« FöregåendeFortsätt »
TO THE HONOURABLE THOMAS ERSKINE,
ON THE PROSECUTION OF THOMAS WILLIAMS FOR PUBLISHING THE
AGE OF REASON.
DELIVERED TO THE
SOCIETY OF THEOPHILANTHROPISTS AT PARIS
LETTER TO CAMILLE JORDAN.
AN ESSAY ON THE ORIGIN OF FREEMASONRY.
EXTRACT OP A
REPLY TO THE BISHOP OF LLANDAFF.
BY THOMAS PAINE.
J. WATSON, 3, QUEEN'S HEAD PASSAGE,
It is a matter of surprise to some people to see Mr. Erskine act as counsel for a crown prosecution commenced against the right of opinion : I confess it is none to me, notwithstanding all that Mr. Erskine has said before ; for it is difficult to know when a lawyer is to be bel.eved; I have always observed that Mr. Erskine, when contending as a counsel for the right of political opinion, frequently took occasions, and those often dragged in head and shoulders, to lard what he called the British Constitution with a great deal of praise. Yet the same Mr. Erskine said to me in conversation, were Government to begin de novo in England, they never would establish such a damned absurdity (it was exactly his expression) as this is. Ought I then to be surprised at Mr. Erskine for incon. sistency?
In this prosecution Mr. Erskine admits the right of controversy ; but says the Christian religion is not to be abused. This is somewhat sophistical, because, while he admits the rights of controversy, he reserves the right of calling that controversy abuse : and thus, lawyer-like, undoes by one word what he says in the other. I will, however, in this letter keep within the limits he prescribes ; he will find here nothing about the Christian religion: he will find only a statement of a few cases, which shews the necessity of examining the books handed to us from the Jews, in order to discover if we have not been imposed upon : together with some observations on the manner in which the trial of Williams has been conducted. If Mr. Erskine denies the right of examining those books, he had better profess bimself at once an advocate for the establishment of an Inquisition, and the re-establishment of the Star Chamber.
A LETTER, &c.
Or all the tyrannies that afflict mankind, tyranny in religion is the worst. Every other species of tyranny is limited to the world we live in; but this attempts a stride beyond the grave, and seeks to pursue us into eternity. It is there and not here--it is to God and not to man—it is to a heavenly and not to an earthly tribunal that we are to account for our belief: if then we believe falsely and dishonourably of the Creator, and that belief is forced upon us, as far as force can operate by human laws and human tribunals,—on whom is the criminality of that belief to fall? on those who impose it, or on those on whom it is imposed ?
A bookseller of the name of Williams has been prosecuted in London on a charge of blasphemy, for publishing a book intitled the Age of Reason. Blasphemy is a word of vast sound, but equivocal and almost indefinite signification, unless we confine it to the simple idea of hurting or injuring the reputation of any one, which was its original meaning. As a word, it existed before Christianity existed, being a Greek word, or Greek anglofied, as all the etymological dictionaries will shew.
But behold how various and contradictory have been the signification and application of this equivocal word. Socrates, who lived more than four hundred years before the Christian era, was convicted of blasphemy, for preaching against the belief of a plurality of gods, and for preaching the belief of one god, and was condemned to suffer death by poison. Jesus Christ was convicted of blasphemy under the Jewish law, and was crucified. Calling Mahoinet an impostor would be blasphemy in Turkey; and denying the infallibility of the Pope and the Church would be blasphemy at Rome. What then is to be understood by this word blasphemy? We see that in the case of Socrates truth was condemned as blas. phemy. Are we sure that truth is not blasphemy in the present day?' Woe, however, be to those who make it so, whoever they
A book called the Bible has been voted by men and decreed by human laws to be the word of God; and the disbelief of this is called blasphemy. But if the Bible be not the word of God, it is the laws and the execution of them that is blasphemy, and not the disbelief. Strange stories are told of the Creator in that book. He is represented as acting under the influence of every human passion, even of the most malignant kind. If these stories are false, we err in be