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the womb ? If I have withheld the poor from their desire, or have caused the eyes of the widow to fail, or have eaten my morsel myself alone, and the fatherless have not eaten thereof : if I have seen any perish for want of clothing, or any poor without covering: if his loins have not blessed me, and if he were not warmed with the fleece of my sheep: if I have lifted up my hand against the fatherless, when I saw my help in the gate; then let mine arm fall from my shoulder-blade, and mine
arm be broken from the bone. If I have rejoiced at the 10 destruction of him that hated me, or lifted up myself when evil
found him : (neither have I suffered my mouth to sin, by wishing a curse to his soul.) The stranger did not lodge in the street; but I opened my doors to the traveller. If my land cry against me, or that the furrows likewise thereof complain : if I have eaten the fruits thereof without money, or have caused the owners thereof to lose their life ; let thistles grow instead of wheat, and cockle instead of barley.'-L.
No. 185. On Religious Zeal; its mischievous effects; its exciting causes ; zeal for atheism ; its absurdity. Tantæne animis cælestibus iræ ?
VIRG. Æn. i. 15. There is nothing in which men more deceive themselves than in what the world calls zeal. There are so many passions which 20 hide themselves under it, and so many mischiefs arising from it,
that some have gone so far as to say it would have been for the benefit of mankind if it had never been reckoned in the catalogue of virtues. It is certain, where it is once laudable and prudential, it is an hundred times criminal and erroneous; nor can it be otherwise, if we consider that it operates with equal violence in all religions, however opposite they may be to one another, and in all the subdivisions of each religion in particular.
We are told by some of the Jewish rabbins, that the first 30 murder was occasioned by a religious controversy : and if we
had the whole history of zeal from the days of Cain to our own times, we should see it filled with so many scenes of slaughter and bloodshed, as would make a wise man very careful how he
suffers himself to be actuated by such a principle, when it only regards matters of opinion and speculation.
I would have every zealous man examine his heart thoroughly, and I believe he will often find, that what he calls a zeal for his religion is either pride, interest, or ill nature. A man who differs from another in opinion, sets himself above him in his own judgment, and in several particulars pretends to be the wiser person. This is a great provocation to the proud man, and gives
a very keen edge to what he calls his zeal. And that this is the 10 case very often, we may observe from the behaviour of some of
the most zealous for orthodoxy, who have often great friendships and intimacies with vicious immoral men, provided they do but agree with them in the same scheme of belief. The reason is, because the vicious believer gives the precedency to the virtuous man, and allows the good Christian to be the worthier person, at the same time that he cannot come up to his perfections.
This we find exemplified in that trite passage which we see quoted in almost every system of ethics, though upon another occasion :
Video meliora proboque,
Ovid. Met. vii. 20.
On the contrary, it is certain, if our zeal were true and genuine, we should be much more angry with a sinner than a heretic; since there are several cases which may excuse the latter before his great judge, but none which can excuse the former.
Interest is likewise a great inflamer, and sets a man on persecution' under the colour of zeal. For this reason we find none are so forward to promote the true worship by fire and sword,
as those who find their present account in it. But I shall extend 30 the word interest to a larger meaning than what is generally
given it, as it relates to our spiritual safety and welfare, as well as to our temporal. A man is glad to gain numbers on his side, as they serve to strengthen him in his private opinions. Every proselyte is like a new argument for the establishment of his faith. It makes him believe that his principles carry conviction with them, and are the more likely to be true, when he finds they are conformable to the reason of others as well as to his
And that this temper of mind deludes a man very often
ZEAL AGAINST RELIGION.
into an opinion of his zeal, may appear from the common behaviour of the atheist, who maintains and spreads his opinions with as much heat as those who believe they do it only out of a passion for God's glory.
Ill-nature is another dreadful imitator of zeal. Many a good man may have a natural rancour and malice in his heart, which has been in some measure quelled and subdued by religion; but if it finds any pretence of breaking out which does not seem to
him inconsistent with the duties of a Christian, it throws off all 10 restraint, and rages in full fury. Zeal is therefore a great ease to
a malicious man, by making him believe he does God service, whilst he is gratifying the bent of a perverse revengeful temper: For this reason we find that most of the massacres and devastations which have been in the world, have taken their rise from a furious pretended zeal.
I love to see a man zealous in a good matter, and especially when his zeal shews itself for advancing morality, and promoting the happiness of mankind: but when I find the instruments he
works with are racks and gibbets, galleys n, and dungeons; when 20 he imprisons men's persons, confiscates their estates, ruins their
families, and burns the body to save the soul, I cannot stick to pronounce of such a one, that (whatever he may think of his faith and religion) his faith is vain, and his religion unprofitable.
