Jesus to the cross! &c.
The preaching is various; some thunder the terrors of the law — others preach the mild invitation of the Gospel. For my part, since the work began, I have confined myself chiefly to the doctrines of our fallen state by nature, and the way of recovery through Christ; opening the way of salvation; showing how God can be just and yet be the justifier of them that believe, and also the nature of true faith and repentance; pointing out the difference between true and false religion, and urging the invitations of the Gospel in the most engaging manner that I am master of, without any strokes of terror. The convictions and cries appear to be, perhaps, nearly equal under all these different modes of preaching, but it appears rather most when we preach on the fullness and freeness of salvation.”
REMARKS BY MR. PAINE
In the fifth chapter of Mark, we read a strange story of the Devil getting into the swine after he had been turned out of a man, and as the freaks of the Devil in that story and the tumble-down description in this are very much alike; the two stories ought to go together.
“And they came over unto the other side of the sea, into the country of the Gadarenes. When he was come out of the ship, immediately there met him out of the tombs a man with an unclean spirit, Who had his dwelling among the tombs; no man could bind him, no, not with chains: Because that he had been often bound with centers and chains, and the chains had been plucked asunder by him, and the fitters broken in pieces; neither could any man tame him. And always, night and day, he was in the mountains, and in the tombs, crying, and cutting himself with stones. When he saw Jesus afar off, he ran and worshiped him. And cried with a loud voice, and said, what have I to do with thee, Jesus, thou son of the most high God? I adjure thee by God, that thou torment me not. (For he said unto him, come out of the man, thou unclean spirit.) And he asked him, what is thy name? and he answered, saying, my name is Legion: for we are many. He besought him much that he would not send them a way out of the country. Now there was there, nigh unto the mountains, a great herd of swine feeding. In all the devils besought him, saying send us into the swine, that we may enter into them. and forthwith Jesus gave them leave. In the unclean spirits went out, and entered into the swine; and the herd ran violently down a steep place into the sea, (there were about two thousand,) and were choked in the sea.”
The force of the imagination is capable of producing strange effects. — When animal magnetism began in France, which was while Dr. Franklin was minister to that country, the wonderful accounts given of the wonderful effects it produced on the persons who were under operation, exceeded anything related in the foregoing letter from Washington County. They tumbled down, fell into trances, roared and rolled about like persons supposed to be bewitched. The Government, in order to ascertain the fact or detect the imposition, appointed a committee of physicians to inquire into the case, and Doctor Franklin was requested to accompany them, which he did.
The committee went to the Operator’s house, and the persons on whom an operation was to be performed were assembled. They were placed in the position in which they had been when under former operations, and blind-folded. In a little time they began to show signs of agitation, and in the space of about two hours they went through all the frantic airs they had shewn before; but the case was, that no operation was performing upon them, neither was the operator in the room, for he had been ordered out of it by the Physicians; but as the persons did not know this, they supposed him present and operating upon them. It was the effect of imagination only. Doctor Franklin, in relating this account to the writer of this article, said that he thought the Government might as well have let it gone on, for that as imagination sometimes produced disorders it might also cure some; and a similar remark may be made on this account from Washington County, for if it makes the people better livers than before, let it go on. It is fortunate however, that this falling-down and crying-out scene did not happen in New-England a century ago, for if it had the preachers would have been hung for witchcraft, and in more ancient times the poor falling-down folks would have been supposed to be possessed of a devil, like the man in Mark, among the tombs. The progress that reason and Deism make in the world, lessen the force of superstition and abate the spirit of persecution.