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[Reprinted from the Boston Investigator, the newspaper founded by Abner Kneeland, Vol. XIV, No. 30, “Of the Common Era, 1844, Of the Nation, 69.”]

“The Prophets prophesy falsely, and the Priests bear rule by their means, and my people love to have it so.”—[Jeremiah v., 31]


All mankind, as far as they have been traced through he pages of history, the tales of tradition, and the legends of the numerous or numberless Gods which are now believed to exist or have been disclaimed and exploded, have been at all times, more or less, engaged in the matter or superstitions called religion. No subject probably has more occupied the human mind;—none on which so much human thought has been bestowed;—none perhaps on which so much has been said,—so much written and so much done;—none on which so great a variety of opinions have been entertained,—so many systems formed, and such a contrariety of doctrines have been advanced, propagated, believed and exploded;—none with which has been associated so much folly, falsehood, fable and fiction, or which has engendered so much ill will, hostility, intolerance, persecution, crime and misery among the human race, as that called religion, by whatever name, form or shape it has been exhibited, or by whatever means it has been imposed on the ignorance, credulity and superstition of mankind, and equally true is it, that there are no opinions, on any subject, on which the human mind has been exercised, of which he is so tenacious as of those on religion;— none to which he would adhere with more pertinacity, defend with more zeal, or for the maintenance of which he would make greater sacrifices. On no other subject will mankind imbibe such visionary notions,—adopt so many absurdities,—entertain so great inconsistencies,—conform to so much and such senseless mummery,— practise such wild extravagancies, and become the subjects, the dupes or victims of such extreme delusion. Under the influence of religion, or of any superstition bearing the name of religion, man will not only become heedless of the dictates of human reason,—renounce the exercise of his intellectual faculties,—disclaim the use of his understanding, and disregard the evidence of his senses,—but he will exult in the merit of the sacrifice of all these, and deem it the highest evidence of religious virtue to preserve his religious faith, in direct opposition to the plain and palpable laws or principles of nature, logical reasoning and known truth; and will even disregard the obligations of moral rectitude, when deemed necessary for the support and propagation of the religious doctrines and dogmata which he has been taught in his childhood to believe and reverence as a supernatural revelation of the only true religion by the only true God!

All this would be unaccountable and wonderful, if we did not know that the opinions of mankind are involuntary, rather than willful, and that their religious creeds depend more on circumstances over which they have no control, than on their own reflection, study, investigation, judgment or choice. Indeed, all existing religions are but fashionable superstitions; and all exploded superstitions are religions out of fashion. All religions and superstitions have a common origin. Neither, in reality, ever had being as a SCIENCE; and both are the offspring of ignorance, credulity, king and priestcraft; and depend more on the age of the world—the time when man’s infant life began—the parents by whom he was begotten, created and made, and the people among and by whom he was reared, bred and educated, than on any or all other circumstances which influence his religious creed.

But in truth, other than superstition, there is no such thing as religion as a SCIENCE. Existing as well as exploded religions, are all alike based on the assumption (not knowledge) that man knows the source or cause of the existence of the universe, or the Being, Architect, or Power which created and sustains it. Man not being possessed of the truth on that subject, his religion is reared not on his knowledge, but on his ignorance of the source and organization of matter, life and mind; and all systems of religion or superstition reared on such assumed, fallacious and visionary promises, are mere speculative hypotheses, without any known truth to sustain them; and hence are a fraud on mankind as obvious and great as its error,—as extensive as the belief of its truth, and as mischievous as the moral debasement and misery which it has caused to the human race.