After having treated of these false zealots in religion, I cannot forbear mentioning a monstrous species of men, who one would not think had any existence in nature, were they not to be met with in ordinary conversation; I mean, the zealous in atheism. One would fancy that these men, though they fall short in every
other respect of those who make a profession of religion, would at 30 least outshine them in this particular, and be exempt from that
single fault which seems to grow out of the imprudent fervours of religion: but so it is, that infidelity is propagated with as much fierceness and contention, wrath and indignation, as if the safety of mankind depended upon itn. There is something so ridiculous and perverse in this kind of zealots, that one does not know how to set them out in their proper colours. They are a sort of gamesters who are eternally upon the fret, though they play for nothing. They are perpetually teizing their friends to come
over to them, though at the same time they allow, that neither 40 of them shall get any thing by the bargain. In short, the zeal of spreading atheism is, if possible, more absurd than atheism itself.
Since I have mentioned this unaccountable zeal which appears in atheists and infidels, I must farther observe, that they are likewise in a most particular manner possessed with the spirit of bigotry. They are wedded to opinions full of contradiction and impossibility, and at the same time look upon the smallest difficulty in an article of faith as a sufficient reason for rejecting it n.
Notions that fall in with the common reason of mankind, that 10 are conformable to the sense of all ages and all nations, not to
mention their tendency for promoting the happiness of societies, or of particular persons, are exploded as errors and prejudices; and schemes erected in their stead that are altogether monstrous and irrational, and require the most extravagant credulity to embrace them. I would fain ask one of these bigoted infidels, supposing all the great points of atheism, as the casual or eternal formation of the world, the materiality of a thinking substance, the mortality of the soul, the fortuitous organization of the body,
the motions and gravitation of matter, with the like particulars, 20 were laid together and formed into a kind of creed, according to
the opinions of the most celebrated atheists; I say, supposing such a creed as this were formed, and imposed upon any one people in the world, whether it would not require an infinitely greater measure of faith than any set of articles which they so violently oppose ? Let me therefore advise this generation of wranglers, for their own and for the public good, to act at least so consistently with themselves, as not to burn with zeal for irreligion, and with bigotry for nonsense.-L.
No. 186. Letter from the Clergyman, with reflexions on Infidelity
Cælum ipsum petimus stultitia.
Hor. Od. i. 3. Upon my return to my lodgings last night, I found a letter 30 from my worthy friend the clergyman', whom I have given
some account of in my former papers. He tells me in it, that he was particularly pleased with the latter part of my yesterday's
1 See page 14
ATHEISTS NOT TRUSTWORTHY.
speculation; and at the same time enclosed the following essay, which he desires me to publish as the sequel of that discourse. It consists partly of uncommon reflexions, and partly of such as have been already used, but now set in a stronger light.
'A believer may be excused by the most hardened atheist for endeavouring to make him a convert, because he does it with an eye to both their interests. The atheist is inexcusable who tries
to gain over a believer, because he does not propose the doing ! himself or the believer any good by such a conversion.
“The prospect of a future state is the secret comfort and refreshment of my soul; it is that which makes nature look gay about me; it doubles all my pleasures, and supports me under all my afflictions. I can look at disappointments and misfortunes, pain and sickness, death itself, and what is worse than death, the loss of those who are dearest to me, with indifference, so long as I keep in view the pleasures of eternity, and the state of being in which there will be no fears nor apprehensions, pains nor sorrows, sickness nor separation. Why will any man be so
impertinently officious as to tell me all this is only fancy and 20 delusion ? Is there any merit in being the messenger of ill news?
if it is a dream, let me enjoy it, since it makes me both the happier and better man.
I must confess I do not know how to trust a man who believes neither heaven nor hell, or, in other words, a future state of rewards and punishments. Not only natural self-love, but reason directs us to promote our own interest above all things. It can never be for the interest of a believer to do me a mischief, because he is sure, upon the balance of accounts, to find himself
a loser by it. On the contrary, if he considers his own welfare 30 in his behaviour towards me, it will lead him to do me all the
good he can, and at the same time restrain him from doing me any injury. An unbeliever does not act like a reasonable creature, if he favours me contrary to his present interest, or does not distress me when it turns to his present advantage. Honour and good-nature may indeed tie up his hands; but as these would be very much strengthened by reason and principle, so without them they are only instincts, or wavering unsettled notions, which rest on no foundation.
* Infidelity has been attacked with so good success of late