Excerpt From An Argument Against Abolishing Christianity In Plain and Simple English
I realize how difficult it is to attempt to speak out against the tide of public opinion. I remember that it was forbidden, quite rightly, and with proper regard for the freedom of the public and the press, to write, speak out or place bets against… even before Parliament confirmed it in law. It was regarded as a plan to go against the will of the people, so besides its own stupidity it was in clear breach of the natural law which makes public opinion the same as the voice of God. In the same way, and for exactly the same reasons, it might not be safe or sensible to try and argue against the abolition of Christianity. This is especially true when everyone seems so keen on the idea, as we can see clearly from their actions, their speeches and their writing. However, I don't know why, whether it's because I like to be different, or human nature is naturally argumentative, but I can't entirely agree with this opinion. Even if I was certain that the attorney general would instantly order that I be prosecuted, I would still have to say that in the current state of affairs both at home and abroad, I have yet to be convinced that it is entirely necessary to abolish the Christian religion.
It may be that my opinion is too bizarre for even this bizarre and wise time to tolerate; so I shall be very careful what I say, and show all due respect to the great majority who disagree with me.
However, those who are curious might like to observe how much the mind of a nation can change in just half a lifetime. I have heard some very odd people say that within living memory the opposite opinion was just as fashionable as the other one is now. At that time the idea that Christianity should be abolished would have seemed extremely odd and foolish, just as now it is thought odd and foolish to try and defend it.
So I freely admit that everything seems to be against me. The ideas laid out in the Gospel, just as has happened to other philosophies, are seen as old-fashioned and discredited. The great majority of the common people, who were the last ones to show that any respect, are now just as ashamed of it as their superiors. Opinions, like fashions, always begin with the higher classes, are handed down to the middle classes, and then on to the masses, where eventually they are given up and they disappear.
At this point I should make a distinction which writers on the opposing side often make: I must look at the difference between those who are truly Christian and those who are Christian just in name. I hope that no reader thinks that I am so foolish that I would defend real Christianity, which actually used to influence the way men behaved (if we believe what writers of the time tell us). To try and do that really would be a mad endeavour: it would mean digging up the foundations of society; destroying with a single blow the wit and half of the knowledge of the kingdom; it would knock everything sideways; it would ruin business, put a stop to the arts and sciences and their professors; in short, our courts, stock exchanges and shops would be emptied; it would be just as stupid as that proposal which Horace made to the Romans that they should all leave their city together and go and find somewhere to live in a remote part of the world in order to get rid of the corruption of their of society.
So I think it was pretty much unnecessary to say this (I only added it to pre-empt any arguments), since every sensible reader will clearly understand that I'm only defending those who are Christian in name only; the other sort of Christianity has for some time been completely ignored by general agreement, as it is completely incompatible with our society and our laws.
But I must respectfully admit that I cannot see why, because of that, we should give up the title of being Christians, even though so many people are so strongly in favor of it. Since those in favor say that it will be so beneficial for the country to do as they wish, and since they put forward so many plausible arguments, against Christianity, I shall briefly weigh up the arguments on both sides. I shall be fair in giving them both their fair dues, and I shall answer them in the most reasonable way. After that I should like to show the poor consequences which could come from such actions, given the current state of the nation.
Firstly, one of the great advantages those who wish to abolish Christianity offer is that it would greatly increase freedom of conscience. This is a great foundation of our country and of the Protestant religion, which is still too handicapped by the old superstitions of priests, despite the efforts made by the lawmakers, as we have recently had dramatically demonstrated. For it has been reported as fact that a pair of young gentlemen who had fine prospects, were clever and thoughtful, examined the laws of cause and effect and simply through their natural ability, without being affected by any sort of education, discovered that there was no God. They generously broadcast this fact for the good of the public; for doing this they were punished in the most extreme way for blasphemy, under I don't know what obsolete law. It has been wisely said that once persecution starts no man can tell how far it will go, or where it will end.
In answer to all that, and with due respect for those wiser than me, I think it rather shows how necessary it is to have a religion in society, albeit only in name. Clever men love to make show disrespect for those on the highest level, and if they cannot have a god to mock or reject they will start to insult the monarchy, the government and its ministers. I'm sure most people would agree that this would have far worse effects; as Tiberius said, offences against gods are for gods to deal with. As for the particular example mentioned, I don't think it is fair to argue from a single example, perhaps nobody can produce another. However (and this will be a comfort for all of those who are afraid they might be prosecuted) we know that in every coffeehouse and tavern, and wherever else good men meet together, blasphemy is virtually constant. Indeed, one must confess that to sack a freeborn English officer just because of his blasphemy was, to put it politely, pushing the boundaries of what authority should be allowed. There's not much that can be said in defense of the general; perhaps he was afraid that our allies might be offended; for all we know it may be customary for them to believe in God. But if he argued, as some people have mistakenly done, that an officer capable of blasphemy is also capable of starting a mutiny, that is not logical. Surely if a commander of an English army is only respected and feared by his soldiers as much as they respect and fear God, they are very unlikely to follow his orders.
