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Council of Five Hundred.
The Priests, the Worship, and the Bells,
PRINTED AND PUBLISHED BY R. CARLILE, 62, FLEET STREET.
As every thing in your report, relating to what you call worship, connects itself with the books called the Scriptures, I begin with a quotation therefrom. It may serve to give us some idea of the fanciful origin and fabrication of those books. 2 Chonicles, chap. xxxiv. ver. 14, &c. "Hilkiah, the priest, found the book of the law of the Lord given by Moses. And Hilkiah, the priest, said to Shaphan, the scribe, I have found the book of the law in the house of the Lord, and Hilkiah delivered the book to Shaphan. And Shaphan, the scribe, told the King (Josiah) saying, Hilkiah, the priest, hath given me a book."
This pretended finding was about a thousand years after the time that Moses is said to have lived. Before this pretended finding there was no such thing practised or known in the world as that which is called the law of Moses. This being the case, there is every apparent evidence, that the books called the books of Moses, (and which make the first part of what are called the Scriptures) are forgeries contrived between a priest and a limb of the law (I), Hilkiah and Shaphan the scribe, a thousand years after Moses is said to have been dead.
Thus much for the first part of the Bible. Every other part is marked with circumstances equally as suspicious. We ought, therefore, to be reverentially careful how we ascribe books, as his word, of which there is no evidence, and against which there is abundant evidence to the contrary, and every cause to suspect imposition.
(1) It happens that Camille Jordan is a limb of the law.
In your report, you speak continually of something by the name of worship, and you confine yourself to speak of one kind only, as if there were but one, and that one was unquestionably true.
The modes of worship are as various as the sects are numerous; and amidst all this variety and multiplicity there is but one article of belief in which all the religions in the world agree. That article has universal sanction. It is the belief of a God, or what the Greeks described by the word Theism, and the Latins by that of Deism. Upon this one article have been erected all the different superstructures of creeds and ceremonies continually warring with each other that now exist or ever existed. But the men most and best informed upon the subject of theology rest themselves upon this universal article, and hold all the various superstructures erected thereon to be at least doubtful, if not altogether artificial.
The intellectual part of religion is a private affair between every man and his Maker, and in which no third party has a right to interfere. The practical part consists in our doing good to each other. But since religion has been made into a trade, the practical part has been made to consist of ceremonies performed by men called Priests; and the people have been amused with ceremonial shows, processions, and bells. By devices of this kind, true religion has been banished; and such means have beeu found out to extract money even from the pockets of the poor, instead of contributing to their relief.
No man ought to make a living by religion. It is dishonest so to do. Religion is not an act that can be performed by proxy. One person cannot act religion for another. Every person must perform it for himself: and all that a Priest can do is to take from him; he wants nothing but his money, and then to riot on his spoil and laugh at his credulity.
The only people, as a professional sect of Christians who provide for the poor of their Society, are the people known by the name of Quakers. These men have no priests. They assemble quietly in their places of meeting and do not disturb their neighbours with shows and noise of bells. Religion does not unite itself to shew and noise.. True religion is without either. Where there is both there is no true religion.
The first object for enquiry in all cases, more especially in matters of religious concern, is TRUTH. We ought to enquire into the truth of whatever we are taught to be
lieve, and it is certain that the books called the Scriptures stand, in this respect, in more than a doubtful predicament. They have been held in existence, and in a sort of credit among the common class of people, by art, terror, and persecution. They have but little or no credit among the enlightened part, but they have been made the means of encumbering the world with a numerous priesthood, who have fattened on the labour of the people, and consumed the sustenance that ought to be applied to the widows and the poor.
It is a want of feeling to talk of priests and bells whilst so many infants are perishing in the hospitals, and aged and infirm in the streets, from the want of necessaries. The abundance that France produces is sufficient for every want, if rightly applied; but priests and bells, like articles of luxury, ought to be the least article of consideration.
We talk of religion. Let us talk of truth; for that which - it not truth, is not worthy the name of religion.
We see different parts of the world overspread with different books, each of which, though contradictory to the other, is said, by its partizans, to be of divine origin, and is made a rule of faith and practice. In countries under despotic governments, where enquiry is always forbidden, the people are condemned to believe as they have been taught by their priests. This was for many centuries the case in France: but this link in the chain of slavery has been happily broken by the revolution; and that it may never be rivetted again, let us employ a part of the liberty we enjoy in scrutinizing into the truth. Let us leave behind us some monument, that we have made the cause and honour of our Creator an object of our care. If we have been imposed upon by the terrors of Goverment and the artifices of Priests, in matters of religion, let us do justice to our Creator by examining the case. His name is too sacred to be affixed to any thing which is fabulous, and it is our duty to enquire, whether we believe or encourage the people to believe, in fables or in facts?
It would be a project worthy the situation we are in to invite an enquiry of this kind. We have committees for various subjects, and among others, a committee for bells: we have institutions, academies, and societies, for various purposes; but we have none for enquiring into historical truth in matters of religious concern. They shew us certain books which they call Holy Scriptures, the word of God, and other names of that kiud; but we ought to know