However numerous the systems of religion which now prevail in the world;—however innumerable those which have been exploded for their errors, superstitions, falsehood and evil tendency;—however different the latter may have been from each other and from those now in being;—however inconsistent each may be in its doctrines;—however different the character of their Gods,—there are some features which seem to be common to them all— some points on which, if they do not perfectly harmonize, they exhibit a striking similitude. Each sect holds that there is such a thing or science as religion. That there is, though many false, one only true religion. While each sect regards all others as false, it claims its own particular system, exclusively, as the only true religion—the word and work of the only true God, by whom it was revealed to its believers by supernatural means; and proved by miracles, which in their turn are testified to exclusively by the advocates of each system respectively, who deem themselves the only true believers and special favorites of Heaven, and who regard all the rest of mankind as ignorant heathen, wicked infidels and enemies to the true God, whose “grace abounds,” or whose favors and blessings are dispensed, exclusively on those who hate his enemies. The creed is also common to all sects of revelationists, that belief in their respective doctrines and dogmata, or the mysteries of their revealed religion, is indispensable to the peace and happiness of mankind here and hereafter;—and that without such true faith,—the knowledge and practice of morality,—the strict adhesion to the principles of justice, and the constant performance of the works of benevolence and good will to all animal creation, can avail little or nothing, as proof of the possession of true religious faith, or as the means or the merit of the temporal or eternal felicity of the human race!!

All religious sects will readily admit the truth and justice of the foregoing remarks as applicable to all religions and superstitions; each sect excepting their own and only true religion as exclusively exempted from merited reproach. Even Christians will all or generally accede to the truth of the preceding statements as attaching to all sects and religions but their own. But if their own books contain a true record of their faith, and are allowed to be sufficient authority to prove it, Christians, by their own showing, have no just claim to any exemption from the foregoing general and merited animadversion. For certain it is, that a religion, which, by its own confession, has subjected man to the influence of a “lying spirit,” [1 Kings xxii., 22,23] and misled him to invent and propagate “willful falsehood,” that the “glory of God might abound,” [Romans iii., 7] —a religion that has subjected man to “a strong delusion,” “that he should believe a lie,” that he might therefor “be damned” to hell torments to all eternity “for not believing the truth” [2 Thess. ii., 11 and 12]—a religion which (like its imputed author) came not to send peace, [Matt. x., 34, 35] but division, [Luke xii., 51-53] fire [Luke xii., 49] and sword [Matt. x., 34] on the earth—a religion that has “set man at variance with his father, and the daughter against the mother, and the daughter-in- law against the mother-in-law,” and made “a man’s foes those of his own household” [Matt. x., 34,35, 36, and Luke xii., 53]—a religion which requires of its believers that they “hate father, mother, wife, children, brethren, and sisters” [Luke xiv., 26, and Matt. x., 37]—a religion by the influence and sanction of which religious wars have been waged, religious inquisitions established, numerous “infernal machines” or instruments of human torture, bloodshed and death have teen invented and used to persecute and destroy mankind—a religion which, in its operation and progress, eschewed the knowledge and culture of the arts and sciences; anathematized learning and literature; forbids man “to eat of the fruit of the tree of knowledge”;—in order to keep him in ignorance of “good and evil”;—caused the foundations of human rights and happiness to be broken up; the “temple” of political and religious liberty to be “rent in twain,” and intellectual “darkness to prevail” (not hours only, but) during many centuries, and in every country, when and where its power and “evil spirit” of intolerance and persecution were dominant and uncontrolled;—I repeat, that a religion containing the doctrines before quoted, and in accordance therewith, operating to produce the horrible consequences just noted, has no just claim to preeminence above its predecessors or contemporaries, for its truth, divine origin, or its tendency to improve the moral condition or happiness of the human race.

Nor can the moral precepts which are (extracted from Pagan systems of religion, and) sparingly sprinkled and mixed with those of an adverse character in the Christian Bible, relieve the Christian religion from the force of the foregoing animadversion. Doctrines and precepts so heterogeneous and opposite in their character, may go to prove the certainty and magnitude of the errors of the system of religion in which both are found, and prove the futility of its pretensions to divine origin; but are no evidence of its truth or moral influence; inasmuch as in its practical operation, when in the possession and exercise of unrestrained human power and influence, its worst doctrines were carried out, its true character developed, and its evil tendency illustrated, by a total disregard on the part of its advocates, teachers and professors, of its moral precepts of charity, forbearance, good will to men, and the principles of equal rights and reciprocal justice;—and in truth, also, by the ignorance, fanaticism and human debasement and misery which accompanied its establishment, followed its progress and marked its way in blood, war and devastation; and in fine, by the destruction of more millions of human victims sacrificed at the shrine of its “evil spirit” of intolerance and persecution, during the “dark ages” of unrestrained ecclesiastic power, than fell by the combined curses of plague, pestilence, and famine.