There is a further objection to the Gospel system, which is that it demands that men believe in things which are too difficult for freethinkers and people who have managed to escape the prejudices of a narrow education. In answer to that I would say that men should be careful about making objections which question the wisdom of the nation. Isn't everybody allowed to believe whatever he likes, and to let the world know about his belief whenever he wishes, especially if he is supporting the party which is in the right? Would any unbiased foreigner, reading the rubbish recently written by Asgil, Tindal, Toland, Coward and forty others like them, believe that we were ruled by the Gospel, and that Parliament confirms this? Does any man truly believe, or says he believes, or want anyone to think that he believes, a single word of it? And does any man suffer discrimination for it, or does he find his lack of lipservice to faith causes him any disadvantage in trying to get a job, civilian or military? So what if there are one or two old laws against it still on the statute book, aren't they now so obsolete that even if Empson and Dudley were still alive they would find it impossible to use them?
It is also pointed out that there are reckoned to be more than ten thousand parsons in this kingdom and their incomes, if you added them to those of the bishops, would be enough to support at least two hundred young gentlemen who were witty and jolly, freethinking, enemies of priests, closed minds, pedantry and prejudice, who would certainly liven up the court and the town: and on the other hand, so many able-bodied religious men could certainly be found work in the navy and the army. This argument does appear to have some things in its favor, but there are also things which should be considered on the other side of the scale. Firstly, we must consider whether it would be desirable in certain parts of the country, which we call parishes, that there should be at least one man who knows how to read and write. Then it doesn't seem likely that the revenues of the Church in the whole country would be enough to support two hundred young gentlemen, or even half that number, in the current sophisticated style, giving each of them enough to, as they say nowadays, take it easy. But there's an even greater danger, and we should remember the stupidity of the woman who killed the hen which laid the golden eggs. What would men be like in a generation's time if all we could rely on was the diseased offspring of all these dilettantes who, when they have spent all of their strength, their health and their money, have to make some disagreeable marriage in order to restore their fortunes, and through that they pass on their rottenness and manners to their children? Now, due to the wise regulations set down by Henry VIII we have ten thousand people who are forced to eat a very sparse diet and get some exercise; they are the only ones who can put some good blood into our breeding, and without them in a generation or two the whole country would look like one enormous hospital ward.
Another benefit which we are told will come from abolishing Christianity is that we will gain an extra day in every seven, a day which at the moment is completely lost, and so the kingdom loses one seventh of its potential trade, business and pleasure. We are also reminded that the clergy presently holds many fine buildings in its hands, which could be converted into theatres, exchanges, market houses, lodging houses and other public buildings.
I hope I will be forgiven for speaking harshly when I say that this is a very petty statement. I admit that for as long as anyone can remember there has been an old custom that people should assemble in church every Sunday, and the shops still frequently close on Sunday in order, it seems, to commemorates that ancient tradition. However, it is hard to imagine how this could stop anybody enjoying either business or pleasure. So what if men who want pleasure are forced to gamble at home one day a week instead of going to the chocolate house? Are the pubs and the coffee houses still open? Can anyone imagine a better time to have some medical treatment? Isn't that the main day for traders to add up their weekly accounts, and for lawyers to prepare their cases? I would also like to know how anyone could think that the churches are not being used properly? Where are more assignations made? Where do people take greater care to get themselves in the front row, where do they dress up in better finery? Where do more people meet for business? Where are more agreements of all sorts made? And where is it easier for someone to get a good sleep?
There is one advantage greater than any of the above which we are told will come from the abolition of Christianity; that is that we will no longer have society split into different parties. The argumentative splits between high and low church, Whigs and Tories, Presbyterians and Church of England, which currently cause so much hindrance in our public life, because people take more pleasure in getting ahead of one another than they do in helping the country, will disappear.
I must admit, if it was guaranteed that such a great thing for the nation would happen if Christianity were abolished, I would agree to it and say nothing. But can any man say that if there was an act of Parliament which said that the words whoring, drinking, cheating, lying and stealing were banned both from the dictionaries and from being spoken, we would all wake up the next morning chaste, sober, honest and fair and truthful? Would that really happen? Or if doctors told us that we could not say pox, gout, rheumatism or gallstones, would that make the diseases themselves disappear? Are parties and factions so trivial to men that they are just phrases borrowed from religion, having no deeper roots? Is our language so limited that we couldn't find other ways to describe them? Are envy, pride, greed and ambition so weak that they can't give names to their owners? Couldn't we just make up some words, such as heyduke, mamaluke, mandarin and patshaw to distinguish between those who are ministers and those who would be if they could? How difficult could it be to change our speech, so that for example instead of arguing that the church was in danger, we can argue about whether the monument was in danger? Because religion happened to be handy for providing us with a few convenient phrases, are we so uncreative that we can't think of any others?