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forgets that, even putting aside the question of abstract truth, of which no government has the semblance of a right to judge, religions, considered as political instruments, have extremely different merits ; which, if the supreme authority. of the state is to choose one, must not, and cannot, be forgotten. The parent error in this question is, that of admitting that every government has a right to choose a form of religion to assist in the work of keeping society together in peace and harmony: for, in this admission, religion is inevitably considered as an instrument for a purpose not necessarily dependent on its truth : if therefore one religion may be pampered by the supreme magistrate, because it suits his views, and strengthens his hands in the discharge of his office, it follows clearly that he has a right, if not to persecute, at least to discourage any other which opposes his plans, and throws difficulties in the way of what he considers good government. This appears to me an unanswerable argument against religious establishments; yet few, indeed, will be able to perceive its cogency; for when advocating or allowing the political establishment of one religion, they will think of that peculiar form as true and good in itself; when pleading for the equal treatment of all sects, they will stand, at least implicitly, on the irrelevancy of religious questions to the concerns of a good government.
To exemplify this in the case of the Prussian Government: From every thing I know of the mental state of Germany, I am ready to conclude that the King of Prussia, his Ministers, and the most enlightened portion of the subjects of that Crown, would be glad to be able to forget the existence of both the Confession of Augsburg, and the Creed of Pius IV. But being obliged, in consequence of a fatal error of former times, and of the still too vigorous pre
judices of a great portion of Europe, to choose a religion for the government, and thinking, as I do, that the Protestant, if not absolutely best, is comparatively preferable to the Catholic, especially as an ally of the chief magistrate, their conduct is inevitably exposed to the charge of intolerance and partiality. If the government, as such, renounced all knowledge of Protestantism, Catholicism, Judaism, and all other isms, and chose its assistants according to their personal qualifications, it would not be called upon to select for office proportional numbers of Roman Catholics and Protestants, or else be charged with intolerance.
The most fatal consequence of this state of things is, the encouragement which very pernicious religious errors receive from the enemies of religious intolerance ; and yet, as long as there is an established religion,—as long as the professors, real or pretended, or mixed, of that religion are legally entitled to privileges, not on account of their individual merits alone, but chiefly for their bearing a certain religious denomination,—so long will it be necessary to contend for something like equality for the members of other sects, not as individuals, but as the representatives of certain religious bodies. But may not some among those bodies, united as they are by peculiar sets of doctrines, of habits, of views, which pervade and affect the whole being of every man who sincerely adopts them, be the most unfit schools for the rearing of men fit to assist a government in the preservation and promotion of freedom? Observe here, my friend, what feelings of abhorrence such a question as this would raise among the friends of religious liberty in this country. It would undoubtedly be considered, as aimed against the Roman Catholics; it would be supposed to betray a sympathy with the O'Sullivans and the MacGees. “Away with your theological questions,” would be the clamour ; “ we have nothing to do with the doctrines of Rome; every man is entitled to the full liberty of worshipping God as he thinks best.” Now you are well aware that not one of the thousands who would clamour in this manner would surpass me in the love of religious freedom. But their misapprehension would be excusable : for it would arise from the shifting of the view which I marked at the beginning. The Church of England is established, and that of Rome is deposed from its former supremacy in this country. This change took place on the ground of the truth of the one, and the error of the other. The supposition may be true; but government had no right whatever to decide upon that ground. Hence arises the aversion to the examination of the errors and evil tendencies of Romanism. The friends of religious liberty perceive at once that the politically favoured religion would have the advantage if the question were to be examined in that light; and being convinced that whatever may be its superiority over the other, its elevation to the rank which it externally holds is unjust and oppressive, they take Catholicism under their protection, and endeavour to produce a popular feeling which tends to raise its views, its church government, and the mental discipline of its doctrines and practices to an equality of usefulness with that of any Protestant system. '
Much as I lament this state of things, and the deep injury which it is doing to the cause of truth, religious, moral, and political, I confess I cannot suggest any remedy so long as the question is treated as it is at present. I remain as perfectly convinced of the evil tendencies of the Roman Catholic religion as when, purely for the love of truth and freedom, to which it is adverse in its nature, I wrote to expose its enormous evils ; but (I repeat what I have told you) I grieve, that, from my ignorance of the state of Ireland, I unintentionally assisted the political party which, in the name of Protestantism, is the scourge of that unfortunate country. Were I in America, where the Government does not take a party into particular favour on pretence of its holding the true religion, I would continue my efforts against the most complete, and therefore the most mischievous system of priesthood that ever stood in the way of human improvement: I would show that whatever incidental benefits may have arisen from Catholicism in former ages, its existence, at present, should be reckoned pure evil. I would certainly add, that in proportion as any other form of Christianity preserves the poisonous root of dogmatism and church authority, so will it produce similar effects to those which history attests against Rome. But since the question of religious liberty is so perfectly involved with the material interests of property, and the passions which the love of wealth and power never fails to raise, – since most of those who profess themselves liberal in their opinions contend for the necessity of an established system of faith, I see no hopes of clearing the question from the fallacies which delude the mass of the people. Catholicism will gain ground as a religion, merely because it is oppressed as a party. Yours, ever affectionately,
August 21, 1836.. My dear Friend, You have read the very able and kind letter which two or three days ago I received from Professor Norton. There is a part of that letter with which I cannot agree. If this disagreement happened in regard to the opinions of a man whose general principles were totally different from mine, I should take it as a thing of course ; but our leading views in religion are identical, our manner of analyzing (unless I flatter myself into an agreeable delusion) is the same ; how then does it happen that we differ upon a most important conclusion? This fact deserves a fair and attentive examination. I will copy the words expressing the view from which I differ, and you will help me to judge impartially.
“When you ask (says Professor N. to me) whether the essential and saving duties of a Christian are connected with, and dependent on, historical documents,' I should answer it by saying, that the being a good man, a truly religious man, may not depend upon a knowledge or belief of the historical documents of our religion, but that the being a Christian does. One becomes a Christian by believing certain facts, historical facts, which have been presented in certain documents ; facts, in my view, of the highest importance, as evincing that God miraculously revealed himself by Christ, and thus affording a support for religious faith (in the highest sense of those words) which nothing beside can furnish.”
Here we have the only way in which, according to my kind correspondent, men become Christians ; and the reason of this exclusive method according to his view. The first assertion appears in the shape of a well-ascertained