Nor can the subsequent altered and reformed state of religion, nor the yet more improved doctrines and practice of the Christian church at the present day, entirely rescue it from a participation in the truth, that it has been, in a greater or less degree, at all times since its legal establishment associated with and inspired and moved by an “evil spirit” of fanaticism, intolerance and persecution.

The reformation in the Christian Church was not the effect of any moral influence in the dominant faith and practice, or of the voluntary exercise of the power of the Church militant, in aid of its own improvement. On the contrary, it was Infidelity, that is, unbelief in its doctrines and dogmas, and opposition to the secular power of the established or dominant church which ultimated in its present altered and partially improved “faith and practice.” It was unbelief in the divine origin and infallibility of the dominant church; unbelief of its doctrines, dogmata and superstitions;— a want of faith in the piety, humanity and integrity of its ministers and advocates, which excited resistance to its despotic power, evil spirit and immoral influence; it was Infidelity to reigning ecclesiastical power, and successful opposition to the dominant and despotic influence of the Christian Church in “the dark ages,” which led to the revival of letters;—to the renewed pursuit of literature;—to the cultivation of the Arts and Sciences;—to the increased knowledge of the rights and power of man and to the consequent intellectual and moral improvement and melioration of the condition of the Christian world.

Faith in all the mysteries and doctrines of all revealed religions respectively, is the most prominent trait of character common to them all. Faith, independent of reason or investigation, is the primary and vital principle—the very life and soul of all supernatural, revealed religion. Without such faith, such religion could not have being, believers, adherents, devotees or influence. Though Christians believe that such “faith is the gift of the God” [Ephe. ii., 8] they worship, and hence needs no human reasoning or investigation to produce it; yet “man has sought out many inventions,” [Ecclesiastes vii., 29] by which he has been enabled to discover and put in practice other ways and means by which to create true religious faith independent of the “gift of God” or the aid of human reason or investigation.


It is often said that “ignorance is the mother of devotion:” but whether that be true or not, it is well understood that ignorance is the parent of credulity, and that superstition is a natural and lineal descendant of the same stock: and it is equally clear that this unholy trinity is the material by which bigotry, intolerance, and persecution are produced through the auxiliary instrumentality of priestcraft; the power and influence of all which, when incorporated with the political institutions of mankind, constitute the “union of church and state,” by which both the government and the people are rendered subservient to the cupidity and ambition of clerical and political oppressors.

When the ignorant, the credulous and the timid could be persuaded or commanded to profess belief in the religious dogmata of the militant church, they were deemed to have religious faith. When by such means they could be induced to acknowledge the church to be infallible, and the opinions of the priests no less so—that “Kings reign by Divine appointment”—that they “could do no wrong”—that their vilest acts of cruelty and despotism were works of clemency and mercy, and that the life and reign of the ruling Tyrant were the greatest public blessings conferred by God on man, they were estimated as true religious believers and good and loyal subjects!

