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An Argument to prove that THE ABOLISHING OF CHRISTIANITY IN ENGLAND may, as things now stand, be attended with some inconveniences, and perhaps not produce those
many good effects proposed thereby
(Written in the year 1708) I am very sensible what a weakness and presumption it is, to reason against the general humour and disposition of the world. I remember it was with great justice, and a due regard to the freedom both of the public and the press, for5 bidden upon several penalties to write, or discourse, or lay wagers against the Union even before it was confirmed by Parliament, because that was looked upon as a design to oppose the current of the people, which besides the folly of
it, is a manifest breach of the fundamental law that makes 10 this majority of opinion the voice of God.
In like manner, and for the very same reasons, it may perhaps be neither safe nor prudent to argue against the abolishing of Christianity: at a juncture when all parties seem so unanimously deter
mined upon the point, as we cannot but allow from their 15 actions, their discourses, and their writings. However, I
know not how, whether from the affectation of singularity, or the perverseness of human nature, but so it unhappily falls out that I cannot be entirely of this opinion. Nay, though
I were sure an order were issued for my immediate prosecution 20 by the Attorney-General, I should still confess that in the
present posture of our affairs at home or abroad, I do not yet see the absolute necessity of extirpating the Christian religion from among us.
This may perhaps appear too great a paradox even for ou 25 wise and paradoxical age to endure; therefore I shall handle
it with all tenderness, and with the utmost deference to that great and profound majority which is of another sentiment.
However, since the undertakers propose such wonderful advantages to the nation by this project, and advance many plausible objections against the system of Christianity, I shall 30 briefly consider the strength of both, fairly allow them their greatest weight, and offer such answers as I think most reasonable. After which I will beg leave to shew what inconveniences may possibly happen by such an innovation in the present posture of our affairs.
35 First, one great advantage proposed by the abolishing of Christianity, is, that it would very much enlarge and establish liberty of conscience, that great bulwark of our nation, and of the protestant religion; which is still too much limited by priestcraft, notwithstanding all the good intentions of the 40 legislature, as we have lately found by a severe instance. For it is confidently reported that two young gentlemen of real hopes, bright wit, and profound judgment, who, upon a thorough examination of causes and effects, and by the mere force of natural abilities, without the least tincture of learn-45 ing, having made a discovery that there was no God, and generously communicating their thoughts for the good of the public, were some time ago, by an unparalleled severity, and upon I know not what obsolete law, broke for blasphemy. And as it has been wisely observed, if persecution once begins, 50 no man alive knows how far it may reach, or where it will end.
In answer to all which, with deference to wiser judgments, I think this rather shews the necessity of a nominal religion among us. Great wits love to be free with the highest objects; and if they cannot be allowed a God to revile 55 or renounce, they will speak evil of dignities, abuse the government, and reflect upon the ministry; which I am sure few will deny to be of much more pernicious consequence, according to the saying of Tiberius, deorum offensa diis curæ. As to the particular fact related, I think it is not fair to argue 60 from one instance, perhaps another cannot be produced :
yet (to the comfort of all those who may be apprehensive of persecution) blasphemy, we know, is freely spoken a
million of times in every coffee-house and tavern, or wherever 65 else good company meet. It must be allowed, indeed, that
to break an English free-born officer, only for blasphemy, was, to speak the gentlest of such an action, a very high strain of absolute power. Little can be said in excuse for the
general; perhaps he was afraid it might give offence to the 70 allies, among whom, for aught we know, it may be the cus
tom of the country to believe a God. But if he argued, as some have done, upon a mistaken principle, that an officer who is guilty of speaking blasphemy, may some time or other
proceed so far as to raise a mutiny, the consequence is by no 75 means to be admitted; for surely the commander of an Eng
lish army is likely to be but ill obeyed, whose soldiers fear and reverence him as little as they do a Deity.
Another advantage proposed by the abolishing of Christianity, is, the clear gain of one day in seven, which is now 80 entirely lost, and consequently the kingdom one seventh less
considerable in trade, business, and pleasure; beside the loss to the public of so many stately structures, now in the hands of the clergy, which might be converted into play
houses, market-houses, exchanges, common dormitories, 85 and other public edifices.
I hope I shall be forgiven a hard word, if I call this a perfect cavil. I readily own there has been an old custom, time out of mind, for people to assemble in the churches every Sunday,
and that shops are still frequently shut, in order, as it is 90 conceived, to preserve the memory of that ancient practice;
but how this can prove a hindrance to business or pleasure, is hard to imagine. What if the men of pleasure are forced, one day in the week, to game at home instead of the chocolatehouses ? are not the taverns and coffee-houses open ? can there be a more convenient season for taking a dose of physic? 95 is not that the chief day for traders to sum up the accounts of the week, and for lawyers to prepare their briefs ? But I would fain know, how it can be pretended, that the churches are misapplied ? where are more appointments and rendezvouses of gallantry? where more care to appear in the fore- 100 most box, with greater advantage of dress? where more meetings for business, where more bargains driven of all sorts, and where so many conveniences or enticements to sleep?
It is likewise proposed as a great advantage to the public, that if we once discard the system of the gospel, all religion 105 will of course be banished for ever; and consequently, along with it, those grievous prejudices of education, which, under the names of virtue, conscience, honour, justice, and the like, are so apt to disturb the peace of human minds, and the notions whereof are so hard to be eradicated, by right reason, 110 or freethinking, sometimes during the whole course of our lives.
Here first I observe, how difficult it is to get rid of a phrase which the world is once grown fond of, though the occasion that first produced it be entirely taken away. For several 115 years past, if a man had but an ill-favoured nose, the deepthinkers of the age would, some way or other, contrive to impute the cause to the prejudice of his education. From this fountain were said to be derived all our foolish notions of justice, piety, love of our country; all our opinions of God, 120 or a future state, Heaven, Hell, and the like: and there might formerly perhaps have been some pretence for this charge. But so effectual care has been taken to remove those prejudices, by an entire change in the methods of education, that (with honour I mention it to our polite innovators) the 125 young gentlemen who are now on the scene seem to have not the least tincture left of those infusions, or string of those weeds: and, by consequence, the reason for abolishing nomi
nal Christianity upon that pretext, is wholly ceased. 130 For the rest, it may perhaps admit a controversy whether
the banishing of all notions of religion whatsoever would be convenient for the vulgar. Not that I am in the least of opinion with those, who hold religion to have been the inven
tion of politicians, to keep the lower part of the world in awe, 135 by the fear of invisible powers ; unless mankind were then
very different to what it is now: for I look upon the mass or body of our people here in England, to be as freethinkers, that is to say, as staunch unbelievers, as any of the highest
rank. But I conceive some scattered notions about a 140 superior power, to be of singular use for the common people,
as furnishing excellent materials to keep children quiet when they grow peevish, and providing topics of amusement, in a tedious winter night.
Having thus considered the most important objections 145 against Christianity, and the chief advantages proposed
by the abolishing thereof, I shall now, with equal deference and submission to wiser judgments as before, proceed to mention a few inconveniences that may happen if the gospel
should be repealed, which perhaps the projectors may not 150 have sufficiently considered.
And first, I am very sensible how much the gentlemen of wit and pleasure are apt to murmur, and be choked at the sight of so many daggled-tail parsons, who happen to fall in their
way and offend their eyes; but at the same time, these wise 155 reformers do not consider what an advantage and felicity
it is for great wits to be always provided with objects of scorn and contempt, in order to exercise and improve their