Other and more forcible arguments were employed to oblige honest infidels to repent and to convert them to the true faith in the dominant religious and political creeds. The sword, the fire and the faggot, the chains and the dungeon, the rack and the wheel, the cross, the gibbet, the gallows, and other equally pious and persuasive means were used to induce unenlightened and perverse infidels to profess the true faith and to become quiet subjects and orthodox hypocrites. In perfect harmony with all which, and with a view to stifle the voice of instruction—to repress the spirit of inquiry—to avert free discussion—to smother the light of truth—to prevent the diffusion of knowledge—to drown the murmur of complaint—to alarm the fears of the timid—to excite the passions of the ignorant—to infuriate the zeal of the religious bigot, and hence to prevent exposures of error, falsehood and peculation, as inconsistent with justice as with the rights and interests of the people; the senseless “hue and cry” of blasphemy, infidelity, heresy, &c.;, has always been raised by kings, priests, and their coadjutors, as the watchwords of “danger to their craft,” and as a signal for proscription and persecution of all [who hold] the practice of morality—justice and kindness to all animal creation—as more essential to their happiness than adherence to sanctimonious forms and ceremonies, invented by the priests, enforced by the civil government, and performed for the benefit of the authors and managers who get them up, superintend their exhibition and take a part in the impious farce!

Thus it is, that the doctrine of the sovereignty of kings, and the divinity and infallibility of priests, are derived from the ignorance, credulity and superstition of the people; and the power and influence of kings and priests depend on the stability of the foundation on which the superstructure was raised. The people must be kept in ignorance, or the government (political and ecclesiastical) founded on the ignorance, credulity and superstition of the people, cannot stand. Destroy both, and superstition will become extinct. In the absence of which unholy trinity, priestcraft would be thrown out of employ for want of materials to work with: bigotry, intolerance and persecution could no more be brought into the field to sustain the religion of “church and state”: the bond of their union would become “a rope of sand”: the foundations of their government would be broken up: the race of kings would become extinct, and priestcraft be no more forever.

Kings, priests and their coadjutors are well aware of all those truths. They know that “in the day that [the people] eat of the fruit of the tree of knowledge,” [Gen. ii., 9] “their eyes will be open,” [Ib. iii., 5, 22] and they will discover the source of the misery which they suffer—the wrongs which have been heaped upon them, and comprehend the rights to which they are entitled. Kings and priests know, that to allow equal education and free discussion uncontrolled by ecclesiastical power and influence, would be to teach the people their own rights and their own power, and betray the weakness of their oppressors. They know that when the people learn whence come the evils which afflict them—what their remedy is, and how to apply it, the dark dominion of ignorance, credulity and superstition, with their concomitants, bigotry, intolerance and persecution, will give place to the rising empire of human reason;—the bloody sceptre of usurped and despotic power will yield to the sovereignty of the people; and political governments recognizing the equal rights of man, will rise on the ruins of the diabolical league of church and state—tend to meliorate the condition of all nations and advance the happiness of the whole human race.

It is therefore necessary to the existence and duration of the power and emoluments of the recipients and consumers of the tythes and taxes, that the people should be kept in ignorance of every thing which may tend to expose the vile machinery by which they have too long been held in base subserviency to the interests of those who manage it. And kings and priests act consistently with a view to their own exclusive interests, when they array the combined power and influence of “church and state,” in opposition to every measure of reform which would endanger their power or diminish their reverence, derived from the toil and sweat of an enslaved and oppressed people. It is also in perfect keeping with their common purpose, when they inculcate and enforce the doctrines of “tacit obedience and non-resistance” to the measures of a government, political and ecclesiastical, which cannot bear investigation, and the policy of which is to avoid it; and they act in perfect harmony with the objects of a union of church and state powers, when they decry human reason and proscribe the use of it in all cases where it would tend to expose the injustice of their measures or the fallacy of their doctrines and dogmata, political or religious. In like manner they operate in the line of their vocation, when they require a blind and stupid faith in all their opinions and superstitions, however unsupported by reason or opposed to the clearest dictates of common sense: in strict concert with all which, are all those measures, all those doctrines, and all that hostility, slander, denunciation and proscription which tend to repress the moral courage of the people and to prevent the exercise of the rights of opinion and free discussion, without which mankind cannot hope to improve their mind nor better their condition.

[It is clear that there was a lot more of this article than what we have been able to reprint here. Sadly, the pages of the newspaper on which this article was continued seem not to have been microfilmed.]


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